Written by Dennis Bailey, David Bischoff, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Scheerer
The problem with many of the poorer episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is that they suffer from schizophrenia; the episodes do not know which direction to take or they change direction and/or tone midway through the story.
Such is the case with Tin Man.
The story begins with the Enterprise being sent to a distant star system to make contact with an organic spaceship. On the way there, they pick up Federation Emissary, Tam Elbrum (portrayed by Harry Groener). He is a Betazoid whom the ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) knows from her days working at a psychiatric hospital where he was a patient. It seems that the majority of Betazoids only develop their telepathic abilities when they are teenagers. A very few are born with them and those that are tend to suffer a great deal. Such is the case with Tam Elbrum.
Tam’s specialty is first contact with new life-forms. The mysterious entity they are about to make contact with is a living starship and orbiting a star about to explode on the Romulan side of The Neutral Zone – an area of space which serves as a buffer between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. Unbeknownst to everyone, Tam has been in telepathic contact with it already.
The problem is that the episode fluctuates too much between being an exploration of psychiatric disorders and a battle with the Romulans. It almost feels like the writers said “this is too boring, let’s throw in a few Romulan ships to liven it up.”
The episode’s dialogue drags in many places. Quite possibly this is because Tam has contact almost exclusively with Counselor Troi and the android Data (Brent Spiner), who intrigues him because he cannot read the android’s mind. The fact that Tam has been in communication is revealed way too early and only to Counselor Troi. Yet, she does not go and tell Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) about this development. It’s never clear whether that falls under doctor-patient confidentiality, since it’s never really established whether Troi has been involved in treating Tam or if she is just acquainted with him and the specifics of the case. Her lack of reporting this development to her commanding officer is indicative of the poor writing of this episode.
Unfortunately, though the actors seem to give it their best shots, they are held back by what seems like a poorly developed script. Spiner and Sirtis give it a great shot, and I give them credit for at least not giving lackluster performances when faced with poor writing.
The effects are good, especially for its time. As Tam and Data walk around inside the organic ship, we see Tam’s hand disappear within the entity. Likewise, the effects of the battle scenes are also well-done.
This is an episode that can easily be missed by anyone. It’s not so terrible that I would say “don’t watch it”, but it’s not one I would seek out for viewing.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Captain’s Holiday
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hollow Pursuits
I rewatched some TNG last year after more than a decade of missing ST on TV. Starting with the first season, I forgot how many lackluster or filler episodes the show had given each season consisted of >20 episodes. The series evened out as it matured, but Holy Cow was television a different beast in the 1980s and 1990s.
There are some shows from then that I still like, like Quantum Leap. Others pale in comparison. Once the trend started towards shows with ongoing stories, the ones that always wrapped up in an hour look pretty bad.