Written by Joe Menosky, Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria, and Naren Shankar
Directed by Cliff Bole
After a series of episodes that were somewhat disappointing during the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was nice to see the stories become more intriguing and back to the quality I was used to for all those years rather than continuing to feel like filler.
Captain Picard (portrayed by Patrick Stewart) and the android Data (portrayed by Brent Spiner) are rehearsing a Shakespearean play on the holo-deck when all of a sudden a runaway train appears out of nowhere. Despite their attempts to “end program”, the two are able to jump out of the way just in time. There seems to be some problem with the programs running into each other. Soon other malfunctions begin happening. The Enterprise suddenly goes to warp speed and just before the core needs to be shut down, it comes out of warp speed.
When Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (portrayed by LeVar Burton) and Data investigate, they find new circuitry in the conduits. A force field is around it, not allowing them to disconnect these nodes. Data surmises that it is protecting itself.
The Klingon Worf (portrayed by Michael Dorn), Data, Commander Riker (portrayed by Jonathan Frakes), and Geordi learn the holo-deck is operating again after being shut down. It is running several programs simultaneously. When they enter, they find themselves onboard the train, which is the Orient Express. They see various characters including a knight, a western gunslinger, a hill-billy, and a gangster. Their attempts to depolarize the nodes meet with armed resistance.
Back in engineering, as this is happening, the navigational relay is overloaded and burned out. Geordi cannot stop the ship and it changes direction. The conductor announces the train has changed direction as well. It appears the ship itself is acting intelligently but no one can yet figure out why. An object forms in one of the cargo bays. Geordi figures out that the Enterprise is creating a life-form that feeds on the vertion particles present in the energy of a white star.
Treating the ship as an intelligent being is something that could have only been breached near the end of the series. It would have made dealing with the ship on each mission quite different and I don’t know how they even finished out the series and used this in one of the movies. Once it’s established that the ship has an independent intelligence, it’s hard to say “now forget about it”, although that’s tried for the final few episodes and the film Star Trek: Generations.
However, as a stand-alone episode, it’s quite good. The characters on the Orient Express, representing various parts of the Enterprise are handled quite well. I credit the guest stars for convincing performances but also Director Cliff Bole for bringing out performances. It’s also surprising that a script this good came out of Brannon Braga, long the bane of most fans of Star Trek.
It also has the feel of a real ensemble piece as almost the entire cast has something to do, rather than focusing on just one of the crew with all others in the background. The crew really works together here, both as actors and characters and it’s what makes an episode that could have been laughable actually work.
The fact that the story is never built on at all is disappointing. It’s almost as if the Enterprise does all this and the crew, along with Starfleet and the Federation, shrug their shoulders and say “so what?” Imagine Starfleet having a group of ships that had reached a level of awareness and intelligence that made them dangerously close to what the Borg were? It’s never picked up on again, not in subsequent series or the films, and in a way that’s a shame. It’s asking the question that’s been done so many times before – if we keep creating smarter and smarter machines, what will eventually happen?
While not a groundbreaking show, it is decent for seeing the crew working together nicely. There are a few nice effects between the train and the white star. The “intelligent life-form” it creates is less than impressive to look at. It would be nice to look at what it’s become a few years down the road, but that’s not to be. Overall, it’s worth watching although it would be confusing for non-fans of the series.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Bloodlines
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Preemptive Strike