It sometimes saddens me that the only way the present generation is connected to the iconic Star Trek: the Next Generation is because actor Wil Wheaton is a part of The Big Bang Theory!

The 18 Emmy Winning Star Trek: The Next Generation was the worthy successor that fans of the original 60's show wanted. Creator Gene Rodenberry's vision of trekking through the galaxy mixed with his liberal concept of a world where everyone was treated equally led to some unique episodes.

While the original show was campy fun with lots of action (and dare I say it, overacting), The Next Generation tempered it down by mixing excellent futuristic concepts (your touchscreen tablets and screens, bluetooths et al first appeared here!) with some solid story telling, unafraid to explore relevant topics of the day, from terrorism to rape.

While it is easy to find a 'Top 20 Best Star Trek episodes' list online, I wanted to do something different and showcase part of what made this show stand out.

This is a list of 10 times Star Trek: The Next Generation honored the vision of their creator by boldly tackling controversial topics that not many other shows are ready to talk about even today.



"Measure of a Man" - Slavery

When the 'android who yearns to be a human' Data is ordered to be dismantled so he can be studied and more like him can be made, he refuses only to find that he has no choice in his own future and is considered 'property' and owned by Starfleet. This leads to a wonderful courtroom finale where Captain Picard pleaded on Data's behalf, showcasing how selectively defining the 'boundaries of personal liberties and freedom for some while curtailing it for others' in essence, was just a form of slavery.

"Ensign Ro" - Isreal & Palestine

Seriously. It is 2016 and you still cannot get any show to discuss the situation in these warring lands without fear. And yet, there was Star Trek taking a stand in the 90s. A disgraced officer of Bajoran origin is sent to talk to Bajoran rebels  who are accused of committing acts of terrorism against the much mightier Cardassians who had annexed their home planet ages ago. After meeting with the Bajoran refugees and seeing their pitiable living conditions, Picard and the crew are left wondering who is the terrorist and who is the victim.
Imagine a US TV show taking a stand on this back in the 80s!

"The Wounded" - Preemptive Strikes

Long before US President George W Bush made this a common phrase, Star Trek: TNG dealt with the topic and its futility. 
When a vessel of the Starfleet is accused of attacking a Cardassian science outpost and killing 700 unarmed civilians, the Enterprise rushes to find out the truth behind these allegations. To his horror, Picard finds out that it is indeed true and realizes that Captain Maxwell is out to kill all the members of that species, seeking revenge against them because of the murder of his own family by a Cardassian assault years ago.
The concept of killing innocents without a trial because of the fear of what they might grow up to be would become a reality a decade later after the events of 9-11.


"Chain of Command" - Torturing Prisoners of War

A deeply disturbing episode. When Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians while undergoing a spy mission, the Starfleet has no option but to deny having any knowledge of his activities rather than admit to spying. This gives the leader of the enemy the right to strip Picard (literally as well as metaphorically) of any rights he has and subject him to brutal forms of torture and humiliation to extract information he needs. To see the captain we loved for six years reduced to a naked heap lying on the floor, crying in agony out of pain and starving for food was something viewers just did not see coming. 
Patrick Stewart is magnificent in this episode and you genuinely wish that he would just give up  and tell them what they wanted just so that his suffering ends. The actor actually researched with Amnesty International before shooting this episode to learn from past victims of torture.


A particular form of mental degradation - showing him four lights and tasering him unless he accepted there were five - was meant to break down his resolve. His final words to his counselor - after having being freed and safe in the comfort of his own ship - are truly insightful; In the end, he never said what they wanted him to though he was ready to.
But more to the point, in his mind the torture had broken him down. He had truly started to believe there really were five lights.
It was his way of showcasing to the audience how unreliable a confession under torture really was. 


"Inner Light" - Saving the Environment before it is too late

In this Hugo Award winning (and Emmy nominated) episode, Captain Picard is rendered comatose after coming in contact with an alien probe. When he awakens, he finds himself in a different world with none of his crew around him. As the years go by, he begins to lead a new life, getting married, having children and growing old even as he watches the world he lives in slowly start to suffer because of poor environmental safety and is helpless as people fail to heed his warning, resulting in the death of an entire planet's population.
One of the most lauded episodes for its poignant ending, this also served as a forewarning to viewers about taking care of the world we live in. Something we obviously fail in even today.

"The Outcast" - Homosexuality/ Transgender

While many see this as a take on transgenders, I see it as much more. Using the liberties of their sci-fi worlds to flip the very idea, in this episode the crew comes upon an alien race that is androgynous or without gender. When first officer Riker starts to develop feelings for one of the members, 'she' too reciprocates. Her 'feminine' nature is considered a crime by the others in society and she is forced to 'undergo mental alteration to get rid of her criminal perversion.'
Talk to 90% of the ministers ruling India today and they will suggest the same or worse for members of the LGBT community. Prove me wrong.

"Violations" - Rape

Once more using sci-fi themes as an allegory, an alien race which has come aboard the Enterprise for diplomatic purposes has the ability to enter people minds and read their memories. A generally peaceful race, they use their talents to document past history without interfering in people's memories an thoughts. However, things take a bad turn when a female crew member finds herself being sexually assaulted in her dreams by one of the members of dignitaries, resulting in her ending up in a coma.
Watching it happen to a main character of the show was shocking and the theme of violating someone without their consent just because you had the power to was a dark reminder of the world we live in even today. 

"The DrumHead" - Insinuations & Racism

An explosion aboard the Enterprise takes a disturbing turn when the Admiral leading the investigation starts going beyond the individual suspect and starts questioning the loyalty of everyone who tries to seek a fair trial for the accused. 
The insinuations of people's past, their race and how they cannot be trusted in the present leads to a heightened state of paranoia, eventually resulting in Captain Picard finding himself on trial for 'perhaps' acting against the Starfleet.


It is an episode that deals with rabid witch hunts and how, when painted by the wrong person who wields power, we can all be made to look like criminals even if we did no wrong.


The fact that India, in 2016, is going through a cycle of similar 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai', 'Go to Pakistan' style of insinuations and McCarthyisms to imply normal people are traitors for questioning authority is something that is honestly frightening. 

"The Perfect mate" - Women's Rights/ Freedom of Choice

A Metamorph - a woman raised with the ability to understand a man's desire and to please him - is illegally brought on board the ship with the sole purpose of giving her off as a wedding gift to a richer enemy to ease tensions between two factions. Left to fend for her till she reaches her destination, Picard finds himself falling for her too but resists, instead trying to make her understand that she is a fellow being with her own rights and choices and she does not have to become the property of someone she does not even know just to appease her family. In the end, Picard is unsuccessful and the deal takes place as Kamala cannot bring herself to give up on 'her duty', sacrificing the chance for free will for the sake of her people.
Ah yes, arranged marriage with strangers anyone?



Trivia: The gorgeous Famke Janssen & actor Patrick Stewart would meet more famously in an entirely different franchise a decade later, as Jean Grey & Professor X in X-Men.

"Sins of the Father" - Injustice

When the father of one of Picard's officers is accused of being a traitor to his world, Worf returns to his home planet to clear his family name. In the end, it comes to light that the entire council and judges who deemed his father and thus his family as a traitor, were in fact the culprits and knew his father was innocent.

But the show offers no happy ending, opting for realism as the council that still wields all the influence adjudicates that Worf be banished in shame from his home planet. The injustice of it all is lessened by Picard standing up for his officer till the end but it is a heartfelt blow nonetheless to see truth lose.


Star Trek: TNG fans - which other themes do you think were explored by the Enterprise during its voyages and deserves to be on this list? Do tell.


To see all the shows  I have talked about till date, please CLICK HERE.

29 Comments

  1. Star trek is surely one of a kind. From the very concept, the direction and stoyline, it struly is a master piece. Every single episode keeps you hooked.

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    1. It had a very shaky first two seasons.. but once it found its groove, there really was no stopping it. Each season had atleast half a dozen brilliant episodes.

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  2. Wow.. that is a lot of information, well-researched. Sadly, I haven't seen this StarTrek, yes I am living in the dungeons. But, saw the older one with William Shatner as Captain Kirk. I do not remember much of it. But I loved their gadgets.

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    1. That was the original one, the 1960s version. That is also the one on which the present day Star trek movies are based.

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  3. I somehow just don't like SciFi stories. I don't mind reading them but seeing weird people on screen creeps me out

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    1. Hehe... then Star Trek may not appeal to you. Though it sounds weird, Star Trek: The Next Generation often had a Shakespearan approach to storylines, focusing on the narrative and underlying theme rather than just aiming to give you random aliens.

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  4. What a master-piece by Gene Rodenberry! Being of the gen-old I watched all the original series and till date, they are the ones still freash in my mind! I did manage to see quite a few episodes of the Next-gen on TV out of a sense of loyalty initially, but eventually got sucked into the terrific plots of the new series! William Shatner, Leonord Nimoy, Deforest Kelly are names that still seem fresh in my mind! Capt Picard was pretty awesome too, though I missed the old Spock! Great going for 'S' doc....brilliant compilation!

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    1. I actually saw ST:TNG first as a child in Dubai before seeing the original series in india when Star Plus came. Loved the original series for the sense of tension and great ideas it had. Picard was the diplomat where Kirk was the man of action :)

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  5. I knew this would be your pic. And it's a great one. Yes Gene Roddenberry was way ahead of his time. The world still needs yo catch up. Also chain of command was one of my most favorite stories especially from an acting perspective. You can see why Patrick Stewart is considered such a great actor. If I remember correctly it was a two parter.

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    1. Yes, Chain of Command was a two-parter. And honestly, S was a tough choice with Scrubs and Supernatural beating down my back too. But in the end, a trekkie remains a trekkie :D

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  6. I am not a sci-fi person but I loved the original Star trek for sure and had a crush on Shatner too ;) Nice post.

    http://www.sunilavigauthor.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/shachi-and-indra-poem-in-two-parts.html

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    1. haha... Shatner is still alive and very much in show biz even today :)

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  7. Some shows are just brilliantly made and some are genius works way ahead of time. Star trek is one such show that falls in both categories and TNG at least first 4 seasons were brilliant! Confession - I still haven't seen it entirely (blame it on other current shows and the so very long list of ST epis) but yeas some episodes I remember and agree with everything you mentioned doc!

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    1. Believe me... the first two seasons were average at best.
      After that, it picked up in standard in all departments - storytelling, tension, acting cinematography and graphics - in seasons 4-6, you had stretches of brilliant episodes one after the other.

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  8. Oh, I havent watched this one. Though as kids we used to religiously watch Star Trek which had William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

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    1. I ended up watching this one first.. that was much later for me when it finally arrived in India via Star Plus

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  9. OMG this Star Trek, my husband goes bonkers about it, I don't know how many DVDs he has!!!

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  10. Roshan, you list is going to bankrupt me! This is yet another one for the to-watch list. I must admit I still cling on the Leonard Nimoy-William Shatner version but having read your post, this one I have to see.

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    1. I love the Shatner version too but I admire how this chose to be different instead of following the same path of its predecessor.

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  11. I am not a sci-fi person either. Though I occassionally indulge in a few movies. But yes, I loved the original Star trek :)

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    1. Trust me.. This offers so much more. As I showcased here, it was used as a wonderful device to showcase some complex real life issues.

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  12. I loved this version of Star Trek even more than the original. It definitely was a groundbreaking series, as was its predecessor. This was a fascinating post to read. Thanks! ☺

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    1. I'm a big fan of both for individual reasons but if you asked me to choose, would definitely select this one.

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  13. Though I dont see much TV series but this seems very interesting through your post. Thanks for sharing. :)

    @bloggerabhi1 from
    StyleBurp

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    1. Thanks.. give it a shot.. you will like it.

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  14. Yes, Roddenberry was way ahead of his time. Be it technology or social issues. Thank you for the recap and the perspective. Chain of command was one of the most powerful episodes ever shot.

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So what do you think ?