Star Trek: The Next Generation ended its third season with a story that took it to new heights… and also kept its fans on the edge of their seats through the summer of 1990. It got the big-screen treatment this week, with a newly-restored version. After the jump, more on “The Best of Both Worlds”
GILES: We stay calm, first thing.
WILLOW: I think he’s right.
XANDER: I’m sorry, calm may work for Locutus of the Borg here, but I’m freaked out and I intend to stay that way!
“Prophecy Girl”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, June 1997.
It was the cliffhanger that kept fans of Star Trek The Next Generation on pins and needles for more than three months back in 1990. Could Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who has been turned by an alien race called the Borg, actually be killed by his second in command, Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes)?
Trekkies got a chance to relive that classic episode at a special presentation by Fathom Events this past Thursday night at hundreds of theaters nationwide. At the Century Downtown 7 in Sacramento, more than a hundred people showed up. That’s not bad considering a lot of guys were probably spending the night watching the NFL Draft.
The Borg were introduced in “Q Who?”, when Q showed Picard that there are aliens who are more deadlier than anyone the Federation has encountered. The Borg only want to assimilate themselves to other races by any means necessary.
In “Best of Both Worlds” the Borg have managed to move closer towards Earth. They want Picard to assimilate his humanity into them, which would then lead to assimilating Earth as well. By using Picard’s life experience and knowledge, he winds up being the Enterprise’s most formidable enemy. The moment he calls himself Locutus is a chilling moment Trekkies have never forgotten. In June 1990, many fans were afraid they had seen the last of Picard.
The “B” story is also intriguing: Riker is thinking more about his future, especially when he meets Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy), an ambitious officer who sees herself in Riker’s job. When Picard is assimilated by the Borg, Riker has to take command, and wrestle his doubts about whether he can do the job. It takes a lot of advice from his crew, Shelby and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) to help him deal with the Borg and restore Picard.
Wil Wheaton, who plays Ensign Wesley Crusher, looks quite young back then, especially when he’s included in the ship’s poker game for the first time. He would be part of the show for the first four seasons, then recur until the series ended in 1994.
The Borg, meanwhile, would return as a formidable foe in Star Trek First Contact, and Star Trek Voyager would add a Borg to the crew in the form of Seven of Nine, played by Jeri Ryan.
The episode presents a rare situation where the hero is suddenly the villain. It’s not so different than season two of Buffy, where one night of perfect love with Buffy removed the soul from Angel and turned him into the ruthless Angelus. Although he was restored, he also had to be killed by the Slayer he loved. Of course, he came back three episodes into season three, but was still haunted by what he did when he lost his soul. At the end of “Best of Both Worlds”, there’s a moment when Picard realizes that he was responsible for the deaths of thousands when he was Locutus. He dealt with it in “Family”, but it would have been interesting if that issue was carried further into the season.
The presentation included a featurette about how the story was put together, and its effect on Trekkies. This was before the internet, which means fans had to speculate how the cliffhanger would be resolved without Twitter or sci-fi websites. Stewart says that one fan yelled at him “You have ruined my summer”. Frakes talks about how there was some doubt about whether Stewart would be back.
Past episodes, restored to high definition, have been featured by Fathom for a few years now, but this was the episode that took the show to a new level. The images were much clearer than in the original showing. When the Enterprise saw the damage the Borg caused to the Federation, you can see wreckage, even the jagged edges. The music was also incredible. Before the movie started, a slide show compared the old images with the restored high definition images. The difference is that good, and will convince a Star Trek fan to get the blu-ray version of “Best of Both Worlds.”
The two-part episode will be available in blu-ray starting April 30th.