Warping through hellish development, a nightmare of a first season, and more backstage fights than WWE, it’s a small miracle The Next Generation survived its fiery genesis.
But it did. Quality improved considerably on and off-screen as the sequel Star Trek show found its groove, culminating in a memorable 7-season run few Trek, or any other shows for that matter, have been come close to matching.
In total TNG gave us 178 episodes exploring the final frontier. Some were rubbish. Most were decent. But a select few are legendary. Let’s have a look at 10 of those legendary adventures.
10. Where No One Has Gone Before
Season 1, Episode 6
TNG’s maiden season wasn’t all that bad – I actually find it a comforting distraction from time to time. Where No Man Has Gone Before is a favourite early episode which more than lived up to the show’s promise to explore strange new worlds.
Well, they actually went one further and explored a whole new galaxy.
Where No Man Has Gone Before is also a rare solid Wesley episode; his interaction with the episode’s mysterious Traveller setting up an intriguing character arc, and also providing an in-universe explanation for the young Crusher’s knack for saving the ship.
9. The Wounded
Season 4, Episode 12
A standout episode from the arguably show’s finest season introduced one of Trek’s greatest villains in the form of the morally ambiguous Cardassians, setting the stage for the then-impending Deep Space Nine. We also saw good ol’ Miles O’Brien get some much-deserved development, something that would continue on the upcoming spin-off show.
‘The Wounded’ was more than just a set up-fest, however. Exploring the horrors of war and racial prejudice from both Cardassian and Human perspectives, this captivating episode took us to a darker, grittier place. In hindsight, a sign of things to come.
8. The Drumhead
Season 4, Episode 21
Courtroom-style episodes are plentiful in the Star Trek series (there’s another on this list), but another bonafide classic from season four stands as one of best of the bunch.
Another trip to a murkier and more complex side of life in the Federation, ‘The Drumhead’ deals with a growing witch hunt that spirals out of control. Featuring a memorable guest appearance from Jean Simmons as Admiral Satie, and a classic Picard monologue – the content of which sadly feels more relevant today than ever.
Season 6, Episode 15
Tapestry did two things that made it stand out. One, fill in the gaps of the young life of our favourite bald
English French captain. Two, provide us with an awesome, Twilight Zone-esque, glimpse of a “what-if” scenario. Both aspects came together wonderfully, resulting in a fun episode with loads of rewatch value.
Insight into Jean-Luc’s wilder, more decadent days as a post-grad ensign made for great viewing, and the inclusion of Q added plenty of humorous moments between the two old foes.
Oh, and probably one of the best cold opens in the show’s history? I think so.
6. The Measure of a Man
Season 2, Episode 9
Great Star Trek episodes often come with some sort of connection to real-world human issues. Focusing on a challenge to Data’s freedom and his status as essentially a “second-class” citizen added new layers of complexity that the show hadn’t really seen at the time.
The Measure of a Man also features some solid performances, something else the show was sorely in need of. Brent Spiner obviously stood out as the beleaguered android, but Jonathan Frakes’s turn as the torn Riker is a performance that doesn’t seem to get the recognition it thoroughly deserves.
A much-needed early indication of just how great The Next Generation would go on to be.
5. All Good Things
Season 7, Episode 25
It’s been argued that ‘All Good Things’, filmed around the same time as The Next Generation’s maiden movie outing ‘Generations’ would have made for a better feature film. I’m not in that camp, but it doesn’t change the fact that TNG’s finale is one of the greatest curtain calls in television history.
Spanning three separate timelines allowed for a fun look back at what the show was, what it had become, and what the future could have looked like. Add to this universal stakes and another appearance from Q to appropriately bookend the show, and it’s easy to see why everyone loves this epic send-off for Trek’s greatest show.
4. Chain of Command
Season 6, Episode 10 & 11
Six seasons in and our heroes were starting to get comfortable. This two-parter sure shook things up, replacing the beloved Picard with a stricter, meaner captain not there to make any friends. Debates about Jellico rage on to this day; a testament to the great Ronny Cox’s fine guest appearance.
But Chain of Command is special because of Picard’s reassignment, and eventual run-in with the brutal Gul Madred.
The sight of a physically and mentally wrecked, but still defiant Picard was hard to take on initial viewing, but Patrick Stewart’s committed performance, based on real-world victims of brutal interrogation, resulted in one of the show’s most famous moments.
3. Yesterday’s Enterprise
Season 3, Episode 15
As you might have gathered by now I’m quite a big fan of the show’s “what-if” episodes. This gem from season three went ways to explain Trek’s jump in Enterprise registry and showed us a bleak alternative future that’s as close to the mirror universe the TNG crew ever got.
The appearance of the previously unseen Enterprise-C, the dramatic change in lighting and uniforms, Tasha return and romance with Castello, and Picard’s subtly harder approach are all huge reasons for ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ being an enduring favourite.
But above everything this is the episode that gave us Worf’s prune juice. Iconic.
2. The Inner Light
Season 5, Episode 25
Death. Taxes. Peter Allan Fields writing GOAT-level Star Trek.
Quieter episodes, dealing more with interpersonal relationships than the fun exploration of space have always been personal favourites of mine. ‘The Inner Light’ takes things to a new level with events unfolding seemingly over a generation.
Patrick Stewart delivered many fine performances during his tenure on the show, but this is up there with the best of this career. The range of emotions delivered in such a short amount of time is staggering, especially as the episode reaches its climax.
Tears and goosebumps are guaranteed, from Kamin’s realisation to the image of Picard clutching his flute, and the instrument’s melancholic notes that close the show.
Tears and goosebumps. Every. Single. Time.
This isn’t just The Next Generation’s finest single episode, it ranks high amongst the best in the entire franchise.
1. The Best of Both Worlds
Season 3, Episode 26,
Season 4, Episode 1
‘The Best of Both Worlds’ didn’t just mark the completion of a turnaround that saw The Next Generation go from joke sequel to the best show on television, it also rose the bar to a level it never really reached again.
The culmination of early show plot threads, this epic two-parter saw the anticipated arrival of the Borg as the deadly adversary their season two debut had promised but with one major change: Now they were interested in people too.
This retcon proved crucial with Picard’s capture and transformation into Locutus a development that left millions of viewers stunned long after the first episode’s now-iconic cliffhanger ending.
Imagine having to wait three months for a resolution. The kids today will never know.
Part 2 wasn’t quite as strong, but still featured excellent set pieces, a tense, to-the-wire climatic sequence and another superb performance from Stewart that helped redefine his character forever.
It really doesn’t get much better than this.