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I've admitted this before in past reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray: this popular and enduring series was a household staple growing up, but I haven't exactly been a faithful fan since then. I drifted away from the franchise as a whole sometime after TNG wrapped up in 1994, occasionally tuning in to later efforts like Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Even during its lifespan, though, I probably missed an episode of TNG here and there as I transitioned into high school, but the first half of its seven-season run remains lodged in the "warm, fuzzy" section of my memory bank.
It's probably why I forgot just how enjoyable this sixth season of TNG truly is; like many others, I'm happily rediscovering the series thanks to the fantastic restoration efforts of CBS Digital. Specific episodes still rang a bell, of course: it's impossible to forget gripping two-part adventures like "Chain of Command" ("There...are...FOUR lights!"), fan-service classics like "Relics" (the Scotty episode) or comedic diversions like "Rascals" ("He's my number one dad!"), even though other episodes had been wiped from my long-term memory. Further overshadowing this sixth season was the mid-season premiere of Deep Space Nine in January 1993, the first but most definitely not final occurrence of two Trek series airing simultaneously. That pairing also marked the beginning of mounting "franchise fatigue" that spilled into the next decade until Enterprise finally fizzled out in 2005. But with the benefit of hindsight and no other distractions in the way, this fantastic collection of 26 episodes showcases exactly why TNG set the bar so high for Trek on the small screen.
Even more than previous seasons, the name of the game is consistency. Season Six serves up an absurd amount of very good to excellent episodes...and even a few series highlights for good measure. Aside from those listed above, personal favorites include "Realm of Fear" (Barclay's fear of the transporter is justified), "Schisms" (crew members mysteriously disappear while they sleep), the Western-themed "A Fistful of Datas", underrated gem "Ship in a Bottle", Q's penultimate appearance in "Tapestry", the Die Hard-esque "Starship Mine", the brain-bending "Frame of Mind", "Timescape" (the Enterprise is caught in temporal stasis), the Borg-centric season finale "Descent, Part I" and many others. Very few are anything close to "below average" during this fantastic 26-episode run, save for misfires like "Aquiel" and the disappointing second half of "Birthright". Even so, TNG's batting average this season stayed ridiculously high overall, making it one of the series' most consistently entertaining runs to date...especially in comparison to its less impressive final year.
This season's true secret weapon, though, is the high caliber and efficient use of its guest stars. You'll see a handful of familiar faces like Daniel Davis ("Moriarty", returning from Season Two's "Elementary, Dear Data") TOS legend James Doohan ("Montgomery Scott"), David Warner (Cardassian interrogator "Gul Madred", and previously seen in 1991's Star Trek VI as "Chancellor Gorkon"), James Cromwell (as "Jaglom Shrek"), who would later portray Dr. Zefram Cochrane in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact, John de Lancie ("Q", featured twice), Michelle Forbes ("Ro Laren", who debuted last season), Siddig El Fadil ("Dr. Julian Bashir", appearing shortly after DS9's premiere), the reliable Dwight Schultz (Reginald Barclay), Robert O'Reilly ("Gowron") and more, all used to great effect. Others are just memorable "one-hit wonders", including Olivia d'Abo as Q candidate "Amanda Rogers" and Stephen Hawking even shows up in the season finale, too.
A variety of episode directors---including a few first-timers---also gives this season its unique identity. Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard, starts and finishes his TNG career with "Rascals" and "Timescape". Veteran TV director Alexander Singer steps up to the plate here for three episodes ("Relics", "Ship in a Bottle" and "Descent, Part I") and would return twice during Season Seven. Cast members Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton even return to the director's chair at least once. Long-time Trek veterans like Winrich Kolbe (who directed 16 TNG episodes, including the fantastic series finale "All Good Things..." and more than a dozen episodes of DS9 and Voyager), Cliff Bole (who helmed 25 TNG episodes, going all the way back to 1987), Les Landau (20 TNG episodes and 22 for other Trek incarnations), and James L. Conway (who helmed episodes for every Trek series except for TOS) are also on hand to add their own respective stamps.
CBS' diligent restoration team returns for this sixth season which, for obvious reasons, is almost of equal importance as the episodes themselves. Seasons Two and Four were farmed out to other studios (with slightly mixed results) to meet tight deadlines, but CBS has done right by taking their time down the home stretch and doing it themselves. Either way, the massive improvements over TNG's DVD and broadcast counterparts is almost entirely due to the piece-by-piece reconstruction of each episode from the original camera negatives. Carefully constructed visual effects have once again replaced older elements that were of lesser quality or unable to be located. Another round of newly-produced bonus features is just icing on the cake, enriching our understanding of both CBS' painstaking restoration work and the retrospective memories of surviving cast and crew members. All things considered, it's yet another no-brainer for fans of the popular series and, for obvious reasons, one of the shining examples of classic TV revitalized for modern audiences.
Complete List of Season Six Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Video & Audio Quality
Beginning with last year's release of Season Five, CBS has chosen to handle TNG's restoration in-house and, once again, the end results are spectacular. This season marked an increased usage of now-dated CGI and, though good for its time, it has since been tastefully replaced to blend in well with the ship models and other filmed footage. Not surprisingly, the effects-free material is just as impressive and boasts excellent color timing, crisp image detail and a consistently solid grain structure. Overall, these 1.33:1, 1080p transfers are virtually flawless in every conceivable way; far beyond what most of us could ever expect a few short years ago. Most fans have likely seen the huge leap in quality between these Blu-rays and the DVD/broadcast versions, and they've never been more evident than here. What's more, this time around there's no upscaled footage to be found anywhere; this was never terribly distracting to begin with, but speaks more about the thoroughness of the restoration crew. It's almost easy to forget just how much time and effort has gone into recomposing each episode from the ground up; for that alone, CBS has earned another inarguable five-star rating.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Not to be outdone, TNG's revamped audio presentation is basically flawless from every angle. As before, each episode features a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix; the added punch mostly beefs up music cues and warp fly-bys, but it also creates a pleasing ambiance for scenes inside the ship as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, LFE is notable at times and the score never fights for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo Surround mixes have also been included for purists, but they're still being presented in lossy Dolby Digital instead of DTS-HD Master Audio. Most fans shouldn't consider this a deal-breaker by any means, but it's definitely a curious (and continued) oversight in an otherwise detail-oriented effort.
Optional Dolby Digital 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese. Optional subtitles are also provided in English (SDH), German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the "computer interface" menu designs are attractive, simple and smooth, much like the old DVDs. Each episode has been divided into more than half a dozen chapter stops, though no sub-menus are present. No obvious layer changes were detected during playback and these discs are unlocked for region-free viewing. This six-disc set is, once again, housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a handsome embossed slipcover and no inserts of any kind. A condensed list of episodes and supplements has been printed on the interior artwork; it's reproduced above for your convenience.
Plenty to dig through, and it's all near the same level of quality as past releases. The main attraction is "Beyond the Five Year Mission: The Evolution of Star Trek: The Next Generation"
(90 minutes total), a brand new three-part retrospective documentary divided into "The Lithosphere" (24:52), "The Biosphere" (29:32) and "The Noosphere" (29:59). There's no shortage of participants during these sessions including story editor Naren Shankar, Michael Piller (c. 1993), supervising producer Frank Abatemarco, Rick Berman, production associate Dave Rossi, writer Morgan Gendel, executive story editor Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, co-producer Wendy Neuss, VFX supervisor Dan Curry, DP Jonathan West, and art director Richard James. A handful of cast members are on also hand including Colm Meaney, Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, John de Lancie, Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, and LeVar Burton.
As for the subject matter, there's some fantastic stuff here but it's not exactly a linear path. The biggest surprise is that "Lithosphere" spends most of its time discussing Deep Space Nine (which began airing during TNG's sixth season), including staff changes behind-the-scenes and the new series' different approach to Trek's long-standing traditions. Obviously DS9's teased (but still unconfirmed) Blu-ray debut eases some of the friction a little, but this really gets the extras off on an unusual start. Worry not: TNG is discussed at length during the other two sessions and topics include returning characters, killing off Riker, constructing the original Enterprise bridge (or part of it, at least), the importance of music cues, Stephen Hawking's participation, feline behavior, changing hairstyles, acting techniques and much more.
Three brand new Audio Commentaries have also been recorded for this release, one apiece during fan favorite episodes "Relics", "Tapestry" (Ronald D. Moore with Mike & Denise Okuda), and "Frame of Mind" (James L. Conway and Jonathan West). That's one less than we got with Season Five, but it's fantastic to see that these commentaries are still being produced since they add new perspectives to these classic episodes. Still, the lack of TNG cast member input (and the "Chain of Command" commentary being exclusive to its stand-alone Blu-ray release) continues to disappoint a little.
Also here is a collection of Deleted Scenes from nine episodes including "Relics" (featuring Scotty!), "True Q", "Ship in a Bottle", "Tapestry", "The Chase" and more; they're once again restored from the original camera negative, although finished music cues and other sound effects aren't always present. Closing out the brand new bonus features is another fully-restored Gag Reel (5:21) with plenty of flubs, character breaks, faulty props, forgotten cues and the like.
Also here are the recycled Archival Mission Logs from the TNG Season Six DVD collection, featuring vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes footage about various episodes and themes, plus the original Episode Promos and a handful of Trailers for other Trek Blu-ray releases. As expected, all extras include optional subtitles in the languages listed above. Again, they're just one of many highlights from this fantastic release, even though a few last-minute scheduling conflicts led to the loss of a fourth audio commentary (during "Starship Mine") and a reported TNG director's reunion. Frowny face.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Six inches closer to its finale and, with CBS handling full-time restoration duties, this Blu-ray package doesn't disappoint on the A/V front. Featuring another jaw-dropping, frame-by-frame reconstruction of all 26 episodes and a wealth of new and archived extras, this six-disc collection is a pricey undertaking but well worth the expense. As for these episodes? There's no shortage of highlights, including a handful of fan-favorite "bottle" adventures and a thrilling two-parter ("Chain of Command") that earned a separate release. All things considered, this is another essential piece of TNG's legacy and, without a doubt, worthy of our highest rating: DVD Talk Collector Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.