5. Cause And Effect
Let me begin with notable nods of almost inclusion to Season 2's Measure of a Man (the first truly great Next Generation episode), Season 4's Family, and the series finale All Good Things, which all narrowly miss out on a place in my top 5, which starts with the Season 5 episode Cause And Effect.
The basic premise of the time loop is nothing new for the genre, but the subtle changes that are present in every loop make this episode a joy to watch again and again as you slowly start to notice them all. It's not just that the loops are all shot at slightly different angles, bur things like when Dr Crusher is attending her plants and is humming a musical phrase, this subtly changes in each subsequent loop.
Cause and Effect just grabs you from the very beginning, and even though on first viewing when you see the Enterprise explode you know it will all be OK by the end, you just don't know how they are going to get there. The joy of that repetitive journey makes for some superb science fiction.
4. Inner Light
Please don't get me wrong as I love the original Star Trek series, but William Shatner can not hold a candle to Patrick Stewart when it comes to acting prowess. The decision to cast a classically trained Shakespearean actor in the lead role of an American science fiction series may have seemed like a ridiculous gamble at the time, but boy did it pay off on countless occasions. The aforementioned Measure of a Man might just be the first time the writer's began to realise Stewart's potential, after that they rarely stopped, including creating this Season 5 gem for the good Captain.
Picard awakens to find he is on a planet with a wife and a new identity, and goes on to live forty years as this other individual, all the while the Enterprise crew work to detach an energy bolt that has enjoined itself with Picard. As the years pass he comes to love his wife, they have children, and grandchildren, he has a circle of friends, and attempts to master the flute. It's the quiet, uncomplicated existence that so easily could've been Picard's real life, and it's Patrick Stewart's performance that makes this episode so beautiful to watch, especially in the final scene where we see him playing the instrument he spent a lifetime to master.
3. Yesterday's Enterprise
There are a few episode of Season 1 which I enjoy (none of which would trouble this list though), but on the whole had the series premiered a decade later, based on the overall quality of those 26 episodes, it's unlikely there would've been a Season 2, and I'm not sure I could blame any network for that decision. Fortunately the TV landscape in the late 1980's, as harsh as it was, was still a more forgiving time. One of the most disappointing moments of the first season was the killing of Tasha Yar in Skin of Evil, I can't say that I ever warmed to the character but all the same it was handled, in my opinion, very very badly. Almost insultingly so (to us the viewers, I mean). Season 3's Yesterday's Enterprise makes amends for this.
Like Cause and Effect's time loop, parallel timelines are nothing new in science fiction, or even Trek, but again the writers do enough here to present things in a fresh and exciting way. This timeline is ravaged by wars which seem to only exist because Tasha Yar is alive when she should have died. Her choice here to choose a more noble, sacrificial death is extremely effective, which means that once everything is back to normal and we see Guinan asking Geordi to tell her about Tasha Yar, you finally (after two years) feel that her loss is significant, and discover a new found respect for the character.
2. Chain Of Command
Picard went through hell on multiple occasions over the course of the seven seasons, but no episode was quite as brutal to the Captain as the Season 6 two-part story Chain of Command (yes not even the whole Locutus of Borg incident, which we'll get to).
There's no denying Patrick Stewart's acting ability, so to pair him with David Warner, playing his Cardassian torturer Gul Madred, just propels this story to greatness, specifically the second part. Warner’s dispassionate approach to torture, coupled with Stewart’s emotional line delivery gives their scenes an extremely compelling, visceral quality. Although much of the torture is suggested rather than depicted, there's still more than enough to make you squirm and Patrick Stewart’s performance still makes it difficult to watch.
As Madred continually asks how many lights Picard can see (there are four, but the Cardassian insists there are five), he inflicts pain upon Picard every time he states "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!". The closing moments of the episode are some of the most moving, and quite devastating, we've ever seen, as Picard reveals that before he was rescued he was about to say there were five lights, and, more horrifying, he feared he could actually see five lights instead of four. Brutal television.
1. Best Of Both Worlds
Rather cliched to choose this story I know, but just as City on the Edge of Forever would always come top in my Original Series Top 5, Best of Both Worlds will forever reign supreme amongst Next Generation episodes.
The Borg have never, and would never, be better used than in this two-part episode. The events that transpire between the Season 3 finale and Season 4 opening episode come back into play on countless occasions, not only in the Next Generation but in other Trek series' and movies. We also have what might just be the best season finale cliffhanger that any science fiction show has presented in the last 50 years. It's jaw-droppingly great.
Although the second part is not quite as strong as the first, the combined 90 minutes present us with an ensemble at the top of their game, confident in their roles and each others abilities. It's the apotheosis of three years of development, and truly did propel The Next Generation out of the shadows of the Original Series. No mean feat, that's for sure.
Do you agree with my choices? If not, let us know below what would be your pick for the 5 best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The 5 Best Episodes of Star Trek: TOS
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 47.