It's scenery-chewing fun on a planet where woman with terrible 80s haircuts are in charge - but oh, those marvellous matte paintings!
A seven-year overdue Federation freighter with the awfully manly name 'Odin' was destroyed, but its escape pods apparently reached a nearby planet with the awfully feminine name 'Angel One'. It's a world where the women are dominant and the men are submissive, which probably felt like a terribly progressive idea back in 1987. Meanwhile, Wesley manages to infect Worf and Captain Picard with a respiratory infection, which is impressive given the number of times Dr Crusher has told us that these have been wiped out. But never mind the dreadful B plot, the awful A plot has Riker hilariously dressing up in local clothing and providing his sexual services to the leader of the planet, Prime Directive be damned! Meanwhile, Yar, Troi, and Data nip across the planet to meet the survivors, who are promptly arrested and threatened with being executed by a vase-disintegrating death ray.
Riker's champing at the bit to break the Prime Directive, but can't because the Enterprise-D is infected with nonsense virus, so it's up to the Commander to issue an impassioned speech to save everyone’s lives. Meanwhile, Dr Crusher uses her magical science to defeat the virus, and injects everyone with an inoculant that amazingly cures everyone with just a hypospray, allowing us all to escape this moderately terrible episode.
This is Patrick Barry's only script for Star Trek: The Next Generation, although reportedly one of his other stories ("The Crystal Skull") was purchased but never developed. His script makes liberal use of concepts such as 'Advanced' and 'Evolution'... the Enterprise has 'advanced technology' whereas Angel One is not an 'advanced society' because they execute political dissidents, and the climactic confrontation claims “No power in the universe can hope to stop the force of evolution.” That is an odd scene, really, as it seems like it was not, in fact, written in time for the episode. Check out what the original screenplay has for this part of the story!
67 INT. GREAT HALL - DAY - (TO BE WRITTEN)
Lots of folk. Tasha, Troi and Riker. Ramsey and Ariel. Ramsey's merry band of followers. Guards. Beata. The Parliamentarians. Trent. Anyone else we can find and costume. It's hangin' time.
The thrust of this scene is Riker trying to convince Beata that the execution of Ramsey will not halt what can only be perceived as an irrevocable evolutionary cycle in Angel One's societal development.
After getting Beata to admit that Ramsey and his followers are merely symbols of a change that preceded their arrival on Angel One, Riker is quick to point out that executing these people will only make martyrs of them. That, in fact, to kill them will accelerate rather than stop or retard the coming equality between the sexes of Angel One. Riker might even point out similar occurrences in Earth's history... I don't know... depends on how clever he is.
Nevertheless, Riker is able to demonstrate to our audience, and Beata, that executing Ramsey, et al, will be counterproductive.
The ladies adjourn to caucus.
I love the idea that equality of the sexes is inevitable and somehow evolutionary mandated. There's a definite optimism there that I can admire no matter how implausible its premises.
Remember how twice in earlier episodes it was claimed that the common cold had (quite implausibly) been eradicated? Well, despite this we're going to get a respiratory infection on the Enterprise as part of the B plot. And what a dreadful B plot it is... the big idea is that this virus masquerades as a scent, so you breathe it in, then it transforms into the virus after you've inhaled it. The unbelievably nonsense of this idea really takes the biscuit, although to be fair, people believe all sorts of odd things about airborne infections, even today, and actually we don’t know half as much about virus transmission as we like to pretend. I suppose if I wanted to be generous, I might say that the Enterprise's biofilter or equivalent technobabble is supposed to remove viruses, but this virus hides as a scent to avoid being caught. But that's not how it plays out in the story, so I'd have to be really generous to fanonise in this way.
'The Prime Directive' props up briefly - and for once it is Data wagging the finger. Other than that, it doesn't really do much work since, as usual for the first season, the Enterprise crew are ready to break it in a heartbeat.
Lastly in the 'words' department, the script tries to give the Romulans a role in the story. This is doubly unfortunate: firstly because it's just a distant and empty threat, and secondly because "The Neutral Zone" at the end of the first season claims there has been no contact with the Romulans for "half a century", a claim that is directly undercut by this story. Never mind... that's hardly the biggest problem with this episode.
If there was any acting in this episode, I must have missed it. However, the scene where Riker makes a big song and dance of how he always adopts indigenous clothing is one of the few memorable moments...
I cannot find this scene in the script at all. It's amazing how often this happens during the first season.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
All decks, prepare for matte paintings! The script calls for a 'Green Planet', and so we get a brand new planetary matte painting, which is rather lovely. We'll see this one again in each of the first three seasons. But wait! We’re not done with this matte painting, because it seems the production team have got some fresh angles of the Enterprise-D that they can use to recomposite the matte differently… You really feel the visual effects crew getting their money’s worth with half a dozen different compositions of the same matte painting - nicely done!
Then, Wesley in an absolutely dreadful shiny silver outfit…
…gets to go to the Swiss Alps in the Holodeck, with its own painted backdrop, which was probably a rental.
And let's meet perhaps the most recognisable matte painting in TNG, which begins a long and distinguished tour of duty on Trek franchises in this episode. It's also considerably more complex than your typical matte, which doubtless explains its long service history. In the first place, it is comprised of two separate layers, a foreground and a background…
…which allows us to zoom into the shot as if it were a real location.
Secondly, there is both a daytime and a night-time version of the same cityscape, which allows us to get multiple establishing shots out of these materials without them repeating.
These were all painted by the legendary Syd Dutton, who apprenticed in Universal Studios matte department in the seventies under Albert Whitlock, who he eventually succeeded. You can find Dutton’s paintings in many, many movies, including The Blues Brothers, David Lynch’s Dune, Out of Africa, Red Sonja, and The Karate Kid, Part II. He even worked (along with his mentor) with Alfred Hitchcock in 1976’s Family Plot.
Dutton’s Angel One matte paintings are going to see service three more times in TNG, once on DS9 and once on Voyager, as well as undergoing some intriguing modifications in the process... There was, alas, some abject revisionism in the Remastered versions of TNG, which frankly I find a little offensive but everyone else seems to accept the destruction of special effects history in the name of higher definition imagery these days, so I guess I’m in the minority. Regardless, these are among the classiest matte paintings in television history, and if I have to sit through a humdrum episode of TNG to admire them, so be it.
WAM TNG is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
There are some episodes where I am really glad you're watching it for us. This is definitely one of them.