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The Enterprise is trying to solve the problem of an asteroidal moon that is threatening to crash into Bre’el Four, when suddenly a naked Q appears on the bridge. It seems that he's been thrown out of the Q Continuum and forced to take on human form without any access to his powers, and has come to the Enterprise to seek sanctuary. He has good reasons to do so: species he previously tortured like the Calamarain turn up looking to wreak their vengeance. Q finds being human so intolerable, he eventually decides to sacrifice himself to save the ship, which causes the other Q to take pity on him and reinstate his powers. It’s fair to say that this is a huge relief to everyone!
Playing for comedy is something Trek does with great difficulty, and the joke doesn’t always land. But this episode manages not only to blend comedy and drama, Richard Danus’ script explodes with hilarious one-liners from Q, brilliant exchanges, and wonderfully absurd moments.
This is his last TNG script, but Ira Steven Behr - who joined the production crew just two weeks earlier - rescued him and brought him back to work on DS9 several years later. Behr recalls meeting Danus vividly:
So then I go to a guy I don’t even know, this guy Richard Danus, who is literally a dead man walking. The first thing he says to me is, ‘I’m on a ten week contract; they’re not picking up my contract; I’m gone in like two weeks. I’ve never met Rick Berman, I’ve never met Gene Roddenberry, don’t talk to me, I’m dead’.
Honestly, I don’t know why Danus was cut, but this screenplay is so brilliant I have to think it was a mistake.
There’s some interesting word uses to note. Right at the beginning we have this idea of an ‘asteroidal moon’. I mean, if it’s in orbit of a planet, it’s a moon, and if it’s not, it can be an asteroid (or, these days, a dwarf planet - but don’t get me started on that mess!). ‘Asteroidal moon’ is a bit like a hot cold drink: the two words just don’t belong together.
Likewise, remember my complaints about the ‘Eastern Continent’ last week? This week we have the ‘Western Continent’. The same problem applies.
There’s also some of those trademark “I’m so omnipotent I can namecheck things you’ve never heard of” that Roddenberry was so fond of with Q e.g. ‘Markoffian fire lizard’, ‘Belzoidian flea’, ‘Deltived asteroid belt’. It's unnecessary, but it does the job.
Besides, if the science fiction word mongering is so-so, the charming and hilarious comedy writing more than makes up for it.
To say that this is John de Lancie's episode would be to state the obvious, but what takes this one step further than any other Q episode is that they pair de Lancie’s Q with just about everyone. Patrick Stewart is always great with de Lancie of course, but here we get to try out other pairs of roles with him.
Michael Dorn’s Worf is a brilliant straight man to de Lancie’s Q in Act I (“What must I do to convince you people...”/”Die.”) Brent Spiner's Data takes over in Act II, and is joined soon after by LeVar Burton’s LaForge and Gates McFadden’s Dr Crusher in a wonderful scene set in engineering in which Q discovers pain.
From here we nip off to Ten Forward so that Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan can stab Q with a fork. It’s brisk, it’s funny, and it’s brilliantly delivered by the entire cast. Jonathan Frakes’ Riker also clashes with de Lancie’s Q well here, although he perhaps is underused in this story. He plays with his cigar very nicely, though!
Who gets left out? Have a guess. It’s Marina Sirtis’ Troi, who has literally nothing to do in this episode, and has a whopping four lines. At least one of them sets up a good joke (“I’m even sensing an emotional presence in him. I would normally describe it as being terrified.”/”How rude.”)
Less brilliant are the alien guest stars, Richard Cansino is passable as Dr Garin, but Betty Muramoto is dreadful as ‘Scientist’, and seems to be stumbling over ever line (maybe those prosthetics are constricting…?). On the whole, it’s extremely fortunate that the story doesn't depend upon either of these characters.
And we have a famous guest star but amusingly anyone watching today will have absolutely no clue who they are!
It’s Corbin Bernsen as Q2. Bernsen was a major star on hit TV show L.A. Law, which is where Diana Muldaur went after leaving TNG. In return, they sent back Bernsen as a guest star. I think they got the better part of this trade.
There is, alas, no Colm Meaney this week. But at least there is also no Wil Wheaton this week. Swings and roundabouts.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
It’s an interesting week for special effects. There’s an awful lot of shots with the asteroidal moon that aren't terribly interesting but are of course integral to the story...
...the Bre’el Four aliens have interesting prosthetics - more interesting than the roles, that’s for sure.
...and the Calamarain effects makes them somewhat more interesting than earlier ‘energy forms’ - and Danus manages to resist using that specific phrase, which is nice. They’re “a cloud of energetic plasma” whose “energy patterns are reading as highly organized...”
But believe it or not, the trickiest part of the special effects this week wasn’t a studio miniature shot, or alien make-up: it was making Q appear naked on the bridge.
Most of the ideas for this shot didn’t work, and plans to preserve de Lancie’s modesty were equally ineffective - so in the end he had to go the Full Monty. Dan Curry, the visual effects supervisor, remembered the challenges rather well:
It’s one of the few shots we’ve done that came out looking exactly like the storyboard. I’d picked the spot for the camera in advance, and the scene played out just as I drew it. The script said ‘Q appears nude.’ We planned to have John de Lancie lay on a wooden board that couldn’t be seen due to Patrick Stewart's position in the shot. As we were prepping the shot, John showed up on the set with his bathrobe on. When we were ready to go, he dropped his bathrobe and he was stark naked. That caused… ummmm… a bit of a stir.
A whole episode of Q cracking jokes, energetic plasma aliens, crashing moons and John de Lancie’s barely-concealed wang? What more could anyone ask for!
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