The Ferengi return... and are completely overshadowed by Picard's old starship, the USS Stargazer
"I can't believe they're coming here", Worf announces at the end of the teaser. Yes, well, we've got to find a use for that expensive Ferengi latex, don't we! Apparently the Enterprise has been twiddling their Federation thumbs for three days waiting for the Ferengi to do something interesting. Don't hold your breath, folks. Suddenly, Acting Ensign Crusher breaks onto the bridge and smugly announces the arrival of a new studio miniature - the USS Stargazer. Picard fills us in on the exciting backstory of the 'Battle of Maxia' and an away team pops over to the bridge set from the first four Star Trek movies…
They discover a log that suggests Picard was a naughty boy and recklessly blew up a Ferengi vessel. But not half as naughty as he's about to be! Thanks to an unwieldy glowing ball that the Ferengi captain lugs around rather uncomfortably, he thinks he's back in command of the Stargazer and executes the Picard manoeuvre in an attempt to destroy the Enterprise, a move which apparently has no defence. Fortunately, Data comes up with a counter-move on the spot that requires Riker to issue a command at the speed of light, which somehow he manages to do. Riker goes on to instruct Picard to blow up the glowing ball so it all turns out nice again.
"The Battle of Maxia" does a great deal of work in this story, but it's a little odd... it's named after the Maxia Zeta system, which given that it includes the Greek letter 'zeta' is presumably a Federation name. So how and why are the Ferengi calling it "the Battle of Maxia"? I guess we can use our fanon skills to hand wave this problem away: perhaps they got it from the records on the Stargazer, perhaps the universal translator substitutes place names… It certainly doesn't collapse the story to have this loose end in it, but I do find it rather odd. Another oddity: remember when Troi couldn't read Ferengi emotions in "The Last Outpost"? It seems her Betazed empathic powers work whenever it's helpful to the plot, which is handy.
Dr Crusher's 'look how far we've come!" speech tickles me: "in the days before the brain was charted... before we understood the nature of pain... when we were suffering from such things as the common cold." This is a very twentieth century belief - that medicine would eventually eliminate the common cold. It’s something of a misconception. Common colds are the viruses which have adapted to live with us relatively harmlessly, and nothing much to be concerned about. As long as our cells are working with DNA and RNA, viruses are along for the ride (they’ve even contributed more than a few advantages to our genome over the millennia). But Star Trek is a show about idle dreams of the future, and I'm not going to begrudge it these silly fantasies.
The 'Thought Maker' is an interesting case of a named plot device dodging its own name. Despite being given a specific name in dialogue, the script insists on referring to it as a 'silver-grey sphere' or even as the 'Ferengi brain machine' (does it have a Ferengi brain inside it...?). The 'silver-grey' description is particularly amusing because of course the prop viewed from the top looks mostly red, which makes Riker's line "Look for a silver sphere..." feel a little odd.
I rather enjoy Frank Corsentino's performance as DaiMon Bok in this episode, and his Ferengi make-up really suits his face. It's pure mustachio-twiddling villainy, but Corsentino's conviction manages to carry the melodrama. It helps that he gets to play off Patrick Stewart, who does a great job with a script that requires him to sell almost the entirety of the story single-handedly. Much as I like this episode, the absence of a B plot does give it serious pacing issues, though. This could have been addressed by putting a character story in parallel to the main mystery, but never mind.
Jonathan Frakes is reduced to what Friends dubbed 'smell the fart' acting, and the rest of the crew are largely just milling around the sets, chewing on the scenery and waiting for a script that makes better use of the cast. But what’s this? Wesley has a new turtleneck!
It could be even more shocking than you think, because rumour has it this is supposed to be his uniform as Acting Ensign. That’s why it has the red, yellow, and blue stripes - it signifies that he hasn’t picked which division to serve in yet. Apparently, the Star Trek archivist Richard Arnold did a slideshow after season one that confirmed that the stripes were deliberately chosen to indicate it was a uniform. If so, then I have to wonder what the Thirteenth Doctor in Doctor Who is doing serving as an Acting Ensign in Starfleet...
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
The star model of this show, of course, is the USS Stargazer, a brand new four-foot studio miniature that was made to match what had previously appeared in Picard's ready room. The script specifies nothing about the ship at all, but it is widely reported that this was originally intended to be a Constitution class vessel i.e. the same class of ship that the original USS Enterprise belong to. Indeed, it's claimed the reason the ship is 'Constellation class' was that they needed to overdub LaForge’s line on the Stargazer bridge, and needed a word with the same general phonetic structure so it matched his lip movements!
There's quite the story behind this model. The production team made the decision not to have a classic Trek Constitution-class vessel. Instead, they opted to copy the gold-plated model that Andrew Probert and Rick Sternbach had made for Picard's ready room.
The ready room original was made by combining two Enterprise-A model kits manufactured by Ertl with a kit of the VF-1 Valkyrie from the anime show Super Dimension Fortress Macross. It has the registry NCC 7001 precisely because the Enterprise kits only came with those numbers! The majority fanon decision is that the model in Picard's ready room is not of the Stargazer... but I’d suggest this is a mistake, since this is only one of the two possible interpretations. The other is that we should ignore the registry as a production error, and the model does represent the Stargazer. That’s my personal preference, but of course all fanon is permissible.
I find it odd that we only ever see the Stargazer in detail when it is dead-on the front, or exactly perpendicular on the side... did the model not look good from other angles? We do see it briefly from a more satisfying angle right before the Picard manoeuvre, but it is in long shot, which lends credence to the idea that the model does not look great from every angle - perhaps that’s to be expected given its mongrel heritage. Certainly, the Stargazer upstages the Ferengi Marauder, and basically everything else in this episode. Not a bad outcome for a hastily constructed kitbash!
Special thanks to Therin of Andor for the anecdote about Richard Arnold and Wesley’s uniform.
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Ah, that explains why Wesley is always wearing that sweatshirt from now on. I love finding answers to questions that I didn't even know I had here!