Troi's general uselessness comes into clear focus when the Enterprise takes aboard a competent telepath
Picard is spouting technobabble about colonisation into his log when suddenly the USS Hood appears. We’ve not seen it since the pilot episodes, and everyone is so happy that it’s back, and a little bit amused that it’s basically out in deep space delivering mail to the fancy-pants Galaxy class ships. They also drop off a Betazoid, which is a helpful reminder that the Enterprise’s own Betazoid isn’t terribly useful. Tam Elbrun, on the other hand, can reach out and telepathically contact freaky alien life forms that are light years away. I mean, he’s more than a little unhinged, but other than that he seems very much like an upgrade!
Anyway, it turns out that Starfleet is in a race with the Romulans to make first contact with an interstellar peach pit. As if that wasn't enough of a ticking clock, there’s also a star about to go supernova. Seems the flying fruit stone is depressed and looking to end its existence. Fortunately enough, we’ve got deranged telepath who is tired of living among humanoids. Let’s pair them up and they can explore the universe together!
And they were never seen again.
Well, we finally have something for Troi to do... except, because Tam Elbrun is a competent telepath, we also get to see Troi’s powers completely outclassed yet again, just as we do whenever her mother turns up. Frankly, even when we have an episode tailor made to give her something to do, the writing team still can’t resist giving much more attention elsewhere. In this case, its Data who gets the love, but there’s always someone the writers would rather be playing with than poor Troi.
There's an odd moment in the script where it says:
Smiling to Riker and Troi; DeSoto's put-on griping is an old song going back to when he and Picard served together as lieutenants.
The strange thing about this is that it is never mentioned on screen, and isn’t terribly useful as direction to the acting talent, so what’s it doing in the screenplay at all...?
The episode is credited to Dennis Putman Bailey and David Bischoff, which is fair enough as it’s an adaptation of the 1979 sci-fi novel Tin Woodman by Dennis Russell Bailey and David Bischoff (expanded from a Nebula-nominated short story).
Except, why do they get Bailey’s middle name wrong...? It’s not actually a mistake. The regulations limited the credit to two names - but this excluded Lisa Putnam White, whose spec script adapted from the novel had started the whole shebang. To keep her in the final credit, Bailey (a close friend of hers) changed his middle name to ‘Putnam’. It’s a nice touch, but it would have been nicer all around if they'd been able to secure her the credit she deserved.
And while we're looking at the production crew, this episode marks the first soundtrack by Jay Chattaway, who will go on to work on a whopping forty two TNG episodes!
It’s a distinctive score, very different from the orchestral arrangements we’ve become used to up to this point, and featuring all sorts of unusual instruments. As Chattaway remarked about the episode:
As a result of composing music for Jacques Cousteau over the last five years, I have an amazing library of sounds, which we digitally sampled and used in “Tin Man”. We also used an Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) to create those ancient flute sounds. I think we used two players for the electronics. Peter Levin was our whale specialist on “Tin Man”. I use synthesizers to do certain things that an orchestra can’t. The organic sound for the Tin Man was done by two synths, both playing Australian ‘didjeri-doo’ loops.
In many respects, its the most striking aspect of the episode, and if the words don't give us much of interest, the music fills that gap with eerie representations to revel in.
This episode rests on Harry Groener’s performance as Tam Elbrun, which is a shame as it never feels quite right. It’s too melodramatic, and lacks the edge-of-madness quality that (say) Brad Dourif would have brought to the role.
It’s not that Groener can’t perform, it’s just that this role doesn’t quite work for him. Conversely, he's a lot of fun as the villainous Mayor Wilkins in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show.
Anyway, Trek will have him back a few times in the later shows, and Groener also has a great role in 2016’s movie A Cure for Wellness.
There’s a few other guests worth noting. Michael Cavanaugh is a versatile character actor whose been in hundreds of TV shows and was a regular in the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, as well as the UFO investigator in the TV version of Starman.
Here, he gets to play Captain Robert DeSoto... in one scene. What was the point of this? This is Riker’s former Captain, who the script tells us also served as a lieutenant with Picard, but he’s literally reduced to delivering the mail!
Peter Vogt crops up as a Romulan Commander - also for one scene.
Vogt has a number of roles in later Trek shows, such as ‘Bajoran #1’ in DS9, but I’ll always remember him from his bit part in Cheers as the creator of the eco-pod who runs off with Lilith and later tries to shoot her. At least that show gave him something to do and didn’t make him sit in makeup for six hours to do it.
There’s also an appearance by Colm Meaney, who gets to do a spot of exposition in the final Act. He doesn't get much to do, but that’s okay because nobody does in this episode. It’s like everybody but Data was given one scene of their own, just to remind everyone that this is TNG and not The Tam Elbrun Show.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Welcome back to the USS Hood, and although it’s the same footage that we saw in “Encounter at Farpoint”, they do a good job of making it seem different by taking a different part of the sequence.
Also back are the Romulan Warbirds, here called ‘D’daridex class cruisers’ in the screenplay, and ‘D’deridex’ in the final episode, a name which will linger around for a long time in the fanonical circles.
Then there’s Gomtuu, which as my eldest son pointed out “looks like a giant pine cone”.
Mind you, it kicks Romulan ass!
It was actually a Rick Sternbach design, inspired in part by the thermal pods in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, which is something that gets a lot of easter egg references throughout TNG precisely because several of the production crew were fans.
There’s also a great moment when the chair forms from nothingness - achieved by making a wax chair and melting it, then running the footage backwards.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that we blew up a star?
Boom! As much as this story falls a little flat in practice, it’s a brilliant outing for the SFX team all around.
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