When Star Trek: The Next Generation hit our TV screens in 1987 it was a revelation for some fans, but to others it was a complete affront to the history of what Star Trek meant to them: gone were the colourful sets and costumes, the passionate embraces with green ladies, and the slow-motion rock-fights with rubbery ‘man-in-suit’ monsters. Where was our hero Jimmy T. Kirk? Where was his stony-faced sidekick Mr Spock and the irascible Dr McCoy? We were faced with an older-looking bald guy with a French name and a VERY tight uniform! And he was surrounded by fresh-faced crew members in VERY tight uniforms, all swanning around a huge bridge set that was all pastel browns and black shiny view screens! Most shockingly though; it was set nearly a hundred years later than its predecessor. How could they throw away all that time and so many opportunities for crossovers with old characters?!
It didn’t take long, however, for fans to realise that ‘TNG’ (as it lovingly became known) was in fact an eminently fitting follow-up to the original series. This was a modern, intelligent science-fiction story whose broadly diverse cast allowed for a hugely entertaining array of stories that explored their (and our) attitudes, beliefs and drives on a scale not seen on network TV to that point. Over seven seasons, two spin-off series (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and four feature films (Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis) we came to accept the 24th Century take on Star Trek as being the ‘gold standard’ of storytelling in that universe. Since then we have had a number of other series, films, spin-offs, prequels and reboots, which have somehow managed to splinter the fan-base into wildly different camps. It’s a joy and relief then to have our favourite Frenchie in a tight jumpsuit back on our screens and living in the 24th Century of the Prime Universe.
Star Trek: Picard feels a bit like coming home after being away for a very long time. Sure, other places may be nice and look great, but they’ll never feel quite right. What could easily have been an awkward vanity project for an actor who is desperate to return to his halcyon days is, thankfully, something much more interesting. It is a very welcome return to the TNG “Prime” universe, albeit at a much later date. It is given sufficient breathing room from the past to enable it to tell a new and interesting story which embraces the 66 years of TNG and Original Series history. If viewers expect this to be the new 8th TV season of Star Trek: TNG, they are going to be disappointed; this is not a story of “brave new worlds and new life and new civilisations”. This is a personal story about heritage and legacy that is also the tale of an ageing man reassessing his place in the wider universe. It somehow manages to have some really cutting insights into real-life modern politics and the state of world affairs woven in there too, which is something Star Trek has certainly never done before, ever in its whole history, and that may make some fans uncomfortable… It also has some space ships and explosions though, so it’s OK.
It’s beautifully shot and has a really classic feel to it which will make long-term fans happy. It may not have the gloss and sheen of newer iterations like Star Trek: Discovery or the films of the “Kelvin” timeline, but thats entirely appropriate and in keeping with its source material. At its heart is the performance of Patrick Stewart: he may be nearly 80 but he feels comfortable and at home in the role of an older, rather embittered Picard. He is confident, assured and fits comfortably back into a role that is the perfect hook to hang a whole series on. People will be watching this for him alone. The producers were smart enough to surround him with a mix of new, younger characters to carry the action beats, as well as enough familiar faces to keep fans engaged (pun intended).
Star Trek: Picard was already picked up for a second season with Amazon Prime before it aired, and has since teased the return of even more old characters from TNG including the delightful Whoopi Goldberg. What will be interesting to see is if they can find a way to tie it in to the broader Trek universe, or if it will remain in its own bespoke corner. ‘Discovery‘ has taken a leap forward to an all new timezone, potentially leaving a spin-off series or two in its wake. Rumours abound of different films in development from creators like Noah Hawley and even Quentin Tarantino (!), though the latter seems likely to be dead in the water. Where Picard will fit in this broad church is dependent mostly on how its received by the audience in this first voyage, but wherever it ends up, we feel confident that the journey will be a heck of a ride.