So I heard a couple of days ago that there was a new Star Trek Blu-Ray release of the episode that in many ways really defined Star Trek: The Next Generation – Best of Both Worlds. I joked to a friend of mine that they had 'finally released the best Next Gen movie on Blu-Ray', and you know what, I was right! (Not going to launch into a rant on Star Trek movies now. I was hoping to work on my book today...) At this point I'm going to launch into the obligatory rave about the astounding quality of the disc – I've never seen the show look even remotely this sharp, you can really tell that they went all-out with this one. No use of CGI, of course, it's all good old-fashioned model work, and it provides a realism that somehow isn't quite there (yet) with computer generation. Sound quality is likewise excellent, of course – I haven't got to the extras yet, so no idea what they are like, but I'll probably spin up the commentary while I'm working this afternoon.
Remember I was talking about military science-fiction? Best of Both Worlds is proof that Star Trek, at its best, is capable of portraying the whole spectrum of SF, because this is military science-fiction. But it isn't in a milsf show, not by a long shot, and in a way that's why this works so well, and I think why it is so fondly remembered and stands out. This is not what these characters spend all their time doing; they are explorers first, not warriors – watching them adapt to what on the face of it seems to be a totally hopeless situation – and prevail – is a treat to watch, especially with everything getting worse and worse as the two-parter goes on. (I should say that this release bundles the two into one movie, and it does it seamlessly.)
Don't let anyone tell you this is a Picard show. Hell, yes, Patrick Stewart does a fantastic job portraying his conversion into Borg, but for most of the episode he's rather more in the background. This one is a Riker piece – far more about the difficulties of command, of readiness to sit in the 'big chair', a theme that runs through quite a lot of Star Trek, come to think about it. The one thing it doesn't really do that well is answer the 'why doesn't Riker accept his own command'. (Honestly, why Picard just gets his ship back after this is a bit of a mystery. He led a fleet which wiped out dozens of starships – yes, he wasn't in his right mind, but there should be a mountain of question marks over his suitability for command. Add that – Riker was given the Enterprise. I think if I'd been Producing, I might have kept Riker as 'Captain', bumped Picard up to Admiral with Enterprise as his flagship. No change to the dynamic, but some fun new stuff for the characters, and it might have played well with some of the arcs in later episodes.)
Shelby is set up as a bit of a straw-puppet here in the early parts of the episode; Riker needs a foil to push him into the big chair, and she does it – I think the look on her face if Riker had given the First Officer's job to Data or Worf (where does that come from, anyway?) would have been worth the price of admission, but it is a sensible move, though again the character is a lot stronger in the first episode than the second. She is one of the first in a series of guest 'Starfleet officers' who act as if they are in a military – as in, act realistically. (Jellico winning the top prize later on.) It's a bit refreshing, and I must admit I wouldn't mind watching the AU version where Patrick Stewart decides not to continue with the series, and that dynamic continues.
Let's not forget the Battle of Wolf 359. Today, I'm quite sure that we would see it on-screen in all its glory, dozens of starships flying about. (Hell, we did - watch the start of First Contact.) In this, all we get is a brief snatch of communication from Admiral Hanson, and then a shot of the Enterprise flying through the drifting ruins of destroyed vessels. And that is far more effective than the massive battle sequence would have ever been - seeing the aftermath of the battle alone is such a stark shock, and the cast react extremely well to watching those hulks drift across the scene. Probably one of the stand-out scenes of the entire series.
I'm going to do the let-down here – the ending is a bit...of a cop out. After throwing everything they've got at the Borg ship, finally it takes Data doing a hack into their systems and putting them all to sleep. I can certainly appreciate that they had to an extent written themselves to a point where it was going to take a deus ex machina – but it didn't. There were some other options. (Try this one – use the derelict starships in the ruined fleet as booby traps, luring the Borg in and blowing up their antimatter reactors, for example. That would have been a visual effect to behold. And yes – I'm filing this one away to use myself at some point in the future.)
Best of Both Worlds works because it is a contrast. Because it is not something the series usually does, it works extremely well when they do it. I must have watched this episode a dozen times; I still remember when the cliffhanger originally aired. I have no doubt that I'm going to be watching this one a lot more times...but next I have 'Encounter at Farpoint'. (Heck, Amazon had it for a fiver when I ordered BOBW, I figured I might as well get both of them.) Let's see how that one fares.