After the very successful first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation concluded with "The Neutral Zone" in May 1988 it wasn't too long before a Second season was to hit the air with "The Child" hitting TV screens in November 1988 and introduced Dr. Pulanski (Diana Muldaur) who replaced Dr. Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden).
This second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation improves on the original (the Blu-Ray set of which is reviewed here) in almost every way. The storylines and episodes are more consistent, the actors have a much better chemistry (although replacing the character Beverly Crusher with Katherine Pulaski was a mistake, while the addition of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan is genius and Miles O'Brian starts to take a large secondary character role), new enemies are introduced including The Borg, the sets and effects have more sheen to them and everything is starting to click in a way that so few shows do.
Due to a writers strike Season Two of The Next Generation saw a reduction from the usual 26 episodes per season to 22, but what a ride it is. The episodes in this Blu-Ray set are as follows...
The first Blu-Ray disc starts with "The Child" which sees Dianna Troi mysteriously becoming pregnant and giving birth to a baby that grows up much quicker than expected while the Enterprise faces and unknown danger. "Where Silence Has Lease" is the second episode in the season and sees the Enterprise trapped in a void in space with no way out. "Elementary, Dear Data" is one of our most loved episodes and sees Data exploring the world of Sherlock Holmes but when Geordi creates Professor Moriarty the results are more deadly than expected. "The Outrageous Okona" sees the Enterprise crew dealing with a difficult space rogue while Data attempts to learn about humour. The final episode on the first dis is "Loud as a Whisper" which sees a deaf, telepathic ambassador mediating a peace treaty.
The second disc only contains four episodes, but includes what is arguably the best of the season - and in extended form. The first episode is "The Schizoid Man" sees a scientist uploading all his memories into Data to cheat death, "Unnatural Selection" sees the Enterprise crew trying to work out why everyone on the USS Lantree died of old age in order to save everyone with the same condition on a nearby space station. Moving on an "A Matter of Honor" sees Riker assigned to a Klingon vessel in an exchange program, and finally "The Measure of a Man", which is available as either original or extended episode (more on that under the extras section), is an iconic episode which sees Data refusing to be dismantled for science, and then, have to fight to prove he is a legal citizen, and not property of the Federation, in a courtroom.
Moving onto disc Four and episodes here include "Pen Pals" which sees Data befriending a child on a planet about to be destroyed by volcanic activity. "Q Who?" sees the return of the omnipotent Q who flings the Enterprise 7,000 light years away, and into the clutches of the Borg, "Samaritan Snare" sees an alien race, the Pekleds, kidnap Geordi, "Up the Long Ladder" has Picard trying to rescue two cultures, both under threat of destruction. Finally "Manhunt" sees Deanna's mother visit the ship, and in search for a new husband!
The final disc, Disc Five, contains another great episode called "The Emissary" where Worf's former lover arrives on the Enterprise to deal with sleeper agents and under belief they were still at war. "Peak Performance" sees the Enterprise face off with USS Hathaway in simulated battles and "Shades of Gray" wraps up the season with probably the weakest episode as it's a "clips" show where Riker recalls past experiences. This was due to the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike which saw this series cut to only 22 episodes.
As with the previous Blu-Ray release it is possible to view a preview of each episode prior to watching it. We only recommend this if you know the episodes as they contain some spoilers, however they really do show the improvements that High Definition has to offer.
In the opening moments of the first episode (well, at 0:00 to be precise) we can see a sharp Enterprise, but with a very low-resolution star field in the background. When the image moves to an interior shot at (0:31) the level of grain is immediately apparent and a dramatic increase over the first season. Now don't get me wrong, grain in a transfer isn't a bad thing but a few moments later (at 1:10) in the Captain's Quarters the grain is gone and the image seems to have had DNR applied giving a waxy look to the actors, and lack of fine detail. The film then moves to an exterior shot of the Enterprise at 2:25 and the star field is gorgeously sharp again (like those seen in Season One). All that is in the first 3 minutes of Episode One and just demonstrates the visual inconsistency - we must point out though that the first episode in this Season seems much more inconsistent then other episodes - something which is mentioned in the extras as those making the series were testing some new techniques (and we believe film stocks). Don't get me wrong, overall the Blu-Ray transfer is a marked improvement over the DVD release, but it's disappointing given the quality in the first season.
Yet again the series has been transferred in the series' original 4:3 aspect ratio and has been encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec which, according to our PS3, has a bitrate that often hovers between 20-25Mbps. The shift to Blu- Ray doesn't just see a jump in resolution and fine detail, but perhaps more importantly sees a major improvement in colour reproduction - not least of which in the darker Klingon scenes in episodes such as "Matter of Honor" or the Borg scenes in "Q Who?".
Besides the phenomenal remixed effort this Blu-Ray set contains each episode in the English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps, and it more accurately represents the original sound mix from each episode - some purists may actually prefer this option. Other options include German, Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps.
Subtitles are provided in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish. After sampling the subtitles at several spots in several episodes we found no major issues of concern with complete accuracy to the dialogue on-screen.
EXTRAS Yet again the team working on this Blu-Ray set have loaded it up with extras, which include documentaries, an extended episode (as detailed above) and even a couple of audio commentaries. We'll look at the extras according to which disc they are located.
1988 On-Air Season Two Promo(1:08): This is a short advertisement for Season Two of Star Trek TNG prior to hitting TV screens.
Energized: Season 2 Tech Update (7:56/HD): This is a far too brief look at Season 2 and how the series has been brought to Blu-Ray. Michael Okuda talks about the change in sets, testing film stock in the first episode (which may explain excessive grain in some scenes as mentioned above), visual effect improvements during filming and then the changes and improvements made for High Definition.
1988 Reading Rainbow segment with LeVar Burton (17:03): LeVar Burton hosted over 150 episodes of the American children's television series Reading Rainbow, and this 17 minute clip is a pretty entertaining and surprisingly in-depth look at creating the series, and includes quite a bit of behind the scenes footage from the set of TNG. Despite being aimed a kids, this is well worth a look and better than most EPK's we see on Blu-Ray releases these days.
2012 Reading Rainbow iTunes Promo (1:36/HD): Just a short advertisement for a Reading Rainbow App.
Departmental Briefing Year 2: Production (17:32): Taken from the DVD release, and in pretty average Standard Definition video, this remains a rather interesting look at the creation of Season 2 with plenty of detail about changes to the production, new designs (including food) and much more. It's definitely a quality extra worth your time.
Disc Two: The big extra on this disc is an extended version of "The Measure of a Man" which is regarded as one of the best episodes of all time. Not only does this disc contain a HD Extended Cut (which runs for 57:35) but also Hybrid version (which runs for 55:55) which includes footage from a VHS copy which the episodes writer Melinda Snodgrass kept and is the first rough cut, with occasional scenes missing. For Star Trek fans this is almost the Holy Grail - one of the best and most loved episodes with an additional 12 minutes of footage over the original TV airing.
Not only do we have an extended version of the episode, but also an Audio Commentary with Melinda Snodgrass and Mike and Denise Okuda which is a detailed and fascinating listen for fans of the franchise.
Gag Reel (10:30/HD): While typically I dislike Gag Reels the quality of this one, which has been sourced from the 35mm prints when they were being transferred for this Blu-Ray set, there are certainly some classic moments here - one from Worf in particular. It's definitely worth a look, if only to see the actors outside their on-screen personas.
Archival Mission Log: Inside Starfleet Archives: Penny Juday–Star Trek Coordinator (17:33): This featurette, filmed for the DVD release many years ago, focuses on Penny Juday who works on the back lot at Paramount and whom collects and stores Star Trek items and memorabilia. Again, this is a fascinating documentary as Penny goes through many of the items in storage.
Archival Mission Log: Selected Crew Analysis Year 2 (13:46): Another older documentary this is a look at the crew working on the series.
Deleted Scene (1:12): Hidden away under "The Icarus Factor" menu is this deleted scene presented in pretty poor Standard Definition quality - and most likely from a VHS tape or similar.
Audio Commentary with Dan Curry, Rob Bowman and Mike & Denise Okuda on "Q Who?": Arguably one of the, if not the, best episode in Season 2 this commentary is non-stop and provides a tonne of information about the episode that introduced the Borg. Definitely worth a listen.
Deleted Scenes (8:02): Despite only being presented in Standard Definition these four deleted scenes are often quite nice, and worth a look. It would have been great if these could have been found and scanned in HD for inclusion in the main episode, but it's nice to have these available in any case.
Archival Mission Log: Departmental Analysis Year 2–Memorable Missions (16:33/HD): This featurette looks at some of the most popular episodes from Season 2. With interviews from many who had a hand in creating a series there are some great anecdotes about these episodes.
Reunification: 25 Years after Star Trek: The Next Generation (61:53/HD): This fantastic feature sees all the main cast return and sit around having a frank discussion about being a part of the TV series with many recollections from the years working together, occasional troubles on the show, and how the series has changed their lives. There's clear friendships among the cast and this hour-long feature is essential viewing for Star Trek fans.
Part 1: Strange New Worlds (39:28/HD): This is a retrospective documentary which looks back at the success of the first season, how the fan base grew to massive proportions (before the Internet era),
Part 2: New Life and New Civilizations (42:01/HD): This second part is also brilliant and starts with the firing of Gates McFadden - and actors even talk about their disappointment in her firing - but then branches into a whole swag of other brilliant content including hiring a new doctor, Woopie's involvement, Q's return to the franchise, keeping the mood on the set light and entertaining,
Archival Mission Log: Mission Overview Year 2: (14:43): Rounding out all the extras is this featurette transferred from DVD which summarises the second season and its successes leading into Season 3.
Review By: Dave Warner