It's fair to say that Season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation was when the series really hit its stride with some of the strongest writing of the franchise, the return of Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverley Crusher (which saw Dr. Pulanski, played by Diana Muldaur, gone from the series) and one of the best cliffhanger endings to a series ever seen on TV with Captain Picard captured by the Borg. We annoyed the hell out of Paramount to get this Blu-Ray set for review (and a bug kudos to them for their ongoing support of Futuregamez), so we were very pleased when the discs turned up on our doorstep. Does this transfer live up to the lofty expectations it deserves? Let's start with details of the episodes on each discs...
Season Three starts on Disc One with a couple of "weakish" episodes before the season picks up steam. The first Episode is "Evolution" which sees the Enterprise suffering system malfunctions as they investigate an exploding star. The second episode "The Ensigns of Command" sees Data sent to evacuate a human colony set for destruction by an alien entity. "The Survivors" is where the season starts to pick up as the Enterprise investigates a colony that has been eradicated except two elderly residents and their home. "Who Watches The Watchers" sees an away team break the Prime Directive to remain hidden, but in doing so, turn Captain Picard into a god. The first disc is rounded off with one of Season 3's worst episodes, "The Bonding", which sees Worf and Wesley help a young boy cope with the death of his mother.
Moving on to Disc Two and the first episode is "Booby Trap" which sees the Enterprise setting off an ancient booby trap while investigating a derelict space craft. Another solid episode is up next called "The Enemy" which sees Geordi trapped on a planet with a Romulan while in the skies above a Romulan Warbird prevents the Enterprise from assisting. "The Price" has the Enterprise crew negotiating the rights to a newly discovered stable wormhole. "The Vengeance Factor" has the Enterprise Crew trying to mend relations between two alien species. The second disc concludes with the classic episode "The Defector" which sees a Romulan warning the Enterprise about an impending Romulan attack and a secret base within the Neutral Zone.
Disc Four contains four episodes. The first of these is "The Offspring" which is the first episode directed by Jonathan Frakes and sees Data creating his own daughter. Next is one of the best episodes of the seasons called "Sins of the Father" in which Worf is accused of Treason and faces the Death penalty while Captain Picard offers his defence on the Klingon home world. The third episode is "Allegiance" which sees Captain Picard kidnapped and replaced with an imposter. Finally "Captain's Holiday" sees Captain Picard take a vacation on Risa, however things are not as leisurely as he hoped when two Vorgons claim to be looking for a powerful weapon from the future.
Disc Five commences with "Tin Man" which sees a telepath attempting to save an alien, while the Romulans attempt to destroy the alien. Next up is "Hollow Pursuits" which sees Lt. Reginald Barclay putting the Enterprise in danger when he neglects his duties and spends time in the holodeck. The third episode on this disc is "The Most Toys" which sees Data killed in a shuttle explosion, but the Enterprise crew is sent on another mission rather than being able to investigate the circumstances. "Sarek" is the next episode on the disc and as the title suggests it features Spock's father who is on the Enterprise to negotiate a peace treaty but struggles to control his "emotions". The final episode is "Ménage à Troi" which sees Riker and Troi's taking leave on Betazed, but Deanna's mother Lwaxana surprises their party before they are kidnapped by the Ferengi.
As with the previous Blu-Ray releases 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 over the Standard Definition previews.
Season 3 was a make or break one for Star Trek: The Next Generation and while there are a couple of average episodes, the number of "exceptional" episodes is certainly on the rise with some superb writing (largely in part due to Michael Piller coming in as head writer) and a close bond between the cast and crew. It's great fun to revisit these episodes in this series and even today the series doesn't seem dated. Indeed the final cliffhanger episode "The Best of Both Worlds Part 1" left fans reeling when it first aired, and even today it holds up as a classic episode.
As many of you would be aware from your own experiences, or indeed our own review of Star Trek: TNG Season 2 the video transfer on that release was well short of what we experienced in Star Trek: TNG Season 1 with inconsistent video, and visual effects that still appeared to be in standard definition, and not brought up to modern "Blu-Ray" expectations. So what about The Next Generation Season 3? Well we are very pleased to report that this third season is exceptional in every regard.
By the time the third season of The Next Generation came around the franchise had settled on the best filming techniques, and with the introduction of a new cinematographer in Marvin Rush, the visual style of the series was set. Colours were bold, visual effects were taken to a new level and the show contained a very unique lighting.
Fortunately, on a technical level Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3, is presented on Blu-Ray in the original 4:3 aspect ratio using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Our PlayStation 3 shows a video bitrate that generally sits above 20Mbps but the image always looks sharp with fine detail throughout.
Well done CBS for ensuring that Season 3 returns the franchise to the quality that it deserves both in terms of the visual effects, and also the transfer. Given the franchise was now into it's third season the visual style, and new filming techniques give this release a visual "pop" to the colours, and it's a fantastic visual experience as a result. Superb.
Just like the two previous seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation this third season is also presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (24-bit/48Khz) lossless audio track that livens up the series considerably. The audio is, at times, quite front heavy due to the heavy dialogue nature of many episodes, the clarity offered on these discs is vastly superior to the Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbps tracks provided on the DVD releases. The music in particular sounds much more lively in these lossless audio tracks - not least of which in the classic opening theme music.
If you're a purist that loves things as they originally sounded, these discs also include a Dolby Digital 2.0 encodes at 192kbps. Other languages 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.
Audio Commentary on "The Bonding": This commentary is from Ronald D. Moore and Michael and Denise Okuda and as expected it offers quite an insight into the production, and story aspects of this episode. It's definitely worth a listen.
Mission Overview Year Three (17:41): This is carried over from the previous DVD set and gives a great overview of the production of this season - from the lack of scripts even the day before filming, to the return of Gates McFadden, and much more.
Selected Crew Analysis Year Three (13:51): Also carried over from the DVD this is a worth inclusion as it focuses on the actors, and their performances, on the set and how their characters evolved during Season Three.
Audio Commentary on "Yesterday's Enterprise": This is the first of two commentaries on this episode which features Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr and Mike & Denise Okuda. It's a new audio commentary and as such as a retrospective look at some aspects of the episode, but is fantastic to listen to.
Audio Commentary on "Yesterday's Enterprise": This second audio commentary on the episode features episode director David Carson. Recorded in 2008 this is a pretty decent audio track for someone flying solo with plenty of information for Star Trek fans.
Departmental Briefing: Year 3 Memorable Missions (13:25): This featurette explores the most important, and impressive, episodes in Season 3 with input from the cast and crew.
Audio Commentary on "The Offspring": This is a newly recorded audio commentary includes writer Rene Echevarria and Mike & Denise Okuda and provides plenty of details on the production of this episode. I only wish Jonathan Frakes was involved in the commentary to provide insight into his first ever directorial effort (he went on to direct over a dozen more Star Trek episodes and two feature films First Contact and Insurrection as well as a swag of other TV shows and films).
Audio Commentary on "Sins of the Father": Yet another new commentary this one includes Ronald D. Moore, Dan Curry, and Mike & Denise Okuda and is a great insight to creating one of the greatest episodes in the Star Trek universe, primarily as it includes the first visuals of the Klingon home world.
In Memoriam David Rappaport (5:07/HD): This is located under the Episode "The Most Toys" and is a series of clips starring the English actor that were shot for the episode, however the role had to be recast when the actor attempted suicide (and indeed he succeeded soon after).
Gag Reel (8:37/HD): Most Gag Reels are pretty dull or set up however this contains plenty of goofs and mistakes from the set. It's pretty entertaining and worth a look.
Inside The Writer’s Room (70:52/HD): Moderated by Star Trek fan and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane this is an absolutely brilliant roundtable discussion with writers Naren Shankar, Ronald D. Moore, and Rene Echevarria as well as writer and executive producer Brannon Braga. All manner of topics are discussed including dealing with Gene Roddenberry, using fan written scripts, favourite episodes, best and worst writing, the season finale and so much more. This is a superb feature which focuses on not only Season 3, but touches upon all Next Generation seasons, and even some of the other films and shows. Star Trek fans will absolutely love this.
A Tribute to Michael Piller (13:50/HD): Passing away in 2005, Michael Piller was integral to the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation and this lovely feature is a tribute to him from his co-workers.
Review By: Dave Warner