The third season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' was when the series really started to click in just about every episode. By now we're familiar with the crew, we're familiar with how they interact with the future tech, and we even start to recognize some of the futuristic scientific jargon they're throwing around (although, sometimes I feel just as lost during a conversation between Geordie and Data as I do during a medical diagnostic meeting on 'House'). Point is, after seasons one and two, the show had worked its way into a groove, so instead of introductory episodes that explore cursory information about characters and the objectives of the Enterprise, the storylines tend to get deeper and more philosophical. It's a joy to watch 'TNG' when the episode is not only entertaining, but thoughtful.
Season three explores some very deep and, at times, controversial themes. The fourth episode of the season, "Who Watches the Watchers," is one of the more fascinating episodes as far as I'm concerned. The Enterprise is called upon to help a team of Federation scientists who are observing the growth and evolution of a primitive alien species called the Mintakans. Their directive is very clear. They are, under no circumstances, to engage the Minakan people. If they are seen, the evolution of an entire species may be disrupted. Through a few unfortunate events, the Mitankan people end up believing that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is their god. What seems like a funny premise soon turns into a poignant and candid philosophical debate about religion. Truthfully, I don't know that a show nowadays would discuss the cons of religion (Picard is fully convinced that their belief in a god will hinder their evolution as a people greatly) so plainly.
Everyone gets their fair share of character-centric episodes. Wesley accidentally releases nanites into the ship's computer system ("Evolution"); Geordi (LeVar Burton) finds the dating scene difficult so he resorts to recreating female scientists that share his love for engineering ("Booby Trap"); Worf (Michael Dorn) befriends a recently orphaned boy whose mother was killed on a routine exploratory mission ("The Bonding"); Troi (Marina Sirtis) ends up falling in love with Lloyd Braun (Dan Shor) from 'Seinfeld' ("The Prince"); and Data (Brent Spiner) does his best to save a colony of stubborn settlers who have settled on a planet belonging to a hostile alien race ("The Ensigns of Command"). And, that's only the first few episodes.
This season is filled with memorable moments as we get to know the intricacies of the characters populating the Enterprise. With that knowledge we learn about their ambitions, goals, trepidations, and fears. We're introduced to new alien races, while revisiting old ones like the greedy Frenegi and the blood-thirsty Romulans. We even get another visit from our old friend Q (John de Lancie), which may make you happy or annoyed depending on your feelings toward him.
Perhaps season three is best remembered for its finale, "Best of Both Worlds: Part 1." Having been introduced to the Borg in season two, it isn't until this season where we feel the full weight of their power. "Best of Both Worlds" is such a fan favorite that CBS decided to put out a feature-length version of both parts. Usually, in adventure-centric shows like 'TNG' it's easy to think, "Oh, it's alright. It'll all turn out well in the end." But, when season three ends and Picard is in the clutches of the Borg, it's extremely difficult to think that. The way the conflict between the Enterprise crew and the Borg is handled truly makes it one of the best episodes of the series.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season three is presented by CBS Home Entertainment. They’ve provided a 6-disc set utilizing 50GB Blu-ray Discs. There are 26 episodes in the season. Discs one through three and disc five have five episodes each. Disc four has four episodes. Disc six contains two episodes. The discs come in a slightly oversized Blu-ray keepcase which contains two swinging arms that each house two discs back to back. The set comes complete with a slipcover that matches the rest of the sets.
The video remastering of the second season was farmed out to another company in order for CBS to keep up with their release schedule. The differences were significant, with season two ending up with a good-looking, but ultimately flawed video presentation. This season was taken care of in house at CBS, and I must say that none of the errors that appeared in the second season release show up here. So far, the remastering of season three is the best the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Blu-rays have looked.
Completely remastered to 1080p from its original film elements, season three looks stellar. It's evident here that there certainly is a ton of detailed video information that simply wasn't available back when the show was first airing. The original film elements have captured so much minute detail that fans will likely be surprised by what they're seeing here. Along with the overall boost in picturesque clarity is the added bonus that CBS has gone through and meticulously recreated, or digitally touched-up, many of the visual effects used throughout the season. Never do these enhancements appear garish or out of place, like say many of George Lucas' changes to the original 'Star Wars' movies. Here the transition scenes, like the Enterprise floating in a planet's orbit, have been completely reworked for an HD look. The Enterprise itself looks beautifully authentic, gleaming in all its starship glory. The varied planets depict clouds, weather systems, land masses, oceans, and all sorts of other landmarks and details that make them look much more genuine than the fuzzy planet masses that aired in the original episodes.
While there are a ton of improvements here, there are a few things to keep your eye out for. For those of you that watched the show religiously, do you remember how difficult it was to see some of those darker episodes? Now episodes like “The Enemey,” which were filmed predominantly in darkened sets, have much more clarity and detail to look at. No longer do shadows overtake the entire picture. Yes, at times shadows can be a little unforgiving, some minor crush here and there, but it's nowhere near as bad as it was. Even compared to the DVDs, this is a huge improvement. The black areas are stable, inky, and unencumbered by digital noise.
The other aspect of this transfer that will be perfectly noticeable from the first episode on, is how the color pops. Colors are definitely much more vibrant this time around. All you have to do is take a look at the reds and yellows of the Star Fleet uniforms and compare them to what they looked like in standard definition, and you'll see a gigantic difference. The red of the officer uniforms is actually much more crimson, rather than a light fuzzy red color.
Finally, detail is extraordinary (except for a few soft focus moments). Sometimes it calls a bit too much attention to make-up and wig lines, but for the most part it does little to distract. Instead the detail on display here attracts attention. Everything from the pores on Data's gleaming skin to the hairs in Riker's manly beard are completely visible. There are times where those uniforms hug unfortunate parts of the body – poor Deanna Troi – which can cause for some funny, "Did I see what I just saw?" moments. Let's put it this way, the black bottom areas of the uniforms are no longer simply black masses. There’s much more definition and detail in there than you've ever seen.
There's no need to expound more. Season three is the best looking season of 'TNG' so far. It’s plainly obvious that farming out the second season video presentation wasn’t a good idea. It's great to see that CBS took the reins here and turned out an amazing, fan-pleasing product.
The first season release came complete with audio problems. Those of you that have been buying these seasons know that. CBS and Paramount soon instituted a disc replacement program to help out customers who had purchased the defective discs. Season two may have been released with some glaring video errors, but as far as sound goes it sounded superb. The same applies with season three.
Sporting a newly minted 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, the third season features some wonderfully full-bodied audio that will certainly give your surround sound a workout. On the bridge, beeps and boops of the Enterprise computer are placed perfectly in the rear and side speakers. Phasers travel seamlessly from one channel to another as they shoot across the frame. The low rumble of the Enterprise as it passes by has just enough LFE to be felt in your chest. The opening, as the Enterprise zooms by at warp speed, sounds fantastic. The whoosh travels fluidly through the front channels and into the side channels, creating an encompassing effect that never gets old.
Dialogue is always placed just so. The center channel hosts much of the show's dialogue as the front channels are used for deft directionality. Rear channels provide more than adequate ambiance whether it be action in space as the Enterprise engages in interstellar dogfights, or a team of crew members lands on a strange planet to have a look around.
Fans should be more than happy with this remixed audio track. There are no glaring problems or oversights to report. CBS and Paramount have obviously learned from the mistake on the first season and haven't committed it again.
The third season is a seminal moment in the show's illustrious run. Even though the season started out under great turmoil with a new writing staff and no set scripts, the showrunners and writing team found a way to bring out the best the series had to offer. It's apparent they set their sights on really developing and understanding the beloved characters of the Enterprise. They tackled controversial and poignant topics, often taking stances that might not be politically correct. Throw in the fact that this is the best season as far as stellar Blu-ray presentation goes, and this release comes very highly recommended.