“I add a little spice, a little excitement to your lives, and all you do is complain!” — Q, “Q Who?”
Researching this review, I found several excellent websites dealing with the role of religion within Star Trek — or rather, the lack of a role for traditional Earth religions within the Star Trek universe. Gene Roddenberry, an ardent atheist, banished Earth’s religious practices to a quaint relic of the past. That seems logical — after all, can you truly have a utopian society without commerce or war without rendering moot that which, by its very nature, sets people at odds on a cosmic level? One could even assume that DaVinci Code-esque archaeology had discovered that Christianity — nay, all world religions — were grounded in faulty logic and dubious history. And hey, if you encountered time travel as often as the 24th century seems to, wouldn’t you travel through time to try to prove or disprove the largest questions your world has ever known?
But, what those articles failed to mention was one of the anomalies of the areligious bent of Trekdom: Q.
Return with us now to the thrilling days of 1987. The Trek franchise was riding high, thanks to the highly successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home the previous year. (It was the last Trek film to crack the annual top-ten-grossing-films list. And there were six more films after that.) Gene Roddenberry was still at the helm. Despite the relative ignominy of syndication, the Nielsens were kind to it — in its first season, it reached over 8 million viewers, quite a bit for a syndicated show.
In its first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint,” we met the entity that would become the Enterprise’s nemesis for seven seasons. Hmm, is “nemesis” too strong a word? How about “thorn in the side”? Yeah, that works better. Q was a part of the “Q Continuum,” beings with limitless control of space, time, and matter. Gods, if you will. Except, this particular Q took an interest in human beings as a species, and in the crew of the Enterprise (and later, Voyager) in particular. In their first meeting, he does no less than put the crew of the Enterprise on trial for the sins of all humanity. Does he do it out of a desire for retribution of biblical proportions? Or is it all a lark, something to pass his time? Considering the frivolousness of his future encounters with the Enterprise, it seems like the latter. While “Encounter at Farpoint” hints at Q’s impish nature, late episodes would prove it.
Their next meeting (later in Season One), “Hide and Q,” found Q kidnapping most of the bridge crew and granting Cmdr. Riker the powers of a member of the Q Continuum. It’s another test for humankind: Can one mortal resist the lure of having limitless power? Can his fellows resist having their innermost desires granted? Of course they can — this is Star Trek, the world of boundless optimism and trust in the goodness of human nature.
In Season Two, Q would take the Enterprise on a far-flung journey to the Delta Quadrant (the part of space from which Voyager would spend seven seasons trying to get a ship home) in “Q Who.” Here, Q sets the course for his involvement in many of his upcoming episodes — he’s the merry prankster, getting the Enterprise into situations, watching them squirm to get out, more of a plot device to get an interesting situation rolling than the point of the plot himself. Here, he’s presenting another test to Jean-Luc Picard, our principled hero: If he thinks he can handle any situation, what happens when he’s put into a situation that there’s no possible way he can handle it? Stranded, far from home, the Enterprise meets an enemy that cannot be beaten: The Borg. And Picard admits defeat, asking Q to take the ship out of harm’s way.
Next season, Q would return in “Deja Q.” This time, he’s stripped of his Q-like powers and must work as a crewmember on the Enterprise. An act of self-sacrifice prompts the Continuum to invite him back.
Fulfilling John De Lancie’s contractual one-episode-per-season (or so it would seem), Season Four finds him back for “Qpid.” Legally binding verbiage can be the only explanation for his involvement in this story, which could easily have been another holodeck story. Q brings the bridge crew to Sherwood Forest, casting them in your usual Robin Hood roles. It’s all because a chick who Picard had a fling with on vacation is visiting the Enterprise. Yawn.
Skipping a season, Q returns in “True Q.” The sister from The Wonder Years is on board the Enterprise, and she’s exhibiting strange abilities. Come to find out, she’s Q-spawn. No, not of the Q we all know and…um, let’s leave it at “know.” These Qs wanted to go mortal, and were killed for their insolence. The conclusion is straight out of an After-School Special, if After-School Specials had special effects. And you know, gods and stuff.
To make up for the lack of a S5 TNG ep, Q returns in parallel with TNG’s S6 for the first season of Deep Space Nine, marking his only appearance on that far more taciturn Trek incarnation. He’s only along for the ride, though. That chick from “Qpid”? Yeah, she’s back too, and since she left the Enterprise with Q, I guess it’s only natural that he’d be along too. This is quite possibly the most pointless hour of television since that Britney Spears “reality” series. I think it was around this time that I stopped watching Deep Space Nine — in fact, stopped watching Trek altogether until about the sixth season of Voyager.
Which is a shame, because it meant that I missed one of the best episodes of Trek. “Tapestry” (which aired in Season Six, not long after that DS9 episode) finds Picard dead, and Q waiting to greet him in the afterlife. (This would be the only time that there would be a religious overtone to his appearance.) In shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, Q gives Picard the chance to relive his life if only he’d made different decisions. It’s something we all think about — if we had made a different choice, how would life have turned out? For Picard, changing that critical choice would’ve turned him into an indecisive man never prepared to command a starship. Q takes a back seat again, setting Picard’s “this is your life” moment into play, but not being actively involved in events. It’s a great look at a man we all thought we knew after watching him take charge for six years.
As The Next Generation prepared to go off the air after seven seasons, it was only natural for it to come full circle…sort of. In “All Good Things…” Picard is once again in Q’s courtroom, but this time it’s more of a warning that Picard will be responsible for the destruction of all humanity. How? It seems to be tied into three different timelines — the present, the future, and the Enterprise of “Encounter at Farpoint.” While the story is rife with the worst clichés of Trek storytelling — technobabble, time travel — nonetheless it’s an engrossing story, in no small part because of the strong sense of character that had developed and continued to evolve, even as their time came to a close (not really, as the first TNG-based movie would be released later that year). As TV series send-offs go, this one is top-notch.
The final three Q appearances were on Voyager, or what would’ve been remembered as the lamest of the Trek series if not for Enterprise. For seven years, they wandered around the Delta Quadrant like the Israelites in the desert, their Moses the less than stalwart Kathryn Janeway. Their encounters with Q were as meaningless as everything else that happened to them — for one thing, I don ‘t recall them ever asking him for a little help returning home. Come on, all he has to do is snap his fingers! The three eps try to show different sides of Q and the Continuum — the downsides of immortality, a civil war amongst gods, and a god as a child. The first episode is a thinly veiled pro-assisted suicide piece. While I don’t have a problem with sci-fi as bully pulpit on current issues, this one is patently obvious in its intent and misuses the Q Continuum in general, and John De Lancie’s Q in particular, to foist its social message upon us. The other two episodes? The Civil War episode is another holodeck episode masquerading as a Q episode, and it’s so bland as to be completely unforgettable. The episode with Q’s son is like a bad sitcom plot in space, a way to bring back the impish Q without taking years off John De Lancie’s face.
There you have it: 12 stories, spanning 13 years, with a single character. It makes for a more cohesive theme than the other “Fan Collective” box sets — these episodes are going to have more in common than random episodes about the Borg, or time travel, or Klingons — but that doesn’t make them as enjoyable an experience. Frankly, I remembered Q being a lot more fun than this, but maybe that’s because I was a nerdy teenager during TNG’s run and was easily impressed by his antics. Now, I wish that he had been used a little more wisely. If Roddenberry was so interested in presenting a humanist universe, why introduce a god as a recurring character and yet not explore what that means to those who don’t believe in the supernatural? The tête-à-tête between Picard and Q is baseline philosophy, monochromatic arguments that leave no room for the gray areas that you find in real life. It brought to mind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when God says “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that” and disappears in a puff of logic.
If you do shell out for Star Trek: Fan Collective: Q, you’ll find four discs in a handsome book-like presentation. It looks nice, sure, but I was constantly telling my three-year-old not to touch it for fear he’d break it. The episodes are presented in their original full-frame formats, with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. These are direct ports from the full-season box sets, so if you want in-depth technical details, go look at our excellent reviews. Extras are limited to text-based commentaries on three seemingly random episodes. I love these text commentaries — they’re less disruptive of the viewing experience — but more of them would’ve been appreciated.
Here’s the conundrum: Do I recommend that you buy this? I’d say it’s for die-hard Trekkers only, but if you’re a die-hard Trekker, you probably already have these seasons on DVD, so you don’t need a four-disc Q summary. So, if you’re a cash-strapped Trekker and don’t have the seasons…eh, save your money and wait until you can. Anyone else…why are you reading this review?