Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted on televisions 35 years ago on September 28, 1987, with its premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Set aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-D under command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, The Next Generation followed Picard and his crew’s adventures across the Alpha Quadrant in the 24th Century.
Ahead of its anniversary, we’re spotlighting 10 underrated gems out of the 178 episodes that spanned seven seasons! Not only that, to up the ante, this editor is selecting one episode per character. Engage!
Wesley Crusher — “The First Duty”
Season 5, Episode 19
The wunderkind acting ensign Wesley Crusher left his post aboard the Enterprise-D upon being anticipated to Starfleet Academy. Captain Picard was scheduled as the Academy’s commencement speaker. As he was en route to Earth, he received a private correspondence from Admiral Brand, the superintendent at the Academy; Wesley and his flight team, the Nova Squadron, were involved in an accident during a training exercise that resulted in another cadet’s death. While most of Crusher’s episodes centered on the teen’s engineering intelligence or scientific curiosity, “The First Duty” placed him in the company of other kids his age instead of senior officers and focused on his moral compass rather than his academic prowess.
Dr. Beverly Crusher — “Sub Rosa”
Season 7, Episode 14
As the Enterprise-D’s chief medical officer and mother to Wesley Crusher, most of Dr. Beverly Crusher’s most memorable moments encompass her commitment and compassion for her patients even at cost of disobeying Starfleet command and ideals. However, let us present a truly underrated Beverly episode, one directed by Jonathan Frakes no less, where the good doctor throws caution to the wind, resigns from Starfleet, and moves into her late grandmother’s cottage to be with her grandma's former paranormal paramour, forever, just like all the Howard women before her. This episode has everything — granny’s salacious diaries, mysterious heirloom candles, insane weather anomalies, impetuous acts of passion, and erotic ephemeral caresses. A+, 10/10, can’t recommend this episode enough.
Natasha ‘Tasha’ Yar — “The Naked Now”
Season 1, Episode 3
Tasha Yar suffered the tragedy of losing her parents at a young age and having to survive on the lawless streets of Turkana IV. It was her escape from the colony and enrollment in Starfleet Academy that led her to the position as the Enterprise-D’s security chief. While her presence on the series centered on her bravery and physical strength, “The Naked Now” offered audiences another side to the security officer when the crew suddenly is infected by a mysterious illness that makes them behave in a manner akin to intoxication. Not only that, but the episode also revealed the closeness and significance of Tasha to Data, and would ultimately help him prove his sentience as there was a romantic connection.
Guinan — “Rascals”
Season 6, Episode 7
Guinan was more than the mystifying and attentive El-Aurian who tended the 10 Forward bar on the Enterprise-D. In fact, the wise bartender often nudged the Starfleet officers aboard the ship to solutions to problems they didn’t realize they had. While Q perceived her as terrifying and hostile, she was invaluable as a listener and counselor to the ship’s senior crew, but especially to Picard. Their relationship transcended “beyond friendship and family.” Despite being a refugee and survivor following her home world’s destruction at the hand of the Borg and the trauma of being caught in the Nexus, “Rascals” provided Guinan with much levity and playfulness when she, along with Picard and two others, reverted to their 12 year old bodies, physically but not mentally, following a transporter accident. As the others sought to return to duty, Guinan embraced her newfound youthfulness and pushed a serious ensign to take advantage of their unexpected predicament by jumping on beds, shirking responsibilities, and taking down a Ferengi invader or two. The missions of the Enterprise-D is hard work, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun while doing it.
Worf — “Fistful of Datas”
Season 6, Episode 8
If there was one thing Worf, son of Mogh, was known for, it would be his commitment to Klingon heritage and warrior ways as well as to his role as a senior Starfleet officer on the Enterprise-D. Duty and honor were tantamount to the ship’s chief tactical officer and security chief. However, his most underrated episodes involved his son Alexander Rozhenko. Under direct orders from Picard to enjoy his free time, what’s a father and son to do? Don a couple of Stetsons and head to the Ancient West, of course! Unfortunately for Worf, Alexander, and Counselor Troi, they end up trapped in a Holodeck program where all the interactive western characters look like Data and possess his enhanced strengths. That’s not all — the Holodeck’s safety protocols were disabled. Can the sheriff, junior deputy, and the mysterious stranger “Durango” complete the program story without being terminated? Watch and find out!
Data — “Phantasms”
Season 7, Episode 6
One of the many reasons that makes The Next Generation great is Data, the sentient android, and his quest to be human. However, being human isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the previous season, Data ran a program that allowed him to dream. In “Phantasms,” unfortunately, his dreams turn out to be haunting and menacing nightmares. In fact, he repeatedly encountered a Counselor Troi who is a cake consumed by her crewmates, Dr. Crusher drinking out of First Officer Will Riker’s head like a coconut, and a mysterious group of aggressive men. What does this all mean? The only person Data can turn to his Dr. Sigmund Freud, himself.
Geordi La Forge — “The Next Phase”
Season 5, Episode 24
Most people never learn their impact on those around them until it’s too late. Fortunately (unfortunately), Geordi La Forge discovered what he meant to his friends on the Bridge at his funeral. After a transporter malfunction following a Romulan distress call, the ship’s chief engineer and accompanying Ensign Ro Laren failed to materialize on the Enterprise-D’s transporter, Riker deemed the two officers dead, lost in duty. Unable to announce their existence to the crew, La Forge and Ro questioned if they were truly dead, if this was the afterlife, or if it was something else. Grappling with their morality and inability to communicate with others, La Forge continued his pursuit of scientific knowledge while their friends and colleagues tried to convey their significance in prepared eulogies. Come for the high concept story; stay for the tender and philosophical quandaries.
Deanna Troi — “Face of the Enemy”
Season 6, Episode 14
As a half-Betazoid and the ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi’s presence often centered on her empathic abilities. However, “Face of the Enemy” placed Deanna in a most surprising and dangerous situation that tested her mettle and required more than her Betazoid traits. Kidnapped and surgically altered to look like a Romulan, she was forced to help the Romulan underground movement (as well as Ambassador Spock) and their mission. The directive required her to assume the role of a Tal Shiar intelligence operative, overseeing the transfer of a highly important shipment of cargo, aboard a Romulan warbird. To ensure her survival, Troi must maintain her assertive and aggressive façade — a stark contrast to her general easy-going and empathic sensibilities.
Will Riker — “First Contact”
Season 4, Episode 15
Similar to Deanna Troi’s episode, the half-Betazoid’s Imzadi and the Enterprise-D’s first officer, Will Riker’s most underrated episode also involved surgical alteration. In “First Contact,” Number One, posing as a Malcorian, must navigate a precarious situation with a new alien planet on the verge of warp technology. Unfortunately, he ended up jeopardizing the reconnaissance mission following an injury and landing on in an alien hospital where his physical body’s interior does not match theirs. Hijinks ensue as the Enterprise’s crew tried not to defy the Prime Directive. Not all first contact missions go smoothly, and this episode, which broke the series’ mold, demonstrated how they sometimes went array.
Jean-Luc Picard — “Disaster”
Season 5, Episode 5
We can’t anticipate when disaster strikes, not even in the 24th Century on a flagship starship. The amount of hijinks involved include Counselor Troi commanding the Enterprise-D as the highest-ranking officer on the Bridge, Worf delivering the O’Briens’ baby, Riker navigating the Jefferies tubes with Data’s bodyless head, and Dr. Crusher and Geordi stuck in the cargo bay with their oxygen levels depleting. Elsewhere, Picard has his nightmare realized as he's stuck in the turbolift with three young kids; but the cherry on top, the captain fractures his ankle and must rely on his honorary command crew to climb out of the failing turbolift towards safety. To commend Picard on his conduct, the honorary command crew presents him with a plague after the entire ordeal.
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Christine Dinh (she/her) is the managing editor for StarTrek.com. She’s traded the Multiverse for helming this Federation Starship.
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