The Titlebar Archive: Encounter at Farpoint

TV There are perhaps two especially embarrassing home videos of me in circulation (circulation in this case meaning the vaults at the Royal Bank of Scotland and a box in my flat somewhere). The first is of me line dancing to Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head at the end of a corporate team building exercise at a conference centre in Southend-On-Sea , a horror I luckily have never had a chance to see.

The other is of the seventeen year old version of me in a classroom reading from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual as though it were some ancient gospel, being ignored and told to shut up by my classmates before later explaining to them the concept of the IDIC. It’s not so much what I’m saying, but the commitment with which I’m saying it.

Clearly since becoming a Who fan I’ve had conversations and written pieces that probably trump both. But it’s a reminder that at one time I was as much a Star Trek fan and probably would still be if I hadn’t realised timelords were so much more fun and Star Trek: Voyager's production team hadn't made Threshold in the same year as the Who TV movie coming out, two events which can't be a coincidence.

But I do remember seeing Encounter at Farpoint for the first time, on a rental from Video City in Garston, which before the BBC Two broadcasts was the only way us British fans could access it. Clearly having already been watched by several hundred people, the tracking was all over the place but it was still enthralling (and better than the later fifth generation copy which was my first experience of DS9's Emissary).

 It’s Star Trek! But set even further in the future!  It's all so bright and colourful!  Look how sleek the new Enterprise is!  It can separate the saucer section!  I do like that new doctor!.  I do like that new doctor!  She's nice!  I like her son too!  We're the same age as me!  We could be friends me and Wesley!  Or is that Wesley and I?  Then I could see his mother quite often!  I like her red hair!  (I was weird at that age)  (At that age!?!)

But time hasn’t been kind to Farpoint. Now available on blu-ray in a new HD restoration, it’s a fairly ropey piece of entertainment with a bizarrely structured script filled with clunky romance that reintroduces all of Gene Roddenbury’s hoary clich├ęs, menacing Gods, Asimovian machines seeking humanity and a genius teenager.  Only later would writers make most of these elements actually work for the series.

Yet the performances are better than expected, with the possible exception of Marina Sirtis, who’s recently disowned hers. Stewart’s undoubtedly the best, commanding the screen as much as the bridge, but even a pre-beard Jonathan Frakes has an easy chemistry with most of the cast and a more contemporary approach would have been about Riker finding his feet with a new crew from the off, saving all the Q business for later in the season.

I since purchased an ex-rental copy of that VHS and that’s been my only experience of the story so the shift into HD isn’t just a step up, in places it's like watching a brand new series.  Paramount’s equivalent of the Doctor Who Restoration Team have pulled the original film elements from the archive, rescanned them at hi-res and are re-editing every episode a process which originally happened on video.

The results are extraordinary and in the case of the Enterprise model remind the viewer of what really is gained from seeing a physical object on screen with its weight and physics as opposed to a CG concoction that too often has neither. There’s a majesty to the Enterprise-D that subsequent space shows (that’s you Babylon 5 and Galactica) for all their lighting effects can’t match.

The downside's that we can now also see the corners that were cut in production, which wouldn’t have been noticeable in the old resolution. The floor of the battle bridge is filthy in that way some Doctor Who sets were in the classic series when there wasn’t time to clean up between set-ups. Watch out too for quickly painted wooden bits of sets, especially in Q’s courtroom or polystyrene constructions like the old Bandi village.

HD also brings into focus some moments I previous missed, like the lingering shot after an Ensign has given Riker some directions of her watching him go and then checking out his arse. Performance incidentals too, from Data’s surprisingly emotional reactions (see also Spock in classic series pilot The Cage) or Tasha’s clenched fists just before she’s about to question her new captain’s orders in tackling Q.

Ah Tasha. The show only really found its feet when you died (is that still a spoiler?), and the writers gave some of its other regular characters a proper job rather than just hanging around the bridge as Worf and Geordi do here. Seems only fair to compensate you with a logo bar even if I couldn’t manage to fit your hands in. At least now we’ll see them even better in that moment in Symbiosis when you secretly wave to us before you go.

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