Star Trek: The Next Generation tells some great stories, but the story behind how it came to be what it is today is pretty interesting, too; and even what happened behind-the-scenes can teach us a lot about the wisdom of God. This supplemental Trektember miniseries by David Lichty will explore what went on behind the camera, and why it’s important.
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David Atwell pulled this section from the review piece on “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (sorry, from the overly massive piece on “Yesterday’s Enterprise”) to keep that focused on what the reviews are for. I completely agree, as I’d kept wanting to refer to this stuff in the previous backstory piece on the writers. It belongs here, but in the rigamarole, I’ve lost most of my notes on my sources. Sorry about that.
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Before Michael Piller had finally formed his solid team of writers, there were still bumps, but The Next Generation team was already starting to handle them better. Our case in point: “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” It was a big bump with a complicated writing history. Michael Piller had already sent a famously insulting memo to the writing team, causing them to shut him out. They were also light on scripts. Writer Ira Behr, Piller’s stand-in runner of the writers’ room, had to call the whole writing team in to work over Thanksgiving. He identified it as it the nadir of the season.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” Ephesians 4:1
Ron Moore had just joined the team, in September/October of that year, when he had been given “Sins of the Father” to finish; after that, he was asked to go through the spec scripts. He had found this one and combined elements from three versions of it into one outline. Time travel was on the writers’ “to-avoid” list, so Moore posited it as an alternate-universe thing, and added the war, and the fact that our heroes were losing this war.
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
The entire writing staff then ‘broke’ the story. Rick Berman, addressing why “Yesterday’s Enterprise” became his favorite episode, said, “I think because that was the first episode that we sat in my office for days and days with the writers working on the storyline and making it believable, because it was such a confusing bit of time travel” One result of all of this effort is how wise this episode is regarding how much changes. Some characters are different, but many are very much as we know them; not just Data, but Wesley, Guinan and Geordi. We are not all products of our circumstances to the same degrees, and we know this intuitively. It added a lot of credibility to the episode.
“You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone… look for able men from all the people… Exodus 18:18, 21a
There just wasn’t time for one writer to hash the whole thing out, so the final writing was divvied out section by section to each member of the team. Moore took the opening teaser, Behr took an act, the team of Hans Beimler & Richard Manning took an act, Melinda Snodgras took an act, and then Moore volunteered to also do the final act, because he was on a week-to-week contract, and wanted to justify his place – it was his rookie season.
“the hand of the diligent makes rich…” Proverbs 10:4b
The scene with Guinan and Picard was written and rewritten, trying to get a handle on how little she could know for certain while still credibly convincing Picard. The standard for the writers was to convince Michael Piller and Rick Berman, but it was difficult for them to give helpful feedback on something only intuitively realized. They knew what did not work, but couldn’t say what would. How do you rewrite when the problem can’t be articulated so well? Behr said that you just do it over and over until it hits right. Personally, I thought Guinan’s vague sense of wrongness was just enough, right from my very first viewing. They nailed it.
“In all toil there is profit…” Proverbs 14:23a
Care was taken in the production of the episode as well as the writing. Every day the scenario was discussed with the cast, sometimes repeatedly, so they could be at home with the new universe into which they were put. Yesterday’s Enterprise was shot more like a film than television. Director David Carson cites a scene with Tasha and her budding love interest, Castillo: which he filmed in an unbroken two-shot, rather than cutting back and forth (the standard for TV shooting at the time). This let us see them react with each other, rather than only letting us see each of them speak in turn or have only key reactions. They felt more natural, which lent a lot to our caring about their relationship.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” was an immediate fan favorite, and it remains atop Top Ten Episodes lists even now, often in the #1 spot not only for Next Generation episodes, but for all Star Trek episodes. Ron Moore, the series second most prolific writer, thinks this one was good enough that it even could have been the first film, with the TNG crew meeting the original series crew, rather than a new crew.
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Trek Backstory will continue! In the meantime, don’t miss our ongoing reviews of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture.
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“Mission Overview Year Three” [Season 3, disc 1]