Not only is Star Trek: The Next Generation a worthy successor to Star Trek: The Original Series, but it also produced some of the best science fiction television of all time. Following the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew aboard the USS Enterprise-D, TNG picks up about 100 years after TOS and introduces the world to a whole new cast of characters. Over the course of TNG’s seven seasons, its characters would come to be just as beloved and almost as iconic as Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
Whether the episode of the week was exploring what it means to be human with Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) or celebrating radical empathy with Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), TNG always had something important to say. For those who have yet to watch TNG, starting the seven-season, 178-episode show might seem daunting, and the shaky TNG season 1 may not be enough to entice viewers to continue watching. However, TNG produced some truly phenomenal episodes throughout its seven seasons, many of which could captivate even the most skeptical viewer.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Cast & Character Guide
Star Trek: The Next Generation has one of the most beloved cast of characters in all of science fiction. Here are the major characters of the classic.
10 Where No One Has Gone Before (TNG Season 1, Episode 6)
The Enterprise gets flung to the edge of the universe.
One of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s earliest episodes, “Where No One Has Gone Before” hints at the great sci-fi show TNG would become and tackles some very Star Trek ideas. When a Starfleet propulsion expert and his assistant visit the Enterprise, they inadvertently catapult the ship to the very edge of the universe. Not only does this episode literally take the crew where no one has gone before, but it also discusses complex metaphysical ideas and includes some truly stunning visuals. “Where No One Has Gone Before” also introduces the Traveler (Eric Menyuk), a fascinating character who will become important to the future of the young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton).
9 The Enemy (TNG Season 3, Episode 7)
Geordi gets trapped in a cave with a Romulan.
Star Trek loves a story set in a cave, and TNG’s “The Enemy” finds Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) stuck in a cave with one of the Federation’s most notorious enemies. While Geordi and the Romulan, named Bochra (John Snyder), are forced to work together to make it off the planet alive, Captain Picard works to prevent an escalation of hostilities with a Romulan Commander. Despite the obvious tension between the Federation and the Romulans, Picard and La Forge both keep their heads, understanding that the situation is bigger than just them. “The Enemy” contains solid performances from everyone involved, and includes a classic sci-fi plot with a quintessentially Star Trek message.
8 Elementary, Dear Data (TNG Season 2, Episode 3)
Data and Geordi solve a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
In one of Star Trek’s best holodeck episodes, Geordi invites his best friend Data to solve a Sherlock Holmes mystery. However, when Geordi asks the Enterprise computer to create an adversary capable of defeating Data, Holmes’ villain James Moriarty (Daniel Davis) becomes self-aware. After being introduced to Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective in TNG season 1, Data fully embraces playing Holmes, and everyone looks to be having fun in their period-accurate costumes. Not only is “Elementary, Dear Data” an incredibly fun episode, but it also plays with some interesting sci-fi concepts about what it means to be human.
Professor Moriarty returns in the TNG season 7 episode “Ship in a Bottle,” and makes an even more surprising appearance in Star Trek: Picard season 3, episode 6, “The Bounty.”
7 Q Who (TNG Season 2, Episode 16)
Q introduces Starfleet to the Borg.
After being introduced in TNG’s premiere episode, the omnipotent being known as Q (John de Lancie) returns to visit his favorite captain in “Q Who.” Soon after his arrival, Q throws the Enterprise across the galaxy, introducing them to the now infamous Borg. TNG episodes that involve Q are always fun, as John de Lancie and Patrick Stewart play off of one another well. The introduction of the Borg is an incredibly important development for both TNG and Star Trek as a franchise. As an episode, “Q Who” may be somewhat more satisfying for those who have seen Q’s previous interactions with the Enterprise crew, but it makes for a tense and entertaining hour of television either way.
6 Darmok (TNG Season 5, Episode 2)
Picard gets stranded with an alien he can’t understand.
“Darmok” focuses mostly on Captain Picard, as he finds himself trapped on a planet with an alien captain, named Dathon (Paul Winfield), he cannot communicate with. As the two captains begin working together, they slowly begin to understand one another. “Darmok” doesn’t have any massive space battles or explosions, but it celebrates the very Star Trek values of patience and finding common ground. There is no technobabble solution to Picard’s predicament; he simply has to learn how to communicate and work with Dathon. Picard’s actions and Patrick Stewart’s performance make Darmok not only an enjoyable watch, but also an exemplary Star Trek episode.
5 Disaster (TNG Season 5, Episode 5)
Picard gets stuck in a turbolift, leaving Counselor Troi in command.
“Disaster” opens with the crew members of the Enterprise-D performing various routine tasks, when a mysterious force strikes the ship and shuts everything down. The sudden loss of power finds Captain Picard trapped in a turbolift with three children he had been leading on a tour. Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is the highest ranking officer left on the bridge, and she reluctantly takes command. Commander Riker and Data find themselves stuck in the Enterprise’s lounge, Ten Forward, which they turn into a makeshift sickbay. Although “Disaster” breaks away from the standard formula of TNG, it’s a great showcase for most of the characters, as they are separated and spread throughout the ship.
4 Who Watches the Watchers (TNG Season 3, Episode 4)
A primitive people believe Picard to be a god.
Starfleet’s most important rule is the Prime Directive, and “Who Watches the Watchers” highlights just why this particular law is so important. On the planet Mintaka III, the Enterprise visits a Federation outpost monitoring the local civilization. After a local villager named Liko (Ray Wise) is seriously injured, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) insists he be taken to the Enterprise for treatment. Liko then returns to the planet believing Picard to be a god and begins telling the other villagers about him. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi then disguise themselves as locals and attempt to remedy the situation. “Who Watches the Watchers” is a brilliantly acted hour of television with a classic Star Trek moral.
3 The Best of Both Worlds (TNG Season 3, Episode 26 & Season 4, Episode 1)
Picard gets assimilated by the Borg.
This two-part TNG episode has become a classic for a reason. When the Enterprise comes face to face with the Borg for the first time since their introduction in “Q Who,” Picard gets assimilated and becomes Locutus. On the Borg cube, Locutus then orders the Enterprise crew to prepare for assimilation, reminding them that “resistance is futile.” This leads to one of the best television cliffhangers of all time, as Commander Riker gives the order to fire on the Borg cube. The follow-up is just as captivating, as the Enterprise crew members fight to save Picard and outsmart the Borg. “The Best of Both Worlds” not only had a huge impact on the Star Trek franchise (the effects of which are still felt today), but also influenced the entire television landscape of the time.
Despite the episodic nature of TNG, the episode following “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter, “Family,” shows Picard dealing with the trauma he just experienced. Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Picard also revisit Picard’s experience as Locutus, showing the long-term effects the experience had on the captain.
2 Cause and Effect (TNG Season 5, Episode 18)
The Enterprise won’t stop exploding.
In one of Star Trek’s best cold open, the Enterprise collides with another ship and explodes before the opening credits. “Cause and Effect” then jumps to a scene of the senior staff player poker, before events lead the ship to explode again and the time loop restarts. As the story progresses, the Enterprise crew members begin experiencing déjà vu before Data eventually discovers a way to leave himself a message from one loop to the next. A spin on the classic time loop trope, “Cause and Effect” is an incredibly fun episode with wonderful direction from Jonathan Frakes.
Cheers actor Kelsey Grammer makes a cameo in “Cause and Effect” as Captain Morgan Bateson of the USS Bozeman, the ship that keeps colliding with the Enterprise.
1 The Measure of a Man (TNG Season 2, Episode 9)
Data’s humanity is put on trial.
Star Trek loves a good courtroom episode and “The Measure of the Man” is Trek at its best. When Federation cyberneticist Bruce Maddox visits the Enterprise, he calls Data’s rights as a sentient being into question, insisting that the android is the property of Starfleet. Maddox wants to dismantle Data for further study in order to recreate more androids like him. For anyone who has become a fan of Data as a character, it’s grating every single time Maddox refers to the android as an “it.”
Even for those who have never seen an episode of TNG, “The Measure of a Man” has elements of everything that makes Star Trek great. It grapples with the question of what it means to be human, celebrates life in all of its forms, and includes a powerful speech from Captain Picard. With great performances all around, “The Measure of a Man” is not only a near-perfect episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but also an excellent episode of television, period.