The fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation originally aired in the 1990-91 season and showed us a Star Trek show that was finally hitting its stride. With the release of the digitally remastered Blu-rays, it's easy to see why the show became so phenomenally popular and endures today as a meaningful chunk of the Star Trek legacy.
Revisiting it you can see that this was the season they moved away from the storytelling style that made the original Star Trek a hit and formulated its own success with serialized and intertwining stories that played out over the season.
I asked Wil Wheaton, Wesley Crusher himself, about his favorite episode of Star Trek, not just of season four, but in his whole career as an actor. It just so happened that it was a season four episode. "I'm really, really proud of Final Mission. Picard and Wesley and a red shirt guy crash land in a shuttlecraft on a planet, and they end up stranded together in a cave. Wesley is charged with keeping Picard alive. I think it's some of my best work as an actor on the show, and it was certainly one of the best scripts I ever got to work with. Just being in scenes with Patrick all day, every day, that was just amazing. I feel that I grew a lot as an actor during production of that episode."
But season four was also Wheaton's last as a regular cast member of the show and it's something he's still a bit upset about when you talk to him. Hearing it in his voice, it doesn't sound as though he's upset with malice, but frustration. "By the time the fourth season rolls around in a large ensemble show, the writers have generally settled on who they're going to write for, and it wasn't me," he told me. "And that's cool I get it, in retrospect I totally get it. I mean, you've got the robot is really interesting, you've got the relationship between Picard and Dr. Crusher is really interesting, Riker is really great, and there's this kid that nobody really knows what to do with because he's never been allowed to develop beyond being more than an idea."
But when Milos Forman came along, looking to cast Wheaton in his 1989 film Valmont, the producers of The Next Generation explained that they simply couldn't juggle Wil's schedule with the film, he was involved too heavily.
"I had to not go work on this movie, that would have very much been a career making experience, then a few days before the production of that episode began, they wrote me out of the episode completely. I was sixteen or seventeen and I was just enraged, I felt betrayed and controlled and lied to and wronged. It was the beginning of the end of me being able to be there and have a positive relationship with the people who made the show."
I also had the chance to ask Michael Dorn, the man behind the Klingon makeup of Commander Worf, what made season four click for the cast, the crew, and for fans of the show.
"Season four was I think when we all kind of hit our stride, in terms of the producers, the directors, the actors, everybody was kind of finding, well they'd found their way. Which is one of the great things about television, you really have time to kind of flush out a character or arrive at some comfortable place for the actor and the character, and I think the fourth season is where we really hit our stride. Everybody was just clicking and we knew that the series was going on, we knew that the fans loved it so it was a good season."
The thing I might have been most curious about Dorn was his voice as Worf. Listening to him talk during the interview, there was almost no hint of the infamous Klingon's trademark sound. It's something he had to do for eleven years. "I didn't know it was going to be eleven years when I first did it. No, the voice was, the way I'm talking now was his original voice. If you watch the first episode, maybe the first two episodes, that's the voice I have, it's this voice. Gene came to me and he said, 'We've got to do something about that, because you sound like an American, and we wanted you to sound different.'"
He tried a number of things and eventually he settled on lowering his voice and eliminating contractions from his speech, which seems deceptively simple. "Changing your voice is small potatoes when you've got a job, he told me. "If they said, 'Michael, you've got to talk like this for the rest of your life,' I go, 'okay!'"
But the most surprising tidbit of news might have been the possibility that we could be getting a new Star Trek series with a Captain Worf.
"Last year there was interest and I talked to a couple producers and we actually had pitch meeting with Paramount and CBS," Dorn told me. "Business things got in the way in terms of the JJ Abrams movie coming out and CBS/Paramount and their relationship with JJ Abrams. I don't think they wanted to step on his toes by putting a new series on, but it's not dead yet. I've finished the script and hopefully someone will take a look at this and say 'we can do this.'"
I hope someone makes it so.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Four is out on Blu-ray now.