Encounter at Farpoint
Let’s do some origin for the show first:
TNG was originally shopped to Fox, but they couldn’t commit to more than 13 episodes, which wasn’t enough for Paramount to justify the financial outlay to get the show going. It was then decided to go for first-run syndication, a distribution method dating back to the 50s in America, with major shows including The Adventures of Superman, Mister Ed, The Cisco Kid, and The Muppet Show. TNG’s success in syndication prompted other genre shows in the same distribution style, including Friday the 13th: The Series, Freddy’s Nightmares, War of the Worlds, and, uh Star Trek: Deep Space 9. The only other major hit in first-run syndication was Baywatch, of all shows. After 1997, there’s only been a handful of first-run syndication drama series, with most of the output in that format being animation, reality, daytime talk, or game shows.
The show was first announced in October 1986, with an intended release in the following Autumn. And information started being shared with the fans in short order. An early 1987 issue of the official Star Trek Magazine said the show was planned to be set in the 25th Century, some 150 years after TOS, and the ship would be the Enterprise G. Gene Roddenberry changed this to the 24th Century, 78 years and the Enterprise D in the following months. TNG series 1 was eventually given a solid date of 2364, which would put Star Trek IV’s 23rd century scenes exactly 78 years prior.
In an interview for a documentary, Roddenberry said he had no interest in revisiting the long days of the original Trek production, especially if there were going to be network execs figuratively hovering over his shoulders. Apparently Paramount guaranteed him a level of autonomy and said that producing for syndication meant the deadlines wouldn’t be as harsh.
Roddenberry went on to hire many TOS alums, including Andrew Probert (given the chief design role), producers Robert Justman and Edward Mills, writers Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold and John D.F. Black.(the former two were major contributors to the series bible and background material), costume designer William Ware Theiss, assistant director Charles Washburn, composer Fred Steiner. Due to various issues, every one of these people would leave the production before series 1 finished.
Fontana was assigned the task of writing the first episode, titled Meeting at Farpoint. She had a first story draft on December 5th, 1986, which was quite different from the final script.
Originally envisioned as a one-hour episode, the Enterprise would rendezvous with a science vessel called the Starseeker, with the Enterprise’s current XO, Kyle Summers being promoted to Captain to take command. After their arrival, an alien ship would arrive and threaten the ships, destroying Starseeker in a brief battle. The Enterprise crew would encounter the aliens on Farpoint’s surface, an ape-like race called the Annoi. Eventually Riker would lead a team onto their ship where they’d discover the ship was alive and had been enslaved by the Annoi.
This draft had many character details which would change before the filming script - Picard’s first name was Julien, Riker’s name was spelled Ryker, Yar was Macha Hernandez, Wesley Crusher was a girl named Lesley. Data would join the ship’s crew on Farpoint, and would have had an established friendship with Ryker.
There was also a lot of back and forth on the episode’s running length. Paramount’s president Mel Harris stated the première would be a two-hour telefilm. Fontana felt her story had ninety minutes (including ads) in it, but she was told alternately that there may or may not be a making of or retrospective piece included in the run time. While she was writing the episode, Roddenberry’s lawyer Leonard Maizlish, who’d somehow managed to get an office in the TNG production department and was basically acting as Roddenberry’s heavy behind the scenes, was bugging her every few days and suggesting different running lengths. This was causing havoc on Fontana’s writing, as her treatments and scripts were changing massively from week to week
Eventually Encounter at Farpoint was given the full 2-hour run time, though Fontana was still writing a 90-minute script on Roddenberry’s instruction. This was an additional frustration as Fontana’s contract stated she’d be paid a bonus if she was to write a 2-hour script. Roddenberry decided to add the missing half-hour himself, giving him a co-writing credit (and Fontana had to go to the writers’ guild for arbitration to keep her name on the script).
All the while Roddenberry said he’d take good care of Fontana - though this event reminder her of a similar situation during the production of TAS, where he successfully screwed her out of a promotion and raise, with the difference in her pay going to Roddenberry instead. To this day, Roddenberry’s estate receives an equal share of the residual payments for Encounter at Farpoint as Fontana does.
Roddenberry’s addition to the script was primarily the framing device of Q confronting the Enterprise, the trial, and his various appearances later in the show. Q was already a planned antagonist for the show, but he would have been introduced later in series 1. This was over the objections of the writing staff, many of whom complained that Q was a bad copy of Trelane. Roddenberry was insistent, claiming that he’d write the character in a way the fans would love.
He also added McCoy’s cameo to the script. It was a late addition, coming after a meeting between the pair in which Roddenberry asked Kelley’s permission to add him to the show. Kelley said he’d be honoured and insisted on taking no more than scale payment for the show. Robert Justman said that he felt it had been on Roddenberry’s mind to add a TOS character cameo for some time. The scene was kept secret, with no reference to McCoy’s name in the script or in the finished dialogue to prevent leaks. It marks DeForrest Kelly’s final TV appearance in Trek barring the archive footage in Trials and Tribble-Ations.
During shooting, scenes were found to be coming in shorter than expected thanks to the pace at which Corey Allen, the director was filming. As such additional scenes were written to pad out the length, such as Geordi and Dr. Crusher’s scene in the Sick Bay.
During the writing process, Doug Drexler, a Trek fan who would later work on the show was visiting the offices. While chatting with Edward Mills and Robert Justman, Roddenberry burst into the room, and says “I’ve got it! The Captain turns the ship around, stops it and surrenders!”. Drexler was dumbfounded thanks to the lack of context, and Justman remarked “Gene, you don’t know what you just did to this guy”
This episode marks Colm Meaney’s first appearance in Trek, with his role credit as “Conn”, being the position he mans on the Battle Bridge rather than his name. Hw would, of course eventually gain a recurring role as Chief Miles O’Brien, though it wasn’t until All Good Things… that it would be confirmed that the character he plays here is indeed O’Brien. As with pretty much every O’Brien appearance in TNG, he’s got the wrong rank insignia on. Here he’s an ensign.
Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that many of the sets are redresses of ones from TMP, and thence from Star Trek: Phase II. Most notably the corridors are straight-up repaints, though that corridor complex would grow over the years while maintaining the general style. The engineering and sickbay sets were a similarly redressed, and would go back and forth between the facilities on the Enterprise D and A for the last couple of movies and their concurrent TV productions. (The sickbay would later be redressed to serve as Voyager’s equivalent, and similarly switch between it and the Enterprise D one)
All of Q’s scenes were shot in the last two weeks of production to accommodate John DeLancie’s schedule, he was appearing in a play at the time.
ILM were credited for effects work throughout the show, though they only ever shot footage for this episode. Their raw footage was reused and recomposited in different sequences repeatedly over the years. ILM were the only people to ever use the largest model of the Enterprise-D.
The original cut of the episode has no teaser, the credits scroll rather than fade in and out on screen (also, the character names are not included with the actor’s credits), and Roddenberry is credited as the show’s creator rather than executive producer at the end of the opening credits The syndicated version makes a teaser out of the first few minutes of the episode, cutting to the regular credits after Q demands humanity returns to Earth.
This episode marks the only time Troi wears a Starfleet uniform until she permanently switched to a jumpsuit in Chain of Command. Similarly, Yar is seen wearing the dress/skirt uniform for the only time in the final scene of the episode.
The episode had a full novelisation. written by David Gerrold.
The reception for the episode was quite positive. Mainstream media gave good reviews, Paramount’s executives loved it when they saw it, and the episode won the Hugo for best dramatic presentation. Robert Justman felt the episode dragged at times but loved DeForrest Kelley’s cameo. And perhaps most glowingly, Michael Piller said he loved how the show introduces about half the Enterprise crew in the first half hour, and then the rest afterwards - and aped the format for the pilot episode of Deep Space 9.
All that said, the show was not a big hit with traditional Trekkies when it launched. There was a lot of pushback for not being a direct continuation of TOS, even though the movies were still coming out at the time. This state of affairs would continue through to the end of series 3.
(opinion to follow)