One weekend I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was quite difficult because the show has 178 episodes from seven seasons. Eventually I came up with this list. There are several Internet lists of STNG episode ratings, but my list does not seem to correlate closely with any of those lists.
I noticed that I tend to like episodes with elements of mystery and action, but didn’t like episodes with Q (his god-like powers just made stories too far-fetched), Guinan (just didn’t like that character’s all-knowingness), and the holodeck (a lazy way to create a plot).
1. “Cause and Effect” – The story starts with the Enterprise exploding, killing everyone. As it turns out, the ship is stuck in a time loop, with each loop a bit different. Will the Enterprise escape? Of course they will, but how? (Season 5, Episode 118).
2. “Frame of Mind” – Riker finds himself in an insane asylum. What is real? How did he get there? Is this an alternate dimension? A Romulan plot? As it turns out, it is an alien (but not Romulan) plot. (Season 6, Episode 147).
3. “A Matter of Perspective” – Riker is charged with the murder of Dr. Nel Apgar who was developing a new energy source. There are different testimonies but they seem to point to Riker’s guilt. It turns out that Apgar had tried to murder Riker, but accidentally killed himself. (Season 3, Episode 62).
4. “Skin of Evil” – A strange black oil-like creature (Armus) kills Tasha Yar. I thought for sure Yar would be revived, but no. Most STNG ratings lists put this episode as one of the worst, but I thought it was tense, scary, and well-acted. (Season 1, Episode 23).
5. “The Wounded” – The captain of the Federation ship Phoenix, Benjamin Maxwell, has gone rogue and destroys two Cardassian ships. Maxwell claims the Cardassians were preparing to attack. Were they? (Yes, they were) (Season 4, Episode 86).
6. “Parallels” – After competing in a fighting competition off-ship, Worf returns to the Enterprise but notices all kinds of subtle things are wrong. It turns out Worf is transitioning between parallel universes. (Season 7, Episode 163).
7. “A Matter of Honor” – Riker is sent to a Klingon ship as part of an officer exchange program. I especially remember the scene where Riker’s authority is challenged – what would he do? Only one thing, a show of brute force, was the correct response. (Season 2, Episode 34).
8. “The Defector” – A Romulan defector, sub-lieutenant Setal, comes to Picard with information about a Romulan invasion. Is it a trick? It turns out the defector was actually an admiral but he was duped with misinformation by his own people. (Season 3, Episode 58).
9. “Datalore” – Data meets his evil brother Lore, and there is a dangerous crystalline space entity to deal with too. (Season 1, Episode 13).
10. “Q Who” – The first appearance of the Borg puts this episode on my list automatically, even though I dislike the Q character and the Guinan character as lazy plot devices. The Borg are a cliche now, but they were novel and scary in 1989. (Season 2, Episode 42).
Notes: There are many episodes that didn’t quite make my personal top 10. I remember the dinner bowl of worms in “Conspiracy” where alien parasites are taking over Star Fleet. The surprising return of Tasha Yar in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. Wesley Crusher at the Academy in “The First Duty”. Picard as a prisoner in “The Chain of Command”. And of course, the two-part “The Best of Both Worlds” where Picard is assimilated by the Borg.
After I made my list, I went to a STNG ratings Web site. My top 10 were ranked by that site as 4th, 38th, 135th, 119th, 62nd, 9th, 47th, 54th, 57th, 12th respectively — essentially no agreement except for the “Cause and Effect” (my #1) and “Parallels” (my #6) episodes.