Evolution is the first episode of TNG’s season 3 and therefore has a bit of introduction work to get through on top of its own story. The uniforms have been modified! I remember that one being quite striking when I first watched it and I always thought this was a big improvement. From lycra onesies to these much more formal and less snug versions with more collar, it felt like we’d gone to something that was more befitting people exploring space and making first contact with new races. It was some years later I found that the change was driven by Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor or doctor basically saying the uniforms were ruining his back.
And there’s a new intro! New planets and I think they look a bit better.
Finally, Dr Pulaski is nowhere to be found and Dr Crusher is back! I don’t have the issues with Pulaski that a lot of people do and felt she could have been awesome in more stories… but I flipping love Beverly Crusher so I’m more than happy to see her back.
So, into the episode. Firstly, something that I am going to mention a bit… I’m doing this rewatch on my blu-ray set. So these are all lovely, HD remasters and honestly, they’re flipping beautiful. The colours are so bright and vivid, the detail is amazing and the ship visuals are stunning. I’m not getting into the whole model work vs CGI thing, but the Enterprise model was a beautiful piece of work and looks incredible. And of course, Evolution features a star that’s having it’s energy drawn off by another one so the two stars and the ribbon of stellar matter along with the model lighting, this is absolutely stunning. I’m probably guilty of thinking that TNG kept effects basic and it wasn’t till DS9 and Voyager embraced CGI and big battles that things got awesome. Well I must say, I’m an idiot if I’ve thought that. Yes, blu-ray makes it extra beautiful, but it’s all done from the original elements and you appreciate how much they were pushing the envelope for TV effects.
My highlights for this episode
It’s quite a busy episode. We have Dr Stubbs, who has a lot of buildup for a one off star and his ‘egg’ that’s the focus of the Enterprises mission. Stubbs has two jobs, he has to point out Wesley’s dedication to work over fun and to aggravate the situation via his need to complete his experiment and murdering a lot of nanites. And it would have been easy for him to be one-note and have little depth. But I find myself quite sympathetic to his situation and his actions, even when I don’t agreewith doing nanites murders, seem more understandable than if he’d not had the back story we got.
Wesley and his nanites. This is a great episode Wesley-wise, we get an idea of the pressure he’s put on himself and it’s not a ‘Wesley-saves-the-ship’ story (which there were not as many as his detractors claim anyway) but actually his error drives this. Total disclosure, I was watching TNG around age eleven and I thought Wesley was brilliant! He was living the dream, school age but gets to fly the Enterprise? Hangs out with the senior staff and solves all these problems with them? Absolutely he was who I wanted to be! So I’ve always had a soft spot for Wesley episodes and I think this one brings a bit more depth to the idea that dealing with school, bridge duty and usual teenage stuff along with this reputation as a child genius is not easy. (Thanks Traveler, talk about setting high expectations…)
The nanites themselves are a great concept, this being long before the days of Borg nanoprobes and way back when I first watched this was my first introduction to the idea of nanotechnology. The idea of them evolving themselves over successive generations to become an entirely new society is really interesting and in a way, reminds me of Khan in Space Seed when they get a planet to begin their new society on. But, you know, with less consequences in a movie! Though I would love to have returned to the nanites and see what had become of their society. A return just a season later could have been so many generations of evolution that there’s little limit to what they could have become.
Dr Crusher returning and trying to get to know her son again is also a great thread and one of the highlights for me is Beverly and Picard having a talk about Wesley. This was probably the least interesting thread of the episode to me when I was eleven, but, possibly because I’m a parent now, the idea of reconnecting with your child after working away for a year takes a different feel, but it’s one of the great things about loving TNG for 30 years that I can view this from Wesley’s perspective then and Beverly’s now.
In conclusion, Evolution is far better than I remember it. I thought it was a lightweight, Wesley episode with an interesting concept around Nanites and turns out there’s a lot more there and I enjoyed all of it. Does it displace any of my top 5? I don’t know, it’s difficult to say at this early point, but it’s a really good, solid episode with some great character moments, awesome concepts and it clips along at a good pace, holding my attention with ease.