“The Neutral Zone” is the season finale of the first season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, originally aired within the United States on 16 May 1988, in broadcast syndication.
The episode originated as a piece of fan fiction by Deborah McIntyre and Mona Clee, and was turned into a teleplay by Maurice Hurley. Because of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Hurley created the script in a day and a half, and the timescale forced both the abandonment of the idea of a two-part episode and the first appearance of the Borg which was delayed until the following season episode “Q Who“.
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In “The Neutral Zone”, the Enterprise is sent to investigate the destruction of Federation outposts near space controlled by the Romulan Star Empire, discovering a derelict Earth satellite with cryonically frozen humans aboard.
This episode introduced the redesigned Romulans, with prosthetic forehead pieces designed by makeup supervisor Michael Westmore, and the first appearance of the Romulan Warbird, which was designer Andrew Probert’s final work for the Star Trek franchise. The episode was mildly received by critics who viewed it after the end of the season, who criticised the two-plot nature of the episode and the general lack of excitement.
While Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is away at an emergency Federation conference, the Enterprise crew discovers an ancient space capsule from Earth. Inside they find three humans in cryonic chambers. Lt. Cdr. Data (Brent Spiner) asks to move the chambers to the Enterprise and Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) agrees. Picard returns and orders the Enterprise to the Neutral Zone, as several Federation outposts near the edges of the zone have not responded to communications. He explains that the conference was about the potential threat of the Romulans, who have not been seen for decades. As Data and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) work to thaw the cryonically preserved humans, Picard admonishes Data for bringing them aboard during a crucial time, and puts Riker in charge of looking after them.
The survivors—Claire Raymond (Gracie Harrison), a housewife; Ralph Offenhouse (Peter Mark Richman), a financier; and L. Q. “Sonny” Clemmons (Leon Rippy), a musician – are from the late 20th century. All died of incurable illnesses at the time and were placed in cryonic suspension after their deaths in the hope that cures might be found in the future. Dr. Crusher, in reviving them, easily cures them of their illnesses. They have to cope with the culture shock of awakening in a distant future with the realisation that everything they knew and had are now gone. Of the three, Clemmons seems to fare the best at adapting to life in the future and befriends Data. Claire is distraught at the thought of losing everyone she ever knew, particularly her children, so Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) suggests searching for Claire’s descendants. Offenhouse is irritated by the lack of access to news or other information, and uses the comm unit to disturb Picard on the bridge. Picard comes down to assure everyone that all questions will be answered, but that the ship’s mission requires Picard’s full attention.
The Enterprise reaches the Neutral Zone and confirms that the outposts have been destroyed. They are soon met by a Romulan Warbird and Commander Tebok (Marc Alaimo) questions why the Enterprise has approached the zone. As Picard tries to explain his actions, Offenhouse arrives on the bridge and threatens to disrupt the tense situation, though he correctly ascertains that the Romulans are also seeking answers. Picard and the Romulans agree to pool their resources to discover the culprit. Picard later comments that while the encounter went favorably, the Romulans may be a significant threat in future engagements. Picard arranges to transport the 20th-century humans to Earth. Troi locates one of Claire’s descendants on Earth, and while Claire is unsure of her place in her new reality, Troi suggests that family is a good starting point. Clemmons expresses enthusiasm for the future, and Picard sets Offenhouse the challenge of improving himself.
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Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): James L. Conway.
- Writer(s): Deborah McIntyre and Mona Clee.
- Release Date: 16 May 1988.
- Running Time: 50 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.