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-126: "The Neutral Zone"

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The Neutral Zone

(Star Trek - The Next Generation episode production code 126)
  • TV story and teleplay by Maurice Hurley
  • from a story by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Clee
  • directed by James L. Conway
  • music by Ron Jones

The Neutral Zone

Two unrelated plot strands with very different tones of content drive this episode. However, since each strand manages to contribute something archetypal, and since both can easily co-exist problem-free with the other, this turns out to be, not just a decent episode, but one of the better episodes of TNG's first season. Personally, I've always really liked this episode.

Frozen to the Future

Dominating the first part of the episode is the tale of thawing out of cryogenics three characters who are from about the same time period as the audience. It was a bit of a gamble that sci-fi often takes to assume that the required advancements to make such a thing possible were only about ten years away from the late 1980's when this was made. I certainly haven't heard that any real progress has been made on the problem of cells breaking open during the freezing process, or on the financial feasibility of launching cryogenically paused people into space.... not that that makes it impossible, but it does impact on whether these particular characters will have heard about it and been able to sign up for it as indicated in their backstories.

The three frozen guest characters cover a good range of types that might opt into such a thing, and make interesting examples of our century for the 24th century regular characters to discover. However, I'm still left with the impression that these characters were intended to be bigger and bolder in concept, and ended up being much more subdued. Some opportunities seem to have been passed over here - perhaps most obviously between Data and his new guitar-plucking pal Sonny. Luckily, all three guests remain watchable, understandable, and make pleasant viewing.

Working in their favour is the archetypal nature of their situation, both with the more general fish-out-of-water aspects and with the Rip-Van-Winkle specifics. In fact, I often think this episode doesn't do half-badly as a surrogate pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation, as Roddenberry's entire future universe is first seen from the perspective of the three guests from our time. Indeed, the animated series "Futurama" successfully launched itself with a pilot story based on very similar ideas.

Nicest of all, the episode manages to use this situation to shine a rare spotlight on one of the healthiest components of Roddenberry's future universe, as a man from our time who was previously obsessed with money tries to get a handle on what it means to live in a society that doesn't have money to pursue. His most poignant questions come at the end of the episode, and get some nice answers. It would have been nice to get even more, but this will do for now....

Romulans Back in the Zone

A lot of this episode's mystery and tension comes from its second major strand, which gradually takes over more and more towards the end. The Enterprise urgently investigates a set of Federation colonies destroyed along its borders with the Romulan Neutral Zone, and the preparations for some sort of confrontation with the Romulans fuel much speculation about them. Thus, they are nicely built up and successfully re-introduced into the TNG series here.

Marc Alaimo is of course an interesting choice for the lead Romulan of the episode. He does a nice job of making some rather bizarre and understated threat seem quite dangerous. Of course he later went on to play Gul Dukat on Deep Space Nine, where he often did more of the same to great success.

Composer Ron Jones does quite well with this one, coming up with an interesting theme for the situation with the cryogenic trio, but also more memorably in coming up with a wonderful tension-building theme for the Romulans. Two thumbs up!

Revealed for the first time is a brand new vessel for the Romulans, who had unfortunately been seen using borrowed Klingon ships last time we saw them in "The Enterprise Incident" (TOS season 3). Well, good that they have their own ships again now, but I never was too enamoured with the design that they got. Ships with great holes in them just don't seem very smart. Oh well. At least they had a bit of colour.

Oddly, the episode climaxes not on any real battle or diplomatic victory or plot cleverness, but simply on the re-introduction of the Romulans. To the episode's credit, the production manages to make this work quite satisfactorily. For those who are bothered by not really getting the answer to the main mystery at hand, you can jump straight to the late season two episode "Q Who" for the next chapter of that plot strand.

Well, TNG's first season may have been one of its most problematic and hit-and-miss, but in that run, "The Neutral Zone" has always been one of the better episodes in my book. It's good clean Trek with some nice highlights. Their mission moves forward with a nice variant of Jerry Goldsmith's main theme, and TNG continues to improve during the following seasons....

This Next Generation Season One story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season One (1987-1988):

Includes the double-length 92 minute pilot plus 24 episodes @ 46 minutes each.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:

DVD Canada

7-disc DVD set

DVD Canada


DVD Extras include:

  • "The Beginning" origins Featurette
  • "Selected Crew Analysis" cast Featurette
  • "Making of a Legend" production featurette
  • "Memorable Missions" key episode featurette
Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.


6-disc Blu-ray box set

Blu-ray features add:

  • Energized! Taking TNG to the Next Level (HD, 23 min.) detailing the high-definition restoration for Blu-ray.
  • Stardate Revisited: The Origin of TNG (HD, 93 min.) with
    Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker),
    Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), and
    producers Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman,
    Robert Justman, and D.C. Fontana.
    • Part 1: Inception
    • Part 2: Launch
    • Part 3: The Continuing Mission
  • Gag Reel (8 min., standard definition)
  • Star Trek: TNG Archives: The Launch
  • Promos for each individual episode
  • plus, all featurettes from the DVD version.

Article & reviews written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: "The Child"

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