Evolution #150

“Evolution” was the second episode produced for the third season, but aired as the season opener because it explained the reintroduction of Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher. The Enterprise transports scientist Paul Stubbs (Ken Jenkins) to a binary star system so that he can launch an instrument package called “The Egg” to study an explosive phenomenon that occurs once every 186 years. But when Wesley Crusher accidentally lets microscopic “nanites” escape from a school experiment, the beings evolve and play havoc with the ship’s computers. “Evolution” is a well-made (if unspectacular) series entry, showcasing improved visual effects and Marvin Rush’s revamped photography. Jenkins later became a familiar face for his role as grumpy Bob Kelso on the sitcom Scrubs, and the episode works hard to establish him as a brilliant, eccentric personality (writer Michael Piller was a baseball fan and works the sport into Stubbs’s dialogue).

The episode—and the season (the first time Jones would score a season premiere)—opens with a “beauty shot” of the Enterprise (a new four-foot model constructed for FX photography) observing the stellar phenomenon, segueing to an exhausted Wesley sleeping in his lab (“Double Star”). Jones introduces a beautiful melody that creates a link between the story’s two wunderkinds—Wesley and Stubbs—and their sense of curiosity and wonder about the universe. Although the episode is not entirely successful, the emphasis on Wesley’s character—accompanied by Jones’s soaring yet introspective music—indicates a new direction for the series. The theme returns orchestrally in the episode’s finale (“The Blast”) when Stubbs’s “Egg” meets with success. “This romantic theme was about the wonder of the universe and taking it all in,” Jones says. “I tried to play the episode from Wesley’s point of view, his wonderment.”

Outside of the romantic bookend, the score focuses on the nanites and the problems they cause aboard the Enterprise, avoiding any attempts to characterize Stubbs musically. Jones keeps the scale of the music relatively small, appropriate in addressing a threat to the ship that is microscopic—but increasingly intelligent. Jones naturally used electronics to characterize the nanite threat, including a rapid-fire, repeating figure that emphasized the erratic, unpredictable nature of the tiny machines. “Those 16th notes were like a code,” Jones says, “like a ‘barcode’ for the bad guy—you could scan it and find out that it meant this or that.” The composer balanced the electronic approach with low-key, misterioso writing for strings to indicate the nanites’ potential for communication and understanding.

The nanotechnological theme of the story allowed Jones to explore some unusual electronic approaches. For the opening teaser, Jones employs electronica action music as the nanites first affect the ship, causing it to plunge toward a stream of superheated matter bridging the two stars in the binary system (“System Failure”/“30 Seconds to Impact”). The cue climaxes as the teaser ends with an exterior shot of the Enterprise falling toward the matter stream—one of the few times producers deemed such an expansive electronic approach appropriate for one of the show’s dramatic spacecraft shots. When Data interfaces with the nanites late in the story and speaks for them, the composer treated this fusion of two machines counterintuitively, writing a moody, unsettling cue for strings (“Nanite Negotiations”) that emphasizes the strangeness of Brent Spiner’s performance.

“Evolution” marked Ron Jones’s next-to-last use of the Alexander Courage fanfare, heard over the episode’s final shot of the Enterprise (“Motherly Paranoia”). Jones had worked to construct his own themes for the ship and its crew that would take over from the familiar Courage fanfare as the series grew beyond its predecessor. “I just evolved a theme, a couple of motives that went on, because I got tired of using the Courage theme and since the writers were moving on, I wanted to say the same thing, that this was not about the old show anymore, this was the new show and we had a new set of musical parameters to go with.”

Who Watches the Watchers #152

The Enterprise assists an anthropological team observing the natives of Mintaka III, a primitive but rational and non-superstitious culture. When two Mintakans observe the away team, they interpret the humans as gods led by “the Picard,” threatening to cast the species into centuries of religious conflict and barbarism. “Who Watches the Watchers” is one of Star Trek’s finest hours, and one of the most effective expressions of Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic view of the universe. Filmed at the iconic, jagged peaks of the Vasquez Rocks, a location used for several classic episodes of the original Star Trek, the episode is suspenseful, thought-provoking and ultimately moving as Picard struggles to convince the Mintakans that he is not a god. It carries an explicitly anti-religious message, but one so nuanced and evenhanded that it avoids coming off as a polemic. Kathryn Leigh Scott (as the Mintakans’ thoughtful leader, Nuria) and Ray Wise (as the troubled, superstitious Liko) help with strong, sympathetic performances—Wise was best known for playing heavies in films like RoboCop and would soon become a cult figure for his portrayal of Leland Palmer on David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks.

For Ron Jones, “Who Watches the Watchers” presented a special opportunity and quickly became one of his all-time favorite episodes. Jones chose to score the story from the perspective of the Mintakans, creating a “Mintakan band”: the 41-piece orchestra omitted violins and all brass in favor of 10 violas, 8 celli, 4 basses, 1 sax/clarinet (played by Gene Cipriano), 3 clarinets, 2 oboes, 4 bassoons, 3 keyboards, 2 EWIs and 4 percussion. With shades of world music and avant-garde film music classics such as Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, “Who Watches the Watchers” lives on the razor’s edge between creating an original sonic universe and staying true to Star Trek storytelling. “I used nine low woodwinds, two contrabass E-flat clarinets—it looked like the plumbing system under the New York subway. There’s a recorder, but it’s processed. I listened to a bunch of native flutes, like Bolivian flutes. And I had Emil Richards bring everything he had in terms of percussion.”

A simple, four-note motive characterizes the Mintakans, reflecting their malleability and search for meaning, which drives the episode. The “Mintakan band” concept reaches a climax with the pulsating “Saving Palmer” for a lengthy foot-chase cue as Riker attempts to spirit an injured anthropologist out of a Mintakan camp. Jones’s “Mintakan band” plays a four-note figure against itself in increasingly complex groupings, ratcheting up the suspense of the chase while remainin sympathetic to the Mintakan perspective. An earlier cue, “The Vision,” would have introduced the thematic material for “Saving Palmer,” but only a portion of it survived in the finished episode.

A mystical, hopeful theme (introduced in “Ancestor’s Beliefs”) takes on increasing importantance as Liko becomes consumed by the idea of Picard as a god, and the captain transports Nuria onto the Enterprise in a desperate attempt to undo the cultural contamination (“Beam Nuria”). Evocative synthesizers suggest the Mintakans’ ancient, abandoned faith and recast it in terms of Picard and the Enterprise. In the end, however, the intimate, soothing theme is nothing short of a universal appeal to the characters’ humanity—a hymn for secular humanism, if there could be such a thing—spiritual yet rational, beautiful but also somehow sad.

Jones found the sequences aboard the Enterprise the most compelling to score. “I get really emotional thinking about this story—this show still makes me cry,” he says. “When they bring [Nuria] up to the ship and there’s a person dying, and they show her that they’re still people, not gods, they’re just a little more advanced in technology. It was about how they didn’t have to be stuck with their superstition and their society could go forward.”

When Nuria views the corridors of the Enterprise and sees her planet from “above the sky,” she reacts with wonder (“We Are Flesh and Blood”), and Jones’s gentle melody joins an even more lyrical passage for strings. “Writing that cue, I was so spent emotionally, and that moment to me was so precious. This was my favorite theme other than the mother theme in ‘Where No One Has Gone Before.’ Because it was about their naïve view that there was some kind of a god and what was pure about that view even though it was inaccurate, kind of like before the technology age kicked in and the Indians would say the crops were blessed by the rain god—it’s spiritual. Just to get a chance to write this length of music was a pleasure—you can’t write something of this length now.”

Booby Trap #154

While investigating an ancient Promellian battleship inside an asteroid field, the Enterprise becomes snared by a booby trap that saps its power. To solve the problem, chief engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) must engage a computer simulation of Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), one of the designers of the starship’s propulsion systems, and finds himself attracted to her holographic image. “Booby Trap” built in several meta shout-outs to its (presumably nerdy) audience, with La Forge depicted as a hopeless innocent with women and Picard waxing rhapsodic over model spaceships (to which Worf responds, “I do not play with toys”—even though he too is shown building a model in his quarters in “Peak Performance”). While James Kirk oozed self-confidence around the opposite sex, an additional 75 years of evolution appeared to have done the men of the new starship Enterprise no favors. The episode introduces the character of Leah Brahms—while she appears here only as a simulation, the woman herself would return the following season in “Galaxy’s Child.” “Booby Trap” also showcased TNG’s rapidly improving visual effects, with smooth, seamlessly composited motion-control work of the Promellian ship and the Enterprise, as well as a convincing asteroid field seen through the windows of the Enterprise and in exterior shots.

Continuing in the vein of “Evolution” and “Who Watches the Watchers,” Jones composed an experimental score that was quite modern in its take on character interplay as well as space action. The idea of becoming attracted to a holographic simulation of a real person while working by candlelight (metaphorically) to solve an intractable problem is inherently intimate, and Jones created a romantic theme for Geordi and the Leah-simulation using electronic keyboards, reflective of 1980s pop trends. Jones and executive producer Rick Berman rarely saw eye-to-eye on musical approaches, but Berman enthusiastically embraced this tactic. “Berman said to me, ‘Oh, you did more of a pop theme,’” Jones recalls. “He liked that and I decided to make it more like Knots Landing or something. Electric piano was big back then, there were string pads and you could sort of hear Lionel Richie singing on top.”

For the asteroid field and the alien battleship, Jones mixed electronics and a large string section (12 violins, 8 violas, 6 celli, 4 basses) with an echoing motive for synthesized and two live trumpets, taking the same approach to the idea of martial antiquity that Jerry Goldsmith pioneered in his 1970 score to Patton. (The orchestra otherwise included 3 keyboards, 2 EWI and 4 percussion, but no woodwinds or additional brass.)

Unfortunately, Jones’s driving electronica approach to the episode’s climax—in which Picard pilots the Enterprise out of the debris field on minimal power—did not meet the same warm reception from Berman as the love theme. Jones had introduced the episode’s action music in “The Trap” and had planned to use the echoing, Patton-style trumpet motive against his propulsive electronics and strings for the climax. The 3:30 “Human Factor,” heard for the first time on this box set, takes the material in a modern, almost Euro-pop direction with rock percussion and cascading synth trumpets—causing Berman to respond quizzically, “That’s very French.” He rejected the cue, so Jones and music editor Gerry Sackman found replacement music to use from the climax of “Where Silence Has Lease.” A medley of “Fatal Decision” and “Auto-Destruct” from that score can be heard on disc 13, track 7 (approximating, but not exactly replicating, its reuse in “Booby Trap”) while an earlier take of “Human Factor” (with even more pop percussion) can be heard on disc 13, track 24.

“I remember this being very different from the way I approached a lot of things,” Jones says of the unused climax. “It was all drive, no melody, so it was kind of foreshadowing the way things are done now—there’s a struggle there and it’s epic so the themes became all stretched out and it became all about rhythm. They had a limited time to accomplish their goal and it might not work. To me the strings represented humanity, a chorus saying, ‘Maybe we’re going to make it and maybe we’re not,’ and the rest is all technical energy. Again, it was putting pop stuff into the approach.” Jones would continue to experiment throughout his run on the show, but never again in such an electronic-pop direction.

The Price #156

While involved in negotiations for rights to a stable wormhole discovered by the pacifistic Barzan, a mysterious negotiator named Devinoni Ral (Matt McCoy) exercises an unethical influence over the proceedings—and over Counselor Troi. TV Guide periodically hyped The Next Generation during its original run, almost exclusively on the basis of would-be racy material in upcoming episodes. “The Price” was one such example, with TV Guide drumming up excitement for a supposedly sexy oil massage scene between Troi and Devinoni Ral. Unfortunately, “The Price” suffers from the low-wattage charisma of Matt McCoy, who seems altogether too creepily folksy to either seduce Troi or threaten Riker, as he does late in the episode. The “stable wormhole” idea later became one of the key concepts behind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and here TNG demonstrates its ability to predict future trends when a lovestruck Counselor Troi “Googles” (for lack of a better word) Ral early in the episode.

Ron Jones divided his thematic material for the episode’s score between a bittersweet love theme and an electronic motive for Ral’s empathic influence on other people, eventually revealed to derive from his partial Betazoid ancestry. Jones was particularly savvy in applying these approaches in a way that tips the viewer off to Ral’s unwholesome motivations without undermining Troi and her feelings for the man. The composer suggests the love theme early in “Troi’s Mood,” indicating that Troi is vulnerable and lonely, and thus open to a relationship with Ral. But he scores Ral’s initial private meeting with her (“Seduction”) using the electronic motive, which not only adds an unsettling undercurrent to the scene, but ties it in with later incidents manipulated by Ral (a Federation negotiator sickened by the Ferengi near the end of “Late for Dinner” and another alien negotiator withdrawing from the proceedings in “Seeds of Doubt”/“Manipulation”).

The Troi love theme bears some melodic similarities to Jones’s religious theme from “Who Watches the Watchers,” but this was not intentional; Jones wrote a tremendous volume of music for The Next Generation, often over short periods, and similar ideas and orchestrations percolate through the scores. “This was one of the nice love themes I got to write,” he remembers. “There’s synth strings with almost electric piano. I wanted it to be like Romeo and Juliet.”

The score also marked another of the composer’s periodic attempts to convince the producers to provide some source music for the Enterprise—this time for a workout scene designed to show off Beverly Crusher and Counselor Troi in futuristic spandex (“Exercise”). “I said, ‘Don’t you think they’d play some kind of music while they did that?’” Jones recalls. “’Wouldn’t they have something to make it enjoyable to exercise?’ They let me try it, but they would never use that stuff—they never believed people in space would relax in a bar with music. They thought they were all hermits.” — 

Disc Nine »