The Sound of Star Trek Part 29: Encounter At Farpoint/Arsenal of Freedom

This week, in the wake of the revelations of Picard’s own series, we take a listen to the soundtrack of his initial televised adventure, Encounter at Farpoint way back in 1987.

It is quite incredible to think that Patrick Stewart first played the role of Jean-Luc Picard 32 years ago and we will see him again very soon as, I assume, an embittered, weary retired senior Starfleet officer. Emotions will sit close to the surface in this updated portrayal, a long way away from the stolid, harsh Jean-Luc we were first privy to on stardate 41153.7.

To herald this next generation of Star Trek, the producers appointed Dennis McCarthy, whose music we have already experienced together in this series of articles.

GNP Crescendo released the soundtrack to ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ on LP, tape cassette and CD in 1987 and again as an expanded CD in 2014 accompanied by music from another McCarthy-composed episode. Season 1’s ‘Arsenal of Freedom’.

Heralded by the familiar Courage/Goldsmith theme mash-up that introduced every episode of The Next Generation‘s seven-year run, it’s a promising start as ‘Stardate’ makes it very clear that we are watching Star Trek, albeit one that we’re not used to. Remember, up until this point, Star Trek only ever was Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura etc and this was a HUGE thing for fans at the time. Now, the idea of a Star Trek series not headlined by those classic original characters is an everyday thing.

McCarthy adopts some quite lovely melodies here, giving light-relief to quite a broody pilot episode. With Troi looking like she’s suffering from cramps, Riker more wide-eyed that Wesley and Data being extra-robotic, it’s a slow start to a  series that demanded prestige, so ‘Picard’s Plan’, ‘The Woods’ and ‘Splashing’ certainly imbue properties in these unfamiliar characters that are otherwise not-yet prevalent traits.

Q, the nemesis that ranks alongside Lore and the Borg as one that commands Picard’s attention, has his own set of themes: ‘Fair Trial’, ‘Out of Order’, ‘There Goes Da Judge” and ‘Q Returns’ all encompass a sense of grandeur and pomposity, completely encapsulating John de Lancie‘s portrayal. (I hope he is given a chance to return in Star Trek: Picard. I know Q isn’t to everyone’s tastes but he sure riled our captain up good and proper and would have made a great TNG movie villain, too.)

‘Admiral’ is a specific and very lovely composition for a very familiar face. This particular character was only ever listed as Admiral in the shooting script because series creator Gene Roddenberry was unsure if Deforest Kelley would agree to appear as a very old and wizened Leonard McCoy. But appear he did. Alongside Brent Spiner’s Data, his cameo was heartwarming and a perfect acknowledge to all that had gone before.

In the main, the score to ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is one of the better approaches to TNG‘s music style. It introduces a new theme that was ultimately rejected in favor of the Goldsmith classic, but McCarthy was able to weave it throughout this soundtrack and many of the others he composed. While it is a shame that it didn’t feature more prominently as a hero theme for TNG, it is welcome continuity. Interestingly, in its original form (as featured on the soundtrack), it is as a patriotic, rolling piece of music which could have potentially jarred against the sweeping, elegant yet bombastic styles we were used to.

The expanded edition features five additional tracks, all very short and all synth ‘stings’. Interesting to hear but add nothing to the score.

‘The Arsenal of Freedom’, TNG‘s 21st episode, and actually one I don’t remember. It did occur to me that perhaps I should have re-familiarized myself with it prior to giving the CD a spin: in the end I didn’t but can safely that McCarthy’s music for this episode took me down a path I was expecting. Lots of strained synth strings (but mercifully punctuated – and only occasionally – by subtle and welcome use of his unused main theme).

In fact, I’d forgotten the CD was playing and was only reminded when Goldsmith’s end titles kicked in. I then had to go back and listen again to the ‘Arsenal…’ portions. It was, as you can conclude, quite a chore and doesn’t make for casual, sitting-down, feet-up listening. Luckily I was bleaching the toilet at the time.

Next: Who is Dahj from the Star Trek: Picard trailer?

But to be fair, it’s a whole lot better than the music to Paramount’s other 80s relaunch of an old 60s franchise of theirs, Mission: Impossible, which made even the wonderful Lalo Schifrin’s theme and selected incidental music sound like they had been played through two bean tins connected by a piece of string. So for that, and for the thought that TNG‘s music could have been a whole lot worse, I’ll always be thankful.

Next time: Star Trek Into Darkness

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