Three Christmas episodes of Star Trek to sink your teeth into.
As we come to end of the 35th anniversary year of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), it’s only natural to wonder what makes any given TNG episode a good Christmas episode! Not “natural” for casual viewers, of course, who are likely more preoccupied with presents and parties and peppermint sticks—the usual accouterments of the holiday season. But natural for Star Trek fans, who are never reluctant to find a seasonal angle from which to view our favorite franchise.
The TNG Christmas connection is stronger than you might think. After all, TNG is the Trek iteration that gave us the franchise’s only bona fide Christmas movie, Star Trek Generations. Released the week before Thanksgiving in 1994—just in time for the holiday season—Generations features not only Captain Picard’s Yuletide fantasy in the Nexus but also an alien scientist’s pursuit of a strange stellar phenomenon. Tolian Soran may not be an exotic “wise man” following a new star from the east, exactly, but he comes close.
Apart from Generations, Christmas doesn’t get much explicit attention in TNG. (We’ll discuss the notable exception shortly.) But for all TNG’s general lack of holly jolly seasonal trappings, it spun several stories that hew surprisingly close to the religious aspects of Christmas.
Whatever your personal beliefs, count down these three episodes with me and see if they don’t make sense as Christmas episodes from a Christian perspective.
Christmas Episode #3: “Devil’s Due” (Season 4, Episode 13)
Adapted from a script for the never-produced Star Trek: Phase II series, “Devil’s Due” stands in the fine Trek tradition of demolishing false “gods”—even if, in this case, the “god,” Ardra, presents herself as a devil to whom the people of Ventax II sold their society’s soul.
Some Star Trek fans may see the franchise’s frequent criticisms of religious beliefs and practices as a rejection of faith, but I don’t. I think my faith demands I bring my beliefs in for an honest examination, lest I be found placing my ultimate trust in an idol of my own construction. Idols who prevent a life lived to the fullest deserve to be toppled, not loved or—as was the case on Ventax—feared. Iconoclasm can be a holy calling, as the captains of the Enterprise have shown us.
It’s truly the teaser that makes “Devil’s Due” such a strong Christmas episode. In the holodeck, Picard is directing Data in a performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (a Christmas classic with which Sir Patrick Stewart has enjoyed a long association). The scene Data is playing is the one in which Ebenezer Scrooge attempts to dismiss Jacob Marley’s ghost as “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s supernatural visitors turn out to be quite real—or at least, real enough for Scrooge! In “Devil’s Due,” the “supernatural” Ardra turns out to be a fraud. But in both stories, lives end up changed for the better, abled to live into a brighter future. That’s a message of Christmas hope that can resonate with people of any or no religious belief.