The Next Generation’s “Relics” Is a Delightful, Poignant Rumination on Time and Aging

What could’ve been some cheesy service turned out to be one of Star Trek’s best and most human episodes.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Relics
Scotty trying, and failing, to make sense of the Enterprise-D

Various characters from the original Star Trek series have appeared alongside the Next Generation crew. “Bones” McCoy helped send the Enterprise-D off on its maiden voyage in “Encounter at Farpoint.” Picard and his crew helped Spock in his quest to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan peoples in “Unification.” And of course, James T. Kirk himself teamed up with Picard to stop a madman in Star Trek Generations.

But my favorite blending of the original and Next Generation crews occurs in “Relics,” which brings that most redoubtable of chief engineers, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, into the 24th century.

“Relics” opens with the Enterprise responding to a distress call that leads them to a Dyson sphere and the wreckage of the USS Jenolan, which has been missing for 75 years. (A Dyson sphere, for those of you who aren’t up on your megastructures, is an enormous sphere that encompasses a star, thus granting its inhabitants access to a near-limitless supply of energy.) Aboard the Jenolan, the away team discovers that the ship’s transporter system is somehow still online, and being used to preserve a couple of life signals in stasis. They activate the transporter, but only one person emerges: Scotty himself.

Scotty arrives in the 24th century

Thrilled that the Enterprise herself has come to his rescue, Scotty is taken aback to learn that he’s actually in the 24th century, and everything and everyone he’s known is long gone. And though initially excited by the Enterprise-D’s technology, especially down in Engineering, Scotty soon discovers that he’s in over his head. Worse, he’s just in the way.

Now adrift with nothing left for him, Scotty snags a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey from Ten Forward and heads to the holodeck, where he steps aboard a recreation of the original Enterprise’s bridge and toasts his long-gone comrades. This sets up a wonderful moment with Captain Picard, who comes to the holodeck to see how Scotty’s adjusting to the 24th century. Scotty reflects on his career as a Starfleet engineer and the two reminisce about their old starships, the Enterprise and the Stargazer.

Scotty and Picard reminisce on the holodeck, part 1
Scotty and Picard reminisce on the holodeck, part 2

This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire Star Trek franchise, and I don’t think it would’ve been possible with anyone other than Scotty.

Star Trek’s characters, especially on The Next Generation, can seem like paragons at times. But this scene adds some nice layers of humanity, regret, and nostalgia, even to Picard. The little bits — Scotty’s “first time you fall in love” line, his comments about sensing the ship’s speed through the deck plates — are just fantastic, and they lead up to Scotty’s final, fateful realization that he can never go back again. His time has come and gone, and no holodeck can ever bring it back.

Picard tasks La Forge with retrieving information from the Jenolan, and asks him to bring Scotty along. La Forge is hesitant at first, and his concerns seem warranted when Scotty arrives for the mission still hung over. But Scotty’s expertise and wisdom come in handy when he and La Forge must revive the Jenolan in order to find the Enterprise, which has been pulled into the Dyson sphere. As for the Enterprise crew, this might seem like an opportune moment to explore some super-advanced alien technology, but the Dyson sphere’s star is unstable, meaning it’s only a matter of time before they’re killed by its intense radiation.

This emergency leads to some nice character moments between La Forge and Scotty, as Scotty gently schools the younger engineer and La Forge gains some newfound respect for his elder.

A good engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper

Of course, Scotty and La Forge manage to save the day by wedging the Jenolan between the sphere’s massive doors, thus giving the Enterprise an opportunity to escape. In a particularly cool moment, the Enterprise’s helmsman must rotate the Enterprise 90 degrees to make it through the closing doors, which is a neat reminder that in space, even a vessel the size of the Enterprise can pull off some crazy maneuvers.

The Enterprise escapes the Dyson sphere

At the episode’s end, Scotty has discovered a new sense of purpose and relevance. He’s done bemoaning the past. Picard and the Enterprise crew give him one of their shuttles on an “extended loan” to take him to his retirement… or wherever else in the galaxy he might want to go.

“Relics” concludes with Scotty giving La Forge the highest possible compliment he can give: “I’ve always found that a ship is only as good as the engineer who takes care of her. And from what I can see, the Enterprise is in good hands.” Much like Bones and Data’s interaction during “Encounter at Farpoint,” it’s a nice “passing of the torch” moment that’s poignant without being cheesy or mawkish.

Some other highlights from “Relics”:

  • In a nice touch, Scotty’s wearing the same outfit — replete with various tools — that he wore in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Star Trek VI was the last feature film starring the original Star Trek crew, and was released less than a year before “Relics” aired.
  • Scotty reacts pretty warmly to the Enterprise D crew, and proves especially charming with Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi. He is, however, much more suspicious of Worf, which makes sense. Tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire were still quite fraught in his day.
  • Scotty’s advice on dealing with starship captains (“Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.”) and his dismay that La Forge actually told Picard how long something would really take certainly go a long way to explaining his reputation as a miracle worker. Doohan’s acting here, which ranges from mischievous to appalled in a matter of seconds, is delightful.
  • Also delightful is Scotty’s outrage when he’s served something that’s most definitely not scotch in Ten Forward.
  • Here’s a little “behind the scenes” trivia: When Scotty revisits his Enterprise’s bridge on the holodeck, what we actually see is a mix of repurposed Original Series footage and newly built sets. The command chair and helm console had been built by a fan for Star Trek conventions, and he loaned them to The Next Generation production for the episode.

When I first saw the promo for “Relics” back in 1991, I remember being skeptical, diehard Trekkie that I was. It seemed cheesy to have one of the Original Series characters suddenly show up on The Next Generation. But I enjoyed the episode when it first aired, and it’s since become one of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all time.

So often, Star Trek is about big ideas and stuff going on “out there,” which is why we love it so. But “Relics” is proof that Star Trek can be at its best, and most poignant, when it gets personal and human.

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