The Pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint", was passable, but after the terrible "The Naked Now" and the corny, un-PC "Code of Honor", viewers would have been forgiven for questioning if it was worth sticking with this new incarnation of the beloved 'Star Trek'. Well, "The Last Outpost" is by no means a classic (in many ways it's very bad), but at least it finally gives a decent plot, and raises the bar for the series *ever so slightly* at this stage.
Of course, the main thing of note about the episode is the introduction of the Ferengi, promoted at the time to be TNG's "big enemy race", taking over from the Klingons of the Original Series. (Something says to me the big heads behind this one had "merchandising" on their minds). Either way, there is some mystery at the beginning of the story as to what this new race, previously unseen to the Federation, would be like. As soon as they appear… one would be forgiven for rolling around on the floor laughing. They're just too comical to be taken as a serious threat.
The producers and writers soon recognised this (some even referred to this episode as "a disaster"), and for subsequent appearances quickly reworked the race into the more comical beings they were obviously suited to being (finally introducing The Borg as the show's big enemy in series two), and creating some discontinuity with the version of the Ferengi we meet in this episode. Of course, I don't have to tell you that one of the Ferengi here is played by Armin Zimmerman, who would go on to play 'Star Trek's most well-known Ferengi, bartender Quark, in' Deep Space Nine'.
This is a story of two halves – the first being the two ships unlocked in an unknown force and each blaming the other; and the second set down on the planet below.
The first half begins with some genuine mystery, but is padded out too long, and I feel that more time should have been given over to the planet below and the mysterious Guardian.
The story, although still much clunkier than later episodes, does feel to be slightly slicker than the rather dud first two hour long instalments (part of me would like to think that the production crew realised they really needed to pull their socks up, fast!), and sets in motion the improvement in quality that would gradually emerge over the next few episodes.
There are some good character moments – the planet surface (dubbed "Planet Hell" by production staff), while maybe looking a bit ropey by nowadays standards, looks good enough considering the era and budget, and – overlooking how the supposedly menacing Ferengi backfire comically – there is a decent story in here. Heck, Geordi even gets something to do in Engineering, giving him good practice for the position he would hold from the second season onwards.
I always liked as a kid when Riker would lead an Away Team (for my young back mind then, Picard was a bit too staid; Riker had a vague Kirk-like quality to him), and whenever I think of this episode, I always think of the recurring gag with Data's Chinese finger trap, and beaming them over to the Ferengi ship at the end (almost reminiscent of Scotty beaming some Tribbles over to the Klingon ship at the end of the Original Series classic "The Trouble with Tribbles").
One minor thing that did stick out to me – the crew failing to recognise references to Earth's national flags, suggesting they have long been abolished. While I can get that the show was trying to promote a "in the future we'll settle our differences and all be as one", I'm not sure that I like the thought of us losing our individual cultural identities (in a way, surely that's one thing that the Federation is all about protecting?)
All-in-all, definitely not the classic and the big introduction of a new enemy that the series was clearly hoping for, but at the same time, a definite improvement over the previous two episodes. It's not worthy of an outstanding score, but my 7.0 reflects the improvement over those two weak (and low-scoring) instalments.