So, recently I’ve started watching Star Trek TOS, and also have been listening to the SF Debris videos of Star Trek TNG. In doing so, I noticed something interesting about the first season TOS episode “The Naked Time” when compared to the first season TNG episode “The Naked Now”, which might explain why the first season of TOS is much more highly regarded than the first season of TNG. “The Naked Now” is an explicit revisiting of “The Naked Time”, and both of them thus involve the same basic idea: a strange, water-based disease or whatever causes the crews of both ships to, essentially, act drunk. But the “Naked” in the TOS title seems to refer to the people being emotionally “naked”, living out and exposing their deepest desires and fears, while in TNG they seemed to interpret that to mean getting naked and having lots and lots of sex.
In “The Naked Time”, the first person who is infected starts acting oddly not by wanting to have sex with everyone or by acting, well, drunk, but instead by going on about how deadly space is and building up a healthy head of paranoia about that. Sulu then engages in his dream of being a swashbuckling hero. Riley tries to achieve his dream of being an Irish Lord ruling his own little fiefdom. Christine Chapel confesses her love for Spock. Spock is overcome by emotion and talks about the difficulties of that. And finally Kirk talks about the pressures of command and what that might cost him. The inner issues dominate, with their impacts on the plot and the story generally side events to getting that across. This is great because it gives us some extra insight into the characters, and reveals some things about them that will become major parts of their characters, but were things that we hadn’t seen beforehand.
In contrast, in “The Naked Now” any inner examinations are limited, and only there to serve either the plot or to give them an excuse to chase sex. Geordi talks briefly about his issues with having to see through the VISOR and not having “real” sight, but that’s only there to give him an excuse to touch Tasha and as a way for Crusher to see that the original formula isn’t working. Tasha briefly talks about her childhood in a way that hints that because her childhood was so bad she now tries to seek out pleasurable experiences … but that’s mostly used as a way to justify her screwing anything that moves. Data could be seen as making a point about his desire to be human, but he doesn’t really make that clear and we already knew that. Troi talks about the emotions overwhelming her, but again that just turns into a way to express sexual desire for Riker, which we already knew was there. Crusher hints at attraction with Picard, and he for her, but again that’s not explored as a hidden and secret desire that they might feel shame for, but is just used as an excuse to get them to act very, very oddly and in a way that’s aimed at humour (and I found it hilarious that Crusher uses as her example of how it causes bad judgement that she finds him very attractive. Not that she wants to have sex with him at the wrong time, but literally that right now she finds him attractive). While TNG desperately needed us to get some idea of the characters and what they were like, it didn’t take this opportunity to do that.
Even the destruction threat is inferior. Sure, Riley’s plan was a bit stupid, but at least there’s a logic to it: if he controls engineering, he controls the ship, and then can, at least to that point, enforce his will on them. Sure, he’ll be caught eventually and sure, no one has to listen to him, but someone with impaired judgement might well decide that’s worth a shot. On TNG, we have Wesley building a force field and, worse, the assistant Chief Engineer … playing with the control chips as if they were building blocks, which is clearly what he’s always wanted to do, deep down. At least he wasn’t trying to have sex with them.
TOS used this plot to reveal things about its characters, while TNG used this as an excuse to make them act like idiots. This goes a long way towards explaining why first season TOS is so good, and first season TNG … not.
(Also, as a final aside, it’s interesting that both, deliberately or not, kept the idea that if someone needed to concentrate, the effects seemed to diminish. When Kirk brings Spock around and Spock starts concentrating on how to come up with the formula to restart the engines, he seems unaffected. In TNG, Wesley lampshades that by commenting on how hard it was to think, and Data seems less affected when he is trying to reinsert the control chips, and despite Riker seemingly getting it early he isn’t affected at all in the episode, and only shows some signs when all he can do is sit there and see if Data and Wesley can save the ship. It’s an interesting element that’s easy to overlook.)