Wesley Crusher. It is a name that will send a chill down many a Trek fan’s spine. He was the attempt to be the cipher for many of the younger viewers of the show, but who ultimately became best known for the Picard line “Shut up, Wesley”. He was the child genius who would regularly show up the highly experienced and skilled crew, coming up with ideas and solutions that they stare on dumbfounded by. Where No One Has Gone Before is an early example of what many people would come to loath from the character, although I think it also demonstrates how that perception and unkind treatment of the character was on occasions unjustified.
Where No One also introduces us to one of the classic Star Trek tropes, that of the arrogant and snobby member of Starfleet. It is wonder how we always end up with each series of Star Trek following a crew filled with both the best and most pleasant Starfleet officers, as the show regularly portrays all the others as nobs. Unusually for these Starfleet nobs, this one is not an admiral, but a specialist in warp propulsion technology named Kosinski (strangely, he wears a Starfleet uniform, but is never referred to by rank and doesn’t have any kind of recognisable insignia). He comes aboard the Enterprise to perform an upgrade on their engines with new propulsion formulas, which have already worked on other vessels, although the Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, Argyle, could not work out how they were supposed to make any difference. He is also accompanied by an assistant. This assistant quickly introduces us to another running trope of the series, particularly these early episodes; the character that Troi senses something is wrong with, but not really sure what. We had this sort of happen with the creature that was at Farpoint and is once again a sign of Troi’s abilities actually not being that useful. If she was a full Betazoid, I’m sure most of these plots could be over and done with in the first few minutes, but fortunately for the show she is only half-Betazoid and her abilities are a bit pants.
As they arrive in engineering, we see Wesley is there working on a school project. Yes, everything is so chill here that they allow school kids just to mess around with their highly advanced equipment. In some ways, it is kind of nice to see that they exist in such a comfortable environment that this is perfectly allowed. It is one of those signs that shows you that the Enterprise D isn’t a military vessel or even a place of highly sensitive scientific research. They may have the weapons to protect themselves, but for the most part the Enterprise is there to ferry dignitaries and ambassadors from place to place. This is effectively a space cruise ship, one that is home to families just going about their daily lives. It is a small detail, but the fact that Wesley is allowed to just sit there working away on his project as the highly skilled officers go about their duties is an incidental moment that highlights the comfortable atmosphere that the show pervades. Of course, our Starfleet nob has to comment on a child being in engineering, as he just doesn’t get it.
It is a good thing Wesley is there though, as it gives him a chance to talk with the assistant and demonstrate his aptitude with warp field technology. It also allows him to witness the assistant beginning to fade in and out as the changes to the warp drive are taking place. It is clear that the assistant is having much more to do with the upgrades than Kosinski is. Something goes wrong though and the Enterprise hurtles at great speeds off into another galaxy. Of course, Wesley’s comments that this was down to the assistant full on deaf ears, as Riker ignores his comments. Fortunately, this doesn’t lead to any kind of tantrum from Wesley, nor is there even much of an “I told you so” moment later, once he is revealed to be correct. Riker just acknowledges, gives a sort of apology and everyone moves on. I’m sure many would hold this up as an example of the show depicting Wesley as the smartest person in the room, but I feel this is an unfair view to take. Instead, he just happens to be in the right place to see what needed to be seen.
Following the accident, we are soon shown an early example of one of those great moments when Picard takes advise from his crew. Needing to decide whether they should stay and investigate this galaxy, different members of the bridge crew chip in with their thoughts. Delay on trying to get back could be risky, there is a nearby proton star that would be worth investigating and so on. Seeing the captain of the ship listening and taking advise from each of the different crew members is one of the things Next Generation always did so well, demonstrating the importance of each of the characters’ knowledge, but never forgetting that Picard was in charge. Picard ultimately decides that they should not hang about and that if it turns out that the speeds they achieved could be replicated than a better equipped science vessel can return to conduct studies on the area.
The episode continues with an attempt to return home, but this just ends up sending them further away than they were before. There are some interesting ideas here about the area of space causing thoughts to become reality, but this occurs too late in the episode for them to really delve into it. Instead, we are given a few brief moments, mostly played for laughs, such as one crew member being ballerina and Worf remembering his childhood Klingon pet targ. The only real moment of threat comes from one incidental sequence with a crew member believing they are surrounded by fire, but this is soon resolved by Picard giving some words of encouragement. The important moment though comes with the conversation between Picard and the assistant, who we now know is known as The Traveller. This comes shortly before the final and successful attempt to return home. The traveller instructs Picard to nurture Wesley and encourage him to develop himself. He sees potential in Wesley, calling him a child protégé in the vein of Mozart. The Traveller would ultimately remain an important part of Wesley’s overall arc, but it is the importance of Picard here that is particularly striking. We have already heard a few times of Picard’s difficulties around children, but here is being asked to be a father figure for the child of a man that he feels partly responsible for the death of. It is moment that actually shows interesting depth, relying on the audience’s knowledge of these characters, that we haven’t particularly spent a great deal of time with and it is handled with surprising subtlety.
Similar to Farpoint, the main plot for this episode is rather perfunctory, something that is unfortunately far too common during the opening couple of seasons. Nothing is really spent enough time with to really delve into properly and we are always moving onto the next thing. Also, like Farpoint though, the episode does a surprising job with its characters. Not being a pilot episode, it doesn’t need to worry too much about the full ensemble, instead focusing on mainly Picard, Wesley and the guest appearance of The Traveller, but it does do an unexpectedly strong job of handling them. There are certainly many stumbling blocks to be had with Wesley and other characters, particularly during the first season, but this one demonstrates the writers do know what to do with them when they try.