With the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation just three weeks away, it's time to think about what the series contributed towards Trek lore as a whole. After all, it wasn't just the first successful Trek television series (The first series may have created the mythology, inspired a fandom and led to all that followed, but it still found itself cancelled twice, remember), but the series that rebuilt the universe for the two series that followed. So, what did TNG do with that opportunity? Here are five suggestions.
Klingons Are Our Friends
While Worf took some time to find his place on the show - He really didn't make sense until he became the security guard for the ship, let's be honest - bringing him on board the Enterprise-D opened up a world of alternative alien culture that Spock's presence on the original show didn't even come close to. It allowed the show to explore moral and cultural ideas outside of the sanitized norm of both Starfleet and 1980s/90s America without impacting the audience's feelings about their heroes, and also demonstrated how understanding and evolved the humans of the time were by putting up with such a barbaric race in the first place. More importantly, it stood as the simplest, most obvious way of saying to old fans, "See? Everything is different now." Something as simple as bringing the Klingons into partnership with the Federation gave Trek as a whole the license to grow beyond its status quo.
Boldly Going Where No-One Has Gone Before
As matter of necessity from running more than 100 hours of television with each episode having to establish a new storyline with, more often than not, new alien races to deal with, The Next Generation created a whole host of new alien races and planets. Some of them were forgotten after their first episode, but many weren't; without TNG, there would have been no Cardassians or Bajorans for Deep Space Nine (No Ferengi, either), no Antarians for Enterprise, and no Q for Janeway to be tortured by in Voyager. Although, to be fair, she probably would've been perfectly okay about that.
And Then There Were The Borg
There also would have been no Borg, but they were enough of a game changer for the franchise as a whole to get their own entry. It's unclear whether the Borg were intended to become quite the level of threat that they eventually did - I'd argue that they ended up taking over Voyager when they appeared in that series, and came close to doing the same on TNG post-"Best of Both Worlds" - when first introduced, but their creation gifted the series with something it had lacked since the Ferengi turned out to be more comedic than threatening: A big bad that couldn't be defeated or rationalized with, and was so unknown and alien that Starfleet no longer seemed like the dominant force in the series from that point on.
This is down more to the television landscape than any particular decision made by TNG, I know, but moving TNG from the any-episode-in-any-order model of the original Trek to long form story arcs that would allow characters to develop both themselves and relationships with others feels like it was both a necessary and important change for Trek as a franchise, echoing the earlier "status quo can shift" lesson of the Klingons as friends, but on a scale that was both smaller and more long-lasting - Or, in the case of the Troi/Worf romance, not very long-lasting at all once DS9 needed a Klingon.
The Holodeck. Just Because
Hey, it may seem like a small thing, but come on: Try to imagine TNG, Deep Space Nine or Voyager without holodeck technology. Suddenly, half the fun of each show goes out the window…
What TNG creation made Trek better for you, dear reader? And, just to switch it up, what TNG concept do you wish had never been mentioned?