"Imzadi" by Peter David is a novel that explores the complex relationship between Star Trek: The Next Generation characters Will Riker and Deanna Troi.
It was written while TNG was still on so it contradicts some of the facts we learn as the series progresses.
For TNG fans one of the big questions has always been what exactly happened between Troi and Riker? I mean we know they had a romance on Betazed when they were young, but we never learn any of the details.
David makes a great attempt at filling in the details, but unfortunately in a way he never really had a chance, did he? I mean after so many years of wondering TNG fans have inevitably come up with their own version of Riker and Troi’s romance and no two people’s ideas will be exactly the same.
David portrays Riker the young officer as a smart up and comer, moving up through the ranks quickly. He is a skirt-chaser, but he respects everyone he is with. He doesn’t want to be tied down because his primary goal is his career. By the end of their romance, Troi has taught Will to appreciate the spiritual and emotional side of romance instead of just the physical. David’s portrayal of Riker seems to have hit the nail on the head.
On the other hand, David’s portrayal of Troi seemed way off the mark. Troi is portrayed as an over-intellectualized psychology major who has never had a relationship with a man because of the Catch-22 of expecting a deep spiritual and emotional connection with a lover, but feeling that any man is out to get one thing. In the romance department she is on her way to being an old maid librarian. She is also wrapped around her mother Lwaxana’s little finger. Lwaxana has prepared her all her life to be her successor in the aristocratic realm of Betazed. Troi basically has never even considered doing anything else. Riker asks her what she’ll do with her psychology degree and she says nothing, that she’s the heir to the Fifth House of Betazed and that her life is mapped out. Troi is changed a lot by her relationship with Riker. She learns that romance isn’t this perfect storybook thing and that having the spiritual, emotional and physical connection is best, but that even just having the physical connection has it’s merits. She also gains the courage to defy her mother and starts down the path that will later lead her to go into Starfleet.
I thought it was kind of cliché that Troi is portrayed as this schoolmarm type who only finds herself through her relationship with Riker. I’ll be the first to admit that Troi isn’t the greatest TNG character. One of the worst stigmas a TNG episode can have is that it’s a “Troi-episode.” But I do like a couple of things about Troi. One, I like that she is a Starfleet officer, that she went through all the same training as everyone else and yet she is still always able to give an outsider’s perspective. You might say she never drank the Starfleet Kool-aid. And the second thing that I like about Troi is that she understands herself. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is comfortable with her body. Comfortable with how others perceive her. If she encounters a man she likes, she pursues him. She is confident in her abilities and confident that if she puts herself out there emotionally and physically that she can handle herself even if things go bad. Why is it that David felt the need to say that it was Riker who gave Troi this confidence? That it wasn’t present already when they met?
I think it would have been a more effective novel if both characters had met each other as fully formed personalities. Or, the converse would have been that both characters were unformed and were formed by each other. This would have been more even. Will’s growth could have been that his career wasn’t going well and Troi gave him more confidence. But to write that Troi is the only one changed by the relationship is really sexist!
Also, the romance they shared in the novel was too short lived. Basically, they meet, court each other, have an adventure, consummate the relationship, and then break up soon afterwards. The novel suggests they are both deeply changed by the romance, but it seems like too short an affair to change two people so much and bind them together for the rest of their lives.
There is a great debate in the novel about whether it is right to travel back in time and save Troi. Riker who has been haunted by Troi’s death for 40 years believes his actions are justified because Troi was killed by a poison that hadn’t been developed at the time of her death. Evidence that time travel may have already been involved. Data argues that history must be preserved or it would undo the last 40 years. Data goes so far as attempting to kill Troi in the past himself to correct history. Stirring stuff!
…End of Spoilers
I also felt like the book suffers because of its complete focus on Riker and Troi. There are supporting roles for Data, Wesley as an adult, and Lwaxana, but the rest of the cast only comes in the novel at the end. When I got to read about Picard, Worf and briefly Geordi, it was a treat and I felt like even though it would have further complicated the story, it could have benefited from being framed by a typical TNG story. The framework was already there as the novel’s climax takes place during the peace conference on the Enterprise.
I wanted to briefly mention the creation of Riker and Troi’s characters and how it’s always fascinated me that they were modeled after Willard Decker and Ilia from Star Trek the Motion Picture. Gene Roddenberry apparently liked the characters so much he was originally going to use them in Star Trek Phase II (The show in between Original Trek and TNG that never got through the planning stages) and then they were used in Star Trek the Motion Picture, and then when TNG was being developed he slipped the characters in again. I guess we should be happy he didn’t try to get Marina Sirtis to shave her head.
I’ve often wondered how close Troi came to being dropped as a character. She wasn’t in 4 episodes in a row during the first season. The writers thought she was the hardest character to write for, but she managed to hang on. Maybe it had something to do with Denise Crosby leaving the show halfway through the season and the other female cast member Gates McFadden also on the way out. I mean can you imagine TNG with Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Pulaski as the only female lead? The show never would have made it past the second season!
Riker always seemed redundant. Picard, after all, was sort of a diplomat, but still was an effective fighter of both space battles and fist cuffs when pushed. So he didn’t really need Riker. The only area where he needed Riker was to manage the crew since Picard had a sort of stand-offish approach to being the Captain. But as much as the series didn’t need a second hero, there is just something about Jonathan Frake’s portrayal that is so charming. You can’t help but like Riker, so you don’t mind that he’s just window dressing, just another warm body filling a chair and speaking technobabble. To prove he is redundant, name a situation where Picard and Riker would captain the Enterprise differently? They are practically interchangeable! Contrast that to Kirk and Spock who never looked at a single situation the same way.