The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: The Ensigns of Command

When the Enterprise receives word from the Sheliak Corporate that humans are unlawfully inhabiting one of their planets, the crew are given just four days to evacuate a colony of 15,000 people. With all sorts of logistical issues making tha nigh impossible, Picard must negotiate for more time, whilst Data has to convince the colonists to leave in the first place.

This is one of those “solid but unexciting” episodes that has a a distinct Star Trek flavour, but largely fails to excite. There are a couple of excellent Picard moments, but his part is largely confined to negotiating with the world’s most pedantic aliens, whilst Data has a very standard “convincing the colonists” role. The only twist is that of course Data is an android, so he has to learn to use the power of words and actions in a more human way to get his point across. He also gets a female admirer, although as we know from First Contact, they don’t progress beyond kissing.

Character moments

  • Data now includes playing the violin amongst his hobbies. He performs in a string quartet, but his fellow players say his music lacks soul, which seems rather cruel of them.

Technology, legalities and the 24th century

  • I can’t help feeling a little uneasy that Starfleet’s job was to uproot 15,000 people from their home, even though those people were never meant to be there and the planet belonged to someone else. Couldn’t they claim squatter’s rights? Was this eventuality never foreseen in the 500,000 word treaty?
  • Picard and Troi have to do all the negotiating with the Sheliak – does the Enterprise not have any on-board lawyers?
  • It’s never explained exactly how the colonists magically adapted to the hyperonic radiation. They didn’t even have any special spores to grant them immunity, so what did they do? Did they engineer some kind of retrovirus to alter their genetic makeup? Are they technically even human any more?
  • Ard’rian asks if Data’s brain is duotronic, the type of circuitry invented by Dr Daystrom and used in all 23rd century computers. Of course, Data has a positronic brain, which basically means he is powered by antimatter, and should be prone to annihilating with matter at any time. Oh well, what’s life without a little danger?

Summary – The Ensigns of Command: Beware the narrative effects of mysterious types of radiation.

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