Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989): S03E02 – The Ensigns of Command


“The Ensigns of Command” is the second episode of the third season of the syndicated American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 50th episode overall, first broadcast on 02 October 1989.

Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, Commander Data (Brent Spiner) must convince a reluctant colony of more than 15,000 to prepare for immediate evacuation while Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) attempts to negotiate a three-week reprieve from aliens intent on colonising the planet themselves in four days and wiping out any humans found there.


The Federation starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), receives an automated message from the enigmatic Sheliak: Remove the humans on planet Tau Cygni V in four days. The Sheliak are a non-humanoid species with little regard for human life and would exterminate any humans found in their path. Their message is only due to their obligation under a treaty with the Federation to notify their intention to colonise before taking further action.

There is no record of a Federation colony ship being sent there as it contains levels of hyperonic radiation lethal to humans, which doesn’t explain why the Sheliak indicate otherwise. The Enterprise arrives in the system to find what looks to be a small colony on the surface. The android Second Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner), takes a shuttlecraft to the planet to coordinate the evacuation as he is the only crewmember unaffected by the radiation. Once he arrives, he finds that the sensor readings were incorrect. He is informed by local greeters Haritath (Mark L. Taylor) and Kentor (Richard Allen) that it is a colony of 15,253 people, the descendants of the wayward colony ship Artemis launched 92 years prior. The colonists’ ancestors found a means to survive within the radiation but initially suffered heavy loss of life before an effective defence was found.

Although it would normally be a simple matter of beaming the colonists off the planet, hyperonic radiation renders the transporters useless. Because of this, a complete evacuation of the planet would take an estimated three weeks, and the Sheliak are not willing to give the Federation any extra time beyond the three days required by the treaty.

After explaining the situation and being rebuffed by the colony’s leader, Gosheven (Grainger Hines), Data is befriended by a sympathetic colonist named Ard’rian (Eileen Seeley). She expresses interest in Data as an android and invites Data to her home, where they discuss ways to persuade the colonists to evacuate. Ard’rian kisses Data. When Data explains to the colonists that they should evacuate their world before its imminent destruction, Gosheven, speaking for the colonists, refuses to leave, insisting they will protect themselves by fighting.

With time running out, Picard and the Enterprise crew begin poring through the 500,000-word treaty in the hopes of finding something they can use to their advantage.

Data reasons that if persuasion cannot work, then intimidation through a show of force should be his next option. Modifying his phaser to work in the hyperonic atmosphere, he raids the colonists’ aqueduct to prove they are helpless to defend their livelihood. When Data easily overpowers the colonists guarding the aqueduct, he points out that if they cannot defend against a single person with a phaser, then they are not capable of fighting the Sheliak, who would likely destroy them via orbital bombardment. Data then damages the aqueduct system that is vital to the colony’s survival, convincing the colonists to evacuate the world. Gosheven reluctantly relents.

Back on the Enterprise, Picard exploits a loophole in the treaty. He invokes a section calling for third-party arbitration to resolve the dispute and names as arbitrators the Grizzelas, a species that is in its hibernation cycle for another six months. Picard offers the Sheliak a choice: wait six months for the Grizzelas to come out of hibernation, or give the Federation three weeks to evacuate the colony. Stunned at being outmanoeuvred into this choice, the Sheliak give the Federation the three weeks.

Just as Data is about to leave the colony in his shuttle, Ard’rian comes to say goodbye. She asks Data if he has any feeling over what has just happened, and Data says no. He then kisses Ard’rian. Aside from the kiss, Data leaves Ard’rian in a somewhat cold manner and returns to the Enterprise.

Aboard the Enterprise, Picard comments on Data’s performance at a classical concert before his mission with the human colonists. Picard tells Data he performed with feeling, and Data reminds Picard that he has no feeling. Picard says that this is hard to believe, noting his fusion of two very different music styles in his performance suggests real creativity. At that, and in obvious reflection of his recent solution of the colony problem, Data concedes that he has become more creative when necessary.

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Cliff Bole.
  • Writer(s): Melinda M. Snodgrass.
  • Release Date: 02 October 1989.
  • Running Time: 45 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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