This Week in Trek: Romulans and Courtrooms


Fifty years ago today, Star Trek premiered “The Enterprise Incident.” Despite writing it, DC Fontana had some less than complimentary things to say about the final version: “Let’s face it, the romantic scene between the Romulan commander and Spock was totally out of context. Any Romulan worth her salt would have instantly suspected Spock . . . the cloaking device: Here’s Kirk running around with this thing that looks like a [giant] lamp. You know, highly visible. This is stupidity as well as illogical thinking. Visually it was stupid, conceptually it was very bad.”


I guess!  While inferior to the other big Romulan episode (Balance of Terror), it’s still an enjoyable caper that gives us Kirk in pointy ears and several fun twists in the plot.

I love me a good Romulan episode.  They are enigmatic and clever, devious and intelligent.  Can our heroes outsmart a Klingon?  Of course they can!  But outsmarting a Romulan — that’s a real achievement.  Let’s go through some of the highlights of Romulan episodes:

Balance of Terror” (TOS) — the first, and one of the best, “submarine warfare in space” episodes.

The Defector” (TNG) — a brilliant performance by perennial Star Trek guest star James Sloyan ties together an intelligent story about the difference between loyalty to your homeland and loyalty to the state.

“In the pale moonlight” (DS9) — one of the darkest episodes of Trek asks: “to what extent does the ends justify the means?,” but doesn’t give any easy answers.


Eye of the Needle” (VOY) — The crew makes contact with a Romulan ship on the other side of a tiny wormhole but can’t get a break in negotiating with them for help.


There are plenty of others, like “The Mind’s Eye,” “Future Imperfect,” and “The Enemy.”  I even like “The Neutral Zone.”  And of course the two-parter “Unification?”  What is your favorite Romulan episode? 





Thirty-one years ago tomorrow, “Encounter at Farpoint” aired on television for the first time. It was the launch of what has unfortunately become known as “Berman era Trek,” which is too bad because much of Berman era Trek is rather good and Berman himself is rather bad. But he’s the one guy who was in a leadership role for the entire epoch (1987-2005), so he gets his name on it like the Victorian era or the Elizabethan age.

q 1

It’s a giant episode that introduces a lot of things that would be very important to Trek. The crew of course, but also the holodeck and Q. And it brings back an old stalwart from the old series: the courtroom sequence. Trek is full of episodes that are at least partially centered around someone — usually the captain — finding themselves in a legal proceeding. Starfleet officers seem to be constantly finding themselves on trial, either in alien courts or federation hearing.   Episodes with court-room/hearing sequences in Trek include

“Court Martial”
“The Squire of Gothos”
“Wolf in the fold”
“The Menagerie”
Star Trek VI

“Encounter at Farpoint”
“Measure of a Man”
“The Drumhead”
“A Matter of Perspective”
“Sins of the Father”
“The First Duty”
“Devil’s Due”

“Rules of Engagement”

“Author, Author”
“Ex Post Facto”
“Random Thoughts”
“Distant Origin”
“Death Wish”



Let’s talk about THE DRUMHEAD for a moment. The Drumhead is a fourth season episode of TNG. It’s basically “Trek does The Crucible,” and since The Crucible is pretty damn good I don’t mean that at all in a bad way. It’s the story of a single accusation that spirals into a proverbial witch-hunt. Very briefly, an investigator named Satie investigates a possible sabotague. It turns out the sabotogue was just an accident, but by then she has uncovered a crewmember lied about his racial heritage. Even though that shouldn’t matter in the enlightened future, she becomes convinced it’s a sign that he is working for the Romulans. It touches on racial prejudice, civil rights, and some awesome Picard speeches. (One of the things I love about Trek world-building is when they “quote” a made-up historical figure and successfully make it sound plausible as something memorable. See also “Let me help” from “The City on the Edge of Forever”).



I’ve seen people try to argue that this episode preaches that rape accusations should be ignored if there isn’t hard evidence.  But the situation in the episode is very different from that. The episode isn’t about a victim coming to an investigator and asking to be listened to. It’s about an investigator intent on finding a crime despite the lack of any complaining victim. It’s not over-caring about victims, it’s disregarding whether victims exist. The episode clearly shows why the basis for criminal investigation should be rooted in the actual harms done. Start with the harm and trace it back to the perpetrator of that harm. Any other method risks fabricating crimes where none exist. Satie’s mistake wasn’t investigating in the first place, it was pursuing a suspect based on her own biases when there was no longer a specific harm that could be pointed to.

The vast majority of courtroom/investigation episodes in Trek are about clearing someone’s name. Very rarely in Trek do our heroes prosecute someone. It’s much more Ben Matlock than Jack McCoy. That, of course, allows for the tension of a criminal proceeding without having to live with our heroes being murderers or something (the exception being Wesley, whose recklessness led to his classmate being killed and he was ?sort of? held responsible for that). It also allows for glorious speeches and many of Trek’s best moments. Especially Picard. Man, can that guy rock a courtroom.


Oh Jean-Luc. Captain, diplomat, archeologist, flutist, barrister — is there anything you can’t do?

Anyway, what is your favorite court-room episode of Star Trek? The effective tension of “Measure of a Man?” The gravitas of “The Drumhead?” or maybe you prefer an old fashioned legal mystery like “A Matter of Perspective” or “Rules of Engagement?” And while you’re at it, what’s the worst courtroom episode? You know, the one that makes you cringe and fast forward?


Other Kirk & Spock news:

-Scientists discover planet around the same star where Vulcan is located in trek quasi-canon.

-Tropical Storm Kirk strengthens in Atlantic



And now, a random image from Memory Alpha


The bridge of the Dreadnought-class USS Vengeance in 2259. (Star Trek Into Darkness)