Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Ensigns of Command”
A corporation of aliens wants to remove squatters on one of their planets. Data is sent to tell the goofballs to pack it up and get ready to move. They protest. Hilarity ensues.
Picard struggles with the snooty Shelliaq Corporate who hate humans and use a 500,000 word treaty to regulate the few interactions they have with the Fed. Since the “radiation of the week” in this case Hyperonic Radiation, is fatal to humans and prevents the transporter from working, Data is sent down in a tiny shuttle which looks like a golf cart with engine pods to rally the squatters, who are survivors of a colony attempt who adapted to the fatal radiation and made a thriving Benetton community.
Everyone is pleased and excited to see Data, except for leader Gosheven, who acts like a huge tool toward our loveable android the moment he lays eyes on him. No reason is ever given for this, except for “my grandfather was buried on that mountain.” Whatever the hell that means.
A local girl, Ard’rian gets all googly-eyed over Data. For some strange reason she’s a roboticist of some kind, but that makes no sense as these people are all the survivors and descendants of the original colonists from 90 years ago. Colonies need farmers and mechanics not robot builders. Aside from Data and his Soong-built brethren, we have never seen any other androids or robots used in the Federation.
Both Picard and Data have to get creative to solve their respective problems. Picard uses legal gymnastics, while Data, with the help of a "recollimating phaser," gets medieval on the colonists’ asses.
A fairly weak third season episode that is primarily done in by extremely dull and uninspired blocking and camera work. 90% of this episode consists of mid shots (from the waist up) of the actors reciting their lines toward a locked down camera. There are a few over the shoulder shots, giving the actor someone on screen to react to. There are also some brief simple tracking shots, but these quickly lead to the boring mid shots.
A quick check of "The Star Trek: TNG Companion" shows that this episode took a nearly $200,000 cut just before going into production. At the time the shows cost approximately $1 million an episode, so this one had 20% of its budget cut off, and since most of that goes toward crew salaries, it’s my feeling that they cut out any fancy camera work and blocking, basically telling the actors to stand there and recite their lines so they could meet their budget constraints. Too bad.
The other factor that weakened this episode was the guest cast. Data’s ally and pseudo-crush Ard’rian (Eileen Seeley) was just a pretty face whose acting consisted of making her eyes GINORMOUS and then less so. She came across as more robotic than Data. Add to that Data’s main antagonist Gosheven (Grainger Hines) was RE-DUBBED by another actor whose booming voice sounded like he was acting in a GI JOE cartoon. "YO, DATA!"
There are a couple of winning moments in this episode: Picard briefly checks in with Laforge’s efforts to adapt the transporter. He walks in, asks how’s it going, Laforge answers, “About like you’d expect,” then Picard exits, leaving the trio to their frustrations. (This scene was even shot from a great angle through the BACK of the transporter platform, something that was never duplicated in any other episode.) Later after a couple of very infuriating communications with the officious Shelliaq aliens, Picard gets the upper hand using an obscure article of the lengthy treaty to his advantage then cuts off the Shelliaq as the alien starts to protest. The Shelliaq signals the Enterprise and Picard basically let’s the phone ring for a while, even walking across the bridge to check the plaque for dust before answering the hail.
In a first for any post-TOS Star Trek story, they encounter a problem they can’t immediately overcome by “re-modulating” something. We see Geordi’s failed efforts in adapting the transporter to the hyperonic radiation, and at the end of the story he tells Picard it will take “15 years and a team of 100” to finally be able to pull it off.