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The Drumhead

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Title :
The Drumhead
Series :
Rating :
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
29 Apr 1991
Stardate :
Director :
Year :
Writers :
Season Ep :
4 x 21
Main Cast :
Guest Cast :
So, as far as anybody knows at the start of this episode, the Enterprise's warp core has been sabotaged and is disabled. This means the ship lacks warp drive, and possibly that it lacks other high energy systems like shields and weapons (the show seems to go back and forth on whether the warp core powers these things or not). So Starfleet's response is to send the USS Cochrane, an Oberth-class ship, to deliver Admiral Satie to conduct an investigation. After dropping her off, the Cochrane leaves. So... why didn't it stick around to defend the Enterprise? They suspect sabotage, surely they must suspect that the sabotage was intended to leave the ship crippled so that it could be attacked! Of course an Oberth isn't much of a platform to defend anything, but that raises the question of why wasn't something like an Excelsior or even a Nebula around to help? A Nebula could defend against most threats, even tow the Enterprise back to a Starbase for repairs, yes? One of Starfleet's most valuable asssets is crippled, and they are leaving it to just sit there!

Admiral Satie's court reporter dutifully records all the answers people give in the hearings. Strangely, she doesn't bother to write down any of the actual questions!

In TOS, we several times saw people questioned in official hearings whilst being monitored by the computer. The computer, we were told, could act as a lie detector so accurate that it could tell a lie even if you believed that what you were saying was true! How come this device is not used in this episode? Even if we assume that the defendant would have the option to decline so as to avoid self-incrimination - something they apparently could not do in TOS - surely Simon Tarses would jump at the chance to prove he was not in fact a traitor once and for all?
Great Moment :
Picard's winding up of Satie during his hearing.
Body Count :
Factoid :
This episode is a "bottle show", one in which all action takes place aboard the Enterprise. Bottles shows are commonly used as a way of saving money since nothing needs to be spent constructing new sets, a major outlay for a TV show. The episode came in a quarter of a million dollars under budget.

This episode references the battle of Wolf 359, stating that 39 of the 40 ships there were destroyed. It also gives us a casualty figure for the first time; 11,000 people were lost in the battle.

This episode is one of Michael Dorn's favourites.


Sabotage is feared when an accident cripples the Enterprise-D. Admiral Satie arrives from Starfleet to investigate along with a couple of aides. A Klingon is quickly revealed as a spy, but Satie is convinced that he had accomplices aboard the ship. Picard initially supports her investigation, but he gradually becomes concerned at her methods; Satie uses a Betazoid aide to locate anybody who is being remotely dishonest, accusing based on little to no evidence. And resistance to the investigation is taken as a sign of guilt, regardless of the Federation Constitutions's guarantee of a rights to presumption of innocence and protections against self incrimination. When she expands the scope of her investigation dramatically, Picard openly stands against her - only to find himself called before her hearings and accused of disloyalty.


This episode raises several interesting aspects. Unfortunately it doesn't really follow through on them, going for a rather more heavy handed moral instead. The thrust of the episode is pretty clearly a commentary on the McCarthy hearings of the mid 20th century, although it could apply equally to any situation where civil liberties have been trampled over in the name of "catching the bad guy".

My problem is that things go a bit too conveniently wrong. Satie simply does what she wants, seemingly regardless of law or procedure. Picard acts as if all prior law and precedent will simply be thrown away just like that, and indeed that's what seems to be happening until he gets an Admiral to call a halt to the whole deal towards the end. It's all a little heavy handed.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the episode is one that is brushed over. At one point Admiral Satie accuses Simon Tarses on the basis of a Betazoid's reading of his mind whilst he was questioned. Picard speaks in his defence, saying that he is not comfortable restricting the man's movements simply on the basis of what he calls "Betazoid intuition". They do argue the point somewhat, but they gloss over what is to me the real issue.

It's summed up in the term "Betazoid intuition". This is the first and only episode in which betazoid telepathic/empathic powers are referred to in this fashion. Betazoids don't have "intuition" about other's feelings and emotions. They have KNOWLEDGE. The use of the term intuition makes it sound like Sabin is making some vague guess about what Tarses is thinking. By all that has gone before and all that follows in TNG, Sabin should know perfectly well that he is lying.

By doing what it does, the episode makes the issue "should we treat a man as guilty just because he seems so?" This is indeed the major theme of the episode; the hearings are all about who can be made to look guilty. The episode is making a point about the importance of the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt. But there's a bigger issue here; what happens when you can indeed prove a person guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, but in doing so you violate their right to privacy?

Assume that Sabin is 100% accurate, as Betazoids seem to be. Think of what is actually happening here with Crewman Tarses. An apparent crime has occurred. The government has sent an investigator in to conduct blanket mind scans of everybody who was in the region at the time. On the government operative's say-so, one of the suspects is then found to be guilty. That violates quite a few civil rights and any real notion of due process. It raises huge, huge questions about how the justice system would function in a world where one's mind can be read easily by another.

The episode doesn't go into this ground, which is a shame in my view because it's fertile territory. Just look at what Babylon 5 did with this area! But Trek, perhaps surprisingly, has never really explored the issue. In Trek the good guys will quite happily use telepathy to plunder the minds of anybody they need to whenever it will give them the slightest advantage. Picard for one routinely has Troi pry into the mind of anybody he feels like. Kirk had Spock do much the same repeatedly, most notably to Valeris in Star Trek VI. The very concept of a right to privacy over ones own thoughts simply doesn't seem to exist in Trek. It's a shame that this issue has never been explored.

Whilst The Drumhead does largely skip the telepathy aspect of the story, it does make valid points. Indeed at the time one might have said it was simply stating the obvious, but in the years since then we have come to live in a world where the US locks people up on foreign soil... denying them the rights due to either a civilian criminal or a military prisoner. In some cases they are tortured, either directly by the US or shipped off to places who will do it for them. Today the message of the Drumhead seems more applicable than ever.
© Graham & Ian Kennedy Page views : 58,511 Last updated : 25 Jan 2016