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The People vs. Star Trek: 9 Best Courtroom Drama Episodes, Ranked

Here are some of the best episodes of Star Trek that center on the legal system.


America's impeachment hearings can, admittedly, get kind of dull — especially if you don't live here. But, much like watching the addicting and wild debates in the UK's Parliament, once you’re in the right mindset and you’ve learned to tell all the various middle-aged white guys with bad haircuts apart, impeachment hearings can become appointment television.

But what about the end of the week, when the cameras are off and the hearings are over for a while? Luckily for fans of Star Trek who tend to be the sort of curious, intelligent, engaged individuals who would care about the impeachment-inquiry hearings that have been taking place in the U.S. House of Representatives Trek loves a good hearing episode, because they tend to be bottle episodes that go light on the VFX budget. So if you wanna keep your hearing mindset alive for the night, you’ve got plenty of options at your disposal.

9) "A Matter of Perspective"

Star Trek: The Next Generation -

In this classic TNG episode, Riker is accused of killing a scientist and destroying an entire space station because he was stifled in his attempts to hook up with the scientist’s wife. The local government demands Riker’s extradition, and Picard convenes a hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence to warrant granting that demand. Despite Riker’s hound-dog reputation, his innocence was never really in question the notable part of this episode is the method in which the evidence is presented. The prosecution and defense post up in the holodeck, playing representations of what each side believes happened often re-contextualizing the same dialogue simply by changing the way the lines are delivered, depending upon whose version of events you’re watching. One can’t deny that our own hearings would be a lot more interesting if we could stage holographic reenactments of the various alleged criminal conspiracies.

8) "Dax"

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -

Much like in “A Matter of Perspective,” “Dax” focuses on an extradition hearing to determine whether or not to release Deep Space Nine’s Jadzia Dax into the hands of an alien people who want to put her on trial for a murder that Curzon, her previous host, supposedly committed. Unlike “A Matter Of Perspective,” however, Curzon’s hound-dog reputation turns out to be an asset rather than a liability, when one of Curzon’s former lovers (and the prosecutor’s mother) shows up to provide a rather salacious alibi: they were in bed together at the time. Given the people involved in our own impeachment hearings, this resolution would be kind of a gross mental picture, so fingers crossed that’s not how this turns out.

7) "The Drumhead"

Star Trek: The Next Generation -

When a visiting Admiral, Norah Satie, shows up to help Picard investigate a possible conspiracy aboard the Enterprise, things quickly get out of hand, and an innocent crewman gets caught in the crosshairs. More worrisome, however, is the speed with which Worf embraces Satie’s loose approach to the innocent-until-proven-guilty philosophy the Federation’s laws are supposed to be built on. Picard’s eventual takedown of Satie is one of the finest examples of what TV Tropes calls a "Patrick Stewart Speech," and one of the stirring reminders that following the letter and spirit of the law are important even when you’re convinced in your own rightness, or in the guilt of the person you’re questioning.

6) "Death Wish"

Star Trek: Voyager -

While many might go with "Encounter at Farpoint"as Star Trek's defining Q trial, "Death Wish" will always be my choice for its entertaining and unique handling of a rather serious issue. In the hearing of this Voyager classic, a member of the Q Continuum requests asylum aboard Voyager so that he can be permitted to die, while Original Recipe Q (John de Lancie) argues that this can’t be allowed. In true Q fashion, this hearing features the most-entertaining thing you can have at a hearing surprise witnesses, each more surprising than the last. From an attendee at Woodstock to Commander Riker, who’s going to get called next is anyone’s guess, and while I can’t actually make the case that it would be a good thing if our own legal system featured a constant string of surprise testimony, I can definitely argue it’d be more entertaining.

5) "Rules of Engagement"

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -

Yet another extradition-hearing episode, this one features Worf, who supposedly destroyed an unarmed Klingon transport full of women and children. Things are at their bleakest three-quarters of the way through the episode, when Worf (predictably) goes full Worf and decides to beat up opposing counsel in the middle of his testimony. This, of course, is not generally advisable from a legal standpoint, but I would say that C-SPAN would probably have higher ratings if witnesses periodically made a run to take a swing at someone on the dais.

4) "The Menagerie"

Star Trek: The Original Series -

Originally “The Menagerie” was mostly a vehicle to reuse huge swaths of Star Trek’s original, unaired pilot episode. The court-martial hearing in this installment serves as a framing device, with the original footage appearing as the “testimony.” As such, the hearing portions of this episode are admittedly more incidental than most of the others on the list, so as a way of continuing your post-hearing buzz at the end of a long day of Congressional testimony this episode will mostly fall flat. But with Discovery recently revisiting the life and character of Christopher Pike recently, the episode has become a crucial bit of backstory that’s worth a revisit, if you haven’t lately.

3) "Judgment"

Star Trek: Enterprise -

On this installment of Enterprise, Jonathan Archer goes on trial for crimes against the Klingon Empire. The episode is notable for a lot of reasons, including J.G. Hertzler getting back into the forehead makeup to play a Klingon lawyer, and revisiting a bunch of settings originally seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The most important takeaway, though, is that Klingons use a giant metal claw gripping a heavy sphere as a gavel, one that shoots sparks when you bring it down, and clearly we need one of those, as a country. Just imagine if Adam Schiff had opened each day of hearings with that, clad otherwise in a perfectly normal business suit and American flag lapel pin. It would really jazz things up.

2, "Tribunal"

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -

Some of Trek’s hearing episodes serve to demonstrate how the legal systems work on other worlds, thus helping us appreciate the rights and privileges we enjoy under our own legal systems. In “Tribunal,” (the only reason I know the word 'Kafkaesque') Chief O’Brien is made the subject of a Cardassian show trial where he is sentenced to death before the trial even begins, and his lawyer is there to help talk him into confessing to his crimes for the good of the State (and to rock a truly hideous cardigan while he’s at it). Before the trial even begins, authorities forcibly remove one of O’Brien’s molars for their Bureau Of Identification a move that, while cruel and obviously illegal in our own world, would probably help Congress cut down on people refusing to honor subpoenas.

1. "The Measure Of A Man"

Star Trek: The Next Generation -

The best hearing episode of them all, of course, is "The Measure Of A Man," one of the earliest indicators that Star Trek: The Next Generation was going to be something special. Though hearings often seem like they’d be lower-stakes compared to something like a trial, hearings can actually establish some incredibly important things like in this case, where a hearing established the fundamental humanity of everybody’s favorite android officer. This episode, which proved that Data was a person under Federation law, is often hailed for trying to stick to some real legal principles. A satisfying courtroom drama results, with dramatic cross-examinations and some of the best performances an early-TNG episode has to offer, showcasing the value of eloquence to any good hearing. After all, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.


Star Trek: Voyager -

There are no hearings in “Bride of Chaotica!” but in this episode, which takes place mostly on the Holodeck, the Doctor is forced to appear as the President of Earth in order to appease “trans-dimensional photonic lifeforms” who have taken up shop there and gotten into a war with the characters in Tom Paris’ Captain Proton program (it makes sense in context.) When the Doctor returns, he announces that he gave an “unimpeachable performance,” a not-so-subtle gag about the Clinton impeachment, which was ongoing at the time, and one of the few times Trek was able to sneak some true current-events humor into an episode.

Sean Kelly (he/him) is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He occasionally gets depressed that he’ll never know what raktajino tastes like.