To Boldly Go Where You’re Really Not Allowed To Go

Space, according to Star Trek, is “the final frontier.” Over the course of multiple series and movies, fans have been able to watch as Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and others have boldly gone where no one has gone before.

Unless you lived in the UK or Ireland in 1998. Well, for one episode, at least.

On April 10, 1998, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and factions from Northern Ireland entered into a peace pact known as the Good Friday Agreement. For decades before these parties put pen to paper, some believed that the region should be part of the Republic of Ireland, while others wanted it to remain part of the United Kingdom. And these disagreements often turned violent. The attacks, known collectively as “The Troubles,” were at times so vicious that London ended up removing most of its trash cans because, as Business Insider explains, the city “was plagued by deadly bombings for decades, with trash cans being a favorite drop point.”

But in early 1990, no one knew that was going to happen. Certainly, not the showrunners of Star Trek: The Next Generation. On January 29 the of that year — eight years before the Good Friday Agreement — the 12th episode of the 3rd season of ST:TNG debuted in the United States. In the story, one of the warring factions successfully detonates a bomb in a public square, injuring many bystanders in the attack. Terrorism, though, isn’t an acceptable means of provoking social change by that century, at least among our intrepid space travelers. And yet, the residents of the planet in question are definitely engaged in such acts. This apparent paradox provokes a subsequent philosophical inquiry on behalf of Commander Data, an android crew member who is trying to better understand what it means to be human. Data does a quick bit of research and, as this clip shows, determines that terrorism can be “an effective way to provoke political change.” Specifically, Data cites three such examples: “the Independence of the Mexican state from Spain, the Irish Unification of 2024, and the Kenzie Rebellion.” (For what it’s worth, his commanding officers, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, rejects the idea that the ends justify these means.)

The episode should have aired in the UK and Ireland shortly thereafter, but neither nation’s broadcasters took kindly to Data’s remark. Those who believed themselves to be victims of terrorism did not like the idea that such underhanded tactics would work when the world reached the year 2024, while those who carried out these attacks did not like being condemned as terrorists. The result? Censorship. As the BBC reported, “due to what no doubt many people will still consider to be sensitive content, the episode has never been shown on terrestrial TV in UK or in the Republic of Ireland and initial airings on Sky One were edited.”

In 2007 — nearly a decade after the Good Friday Agreement — BBC Two finally aired the full, unedited episode to viewers in the UK. (But even then, the show aired at after midnight.) It still has not aired on Irish television. 

Bonus fact: This is hardly the first-ever Star Trek episode to fall prey to the censors. In 1968, an episode from the original series was banned in Germany — and remained banned for 43 years. In the episode, titled “Patterns of Force,” the crew discovers a planet which, somehow, is under Nazi rule. As Radio Times summarizes, “the episode featured swastikas and SS uniforms as the series’ leads, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley (as Dr McCoy) dressed up to infiltrate a group.” German law at the time did not approve of such depictions of Naziism, and the episode was rejected by censors.

From the Archives: How the Soviet Union Saved Vulcan: Maybe West Virginia is the final frontier?