Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Why The BBC Censored The Next Generation Episode "Conspiracy"

The initial broadcast of the Star Trek: The Next Generationepisode "Conspiracy" was censored by the BBC, making this episode a highly unusual entry for the otherwise (mostly) family-friendly show. "Conspiracy" is season 1's 25th episode, and it is memorable for numerous reasons: one of which is the reason why the BBC cut several minutes of footage before the episode aired.

Star Trek: TNG had a rocky start as the show struggled to define itself in relation to its predecessor, The Original Series. The first season is filled with experimentation, including "Conspiracy": an episode that not only brought Captain Jean-Luc Picard down to Starfleet headquarters, but also one that dared to suggest Starfleet could be flawed. While some love the episode, others deride "Conspiracy" for introducing pessimism that contrasts classic Star Trek optimism. In the episode, Picard investigates a warning he received from an old friend that something was amiss among Starfleet Command. The friend is proven right when Picard stumbles across a parasitic alien species attempting to take over the organization.

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"Conspiracy" dabbles in the horror genre, depicting not just the unsettling idea of parasitic aliens controlling their hosts, but actual visceral special effects intended to horrify viewers. Not only did the episode show a scan of a parasite attached to Admiral Quinn's brainstem, and the infected officers eating disgusting worms with glee, the climax also featured classic body horror tropes: Dexter Remmick's neck pulsating unnaturally, his head exploding, and his chest melting away to reveal a disgusting worm-like alien inside. Such gory special effects had never appeared in the franchise before, and never would again in TNG — despite them earning the episode an Emmy for "Outstanding Achievement in Makeup."

Originally, writer Tracy Tormé had intended the story to not involve parasites at all, but instead to focus on a military coup within Command; however, as legend goes, Star Trek Godfather Gene Roddenberry rejected the idea, opposing any suggestion that humans of the 24th century weren't living in a progressive utopia. The compromise the writing staff reached was to introduce a parasitic species as the catalyst for the conspiracy, relieving Starfleet of responsibility for the events. The episode was given an open-ending to suggest the threat wasn't over, but the storyline was never continued, and the season 4 episode "The Drumhead" indicated the threat was dealt with by Rear Admiral Norah Satie.

Tormé wrote the episode as a commentary on the Iran-Contra Affair, the Reagan-era U.S. political scandal, which had occurred just a few years prior. In the real-life conspiracy, U.S. public officials arranged a secret sale of arms to Iran in exchange for hostages. The story caused outrage in the public: not only were several officials indicted, but President Ronald Reagan's approval rating experienced a significant drop — at the time, the largest in U.S. Presidential history. The tone of "Conspiracy" of course shifted once the parasite idea was introduced, and the episode morphed into a much more horrific, rather than political, conflict. The gore proved too much for BBC censors in 1991, which resulted in the channel cutting scenes like Remmick's death before broadcast. The episode may have lost some of its political commentary as a result of the story change, but its infamous violence and impressive (for the time) special effects make "Conspiracy" one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationthat is hard to forget.

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