This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe. An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Commander Shelby from TNG.
Commander Shelby serves as the primary guest star character on The Best of Both Worlds, arguably the best episode of TNG and one of the high points in the entire Star Trek franchise. In that brief appearance, Shelby provided much debate on whether the crew of the Enterprise-D would change forever in Season 4 and an interesting look into what that alternative reality might look like. Shelby is only one of 3 characters to serve as first officer in this series, along with Riker and later Data.
Shelby is brought on board as an up-and-coming lieutenant commander who has served for some time as the leader of the Federation's defensive planning against the potential Borg invasion.
Shelby learns of an offer for Commander Riker to become a captain of his own ship, and she assumes he will take it because she is so focused on advancement herself. That leads her to try and show off during an investigation of the Borg attack on a Federation colony, and her brash style contrasts with Riker's safe style. However, she is field promoted to first officer under Riker after Picard is captured and assimilated by the Borg.
Although Patrick Stewart and the rest of the crew did come back for Season 4 (and three more seasons after that), nobody knew that in the summer of 1990 when Picard's life and character hung in the balance. That's part of the genius of the episode, making a real change seem truly possible.
Given how impressive Shelby turns out to be in leading multiple away missions to the Borg cube, it really would have been interesting to see more storylines about her. Or even more compelling, how would such a brash first officer fit in over time with Picard or Riker as a guiding mentor and captain? Plus, a strong woman lead would have more clearly paved the way for others like Major Kira and Captain Janeway later.
Shelby never appears on screen again, but she is referenced in the DS9 episode where Jadzia and Worf get married. Shelby also appears as a character in the New Frontier novels.
Our notable quote this week comes from Best of Both Worlds, Part 1:
"If you can't make the big decisions, Commander, I suggest you make room for someone who can."
Actor: Elizabeth Dennehy played Commander Shelby, and her interview on the Fathom Evens Best of Both Worlds DVD is very enlightening to see an outsider's perspective of filming with the TNG actors and crew. Her biggest role outside TNG was a recurring role on Charmed in the middle of the last decade, as she has been mostly a guest actress for many television shows since 1988.
Until next time, live long and prosper...