Ever since they announced that a new starship Enterprise would appear in season three of Picard, fans have been wondering who would be in command. We had our own ideas for who might sit in the big chair of the Enterprise-F. Well, we were correct about one of our candidates. Although it was maybe the most deep-cut character they could have chosen for the job. As we saw in Picard episode 9, “Vox,” the person in charge of the Enterprise-F was Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, played once again by Elizabeth Dennehy. And if you don’t remember her, worry not; we’re here to catch you up.
Riker’s Biggest Rival
Lt. Commander Shelby first appeared in The Next Generation‘s third season finale, “The Best of Both Worlds.” This was the iconic episode in which the Federation faced off against the Borg Collective, after they kidnapped Jean-Luc Picard and turned him into Locutus. Shelby was introduced as an officer in Starfleet Tactical. Knowing that a Borg invasion was imminent since the Enterprise first encountered them in TNG season two’s “Q Who,” Shelby had become Starfleet’s Borg expert. Naturally, when the Collective entered Federation space, they assigned her to help the Federation flagship.
But from the start, the ambitious young officer was ruffling feathers on the bridge. When she heard that Commander William Riker had been offered his own starship command, she immediately went gunning for his job. She made it clear to Riker that he was “in her way” and that she deserved a shot at being the Enterprise’s first officer. She claimed Riker was willing to stay in the shadow of a great man like Picard. Ouch. To say these two did not get along in “The Best of Both Worlds” was something of an understatement. But things changed at the end of that episode, as it ended with a huge cliffhanger. The Borg had assimilated Captain Picard into the Collective, leaving Riker as Captain of the Enterprise.
The Enterprise’s (Temporary) First Officer
In “The Best of Both Worlds Pt. II,” Riker was put into an impossible position. While he wanted to promote Data or Worf to the role of the first officer, Shelby’s knowledge of the Borg made her the ideal choice for his Number One. Even though the two did not get along, Riker told Shelby, “We don’t have to like each other to work well together.” After the Enterprise crew rescued Picard from the Borg, Riker resumed his role as First Officer. Shelby retained her field promotion to full Commander. She and Riker parted ways on far more friendly terms, although not exactly best buds.
After guest starring in two of the most popular episodes of TNG ever, fans often asked if Shelby was ever going to return. And maybe even finally get a first name. But in the official canon, she never did. On Deep Space Nine, a “Captain Shelby” got a shout-out, but they did not confirm it to be the same character. She appeared in non-canon novels, like the late ‘90s book series Star Trek: New Frontier. There, she finally received a full name: Elizabeth Paula Shelby. Star Trek gave the name Elizabeth to her simply because that’s the name of the actress who played her. Recently, Shelby made a cameo on Lower Decks and was shown to be a Captain by the time that series took place, which was a few years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis.
Shelby Is in Command of the Enterprise At Last in Picard Season Three
But aside from that brief appearance, we had not seen or heard from Shelby, until now. In Picard’s penultimate episode, Shelby returned as Admiral Shelby, sitting in the Captain’s chair of the Enterprise-F. It looks like Shelby finally got what she always wanted, the center seat on the Enterprise. Riker mentioned her as Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, making her non-canon name now officially canon. She gave a rousing speech about the birth of Starfleet during Frontier Day, right before the Borg attack began.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Borg took her out before she even knew what was really going on. Although her appearance was brief, it was nice to know that Shelby’s ambitions to one day take charge of the Federation flagship finally paid off for her. And, of course, this is Star Trek. It might be possible that she could take two direct phaser blasts to the chest and live. We just don’t know if she did yet. But we have a feeling this was not only her return but also her swan song. At least she died with a much more flattering hairstyle than the one she had in her TNG days. We’re glad they gave her that dignity, at least.