"If you had an off switch Doctor, would you not keep it a secret?"
-Data to Crusher-
"I keep trying to be more human - And keep failing."
-Data to Lore-
Love these well-staged and lighted shots from Rob Bowman and company.
The more intriguing aspects of this new Gene Roddenberry-inspired journey continue to surface on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 13, Datalore continues to mine the concept of life and the meaning of existence by casting a mirror up to one of the most intriguing of Star Trek's characters in Data, though he's not my personal favorite. With a Spock-like intellect, android Data presents the new series with possibilities the previous Star Trek: The Original Series couldn't fully explore on an episode by episode basis. Certainly Spock allowed for the classic series to continually examine the definition of humanity. Data takes us into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) territory once imagined by Philip K. Dick. With Star Trek: The Original Series Spock was Captain James T. Kirk's right hand and essentially Number One. With ST:TNG, the large ensemble cast doesn't quite fit all of the expected castings and thus Number One, Data and others do not fit neatly into the well-established original roles. This keeps things interesting.
William Riker plays the aspects of the Spock role, but Gene Roddenberry and its creators did a marvelous job mixing up the new series brilliantly by casting a much larger and more complex ensemble group of characters with which ST:TOS rarely explored with great depth. It had its moments, but ST:TNG with android Data (also exhibiting a Spock-like alien response), a female medical professional, an empath and even a Klingon, the possibilities certainly seemed limitless. Though ST:TNG had not appeared to break free of comparisons and the stigmas associated with ST:TOS to this point the potential was indeed there to really break free of expectations and eventually the series's writers, directors and its wonderful cast makes that happen.
Data, an android, would become a fully fleshed out and integral part of the series dynamic. If Kirk, Spock and Bones were the triumvirate of ST:TOS, clearly Captain Jean-Luc Picard, William Riker and Data provided that wonderful chemistry here. But it never ended there, the creators took on a whole host of potentially intriguing players in Betazoid Deanna Troi, Klingon Worf, Doctor Beverly Crusher, her son Wesley Crusher and Geordi La Forge. Unlike ST:TOS which rarely fully cultivated its secondary characters of Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov with any great consistency ST:TNG offered the promise of the full potential for those possibilities. ST:TNG was also given the gift of seven seasons and a more sophisticated television audience with which to write their stories. What ST:TOS achieved in its day is quite remarkable when you think about it. But as always, characters with diverse and varied backgrounds work together in harmony. It is one of the great tenets of the Star Trek mythology and its world of the future. With the new series there has been a kind of utopian perfectionism and sterility that has pervaded the character's existence and to its detriment it has seemed generally too refined and reserved. But lately at the mid-point there are signs the crew are able to get their hands dirty.
Data's story is just beginning and Datalore presents the most depth to the character to date by bringing him back to his home planet of Omicron Theta. ST:TNG explores the idea of life by immediately informing viewers that Omicron Theta, Data's homeworld, has been scanned and there are no signs of life. Would a scan discover Data were he on the planet below? As the season endures, it is clear the crew of the Enterprise care for Data and project their thoughts and feelings upon him. He is one of their own. He is more than an Android. By the sheer fact the crew cares for him, he exists. He is alive in their eyes. To further illustrate that point, Lore, Data's android brother, is referred to as "it" by Picard, simply by virtue of the fact no relationship has been established. The self-aware Data would also continues to learn and discover. In effect, like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Data yearns to be human and to live. That sheer act of self-determination and will gives him life. But, without expiration and without a soul, like humans, is he really alive? This is existential question that persists throughout ST:TNG and it is clearly up for debate.
Data was discovered twenty-six years ago on Omicron Theta, a rich and fertile farm planet that is now dead and entirely lifeless.
One of the things I love about ST:TNG is its use of mattes and production design that feel like a throwback to the kind of production excellence that endured for ST:TOS. The production design of Omicron Theta's rock formations feel like an homage stamped by ST:TOS. It never looked entirely real. Some dubbed it fake. Those sets have since been discarded by some as unimpressive by science fiction snobs, but their was a fantastical approach to it all to generate the feel of an alien planet. There was indeed something otherworldly about those sets that never had fall back of CGI and thankfully so. Because those sets were real and not fabricated by computers, they still look amazing to people like myself who appreciate the artist's craft. Datalore goes to great extents to present an extraordinary underground world for the colonists. The level of detail for a fledgling series in syndication is quite magnificent.
It is discovered a foremost Federation robotics scientist Dr. Noonien Soong was the man who experimented within the colony and created Data and, as it is discovered, his brother Lore through the implementation of the positronic brain (a nod to Isaac Asimov's Law of Robotics). The components to Lore are assembled and brought back to the Enterprise. A briefing aboard the Enterprise follows and the discomfort of addressing Data as an android because he is a valued member of the team and a friend is clearly expressed by Picard. Picard approached the awkward subject of life as we would. He dubs humans as "merely a different variety of machine, in our case electro-chemical in nature." Picard makes it clear that he treats Data as a living equal and that Riker and La Forge and others should not be bashful about addressing Data openly for information that might help them activate Lore.
There's a humorous moment where Data expresses that in some ways he is better than humans. Picard doesn't respond, but it's noted that clearly Data doesn't have the gift of good tact to be sure yet he tries.
When Lore is activated the first thing we discover is that the creators, at least allegedly, felt Data was imperfect and that Lore was created as a replacement. Picard, like us, is disconcerted by this information while Data merely attempts to make logic of it.
Before long Data and Lore are locked in a strategic battle of android wits and intelligence. Brent Spiner does a splendid job of offering subtle nuances between the two characters he plays. Data is capable of deciphering Lore's often masked intentions. Meanwhile, Lore makes every effort to manipulate Data and those around him. His ill intentions are also led by the embrace of the word "brother," a term used by both androids.
One notable difference in Lore is that he is more fluid in his emotional responses than the more rigid model that is Data. Lore also uses contractions and comprehends humor through his speech (though the writers are not careful in their consistency here). Thus, in many ways, Lore has mastered the human art of manipulation and deception where Data is programmed to be much more innocent with the omission of these qualities. Fascinating. It is discovered later that Lore has lied, like humans, and that he was indeed created first. Data was the result of a request by colonists for a more "comfortable" version of an android. In many ways, Lore was the more artful, human of the two, but clearly with a predisposition for human deceit, need and ambition. Data, in essence, has had to learn and acquire his existence and the trust of others. Datalore reveals Data spent four years at Starfleet Academy, three years as an ensign and ten to twelve years in the Lieutenant grades. We also discover his off switch a la Robot from Lost In Space indeed exists. In other words, we learn much about Data - the history, the legend, the folklore, the Datalore. It's not perfect, but it's something.
It turns out the loss of life on Omicron Theta was the result of a crystal entity. Lore was responsible for luring it to the planet. Lore disposes of Data and assumes his role in uniform. He even removes his own facial tick. When Wesley notices it for a moment, Lore passes it off as a mere imitation of Lore to Wesley the "troublesome little man-child" (love that line) before changing it. The crew of the Enterprise has an enemy within. The crystalline entity is also at their doorstep.
Wesley questions Data in front of the Captain and the bridge. His instincts are correct yet he is reprimanded for being too young to have any real opinion. The crafty and evil version of Data plays a bit like The Enemy Within from ST:TOS. It definitively channels that episode, but again Datalore is entirely different in its own right and merely captures the spirit of ST:TOS here where earlier ST:TNG entries like Code Of Honor and The Naked Now felt like passable imitations of former glories. Those episodes were searching for a series identity and they felt like they were trying way too hard. But in fairness that was early on and the series was trying to find its footing. I sometimes wonder if those episodes didn't somehow spell certain doom for Denise Crosby's character. The focus on her for those weak stories certainly didn't help her cause.
Returning to the story, it is only when Picard gives an order to Data and commands with his trademark "make it so" that Riker and Picard sense something is a miss despite Wesley's protests against this Data and being told to "shut up."
Picard ends with a terrific question to Riker and one the series will often revisit going forward. "Have you ever considered whether Data is more human or less human?" Riker responds, "I only wish we were all as well-balanced sir." Data certainly, unlike his brother, embodies some of the very best of humanity.
Ultimately, Datalore is an enjoyable entry. Like computers, Datalore isn't perfect. Spiner's performance elevates the weak material because the writing has its logic problems and some are glaring.
First, we have greater expectations concerning the instincts of our Captain and Number One in contrast to the young Wesley Crusher. Wesley has better instincts than the commanding officers? That shouldn't happen, especially when there is enough evidence to cause grave concern.
Second, when Lore is beamed off the ship, shields were lowered and that should have allowed for the Crystal entity to attack. Again, we expect smarter decisions to be made by our crew including someone as smart as Data. The back story on Data, Omicron Theta, etc. is good, but there is no true understanding to Lore's motivations and still many questions. Lore would return later for Season Four, Episode 3, Brothers and Season Six and Seven, Episodes 26 and 1 respectively, Descent.
Third, the contraction device used to differentiate Lore and Data is not consistent. You have to pay attention to the details if you want a script to be strong and this one just isn't quite there as Data too can employ contractions.
Finally, while I enjoyed watching Picard tell Wesley to "shut up," amusement aside (and I actually like Wesley unlike many fans who wanted to crush the poor lad during its launch season), one might expect a little more professionalism on the bridge or why would Wesley be there? This kind of treatment never helped Wil Wheaton in the role for his Wesley Crusher character and that's unfortunate because all season long he never rubbed me the wrong way in the least.
Director Rob Bowman spoke of the plot holes in being asked to handle Datalore over The Big Goodbye in Starlog Magazine. "I knew I was in trouble when the producers told me my challenge was to take a piece of shit and make it into a good show. But Brent and I got together and said, 'We'e going to show them. We're going to make this the best episode of the year'" (Starlog Magazine #136, p.25). Bowman may not have achieved that, but by and large he made lemonade out of lemons and Datalore is surprisingly effective and better for his and Spiner's efforts.
On the upside, the art and set production continues to excel along with the performances. Fortunately, despite its script deficiencies, if you are willing to overlook these issues, it never fails to entertain as Season One episodes go. Datalore would be the last to receive a writing stamp and credit by the late Gene Roddenberry.
Writer: Robert Lewin, Maurice Hurley, Gene Roddenberry.
Director: Rob Bowman.