He's got pale skin, yellow eyes and if you invite him to your wedding he may sing at the reception. He's Lt. Commander Data, android creation of Dr. Noonien Soong, and he's the heart-free heart of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
At first blush, he may've seemed like an obvious proxy for The Original Series' Mr. Spock, but as portrayed by Brent Spiner, he very quickly defined Data as his own character – optimistic, voracious for knowledge, quixotic in his attempts to understand human nature and, yes, occasionally socially awkward. As we celebrate Mr. Spiner's birthday, let's take a look back at a mere 10 of the possible hundreds of best Data moments.
Let's start this one off with a bang. Seemingly seduced by the Borg Queen with the promise of new, human flesh, Data fires torpedoes at Zefram Cochrane's ship, the Phoenix. When they hit, it will prevent the titular “First Contact” with the Vulcans. But Data's loyalty cannot be manipulated so easily! He purposely fudges the calibrations and, when discovered, uses the Borg's own catchphrase back on 'em as he smashes open a tank of poisonous gas.
There are many examples of Data making minor, oftentimes foolish adjustments in an effort to feel more human.
The one that never fails to get a laugh from me is Data with a Riker-esque “fine, full dignified” beard in “The Schizoid Man.”
Brent Spiner's Data – he'll make you laugh, he'll make you cry. The conclusion to “The Offspring” is an excellent example of what film theorists call “The Kuleshov Effect.” Is Data's blank stare into the void of space his typical tabula rasa of non-emotion? Or has the death of his “daughter” Lal changed him in some way? Considering that he has downloaded her experiences, and part of that was her development of feeling, I'd like to believe that somewhere in his positronic matrix is a new understanding of what it is like to be human.
Despite being a huge TNG fan since the beginning, I did not see “The Naked Now,” when it first aired. Maybe my parents forced me at gunpoint to go outside and play, I don't know. So when kids at school told me that Data and Tasha Yar “got it on,” I thought for certain they were pulling my leg. But it really happened, and it was awesome. Too bad Tasha later got killed by a giant blob of tar.
When confronted by Klingon Captain Nu'Daq in “The Chase,” Data is focused in on his PADD and probably not in the mood for conversation. This blasé attitude makes Nu'Daq's lightning fast defeat in the B'aht Qul Challenge (that's arm wrestling to you and me) even more dishonorable. He tries to redeem himself with a head-butt attack, only to quickly learn that even a ridged Klingon dome is no match for a skull of cortenide and duranium.
One of the things I really dig about Data is that for all of his attempts to become human, his android properties can certainly come in handy. Perhaps the most extreme example is the two-parter (and season cliffhanger) “Time's Arrow.” Whereas any other member of the Enterprise crew would have turned to dust, Data's head has no problem with waiting around for five centuries until it is reattached to its body (which blew through a time-space portal) so it can warn Commander Riker to adjust the phase parameters on his photon torpedoes. Now THAT'S dedication to a mission!
There are few things more fun than seeing our beloved characters acting in unexpected ways. So turn on Dr. Soong's emotion chip and, bam, you've got Data humming, you've got Data laughing. You've also got Data saying something out loud that you KNOW Starfleet officers are always thinking to themselves whenever they are in a tough spot. As the Enterprise's saucer section readies for its crash landing on Veridian III in “Generations,” Spiner delivers two simple words that elicited one of the biggest laughs I ever heard in a theater. This being a family website, I won't reprint them here.
People like to joke about “when the robots take over,” but Star Trek has always been a show about optimism. Maybe advancements in artificial intelligence will be. . . good? Data certainly proves himself worthy of command in part two of “Redemption,” and he does it while giving his bigoted second officer a slap in the face, too. Data's ability to swiftly analyze information and calculate risk uncovers Sela and her lurking Romulan warbirds. Even the whiney Lt. Commander Hobson is impressed.
While I have no doubt Data was first developed as a Spock substitute (see Admiral McCoy's remark about “points on your ears, boy” in “Encounter at Farpoint Part I”) it took no time at all for Spiner and company to develop the character into something wholly its own. When Data and Ambassador Spock meet up in “Unification Part II” to compare just how different they are from one another (Spock, always striving to suppress his human side, Data always yearning to feel) it really drove the issue home. Hardcore fans of both TOS and TNG didn't actually hear this conversation until the second time they viewed the episode, however. The first time they were too busy shouting OMYGOD SPOCKANDDATA ARETALKING OMYGODTHISISAWESOME!!!!!!!!
It isn't just the poem Data recites in the episode “Schisms,” but it's the reaction it gets from the rest of the crew – especially Riker who nods off then hopes to encourage an early conclusion with premature applause. Should we take a moment to re-read it right here? Yeah, I think we should.
“Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature.
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature. Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skill and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations.
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection,
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents. You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilised to aid in locomotion
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotions.
Oh, Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.
So there's my top 10. Please remember the kind spirit of Data before you rip into me for leaving off your favorites.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.