“Elementary, Dear Data” debuted on December 5, 1988, and 26 years later it remains one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s most-entertaining episodes The season-two hour centered on Data, La Forge and Dr. Pulaski, who become embroiled in a Sherlock Holmes-style holodeck mystery involving a quick-thinking, fast-learning and arguably sentient Professor James Moriarty (Daniel Davis). The episode looked great, thanks to inventive direction by Rob Bowman, great costumes created by Robert Blackman and impressive Victorian sets. And it benefited from entertaining turns from Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton and Diana Muldaur, as well as guest star Davis.
Some interesting factoids and anecdotes about “Elementary, Dear Data”:
-- “Elementary, Dear Data” builds on the idea of Data’s fascination with Sherlock Holmes, first referenced in “Lonely Among Us.”
-- “Elementary, Dear Data” earned two Emmy Award nominations, one each for Outstanding Costume Design for a Series and Outstanding Art Direction for a Series.
-- Brian Alan Lane wrote “Elementary, Dear Data.” It was his one and only TNG episode.
-- TNG’s writing staff believed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes universe to be in the public domain, but it was not. The author’s estate informed Paramount of such in no uncertain terms and stated that further use would require a usage fee. There was more to the story, involving the Paramount feature Young Sherlock Holmes, but a compromise was reached and Moriarty (and Daniel Davis) eventually returned a few seasons later in “Ship in a Bottle.”
-- Anne Elizabeth Ramsay made her first TNG appearance as Ensign Clancy in this episode. She later reprised the role in “The Emissary,” also in season two. Ramsay went on to a busy career as an actress. She co-starred as Lisa Stemple, the dysfunctional sister of Helen Hunt’s character, in 123 episodes of Mad About You, and has recurred on Six Feet Under, Dexter and The Secret Life of The American Teenager.
-- Director Rob Bowman, discussing the episode with StarTrek.com, said, “We were on that set and there was a two-shot of LeVar and Brent. Brent’s process was usually to bark a little bit about what he had to say before he said it, and it wasn’t necessarily reflective that that was written wasn’t good. That was just part of his process. ‘I can’t say this stuff.’ ‘I can’t do this.’ Then you say, ‘Action’ and it’s like that person vanishes and his perfect version of Sherlock Holmes shows up. The switch alone was mind-boggling. Then you’d say, ‘Cut,’ and he’d say, ‘Well, that was no good. I can’t make this stuff any good. It’s just not fun to do.’ I’d say, ‘Actually, Brent, it was brilliant. Thank you very much.’ The whole journey of ‘Elementary, Dear Data’ was just so memorable, walking in the night before and seeing the set completed, pre-smoked, houselights on, and feeling as a very young man, that I was standing on the stage of a major studio looking at a huge Sherlock Holmes set. I was so grateful. And it was great fun, with all the costumes and everything. It was as fun as you might imagine it would be and it lived up to everything you wanted it to be.”
-- Daniel Davis, speaking to StarTrek.com, recalled the development of the Moriarty character in “Elementary, Dear Data”: “He’s usually depicted as a real villain, as a real melodramatic, mustache-twirling villain. And in this Star Trek incarnation of it he’s someone who starts out that way, as the computer was programmed to create a villain who could match Data’s intelligence, so that solving the riddle of that episode would be more difficult for Data and Geordi would have more fun as Watson. But then the character becomes, very quickly, a sentient being and aware that he is involved in some sort of a game. He’s aware that he’s not real, but he feels real and he begins to experience real feelings and real emotions. So it was a very clever episode and it depicted Moriarty with the power of a villain, but the mind of a human being who wants to be real. It was like Pinocchio; he just wants to be a real boy. And it was interesting how they solved the dilemma and put him in a computer chip.”
-- The episode initially had a very different ending, which Gene Roddenberry himself demanded be excised. Here’s how the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion explains the cut scene: “The paper with Moriarty’s sketch of the Enterprise is significant not because of what he’s drawn but for the fact that it exists off the holodeck. Picard is then aware that the character can somehow be saved, as opposed to the gone-awry holodeck images of ‘The Big Goodbye,’ and so his explanations to Moriarty were seen as a lie by Gene Roddenberry, who didn’t want Picard to stoop to deception. The climax leaves the ship’s fate purely up to the captain’s persuasiveness and Moriarty’s newfound good sense.”