Star Trek: The Next Generation – Elementary, My Dear Data [2.3]

Whilst attempting to enjoy a holographic Sherlock Holmes program during some downtime, Geordi inadvertently orders the computer to create an adversary capable of defeating Data.  This turns out to be a holographic Professor Moriarity, who becomes self aware and alert to the fact that he’s a hologram.  He holds Dr. Pulaski hostage and begins to threaten the ship, demanding the right to continue to exist.  When Picard tells him that he is unable to live off of the holodeck, but that they will keep his program saved until some day in the future when the hope to know how he can live independently, Moriarity agrees and allows himself to be temporarily deactivated.

Written by Brian Alan Lane. Directed by Rob Bowman.

Previous Episode: Where Silence Has LeaseNext Episode: The Outrageous Okona

Comments:

Another example of a well-produced but ultimately empty and unsatisfying installment of Next Generation‘s second season.  An interesting premise (if you can get past its holodeck trappings) is marred by a lack of development and half-hearted explanations.

There are all sorts of questions that are left over at the end of the story.  How could the computer be so stupid (or so badly programmed) that even with Geordi’s request, it allows a holographic character have access to the ship’s computer?  Why is Moriarity using some sort of steampunk control device to make the ship shake?  Why doesn’t anyone try to beam Dr. Pulaski off the holodeck?  Isn’t there some sort of override control that will allow them to simply turn the holodeck off (it is evident in the discussion of how the holodeck works that all that business from The Big Goodbye about people disappearing if the holodeck is turned off around them is simply nonsense)?  Why doesn’t Data, with his super-human strength, simply beat up Moriarity at any number of opportunities?  Why doesn’t anyone just shoot him?  Why doesn’t anyone notice that their computer can apparently, at a whim, create living sentient beings?  (This last point, of course, will eventually be picked up on and developed, for good or for ill–depending on your point of view–to no end in Voyager.)

Ultimately, very little happens in this story.  The computer create Moriarity, Moriarity threatens the ship, Moriarity surrenders when he realizes that this is getting him nowhere.  The episode feels like it was designed as a prologue to another, hopefully more satisfying tale.  And I guess in some ways that is what it was – even if it took about four years for the follow-up to appear, thanks to various legal issues with using Sherlock Holmes characters.

Actually, the whole Sherlock Holmes thing is one of the elements of the program that hasn’t aged well over the last 25 years.  Since this episode came out, we’ve had the ultra-slick Guy Ritchie / Robert Downey jr. version, the intellectualized modern revamp Steven Moffatt / Benedict Cumberbatch version, and most of the Jeremy Brett British costume-drama version (although that had started a couple of years prior).  Compared to any of these, Data’s take on the character–with his extreme and somewhat silly accent and the deer-stalker cap–feels more informed by pseudo-Holmesish cliches than anything authentic Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.

There are some positive elements to the episode.  Daniel Davis’ performance as Moriarity is good – he creates an effective character who is a good blend of sinister and sympathetic.  The production values of holo-London are very good.  And it’s nice to see the friendship between Data and Geordi developed further – these sorts of relationships are the thing that Next Generation needs the most.

Shout Outs to the Past:

• Data’s interest in Sherlock Holmes was evident in Season One’s Lonely Among Us

Setting Up the Future

• The follow up to this story, once again featuring Professor Moriarity, eventually appeared in Season Six

Guest Cast

• Daniel Davis, who debuts here are Moriarity, is Niles the Butler from the TV series, The Nanny.

• Biff Manard plays a “Ruffian”, and had a regular role on the TV series of The Flash as a police officer

• Anne Elizabeth Ramsay appears in this and one other episode as Assistant Engineer Clancy.  She’s had regular roles in various television series including Mad About You, Hawthorne, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

• Oddly, both Alan Shearman (Inspector Lestrade) and Diz White (Prostitute) have their first listed role on IMDB as “Guard” in The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

Observations

• “Where can I reach you?” asks assistant engineer Clancy.  The line is a set up for the joke of Data responding with Holmes’ fictional address.  But it’s an absurd question to ask in the Star Trek universe when someone can just ask the computer to find someone or use a communicator.

• There’s some more “Pulaski doesn’t think Data is really fully alive” in this story – making three episodes in a row.  It’s getting a little old now.

• Wesley does not appear this episode – the first regular to miss an episode in Season Two.

• There’s a funny little moment with Worf when he reacts to Picard rapping on his hat.

• Fraud! cries Dr. Pulaski, about Data’s second attempt to solve a Holmes-style mystery.  But it’s really the computer that’s failed – it responded to the idea of an original mystery in the Holmesian style by just mashing up two separate Holmes mysteries (The Red-Headed League and The Speckled Band).

• At different points in the story, both Geordi and Data abruptly walk off the holodeck without explanation to the other.

Dialogue High Point

Moriarity has my favorite line, when he says to Picard and Data

If I destroy these surroundings, this vessel, can you say that it doesn’t it matter to you?  Interesting pun, don’t you think?  For matter is what I am not.

Previous Episode: Where Silence Has LeaseNext Episode: The Outrageous Okona

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Elementary, My Dear Data [2.3]

  1. I thought this was a really good episode. It was a lot of fun, and it presented some interesting questions about the nature of life.

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