“Elementary, Dear Data”
Written by Brian Alan Lane
Directed by Rob Bowman
Season 2, Episode 3
Production episode 40272-129
Original air date: December 5, 1988
Captain’s Log: Arriving three days early for their rendezvous with the U.S.S. Victory, the Enterprise is just hanging out. La Forge has built a scale model of the sailing ship Victory as a present for the captain of the starship of the same name, with whom La Forge served as an ensign. He also invites Data to spend their down-time on the holodeck playing at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Data goes all Holmesian fangoober as soon as they enter the holodeck in costume. La Forge plays Watson. However, because Data has memorized all the Holmes stories, it’s all over too quickly, because as soon as someone recites a line of dialogue, he knows the ending.
In Ten-Forward, La Forge explains to Data what went wrong. Pulaski overhears and insists that Data can’t learn via inspiration or original thought. Data and La Forge disagree, and accept her challenge.
The first attempt to show that Data can deduce as well as Holmes winds up being simply a combination of existing Holmes adventures, which Data sees through almost as quickly. La Forge then calls for the arch (the doorway without opening the door) and asks the computer for a new mystery, one with an adversary that can defeat Data.
Pulaski is abducted, and Data and La Forge try to track her down. Unknown to them, Professor Moriarty has also been able to summon the arch and talk to the computer. He is the one who kidnapped Pulaski.
However, Moriarty is far more than what he appears. He speaks of new images impinging on his consciousness, and draws an image of the Enterprise. Data pointedly leaves the room and gets away from Moriarty before calling for the exit and telling Picard what’s happening. La Forge realizes that he called for an adversary to defeat, not Holmes, but Data. The holodeck had to give Moriarty sentience in order for him to be worthy of Data.
Moriarty is able to transfer attitude control for the ship to the holodeck, where he’s holding Pulaski hostage. Picard gets into period dress and accompanies Data back to the holodeck. Moriarty is aware of his own consciousness, and wants simply to continue to exist beyond the end of this program.
However, Moriarty also has moved beyond the fictional character he was created to be, and he understands that he cannot exist outside the holodeck. He therefore capitulates, and Picard offers to save the program in the hopes that one day they can allow him to exit the holodeck.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi senses Moriarty’s gathering sentience, confirming what Data theorizes.
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data throws himself into the part of Holmes with even more gusto than he did in “Lonely Among Us,” and this time the references and dialogue are actually straight out of Conan Doyle, complete with explicit references to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” and “The Red-Headed League.”
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is Picard and Data’s backup when they go back into the holodeck, and he looks incredibly fetching in a nineteenth-century suit.
What Happens On The Holodeck Stays On The Holodeck: So apparently the holodeck can create sentient life. This is rather disconcerting (though it would be the subject of many a future Voyager episode centered around the Emergency Medical Hologram). It also has a mortality failsafe that can be overridden. The levels on which that is wrong are simply legion….
I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator: Pulaski insists that Data is incapable of solving a mystery he isn’t familiar with. While the mystery is cut off at the pass, Data does, in fact, do just fine on the original parts of the mystery, and solves another murder along the way. Sadly, thanks to Pulaski being abducted by Moriarty, she doesn’t get to see how wrong she is. Which is really too bad, because I wanted Data and La Forge to do a victory dance in front of her…
However, like Worf (and Picard, Data, and La Forge), she looks phenomenal in period dress.
Welcome Aboard: Daniel Davis is a spectacular Moriarty, combining menace with growing sentience and curiosity. Alan Shearman is an adequate if unspectacular Lestrade. And the winner of this week’s Robert Knepper moment is Anne Ramsay as Assistant Chief Engineer Clancy best known as Lisa, Jamie’s sister on Mad About You, and currently appearing on HawthoRNe as a snotty doctor.
I Believe I Said That: “Finally there can be no argument. The game is afoot.”
Data, throwing himself into the part.
Trivial Matters: The producers mistakenly thought that Holmes was public domain, but the Conan Doyle estate still required a usage fee. It would be years before this episode was followed up on for precisely that reason, though it was, eventually, in the sixth season’s “Ship in a Bottle.”
Reportedly, the original ending had Picard lying to Moriarty, that he could have existed outside the holodeck, the same way the piece of paper on which he drew the Enterprise also stayed intact outside the holodeck. Co-executive producer Maurice Hurley wanted to keep that ending, as it made Picard look clever, but Gene Roddenberry nixed it, saying it made Picard look cruel. Instead, the paper stays intact without any explanation.
Make it So: “I accept your wager, Doctor.” A delightful period piece, a good tribute to Conan Doyle, and a fun holodeck-goes-wrong episode, as these things go. Brent Spiner totally owns the episode, modulating from his normal speaking pattern into a slightly overplayed Holmes that nonetheless has favorable echoes of Jeremy Brett (who was four years into his phenomenal portrayal of Holmes on the BBC while this episode was in production).
There’s nothing to dislike about this episode, from LeVar Burton’s deliberately awful Watson to Picard in a top hat to Pulaski overloading on crumpets to a stellar performance by Daniel Davis. The script also is conscious of when the holodeck program takes place, with plenty of nineteenth-century references Moriarty quoting Descartes, Data-as-Holmes making deductions based on common knowledge of the time (rubber soles meaning someone working in a lab, left-footed being left-handed).
Just wonderful wonderful stuff.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new novels out: Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Sun: Under the Crimson Sun, SCPD: The Case of the Claw, and Unicorn Precinct, with another coming out soon called Guilt in Innocence, part of The Scattered Earth shared-universe project. He also writes the monthly Farscape comic book, and will be promoting it this weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Go to Keith’s web site, which is also a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.