Aug 18 2011 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

“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
Stardate: 42286.3

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

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.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Elementary, Dear Data”

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.

Richard Chapling
1. Chappers
Would have been a much shorter episode if the computer had thought to challenge Data to a whistling contest, or joke-telling...

Moriarty is one of the best characters I've seen on TNG: he's up there with Q in my favourites outside the main cast, and managed to appear in two very good episodes.
2. Rootboy
Data and Geordi running around as a couple of dorks playing dress-up is tons of fun. I love Geordi's terrible accent.
3. don3comp
Keith: Just out of curiosity, what kept this episode from getting a 10? The holodeck absurdities? (Whoever built this thing does need to be sent back to the drawing board! Oh, and Geordi? That's a pretty big slip of the tongue, pal!)

I like this episode too, not only for the period designs, but for the way Data stops taking Dr. Pulaski's snide remarks, but challenges her on them head-on. Even though Data =supposedly= doesn't have emotions until he gets the Chip, he does seem to have a certain amount of self-respect.

Oh, and even though the writer's couldn't have known that the sequel would be titled "Ship in a Bottle," there is a nice bit of synergy in the fact that a model sailing ship is built in this episode!
4. Mike S.
I'm not a Holmes fan, but I liked this episode too, for all the reasons you mentioned. I thought that all of the main acting was great, and the recreation of 19th-century London was very well done.

One other thing that goes unexplained (or is simply a mistake that made it through the sensors): Look at the expression on Moriarty's face as soon as Geordi calls for arch. Then later, he tells someone that he "heard that dark fellow call for the arch." Geordi, however, called for the arch BEFORE he programmed an antagonist capable of defeating Data, yet, that command is citied as the reason Moriarty is sentient.

Despite this, the show was a very entertaining piece.
Margot Virzana
5. LuvURphleb
I dont really have much to say for this episode. While i liked datas holmes i really never preferred to re watch this episode very much. And while i would love to go off about the paper surviving life beyond the holodeck i think ill save my strength for the measure of a man.
Would loved to have seen a victory dance though. Haha.
Love the rewatches!
6. don3comp
I agree that Moriarity is a great, well-acted villain. Even the moment he introduces himself gives me goose bumps. After a certain point, he isn't sure (and neither are we) exactly what he is anymore, and given that, he has the appropriate intensity.

Keith: have you ever used him in a novel, or considered doing so?
7. Mike S.
Of course, I meant Censors, as in TV censors, not the type that the Enterprise uses for a sensor sweep. Talk about mistakes that make it through the editing process. Forgive me.
8. don3comp
Mike S: I'll overlook "sensors" if you'll overlook my inappropriate apostraphe in "writers" (see comment #3). =grin= Just goes to show how important proufReeding is! : )
9. Seryddwr
It strikes me that while season one's episodes are mostly duds, season two's hit the mark more often for two inter-related reasons: the characters are nicely bedded in, and the ideas flying around are more nuanced than 'Enterprise visits planet with strange cultural mores that cause trouble because the crew is too dim-witted to understand them'. 'Elementary, Dear Data' may not answer any questions about sentience and computer-based life forms in the way that 'Measure Of A Man' does, and the pacing is somewhat leaden (the section concerning Data's overly quick problem-solving (premature cogitation?) is far too drawn-out), but it is good fun, and Daniel Davis is indeed fabulous as Moriarty. Good British accent, too - I'm sick and tired of US genre TV casting actors to play stock British characters with fake Cock-er-ney accents. Exhibit A in this regard is 'All Good Things...', which demonstrates that in spite of the staggering technological advancements of the first third of the millennium, charwomen will still find jobs at Oxford University. ('Looks loik a bladdy skunk!' etc.) Or maybe it's just that the United Kingdom is too backward in the 2300s for anyone to care. Ah, diddums.
10. John R. Ellis
I love so many character moments in this (and love the sequel episode a few seasons later), but yeah, this entire episode was just proof that the HoloDeck is -way- overpowered and should NOT be available for casual use, much less recreational.

What were they thinking?!?
Keith DeCandido
11. krad
don: Nah, never really thought about using him in a novel. I think "Ship in a Bottle" was a good coda for the character....
12. dav
This and "Ship in a Bottle" may not be my favorite episodes, but they are right up there as the most memorable. When they are on I always watch them. In fact my personal image of Moriarity is of Davis when I read Holmes books/stories.
Kristoff Bergenholm
13. Magentawolf

Paper surviving beyond the Holodeck isn't that much of a stretch; according to the technical guide (or, as I remember, at least), small objects that get handled are actually replicated on the spot, larger items tend to be simulated with 'hard' low-scale tractor fields.

This would be why the snowball thrown by Wes manages to hit Picard in an earlier episode.
David Levinson
14. DemetriosX
I seem to be alone in not really liking this episode much. The acting is fine as are the characterizations, but the MacGuffin is just too mindnumbingly dumb. I can accept Voyager's Doctor because he was designed to be an expert system and has a lot of data and resources behind him. Moriarty just doesn't have that. The resource-saving approach the computer would most likely use to interpret Geordie's very poorly worded command would be to have Moriarty cheat and make his plans based on what Data has planned. Giving him enough computing power to be able to defeat Data on his own would likely have been an enormous drain on the system.

This is also one of the first episodes where the producers didn't really think through the implications of the tech of the week. Given what they've done with Moriarty, Starfleet could have put Jim Kirk on the bridge of every starship in the fleet.
15. DRickard
I enjoy the episode, but would give it a lower rating (4-5) for the following issues:
1) the magic-wand factor of the Computer spontaneously creating a sapient program.
2) the writers seemed to drop the original plotline/question (can Data do original thinking?) when Moriarty appears
3) if I remember correctly, Pulaski casually treated Moriarty as a real person--even though she had earlier denied that Data was anything more than a walking calculator.
16. A.C.Wise
Something just occured to me that I'd never thought about before in regards to this episode. Leaving aside the question of the computer suddenly being able to create sentient life, the computer in a way does answer the question of Data's capacity for original thought. When asked for an opponent that can defeat Data, it immediately creates a program that is capable of original thought, problem solving, and is basically sentient. In the computer's estimation at least, Data is sentient being. Of course, Pulaski wouldn't take the word of a machine when determining the nature of another machine, but still...
17. critter42
And if some of you are having a hard time placing Daniel Davis, he employed his ability to fake a British accent to great skill as Niles the butler from The Nanny.

Given that his two most famous roles involve British characters, most people I know are suprised to learn he was born and raised in central Arkansas :).

I can understand how people don't like this episode based on the demonstrated ability for the ship's computer to "create life", but this is one of those episodes that you just have to suspend your inner nitpicker for an hour, it is so fun to watch.

I think this and Ship in a Bottle demonstrate that Conan Doyle created one of the greatest villains in literature in Moriarity.
Michael Poteet
18. MikePoteet
Tell you what, we put Worf in his Victorian garb together with the lady Silurain detective from "A Good Man Goes to War" over on "Doctor Who," we've got ourselves one heck of a genre crossover spinoff!

"Alan Shearman is an adequate if unspectacular Lestrade." -- But, in the Canon, Lestrade is adequate and unspectacular! Perfect casting!

I may be wrong (goodness knows I have been many times now), but I believe TNG had it right and Conan Doyle's Estate had it wrong. Every Holmes book except, I believe, The Casebook was in fact public domain by this point. See for details. Still, I can see why legal action made TNG skittish about any sequels for a while.

I like this episode a lot -- it's one of maybe 2 holodeck stories I enjoy, mainly because it was all still relatively new and its tropes (sentient programs, failed failsafes, etc.) hadn't been done to death. Plus, it really gives Pulaski a chance to shine and to show the needed dynamic of conflict (however mild, really) that she brought to the cast.
Amir Noam
19. Amir
The really fun thing about the paper with the drawing of the Enterprise is not so much the fact that it manages to leave the Holodeck, but that when Geordy flips it around to show it to the camera, it's obvious that he's been looking at it upside down :-)
Adrian J.
20. LightningStorm
Now wait a minute, first this "There’s nothing to dislike about this episode..." then "Just wonderful wonderful stuff." but then "Warp factor rating: 7"

How's that only a 7? Is this on a scale of 1 to 7?
rick gregory
21. rickg
@14 - you're not alone. The acting and setting were fun. But there are two huge duspension of disbelief issues here. First, the computer can create artificial intelligence?? Um... so where's the rest of this in the Federation? And second, setting aside the 'paper can survive outside the holodeck' there's this little matter.. the holodeck matter is created using transporter technology. Yet it can't survive outside the holodeck. But.... people who transport around obviously do. So here we have an entirely new state of matter, one that acts differently if it's 'alive' than if it's not... and again, this doesn't seem to manifest outside of this. Both things are just HUGE points that exist only to make the episode work out the way it does. I never have liked seeing the scaffolding.
Ashe Armstrong
22. AsheSaoirse
I always loved this episode but looking back, I can't help but ask (as others might), if Data can turn off his internal chronometer and other such things...couldn't he have turned off his knowledge of the books or slowed his mental capacity down long enough to enjoy himself? It's one of those weird episodes where Data feels more human than usual too but well before the emotion chip.
23. Hugh Casey
"However, like Worf (and Picard, Data, and La Forge), she looks phenomenal in period dress."

Keith, this is why I'm such a fan of Steampunk... EVERYBODY looks phenomenal in late 19th century garb! :-)
Keith DeCandido
24. krad
critter: I disagree about Conan Doyle. Later writers, and actors, have done well with Moriarty, but if you actually read "The Final Problem," it's by far the worst short story Conan Doyle ever wrote, possibly the worst story ever written in the English language. Morarity is, in fact, an awful antagonist, a lame-ass attempt to retrofit an uber-villain into Holmes's life so Conan Doyle could be rid of the albatross of Sherlock Holmes once and for all. And it didn't even work.
25. zenspinner
@22 - This is why I was never a fan of the whole "emotion chip" concept. To me it obscured the point of Data's personal and emotional growth, which we can see developing throughout the course of the series. I had thought one of the whole points of having an android character who wished to be more human would be watching his developmental progress over time. The emotion chip instantly threw all that away, and I feel whatever payoff we got in the form of silly in-jokes and hearing Data swear just wasn't worth it.

Loved this episode, though. :)
26. Anony
@3 - while I don't have knowledge to this effect, it's entirely possible the writers of Ship in a Bottle had the previous ship in a bottle in mind when they titled the episode. No synchronicity required.

The issue in this episode isn't so much the sentience as the intelligence surrounding it. Any simulation capable of complicated response to input could suggest self awareness under the right conditions. But on top of that, the computer creation can sort-of outthink Data, who is usually the cleverest character on the entire ship, in real time. Either this is child's play for the computer, or it's diverting massive resources for holodeck purposes, or it has massive unused resources available to make the endeavor look like child's play. Same problem with Voyager's Doctor, really. The more the simulated character grows and remembers, the more the "real" computer's limits stand out. Most generous interpretation is that the computer could easily do all the thinking required for a mission, but is hard-wired not to due to past experiences with AI, and the holodeck sentiences are the result of unintended or poorly conceived loopholes in its code.

Still makes Data's quest for humanity look rather trivial in comparison.
27. Chessara
"The game is afoot!" :) I have always loved this episode! I must admit I always liked whenever the crew put on period costumes, for moments like Worf stepping out of the turbolift adjusting his gloves...precious!

And kudos to Brent Spiner who does such a wonderful job, he really shines in this epsiode. And yes, Moriarty is a great character, love Davis's portrayal, I remember thinking how menacing he was when I first saw it.

As for the rating...I agree with others here, this one deserves more than 7! I'd give it an 8 or even a 9 just for the sheer enjoyment I get whenever I watch it...hey, even Pulaski is alright in this one! :)

Question for Keith: In the Season 1 recap (I think) you mentioned you would go as low as 1, which I agree is right for episodes like "Shades of grey" and "Sub rosa"...but will you go as high as 10?
28. Chessara
Oops! I forgot to comment on the whole "Holodeck mortality fail safes that can be overridden" :O Hello??? Why would anyone EVER even think about putting that in the programming?? I mean, who devised this thing and how did it ever get approved? It's just the kind of thing you don't think about when you're a kid, but doing the rewatch now it's just ludicrous!
rob mcCathy
29. roblewmac
Data plays sherlock Holmes vs a Hologram that takes over the ship. I am glad for people that like it.
Keith DeCandido
30. krad
Quick administrative note--I was at Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend, prpmoting the Farscape comics I write for BOOM! Studios, and was unable to get "The Outrageous Okona" done for today. Don't worry, the rewatch of the episode that features Billy Campbell and Teri Hatcher before they were famous and Joe Piscopo just before he fell into obscurity will be up on Tuesday.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
31. Mike S.
That's OK, Keith... Are we still getting two for the week?
Keith DeCandido
32. krad
Yup. "The Outrageous Okona" will go up any minute, and "Loud as a Whisper" will go up on Thursday as planned.
Ashe Armstrong
33. AsheSaoirse
@zenspinner: Yeah, I mostly agree. Plus, later there was the whole awkward thing of Lore controlling Data through the chip. That always bugged me.
34. Jarvis
'Okona' hasn't gone up yet.... But I'm really enjoying this rewatch, and it is good to see a well-deserved high mark after so many low ones.
Keith DeCandido
35. krad
Okay, it turns out that there were some other technical glitches, so "Okona" will go up in Thursday's slot, with "Loud as a Whisper" going up on Monday. Sorry about that, folks....
36. Mike S.
No problem, just means I won't have to pump in the "Loud as a Whisper" DVD tonight.
37. Jarvis
Thanks Keith, always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Will you ever return to writing Trek fiction? (even if two-three eyars is not a long absense, it feels like it is)
38. Liddle-Oldman
I have long been uncomfortable with the Federation's casual disregard of sentient rights if the sentient doesn't happen to be an organic. The very first holodeck adventure ends with Picard blandlly murdering his character's detective friend, *as the man confeses his fear of being destroyed.* They try to vivisect a serving commisioned officer, Data, because it would be interesting. Later, they actualy enslave the entire production run of Emergency Medical Holograms that includes the Voyager's doctor, and condemn them to dirty, boring, forced labor working in environments that would kill an organic.

Moriarty is another exellent example, and another example of how little they'd thought through the holodeck at all. They create a self-aware, intelligent person (two, actually, with what's-her-name), and, because he'd *inconvinient*, try to kill him. The only reason they didn't succeed is that he out-manovered them.

*I* think this ep is a fine look into the moral shabbiness of the ST universe, and the fierce and often fatal racism of it's organic species.
Keith DeCandido
39. krad
Jarvis: Nothing currently on the Trek fiction docket, but who knows what the future will bring?

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Justin Devlin
40. EnsignJayburd
This is a fun episode top to bottom as is this discussion thread. There's plenty to nitpick at here but I agree that sometimes it's best to just let it go. A smart audience's willful suspension of disbelief is always best earned by great storytelling and character development, which is exactly what this episode delivers. This show also marks the beginning of a great run of Data-centric episodes.
41. crzydroid
rickg--According to the TNG Technical Manual (Sternbach & Okuda, 1991, ISBN-10: 0671704273) the holodeck emitters are not precisely the same as the transporter. I think they are more like the replicators. The replicators, to conserve power, use molecular-level resolution, whereas the transporter uses quantum-level resolution, so it is impossible to replicate something as complex as a human (according to them, anyway). As I understand, things resembling that complexity on the holodeck are controlled by means of force fields. Only "simple" objects, like paper and snowballs, are entirely replicated.

Other holodeck safety concerns: Are they going with the "turning off the holodeck will erase real people" thing like in "The Big Goodbye"? That would otherwise seem the simplest solution: cut the power! Pull the plug, or in this case, remove the ODN conduits.

BTW, this is not the only time that I've noticed the computer is seemingly smarter than Data. There are several instances where Data is doing some research, and asks the computer to speculate or theorize on something, which it does in a second. Yet Data couldn't? I feel like everyone makes a big deal out of Dr. Soong creating this perfect android, yet apparently the computer can easily do something similar (ie, Moriarity), or it appears that whoever created the Enterprise computer has more or less done the same thing. The only thing the computer doesn't do is act like a human.

As for the safety protocols being able to be overridden--I will agree, what possible purpose could there be to that? Given how the holodeck works, I see the need for safety protocols to be explicitly programmed. I would also be willing to accept that there might be a way for them to be accidentally bypassed in unique circumstances. But to have the option of overriding them? I can see if Moriarity were hacking the code (or is it cracking?), but he seems to simply request it.

I've determined I would never use the holodeck.
42. Electone
I'm not going to comment on the episode as pretty much everything that needed to be said about it has been said. My only two comments are: did anyone else notice that Levar Burton obviously had a head cold during the filming (especially noticeable when showing the model ship to Data in Engineering), and man, he's a rotten actor.
43. jelsilk
Can somebody who knows more about Geordi's visor tell me whether he would actually be able to see anything on the holodeck?
44. Brett Alan
@Mike S. mentions Moriarty being able to see the arch BEFORE Geordi's "capable of defeating Data" statment. I've noticed that, too...and I like to think that it helps address some of the issues others raise with this episode.

Because they're right--a computer shouldn't be able to just toss together a sentient consciousness like that. And if the Holodeck is so poorly programmed that it takes the instruction to create a Sherlock Holmes-type mystery with a villain capable of defeating Data to mean that it should create someone who can conquer the real ship, rather than someone who can defeat the character Data is playing, well, the Federation shouldn't need the Borg to wipe it out, because they'd manage to do it to themselves.

So I prefer to think that the Enterprise computer has, for some reason yet to be explained, been on an ongoing mission to try to create a new form of life. We know, indeed, that at some point it does that, because (spoiler alert) this is the plot of the later episode Emergence, when the ship does just that. I don't think there's anything that states that this has been ongoing, but I don't think there's anything that shows it couldn't be, either. So perhaps the Enterprise was already using the Holodeck to create a new life, and was experimenting with Moriarty when Georgie input his new parameters, giving the computer an opportunity to use more resources for its project without arousing too much suspicion.

That still leaves some open questions about the whys and hows, but it helps make sense of this episode, adds some depth to Emergence (which could use it), and possibly helps explain why the Holodecks malfunction and endanger people so often throughout the run of the show. I could see a book putting all of this together....

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