Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Datalore

Review James Hunt 21 Dec 2012 - 08:03

James' look-back at Star Trek: TNG's first season reaches the episode that introduced "Data's evil twin", Lore...

This review contains spoilers.

1.13 Datalore

The crew of the Enterprise arrive at Omicron Theta, the planet where Data was found many years previously, in a mysteriously-deserted colony. Travelling back to the place where he was found, the away team finds a secret door which leads them to the laboratory of Dr. Noonian Soong, and the disassembled body of Lore, an android just like Data!

They bring the parts back to the ship to reassemble him, and meanwhile the crew also tries to figure out why a bunch of children have drawn pictures of their colony being destroyed. When Lore is finally reassembled, everyone stands around wondering what's supposed to happen next (this happens a lot in early TNG) before Lore snaps to life and claims to be the New and Improved model Data, complete with new grin subroutines and a duplicitous intonation service pack.

Everyone gets a bit hand-wringy about this claim, and at one point Picard furtively checks with Data that he's not going to help with any android-based coup. Data swears loyalty to Starfleet, then goes to hang out with Lore for a while. The latter makes it clear quite quickly that he's going to cause trouble for everyone. The audience sighs as the course of the episode becomes completely apparent.

Perhaps the oddest revelation here is that Lore was actually built first, but everyone hated him so much that they asked Dr. Soong to build a less human android, which is what Data ended up being. This makes almost no sense. Could he not have just built an android that wasn't a complete dick instead of making one that didn't have the emotional capacity to be a dick? Apparently not. After Lore explains to Data his simple dream of killing all humans, Data leaves him alone in his room and reports for duty. The audience, not for the first time, can't help but wonder why no-one has noticed that this spare robot is obviously up to no good.

On the bridge, they've figured out what the cryptic children's drawings were (apparently, it was images of their colony being destroyed. Who could have guessed?) They're trying to figure out what to do when Yar's console of Orwellian intrusion notices that Lore has left Data's quarters and is poking around where he shouldn't be. Data dismisses these thoughts, but Yar points out that it's hard to trust him when he has an evil twin hanging around the ship. Picard dismisses this 100% valid and actively prophetic observation as the ravings of a paranoid lunatic.

Data goes to ask Lore the meaning of all this is, and Lore promptly responds by drugging him and swapping their clothes. He reveals that HE was the one who summoned the thing that destroyed the colony! Because… stuff. Concerned about what's taking Data so long Riker sends Wesley (of all people) to "discreetly" look in on what's going on. Presumably because they've realised by now that this kind is normally the key to solving any problem they encounter and want to shortcut to the end.

Lore (as Data)is just signalling his crystalline master when Wesley "discreetly" checks what's going on by blundering into his room and making a series of increasingly credulous statements about why Data is doing everything Lore normally does, like having a facial tic, using contractions in speech and being evil. The two head back to the bridge.

Luckily, Wesley's not a complete idiot, so when the Crystalline Entity arrives to kill them all, he reveals to his superiors that something's suspicious in androidtown. His superiors have sadly forgotten that he's usually right, and respond by giving him a good telling off. The audience sigh, again.

Somewhere around now, the episode sails over a distant shark as "Data" convinces the others to let him have a chat with the Crystalline Entity to see if he can calm it down. Everyone's given up caring about this episode making sense, so they let him and it seems to work. "Data" swaggers off the bridge to bask in his own success. Wesley then tries to point out that all of this is insane, which is when Picard busts out the defining line of TNG's first season: "Shut up Wesley!"

After sending Wesley (and his mother) away, the crew realise that he was probably correct. Lore beats up Worf, proving it, then runs off. Luckily the Family Crusher have ignored orders and gone to reactivate Data. They succeed, and the three of them race to stop Lore. He's going to lower the shields, which will allow the Entity kill them all!

A fight ensues, but Data and the Crushers manage to trick Lore onto a transporter pad. They lower the shields, and… hang on, wasn't that what they were trying to prevent? Oh, I don't know. The upshot is that Lore gets beamed into space, so the Crystalline Entity gives up and leaves. Everyone apologises, and Data, who as we remember was distinguished from Lore by his inability to use contractions, tells his Captain: "I'm fine." The audience sighs so hard they nearly pass out.

TNG WTF: It's the sort of thing anyone who's watched TNG before will take for granted, but let's step back for a second and just ask ourselves: what the hell is the crystalline entity, really? Lore's supposed to be the bad guy, but it turns out he's acting in service of a starship-sized piece of coral that eats "life" for breakfast. Er, what?

TNG LOL: Data: "An Android Alarm Clock!"
Crusher: "…"
Data: "Was that amusing?"
Crusher: "No."

Jesus, Beverly, don't sugar-coat it. If that's how she takes a bad joke, what's her bedside manner like?

Mistakes and Minutiae: Data can't use contractions? Since when? Since this episode, apparently. This is one of those rules that is so regularly disregarded that frankly, making it in the first place was a bad idea. And it's doubly annoying because anyone with a basic grasp of any programming language could make a computer use contractions; Data being unable to do so is a ridiculous contrivance.

Time Until Meeting: 14:30. Data interrupts a meeting in progress in which Picard is sitting on a table praising Riker and Geordi for their actions in bringing Lore to the ship. I don't know why Picard isn't in a chair, but it makes him seem like an overly-friendly boss who's just telling Riker and Geordi that their targets for this quarter have just been scaled up unrealistically.

Captain's Log: This is one of those episodes that you remember being better than it is, probably because both Lore and the Crystalline Entity recur in the future, and it introduces quite a lot of Data's backstory. But the plot itself is gibberish. Had it come a few years later, this episode would have been done much, much better.

Indeed, when they bring Lore back in a few years, he is much better. The character isn't at fault here – "Data's Evil Twin" is an idea with legs – but pretty much everything else is poorly-executed and there are literally no surprises in the script. If someone said the words "Data's evil twin" to anyone, they could have come up with this story. You'd have hoped professionals would find some more mileage in the idea. As it is, it's a long, tedious slog towards the inevitable ending, and they barely even find time to address the philosophical implications. It's weak. So very weak.

Watch or Skip? Sadly, you have to watch it – it's essential to Data's arc (particularly with regards to his desire to be more human) and sets up a lot of series lore (no pun intended) that future episodes rely on. But if it was a stand-alone episode, you'd be advised not to get anywhere near it.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, The Big Goodbye, here.

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