Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Data’s Day

James' look-backs reach what is arguably one of Star Trek: TNG's top ten episodes: the brilliant Data's Day...

This review contains spoilers.

4.11 Data’s Day

As part of his efforts to help Commander Maddox in his studies of artificial life (following the latter’s humiliation during the events of The Measure Of A Man) Data has resolved to keep a journal of his thoughts on the day’s events. That’s right, it’s the 24th century equivalent of a blog. Prepare for excessive mundanity.

Specifically, Data is focusing on his various friendships. He is supposed to be giving away the bride – Keiko Ishikawa – at her wedding to Chief O’Brien. Unfortunately, she has cold feet and decided not to go through with it. After confirming that this will make her happy, Data cheerily informs Chief O’Brien of the devastating news before moving on to the day’s next task.

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Part of his duties involve assisting Picard and a recently-boarded Vulcan, Ambassador T’Pel. They have arranged a secret meeting with the Romulans, but Picard is being very secretive about it (which is almost always the sign that something bad is going to happen). At one point T’Pel meets Data in secret and grills him for the Enterprise’s defense capabilities. When Data says he’ll have to report this request, T’Pel withdraws it claiming that it was a test. Yes, that’s right, a little test to see which of us is the traitor. Data decides that since Vulcans do not lie, she can’t be lying.

Since Geordi has assured him that the wedding will go ahead, Data realises he needs to learn how to dance. Because Gates McFadden used to be a choreographer, he goes to ask Dr. Crusher, who takes him to the Holodeck and does a lot of tap and a lot of waltzing and then tells him to just practise with the computer, which is probably what he should’ve done in the first place. She’s literally called away from this to go and deliver a baby. I know shift work has probably changed in the future, but I don’t think anyone should be bunking off maternity duty to go teach tap dancing.

Keiko is still refusing to marry O’Brien, so Data goes to speak with Troi. She tells him nothing of value, but she does inspire a thousand fanfics by telling him he’ll make a wonderful husband for someone one day. (Not that fanfic writers need much motivation to pair off any random characters you can think of.)

When the Enterprise meets with a Romulan warbird, it’s revealed that T’Pel is on a mission of diplomacy to the Romulans. The Enterprise tries to transport her to the Romulan Vessel, but there’s an apparent malfunction and she dies on the transporter pad, her only remains some slight organic residue. O’Brien was unable to save her. One suspects his mind was elsewhere (wait, was he WORKING on what’s supposed to be his wedding day? There’s a man who loves his job.)

With the diplomatic task collapsed, the Romulans leave in a huff. Picard tells Data to look into the matter (literally, the organic matter that was left over) and through careful deduction and the use of a petri dish, Data determines that T’Pel didn’t die – she was beamed off the pad by the Romulans and replaced with some leftovers. Red Alert signals blazing, the Enterprise speeds towards the Romulan vessel to accuse them of Vulcan-napping, only for T’Pel to reveal that she’s actually a Romulan spy. She thanks them for delivering her back to safety (oops) and Picard rues the day he ever agreed to act as the glorified taxi for yet another pompous dignitary.

Outgunned by the Romulans, the Enteprise retreats. Luckily, Keiko has decided to go through with the wedding. Data gives her away and Picard marries her to O’Brien, ensuring a set of guest appearances that could keep her in convention money for life, if she so desired. As the day draws to a close, Data muses on how he doesn’t know much about humanity, but he does understand the desire to love and to belong. Probably.  It’s just a shame no-one caught that Romulan spy. Demotions all round?

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TNG WTF: In one memorable scene, Worf and Data pick wedding gifts for Keiko and O’Brien in the replicating centre. Which is presumably what you have instead of a shop in a glorious, resource-unlimited, zero-manufacturing society. Talk about pressure for choosing a gift, though. No Amazon Vouchers in the 24th Century.

TNG LOL: Data’s one of the characters in TNG who can get genuine laughs in most episodes, and this one’s no exception. But for me, the funniest moment is the bit where he assesses Commander Riker’s charm and skill and says something like “That’s probably why he’s so well-liked by the crew.” Is he? REALLY? If I had a boss like Riker I’d think he was an absolute tool, and we know from the episode Hollow Pursuits that Barclay, at least, thought the same.

To Boldly Go: The Enterprise is transporting Ambassador T’Pel to the Neutral Zone. That’s quite exciting (for a change) but it’s also like the fourth or Fifth time they’ve come to the Neutral Zone. For a ship that’s supposed to be exploring, the Enterprise spends a lot of time hanging around the Romulan border.

Mistakes and Minutiae: Considering this is a series of articles about Star Trek, it’s rare I get especially nerdy about things. But this episode has an Ambassador class ship in (the USS Zhukov) and those are my favourite by far. As much as I love the design of the Enterprise-D, I love the design of the Enterprise-C more, and any chance to see it on screen is good by me. (As a side note, the Zhukov works HARD. It’s mentioned in two previous episodes, and a further three after this one.)

Time Until Meeting: No meetings in this episode. What, you think they happen EVERY day?

Captain’s Log: Part of what I give a knowing nod to in these columns is the sheer number of recurring tropes that appear on TNG, so it’s almost difficult to write about an episode that’s almost completely devoid of them. Sure, Data has his moments of being slightly too naïve for his own good, but for the most part it’s a complete break in format and approach from a normal episode. And it’s all the better for it.

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You might argue that it’s just a blessing after a pair of lacklustre episodes, but at this point I’m ready to declare Data’s Day one of the top ten episodes. I seriously doubt that’ll surprise anyone, but even when you know its reputation it’s surprising just how good it is. Obviously it’s no Best Of Both Worlds, but it’s good in a different way. It gives us a look at the various things Data does with his time, and at the normal daily operation of a starship, and there’s a great little B-Plot (which would normally be the A-plot) about the Vulcan Ambassador’s mission. It’s pretty hard not to love it.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, The Loss, here.

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