You might think Star Trek is little more than silly space fun, but pinning this franchise down to any one theme or feeling would be a disservice. In fact, throughout the various stories from the USS Enterprise, there are moments of real emotion that really don’t get enough credit.
That’s the view of Patrick Stewart, who is still bemused that his Star Trek co-star, Brent Spiner, never won an award for his portrayal of the Star Trek character, Data. He has the perfect argument to back it up, too, as he pinpoints one particular event in the Star Trek timeline which more than showcases Spiner’s credentials as a noteworthy performer.
In Making It So, Stewart’s new memoir, the actor recalled how, in season 3 episode 16 of The Next Generation, Spiner added incredible nuance to his role as an artificial lifeform. “Brent Spiner’s performance is staggeringly good — he found new depths to his character’s Pinocchio-like predicament of being a human invention who wishes to become human,” Stewart wrote.
The episode in question, titled ‘The Offspring’, sees Data create an android daughter, named Lal. Sadly, the lifespan of his child is fated to be a short one due to a malfunction, and Data has to watch her shut down before his very eyes as he cannot repair her. Naturally, robots cannot compute emotions such as grief or pain, but Spiner’s portrayal in this moment is one of the most heartbreaking in the Star Trek series.
As you can see from the clip below, Spiner still maintains his very mechanical and pragmatic approach to the situation, but underneath that there are glimmers of humanity. As his daughter tells him she loves him, Data is lost for words, just for a second, something which we rarely see, and which underlines just how difficult this moment is for him. Even more painful, is the fact he cannot profess his love in return, due to the nature of his programming.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Spiner also portrayed what is essentially Data’s evil twin brother, Lore. He was created before Data, but his programming was unstable, hence the upgrade. Their creator, Dr Soong, was also played by Spiner in a later episode of The Next Generation titled ‘Brothers’. And, to top it all off, the actor also took on the role of B-4, who was an amalgamation of Data, Lore, Lal, and Dr Soong, in the Star Trek movie, Nemesis.
Stewart could not believe Spiner was never recognized for his impressive range of work in The Next Generation cast: “It’s a major injustice to me that Brent has never won an Emmy for playing Data, not to mention the androids Lore and B-4 and the bizarre Soong family of mad scientists.”
It’s one thing to play one character really well, and to bring a unique dimension to a literal robot, but to do it time and time again across a whole range of different characters in the same show is just phenomenal. Perhaps it was more a sign of the times that Spiner never got his dues back in the ’90s, because I’m sure that if he was doing this kind of work now, it would gain some traction on the awards circuit. That said, maybe it’s just the price to pay for being part of one of the best sci-fi series – as we know, that genre is not always the most celebrated when it comes to awards bodies.
For more from the USS Enterprise, check out our guides to the Star Trek Legacy release date or the Star Trek Discovery release date. Alternatively, look ahead to new movies on the way like Avatar 3, which is very likely to receive some kind of award when the time comes.