Star Trek: The Next Generation’s beloved android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) features prominently in some of Star Trek’s most enduring episodes. Introduced in TNG’s first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” Data was an advanced artificial intelligence who longed to become more human.
Data was incredibly intelligent and physically powerful, but he struggled to comprehend human concepts like humor and was limited in his ability to process and express emotion. Spiner’s understated performance could somehow evoke laughs and tears in equal measures, easily one of the most impressive acting jobs in Star Trek history.
By Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3, the show’s successful format had been established, with each episode generally focusing on one member of the ensemble cast. With the exception of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Data tended to get the most spotlight episodes, as the show’s writers and producers honed in on Spiner’s magnetic performance early in the show’s run.
Data episodes ran the gamut, from two-part Borg epics to simpler stories where he tries to learn how to dance. Data is one of Star Trek’s most enduring icons, with his empathy and drive to better himself evoking the best aspects of the science fiction institution.
These are the on-screen voyages of Star Trek, a now-massive and popular franchise with 13 movies and over 800 episodes and counting. Star Trek: The Original Series went off the air in 1969, and was followed by two decades of movies about those same characters. Yet it wasn’t until the launch of the second TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, that we got to see new characters in this universe. Aptly named, Next Generation moved into the future from the original series, exploring new technology such as holodecks, and the universe-changing replicators, which could create almost any item you wanted in an instant.
As said in an article in the New Yorker, “It is hard to overstate how much of a departure the ‘Star Trek’ franchise’s eighties-and-nineties-straddling incarnation, ‘The Next Generation,’ was from the original series.” The show moved the Trek universe into a utopian future of post-scarcity. In one episode, for instance, Jean-Luc Picard, the current Captain of the starship Enterprise-D, tells a twentieth-century human concerned about his old stocks that, “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”