The Original Data
by Philip Chien
The android "Data" was one of the most popular characters on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Played by actor Brent Spiner Data was an intelligent sentient android. In many ways the fact that the character was an emotionless computer helped emphasize its ‘humanity'. Data had friends, a cat, played poker, pretended he was Sherlock Holmes, and - like Pinocchio - wanted to become a real boy.
The original version of Data appeared thirteen years earlier in "The Questor Tapes." The 1974 made-for-TV movie was a 95 minute pilot for a television series, staring Robert Foxworth in the title role. "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and "Star Trek" writer Gene L. Coon wrote the story. Questor was a robot created by a super-species which cared for humanity. His job was to help humanity make the correct decisions through subtle interactions. Vaslovik, the previous android, left instructions for the Questor robot with his protégé, engineer Jerry Robinson, played by a pre-M*A*S*H Mike Farrell.
If the concept sounds similar to the original "Star Trek" episode "Assignment: Earth" it should. That episode was also a pilot for a television series with an Earthling trained by an advanced alien species helping humanity. It didn't sell, but the idea was repackaged as "The Questor Tapes."
Long time "Star Trek" editor, D.C. Fontana wrote a novelization which is readily available in used bookstores. "The Questor Tapes" airs on television occasionally. There are no legitimate copies on DVD or VHS, but illegal copies have been sold.
As an android Questor could remold his body to imitate people. If the original format for the series was followed Foxworth would only be used for small scenes early in each episode as Questor would be in ‘disguise' for most of the episode (and played by a guest actor).
While NBC ordered 13 episodes the series never started filming for a variety of reasons. The network wanted changes to the concept, including eliminating the Jerry Robinson character and making it a high-tech version of "The Fugitive." More important was the success of the "Six Million Dollar Man" and concern that the viewing public wouldn't be interested in another science fiction action series about a superpowered being. But many of Questor's characteristics made it into Data's character.
Not convinced? In the mid 1970s "Star Trek" and "The Questor Tapes" creator Gene Roddenberry made much of his income talking about "Star Trek" to college audiences. At that point the original "Star Trek" television show was a cult series (well before any of the movies and sequels) and fans were thrilled to hear Roddenberry talk. A spoken-word Long Playing record (the way your parents listened to music before CDs) "Inside Star Trek" was recorded in 1976. The original record is a collector item but it's been re-released as part of the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" 20th anniversary CD. Roddenberry talks about "The Questor Tapes" on a track titled "The Questor Affair." Remember that this was over a decade before "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and three years before the first "Star Trek" movie. Roddenberry says the network executives told him, "A robot doing it to a woman was absolutely unacceptable. - What they were actually saying to me was, ‘After all Gene, how would you like your sister to sleep with a robot?'" Roddenberry noted, "In your whole writing career how many times do you get the opportunity to create a whole new area of intolerance?" On one of the first "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes, "The Naked Now", Data does get the girl, and Roddenberry was finally able to air on television a plot involving a robot having sex with a woman!
The November 26, 1986 version of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" writer's guidelines has this early description of Data -
"LT. COMMANDER DATA. An android so perfectly fabricated (by unknown aliens) that on applying for a Starfleet commission years ago he tested out as alive. This is a point of some pride to Data whose Starfleet psychiatric profile ("medical eyes only") lists the android as having the 'impossible dream of somehow/ someday becoming human.' With phenomenal memory capacity/ superior strength and similar assets/ Data is an ideal second-in-command for Number One's away missions."
Many "Star Trek" fans fondly remember "The Questor Tapes". Several issues of "The Vaslovik Archives" , a fanzine (fan produced limited run magazine with fan-written stories based on popular characters), were published, including stories based on the actual scripts written for the planned television show.
In 2003 there were rumors that "Questor Tapes" could have a second chance, produced by Roddenberry collaborator Herbert Wright. Unfortunately Wright died in 2005 before the idea was fully developed. It's still possible that Wright's business partners may decide to give "Questor" another chance.
Questor Tapes photos copyright 1974 Universal Pictures. Data photos copyright 1987 Paramount Pictures.
The novelization of the pilot movie.
"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" 20th anniversary soundtrack with "Inside Star Trek"
A webpage with information on "The Questor Tapes."
A webpage with information on the "Inside Star Trek" album.
About the author
Philip Chien has been a "Star Trek" fan since the original series.
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