It's Brent Spiner versus Brent Spiner in TNG's first (but by no means last) evil twin face off!
We're between missions on the Enterprise, so let's pop off to Omicron Theta and see where Data was found. The crew beam down to Sound Stage 16 to gawk at what’s happening with the polystyrene rocks this week. But wait! LaForge spots a secret door and suddenly we're inside a room full of flashing lights that feels like it came straight out of classic Trek. They discover a disassembled android that looks just like Data if you squint and forget what Data looks like. After cracking open Data to see how he works, they put together his brother, Lore. Wow, he sure seems like a trustworthy fellow. He even praises Wesley. But wait, let's not jump to conclusions, because that music at the act boundary is awfully sinister…
Yup, Lore is Data's evil twin! He slips his brother a Mickey Finn and steals his uniform so that he can execute his diabolical plan to sacrifice the entire crew to the sinister Crystalline Entity that was foreshadowed by terrible children's drawings in the lab. Lore repairs his facial tick and passes it on to Data, then sets off to impersonate his brother while twirling his imaginary bad guy moustache. Fortunately, Wesley is so smart he sees through the charade but oh no! Nobody believes him.
The Crystalline Entity arrives looking highly unconvincing, and Lore beats the crap out of Worf in the turbolift (Worf 0, Aliens 3) before the family Crusher revive Data so that the two robo-brothers can have a showdown in the cargo bay. Then we get an awesome android barney with thrown barrels and everything, before Wesley beams Lore into space. Only now does Starfleet's worst ever Security Chief arrive. Great job, Lieutenant Yar, once again you have failed to save the day.
Are we quite sure this is Star Trek continued yet...? No? Well, we still have a few classic Trek episodes left to raid. How about we dig up the evil twin conceit from "The Enemy Within" or "Mirror, Mirror" and give it a spin. This is another episode that Gene Roddenberry co-wrote, and although the script isn't great the fact that it introduces Lore makes this one of the more significant moments in the first season in terms of laying the groundwork for future stories.
One of the more interesting uses of words in this script is 'positronic brain', which we are informed was "Asimov's dream". So what is a positronic brain…? Asimov wanted to write about robots that could operate with human-like intelligence, and he needed a name for an imaginary technology that would make it possible. The anti-electron, or positron, had recently been theorised, so instead of 'electronics', Asimov could talk of 'positronics'. This trick - something newly added to the researcher's lexicon is co-opted by writers - is a foundational trick in science fiction. I've lost count of the number of times I've used it in scripts, either for world-building or for comedy. I really don't think it wise to be making a computing system out of anti-matter, and it certainly wouldn't be a sound basis for sentient robots, but a plot device is a plot device no matter how you put it together.
I'm pretty sure this is the only time in any Star Trek franchise that someone describes an incoming threat as a 'bogey', which is US Air Force slang. It feels oddly out of place when LaForge says it - especially since he is at the helm and not the conn.
You have to love it when Picard snaps "Shut up Wesley" - and it feels so good that even his mother says it too! Great moments like this are few and far between.
I absolutely love that the ending of this episode references the computer refit that was supposed to take place in the next story... what an absolute bummer, then, that they aired "Angel One" ahead of "11001001", ruining what could have been a nice internal reference.
Frankly, it was still very rare that 80s TV shows would attempt any immediate continuity like this, since episodes were always intended to be hermetically sealed. Sure, we'll get some two-parters later in TNG, but even then, the pairs of episodes are supposed to be causally isolated from everything around them. This is actually an artefact of broadcast television writing, because it was assumed, until Steven Bochco's Murder One in 1995, that TV audiences couldn't be trusted to watch a show regularly. You were supposed to write each story as if every episode was the first one the audience had ever seen. You could call back to earlier stories, but you couldn’t assume that people had seen those episodes. As sci-fi fans, this approach to storytelling can feel really weird, as we'll tend to watch a show religiously. Nonetheless, TV audiences last century were much more fickle and random in their viewing habits than we are, and there was a certain logic to this approach in the years before VCRs, let alone DVRs.
This is the first time Brent Spiner is given centre stage... it feels rather odd that this only happens because of an evil twin plotline! The show's later writing teams became very comfortable building entire stories around Data, but for this first at-bat, Spiner is only really allowed to be the centre of attention because he's playing the bad guy. And as hammy and over the top as his performance is, you just have to adore Spiner as Lore - the manic energy, the devilishness and deviousness. Honestly, it's amazing that it will be another three years before we'll see him again.
Nobody else has much to do, and although it's nice that we get Worf in this episode, his job in the story is merely to show how strong Lore is by having the evil android wail on the Klingon in the turbolift.
I know an android is not technically an alien, but he's not a human and he's not from Earth, so I'm counting this as an alien for the running score tally in Worf vs. Aliens, which now stands at three-nil to the Alien team. Worf has not yet beaten anything in a fight. His principle job until Ronald D. Moore joins the writing team is to show how strong the aliens are by letting them beat him up.
And let's welcome back Biff Yeager as Chief Engineer Argyle in his third and final appearance of the first season, although he will pop in for a guest spot once more in season four.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
There's a surprising number of planetary mattes in the opening sequence of this episode that makes me wonder what the thinking behind this was.
Firstly, we get a long shot of the planet we're approaching...
Then we get a closer shot of the planet...
Then, a few scenes later, an orbital shot.
That's either three completely different matte paintings that had to be made for those shots, or some clever re-composition of one multi-planet matte.
Later episodes would never be so extravagant about a planetary approach. We mostly get used to going back to the way classic Trek came at this: a single orbital shot with a planetary matte. I'm only guessing, but I think the idea was to stress the remoteness of Omicron Theta by emphasising the Enterprise-D's journey towards it. Then again, it might just be bad writing!
Oh, and did you notice this matte painting…?
It's a simple trick used to make the corridor look far longer than it is, but I think most people watching this episode fail to notice that it’s a painting, and that's the sign of a well-executed special effect.
The Crystalline Entity is clearly CGI from the mid-80s when computers could handle very little.
I slightly dislike this effect because it is too 'perfect', too obviously computer-generated (the same reason I loathed all the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park six years later, but maybe I’m just fussy...). However, it is still not half as out of place here as it is in season five's "Silicon Avatar" when they bring it back. Nonetheless, I don't want to knock this alien - it's the very first CGI alien to appear anywhere as far as we know, and it's iconic. Besides, if we're going to diss bad props, it isn't the Crystalline Entity itself I'm going to single out, but the terrible "children's drawings" of this alien.
I'm going to complain about this in multiple ways. Firstly: I don't believe these are children’s drawings - they look like adults trying to draw like kids. Secondly: what kind of parents let their children draw a major existential threat while its happening? That's like asking Anne Frank to relieve her stress by doodling gas chambers. Thirdly: what kind of parents spend the time to collect four of these drawings about how everyone is going to die and place them neatly on the walls of the lab?! Every aspect of these props feels like top-to-bottom nonsense.
Far more satisfying is our first shot of what it looks like inside Data's head. It's a simple practical effect, but it works nicely and most importantly feels of-a-piece with the world and technology of TNG. The best special effects feel natural even though they are inherently unnatural, and in this case, the production team really delivers.
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I don't think a Trek show really finds its feet until it discovers the natural comedy in its characters. TN:G was, I think, always a bit po-faced for me. But in DS9 they seemed to let it rip, to glorius effect.