The Original Inspiration for Mr. Data Wasn’t Spock — It Was Another Android

Mr. Data and his inspirations

Paramount / NBC Mr. Data and his inspirations

Most folks think that when it was time to create “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the franchise creator had to have been on board from the start. That is not actually what happened. Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, was brought in after the show’s planning was underway and was not actually the one who got things started.

According to Screen Rant’s Dusty Stowe, Paramount thought Roddenberry would be a “goodwill ambassador for this new version of the franchise.” The studio let “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” take the reigns of what became “The Next Generation,” which turned out to be a reboot of a previous Roddenberry project. 

Before the premiere of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” the franchise would return in one way or another. Some ideas were making Trek into a series of TV movies, while others thought a new show would make more sense. All these ideas were aborted after the success of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Star Wars.” 

Paramount threw their weight (and considerable dollars) behind the effort to get their space-based intellectual property back in front of audiences. So, instead of an ongoing show, fans got six (or seven) feature films, which followed the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the rest of the Enterprise crew. 

‘Star Trek: Phase II’

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The series, which might have been the original Trek reboot, was called “Star Trek: Phase II,” which featured all of “The Original Series” characters — except for Spock. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nimoy refused to be part of the project because he was suing Paramount for royalties for using his likeness. 

Instead of Spock, Roddenberry and his team created a new character to interact with Kirk and McCoy, named Xon. David Gautreaux was cast as this new science officer, who was entirely Vulcan and not half-Vulcan, as Spock was. 

“We’ll get some humor out of Xon trying to simulate laughter, anger, fear, and other human feelings,” Roddenberry wrote at the time (as reported by The Forgotten Trek). Eventually, Xon was not needed in Trek because Nimoy returned to the franchise, and the rest is history.

But when it was time to formulate his new “Next Gen” crew, Roddenberry dipped back into the “Phase II” ideas and pulled out an android named Data. This character would also be completely logical. As played by Brent Spiner, Data did not understand humor, could not use contractions, and would ramble with overly-long explanations. 

Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) were also recycled characters from “Phase II.” Riker was an updated Will Decker (played by Stephen Collins in TMP), while Troi was an updated Ilia (Persis Khambatta). 

The cast and stories hit their stride after Season 3, and “The Next Generation” is considered the best of all the series. Even though it might seem like Spock and Xon were who inspired Data, there was another project which made an entire story around an android trying to fit into the world.

‘The Questor Tapes’

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In 1974, Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon unleashed a TV movie onto audiences called “The Questor Tapes.” This was the story of a team of researchers attempting to bring a new type of man to life. This man was completely artificial, and his brain was filled with the operating system (from memory tapes) created by a secretive scientist named Dr. Vaslovik.

The show starred Mike Farrell, who would later become incredibly famous for his role in the “M*A*S*H” television series. Farrell was alongside veteran actor John Vernon and frequent Roddenberry collaborator Majel Barrett. Walter Koenig also appeared in the movie.

Questor itself was portrayed by actor Robert Foxworth. Fans of “Star Trek” will recognize Foxworth from his appearances on “Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” After the memory tapes from Vaslovik were loaded into Questor, the android made itself look human and escaped into the night. 

From the way Questor moved, spoke, and even though he told a woman character that he was “fully functional,” the template for Data was there. Questor even used the famous Data “head tilt” when confused. 

This made-for-television movie intended to launch a new series on NBC, but that did not happen. As pointed out by many, including this article on the Classic Film & TV Cafe website, the ideas which Roddenberry and Coon cooked up for Questor were later used for Mr. Data.  

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