This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.
We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.
This is a rare treat.
The Measure of a Man is generally regarded as one of the best episodes that Star Trek: The Next Generation ever produced, and a crown jewel in the entire Star Trek franchise. As such, it’s a prime candidate for this sort of lavish restoration treatment, with the blu ray collection featuring not only the televised version of the episode, but a special extended edition.
This extended edition was the version originally filmed and edited together, until the production team realised that it ran almost a quarter-of-an-hour over the slot allocated to the show on syndicated airing.
Deleted scenes are nothing new to Star Trek. Indeed, a few of the DVD releases and most of the blu ray releases come with a selection of rich behind-the-scenes material, including extended sequences that had to be trimmed from the episode for reasons related to time. Given the massive success of the Star Trek franchise, it’s surprising that so few attempts have been made to offer “extended” or “alternate” takes on these stories, enjoying the freedom from the forty-five minute runtime limitation imposed by network television.
Most of the directors for the modern shows are still alive, and it’s easy to imagine at least some of them would be eager to help offer a more complete or definitive cut of their particular episode. The recent Doctor Who re-releases have included several alternate cuts and re-mastered editions, with director Fiona Cumming offering a re-mastered take on two of her stories (Enlightenment and Planet of Fire), included alongside the original televised cut.
It would be a nice way to offer a “treat” to those purchasing the set in high-definition again, offered as a special feature on a set. After all, the source material exists, and it was deemed important enough to be written and filmed, and there’s generally a sense that it may only have been omitted due to constraints of the broadcast medium. Those constraints do not exist on home media, and much of modern home media technology has been built around taking advantage of that distinction.
Indeed, alternate cuts and added content are now considered a standard part of the home media experience. Shows will often film sequences and material specifically for inclusion on the DVD or blu ray release. Movies frequently see the release of “extended” or “director’s cut” editions. Some times the releases seem cynical and the changes are minor; other times the changes can completely alter the film itself. (Most notably, Blade Runner exists in a number of different cuts, each with its own reasons to recommend (or reject) it.)
Even the production of television itself is changing to take advantage of the shift in the way that people consume television. In the era of recordable television or box sets, more and more shows are willing to experiment with serialised storytelling or narrative experiments than would have been possible in the past. Television isn’t produced to be watched once any more; it’s produced to be watched countless times – to be poured over and devoured.
Obviously, The Next Generation predates this revolution. Its narrative involves a few underlying story threads, but most of the show consists of stand-alone adventures that can be watched in just about any order with a minimum of confusion. At the same time, these re-mastered blu ray box sets are being produced for the modern era. There’s a sense that the people working on the sets appreciate this. The bonus material is one of the best reasons to upgrade from the standard DVD sets. (The best, of course, being the love and care of the remaster.)
Robert Burnett Meyer has done fantastic work with the show. These box sets include all the classic material, along with new retrospectives and interviews, allowing insight into the creative process of The Next Generation. The third season of The Next Generation is worth a purchase on the strength of the writers’ room extra alone. There are additional commentaries and discussions and features, all lovingly put together. And so it seems churlish to ask for any more.
At the same time, offering an opportunity to explore or extend or even to delve into the history of The Next Generation through these sorts of special features feels like something that is worthwhile on its own terms – to give a glimpse of what The Next Generation might have looked like had it not been forced to fit within the confines of a forty-five minute slot. The extended edition of The Measure of a Man is hugely informative in looking at the evolution of The Next Generation, and a similar director’s cut of The Wounded or Sins of the Father could be similarly instructive.
Still, in the context of The Measure of a Man, the extended cut is quite insightful. The Measure of a Man represented a pretty significant step forward for The Next Generation, a show that had struggled to find its own voice in its first year. It was figuring out its own identity across the second season, and The Measure of a Man is one of the cornerstones of that evolution. (Episodes like A Matter of Honour and Q Who? were also turning points.)
The Measure of a Man basically torched Roddenberry’s “no conflict” rule by suggesting that there were legitimate moments where an individual could not blindly consent to what the majority considered to be “the greater good.” It was an episode built around the fundamental principle that social progress can only occur through debate and disagreement. It was a big moment for the series, and one that demonstrated that Roddenberry’s notion of an idealised future was not entirely incompatible with conflict.
Which is something that anybody who had watched the original Star Trek should have realised, which is what makes Roddenberry’s stance so hard to understand. Still, the firm defense of conflict as something that is reasonable and even necessary within a utopian society is a vital part of the evolution of The Next Generation. It’s something which makes the rest of the show possible, as it’s very hard to have any drama when conflict is impossible.
The extended cut demonstrates just how great Snodgrass’ script was. While the aired version of the episode deals with the bigger issue of “the Roddenberry box”, most of the cuts seem to have removed Snodgrass’ attempts to counter the weaknesses of a lot of early episodes of The Next Generation. A lot of the trims come from important character moments and interactions that don’t necessarily drive the plot forward, but which give us a lot of insight into how these characters work.
One of the defining attributes of The Next Generation is the way that the cast seemed like a family. By the time that All Good Things… aired, there was a sense that these people really knew and loved each other. It’s something that none of the other Star Trek shows really managed, and it remains a large part of the appeal of the show. Even during the show’s lackluster (but still underrated) final season, watching The Next Generation felt almost like dropping in on old friends.
Star Trek never cared too much about anybody who wasn’t Kirk, Spock or maybe McCoy. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tended to fragment its characters, so members of the ensemble clustered; Worf never had too close a relationship to Jake or Quark, for example. Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise had difficulty defining most of their cast members, let alone forging them into a convincing collective.
But that cast dynamic took a while to form. There are hints of it throughout the first season, even if it never gels. Geordi teaches Data to paint in 11001001; Picard takes Crusher and Data to the holodeck in The Big Goodbye; Riker sits around gossiping about vacation plans with the senior staff in Conspiracy. Still, they remain quite disconnected. With the second season, they start to gel a bit. Data and Geordi and Pulaski chill out in Elementary, Dear Data; Riker and Worf work out together in Where Silence Has Lease; Riker and Picard work on their phaser skills together at the start of A Matter of Honour.
However, Snodgrass’ script for Measure of a Man is interesting because it focuses almost primarily on the entire cast dynamic for most of the runtime. Elements of this bleed through into the finished version of the episode. Most obviously, The Measure of a Man introduces the concept of the cast poker game. It’s something that would become a recurring fixture of The Next Generation, and a rather wonderful background for any character scenes or dialogue involving these people just hanging out together.
As Snodgrass explains on the commentary, this was a conscious effort to give the crew something to do together, “an opportunity to have these people interact with one another on a personal basis”:
Poker is a replacement for the teaser I had actually written. I had written this as a spec script, and I had had Data trying to learn how to swim, and discovering that it was not as easy as he thought it would be. But when I sold the script, and then when I was hired to work on the show, Maurice Hurley and the various production people said we can’t afford to get a swimming pool and get the actor and try to keep his make-up intact and all that – we need something else. So I came up with the poker game. And this was the first time I believe it ever appeared in Star Trek and then it became a sort of a running activity that the people took on. And I was glad because I grew up on old Trek – original Trek – and I loved the scenes in the rec room with Uhuru singing and Spock playing the harp and this was a small piece of that kind of feel for me. It was out of necessity, but I think it became something very nice.
Snodgrass’ observation here is quite astute, particularly framing it in the context of the earlier Star Trek television show.
The relationship between the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the original Star Trek is quite complex. On the one hand, Roddenberry seemed to be quite anxious to avoid anchoring The Next Generation too heavily in the iconography of the classic Star Trek. The show was reluctant to do stories featuring the Romulans and the Klingons during its first season, generally favouring new aliens and creations.
Barring a guest appearance from Bones McCoy in Encounter at Farpoint and a reference to Kirk in The Naked Now, the show worked hard to distance itself from its predecessor.At the same time, the series was very consciously trying to evoke a lot of the standard tropes and conventions of the classic Star Trek. The problem was that The Next Generation didn’t seem to be too concerned about taking the timeless aspects of Star Trek and updating the surrounding material.
Instead, it seemed to focus on the more superficial aspects of the franchise, with little consideration for whether these parts of Star Trek really worked in a modern context. Episodes like Justice and Angel One can be best understood as attempts to channel some of the “free love” spirit of the sixties Star Trek, failing to understand how sexual and gender politics had evolved in the decades since the original show aired. Home Soil was a blatant homage to (or rip-off of) The Devil in the Dark. The Neutral Zone was a strange merge of Balance of Terror and Space Seed.
A lot of these stories failed to take into account that what had been brilliant and clever in the sixties was dated and cliché in the eighties. Tastes and times change, and the public’s attitude towards both certain approaches to storytelling and certain values are going to shift. Kirk’s romantic trysts were perfectly in-line with the spirit of the sixties, with Star Trek coinciding with the “summer of love”; however, Riker’s libido couldn’t help but feel a little tone-deaf in the era of AIDs and other sexually-transmitted diseases.
The addition of Pulaski to the crew in the second season was a rather direct attempt to emulate the classic Star Trek. Pulaski is very clearly intended to be a gruff no-nonsense country doctor in the style of Leonard “Bones” McCoy. However, the writing staff failed to realise that Pulaski couldn’t really work in an environment where all interpersonal conflict was prohibited by mandate from above. Whereas Spock could banter with McCoy, Data wasn’t too innocent to properly spar with Pulaski – making their relationship seem more like bullying than bickering.
Then again, there’s also the fact that McCoy’s rough edges were perfectly acceptable in the context of the sixties, but were less likely to be tolerated in the eighties. Quite a few of McCoy’s jabs about Spock’s heritage and racial identity feel decidedly uncomfortable on re-watch, and there’s no way that Pulaski would ever have been allowed to give voice to that sort of rhetoric on eighties television. There’s a reason that McCoy wasn’t really represented in the original crew of The Next Generation, while Kirk and Spock found spiritual successors in Riker and Picard respectively.
So it’s telling that Melinda Snodgrass cites the character work of the original Star Trek as a major influence on her work on The Measure of a Man. She’s not talking about transposing the characters one-for-one or trying to recreate the exact same dynamic among the cast. Instead, she’s trying to spark these characters against each other to create their own unique chemistry – the sort of chemistry that worked so well on the original Star Trek.
And it’s a shame that so much of this material ended up on the cutting room floor the first time around, because there’s a lot of nice character-driven stuff here for all the characters involved in the episode. The extended cut turns The Measure of a Man into much more of an ensemble piece, particularly fleshing out the roles that Picard and Riker play in events and giving each character their own miniature character arc that plays out in the background of the broadcast episode.
(There are also lots of nice universe-building touches that didn’t make the final cut as well. We get to hear a little bit about Picard’s past serving on “the old Reliant” and we discover that the new Starbase has been built as a result of rising tensions on the Romulan border, in the wake of The Neutral Zone, building towards the debut of the Borg in Q Who? Nakamura explains, “As you know, we’ve had disturbing news from both sides of the zone. We’re here to respond when needed. And it won’t hurt to have the Romulans know that we’re nearby.”)
Indeed, the extended cut provides some solid character development for Picard himself. In the first season, particularly in Datalore, Picard seemed like he wasn’t sure how to react towards Data. There was a sense that Picard din’t quite trust his android officer as much as the organic lifeforms serving on the Enterprise. It wasn’t stressed or over-stated, but there was a definite uncomfortable subtext to Picard’s conduct towards Data.
The Measure of a Man acknowledges this, in dialogue cut from Data’s interview with Picard. When Data refuses to undergo the procedure, Picard’s immediate reaction isn’t to defend his crewmember. It’s to try to rationalise and defend Starfleet’s position. “A solution to the problem does present itself,” he offers, “undergo the procedure, and then the transfer becomes moot.” He’s echoing Nakamura, but his argument becomes a bit more forceful, “We take an oath to serve. In this case this is the form your service is taking.”
This argument makes sense. Picard is, after all, the most Roddenberry-esque member of the crew – the epitome of Roddenberry’s twenty-fourth century advanced humans. Of course he trumpets Starfleet values and priorities in this context. When Data points out that “possibility is a word which can encompass any number of outcomes — good and bad”, Picard makes it clear that he has his eyes on the greater good. “But if he’s right, Starfleet would be immeasurably enriched.” Never mind the individual, the ends justify the means.
The extended cut makes Picard come across a bit less flatteringly in that Ready Room scene, but it’s a vitally important bit of character work. This is a scene that explains how Picard could go from “it’s perfectly okay to publicly question the loyalty of Data because he’s just a robot” in Datalore to the staunch defender of artificial beings later in this episode and even in The Offspring. It represents character growth and development. This is precisely the sort of character work that The Next Generation needed at this point in time.
The extended cut also fleshes out the relationship between Philippa Louvois and Picard, which felt a little under-developed in the original cut. Again, there’s a sense that Snodgrass is giving us a more nuanced (and flawed) version of Picard than we’re used to. Picard is very clearly wounded by his experiences with Louvois, and there’s more than a hint of bitterness in their exchanges. “The word ‘trust’ just isn’t in your vocabulary, is it?” he taunts. “But good try, nine-out-of-ten for effort.” She replies, “I wish things had been different between us.” Picard snipes, “And I wish I could believe that.”
There’s also room for lots of little character moments and interactions. A brief exchange between Geordi and Data after Data decides to resign offers a great deal of insight into Geordi – a character relatively under-developed at this point in the run. When Data asks what he would do if he had to leave Starfleet, Geordi can’t think of anything. “I’m a career officer, this is my life,” he admits. “I can’t even conceive of what I would do.” It’s a shrewd way of turning Geordi’s lack of characterisation into a character beat itself.
(There’s also a rather awkward moment of characterisation for Pulaski as well, demonstrating how difficult she is to integrate with the ensemble. She works well in the opening poker sequence, but her brief aside at Data’s farewell party seems a little arrogant and self-centred. “Now listen carefully; I didn’t get you a present,” she offers. “Instead I’m going to give you something far more valuable: my advice.” Would it really have been that impractical to get a present and some advice? After all, the ship has replicators.)
The extended cut also allows Snodgrass to extend some of the episode’s broader philosophical questions about the nature of Data as a character. The aired episode touches on the fact that it’s easy to ascribe personhood to Data, because he’s designed to resemble a person. “If it were a box on wheels I would not be facing this opposition,” Maddox protests, and he might have a point. The argument is extended in the original cut of the episode, with Troi and Riker debating the possibility.
“It is possible that Commander Maddox is correct and we are anthropomorphizing Data,” Troi observes. “Assigning to him emotions and responses which he may not have.” Riker’s response is suitably matter-of-fact, “I’m not sure I see that as a problem.” Still, it presents an interesting philosophical question – if a machine can convince us that it is a living thing, surely that is close enough to count?
This is the basis of the Turing Test, proposed by logician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing. The Turing Test has been proposed in a number of forms over the years, involving various people pretending to be different genders or determining who is playing whom at chess. At it’s core though, it suggests that the ultimate test for artificial intelligence is whether the computer can mount as convincing a case as a human that it is a person.
Arguments over the role that anthropolophisation plays in determining whether a computer is “alive” is a debate that rages in even today. Given the amount of automated interaction that exists in modern society – and how difficult it often is to determine whether you are dealing with a real person or an “automated online assistant” – it’s a concern that has grown even more relevant in the years since The Measure of a Man originally aired.
In an era with an increasing amount of interaction occurring on-line rather than face-to-face, the programme doesn’t even need four limbs and a face to pass as human:
So-called chatterbots have performed fairly well in this department by exploiting the human tendency to anthropomorphize, or to ascribe agency and intelligence where it, in fact, does not exist.
With machines, “we can fake [human interaction] in a way that’s surprisingly effective,” said Bart Massey, a computer scientist at Portland State University in Oregon. “We can already make an interactive fiction, giving [a computer] catchphrases and a particular attitude of narrated speech. The vast human capacity to anthropomorphize stuff makes it easy to cheat.”
Continued advancements of voice-activated menus and programs will render computers impressively “smarter” yet. “Those machines will develop more and you’re starting to see things like Siri that have more and more of a simulated personality,” Massey said. “We will end up with systems that at the surface level will feel very intelligent.”
The Measure of a Man doesn’t really offer an answer to this challenge from Maddox, but the extended cut at least has the characters reflect on the implications. More than that, though, Snodgrass offers a very clever “out” for fans who want to believe that Data is incapable of emotional response, despite all the hints that the show makes at his capacity to feel.
On the commentary, Mike Okuda offers the popular theory that Data can feel emotions, he just doesn’t realise that he can feel emotions. This is most obvious in the sequence where Maddox tours the bridge and Data watches him out of the corner of his eye – is that fear and unease we see in the android? On the one hand, it’s an effective way of communicating to the audience that Maddox and Data have a history and a troubled relationship at best, but it’s also a response that is clearly emotional within the context of the story itself.
As such, Snodgrass’ script suggests that it might not necessarily be as clear cut as all that. It’s possible that the audience is just reading that into the character, because he’s built to resemble a human being. We definitely feel empathy, and we have the capacity to project personhood on to all manner of objects. Given that Data is built specifically to resemble mankind, it makes sense that we might try to intuit emotional responses. If it looks like a person, and acts like a person, it’s easy enough for us to fill in the blanks and assume that it must be a person.
Of course, this hints at larger issues with the Turing Test as a whole. Most obviously, it seems very anthropocentric – requiring an intelligence to match our own understanding of intelligence to be completely alive. It doesn’t account for the possibility that a completely different sort of intelligence could exist, working in a manner different than our own. The Measure of a Man doesn’t get too bogged down in these questions, but it does sew the seeds that the series would later explore with the Exocomps in Quality of Life during the show’s sixth season.
Still, the extended cut of The Measure of a Man is a rare treat, and a worthy addition to the Star Trek canon, an insightful companion piece to the aired version of The Measure of a Man that demonstrates just how far Melinda Snodgrass’ scripts were ahead of anything produced for the show so far. It’s easy to see how she earned the position of story editor through the show’s second and third seasons. Although she departed during the show’s third season, she left quite a legacy. This is the beginning of something truly wonderful.
Read our reviews of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- The Child
- Supplemental: Phase II (1978) – The Child
- Where Silence Has Lease
- Elementary, Dear Data
- Supplemental: Embrace the Wolf
- The Outrageous Okona
- Loud as a Whisper
- The Schizoid Man
- Unnatural Selection
- Supplemental: Deep Space Nine (Marvel Comics) #3-4 – The Cancer Within
- A Matter of Honour
- The Measure of a Man
- Supplemental: Myriad Universes – Echoes and Refractions: Brave New World by Chris Roberson
- Supplemental: The Measure of a Man (Extended Cut)
- The Dauphin
- Supplemental: Masks by John Vornholt
- The Royale
- Time Squared
- The Icarus Factor
- Pen Pals
- Q Who?
- Samaritan Snare
- Up the Long Ladder
- The Emissary
- Peak Performance
- Shades of Grey
Filed under: The Next Generation | Tagged: borg, Data, DVD, gene roddenberry, Geordi La Forge, jean-luc picard, List of Star Trek characters (N–S), Measure of a Man, Next Generation, picard, Riker, Roddenberry, Romulan, spock, star trek, Star Trek Next Generation, star trek: the next generation, Starfleet, Trek, William Riker |