Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do 'Star Trek' Androids and Vulcans Dream of Sherlock Holmes?

As a long time fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, it seems fitting to me that these two cultural icons have become intertwined. Prior to the original airing of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I had mused over the similarity in personalities between Spock and Holmes. I had no inkling that TNG would make a connection between the creations of Arthur Conan Doyle and Gene Roddenberry real on screen.

That connection came courtesy of the android Lt. Commander Data. He fancied himself as Sherlock Holmes and in the episode 'Elementary Dear Data', he created a facsimile of Victorian London so that he could 'play' Sherlock Holmes opposite Geordi La Forge's unconventional Doctor Watson.

'Elementary Dear Data' was one of the most entertaining episodes in TNG's second season but I was never entirely satisfied with it. The writers played fast and loose with Holmes canon and Brent Spiner's portrayal — albeit played through the lens of Data — was over the top. It was perhaps a good thing, then that this was the only time that Data was able to indulge in his Holmes fantasy. Thankfully the writers did create a clever twist that allowed them to resurrect the inevitable villain of the piece, Professor Moriarity. Although he, too, was not entirely consistent with Conan Doyle's creation, the character was splendidly portrayed by Daniel Davis. The writers did the character and Davis' portrayal justice when they rematerialized him in the fine sixth-season episode, 'Ship in a Bottle'.

It is perhaps unfortunate (although understandable) that Spock never got to immerse himself in the character of Holmes. His personality, I would argue, has more similarities to that of the Great Detective than Data's. For instance, both Holmes and Spock rejected emotion in favor of logic.

"Abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind," was how Holmes regarded emotions, according to Watson in the short story 'A Scandal in Bohemia'.

Before his 'death' in Star Trek III, Spock may have tried to convince us that there could be no better description of him, too. Just as Conan Doyle would later reveal of his creation, however, there are hidden depths to Spock's character that only those unfamiliar with Star Trek lore would fail to appreciate.

"It was worth a wound it was worth many wounds to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask."

It is perhaps unfortunate (although understandable) that Spock never got to immerse himself in the character of Holmes because his personality has more similarities to that of the Great Detective than Data's.

Those words are Watson's from the short story 'The Three Garridebs'. But they might just as easily be James T. Kirk's following the events of 'Amok Time', or McCoy's upon reflecting on his exchange with Spock in the Roman cell in 'Bread and Circuses'.

It is Data, though, who probably epitomizes how Holmes would have wanted himself to be seen. Indeed, if there is one thing that perhaps makes Data's emulation of Holmes most appropriate, it is that Holmes would probably have found him to be the ultimate role model upon which to fashion himself. Totally unhindered by emotion, Data's logical, ordered mind and unswerving concentration would have represented the ultimate level of professional competence to which Holmes could have ascended. Where Data's fascination for the character appears to lie is in Holmes' methods, which match his own so completely, dominated as they are by facts and logical thinking. Data, though, would likely find no encouragement in the persona of Holmes for his ambition to experience and appreciate the many and varied consequences of a human psyche.

Spock has never expressed any knowledge of Holmes. Had he been aware of Conan Doyle's creation, however, the Spock of the five year mission might have seen the character as the one human being whom he would have wanted to be like. In moments of personal doubt, such as in 'The Naked Time', the half-human half-Vulcan Spock might see Holmes' commitment to emotional deprivation in the cause of his fellow man as an example to hold up to those who seek to convince him that a logic-driven existence is no way to live.

Leonard Nimoy as Holmes in the play 'Sherlock Holmes'.

Leonard Nimoy as Holmes in the play 'Sherlock Holmes'.

Although Spock never dressed up as Holmes, Leonard Nimoy played the character on the Chicago stage in an adaptation of the William Gillette play 'Sherlock Holmes'. His appearance in the role (left) only further convinces me that Spock would give Basil Rathbone a run for his money as the ideal Holmes.

Nimoy's portrayal of Holmes is one of several real-life links between Sherlock Holmes and the Star Trek canon. John Colicos, who played the Klingon Kor in the Original Series and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, took on the role in version of the play 'Sherlock Holmes' that was performed in Miami. Matt Frewer (Max Headroom and the TNG episode 'A Matter of Time') has also played Holmes. He appeared as the character in a series of films for Muse Entertainment Enterprises. In 'A Matter of Time' he played Professor Berlingoff Rasmussen, the pilot of a space pod picked up by the Enterprise who claims to be from the future.

The Sherlock Holmes film The Seven Per-Cent Solution was written, directed and novelized by Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and scripted Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. William Shatner played the villain Stapleton in an American TV-film version of 'Hound Of The Baskervilles', made in 1972 by Universal/ABC. It was the pilot for a series that was never made. Ian Wolfe, (Septimus in 'Bread and Circuses' and Mr. Atoz in 'All Our Yesterdays'), appeared in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce features Pearl Of Death, and The Scarlet Claw in 1944. Four decades later Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation) was in Granada Television's version of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short story 'The Six Napoleons', opposite Jeremy Brett. The same series also featured Rosalyn Landor, who appeared in TNG's 'Up The Long Ladder'. She was in the adaptation of 'The Speckled Band'.

I am sure this list of Star Trek-Sherlock Holmes connections is not exhaustive and additions would be gratefully appreciated.