Beyond Data: Brent Spiner’s many Star Trek role

In 1991, Brent Spiner released an album of pop standards called Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back. As well as being his love letter to the songs of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, the title was an acknowledgement that the star was now synonymous with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s much-loved android officer, Data. 

Spiner’s association with the Star Trek universe stretches way beyond the late Lieutenant Commander, however, with his latest role in Star Trek: Picard (as Dr. Adam Soong) becoming his seventh distinct character in the franchise. 

Here, we run down the androids, genius inventors. and distant relatives Spiner has brought to life – both artificial and organic – on screen.

Lieutenant Commander Data

Star Trek: The Next Generation

(Image credit: CBS)

As seen in: Star Trek: The Next Generation (every episode except ‘Family’), Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Picard (season 1)

Brent Spiner guaranteed himself sci-fi immortality when he signed up to play the first android ever to enroll in Starfleet – and, as far as we’re aware, the only serving officer with a built-in on/off switch. 

As strong as a Marvel superhero and powered by a superfast, prototype positronic brain, Data’s logical outlook and ability to “remember every fact I’m exposed to” made the 137-year-old Dr. McCoy wonder if he was actually a Vulcan. Although Data fulfills a similar function to Spock’s in the original series, however, the character’s aspirations to become more human also make him a 24th century Pinocchio, and – alongside Captain Jean-Luc Picard – the emotional heart of the show. 

While synthetic beings aren’t traditionally known for their cultural hinterland, Data spends his spare time – which is plentiful, seeing as he has no need for sleep – learning the violin, cosplaying as Sherlock Holmes, and looking after his pet cat, Spot. He also has at least one sexual encounter during his time on the Enterprise, and the late Lt Yar subsequently holds a special place in his heart – or whichever collection of circuits and relays perform a similar function in android anatomy.

In the movies, he goes on to gain emotions, thanks to an upgrade chip designed by his creator, Dr. Noonian Soong. While his newfound feelings initially exist purely for comic relief – he just loves scanning for lifeforms – they eventually become the source of dramatic tension. Indeed, when the Borg Queen attempts to seduce him in First Contact, he’s tempted for approximately 0.68 seconds, which – as Data duly notes – is “nearly an eternity” for an android.

Perhaps appropriately for a character who started out as a Spock substitute, Data gets a similar moment of heroic sacrifice, when he gives his life to save the crew in the mostly forgettable Star Trek: Nemesis. Even so, the explosion on Romulan vessel the Scimitar didn’t quite put a full stop on Spiner’s association with the role, as some de-aging CG allowed him to return nearly two decades later in Star Trek: Picard – first as visions in Jean-Luc’s mind, then as part of a sophisticated “quantum simulation”. 

Now that said simulation has been turned off at Data’s request, however – and Spiner has admitted that he “wouldn’t really entertain the idea of doing [Data] again because I just don’t think it would be realistic – it looks like we’ve truly seen the last of the Enterprise’s synthetic hero. Unless you count his being immortalized as a bottle of bubble bath in Lower Decks.


Star Trek: The Next Generation

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes ‘Datalore’, ‘Brothers’ and ‘Descent: Parts 1 and 2′

A beautifully sculpted goatee made sure we all knew that Spock’s psychotic doppelganger from the Mirror Universe was bad news. But when Data’s own evil twin, Lore, shows up on the USS Enterprise-D, the tells – namely, a facial twitch and the ability to use contractions in his speech – aren’t quite so obvious. (Despite having a brain the size of a planet, Data always struggled to say “can’t”, “won’t”, and “isn’t”.)

Spiner clearly relished the chance to play this morally questionable reflection of Data. Lore is the more sophisticated older ‘brother’, whose fully functioning emotions and rampant ego turn him into the sort of android-supremacist monster who’d quite happily instigate the massacre of an entire colony of humans he’d once called friends.

With a rap sheet that also includes betraying his brother, killing his father, and corrupting an offshoot of the Borg Collective who’d developed individuality, Lore is the total antithesis of his idealistic little bro. Indeed, few tears are shed when he winds up permanently deactivated.


Star Trek: Nemesis

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Picard season 1 (boxed)

Before he built Lore and Data, Dr. Noonian Soong indulged in one of the most shameless puns in history when he named a prototype android B-4. Unfortunately, the character’s as forgettable as the wordplay is lamentable, as Spiner’s Trek repertoire expands to occupy the annoying manchild territory Adam Sandler made his own in The Waterboy.

Data’s clearly excited to meet another member of the family, but B-4’s a trap, a McGuffin, and an unwitting spy rolled into one, a patsy strategically unleashed by renegade Picard clone Shinzon to ensnare the Enterprise. 

B-4’s also set up as a tool to bring Data back from the dead – much as the Genesis planet resurrected Spock – but he’s not even capable of doing that properly. It’s later revealed that his neural net lacks the sophistication to download Data’s consciousness. “Ultimately B-4 wasn’t much like Data at all,” explains Dr Agnes Jurati – as if we hadn’t already worked that out.

Dr. Noonian Soong

Star Trek: The Next Generation

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes ‘Brothers’, ‘Birthright: Part 1’, ‘Inheritance’

Spiner found himself buried beneath lots and lots of latex to play the aged version of Data, Lore, and B-4’s ‘father’, Dr. Noonian Soong. This pioneer of super-advanced neural networks – he purposefully made Data less sophisticated than Lore after fellow colonists on Omicron Theta complained – also had something of a god complex, choosing to build his android offspring in his own image. Younger incarnations of the character would also appear on the holodeck and as part of Data’s subconscious, suggesting that androids don’t dream of electric sheep so much as absent parents.

Dr. Arik Soong

Star Trek: Enterprise

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: Enterprise episodes ‘Borderland’, ‘Cold Station 12’, ‘The Augments’

While The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager occupied similar space in the Star Trek timeline, it was a little harder for familiar faces to pop up in prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise. The floundering spin-off’s fourth season overcame that particular problem by having Spiner turn up (without the usual extensive make-up job) as Noonian’s ancestor, Arik. This Soong was a rogue geneticist who’d been thrown in prison as punishment for his work with the outlawed Augment technology that had created infamous tyrant Khan Noonien Singh in the late 20th century. At the end of his third and final appearance, Arik shifts his area of study towards creating an artificial life form. “I doubt I’ll finish the work myself,” he admits. “Might take a generation or two…”

Dr. Altan Inigo Soong

Star Trek: Enterprice

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: Picard season 1 episodes ‘Et In Arcadia Ego, parts 1 and 2’

It turns out Noonian Soong’s biological son continued his father’s work, teaming up with Dr. Bruce Maddox – the cyberneticist who once tried to prove that Data was the property of Starfleet rather than a sentient being – to build a new race of organic synthetics based on Data’s neural pathways. Yet another total doppelganger of his dad and brothers, this self-proclaimed “mad scientist” lives an idyllic life on the planet Coppelius – he’s even built himself an android cat called, inevitably, Spot II – and constructs the golem that becomes Jean-Luc Picard’s new synthetic body. Similar technology is later used to give Gray corporeal form in Star Trek: Discovery season 4

Dr. Adam Soong

Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 5

(Image credit: Paramount)

As seen in: Star Trek: Picard season 2

Spiner may have quit playing Data, but there’s still a space for him in the Picard season 2 cast. The fifth episode, ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, reveals that the Soongs have been doing science for centuries, as single-minded geneticist Adam works to save his daughter Kore – who looks a lot like Data’s future ‘daughters’ Dahj, Soji, Jana, and Sutra – from a rare and lethal genetic condition. Except, that’s not the whole truth, because she’s really just the latest in a long line of experiments to genetically engineer an artificial human – and the first to make it into adulthood.

This Soong doesn’t let ethics stand in his way, gaining a reputation for experimenting on ex-soldiers, and assuring Q that “I’ll kill you if I think you’re a threat.” He also has a pivotal role to play in the formation of the totalitarian, alternative timeline Confederation, where he’s been immortalized as a hologram spouting fascist nonsense like “a safe galaxy is a human galaxy.” It seems that being a terrible father doesn’t have to stand in the way of becoming the father of a dystopian civilization.

For more sci-fi goodness, check out our guide to the best sci-fi movies of all time.

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