When Star Trek: The Next Generation was first revealed to the world, and the cast of characters was announced, Data was largely seen as being the new show’s equivalent of Mr Spock: in actuality, the two were rather different, as Spock was often in conflict between his human and Vulcan halves, whereas Data wanted to understand humanity and emulate it. As a character, Data was much closer to Pinocchio, due to his drive to be like a ‘real boy’.
Although he was only an android, Data turned out to be one of the most intriguing characters in the programme, giving us a perspective on what it was to be human. Despite having met his apparent end in Star Trek: Nemesis, the character of Data has certainly cast a long shadow over the franchise, and anyone who has seen the first season of Star Trek: Picard is no doubt cognisant of the significant impact that his legacy has had upon this continuation of the TNG story.
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Even in death (or deactivation, for anyone out there who is a non-believer in Red Dwarf’s notion of a ‘Silicon Heaven’ for all digital life forms), Data has never really gone away, and in all the various spin-off media like books and comics, writers have been able to explore him further. In IDW’s current year-long event – Star Trek: The Mirror War – we have a twisted, unfamiliar take on Dr Soong’s creation, corrupted by being a part of a universe where humanity is at its very worst.
As a sidestep from the main action, we get a The Mirror War one-shot from writer Celeste Bronfman and artist Roberta Ingranata, focusing on this ‘Mirror’ Data, and giving us more of an insight into just who he is. In TNG, Data would end up quite often being paired with Geordi, with the duo forming a partnership on our screens; here, Bronfman gives this set-up quite a different spin (which is fair play – different universe, different rules), and shakes up the status quo.
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Data ends up accompanying Reg Barclay, who seems to have an apparent antipathy towards him; after his observing that Barclay appears even more offhand than usual, Data decides to follow him, in order to see just what he can learn as to the exact reason why. A Holodeck program reveals a whole new side to Barclay, and Data volunteers to provide his services to aid Barclay with a predicament he has, despite his somewhat sour predisposition towards his android crewmate.
As Reg Barclay was never properly fleshed out on TV, being a whole bundle of neuroses but little more besides, it makes a refreshing change to have him being thrown into focus – or, at least, his ‘Mirror Universe’ counterpart. While his origins may likely vary from his TNG equivalent, we do get to have some backstory for Barclay, showing he might not be quite the selfish, weaselly individual he had been presented as in earlier issues of The Mirror War.
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Given that all of the ‘Mirror Universe’ inhabitants are tarred with the brush of being ‘evil’, the discovery that some of the characters might not be quite as one-dimensional as we had previously thought is quite a revelation. By painting Barclay with a sort of quiet nobility, he acquires a layer of depth and complexity which brings extra value to the character; it also gives us an opportunity to see Data learning more about the hidden facets and intricacies of humanity, and growing from this as a result.
The one-shot issue definitely provides a welcome diversion from the main story of The Mirror War, and if there are any further offshoots along the way, hopefully they will manage to be as entertaining and thought-provoking as this.
Star Trek: The Mirror War – Data is out now from IDW Publishing.