The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: The Quality of Life

When the Enterprise is asked to evaluate a new mining technology, it is obvious that the project is behind schedule and unlikely to deliver. In an attempt to speed things up, lead scientist Dr Farallon deploys her experimental exocomps, autonomous robots able to swiftly analyse and repair malfunctions. But as the Enterprise crew works with the exocomps, Data begins to suspect that they may be sentient, and questions the morality of effectively employing them as slaves.

We’ve already seen Enterprise crewmembers carelessly create sentient life in both Evolution and Elementary Dear Data, but it’s only here that they finally do the storyline justice. In this spiritual successor to The Measure of a Man, Data questions the very definition of life in order to figure out what it means to both him – whom everyone readily accepts as being alive – and for the exocomps, who may be evolving beyond their origins as mere tools. It’s a shame that we have to put up with the trope of “bitchy female scientist who is ultimately proven wrong”, but as we know, Star Trek is never kind to visiting scientists.

It’s alive!

  • Unlike previous technologies such as the soliton wave, which fail once and are seemingly abandoned, it’s nice to see the episode end with Dr Farallon vowing to continue working on the particle fountain until it works. The episode itself isn’t very clear about how the particle fountain works, but it seems to have been inspired by the space fountain concept.
  • Data claims that the exocomps gaining sentience would mean he would no longer be the galaxy’s unique artificial life form – except he’s never been unique. At the very least, Lore is still at large, not to mention the numerous androids encountered throughout TOS. Data even created an android himself – he’s far from alone!
  • The show may be episodic, but the emergence of Geordi’s beard is a story arc in itself – and one I had happily forgotten about.
  • Dr Crusher has been taking lessons from Worf on how to use a bat’leth. I’d love to see Crusher have a go at the Klingon calisthenics holodeck program.
  • Even in the enlightened 24th century, it’s apparently only women who wear make-up and nail polish.

Summary – The Quality of Life: Where can I get an exocomp?

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