Lieutenant Commander Data is arguably one of the most popular characters of the Star Trek universe and one of my own personal favourites. After finishing my TNG marathon viewing this winter, I wrote down a list of favourite episodes that have Data as the main protagonist. For you, dear readers, I decided to chose which ones, in my humble opinion, are the 10 best of the bunch. The choice was based on whether the episode brings character development or because it is simply fantastic. It was a difficult list to come up with because there are more than 10 episodes where the android shines. In chronological order they are:
1- The Measure of A Man (2x09): One of the greatest Data episodes as well as one of the best of Star Trek. It dealt with Data’s rights as a sentient being and whether or not he was the property of Starfleet. This episode will have repercussions on a further TNG episode titled The Offspring and on a Voyager episode called Author, Author
2- The Ensigns of Command (3x02): Data alone must convince a colony of 15, 000 people to evacuate a planet within three days before the planet's alien owners - the Sheliak Corporate - arrive and wipe the colony. The episode provides a further step in the android’s development as Data must use all his skills to convince people to trust and follow him. He will later get the chance to show his commanding skills in Redemption Part II
3- The Offspring (3x16): In this episode, Data’s rights as a father are challenged when Starfleet wants to take possession of a female android he has created, a ''daughter,'' named Lal (meaning Beloved in hindi). It is both funny and poignant as Data deals, in one scene, with his daughter’s flirtation with Commander Riker, and later with her untimely death when she exceeds her own programming and develops emotions causing damage to her system. An emotionless Data can only stand by and watch. This episode is a true testament to Brent Spiner's magnificent performance as Data who makes us, the viewers, feel for him.
4- The Most Toys (3x22): Data is kidnapped by a trader named Kivas Fajo who wants to add the android to his collection of unique and valuable items. Fajo’s subsequent murderous action, in order to keep Data, brings the android himself to the brink of murder - despite his directive against killing for no reason.
5- Brothers (4x03): Data endangers a mission when he is summoned by his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong. This episode is a real Tour de Force by Brent Spiner who plays the multiple roles of Data, his brother Lore and his creator Dr. Soong. We also first hear of the emotion chip in this episode.
6- Data’s Day (4x11): This fun and light episode shows 24 hours in the life of the android recorded for Commander Bruce Maddox, the man who previously challenged Data’s rights in Measure of a Man. Data tries to understand human behavior as his friend Keiko Ishikawa decides to cancel her wedding to Lieutenant O'Brien in a case of cold feet. The android also learns to dance for the wedding and acts as Father of the Bride.
7- Birthright, Part 1 (6x16): The main protagonist of the story is Worf but equally important is Data’s story because in this episode, the android gains the ability to dream. In Data's dreams, we also see a young Dr. Soong.
8- Descent, Part 1 and 2 (6x26, 7x01) Data gets manipulated by his brother Lore and the Borgs. In this episode, Data gains the capacity for emotions, albeit only violent ones. In the end, he chooses to have the emotion chip removed, wants to destroy it but keeps it, on his friend Geordie LaForge's entreaties.
9- Phantasms (7x06): Data begins to have nightmares because of interphasic parasites. This episode features some disturbing images of Data cutting a Counsellor Troi cake and stabbing her. He even visits a holographic Sigmund Freud to help him understand his nightmares.
10- Inheritance (7x10): Data discovers that his previously unknown ''mother,'' Doctor Juliana Tainer, is in reality another android and that she is completely oblivious to that fact. It is also discovered that androids can age due to an ''aging'' chip or program (surely to account for the fact that actor Brent Spiner was getting older in appearance whereas an android should remain eternally young).
Special love mentions go to: Deja Q (3x13) in which Data helps a temporarily human Q who has seeked asylum on the Enterprise. At the end of the episode the android is recompensed with a one time gift of sudden laughter; In Theory (4x25) in which Data gets a girlfriend - it's really a sweet story; and Time's Arrow parts 1 and 2 (5x26 and 6x01), a story that has Data stuck in 19th century San Francisco and aware of his possible upcoming ''death,'' after his severed head is found in an archaeological dig in the 24th century.