How George R.R. Martin's Writing Advice Led To One Of Star Trek's Greatest Episodes

Few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are more thought-provoking, or emblematic, than "Measure of a Man," the episode where Data is put on trial to determine whether he's a person or just Starfleet's property. And it turns out that the existence of this episode is partly thanks to George R.R. Martin — as this exclusive clip reveals.

Above is a clip from the special features on the Blu-ray of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, in which writer Melinda Snodgrass explains that she thought maybe the parallels with the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision were maybe a bit too strong a brew. Luckily, her pal George R.R. Martin talked her into running with it, with some writing advice that is going to stick with me for a long time: "Never hoard your silver bullet." The resulting script ended up getting bought, right over the transom.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 comes out on Blu-ray on Tuesday, including an extended cut of "Measure of a Man" that a bunch of us watched in San Francisco last night — the restored scenes add a lot more nuance to the arguments over Data's status, as well as some nice character-building moments and a decent amount of cheesiness. We'll have a full review of the Blu-ray set, including the extended episode, in a few days.


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I know it's an unpopular and minority opinion, but I hate "Measure of a Man".

(Before I get too far into this: I do like Guinan's one conversation with Picard about disposable people. Within the context of the episode, that conversation was very good. It's the existence of the context that bugs me.)

Aside from the "30-minute landmark trial setting landmark legal precedent" that bugs me on any TV show (something that important would take longer to be resolved. There were zero time constraints on Maddox's research. He could have waited an extra two weeks, months, or years for a proper hearing and would have been no worse off, so there was no reason for the JAG to treat it as something that "we have to make do" over), it seems so out of character for the Federation to treat Data like property in the first place.

Unlike the United States in the days of Dred Scott, the Federation is a really, really heterogeneous society . . . and one that gets along really well, at least on the surface. The same Federation that is routinely concerned with the personhood of microbial colonies, or the ability of crystals to feel, is not going to treat Data as the one single non-person being in the entire Universe. It's so contrived.

And especially not after allowing him to enlist in Starfleet and awarding him rank as an officer. Who the aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks considers something as property and simultaneously allows it and it alone to engage in behavior that only persons have heretofore been allowed to engage in? The ship's replicators were never enrolled in Starfleet, yet somehow nobody has questioned Data's status as a person until he's a Lt. Commander in the fleet? That question should have been resolved when he went to enlist, if it ever occurred to anyone.

It would be like . . . if there was an episode of Voyager where suddenly the whole ship got in a fight with each other about evolution vs. creationism. DS9 had to go back in time (repeatedly) to deal with poverty and racial strife, which felt so much more natural than this episode.

It isn't something they seem to deal with anymore, so one dramatic occurrence of it feels artificial and forced.