The Measure of a Man (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

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"The Measure of a Man"
Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 9
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Featured music Dennis McCarthy
Cinematography by Edward R. Brown
Production code 135
Original air date February 13, 1989 (1989-02-13)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"A Matter of Honor"
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"The Dauphin"
List of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes

"The Measure of a Man" is the ninth episode of the second season of the syndicated science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 35th episode overall, first broadcast on February 13, 1989. It is written by Melinda M. Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer.

In the episode, the android officer Lieutenant Commander Data must fight for his right of self-determination in order not to be declared the property of Starfleet and be disassembled in the name of science. This is also the first TNG episode to have a scene of the crew's poker game.[1]


While the Federation starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is docked at Starbase 173 for routine maintenance, cyberneticist Commander Bruce Maddox comes aboard to pay Lieutenant Commander Data a visit, wishing to better understand how Data's creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, was able to overcome certain problems in designing and constructing Data's positronic brain. It quickly becomes clear that Maddox has an ulterior motive of transferring the contents of Data's memory to the starbase mainframe computer and shutting down and disassembling him to learn how to recreate Soong's technology. Though Maddox promises to restore Data following his analysis and assures him his memories will be intact, Data is concerned that the procedure is riskier than Maddox is letting on, and argues that while the factual details of his memories will be preserved, the nuances of his experiences may not be. Data decides, in order to preserve himself as "the culmination of Soong's dream", to refuse to submit to Maddox's procedure, causing Maddox to turn to Starfleet to order him to comply. Picard supports Data's position, and is advised that the only way for Data to evade the order is to resign from Starfleet, which Data does. Maddox, however, argues that Data is Starfleet property, not a sentient being, and as such does not have the right to choose to resign.

The presiding Starfleet Judge Advocate General for the sector, Captain Philippa Louvois, initially rules in favor of Maddox, so Picard requests a formal hearing to challenge the ruling. Louvois agrees, but as her office is understaffed, to guarantee due process, she compels Enterprise First Officer Commander William Riker to represent Maddox in the dispute, and Picard to represent Data, as if they do not, she will issue a summary judgment in Maddox's favor. Riker's arguments portray Data as merely a machine constructed by man, and no more than the sum of his parts, and in a striking final demonstration, switches Data off, claiming "Pinocchio is broken: its strings have been cut."

Picard calls for a recess, during which Guinan suggests that regardless of whether Data is a machine or not, Maddox's plans for reproducing him would lead to a situation tantamount to slavery. Picard uses this to defuse Riker's arguments, and turns the discussion to metaphysical matters of Data's sentience. Picard points out that Data meets two of the three criteria that Maddox uses to define sentient life. Data is intelligent and self-aware, and Picard asks anyone in the court to show a means of measuring consciousness. With no one able to answer this, Louvois acknowledges that neither she nor anyone else can measure this in Data ("We're all dancing around the basic issue here, does Data have a soul? I don't know that he has. I don't know that I have.") and, as such, Data, as a matter of law, is a sentient being. She therefore rules that Data has the right to choose. Upon the court's ruling, Data formally refuses to undergo the procedure.

After the hearing, Data tells Maddox that his research remains intriguing to him and offers to help Maddox understand his workings better after Maddox has had more time to study and perfect his techniques. Maddox, for his part, refers to Data for the first time as "he" rather than "it". Later, in the Observation Lounge on board the Enterprise, Data finds Riker, who is ashamed of having had to argue against his friend in the hearing. Data cheers him up by telling him that his action was an act of self-sacrifice that gave Data the chance to win his freedom, as had Riker refused to participate, Louvois' original judgment in favor of Maddox would have been final. Data concludes, "That action injured you and saved me. I will not forget it."


For the season two Blu-ray set, CBS decided to include a special "Extended Cut". This included thirteen minutes of additional footage, most of which only existed in the episode writer's (Melinda Snodgrass) hands. All that existed was a VHS videotape of it, but CBS was able to pull off the extended cut with them finding the original filmed segments. It was released in theaters with "Q Who?" on November 29, 2012. The difference in the running time was attributed to "small personal moments" by Snodgrass, but also added that Riker wanted to beat Picard although he cared for Data. This was emphasised in one particular scene, which Snodgrass was pleased had been restored to the episode.[2]


Entertainment Weekly named this episode the sixth best of the series.[3] Director Robert Scheerer called it his favorite show, adding:

I guess you would have to say that what I enjoyed is the dilemma that they're put into, especially Jonathan and Patrick having to deal with Brent not as a dear friend, but as someone whose worth has to be resolved; and, Jonathan had to take the other side. It was all just beautifully crafted. It was not typical episodic television and had a great deal to say about man, humanity, what our problems in the world are today and hopefully what we can do about it in the future.

Series writer Maurice Hurley called the episode "stunning", and lauded Whoopi Goldberg's role.[4]

Cast member Brent Spiner (Data) identified this episode as his favorite TNG episode.[5] In an interview, fellow cast member Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) concurred that this is "the first truly great episode of the series".[6] On Twitter in April 2013, Marina Sirtis (Troi) named this as her favorite episode.[7]

In the wake of discussions regarding the ethical and moral dilemmas of computer scientists, the episode also received attention amongst academia and was used as lecture material, e.g., in a course on Computer Ethics at the University of Kentucky.[8] The episode was also analysed in a law journal article about the legal system of the Federation as portrayed in Star Trek: The Next Generation.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aaron Todd (2012-12-03). "Top-10 things that are wrong with the poker scene in Star Trek: TNG's "The Measure of a Man"". Casino City Times. Retrieved 2015-07-18. 
  2. ^ ""The Measure of a Man" -- 26 Years Later". February 13, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  3. ^ "'Star Trek: The Next Generation': The Top 10 Episodes". Entertainment Weekly. September 19, 2007. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  4. ^ Captains' Logs (Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman) 1995
  5. ^ Spiner, Brent. "Brent Spiner on Reddit AMA". Retrieved August 17, 2012. 
  6. ^ Stewart, Patrick (December 4, 2012). "Patrick Stewart on 'Star Trek: TNG,' returning to 'X-Men,' and Wil Wheaton's beard". Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  7. ^ Marina Sirtis (@Marina_Sirtis) on Twitter, April 26, 2013
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Joseph, Paul, and Sharon Carton. "Law of the Federation: Images of Law, Lawyers, and the Legal System in Star Trek, the Next Generation, The." U. Tol. L. Rev. 24 (1992): 43.
  10. ^ Richard Cole (1993-03-21). "Study looks at ‘Star Trek’ legal system". Daily News [Bowling Green, Kentucky]. AP. Retrieved 2015-06-29. 

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