Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dr. Noonian Soong, Dinosaur Lover

As devotees of my Twitter feed can attest (and a raucous legion they are), I'm a hopeless fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After not seeing it since its original run, which I had fond memories of, I am currently revisiting the entire series on Netflix, and just finished the really terrific third season. When I began the third episode of season 4, I had vague memories of it, being the episode in which Data, the android officer on the U.S.S Enterprise, meets his long-lost creator, a cyberneticist named Dr. Noonian Soong. What I didn't remember was that Dr. Soong is apparently a dinosaur enthusiast, as well. His lab is crammed with paleo goodies. Just take a look.

Here, Dr. Soong grabs a plastic dinosaur out of the jaws of what I assume is a cast of a tyrannosaur skull. He proceeds to arrange it with his other figures in the large diorama in the foreground of the image at the top of the post.

Behind Data's evil brother, Lore, you can see a Triceratops model, which I think is one of those balsa wood skeleton kits.

In this later shot, which shows the bookshelves to have been reshuffled, you see the Triceratops again, as well as a couple of skulls. A mammal of some sort and what appears to be a Dimetrodon on the lower right.

At the end of the episode, Data generously bequeaths two of Soong's dinosaurs to two young brothers.

In his review of the episode for the AV Club, Zack Handlen remarks, "They still have toy dinosaurs in the future that look about the same as the toy dinosaurs I had growing up. This pleases me." It is pretty odd that even in the idealized future of Star Trek, in which you'd imagine that even corporations would be held to a high moral standard - and therefore above cynically cranking out obsolete dinosaur figures for a quick buck - some toy company is still producing man-in-suit theropods. There are alternative explanations, of course: maybe these are part of a collection passed down through generations of Soongs. Or maybe... just maybe... Paleontological research between now and the 2300s will completely overturn the current thinking, and we'll be back with upright tyrannosaurs, swamp-bound sauropods, and other quaint depictions we so smugly scoff at now. Kind of horrifying, isn't it?

What kind of paleontology is being done in the 24th century? It's not all star travel, after all; in the episode before this, Captain Picard briefly considers taking a post which would have him take charge of a deep sea research station. What new localities have opened up? What does the new technology reveal that we can't see? How has the phylogeny been rearranged? Most pressingly, what stops paleophiles of the future from whiling away their lives exploring simulated Mesozoic worlds created on Holodecks?*

It's not the most notable intersection of dinosaurs and Star Trek - that honor would have to go to the Voth, a hadrosaurian dinosauroid encountered by the crew of the Voyager in that series. I haven't committed myself to diving into that particular pool, but if I do, I'll be sure to write up a nice chunk o' blogginess about it.

*For the Philistines and Star Wars fans among us, a holodeck is a sort of immersive virtual reality technology introduced in The Next Generation.


  1. Why, I do believe that's the Invicta Brachiosaurus in the first picture, and the Carnegie T.rex (one of its incarnations) in the jaws of the skull cast.

    I can't tell what the pair the brothers are playing with are, though I daresay Marc will be able to enlighten.

    Curiously enough, I have only recently been thinking about some of the ways in which we have sort of 'returned' to our earlier visions of dinosaurs, especially with regard to things such as soft tissue.

  2. Want to know an amusing connection? My uncle ( ) for over a decade has been Data's stunt double, and when both characters are on screen he usually plays the evil twin (except during speaking parts, then of course it's Brent Spiner himself...often with Brian standing in for the real Data).

    So throwing a dinosaur into the family Star Trek lore is a fun new twist.

  3. @Scott That's amazing! I wonder if he tap danced for Spiner in the episode "Data's Day?"


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