|“Well, shoot or be damned!”|
I’ve been pretty negative on this show lately, so lest you think I go into these looking for things to complain about, here’s another episode I never saw when it originally aired and never managed to catch on reruns. I had no preconceptions about how good or bad it was going to be, but I had read a lot about it and knew it got a lot of praise. So no prior baggage to jettison here, just a solid example of how Star Trek: The Next Generation worked when it was at is supposed creative and aesthetic peak.
And guess what? I still didn’t like it!
My big problem with “The Most Toys”, as has been the case with most things this season, comes down to a philosophical disagreement on my part as to how Star Trek: The Next Generation should be approached (Yes, I rib Bailey, Bischoff and White, but only because I see where they’re coming from and empathize. It’s always healthy to be able to laugh at things you care about, doubly so if it’s traits you see in yourself). I’ll touch on that a bit later (I suppose I have to), but for the moment let’s take a look at something I think will be of more interest to the readers of this blog: I have heard from more than one reader or critic in Doctor Who fandom about a prevailing theory that in this episode Kivas Fajo is meant as a stand-in for The Doctor. Considering Kivas Fajo is an evil psychopath with no regard for sentient life who literally kidnaps and imprisons living beings for his own amusement I find this highly interesting, as I generally thought Doctor Who was understood to be about sort of the opposite of those things.
The obvious explanation would be that, Doctor Who fans being Doctor Who fans and thus having some unfortunate complex in regards to Star Trek: The Next Generation that compels them to view it as the staunch enemy of everything they hold dear because they seem to have a pathological need to define themselves in opposition to something, are reading “The Most Toys” as some kind of malicious satire of Doctor Who’s philosophical and ethical groundwork. Which…doesn’t actually make sense if you watch the story itself. I mean, Fajo himself doesn’t seem to me to bear even a passing resemblance to the good Doctor, apart from I guess the fact he has a quirky and offbeat manner of speech and has a female travelling companion. Over the course of the episode’s runtime, I racked my brain trying to come up with some way this could be read as a parody of Doctor Who or some attempt to put Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s values (well, such as they are at this point in time and yes, I said it) in conflict with it and I honestly could not come up with any way to make even a shoddy simulacrum of an argument out of it.
The best I could come up with, and this is really stretching things here, is that the Doctor Who evocation comes when Kivas Fajo is calling Data out on his loyalty to Starfleet, saying his own way of life is preferable because he’s bound to nobody, does not have an obligation to serve a militaristic power and can travel anywhere he wants doing anything he wants. And I suppose you could extrapolate from that the notion that Fajo’s undoing at the end is Data showing him how irresponsible, childish and destructive his actions are, and that this is the show saying the forces of justice and order will always win out over evil criminals, because everyone who does not conform to Starfleet’s ideals must be a dangerous criminal. That certainly fits the prevailing attitude in Doctor Who fandom about Star Trek, which is that it’s a very reactionary, pro-hegemony intellectual framework that trends very strongly to the fascism side of the fascism versus anarchy spectrum. It’s certainly an argument I myself have witnessed being articulated in debates I’ve personally been involved in.
But there are a ton of problems with this reading. I mean obviously I disagree with that assessment of Star Trek, which I think is pretty fucking insultingly crude and generalizes a whole sweeping myth structure that’s been contributed to, and thus shaped, by people from every political and social background conceivable down to a few smug “gotcha” talking points that people who are already inclined to sneer and look down their noses at Star Trek are going to accept without a second thought anyway. I’ve always been of the belief, and still am, that while it’s incredibly easy to point out the worrying undertones to the political structures of Strafleet and the Federation, this was never something Star Trek’s various primary creative figures were ever unaware of or were unwilling to put under intense scrutiny. In fact, as I’ve written here a number of times before, I think the true heart of Star Trek lies in internalizing its own utopianism by showing how the Enterprise crew (or the crew of any other hero ship or station you care to name) are actually better than the universe they inhabit, showing how they embody the ideals their bosses can only deceive themselves into thinking they do as well.
But additionally I don’t think this particular reading is even in “The Most Toys” to begin with. If it had been, I probably would have been more invested in this episode. Kivas Fajo is clearly evil and clearly not meant to be in any way sympathetic, but equally he’s also quite clearly meant to be an instigator for Data: What this episode is actually about is testing the boundaries of what Data is capable of. Can he be pushed so far that his programming would allow him to kill somebody, even though he was specifically designed to not be capable of doing so? At it’s heart it’s a boring Asimov-style Three Laws of Robotics story, but updated to fit the interiority focus of Michael Piller-era Star Trek: The Next Generation. But it’s also a story that fits very neatly into Ron Moore’s spheres of interest as a creator, so much so that I was surprised to learn he didn’t write it: Freelancer and then-intern Shari Goodhartz did. But, as with everything on this show, we can assume it was considerably worked over by the staff so bringing in Moore’s positionality isn’t off-base, especially as they both seem to be on the same wavelength.
Back when we looked at the Original Series episode “The Conscience of the King”, I mentioned that Moore cites it as his favourite Star Trek episode because it cast doubt onto the character of Kirk. He likes it because he sees it as an exploration into the lengths and depths a person will go to when pushed beyond their limits. Knowing this puts, say “The Pegasus” and pretty much everything to do with Battlestar Galactica into perspective, but it’s also a useful way to look at “The Most Toys”, because it’s pretty much that story for Data. And, I suppose if you were inclined to do this kind of a story, Data would be a sensible character to do it with precisely because of the aforementioned Three Laws of Robotics stuff. There’s even a little bit of Ira Behr here too, in the same scene where Data and Fajo are debating the former’s Starfleet service, Fajo mocks Data by calling him “a military pacifist”, calling it a contradiction in terms. Yes, Fajo’s obviously the villain of the piece, but the episode plays it very much akin to how The Dark Knight will one day depict The Joker: A dangerous, unhinged psychopath, yes, but one who is scary because he makes so many good points.
And now we come to my big issue with “The Most Toys” (I mean, apart from the fridging, everyone being out of character again and the superfluous plot that doesn’t cover any ground not already handled way better in “The Bonding” and “Descent”) because the episode is actually making the exact same intellectual errors the Doctor Who fans are, just in a slightly different focus and context. Once again, we have the creative team damning the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation with their flak shrapnel. It’s attacking Star Trek itself for being imperialistic propaganda and apologia, and it’s not realising that’s sort of the entire point of the Federation and is what the Enterprise crew is supposed to be standing *against*. It’s trying to sully Data by “bringing him down to our level” and showing how even the transhuman Übermensch is no better than us after all and is still capable of the same wicked, depraved actions as the rest of us proles (and yes, obviously the intent is that Data fired the shot and is lying. Everyone involved in the story confirms it), which is about as Long 1990s a concept as exists: There are no utopias, there are no ideals, just cynical, petty, dangerous people going about their lives.
I guess by giving us a world where two warring factions fight each other without realising they’re using the exact same rhetoric as their supposed enemy, Goodhartz, Moore, Behr and their colleagues have unwittingly proved their own point.