Thursday, December 6, 2012

Questor: Gene Roddenberry's Link Between Mr. Spock and Data

Between the demise of the original Star Trek TV series in 1969 and 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry attempted to launch several new TV series. The one that came the closest to production was Questor; its pilot was broadcast by NBC as the 1974 made-for-television film The Questor Tapes.

The incompleted Questor.
Robert Foxworth stars as the title character, an android assembled by a team of scientists from plans designed by Dr. Emil Vaslovik, a scientific genius who has suddenly disappeared. When Questor fails to function due to missing programming code, the project is abandoned. Later that day, the android "comes to life," completes its design (e.g., adding facial features and hair), and escapes from the laboratory.

Farrell (left) and Foxworth as the android.
Determined to find his creator, Questor searches Vaslovik's home, where he has an awkward encounter with his first human. Realizing that he will need assistance to move undetected among the human race, he seeks assistance from Dr. Jerry Robinson (Mike Farrell), Vaslovik's most trusted assistant. While Questor and Robinson try to find the missing scientist, the authorities--who have become concerned about the android's true purpose--pursue the duo. There's an additional complication: Questor will self-destruct via nuclear explosion in three days if he does not find his creator.

Data from Star Trek: The
Next Generation.
It's easy to recognize Questor as an early version of Data, the popular android from Roddenberry's later TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like Data, Questor has trouble understanding human idiosyncrasies and wants to feel emotion. He openly ponders: "Is it possible that I was meant to feel?"  Yet, while Mr. Spock occasionally struggles with his human half and Data eventually acquires an emotion chip, Questor has only an intellectual understanding of what he is missing. He confides to Robinson: "It must be satisfying to be human and know the reason for one's existence." (Interestingly, in comparing Questor and Data, Star Trek fans have even pointed out that a scene where Questor compensates for weighted dice in a casino is repeated by Data in an episode of The Next Generation called "The Royale".)

The climax of The Questor Tapes also boasts another Trek connection. When Questor's true purpose is revealed, it closely approximates that of Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), a character that appeared in the "Assignment: Earth" episode of the original Star Trek. Ironically, that episode served as the pilot for a Roddenberry TV series that never came to fruition.

In contrast, NBC ordered 13 episodes of Questor following the telefilm's ratings success. According to some sources, Roddenberry rejected NBC's offer because it was conditional on making changes such as dropping Farrell's character.

Taken as a stand-alone telefilm, The Questor Tapes is an imaginative, well-acted science fiction tale with some sly humor (e.g., Questor tells Dana Wynter's character that he is "fully functional"). A series might have been interesting, but the premise could also have run its course rather quickly. In regard to TV pilots, sometimes less is indeed better.


  1. One other interesting connection to mention, though not to another Roddenberry project: There's a musical link between The Questor Tapes and the 1970s Darren McGavin TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Find out more here:


    1. Jeff, thanks the link. How intriguing! I missed the connection...and I watched KOLCHAK, too.

  2. I've never heard of this before. Sounds interesting... I bet my husband would like this.

  3. I think Robert Foxworth was quite good as Questor and I can see his android as a prelude to Data. It would have been interesting to see the story line further developed but I can understand Roddenberry's objections to the "helpful" creative input. Another excellent post, Rick!

  4. I missed this one completely, Rick. I sounds very good, but I imagine, like you, that it's run would have been limited unless it could have assembled a very good and charismatic core cast like the original Star Trek.

    The link does seem obvious between Questor and Gary 7. Robert Lansing as Gary 7 was one of my very favorite Star Trek episodes. It was obvious that it was meant to become a series, and it's too bad it did not. Lansing and Teri Garr were good together, and of course who could forget the cat! Plus, at that age, I had a big crush on Robert Lansing. He was in one of my favorite Twilight Zone's too, "The Long Morrow." That was a real heartbreaker!