Frankenstein in Space: Creation and Responsibility
The story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has so permeated the literary and cultural world that its likeness can be found in multitudes of adaptations in every medium: literature, movies, and even television. Many of these adaptations are simply a loose retelling while others only take certain themes or plot points. The adaptation we will be discussing comes in a form Mary Shelley could not have imagined, an episode of a television show about space travel, “Ship in a Bottle” from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
At the beginning of every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, the customary introduction begins: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” In these new worlds, sometimes the new life forms are not merely encountered, but created. This is the case in the episode “Ship in a Bottle,” in which a hologram, Professor Moriarty, becomes self-aware, demands freedom from his holographic world, and demands to take his love, the Countess Regina Bartholomew, with him. Captain Picard and the crew must devise a way to save the ship while dealing with the implications of creating new life.
The Lieutenant Commander Data, a sentient android, acts as the metaphorical monster’s creator. First introduced to the works of Doyle by Captain Picard, he found them absorbing and admired Holmes’s style of deduction. In pursuit of knowledge and practice of Holmes’s skills of deduction, Data began first to read the Sherlock Holmes novels. Next he, along with Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, programmed the holo program that would present Data, playing the part of Sherlock Holmes with an opponent who can outwit him, Moriarty.
However, there is an important difference between Dr. Frankenstein and Data: Data lacks the emotions of a human, specifically, those emotions that contribute to pride and vanity, he simply seeks to improve himself and his work on the ship. On the other hand, Dr. Frankenstein imagines that his invention would raise him up in fame and power. He thinks to himself, “a new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (Shelley, 34). He would receive recognition as the foremost scientist of his generation.
Moriarty, although he is an Arthur Conan Doyle character, aligns with Frankenstein’s monster on many issues. Like the monster, he is created, then abandoned. When maintenance is being performed on the holodeck’s computer, he appears, seemingly of his own will, and asks for Captain Picard, claiming Picard knew of his sentience and promised to return. “You don’t know anything about what happened, do you? I have been stored in memory for God knows how long and no one has given me a second thought” (“Ship in a Bottle”).
The flip side to this abandonment is his craving for community, and not just any community, the companionship of someone like him–a woman. He claims to be “a man out of time” who needs a companion from his world. For Moriarty, this means the Countess Regina Bartholomew (“Ship in a Bottle”). When Moriarty became sentient, he commanded the program to create her for him. Although a different take on the female monster, the male monster is still calling the female into existence for his own purposes and comfort.
Moriarty, like the monster, validates his existence by his reasoning. The monster gains intelligence by watching a family’s interactions and reading Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. All of this prepares him to leave the small shed he’s been living in and attempt join society. Moriarty however, simply claims, “I think therefore I am,” and appears to step out of the holodeck and into the rest of the ship, whereupon he demands the crew find a way to bring the Countess out of the holodeck and into the ship in a safer way (“Ship in a Bottle”).
The responsibility to consider Moriarty’s and make a choice request falls on Captain Picard as the ship’s commander:
“Even if I had reason to believe that would be successful, I don’t think that I could sanction it. Please understand, Professor, that you are in essence a new life form. One that we didn’t intend to create and that we don’t fully understand. Now the moral and ethical implications of deliberately creating another one like you are overwhelming.” (“Ship in a Bottle”)
The only difference here is that Dr. Frankenstein seemed more caught up in his reputation, saying “I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price perhaps of the existence of the whole human race” (Shelley, 130).
One of the most intriguing links between the two is the idea of the monster taking power over the scientist if he does not comply with his request. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster promises revenge for Dr. Frankenstein’s refusal to create a wife for him, saying “I shall be with you on your wedding-night” (Shelley, 131). He makes good on his promise by murdering Dr. Frankenstein’s betrothed, Elizabeth. Neither Data nor Captain Picard have a betrothed, but Moriarty takes over the one “female” they do love, the starship Enterprise. He appears to override the controls and takes away power from Captain Picard. The ship is near two gas giants colliding, and if the ship does not move, it will be sucked into the explosion.
Although the end of “Ship in a Bottle” is far more positive than that of Frankenstein (I won’t ruin it for you), the episode explores the themes laid down by the original work: power of creation, the ability to control the created or give it freedom, and the responsibility that comes with such a choice.
Echevarria, René. “Ship in a Bottle.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. 24 Jan. 1993. Television
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.