Androids in Science Fiction
Created | Updated Feb 5, 2014
Concepts and Elements of Science Fiction in TV and Films
Computers In Science Fiction: The Basics
Computers In Science Fiction: Classic Movies | Computers in Science Fiction: Contemporary Movies | Computers In Science Fiction: TV | Computers In Science Fiction: Novels and Short Stories
Robots in Science Fiction | Cyborgs in Science Fiction
Androids are a staple of science fiction and have been used at least once in the majority of science fiction TV series. This entry is a rundown of some of the more memorable ones and is in chronological order. This entry is not intended to be a complete list of all androids in science fiction, rather a guide to show how they have evolved over time, as humans have learnt about robotics and cybernetic principles.
There are three types of androids.
These are androids that are artificial but built to resemble human form. Maria, Questor, The Bicentennial Man, Ash from Alien, Data from Star Trek, Romy and David from AI.
These are mechanical servants built to aid humans but only resemble them roughly (humanoid in shape) such as C-3PO, Marvin, Cylons, Kryten and automated personnel units. Gort, Robbie the Robot and Twiki can be found in Robots in Science Fiction.
A half-way point between machine and man that is one of science fiction's favourite creep-out horror concepts. Being a special kind of artificial life form, they have their own entry; Cyborgs in Science Fiction.
Maria - Metropolis (1927)
Maria in Metropolis, an early science fiction film. She starts off looking all mechanical (imagine C-3PO but more recognisably female), then is altered to look human, but she goes mad and destroys the city by flooding it. The entire film is shot in silence and it's a very long film for a non-talkie.
The first artificial man in fiction is Frankenstein's monster, and almost every form of sci-fi android is related to him in some way, either via the theme of technophobia, or just as a metaphor for humanity losing their souls to technology. Maria is the first proper 'android' as she is an artificial creation that is trying to look human, whereas the artificiality of Frankenstein was clearly stressed as making him look anything but human.
The Questor Tapes (1974)
Another Gene Roddenberry creation (dating from 1974). Dr Vaslovik developed plans to build an android super-human, called Questor. Although Vaslovik has disappeared and half of his programming tape was erased in the attempt to decode it, his former colleagues, the brightest scientists from around the world, continue the project and finally succeed. However, the android (played by Robert Foxworth) comes online too early, before he is completed. Realising that each nation will try to claim ownership of him, which would lead to war, Questor completes himself and runs away in search of his creator1, although it is unclear if he wants to find him to get the remainder of his programming data or has been programmed to search for him in the event of his disappearance. Since half of his knowledge is missing, he needs the help of Jerry Robinsonik, who's now under suspect of having stolen the android.
The part of the android was originally offered to Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in Star Trek. He turned it down as he did not want to get typecast.
C-3PO - Star Wars (1977)
Not technically an android, but still fashioned in the general image of humans. This protocol droid from Star Wars is often the butt of many jokes, both on screen and off.
I am fluent in six million languages and can readily...
It is never revealed what C-3PO can readily do, he is always interrupted at the same point. It's a running joke through the three movies2.
Marvin - The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (1978)
... the Paranoid Android from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. It's never explained why he's called paranoid, probably because it rhymes with android. He's certainly depressed, having a brain the size of a planet and nothing to do. Arthur Dent calls him an electronic sulking machine. A possible explanation provided is that he thinks everyone hates him, and believes he was created just so that he could suffer. This isn't really paranoia, everyone does hate him.
Marvin has a tragically long life, bored and depressed with nothing to occupy his vast mind. Then he's given tedious tasks, left on a deserted planet for millions of years, before crashing into a star as part of a rock band's finale. Marvin probably considers this last event a blessing.
Except he doesn't die. Marvin dies in So long, and Thanks for All the Fish after reading God's final message to creation 'We apologise for the inconvenience'. He probably died of extreme old age, since he'd been sent back and forth in time so many times that he was several times older than the universe itself.
More information available at The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Androids in the Alien Movies (1979)
There are several androids in the Alien films, each film has one android in it.
|Alien 3||Bishop||Lance Henriksen|
|Alien Resurrection||Annalee Call||Winona Ryder|
Ash is the medic and main villain in the first film. The crew does not know he is an android, nor that his secret mission is to return the infected crew member Kane and the alien to Earth in suspended animation. The plan goes wrong when the alien emerges early. Having no data on the gestation period may have been the cause of the error. Ash was fulfilling this duty at all costs, putting the crew's safety in jeopardy. Because the crew intended to kill the alien, he acted to protect it. If he could have brought it back without anyone being hurt, he probably would have done so.
Bishop is the 'new model' android in the next two films, he's the hero of the piece, saving the survivors with the reserve drop ship from the orbiting spaceship. He gets ripped in half by the alien queen and is still functional in the sequel, although he asks to be turned off rather than live as a shadow of his former self.
Annalee Call is the android in the last film. She has managed to pass as human for some time on board the salvage ship she works on. She tries to kill Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) clone, saying she is an abomination. She can also directly interface with the military ship's computer, Father.
All the androids are fairly consistent with each other. They can all pass as human, all get beaten about by the aliens or the crew, all have white 'blood' and internal 'organs'.
Cylons - Battlestar Galactica (1979)
The formidable baddies from Battlestar Galactica that destroyed the twelve colonies of man and all but one3 of the battlestar fleet. They were purely mechanical creatures with distinctive red sweeping eyes and were bend on the complete destruction of all humans. This genocidal influence came directly from their leader (who was a special 'thinking' kind of cylon as opposed to a warrior type). One episode revealed that other thinking type cylons did not understand why their leader wished to annihilate the human race.
Almost nothing is known about the origins of the cylons, the cylon race was reptilian and they made machines to serve them, but their machine creations turned on them and destroyed them. The machines took the name 'cylon' for their own race and then began a 1000 yahren (year) war against the humans.
It is unclear if the warrior cylons even count as sentient. They seem to have no problem destroying themselves to achieve military objectives, such as crashing their fighter ships into the hangars of battlestars to destroy them. They are also all identical, with the same voice and body. It is not clear if they can even identify each other as distinct individuals.
Starbuck rescues and befriends one cylon who died saving him from other cylon warriors, but that individual was damaged and this may have been a malfunction.
Cylon: 'I extend my arm to perform the following function.'
(Shoots two of the other cylons)
Despite their ruthlessness, the cylons had all the best comedy lines of the show, such as when Lord Baltar (the human traitor) is too engrossed with the attack on Galactica (observed from his fighter) to notice the other Battlestar closing on him. The cylon pilot has been trying to get his attention for a few minutes.
(Lead cylon looking out port window)
Cylon: 'I really think you should look at this.'
Baltar: 'Look at what?!?'
Cylon: 'The other battlestar.'
Baltar: 'The what?- TURN TURN YOU IDIOT!'
Which also demonstrates something about cylons. Being 'thinking' machines, they obey the rules of a computer, they do whatever they are told, no matter how stupid.
Data - Star Trek (1987)
Probably the most loved android in science fiction, Lieutenant Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation had many storylines dedicated to him. He is a Soong type android, with a positronic brain, found outside the Omicron Theta science colony after it was destroyed. He was reactivated on 2 February, 2338, but had been active during the last months of the colony. His memory of those months was erased by his parents Dr Noonien Soong and Dr Juliana O'Donnell Tainer (formerly Soong).
Both his parents survived the destruction of the colony, although his mother was wounded and died later. Soong, unable to live without her, created an android in her image and transferred her neural pathways to it, then erased her memory of dying. By the time Data found her, 'she' was already remarried. She is a much more complex android than Data, able to mimic humans so well that only another android (Data) was able to catch her out4. Inside her, he found a message from his father telling him she would die if she ever learned the truth.
Soong also created a replica of Data, which he named 'Lore'. Fulfilling the standard requirements of science fiction, Lore was in effect Data's evil twin.
In 'The Naked Now' he loses his virginity to Tasha Yar and gets drunk.
In 'The Measure of a Man' a JAG inquiry held at Starbase 173 declared Data a sentient individual with rights and not the property of Starfleet.
In 'The Offspring' he creates a child called Lal. Lal develops full emotional awareness (feelings), but Data discovers too late that these are a side effect of massive neural pathway failure. Lal died and Data never built another child.
In 'Time's Arrow' Data contemplates his own mortality and time travel when Starfleet finds Data's 300 year old severed head in San Francisco.
In Star Trek: Generations he finally fits the emotion chip that he's had for some time. This causes problems when he is too scared to rescue his friend Geordi from being kidnapped.
In Star Trek: First Contact Data is tempted by the prospect of organic components (like skin) by the Borg queen, but inevitably betrays her.
In Star Trek: Insurrection Data is damaged and his secondary protocols take over (essentially telling him right and wrong). This leads the crew to find a mass conspiracy to steal a planet of perpetual youth.
In Star Trek: Nemesis Data gets killed while saving his Captain.
The best lines include
Data: 'I seem to be experiencing anticipation. Yes, the sensation is quite overpowering.'
Picard: 'That's fascinating Data, but perhaps for now you should deactivate your emotion chip.'
Data: 'Done sir.'
Picard: 'Mr Data, there are times when I envy you.'
- Star Trek: First Contact, Data and Picard are about to attack the Borg.
Yar: 'Just how, fully functional are you?'
Data: 'In every way of course.'
Yar: 'Oh you jewel, that's just what I wanted to hear.'
- The Naked Now, Data is seduced by a very drunk Tasha Yar.
Data: 'Oh s*it!'
- Star Trek: Generations, the Enterprise saucer section is heading straight for a planet.
More information is available at StarTrek.com - Data Bio.
Kryten - Red Dwarf (1989)
Kryten is the mechanoid in Red Dwarf. The mechanoid sanitation unit originally posted to the Nova, but was rescued by the Red Dwarf crew after millions of years. He was apparently unaware that the three crew members who survived the crash landing had been dead for centuries.
Lister tries to educate Kryten to break his programming and become more than he is. He teaches Kryten to lie, which is against his programming. Lister holds up an orange and asks Kryten what it is.
It's an urrng, it's an urnng, it's a small Belgian marching band!
Having mastered small lies, Kryten moves on to bigger ones. When Starbug is about to crash, Lister asks him if they'll be OK.
'Engage lie mode. We'll be fine sir!'
Rimmer however tries to use Kryten to do work and clean the ship. Being a hologram, Rimmer cannot touch or interact with anything that isn't voice activated. He refers to Kryten as a bog-bot with a novelty condom shaped head.
Kryten picks up several skills including spacecraft repair, surgery, cooking and translation. He becomes human for a brief spell due to a DNA re-organiser they find on an alien spaceship. When he is trapped in the machine Kryten does not initially panic.
'It's quite alright sir, I am inorganic, the machine cannot affect me... Oh wait, my brain is part organic. Engage panic mode. Panic mode engaged. Aaargh!'
Kryten, unlike Data, has no desire to become human. He thinks they are quite messy creatures and he cannot understand a lot of their behaviour, like procreation and sleeping. While he is human, he struggles to understand basic concepts such as eating to recharge. He is however required to obey most commands, regardless of how stupid.
Cat: 'Hey, I got it! We laser our way through!?'
Kryten: 'Ah, an excellent suggestion, Sir, with just two minor drawbacks. One, we don't have a power source for the lasers, and two, we don't have any lasers.'
He can also be quite sarcastic, especially to Rimmer.
Rimmer: 'Do you think it's because the sub-space conduits have locked with the transponder calibrations and caused a major tachyon surge that has overloaded the time matrix?'
Kryten: 'Ah, no, sir. I've just been jabbing it too hard.'
Tikka to Ride
The Bicentennial Man (1992)
This classic Asimov novel was recently made into a motion picture called The Bicentennial Man starring Robin Williams. The story concerns an android, one of thousands, built for manual service. Except this one is special. A fault develops in his positronic brain during his construction. It eventually leads him to become self aware.
There are several differences between the original story and the film.
Robin Williams's character is called Andrew Martin, Martin being his family's name and Andrew being the youngest child's (whom he calls Little Miss) attempt to say "android".
Amanda called him Andrew because she didn't like it that he had a serial number for a name. She picked the name because Andrew had an,n,,a,d and an r in his serial number. Although her older sister melissa protested that it was childish, Sir Gerald Martin indulged her because it was the trend for people to give their robots names (JN robots became janes or johns; QT models became cuties etc).
Andrew lives for almost 200 years in the film. In that time he gets several upgrades, eventually moving from the mechanical to the organic. In the end he realises he can never be fully human as long as he is immortal, so he takes measures to ensure his ageing and eventual death5.
Andrew lives for slightly more than 200 years. In the movie he dies on his 200th birthday/anniversary but in the book, he dies shortly after. He admitted that he was weak enough to time his death in such a way that he would live past his 200th year. Also, in the book, he engineers his own dying-and-death by removing the insulation layer that protected his brain from the metabolic forces acting in his body, his reasoning being that every part of the body could be replaced without a human losing his 'human' status, except for the brain, which must inevitably die.
Although the film centres heavily on his love for Portia (little Miss's grand-daughter), the book was more about his quest for humanity.
Asimov's character is in fact a prototype Data. The android is governed by Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.
Asimov is credited with 'inventing' the principle of the android, although he called them 'humaniform robots'. It is difficult to determine if this is true, but it makes a nice story. Asimov did, however, invent the word 'robotic' and the principle of 'robotics'. Few authors can claim to have invented a word.
Automated Personnel Units - Voyager (1996)
The Star Trek: Voyager episode 'Prototype', the crew encounter a mechanic android floating in space, called automated personnel unit 3947. They repair it and return it to its ship, inhabited by automated personnel units created by the Pralor. Torres discovers that they cannot reproduce, as the power module that runs them is unique to each unit and simply duplicating it will not work.
Eventually she succeeds in building a prototype power unit, when another ship, manned by androids created by the Cravics, attacks. It is only then that Torres discovers that the two mechanoid races were built by the Pralor and Cravics to fight a war. When the two races negotiated a peace, the mechanoid armies turned on them and destroyed them and have been fighting ever since.
They were built to defend themselves, and as the end of the war meant the end of them, they turned on their creators so they could continue to live.
Romy - Andromeda (2000)
There is more information about Romy in the entry for Computers in Science Fiction: TV.
Romy is an android, played by Lexa Doig. Although she is sentient in her own right, she is also an avatar for the starship Andromeda Ascendant6.
David - AI (2001)
A futuristic version of Pinocchio. David's parents cannot have any more children, so they bought an android child. Then their real child, Martin (who has been kept in suspended animation), is thawed from cryogenic freeze as a cure has been found for the disease that would otherwise have killed him. David gets pushed out of their lives and runs away to try to find the blue fairy to make him a real boy so his mother will love him again.
Although there are many androids in Steven Spielberg's AI, David is the central character. His journey takes him to many parts of the world, including a ruined and flooded Manhattan. There he discovers he is a prototype, an android able to dream and hope, and wish.
David is a very intelligent android, able to feel emotions for his mother and fear, when the police are chasing him.
The main point of the story is that humanity made too many androids. The androids they made were faster, stronger and some were smarter than their creators. They are treated very badly, and are disposed of when no longer needed. At the end of the movie, 2000 years have passed and humans are extinct. Only the machines are left and, ironically, they have discovered the meaning of life.