In a recent post I did about “TV Elseworlds,” commenter Humanbelly brought up the holodeck from Star Trek – which, as noted in that comment thread, got my mental wheels spinning. Basically, when watching certain episodes of post-TOS Trek, there are times when I think the holodeck was a storytelling crutch that got really overused.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of highly-sophisticated holographic technology in general, and I particularly love the Doctor in Voyager. However, it seems that in so many of the episodes in which the holodeck figured prominently it was more of an easy way out for writers because they couldn’t think of anything more creative (like, you know, finding an intelligent species on some planet and violating the Prime Directive).
For example, the various characters will run a program that involves play-acting in so-called holonovels as a way to relax and have fun, like Data pretending to be Sherlock Holmes or Picard headlining in the stories of a hard-boiled detective character (made up just for the show) named Dixon Hill:
I can’t escape the suspicion that the writers and someone on the production team just wanted an excuse to put the characters in period-piece costumes and couldn’t figure out a better way to do it.
Also, I have to wonder if holonovels would really be all that relaxing. Sure, at times it might to fun to play act in a Sherlock Holmes mystery or a campy black-and-white movie serial – I think the ‘Captain Proton’ program used by Paris and Kim in Voyager was arguably among the best ubergeek uses of the holodeck ever.
But then, also in Voyager, there was the case of Janeway launching a program set in a haunted Gothic romance novel. That seems like it would be more stressful than relaxing or enjoyable (and create mental stress and anxiety rather than alleviate it).
However, stuff like that didn’t bother me as much, since in a few cases the overall episodes they appeared in were usually pretty good (esp. the two TNG episodes with the reprogrammed Moriarity becoming sentient AI). And a few of the ‘holodeck malfunction’ episodes (again, something brought up by commenter Humanbelly) in TNG and Voyager were also pretty solid. And yes, before anyone asks, that would include the Voyager episodes with the Hirogens manipulating holographic technology to a) create the World War II simulation in the holodecks and b) create super-intelligent and adaptable holograms to hunt, who then quite naturally rebel.
What I *really* hated was when a specific holodeck program became a recurring setting over a number of episodes and indeed, the focus of said episodes, with their own additional ‘regular’ characters. This was done in both DS9 and Voyager and they are probably my least favorite episodes of those respective series – to the point that, if one of them comes on, I’m tempted to just skip them.
In DS9, it was the program set in a Vegas lounge in the early 1960s with the singer, Vic Fontaine, who knows he’s a hologram. I know why someone in the 1990s, when the show was produced, would be interested in the whole Vegas/mob scene in the 1960s, but it’s never made clear why the crew members of DS9, living as they do in the 23rd century, would find it fascinating enough to want to repeatedly spend time there. For me, the pinnacle of cringeworthy awfulness was that one time Fontaine and Sisko belt out a song at the end of the episode.
The sole exception I’d make is the epsiode in which Nog has PTSD and his coping mechanism is to stay in the holodeck in the lounge and listen to the same song over and over – it doesn’t make me appreciate the guy’s singing any more, but at least it had a clear purpose from the story aspect.
(As an aside, I hardly have the words to describe my utter loathing for that episode in which the DS9 crew play a baseball game against a bunch of Vulcans in the holodeck. I hated everything about that one, not least because it underscores what seems to have been a line-wide mandate in all of the post-TOS shows – with the notable exception of Voyager – to portray Vulcans as the Federation’s biggest a-holes.)
In Voyager, it was the little late 19th-century Irish village, Fair Haven. OMFG those grated on me just as much as the Vegas lounge in DS9. Again, there’s the question of what all of these people (including a number of folks from non-human races) from the future would find so enticing about repeatedly spending time in what for them would be a centuries-old primitive and superstitious culture. Sure, the holodeck program sanitizes everything and makes it quaint and idyllic, but that just means you’re basically spending all of your leisure time at a Renfair. But no, apparently everyone in the crew agrees that not only is this a great place to hang out, but also to keep the program running continuously. And don’t get me started on Janeway falling for the town’s barkeep and then reprogramming him to, erm, suit her preferences. Yeesh.
Anyway, I would have been much happier if the holodecks (or holosuites as they were called in DS9) had been used much more sparingly, and only rarely as the main setting for a given episode – unless it involved a malfunction or some other peril or pitfall arising from holographic technology.
(Note: all images are © Paramount Pictures)