The Good: Special effects, Perspective
The Bad: Acting, Lack of character, Somewhat silly plot development
The Basics: When a child meets her imaginary friend, the Enterprise is put in jeopardy.
Innovation was a familiar thing around the set of Star Trek The Next Generation. This series was on the cutting edge of computer animation technology and other special effects. Sometimes, that's all an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation had. "Imaginary Friend" is one of those episodes.
Clara Sutter, a child aboard the Enterprise, has an imaginary friend. As a result of shifting from ship to ship, Clara has come up with Isabella. Isabella suddenly manifests herself when the Enterprise is exploring a strange spatial phenomenon. Isabella begins to manipulate Clara and when the Enterprise comes into real peril, it becomes instantly clear that Isabella is involved.
What "Imaginary Friend" has going for it is the perspective. There have not been any other episodes where the adventures of the starship Enterprise have been experienced through the eyes of a child. And given that there are civilians aboard the Enterprise, it makes sense that this was a perspective that would be explored. Unfortunately, this episode falls flat, even in presenting the Enterprise from a child's perspective.
The problem is that it's too obviously set up. Because we have a character that is a child and who has an imaginary friend, the moment Isabella becomes visible, we know there's something wrong. The episode becomes about Isabella and who and what she is as opposed to Clara's view on the machinations of the Enterprise. Add to that, the sensibilities of the adults in "Imaginary Friend" seem quite dated. Instead of feeling like enlightened parents that are part of the same philosopher caste that is created in Star Trek The Next Generation, (especially in the first few seasons) these feel like 90s parents trying to do their thing on the Enterprise. It's as if there has been no corresponding growth between the human development and parenting in the future.
Another Problem "Imaginary Friend" runs into is the acting. Noley Thornton plays Clara and she seems very overwhelmed by the position. Thornton is a child and here she comes across as a child trying to be an older child. She falls short and often it seems she's struggling around her lines more than anything else. Add to that, Marina Sirtis is given a role that seems to undervalue her acting talents. Sirtis plays Troi as clueless and while she uses her counseling skills, her empathetic abilities are completely neglected in this piece. Her character seems gullible and Sirtis seems to be content to play Troi here as completely charmless.
The only acting that succeeds is from Shay Astar who plays Isabella. Astar is recognizable to audiences today as one of the recurring guest stars on Third Rock From The Sun and she is creepy in "Imaginary Friend." In this episode, she has presence and an instantly recognizable diabolic nature that makes her perfect for the role of manipulating alien. Unfortunately, she's so completely creepy that it becomes difficult to see how Clara is even remotely charmed by her. That is, if my imaginary friend appeared and looked like a psychopath, I would be worried.
Unfortunately, "Imaginary Friend" had the chance to do a unique thing with perspective and it fell flat. There's nothing to recommend this episode to people who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. Add to that, there's little to recommend the episode to people who are fans of science fiction, save the special effects and even those are pretty old now.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fifth season by clicking here!
Want to see how this episode stacks up against others in the franchise? Check out my organized listing by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.