The Good: Good character, Nice acting, Use of secondary characters
The Bad: Ridiculous special effects, Somewhat simple plot
The Basics: When engineer Barclay returns, his fear of transporters puts a mission at risk and captivates the audience.
One of the few recurring characters on Star Trek The Next Generation who seemed to appear and always have character development when he did was the Lieutenant in Engineering, Reginald Barclay. Barclay has been a wonderful, nervous antithesis to the heroic officers we see week after week. In "Realm Of Fear," Barclay returns with a fear of the transporters and is forced to confront that.
When the Enterprise finds a damaged starship adrift near a stellar flare, an Away Team must go over to investigate what happened. When Barclay must transport over, he ultimately refuses and runs away. Counseled by Troi and transporter Chief O'Brien, Barclay beams over. On his way back, he sees something in the matter stream while transporting and becomes even more paranoid than usual. When Barclay actually becomes ill, the others around him begin to wonder if the awkward engineer is actually onto something for a change.
What works in "Realm Of Fear" is the character aspect. Once again, Barclay appears as someone who the audience is instantly empathetic with. He is nervous, he has a genuine fear and he is worried about how others view him as a result. In a world filled with heroic characters like Captain Picard or Dr. Crusher, it's hard to feel connected because everyone seems so much larger than life dealing with bigger issues that would boggle and sink the majority of us. Barclay is an excellent tether between where we are now in human development and where the crew of the Enterprise is. Indeed; he may be the poignant symbol that all of us may rise to the occasion when needed to become a hero, as he does in this episode.
The reason Barclay continues to capture our attention when he shows up is that when he does come along, he continues to develop. We've seen him go from a super-nervous incompetent to somewhat fearful officer plagued with a misadventure or two. In "Realm Of Fear," his professional woes are replaced with a crippling phobia that makes a great deal of sense to those of us in the 21st century. Having one's body torn apart atom by atom is pretty terrifying when one thinks about it.
Dwight Schultz plays Barclay again and here he does it with his characteristic nervousness in body language and eye movements that he did in the prior two outings. But add to that, Schultz makes Barclay calmer for the professional moments, giving a confidence to his character that he has been lacking until now. And in his quest to overcome his transporter phobia, Schultz creates a real sense of fear in his facial expressions and the entirety of his body language that makes us believe completely in Barclay and his plight.
But Schultz is not the only actor who gets to shine. While Marina Sirtis does an excellent job portraying Troi in her professional setting as Counselor, Colm Meany is given the chance to come alive as O'Brien. The transporter chief reveals his own phobia to Barclay and in the process, Meany adds depth and shading to one of the characters that was initially a simple yes-man. Meany makes O'Brien seem compassionate and concerned in a very realistic way that makes us believe wholeheartedly in his effort to reach out to Barclay.
But the acting is hampered by poor special effects. The main villain is basically a sock puppet and it's incredibly difficult to take seriously. Indeed, the nature of the villain in the transporter beam makes it difficult for the viewer to suspend their disbelief. When the entities first appear, we are sucked out of the episode and into our living rooms where we say "What?!"
About on par, the plot drags; we have a fairly easy scenario and one that is essentially about a character issue. The idea of Barclay seeing creatures while beaming is a simple enough idea and when it is executed, it feels a bit done. However, because the character elements are essential to the episode, and they cannot take the whole episode, the simple plot is drawn out over the four acts and it feels long.
In the end "Realm Of Fear" is a wonderful episode for anyone who has ever had to deal with a phobia. Despite the drawn out plot and second rate special effects, this is a very accessible episode that pretty much anyone may identify with. We want to see Barclay overcome and that's what this episode does. Fortunately for everyone, it does that well.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode or DVD reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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