Friday, July 22, 2011

Moriarty Returns With A Vengeance For Freedom In "Ship In A Bottle!"

The Good: Clever plot, Decent acting, Nice character development
The Bad: Too many reversals, Derivative of a Trek novel
The Basics: When the holographic Professor Moriarty reappears, he becomes determined to leave the holodeck and he challenges the crew to let him live in "Ship In A Bottle."

In Star Trek The Next Generation's rough second season, there was an early episode entitled "Elementary, Dear Data" (reviewed here!) where Data plays a Sherlock Holmes holodeck program and the villainous Moriarty achieves consciousness. That episode was replayed over and over again and despite it becoming tiring to many fans, the loose end of what to do with the character was a source of intrigue to many. In "Ship In A Bottle," that loose end finally is tied up.

When Barclay, Data and Picard become involved with a holodeck diagnostic following the abrupt reappearance of Professor Moriarty, they come to learn his atypical matrix is even more atypical than previously believed. In addition to understanding his holographic nature, Moriarty has experienced the passage of time while in the holodeck buffer. Disappointed at the lack of priority placed on getting him out of the holodeck, Moriarty once again takes control of the Enterprise and holds it hostage. Even more incredible is that Moriarty soon exhibits the ability to leave the holodeck without aid from anyone else and Picard has a mystery on his hands.

Daniel Davis once again reprises the role of Professor James Moriarty and he plays the character excellently with a skill and cunning that perfectly personify the villain of Sherlock Holmes. Davis has wonderful presence and a consistent accent - which is more than can be said for many guest stars playing villainous Europeans from ancient times. Davis is great as a villain, with his voice and posture he convinces us to trust his every word, when our sensibilities ought to be screaming otherwise.

This episode would have been quite a bit better for fans of the series were it not for a Star Trek The Next Generation novel entitled Boogymen which proceeded "Ship In A Bottle" into the marketplace. The book and episode share several common ideas on the nature of the holodeck and the number of reversals that go on as a result of the holodeck within a holodeck idea are too similar to be mere coincidence.

People who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation are likely to enjoy the clever plot twists more than those die hard fans who are likely to find the sheer number of twists predictable by comparison. That is, if you watch enough Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, you're likely to find certain abrupt changes in fortune to be more predictable than clever. "Ship In A Bottle" is one episode that is unsurprising to the seasoned Star Trek fan.

That is not to say it is not unenjoyable. Barclay appears for the first time in a setting where he is in command of himself and his emotions. It's nice to see him come into his own and in "Ship In A Bottle," he appears momentarily bewildered, but otherwise proficient and rather informed. As a result, he has a real sense of newness to him.

The best acting, outside Daniel Davis, in the episode comes from Dwight Schultz, who portrays Barclay. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are both decent as Picard and Data, but neither is doing something beyond their previously illustrated talents. Stephanie Beacham is fine as the Countess, the love of Moriarty, but it is Schultz who stands out as making something more out of someone we have seen before. He pushes his range more than any of the other actors here and he convinces us Barclay is actually adjusted.

This is a clever story, though and Moriarty is a compelling villain to put forth to try to outsmart the Enterprise crew. He wants something desperately and here he does everything he can to get it and the mechanics of how he does it are clever whether or not you're a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation. Add to that, it has some philosophy on what the nature of life is that has not been explored by most people. It's refreshing; it's rare that a philosophy lesson can be made so clever or entertaining, but "Ship In A Bottle" does that.

[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 reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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