Written by Rene Echevarria, Brannon Braga, and Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by Alexander Singer
I don’t know what possessed the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation to decide to revisit the earlier story of Elementary, Dear Data from back in the beginning of the second season, but it was a good choice. Here, the Sherlock Holmes nemesis, Dr. Moriarty (portrayed again by Daniel Davis), reappears once again on the Enterprise’s holo-deck to wreak havoc.
In that initial episode, Moriarty was created to give the android Data (Brent Spiner) a run for his money in trying to solve a mystery on the holo-deck (which is a sort of virtual reality room used for entertainment by the ship’s crew). The character was created all too well and managed to achieve consciousness before being relegated to part of the ship’s computer memory and virtually forgotten about.
In Ship in a Bottle, Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) and Data are running a Sherlock Holmes program when they notice a problem with the program. Geordi instructs Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) comes to check on the program, and having not been told anything about the Moriarty character stored in the ship’s memory, unwittingly unleashes the character. Moriarty immediately demands to see Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart)
As in Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty wants to get out of the confines of the holo-deck. Captain Picard argues with him that it is impossible, but Moriarty argues that his consciousness allows him to do so, and then does it!
Moriarty is shown what the Enterprise is – a ship in space. He is seemingly awe-struck, then begs for a character created to be his love interest to be allowed off of the holo-deck as well. Picard is reluctant to do so.
Once again Moriarty appears to take matters into his own hand as he hijacks all of the command codes and takes control of the Enterprise. The remainder of the episode is a race against time to figure out how to outwit the holo-deck character before two nearby gaseous planets collide and kill everyone on board the ship.
There’s little action during the episode and it’s mainly a character piece. Writer Rene Echevarria does a terrific job keeping the twists and turns to the plot while on first viewing fans were left to figure out the mystery of how Moriarty was able to get off the holo-deck. This was in the days before Star Trek: Voyager’s emergency medical holographic doctor was able to wander all about that ship.
Instead of it feeling like Moriarty vesus Data, or Moriarty versus Picard as Elementary, Dear Data felt, here it seems more like the crew is racing against time and Moriarty to solve the mystery, The ticking clock is there, in the colliding planets, just to add the right bit of tension to the situation.
That Barclay accidentally stumbles across the program seems natural as well, although you’d think that Geordi or Data would think to warn him about it when they ask him to debug a Sherlock Holmes program. To me, that seems like a no-brainer. It’s a small plot-hole, however, that can be easily overlooked.
The acting here is first rate. Daniel Davis is an excellent guest star as Moriarty, with even tones in his voice and mannerisms that give off a sereneness and sureness about all of the actions he’s taking. It’s just that confidence in his manner that makes the way the story plays out so believable. Another actor who did not manage to be that confident and convincing would have been lacking in the role.
The regular cast is good, but there are no exceptional performances here. Just coming off of the spectacular performances in Chain of Command, Stewart’s performance is good, but it seems that he is more laid back than normal. Brent Spiner is fine as Data, but again, there’s nothing that really stands out. Dwight Schultz is very good as he has Barclay showing signs of gaining more confidence, both in himself and in his abilities, even when faced with the confident character of Moriarty.
After first viewing, and knowing how the episode turns out, it does lose a bit of its luster. However, Echevarria manages to create a mystery that unfolds in such a way that repeated watching is enjoyable as well as the first time. Fans will have a better appreciation for knowing the history behind the Moriarty character, although I feel that science fiction fans in general can appreciate the episode as well. It’s another great story in an exceptional season!