Written by Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria, and Naren Shankar
Directed by Patrick Stewart
During the sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the android, Data (Brent Spiner) gained the ability to dream. Specifically, in the episode Birthright Data received a plasma shock which started this new program within him.
In Phantasms, Data experiences his first nightmare. He attempts to discuss it with his friend and the Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton). However, the two have been engaged in replacing the warp core and have to tackle problems which are the result of that.
Data soon experiences another variation of his nightmare, which include more of his crew-mates. He sees nineteenth-century era miners attempting to destroy parts of the Enterprise, along with Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) drinking through a straw which is connected to Commander Riker’s (Jonathan Frakes) head. Another part of the dream has Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) as a cake which the Klingon, Worf (Michael Dorn) is eating and pronounces delicious. Data is prompted to cut into the cake while Troi’s real head begs him not to hurt her. This one is quite disturbing, and he awakens to find Dr. Crusher hovering over him. They tell him they have been attempting to reawaken him for more than five minutes with no success.
The two stories seem unrelated for half the episode, although it does seem to be building toward a connection between the two. This is handle is quite a good way, with Data beginning to apparently having hallucinations while he was awake as well.
The dream sequences and the bleeding over of these images into “the real world” is handled quite well. Brent Spiner really carries the episode as Data. His emotionless response to images which are quite disturbing, as well as his actions during his apparently waking hallucinogenic state. At the same time, he infuses the episode with a bit of humor when he asks Worf to take care of his cat for him. Data is afraid of hurting the animal during another “waking dream state”.
There’s a scene between him and the Ship’s Counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) which is reminiscent of the infamous shower scene in Psycho. Patrick Stewart directed the episode and used such imagery to his advantage. Stewart is good at extracting good performances from his fellow actors. After all of this time, he somehow knows just what to say and do to get the exact reactions to the various situations from them. He was lucky to draw one of Brannon Braga’s better scripts when his turn came around.
The one major problem with the episode is one I mentioned earlier in the season. Data has malfunctioned or had so many instances of unexplainable actions by this point in the series, it’s hard to believe that Starfleet hasn’t decommissioned him or given him desk-duty somewhere. Although in the end, it’s thanks to Data that the problems are solved, the crew doesn’t know this throughout the episode and it does appear for some time that Data might be a threat to them.
All in all this is a great episode of the series. Some of the images are disturbing, and it’s not one I would watch with younger children. However, for fans of the series there’s some terrific character development as well as a feeling that both the actors and the characters are being used to their potential.