Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Ship in a Bottle”

“Ship in a Bottle”
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 6, Episode 11
Production episode 40276-238
Original air date: January 26, 1993
Stardate: 46424.1

Captain’s Log: Data and La Forge are playing Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck, but one of the characters who is supposed to be left-handed is right-handed. La Forge calls Barclay to the holodeck to fix it. While doing so, Barclay comes across files in protected memory, and runs that program, thus meeting Moriarty. The professor explains the events of “Elementary, Dear Data” to Barclay, who is rather stunned by what he says—and even more so by Moriarty’s revelation that he was aware of the passage of time over the four years he was stored away.

Moriarty demands to speak to Picard, and Barclay agrees to ask, putting Moriarty back in storage. But after Barclay leaves, Moriarty is able to reintegrate himself onto the holodeck.

Data and La Forge brief two engineers on their current assignment: observing the collision of two planets. They’re interrupted by Barclay, who tells them what he saw. Shortly thereafter, Picard, Data, and Barclay enter the holodeck and speak to Moriarty. Picard assures Moriarty that the finest minds in the Federation have attempted to find a way to allow him to survive off the holodeck, but they have yet to succeed. Picard is also apologetic, as he had no idea that the professor would feel the passage of time.

Moriarty, however, is cranky, irritable, and refuses to believe anything Picard has to say. He also firmly believes that his having consciousness allows him to survive outside the holodeck. To prove it, he walks out the door—and does not disappear in a puff of photons the way the book Picard tossed out the door seconds earlier did. Data and Barclay are aghast, as this contradicts everything they know about holodeck physics.

They take him to sickbay, where Crusher declares him to be human, and La Forge examines him with his VISOR, saying his molecules aren’t losing cohesion. Moriarty then asks what sea the Enterprise is sailing, and if going on deck might be feasible, weather permitting.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Picard takes Moriarty to Ten-Forward, and the professor is overwhelmed by the fact that the ship travels in the heavens. While he is thrilled at the opportunities presented by the 24th century and to travel, not just the world, but the galaxy, he also realizes how very much alone he is. He requests that the Countess Regina Bartholomew—a fictional character created to be the love of his life—be brought off the holodeck with him. He asks if she be created sentient and conscious in the same way he was. Picard refuses—they don’t know enough about how he is able to survive, indeed don’t know enough about how he was created, to risk doing it again.

Moriarty is not thrilled at the notion of Picard once again postponing action until he can learn more. Last time he did that, Moriarty was stuck in a computerized dungeon, and nothing got done until the professor himself acted. His love for the countess is also quite passionate, and Picard uses that as leverage: they shouldn’t act to bring her to him in too much haste and risk her not making the transition as readily as he did.

Picard goes to the bridge as the Enterprise approaches the colliding planets, and just as he gives the order to launch probes, command functions shut down. Moriarty has somehow managed to take control of the Enterprise once again. He demands that they bring the countess to him—and thanks to the colliding planets, they have a deadline of five hours. If they fail to fulfill Moriarty’s terms, the Enterprise will be destroyed by being in the wake of the planetary collision. Moriarty will die, too, but he has no wish to live without the countess.

Data, Barclay, and La Forge discuss the issue. Data suggests using the transporter to beam stuff off the holodeck. La Forge is skeptical as to the plan’s efficacy, but Barclay and Data come up with a notion that might work. Meanwhile, Picard instructs La Forge to find a way around Moriarty’s lockout of the command functions.

Barclay proceeds to the holodeck to place pattern enhancers around a chair—while doing so, he meets Countess Regina, who charms the socks off him with her stories of exploring.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Moriarty arrives in the sitting room and explains to Barclay that he has given the countess consciousness. Barclay is apprehensive about that, but proceeds with the test, as he and Data transport the chair—which loses molecular cohesion as soon as the transport cycle is completed. Data thinks that they can learn something from the attempt, though, and calls up the transporter log—which is empty. It’s as if the transport never happened.

Picard arrives in engineering, where La Forge informs him that he has found a way to regain control of the ship. Data arrives just as Picard gives his code for reinitializing command functions, but it doesn’t work. Data notices that La Forge is operating a padd with his left hand. Data tosses something at La Forge, who catches it with his left hand.

Data drops the bombshell, then, as La Forge’s behavior confirms what the lack of a transport log suggested: Moriarty was able to survive leaving the holodeck because he never actually did leave the holodeck—and neither did Data, Picard, or Barclay. The Enterprise that they’re in is a simulation.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Picard realizes, to his horror, that he gave the “computer” his command codes, which in turn may have given Moriarty access to the real Enterprise’s command functions.

Sure enough, Moriarty has now taken control of the Enterprise, and negotiates with Riker, suggesting they use the transporter for realsies the way Data and Barclay attempted to in Moriarty’s simulated ship. Riker reluctantly puts La Forge on it.

Back on the holodeck, Picard meets the countess, and they have a charm-off (Picard wins by a nose, but it’s very close to a photo finish). Picard tells Regina that they have discovered a method of transporting matter off by uncoupling the Heisenberg compensators. He tells Regina that he will not order the transporter adjusted unless Moriarty gives Picard control of the ship.

Regina tells Moriarty about the uncoupling of the Heisenberg compensators. Moriarty is gleeful, as he now believes he has the solution. He contacts Riker and tells him about the possibility of uncoupling the compensators—at which point, the professor and the countess are beamed off the holodeck together. Moriarty won’t give Riker control of the ship back until he and Regina are on a shuttlecraft and free to explore the galaxy. Reluctantly, Riker agrees. They take off in a shuttle, which is set to work entirely on voice commands, and then Moriarty interfaces with the Enterprise computer to give control back.

Picard walks into the shuttle bay and discontinues the program he was running. Riker, Worf, and the shuttle bay disappear, and Picard leaves the holodeck on the simulated Enterprise and tells Data and Barclay that it worked. He pulled the same trick on Moriarty that Moriarty pulled on them, creating a simulated ship for him to be on. Then he calls for the computer to end the program, and the Enterprise disappears, and the trio are standing on the holodeck on the real Enterprise. Barclay removes a module from the wall unit, where the program continues to run. As far as Moriarty and Regina are concerned, they are adventuring away on the shuttle, and Barclay plugs the module into an enhancement unit that has enough active memory to keep them going for a lifetime.

Troi points out that Picard did give Moriarty what he wanted, and Picard waxes philosophical: maybe they’re just a simulation playing out on someone’s table. (Ha ha ha.)

And as if that wasn’t meta enough, after everyone but Barclay leaves the observation lounge, he looks up and says, “Computer, end program,” and is relieved when nothing happens.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The notion of creating sentient life on the holodeck becomes more commonplace in the Star Trek universe, via the regular characters of the Emergency Medical Hologram on Voyager and Vic Fontaine on Deep Space Nine. The Federation will eventually come up with mobile emitter technology that will enable holomatter to survive outside the grid. The EMH on Voyager will obtain such. The transporter trick that Picard mentions with uncoupling the Heisenberg compensators is, of course, rubbish.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: With Captain Jellico’s departure, Troi is still at least sometimes wearing her full uniform, but in the final scene (the only scene in which Troi really appears) she’s back in the brown outfit.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data was established in “Encounter at Farpoint” as being able to see through the holodeck’s deceptions, so his inability to realize that they never left the holodeck is problematic. To make matters worse, when he tells Picard the truth of the situation, then he knows where the wall is.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Moriarty is head over heels in love with Regina—and after meeting her, we totally get why—and at one point he gives her a passionate kiss in front of Barclay, who watches the intense smooch with a certain longing.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Amusingly, the problem with reversing holodeck characters’ handedness is never actually fixed in the episode.

I Believe I Said That: “Our reality may be very much like theirs. All this might just be an elaborate simulation running inside a little device sitting on someone’s table.”

Picard getting all meta and stuff, as quoted by me typing on a device sitting on my table.

Welcome Aboard: Daniel Davis returns as Moriarty following “Elementary, Dear Data,” and Dwight Schultz returns for his second appearance of the season as Barclay following “Realm of Fear” (he’ll return in “Genesis” in the seventh season), while the radiant Stephanie Beacham—best known at this stage in her career as Sable Colby on Dynasty and The Colbys, and most recently appearing in the British sitcom Trollied—is simply magnificent as Countess Regina Bartholomew.

Trivial Matters: This is the long-awaited sequel to “Elementary, Dear Data,” the four-year wait being due to issues with the Conan Doyle estate over licensing. When Jeri Taylor reinvestigated the possibility for this season, it was discovered that the estate’s issue with Paramount was not over the TNG episode, but rather with the 1985 movieYoung Sherlock Holmes. Everything was worked out, and they were able to do Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty once again.

As a subtle hint that all is not as it should be, there are no establishing exterior shots of the Enterprise after Picard, Barclay, and Data enter the holodeck, until Moriarty talks to the real Riker on the bridge.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Countess Regina Bartholomew is entirely a creation of this episode; the character appears nowhere in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, nor any Holmes tales. (It should be pointed out that Moriarty is not a particularly critical character in the Holmes canon, only actually appearing in two stories, “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” where he was unconvincingly retconned into a role of import in the London criminal scene in order for Conan Doyle to have a “worthy” adversary to kill off Holmes, and briefly in The Valley of Fear, written later but taking place prior to “The Final Problem.” Adaptations have made far greater use of the professor than Conan Doyle ever did, losing sight of the fact that Moriarty was a terrible character, not particularly interesting, and notable mainly for being the antagonist in one of the worst stories ever written in the English language. Seriously, “The Final Problem” is a simply dreadful piece of fiction.)

Moriarty and Regina’s fate is part of the Star Trek Online timeline “The Path to 2409,” which details the history of the Trek universe between Star Trek Nemesis and the start of the STO game.

The character of Barclay was included in the script so there’d be a character who wasn’t there for “Elementary, Dear Data.” Also: no one else could’ve delivered the episode’s final line….

Make it So: “I have them running around like rats in a maze.” Whenever people tell me something is a bad idea, at least in a story context, I always tell them they’re wrong. Doesn’t matter what the idea is, what matters is the execution. Take, to give a vaguely related example, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels. On the face of it, those books are a terrible idea, prototypical Mary Sue fiction involving Sherlock Holmes and a woman as smart as him—but King’s writing is so powerful, her ability to immerse you in a particular time and place so strong, that the books work.

So too with this holodeck-gone-awry storyline, which has by this time become a Trek cliché and was the impetus behind a particularly awful story just a little while ago (“A Fistful of Datas”)—but here, it works. Part of why it works, of course, is that the holodeck doesn’t go awry as such. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole handedness thing, but that’s not a malfunction, it’s a glitch of the type that happens with machines. No, the plot is engineered by a clever being who uses the holodeck’s function for his own ends.

The whole thing is so well played, and rewards subsequent viewings because the hints are there. In particular, when Data suggests using the transporter to beam the countess out, La Forge is unable to wrap his mind around so radical a notion—which is the first hint of something wrong, as La Forge being the wallflower in an engineering conversation is very unusual.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

Indeed, one of the episode’s strengths is how the holodeck versions of Riker, Worf, Crusher, Troi, and especially La Forge act: not especially out of character, but still kind of flat. LeVar Burton in particular does well, as holo-La Forge is utterly unequipped to deal with the revelation that they’re on the holodeck, and he kinda stands there helpless until Picard excuses him, and he wanders off.

All the acting in the episode is superb. Stephanie Beacham is rarely anything other than amazing, but she so perfectly sells the character of the countess (the mischievous joy she expresses at her being able to wear trousers during her safari in Africa is delightful). Dwight Schultz gives us a still-evolving Barclay, as his neuroses seem to be under control, but his awkwardness remains an issue, particularly when dealing with Regina. And Daniel Davis is magnificent as Moriarty, always with layers and multiple motives to everything he does—even his love for the countess, though genuine, is also a tool for his endgame of getting off the holodeck. With all that, the scene where he walks into Ten-Forward and realizes how much more the world outside the holodeck offers him is a delight.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Ship in a Bottle

This is a clever, delightful, brilliantly written episode, and it ends with a very clever resolution to the conundrum presented way back in the second season when Moriarty first appeared.

And it has the best closing line ever.


Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido is one of the readers, along with Genevieve Valentine, John Wray, and’s Emily Asher-Perrin, for’s Ryan Britt’s “I, Reader” Scary Stories reading at Singularity & Co. in Brooklyn, tonight, the 26th of October, at 7pm.


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