Data’s Sherlock Holmes holoprogram led to two great episodes set on the holodeck during The Next Generation and I think they have to be paired together for this number one spot since the second is a continuation of the initial story. In “Elementary, Dear Data,” Geordi gets frustrated when Data solves a Holmes mystery on the holodeck too quickly. Dr. Pulaski joins the conversation about what makes solving a mystery fun and soon Data accepts her challenge that he can’t solve a mystery he hasn’t read. The three head to the holodeck and Geordi asks the computer to create an adversary who has the ability to defeat Data. The result is Holmes’ classic foe Moriarty who discovers the arch and kidnaps Pulaski to find out more about his existence. The other two cannot shut down the holodeck, which leads to Picard entering the program and paying a visit to Moriarty. At Moriarty’s threats, Picard explains to him what he is and Moriarty tells him he wants to exist outside the holodeck. In the end, they save the program and promise Moriarty if they ever find a way for him to leave they will bring him out.
This episode was followed up with “Ship in a Bottle” in Season 6, where Barclay opens the Moriarty program and the hologram tricks Barclay, Picard, and Data into thinking he can leave the holodeck and control the Enterprise by trapping them in an elaborate holodeck program of his creation. It’s very clever in how it plays out and the episode does a good job of making the twist not easy to see coming. Picard uses the same tactic on Moriarty to save the ship, making Moriarty think they found a way both he and the love of his life can leave the holodeck and explore the real world.
It’s great to see the classic Sherlock Holmes setting in both of these episodes, but ultimately it’s Moriarty that makes them so great. He forces the discussion of what it means to be alive and as much as Moriarty is the enemy here, you can’t really fault him for wanting to leave the holodeck now that he knows what’s out there. It’s the best example of the classic plot device of a hologram realizing what the holodeck really is and it needed two episodes for the story to be properly told. Out of all the holodeck episodes, these do the most standout job of showing how the holodeck can allow Star Trek to explore important thought-provoking subject matter while being fun adventures at the same time.
Which holodeck episode was your favorite? Tell us in the comments!