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Elementary, Dear Data
I deduce that the writer of this episode was well versed in the literary legacy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and what's more, Watson, his fiendish plot gives us a most excellent holodeck episode
LaForge has apparently built a giant scale model of the HMS Victory, yet Data fails to appreciate it because his encyclopaedic knowledge is devilishly short on context. Then, in a rather tenuous link, LaForge hands Data a Basil Rathbone pipe and invites him to the holodeck to play at being Sherlock Holmes. Data excels in the role... so much, in fact, that LaForge storms out in disappointment, because there's just no fun in watching Data slavishly execute a story he already knows.
Talking about it in the holodeck, the pair intrigue Dr Pulaski, who lays out a challenge: Data can only execute what he already knows, and cannot solve an original mystery. So the three of them set off into the holodeck to see if Data can win Pulaski's bet. But when LaForge and Pulaski devise a way to up the stakes of the challenge by reprogramming the holodeck to create an opponent worthy of Data, they unwittingly empower holographic Moriarty!
There follows an investigation in the Sherlock Holmes style that begins with the kidnapping of Dr Pulaski and leads inexorably to an encounter with Moriarty - who shows Data the most shocking thing imaginable: a crude sketch of the Enterprise-D that like lipstick can mysteriously leave the holodeck!
Data and LaForge dash off to Picard and sheepishly admit they've royally messed up. Moriarty builds a steampunk lever that can threaten the ship by causing all the actors to theatrically wobble on set. This forces Picard into a showdown with Moriarty on the holodeck, with most of the crew dressed up in awesome Victorian garb. In the end, Picard offers to save Moriarty's program, so he can come back later in season 6. We then return to the model of the HMS Victory, which has been slightly damaged. Oh dear, but at least it allows Picard to impart some unsolicited words of wisdom to LaForge before the credits roll.
"To feel the thrill of a victory there must be the possibility of failure."
If I complained that the problem with "The Big Goodbye" was that it only drew shallowly from its source material, Brian Alan Lane's script for this episode solves this problem and then some. A professor of film and electronic arts, Lane clearly knows his Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but he also has a good feel for science fiction storytelling. Especially enjoyable is the way the story uses the programmable nature of the holodeck as the core of the plot - first, we see them reliving a specific adventure (a slight reworking of "A Scandal in Bohemia"), then they reprogram it to mix it up (combining "The Red-headed League" with "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"), until finally LaForge and Dr Pulaski turns the stakes up to 11: "Computer, in the Holmesian style, create a mystery to confound Data with an opponent who has the ability to defeat him." And the game is afoot!
The way this escalates logically within the framework of the fictional world is masterly. If I were to complain that Moriarty should not be able to see the arch until after LaForge enters the new parameters of the program (since until then he is merely a holodeck character, and should be oblivious to it) I can at least defend against this complaint by referring back to "The Big Goodbye", where similar lapses in holodeck convention occur. We might fanonise this by suggesting that the Federation's upgrades to the holodeck (or the Bynars in this case) might have produced bugs that brought in unexpected consequences, but of course the true causality is the needs of the dramatic form that Lane is following.
'Holodeck' and 'holodeck construct' are the key concepts the story runs on, that and 'program', which in the context of the holodeck takes on a very specific meaning. But unlike some holodeck stories, this framework merely provides the context in which the character stories develop. It is within the interplay of the performers that the success of this screenplay can truly be found.
This is Dr Pulaski's finest hour - even though she has only a small role in the story. She is practically the lead player in Act II, though, and has a great scene with Moriarty in Act IV, before being demoted back to bit part in the final act. Nonetheless, Diana Muldaur shines in all her scenes, effortlessly delivering the clever lines that Lane has written for her.
There's no trace that her relationship with Data is recapitulating the Spock-McCoy relationship here, far from it - she is written as a keen student of human nature who naturally doubts that Data, who lacks life experience, can think intuitively about human motivations.
There's also small supporting roles for all of the rest of crew (except, thankfully, Wesley, who skips this episode). How dapper Michael Dorn looks in his Victorian garb, and Patrick Stewart was born to wear a top hat, even if it does make him look rather like an undertaker!
Still, it's Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton from the regular crew who are carrying the story, even if the teaser with the HMS Victory model is clunky. This is one of only a few small problems with this script - the circumstantial set up and bookending of the story is contrived and feels inadequately connected to the main plot.
But of course the true star of the episode is guest star Daniel Davis, who has appeared in a great many TV shows (most famously as Niles the butler in The Nanny) and a fair number of films (he was the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise in The Hunt for Red October, don'cha know). Yet he never excelled in a role quite as much as he does as Moriarty.
Head writer at the time, Maurice Hurley, was particularly impressed, both with the episode and with Davis' performance: "Wonderful episode… We had carriages, old London, and I thought the guy who played Moriarty was just wonderful. I've never seen anybody play Moriarty better than that."
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Step aside matte paintings and studio miniatures, this week it's the set constructors and wardrobe department who are going to amaze us all!
The extraordinary sets for 221B Baker Street and the Victorian London streets were all custom-made for this episode, at a whopping cost of around $200,000! So expensive were they that the production department was ordered to remove a day from the shooting schedule, reducing it from 8 days to 7, to save about $60,000. This really angered director Rob Bowman, who could not believe the lunacy of investing so much in the sets and then endangering the quality of the final result by cutting down on the time available to make use of them.
There is a studio miniature, of course - it's the USS Victory in the final shot, which is reuse of stock footage of the Constellation-class USS Stargazer from "The Battle" (also directed by Rob Bowman), although composited differently.
The star special effect in this episode, however, is the brief shot when Picard and Data see the harm Moriarty's creative engineering have caused to the holodeck itself.
While the appearance of the holodeck in this shot is different from what we saw in the first season, it still successfully brings to mind how the room has been shown when empty, and it adds a nice piece of dramatic tension when the story really needs it. But this episode is not really about special effects - it's a victory of costumes, sets, and acting roles, that proves that a great science fiction story isn't about what you show, but how it makes you think.
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