Monday, September 28, 2009

Top 5 Holodeck Programs

Ask any Star Trek fan what piece of technology from the show would they most like to own, and you may get a few different answers. Warp drive, transporters, maybe phasers. Those people are all lying. They’re trying to impress you with their altruism by wishing for technology that can better mankind. There’s only one truthful answer to that question, the holodeck. But we don’t want to say that because we don’t want to sound like creepy introverts who want to disappear into our own little fantasy world. The ironic thing is that as Star Trek fans, that’s what everyone else thinks we are anyway. So what the hell, let’s be honest. We all want a holodeck.

The way I see it, if the holodeck were introduced today, it would be a lot like the Internet. A small segment of our population would disappear into it and never return. Escaping from reality will always be attractive, whether it’s through TV and movies or drugs and alcohol. And new, attractive ways to make that escape are always going to swallow up a few mouth-breathers, and we have to accept that. We can’t ban everything that’s fun just because a few people don’t have the self-control to handle it. But just like with the Internet, society will adjust to the new technology and we’ll find equilibrium again. Well, most of us will.

Star Trek has shown us many uses for the holodeck. Training simulations, exotic environments, sports, games, entertainment, and of course Quark’s main stock and trade, sex. But of course, like all technology, it isn’t perfect. At least a couple of times per season the holodeck would try to kill everyone inside of it, and sometimes outside of it, because of some kind of malfunction. It’s a wonder they let the things run at all. But I guess when you’re in deep space, and there isn’t a whole lot to do, risking your life for a cheap thrill sounds like a fair trade.

Here are a few of the more memorable programs that I wouldn’t mind giving a try. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it PG for the kids.

5. Captain Proton

For the most part, the holodeck programs that we saw on Voyager were pretty lame. In order to conserve power, they used a lot of communal programs that many people could enjoy at once. Sandrine’s pool hall, Neelix’s resort program, Paris even created a program of a movie theater once. Watching a movie in the holodeck is kind of like playing checkers on your X-Box 360, it’s tremendously stupid. But by far, Fair Haven was the stupid straw that broke the stupid camel’s stupid back. For those of you who don’t know, Fair Haven was a simulation of a 19th Century Irish village. That’s it. The most modern of 24th Century technologies, with the ability to simulate anything, anything at all, and the most entertaining thing that they could come up with was drunken Irish pig farmers playing darts in a pub? Seriously? I can pull random words out of my ass and come up with a better idea than that. How about ‘Monster Truck Dinosaur Party Island’? There, I just made that up and that would have been a thousand times more entertaining than Fair Haven. But I digress. My purpose here is to talk about good programs, not bad.

By season five of Voyager, Tom Paris’ obsession with all things 20th Century led him to a holonovel called “The Adventures of Captain Proton.” The program appeared to be based on the science fiction movie serials from the 40’s and 50’s, like Captain Video or Commando Cody. He had a rocket ship, a jet pack, and a ray gun. His sidekick’s name was Buster, his girl’s name was Constance Goodheart, and the villain’s name was Dr. Chaotica. That should pretty much tell you everything you need to know. It was over-the-top, cheesy, campy fun.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Bride of Chaotica!” (VOY). A pair of photonic lifeforms, trying to make contact with Voyager, transported aboard the holodeck while the Captian Proton program was running, and thought it was real. They were attacked by Dr. Chaotica, and in order to save them, Janeway had to pretend to be the queen of the spider people and the Doctor had to pretend to be the president of Earth. I wish to God that I was making this up.

President of Earth. No shit.

4. Vic Fontaine

Over the course of the three Trek series that featured holodecks, we’ve met a few self-aware holograms. But none were as cool as Vic Fontaine. Played by James Darren, Vic was a nightclub owner and lounge singer in 1960’s Las Vegas. He was introduced to the crew of DS9 when his program was given to Dr. Bashir as a gift by his friend Felix. Because of the advanced nature of his program and his ability to read people, Vic became a friend and confidant to many of the crew. He was a cross between a counselor, a bartender and a guardian angel. He gave Odo love advice and helped him win over Kira. He befriended Nog after he lost his leg in the Dominion war, and encouraged him to move on with his life. After that incident, Nog arranged for Vic’s program to run 26 hours a day (the station ran on a 26 hour Bajoran day) and Vic was given the chance to live an almost normal life.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (DS9). A jack-in-the-box subroutine of Vic’s program becomes activated, causing a new character to be created for a program. Frankie Eyes, an old rival of Vic’s comes in and buys the hotel and casino out from under him, leaving Vic without a job. The jack-in-the-box can’t be removed without damaging Vic’s program and wiping his memory, so the crew decides that an old-fashioned heist is in order to bankrupt the casino and leave Frankie Eyes at the mercy of his mafia connections. Basically just picture Ocean’s Eleven, if it took place on a space station. In the end the good guys win, and Vic and Captain Sisko perform a duet of “The Best is Yet to Come”.

3. Dixon Hill

Our very first introduction to the holodeck is during season one of TNG, when Picard discovers a holonovel of his favorite private detective, Dixon Hill. He gets so excited that he calls a senior staff meeting. Let’s think about this for a moment. This is kind of like the captain of an aircraft carrier calling a meeting because he found a waterslide on the lower decks of his ship, and it’s, like, really fun!

Our introduction to the holodeck also became our introduction to the holonovel. Just imagine if every book you ever read became a movie, and you were the star. That’s what a holonovel is like. In short, it’s the coolest idea ever. My only question is this; what happens if you don’t follow the events of the story? What would happen if Dixon Hill just whipped out his tommy gun and started shooting motherfuckers just for shiggles?

“I ordered dressing on the side, ON THE SIDE MOTHERFUCKER! DIE!!!”

Sure, it would be fun. But it would make for a short novel.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “The Big Goodbye” (TNG). The very first holodeck episode was also the very first the-holodeck-is-trying-to-kill-us episode. When Picard decides to go back into the Dixon Hill program, he invites Dr. Crusher, Data, and some guy we’ve never seen before to come along. I think we can all see where this is going. The holodeck malfunctions, trapping them all inside and disabling the safeties, and the guy we’ve never seen before gets shot. In the end they manage to get out and get their man to sickbay, and presumably he survives. Picard gets to the bridge and saves the day, and for safety reasons they shut down the holodeck and never use it again. Oh, wait, no they don’t. They actually continue to use it quite a lot and it continues to try to kill them quite a lot. I guess they’re just gluttons for punishment.

2. Sherlock Holmes

Probably the greatest thing about the holodeck is that when you step inside, you can be anybody. You can become a great hero or go on grand adventures, every fantasy can come true. In the case of our favorite socially awkward android, you can become the world’s greatest detective. No, not Batman, the other one, Sherlock Holmes. Data’s interest in Holmes is no doubt related to his interest in becoming more human. Holmes posses a tremendous analytical mind, much like Data, but Holmes is also undeniably human, with human frailties and desires. So it makes sense that Data would want to emulate him. Or maybe he just liked that hat, I don’t know.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Elementary, Dear Data” (TNG). Data and LaForge go to play Holmes and Watson on the holodeck and Geordi gets upset when Data solves the mystery after only a few minutes. So in an effort to create a scenario that will pose a challenge to Data, Geordi asks the holodeck to create an adversary capable of defeating Data. The computer then makes Moriarty self-aware and gives him access to the ship’s systems. Let me go over that again. The holodeck ACCIDENTLY CREATED A SENTIENT LIFEFORM! This would be like if you tried to send an email on your computer, and instead Windows created a small troll, which then crawled out through the disk drive and tried to eat you. Something tells me that there would be a very angry letter to Bill Gates in your future, not to mention the fact that when you finished beating the crap out of your computer with a sledge hammer, you’d set it on fire. Not only isn’t there a major investigation into how the Enterprise’s computer accidentally CREATED LIFE, but they continue to use the holodecks. Now they’re just fucking asking for it.

1. Julian Bashir: Secret Agent

Honestly, this had to be the first holodeck program created ever. Something tells me that five seconds after the first holodeck was invented, the first engineer turned to the second and said ‘So, what do you want to do with this?’ and his answer was ‘Be James Bond!’ The action, the glamour, the gadgets, the women, James Bond is designed to be the ultimate male fantasy. So when Julian gets a new secret agent holosuite program, is it any wonder that he seems to spend almost all of his off hours running it, much to his friend Garak’s curiosity. And of course, being the killjoy that he is, Garak has to immediately point out that real spies don’t operate that way, but who cares! God Garak, who the fuck invited you anyway?

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Our Man Bashir” (DS9). A transporter accident (I think I’m going to have to do an entry on those as well) causes DS9’s computer to have to store the patterns of Sisko, Dax, Kira and O’Brien. So the computer decides to store them in the holosuite, inserting them as characters in the secret agent program that Bashir and Garak are running. All the usual parameters for a holodeck disaster are in place, they can’t shut the program off, they can’t leave, the safeties don’t work, and they can’t harm the holodeck characters without harming their friends. They have to play out the program and let it end on its own. Julian eventually figures out that the easiest way to do that is to lose.

Honorable Mention: “A Fistful of Datas” (TNG)

This one wasn’t a reoccurring program on the show, but I think it bears mentioning just for the ‘holy shit’ malfunction. Worf, Alexander and Troi are playing Old West on the holodeck while Data and LaForge are monkeying with the ship’s computer, hooking it up to Data’s brain for some reason. The result is (surprise!) a malfunction, in which Data’s brain starts infecting other ship’s systems, including the holodeck. The various holodeck characters start getting replaced with simulations of Data, the safeties get disabled, they can’t end the program, same old song, different tune. Worf manages to defeat the android gunslinger and end the program just after an oddly homoerotic moment featuring Data as the female saloon keeper who’s sweet on Worf, but that’s not even the best part. At the end, Alexander feels upset because he knows that Worf probably won’t want to play the program again (You think?!), but Worf surprises him (and us) by saying that he would. This would be like a father taking his son on a roller coaster, which then catches on fire and flies off the track, nearly killing everybody, and the son says ‘Oh, I guess we can’t go again’ and the father says ‘Ah hell, why not!’ WHAT?! We’ve reached the point now where holodeck malfunctions are so commonplace that the characters don’t even blink, and think nothing of scheduling some more time right after the thing ALMOST KILLS THEIR KID!

Say what you want about Windows, when my computer bluescreens, at least nobody dies.


  1. Scott (Dilbert) Adams did a whole routine on Star Trek tech and how to use and abuse it:

    Did you remember Whedon's take on the X-Men's Danger Room? It had been upgraded using Shi'ar tech during one of the X-Mansions rebuilds, which made it function like a holodeck. There were several times where the DR ran amuck and tried to kill people. Whedon explained that it's because the DR computer was sentient but basically enslaved in order to be a training module. I thought that would be a great take on the holodeck -- it always malfunctions and tries to kill you because it's alive and hates you!!


  2. I'd also like to add that ST shows some of the most boring uses of the holodeck. Maybe the holodeck *is* alive and is trying to kill people out of sheer boredom.

    The 20th/21st Century isn't so awesome that people would want to visit it. If you had a holodeck, would you want to experience 17th Century life?


  3. I remember that from Astonishing, the Danger Room built itself a robot body and called itself Danger.

    There are quite a few characters in Star Trek that have a weird fascination with the 20th Century, but especially Tom Paris. He even had an old fashioned television in his quarters. I don't get it either. I guess it's the writers trying to put the viewers at ease by saying 'see, these future people aren't so different from you and me'. Still, it gives the impression that the next three hundred years will be culturally bankrupt since we never see any entertainment from those time periods.

    If I had a holodeck I think the first thing I would do is be Spider-Man and swing through Manhattan.