On a rescue mission to an apparently deserted science ship trapped in a plasma cloud, Lt. Barclay must face his fears related to using the transporter. Overcoming his reluctance, he beams over, but on his way back he sees something in the transporter stream which moves and even touches him. At first, he thinks he is hallucinating and becoming mentally ill. Eventually, the crew realize that there are living microbes from the plasma that have infected Barclay and may kill him. However, Geordi and the crew can use the transporter to save him. While in the stream for an extended period of time, Barclay deduces that the creatures he has seen in the stream are actually the missing science crew members, and is able to rescue them.
Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Cliff Bole.
Realm of Fear is sadly a bit of an unmemorable installment of Next Generation, without much to inspire either love or hate from the audience. Though it’s potentially interesting for the series to take one of its main features – the transporter – and do a whole episode surrounding the concept, the result falls flat and suffers from undeveloped ideas and some lapses of logic. There are a bunch of little ones – like the strange microbes which suddenly make the dead crewman appear to be alive, for no particular story-based reason at all except to make the filler scene of autopsy interesting. Or the way that Barclay isn’t replaced on the initial mission when he literally runs away from his assignment.
But the biggest one comes in the whole resolution to the story. The missing crew members are trapped in the transporter stream? Uh, okay – but they’ve been making a big deal of how people’s patterns will start to degrade if they stay there after a few minutes. So there’s some techno-baggle at the end about why that hasn’t happened – a minor little deus ex machina to justify something the episode has made a point of being impossible.
But even more than that – why on earth do the missing crew members resemble scary space eels when they are caught in the transporter beam? Actually, I don’t understand why they’d have any physical form at all, if indeed their molecules are being disassembled and then put together somewhere else. If this is what’s happening, than why would Barclay be aware of the passing of time, or have the ability to “see” something, or be able to reach out and grab it? But even if we accept all of that, again…why do the crew members look like these creepy monsters? They mention that normal spatial relationships are distorted, but I’m not sure how any amount of spatial distortion would result in the people looking like we see them.
Of course, this would be nit-picking if the episode was overall more enjoyable…if, for example, things were genuinely scary, or if Barclay was funnier, or if the story of him overcoming his terror was more dramatic. But it’s all sort of flat. And Barclay himself comes across as a bit of a fool when he fails to, say, have his arm checked out when it starts glowing–especially when such a story beat would have strengthened the episode (by having the issue with the microbes go undetected at first, that would have strengthened the notion that maybe he was hallucinating.). I like Barclay and I like Dwight Schultz’s performance, and this episode is very much his episode (pretty much nobody else does anything interesting at all, except maybe O’Brien). But it’s just not enough to raise Realm of Fear above being just kind of bland.
In addition to recurring character Barclay, this episode also includes recurring cast members Colm Meaney (Chief O’Brien) and Patti Yasutake (Nurse Ogawa).
Shout out to the Past:
Nothing really, except for general references to the input that Troi has had with Barclay in the past related to dealing with his fears.
There are references to both the Ferengi and the Cardassians (who are definitely still considered to be a threat).
• Geordi tells Barclay that Dern can set up the remote link, but he doesn’t actually explain this to Dern!
• Worf beams over first, which makes sense. But you’d think there would be some sort of effort to communicate to find out if Worf, Riker, et al have arrived safely.
• How has nobody noticed Barclay sort of freaking out in the transporter room?
• Riker says that there isn’t any sign of anybody, but then a moment later Crusher shows Riker a dead body that’s just lying there
• This is the first time, I guess, where they show the transporting process from someone’s point of view. I don’t the effect is as intereesting as it could have been. I’d like to see a shot of everyone staying the same, with the world around them dissolving between two different environments – that would seem like a more plausible interpretation of the experience.
• O’Brien hasn’t lost anyone in 22 years of transporter operating. Good going, O’Brien!
• Is this the first time they’ve referred to the term “kiloquads” or “quads” in general as a measurement for computer information? I’ve heard that this was invented because it was realized that using any real measurement, no matter how advanced, was likely to end up looking silly at some point in the future.
• The effect of Barclay’s arm glowing isn’t completely convincing – he obviously has to hold it quite still during that time
• It’s a funny moment when the bird sounds increase into a highly unrelaxing level
• Why would Barclay tell O’Brien to wake the senior staff? Why would that be O’Brien’s job?
• “A mouth?” – A normal line delivered in an amusing way by Worf.
• After hearing of Barclay’s assertions, Picard does everything except the obvious – have someone undergo the same experiment that Barclay did in order to verify if it’s true. Maybe he’s worried about endangering somebody else.
• “There are more crew members in the beam – you have to grab them and hold on,” says Barclay, failing to add, “and oh, by the way, they look like big squirmy flying disgusting maggots!”
Dialogue High Point
There’s really nothing that stands out to me, so I’ve chosen Barclay’s description about the origins of his paranoia, which he delivers well.
Well, if I didn’t know so much about these things, maybe they wouldn’t scare me so much. I can still remember the day in Doctor Olafson’s Transporter Theory class when he was talking about the body being converted into billions of kiloquads of data, zipping through subspace, and I realised there’s no margin for error. One atom out of place and poof! You never come back. It’s amazing people aren’t lost all the time.