Hello and welcome to the latest ‘Final Frontier Friday’! This week, we’re following our recent coverage of ‘Our Man Bashir‘ with another holodeck episode. This time around, we’ll be turning to the fifth season of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ for a look at the episode ‘Bride of Chaotica!’.
‘Voyager’ was always more amenable to holodeck episodes than ‘Deep Space Nine’ (or ‘The Next Generation’, for that matter), even before ‘Bride of Chaotica!’. That being the case, an episode like this wasn’t unusual in the way that ‘Our Man Bashir’ was for ‘Deep Space Nine’. But it does nonetheless owe its production in part to some rather unusual circumstances. To continue the comparison, while ‘Our Man Bashir’ got the green light in part because the pitch was a clever departure from the typical “holodeck gone awry” template, this one came about at least in part due to more practical concerns. Namely, a fire on the set. In early October 1998, during a publicity photoshoot, a light bulb burst in one of the studio arc lamps. Sparks from this caused the starfield background curtain and parts of the bridge set itself to catch fire. The fire wasn’t as serious as it could have been (ultimately, more damage was caused by the sprinklers that put it out than by the blaze itself), but the need to repair these heavily used sets meant they needed an episode that made only minimal use of the bridge (the few bridge scenes in the episode were filmed weeks after the fact). Enter Captain Proton.
As for the Captain Proton holonovel itself, while ‘Bride of Chaotica!’ wasn’t the first episode to feature it (that would be the season five premiere ‘Night’), it is the episode in which it was most prominently featured. Generally speaking, the best holodeck episodes are those that let the series dip its toe into different styles of storytelling through a pastiche of some other genre, be it noir-style detective stories (‘The Big Goodbye’), classic spy movies (‘Our Man Bashir’), or something else altogether. For ‘Bride of Chaotica!’, the show paid tribute to the sci-fi serials of the thirties and forties. The most obvious influence is, of course, ‘Flash Gordon’. It also features nods to a variety of Republic Productions serials of the period, most notably including the design of Satan’s Robot and an assortment of direct stylistic influences from ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere’ (which notably featured one of Leonard Nimoy’s earliest film appearances).
As the episode begins, Paris and Kim are in the midst of the latest chapter of the ‘Adventures of Captain Proton’ holonovel, playing the roles of Captain Proton and his plucky sidekick Buster Kincaid, respectively. As the two attempt to rescue Constance Goodheart from the evil Dr. Chaotica, Proton’s rocket ship is shot down, leaving them no choice but to traverse the surface of Planet X, approaching Chaotica’s Fortress of Doom through underground caverns. Before they can enter the caverns, though, Kim spots what we soon learn is a subspace distortion and a notably colorful one for an otherwise black and white holodeck program.
Unable to access the holodeck’s voice controls or contact the bridge, the two return to the rocket ship to access the manual overrides. On the bridge, the crew determines that the ship is caught in a subspace disturbance, disrupting ship’s system and trapping them in place. As Paris fails to disengage the program, Kim notices more distortions forming. Thankfully, they are able to access the transporter and beam themselves off the holodeck. In astrometrics, Torres and Seven of Nine have managed to make sense of their situation, comparing it to a sea vessel running aground on a sandbar. The distortions on the holodeck, according to Seven, are random anomalies that pose no apparent threat, though Janeway orders them monitored and the deck evacuated just to be safe. Janeway suggests a course of action based on an experience from her time on the Al-Batani, and they get to work. Back on the holodeck, the Captain Proton program is still running (thanks to the disruption in computer control) and two figures emerge from the distortions, eventually taking the form of human men in period clothing. They are swiftly apprehended by Chaotica’s minions. As Chaotica interrogates the two, we learn that they are photonic life forms on an exploratory mission not unlike that of Starfleet. Though of course none of this means anything to the simulated megalomaniac. Chaotica has one shot while the other escapes before ordering the activation of his death ray with which he plans to attack the fifth dimension (where he believes the two to have originated).
Voyager has now been stuck for three days, and things are starting to get tense as lavatories, replicators, sonic showers, and (most distressing to the captain) coffee are all in short supply thanks to the disruptions to the ship’s systems. On the bridge, they begin their latest attempt to get the ship unstuck. It almost works, but the ship suddenly loses momentum as the sensors detect energy discharges similar to weapons fire emanating from the holodeck where the Proton program is still running. Janeway sends Tuvok and Paris to figure out what’s going on. The two find themselves in what looks like the aftermath of a battle on Planet X. Suffice to say, this isn’t what Paris expected. Among the holographic bodies is that of Constance Goodheart, which convinces Paris that something is well and truly wrong here. After all, the program’s internal logic is based on 1930s Hollywood, thus “the good guys never get killed.” Next they come across Satan’s Robot. After repairing the robot, it tells them that they were attacked by invaders from the Fifth Dimension. Though initially puzzled (there aren’t supposed to be invaders from the Fifth Dimension in this story), Paris quickly realizes that the Robot must be referring to the subspace distortions. It leads them to the distortions, which fire energy pulses in their direction – the weapons fire they were sent to investigate. Before leaving, they return to Proton’s rocket ship where Paris is able to piece together what happened – aliens from a parallel reality stumbled into the holodeck through the subspace distortions, and some sequence of misunderstandings lead Dr. Chaotica to declare war of the “Fifth Dimension” – a war in which, Proton is informed by the President of Earth, Chaotica is seeking the aid of Arachnia, queen of the spider people and his would-be bride. Just as Paris pieces this together, Satan’s Robot sounds an intruder alert. The rocket ship has just been boarded by one of the photonic beings that Chaotica interrogated earlier.