The Definitive Ranking Of Star Trek Holodeck Programs: From Dixon Hill To Fair Haven
From funny to exciting to mysterious, here are the best holodeck programs of Star Trek!
Introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, holodecks are now a staple of the franchise. Entire episodes of TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revolved around the holodecks’ fantasy worlds (or those of the holosuite in the case of DS9). The heroes would relax in the holodeck, often become trapped in it, and sometimes weren’t even aware they were experiencing holograms rather than real people and places.
Here are Star Trek‘s best holodeck programs, according to us.
10. Fair Haven
In Star Trek: Voyager, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) was known for — among other things of course — creating some of the crew’s favorite holodeck programs. While his recreation of the 19th century version of the Irish town Fair Haven wasn’t as exciting as some of his other virtual worlds, it proves to be one of the crew’s most relaxing getaways. In the Season 6 episode “Fair Haven,” Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) actually finds herself falling in love with the town’s holographic bartender Michael Sullivan (Fintan McKeown).
The titular episode isn’t the last appearance of this particular Star Trek holodeck program either. Later in the season comes “Spirit Folk,” when the holographic residents of Fair Haven begin believing their visitors are supernatural villains.
9. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Workshop
While John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) could no doubt play either a great hero or villain in the franchise, his only appearances so far in Star Trek have been as the holodeck recreation of artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. Janeway plays the role of his apprentice first in the game-changing two-parter “Scorpion” — best known for introducing Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) to the series — and later in the Season 4 episode “Concerning Flight.”
8. Captain Proton
Probably the most well remembered of Star Trek: Voyager‘s holodeck programs is Tom Paris’ Captain Proton, based on a favorite pulp hero of Tom’s, who in turn is clearly a play on Flash Gordon. Scenes unfolding in Captain Proton are almost always delivered in black and white, and even when we don’t get to see Tom and Harry (Garrett Wang) as the program’s heroes, it’s mentioned often on the series.
Doubtless the most famous Star Trek: Voyager episode featuring the Captain Proton holodeck program is Season 5’s “Bride of Chaotica!” Transdimensional beings find their way into the holodeck and don’t understand that what they’re seeing isn’t real. To help resolve things, other crew are forced to play characters in the program, such as Captain Janeway and The Doctor (Robert Picardo).
7. Barash’s Ruse In “Future Imperfect”
And then there are the holodeck episodes of Star Trek when the heroes don’t realize they’re in a holodeck, at least not at first. That’s what happens in one of the best TNG episodes, “Future Imperfect,” when Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) wakes up on the Enterprise sixteen years in the future. Told by Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) that he suffers from a condition that periodically wipes his memory, he’s made to believe that he’s now the Enterprise’s captain, that Data (Brent Spiner) is his first officer, and that he now has a son named Jean-Luc (Chris Demetral).
When he figures out it’s an illusion, he finds himself in a Romulan prison where the boy he was told was his son is instead another prisoner. Riker figures out that this, as well, is an illusion. Eventually we learn that it’s all a ruse run by the boy — whose real name is Barash — but only because he is lonely. Once Barash deactivates the hologram, Riker takes him back to the Enterprise.
6. Occupied Saint Claire
In the two-part Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Killing Game,” the predatory Hirogen take over the ship’s holodecks, wipe the heroes’ memories, give them new ones, and force them to play endless cat-and-mouse games in the holographic environment. The program we see the most is set in Saint Claire, France, during the German occupation of World War II. The Hirogen take the parts of the Germans, while the crew is forced to play either members of the French underground or soldiers in the allied forces waiting to invade.
Brilliantly, “The Killing Game” gives the heroes — many of whom start the series as members of the 24th century Maquis — to become members of the original Maquis of World War II.
5. Julian Bashir, Secret Agent
There are quite a few what I like to call “holodeck-gone-wrong” episodes of Voyager and TNG; i.e., episodes in which something goes wrong involving the holodeck that endangers the crew. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, on the other hand, only had one — Season 4’s “Our Man Bashir” — and it proved to be one of the best holodeck episodes in the franchise.
While Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Garak (Andrew Robinson) enjoy the former’s James Bond-inspired program, there’s a transporter accident leaving the holosuites as the only part of DS9 that have enough memory to store the affected crew members’ patterns. If Bashir ends the program before the issue gets resolved, the patterns will be lost and the heroes will die.
Because their patterns are stored in the holosuite, the crew show up in the program as hilarious characters inspired by 007’s films. O’Brien (Colm Meaney) is the one-eyed crook Falcon, Kira (Nana Visitor) is the sexy Russian agent Anastasia Komananov, Worf (Michael Dorn) is the slick bad guy Duchamps, Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) is the scientist Honey Bare, and Ben Sisko (Avery Brooks) is the cackling mastermind Hippocrates Noah.
4. Dixon Hill
The episode that started Star Trek’s tradition of holodeck centered episodes is one of the few bright spots of TNG‘s bumpy inaugural season: “The Big Goodbye.” Before a stressful diplomatic event, Picard (Patrick Stewart) unwinds in his Dixon Hill program, based on a hardboiled detective in the tradition of novelists like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
“The Big Goodbye” wouldn’t be the end of Dixon Hill, however. In fact, it’s the only holodeck program to have the distinction of showing up first in a Star Trek series and again in one of the films. In 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact, Picard and Lily (Alfre Woodard) lure two Borg drones into the holodeck while it runs Dixon Hill and, with the safety protocols turned off, Picard uses a tommy gun to kill them.
3. Sherlock Holmes
It’s in TNG‘s “Elementary, Dear Data” in which we learn that the titular android’s favorite holodeck program is set in 19th century London with him playing the part of Sherlock Holmes and Geordi (LeVar Burton) accompanying him as Watson. Challenged by the skeptical Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur), Geordi orders the holodeck to make a villain capable of defeating Data, which unintentionally leads to the creation of the recurring Star Trek villain, the self-aware and holographic Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis).
The Sherlock Holmes program not only gives us the fan-favorite Moriarty, but Data’s love of Holmes becomes one of the character’s more recognizable traits. Like Dixon Hill, the Sherlock Holmes program is introduced fairly early in the Star Trek series — in the third episode of Season 2 — and proves to be one of the better stories at this point in the show.
2. Section 31’s Ruse In “Inquisition”
Unlike most holodeck programs in Star Trek, the program Luther Sloan (William Sadler) uses to deceive Dr. Bashir in DS9‘s “Inquisition” doesn’t transport the doctor to a fantasy world, but makes him believe he’s home at the station. In reality, he’s been kidnapped by the clandestine agency Section 31 because Sloan suspects Bashir could be a Dominion sleeper agent. Sloan plays the role of a vindictive and obsessed Starfleet Intelligence officer, and the genius Bashir is fooled until the very end.
“Inquisition” is not only one of the most impressive episodes of DS9, but in terms of Star Trek as a whole, it’s game-changing. It’s “Inquisition” that introduces Section 31, which has only grown in popularity to the point that a Star Trek: Section 31 streaming movie is on the way from Paramount+.
1. Vic’s Lounge
In spite of not being introduced until the end of DS9‘s penultimate season, former teen idol James Darren made a huge splash in Star Trek as the self-aware holographic character Vic Fontaine. As a lounge singer and owner, Vic proves to be not only a fun and welcoming host to the station’s populace, but something of a font of salt-of-the-Earth wisdom. The usually miserly Quark (Armin Shimerman) agrees to let Vic’s program run all day and night, every day; giving Vic as close to a real life as a hologram could hope for.
In spite of not showing up until close to the end, Vic’s Lounge is the setting of quite a few landmark DS9 episodes. Odo’s (Rene Auberjonois) date with Kira there ultimately leads to the beginning of their romance, the heroes gather there to celebrate in the series finale, and of course there’s one of the most emotionally powerful episodes in the series: “It’s Only A Paper Moon.” The late Aron Eisenberg takes center stage as Nog, who — suffering from PTSD — wants to escape into Vic’s Lounge and never leave.