Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Imaginary Friend"

1.5 stars

Air date: 5/4/1992
Teleplay by Edith Swensen and Brannon Braga
Story by Jean Louise Matthias & Ronald Wilkerson and Richard Fliegel
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Clara Sutter (Noley Thornton), a young child whose father's career has moved her from ship to ship and not allowed her to have friends for any length of time, has an imaginary friend named Isabella. Counselor Troi doesn't think this is cause for alarm. But during the ship's exploration of a nebula, a mysterious alien presence probes Clara's mind and then appears physically in the form of Isabella (Shay Astar). Isabella the alien can appear and vanish at will.

What follows is predictable: Because Isabella was previously established as Clara's imaginary friend, of course all the adults are slow to believe her when Clara says that Isabella is now real, and that Isabella is doing things that she shouldn't be doing (actions which are naturally blamed on Clara). Considering all these people are in Starfleet and have seen some pretty spectacularly incredible things in the past, you wouldn't think it would be that much of a leap to consider that an alien presence could maybe appear in the form of an 11-year-old girl. But because we have a child talking to adults, it takes too long for everyone to catch on to what's going on here.

"Imaginary Friend" is tedious, obvious, and unimaginative. The episode shows us the alien presence taking Isabella's form in the opening scenes, so it certainly can't be called a mystery. The motivation of the alien presence is hard to account for, especially when it starts making threats and telling Clara that it's going to kill everyone on the ship. Naturally, Isabella's eyes glow red when she says this, because, y'know, red-glowing eyes are scary — and certainly not subtle.

Finally, after all the tedium, we get a scene where Picard talks to Isabella to try to negotiate peace with the mysterious aliens — in a scene of equal tediousness, as Picard attempts to explain the human reasons for why adults must be parents to children (which the alien has mistaken for some sort of oppression or something, hence its hostility). What isn't clear is why the alien perceives everything through the mentality of a child. Doesn't it have an intelligence of its own? Why couldn't it simply probe an adult to get an adult perspective on humanity? Such questions are almost beside the point, since the aliens are simply a means to an end — to set up simpleminded scenes involving Clara and Isabella (and the really-wearing-out-his-welcome Alexander) that mostly just sit on the screen, flail about for awhile, and then die.

Previous episode: The Perfect Mate
Next episode: I, Borg

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60 comments on this post

Ian Whitcombe
Thu, May 12, 2011, 8:41pm (UTC -5)
Kudos to Tim Lynch for discovering two of the most redundant lines of dialogue in Trek history:

Picard: "This certainly appears to be a unique that's never been seen before."

I did love Data's "bunny rabbit" line. That is a true gem.
Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 2:04pm (UTC -5)
This episode is a good place to call into question the givens of children aboard the Enterprise...which has never made any sense. For instance, who babysits children like Clara and Alexander when their single parents are on duty? There is no sugestion of any day care going on aboard ship but plenty of examples of very young children expected to take care of themselves in their quarters. Also, what are children as young as Clara allowed to roam the ship at will? And as we've seen this episode (and countless times in the past), the ship is in imminent threat of destruction every week. How can a people who claim, as Picard states to the alien entity this episode, that humans care for the safety of their children while taking them along on military/exploratory vessels that encounter obviously dangerous situations as occurs here? The whole notion of children/families aboard ships like the Enterprise is absurd.
Thu, Aug 25, 2011, 6:20pm (UTC -5)
@pviateur :

The children on ships debate is interesting and has certainly been tackled but,

1) In our own time, putting children in cars is among the most dangerous things we can do

2) Starfleet is not military

3) The Enterprise has schools and daycare centres aplenty

4) It's not as though she's roaming engineering or the torpedo bays, just the freaking hallways--how is that particularly dangerous?
Captain Tripps
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 8:37am (UTC -5)
This very episode mentions the children's center, and shows a ceramics class being held for kids, not to mention numerous previous mentions of schools and care centers - perhaps you missed all those "suggestions"? The Enterprise is basically a moving small town, which seems natural in the evolution of the Federation.

It's the reverse of the dilemma faced by the scientist in Silicon Avatar, who left her son in the care of friends while she pursued her career aboard various Starfleet vessels, only to have the colony he was at attacked and destroyed by the Crystalline Entity. More importantly, she had to maintain a long distance relationship, and missed a lot of important milestones in his life.
Fri, Nov 4, 2011, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
In DS9's "Rapture", ADmiral Watley states that one step of Bajor joining the Federation is incorporating Bajor's militia into Starfleet. That certainly suggests that Starfleet is indeed intended to be the military.
Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 4:55pm (UTC -5)
"Starfleet is not military"

It's one thing to say "we're explorers" and grab a map, a backpack and trek into an allegedly empty jungle only to have a native tribe attack you and kill you.

It's another thing to say "we're explorers". Now, let's take our shields, our rifles, our machetes and lots of ammo and go explore the jungle which is full of who-knows-what.

Picard can claim all he wants that Starfleet is an exploratory body, but he does so on the most advanced ship in the fleet with weapons and shields that can dwarf almost all other vessels it runs into (including klingon military ships, and nearly equal to romulan WARbirds). As mentioned, nearly every third week, the ship comes under attack or into an otherwise dangerous situation. You don't arm a ship to the teeth and then claim that kids are safe there because the ship doesn't expect to be in military situations.

In any event, if Starfleet is not military, what is? Does the Federation have no military? When there's a Neutral Zone infraction, Starfleet is there. During the conflict in Redemption, Starfleet is there. When the Borg attack? Starfleet is there. During the entire second half of DS9? Seems like Starfleet was the one fighting the dominion for the Federation.

If Starfleet isn't the military, then the Federation doesn't have a military and Starfleet is indeed the de facto military.
Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott: "4) It's not as though she's roaming engineering or the torpedo bays, just the freaking hallways--how is that particularly dangerous? "

She did, in fact, wander into Engineering, did she not?

One's quarters on a ship are akin to one's home in a city. Walking the corridors alone is somewhat akin to walking the streets alone. Or at least to wandering around an apartment building or maybe wandering alone on a cruise ship.

Granted on the Enterprise, there ought not be strangers with ill intentions as there would be in our world, but there are still dangerous places on the ship that don't seem restricted (e.g. engineering) which it appears to be on an honour system not to go to. I could understand if kids had access to the corridors on their own deck, and if the turbos didn't respond for them, or else only took them to decks where kids activities were (holodeck or the school), but that does not seem to be the case.
Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 5:30pm (UTC -5)
PPPS: I'm not going to say I know this for a scientific fact, but I'm pretty sure Columbus didn't have any women and children on his non-military exploration ships.

I'm curious if there is any historical precedent for non-working family to be brought along on an exploring vessel (be it aerial, naval, or.... land-based).

The only thing I can think of is when Americans moved West, but this was because they were looking for somewhere to live and didn't intend to return home (and if I'm not mistaken, some did in fact go west alone to find land and then returned for their families.)
Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
TH asked: I'm curious if there is any historical precedent for non-working family to be brought along on an exploring vessel (be it aerial, naval, or.... land-based).

Yes. The British Navy permitted wives on board through the 19th century. Though it was against official Navy policy, Captains could do as they liked and often let their officers bring their wives along--sometimes even on battleships.

I originally encountered this claim in the work of Jane Austen, was curious, and researched it to find it true.

But you are right about Columbus--no women on board those ships!
Mon, Apr 9, 2012, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
Ah, the Is-Starfleet-Military Game.

Starfleet is most definitely military -- it's just that it's not totally military.

TOS-era Star Trek didn't pull punches on this point. Kirk calls himself a soldier on multiple occasions, Starfleet is referred to as "the service", etc. Kirk usually tried his best to resolve things in non-violent ways, but he was never above a fistfight or firing phasers.

TNG was the least military, but it really couldn't sustain that in the movies. TNG would often use previous conflicts as backstory for new shows (the Cardassians, the Romulans, etc.) without really showing the conflict.

Other than a few charting missions in the early seasons, I can't think of too many scientific episodes of DS9. The one that comes to mind is the infamous shrinking runabout show. Voyager, the most disappointing series, could have been more about exploration (or it could have been a sort of BSG in the Star Trek universe). It picked neither course and really suffered as a result.

Then came Enterprise, which tried the exploration route in the first season or two without much success. The series improved immensely after the Xindi attack and in the fourth season, but very little of the subject material was about exploration (Archer even has a line to that effect, IIRC). There's also a line about Archer in the fourth season of Enterprise that says he was one of the foremost explorers of the 22nd century. That's kind of laughable, in that Archer spent most of his time on the series saving Earth (all of season 3) and/or arbitrating disputes among soon-to-be friendly races.

The sad truth is that very few highlights of any of the series were about exploration (with some exceptions like "The Inner Light"). Studying comets just doesn't make for good TV, I'm afraid -- and a series about friendly contact with aliens every week would be pretty dull.
Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 6:23am (UTC -5)
>> In our own time, putting children in cars is among the most dangerous things we can do

Yes, but we don't put kids on military vessels. In our own time, we have military vessels that deal with hazardous situations, and the rest of the vessels are for luxury, transport, cargo, whatever. We have a clearly drawn line. The Enterprise IS used as a military vessel frequently, given that there supposedly is no separate military, and the same line ought to be drawn. As for children on exploration ships in the past: Back then, there was little danger of floating around on the sea, and I suspect that if there had been, first exploration would have been done without families and children. I suspect that most of the time it was, anyway. The early explorers didn't run into ships from other cultures that were equally matched in armament. When that started happening, the line was drawn. The sea-faring military was developed.

It is ridiculous that children and famliies are allowed on the enterprise in TNG.
Sun, Sep 16, 2012, 11:29am (UTC -5)
@TH - "I'm curious if there is any historical precedent for non-working family to be brought along on an exploring vessel."

grumpy_otter answered: "Yes. The British Navy permitted wives on board through the 19th century." etc.

I'd like to add that the Portuguese and Spanish noblemen routinely did the same in the 16th and 17th centuries while crossing the Atlantic in the Spanish case or on the outbound journey for India and the homebound journey for Portugal in the former. While not strictly exploring vessels during that period, especially the 6-month journey of the Portuguese Carreira da India could be compared to the voyages of the Enterprise: months at a time without sight of land, freakish storms, pirates, Dutch and English privateers... it isn't all that different from space anomalies and your Klingon/Romulan/etc. encounters.

In fact particularly the Portuguese East Indiamen were very comparable to the Enterprise: they were huge ships with 500-600 people aboard, and sometimes more, who performed theatre plays, concerts, and all sorts of other entertainment while en route - much alike the "moving small town" as Captain Tripps above puts it, talking about the Enterprise.

While not ignoring the large complements of marines they almost always carried, the Iberian ships to America and the Orient, because of the Spanish and Portuguesa colonies there, also always carried numerous civilians with them, who would settle in the colonies or serve there for a period of years. This was totally unlike the ships of the Dutch and English East India companies in the first half of the 17th c., which were sleeker and heavilier armed vessels solely for fighting and trade purposes - the Klingon and Romulan military ships of their day, so to speak.

The presence of noble ladies and their children aboard the Portuguese East Indiamen is part of the Portuguese litterature from the 16th and 17th centuries: several stories of noble ladies and children who chose to go down with their husbands and fathers (or vice versa) during enemy attacks, shipwrecks, etc. rather than be rescued, and tales of long treks along foreign shores following a shipwreck exist. Particularly famous in the story of the wreck of the São João in March 1552: Manuel de Sousa de Sepulveda, his wife and three young children, and some two hundred other Portuguese survivors walked from the Natal coast to Lourenço Marques in Mozambique, where some twenty survivors arrived in May the following year - Manuel, his wife and children all having died along the way.

If you study the history books you'll find many such stories of men, women and children lost at sea, or following shipwreck, since the 16th century. So, with no disrespect, Yarkos statement above that "Back then, there was little danger of floating around on the sea" is simply not true. And the dangers of having women and children on board were many and unexpected: in 1562, a Portuguese sailor, his ship lying at anchor in Mozambique Island, decided to go swimming around the ships in port to catch a glimpse of the ladies on the veranda in the aftercastle. He lost an arm and a leg to the sharks.

Back to Star Trek: of course the families of the crews of such vessels as the Enterprise would be aboard in Roddenberry's 24th century. How can anyone doubt that?
Sat, May 25, 2013, 2:55am (UTC -5)
>> of course the families of the crews of such vessels as the Enterprise would be aboard in Roddenberry's 24th century. How can anyone doubt that?

Here is why it ought to be doubted. There is danger out there. It regularly occurs. In our current day, we have drawn a line. Regardless of families choosing to die at sea in the past, TODAY we draw a line. We do not allow families on vessels that we KNOW will be going into danger. To do so would be absolutely ridiculous.

The Enterprise WILL be going into danger especially in Roddenberry's universe!!! It makes perfect sense to draw a line and disallow families from ships going into uncharted space.
Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 6:56pm (UTC -5)
First, to respond to one of Jammer's comments - "the really wearing out his welcome Alexander", I can't see how he was so offensive on this episode.

As to the children on ships debate... I think it was probably part of what Roddenberry wanted to do with the series but that got left aside along the way for plots with more action. I think the idea was that an enlightened society could roam the galaxy in families.

And, in the end, the children on board certainly provided fodder for more than a few episodes, even if their quality can be debated, which is really why their allowed to wander the corridors or be alone in their rooms, as a plot device. But even if we do insert ourselves into the Star Trek universe I think that it's what I said above... an enlightened society that can take its families on its trek through the stars.

Still, you do have a detachable saucer section, and supposedly humans have advanced sufficiently so as not to pose a danger to children wandering about.

Perhaps too another plot idea that withered away was very long missions where it would by logical to have families come along.
Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 6:58pm (UTC -5)
*they're allowed
Sun, Jun 23, 2013, 11:15am (UTC -5)
I have no problem with children on spaceships. First of all, it gives more storylines for writers and it is refreshing to see young faces once in a while. Also, I do not think the Enterprise is a military ship, unless when the situation arises, it reverts to one in self defense. But my gripe with children on adult TV shows is their lame acting. It really destroys a scene when a young child has to act believably but is acting juvenile instead (no pun intended).
Thu, Jul 25, 2013, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
I think Picard always does Starfleet a disservice when he chalks them up to explorers. They are ambassadors, inventors, defenders, scientists, interplanetary law and whatever else earth needs them to be in any situation. They are trained under and operate under a military system of rank and discipline. They go where they are assigned. If earth is under attack, Starfleet is the only defence. If there is a territorial dispute, Starfleet handles it. The uniform gives them the right to investigate crime, infiltrate enemy camps, interrogate suspects, arbitrate, espionage, carry weapons and they are licensed to kill. They are the fbi, cia, interpol, nasa, nato, armed forces etc... of the 24thC. Columbus was an explorer.
William B
Mon, Jul 29, 2013, 7:02pm (UTC -5)
The one thing this episode has going for it: I actually like Clara. Noley Thornton may not be great in the role, but she is above-average for child actors, certainly better than Brian Bonsall, and she makes Clara's vulnerability and confusion shine through in her scenes. Her scene with Guinan hits the right notes, for example, and I feel like if this were a different story, she might be a nice presence.

As is, well, we know how the episode turned out. I agree with all Jammer's criticisms. Additionally, Shay Astar is terrible as Isabella, though I could imagine the fault lay in the directing -- how do you instruct a girl to perform "alien masquerading as child?" The result is that every scene is flattened into nothingness by her presence. 1.5 stars sounds right.
Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
I like to imagine the Federation referring to its ridiculously heavily-armed totally non-military ships as "science vessels" in a Bill Hicks voice, accompanied by exagerrated finger quotes.
Patrick D
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 8:31pm (UTC -5)
There's one good thing about "Imaginary Friend" and one thing only: the Guinan scenes. They're superfluous, but they're fun. Whoopi Goldberg really sparkles when she's telling Clara about her imaginary friend, the "razor beast" all with that warmly wise smile of hers. It's one of the best Guinan scenes ever.
Sat, Sep 20, 2014, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
I'm with dipads, my only complaint about children on the Enterprise is all the Bad Child Acting it subjected us to.
Fri, May 1, 2015, 12:18pm (UTC -5)
Something about this episode strongly reminded me of child/teen-related episodes of TOS. "Charlie X," "Miri, "The Children Shall Lead," and "The Squire of Gothos," all came to mind. Most of these storylines also dealt with aliens allied with children. Perhaps that's why I felt like I had seen all this before.

None of these episodes are among the best episodes of TOS, but at least TOS had the common sense to portray youngsters as beloning on colonies, planets, or what have you -- as something other than regular passengers on board a starship that is on duty and not merely a traveling space liner.

If Rodenberry had originally wanted the Enterprise to be a small town in space, I'm glad that idea of shipboard families was voted down. It would probably have made TOS feel like a 1960s sci-fi version of The Love Boat. Without getting into the whole "is Starfleet military or not?" debate, it is obvious that the ship faces extreme danger in just about every episode. It seems irresponsible to carry children on board unless they are in the process of being rescued or something like that. Adults can make a choice of undertaking dangerous missions that could bring them into contact with possibly hostile aliens or simply the threat of a Romulan warbird or previously unknown destructive energy field at any given time. Those adults also have the benefit of Starfleet training. To drag along their young children, who can't give their consent to facing danger and who have had no training at Starfleet Academy is NOT AT ALL like riding in car. (Not unless the car in question is being driven in some hyper-dangerous place like the world of Mad Max.)

While I don't have a problem with the quality of the child actors, including in this episode, their presence never seems to make for a great story. In this one in particular, it seems to be the umpteenth time that Picard talks his way into an understanding and grudging peace between curious human explorers and previously-unknown aliens of the energy-based rather than physical variety. Substitute a different captain and that too forms the plot of probably half a dozen TOS episodes.
Sun, Aug 16, 2015, 8:18pm (UTC -5)
This episode almost felt like it was trying to be "The Twilight Zone" and falling compleely flat. The little girl playing Clara did draw me in though, so with that and Data's bunny rabbit comment, 1.5 stars seems fair.
Fri, Aug 21, 2015, 10:14pm (UTC -5)
Well, what really is there to say about "Imaginary Friend"? I suppose I could say that I've always had a kind of soft spot for it since the girl who plays Clara is so damn adorable. But what else?

Well, Jammer says that it's "tedious, obvious, unimaginative" and "predictable." I don't think it's tedious or unimaginative. I did manage to successfully hold my interest. It is, however, obvious and predictable. I mean, glowing red eyes? Seriously? For me the defining description of it would be "unambitious." There's really nothing ambitious on display here. It's like the writers just picked a story out of pepper and decided to roll with it because they couldn't be bothered to put any actual effort into it. Does that make the episode bad? Well, no, not really. But it certainly doesn't make it good.

God, I'm really struggling to think of anything to talk about here! I suppose I could comment on Data's "bunny rabbit" remark - it was nice. I suppose I could comment on how the Enterprise seems to have quite a few areas that are off-limits to children. I can understand not wanting kids in key areas like the Bridge, Engineering, the photon torpedo launch tubes or the Battle Bridge. I can even see not wanting them in the Cargo Bays - who knows what crap they store in those. But Ten Forward being off-limits to kids? Why?! It's not like it's a den of iniquity or something. Hell, there appear to be entire decks of the ship that are off-limits - like when Clara and Isabella run into Worf. Where are the kids supposed to go? I suppose I could comment on how odd it is that Worf knows who Clara is toward the end of the episode. On a ship with over 1,000 people on board, isn't it weird that the Chief of Security knows who the child of a low-ranking member of the Engineering staff is?

You see the problem here? I'm nitpicking.

For "Hero Worship" I said - "From here on out, I think I'm to view this as a my "museum-quality specimen" of a run-of-the-mill TNG episode." Well, it looks like I have a second such specimen. Because "Imaginary Friend" is neither good nor bad. It's just average, nothing else.

Mon, Aug 24, 2015, 8:16am (UTC -5)
"Well, what really is there to say about "Imaginary Friend"? I suppose I could say that I've always had a kind of soft spot for it since the girl who plays Clara is so damn adorable. But what else? "

I don't know if you know, but it's the same girl from "Shadowplay" and I like that episode better. She's very good for a Trek child actress though, I totally agree.

I will say that although this episode was only alright I actually thought both girls performed their roles better than one would expect. It really made the episode watchable.
Tue, Sep 15, 2015, 10:19pm (UTC -5)
Modern cruise vessels from italy and greece regularly had WAGS (wives and girlfriends) aboard. I do not recall children. this practice was supposedly entirely eliminated after 9/11, however I saw it still occurring in 2005
Diamond Dave
Sun, Sep 27, 2015, 8:52am (UTC -5)
TNG tries a fairly tale worthy of the Brothers Grimm - lonely little girl's imaginary friend comes alive and after making her do things she doesn't want to threatens to kill everyone. Clara is indeed an adorable and sympathetic character, and the blank portrayal of Isabella - especially in the rictus grimace as she attempts a smile - is genuinely creepy.

Unfortunately at the end it drops the ball a little - Picard's closing speech seems a little out of left field, and you wonder if the ideas well had run a little dry by this point.

There are also some beautiful FX shots, with an unusual use of colour. "Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit" indeed. 2.5 stars.
Sat, Jan 30, 2016, 10:27pm (UTC -5)
Jammer must have done this review while high on something to be so generous to give it 1.5 stars. I can't call it zero stars but damn it can't be more than half a star.

Alexander really sucks. Was it the writing of him, or the actor, or both? Hard to say, he just really sucks.

No wonder I haven't seen this episode since it was first run, it is so forgettable one would never think to seek it out.

And I just wanted to remind everyone ,Alexander sucks.
Sun, Jan 31, 2016, 8:54am (UTC -5)
Awww Noley Thornton is adorable. She gets 1 star all by herself! Though I preferred her DS9 entry.
Fri, Nov 11, 2016, 2:46am (UTC -5)
This one is at first boring and dives in to unwatchable territory by the end of the first act. This episode is not hated enough by TNG fans in my opinion. It's not "so bad it's good" it doesn't suffer from plotholes or even relian idiotic deus ex machinas. It took me two hours to stream this on Netflix. I just had to pause every five minutes to take break from the toxic mix of boring, bad acting, and ironically unimaginative plot. This is easily my most hated episode.
Mon, Jan 16, 2017, 12:18am (UTC -5)
I enjoyed this episode. Noley Thornton was very believable in her role as Clara, as some have mentioned already. She did a splendid job of conveying the innocence and displacement of a young child aboard the Enterprise, whose sole parent does not have much time for her. Isabella was suitably creepy as well. I thought it was a masterful play on the 'alien of the week' theme.

I concur with Jammer's commentary of the alien and his question about why it was unable to conceive anything beyond the viewpoint of a young child. I thought it might have been because the alien lifeform that manifested itself as Isabella was probably also a child in its own world.

Data's bunny rabbit remark was worth its weight in gold. I can't work out if that was his purportedly nonexistent sense of humour coming through, of if he genuinely thinks about bunny rabbits inbetween his calculations of sensory readings and warp core recalibrations etc.
Thu, Mar 16, 2017, 2:55am (UTC -5)
This likely fell victim to the Hollywood Adult Writers Trying To Write Kids Syndrome. It's basically a trope at this point that kids in Hollywood-produced movies and shows are either written as way too precocious and smart, or way too stupid and infantile. And adults' handling of the children is equally vapid. Usually they refuse to believe anything a child says, no matter how proven it might be, or they believe EVERYTHING a child says because they are supposedly so honest (something anyone who has a child or who works with children can instantly tell you is BS; pure, sure, but not anywhere near honest).

Very few places do we see a child-like child with intelligence and imagination, but still a simple understanding of their world being treated with respect and attention, but always with a grain of salt that maybe their perception of a situation might not be 100% accurate/honest.

Come to think of it, looking at the current state of affairs with how people in the US treat children (as precious widdle snowflakes who will just die if they have to walk to school by themselves, even in a nice, low-crime neighborhoods, and who can't ever be trusted to take some self-initiative, and when anyone even talks to them, those "stranger dangers" should be strung up at the gallows for being an evil predator for daring to be in the same general area as a child), maybe Americans have been watching too much Hollywood writing after all...
Thu, Mar 16, 2017, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
It's funny because the actress actually played one of the most convincing, well written children in all of Star Trek... on DS9.

In Shadowplay (which also writes Jake really well as an actual kid) she plays Taya, who is as normal a child as I've ever seen on Trek. It was a nice change of pace.
Thu, Apr 27, 2017, 2:06pm (UTC -5)
I really like this episode. Strangely enough, I seem to be the exception (looking through the other comments). I honestly didn't expect there would be so much disapproval.

To me, this is one of the best child shows on any Trek series. The episode in which Picard was trapped in a turbolift with some children also comes to mind; it was on par.

"Kids can take about anything, as long as they feel they're loved by you", "For the most part, it's just a long adventure to them". This episode deals with the question of how children experience their lives on a dangerous trek, in this case a starship. It adopts a child's perspective very convincingly and the child actresses were both pretty good in their acting (plus the actress of Clara was just adorable).

I feel that this episode delivers a timeless, meaningful message. Adults can seem cruel at times, if they're forgetting to make time for their children or to reflect on what impact their rules have on a child. Now, what I don't understand is why this episode would get 1.5 stars, while uninspired garbage like "Where silence has lease" (season 2) would receive 2.5 stars. You know, that episode where a giant-faced alien lifeform uses the TNG crew as labrats, and when Picard ultimately points out that experimenting on humans goes against their dignity and the the alien should be ashamed of itself, all is well and the conflict resolved. Boring as hell and such a TOS rehash.

Am I the only one who sees this episode for who great it is? I'd give "Imaginary Friend" 2.5 stars as a minimum.
Wed, Aug 30, 2017, 8:12pm (UTC -5)
3 stars

I enjoyed this one. I liked Troi, Guinan and Clara in this episode. Guinan's approach to handling Clara when she comes into Ten Fprward or her imaginary friend was perfect. The alien strands was a striking visual. I thought the story idea was fresh by choosing to look at life on a starship from the child perspective.
Sun, Nov 12, 2017, 10:31am (UTC -5)
I rewatch all of TNG every 8 years or so, and I always feel dread when I get to this one. However, after watching it yesterday, it's not as bad as I remember. It's alright for a kid-centered episode. The Enterprise seems to have a recurring problem of aliens being able to fly through the hull. I've lost count of how many times it has happened.
Wed, Mar 7, 2018, 8:00am (UTC -5)
I found this to be a dated, dull and mostly unwatchable episode. It does have a neat climax, though, where Picard gets to be Captain Kirk as he attempts to talk a powerful alien out of killing him and his crew. Picard succeeds of course, the hilarious force of his argument, his hokey rationality, his righteousness, beating the alien into intellectual submission! It's the kind of thing we love Trek for, but it deserves to be in a better episode.
Sean Hagins
Fri, Apr 13, 2018, 3:14am (UTC -5)
I see I am in the minority here, but I really like this episode! The child actor's seem believable to me. Clara hits all the right notes, and Isabella is wooden because she's an alien! Her impressions and emotions are totally different than ours! I can buy that-I actually think the child actress was directed to act this way, it's no reflection on her talents.

Also, I truly don't know why everyone hates Alexander. He didn't seem unbelievable here-he was making a pottery cup, met a little girl and was annoyed when his project was spoiled. He didn't believe her story about an imaginary friend doing it. So far so good

Also, everyone seems to think that the adults were dumb in not believing Clara. She ALREADY had an imaginary friend that everyone knew wasn't real! It would be different I guess if this came up suddenly, but we know her dad was already concerned about her, so thinking her acting up was a part of it made sense to me!

I too enjoyed Data's bunny rabbit comment. He is understanding more of what it means to be humaniod every day!

I think that the places banned to children is on the honour system-it may seem unbelievable in our wicked world, but I think that in the Star Trek universe, people (even children) are supposed to be generally law-abiding, so locks do not need to be put on areas. And even Worf was much less stern than usual when talking to the girls

I like this episode much better than the last one for instance (The Perfect Mate) where to me the whole situation could have been easily avoided if Picard stayed away from the metamorph! Data worked very well as chaperone, and he should have been the only male to interact with her. In fact, that would have been a perfect occasion to use Counselor Troi as companion for her until they reached their destination! Problem solved!
Tue, Jul 31, 2018, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
Terrible episode -- you couldn't pay me to watch it again. Extremely slow, boring and pointless. It's fine for a child to have an imaginary friend or develop some kind of coping mechanism as she keeps moving around and never gets to make real friends. But then this alien comes along from the nebula and becomes the imaginary friend? And the girl it becomes looks psychotic. OK it's sci-fi and maybe there's a reason why it chose to do this after inspecting a number of things on the ship.

So is the point for Picard to explain that adults are not oppressing their kids when they forbid them from going to dangerous parts of the ship? I know TNG likes to have Picard give his speeches but this one at the end is about the least meaningful in the entire series.

And so the alien is interested in the energy sources on the ship. But after Picard's speech, it just leaves without knowing Picard would send it an energy beam. This whole episode almost felt like a children's novel.

Too many tedious scenes to get through -- like with Alexander and the ceramics class, Guinan's story of her imaginary pet, Troi trying to be useful -- getting her hot chocolate knocked over (why??) etc.

I just don't get why some alien entity would get pissed because a little kid no longer wants to play with it -- the whole premise of this episode is completely ridiculous. And just for the feel-good element, the alien reappears in the end and apologizes...awww. No real issue with the young actress who played Clara -- she did what would be expected of her.

Barely 1 star for "Imaginary Friend" -- just about TNG at its worst, especially considering this is Season 5. Pointless episode that was predictable and boring. It didn't really achieve the objective of examining the challenges of being a parent on a starship -- if that was the intent -- as Clara's father had only a very minor role. Just a really dumb idea for an episode.
Sat, Aug 25, 2018, 10:02am (UTC -5)
Worst TNG episode by far, perhaps among the worst of all Trek (I love Spock's Brain because it's hilarious). (Voyager, especially the last 6 seasons, is as low as I've ever gone in sitting through an episode.)
At my only ever Trek convention, one of the boneheads from Paramount did some market research and asked us to clap for certain characters. I was shocked when this episode's little girl was put up on the screen to be voted. Not too much clapping, but definitely some booing - including mine
Mon, Sep 17, 2018, 2:03am (UTC -5)
Voyager had exploration..just sometimes not enough and soketimes too derivative..and I agree DS9 did not have enough exploration ..
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 11:48am (UTC -5)
As others have pointed out, child-centred episodes in Star Trek are rarely a treat, but I don't think this one was bad. At least Clara is played as a nice normal little girl instead of the usual precocious homunculus in child form. One of the fun things in The Orville is how Isaac regularly points out how obnoxious Dr Finn's two sons are. I can't understand why the writers are forever forgetting that Troi is supposed to have telepathic powers. She can detect emotions emanating from other ships or even planets, but here she is unaware of an angry alien presence knocking over her hot chocolate.

To add my two cents worth to the children-roaming-the-ship-unsupervised debate, I suspect that the writers are of the same vintage as I am, that is, we grew up in a time when seven-year-olds could ride their bicycles to school and roam the streets from sunrise to sunset in their holidays, only returning home at meal times. Besides, the Enterprise computer can locate anyone anywhere on board (except for aliens impersonating imaginary friends), so no need for helicopter parenting.
Jer Jer
Sun, Nov 11, 2018, 5:50am (UTC -5)
Utter trash. Boring as watching paint dry. Total drivel that I only sat through to say I have seen every episode.
Wed, Nov 28, 2018, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
How many times do we have to have the alien energy being slipping into the space ship and causing invisible havoc.

Not only on Trek but Space 1999.

I agree with Jammer's review-completely crappy episode.
Thu, Apr 25, 2019, 8:29am (UTC -5)
9/10 for iconic Borg story of Hugh.

I found it a bit ridiculous that they wouldn't use Hugh. In fact why not enlist him as a double agent then? I guess it goes against all POW conventions. Is it the equivalent to sending a POW back with the Ebola virus hiding on his person? I didn't get the impression that the endless loop they would put the Borg in would kill them all but maybe that was the premise and I glossed over that in my perceptions while watching the episode.

Once again, wouldn't the Federation have a strategy for dealing with the Borg including what they would do if one were captured? I found Guinan's flipping of perspective okay but the captain's jarring and suspect. I was hoping they would go through with their plan but Hugh would survive...something tells me we see him again but my memory of watching these episodes from 30 years ago (with a few in reruns say 15-20 years ago) is not perfect....

Crusher was annoying in her protestations as they seemed so cookie cutter for her. Damn it Jean Luc, I 'm a doctor not a doctor at war! ("Are we even at war?")
Thu, Apr 25, 2019, 8:33am (UTC -5)
crap I put the above review for the Hugh episode in the wrong place..

this episode is meh. I didn't mind the little girl. the imaginary friend was made to resemble the twins in The Shining in my mind. or is it spoiled Nellie from Little House on the Prairie tv program?

Mon, May 11, 2020, 9:33pm (UTC -5)
Trivia - the actress who played Isabella was later seen as Tommy's girlfriend on Third Rock From the Sun.
Thu, Aug 13, 2020, 5:51pm (UTC -5)
I'm the same age as Noley Thornton, and I remember watching this with my dad when it was new. I was just beginning to be old enough to watch and start to understand Star Trek, and while I probably thought I was a bit beyond having an imaginary friend at that point, I could relate to Clara's perspective on the Enterprise and her interactions with the other characters. I don't remember if I knew much about Alexander at that point, but Wesley was a lot older, so Clara was probably the first time I felt like I had a window into what it might be like being a kid my age on the Enterprise, that I could relate to Star Trek on a character level rather than just an sci-fi action-adventure level.

Obviously the show as a whole isn't aimed at the 8-year-old demographic and you wouldn't want to have seen an episode like this every week - and Star Trek's track record with "kid" shows is spotty for sure - but occasionally doing something that kids can relate to while still fitting into the overall premise of the series can go a long way toward making the show and the franchise appealing to another generation of fans.

As Captain Picard explains to Isabella the limitations of seeing the Enterprise only through the eyes of a child, there's also a limitation to only seeing the series through the eyes of an adult as most of the reviews here understandably do. It's far from the best episode, but it served its purpose for me.
James G
Sun, Sep 13, 2020, 10:09am (UTC -5)
The latest in a run of mediocre episodes, I'm afraid. I suppose this is TNG's attempt at mild horror.

This notion of weird conscious entities that enter starships like a little glowing light - there are a few Star Trek stories like this - it's just too fanciful and metaphysical.

Is it reasonable to assume that a normal child could accept his/her imaginary friend becoming real, and visible? I don't think so.

Finally, it's preposterous that the entity creature defends its actions on protecting / defending Clara, a few minutes after it threatened to kill her.

Pretty dull.
Ryan S
Wed, Aug 18, 2021, 10:55am (UTC -5)
Counselor Troi couldn't detect a lifeform just a few feet away from her? Her character is so poorly thought out. All she's really capable of is ruining plots, so, they just ignore her special powers and it's always so maddening. They should've killed her character off early in the series.
Mon, Sep 27, 2021, 6:58pm (UTC -5)
I dunno how you could give this stinker half a star more than "Cost of Living." This episode makes that one look like four-star material by comparison.

This isn't a zero star episode exactly - it's not insulting enough to be THAT bad - but it's a serious .5/4, max.
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 3:43am (UTC -5)
Ah, the return of Ensign Ensign! Is she ever going to get a strong part in a story?

Two things about this rather tedious episode:

1. It would have made quite a good Twilight Zone episode, but developed differently and in a more sensitively imaginative way. In other words, the journey from a mischievous spirit to a malevolent one handled better.

2. The casting of the Isabella girl was inspired. She was just spooky. Gave me the shivers and the creeps every time she spoke, or when the camera focused on her expressionless face. I wouldn’t want her even as an imaginary friend!

Otherwise it was just a yawny “Enterprise gets invaded by an alien that’s a floating piece of light”. How many times have we seen that before?

I think 1.75 stars…
Mon, May 16, 2022, 11:51am (UTC -5)
I knew from the synopsis this was going to be a child-centric ep. Not a fan of kids in sci-fi, even if their presence serves to drive the "sci" part of sci-fi, which, let's face it, it almost never does.

Here, the opening scene is of a little girl (not a good sign, even though I adore cute little girls - no, not in some weird way; they're just little sweethearts and make my heart melt) and Troi (also a bad portent, for she, too, lives in an imaginary world much of the time), drinking *imaginary* tea (VERY bad sign!).

Then we get some firefly pixie comes to (through!) the ship. Because that's not been done since... - well, literally two episodes back!

Caryl Elaine Johnson... BOOOOOOOOOOO!!! HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! Fast-forward.

Agree that "Isabella" is creepy a.f. Also, what's with her hairdo? Hey, 'Bella, the 80s called - want their 'do back! Also, why she just depleted Troi of energy rather than outright kill her is unclear.

The ship's shields are extremely vulnerable and unstable. How many times did they get drained?! It's almost as if it would be safer bet to have a bunch of crewmen sitting on the out hull with a couple flyswatters each, for Pete's sake!

I have to say that, despite my initial severe misgivings, this episode was weirdly... - wholesome. I especially liked the ending, super cheesy though it was.
Peter G.
Mon, Jun 6, 2022, 6:08pm (UTC -5)
I hadn't seen this one in eons and wanted to put on something I could watch with my 1 1/2 year old daughter. She wouldn't get it but TNG seems to be interesting enough for her to watch without getting distracted, and many eps aren't too scary.

Anyhow although this is surely a low point for the series in terms of sci-fi plots, featuring vast amounts of screen time with children and Troi, I was surprised by how direct and spooky Isabella is. I have to say I didn't remember being impressed by anything about this one, but one sort of gets a non-comedic Wednesday Addams vibe from Isabella, basically the way Wednesday would be if it wasn't a comedy (i.e. a serial killer). I looked up the actress and it appears that she didn't really pursue an acting career after this. Too bad. Off in the wings my wife was listening in to the odd scene and laughed out loud a few times. Sounds about right.
Top Hat
Wed, Jun 8, 2022, 7:50am (UTC -5)
It's not a great episode but at least it's one of the few (like "Where the Bough Breaks") that actually tries to tell a story stemming from the premise that there are numerous young children on the ship, and tries to give us something of their perspective.

This episode, perhaps by accident, contains an effective contrast between one child actress who is natural and convincing (Thornton) and another who is stiff and artificial (Astar). It sort of works; you certainly can't imagine them in the opposite parts.
Thu, Jul 7, 2022, 11:30pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jul 17, 2022, 3:11pm (UTC -5)
I don't remember the last part so I guess not.

Certainly the main story isn't original. Lost in Space had "My Friend Mr Nobody ".
Thu, Sep 1, 2022, 6:37am (UTC -5)
You would think, with all of the weird stuff that happens on the Enterprise, that Troi may have wondered at some point if Isabella was real.,,

Also to Tidd's point, it would have been nice if Sheila Franklin had a bigger part at some point in the series.
Sat, Jan 14, 2023, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Ugh. Never ending technobabble and baby talk. Hard pass here.
matt h
Fri, Mar 10, 2023, 5:59am (UTC -5)
On the no-children on the ship debate, it seems to be if they forbid kids in general from the crew and drinks on 10 forward, they might consider forbidding them from alien hosiles & hazards on starship voyages in general.

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