Star Trek’s Holodeck technology could conjure up pretty much any scenario you could imagine, but there were always a select few the crews of the Enterprise, DS9, and Voyager would always return to... some more enjoyable than others. Here are every one of those recurring holoprograms, from worst to best.
Voyager was home to a lot of maligned adventures on the Holodeck, but this recreation of a 19th-century Irish village was perhaps its worst. Two terrible attempts to make an idyllic Irish village a bit more exciting for TV: the time the villagers become aware that the Voyager crew can edit their very reality and assume they’re witches, and the time Captain Janeway fell in love with one of the the program’s characters and went slowly insane as she tweaked his program—even going so far as to delete the character’s holographic wife—into being her dream boyfriend. And then slept with him. While other members of the crew were using the Holodeck. JANEWAY, NO.
Thankfully we never actually get to see the many erotic programs (with such delightful names as the Vulcan Love Slave trilogy) that Quark offers in his Holosuites, but maybe offering a slew of holographic sexual encounters on what was meant to be an incredibly important diplomatic establishment for the largest political force in the quadrant was probably not the greatest idea. Considering Holosuites were smaller than your typical holodeck, can you just imagine the cleanup?
Two centuries in the future, and children’s edutainment will still be just as insipid (but now in the third dimension!). Used by Naomi Wildman on Voyager, this program followed the tales of the ridiculously saccharine Flotter and friends in the “Forest of Forever.” Considering the likes of Janeway, Harry, and Naomi’s mother Samantha were aware of Flotter as kids—before the invention of Holodecks—maybe he was less annoying outside of the advent of holomedia.
Although Brahms’ reappearances came from her actual self visiting the Enterprise, her first appearance in The Next Generation came as part of a holodeck simulation of Utopia Planitia, which Geordi then gave a new personality to, wildly different to Brahms’ own (gross) and promptly fell in love with while trying to figure out an engineering problem on the Enterprise.
What is it with Starfleet offers and wanting to have sexual relations with holoprograms? Starfleet Medical should put out a PSA entitled Please, Don’t Fuck the Holograms. Suffice to say, the real Brahms was not impressed.
A small ship without a social space like Ten Forward or Quark’s, Voyager had to make do with holoprograms to create areas for the crew to meet and unwind... and then promptly forget about after they build a new one. Sandrine’s—a small bar on the outskirts of Marseille—was the first of those forgotten social spaces. It was probably all for the best, as there were only so many times you could show your cast playing pool again and again before they were as bored as we were watching them.
For a brief time, Captain Janeway ran her own personal program, a gothic horror/romance tale where she was the governess to a British Lord’s young children in the wake of their mother’s death. Maybe a nice excuse to get Kate Mulgrew out of her Starfleet uniform every once in a while, but it was dull as dishwater. It didn’t click with audiences, and like many of Voyager’s holoadventures, was dropped and promptly forgotten after a few appearances.
Sandrine’s direct replacement as Voyager’s social area, Paxau Resort (with a few enhancements from Tom Paris, mainly scantily clad resort employees) was based off an elite Talaxian resort, but all we ever saw of it was the crew standing around the main entrance area, talking about the far more interesting things they’d go and do offscreen.
Vic Fontaine is a divisive figure among Star Trek fans. Either his jazzy crooning provided a crucial distraction for DS9's crew during the darkest moments of the Dominion War (or because it finally helped Odo and Kira hook up), or his silly antics and singing were getting in the way in the way of the show exploring the darkest take on Star Trek as it really dug into the perils of war.
It did at the least give us Avery Brooks singing “The Best is Yet to Come.”
Sometimes it’s not the setting that makes a Holodeck program work, but the characters that inhabit it. Case in point is John Rhys-Davies’ delightful turn as Leonardo Da Vinci in Janeway’s personal program of his study in Florence. An area for her to relax and stretch her creative muscles, the best part of this was always getting to see Janeway interact with her maestro.
Starfleet officers love themselves a period drama, and Data was no exception. The program was originally made to give Data a rival that could challenge his advanced program,in iconic antagonist Moriarty, but really, it was an excuse to put the TNG cast in as many period costumes as possible. That was always the main goal of holodeck programs, really.
Likewise, Captain Proton—a pastiche of classic sci-i serials like Flash Gordon, right down to the black and white filter it cast over the holodeck—was Voyager’s excuse to have the cast out of their Starfleet jumpsuits. Campy in all the right ways, Proton is at its best when the rest of the crew beyond Paris and Kim get to join in on the fun in “The Bride of Chaotica!” Janeway vamping it up as villainous Arachnia, Queen of the Spider-People, is a masterclass in fun scenery-consumption.
Star Trek holoprograms are at their best when the team just go whole-hog with the setting, and Bashir’s riff on spy-fi is one of the finest examples. A loving homage to the best of classic James Bond, the whole episode dedicated to Bashir having to stop a megalomaniac from destroying holo-earth is basically Star Trek’s answer to Doctor No, and it’s every bit as delightful as that sounds.
If it wasn’t the 19th century, Starfleet’s favorite time period for holofun would have to be the mid-20th century: and Picard’s love of the Dixon Hill detective novels was no exception. It’s probably the home to one of the franchises’ best “Holoprogram gone wrong” stories in “The Big Good-Bye,” in which Picard and the crew have to solve a deadly mystery while the Holodeck’s saftey protocols are offline. Plus, after all, it was responsible for the moment Picard ferociously guns down a horde of Borg with holographic tommy guns in First Contact.
We only ever see the baseball field Sisko adores so much once in Deep Space 9, but it’s talked about so often—offscreen trip after offscreen trip—it still feels crucial to Sisko’s character. It helps that when it does show up in “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”,it’s completely amazing. The crew end up playing a game against a racist Vulcan Starfleet captain/baseball pro (!!!) and his team, and it’s full of hilarious moments... including what has to be the greatest Worf moment in Trek history:
And that is why it will always be the best.