Original air date: October 22, 1990
Dr. Crusher is excited that an old friend of hers, Dr. Quaice, is coming aboard the Enterprise. Sadly, his wife has recently died, and their catching up quickly becomes a bittersweet remembrance of the people they’ve each lost. Feeling sentimental, Beverly visits her son in Engineering and watches him as he performs an experiment on the warp coils. There’s an unexplained flash of light as he runs the test, but it doesn’t seem to be a significant problem. However, soon afterwards Beverly goes to visit Dr. Quaice again only to discover that he’s nowhere to be found.
No one remembers meeting Dr. Quaice, not even O’Brien, who personally beamed him onto the Enterprise. And inquiries at the Starbase where they picked him up reveal no records of Dr. Quaice whatsoever. Wesley comes up with a possible explanation, theorizing that Quaice was caught in the warp bubble he generated for his experiment. But he has no way of explaining how the bubble would trap Quaice when he wasn’t in Engineering at the time, or how it would erase all record of his existence. Beverly then finds that her entire medical staff has disappeared as well, and she’s astonished to hear Data casually tell her that she never had a staff to begin with. It seems the ship’s crew has been reduced from over 1,000 people to a mere 230, and no one but her thinks it should be otherwise. On top of all that, some kind of vortex suddenly appears in Sickbay, nearly pulling her in, but then vanishes.
As more people start disappearing, Beverly rushes to Engineering to see Wesley. He tells her he’s been trying to contact the Traveler in hopes that the mysterious alien can explain what’s happening. Beverly wonders if Wesley accidentally altered reality the way the Traveler could and decides to take this idea to Picard, but as soon as she rounds the corner she realizes that Wesley isn’t with her anymore.
She reaches the bridge to find that she and Picard are the only two left on the ship, and Picard insists that it has always been just the two of them, oblivious to how illogical that is. Before long, even Picard pops out of existence, leaving her alone. The vortex appears again, and she again narrowly avoids being pulled in, but this time the scene cuts to the other side, where Wesley and Geordi are desperately trying to pull her out of the warp bubble that she and she alone has been trapped in from the start. (Twist!) After they fail to pull her through, the Traveler appears, and tells them that there is still a way to save her. He explains that Beverly is trapped in an existence created by her thoughts at the moment she was caught in the warp bubble, and he says that with Wesley’s help he can open another portal to her reality—but only she can make the choice to go through it.
On her side, Beverly orders the ship to head to Tau Alpha C, the Traveler’s home world, only for the computer to tell her that no such planet exists. She tries to contact Starbase 133, but it’s no longer there either. She then learns that the entire universe has been reduced to a a spheroid region 705 meters in diameter. And it's still shrinking.
As the warp bubble collapses, Beverly puts together what’s been happening. When she was pulled into the bubble she had been worrying about losing the people around her, thus the alternate reality where people disappear. She races to Engineering, just in time to leap through Wesley’s portal before the Enterprise itself is erased. When she emerges, she asks Picard how many people are on board. He tells her 1,014, including Dr. Quaice. She notes with relief that that's exactly the number there should be.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: The collapsing warp bubble creates this effect in the fake Enterprise.
- Alternate Universe: Apparently a very real one, since Dr. Crusher enters the pocket duplicate universe wearing her blue medical uniform, and when she finally jumps through the rift in Engineering to escape, she has added a lab coat, which does not dissipate upon returning to the "main" universe.
- Artistic License – Physics: The way the Enterprise is shown approaching the starbase to dock doesn't make sense. It's heading right toward a port on the rotating edge of the spinning base, but unless the ship were moving sideways at the same speed as the base is rotating, the ship would immediately slam into the side of the docking port as soon as it's inside.
- Bottle Episode: A character-driven episode, entirely aboard ship (using existing sets), with the Starbase rendered via stock footage, and only a couple guest stars. Significant cost savings were achieved by having Gates McFadden acting alone for the majority of the episode, with only Majel Barrett's computer voiceover to interact with. The fact that Dr. Crusher is trapped in her own "ship in a bottle" is just a bonus.
- The Bus Came Back: The Traveler returns after mysteriously disappearing towards the end of "Where No One Has Gone Before".
- Continuity Nod: Crusher refers to Dr. Selar, the would-be recurring character who appeared in "The Schizoid Man."
- Critical Staffing Shortage: Lampshaded several times, after all the crew has disappeared except Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher.Dr. Crusher: It's all perfectly logical to you, isn't it? The two of us roaming about the galaxy in the flagship of the Federation. No crew at all.
Captain Picard: We've never needed a crew before.
[later, when Crusher is the only one left]
Dr. Crusher: What is the primary mission of the starship Enterprise?
Computer: To explore the galaxy.
Dr. Crusher: Do I have the necessary skills to complete that mission alone?
Dr. Crusher: Then why am I the only crew-member? [the computer makes a strange noise] Aha, got you there.
- A Day in the Limelight: One of Beverly Crusher's few focus episodes, and what a sharp focus it is!
- Don't Think, Feel: The Traveler telling Wesley to let go of his uncertainty and guilt and tap into the power inside him.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Crusher realizing that she's trapped in a bubble universe.
- Expositron 9000: The ship's computer, more than usual, once it's the only thing left for Beverly to talk to (and ask "impossible" questions of).
- Go Back to the Source: Two for one. The Enterprise has to return to the point in space where Dr. Crusher disappeared, while Dr. Crusher has to return to Engineering, where her trouble began.
- Hollywood Spelling: Averted as Data, being very thorough, goes through every possible spelling variation of Dr. Dalen Quaice's name.
- Implausible Deniability/I Reject Your Reality: Played with. Even as the duplicate Enterprise is being torn apart and crushed by the contracting bubble of the micro-universe, the computer lists the cause of the structural failure as a "flaw in the ship's design". Of course, going by the constant Ret-Gone throughout the episode, the computer really believes that the ship was initially designed and built too big for a universe under 700 metres in diameter. How the computer thinks that the ship was actually built in the first place, taking up virtually all the observable matter in the known universe with no shipyard within its confines, is not addressed, except possibly by Beverly's Logic Bomb earlier (where the computer couldn't explain why she was the sole crew member given the ship's mission).
- Logic Bomb: Downplayed: Crusher catches the computer in a logical fallacy, when it cannot explain why she is the sole crewman aboard the "Enterprise" even while acknowledging that she alone doesn't have the necessary skills to complete its mission "to explore the galaxy." The computer merely brushes it off with, "That information is not available."
- Lopsided Dichotomy:Crusher: If there's nothing wrong with me, maybe there's something wrong with the universe.
- Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: Normally, this do-it-yourself Pocket Dimension would count as Forgotten Phlebotinum. But since Wesley and the Traveler are involved, one can assume that the effect could not be replicated by Starfleet.
- Mildly Military: The informal culture aboard the Enterprise is on full display, as Wesley stalls when ordered to shut down his experiment by Geordi, who is both a superior officer and the Chief Engineer. There are also no disciplinary actions taken even though Wesley nearly erased his mother, another officer, from existence.
- Mythology Gag: The title of this episode is taken from Gene Roddenberry's note little-known lyrics to Alexander Courage's original series theme.
- Narrow Annihilation Escape: Discovering that she's caught in the warp bubble/pocket universe, which is rapidly shrinking, Dr. Crusher quickly deduces where the experiment was first performed, and races to Main Engineering as the wall of the universal warp bubble advances on her, annihilating any matter it comes into contact with, and she makes it back to our reality by the skin of her teeth.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Wesley, your experiment almost got your mother killed!
- Nothing Is Scarier:
- Used to great effect. When Picard sets the Enterprise computer to run a biometric scan on himself to assuage Crusher that he won't disappear, he sets it to audio so it will constantly be spouting information about him. Crusher looks down for a moment as she prepares to confess something to him—and then realises, a split second before she looks back up, that the computer isn't broadcasting Picard's vital signs any more...
- It's noted on the series Nightmare Fuel page that it's actually a relief when the portal shows up, since it's a recognizable problem to solve rather than the possibility that people will just keep disappearing, and eventually the whole world will be gone, with Crusher spending her last seconds still having no idea what's happening.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Power-Strain Blackout: After rescuing his mother from the bubble universe, Wesley collapses for a moment.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Picard does his best to see what is going on with Dr. Crusher and listens to her issues carefully. It's clear that even when he and the rest of the crew think she's gone bonkers, he wants to treat her with dignity and respect until they can work out just what's going on.
- Recycled Premise: The story bears a slight resemblance to "The Tholian Web," with Kirk in Beverly's place, the main difference being this episode is told from Beverly's POV and the original from the rest of the crew's POV, and that Kirk knew what was happening all along.
- Red Herring: When the vortex first appears and tries to suck Beverly in, chances are that most of the audience assumes the same thing that she clearly does, namely that it's what's been sucking the missing Enterprise crewmembers away. In actual fact, it's how Wesley and Geordi have been trying to save her from the pocket universe.
- Ret-Gone: As the pocket universe collapses, people within it disappear as if they never existed in the first place. Then it moves on to the stars, planets, and even parts of the ship itself. The computer can only explain that last one as a design flaw.
- Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Only Crusher remembers that there used to be more than 1,000 people aboard the Enterprise and that there used to be, you know, planets in the galaxy. Even the computer is Ripple-Effected. Justified, because Crusher's Universe was created from her thoughts.
- Ship Tease: When Beverly and Picard are alone on the bridge together, she tells him there's something she's wanted to tell him for a long time, and she might never get another chance. She gets as far as "Jean-Luc, you and I..." Then he disappears.
- Stock Footage: Footage of Starbase 74 from "11001001" (which was, itself, footage from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) was re-used in this episode to represent Starbase 133.
- This Is Something She's Got to Do Herself: Crusher must pass through the exit portal (the "vortex") of her own accord, or at least allow herself to be pulled in without resistance.
- Un-person: Subverted. Dr. Quaice does get removed along with all prior evidence of his existence, as is standard for this trope, but it's not because of any sort of conspiracy as Picard initially suspects.
- Wham Line:
- When Crusher asks how she can be the sole medical officer on a ship with over a thousand people (after her entire staff has disappeared), Data tells her that "the entire ship's complement is 230."
- Crusher, acknowledging it's an impossible question, asks the computer the nature of the universe. It tells her. Precisely. (It would have been more effective if the previous scene hadn't already spoiled the nature of the warp bubble universe.)
- Wham Shot: When we finally see what's on the other side of the vortex that Dr. Crusher almost got sucked into.
- You Have to Believe Me!: Crusher trying to convince Picard that the crew is disappearing. Fortunately for her, Picard takes her seriously enough to take action, though he still asks her to check on herself and make sure that she's still all right.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: Beverly inadvertently did this. It's explained that "she created her own reality." That phrase was very hot in popular culture at the time, originating with the New Age religion of the 1980s, so it's a bit like hearing Kirk talking about "balance of power" in TOS.