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As the Enterprise explores a nebula, a little girl's imaginary friend becomes terrifyingly real.



Clara, a young girl who just moved to the USS Enterprise-D with her father, Ensign Sutter, talks to Counselor Deanna Troi, discussing the nature of her imaginary friend named Isabella. Troi believes that Clara imagined Isabella as she moves from ship to ship often due to her father's career, and hasn't had the opportunity to sustain a friendship.

"Captain's log, stardate 45852.1. The Enterprise has arrived at FGC-47, a nebula which has formed around a neutron star. We are eager to investigate this unique formation."

While the Enterprise explores the nebula, a small sphere of energy enters the Enterprise and roams about the corridors, sickbay, and finally the arboretum, where Clara is assisting Keiko O'Brien in planting nasturtium seeds. While there talking to the invisible Isabella, to her surprise, the imaginary friend appears to Clara in the arboretum seemingly in the flesh.

Act One[]

Isabella suggests to Clara that they explore the Enterprise together, despite the fact that Clara thinks she should inform her father. But Isabella insists that they go anyway and they leave the arboretum. The two spend all their time together. Increasingly, Isabella gets Clara into trouble by having her do things she knows are wrong, and leading her into off-limit places, including main engineering, where Data, Geordi La Forge, and her father Sutter were discussing potential names for the nebula. After his superior officer La Forge expresses his annoyance at Clara's presence in engineering, Sutter sternly orders that Clara return to their quarters. When Clara leaves, Isabella reappears. She says she needs to disappear while she is around the adults.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is experiencing unexplained drops in velocity. La Forge thinks the ship is experiencing drag, as the engines are producing the same output. The rate of change in velocity decreases faster, but then Isabella tells Clara to wait and disappears. She returns, and the ship's velocity is back to expected. In engineering, Data examines this change in velocity and reports that it appears the problem simply corrected itself.

Act Two[]

Senior staff discuss FGC 47

"Collect your samples, Mr. La Forge. We'll proceed with caution."

Generally others on the ship cannot see Isabella although Worf sees her when Clara and Isabella run into him in a corridor when they aren't paying attention. Worf too orders the young Sutter back to her quarters but after he enters a turbolift, Clara and Isabella return to running down the corridor. While talking to La Forge in engineering, Ensign Sutter asks him if he had parents serving in Starfleet when he was a child. La Forge says yes, his father was an exozoologist and his mother was in the command division and served on an outpost near the Neutral Zone. Ensign Sutter remarks that the experience must have been unpleasant for him, having to always be on the move. La Forge says that children are pretty resilient and as long as they know their parents love them, they can usually handle anything life throws at them.

Later on, Clara enters Ten Forward. Children on the Enterprise are usually prohibited from entering Ten Forward without an adult but Guinan allows it, taking on Clara as her personal guest. She has Clara sit up on the bar and serves her and Isabella papalla juice. Isabella is invisible during this time, but Guinan pretends, thinking Clara is pretending, too. She tells Clara that when she was her age, her best imaginary friend was a Tarcassian razor beast that put her to sleep every night. Counselor Troi then enters and escorts Clara out of Ten Forward.

Eventually, Troi sees that Isabella is getting Clara into enough trouble that Clara has to be with other children her age. Troi insists that Clara leave her friend alone to go play with others. She comes to invite Clara to a ceramics class, without Isabella. They leave and she reappears, now angry.

Act Three[]

The Enterprise is shaken again by the drag on the ship slowing it down. It stabilizes, but the drag coefficient is still unexplained. In engineering, La Forge and Sutter have determined there is a highly-charged form of plasma creating resonances on impact with the ship. They don't know how many there are, but they can modify the deflector dish to illuminate them for counting. They find, remarkably, an irregular lattice of about 47 million of the strands.

Meanwhile, Troi takes Clara to meet Worf's son Alexander at the class, and they create some clay sculptures together. Isabella, however, is causing trouble, first, by annoying Troi, knocking down her cup in her quarters, twice. Then, she ruins a Klingon-style clay cup Alexander was creating for his father when he isn't looking. He believes Clara caused it and complains to her. An upset Clara goes to the arboretum, crying. When Isabella returns, she is very angry that she left her. Saying she liked her and wanted to protect her earlier, now she doesn't care and says, "When the others come, you can die along with everyone else."

Act Four[]

The strands are impeding the Enterprise's ability to leave the nebula. They can't go to warp, and are forced to muddle through.

Meanwhile, Troi is concerned about her approach with Clara in Ten Forward. Guinan sits down at her table and admits to her imaginary friend, and says a child shouldn't need to give that up just because they get older. Then, Troi is called to the Sutters' quarters by Ensign Sutter when Clara is having trouble going to sleep because Isabella has been threatening her. Clara now tells Troi that Isabella isn't imaginary anymore, and that she and others like her will kill everyone aboard. Troi tries to assure Clara that sometimes the mind can imagine things that are just as frightening as something real. Troi tells her there is no way Isabella can hurt anyone and guides her to her room to search for her and then she suddenly appears and attacks Troi, who is knocked unconscious in Clara's closet.

Act Five[]

Afterwards, while Troi is being treated in sickbay by Dr. Crusher, Clara is brought in by Nurse Ogawa. Clara talks to her father and then talks to Captain Picard. The ship then shakes again and Picard orders the ship to stop. An energy being comes toward the Enterprise and starts to drain the shields. Then, more come. Picard decides to try to talk to Isabella in the arboretum.

Picard appeals to Isabella to show herself in the arboretum. Suddenly, Isabella makes herself visible to everyone. The crew learns that Isabella is actually an energy-based lifeform whose home is the nebula outside the ship. Isabella claims to Picard that she came to the Enterprise because the energy generated by the ship's graviton field generators are far richer than their normal sources of power. Picard tells Isabella that there are other ways to provide power and that her people should not destroy them. Isabella tells Picard that they should be destroyed anyway, because of the way the adults treat Clara. Picard begins to talk to her about the concept of Human parenting and he explains that the rules are there for her protection, and even Clara will make some rules for her children when she eventually grows up. Clara asks Isabella not to hurt them and wishes to still be her best friend, if she would like. Isabella is convinced and allows the ship to pass safely through the nebula. Before leaving, Picard keeps his promise to provide energy to the beings living in FGC-47 by having La Forge bring the ship's warp engines to full power and to direct that energy into the nebula. Isabella appears one last time to Clara in her bedroom and apologizes for frightening her. She tells Clara she never had a friend before and hopes she will return to the nebula someday. The Enterprise departs FGC-47 for open space.

Memorable quotes[]

"So, what are we gonna call this nebula? FGC-47 just doesn't have the proper ring to it."
"Why don't we call it Sutter's Cloud?"
"No, I was thinking about something more along the lines of the La Forge Nebula. It has sort of a majestic sound, don't you think?"
"Given the selections, I prefer FGC-47."

- Geordi La Forge, Sutter, and Data, debating potential names for the nebula

"It's just, I've never seen you before, not for real."
"Well, now you can see me for real. Doesn't that make you happy?"

- Clara Sutter seeing her imaginary friend Isabella appear in the flesh

"It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive can sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit."

- Data, to Guinan as they stare at the nebula clouds

"I was going to protect you, Clara. I liked you. Now, I don't care. Now, when the others come, you can die along with everyone else!"

- Isabella

"Sounds scary!"
"Oh it was! Especially when he smiled."

- Clara and Guinan, talking about Guinan's imaginary Tarcassian razor beast

"Can you only communicate by threatening a small child?"

- Picard, appealing to Isabella to show herself

Background information[]

Production history[]

Story and script[]

  • Rick Berman was an early supporter of this episode's premise. He commented, "Where else but in science fiction could you do an idea about an imaginary friend who turns out not to be imaginary? It's a story about an alien who takes the form of a little girl's imaginary friend and begins to perceive our world through the eyes of a child." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • The script for "Imaginary Friend" passed through several freelancers' hands before the final rewrite was given to Brannon Braga. While Isabella was a curious and friendly alien in earlier drafts, Braga took the character in a darker direction. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 201) Braga recalled, "It wasn't quite working in its original guise and Jeri Taylor and Peter Fields and I broke the story and tried to make the imaginary friend more of a bad seed. Before, it was more like Puff the Magic Dragon and it was that the alien was simply curious and didn't have an evil intent. It just kind of laid there and was playful fluff. We decided to make the alien malevolent, where it's mean to the kid." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • A working title for this episode was "Invisible Friend". ("The Perfect Mate" call sheet, [2])
  • Earlier scripts did not have Guinan appearing in this episode at all. When Whoopi Goldberg became available, her character was written in only days before shooting began. The cloud-watching scene with Data was originally written for Crusher and Troi, and later Guinan and Troi. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 201)


Filming Imaginary Friend

Noley Thornton, Whoopi Goldberg, and Brent Spiner relax between takes

  • "Imaginary Friend" was filmed between Wednesday 26 February 1992 and Thursday 5 March 1992 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16. Special effects inserts were filmed on Friday 6 March 1992 on Paramount Stage 16.
  • Larry A. Hankin filmed his scenes as wind dancer for the episode "Cost Of Living" during principal photography of this episode on Friday 28 February 1992 at "Image G". ("Imaginary Friend" call sheet)
  • The production meeting for this episode took place on Monday 24 February 1992 at 2:00 pm. ("The Perfect Mate" call sheet)
  • Several contest winners visited the sets on Wednesday 26 February 1992 and Friday 28 February 1992. On Thursday 27 February 1992 several licensing and merchandising people from Andrea Hein / Neil Newman visited the set between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm and the winner of the Viewers for Quality Television auction Tony Riccardi visited the sets on Monday 2 March 1992 at 9:00 am. On the last day of filming, Thursday 5 March 1992, guests from Warner Bros. visited the set as well as personal guests of Leonard Nimoy, namely Irving and Barbara Ostrov and Sybil Nimoy. ("Imaginary Friend" call sheets)



  • Brannon Braga named this episode's script as the most gratifying he had written in the fifth season. He credited this for the chance to write a show in which children played a large role. He commented, "I've taken to calling it Romper Room: The Next Generation. Kid stories appeal by their very nature. There's an innocence to kids and kids can have conflict. The funny thing about kid shows in the Star Trek universe is you can get conflict with kids because they're not developed yet like our perfect adults. In a strange kind of way, kids can have more problems and conflict than our regulars. They can still be imperfect. It is a fun episode and hopefully people won't be so sick of seeing children on the show." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • In another interview, Braga admitted, "I think it's one that people don't like very much. It was a cute little story, maybe a little predictable. The concept might have been better as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode than an hour of The Next Generation." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 257)
  • Rick Berman was pleased with the final episode. "I think it turned out quite nicely, and we got two great performances. It's very difficult to work with kids because they're not as experienced and you only get them for a few hours a day […] I would not rank this as one of my favorites for the season, but it was a lot of fun." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • Herbert J. Wright was fond of neither the premise nor the finished episode. He remarked, "It's not a show that dealt with our regulars and not a show that needed to be on Star Trek. I think Michael [Piller] was trying to do E.T., but what made that film work is hard to do on Star Trek aboard the Enterprise. E.T. was an alien in a suburban neighborhood trying to get home. It was like the lost pet that turns out to be a genius alien. But 'Invisible Friend's' problem was how do you have, in effect, an adolescent alien?" Wright was also displeased with the shift in story direction exemplified by this episode. He opined, "I think the problem is that when you narrow your focus to what kind of show you want to do to the point where you're doing 90 percent personal stories and you're trying to do them in outer space on a 24th century starship, you're going to run into a brick wall and there's only so many times you can do that." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • A mission report for this episode by John Sayers was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 21, pp. 37-39.

Video and DVD releases[]

Links and references[]


Also starring[]

Guest stars[]

And special guest star[]

Uncredited co-stars[]

Stunt double[]

Stand-ins and photo doubles[]


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Other references[]

External links[]

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