(written from a Production point of view)
After an encounter with a mysterious alien probe, Lieutenant Barclay begins to exhibit signs of profound intelligence, ultimately hooking himself into the ship's computer and hurling the Enterprise into apparent danger.
Reg Barclay and Dr. Crusher perform a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac in the theater room before a handful of crew, including the senior officers. Crusher's performance is great as Cyrano's love interest but who is a woman already in love with another man, Cyrano's compatriot. But Barclay's performance, as Cyrano himself, complete with long prosthetic nose, is awkward, halting, and somewhat embarrassing to watch. Despite this lackluster performance, the crew present claps for both Crusher and Barclay, which puzzles Data until Riker explains that "it's polite." Afterwards, Troi compliments Barclay, saying it takes a lot of confidence to put himself out there and act, but Barclay doesn't feel too confident, awkwardly remaining on the play's set after everyone else has left.
The USS Enterprise-D arrives at the Argus Array, a gigantic subspace telescope where the computer has failed and the reactors are going critical. A huge amount of time is estimated for its repair, but of more pressing concern is the probe now holding station near the array, determined to be the cause of its malfunctions. Geordi La Forge is assigned to examine the probe using a shuttle, and he decides to take Barclay along to help. As the two conduct some unsuccessful scans, Barclay thanks La Forge for selecting him for the mission. La Forge assures Reg that he's one of his best engineers and deserves to get to the "interesting stuff" sometimes. Suddenly the probe emits a super-bright flash that knocks Barclay unconscious.
The Enterprise tries to tow the probe with them back to a starbase to examine it.
Barclay, in sickbay, awakens to the news from Crusher that the flash overloaded his optic nerves, and that was what knocked him unconscious; La Forge's VISOR must have filtered out the bright light. As he is leaving, in an uncharacteristic show of self-confidence, Barclay makes a suggestion about how Dr. Crusher could get a faster get a read-out of his sero-aminos. She brushes him off because she thinks that his suggestion is something that can be applied only to technology and not Human scans, but he insists it would work. Suddenly, the Enterprise goes to red alert.
The probe is beginning to follow the Enterprise. An energy field starts to form around the probe and the Enterprise leaves it because the ship may not have the shield strength to withstand the intensity of the energy field. Barclay adjusts the phasers before La Forge can tell him to do, so but they have no effect, and the ship will be badly damaged if they try firing photon torpedoes at such a close range. Picard orders Ensign Anaya to take the ship to warp two, but it becomes clear the ship won't outrun the probe. Picard asks for suggestions. Suddenly the Enterprise drops to impulse as Barclay, without authorization, has diverted the power to the shields which, using a new equation he's just thought up, have been reinforced by 300%. He tells Captain Picard to fire full photon torpedoes and the shields will hold. Unsure, but with no other options, Picard gives Worf the command to fire and the probe is indeed destroyed with no damage to the ship. Barclay apologizes for overstepping the bounds of authority to La Forge, but Geordi is more surprised than angry.
Captain Picard calls a meeting in the observation lounge to discuss the repair of the Argus telescope. La Forge says that it would take approximately two to three weeks to repair the telescope. Barclay, who has been called into the meeting because of his recent success, suggests that they could repair all eighteen of the telescope's generators simultaneously, instead of one by one. Data says it would take seven weeks' preparation to implement Barclay's method, but everyone is incredulous when Barclay confidently says he can do it two days.
Barclay then rehearses another scene from Cyrano de Bergerac with Dr. Crusher. This time, his performance is so riveting that there are tears in Crusher's eyes and she momentarily forgets her own lines. Troi, who has been watching the scene, is also very surprised. She follows him to Ten Forward, where she tells him that he has improved greatly. Barclay tells Troi that he is aware that he has changed, and is full of confidence. He then makes a pass at Troi, who as counselor says that it would be inappropriate for them to have a romantic relationship. Barclay is still insistent that they take a walk in the arboretum, but Troi ends the conversation with, "Good night, Mr. Barclay."
The next morning Barclay is late for the meeting that he called. He is in Holodeck 3 correcting a virtual Albert Einstein. La Forge says that something must have happened from the probe's light in order for him to have suddenly gained the confidence as well as the intelligence and takes Barclay to sickbay for an examination.
Dr. Crusher is astounded by what she finds: Barclay's intellect has increased in all areas of study, eventually reaching hypercognitive levels (Barclay estimates his IQ as being between 1200 and 1450). His new intelligence is caused by neurotransmitters hypersecreting in his brain. His corpus callosum is so active that it is as though the two hemispheres of his brain are fused. It's not just Barclay's raw intelligence that's been enhanced, as he is also exhibiting enhanced creativity, imagination and resourcefulness. Crusher says that Barclay must be the most advanced Human being ever to live. Barclay is not surprised at this.
The senior officers are called into the ready room and they discuss how to take care of this new problem that is affecting Barclay. Riker suggests confining Barclay to quarters, but Picard decides that since nothing he has done has been menacing, Barclay will still be allowed to perform his duties, especially since he is needed to repair the Argus.
La Forge is called to engineering because one of the Argus's reactors is about to overload. The crew try everything to stop the overload, and Barclay executes La Forge's commands before he can give them. Finally, Barclay decides he needs a newer, faster interface, so he goes to the holodeck to create a neural scan interface. The computer, however, does not have that kind of program on file so Barclay then instructs the computer how to build one. The Argus is seconds away from being overloaded and will take the Enterprise with it, but all of a sudden, the Argus reactors shut down. Riker asks the computer how the reactors were shut down, but it is Reginald Barclay's voice that answers. Barclay, interfaced with the computer, is now running the functions on the Enterprise. In doing so, he locks out the main bridge from using the computer. Barclay is now acting as the computer, and this causes discomfort among the crew.
Barclay tells the senior officers why he did it. Picard instructs Barclay to remove himself from the computer at once, but Barclay says that his higher brain functions are now in the computer and he will die if he is removed from it. Picard calls an emergency meeting, and has La Forge disconnect the audio and visual modules in the observation lounge so that the computer/Barclay cannot monitor their discussion. At this point, La Forge can't tell where the computer ends and Barclay begins. Also, with each second that passes Barclay is further taking control of the ship. Although Picard doesn't want to hurt Barclay, he is not willing to allow himself to maintain such total control over the computer and decides he must be removed by any means necessary. The crew decide to follow La Forge's plan to bypass certain modules to allow them to at least keep control of propulsion systems to get them to a starbase.
La Forge crawls into a Jefferies tube and tries to install an ODN bypass. Barclay asks why he is there, and La Forge lies about needing to do the level three diagnostic they discussed. They get on the topic of the change in Barclay, who believes it was a gift and plans to do more for Humanity. Barclay is now trying new ways of traveling through space. Against Picard's orders, Barclay initiates a subspace distortion using the warp drive of the Enterprise. Troi elects to talk to him to try to put an end to all this.
In the holodeck, she explains to Barclay that his actions have frightened the whole crew, which he rebuffs, likening their fears as young children scared of the world. He pleads with Troi to trust him but she warns him that Picard will do everything in his power to stop him, and leaves. The beams of the neural interface over Barclay's head accelerate.
The ship goes to red alert as La Forge is ready to install the bypass, but Barclay comes on the comm and informs him that he is too late. The bypass is blocked, meaning there is no way to stop his actions. The Enterprise accelerates and moves towards the distortion.
With all communication between the bridge and Barclay cut, Picard has no choice but to disconnect him from the computer. He orders Worf to take a security team to carry it out.
Worf and two security officers enter the holodeck with mere seconds before the ship reaches the distortion. Barclay informs Worf that he will not take his actions personally. But Barclay is protected by a force field. When phaser fire is blocked, all three of them are thrown to the floor as the Enterprise enters the distortion.
Upon arriving, they realize they have traveled over thirty thousand light years, to the center of the galaxy. They then see that all functions and computer control are back to normal. Just then, a Cytherian reveals himself to the bridge crew; he comments in fascination at their physiology and command structure. Barclay, now safely disconnected from the computer, arrives and explains that the Cytherians are on a similar mission to that of the Enterprise, in that they want to explore the galaxy to learn. But instead of the Cytherians traveling away from their home, they bring those they are interested in to them. The probe they had encountered was the instrument of this "summons", but it ran afoul of incompatible Federation technology. However, it had been able to find a suitable vessel: Barclay himself. Riker grins as the crew realizes they are in no danger.
After ten days of exchanging information, which Picard notes will take Federation scholars decades to fully analyze and appreciate, the Cytherians send the Enterprise back to Federation space and restore Barclay, who is left none the worse for his experience, to normal. Later, in Ten Forward, Barclay is with La Forge and Troi, and they are discussing how Barclay is back to his old self. Barclay, who can still remember everything he did even if he can't remember quite how he did it, can't help but feel a little let down but Troi reassures him that many people experience moments in their life when they exceed their own limits, and that it is possible to carry something from that experience with them for the rest of their lives. La Forge then reminds Barclay that he's still a valued member of the crew, and asks for his help with the level 3 diagnostic. Reg appears cheerfully ready to get back to work, but Troi interrupts, telling him that he owed her a walk in the arboretum. It appears that Barclay is back to normal, as he is nervous about the walk in the arboretum, but he goes up to a pair of officers playing three-dimensional chess, and tells them how to force mate in nine moves. Troi exclaims that she did not know Barclay played chess, and Barclay, in his nervous voice, states that he doesn't.
"Lieutenant Barclay's performance was adequate but clearly not rooted in the method approach. I do not understand why..."
"Data... because it's polite."
- - Riker, Troi, and Data, after Barclay's performance
"Worf, I have an opening in my workshop."
- - Beverly Crusher, to Worf after the Cyrano de Bergerac play
"It just occurred to me that I could set up a frequency harmonic between the deflector and the shield grid... using the warp field generator as a power flow anti-attenuator and that of course naturally created an amplification of the inherent energy output."
"Uh-huh, I see that."
- - Reginald Barclay and William Riker
"You just spent the entire night arguing grand unification theories with Albert Einstein!"
- - Geordi La Forge, to Reginald Barclay
"I'm sorry if I overstepped my authority."
(quietly) "Don't mention it."
- - Barclay to La Forge, after he increased the Enterprise's shields by 300% and told Picard to use torpedoes on the Cytherian probe
"I've finally become the person I've always wanted to be. Do we have to ask why?"
- - Reginald Barclay
"Lieutenant, you could very well be the most advanced Human being who has ever lived."
- - Crusher, to Barclay
"Incredible! The production of neurotransmitters in your brain has jumped over 500%! ... I couldn't even guess at your IQ level now."
"Probably somewhere between 1200 and 1450."
- - Beverly Crusher and Reginald Barclay
"Has Mister Barclay done anything that could be considered... potentially threatening?"
(a beat, then...)
"Well... he did make a pass at me last night." (looks from Riker and La Forge) "A good one."
"I'd hardly consider that a threat."
"No, but it's certainly unusual behavior for Barclay."
- - Picard, Troi, and La Forge, discussing Barclay with Riker and Crusher
"Tie both consoles into the Enterprise main computer core utilizing neural-scan interface."
"There is no such device on file. "
"No problem, here's how you build it. "
- - Reginald Barclay and Enterprise computer
"I'm afraid I can't do that, sir."
- - Reginald Barclay, (while attached to ship's computer) to Jean-Luc Picard
"I wish I could convey to you what it's like for me now; what I've become... I can conceive almost infinite possibilities and can fully explore each of them in a nanosecond. I perceive the universe as a single equation, and it is so simple. I understand... everything."
- - Reginald Barclay
"Emotive electrochemical stimulus response; cranial plate; bipedal locomotion; endo-skeletal contiguous external integument."
"I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the Federation starship Enterprise."
"Hierarchical collective command structure."
"Who are you?"
- - Cytherian alien and Jean-Luc Picard
"How do you feel now?"
"Just plain old Barclay, huh?"
"It always seems to come back to that, doesn't it? "
- - Deanna Troi, Reginald Barclay, and Geordi La Forge
" May I? (moves a piece) Checkmate in nine moves."
" I didn't know you play chess."
" I don't... "
- - Reginald Barclay and Deanna Troi
- Final draft script: 25 January 1991 
- Filmed: 28 January 1991 – 5 February 1991
- Insert shots filmed: 22 February 1991
- Premiere airdate: 1 April 1991
- First UK airdate: 26 October 1994
Story and production
- "The Nth Degree" was filmed between Monday 28 January 1991 and Tuesday 5 February 1991 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16. Insert shots with Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were filmed on Friday 22 February 1991 on Paramount Stage 8 and 16.
- "The Nth Degree" originated as a vehicle to allow popular guest star Dwight Schultz to reprise his role of Reginald Barclay. Michael Piller recalled, "We had sort of put in our laundry list of things we wanted to bring back fourth season. "Hollow Pursuits" was a wonderful episode last year, and [Barclay] is a very interesting character and a great actor. We were having trouble finding something that would make it worthwhile to bring him back. Joe had this concept of somebody who became super intelligent and said, 'Maybe this could be our Barclay show,' and we weren't sure what we were going to do with our premise at first, but we finally got a story together and I was really pleased with the way it turned out. Joe Menosky has said he was really proud to have his name on that show, more so than any other show. That's Rob Legato's second episode and Rob did a masterful job in terms of interpreting the story. I think Rick came up with the idea of doing Cyrano. It was kind of a con on the audience." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 218)
- Brannon Braga remarked, "We struggled for a year with how to have Barclay come back. We didn't want him to play the nervous chap in the holodeck again and Joe Menosky came up with the science-fiction notion of a probe which is essentially a ship in a bottle. It was a good twist on that particular character which you could only get to with a science-fiction gag." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, pp. 218-219)
- According to Legato, the script was constantly being revised, with the final scene only delivered on the day of shooting. In earlier drafts, the Cytherian was more malevolent, but this was changed to avoid the common hostage plot. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 160)
- The Feynman was named for physicist Richard Feynman. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p 160)
- Live lasers were used in the scenes where Barclay interfaces with the computer. According to Michael Piller, "We've used laser beams in post production for firing things and lighting effects, and we've had several meetings where we've wanted to use them in production but have never done it. Rob suggested it on this episode and it was a wonderful idea – all those beams coming down and hitting his head are all laser beams and mirrors. It's all live, it's another effect we want to use more of. It's really weird and allows you to move the camera. If it was laid down in post-production, you wouldn't be able to. It has a real immediacy and in terms of technical stuff that was a real advancement in terms of using lasers on stage...Part of it was shot at eight frames per second, and part at six frames. Then we harmonized the voice down to that speed so that the voices work within that eight frames. It was a wild effect. It was a great episode for [Rob] to do so he could draw on all of his tricks." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 218-219)
- This episode has one of the longest teasers in the franchise, seven minutes and 21 seconds long.
Cast and characters
- Jim Norton plays the holographic Albert Einstein again in Next Generation's sixth season finale "Descent".
- Kay E. Kuter later plays the Sirah in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Storyteller".
- This is not the first Federation starship named Enterprise to travel to the center of the galaxy. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the USS Enterprise-A traveled under the control of Sybok to the mythical Sha Ka Ree, believed to be located at the galactic center, where they met a god-like alien.
- A mission report for this episode by Patrick Daniel O'Neill was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 16, pp. 58-61.
Video and DVD releases
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 47, May 1992
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 4.7, 3 September 2001
- As part of the TNG Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Jim Norton as Albert Einstein
- Kay E. Kuter as Cytherian
- Saxon Trainor as Linda Larson
- Page Leong as April Anaya
- Rachen Assapiomonwait as Nelson
- Majel Barrett as USS Enterprise-D computer voice
- Karen Baxter as operations division ensign
- Thomas J. Booth as civilian
- Bowman as science division officer
- Michael Braveheart as Martinez
- Carl David Burks as Russell
- Cameron as Kellogg
- Max Cervantes as operations division officer
- Tracee Lee Cocco as Jae
- George Colucci as security officer
- Cooper as Reel
- Gerard David as operations division ensign
- B.J. Davis as security officer
- Denise Deuschle as science division officer
- Elliot Durant III as operations division ensign
- Margaret Flores as science division officer
- Michele Gerren as science division officer
- Hirner as Ten Forward waiter
- Kai as science division officer
- Mark Kosakura as operations division ensign
- Mark Lentry as civilian
- Marin as command division officer
- Debbie Marsh as command division officer
- Michael Moorehead as science division ensign
- Terry Noel as operations division officer
- Randy Pflug as Jones
- Brandy Pickett as science division officer
- Keith Rayve as command division ensign
- John Rice as science division officer
- Denise Lynne Roberts as Patti
- Joyce Robinson as Gates
- Richard Sarstedt as command division officer
- Curt Truman as command division officer
- Mikki Val as operations division officer
- Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
- Harry Young as science division officer
- Unknown performers as
- Brett – stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Cameron – stand-in for Gates McFadden
- Mark Lentry – stand-in for David Coburn
- Nora Leonhardt – stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Lissa – stand-in for Page Leong
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, and Dwight Schultz
- Lorine Mendell – stand-in for Gates McFadden & Saxon Trainor
- John Rice – stand-in for Jim Norton
- Richard Sarstedt – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Dennis Tracy – stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Guy Vardaman – stand-in for Dwight Schultz
- James Washington – stand-in for Michael Dorn
47; allergy; alpha-numeric console; ångström; arboretum; Argus Array; baron; bee; Bergerac; blackboard; brother; checkmate; children; collision course; command structure; computer core; cornea; corpus callosum; cosmological constant; crib; Cyrano de Bergerac; Cytherian; Cytherian homeworld; Cytherian probe; de Bergerac, Hercule-Savinien De Cyrano; de Neuvillette, Christien; electromagnetic band; Federation; Feynman; French Guards; fusion reactor; Galilei, Galileo; German language; Grand Unification theory; graviton field; Greek alphabet; helium; hierarchical collective; iconic display console; infinity; intelligence quotient; isolinear chip; isolinear circuits; Jefferies tube; Kohlan system; lake; level 3 diagnostic; Method acting; Midsummer Night's Dream, A; Milky Way Galaxy; minute; muon; music school; nanosecond; neural scan interface; neurotransmitter; neutron densitometer; neutrino; nu; number one; ODN; optic nerve; parents; park; passive high-resolution series; photon torpedo; Porte de Nesle; positron emission test; quantum principle; red alert; reed (botany); regiment; rehearsal; Roxane: Science Station 402; Socrates; sero-amino readout; shield grid; summer; subspace continuum; subspace distortion; subspace field distortion; subspace flow matrix; sword; terawatt; theater; Theory of General Relativity; three-dimensional chess; violin; VISOR; warp field generator; warp nacelle; weep; workshop; zalnias
- "The Nth Degree" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Nth Degree" at Wikipedia
- "The Nth Degree" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Nth Degree" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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