I have vague memory about a movie or episode where someone was trapped in a fantasy driven nightmare like hellscape scenario similar to the movie The Cell and has to fight someone there or help someone else in order to get out. Or maybe he needs to rescue or free that person there and if he fails everything starts again but in a different form. I would describe this part to certainly have some horror aspects in it.

But maybe I am mixing up memories here.

The thing I most certainly can remember is, at the end it’s revealed the person is in a sort of induced coma or stasis because he murdered someone and this is his sentence, he has to reflect on, or be punished for his crimes in this way and will serve much more prison time in his mind than in a normal prison.

  • If my memories about the first part are correct, I think he is supposed to help the person he murdered in this fantasy scenario.

But the prison part was only revealed in the surprise ending of the story - in a Outer Limits kind of fashion. The guy doesn’t know he is in captivity (at least not in this kind of way) and the viewer only realizes it at the very end, when people at the facility talk about him or this new kind of prison system.

It popped up in my mind again while watching the ending of the movie Archive and I searched for this kind of plot for a long time now and found an episode of Outer Limits, movies like The Cell or Otherlife but still couldn’t find what I remember.

It certainly was available in a German dubbed version when I watched it at least 10 or more likely 20+ years ago.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Approximately when would you have seen this?
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 16:37
  • 1
    Hi! It must be at least 10 if not 20+ years ago.
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 16:40
  • Can you be more specific about the approximate time period the 'dystopian dreamworld' appeared to be set in? For example, was it obviously set in the far future, like Star Trek? Did it look like the present day? Something in-between? Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 16:59
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    Hi! I meant dreamworld like actual dreams or more nightmares - complete fantasy driven scenarios like in "The Cell" as far as I remember.
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 17:26
  • 2
    @DoscoJones thanks for your input! 👍 I don’t know - maybe it’s just a product of my brain. I am quite sure it’s not a movie because I pretty much looked at all similar titles at BestSimilar. But it’s really hard to find a certain plot that was part of a TV series if you don’t know which series. 😬
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 2:43

9 Answers 9


"Hard Time" is the 91st episode of the American syndicated science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the 19th episode of the fourth season (1996).

In this episode, Chief O'Brien is unjustly convicted of espionage on the planet Argratha. Instead of incarcerating convicts, the Argrathi correctional facility implants them with memories of years of imprisonment in a few hours of actual time. O'Brien experiences twenty years in prison before his fellow officers can extract him from the situation.

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    DS9 was my least favorite Star Trek Series but I think I remember that one! Now Data’s dreams in Phantasms come to my mind. But it was certainly more dystopian than Star Trek. ;)
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 16:54
  • fwiw - Miles was innocent and that was revealed also. Not sure if that's part of the OP's premise.
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 17:37
  • Re: "O'Brien experiences twenty years in prison before his fellow officers can extract him from the situation": This sentence is a bit misleading, insofar as it implies that he would have experienced more had they not done so. The episode indicates that he received his complete punishment; as Sisko puts it, "by the time the Argrathi told us what had happened, they had already carried out his correction." [link]
    – ruakh
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 1:06
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    I watched the entire series, but for some reason I don't remember this one at all. Reminds me of the episode in TNG where Picard has an entire lifetime downloaded into his head in like 5 minutes. Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 13:34

"The Sentence" is an episode of The Outer Limits television series. It first aired on 4 August 1996, and is the final episode of the second season.

In a near future plagued by prison overcrowding, Dr. Henson presents his new invention—a virtual prison where a subject's feelings of guilt literally convict them by subjecting them to a lifetime of imprisonment in a matter of minutes.

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    Thanks! Actually I am rewatching the whole Outer Limits Series now because I thought this must be the Episode I remember when I‘ve read the plot - but unfortunately I have already seen that particular episode and it‘s still not what I am looking for. 😁 I haven’t looked up Twilight Zone jet … but I guess they were not that futuristic.
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 18:32
  • @Zeitwaise, The 2002 series has a similar episode (The Pool Guy), but I doubt it's the one you're looking for.
    – akinuri
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 14:31
  • @akinuri Thanks! I read about that episode because it was supposedly similar to a later Black Mirror episode. But I don’t think that fits my vage memories. But I planned to see the rewatch the 80s version of the Twilight Zone next
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 2:06

"Ex Post Facto" is the eighth episode of Star Trek: Voyager. In this episode, Lieutenant Tom Paris is convicted of the murder of engineering physicist Tolen Ren. As punishment, he must relive Ren's last moments every 14 hours.

This episode aired on the United Paramount Network (UPN) on February 27, 1995.

  • fwiw - Tom was innocent and that was revealed also. Not sure if that's part of the OP's premise.
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 17:37
  • ST:VOY was syndicated, never a network show. While it may have appeared on the UPN station in your television market, this certainly was not the case everywhere. Where I lived in the 1990s, the CBS station aired all of the Star Trek shows at midnight, and the UPN station never had any of them.
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 16:49
  • Thanks for the suggestions! I have seen all episodes of TNG, Voyager and Enterprise and quite some of DS9 as well - but I am really sure it had nothing to do with any of the Star Trek franchise.
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 2:19
  • @DrSheldon I don't dispute your recollection but Voyager was the main selling point of a UPN channel so it it very peculiar for a new UPN station not to have the flagship show. In my market I think it was both syndicated and a upn show and maybe the upn channel was sharing facilities with another station i dont remember. So i agree it was syndicated in markets with poor UPN access. UPN using trek as a flagship show was the same business model used for Discovery on streaming and the studio had planned for 1970s Phase II which ultimately didn't happen both the channel and the series. Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 18:31

I'm only mentioning this as you state that you may be confusing two stories. There are many elements you describe that seem to match the "White Bear" episode of Black Mirror.

Matching elements to your criteria (six):

- Setting seems like a dystopian environment; is actually housing development that acts as a set/stage for the prison/show. The "studio audience" initially comes across as a zombie like population.
- End reveal of a prison like setting (more of a reality TV show where punishment for crime is televised).
- Drugs are used to invoke forgetfulness and brain fog.
- The show/prison hires terrorizing actors the main character must face/fight.
- The timeframe (2013) seems to fit a 10 year ago estimation. Likely available in German via Netflix or whatever.
- Another actor or two was placed inside the show (prison) to act as someone to help the main character.

Mismatched elements to your criteria (two):

- Gender of main character. The original crime in "White Bear" was a male/female duo, and the female acts as the main character in this story.
- Rescue is not a requirement.

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    The compression of subjective time also fits Black Mirror: “White Christmas” (2014). Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 4:49

It seems possible this is a somewhat faded memory of Quantum Leap -- starring Scott Bakula (more recently seen as Captain Jonathan Archer in four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise) as Sam Beckett. Sam becomes trapped in a quantum state after an experiment goes wrong, and continually (once per episode) "leaps" into the place of someone in his past, in which he must (with the help of a projection of "Al" who has access to future knowledge of the people Sam has landed in) help them or someone close to them resolve a life problem before he is released to "leap" again.

This series ran on American TV from 1988 to 1993, and was extremely popular, so likely was dubbed in multiple other languages -- and it's old enough. Many of the "leaps" were into situations that might be seen as dystopian, and Sam (equipped with his own intellect and memories, but the appearance of the "target") sometimes had to fight, but the primary point was that he had to help someone.

  • Quantum Leap was great as well at the time! But it was way more intense - more in a Outer Limits kind of style with Black Mirror vibes.
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 17:59
  • Note - Sam didn't have "the body of the target." He had his own body. What he did was take on the appearance of the target through sci-fi handwavium. In one episode, he leapt into a young boy. He still had the body of an adult male. He was able to pick up his bullying big sister and dangle her over a well. In another he leapt into a soldier that had lost both legs. He was still able to walk. Children, animals and lunatics could always see the real Sam
    – Pete
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 19:08
  • @Pete Updated that.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 19:16
  • Also he didn't always have to help the host. Quite often it was the host's brother, wife, parent, or friend that needed to be helped. Not sure offhand which was more common.
    – Pete
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 19:21
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    @Pete Yeah. Can you tell I never watched the show?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 11:56

Could it be Infinity Chamber?

From wikipedia:

A man named Frank, who apparently sabotaged a government operation with a computer virus, is held in a futuristic automated detention facility that is overseen by an artificial intelligence (AI) computer named Howard. Frank tries to escape and, due to the manipulation of his memories by the facility, relives recurrent dreams, mainly in a coffee shop, imagining that he has succeeded in escaping the facility, only to later realize that he has not.

However, the movie was released in 2016 so may be too recent to be the one you're looking for. Also, the main character knows they are in prison but repeatedly dreams of their arrest and life before imprisonment, rather than dreaming about being imprisoned.

  • Yes, that’s way too recent - but thanks, sounds interesting anyway! - It has to be 20+ years old if it even exists in reality 😄 ( I mean Battlestar Galactica is almost 20 years old now).
    – Zeitwaise
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 20:19

I think it’s The I-Land, a 7-Part 2019 Netflix Miniseries (IMDB)

Edit: Bummer; just noticed you said it was much older.

When ten people wake up on a treacherous island with no memory of who they are and how they got there, they set off on a trek to try to get back home, only to discover the world is not as it seems.

I-Land is a virtual reality prison designed with extreme psychological and physical challenges, where the punishment for crime is death. When ten people wake up on the treacherous island with no memory of who they are or how they got there, they must rise to the challenges to prove they are ready to be released back into society.


Though the original "The Prisoner" was not a virtual world, the 2009 remake mini-series does turn out to be a virtual prison for the characters.

The Prisoner 2009


I think you are mixing up two stories. I think the current set of answers are correct as to the second half, but the first half to be sounds like the movie Virtual Nightmare.

In Virtual Nightmare, the male and female protagonist discover that their whole reality is a falsehood designed to mask the nature of the real world. The movie ends with just the two of them discovering the nature of the system in a confrontation in a large sci-fi server room, escaping, and seeing the world is a wasteland and all the real world 'objects' are just false props but they're the only ones who are aware.

  • 3
    The story OP is describing bears almost no resemblance to Virtual Nightmare.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 17:22
  • 2
    @Valorum: Okay, but apart from that? :P Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 4:50

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