A monster is eating regular cast members on the holodeck, and only the holographic Doctor can stop him. The Doctor’s first sight of the world outside sickbay features warriors, shield maidens, psychotropic drugs and a lot of trees…
The Doctor is a remarkably vulnerable character during the early stages of Voyager. Having only been in existence for a few months, he’s so young that he is mentored and mothered by a one-year-old (Kes). Although apparently a functioning (though not quite 'fully' yet) AI lifeform, his knowledge is pretty much restricted to medicine and his experience to one room on one fairly small ship. There’s a lovely moment in this episode, after he accepts his first holodeck-based ‘away mission,’ in which he explains that he’s never even seen a sky, let alone a warrior, monster or other photogenic lifeform, his calm but heartfelt terror coming through in a very touching way. Hrothgar’s later question about his childhood reiterates the point, and is one of the few times his technical youth, despite having the body of a grumpy middle aged man, is addressed.
This is a nice little story to introduce the Doctor to the wide world (or that portion of it which can be recreated on the holodeck). The Danes in Harry’s holodeck program are pretty tame and the plot very slight, but the setting is fun, though the holo-novel seems a bit out-of-character for Harry, usually the eternal sidekick. Perhaps in his own mind, Harry is the hero and Paris is the sidekick. The character of Freya, named for a Norse goddess, is not part of Beowulf, which features no kick-ass women unless you count Grendel’s mother. She’s great fun though, and well cast. She’s the perfect love interest for the Doctor – quite different from Kes, for whom I always suspected he was carrying a bit of a torch, but not dissimilar from the women who brought him to life, Captain Janeway and B'Elanna Torres.
The Doctor chooses a name in this episode, but has got rid of it again by episode’s end. It’s handy that he coincidentally choose a suitably Germanic name from his three final choices for his Norse adventure. I’m not sure I like the way he changes his name every time he has an unhappy love affair though. It’s intriguing and probably something a lot of people would like to do, and a neat use of the concept of a fully adult character with no name, but I can’t help thinking it’s probably not mentally healthy. If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind taught us anything, it’s that forgetting unhappy love affairs does no good in the long run.
Not an especially stellar episode, but a nice enough way to spend forty-five minutes. It came in very handy when I was writing my undergraduate dissertation on Homer and Beowulf, as I used to watch it and pretend I was doing research…
Bits ‘n’ pieces
‘Ancient English epic’ isn’t the way we usually describe Beowulf – it’s an Old English epic, i.e. it’s written in Old English, from the Early Medieval period. ‘Ancient’ stops around AD 400. But I’ll let Chakotay off, it’s close enough.
I’m less willing to let him off his dismissive comment about ‘monsters and swordplay... that sort of thing.’ Know your audience, Chakotay – we like ‘that sort of thing’!
Janeway has the slightly nicer, swept hairstyle in this episode rather than the Bun of Steel.
The Doctor’s attempt at stories of his deeds is very funny, as is his and Freya’s conversation about the properties of a certain herb.
There are several reminders of Janeway’s background as a science officer in this episode, one of the qualities which mark her out from her fellow Captains (though see comments below on Picard). She tells B’Elanna how to TECHNOBABBLE as often as vice versa.
Freya: ‘He was like no other. Hair straight and raven-black; eyes bright with fierce fire - the burning gaze of a hero.’
Tuvok: ‘Grand eloquence notwithstanding, that would qualify as a description of Mr Kim.’
Tuvok: ‘There are no demons in Vulcan literature.’
Chakotay: ‘That might account for its popularity.’
Janeway: ‘Nothing on the holodeck will be able to touch you... unless you want it to.’ Oo-er. He hasn’t made that particular addition to his program yet though.
Slight but fun. Two and a half out of four Norse warriors.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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