"If a crew-member came down with a debilitating illness, you'd do everything in your power to make them well again. I think we owe you nothing less."
While Voyager tries to sneak past some mysterious but vaguely threatening and violent aliens, the Doctor's programme starts to break down.
I can't help wondering if, at some point in the writing process, the B story and A story for this episode got swapped around and everyone forgot to re-title it. The titular swarm is so spectacularly unmemorable I literally have no idea what they are or what they do unless I'm actually in the act of watching the episode, and sometimes not even then. There's a lot of them. Like a swarm. That's it, I'm out of things to say about them.
Much more compelling, and I'm pretty sure the story with more time devoted to it, is the supposed 'B' plot in which the Doctor's programme starts to degrade from over-use and a hologram of his designer Lewis Zimmerman is booted up to help fix him.
Picardo is excellent as ever, of course, in dual roles as the Doctor and Lewis Zimmerman - 'Projections' having established that Zimmerman designed the EMH's physical form based on himself. The Doctor's initial confusion over his memory loss is touching and well played and as he becomes more childlike and Kes has to take over the whole situation becomes heart-breaking, and both play their increasing sadness and desperation very well in what is essentially a depiction of losing a loved one to dementia or Alzheimer's. Zimmerman, meanwhile, is even more irritable and abrasive than the Doctor was when he was first activated, which both differentiates him from the Doctor as a character and makes him fun to have around for a short time - though I'm sure it would soon become tiring if he was around all the time.
Unsurprisingly, the oft-used theme of whether or not the Doctor is a person in his own right comes up again, though this is an interesting way to explore that particular repeated plot. We're all familiar with rebooting computers and other technological devices if they've completely and irrevocably malfunctioned, but what if the computer programme in question was a form of artificial intelligence? Should they be 're-booted', effectively giving them permanent amnesia?
It's a compelling problem, especially since the Doctor initially suggests he should be re-booted, so that he can serve the crew, but Kes argues passionately against it (she would be losing her friend). The holographic Zimmerman's self-sacrificing acceptance of Kes' solution is rather sweet and terribly philosophically appropriate, the simulation of the creator giving himself up to save his simulated creation. And the final scene is beautiful, as Kes waits anxiously to see if anything of the Doctor we know and love remains, with things looking bad at first, eventually to be reassured by the sounds of humming coming from his office.
Bits and pieces
- The Doctor has been learning to sing opera on the holodeck, which gives us a fun post-titles sequence with an Italian diva and a chance to hear Robert Picardo's impressive (and trained) voice, as well as the lovely ending.
- The Doctor gets a taste of his own medicine from Zimmerman's absolutely terrible bedside manner.
- Kes pacing anxiously like an expectant father while waiting for the Doctor to come back online is brilliant.
- The shipping news: Paris asks B'Elanna out and is almost-politely rejected. The two of them had very good chemistry in season one's 'Faces' and there was almost an implication that Paris might be interested in her in season two's 'Threshold' - except we're all pretending that episode didn't happen - but this is the first time the idea of a relationship between them has been expressly brought up and formally scripted.
- Janeway flirting watch:
Janeway: When I was in high school I snuck out of the house a couple of times late at night. Had to tiptoe past my parents bedroom. That's kind of how I feel right now.
Paris: You sneaked out of your house? Where were you going?
Janeway: I'll have to leave that to your imagination, Lieutenant.
Paris: Can I take a few guesses?
At this point, Tuvok has had enough and interrupts.
Diva: It's like singing with a computer!
Doctor: I think I'll take my chances with Maria Callas. Computer, delete the diva.
Tuvok: Would it affect your decision if I pointed out that encroaching on the territory of an alien species is prohibited by Starfleet regulations?
Janeway: No, it wouldn't.
Tuvok: Captain, you have managed to surprise me.
Janeway: We're a long way from Starfleet, Lieutenant. I'm not about to waste fifteen months because we've run into a bunch of bullies.
Janeway is being hardcore today. She probably ought to at least pretend to be conflicted about it.
B'Elanna (to the Doctor): You are questioning my bedside manner?
Zimmerman: Look at all this useless information floating around your buffer! Friendships with the crew, relationships with women? (pause) Do they find you attractive?
B'Elanna: Nicoletti, we're going to have to try a dilithium realignment on the fly. Let's try and figure out how to do it without killing everyone in engineering.
Better take a point off for whatever was going on with the supposed 'A' story, but otherwise great stuff. Three out of four unmemorable swarms.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.