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Star Trek Voyager: Darkling

"Doctor, have you been messing around with your programme?"

The Doctor decides to fiddle with his programme without checking with B'Elanna or Kim first. It's a bad idea.

The Voyager creative team loved to play with horror tropes, something that's come up over and over again across seasons two and three ('The Thaw' is probably the most terrifying episode of all). It's perhaps no surprise, then, that they decided to do a complete horror homage, as this episode offers Star Trek's take on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The key concept is rather good – the Doctor tries to splice historical personalities into his programme, but forgets that no human being is all good – we all have our good sides and bad sides, even Gandhi. It's that darkness that exists within everyone that breaks out as a second personality.

The scenes with the Doctor's evil counterpart threatening Torres while he has her paralysed are properly scary. The idea of someone absolutely trusted completely turning on you with extensive medical expertise is very, very freaky. Robert Picardo has a great time hamming it up as the Evil Doctor and seeing Evil versions of our heroes is always good fun. Unfortunately, the actor playing Lord Byron is far too calm, and his costuming far too neat, to get across the darkness and passion that forms the basis for the episode, though.

This episode feels a bit like it's torn in two and doesn't have quite enough time for either of its major storylines. We spend a lot of time early on with Kes and her attempts to grow up, talking about how she wants to make the most of her short nine-year life span, and acting out a bit like a teenager in places as she tries to balance responsibility and her desire for adventure and romance. But then the Evil Doctor storyline kicks in and takes over, and we never even see Kes say goodbye to the man she was about to run off with. She makes the huge decision to stay on Voyager rather than leave in an offscreen conversation with Janeway.

Meanwhile, the Doctor's evil personality seems focused on Kes, possibly implying an attraction to her which has been implied before, but "passion" and "ruthlessness" don't entirely account for his actions, the dark sides of Gandhi or Socrates or Marie Curie are never even mentioned, and it's all a bit underdeveloped. The episode is trying to be a Kes episode and Doctor episode at the same time, and not quite doing justice to either.

There's something else I need to talk about from this episode, though. From this episode onwards, Kes has mostly swapped her pixie outfits for catsuits. In story, it actually makes some sense. Kes is growing up and experimenting with new adventures and new relationships away from Neelix, so a change in style is not unreasonable. But the fact she goes for catsuits is disappointing.

All the 80s/90s/00s Trek shows insisting on putting at least one female crew-member in a catsuit, usually for no apparent reason (Troi is a Starfleet officer and should be in uniform; Kes could wear anything reasonably practical; T'Pol is Vulcan and should be in robes. Only the Deep Space Nine uniform makes some kind of sense, and is worn by a male character as well). This had a genuine impact on how they were viewed and treated by both fans and writers - Marina Sirtis has talked about how, once her cleavage was covered up and her character put in a uniform in season six of TNG, suddenly she "got all [her] brains back" and more interesting stories were written for her. If the catsuits came out occasionally, if there was more variation in how both male and female characters were dressed, it wouldn't be so bad. But when everyone else is wearing something fairly normal-looking and one female character is stripped down to a catsuit for every episode, it starts to seem distinctly exploitative.

Bits and pieces

 - There are some missed opportunities here, mostly due to lack of time. Tuvok and Janeway talk about how they should be able to detect residual traces of DNA etc. from the crime scene, which sounds like it's leading to a lot of difficulty detecting the Doctor, who has none and is made entirely of light. But no, apparently he leaves a "residual holographic signature". Really? Light leaves a signature?!

 - The group of famous minds the Doctor recreates is reasonably diverse - it includes one man of colour (Gandhi), one real woman (Marie Curie, though she's not seen) and one fictional woman (T'Pau, from  the Original Series' 'Amok Time' – the writers didn't waste their research from doing 'Blood Fever'!).

 - The shipping news: Kes is single now, but Paris doesn't seem to have made a move despite being attracted to her back in season two – presumably he's more into B'Elanna. We're reminded that the Doctor may have feelings for Kes, as well.

 - The Doctor finishing the episode by reciting the Hippocratic Oath is rather sweet, and he recites a more accurate version of it than you often hear, too.


Byron: It is said the angels themselves take pleasure in their bodies of light.
Gandhi: And you should take a cold bath.

Torres (to the Doctor, whose hand is on her leg): You've got to be careful, or someone might hurt you.

Kes: ...everyone seems to be treating me like I'm still a child. I'm three years old now, if I'm attracted to someone it's my business, not the whole ship's.

It's fun enough, but underdeveloped. Two out of four celebrity holograms.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

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