In the yesteryears of the mid 90s, Paramount Pictures looked to continue the Star Trek boom begun by Star Trek: The Next Generation (which had recently ended) and expanded by Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Wishing to both return the series to its adventurous roots while breaking new social boundaries, they premiered the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager on January 16th, 1995. Featuring a female captain and a surprisingly diverse helping of crew members (by the end of this episode, at least), Star Trek: Voyager would continue on for six years and offer the setting to one of the best Star Trek games ever released (Editor’s Note: This was not a part of the agreed introduction, Tim.) (Tim Response: Don’t care, my phasers are set to frag!).
Every Monday we share a roundtable discussion about a Voyager episode featuring experts pulled from the close group of friends we could easily bribe. This week’s group consists of Seth, film/tv critic Ryan, and yours truly. Naturally, spoilers are a matter of course with this territory, and portions of our conversation drew on our knowledge of other episodes of both Voyager and other Star Trek shows. You have been warned.
This week covers the fifth episode of Season 1, “Phage.” As we begin most of our discussions, I make sure to bring up our favorite character right off the bat:
Tim – Bit of ironic trivia- did you know that in some of the early drafts of this episode, it was Paris who would get his organs blasted out?
Ryan – I did not! That would have been a fitting schadenfreude conclusion to our arc of general disdain for the character.
Despite Tim’s obvious attempts to share useless Trivia, Ryan was quick to delve into actually talking about the episode. You know, like we’re actually supposed to.
Ryan – I’d like to get started talking about the plotline right off the back. I was taken aback by how hokey the initial “alien teleported the lungs out of my body” felt to me. But then further surprised by how much compelling character interaction and pathos they were able to get out of such a premise.
Seth– Yeah, the initial premise isn’t great, but they use it to good effect to develop the doctor, Neelix, and Kes. In particular, we get to see the doctor performing the classic role of a Star Trek doctor coming up with an experimental procedure to treat the crazy life-threatening circumstances of the episode that’s been used to great effect in other Star Trek series. As opposed to, you know, just being a source of comic relief.
Ryan – There were plot holes in this episode that felt wide enough to fly the Voyager through, but it really was the characters that drove the story. The Doctor, while being one the most enjoyable to watch on the show, is such a weird character for me to wrap my brain around (and maybe you guys with a bit more Star Trek know-how can help me out with this). What explanation do we have for how entirely human the holographic emergency medical program behaves?
Tim – It is somewhat surprising, given how dismissive the crew is of any humanity being bestowed on him.
Ryan – While the necessity to story is clear, why would Star Fleet handicap a computer program to the point where it vocalizes its thought-processes and appears to even have them at the speed of speech?
Seth – This is something I expect to see developed more over the course of the series, but there are only a couple of previous cases of an actually sentient holographic being, and they were both unreplicatable incidents.
Tim – So either it’s a blindsided prejudice, or there might be something unique about the Doctor that isn’t there with other holographic medical programs. It could be a result of his being left on and to his own devices. Kind of like how your computer might start chugging a bit if you don’t restart it? Maybe?
Ryan – If they develop that, he could become a very interesting character, along with being the most entertaining.
Seth– I expect that’s part of it, and also the fact (and I only know this from watching DS9) that the EMH is based on a human personality model. That probably explains why he isn’t functioning at computer speeds (as Data usually does) as well as provides a potential explanation for why he is able to develop sentience. That was one part of this episode I thought was really interesting, was that exchange between him and Kes where it becomes clear that he’s not convinced of his own sentience.
Ryan – Kes is definitely the catalyst driving that ‘awakening’. He certainly seems frequently confused in his interactions with her.
Seth – Because she’s basically the only one who is treating him as sentient, and thus awakening him to the possibility that he is.
On the next page, we start to get into the other sci-fi elements of this episode, as well as taking time to expose a Sad Bomb hidden in our midst!