Thursday, June 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Projections"

I have made no secret I think Robert Picardo is the best actor on VOY. His portrayal of the doctor is the most colorful on the series. It is going to be a little while longer before he will gain the ability to travel beyond sickbay, so his role is disappointingly limited for now. It is always good when the powers that be can find a way to incorporate him into a story beyond tending to various crew ailments. It is better still when an episode centers on him fully. Such is “Projections.” an existential story in which the doctor examines who he is and what is his purpose.

The episode begins with the doctor mysteriously being activated to find he is the only one on board the ship. The crew have all escaped in life pods, but the doctor is unaware why. It turns out the computer is wrong in telling him no one else is on Voyager. Torres makes it to sickbay and explains there was a Kazon attack. She and Janeway stayed behind, but the rest of the crew ejected into the life pods. Unfortunately, they were all captured by the Kazon.

Torres jerry rigs a way for him to travel to the bridge in order to tend to the injured Janeway. Afterward, he is forced to go to the mess hall to answer a distress call from Neelix. In what is probably a more comical scene than is intended, Neelix is holding off a Kazon by throwing every pot, pan, and kitchen utensil at him. It reminds me of the Eddie izzard routine about the desperation of the Battle of Britain.

“Shoot them! Shoot them! What? We are out of ammunition? All right, throw the pots and pans at them! No more pots and pans? They are still coming? What else do we have? Ice cream? Well, throw the ice cream at them!”

The doctor successful tranquilizes the Kazon, but is injured in the scuffle. He is not programmed to feel pain or bleed, so he knows something is wrong. Back in sickbay, he stumbles across the truth--he is real, but everyone else is a hologram. Reginald Barclay makes his first trek appearance since TNG rode off into the sunset two years prior in order to explain things to the doctor. Barclay’s appearance is the first of several attempts in the second season to tie VOY back in to the Trek universe. It is not a good sign to have to do that at all, much less so soon with a show like VOY, but at least Barclay is entertaining. Q’s appearance a few episodes down the road I could do without. More on that later.

Barclay explains the Doctor is actually his creator, Louis Zimmerman. He is stuck in a holodeck simulation set to study the effects of long term isolation on Starfleet crews. Voyager does not exist--oh, if only--and he must destroy the ship in order to escape the malfunctioning simulation or further exposure to the radiation causing the malfunction will kill him. Batclay nearly convinces him of this, but Chakotay shows up to argue that the doctor was actually indulging in a holonovel when a radiation surge scrambled his program in with the holodeck’s system. If he destroys the simulation as Barclay suggests, he will disappear forever.

The only real flaw of “Prohections,” aside from some problems with logic, is the doctor does not have to do anything to save himself. He passes out under the pain of whichever radiation disorder he is actually suffering from before he can decide whether Barclay or Chakotay is telling him the truth. There is brief fake out before he is truly rescued by the crew, but that is it. The story is all about the Doctor’s struggle to decide what is real. In the end, it is decided for him without his lifting a finger. I would like to have seen him as proactive in the final moments as he was throughout the rest of the episode.

There are a few logical problems. Why does Janeway stop to make a log entry in the middle of a Kazon attack? How does the doctor’s holographic communicator work just like a real one? Why is Chakotay sent to convince the Doctor he is really a hlogram? Kes would be the more logical choice. That last point I can forgive, however, because it sets up Kes as his love interest in the damaged program. That is a revelation the two have a special relationship. One hat is less awkward than any Data, the most comparable character to the Doctor, has attempted before. I should excuse everything, really. Brannon Braga wrote “Projections.” Illogic comes with the territory in a Braga script.

“Projections” is one of those fun episodes in which the true nature of a character is explored by placing him in some sort of mind bending, hallucinatory situation. Joe Menosky writes these kids of stories best, but braga does all right because, as said above, his inability to draft logical stories can be disguised by the absurdity of it all. Picardo’s performance elevates the episode. If focused on any other character, “Projections” might have been a run of the mill, we have to have an episode centered on so-and-so this season installment. It does not quite merit four stars because of some minor issues and the fact the holodeck malfunctions yet again in a case of lazy plotting--but it is one of the better VOY episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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