Sunday, September 4, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Living Witness"

“Living Witness” has always been one of my favorite episodes of VOY. It is the history buff in me. For those who are hanging around for the future Babylon 5 reviews, “Living Witness” has the same basic premise as the fourth season’s “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” in that the historical record of current events has been distorted by the passage of time, but is corrected by holograms representing the time in question. No, I do not believe VOY ripped off Babylon 5. I give VOY credit for originality when it is due.



The episode takes place in the 31st century on a planet populated by the oppressed Vaskans and the dominant Kyrians. Voyager encountered the planet 700 years prior and accidentally got in the middle of their civil war. The encounter, as a matter of historical record, has been distorted over time to say that Voyager intervened on behalf of the Kyrians to slaughter the vaskans and establish the Kyrians as the dominant power.



We see their version of history through an historical simulation which is way off in accuracy., but does poke fun at some fan jokes about the regular characters. You have seen quite a few of them here. Janeway is a complete psychopath. Chakotay is brutally violent because everyone is openly challenging his ability to lead. Harry is quick with his fists and is sycophantic to Janeway. Neelix gets no resperct even though he is an officer. He is referred to as a warthog. The Doctor, who is an android instead of a hologram, willingly creates a biological weapon when called upon. There are also some interesting aesthetic touches. The uniforms have more black, including leather gloves. Took’s ears are larger and more pointed to give him a devilish look. Chakotay’s tatto covers the entire left side of his face. The coolest bit is that Seven is still a full fledged Borg, but not alone. Janeway has a small army of drones at her command, which is something I am certain the real Janeway asks Santa Clause for every Christmas.



As this simulation goes, a Kyrian made a deal with the crew--destroy the Vaskan military and be granted wormhole technology that will allow them to return to the alpha Quadrant. This Voyager, being a huge warship, jumps at the chance. It destroys the military, but when surrender is refused, Janeway has the Doctor whip up a biological weapon that kills millions of civilians. When the Vaskan leaderr is captured, Janeway shoots him in the back of the head personally to end the war.



This is the accepted narrative of events until an historian named Quarren discovers the Doctor’s back up program (Yes, I know. Sit tight a minute on that one.) and learns things are not what they seem. It is a tense confrontation at first. Holograms are conveniently considered sentient and responsible for their actions, so the Doctor is considered a war criminal. It is only when Quarren thinks about the mistake of believing the Doctor to be an android rather than a hologram he pays any attention to the doctor’s accurate accounting of events.



Which are that janeway was offering Krians medical supplies in exchange for dilithium when the Vaskans, ;ead by the head of the entire rebellion attack the ship. They land a boarding party and take hostages. The situation almost ends peacefully, by the kyrian envoy kills the leader of the Vaskans. His death ends the war, beginning 700 years of Vaskan oppression, and gets the blame.



The appearance of the Doctor with the truth compels the Vaskans to rebel again because they have been misled all this time. To prevent further bloodshed, the doctor wants to destroy his program and let the lie stand. A current peace is worth living a lie as far as he is concerned. Quarren convinces him otherwise. History is no good to us if we do not know the absolute truth. As a history buff, I agree wholeheartedly. History revisionism is a terrible thing because people will learn the wrong lessons. The ending is hopeful, as we see the events taking place between the Doctor and Quarren are also a simulation in the even more distant future when the Kyrians and Vaskans are living together in peace.



All right, “Living Witness” has a major flaw. since when does the Doctor have a back up program? It has been a plot point as recently as a scant few episodes ago there is only one doctor. Lose him, and that is it. The sudden appearance of a back up program is convenient for the episode. Its loss is also convenient so that the problem of only having one doctor can continue for the series, too. This is the only thing that keeps me from awarding five stars. I hate to be so harsh on an episode I otherwise consider a near perfect VOY episode, but it is a huge flaw. in the grand scheme of things.



“Living Witness” is Tim Russ’ directorial debut. It is filmed masterfully well for a novice director. I like the tone, the style, the humorous winks at fan jokes about characterization that are not jokes within the context of the episode. I also appreciate the since that history must be respected. Truth be told, the further back we go in history, the less certainty we can say what really happened. The fear of historical lies being presented as truth is a vety real one. Keeping it that way is a bad thing, even mean well intentioned as the Doctor rationalized. Finally, not only a moral I can agree with wholeheartedly, but also one in which an alien corrected an enlightened member of the Federation about. Do not hold your breath waiting for that to happen again.



There is a long list of writers credited with “Living Witness,’ which makes me suspect it was at one point a VOY mirror universe story. In the same way the Borg wre off limits for DS9, the mirror universe was a no no for VOY. If true, then the story had to be changed to the way it is now. I applaud said change, even though it prompted the continuity busting Doctor back up. If you recall, I hated all the mirror universe DS9 stories. I would not have gone for a VOY version, either, I imagine. But I really like the way “Living Witness” turned out. A definite high point for the series.



Rating: **** (out of 5)

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