Star Trek: Voyager: Projections   Rewatch 
March 6, 2017 10:05 AM - Season 2, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Once upon a time, I, the Emergency Medical Hologram, dreamt I was a man, walking hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a man. I was conscious only of my happiness as a man, unaware that I was the EMH. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a hologram dreaming I was a man, or whether I am now a man, dreaming I am a hologram. Or maybe it's just another damn holodeck malfunction? And what the hell was Lieutenant Broccoli doing there?

Memory Alpha needs to go deeper:

- Making The Doctor unsure of his reality provided the genesis for this episode. Writer Brannon Braga recalled, "I just wanted to do a doctor show, and basically a one-liner just popped into my head one day: What if the doctor discovers that Voyager is a hologram and he is real? Then I got into the argument 'I think, therefore I am'; what does being real mean? I just thought it was an opportunity to do a real mind-bending kind of story." Soon after having penned the episode, Braga noted, "The one-liner was, 'What if The Doctor started to realize that he was a real person, and Voyager was the holographic simulation?' It becomes a kind of creepy, philosophical quandary for The Doctor [....] It has been a while since I've done one of those reality-bending stories. The great challenge in this episode was to keep the audience wondering, 'My God, could this really be happening?' The fun is not in believing it, the fun is in considering all the different twists and turns along the way. As I always say, the tale is in the telling." Analyzing the story shortly after having written it, Braga mused, "At one point, Barclay comes in and says, 'You're real; we're at the holo-programming center. I'm your assistant; you're having a mental breakdown; nothing here is real.' In essence, it becomes analogous to the stories written by the philosopher René Descartes, of the man plagued by an evil demon, out to prove that he doesn't exist, and in this case, the demon is Barclay. The story culminates in Descartes' famous quote, 'I think, therefore I am.'"

- After working on this episode, director Jonathan Frakes noted that Robert Picardo, the performer of The Doctor, and Dwight Schultz "were brilliant together." Concerning his relationship with Robert Picardo, Schultz recalled, "Meeting Bob Picardo was a pleasure. We knew a lot of the same people in New York City, spent a lot of time doing silly voices and cracked each other up on the set. We just reminisced about our pasts in New York City and talked about the theater, which is what stage-trained actors tend to do when they get together."

- The crew's data in The Doctor's fantasy/illusion is stored in memory block 47-alpha.

"Did I program Mister Paris to be so annoying?"
"Actually, I programmed him. I modeled him after my cousin Frank."
"Computer, delete Paris."

- The Doctor and Barclay

"Don't Panic!'"

- Barclay, visibly panicking

"The array you discovered is controlled by an entity you will come to know as the Caretaker... or, Banjo-Man."

- The Doctor

Poster's Log:

Well, it's a Doctor-centric episode, so of course I liked it, especially as it brings up a lot of interesting questions about the Doctor's experience of his own existence, such as whether and/or how he feels things, and whether part of that feeling translates to something like physical sensation. It would make sense for him to have some physical sensory capability, for example, tactile feedback to make it easier for him to pick up and manipulate objects. (There are all sorts of reasons why you might want an EMH to have the full sensory array, not just sight, hearing and touch, but even scent; a fruity odor on the breath is a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis. But that would be a bit tricky to set up--since scent is an interaction between airborne molecules and the cells in your nose, an artificial analogue might involve breaking down the airborne molecules with the replicator circuits that are part of the holodeck setup--and it would be redundant, since the EMH already has access to medical tricorders and all sorts of other diagnostic apparatus.) But other sensations, especially ones that tie into emotions, might be a bit trickier; for example, if and when the Doctor feels dread, does he get a sinking feeling in the pit of his "stomach"? This episode indicates that pain is a new experience for him, and he even seems to feel some sort of wonder along with the pain. It digs a little deeper into the nature of the Doctor's existence, and brings up the question of whether the Doctor's irritability, for example, is due to his generally being irritated, or whether he's simply aping the behavior of the real Lewis Zimmerman, who didn't seem that way in the DS9 episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" but really does in the sixth season episode "Life Line."

Other than the heavy-duty philosophical questions, it's a pretty fair episode in the mode of are-we-still-in-the-dream-or-not-whoops-guess-we-are plot-twisty stories. Barclay's inclusion in the episode makes a certain amount of sense; he's like one of those files in video games that are created early in development but end up not being used in the final form of the game, but are still accessible to hackers. (I will say that there was one moment in the episode when Schultz was mugging like crazy that kind of took me out of the story for a moment, but since we're talking about a glitchy program, it's excusable.) There's also some good work by Jennifer Lien as the EMH's "wife"--one nice, subtle detail is that when she's supposed to be "Kes Zimmerman", she's got human ears--along with some lampshading of Neelix's jealousy.

Poster's Log, supplemental: There seems to be some foreshadowing or maybe testing-out of some future VOY elements here, such as Barclay's future appearances, as well as the idea that it would make sense for the Doctor to be able to appear in some of the key points (the bridge, engineering) for emergencies.
posted by Halloween Jack (9 comments total)
 
Particle of the Week: Kinoplasmic radiation
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The Doctor is still kicking around in the era of Star Trek Online. In fact, he is available as a special Duty Officer who can be sent on unsupervised away missions, and per the wiki is the only one based on the actual picture of a Trek actor. He has great stats.
Ongoing Equipment Tally: (no changes this week)
* Photon Torpedoes: 37
* Shuttles: Down 1
* Crew: 151
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contact: still just 2

Notes:
* This is mostly good.

This is a well executed mindscrew episode. The Doctor and Barclay have good chemistry. Hearing this does not surprise me:
After working on this episode, director Jonathan Frakes noted that Robert Picardo, the performer of The Doctor, and Dwight Schultz "were brilliant together."
The script is decent, the other performances are solid. The comedy bits are pretty funny, especially the aforementioned 'delete Paris' bit. Loved that. The end bit with the 'oh no I'm still in the simulation' was good, as was the Doctor checking it at the end by trying to stick his arm out of Sickbay. Picardo always sells the Doctor really well.

I also liked the weird sequence with Neelix in the mess hall, which was a lot more Tex Avery than the show usually got. It felt very appropriate for an episode that's all just a dream. Nailing the surrealism in that kind of scenario without going overboard is tricky. I feel like they did a fine job with all that in this instance.

* The bad is mostly unavoidable.

The main problem with this story, or any story like it, is that Voyager's premise drains a lot of the tension out: we know the Doctor can't really be human, we know he can't really destroy the ship, etc. I feel like a story like this would work better in that Star Trek anthology series we were all musing about sometime back, which I still wish someone would do.

That said, there's nothing much they could have done about that here, so I'm more commenting on a limitation of the format than complaining.

* Chakotay gets something to do.

I don't know why Chakotay's the one they sent in, but it was nice to see him in a scene where he's not carving a totem or something.

* Kes got something to do.

I like Kes, and it was nice to see her doing something.

* Kes/Neelix is still terrible.

Even when they are not onscreen together, we got that subtle reminder that their relationship is unhealthy and wrong. Thanks, show.

All in all, I thought this was a good episode. This sums it up pretty well, really:

Other than the heavy-duty philosophical questions, it's a pretty fair episode in the mode of are-we-still-in-the-dream-or-not-whoops-guess-we-are plot-twisty stories.

(It was inevitable Voyager was going to do something like this, and I think leaning on the Doctor for the first go was was a good call.)
posted by mordax at 10:46 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


"Did I program Mister Paris to be so annoying?"
"Actually, I programmed him. I modeled him after my cousin Frank."
"Computer, delete Paris."


It's possible that I cheered after this happened.

This was great even if it didn't really make much sense. I also liked the inclusion of Barclay and the Doctor's second run through of the pilot episode, sassing Janeway and ignoring everyone else. The fake outs were great, and even if the show's premise did ruin the tension a little. And yes, Chakotay was given a Thing to do that wasn't racist, even if having him be the person who goes after the doctor is not all that compelling from a character relationship standpoint.

Plus, Tom Paris was deleted, if only briefly.

This might be my favorite Voyager episode so far. At least in one of the top five.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:48 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


The main problem with this story, or any story like it, is that Voyager's premise drains a lot of the tension out: we know the Doctor can't really be human, we know he can't really destroy the ship, etc.

This episode reminded me of how various "Oh no, [main character] is dead/dying!" episodes do or don't work. They flop when they try to base the tension on whether or not the character is really dead/dying because we the audience are not stupid. But if the drama is coming from the emotions of the character's(s') believing it, it can work. So, yeah, I knew that we weren't going to get a reveal of the last season+ having been a holodeck simulation, but it didn't matter because the Doctor's confusion/pain/irritation were so well acted.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:39 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Well, in theory, and judging by later episodes, they could have actually gone in more adventurous directions with the episode plotwise by actually making it about Zimmerman or another doctor hologram that somehow was picking up information from the "real" doctor. I mean they introduce Zimmerman himself in later episodes and have one about the doctor being part of an alien museum exhibit in the future, so at least later in the run they might have been able to explore something like that, but as tricksy as that might have been, it's unlikely the episode would have been any better for it as it would lose the more meaningful side related to the doctor's growing sense of self.

(As an aside, that sort of radical plot development is something J.J. Abrams figured out could actually be used and still draw audiences, as he found making Alias and later put to further test, with larger audiences in Lost. That, along with the popularity and seriousness of continuity in shows like The Sopranos, along with declining audience shares overall making smaller, more dedicated audiences more viable than simply relying on mass numbers, is what led to this new so called new Golden age of TV. It's no small thing and for all the issues people might have with Abrams and the Nu-Trek or perhaps his too strong focus on plotting over character, it's still worth toting to his favor.)

Anyway, about this episode as it is, it's one of my favorites of the series as well. Like most of my favorites it involves a crisis of character framed around the potential destruction of Voyager weighed against some better chance of reaching home or putting that goal to question. Like those others too it involves some gesture, at least, towards a more extreme alternative view of their journey, a kind of what if scenario or radical revising of their situation, which must be weighed against the viewer's assessment of what has happened before. As such, this episode is less a stand alone as the producers wanted, even as it neither leads into or from another episode directly, but relies a great deal on the viewer having kept up with the show to at least some reasonable degree for the premise to pay off as handsomely as it does.

One of the things that helps this episode is that it at least toys with some "hard sci-fi" ideas in addition to it being a good character study. If you're going to claim a hologram as individual, what that character's view of themselves and their situation might be is something worth examining as this episode does. It alternately frames the doctor's view of himself as wanting to be like or as his creator, to be real and human, and then shifts towards him wanting to deny that for his own reality as a hologram. It balances some of what he might view as gains and losses from each perspective against how he is viewed by others, as well as how he feels about those perspectives. The episode does a really good job of essentially taking us through his process of awakening to individuality by revisiting his initial conditions, prior to him gaining his status as crew and perhaps before he actually became self-aware in the way he is "now".

From a viewer's perspective, the episode isn't so much about concern over the doctor destroying Voyager, which we'll find isn't even the real threat, his existence is instead at stake, it's more in trying to figure out what is really happening along with the doctor. Is it aliens trying to trick him into destroying the ship? Or is he trapped in some alternative reality or something? That's the dramatic hook that can keep the viewer engaged even as they don't actually think the doctor is going to destroy the real Voyager three shows into the second season. For episodes like this, the "trick" is really in using the obviously unacceptable possibility of destruction or complete and absolute scenario or character change as being clearly impossible and then providing an equally dramatic shift to the plot that takes the viewer in an unexpected direction. It calls to mind the TNG episode where the Enterprise comes across a satellite/beacon thing that zaps Picard into believing he's on another planet where the citizens all hold him to be someone other than who the viewer knows him to be. Watching that episode, the viewer is going to likely assume that the crux of the show will be about Picard overcoming whatever plot or mind control these aliens have on him and remembering his "real" identity as starship commander. Instead the show had Picard eventually accept this new identity and live out his life among these people, thus making the impossible solution possible and at the same time not as, of course, Picard eventually does come back to his senses and the ship, but still retains the whole life of experience gained by the encounter.

With the doctor and Reg, it isn't quite the same sort of give and take, where both the impossible and possible can be true. Instead the premise moves from the doctor being tricked into destroying Voyager to an existential crisis where no trickery is involved other than the doctor's own inner turmoil at his state. In that way the episode starts off as being looked at as some exterior threat the doctor will have to figure out, to an interior one the doctor is essentially creating himself. He, in part, wants to destroy Voyager in some sense, just as he wants to have the possibility of a relationship or to maybe be human or to reject all of those for his own unique self. The show then takes its seeming premise and revises it to be both true and not, but along somewhat unexpected alternative lines.

Some of the best things about the episode have already been mentioned. (Deleting Paris! Neelix actually amusing! Sassing Janeway and ignoring the rest of the crew!) I second all of that and also liked how they worked in the rest of the characters, with Kes getting an opportunity to show why she should have gotten more non-Neelix involved stories. But rather than go into all that some more at the moment, I just wanted to point out what a huge difference having a better director can make for an episode. Frakes is a fine show director and has done well on the big screen too. He has a clear concept of where to place the camera both to maximize tension or give a jolt of humor.

Compare this episode with The 37er's one and differences are dramatic. Frakes manages to underline the action in scenes to show it to best effect, while James L. Conway, director of In Search of Noah's Ark, The Lincoln Conspiracy, Hangar 18, and The Boogens, is not quite so effective, to put it nicely. Just to use one example, when Paris starts up the truck in the shuttlebay, the camera cuts to exhaust coming out the tailpipe, a little bit of back and forth on Paris not giving warning about starting the truck, we get another view of the tailpipe still spewing exhaust, then see Tuvok who says they need more ventilation before they asphyxiate themselves. A moment that is supposed to be amusing isn't really since Conway keeps cutting to the tailpipe, which drains the moment of effect as the repeated shots of the tailpipe overinformed us of the exhaust, making Tuvok's mention too long in coming for comedic effect. Instead no shots of the tailpipe were needed, just the sound of the engine running and then a cut to Tuvok making his statement while slowly being enveloped in a cloud of exhaust would have been much more effective.

That's the route Frakes uses, for example, in the Neelix-Kazon fight, where Neelix puts up unexpectedly to taunt the Kazon and make his vegetable based attacks. Where Conway over relied on long shots, removing the tension from scenes like the attack on Tuvok and his security force showing too much to make anything register effectively and adding an amateurishness to the look of the scene, Frakes uses more close ups, limiting what the viewer can see and providing more attachment to the doctor's emotional state. When something happens, our limited point of view expands to take on the new info in a way that maintains something of the surprise and better matches the doctor's own experience. That's my rough take on it anyway, going from memory, I'd want to look at the camera work in more detail before really committing to the specifics of their two styles, but the important thing, at least for me, is that the director's work is really an underrated part of the experience of these shows, mostly due to tv directing not getting much notice and how much less a show director can do than one on the big screen. Thankfully current television practice has started to pay more attention to directing, which makes the promise of that new Trek all the greater, particularly if influenced like/by Fuller's time with Hannibal.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:27 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


By the way Jack, you and Cheeses are doing fantastic jobs with the synopses and opening posts. They're always enjoyable and well thought out. It makes it much easier to stay involved with the rewatches. My thanks to you both, and everyone else posting as well for all the thought put in to the discussion of the show. I have to say I never really imagined having a long involved conversation about Voyager when I first watched it, so this has been an unexpected pleasure.

(I would have favorited all the postings, but I'm one of those weirdos who use their favorites as bookmarks, so this comment will have to suffice as a replacement.)
posted by gusottertrout at 12:29 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Thanks! I'm certainly having fun doing them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:16 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Seconded! Although I'm not commenting much (and haven't managed to rewatch along very effectively) I'm greatly enjoying the threads. The synopeses, opening posts and equipment tallies are excellent!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:49 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


By the way Jack, you and Cheeses are doing fantastic jobs with the synopses and opening posts. They're always enjoyable and well thought out. It makes it much easier to stay involved with the rewatches.

I agree too. :)
posted by mordax at 9:23 AM on March 10


Catching up on Voyager: Projections does an effective job at setting up bunch of questions and oddities in sequence, giving the viewer just enough time to try and wonder what's going on, and then pushing through to a new premise -- 'isn't it weird that no one told the Doctor about the emitters outside the medical bay? Oh: wait, but maybe if he's human than there weren't really emitters in the first place; but wait, if he's human and they're holograms, wouldn't there need to be emitters in place for him to see them outside the medical bay? But wait...'

My headcanon for this episode is that food-throwing hobgoblin Neelix popping out from dark corners to bean people in the head and spout absurdities is how the Doctor sees him in real life (and he's not wrong).

The central mystery of what's happening aside, there's very little actual tension -- the Doctor's not going to die and he's not going to destroy the ship and he's not really Zimmerman, given the show's foundational premises -- which is unfortunate, and it makes me wish they'd leaned less heavily on the 'destroy the ship!' angle and left things slightly more contemplative. I mean: why does the Doctor's malfunction/subconsious want to destroy the ship anyway? That's never quite addressed, and seems to be here only to liven up the plot -- but it doesn't succeed in doing that.

Explaining the situation with 'oh, it was a subspace thingie! just some radiation!' makes me wonder: (1) how well shielded the ship is, (2) how frequent an occurrence this sort of thing is across starfleet as a whole -- how many 'defective' EMH programs that engineers have spent hours replacing actually developed self-doubt and corrupted their own code? And if this EMH program is conscious, is this a preventable ailment that Starfleet is failing to adequately inoculate them for?

Where I wish they'd taken this instead: rather than a random radiation pulse creating a perfectly functioning (but bizarre) hallucination (instead of, you know, just crashing the program?), it would have been more on-theme to have the Doctor under attack from some foreign program that was trying to gain access to the ship's medical records (or [whatever]), and was trying to get the Doctor to release the files (or [whatever]) -- some kind of root cause that would actually involve some other AI trying to fool the Doctor rather than him trying to fool himself Because Radiation, which would give the episode a more second point of tension (it's plausible that the writers would have him give away secrets to the Kazon; it's not plausible that the writers would blow up the ship) and would be an interesting parallel on the theme of AI consciousness -- is the program attacking him itself conscious, or does it just seem like it?

Personal highlight: the Doctor's sigh when Hologram Janeway deactivates herself by accident.
posted by cjelli at 10:57 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


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