Star Trek: Voyager: Lifesigns   Rewatch 
May 1, 2017 7:42 AM - Season 2, Episode 19 - Subscribe

Ah, there's nothing like spending a pleasant evening parking with your sweetie under the Martian sky--WAIT THERE'S NO BREATHABLE ATMOSPHERE ON MARS WE CAN'T--never mind, it's just the holodeck and we're both holograms, it's OK! Whew.

Memory Alpha is an extremely sophisticated computer simulation:

- In writing this episode, executive story editor Kenneth Biller wanted to juxtapose The Doctor's professionalism with the character having an early encounter with romantic feelings. "I thought it would be interesting to do a story about The Doctor falling in love," Biller said. "Here's a guy who is totally and completely sophisticated in his real life, he's a completely competent scientist, totally efficient and confident, but he has no experience in affairs of the heart. So wouldn't it be funny and fun and hopefully a little poignant to see this guy essentially become a teenager. That's sort of what the parking is about. It's about those awkward moments we've all gone through when we're discovering love for the first time."

- One of the areas of uncertainty was how to conclude the story. "The ending was changed I don't know how many times," Jeri Taylor admitted. "We were trying to find something that felt dramatically satisfying yet sent out the kind of message that we wanted to be sending, that would be honest and yet not depressing. If you get into people dying, it's a very, very tricky area. There was an ending in which she opted to stay as a holographic character and die within days because she'd rather have lived like that, whole and beautiful, and only have a few more days, than go back to her diseased body. But we really felt that would be an irresponsible message to send. Ultimately, I think the message we were sending was that even people who are ill deserve to be loved and not to be judged on the basis of their illness."

- It was intended by the writers (at least by the time of Voyager's fourth season) that – in the Mars holodeck program, shortly after they kiss – The Doctor and Danara Pel would have an unseen sexual experience together, an encounter that constituted the first time that The Doctor has sexual relations.

- Although Jeri Taylor believed that the moral of this episode related to ill people, Robert Picardo took a different meaning from the installment, his interpretation being less about illness and more about external beauty. Of The Doctor's relationship with Danara Pel, Picardo said, "He falls in love with the real her, the horrifyingly deformed her, not this beautiful, radiant holographic being that is trapped inside her. So there are [...] analogies for life in The Doctor's discoveries – in that particular case, learning to love the inner person and not to be distracted in love by someone's physical exterior."

- This is the first and only episode in which we see what a healthy Vidiian looks like.

- Danara's ultimate decision is essentially opposite to the one chosen in "The Cage" by Vina, who chose to continue living her illusion of beauty on Talos IV, rather than return to her own people in her now-disfigured state, a decision Captain Pike does not seem to question.

"The procedure is quite simple – I'll drill an opening into your skull precisely two millimeters in diameter.."
"It doesn't sound simple to me – I still have nightmares about what those people did to me! And now, you want to crack open my head, cut out a piece of my brain, and give it to her?!"

- The Doctor and B'Elanna Torres

"Romance is not a malfunction."

- Kes

"This exact procedure was developed by Dr. Leonard McCoy in the year 2253. I'm equipped with the collective medical knowledge of more than 3000 cultures."
- The Doctor to Danara Pel

"If you've got a problem, I'd like to know what it is."
"Yeah, I've got a problem, my problem is you."

- Chakotay and Tom Paris

"Mr. Paris, I assume you've had a great deal of experience being rejected by women."
"Oh, thanks a lot, Doc."

- The Doctor and Tom Paris

Poster's Log:

I have a lot of feelings about this episode, and some of them have to do with what I'll call the Vidiian Problem, which I'll get to later, but mostly it's that it's a hugely positive and significant Doctor episode. The romantic aspect of it could similarly be filed under Bashir Syndrome--gifted doctor falls for his patient even though he's also performing a complicated and highly-experimental procedure on her (see also: My Fair Lady)--but it's somewhat excusable because she's a peer and a collaborator in her own treatment, and besides, they're pretty darn cute together. There's also an interesting parallel to last week's episode in that Danara (I'm going to refer to her by her first name because there's also the DS9 character Pel, who interestingly is also a new character who assumes a different appearance and develops a romantic attraction to one of the main characters) wants to die, in her case because she doesn't think that she could ever develop a relationship in her real body. The comparison to Vina in "The Cage" is apt and appropriate, and even though it's pretty clear that the Doctor and Danara won't continue their relationship, it seems that the knowledge that she can be loved in her real body will sustain her. The Doctor, on the other hand, seems to become aware that he wants and needs more than simply his medical career to feel fulfilled as a person.

WRT the Vidiian Problem, well, at least the episode acknowledged that there was the ethical issue of the fact that they were going to an awful lot of trouble saving one of the organ snatchers, although the scene with B'Elanna seemed to be a pretty cursory examination of the problem. I would have expected at least Neelix to have mentioned the fact that he's breathing with an Ocampan lung thanks to Danara's people, or Kes to have commented on it, given that there's part of a scaly skin graft visible on real-Danara's face. Likewise, the Doctor (presumably jokingly) says that his greatest medical feat to date was curing Neelix's hiccups, when it was pretty obviously his cross-species lung transplant. I'm not saying that they had to beat the issue to death, but still. (This is in the context of the Vidiians showing up a couple of episodes from now, and responsible for what is, for my money, one of the most horrifying moments in Trek--literal nightmare fuel--and also for another appearance later in the season, their last in regular continuity, in which even Danara has to admit that they're pretty awful.)

But even with this problem, the episode ends on a very sweet note, with the dance. I teared up a little, thinking of friends and relatives that I know who loved and cared for people with terminal illnesses.

In other news, Tom's in real trouble now, and Jonas is having second thoughts about blowing up the warp drive on the say-so of the queen of the murderhoboes. (And what is Seska's real problem with raising her baby aboard a Kazon ship? Does she not like the food? Do they blast Nickelback day and night? They seem like the type.) Kes is great as usual; her "dude, timing" comments are on point. (Speaking of which, there's a thread on the blue about someone's video on the "Born Sexy Yesterday" trope, with comments from a couple of the regulars here, ahem ahem.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: There's a whole thing in the Memory Alpha article on the music that they were playing during their parking date on Mars, and how it had to be swapped out for the DVDs and Netflix because of rights and such, but the old song's lyrics are still in the closed captions.

Oh, and hey, the Doctor gets a name! Well, at least for an episode, and really only with one person, but still. Guess "Shmullus" just didn't have any staying power...
posted by Halloween Jack (14 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Crap! Forgot the link to the Memory Alpha article: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Lifesigns_(episode)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:43 AM on May 1


Episodes like this are often snoozers in Trek. TNG did a ton of them—or maybe it just felt like a ton. This one might have joined them as a snoozer if not for (A) the above-average performance by the main guest star (and of course Picardo) and (B) the fact that the Jonas story starts to gain some momentum right about here, taking some pressure off the A story.

Jack, I forgot all about Vina while I was watching this, but it is indeed an apt comparison. That resolution was of course way worse; I wish they'd at least had Kirk or somebody comment on it in "Menagerie," but I suppose that's too optimistic and anachronistic of me. (One wonders how closely Discovery will match the "Cage"-era, which has got to be kind of close timeline-wise…)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:15 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Honorarable mention to photons, this week.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: As I've mentioned in the past, the Vidiians actually don't make an appearance in STO, (although their next appearance actually does have a connection to the main Star Trek Online single player plot anyway).

Ongoing Equipment Tally: No changes, rolling it forward.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 27
* Shuttles: Down 3
* Crew: Still 147
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: Holding at 7.

Notes:
* This humanizes the Vidiians somewhat, which I have mixed feelings about.

So, we've talked about the Vidiians at length before. As a horror movie monster, they work: they're a good mix of tragic and horrifying, simultaneously more advanced than Starfleet while caught in this awful cycle of disease, letting them hit some good notes of body horror. However, the details of their society don't make much sense at all, so Denara talking about that draws unnecessary attention toward them. Like, it doesn't make sense that the Vidiians have been struggling with the Phage in essentially their current form for 2000 years, and so a point like that is better off dropped or ignored even if it technically remains true.

Also, she's really nice and understanding, which is a weird contrast both with what we've seen, and what's coming. And also, like Jack, I was a little surprised that Neelix didn't make a snide comment someplace. I can only blame Neelix's shallowness and general sexism - Denara might be a Vidiian and a doctor, but she's a pretty face first.

* This humanizes the Doctor somewhat, which I have mixed feelings about.
"Here's a guy who is totally and completely sophisticated in his real life, he's a completely competent scientist, totally efficient and confident, but he has no experience in affairs of the heart. So wouldn't it be funny and fun and hopefully a little poignant to see this guy essentially become a teenager. That's sort of what the parking is about. It's about those awkward moments we've all gone through when we're discovering love for the first time."
So the first place this is problematic is that the writers clearly don't understand the medical ethics dilemma Jack brought up in the OP. Like, it isn't even on the radar. It's arguable that it could be handwaved this time, but I'm uncomfortable with it not being mentioned in passing. I also feel like it shows a lack of creativity, as there are many other ways the Doctor could interact with a woman besides 'well she has to be his patient.'

Second thing that's disappointing is that when the writers look at the Doctor, they're just seeing a guy, no different than anyone else. While I'm happy he's not a Data retread, and so I don't want to complain *too* hard, he's still not actually human. As a lifetime fan of science fiction, I enjoy explorations of what other kinds of intelligence might be like, rather than just automatically anthropomorphizing everything.

I also felt like the date was a missed opportunity to do something weirder, but that's a refrain I could make for almost every episode of Star Trek. Just... flowers? A teddy bear?

* Second Voyager with a suicide theme in a row.

And for the second time, I actually think they did a good job with it. This bit was a good illustration of why, I think:
There was an ending in which she opted to stay as a holographic character and die within days because she'd rather have lived like that, whole and beautiful, and only have a few more days, than go back to her diseased body. But we really felt that would be an irresponsible message to send.
They actually thought the whole thing through. Like, they started with a truly awful idea, then they realized that it was irresponsible and cleaned it up until it was touching. That's how the system should work, and it's nice to see Voyager do that properly.

It was a little weird to see this back-to-back with Death Wish though.

* Kes is pretty good here. (And so was everyone else.)

The scene where the Doctor just blurts out his question in front of Kes offered some great facial reactions on the part of Jennifer Lien. (And yeah, Kes is an almost literal example of Born Sexy Yesterday. I s'pose I should check the other thread out some more and see if she's been mentioned.)

Also, obligatory note that Denara Pel is well-cast.

Oh, and I laughed out loud at the bit about how Paris had clearly been rejected a lot. :)

* B-plot is good.

The stuff with Paris is pretty good. I'd actually forgotten this subplot, which is why I was surprised when it came up before with Paris' ration gambling. The only thing is, it makes me feel like Voyager really *could* have corrected a lot of their missed opportunities for longer form storytelling by handling them in a similar way: small stuff carried from episode to episode, rather than writing huge arcs. They got away with it here, so why not the Maquis integration, etc.?

I also liked that Jonas was only willing to go so far.
(And what is Seska's real problem with raising her baby aboard a Kazon ship? Does she not like the food? Do they blast Nickelback day and night? They seem like the type.)
No way can you childproof a Kazon ship. I bet the decorative spikes have smaller, even more decorative spikes. Plus, no way a Kazon man ever changes even one diaper - I assume Starfleet vessels have a lot of better options on that point. (Also, Seska presumably knows the ship well enough to pull off a proper coup and simply take over whenever she feels she has enough support.)

So... hm. All in all, this is a story that mostly just sorta happened for me - not bad, but not really what I was looking for either? Be curious if anybody else has any deeper thoughts about it.
posted by mordax at 10:18 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


The best thing about this episode, from my point of view of course, is that its a nice tone change. It's a more subdued episode than usual and adds some needed depth to the show in terms of its possibilities in that sense.

There isn't much I have to say about the specifics of the episode since it is so relatively simple and compact in its main theme this time. There's no big threat or sense of real urgency to most of it, it's just a chance to see some of the crew interact without too much of a larger purpose behind it. Voyager could perhaps have used a couple more like this over its run, but then again they are both hard to sell as ideas and, evidently, require some excuse or added ingredient for them to be made beyond seeing the crew at rest.

So here it's Danara, a Vidiian hematologist, which gives a hint of tension with the B'Elanna interaction, quickly enough resolved. Which I found actually pretty good as it works against the planet of hats problem, where all Vidiians are the same or where the crew would at least see them as such. It's something the crew of a mixed alien race alliance would have to be able to do, not see a race as intrinsically the same and react to them individually even if there were larger conflicts involved between the groups as a whole.

Good to see Kes get something to do for a change, still annoyed though at how wasted Lien was in the role given how good she can be even in low key moments where her character is only reacting to others rather than initiating much on her own.

Diol and Picardo had some nice, reasonable, chemistry and both did well in the episode. i might quibble a bit over Schmullus being the one to convince Danara to live as it is so Trek to have them always providing counsel to those they meet more than take in any in return, but this story pretty much couldn't go the other way and make dramatic sense and maintain the use of the arguments involved, so I'll give it a pass, especially since the end dance with phaged-Danara made up for some of that anyway. It's not ideal, but not bad as these things go.

Paris even has some decent moments with the Doc and the holodeck wasn't as annoying as usual, so there's some added bonuses. I'm not entirely sure this whole Paris/Chakotay thing will make sense in how it eventually plays out compared to how they dramatize it, more for the viewer than a reasonable facade, but maybe I'm wrong on that since it's all a little vague now. We'll see soon enough. I did enjoy Harry's reaction to Tom getting sent to the brig, I would have liked to see more of him in some of these recent episodes involving himself with the issue perhaps or otherwise just being concerned. It might have worked better as explaining how news of Paris' actions was being heard by all the non-bridge crew before now. It sure wasn't Tuvok spreading the gossip.

All in all, its the kind of episode that is more useful and pleasing in a long run of a series than as a stand alone, but even as the story may not be exceptionally important the tone and some of the character development help the show as a whole work much better.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:12 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


So the first place this is problematic is that the writers clearly don't understand the medical ethics dilemma Jack brought up in the OP. Like, it isn't even on the radar. It's arguable that it could be handwaved this time, but I'm uncomfortable with it not being mentioned in passing.

That's an excellent point, and while one could dismiss it as "well, he's a hologram, so it's not on HIS radar," that makes no sense because (A) he'll get into medical ethics stuff later in the series and (B) you'd think his program would be so rigidly adherent to medical ethics that he basically couldn't fall in love with a patient. The only retcon I can think of is that (minor spoiler) as a result of running so long, his program has flaws that will emerge in a later episode, and maybe that overrode his ethical subroutine or whatever. That explanation does fit with the overall character arc of the Doctor in these first couple seasons, and as an added bonus, it's conceivable that nobody else on the Voyager crew has enough medical training to say "Hey, waitaminute" about Shmullus/Pel (Shpellus?), or possibly even enough interest in the Doctor's affairs to notice his, er, affair.

Or is it because she's a doctor too? Is that a thing, when doctors are patients of other doctors, that they sort of skirt around this particular rule if they wanna bone?

But all that said, just a mention would still have been good.

Second thing that's disappointing is that when the writers look at the Doctor, they're just seeing a guy, no different than anyone else. While I'm happy he's not a Data retread, and so I don't want to complain *too* hard, he's still not actually human. As a lifetime fan of science fiction, I enjoy explorations of what other kinds of intelligence might be like, rather than just automatically anthropomorphizing everything.

I'm actually willing to give them a pass on this one, maybe in part because I know they're going to do plenty more of this non-human exploration with his character. And because the episode is cute. (Really glad they didn't go in the direction of having him flirt in the style of Lewis Zimmerman, because he was pretty eesh with women in his DS9 guest appearance.)

I also felt like the date was a missed opportunity to do something weirder, but that's a refrain I could make for almost every episode of Star Trek. Just... flowers? A teddy bear?

Yes, definitely. Why not a box of chocolate-covered tube grubs and a bouquet of Mellifluous Song-Fungus of Xyblion 2? And the parking scene, while sweet and all, had the usual "too Earthling" feel. I mean, put it on one of those super-scenic alien Alpha Quadrant worlds we're always hearing about—they've gotta be in some extant holoprogram, so you just port it over—instead of friggin' Mars.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:35 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


That's an excellent point, and while one could dismiss it as "well, he's a hologram, so it's not on HIS radar," that makes no sense because (A) he'll get into medical ethics stuff later in the series and (B) you'd think his program would be so rigidly adherent to medical ethics that he basically couldn't fall in love with a patient.

I guess you could argue that they, essentially, believed they did make his program so he couldn't fall in love with a patient simply due to his being a hologram and not being, therefore, self aware enough to do so. So they simply might not have bothered to add information on that element of doctor patient relationships as it would be thought impossible to occur.

It could also be that Starfleet, in their enlightened age, found it unnecessary to maintain such strict boundaries when doctors could, conceivably, be on a space station or star ship for extremely long durations as the sole providers of care, so to deny a doctor patient relationship under any circumstance, could be, in effect, denying a doctor any relationship whatsoever in those instances, and with greater awareness of social ills, as is seemingly the Federation belief, witness Harry's "confinement" when suspected of being a outright traitor, perhaps there simply isn't the same level of concern over doctor patient relationships as there is now as people would be more reasonably able to police it themselves. It isn't clear there are any real official boundaries over officer dating either, at least from what I remember, so today's standards could be argued as less necessary, perhaps, in their time. (I mean that's excessive rationalization for the episode, but I gather that's how Trek fans roll. Heh.)

More pressing might be questioning Danara's ethic as a Vidiian doctor given the history of organ theft and worse some of their people engage in. How wide spread is the practice? How would they get their grafts and organs without it? What has Danara known or done about the practice in her own work? There are a number of concerns that could be brought up along those lines were they as interested in her actual profession as they will later be with the Cardassian Mengele we meet later.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:07 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


it's conceivable that nobody else on the Voyager crew has enough medical training to say "Hey, waitaminute" about Shmullus/Pel (Shpellus?), or possibly even enough interest in the Doctor's affairs to notice his, er, affair.

Hm. That's possible, although it loops back to something I always thought was a little weird about Voyager - Starfleet officers typically display a lot of technical cross-training. Like, we've seen Worf cobble together a force field out of a commbadge before, and he delivered a baby. Despite this, nobody on Voyager knows much about medicine except, somehow, Tom Paris. Always struck me as strange in context, but it is maybe possible.

Also: I am so glad they didn't try to make Shmullus happen.

Why not a box of chocolate-covered tube grubs and a bouquet of Mellifluous Song-Fungus of Xyblion 2?

I would've loved that.

And the parking scene, while sweet and all, had the usual "too Earthling" feel.

I guess if we're into super fanwankery, I wonder if some of this attitude could trace back to Khan. Like... the Eugenics Wars were terrible, right? What I wonder, now that I think about the whole 'Trek nostalgia for 20th century Earth' thing is if the war might not reasonably be part of why: it was the last thing resembling a golden age before everything went to hell, so it might be unduly romanticized. (Sort of like how Western civilization romanticizes Greek and Roman history.)

Also: I'm not suggesting anybody who wrote for Trek thought about things in those terms. I'm indulging in pure fan theorizing there. Authorial intent was clearly '20th century Earth props and costumes are cheaper.'

It isn't clear there are any real official boundaries over officer dating either, at least from what I remember, so today's standards could be argued as less necessary, perhaps, in their time.

That's possible. It's one of those things where I'd give them more benefit of the doubt if I trusted the writers more, I guess.

(I mean that's excessive rationalization for the episode, but I gather that's how Trek fans roll. Heh.)

Hahaha. Wouldn't know anything about that. ;)

More pressing might be questioning Danara's ethic as a Vidiian doctor given the history of organ theft and worse some of their people engage in. How wide spread is the practice? How would they get their grafts and organs without it? What has Danara known or done about the practice in her own work?

This is also a very, very good point that gets dropped in favor of the 'Denara as just another sick person' angle to the narrative.
posted by mordax at 12:23 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


the Eugenics Wars were terrible, right? What I wonder, now that I think about the whole 'Trek nostalgia for 20th century Earth' thing is if the war might not reasonably be part of why: it was the last thing resembling a golden age before everything went to hell, so it might be unduly romanticized. (Sort of like how Western civilization romanticizes Greek and Roman history.)

The Eugenics Wars were terrible, but not quite terrible enough to (directly and apocalyptically, at any rate) affect San Francisco ca. Gabriel Bell, which happens after the Eugenics Wars in any reasonable timeline. HOWEVER, World War III (see "Encounter at Farpoint") was apparently the truly globally devastating conflict and apparently happened not too much later in the 21st century. So your retcon can work, with a little stretching.

More pressing might be questioning Danara's ethic as a Vidiian doctor given the history of organ theft and worse some of their people engage in. How wide spread is the practice? How would they get their grafts and organs without it? What has Danara known or done about the practice in her own work?

And, looping it back to the text itself, how might her attitudes about *that* have affected the Doctor's opinion of her? Like, how does that not come up on their dates? "Ssssso… You ever, um… ya know… harvesssst… or…gans?" Maybe they intended a scene where she talks about how she's a dissenter or something but they cut it for time.

And as far as the doctor-patient-banging question, it occurs to me that the Vidiians doubtlessly have no qualms whatsoever about it because their species is portrayed as (A) having sacrificed a lot of scruples as a result of their situation and (B) mostly being doctors to one extent or another, so constraints on reproduction would obviously be a problem the Vidiians don't need. (Now, sexy times with holograms might be right out from the Vidiian POV! That's what makes it so hhhot)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:43 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


So your retcon can work, with a little stretching.

Oh, right, they had to change that when we passed up the date on the Eugenics Wars. Slipped my mind. Fair point.

(Now, sexy times with holograms might be right out from the Vidiian POV! That's what makes it so hhhot)

I don't know if you read Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, (potentially NSFW dialogue), but I feel you have captured its spirit with this line.
posted by mordax at 12:53 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I am totally down for the "20th Century gets romanticized as this golden age of innocence" theory. Just as Renn Faires don't make everything smell like shit, everyone has this nostalgia for pre-WWIII, pre-First Contact Earth (while still being smug about how Humanity Has Outgrown All Its Problems), and thus programs such as Vic Fontaine's lounge. I was just thinking about this today, after seeing this Tumblr post and thinking that, yeah, this absolutely could have happened, except maybe for Weyoun being allowed on DS9 by the time that Ezri shows up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:12 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


"Just as Renn Faires don't make everything smell like shit"

We've been going to different faires.
posted by traveler_ at 5:55 PM on May 2


Yeah, I'm not counting horse dung from the jousters and malfunctioning porta-potties.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:15 AM on May 3


What about the shit that sprays involuntarily out of every guest when they see the ticket prices
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:28 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I hit Scarborough Fair a few years back and don't recall it being that bad. Definitely didn't smell like shit. The more I think about it, the more their fixation with a single medieval town really does remind me of how Starfleet people are super into a romanticized version of modern or near-modern Earth.
posted by mordax at 9:06 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


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