Star Trek: Voyager: Living Witness   Rewatch 
November 9, 2017 2:52 AM - Season 4, Episode 23 - Subscribe

The programs you depend on the most should always be backed up. And if you misplace that backup? …You're history.

The past lives on in our collective Memory Alpha (more or less accurately):

- This episode proceeded from a story pitch by Rob DeBorde, former writing partner of teleplay co-writer Bryan Fuller. "He had The Doctor reactivated in the future, realizing that he was responsible for an artificial intelligence movement and having them be accepted as living beings, as members of society," Fuller said of the original plot concept. Fuller, Brannon Braga, and Joe Menosky then worked on DeBorde's story idea, deciding to change The Doctor's predicament. "We [initially] felt that was a little too close to Data," Fuller recalled.

- The revised version of the plot was inspired by the controversial issue of extremists and their reinterpretation of historical facts. Commenting on this plot development, Joe Menosky stated, "When Bryan was writing the story, we realized that one of the cool issues today is the revolution in thinking about history. What are you doing when you are telling history? Are you just telling a story from the point of view of whoever is telling the history? How you can use history for political ends. How can people want to think about history in a different way to make them feel different about themselves in the present–a very rich lode of ideas." Bryan Fuller felt that Brannon Braga was solely responsible for the act of changing the plot. "On that one, Brannon's responsible for the story completely, as far as reworking Rob's premise," Fuller maintained, "and the historical revisionism is all Brannon. He wanted to tell that story."

- This episode marks Tim Russ' directorial debut. Before directing this episode, Russ was entirely unaware that this would be the one he would direct. "I had no idea what kind of show I would get. It could have been a character show, a light show, a spooky show or an action show," Russ explained. "'Living Witness' was expensive for a first-time director and it was certainly bigger than I thought it would be."

- Tim Russ found that the plot of this episode seemed to allow for some technical conventions to be broken. He commented, "For me, the story itself, the concept carried or supported the foundations of being able to defy some of the conventional editorial rules."

- During the making of the episode, actor/director Tim Russ frequently encountered Robert Picardo's habit of offering suggestions during production. "In some cases," stated Russ, "I had to say, 'Bob, I can't do it, I've got four or five pages of dialogue and I've got to get out of here in two and a half hours.' But I did allow for extra time in some of the most important scenes."

- This was ultimately the only episode of any Star Trek series that Tim Russ directed.

- This is the only episode that establishes The Doctor as having a backup module. Its introduction worried Robert Picardo, as he suspected some fans on the Internet would have nitpicks about the module being established. "I brought that up with Brannon [Braga]," the actor revealed, "and he said that if the story was good enough, they wouldn't complain about the technology. But there is also the possibility that we developed a backup program, and 'oops,' we lost it in that episode." Tim Russ was puzzled by the suggestion that anyone would have a problem with the technology being introduced, as backup programs were – at the time the episode was made – and still are very common. Russ also speculated, "In case something went terribly wrong, of course you would have to have backup programs. I would think that people who watch the show, quite a few of them are computer literate. I don't think it would be even a hitch for them."

- In 2017, Kirsten Beyer (Discovery writer and Voyager relaunch novel writer) cited this as one of three favorite VOY episodes (the other two being "Scorpion, Part II" and "Distant Origin").

"Voyager wasn't a warship! We were explorers!"
"Yes, I know. Trying to get home, to Mars."
"Earth! You see, you couldn't even get that right!"

- The Doctor and Quarren

"You have a better idea, lieutenant?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Fighter shuttles – a direct assault."
"Led by you? Good luck."
"Watch your mouth, hedgehog!"

- Chakotay, Tom Paris, and Neelix, in the historical simulation

"Pure fiction. This is absurd."
"Halt re-creation. This is a reasonable extrapolation from historic record. But if you'd like to point out any inconsistencies..."
"Inconsistencies? I don't know where to begin. Granted, this looks like the briefing room, but these aren't the people I knew! No one behaved like this... well, aside from Mr. Paris."

- The Doctor about the holographic simulation

"Somewhere – halfway across the galaxy, I hope – Captain Janeway is spinning in her grave."

- The Doctor, regarding further inconsistencies in the historical simulation

"For your information, I don't appreciate being deactivated in the middle of a sentence. It brings back... unpleasant memories."

- The Doctor

Poster's Log:
This has been called one of the best episodes of the series, and though I absolutely agree, I feel like (relative to other standouts like "Distant Origin" and "Year of Hell") it loses a little bit more, proportionately, of its impact after enough rewatches. And I don't think that's just because you come to expect the cool Inception-ish ending. Maybe a large part of it is that the Doctor and the historian guy get fewer opportunities to really bring the acting and the pathos, since the episode is so exposition-heavy. Anyway, it doesn't hurt the episode significantly IMO, thanks to (A) being able to spend a whole hour with Picardo, and (B) the great fun of watching the Evil!Crew. Mulgrew's performance is very chilling—not perhaps as bone-deep disturbing as Avery Brooks was in his most memorable Not-Our-Captain moment ("Dramatis Personae"), but memorably and distinctly evil all the same. Janeway here is like how I imagine Erik Prince (future president of the United States) is in real life.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if, had they (somehow) spent multiple episodes on these Evil versions of Voyager's crew, they might have grown to be as interesting as, or moreso than, the Evil!DS9ers—due largely to the ship's circumstances (which will of course be capitalized upon to show us another Evil!Voyager in "Equinox"), but also to the unique mix of personalities in the crew, which lead to plenty of internal conflict even among the Good!Crew. (Maybe more internal conflict than any other Trek series, in fact. Except, probably, for Disco.)

I also have to give props to Tim Russ, who knocked it out of the park as a first-time director of a complex and challenging episode. I think I was able to perceive, in the structure of the story, some of his breaking of "conventional editorial rules" that he mentions, and it only made the episode more engrossing.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Today in Recurring Trek Guest Actors, we have the historian guy, Quarren, played by Henry Woronicz—whom we last saw as "Distant Origin"'s Gegen, another alien concerned with history who becomes friendly with a Voyager crewmember and is subsequently persecuted; and the actor who played Daleth, Rod Arrants, also played the holo-bartender in TNG: "Manhunt."

Borrowed Star Wars Name Tally: 4 (Gree, Botha, B'omar, Quarren)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of my favourite episodes ever, because it does not rely on a standard tv episode structure, but it is so meta about the narrative it's self.

I did not know Kirsten Beyer is working on Disco. This warms my heart. The Full Circle sequence is a very good continuation to vojager.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 4:17 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why are people calling Discovery Disco? I know the word "disco" is in Discovery, but I get the impression it's not just that. Like, people call it "Disco Trek" even, suggesting there's something actually disco-y about it. I've only seen the pilot (I'm too broke to spring for that All Access jazz) but what I've seen didn't strike me as very Donna Summer. Is it full of Abrams-esque sparkly lens flares or something?

Anyhow, I remember this being a killer Voyager episode but I haven't seen it for like 15 years. Carry on.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:32 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Because in show they have training tshirt with DISCO written on their chest.
It's funny and better than STD.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 4:35 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is it full of Abrams-esque sparkly lens flares or something?

well I mean, yes, but that's not why
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:20 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the rewatch, but... I don't think that it really stuck the ending, in part because it ran into one of VOY's perennial problems near the end. First, though, I have to really appreciate the amount of detail and attention given to altering the sets, costumes and even makeup to convey the reconstructed/revisionist details of the quasi-Mirrorverse version of Voyager, which I'll just refer to as "W" for simplicity's sake. When the TOS showrunners wanted to show the differences between the Enterprise and the mirror-Enterprise in "Mirror, Mirror", they not only made the obvious changes but more subtle ones as well: making the back of Kirk's command chair higher, or taking some of the wall decorations in Kirk's quarters and simply turning them upside down. There's plenty of details in this episode that do that, as well; the upholstery on the bridge chairs seems to be darker, and there's something about W-Tuvok's makeup (the ears are bigger? The eyebrows are different, maybe?) as well as the more obvious things such as W-Janeway's hair and W-Chakotay's tattoo, plus, of course, the still full-Borg W-Seven. As I commented in the "The Omega Directive" thread, the W-Voyager thing is not only a commentary on how things could have gone in the darkest timeline (see also "Equinox"), but also a rejoinder to fans who think that the ship would be justified in getting home by any means necessary ('sup, mil-SF fans; also, Seska). Some fun callbacks, with W-Chakotay getting Q's "Mine's bigger" tattoo, and W-Neelix as a full crew member. Plus, you know, a Kazon.

But then we get into the whole racial allegory thing, which, as we've seen, VOY is not really great on. I will give them this: the Kyrians--the ones who started burning shit down when the revisionist nature of their take on history was revealed--were the lighter-colored ones. (Historical perspective: the LA riots, which some of the cast and crew had probably witnessed themselves, were about six years in the past at this point.) And there's some implication that both the Kyrians and the Veskans were complicit in the revisionism, as they're both willing to blame W-Voyager for the war escalating. But the last act of the show seems to be BOOM the other Kyrian flat-out rejects the Doctor's version of events, BOOM they're blowing up the museum, BOOM the Doctor is offering to have his program erased (as if that would solve anything, let alone everything), and then... cut to the framing scene with "And that's how we solved racism forever." Pretty anvilicious, and overlooking a whole bunch of opportunities for nuance and ambiguity. Such as: having the Kyrian objector say that the Doctor's memories could be revisionist, something deliberately planted by W-Voyager to rationalize its actions. Or that, even with the new version of events, Tedran (the Kyrian leader who was previously believed to be a peaceful martyr) was still justified because of Voyager taking the Veskans' side, and Daleth's shooting of Tedran unjustified. There could even have been a bit where the senior staff were maybe kinda-sorta edging up to the topic of could they be a leetle more selective about applying the Prime Directive, which could have led to a statement to the Kyrians and Veskans which in turn led to the historical interpretation of the crew as freebooting mercenaries. There might have even been a nod to the conflict being more ethnic than racial in origin, because of the Balkan War going on at the time; at some points, people were being killed depending on which shoulder they touched first when making the sign of the cross, which signified their ethnicity. ENT would eventually do an episode like that, coincidentally directed by Roxann Dawson. (Speaking of whom, I thought that it was nice that B'Elanna was mentioned in this episode even though she was absent from it due to having her child.) As with the problems with the previous episode, I don't think that it's an absolute deal killer, just something that could have been done with at least a bit more subtlety.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:17 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, you can get an official DISCO shirt. Tempted.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

he said that if the story was good enough, they wouldn't complain about the technology.

It's like they don't even know me.

The good episodes are the ones I care about enough to think on the implications and details. And this episode does throw me for a loop more because past situations with the Doctor imply his program isn't backupable or copyable—if he moves to the mobile emitter or a distant starship, he moves.

And I was all ready with headcanon about holoprograms being fundamentally quantum-computer based, relying on their qbits being left in a superposition for years at a time, with their true state being uncopyable but teleportable. It made sense dammit. Oh well. They are right that, in the service of a good story like this one, I'll complain but I won't mind. It was fun to watch.
posted by traveler_ at 7:21 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Particle of the Week: Not applicable.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: W-Voyager is basically your standard player character vessel in Star Trek Online: they have a massively augmented ship with tons of alien tech integrated in, enemy-faction crew they picked up along the way and so on Plus, Janeway's speech about 'violence... it's the Starfleet way' would fit right in with your average gamer. (If anything, she's only middling-bloodthirsty relative to general zone chat.)

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 8.
* Crew: 136. Even though most of the episode takes place in the distant future, we learn that three crewmen died during the Kyrian attack led by Tedran. Roster's getting kind of light, here.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

* The backup module is indeed a hilarious misreading of the room.

It's like they don't even know me.


The whole 'the audience won't care' thing does demonstrate a complete lack of understanding in Trek fandom, one of the longest-running and most nitpicky groups ever formed around a TV show. I mean, I have literally read The Nitpicker's Guide to Star Trek, and it'd been out for years before this episode aired.

The Doctor having no backup wasn't a minor point on the show - it was a major plot point on multiple nonconsecutive occasions.

I don't think this was all that important on this outing, but it does show how out of touch everybody over there was with what we really wanted out of Voyager.

* The race stuff is oversimplified.

and then... cut to the framing scene with "And that's how we solved racism forever." Pretty anvilicious, and overlooking a whole bunch of opportunities for nuance and ambiguity.

This is all well-taken. It's unlikely the race stuff would ever be over, much less just over the Doctor clarifying one historical flashpoint. The token Kyrian on the justice counsel is right about one thing: 'everything's about race.'

It also would've been nice if they'd established a greater passage of time and larger effect of the Doctor's revelations on society before people started tossing bombs.

It really was less satisfying upon review. (Until I watched again, I mostly remembered the poignant thing about the Doctor striking off for Earth alone.)

* Despite my complaints, this stands as one of my favorite episodes of Voyager.

First, though, I have to really appreciate the amount of detail and attention given to altering the sets, costumes and even makeup to convey the reconstructed/revisionist details of the quasi-Mirrorverse version of Voyager

Agreed. The attention to detail is stunning: Tuvok's ears are, indeed, bigger. I love the slight mispronunciation of Chakotay's name, his exaggerated tattoo and his hypocritical 'good cop' routine during the interrogation scene. Android-Doctor is creepy as fuck - the Data-style contacts helped. Evil Harry finally has something to do. Evil Janeway is maybe my favorite Janeway iteration because hey, at least she's consistent. :)

I suppose the highest praise I can offer this one is that it stands as one of the few episodes of Voyager I was genuinely looking forward to revisiting despite my overall disappointment with the show back in the day, (offhand, the only other episode I'm really excited to get to is Timeless). I did enjoy it this time too. The ending is weaker than I remembered, but the revisionist history angle is, if anything, more topical for me now than it was then.
posted by mordax at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

W-Voyager is basically your standard player character vessel in Star Trek Online: they have a massively augmented ship with tons of alien tech integrated in, enemy-faction crew they picked up along the way and so on Plus, Janeway's speech about 'violence... it's the Starfleet way' would fit right in with your average gamer. (If anything, she's only middling-bloodthirsty relative to general zone chat.)

HAH! Now I like this episode even more.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seriously, I thought I'd bust a gut watching that and comparing W-Voyager to my own ships. My favorite character even uses a Kazon assault squad officer on his active roster for some critical hit bonuses.

(Sidenote: Star Trek Into Darkness also works better for me on the assumption that Cumberbatch isn't the Khan, but a Star Trek Online PC who somehow got ported into the Abramsverse, and his screenname just happened to be like xxKhan69xx or something.)
posted by mordax at 11:52 AM on November 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Did I miss something, but how far in the future was that final scene? They said the Doctor stayed with them for many years... but how long was it?

I like the idea of this immortal hologram traveling through space trying to find his people. Please say there is a Star Trek novel about the Doctor's adventures. (This would be a good time for a Trek/Red Dwarf crossover. The Doctor is only a few personality quirks away from Arnold Rimmer :D Hilarity ensues when Lister has to cope with two high-strung holograms.)

I searched for a novel. I guess there isn't one. Too bad.

Anyway, I really like this episode, too. The race/species conflict seemed a bit heavy-handed. But TV Trek isn't known for subtlety. It almost seems far-fetched that Quarren would rethink his beliefs and turn the doctor back on. So many people I know don't touch anything that would interfere with their deeply-held ideas.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts. History is messy. Sometimes everyone is the bad guy and Voyager was just on their way home.
posted by hot_monster at 5:11 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Did I miss something, but how far in the future was that final scene? They said the Doctor stayed with them for many years... but how long was it?

You didn't miss anything; it was left indefinite (possibly deliberately so). According to MA, even the bulk of the episode is a bit further in the future than the time that Daniels brought Archer to in a future ENT episode, which makes it the latest definite time that any episode takes place; after that, MA has a "Far Future" category that includes events mentioned or predicted, out to the end of the universe.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:53 PM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

For me, this episode actually improved a bit on rewatch, mostly because it didn't strike me as all that great on the first viewing. If I hadn't seen people list it as one of the best of Voyager, it would never have occurred to me it was so well liked. As with the last couple episodes, that doesn't mean I think it was a failure, in fact I found it enjoyable enough for much the same reasons people have mentioned regarding the dark version of the crew. I actually would have liked them to go a little further with that idea, either in giving it a bit more time to see Voyager dark in action or in making it even more outlandishly different, more crew with the wrong assignments, different actors playing major cast roles, Tuvok being wildly emotional, and so on.

That said, what we did get is pretty fun in regards to the misinterpretation of the ship and Russ does a fine job in showing it. I wish he'd have done more episodes after watching this one. I particularly enjoyed Tuvok's evil smile when Janeway asks why he always keeps her waiting at his mention of it taking an hour for the bio-eugenic weaponry to take full effect. And as a director, his segue from the camera showing the actors engaged in the holographic recreation to pivoting to a viewscreen "window" as if those watching were looking into the actual ship was a really nice way to move between locations/scenes.

Everyone certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves in this episode, which is worth quite a bit of pleasure for the audience too, and the attention to detail in capturing the differences between real and dark Voyager was a lot of fun. I appreciated the mention of B'Elanna since she couldn't be involved and had no problems with what we see on the "on" Voyager part of the show at all.

The rest though left me cool however. While the doctor having a backup didn't throw me at all since it does only seem natural the computer would have such a thing, the way they presented it irked me from a plausibility stand point. Them having the back up module, possessing an evidently large amount of vague information allowing for the recreating the crew and ship, yet not having enough to know more them and the events was hard to swallow and could have used a bit more finessing. Even so, that was only a minor irritation with the racial conflict being the more annoying aspect of the episode and the thing that kept it from being considered a favorite.

Halloween Jack, thankfully, already covered a good share of my feelings on the matter, so I don't need to repeat all of it. Basically it's a crappy analogy or allegory for conflicts we actually know of that come close to fitting the generic cover they chose to case the idea in and their methods of explaining and solving the problems weren't all that good. Whatever one may think about Braga's strengths as a writer, and I think he has some really solid ones, sensitivity to out group perspectives isn't really one of them. He's fine with the show characters, but equating them to larger concerns isn't his best suit. They, of course, lean on the "both sides" are at fault thing, which works against any racial analogy for our era and place and mixing the racial coding only serves to make the story work less well and feel generic in an unsatisfying way.

I'm too tired to go into all the details, of which there are quite a few, so I'll just say they did manage one somewhat felicitous choice in having the doctor push for his erasure since history isn't as important as peace, only to have that view denied for the perspective knowing the history is a necessary basis of understanding. That bit at least is a reasonable perspective to hold as informing our own difficulties with the subjects, but how they got there and the offscreen ease with which they then solved the problems aren't so great. The doctor's perspective, given what we see of it, hardly seems fitting for ending the dispute as even he says he's mostly concerned with the representation of Voyager and doesn't know much about the rest. The talk of the historian being fascinated by the story of Voyager as a child was a nice touch and something they could or should have worked more off of, and the description of the doctor's future was also fine, if one can set aside the improbabilities in how they get there. I was even okay with the events we see being a layered re-creation of the story told in even a further future, but not so much with how they got to that point.

All in all, the good parts of this episode were quite fun, the racial conflict clumsily handled and borderline distressing, and the interactions between the doctor and the historian also a bit flat and hard to accept. I count this as a reasonably good episode overall, but definitely not one of my "must watch" choices for the show. This latest run of episodes, which will continue and must, I suspect, mark the end of Taylor's influence and complete take over by Braga feels like another mini-reboot of the overall direction of the series. It's not terrible since the ideas behind many of these episodes are compelling enough. The details are often fine, but the execution of the larger framing hasn't quite matched the inventiveness of the concepts. They will get better at that though, if memory serves, but they'll also have more big failures too.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was not much thrown by the existence of a backup of the Doctor, possibly because I have missed most of what are apparently many episodes where no backup has been invoked as a cheap point of plot jeopardy. I mean, the chumpwizards of Star Wars have backups, even if improbably architecturally situated. Obviously there are backups in Star Trek, damn the idiocy of canon!

I actually found the ambiguous reverses with regard to historical narrative fairly compelling and reasonably well-considered.

I found myself moved that the Doctor would find himself the last, um, man standing. It reasonable to extrapolate that incremental backups of the Doctor, as a survival and reproduction strategy whose cost falls over time, will be the last survivors of humanity and the Federation as we have seen it depicted, in the Voyager simulation constructed in the Delta Quadrant or in the one constructed on Earth in the Alpha Quadrant several centuries before the events depicted.
posted by mwhybark at 7:25 PM on November 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe the Doctor starts copying himself and building more ships until he constitutes a von Neumann Probe.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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