Star Trek: Voyager: Eye of the Needle   Rewatch 
January 23, 2017 10:20 AM - Season 1, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Voyager discovers a wormhole that may lead to the Alpha Quadrant; could this be the way home? [checks Memory Alpha; it's the seventh episode of the first season of seven] Hmm...

Can Memory Alpha do everything a real doctor can?:

- Despite the producers having decided not to feature any Alpha Quadrant species or character too often on Voyager, Jeri Taylor made an exception with this episode.

- This episode marks the first appearance of veteran Star Trek actor Vaughn Armstrong on Voyager. Of his role in this episode, Armstrong remembered, "I played a pretty popular character, Telek R'Mor [....] That was a very nice character to portray because of the conflicts he had within himself [....] I love that character." Armstrong also cited his role here as one of the richest of all his Star Trek roles. The actor further commented, "[R'Mor] holds a soft spot in my heart because he was from a kind of mean race that still had great family values. He loved his children [....] That was a binding factor that I enjoyed about the character."

- The shooting company had become tired and casually playful. Regular calls for quietness on the stage were ignored but Kolbe (like the other members of the shooting company) was not at all upset that the pleas for quiet had gone unheeded, as he knew that the others on the set were fatigued and needed a break from the tension. Rick Berman paid an unexpected, rare visit to the set, although Kolbe was busy with the filming. Moments later – during shooting of the reactions to Tuvok's revelation that Telek R'Mor was transported from twenty years in the past – Chakotay actor Robert Beltran turned to Tuvok actor Tim Russ and, in a loud manner, innocently asked, "Does that mean we're fucked?" Following a split second of silence, everyone on the set burst out laughing, including Berman.

- The Doctor's search for a name eventually became an arc that spanned the entire series, although he ultimately never did settle on a name in the series' usual timeline. Regarding this arc and its beginnings here, actor Robert Picardo recalled, "At the end of the episode 'Eye of the Needle,' I say I would like to have a name, which I think is one of the sweetest character arcs we've done for me as far as tracking The Doctor's growing sense of personal entitlement. And then, of course, he's gone through a series of names and he's never decided on one. Which I think is one of the nicest jokes the writers have ever come up with–a computer program that is indecisive."

"Doctor, did you notice how rudely that officer treated you?"
"No more so than most."
"You mean others act that way too?"
"Let's just say I've become accustomed to being treated like a hypospray."

--Kes and the Doctor

"If there were a member of the crew whose needs weren't being met, would you want to know about it?"
"Of course. Kes, do you and Neelix feel that your needs are being ignored?"
"Of course not. We're very happy here. I'm referring to the Doctor."
"The Doctor."
"I don't understand why people treat him the way they do."
"How do people treat him?"
"As though he doesn't exist. They talk about him while he's standing right there. They ignore him, they insult him."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I've been hearing the other side of the coin. Many of the crew have complained that the Doctor is brusque, even rude--that he lacks any bedside manner. We've been talking about reprogramming him."
"You can do that? It doesn't seem right."
"Kes, he's only a hologram."
"He's your medical officer. He's alive."
"No, he's not."
"He's self-aware, he's communicative. He has the ability to learn."
"Because he's been programmed to do that."
"So because he's a hologram, he doesn't have to be treated with respect, or any consideration at all?"
"Very well. I'll look into it."
"Thank you, Captain."

--Kes and Janeway

"You don't have the luxury of thinking of yourself as an Emergency Medical Program anymore. You've become a full-fledged member of the crew."
"I see. Are you suggesting that I be reprogrammed?"
"No. I'm asking if there's anything I can do... to help you."
"Help me?"
"If there's anything you need or want, I'd like to see that you get it."
"What I'd like is to be turned off when people leave. I spend hours here with absolutely nothing to do. When someone does remember to deactivate me, they do so without asking if it's convenient. It's extremely irritating."
"What if I gave you control... over your deactivation sequence?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm sure we can make it possible for you to turn yourself off or to prevent being turned off."
"I... I might like that."
"I'll have someone look into it. Anything else?"
"I'm not sure. I'll have to give it some thought."
"You do that."

--Janeway and the Doctor

"My program is fully integrated into the sick bay system. At present, I cannot be downloaded."
"Thank you for everything."
"Wait. I'd like... that is... could I ask a favor of you?"
"If you do leave, before you go, would you check to make sure I've been deactivated?"
"I promise."

--The Doctor and Kes

"There's one more request... something of a... a personal nature. I would like... a name."

--The Doctor, to Kes

Poster's Log:

Contrary to what I put above the cut, it's not entirely impossible that their sojourn in the Delta Quadrant might be cut short; we know from the background info on "Caretaker" that they'd mentioned another Nacene (the Caretaker's race) as a possible way of bringing them back to the Federation early in the series if that's the way that UPN wanted to go. But it still seems more than a bit early for them to exercise that option, and so the A story is really about the crew adjusting their expectations and plans as they know more about the particular situation, which is something that I thought the show did a good job of showing. Although the show has been rightly criticized for overuse of the reset button, there is some continuity in that, in time, they'll be a lot more cautious about this sort of thing. I also liked that they more-or-less immediately recognized that going back in time and giving the Romulans information on Federation/Starfleet technological developments twenty years into the future (well, not just giving them that info, but the Romulans would get it, one way or another) was not a real great idea.

But the real greatness of the episode, as you might have guessed from my copious quoting of the Doctor's dialogue, was the establishment that the Doctor is a person. Holy shit, the way that Kes went to bat for him. And the way that the Doctor reacts when Janeway asks him if there's anything that he wants, that he can want something. I've said before that I thought that the Doctor's character arc was much better than Data's, and this is one of the pieces missing from Data's. Although there's a lot to like about TNG's "The Measure of a Man", it glosses over the fact that we never saw how Data was established to be a person in the first place, which I'd assume would be necessary for him to be able to enroll in Starfleet Academy. ("The Measure of a Man" still works as a story about Maddox trying to in effect litigate the equivalent of the Dred Scott case, although that's still very disturbing that he would do so in his capacity as a Starfleet officer.) Whatever other failings VOY may have (had), they're going to do some great work with this character.

Poster's Log, Supplementary: As if it weren't already obvious that I'm a Doctor stan, I done wrote me a fanfic about what it might have been like for him if he'd been stuck on the ship alone. It's a bit long to put in comments, probably, although I could if anyone's interested; I've also applied for an Archive Of Our Own account and should be getting that in a few days.
posted by Halloween Jack (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Particle of the Week: Verteron particles.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Verteron particles are a key crafting ingredient in the production of improved tech upgrades for beam weaponry. Clearly, the crew should have taken the time to obtain some from the collapsing wormhole so that they could upgrade Voyager's phaser banks in preparation for the long story arc ahead.

* I liked this one a lot.

This being Voyager, I wanted to lead with that. The problem of the week was actually really great: it fits with in-universe lore, I enjoyed the performances, especially from Janeway and Telek R'Mor. (I guess Telek R'Mor being awesome shouldn't surprise me, as mentioned above, Vaughn Armstrong is a long time Trek veteran who's turned in some great performances.) I liked the story: them pleading their case to a man they're basically in a Cold War with, and them all building trust through empathy. I especially liked that when he offered to bring in a troop transport, nobody thought anything of it.

They even avoided one of my complaints about Voyager so far: this plan was actually thought-out. They did trial runs to verify it'd work, they hashed out strategy. Nothing about what they did this week was half-baked the way that it has been so far. In fact, Voyager's reset-button Lucy-with-the-football premise even worked to their advantage this time: we know the plan can't work from the outset, but that just means Telek could've died in transit, making those difficult transporter sequences actually matter.

It was a genuinely good Trek story. Good stakes, good technobabble, good execution, and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous without cheating. Tuvok's choice there was exactly right.

* This episode formally starts Voyager addressing sapient AI, which is good.

The Federation is bad about AI. It's a huge cultural blind spot, (though not the only one - genetic engineering rivals it for sheer stubbornness), and it's extremely offputting in general. The down side is, it also makes total sense: per last week's discussion, the Holodeck has gotten Federation citizens really used to treating Turing-capable AI as anything from 'stuff to kill' to 'stuff to have sex with.'

They have a vested interest in not seeing the Doctor as a person. It's realistic, but it's also pretty dark, and it's something that's bothered me for awhile. We see small nods to progress, like how Data won his case in The Measure Of A Man, but none of that seems to pass onto the Doctor because he's more of a video game sprite to them. It's especially bad because Starfleet has been aware of sapient holograms since Professor Moriarty in Elementary, Dear Data. So the brass knows their tech is on the verge of emergent, unintended sapience and they have yet to either (a) put safeguards in place to keep AI from reaching this point, or (b) give sapient AI basic rights. It's a bit Westworld for my taste, as was brought up at the tail end of last thread.

So... I'm actually glad Voyager's getting rolling dealing with some of this. This is also a good opportunity in no small part because Picardo is such a good actor, and can carry this off. (I would be interested in seeing your fanfic when you've got it posted, Halloween Jack.)

Credit where it's due, Voyager.

* B'Ellana/Harry continues to work.

They were a good pairing in the pilot, and they work here too. Their interactions represent what I had initially hoped for from a mixed Starfleet/Maquis crew: they're working together, they're friends, but there's a smidge of tension and their priorities and viewpoints are very different. Like, I didn't need the two crews at each others' throats: stuff like this could have been enough. I wish there had been more of it.

* Resource issues are ignored this week.

One bad detail that stood out was Janeway offering Kes food like it was nothing. Last week, power reserves were low, then further depleted by poorly-planned space monster shenanigans. I mean, we had Neelix begging Janeway not to get coffee in front of the crew just to set a good example.

Then... boom, replicator soup.

I realize the show wasn't actually going for strong continuity, but this did take me outta the moment. I wish Janeway had mentioned rations or something. Like, 'Sure, you can have one of my rations because it's bad luck not to feed space pixies, Kes!' Still, given such a strong episode overall, I'd actually feel bad going on about this too much.
posted by mordax at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Verterons are also a key ingredient in the Bajoran wormhole, so good continuity there.

This is the first must-see of the series after the pilot, for the various reasons already mentioned. Armstrong is one of the greatest Romulans we ever get. I also noticed that all the leads turned in solid, believable performances; it's telling that, even though I've seen this one three or four times now, I still found myself getting caught up in the soon-to-be-thwarted hope. Maybe I'm just suffering from a hope deficit lately BUT ANYWAY

It's a bit Westworld for my taste, as was brought up at the tail end of last thread.

So... I'm actually glad Voyager's getting rolling dealing with some of this.

Yes, credit where credit is due, especially since this theme continues for the whole remainder of the series, including after the Doctor has been fully accepted and "liberated." There's one scene in particular (from season 7, IIRC), the final scene of a particular episode, that, not to spoil it, knocked my socks off when I first saw it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love a good sympathetic Romulan storyline. Definitely some notes of TNG: The Defector here. R'Mor is a lovely, grounded character with an appropriately nuanced performance from the actor. It's genuinely sad when you find out at the end that he had died, and won't have a happy reunion with Voyager in the future.

The Doctor's storyline is also remarkable and nuanced (notes of TNG: Measure of a Man, but IMHO much better in some ways). It reminds me of having a conversation with a good boss, and how such things might play out in a healthy workplace environment. I love that it doesn't need a big dramatic trial, it's just tucked into this episode as the common-sense issue that it is.
posted by annekate at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Stuff like this is why I love Voyager so. It's not my favorite Trek, but I think it's definitely the most underrated Trek.

We were watching some Next Generation this weekend, for the first time in a long while. It struck me that if you boiled the Trek franchise down to its essence, it might be, "Oh, something new and weird! Can we be friends with it?" We sure need more of that, these days.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

It struck me that if you boiled the Trek franchise down to its essence, it might be, "Oh, something new and weird! Can we be friends with it?"

Well…except for the JJ movies. And really, to be fair, most of the movies. But yes, this is definitely one of the things I've always liked about Voyager. Like, I understand the criticism that hey, we can't just stop at every class-M planet and attend conferences and stuff if we ever want to get home, but if this crew had to choose only one of its original precepts to adhere to, it should be the one about strange new worlds and new civilizations.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:42 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

That Nu-Trek stuff ain't Trek. It's just so, so not Trek, in so many ways. Don't get me started. And the reason the Prime Universe movies didn't have more making friends with weird stuff was because they didn't have time. They had two hours to tell a whole big-budget story and they shifted focus. But even then you knew the crew would really much rather be off making friends with new stuff than dealing with another villain. (There's even that scene in ST: Nemesis where Picard wistfully remarks that he's sick of war and misses exploring... and then they go off and make friends with the planet of immortal Amish people. It's the weakest of the Next Gen movies, but it does show where Picard's heart is at.)

There was room for all kinds of stories in Trek, it was a franchise that spanned decades. But I think the core was always people in space, trying to make space pals. Even when the aliens were prickly jerks, the hope was to sit down with them and hash it out. (And no matter how awful the aliens were, we inevitably met some who weren't so bad and became pals. Even the Borg, via Hugh and Seven of Nine!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

It struck me that if you boiled the Trek franchise down to its essence, it might be, "Oh, something new and weird! Can we be friends with it?" We sure need more of that, these days.

That Nu-Trek stuff ain't Trek. It's just so, so not Trek, in so many ways. Don't get me started.

Yeah, we're in complete agreement about all of that.

Every story contains underlying themes and value judgments, whether it means to or not. One of the things I always liked about Star Trek was that it was deliberately inclusive: from day one, we had a black woman on the bridge at a time when neither trait got you a starring role. We had a Russian on the bridge when they were our bitter rivals in the real world, and bad guys in most popular media. TOS spent a ton of time on the Klingons as the villains... only to spend ST:VI on the road to peace with them despite a lot of bitterness on both sides.

TNG-era material continued that trend: as you mentioned, we got Hugh and Seven of Nine to start to humanize the Borg, who were basically a cosmic menace. We even got Odo returning to the Great Link to try and get the Dominion on the road to mutual understanding instead of prepping for the next war. Even Star Trek Online is pretty good about this - a number of really violent storylines end in mutual understanding and peace versus 'just massacre all the aliens.' (An unusual trait in an MMO, in my experience.)

Star Trek is all about finding ways to get past our differences, and it's why I will always love it despite how critical I tend to be when you get me going about individual stories. This is also a thing that Voyager did understand. We've seen a lot of it in the rewatch even with the show barely into S1: Janeway shows compassion to the Vidiians, the crew risks the ship to save an weird space monster they accidentally injured instead of worrying about what it'll do to them, and so on. (Really, the most jarring thing about the pilot was that they didn't check on the Ocampans.)

I also think you're right that we need more stories like original flavor Trek: too much fiction in our culture is just about good guys triumphing over bad guys, with everything all spelled out and inevitable. People learn a lot from stories, and that's a polarizing and unrealistic thing to be telling people, while Trek is more... just more helpful. I was really sad that nuTrek skipped that in favor of bigger explosions.
posted by mordax at 4:00 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

The problem, for show purposes, Voyager and TNG often ran into with the befriend the aliens or investigate the unknown episodes was that the dilemmas accompanying many of those episodes were either weak and easily solved, or solved in a hand wave which made little real sense outside of writers saying it was so. The best episodes of those types have more difficult dilemmas that didn't lend themselves to easy solutions, but those are harder to write and can't be used constantly otherwise the premise of there being successes becomes more difficult to maintain. The urge to simplify issues and moralize sometimes makes the new contact episodes my least favorites, even though I do agree those ideals should be central to the Trek universe.

I actually liked the most recent Trek movie, even with all the action scenes it still managed to evoke some of the feeling of the show and worked well in showing the interactions and basic ideals of the crew. It, of course, can't be the show entirely, big budget filmmaking won't allow for that, but if they keep the good parts of this last film and build from that, and maybe allow for a few lower budget side projects that are more show like I think they could do well, at least in my eyes. I mean it isn't as if the previous Star Trek films provide that much competition for how to make a movie version of the show. Most were pretty bad to downright awful, with maybe some interesting moments in them. I only cared much for three or four of them, the 1st, 2nd, First Contact, and was borderline on a couple others.

As to the good doctor. Yeah the handling of his character and Picardo's handling of the material is really great early on. Janeway's initial doubts and then quick reversal on the idea of the doctor being sentient is an excellent example of her decision making. She often seems to start out believing something that she'll speak up strongly about, but is willing to reconsider her opinion at least provisionally without much fuss. Since those reconsiderations usually seem to occur around areas of implicit bias or unquestioned belief, it provides a good example of how a mature person should deal with claims against convention. It's nice that many of the moments of conversion aren't shown, just the arguments that lead to the change and result. It saves the show from having too many bogus feeling "eureka" moments of insight.

As it reads, or as Mulgrew plays it, Janeway seems to accept new ideas as potentially valuable and thus worth testing if there is no stronger countervailing reason to oppose change. She takes the crew's passion and ideals into account as an equally important point of consideration as pure reason alone when there is any question over an issue or space around it to allow that to happen. At the same time, once she allows for these sorts of freedoms or experiments, there is also something of the feeling it isn't an entirely settled matter, but a test to see if it will work as hoped or bring positive results.

As the show wears on, the doctor's issue over holographic rights does, for me, start to seem a bit repetitive, with too many arguments going pretty much the same way we've already heard, and the doctor himself becomes a little less enjoyable and a bit too exaggerated at times, but, there are still good episodes with his issues even in the final season, it just more of a mixed feeling around his character in some of the 4th -6th seasons after Seven establishes herself and gets more of the "what it means to be human" stuff.

I had this episode marked as one of my favorites from the first season too, I'm bummed I couldn't rewatch it for the discussion, at least not yet anyway.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:10 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

For me the #1 problem with the Abrams-verse is that it gets the original characters wrong. In the most recent one, Kirk's big dilemma was that he was bored with life as a starship captain. Seriously? James T. Freaking Kirk, bored with life as a starship captain? That is the most un-Kirk like thing ever. Admittedly NuKirk isn't quite the same guy as Classic Kirk, they had different childhoods and stuff, but if you've reached a point where James T. Kirk is looking at a closet full of gold command uniforms with a sigh then this really isn't even Kirk anymore and why am I even watching? And this was the BEST of the reboot movies!! (Ugh, I told you not to get me started!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:23 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

The fanfic that I mentioned earlier: Is This the Real Life. Not a terribly original plot, but I think that it fits in well with the plot of this episode.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:22 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've been lurking on most of these threads (including the DS9 ones) as I'm only managing to keep up with some of the episodes and am relying on memory for a lot of others. That's generally meant that I haven't felt able to add much to the discussion - and generally by the time I read them others have made the point I wanted to make anyway.

One thing I was keen to note about this episode on a persona level though relates to this:

As it reads, or as Mulgrew plays it, Janeway seems to accept new ideas as potentially valuable and thus worth testing if there is no stronger countervailing reason to oppose change. She takes the crew's passion and ideals into account as an equally important point of consideration as pure reason alone when there is any question over an issue or space around it to allow that to happen. At the same time, once she allows for these sorts of freedoms or experiments, there is also something of the feeling it isn't an entirely settled matter, but a test to see if it will work as hoped or bring positive results.

When I first found myself being asked to change from being a pure developer to having more of a strategic / management role I really struggled with learning how to do that.

The company I was at was supportive and sent me on a training course, but I just could parse how to translate my largely binary and forthright developer mindset into something that allowed me to better handle and manage people, and make strategic decisions effectively. And, just as importantly, work out how to make that important separation between being part of a tight team on a day-to-day basis and having to make decisions that would affect those same people at other times.

In part, I was being asked to take on more responsibility for that side of things because a previous developer-turned-manager was being promoted up into leading the department, and he'd pushed heavily for me to take on some of his old responsibilities as he thought I could do it.

As he was still technically my line manager (despite, by that point, me being based in New York whilst he was back in London), I admitted to him over messenger that I was still struggling to get my mind around this. I asked if he had any tips on how to train my brain to be better at this.

His advice:

"Mate, ask yourself: What would Janeway do?"

We'd actually talked in the past about how Voyager was the first series we'd both watched from the start at school and how we both had a love-hate relationship with it, so I suspect, whether he used that technique or not, he hoped it would be a useful mental image.

And he was right: Suddenly, shit just made so much more sense.

Because she's a science officer, turned leader, who - as Mulgrew plays her (and the best writers write her) - uses that to her advantage exactly in the way you describe.

Now I didn't magically become a good manager overnight or anything and there are many, many other things I've picked up in both my technical and writing careers that have hopefully made me better at that stuff ever since.

But my own little Trekky version of 'WWJD?' definitely got me through a whole bunch of stressful situations early on while I retrained my brain. And this episode was one that, many years later when I randomly caught it on repeat, really rammed home just how on the money that bit of advice had been at the time.

And that's absolutely part of the reason why I still have a massive soft spot for Voyager, despite its flaws, today.
posted by garius at 5:45 AM on January 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

Reddit: Voyager is a predestination paradox (a "Voyager Conspiracy"-style theory about this episode having caused the events of "Caretaker")
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:19 AM on June 26, 2018

I'm going through Voyager week-by-week along with the Greatest Generation podcast coverage of it happening now, and this was the first episode where I just came away thinking "man, that was great!" Friends tell me it truly is one of the highlights of the series and probably the best ep of Season 1, but still, there was just so much to love here. The EMH, obviously, and Kes determining that he needed better than he was getting even though he was acquiesced to his state of affairs, but also the fact that, no matter how many times their hopes got raised and then dashed over the course of the hour, they succeeded in making a connection with someone on the other side of the Federation/Romulan Cold War, and you can see just the slightest genuine glimmer of hope in that. I loved it.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:39 PM on March 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

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