Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Darkling

Voyager, Season 3
Airdate: February 19, 1997
60 of 168 produced
59 of 168 aired


The Doctor is experimenting with augmenting his personality with some of history's greatest figures. Meanwhile, Kes falls for the charms of a wandering explorer, and considers leaving Voyager to follow him.
The Doctor's alterations lead to a slack jaw and messy hair.


Kevin: I do not like this episode. At all, really. I didn't when I first watched it, and time has not softened my opinion. I do like Memory Alpha, which in addition to being a lovely  resource for in-universe Trek trivia also aggregates much of the pre-internet print work about Star Trek's production, so I end up learning a lot about the production of an episode that I did not know. What I learned about this episode is that this started life as a purchase of the core of an idea by the writing staff, the Doctor goes Jekyll and Hyde. And that's kind of the problem in a nutshell. They didn't start with an interesting idea or point or twist on the story. They started with the goal and worked backwards to make a story. The end result suffers in that the mechanism is ridiculous. I get the basic idea that incorporating disparate personality components might interact in weird ways, but, much like every time the Doctor or Data or the Enterprise computer goes rogue, I just don't buy the result. Why does it form a discrete alter-ego? Why is it motivated to do random harm? I appreciate trying to tie it in to worry about losing Kes, but that all just ends up reading like a rehash of Neelix's possessiveness.

Matthew: Indeed, as far as I can tell, the Doctor's personality additions should change his consciousness, not create a malevolent additional consciousness. If the agglomeration of these various characters would create a malevolent being, why isn't the ship's computer such a being? The Doctor is apparently self-conscious. So it seems as though the self is the important aspect that allows these traits to manifest. Taking his self out of the equation therefore seems arbitrary. Anyway, I agree that there are potentially interesting things to explore here - at the very least, outright forbidding the Doctor from tampering with his program, at least without supervision. Why not investigate what would be an untenable curtailing of freedom for any other crew member?

Kevin: Much like all of Data's possessions, this episode raises questions about the wisdom of the Doctor being on all the time as the primary physician. We will get a MUCH better discussion of the impact of the Doctor's emerging personality in "Latent Image," a much more grounded and thoughtful look at the limits and ethics of the Doctor's status as an individual. Also, the episode pulls its punches, which could have compensated for the lack of credible set up. His threatening of B'Elanna was pretty chilling, and they should have made that the focus of the episode. In an early draft, Kes walks into the holodeck and sees the Doctor experimenting on a dozen holo-Keses. If you want a Mr. Hyde, really go for it, at least. The weird scene with the holo-philosophers just left me flat.

Matthew: Yeah, when the Doctor threatened B'Elanna and then Kes, it was much more interesting to me that this was expressing his feelings somehow, not the feelings of some being we don't care about. So I'd rather the story angle have been the Doctor actually changing, instead of the creation of some alternate villain.

Kevin: The rest of the episode was...eh. I vaguely recall knowing by this point that Jennifer Lien would not be returning for Season 4, and this might have actually been a more interesting exit for the character. We could have gotten a little more exploration of the effects of her absence before using the majority of the screen time on developing Seven of Nine. Maybe that could have even been the hook for the Doctor's transformation. Rather than merely freak out at the prospect, he could snap because he can't actually handle a loss he was never programmed to feel. I liked the idea of the travelers themselves, but the execution felt a little lacking.

Matthew: I really didn't care about Kes and her crush on Zahir. I also didn't care about Zahir's peripatetic people. I didn't buy their attraction, and Zahir struck me as more creepy than interesting, given his desire to take a strange 3 year-old woman onto his spaceship. I understand that they didn't have time to develop the relationship, given the other story threads. But this just makes me wish they had excised it altogether.


Kevin: Much like Armin Shimerman over on DS9, Picardo is just the actor's actor. The man tried, and particularly in his scene when he threatened to disconnect B'Elanna's ability to lose consciousness, he was chilling. With a better script under him, I think this one could have really sung, but still, I can't fault Picardo for any choices he made with the material he had.

Matthew: Personally, although I agree that some of his line readings in the better scenes were good, I found Picardo's "Hyde" performance to be over the top. The way he glowered and stuck his lower lip out was really off-putting, but not in a good way. 

Kevin: If there was one surprise in this episode's rewatch, it's that I found myself really engaged by Lien's performance. She really nailed the mix of thrill and apprehension that accompany this kind of like decision. I also think she really held her own against the Doctor's more operatic moments toward the end.

Matthew: Meh, it didn't work for me as well as it did you. I think Roxann Dawson might be the unsung here here.

Production Values

Kevin: I'm not saying they missed something per se, but I found the resort full of historical figures just a bit...much. Beyond that, I found the planet set to be super dark and therefore uninteresting. The pan shots of the encampment at least gave it a sense of space, and I would have appreciate pairing it with close shots that gave it a sense of detail.

Matthew: Yeah, dark dark dark.  What are these people thinking? Don't they have rushes? Don't the people compositing know what these sets will look like? Anyway, the matte painting, dark though it was, was pretty good. The cliff overlook was pretty bad, though.


Kevin: Here's the puzzler. Is this a 1 or 2? The plotting is ridiculous and seems t almost willfully misunderstand how a personality is constructed and it fails to give any credible basis for why the Doctor turned EEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVIIIIIILLLL. Picardo's performance is good, but like I said above, it's good in spite of the story, and I'm getting a little past the point of rounding up a score because Mulgrew/Dawson/Picardo can really act. Is one good exchange between B'Elanna and the Doctor enough to keep this from a 2? I'm going to say barely. I think this is a 2, only because "Favorite Son" is still coming down the pipe, and that is a demonstrably worse work.

Matthew: This is a 2 for me. There was a basic entertainment to the hostage scenes. But the story is fundamentally weak and lacking in interest. The most interesting questions were elided. That makes our total a 4.

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