Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy

Voyager, Season 6
 "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"
Airdate: October 13, 1999
122 of 168 produced
122 of 168 aired


The Doctor's desire to grow and help his comrades hits a stumbling block when his daydream protocol goes out of control.

 Harry Kim, shown furiously memorizing this program number



Matthew: In some ways this episode is similar to Birthright, Part 1, in which Data experiments with dreaming at night, while here the Doctor allows himself to daydream during the day (he doesn't have quarters, of course). And whereas Data has the full support and recognition of the Enterprise crew, the Doctor apparently does not enjoy the same on Voyager. This story beat of the crew continuing to diminish the Doctor seems a little odd by Season 6, but it's still a solid premise for a story - when is an artificial intelligence worthy of care? Should we judge people who yell at Alexa? The substance of the Doctor's daydreams sort of runs the gamut. The weird one is having all the women of the crew be sexually attracted to him. Is the Doctor gendered male? Is he heterosexual? If so, why? Programming? Societal expectation? Something emergent in his personality? Now, his thing for Seven makes sense given their shared growth and experience, but Janeway? B'Elanna? The scenes are full of funny comedy, but I wonder what it says about him. The opera scene, on the other hand, is a sheer delight. Robert Picardi very ably sings "La Donna E Mobile" from Rigoletto, and the improvised pon farr lyrics are a hoot. We also get a touching scene showing the Doctor's desire to help the people he loves.

Kevin: Not to go all SJW on y'all, but the Doctor is a straight man because the actor is and it's a default setting. I have great respect for (almost) all the writers who have worked on Star Trek, but bless their hearts, the idea that a being that looked on the outside like a man not having a sex drive or that drive not being heterosexual would simply never have occurred to them. Hell...Odo who is literally only pretending to look like a male humanoid formed a romantic attachment that from the outside looks like heterosexuality. With a ballsier network or writing staff, this would have been a great place to explore how romantic/physical attraction might look coming from someone not a biological person. That all said, I liked the idea of the Doctor daydreaming generally as I think it is fertile ground to discuss the emergent nature of consciousness. One great distinction between program and person is how much they do spontaneously versus how much they do in response to stimuli. Also, the ability to imagine the world as different without forgetting that it's not is a key step in our own mental development, so that could have been fun too. Would the Doctor go through a phase of having an imaginary friend? And I like that all his daydreams, sexual or not, get at something very familiar: the desire to feel wanted or needed or powerful.

And I'll say I liked Picardo's singing, but found the ponn farr lyrics to be a bit...much

Matthew: I knew it! Now all of your "Last Jedi" criticisms make sense. Anyway, the other big thread in this story is the Hierarchy. It's okay..... ish. I would have liked a bit more information as to their ethos as a culture, to give a bit more of a motive to their actions and their organization. Is it a computer system? An oligarchy? At the end of they day, they seemed like a plot device to get the Doctor to be an Emergency Command Hologram. Which is not to say those scenes weren't enjoyable, as Robert Picardo can act "fish out of water" like a pro.

Kevin: This is where the episode lost me. It's a design problem more than anything, and I'll get to that later, but sufficed to say here, it just had no stakes since between the petty bickering and the fact that appeared to be very easily fooled, it just made them closer to a season one Ferengi villain too quickly. The ECH is an interesting idea, and has notes of Crusher and Troi pulling shifts on the bridge in TNG. If anything the interior desire to improve should really settle the question about the Doctor's sentience.


Matthew: Well, this is a Robert Picardo clinic, isn't it? He sings, he does drama, he does comedy - and he does it all well. I bought his emotional journey completely. Has he become the Brent Spiner of this show? Perhaps. But I find his late season outings less grating than Spiner's, perhaps because the character has always had more "emotion" built in.

Kevin: To the extent a few of the daydreams wore a little thin, it was certainly the writing and not the acting. Picardo can really go from pompous to abashed so quickly that it's never not a delight. Like Spiner, they are over-using him by this point, but it's an understandable sin, given who they have to work with.

Matthew: The rest of the crew does a really nice job comedically, especially Jeri Ryan and Roxann Dawson. Kate Mulgrew does a really nice shift from sarcastically bemused to genuinely touched by the Doctor's desire to grow and help his comrades.

Kevin: I particularly like everyone in the daydream sequences. Everyone was clearly game and it showed.

Production Values

Matthew: For the most part this was a bottle show. The only real effects were the Doctor's uniform changing color and pips appearing. The Hierarchy aliens were strangely round and squat, and their ship was pretty boring, visually.

Kevin: The Hierarchy look exactly, like 'stern letter from a lawyer' exactly, like the Sontarans from Doctor Who and the Sontarans look like poops. The subsequent advent of the poop emoji does not diminish the comparison.


I have to go with a 3 on this. It's very likeable, and Picardo is terrific in it. But it's only really half a story, with an underbaked alien and many unanswered philosophical/ethical questions. That said, I never skip it on re-watch.I will say, coming off of Discovery, it is remarkable how much emphasis is given to character development, humor, and recognizable human emotions outside of anger, grief, and angst. It's refreshing - and it allows an episode with some mediocre aspects like this to still be an enjoyable experience.

Kevin: Skipping the Heirarchy plot for more time spent on the implications of the daydream story would have elevated this, but as it stands, I heartily agree with the 3 for a total of 6. Picardo has charm to spare and it's almost uniformly well applied in this episode. This is, at worst, the sweet spot of something from golden age TNG - a thin story happily and successfully carried by a great character and actor.


  1. So glad someone else noticed the Sontaran in the room. Loved this episode though. It was hysterical.