Thursday, 13 August 2015

Review: Voyager 3.4: The Swarm

I'm a Doctor/Kes shipper, of course I giffed this moment.
Star Trek: Voyager - Season Three, Episode Four - The Swarm
Written 8/8/15

Something I've mentioned before, when I did my run-through of Voyager last year, is my shipping of The Doctor and Kes. This came up most prominently in Projections, where The Doctor's subconscious posed Kes as his loyal wife. I know this really isn't something I'd usually start a review off with, but one of the key features of The Swarm is The Doctor and Kes' relationship, either as friends, as teacher/student or in a parental way. Or a romantic way. (It's possible!) And given how interesting that main plot is, it's disappointing that, as often happens on Voyager, the excuse plot to tie it all together is breathtakingly dull.
     Best buds B'elanna and Tom are off scouting on some mission, until they're suddenly attacked by two aliens, knocking Tom unconscious. The Doctor, who has been practising his opera, suddenly finds himself forgetting the words. When he later tries to perform the procedure to save Tom, he deteriorates to the point that Kes basically has to do it for him. As Voyager encounters a race of aliens known locally as The Swarm, Kes and B'elanna realise that The Doctor's program is breaking down after having been active for so long, only having been developed as a temporary medical substitute. They activate a diagnostic program (played by Picardo himself) who lambastes Kes for "allowing" The Doctor to fill his program with things like opera in the first place. As the rest of the crew use technobabble to fight off The Swarm, Kes convinces the diagnostic hologram to sacrifice himself to allow The Doctor some more memory, which he does so.
     The plotline with the titular Swarm is so dull that I literally had to look up who they were after I watched it. Due to either incompetence or just simple laziness, the "main" plotline that they feature in is a mess of technobabble and confusing facts. Introduced near the beginning episode as a mysterious race with an untranslatable language who owned a large region of space, their potential importance is whisked away at the end when they're technobabbled away by Harry Kim of all people, after which they suddenly decide to leave Voyager alone. Unlike my expectation, their attacks had nothing to do with The Doctor's sudden deterioration, and as such they could have been left out of the overall plot with no real loss to the episode or to the show.
"Well, there's nothing more I can do; either reinitialise
it or live with the knowledge that eventually this EMH
will end up with the intellectual capacity of a parsnip."
      As I mentioned above, the shining parts of this episode were centred around Kes and her dogged attempts to save The Doctor's life. Flipping the roles from Projections, where The Doctor deals with, among other things, his subconscious appreciation of Kes, here we see Kes put into a position where she must help The Doctor and test her own beliefs about their friendship. Despite my non-canon shipping fun, there is something to be said for the relationship between the two characters, and the many forms it takes - she helps The Doctor to see himself as a worthy individual, and he helps her explore her mental potential and fulfill her desire to help out and be a worthwhile member of the crew. This episode presented that relationship in a tragic light, with Kes now the carer for a mentally fading Doctor, in a clear and biting comparison towards Alzheimer's and Dementia.
     The Swarm is a decent idea trying to work alongside the Voyager auto-pilot. Seeing Picardo work alongside himself for the first time (and not the last) was certainly fun, with the diagnostic program shedding an insight into the EMH's creator Lewis Zimmerman (a character who this same year made his first appearance, over in DS9.) The few minutes actually devoted to the titular story were really quite tedious, but they were more than made up for by the exploration of the Doctor/Kes relationship - even if the real nature of their friendship was, as ever, left with a certain ambiguity.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: To read next week's episode, please deposit two strips of gold-pressed latinum into the box in front of you. Either that or give Ethan Phillips new prosthetics - it's False Profits.

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