Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Review: Voyager 3.22: Real Life

The Doctor and his original, "perfect" family.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-Two - Real Life
Written between 23rd and 24th October 2015

Context is a big part of what makes a long-running series have that special feel. If a show is trying to develop characters over a long period of time, it makes sense to have continuity from one episode to the next, so that a character's previous experiences can realistically inform them as time goes by. TNG and DS9 were brilliant for this, with Picard being left reeling from the Borg attacks and his time as a Ressikan, and all of the characters in Deep Space Nine having their characters be thoroughly consistent throughout. Voyager often tries to do this, but often doesn't quite hit the mark, and that's what happens this week - okay in isolation, unforgivable in context.
     The Doctor has created a family on the Holodeck in order to better understand his patience - he's made himself a human wife, Charlene, and two children, Jeffrey and Belle. When he invites Kes and B'Elanna to come to dinner, they lambaste him for creating a "perfect" family, all of whom have perfect behaviour, adore him and follow his every desire. Seeking to help The Doctor's program have the intended effect, and drawing on her own troubled childhood, B'Elanna alters his program without him knowing. Charlene is now a busy lecturer, Belle has realistic childish strops and Jeffrey hangs out with Klingons who want to involve him in blood rituals. The Doctor attempts to fix things, but when his daughter has an accident he can't fix he simply stops the program and tries to get back to life aboard Voyager. Tom convinces him to see it through and watch his daughter die, and The Doctor is changed forever. There's also a subplot about Voyager encountering subspace anomalies, but I was barely listening for that.
   The episode's premise is not a bad one - The Doctor has done things to help him understand humans before, like in Tattoo where he gave himself a virtual flu and Kes taught him a similar lesson to what B'Elanna teaches him here. The difference is that said plot was the B-plot of that episode; a funny little side addition to the more important (if stunningly racist) A-plot about Chakotay's heritage. Here The Doctor has gone so far as to create holograms with which he identifies as family - something which in itself raises so many philosophical questions that this episode never touches upon. Instead of maybe presenting the idea of an artificial being creating more of himself and beginning to identify more with them than with the "real" world, we're instead given a series of trite lessons about family life and fatherhood, in which teenagers are moody, kids are crap and how dare a woman work? It also beggars belief for me that The Doctor need this particular lesson teaching in the first place - this is way before The Doctor's character shifted towards his intense egotism, and it just comes off as weird that he could be this clueless.
Kes from this episode starts wearing her hair long, and starts to
sport catsuits eerily similar to those of Seven of Nine. 
      The worst thing about this episode, however, is the emotional pull at the end. We watch as The Doctor, a being literally created to save lives, is unable to save the closest thing he has to a daughter - someone he created, too. Tom forces him to face this trauma, teaching him that real people simply can't stop and avoid confronting tragedy and grief. Except... when they can? The problem with this whole interpretation is that this episode's events never come up again. An episode designed to be an important moment in the growth of The Doctor's character, in which he undergoes the heart-wrenching and forever-life-altering tragedy of losing a child, has no continuity with the rest of the series. How amazing would it have been to see the family recur? For the next few episodes to show The Doctor trying to adjust to his duties while overcoming that grief? The simple fact is, you don't just get over losing a child. You don't just get over losing anyone. And the fact that The Doctor doesn't refer back to the events of this episode ruin its entire message.
     Voyager is guilty far too often of taking itself too seriously, but this episode suffered from exactly the opposite problem - it didn't take itself seriously enough. Buried in this episode is the potential for an amazing sci-fi concept and a heart-breaking change to The Doctor's character which does what this episode wants it to do and makes him seem more human - but it's not here. Instead, we are presented with something which aims to be funny with a sad ending, simple pimple. I want to say something about how I just have to expect this from Voyager, but I don't want to - sometimes this show can be extraordinary. It was just a shame they made such a tasteless mistake this close to one of the show's best episodes.


NEXT WEEK: Star Trek's answer to the Silurians in the continuity-stuffed Distant Origin.

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