The Doctor faces an alarming possibility: that he is, in fact, a real person.
I’ve heaped a lot of faint praise on Voyager up until now, so let me say this: “Projections” is a really good episode.
Here’s a list of reasons why:
- Star Trek has done “what even IS reality?” episodes before, including via the holodeck, but the central conceit here — that the Doctor may in fact be a human being having a radiation-induced psychotic break — is unique to Voyager. You could never raise doubts as to whether Data has been a person all along, because he doesn’t quite look human. (There’s never any doubt that he’s a hologram — but that’s not the point of this subgenre.)
- Despite being very much about the Doctor, the whole ensemble gets a work out — Tuvok and Harry have the least to do, which is a shame, but they have moments, and there’s room for everyone else. Even Chakotay gets a compelling scene, and Robert Beltran goes so far as to deign to act.
- Despite featuring Reg Barclay, a recurring character from TNG whom I detest, I have to concede that he’s well used here, and everything he says and does is consistent with his skills as established in TNG. And he’s a strong foil to the Doctor.
- It establishes Lewis Zimmerman (also played by Robert Picardo), the Doctor’s creator and, he briefly suspects, real identity.
- The opening scenes — the Doctor alone on the ship, thinking he has been abandoned, only to learn that Janeway and B’Elanna are on board but everyone else has been abducted by Kazon — feel like the set up for a whole separate episode which might itself have been worth watching.
- (Except, ugh, Kazon.)
- The recreation of scenes from “Caretaker” is a great way of highlighting how far the Doctor has come in just six months, and also Harry gets to have his floppy non-threatening boy hair again.
- What? It’s a good look on Garrett Wang!
- Even Voyager‘s episodic tendencies and lack of continuity works in its favour here — you start out thinking, “Sure, they definitely could have set up holoprojectors around the ship and just not mentioned it to the audience until now!”
Don’t worry, I can always find something to rant about
The biggest weakness, for me, is the conceit that Kes is “Lewis Zimmerman”‘s wife. She runs the gamut from Loving and Concerned to Loving and Afraid, but aside from being a complete waste of Jennifer Lien’s skills, I just … don’t like it. Age gaps, for me, work when the younger partner is effectively the older one’s equal, just lacking experience. “Zimmerman” and Kes are just a retread of the “grumpy STEM guy and beautiful young wife” dynamic.
And worst of all, it ends with Kes warning the Doctor not to let Neelix find out about this aspect of his fantasy. Har har, her boyfriend is chronically and irrationally jealous and if he finds out other men think she’s attractive, he’ll make her pay for it. What a laugh.
I even have Opinions about the costume design for “Kes Zimmerman” — she wears a layered tunic over leggings and undershirt, like the real Kes, but it’s looser and longer, with the tunic made of a heavier, embroidered fabric. Is this an attempt to make “Kes Zimmerman” seem older, or is there an underlying idea that wife = matron = dowdier clothing?
Also, I have a few words to say about Reg Barclay
Barclay was introduced on TNG as a talented engineer whose crippling social anxiety leads him to neglect his duties in favour of hiding out on the holodeck, acting out scenarios where he’s cool and popular. He’s popular among fans — particularly men — for representing, well, the sort of personality that is drawn to Star Trek.
Highlights of his holodeck fantasies include sexy interactions with his female co-workers and aggressive ones with the men. There’s also some Three Musketeers action, but mostly, by twenty-first century standards, he is a whole Soviet Union May Day parade of red flags.
Needless to say, I’m not a big fan. I don’t love the secondhand embarrassment of watching him deal with real people, and I hate the subtext of his holodeck adventures. His later TNG episodes see him getting therapy and moving past the holodeck thing, but the secondhand embarrassment remains. And, of course, this was all in the early ’90s, so the sexual harassment of his female superior officers wasn’t acknowledged — in fact, as I recall (it’s been at least a decade since I watched “Hollow Pursuits”) Deanna expresses dismay at the sexy “goddess of empathy” persona she was given, and Riker smirks and says it suits her.
(Someone on Reddit tried to tell me that Sylvia Tilly is to women what Barclay is to men — which is frankly insulting to Tilly, who works hard, pushes herself to improve, and has so far managed to refrain from sexually harassing her colleagues.)
Having said all this, working in high level holographic programming on Jupiter Station is a really good fit for him, and puts him in an environment where his colleagues are equally eccentric. (And, as we see in a later season, it’s all men, which … you know, there are probably some brilliant female holographic engineers who decided to leave Starfleet and pursue their careers as civilians. Ugh.)
- For a completely different take, my esteemed colleague Grant Watson described this as “a dreadfully predictable exercise” and “not worth sitting through for any viewers other than completists”. I’m like, that’s way harsh, Tai — but he’s not wrong about the fact that the central mystery is completely spoiled by the opening. I just … didn’t notice that until I read his review. And I’ve seen this episode, oh, three or four times.
- A lot of things about the Doctor’s social skills make sense when you find out that those subroutines were programmed by Barclay. But he’s also a pretty close facsimile of the real Zimmerman. Poor hologram didn’t stand a chance.
As you know, Bob, I’m not the biggest fan of the Doctor these days. But this is a solid character piece for him, and far more watchable than “Heroes and Demons”. Three identity crises out of five.