In which the Doctor has an existential crisis.
Sickbay is dark and empty and the Doctor has just come online automatically upon activation of a shipwide Red Alert. However, nobody is answering and the ship indicates nobody is on board and the computer doesn’t know where they are. There are also hull breaches and most of the ship’s systems are down, including sewage and waste reclamation. Well, at least now we know they have pipes. They don’t literally beam the crap right out of you. The Doctor grabs access to the bridge logs, and finds Janeway providing a record of the order to abandon ship after a warp core breach. The Doctor is now in command. He’s getting ready to shut down permanently when he hears someone trying to break into sick bay.
It’s Torres, with some details. The ship was attacked by Kazon. Torres and Janeway stayed aboard to try to stop the ship from blowing up, and the internal sensors are so broken the ship couldn’t tell. Also, the whole crew has been captured by Kazon so clearly Torres, Janeway, and the Doctor are gonna have to Die Hard this thing. Also, all the tricorders are broken, they’re not even registering Torres’ life signs. But we’re going to gloss over that and talk about how the crew have been setting up holo-emitters on critical decks in case they need to send the Doctor. This is all terribly convenient and in no way a trap, simulation, or some kind of command-aptitude test, what with literally every other system down but the completely experimental holo-emitters ready to come up in about 20 minutes.
During the duration of this, the Doctor will be more vulnerable than usual to the hazards that afflict the common flesh-and-blood crewmember – because of Reasons, if his projected body gets hit by energy discharges his program will crash and take hours to reboot, despite that body being in no way a container for said program.
The bridge is a pile of hot garbage full of corpses. The Tricorder is still useless, but at least Janeway is alive enough to give the Doctor a crash course in maintenance bypass, or would if it didn’t turn out that Neelix is still on board, under attack by Kazon, and holding him at bay with his cooking long enough for the Doctor to try to garotte him with a whisk. After the fight, the Doctor is bleeding, however. This is not supposed to happen. Nor is the pain he experiences with the application of a medical patch. In fact, he’s also registering vital signs on a tricorder, which is beyond weird. In fact, just moments after he holo’s in from the bridge, the computer is denying that there’s a medical hologram at all and indicating that the CMO of Voyager is Dr. Louis Zimmerman, the guy who could be said to have created the EMH himself. Also, the real Zimmerman is an engineer, including in the flawed records aboard Voyager.
The rest of the crew are also surprised, and go to the first resort of any malfunctioning program – a reboot. Now they can’t shut down the Doctor, but shutting down all holographic programs entirely makes Janeway, Torres, Neelix, and the captive Kazon all vanish. This is becoming less internally consistent by the moment, although frankly I feel like waking someone up in a holodeck program tailor-made to question their sanity is, again, exactly the sort of test Starfleet should be designing for anyone entrusted with command codes to a starship. If you can’t handle Q swooping in and turning your reality upside down, you shouldn’t be in the standard chain of succession.
The computer indicates that the Voyager crew itself is entirely holographic, and that Doctor Zimmerman is the only real person on the crew. But before we can pointlessly rehash obvious questions about why a starship would have only a CMO, Reg Barclay shimmers into existence and starts insinuating that Zimmerman is having a psychotic break, or has become One with the Program or something. That Zimmerman has been running a simulation at Jupiter Station with the specific Voyager setup. Also there was a radiation surge that screwed with his memory, I guess. I mean, at least they brought in the exact right person to deal with holodeck-related neuroses.
Coincidentally, all the equipment on Jupiter Station is also being fried by the mysterious radiation, which you’d think a station near Jupiter would be better about dealing with. Also the Doctor/Zimmerman has about an hour until the radiation burns up his brain. We do not know why it’s not affecting Barclay, and if this show had a better track record so far of internal consistency I could point to that as a Clue. However, this program seems to operate on the same Narrative Inertia as Worf’s Old West program. Hmmm… Barclay wrote that one too, didn’t he? I am now accepting votes on whether this is just the way Holodeck programs operate, or if this is a programming shortcut that Barclay uses for some reason.
So, the problem is that the only quick way to end the program is for the Doctor to blow up Voyager, because the other natural end of the novel is that Voyager finds its way home in an hour. This is the level of payoff I’d hope for out of the kind of elaborate scheme that involves gaslighting a Starfleet officer.
Barclay is able to offer ‘proof’ by resetting the simulation to the day the Doctor was first activated, because that’s a thing they can do even though they can’t shut the program down. I’ll admit this evidence is a bit convincing, if only because anyone with the resources to fake this must already have access to so much of Voyager‘s computer system that they really wouldn’t have anything to gain by trying to trick the Doctor, unless that’s literally the only program they have access to, and are reading his memories instead.’Course, if that were the case, we shouldn’t see Barclay. As final proof, they’re going to go destroy the holographic core.
Seems like Barclay’s in a bit of a rush, once it turns out the Doctor can’t delete Janeway. He’s taking a little more joy than I would in messing with her, but not all that much. Now, the real question I have is why destroying the simulation of the holo-matrix on the simulated Voyager program set would be expected to have any effect. It should only shut down entities simulated by Voyager if it were real – it wouldn’t shut down any entities populated by the same equipment that’s simulating Voyager itself. That’s just common sense. But hey, credit for bridging the gap between Moriarty and Inception. Shutting down the holo-matrix doesn’t end the Doctor. Oh, and they do may the layer separation clear.
The Doctor seems so devastated to be proven real, and Barclay finally convinces him to drill through the warp core, at which point Chakotay shows up to confuse the issue even further. Now Chakotay is indicating that the Doctor was enjoying a disaster movie on the holodeck when the mysterious radiation turned his book into Shutter Island. Frankly, status quo of an episodic show aside, Barclay’s story just doesn’t check out – the premise for the Voyager simulation (studying long-term effects of isolation on an integrated Starfleet-Maquis crew) is absurdly specific and not within the demesne of the real Louis Zimmerman. Chakotay wants Zimmerman not to do anything while they fix things. Kes shows up, on the side of Barclay, as his wife, and together they attack him on his ego. Fortunately, he’s too zonked to be revived by True Love’s Kes, and he wakes up in Sick bay just in time for the exposition to explain once again why someone really needs to install a circuit breaker on the Holodeck line.
Oh hey, false ending! Last broken gasps of the broken program screwing with him, for no other reason than that thriller novels have final teasers. Just to be sure, though…