In which Paris hits on Torres, everyone gets dumber, and I’m glad Simon Pegg turned a terrible episode into a good movie.
Paris and Torrest are taking one of the advanced shuttles out to do some surveying while Voyager is taking on supplies. They’re trying to track down some strange energy readings and failing to pick them up again, but there’s been no sign of them and Torres is bored and Tom is ribbing her about her dinner date with ‘young’ Freddie Bristow. Paris is interested for… reasons, but shortly they find the enery readings they were looking for, and get boarded and shot with guns clearly designed to incapacitate through pain than through whatever nerve-disrupting impulse phaser stun uses.
But that’s boring. Let’s cut to a holodeck program where the Doctor is singing La Boheme, and getting snippy with his holographic teacher. After a brief argument, they start over, but he’s forgotten the words. Now, I don’t know about you, but no matter how adaptive the program and how advanced the AI, I don’t want my artificial doctor to be able to forget things without specifically intending to forget them.
The Doctor is called to Sick Bay to check over Torres and Paris, who have some lingering damage from the weapons but will apparently be fine. Well, except Tom’s not doing so hot even with the treatment, and the Doctor is forgetting where he put things and what he’s in the middle of doing. In attempting to track down the aliens, Tuvok locates a signal that the Universal Translator isn’t Universal enough for. Neelix has heard of something like this, and is telling horror stories about ships going into this territory and never coming out. And the territory is big enough that it would take Voyager fifteen months to go around. This doesn’t really track unless these aliens claim starless void outside the stellar clustering as territory they patrol – Voyager should have to go no farther than about 500 light-years to get past, after which they ought to be able to angle towards the nearest planet for resupply fairly gradually. If 75,000 light-years is expected to take them 70 years, 500 light-years ought to take them less than six months out of their way, which is a small price for not being Flying Dutchmanned.
Janeway disagrees, and plans to plow through the alien sensor net, despite Tuvok’s insistence that this violates Starfleet law. Apparently, Janeway doesn’t care about Starfleet Law any more. Or Sovereign Territory. And Paris’ injuries requiring a motor cortex reconstruction might be galvanizing her, but the Doctor is singing opera while he’s scrubbing up. Even though he’s a hologram. Made of light and force fields. In order to sterilize for surgery, all he has to do is ‘not have force fields around his hands’ for long enough for anything he’s touched to fall off. He even literally did that several times with hostile presences in the Sick Bat. I’m not sure whether the B-plot here is that the Doctor is losing his mind, or the writers. Oh, and moments after scrubbing up for surgery, he starts touching everything in Sick bay, strolls into the open environment of his surgery anyway, and then forgets what he’s doing and has to ask Kes.
Kes has to twalk him through the surgery like they’re in Airplane! and take care of the emergency remediation herself, but the procedure has been a success. Soon after, Torres finds a memory leak in the EMH program. The solution is a restore to factory settings, but that would be… a restore to Factory Settings. And since it involves agonizing character development that we don’t want to have to repeat and no contract changes, suddenly Janeway cares about effectively killing a member of her crew who’s better now than he would be after the procedure. The Doctor, of course, demands that he be restored to Factory since that would allow him to continue his function as the CMO of the ship, but Kes argues for emotional reasons, and only then uses the logic of “now that the crisis is over, investigate and fix the problem rather than have it happen again in two years, ’cause we can always reset him in an emergency if need be”.
Harry has found a way to slip through the alien sensor net by bending the tachyon beams around the shields, and then slipping through a low-traffic area of the alien territory. Tuvok is not impressed, and while poking around in the Doctor’s program, Torres accidentally blinds him temporarily while troubleshooting. Next step – googling the answer using the tried-and-true LaForge method. She pulls up Jupiter Station, its diagnostics equipment, and a self-aware Doctor Louis Zimmerman, the engineer who created the Doctor in his own image.
Zimmerman tells us what we already know – that the EMH has been running too long, and needs to be brought up to speed on the performance constraints of the runtime environment. Janeway calls Torres to her station, so she leaves the two Doctors to figure something out.
As they ready to cross the border, scans show a ship five light-years away which turns out to be a swarm of smaller ships. Voyager coasts through the sensor net, Harry delivers the worst metaphor, and Voyager will have to push maximum warp for 12 hours to make it even a third of the way through the territory. Which they can’t do because there’s engine drag.
Zimmerman has located the source of the problem – the Doctor has accumulated too much personality and overflowed his storage array with useless stuff like opera and dating. To prove the point that this is all useless, Zimmerman asks the program with broken memory a question about his past.
Voyager is still sneaking through the alien space, and they encounter a derelict alien ship. They beam the lone survivor aboard and stop to scan the derelict for the manner of damage. Kes provides medical care,a nd nobody bothered to put the Doctor in a place where he can’t break things. The survivor recounts the attack, then dies. Janeway’s only suggestion, since she can’t spare Torres and they didn’t think of only dealing with one critical problem at a time, is to keep the Doctor active and treat him like he’s got dementia. Kes interprets this as ‘let him play with the corpse. One of the swarm ships was attached to the derelict, and Voyager is now detected. Janeway tries to reason with them, and hits them with a catch-and-release tag. The swarm is now chasing Voyager.
The doctor is worse now, and doesn’t even remember that he’s a hologram, but he’s starting to put together some various memories in fragments, then starts fading out, and if this plotline were treated with the solemnety it deserves it could be a great episode all on its own. But since the swarm is chasing down Voyager, the focus is more on Kes, who might have an idea. She loads up Jupiter Station and bullies the Zimmerman program into thinking up new options. Then she decides to do a personality transplant of the Doctor’s personality into the diagnostic matrix. And as long as there’s a factory backup of that they can do regular transfers into a fresh personality matrix regularly until the Doctor’s expanded personality starts breaking down those matricies too rapidly. But at the very least next time they’ll demand Janeway stay away from restricted territory and spatial anomalies long enough for Harry and B’Elanna to actually come up with a solution.
Of course, there is no backup of the Zimmerman program, so they’ll be ‘killing’ a program (albeit one that doesn’t have enough personality to mind) to save the Doctor. Seriously, The Future? No backups?
The Swarm is emitting pulses which are collapsing the shields, so Janeway orders Tuvok to use the forward phasers to fire backwards into the swarm, because she’s losing her marbles too. The swarm also has the ability to reverse the energy of the phaser blast, and with no shields, the torpedoes are out of the question. Next plan is to find a pattern in the swarm’s pulses to exploit, probably with the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage.’
The Zimmerman program has set up a program to graft his personality matrix onto the Doctor and boldly sacrifices his life, even as the Swarm starts to latch on to Voyager and start draining it. Harry taps into their communications network, Janeway decided that destroying one ship in the swarm will destroy the entire comms network because there’s been a total of forty-two minutes of drama in her day so far so anything she says will be correct. It’s certainly not because that’s a weakness that any space-faring species would find acceptable. Voyager begins to be boarded, but the bridge crew fight them off long enough to destroy one ship and cause a chain reaction killing the rest of them. And because of the way timing works, the Doctor comes back but seems to be in Factory Reset. Thus, they’ve killed the diagnostic program for nothing, except that the Doctor starts humming Puccini to himself. So… his memories are there but inaccessible? And they might be boned next time? Yay, I guess?