VOY: S3E22: “Real Life”

In which the Doctor has a family, and he goes for a ride way harsher than Tom’s. 

"If your shoes aren't polished, your father will beat you again."

“If your shoes aren’t polished, your father will beat you again.”

A delightful little room, somewhere planetside. A gross, wholesome Stepford family with a Jetsons-era aesthetic. ‘Father’ is the Doctor, and says goodbye to each of them in turn, and is going to invite some of his crewmates in for dinner after work. This is his holo-family, and they are perfectly delightful. As we move into the credits, we must reflect once again on the total failure to set up any kind of conflict beyond relying on the format of the show in a kind of ‘trust me something terrible will happen’ sort of way.

For the rest of the ship, the crew is in contact with a species called the Vostogai that are apparently friendly, but Harry does not detect their station at first, until he looks closer and finds a debris field that was about space-station sized, and it looks like it broke apart less than an hour ago. Janeway is Not Happy and Wants Answers. Harry has a bead on a weird energy signature in subspace, and Voyager zooms off after it.

Torres is giving the Doctor a checkup, and he takes their chat about his self-improvement projects as an opportunity to brag about his holo-family. This is meant to help him learn about how biological beings interact with family, and the Doctor invites B’Elanna and Kes in for holo-dinner. That night, we find out the Doctor’s wife took a class on exotic cuisine to learn how to replicate meals, and that in the simulation his name is Kenneth. Kenneth. B’Elanna is possibly less happy about Kenneth Thedoctor’s family than Janeway was about that space station exploding. Torres does not believe in Happy Families. She doesn’t mention this, though, when she offers to do a little… tweaking.

Next, on Stormchasers 2373...

Next, on Stormchasers 2373…

Voyager has tracked the particle wake they were following, and it leads to a subspace disruption and the emergence of a pretty nifty phenomenon. Likely one that will threaten to rip the ship to shreds, especially since the engines are offline. Luckily, B’Elanna is on duty and not ‘fixing’ the Doctor’s family. The ship manages to outlast the storm, but nobody knows just what it was or how it shook the ship 1/5th of the way to shreds. Janeway decides not to have the ship move away, so they can study it some more. It’s full of energy that they hope to harness to go off replicator rations.

The Doctor has decided to go in on Torres’ offer to fix the family, adding some randomness to the program , which Doctor Kenneth confidently believes he can handle. He has not counted on the stereo blaring Klingon Folk Jazz and his wife going off to speak at the Embassy. Torres may have gone a little hard on the randomizations out of spite. Not that I can really fault her, I’m just saying Barclay would have respected the Integrity of the Program and built some kind of lead-in. Also probably fewer children and more lingerie. His son’s dealing drugs to Klingons and his daughter is a wreck now.

Also, and this is clearly more important, Neelix is serving the same meal for a fourth day in a row in the mess hall. Tom is stuck with it, because he’s out of rations, but makes the most of it by going to hit on Torres and her bodice-ripper of a Klingon romance novel. After some brief flirting, Torres mentions the Doctor’s program, and how he seems to be coping, when another storm hits and mercifully rips Tom away from his dinner to do some elite-tier stationkeeping for a probe deployment.

The telemetry starts coming back, showing extreme readings and a swap of matter between space and subspace. When the storm subsides, they find the probe gone, trapped in hybrid space, and also the writers manage to sneak in a reason for Tom to take a shuttle in closer to the storm – it’s to collect that plasma that Voyager’s more massive energy signature would disrupt. It’ll expose him to radiation poisoning, and since they don’t have hazmat suits, the Doctor gives him a booster shot that will temporarily protect him. We do find out in this scene that the Doctor’s new experiences with a rambunctious family let him make some speculations about what Paris was like as a child.

The Doctor’s new plan to take the family well in hand is off to a rousing start when his son Jeffrey shows up late and surly to Family Meeting. The Doctor appears to have been programmed with Father Knows Best ethos. Also, anti-klingon bigotry. His attempt at unilateral rearrangement goes… poorly. But in the aftermath, he actually talks to his daughter Belle and gets something right, finally.

Paris manages to time the end of the subspace eddy pretty perfectly, but a new one starts up before anyone expects  and he gets sucked into the center of it, and gets trapped in the space/subspace fold when it vanishes. He’s still alive, and reports from a strange realm that he can’t describe. While all this is ongoing, the Doctor is distracted from his experiments by family drama, to the point where he needs Kes to help, and she makes him go sort things out.

In the holo-simulation, he finds Jeffrey playing a board game from the 1990s with his Klingon friends, and tries to Connect. He finds that they’re preparing for a bloodletting ceremony. Specifically, that Jeremy was preparing to attack someone with a ceremonial dagger to become a Klingon warrior. He goes to the ‘my roof, my rules’ play, and Jeffrey calls him on it. Then his wife calls – his holo-daughter has been in an accident in Pareses Squares and is hemorrhaging in her skull. Terminally. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from this sitcom/family drama simulation about the wider world, but there might not be any ethical conflict-of-interest standards in the 24th century. Or they might be one of those things that the simulation ignores for a more visceral, gut-wrenching story. Either way, Kenneth Thedoctor couldn’t save his daughter’s life and is going to have to watch her die. He has to end the program instead.

He's waiting for Kes to leave so he can cry because Zimmerman programmed the EMH with toxic masculinity subroutines.

He’s waiting for Kes to leave so he can cry because Zimmerman programmed the EMH with toxic masculinity subroutines.

At work the next day, he’s forcefully chipper, but very certain that the program is Over Stop Asking About It. Meanwhile, Voyager has established better contact with Paris, and determined he can see the astral eddies forming in the interflod layer. He plans to surf one back, since the alternative is to hang out forever in an trance music video. The eddy he’s chosen is a big dangerous one, but after a lot of rumbling, they either tractor or teleport the shuttle back on board. The Doctor is not amused by Tom’s antics, fresh off of watching his daughter’s mortality.

Tom suggests that maybe the Doctor face up to the experience that none of his patients can avoid. To get closure, to learn about the ways humanoids have adapted to the inevitability of tragedy. So he goes back. The tragedy brings Jeffrey back, just before Belle dies. The credits roll before we see the argument he has with B’Elanna about her definition of ‘minor random tweaks.’


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