VOY: S6E24: “Life Line”

In which the Doctor meets a force as curmudgeonly as himself. 

Today we’re at a starbase with a big array and Barclay, so it’s reasonable to assume this is the MIDAS array and something related to Project Pathfinder. Jupiter Station, in fact, is receiving Barclay, who’s here visiting good old Doc Zimmerman. Zimmerman isn’t all that excited about Voyager, in part because he’s got a mystery malady that Starfleet Medical can’t figure out. And as shocking as that might be for a culture with magic medicine, Zimmerman’s never been what you might call ‘sympathetic enough to hinge a teaser segment on their imminent demise.’ But the MIDAS array keeps on transmitting, bouncing signal off a pulsar or whatever and with the communications array they were able to send plans for to Voyager, our wayward ship is receiving. Always through Astrometrics, which seems to be the new communications lab. This is explained by the transmission coming in on something other than comms protocols.

“He’s a handsome devil, isn’t he, Seven?”

The MIDAS array is now capable of sending small databursts every 32 days, with a 17-hour response window. Janeway encourages everyone to write back, and even The Doctor has a letter from Barclay – about his creator being sick, and having a familial crisis. Therefore, the Doctor throws himself into research, starting with insights into Borg-inspired treatments. There’s also a parallel with the Vidiian Phage, and he’s also asking permission to be sent via the array to administer the treatment personally – he’s already trained on the techniques involved. Janeway doesn’t want to do this, as it they’ll be without the Doctor for a month. Janeway refuses because they’re not sure the response will go through, and also takes some side-shots at the Doctor not being created unique. Eventually, though, she relents, such that it’s hard to say whether her initial hesitance was just to make sure the Doctor knew the risks and actually cared.

In preparation for his transfer, the Doctor finds his idle humming interrupted and archived to reduce the transfer size. Also trimmed down are his sports knoweldge, photography hobbies, sexual prowess (!), chess, painting, but the Doctor wants to make sure some enhancements stick around, so he can show off what happens if you leave a hologram running for years at a time. Soon enough, they’re ready and the transfer is complete, and once again they can’t just fork off a copy and save one locally. Although I will admit that this would create even more complications in future, should the Doctor’s sentience and personhood rights ever come into question. I mean, it’s not like anyone could forget when it was established that artificial persons could be sapient, but just in case, let’s say.

On Jupiter station, Zimmerman is being super cranky about his lunch when Barclay walks in with the transmission from Voyager and a portable holoprojector. Zimmerman’s nurse Haley has that perfect reproachful look, and when Barclay comes in with the Doctor, Zimmerman is less than impressed. The Mark One is obsolete. The Mark Ones are now menial labor, and they’re up to the Mark Four. Just about the only thing to make a dent in Zimmerman’s dismissive demeanor is that the Doctor knows sarcasm-fu.

Zimmerman has a holographic iguana-parrot named Leonard, and turning it off is his berserk button. He’s also got a prototype surveilance holo-fly, commissioned by Starfleet Intelligence, which says a lot of fascinating things about the perceptual capabilities of holographic entities. For starters, it suggest that it’s not just a feature that the holo-projector limits their sensory inputs to what’s nearby, it’s actually an engineering problem that has to be overcome by making holo-drones. Otherwise, the same job could be accomplished by just setting up the sensory input part of a holoprojector and not having it emit anything. There’s no reason to make a holo-fly except if a body is actually necessary to do the surveilance – unless its purpose is actually to unobtrusively spread disease. The holo-fly can also be killed.

Since the Doctor suggests councelling, Barclay begs Troi to come by. Boy has either a fixation, trust issues, or both. Meanwhile, Janeway is still reading through her mail two weeks in, and she’s nonplussed by Admiral Hayes’ request for updates, mainly because he’s still thinking of half her crew as Maquis. Being in touch with Starfleet’s more rigid strictures are going to bring new complications.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cranky old men who want a massage will be as gross about it as possible.”

Zimmerman is getting a massage from a practitioner with a hidden agenda. It is, of course, the Doctor sneaking in some scans – apparently you can’t mute a medical tricorder. They have a screaming row for a while, then Deanna shows up to calmly explain to everyone that a surgical program from six years ago is as obsolete as a code engineer from a hundred years back. Sorry but bodies don’t update their hardware as fast as tech does, but I guess Troi’s trying to ingratiate herself with Zimmerman enough so that everyone can do their jobs. In this, she does not succeed yet.

The Doctor has retreated to Barclay’s Voyager simulation and Zimmerman is locked in his room. Turns out Hayley, Zimmerman’s caretaker, is also holographic. She’s nine years old, but still manages to have Zimmerman’s ear. Her insight is that the Mark 1 was built so much on Zimmerman that when it didn’t meet Starfleet expectations, he was devastated, and the EMH Mk1 is a constant reminder of that failure and that he wasn’t good enough. And this is why the later models were built on other people’s physicalities.

Zimmerman is writing his will, bequeathing everything to Reginald Barclay except Haley, who he requests that Starfleet keep running perpetually. What follows is some introspection on late-stage Reg Barclay syndrome and the long-term consequences of building all your friends.

Troi comes by to attempt some 11th-hour reconciliation between the Doctor and Zimmerman, and in this moment the Doctor starts malfunctioning. Shall these two cantankerous forces of personality attempt to repair each other? I think they shall. Oh it’ll take some doing, but Haley rebuking Zimmerman for his attitudes ought to count for something. Not that Zimerman has much of a bedside manner.

When the repairs are over, Zimmerman has not only repaired the Doctor, but lined up a whole bunch of personality modules for installation, to repair the Emergency Medical Hotheads/ Extremely Marginal Housecalls that Starfleet not only didn’t want in medicine, but ham-fistedly reprogrammed into sewer workers. There are 675 of them in commission, all of them scrubbing crud out of plasma manifolds. And the relenting finally happens.

Starfleet Gothic

In the aftermath, it turns out that someone sabotaged the Doctor’s program in such a way that only Zimmerman or the person who sabotaged the Doctor could hope to repair him. Troi admits it, and Zimmerman’s prognosis is apparently pretty good after the treatments. At least one thing is certain about the future – there’s no such thing as a selfie stick.


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