Have you ever wanted to create a separate life, something that takes you away from the real world? With holographic technology such a thing would be possible…but what if that new life was altered in some way to make it almost too real. The Doctor gets a dose of what it means to be human in the episode that originally broadcast on April 23,1997. This is Real life.
Captain’s Log Stardate 50836.2 Real Life
The Doctor experiences what a real life is when B’Elanna alters his idealistic home life program. Meanwhile, Voyager investigates an astral eddy that may threaten the ship.
Story A: Ed, Ed, and Astral Eddy.
Voyager receives a long range communication from a species known as The Vostigye. Heading to meet them, they are shocked to discover that the ship they were to rendezvous with has been destroyed with all hands lost. Discovering energy discharges Janeway orders the ship to follow the trail hoping it will lead to an answer. Following the trail until it runs cold, Voyager detects a large subspace disruption that leads to a giant subspace anomaly. Emitting a shock wave the anomaly knocks out the ships engines only for the anomaly to vanish. Ensign Kim informs Janeway that the astral eddy had massive amounts of plasma that could help the ship’s power shortage issues. The crew begin to prepare for the next appearance of the eddy in hopes to capture some of it’s energy.
Tom Paris finds his lunch to be less than pleasurable when he is forced to eat Neelix’s casserole, but finds a distraction with B’Elanna. ‘Borrowing’ her Klingon Book ‘Women Warriors at the River of Blood’, he decides he might need some tips on how to get her excited. Their fun is interrupted when a new eddy appears and they are summoned to the Bridge.
Once there, Paris navigates the graviton waves getting the ship as close to the eddy as possible allowing Tuvok to launch a probe into the strange anomaly. Just as the probe hits the eddy and begins transmitting, the eddy vanishes again. Interestingly Voyager is still receiving a signal from the probe. Hoping to collect energy from the Eddy when it next appears, it is soon clear that taking Voyager in would be a mistake. Paris suggests taking a shuttle into the eddy and heads to sickbay to get an injection to protect him from the anomaly’s radiation. After receiving the injection, Paris heads into the anomaly only for it to vanish once again…this time with Paris and the shuttle inside. Still in contact with the ship, it is soon determined that Paris is somewhere in between space and subspace. Triggering the Eddy to appear back in normal space, Voyager manages to rescue Paris, sending him to sick bay for treatment.
Story B: A Holo-Home life
The Doctor comes down stairs to an idealistic ‘modern’ family greeted by a doting wife and two well balanced and pleasant children. Preparing for work, The Doctor ensures everything in his household is in order he is reminded by his ‘wife’ Charlene, to invite his friends over for dinner. Leaving for the day he materializes in sickbay where he is greeted by Kes. Sharing his experiences as a dad with her, it is clear The Doctor is quite pleased with his new home life.
After Torres inspects his program of any abnormalities, she learns of his new holographic family. Interested in what he has accomplished, Torres and Kes agree to have dinner with his family that night, but soon find that his family is almost too perfect. Frustrated at the almost too perfect depiction of the ‘nuclear family’ Torres offers to help the Doctor make his experience much more realistic.
As promised, B’Elanna adds new algorithms to the program making the Doctor’s family a little more realistic. Although Kes warns The doctor that he should face these changes with caution, he is confident he can manage any hardship. Returning ‘home’ for the day, he is shocked to see his idealistic home life replaced by chaotic realism. His Wife, Charlene, has a career of her own and is unable to make his dinner, his daughter is upset she can not find her mallet for her sports practice and his son, Jeffery, has made friends with two Klingons youths who are clearly a bad influence on The Doctor’s son. It is soon clear that The Doctor has his work cut out for him.
After inoculating Paris for his mission into a nearby anomaly, The Doctor heads back into his program sure that he has a solution for the chaotic home life he is now facing. Returning to his home he immediately calls a family meeting informing everyone of the new ‘rules’ he has placed to get the family into a new harmonious existence. Forcing everyone to make sacrifices but himself, it is unsurprising that the families response is not as he had hoped with each member indicating that he can not ‘control’ their lives. It is soon clear that his demands were more in his favor than not and the meeting collapses in frustration. After everyone departs, his daughter assures him that she still loves him and that she will move to the less dangerous second team of Parrises Squares if it helps the family out.
Upset at the situation he is facing, The Doctor tries to find solace at ‘work’. Kes encourages him to go home early so that he can find a way to reconcile with his family. Taking her advice he finds his son, along with his Klingon friends, about to participate in a dangerous ceremony. Kicking Jeffery’s friends out of the house, The Doctor tries to reason with his son but things get worse when Jeffery accuses The Doctor of having a horrible value system. Much to the Doctor’s dismay, Jeffery wishes to become a warrior and embrace the Klingon way of life. Unable to reason with him, The Doctor is shocked when Jeffery makes it clear that either he will follow the Klingon culture or he will leave. Still reeling from his encounter with Jeffery, another blow comes when he learns that his daughter has been injured playing parrises squares.
Going to the hospital, The Doctor is saddened when he learns that his daughter has severe brain trauma. Taking the matter into his own hands, he soon finds he is unable to reverse the damage and finds his wife despondent, insisting that there is another option. Overwhelmed by the grief of his daughters fate, The Doctor stops the program and leaves.
Treating Paris from his injuries, The Doctor chastises the young officer for his disregard of his own safety. Clearly upset at something, Paris gets The Doctor to open up about his personal life. The Doctor admits that he is done with his ‘family’ experience as he can not bring himself to face the heartache. Paris convinces that Doctor that, in order to really understand humanity, The Doctor needs to face the good and the bad, no matter how painful it is. Taking his advice, The Doctor returns to the holo-program.
Returning to his family, he comforts his daughter knowing that this will be the last few moments of his daughters life. Soon, Jeffery arrives without his Klingon gear and the family join in the final moments together as Belle passes away. In the end, The Doctor, Charlene and Jeffery find solace in one another in their mutual grief.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
Oh man. I’m not crying, you’re crying. This episode…. Every. Single. Time. I swear. The thing is, it is not necessarily an amazing story or a well written script it is mostly due to the incredible acting from Robert Picardo. Picardo is one of the most underappreciated talents in television and film, his range and talents are something quite special and, when he gets a chance to show his acting chops, it is never a disappointment. While the Doctor’s family was well cast, I have to give props to Lindsey Haun in her depiction of the Doctor’s Daughter, Belle. Between her performance and Picardo’s, especially in that final scene, there is not a dry eye to be found.
In this episode, we really get a chance to see the Doctor take another step toward sentiance as he begins to discover the true feeling of finality and death. As a hologram, The Doctor has always been able to face death with a rather neutral eye, accepting this as one of many possibilities in life. Before now, Death has simply been part of the algorithm, one of many possibilities in every day life. Now that the Doctor has experienced this event, he now has the ability to empathize with others and even have a better understanding of his own mortality. There is only one major issue with this episode….we never see the Doctor’s family again. They are not even mentioned.
Establishing a family for the Doctor was not a minor thing and, especially after they went through such a traumatic experience together, you would think he would make every effort to keep this family going. The Doctor, or Kenneth in this case, has never been one to do things half way but, after ‘finishing’ the simulation at the death of his daughter, he still didn’t finish his experience of the grieving process. Sure, as I mentioned above he now understands the finality of death in a more metaphysical way, but he ended his experience prematurely still as it seems he stopped just short of the recovery from such a traumatic event. This in and of itself shows that The Doctor has a lot more growing to do as a person and still, despite all of his growth so far, seems to stop short of real existential growth every single time. The question if The Doctor is really alive or not still hangs in the air, sure his program is learning more and more of what it means to be human, sure he has experienced emotions for specific events but to completely drop this family after the death of his daughter shows that he does not have the capacity for attachment or connection needed for a sentient being. At this point, being able to simply walk away without any form of remorse or regret shows that he is either still just a program or his humanity has taken the form of a sociopath with no ability for empathy. We know from experience it is certainly not the latter.
As for the ‘adventure’ story in this episode…seriously….what purpose did that serve? Janeway and crew once again put the ship at risk to study astral eddies that, while they might have energy supplies, all they manage to accomplish was to lose a shuttle and damage the ship. I mean, seriously….don’t you think you should just set a course and stick to it? By now…SOMEONE has to be thinking that very thing. Oh well…I guess if they did that this would be a far less interesting series…..
Overall, The Doctor’s Segment of this story was phenomenal and more than makes up for the rather forced ‘ship in danger’ segment I titled Ed Ed and Astral Eddy. Not a bad episode at all but not perfect either. Still, well worth watching just to see Picardo doing what he does best.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- 0 photon torpedoes fired, 27 remaining.
- 1 shuttlecraft lost or destroyed, 3 remaining.
- Belle is played by Lindsey Haun who also played the little girl in Janeway’s holo-novels. I guess the Holodeck does reuse some assets from time to time.
- We never do find out what exactly happened to the Vostigye. I mean, sure, the eddy got them but nothing more. Just a convenient plot device forgotten in no time at all.
- We do see more of the relationship between Paris and Torres sparking in this one. Interesting things to come there…
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Distant Origin
more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday and for more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here.
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Late To The Game 8/26/2020
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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