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The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
Published February 14th 2020
It seems I've found myself on the Voyage of the Damned
The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
Please state the nature of the medical emergency

"In the beginning, there is darkness - the emptiness of a matrix waiting for the light. Then a single photon flares into existence. Then another. Soon, thousands more. Optronic pathways connect, subroutines emerge from the chaos and a holographic consciousness is born."

The Doctor, Author, Author

The Doctor (played by Robert Picardo) was an emergency medical holographic program (known as an "EMH" for short) and the chief medical officer onboard the USS Voyager. The Doctor was an EMH Mark I. He contained information taken from 3,000 cultures and 47 surgeons and had the appearance of a male human doctor. The Doctor was designed to function in emergency situations only, but when the USS Voyager was relocated to the Delta Quadrant and lost their human doctor, a lack of a suitable replacement meant that the Doctor had to be run full time, making him Voyager's new full time chief medical officer.

Over the seven years the Doctor served onboard Voyager, he expanded his program and evolved into a fully-fledged individual with emotions, interests and hobbies. He gained the loyalty and respect of the crew, developed several close friendships, fell in love, made himself a family, and managed to get his crewmates to see him as a sentient being who deserved the same civil and social rights as everyone else on board instead of just a computer program. The Doctor's evolution from a "talking tricorder" into a sentient being was fascinating to watch, which is why he has been ranked as one of the best characters in Star Trek. Here are five episodes starring the Doctor that did a really good job developing this unique character.

1. Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy
The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
Emergency Command Hologram... at your service

Episode Details: Season 6, Episode 4
Air Date: 13 October 1999
Written by: Joe Menosky and Bill Vallely
Directed by: John Bruno
Best Quote:

The Doctor is singing La Donna E Mobile in the mess hall, when Tuvok begins to cry.

Tom Paris: (whispering) Tuvok?

Tuvok goes from crying to laughing uncontrollably, then grunting, as if in pain.

Tom Paris: Tuvok!

Tuvok starts thrashing around.

Captain Janeway: (clicks her combadge) Janeway to Security, get a team to the mess hall right away!

The Doctor: Stand back! He's been seized by the pon farr! A neurochemical imbalance is driving him to mate. We won't be able to reason with him!

The Doctor starts singing to the melody of the music.

The Doctor: Tuvok, I understand / you are a Vulcan man. You have just gone without / For seven years, about.

The Doctor signals to Tom.

The Doctor: Paris, please find a way / To load a hypospray. I will give you the sign /Just aim for his behind. Hormones are raging, synapses blazing. It's all so veee-...

Tom loads and throws the hypospray to the Doctor, who catches it.

The Doctor: ...hvery illogical.

The Doctor injects Tuvok in the butt with the hypospray, and Tuvok collapses.

The Doctor: Illogical. Iii-ll... illogical.

The Doctor, Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy does a great job exploring and developing the Doctor's character. After six years of being the chief medical officer on board the USS Voyager, the Doctor has evolved from an Emergency Medical Holographic program into a sentient holographic being.

The Doctor wants nothing more than for the Voyager crew to acknowledge his sentience but feels like the crew sometimes still sees him as just a computer program. To help himself feel more human, he alters his program to give himself daydreams, which he calls cognitive projections. The episode begins with one of his fantasies and is quite possibly one of the funniest opening scenes of a Star Trek episode ever.

After a while, the Doctor starts to lose control of his daydreams and they begin to bleed into real life, causing him to hallucinate and to start talking to people who are not really there. In their efforts to try and fix the Doctor, the Voyager crew download his fantasies into the holodeck to view them. This troubles Captain Janeway, who feels this is invading the Doctor's privacy and isn't respecting his wishes for the crew to acknowledge his sentience. The crew witness a number of the Doctor's fantasies, from the erotic to the professional, and learn a little bit more about his passions, his desires and his hopes for the future.

The Doctor later discovers that his daydreams began to malfunction because a nearby alien ship was tapping into them to spy on Voyager. One of the aliens on the ship, Phlox, later realizes that he has been watching the Doctor's imaginings, instead of his real life. He confesses all of this to the Doctor and warns him that his people are going to attack Voyager. He also makes an unusual request: for the Doctor to pretend that he is in command of Voyager when his people attack. The reason he asks this is because Phlox saw the Doctor pretending to be in command in one of his daydreams and mistakenly told his superiors that he was in charge.

The Doctor gets Captain Janeway to agree to let him pretend to be the one in charge when the aliens attack. We then get to see the Doctor live out his fantasy of becoming an Emergency Command Hologram in real life. Robert Picardo is great in this episode. He understands the Doctor so well and his desires to be more than just a computer program. He pours so much human emotion into the Doctor's character. He is more than just an EMH. He is a passionate, multi-layered, unique individual and that is what this episode is all about. To disagree with the notion that the Doctor is a sentient being is… illogical.

2. Message in a Bottle
The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
Two holograms alone, Romulans on one side, Starfleet on the other, alarms beeping everywhere!

Episode Details: Season 4, Episode 14
Air Date: 21 January 1998
Written by: Rick Williams
Directed by: Nancy Malone
Best Quote:

The Doctor: "I have even had sexual relations"

EMH Mark II: "Sex, how's that possible? We're not equipped"

The Doctor: "Let's just say I made an addition to my program"

The Doctor and EMH Mark II, Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle is one of my favourite comedic Star Trek: Voyager episodes devoted to the Doctor. The episode begins with Seven of Nine informing Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay that she has discovered an abandoned subspace relay network system that is able to detect ships as far away as the Alpha Quadrant.

Seven was able to tap into the network system and detect a Starfleet vessel located in the far corner of the Alpha Quadrant. She speculates it might be possible to send a message to the ship using the network system. The Voyager crew tries to send an audio message, but the signal is too weak. They decide to send the Doctor to the Alpha Quadrant along the network system, believing that a holographic data stream might not degrade so fast. The Doctor is given instructions to reach the Starfleet vessel and get a message to Starfleet that they are alive and stranded in the Delta Quadrant.

The Doctor is successfully transmitted to the other ship and learns that it is called the USS Prometheus. He quickly discovers that the crew is dead and that the ship has been taken over by Romulans. The Doctor activates the ship's EMH which is known as a Mark II and is played by Andy Dick. The Doctor pairs up with the Mark II and together the two of them use their wits to re-take the ship and contact Starfleet.

I love the chemistry between Robert Picardo and Andy Dick in this episode. The rivalry between the two emergency medical holographic programs is very funny. The Mark II is sceptical of the Doctor's experience onboard Voyager and the Doctor is frustrated with the Mark II's hesitation to leave his sickbay and confront the Romulans. Andy Dick did a great job bring the anxious hologram to life. I love the Mark II's confusion in some scenes, like when a console starts beeping and he says "Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep? I've never heard that one before!" And Robert Picardo is laugh out loud funny in so many scenes, like when he boasts to the Mark II about having sexual relations, and during the Battle for the Prometheus when he shrieks "They're right!" to his counterpart after the Mark II wonders if Starfleet thinks Romulans are on board their ship.

3. Latent Image

The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
The Doctor discovers something unsettling

Episode Details: Season 5, Episode 11
Air Date: 20 January 1999
Written by: Eileen Connors and Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky
Directed by: Mike Vejar
Best Quote:

"Why should I? What if I don't want to return to Sickbay? What if I decide not to return to Sickbay? No, I don't choose this. Leave me alone! Let me go! Why did she have to die?! Why did I kill her?! Why did I decide to kill her?! Why?! Somebody tell me why!"

The Doctor, Latent Image

Latent Image begins with the Doctor taking holographic images of the crew. After he takes Harry Kim's image, he discovers that he performed a complex neurosurgical procedure on the Ensign months ago, which concerns him because he cannot remember performing it. As the Doctor tries to figure out what happened, someone begins deleting his memories. The Doctor discovers the culprit is Captain Janeway. The Doctor is devastated to learn that the Captain has been altering his program without his permission. He confronts the Captain and accuses her of conspiring against him. Janeway tells him he is malfunctioning and needs to be repaired. Later that evening, Seven of Nine visits Janeway and expresses concern with how the Doctor is being treated. She thinks that by deleting the Doctor's memories without his permission they are violating his rights as an individual. Janeway tries to argue that even though the Doctor seems alive he is more like a replicator than a real person.

Seven's visit with Janeway makes her wonder if she has been acting biased toward the Doctor. She decides that the Doctor has the right to view his memories. The Doctor learns that he went on an away mission months ago with Harry Kim and an Ensign named Ahni Jetal. They were attacked by a group of aliens while onboard a shuttle craft and Kim and Jetal were injured. The Doctor got them back to Voyager and attempted to save them both, but when they both begun to deteriorate at the same time, he was forced to choose one to save and decided to operate on Harry Kim. The procedure saved Harry's life, but while the Doctor was working on him, Jetal died.

The Doctor tries to deal with Jetal's death with professional detachment, but later begins to feel overwhelmed by grief. He starts to question why he chose to save Harry over Jetal and realizes that he chose the person he was friends with. The Doctor has always thought of himself as just a computer program, but in this scene he realizes he has developed a soul, and has an emotional break down. This is such a powerful performance by Robert Picardo.

After the Doctor views his deleted memories, he begins to fret over them again, but this time Janeway ignores the advice of her Chief Engineer and decides to let the Doctor live with his memories so he can work through his grief. When the Doctor questions why she does this, she tells him she is looking after a friend. I really liked Janeway's development as a character in Latent Image. She acknowledged that she was acting biased against him and made an effort to change how she views the Doctor. She goes from viewing him as just a computer program at the start of the episode, to seeing him as an individual and a friend at the end.

4. Nothing Human
The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
The Doctor confronts Moset over his past

Episode Details: Season 5, Episode 8
Air Date: 2 December 1998
Written by: Jeri Taylor
Directed by: David Livingston
Best Quote:

Ensign Tabor: "He blinded people so he could study how they adapted; exposed them to polytrinic acid just to see how long it would take for their skin to heal!"

The Doctor: "Ensign, the man you're accusing cured the fostossa virus. He stopped an epidemic that killed thousands of Bajorans!"

Ensign Tabor: "By infecting hundreds of people! So that he could experiment with different treatments; old, helpless people... like my grandfather... because he considered their lives worthless!"

The Doctor: "How do you know this?"

Ensign Tabor: "Everybody knew!"

Ensign Tabor and The Doctor, talking about Crell Moset, Noting Human

Nothing Human is an interesting episode of Star Trek: Voyager for how it tackles the topics of racism, morality and medical ethics. The episode begins with Voyager encountering a damaged alien ship with an injured non-humanoid life form aboard. They beam it to sickbay where it is revealed it is a strange, bug-like creature, unlike anything the crew has ever seen before. The Doctor can tell it is injured, but it is so alien to him, he has no idea how to treat it.

While they are observing it, the creature leaps off the bed and attaches itself to B'Elanna Torres, where it pierces her neck and coils around her, like a parasite. The Doctor doesn't think he can de-tach it without injuring B'Elanna. To help him remove it, he creates a holographic expert on exobiology, based off a Cardassian called Dr. Crell Moset. The Doctor and Moset immediately bond as medical professionals. When the Doctor brings Moset back to sickbay, a Bajoran crew member recognizes him as a notorious war time doctor, reminiscent of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who experienced on and murdered thousands of Bajorans during the Occupation, including his grandfather and brother. Tabor demands that Moset and his research be deleted from the database, but the Doctor is uncertain, because he knows he cannot save B'Elanna on his own. Janeway orders the Doctor to proceed with Moset's help.

The Doctor and Moset are able to remove the alien from B'Elanna and save her life and the alien's life as well. Afterwards, B'Elanna is extremely angry that they let Moset treat her, considering his past. The Doctor asks Janeway what should be done with Moset's program. She decides to let the final decision rest with him. The Doctor visits Moset and tells him that he has decided, in good conscience, that he cannot continue to his program and his research. It would violate his physician's oath of "Do no harm".

The ethical dilemma in Nothing Human is a really interesting one. I liked how Janeway left the final decision about what to do with Moset to the Doctor and trusted in his judgement as the chief medical officer. I think the Doctor made the right choice to use Moset and his research to save B'Elanna while her life was in danger. He had to do whatever he could to save her, but once that danger had passed and there was no more reason to keep Moset around, he was right to delete him from the database, because he knew he could not in good conscience continue to utilize research that was derived from such inhuman practices. This episode shows how much the Doctor has grown into his role as the chief medical officer and how he has much more humanity in him and care for his patients than Moset.

5. Author, Author
The Best Doctor Episodes from Star Trek Voyager
It's the Doctor's World and you're just living in it

Episode Details: Season 7, Episode 20
Air Date: 18 April 2001
Written by:Phyllis Strong, Mike Sussman and Brannon Braga
Directed by: David Livingston
Best Quote:

"The Doctor exhibits many of the traits we associate with a person. Intelligence, creativity, ambition, even fallibility, but are these traits real or is The Doctor merely programmed to simulate them? To be honest, I don't know. Eventually we will have to decide because the issue of holographic rights isn't going to go away, but at this time, I am not prepared to rule that The Doctor is a person under the law. However, it is obvious he is no ordinary hologram and while I can't say with certainty that he is a person I am willing to extend the legal definition of artist to include The Doctor. I therefore rule that he has the right to control his work and I'm ordering all copies of his holo-novels to be recalled immediately."

Arbitrator, Author, Author

In Author, Author the Doctor makes himself unpopular with his shipmates after he writes a holonovel loosely based off his life on Voyager that depicts the crew in unflattering roles and abusing an Emergency Medical Holographic program serving as their chief medical officer. The Doctor wrote the novel based off "what he knows" and insists it is not about the crew, but more about holographic rights, and how he often feels alienated and different from the rest of the crew. The crew eventually get him to agree to rewrites, but by then it is too late, his holonovel has already been published without his consent in the Alpha Quadrant. When the Doctor tries to get it recalled, he is told he is not a person under the law, and does not meet the legal definition of an author.

His shipmates come to his defence and help him to mount a legal challenge to control his work and to be named author. Using a commlink connected to the Alpha Quadrant, a Federation tribunal is held, where the crew talk about their personal experiences working alongside the Doctor, and how he has impacted their lives and grown in his role onboard Voyager. The crew reflect on how much the Doctor has changed over the seven years he has been activated and serving onboard Voyager. He has expanded his program and developed into a brilliant and compassionate man, who is as real and flawed as any flesh and blood person, and has earned their respect. Captain Janeway tells the tribunal "I would never have believed that an EMH could become a valued member of my crew, and my friend. The Doctor is a person as real as any flesh and blood I have ever known."

The Doctor is granted full author rights of his work, but is not declared a person, not yet. It is a big moment for the Doctor in his fight for holographic rights, which echoes all the way back to his EMH brothers in the Alpha Quadrant.

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Why? The Doctor is a fictional character played by Robert Picardo and a holographic doctor who appeared on the science fiction television series Star Trek: Voyager from 1995 to 2001.
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