In the twentieth episode of the seventh season of Voyager, the Doctor’s creation inspires ire and concern. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Oh, y’all, this is just incredible. Late in the game, Voyager has just dropped one of their most sincere and entertaining episodes, and it was absolutely worth it. Let’s start here: is it at all surprising that I’d resonate with an episode about the power of fiction to change the world? For some people, that’s a radical notion, and honestly, it’s something that I’ve had to deal with over the past seven and a half years. (Y’all, the Mark Does Stuff 8th anniversary is in AUGUST. How the fuck???) I’ve come across too many people who genuinely believe that fiction has no impact on the “real” world, who are convinced that all fiction lives in a vacuum within the “real world,” as if these works are created in some sort of high-security room that only special people are allowed to access.
I hope we all know that that’s bullshit. It is the year of our Lord 2017, and art does not exist within a vacuum. What I loved so much about “Author, Author” (EVEN BEFORE THAT INCREDIBLE THIRD ACT TWIST) was that it demonstrated multiple ways in which fiction can affect people’s lives. Initially, I just sat there in horror as the Doctor’s holonovel, Photons Be Free, unfolded on the screen. The characters he had created were poorly disguised facsimiles of the people he’d lived alongside for nearly seven years. The situations that comprised each chapter of the novel were twisted, exaggerated retellings of issues the crew had faced in the past. On the surface, it was very easy to see what the Doctor had done: he’d centered himself as the victim of a bigoted crew who tormented him with different micro- and macroaggressions over and over again, which terminated with the loss of his life and individuality. He had turned his friends into gross approximations of who they actually were. He had made Voyager out to be the most hostile place imaginable!
So I understood the immediate impulse here from the various crew members who experienced the Doctor’s version of them. They were angry. How could he do this to them? How could a send a retelling of his Voyager experience out into the world that made them all look so atrocious?
A very interesting thing happens here, y’all. The transitions between the three main story beats are all so smooth and natural, first of all, because it’s not just a jump from one plot to the next. Right as the Doctor refuses to compromise his vision, this script quietly introduces the groundwork for the final third of the story. How? Well, the Doctor explains that this work of fiction has a purpose: to use exaggeration to explain the plight of holographic beings. There’s that killer scene where the Doctor tells B’Elanna the reason for making the mobile emitter so unwieldy and large, and it’s in that we see how authorial intent does matter to some extent. The Doctor is trying to tell a worthy story, and the pieces of brilliance are there. The mobile emitter detail is an attempt to make the protagonist understand how an oppressive environment can sometimes (literally) weigh heavy on a person.
That’s important because it’s another manifestation of the motif that fiction matters. Once Tom reprograms the Doctor’s story to paint him as the villain, he gets a taste of it, too! Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so great to have a work of fiction based off of you and end up looking like… well, like an antagonist! Yet the example is still divorced of the same context that the Doctor used to craft his work, and I was so deeply pleased that the episode didn’t ignore that. The Doctor had a necessary story to tell, but was it worth it to tell that story at the expense of his friends’ reputations?
Of course, Broht’s decision to publish the unedited version of the Doctor’s holonovel changes everything. One little detail I admired was how willing all of the non-holographic characters were to put aside their concerns for their reputation so that they could support the Doctor. Perhaps the Doctor really did hurt their feelings and made them feel uncomfortable. The world should not be without that discomfort, and that’s especially true when it comes to social justice work. We should feel uncomfortable when examining our complicity â€“ conscious and accidental â€“ in oppressive systems. And in the end, every single one of these characters chooses their side in this battle. They’ll outlive the viral rush around Photons Be Free, and it will be worth it if the Doctor can be legally respected as a person.
We’ve gotten entire episodes devoted to this concept before, and I’m thinking of Data’s characterization on The Next Generation. But “Author, Author” does not designate forty-odd minutes to one hearing on the Doctor’s request to be seen as a person; instead, it’s compressed to eleven minute bursts spread over three days, and it only takes up a third of the episode as a whole. Yet I didn’t feel like this was rushed; it didn’t feel superficial. Instead, through some tight writing and editing, we’re able to get most of the crew giving their testimony on behalf of the Doctor, all of which demonstrates just how meaningful he’s become to the crew over the last six and a half years.
Look, I’m almost at the end of this show, and I feel like it’s come upon me a lot faster than I was ready for. “Author, Author” is this show’s love letter to the Doctor, even if it highlights some of his flaws along the way. It’s hard to fathom what he was like when he was first activated all those years ago because he’s grown so much. But this was a great chance to reflect on Voyager, and it was a treat to get to see the first step towards full holographic rights unfold in real time. It’s a small step, and the Doctor should be proud.
The video for “Author, Author” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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