In the twelfth episode of the first season ofÂ Voyager, Harry Kim’s holodeck program begins to make people disappear, and it’s up to a surprising person to save them all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
There are elements to “Heroes and Demons” that aren’t my favorite, but as a whole, I think this is a monumental story, made all the better by the brilliant choice to take the Doctor out of the sickbay and give him his very first away mission. Combine that with a healthy dose of roleplaying (THIS IS TOTALLY ROLEPLAYING AND THE DOCTOR WAS LARPING AND I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.), and this episode knocks it out of the park.
I often find myself drawn more toÂ Star TrekÂ episodes that focus on character studies rather than the flashy science fiction elements. To be honest, I’m at a point with the greater fictional universe where my brain just sort of turns off when there are long passages of jargon or technical talk being projected my way. This show loves technobabble, and even if much of itÂ doesÂ have a scientific basis, it can lose me if it goes on too long. I don’t often address it because I don’t want to be overly repetitive, but I wanted to bring it up here to make a point. There’s a lot of talk of the protostar and its energy, much of which went so far over my head that I couldn’t really connect to the story. However, every single time the script flipped back to the holonovel, I was hooked. I realize that this is a science fiction show and this isn’t going to change, but that’s also why the plot with the Doctor ends up feeling so spectacular. The scientific logistics of this story don’t overwhelm the whole thing.
I will admit that the reveal that the energy was aÂ lifeformÂ was a nice touch, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Okay, it is aÂ literal crimeÂ that we do not get to see Harry Kim in his fullÂ BeowulfÂ regalia. THIS IS ENTIRELY NOT FAIR.
I had to readÂ BeowulfÂ in high school. It was a lot more exciting than most texts we read, but it’s never been my favorite thing. However, it’s usedÂ perfectlyÂ here, and what’s so cool about this story is that it still follows the original fairly closely. Usually, this doesn’t work as well as it does here. In fact, I think if this episode had followed another character entering the story to save the three missing crewmen, it would not have been as interesting as this one.Â BeowulfÂ has undoubtedly influenced the fantasy genre, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most exciting story imaginable, especially when most folks have seen countless iterations of the same tale.
However, it isÂ entirelyÂ because of Robert Picardo and his portrayal of the Doctor’s first away mission that “Heroes and Demons” rises above any possible mediocrity. I thought it was amusing to watch Tuvok and Chakotay move through the holonovel, but that wasn’t enough to sustain an interesting story. Once Tom Paris suggested that the Doctor could safely travel in the holodeck, though, the episode becomes less about the logistics of rescuing the crew and more about the Doctor’s growth in a full-fledged member of the crew.
I’ll repeat what I said in the video for “Heroes and Demons.” IÂ doÂ want Kes to have stories of her own on this show, but I appreciated the supportive role she played here. She’s the one who comforts the Doctor when he was obviously nervous about his first trick outside of sickbay. That whole scene was a touching reminder that while the Doctor is programmed with a nearly infinite amount of knowledge, he lacks the experience every other living being has. He’s got that line about not ever seeing the sky before, and it’s hard to grasp the very idea of it because we all take it for granted. We take touch and sight and sound and taste as given parts of the human experience, and this episode forces us to acknowledge that the Doctor hasÂ literally never experienced a single thing out of this sickbay.
So of course he’s nervous! And it was no surprise that upon being transported to the holodeck, the Doctor immediately marveled at a tree. And moss.Â He had never seen these things in person. His interactions with Freya are awkward and strange, but they’re filled with this excitement and anticipation that’s hard to describe. Many of the things we witness in this episode are firsts for this character! That does mean that one scene perplexed me. How is the Doctor either straight or sexual? It seemed like a bizarre assumption for the writers to make, and I’d chalk it up to the fact that this whole fictional universe assumes every single person ever is straight. While I understood the importance of Freya’s presence in the narrative itself, I thought the writers missed an opportunity to do something surprising and cool with the Doctor’s sexuality.
Anyway, watching the Doctor’s transformation into a fantasy hero was one of the coolest thingsÂ Star TrekÂ has ever done. Honestly, y’all! As ridiculous and over-the-top as much of this story is, itÂ works. It has to be a little absurd so that the Doctor can experience an adventure. And what’s an adventure without vikings or mysterious monsters or sword fights or betrayals? I respect that the show developed the Doctor this much in the first season because it helps me to enjoyÂ VoyagerÂ as a separate entity from all the otherÂ Star TrekÂ shows. I truly believe thatÂ Voyager’s first season is the best-developed and written out of all the other first seasons in theÂ TrekÂ universe. IT’S JUST SO GOOD.
The video for “Heroes and Demons” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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