OK, I remember even when this series was brand new the realization that there would come an episode where the Doctor, a cranky hologram who couldn’t even leave Sick Bay, would somehow have to save the day. Robert Picardo is a fun character actor and was easily my favorite character on the show. Besides, Star Trek loves its outsiders whether its Spock, Worf, Data, or Odo, and the Doctor certainly qualifies there. He’s a hologram. The only other outsiders on the main cast are Kes and Neelix, and Neelix doesn’t even appear in this episode.
However, it does stand to reason that the Doctor would need a means to leave Sick Bay, and that leaves its own challenges.
The premise here is as Voyager stops to run some tests on a protostar, the material they beam aboard doesn’t quite behave right. Whatever it is the ship beamed in initially seems to escape somehow, and then later Janeway proposes to Torres that she can get some help from Harry to run tests to see if they can use the stuff to improve performance on the ship.
Small problem: Harry’s missing.
Oh, he should be on the ship. No signs of transporter activity. All the shuttlecraft are accounted for. Where could the guy go? He was off-duty and running a Beowulf program on the holodeck, but he’s not there now. Something seems wrong, so Janeway sends Chakotay and Tuvok in to look for him. Whatever’s happening, the holodeck won’t turn off, and the holographic vikings in there all remember Harry/Beowulf, but he disappeared when Grendel showed up.
By the by, Chakotay and Tuvok have a nice conversation there about the role of demons and monsters in folklore and mythology, and I gotta say, it’s a nice scene. Chakotay brings up how many different cultures use such creatures to represent societal anxieties and fears when Tuvok just observes that Vulcans don’t have such beings in their origin story. That leads to Chakotay basically dunking on how popular Vulcan myths are to outsiders, and the conversation is cut short when a bright light indicates Grendel is there, and that means Tuvok and Chakotay disappear to whatever place Harry went to.
And that’s where the Doctor comes in. Whatever is happening down there, it’s turning crewmembers into energy. The Doctor isn’t matter to begin with, so he should be immune. As the holodeck runs off holo-emitters like Sick Bay, it doesn’t take too much effort to transmit the Doctor into the simulation. All he needs to do is get some readings for the crew outside and all should be good.
Yes, this was all Tom Paris’s idea.
Regardless, what follows is a good showcase for Picardo and the Doctor. He’s trying on a new name down there (“Schweitzer”), and he’s actually interacting pretty well with the holograms present. Paris had set it up that he could basically go intangible, and the holographic shieldmaiden Freya even takes a liking to him. Yeah, that one guy is a dink, but that’s gonna happen. Kes had given him a pep talk beforehand, and he confessed that he’d never seen a sky or a forest, so his first action once in the holodeck is to take a look around and appreciate the sights. Asked by the Geats about a warrior’s story, he recounts the efforts to create a vaccine, an action that the Geats don’t understand but that most of them seem to figure is somehow worthy, and many of the Doctor’s answers to interview questions are both honest and with enough double-meaning that they would satisfy his holographic hosts. The first encounter with Grendel goes poorly as the thing somehow manages to take the Doctor’s arm (he gets a new one), but he also figures out at about the same time Janeway does that Grendel is an alien lifeform from the protostar that took the three crewmembers because Torres and Janeway’s experiment did the same: they had accidentally captured alien lifeforms without realizing they were alive.
From there, it’s basically an exchange: the Doctor returns the captured aliens, and the missing crewmen are likewise returned, leading to Kim’s one line for the episode to basically ask what the hell happened. Freya had herself “died” at the dink’s hands, so the Doctor won’t feel comfortable using the Schweitzer name again, but really, this was a good sort of Star Trek episode, allowing a fun character actor a chance to actually play with his character a bit in moments that were revelatory for what makes the holographic crewman tick and funny given how Picardo is actually a pretty good comedic actor when given the chance. Janeway even saw fit to give him a commendation.
You know, it occurs to me that Voyager was in the fleet museum in Star Trek Picard. I know the Doctor eventually got a mobile emitter that allowed him to wander wherever he needed to go, but now I’m wondering where he is in that time line.
That might be fun if someone could pull that off.