Well, how about a couple TNG vets popping over for an episode? That would be Dwight Schultz as Lt. Barclay (sort of) in front of the camera while Jonathan Frakes sits behind it in the director’s chair. Including Barclay even seems like a good idea since the whole episode revolves around hologram technology.
So, the basic premise here is the Doctor finds himself activated in Sickbay only to be told initially that no one turned him on and the ship is otherwise deserted. He soon discovers Torres is there, and he needs to go to the bridge to tend to Janeway. The Kazon attacked, the rest of the crew was captured, and Janeway was injured. New holo-projectors on the bridge will allow the Doctor to tend to Janeway there (it’s bigger than he thought), but then when he discovers Neelix needs help in the dining room from a lone Kazon, and about all I could think was “Of course the Kazon didn’t want to take Neelix.”
However, as the episode plays out, Barclay shows up to the tell the Doctor that, well, the Doctor is actually Louis Zimmerman, one of the designers of the program (and the face for it), and everyone else is a a hologram. Barclay proves it by showing the Doctor can feel pain and bleed when he shouldn’t, and then he takes the Doctor back to the pilot episode by “restarting the program.” And then the Doctor decides to prove it by deleting Tom Paris.
Because of course the Doctor would delete Tom Paris. Not sure what Harry did wrong, but I think half the crew at this point would delete Paris if they could.
So, here’s the thing here: in order for this episode to work beyond watching the Doctor potentially lose his mind, there has to be a moment where the audience could believe for a moment that the Doctor is, in fact, not a hologram. Barclay, himself a hologram (later revealed to be one of the primary programmers of the EMH), claims that something went wrong with the testing program, and if the Doctor doesn’t turn it off, he will lose his mind and die. It’s not a bad explanation even if it doesn’t take into account how the Doctor turned on at the start of things and was zipping around the ship in a way that only a hologram could. But for the Doctor to be the only real person on the crew would have to mean the entire previous season (plus one or two episodes of the second) were somehow not about what we’d been told it was about. So, clearly, the series isn’t going to rewrite the whole premise of the show.
The other option is to explore what the Doctor, a hologram, might do if he were somehow losing his mind. That means Barclay is wrong about something, so what is right? That would be what Chakotay explains when he shows up. Why Chakotay? Probably because he was the only member of the cast who didn’t appear in the episode up to that point and otherwise had nothing to do. And his explanation–that the Doctor was basically given a day off to enjoy the holodeck–fits a lot better than whatever Barclay is peddling, and it even seems to work.
Until Barclay comes back, an upset Kes claims to be the Doctor’s wife, and the Doctor sees a badly injured Zimmerman lying on a bed while talking in Janeway’s voice.
I may have never for a moment believed the Doctor wasn’t really a hologram, but that final freak-out was pretty well done. It helps that Robert Picardo is a pretty experienced actor who can handle the shifts while still being basically the Doctor. That makes for a fun episode, even if the premise was never going to be true.
Plus, it is nice to seen the interconnectedness of the different Trek shows.