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The Trek Nation - Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy

Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy

By Edward James Hines
Posted at October 13, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT

"Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy" ***
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Bill Vallely
Directed by John Bruno

An assault-class vessel belonging to the Hierarchy, a local dominion, surreptitiously watches Voyager as it passes by a T-class nebula. Phlox (Jay M. Leggett), one of the Hierarchy's long-range observers, taps into the Doctor's cognitive subroutines and begins gathering information about Voyager as a prelude to a possible raid. The Doctor, who has recently introduced "cognitive projections" into his program to allow himself to daydream, loses control of this new function and begins daydreaming haphazardly because of Phlox's long-range tunneling sensors. Phlox, in turn, discovers too late that he has only been seeing the Doctor's fantasies and, thus, supplied the Hierarchy with false information about Voyager. To save his job and livelihood, Phlox secretly contacts the Doctor and promises to help Voyager thwart a Hierarchy attack. When Phlox's Overlooker (Googy Gress) changes battle plans at the last minute, however, the Doctor must perform one of his fantasies to bluff the Hierarchy into retreat. In gratitude, Janeway authorizes a research project to explore the Doctor's command abilities.

After a lively, hysterical teaser in which the daydreaming Doctor improvises the lyrics to an Italian aria while attempting to sedate a Pon-farr-stricken Tuvok, the episode manages to maintain a sense of lightness and also follow a group of pudgy aliens who are prowling for some Voyager goodies. Once again, the "outside perspective" into Voyager is used to good effect - only this time it's a lot more humorous.

Robert Picardo proves his mastery of comic subtlety by feigning helplessness when Janeway, Torres and Seven of Nine each vie for his attention. Later, as the "Emergency Command Hologram" (ECH), he stares heroically into the camera with the kind of hokey, stone-faced determination that you would expect from an old Flash Gordon serial. He's quite effective and expertly carries this latest attempt at VGR comedy.

What's particularly interesting is the range of perceptions about the Doctor, both from without and within. Phlox initially sees him as Voyager's vulnerability, through which the Hierarchy will obtain some dilithium and antimatter. The Doctor, in turn, perceives that the crew sees him as a liability. In the end, of course, he turns out to be quite an asset - probably the first hologram to receive the Starfleet Medal of Commendation.

The Doctor's "formal grievance" about not getting the respect he deserves is an old issue (from season one) that seems to crop up only as a result of his daydreams, where he is always showered with adulation from everyone on Voyager. Janeway's knee-jerk reaction to his ECH aspiration is for the Doctor to mind his limits and stick to his primary responsibilities in Sickbay - a conviction that Chakotay supports wholeheartedly. Later, however, Janeway overhears one of the Doctor's fantasies on the holodeck and is softened by his desire to expand his abilities merely to help those he loves. As in "Barge of the Dead" and on so many other occasions, impassioned pleas tend to nullify Janeway's initially negative determinations about sensitive, personal issues that affect the members of her crew. On one hand, this is a laudable character trait for a community leader to have. Janeway may feel adversely about an idea at first, but she is always willing to listen to alternative viewpoints. She doesn't want anyone under her command to feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, being so easily swayed can also be perceived as one of Janeway's vulnerabilities, on which a practiced individual can easily prey.

Janeway's dismissal of the Doctor's first request to be made ECH is unfounded, given her reasoning that such an expansion of his program would take months to accomplish. Well, what the hell else is the crew doing? It's not like the journey home will be completed any time soon. There are probably several Voyager engineers who would welcome the diversion of such a complex research project.

Also, Janeway's initial refusal to allow the Doctor to increase his abilities begs the question of why his request is any different from Neelix's continuing interest in expanding his onboard involvement. Is it the old issue (again) that Neelix is a living being but the Doctor is just a hologram? It shouldn't be; Janeway - acting on advice from Kes - was the one who originally allowed the Doctor to build on his programming to better serve the crew on the long journey home. His ECH suggestion has real merit and deserves more immediate attention rather than being put on hold until/unless Voyager gets back to the Alpha Quadrant.

The unfortunate trend in Star Trek (and real life, for that matter) seems to be that "bad things" have to happen before truly qualified people are given the chance to shine. Witness Saavik's warning about the Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or Wesley Crusher's belief that Lore had switched places with Data in TNG's "Datalore." In season three's "Macrocosm," Neelix's expertise with alien cultures helped Janeway get through a nearly disastrous negotiation with the Tak-Tak. Thus, she appointed him Voyager's ambassador to alien cultures. In "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," were it not for the Doctor's initiative in installing his daydream parameters, the Hierarchy assault force may have ended up taking Voyager completely by surprise.

Fortunately, Janeway's open-mindedness convinces her that the crew, because of their humanoid limitations, has underestimated the Doctor's full potential as a useful computer program. What's curious, of course, is the Doctor's belief that his program can be expanded indefinitely. This may be true now, but season three's "The Swarm" seemed to tell a different story. It may be that that steps taken to save the Doctor's program in "The Swarm" resulted in the possibility of its limitless expansion.

Chakotay's stalwart conviction that the Doctor should simply focus on medical care begs another interesting question: Would the Doctor have evolved if Chakotay had ended up as Voyager's captain?

Also, the ramifications of the Doctor one day commanding Voyager seem to mirror similar concerns about Data taking charge in TNG. Will a humanoid crew take orders from an artificial life form? Chakotay and Tuvok certainly seem to bristle at the prospect in "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy." It wasn't a problem for Data with his Enterprise-D mates in "The Hunted," but aboard the Sutherland in "Redemption II," he faced opposition from a crew that did not know him or his unique abilities.

The Hierarchy aliens are another of makeup designer Michael Westmore's outstanding creations. Their goofy appearance, somewhat like that of the Pakleds from TNG and DS9, stands in stark contrast to the deadliness of their missions and abilities. These guys have formidable technology at their disposal and they know exactly how to use it. Witness how easily they take out Voyager's phaser array with just one shot (still, it's a little far-fetched, even for science fiction).

From a cinematographic perspective, the Hierarchy aliens are effectively introduced. Photographing them from behind, obscured by the high necks of their uniforms as they silently go about their work, casts a particularly ominous pall over the situation.

It turns out that Phlox, whose name is curiously never mentioned on screen, actually presents a rather cherubic appearance. He's a smart fellow and crafty when he needs to be, but he seems to chafe under the rigidity of his people's thinking. This is another of his reasons for helping the Doctor - not only does he want to keep his job, but also he has been inspired by the Doctor's ability to create a variety of possibilities in his daydreams. To Phlox, this is like a breath of fresh air.

We are left wondering, however, just exactly what and where the Hierarchy is. Where do all of Phlox's requests for approval go? To a planet? Another ship? Could the Hierarchy be nothing more than the central computer on Phlox's own ship? Do he and his fellow aliens subscribe their lives to the will of a computer? This would certainly explain why special people like Phlox seem to resent such confined thinking.

The events of the Doctor's daydreams transpiring on the holodeck recalls a similar situation in TNG's "Hollow Pursuits," in which Riker, Troi and La Forge became privy to Reginald Barclay's (Dwight Schultz) fantasies. As Torres is barely able to stomach her hologram professing her love for the Doctor, we can't help but remember Deanna Troi's negative reaction to her own hologram, which was depicted as the infamous "goddess of empathy." Later, after Seven watches the Doctor's fantasy of sketching her in the nude, she kisses him in thanks for saving the ship but cautions, "That was a platonic gesture. Don't expect me to pose for you."

Even Voyager's computer gets in on some of the fun. Majel Barrett's familiar voice warns the dreaming Doctor that a warp core breach will happen "a lot sooner than you think" and later eggs him on to be a hero.

The Doctor's depiction of Tuvok in the throes of the Pon farr is probably the closest we'll get to seeing the security chief enduring the Vulcan seven-year mating cycle. Season three's "Blood Fever" already showed this happening to fellow Vulcan Vorik (Alexander Enberg). Still, watching Tuvok crying during the Doctor's aria is somewhat reminiscent of Sarek (Mark Lenard) - suffering from the emotionally debilitating Bendii Syndrome - weeping during a concert in TNG's "Sarek."

The Borg "assimilation virus," which debilitates some of the bridge crew in one of the Doctor's fantasies, was one of the Borg Queen's (Susanna Thompson) working ideas in the season five telemovie "Dark Frontier." It is unclear whether the Doctor dreamed up the idea himself or heard it from Seven.

Finally, in a most inexplicable error, Neelix mistakenly calls his home planet "Talaxia."

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.