Author, AuthorBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 11:25 PM GMT
See Also: 'Author, Author' Episode Guide
Barclay uses specs developed by Seven and Kim to come up with a plan for instantaneous communication between Voyager and the Alpha Quadrant. Every member of the crew gets a few minutes to speak to relatives back home. This momentous event is overshadowed when the Doctor sends a nearly-complete holo-novel, Photons Be Free, to the publisher of the Dixon Hill programs. In the Doctor's interactive story, participants take on the role of the beleaguered holographic doctor on the starship Vortex, where familiar-looking officers with names like Lieutenant Marseilles and Ensign Kimball treat holograms with contempt. The crewmembers have a few other character flaws as well: the trigger-happy captain kills injured crewmembers to conserve resources, Marseilles cheats on his wife, the non-Klingon engineer has a temperament even worse than that of Torres.
When Paris warns the others about Photons Be Free, the senior staff takes turns playing the holo-novel and insists that the Doctor has no right to portray them in such a manner. He insists that his points about holographic oppression are so salient that he can't allow his program to be altered. The Doctor wants to make the case for the other EMH Mark Ones, who have been reduced to scrubbing deuterium and other menial tasks. Only after Paris reprograms the holo-novel -- turning the tables so that the simulation focuses on the beleaguered medical assistant to a womanizing, drug-dealing chief medical officer on the starship Voyeur -- does the Doctor understand why his friends feel betrayed. He contacts his publisher to make some revisions in the appearance and characterization of the Vortex crew in his novel.
Yet the publisher has already released the program, insisting that because the author is a hologram, he has no rights over the release of the material. With Janeway's help, the Doctor gets an arbitrator to hear his case. The publisher argues that a replicator gets no credit for making coffee according to its program, so the Doctor should get no credit for constructing a work of fiction. The captain insists that the Doctor is a person, and has the crew testify to this fact by telling the real history of the EMH on Voyager -- even unfortunate episodes like the Doctor's refusal to follow orders, which proves that he is capable of independent thought outside the parameters of his program. The arbitrator says that he is not persuaded to grant a hologram the status of a person under the law, but he does label the Doctor an artist, giving him control over the distribution of his fiction. Unauthorized copies of Photons Be Freeare recalled for revision. Enslaved EMH Mark Ones are inspired by the program.
What should be a huge moment for the crew -- live contact with people in the Alpha Quadrant -- plays second fiddle to a plot that starts as a rehash of "Worst Case Scenario" and ends as a trashing of The Next Generation's "Measure of a Man." Not that the Doc's version of Voyager isn't highly entertaining. The mirror Vulcan has a beard! Tom Paris has a cheesy moustache! It's easy to see why everyone gets insulted, because the Doctor hits so close to the mark -- Janeway as Moral Dictator of the Universe from Tuvix with a terrible hairdo, Chakotay as the captain's lapdog with a terrible hairdo, Harry Kim as a whiny lackey with a terrible hairdo, Torres and Paris with their first season personalities and terrible hairdos...you know, I think I enjoyed this part of the episode so much because it reminded me of the good old days!
But seriously, it's impossible to take the Vortex crew seriously, which makes the Voyager crew's reactions sort of pathetic. I realize these people have no senses of humor, but if they simply demanded that the Doctor stop using their names and faces rather than attacking his sense of self, they'd make a much stronger case. Janeway insists that the Doctor has no right to portray his mobile emitter a burden since it liberates him from Sickbay; she scoffs at the notion that he might think of himself as oppressed to be dependent on 29th century technology for his freedom. This is the same captain who admitted in "Virtuoso" that she doesn't believe the EMH has the same rights as other crewmembers. Perhaps she's grown a bit as a result of the insurrection in "Flesh and Blood," but her initial insensitivity to the Doctor's feelings makes it all too apparent why he might have the same contempt for hers. Ditto those of Paris, Torres, and the rest of them. The Doctor is right to portray Seven of Nine as the only crewmember who really tries to understand him. It's a pity that these events all take place in the comic part of the episode, when viewers aren't really supposed to take them seriously.
By the time the episode does turn serious, it's hard to get away from the initial comic dismissal of the Doctor's concerns -- particularly after Paris' hilarious version of the program, in which Robert Picardo does a screamingly funny turn as a greasy-haired CMO who administers Klingon aphrodisiacs to "Two of Three." The Doctor learns that no matter how oppressed he may feel on Voyager (where he still doesn't have quarters, and where the love of his life prefers a non-sentient hologram of the first officer), he should thank his lucky stars that he's not on Earth. There, he wouldn't even be able to get the ear of a quasi-sympathetic captain.
Janeway rightly insists that Tuvok argue holographic rights, not the protection of classified Voyager secrets or the libelous use of her crew's images. But the crew offers one-dimensional examples of the Doctor's humanity, recycling lines from previous episodes. Why not send actual footage of the Doctor in action? Janeway's summation doesn't hold a candle to Picard's testimony about Data's status as an individual -- and she doesn't even cite the precedent concerning androids established in "Measure of a Man," suggesting that in this case, as in "Tuvix," she's operating on her own instincts about holograms rather than legal precedent or sophisticated reasoning. Once again she's the moral dictator of the universe! This half-baked case earns the Doctor the status of artist, but not the status of person, for the arbitrator wimps out on making a significant contribution to what even he expects to be a protracted struggle for holographic rights. I guess all of Starfleet is now filled with equivocating cowards. Janeway and Chakotay must be relieved -- this probably means she won't be courtmartialed when she gets home, and the Maquis won't be tried for long-forgotten crimes.
The episode ends on what's supposed to be a serious note, as dozens of EMH Mark Ones with the Doctor's face become aware of Photons Be Free. But the familiar first-season characterization works against the weight of the scene, for at this point after so many comic portrayals of the dour Doctor, one simply can't help giggling at the sight of several pickle-faced Picardos halfheartedly working in the mines. Besides, we don't know whether these Mark Ones saw the final, approved version of Photons Be Free or an illegal bootleg of the original, downloaded off the 24th century equivalent of the internet. This is the third time Voyager characters have written their own fan fiction about others on the crew! It's nice to know the Voyager writers appreciate our fan labors.
Meanwhile, back in the Alpha Quadrant, Harry Kim's mother frets that he hasn't been promoted, Torres' father tries to apologize for her childhood, and the rest of the families get a few precious minutes with crewmembers they haven't seen for seven years. Did you know Chakotay had a sister? Me neither, but it's not like we get to see her in "Author, Author," anyway. As always, the focus remains on the development of the Doctor and of Seven of Nine, who is inspired by watching others' reunions to contact her father's sister on Earth, discovering a connection with an aunt she never knew she had. By the time this series ends, Seven will have a family, a lover, and the grateful worship of everyone on the ship whose lives she saves every other week. The characters who have had emotions and been missing loved ones for the entire seven years of the journey get the short shrift in favor of the Borg and the hologram. It's laughable to watch Voyager fret about holographic rights when on this show, holograms get more opportunities for growth and development than human beings.
Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.