[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Author, Author"
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Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Author,
Author." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: I do believe we have a winner.
Plot description: When the Doctor arranges to have his recently completed
holodeck novel published in the Alpha Quadrant, certain aspects of the
story hit too close to home among his shipmates.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Author, Author"
Airdate: 4/18/2001 (USA)
Teleplay by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ****
"You are about to embark on a remarkable journey. You will take on the
role of a medical assistant aboard the starship Voyeur. Your job will be
to assist the chief medical officer, and learn to tolerate his overbearing
behavior and obnoxious bedside manner. Remember, patience is a virtue." --
Paris' novel introduction
The fictional novel in question is an interactive holodeck program about
an emergency medical hologram that is forced to become the chief medical
officer on board the starship Vortex when the Vortex is stranded in the
Delta Quadrant. The story follows the Vortex EMH through an existence of
hardship and oppression by the Vortex crew, who see him as a piece of
technology and absolutely nothing more.
The holo-novel was written by the Doctor, and it's the center of a
controversy in "Author, Author," which for me goes down as one of
Voyager's all-around most entertaining episodes. It exists simultaneously
as a laugh-out-loud comedy-satire, a slyly perceptive analysis of
personalities, and a thoughtful drama that argues the nature of existence
and the rights of a group that I for one have been pondering for some
time. In addition, there's a plot about Voyager now having limited daily
contact with the Alpha Quadrant, and the chance for the crew to finally
have synchronous, if brief, discussions with loved ones back home.
"Author, Author" borrows numerous ideas from other episodes and spins them
together into a single story that, amazingly, makes a whole lot of sense.
It plays like a successful melding of "Worst Case Scenario," "Living
Witness," "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," "Pathfinder," "Flesh and Blood," and,
of course, and perhaps most notably, TNG's famous "The Measure of a Man"
(1989). How so many familiar elements are successfully recycled here to
seem new is beyond me, but there you have it. Does this episode tackle too
much? No, because the narrative is clean and the story is able to do
justice to everything it puts forward . (It's unlike the recent
"Prophecy," which tackled a million elements with little regard for
telling a competent overall story.)
Doc's interactive novel, titled "Photons Be Free," is met with great
enthusiasm by Bolian publisher Broht (Barry Gordon) back on Earth. Broht
wants Doc's story right away, so he can run it in holosuites worldwide.
Doc still has some minor revisions to make, but he finds a brewing
controversy on his hands once he lets Paris preview the program.
Doc's novel allows the holodeck patron to play the part of the Vortex EMH
from a first-person perspective. It depicts the Vortex crew as a savage
bunch whose members all have a common trait -- their rude and thoughtless
regard for the EMH. Like in "Living Witness," these crew members bear a
striking resemblance to the Voyager crew members, except with a
revisionist historian's twist. Chakotay, now a Bajoran, orders the EMH
around and calls him "hologram," while Janeway (named "Captain Jenkins")
shoots an injured crewman dead in order to force the EMH to treat a less
seriously injured crewman *now*, just because it suits her.
This first stage of "Author, Author" is compelling on several levels.
First is the fact that Doc's story itself, while way melodramatic, is
engaging. Second is that we see the similarities between the Vortex crew
and the Voyager crew, and certain traits have interesting perceptiveness
behind the exaggeration. And third is that we see the *differences*. My,
oh my, the differences. For Doc's purposes, exaggeration, I fear, defeats
perceptiveness. But for "Author, Author's" purposes, it's brilliant.
The story within the story is packed with hugely entertaining little
details. I got quite a kick out of seeing the walls of Jenkins' ready room
decorated with antique firearms; this is a captain with a warrior's
background. Meanwhile, Doc's mobile emitter is a big, heavy device that
must be worn like a backpack. And the way the names are slightly changed
is clever: Lt. Paris becomes Lt. Marseilles, with a mustache that even
Torres can't help but laugh at.
What's disturbing for Doc's friends, however, is how the depiction of
these characters hits too close to home. At one point, Marseilles sends
the EMH on a bogus medical emergency so he can have a liaison with a
female "patient" in one of the sickbay bio-beds. Marseilles lines the
women up for "medical treatment" one after another. Paris was once, long
ago, depicted as a mild woman-chaser, but he was more bark than bite. What
bothers Paris in seeing Marseilles' actions is whether Doc really thinks
of him as that way. Call it passive-aggressive storytelling.
Harry's character is a hypochondriac. Tuvok is a human with goatee. Torres
is extremely abrasive toward the EMH; Roxann Dawson finally gets the scene
she never got in "Living Witness" (where she did not appear because of her
real-life pregnancy). The only sympathizer is "Three of Eight"; Doc has
always seen Seven as one who understands the concept of looking in at
humanity from the outside.
Execution-wise, I liked the way we get various chapters of the story as
seen by various Voyager crew members playing as the participants. The
whole idea, in fact, of holodeck story publishing is nicely depicted here;
it seems like a logical 24th-century story medium.
This holodeck stuff is fun, but with a message. As the story unfolds in
front of her, reaction shots of a thoughtful Janeway make a difference.
There's a drastically serious undercurrent about Doc telling a tale of an
oppressed EMH who, ultimately, is erased by his shipmates.
Even better is how when Doc's friends confront him about how the Alpha
Quadrant will associate the Vortex with Voyager, the story maintains a
cool head and presents all the arguments. Doc's argument in a nutshell is:
The persons and events in this holodeck program are fictitious; any
similarity to actual persons is purely coincidental. Fine and good, but
audiences will certainly assume elements of truth were key in the writer's
motivation, which brings up some interesting points about the
responsibilities of an author making commentary.
In fact, Doc *doesn't* think he is being oppressed, and he doesn't intend
the Vortex crew to be mistaken for the Voyager crew, even though both are
stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Doc says, "I write what I know."
Unfortunately, that's part of the problem, since one would immediately
wonder if he has come to know firsthand this oppression he's writing
about. Getting to the heart of that matter, Doc's motivation is to draw
attention to his EMH Mark 1 "brothers" in the Alpha Quadrant who were
banished to a menial existence because of their design flaws -- which
makes this an interesting and logical follow-up to the events of "Life
Line" and "Flesh and Blood."
But Voyager's crew is caught in the middle, and Doc intends to stick to
his guns rather than compromise the message of his story. This leads to
what is the funniest scene, when Doc discovers his program has been
replaced with Paris' retort narrative -- Taste of Your Own Medicine style.
Paris inserts himself as the narrator: "You are about to embark on a
remarkable journey. You will take on the role of a medical assistant
aboard the starship Voyeur. Your job will be to assist the chief medical
officer, and learn to tolerate his overbearing behavior and obnoxious
bedside manner. Remember, patience is a virtue."
This is standout comedy writing and acting, because it's funny while also
reflective and in touch with aspects of the real Doctor's character, which
it then mutates into a well-conceived comic caricature. The writers do a
great job writing the scene as if Paris had written it with sardonic mode
fully engaged, and Robert Picardo plays the scene with glee. We see a
version of Doc who complains about missing his "tee time," flirts
shamelessly with Seven of Nine, and has a hilarious air of
self-importance. And the desperately lame comb-over is a nice touch. The
acting and comic timing here are dead on; this has to be Voyager's
funniest moment since "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy." It's more than just a
gag, because it grows out of our familiarity with the characters.
Doc confronts Paris, furious. Paris shoots back, "Don't be ridiculous!
That character is not you!" which is funny precisely because it's so
absurd and proves the point. To make a long story short (too late),
suffice it to say Doc agrees to change the people's names and appearances
to distance the similarities between Vortex and Voyager. He comes to this
decision after some objective suggestions from Neelix, who is apt at
convincing Doc to protect his friends while still praising the creativity
of the story (and I liked the way this scene recognized Doc's ego without
faulting him for it; he feeds off the praise, no doubt about it, but
that's *because* he wants to be more than just an EMH).
The central crisis in the story appears when Doc asks Broht to hold off on
publishing the novel until he can make the changes. Broht, unwilling to
wait and acting against a promise he had made earlier, tells Doc the story
is already playing in holosuites. Doc demands it be recalled immediately,
which Broht tells him he will not do, because Doc has no legal rights as a
writer under Federation law, because he's a hologram.
Talk about your irony of ironies -- especially given the subject matter of
This leads to a formal objection and a hearing where Doc argues his case
to a Federation arbiter (Joseph Campanella). Of course, we've been here
and done this with TNG's "The Measure of a Man," where the case was made
for Data's rights as an artificial intelligence. But even if this is
somewhat derivative, it features sensible arguments and serves the story
every bit as well. (Though I must confess I'm not sure about Broht's
motives in rushing the novel to publication and ignoring Doc's requests;
why play hardball unless there's a financial motive, which supposedly
doesn't exist in the Federation?) While I don't feel the need to discuss
this aspect of the episode as much, I fully enjoyed it. Given what we saw
in "Flesh and Blood," it makes a lot of sense to give this issue a full
hearing on Voyager's record. It can actually go down as a common theme
that played itself through the season, and that's very reassuring.
The hearing serves as a first step for hologram rights, giving the Doctor
the rights as an artist with control over his work, but it's also
real-world plausible by not going further than that; the arbiter
acknowledges that the rights of holograms is an issue that must be
examined further and not decided based on this one case. Sounds realistic
I liked the final scene too, which takes place "four months later" and
shows dozens of identical EMH-1s working in a mine. One of them suggests
to another that in his spare time he take a look at an interesting program
called "Photons Be Free." Like in "Flesh and Blood," there's a sense that
there's a revolution brewing in the backs of these holograms' minds;
perhaps they are awakening to the idea of having greater potential. The
scene plays itself with a note of whimsy, which is the perfect touch,
leaving us wondering where this issue might go from here, but having us
assured that it *will* indeed go somewhere, even if we never actually see
it again on-screen.
The subplot involving the crew talking to family members is given less
screen time, but it gets the job done within the time constraints. We get
a Harry scene that manages to be funny while keeping perfectly in tune
with Goofy Harry material. Harry talks to his parents back home and his
mother asks why he hasn't been promoted, then says she'll write a letter
to captain Janeway. The transmission is cut off before Harry can emphasize
"No!" Poor pathetic Harry.
There's also a nice follow-up to "Lineage" in the form of an uneasy but
civil conversation between B'Elanna and her father. B'Elanna's father
wants to try. So does B'Elanna. This is actually a touching sentiment not
pushed by melodrama, but simply two reasonable people who are willing to
work things out slowly, over time.
Finally, there's a scene where Seven talks to a relative back on Earth, an
aunt, and the conversation reveals just how alien Seven is to the idea of
having ties to blood relatives. Where might *this* go before the series is
Given everything it accomplishes and the skill it shows in accomplishing
it, entertainingly, I'm willing to call "Author, Author" one of the
series' best installments. I was genuinely involved in everything going on
from beginning to end.
Next week: More Delta Quadrant aliens that have crossed paths with human
history. Gee, what a coincidence.
Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...