ST Voyager Review: “Author, Author”

Sorry for the delay this week gang. My local UPN pre-empted Voyager for a stupid hockey game (I’ll spare you my rant about professional sports being the bane of modern society). At any rate I caught a rerun of it this weekend. You know the rest of the drill.

Author, Author

Cast and Crew

Directed by: David Livingston
Story By: Brannon Braga
Teleplay By: Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman

Starring:
Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B’Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
Dwight Schultz as Barclay
Richard Herd as Admiral Paris
Barry Gordon as Broht
Joseph Campanella as Arbitrator
Lorinne Vozoff as Irene Hansen
Juan Garcia as John Torres
Robert Ito as John Kim
Irene Tsu as Mary Kim
Brock Burnett as Male N.D.
Jennifer Hammon as Female N.D.
Heather Young as Sickbay N.D.

Original Airdate

April 18, 2001

What Happened

While the Doctor creates a working draft of his new holonovel, the U.S.S. Voyager prepares for “Operation Watson,” whereby the ship will establish a two-way com link with Starfleet by receiving a tachyon beam bounced off a quantum singularity. Reginald Barclay and Admiral Paris from the Pathfinder project on Earth appear on the Astrometrics domescreen and tell Captain Janeway that the com link will only work for only 11 minutes a day. Three people can talk to their loved ones in the Alpha Quadrant for three minutes per day, so Neelix has the crew draw numbered isolinear chips. The Doctor draws number one, so he contacts a well-known Bolian publisher on Earth — Ardon Broht of Broht & Forrester — to discuss the holonovel which he had previously transmitted to him. Broht raves about the piece and wants to distribute it right away, but the Doctor insists on making revisions first. Later, the Doctor brags to Lt. Tom Paris about his conversation with the publisher, which raises Paris’ curiosity about the hologram’s opus. He convinces the Doctor to let him experience the holonovel, which he learns is titled "Photons Be Free."

Paris finds himself in the role of the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) aboard the “Starship Vortex,” and he sees that the first chapter plays out almost identically to the Doctor’s own experience of being first activated. The other characters resemble the real crew, but altered slightly in their appearance — for instance, Chakotay is a Bajoran. When Paris, as the Doctor, decides to treat a critical patient ahead of a bridge officer, Captain “Jenkins” (Janeway with black hair) enters Sickbay and kills the dying crewman, so that the bridge officer can now be treated. Shocked at how the crew is portrayed, Paris tells B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim about it, and they think he’s overreacting. So Paris tells his crewmates to try it out themselves.

Torres experiences for herself how badly the "Vortex" EMH gets treated by the holo-crew, especially her own look-alike; Neelix is scolded and threatened by Captain Jenkins; and Kim becomes part of a escape plan with help from “Three of Eight.” Finally, Janeway experiences the final chapter of the holonovel, where the EMH is brutally decompiled. She immediately orders the Doctor to report to her Ready Room.

The Doctor defends his work, claiming it’s a work of fiction with an important message. Janeway asks if he feels oppressed, but he explains he intended to draw attention to the plight of his “brothers” in the Alpha Quadrant, other EMH Mark Ones like him who have been condemned to menial tasks. Janeway asks him to consider how his writing makes his friends feel, but he won’t compromise on his self-expression.

The Doctor returns to the Holodeck to review his narrative. When he enters the program, he notices that Paris tampered with it by programming the Doctor to take on the role of a medical assistant. The Doctor notices that the EMH resembles his own physical appearance and role. The Doctor becomes aggravated because the EMH character portrays the Doctor in a bad light. When the Doctor exits the program, he confronts Paris about distorting his program and that he feels insulted by the way the EMH portrayed him. Paris argues that the Doctor is hypocritical. Paris also tells him that he is offended because the Doctor’s narrative reveals what the Doctor really thinks of him.

Neelix talks to the Doctor and helps him realize that by publishing his book, he may hurt the people he cares about. The Doctor agrees that he should make adjustments on his program by altering the setting and the characters’ physical appearances. However, the Doctor’s dilemma is that his publisher is expecting his final draft the next day. Neelix offers his com link time to the Doctor to explain his situation to his publisher and the Doctor accepts. Later, Janeway and the crew show their appreciation to the Doctor for taking their feelings into account. Paris agrees to help the Doctor with the revisions.

When Torres turn arrives to use the com link, she agrees to speak with her father, who abandoned her when she was a child. During their awkward session, her father explains he was profoundly affected when he heard Voyager disappeared. He also tells her that he would like to get to know her again and Torres agrees to write him. Later, Seven uses the com link to contact her aunt and begin making her connections with Earth.

Admiral Paris and Reginald Barclay contact Janeway to tell her that a novel by the Doctor was published, which portrays the Voyager crew in an unflattering way. Concerned, Janeway and the Doctor contact Ardon through the com link. Ardon tells them that he had the right to publish it because according to Federation law, Holograms have rights.

Janeway advocates a hearing with the Federation regarding whether the Doctor has the right to control his “artistic creation.” The Voyager crew argues that the Doctor should have that right because he is a real person with human traits such as intelligence, creativity, ambition and fallibility. The Federation Arbitrator replies that he is not prepared to rule that the Doctor is a “person” under law, however, is willing to extend the legal definition of “artist” to include the Doctor. He rules that the Doctor has the right to control his work and orders that all copies of the Doctor’s holonovel to be recalled immediately.

Skip ahead four months to see several EMH Mark I’s working a dilithium mine. One suggests to another that during his diagnostic check-up, he should view the holo-novel “Photons, Be Free” telling him it’s “quite provactive.”

Review

We’ve been skirting this issue since day one of Voyager and now that two-way communication with the alpha quadrant has been made possible, we dive right in. This episode has shades of the TNG episode, “Measure of a Man,” which in an of itself is not a criticism. “Measure” is still one of the best Star Trek episodes ever of all the series. Now, “Author, Author” merely has shades of “Measure,” lacking the emotional punch, but still covering the same basic territory.

This episode also digs into the Doctor’s inner self and his relationships with the crew. Some of it is trite, some of it deep.

We also are getting the beginning of the final arc of episodes, characters are now talking with loved one’s back home, re-establishing relationships. This clears up room in the final episode for more plot and less denouement. This may or may not be a good thing. We may get a less rushed feel (like DS9’s finale), but it will have less emotional weight. We’ll just have to see.

High Point

Tom Paris’ version of the Doctor’s story was a hoot. And his conversation with the Doctor afterwards shows us how deep his character goes. And for pure emotional sap value: The Voyager crew getting a live view of Earth.

Low Point

The cop out. We spend half the episode debating the issue of the Doctor’s sentience, but we’re given a weak opt-out answer from the federation consul. Highly disappointing. I hope this is remedied sometime before (or during) the finale.

The Scores

Originality: Its been done before by TNG, but instead of a direct copy, the writers give us a unique vehicle for the issue, thus allowing us to deal with both the Doctor’s rights, and his relationships with his crewmates. 4 out of 6

Effects: I don’t think we saw anything really new or exciting. A phaser shot here, Holodeck fade there. 2 out of 6

Story: Unique plot, well scripted. The dialogue really moves the story along. Several sub-plots for rounding down the series are introduced. 4 out 6

Acting: Strong performances by everyone, which is really odd for Voyager. Normally we only see two or three core characters with anything worth saying. 5 out of 6

Emotional Response: Good build-up, weak resolution. Several of the sub-plots really make you feel for the characters, especially Harry (“Mom, don’t write Capt. Janeway!”). We feel for ya man. 4 out of 6

Production: Well directed, with excellent pacing. This is a strong achievement considering all the sub-plots introduced. 4 out of 6

Overall: I liked this one. Well-rounded. 4 out 6

Total: 27 out of 42

Stills

Brand new episode next week: “Friendship One” Only five more to go!

5 replies on “ST Voyager Review: “Author, Author””

  1. waltnat says:

    Hmmm
    While watching it, I expected them to use the hearing in “measure” as a precedent case, to actually have something to start with. At least they could have mentioned it! Data’s a collection of mechanical parts, programmed to be ‘sentient.’ The doctor is a collection of photons programmed to be ‘sentient’ as well. With the mobil emmitter (remember, that IS “borrowed” technology from the 28th? century.. hehe), he is as free as data is. Also, the ending where they have all of the holograms in the mining colony was pretty good.. Forshadow to revolt? Whatever happened to the Mark II or whatever model of the doctor that they met on the Pegasus? Why aren’t they using that “more advanced” model in the mines? who knows…

  2. davatar says:

    Rating that high!?
    Like most of this season of voyager, this episode was full of blatantly recycled sci-fi and star trek ideas. To me this whole episode was sci-fi _cliche_. Will star trek ever again expand and create _NEW_ sci-fi? How many times can they take the same concepts, polish and repackage them, and sell them again? At least steal from non-star trek scifi (hint hint ds9)

    The problem is management and marketing now handle the fate of the star trek universe, not a sci-fi visionary.

  3. theangrymob says:

    Mark IIs
    Good point about the Mark IIs. What ever did happen to them? Especially after the Doctor interacted with the prototype. Of course the less I see of Andy Dick (who played the Mark II) the better.

    I too was very surprised no one mentioned Data’s case a precident. Tuvok not doing all his research? Shameful.

  4. mbear says:

    Ad Hoc Federation?
    First of all there’s an editing error in the report:

    “Ardon tells them that he had the right to publish it because according to Federation law, Holograms have rights.”

    Er, the last bit should be “… Holograms *don’t* have rights.” – that issue is pretty much the plot point here.

    However poor review-editing aside there’s a more basic problem with the story: It’s improbable (well as improbable as anything in the ST universe gets, up there with running into a Amelia Earhart-sicle in the Delta Quadrant.)

    The Federation is a Federation of species/cultures/whatever come together for the common good. Fundamental to this would be deciding what’s a “who” & what’s an “it.” Is this a rock or a plant or some other less-then-sentient being or is it a candidate for the Prime Directive or even full Federation membership? Is that a salad you’re eating or the noted ethicist & super intelligent head of the government on Procycon 6?

    Forget Measure as a story dealing with this, the original Horta episode started delving here. By this point the Federation should have some fairly well established criteria for how to go about determining sentience if not exact criteria.

    But no, apparently it’s decided ad-hoc by whatever local official happens to be handy.

    Is Lt. Commander Data a person? If so how does he differ from the hyper-coffee-machine machine next to him? Is The Dr. alive? If so how does he differ from Janeway’s favorite screen-saver on the Main Viewer? (AfterDark 2300 v.4, The Star Trek edition)

    Sorry, but once again ST makes a stab towards an idea but falls far short. Instead of respecting it’s a big Galaxy & there’s likely to be lots of odd stuff out there we once again go to the lowest common denominator of “Is it Human?”

    (And why doesn’t everyone else just give the Humans a good talking to about their species-centrism & point out that Human is all very well & good for them but Vulcan, Klingon, Horta, Q, etc. also have rights and while we’re at it everyone is sick of having Earth-History shoved down their throat at Academy; the Xuin Interregnum on Boxycon 6 – THAT was an era! Giant Mind-Squids everywhere ruling the space-slug colonies, where Arthros flew high and the Landspeeders had chromite fins, no more of this boring Ye-Olde-Earthe guff…)

    I’m sorry, but this episode was IMHO one of the worst, pointing out all too painfully ST’s pretensions at greatness & once again being tripped up by it’s own parochialism. A nice script idea terribly hobbled & once again wasted.

    I really hope that they wrote something good for the ending, not another vignette-episode. Hopefully the “Author, Author” script was so poor ’cause they were focusing on the final…

  5. xah says:

    I kept wondering what John Wayne would have done
    Well, just kidding. Seriously, I think sentience is not

    some magical thing, but instead is a bricolage of many

    different things that together make us what we are. For

    support of this, I’d point to Damasio’s book

    “Descartes’ Error.” IMHO, there will never be an AI

    that successfully mimics human thought. There may be

    AI’s that are very intelligent, though.

    It’s too bad about Andy Dick. He has a lot of talent,

    but like a lot of former sitcom stars, he’s a victim of

    Hollywood stereotyping and rumor mongering. Just

    another victim of the corporate machine. I hope he’s

    able to re-establish himself.

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