In the pilot episode, Voyager is on a mission to locate a missing ship piloted by Maquis fighters. Her Captain, Kathryn Janeway brings Tom Paris, a former Starfleet officer, out of prison to help find the ship. As the ship maneuvers through the dangerous Badlands, an ancient alien known as the Caretaker transports Voyager to the Delta Quadrant, on the other side of the galaxy, where the Maquis ship was also sent. Several members of the ship’s crew are killed, including the first officer, helmsman, chief engineer, and all medical personnel.
The Voyager and Maquis ships are attacked by enemy raiders with the goal of capturing the Caretaker’s Array, the device used to transport the ships. The Maquis ship collides with the enemy’s ship, destroying both, but not before the Maquis crew transports to Voyager. Captain Janeway believes that the enemy raiders will use the array to destroy other alien races, so she decides to destroy the Array rather than use it to return home. The Voyager and Maquis crew integrate and pool together as they begin their 75 year journey back to the Alpha Quadrant.
On their long journey, the ship’s crew both lose and gain members, be they human, alien, half human/half alien or otherwise. Some of them are: Neelix (the Talaxian chef who opted to remain in the Delta Quadrant as Starfleet Ambassador), Kes (Neelix’s Ocampan girlfriend who in the end of the 3rd season returns to her home planet after evolving into a non-corporeal entity) the Doctor (a medical hologram who initially is confined to med-deck but later gains access to parts of the ship and even leave the ship because of his mobile holo-emitter), and Seven-of-Nine (a human/borg rescued from the Borg Collective).
The episode “Latent Image” begins with the Doctor taking holographic images of the crew for his records and he finds evidence of a neurosurgery procedure he performed many months earlier on Ensign Kim, but the Doctor does not remember. The Doctor asks Seven-of-Nine to help him run a self-diagnostic, but he doesn’t remember their conversation an hour later. It turned out that someone had deleted the Doctor’s short term memory, so the Doctor enlists Seven’s help in restoring some of the memories and pulls up photographs of a mission that he doesn’t recall.
The Doctor promptly informs the Captain of the memory lapses, and is advised to deactivate for the time being. It is later revealed that the previous and recent file memory deletions were initiated by the Captain for the Doctor’s own good as he could not handle the impact of the decision he had made then. On that mission 18 months before, the Doctor was forced to choose between saving the life of his friend Ensign Kim and another female ensign because there was no time to perform the life-saving procedure on both.
He chose to operate on Ensign Kim. But the Doctor then was devastated that he could not save both, and proceeded to act hysterically because of conflict in his programming subroutines, forcing the Captain to delete those memories/files and she even contemplates on rewriting the Doctor’s program. Seven challenges her decision and she has had some time to think about it, Captain Janeway agrees to restore his memories. There is a battle going on between his original programming and what he has become.
The crew keeps vigil with him, hoping that eventually he will forgive himself and learn to accept his decision. One has to admire shows put on television like the Star Trek series. Granted, it is indeed in the science fiction genre but its characters that people the story are not wanting. The characters and the actors portraying the characters add depth despite their being alien and out of this world. The actors have no one person to base their characterizations on, especially if they are portraying aliens or half aliens.
The Doctor is a very good example of a character with very subtle complexities. While the Doctor’s character starts out in the series as a one-stop one-dimensional all-around medical staff, he has evolved into a three-dimensional complex character owing to his being programmed with personality subroutines as mentioned by B’Elanna Torres in this episode. Aside from thinking logically like he is programmed to do, the Doctor has been allowed to express feelings and opinions and become free-thinking, perhaps to make his interactions with the crew become more pleasant.
Instead of just mechanically performing medical procedures and spouting medical jargon when necessary, the Doctor walks and talks just like the rest of the crew. This character is not unlike the Data character portrayed by Brent Spiner in The Next Generation series. Data was originally a shell of android who was later programmed with subroutines of a gamut of human feelings. His reaction to the feelings was a tad comical, but the character soon learned to associate his programming with the reactions of his crew mates.
Seven-of-Nine, the Doctor’s assistant as well as his champion, found subtle similarities in her former predicament and the Doctor’s that is why she found it necessary to question Captain Janeway’s decision to reprogram the Doctor entirely. The Seven character also evolves into a completely human character albeit scarred by years of captivity in the Borg Collective. At the end of the series, she returns to Earth as Chakotay’s significant other.
This is where the show effectively integrates moral issues of choice and free will and the concept of right versus wrong, and makes the audiences relate to show’s overarching mythology even with its fantastic premise as most science fiction shows are. The episode is a filler episode in the middle of the show’s seven season run, but it is nonetheless an effective filler episode with an in-depth look into the Doctor’s evolving character, his increasing responsibilities on the ship and his complex and interesting relationship with his crewmen. Robert Picardo breathes life into the Doctor’s character with panache that only he can pull off.