The Good: Great acting, Interesting concept, Good character resolution, Good effects
The Bad: Very familiar plot structure
The Basics: When the Doctor experiences serious malfunctions, a holographic Reginald Barclay appears to explain the nature of the universe to him in a solid Star Trek: Voyager episode.
For those who follow my reviews, it's well known that I despise the works of Brannon Braga, writer, producer, one-trick pony. Braga is the mastermind behind some of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, like "Frame Of Mind" (reviewed here!), "Parallels" (reviewed here!), and the series finale "All Good Things . . ." (reviewed here!). He spent the rest of his Star Trek career gutting the franchise on Star Trek: Voyager and later Enterprise where he retold his best works in the context of new series's. The last time he hit gold as a writer was in Star Trek: Voyager. The first of his last decent episodes is "Projections."
The U.S.S. Voyager has been seriously damaged and the Emergency Medical Hologram is activated and transferred to the bridge of the ship to treat Janeway, who is critically wounded there. It soon becomes clear that the situation is not real; Voyager appears to be a holographic reconstruction. A holographic representation of Reginald Barclay appears and informs the Doctor that they are running tests on a space station and all of what the Doctor thinks he knows is a fabrication. As proof, Barclay restarts the system with the first activation of the Doctor. Soon, the Doctor finds himself in a battle for control of reality as it appears he is merely a holographic representation of a man dying of radiation poisoning.
This is basically a Star Trek: Voyager recreation of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Frame Of Mind" and it involves almost all of the same twists and turns over the nature of reality. Like that superior episode, "Projections" works to establish an alternate reality that will severely threaten the viewer's sense of what the established order of the show's universe is. Over the course of the hour episode, it will attempt to dupe the viewer into believing a potential delusion of the character and ask the viewer to accept that there is a whole other reality to be explored.
We are not so easily duped. Is it fun to watch the Doctor run around as if he is alive and part of a simulation back on Jupiter Station? Sure. Is it wild to watch the scenes from "Caretaker" where the Doctor was first activated replay? Absolutely. Does the viewer believe that the prior eighteen episodes were unreal and that if this episode is resolved according to this plot, the show will take a radically different turn beginning with the next episode? Not for a second. The weakness of "Projections" is that its plot is so ambitious and fanciful that the viewer is unable to suspend their disbelief.
To wit, the difference between "Frame Of Mind" and "Projections" is the scope. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, the viewer is asked to believe that Riker may be trapped in an insane asylum on a planet where he was lost on a mission and possibly killed people. It works. In "Projections," the viewer is asked to believe that the entire series up until this point has been a lie. Please! As the saying goes, I was born, but I wasn't born yesterday. In order for "Projections" to sell itself, it has to make it plausible that the entire series before now has been a lie and that when the problem with the simulation that the Doctor is supposedly involved in is fixed, Voyager itself will disappear. So, while the viewer may well be entertained, it's impossible for a reasonable viewer to buy this premise. It's too much for an educated viewer to buy into.
That said, that's the only real problem. For those who have not seen "Frame Of Mind," "Projections" is perfectly entertaining. Add to that, if one has not seen any other episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, this becomes even more entertaining. After all, this could be the end for those who don't know better!
"Projections" marks the first appearance of Reginald Barclay, even if only in holographic form. Braga wrote the earlier Barclay episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Realm Of Fear" (reviewed here!), so Barclay sounds like what we expect of him. Dwight Schultz reprises his role of Barclay in this episode. He does fine. If that's not the most ringing endorsement, it's hard to give more; Schultz has played the role before and this one is the same as his other appearances. Moreover, because it is only a holographic representation of Barclay and he serves mostly to exposit plot, there is little in the way of character development. Barclay in "Projections" serves as a plot device to enable the plot and explain it. In that function, the character works.
Beyond that, actor Dwight Schultz plays off Robert Picardo expertly. Picardo, who plays the EMH, has a wonderful sense of comic timing and here he uses that to time over-the-top mood variations as the Doctor's reality is shaken. Forced for the first time to emote things like experiencing pain, Picardo is a great study and he brings his full body to the role. Schultz acts something like a straightman to Picardo's wildly physical role, keeping his own body language minimal and understated.
Moreover, it is Schultz who is burdened with most of the technobabble and he works it out fine.
With all of the mind-bending movies in the mainstream in the last few years that have done well and engaged the general public, "Projections" ought to be accessible to any audience. Certainly, it's geared toward those who like science fiction and Star Trek, but anyone who is open to a reality-bending drama ought to enjoy this episode. Much of the episode is about the Doctor simply figuring out if reality truly is his life aboard the U.S.S. Voyager or if that life is simply part of a holographic test being done on a station within Earth's solar system. As he begins to test both ideas, the EMH finds himself in increasing amounts of trouble with discerning the differences between reality and fantasy.
The audience may know, but on nights when we're willing to suspend our disbelief just enough, "Projections" becomes entertaining to watch, because clearly the Doctor does not know which way the whole experience will go.
As a footnote, one of the cooler ideas in "Projections" has to be the idea that the Doctor might simply be a manifestation of a biological being who is in the process of dying. Braga plays familiar cards, but in a way that he makes us feel like the idea is new this time around. That's good enough.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!
For other Star Trek franchise reviews, be sure to check out my specialized Star Trek Review Index Page!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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