Thursday, August 23, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager's Other Lame Third Season Episode Featuring The Doctor Is "Darkling!"

The Good: Robert Picardo's acting, Character moments between Neelix and Kes
The Bad: Kes/Neelix thing isn't really explained, Conflict has simple resolution, No real character growth
The Basics: When the Doctor alters his programming, he goes insane and menaces Torres in the hope that he can remain that way in an underperforming Star Trek: Voyager.

Despite the fact that the Emergency Medical Hologram - The Doctor - was the breakout character of Star Trek: Voyager, just because he racked up the scripts and the attention on the show did not mean that he was always treated well. Earlier in the third season of Star Trek: Voyager, the EMH experienced a memory wipe (sort of) in "The Swarm" (reviewed here!). I suppose this was revenge inflicted upon the Doctor for dominating such episodes late in the second season as "Lifesigns" (reviewed here!). Fortunately, as the series progressed and the Doctor continued to dominate, paired as he was with Seven of Nine, his role became more substantial and resulted in fewer duds. Unfortunately, with "Darkling," there is a pretty solid dud for viewers to agonize over.

Voyager is listlessly heading home when it stops at a planet occupied by the Mikhal Travelers, a fairly dull alien race. It is at this time that the Doctor attempts to improve his bedside manner by adding personality programs to his matrix from notable benevolent historical personas, like Ghandi. Unfortunately for the crew - especially Torres and Kes - the Doctor instead goes quite insane, captures the Chief Engineer and menaces her so that she will delete his old programming so he can maintain his psychopathic persona.

And Kes and Neelix are broken up, but who really cares, right?

Star Trek: Voyager's insistence on not being serialized becomes pretty annoying in "Darkling." The Doctor and Torres have a weird relationship that revolves around her ability to reprogram him at her will, something she essentially recommended in "The Swarm." So while the Doctor puts everyone else at his mercy for medical attention - though Kes acts as nurse for him still - the Doctor is at Torres's mercy whenever he has a medical emergency. Here, his alternate personality attempts to coerce the engineer with fairly boring results.

The reason "Darkling" is so boring is that Star Trek: Voyager is not edgy. The Doctor is not going to successfully kill Torres or even maim her in a permanent way while he is not himself. Not going to happen, it's simply not that kind of show. That means anyone who watches Star Trek: Voyager with any regularity is going to be more bored than shocked when the conflicting personalities within the Doctor (2.0) make him act out in crazy ways. Instead of being kept in suspense when the EMH paralyzes Torres, the viewer feels paralyzed and forced to wait it out.

It's a long - feeling - wait. This episode has some serious problems with pacing. When the episode is not focused on the Doctor playing his Mr. Hyde routine, "Darkling" is focused on Kes. Kes, now no longer dating Neelix, begins to explore her options with the local folks on the planet and they're a pretty bland bunch, but I suppose it's a step up for her from Neelix. I've no real problem with the idea of Neelix and Kes parting ways, but it does seem to come up rather abruptly after no (visible) problems. Sure, the pair had all the sexual chemistry of an uncle and his niece, but from the first episode, they were together and they claimed to be in love. So, what happened? "Darkling" does not give us any real satisfying answers.

Indeed, it seems like the Doctor has more of a problem with Kes's newfound free spirit nature than Neelix does. That seems weird, especially considering the lengths Neelix was willing to go for Kes in episodes like "Elogium" (reviewed here!). Regardless of that, Kes's exploration of romance with one of the natives on the planet is uneventful and unexciting.

But this leads the viewer to wonder, "What's the point?" Neither plot is resolved with anything remotely satisfying. The writers and producers wanted Kes single, but for what purpose? It doesn't add anything terribly interesting to her character to see her cavorting with a new alien in cheap prosthetics.

And the whole plot with the Doctor is resolved with remarkable ease - which makes some sense - but without any hint of genuine consequence. His attempted murder of Zahir and Kes is laughed off as a quirk of the reprogramming and the ship goes on as if nothing ever happened. While it behooves the viewer to forget this episode, it was made and it is part of the series. As a result, it (sadly) has to be considered canon.

The only remarkable aspect of "Darkling" is the acting. Robert Picardo gives a distinctly different performance as the demented EMH than he does as the usual acerbic and sarcastic Doctor. He makes his eyes angry and he has a real sense of tension to his body language. Indeed, were it not for my familiarity with the rather lame plot resolutions on the show, Picardo's performance might have convinced me that the Doctor could do genuine harm to . . . well, everyone.

Similarly, Roxann Biggs-Dawson plays it cool as Torres. In scenes playing off Picardo, she gives the impression he actually has restrained her and that her life is in jeopardy. Dawson has a strength to her that makes her character's defiance "read" as quite real. Her scenes are a treat to watch.

But even those performances are not enough to bring me to recommend this. It's just a bad episode. Fans of drama or "Jekyll and Hyde" stories are not likely to find anything redeeming and fans of science fiction will see the end coming a mile away. Indeed, this is another episode with a painfully simple conflict resulting in a ridiculously easy resolution.

Fortunately, there's always the next episode . . .

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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