Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Clever Title Allusion Is Not All Is Smart About “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy!”

The Good: Good theme, Decent acting, Mostly smart character development
The Bad: Somewhat obvious, Lame adversaries
The Basics: The birth of the Holographic Rights subplot on Star Trek: Voyager, “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” is a surprisingly good episode of the series.

It’s always a tough thing for me to review an episode on its own when it is known to be essential for a larger plotline in a television series. Just as “Rules Of Acquisition” (reviewed here!) on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an unlikely, but essential episode of that series because it is the first reference to the Dominion, “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” on Star Trek: Voyager is a smart and essential piece of The Doctor’s character development and a plotline that continues throughout the sixth and seventh seasons of the show. But the plotline that begins to explore what the rights of The Doctor, as an artificial life form should be.

“Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy,” whose title is an allusion to the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (reviewed here!), unfortunately begins the Doctor’s struggle for equal rights in a situation that is hardly as compelling or well thought-out as one might hope. The villains in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” are down with the Pakleds and the Malon as far as fearsome adversaries go. The Hierarchy-bound alien ships are populated by another dumpy-looking race that seems unlikely for spacefaring, much less for a threat to Voyager. Despite the fairly lame villain, “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” is another successful Doctor episode that is not undone by the primitive and obvious CG-effects (when The Doctor gets rank pips).

The Doctor is entertaining the command staff in the mess hall with a song when Tuvok begins to cry, then laugh, indicating to The Doctor that he has begun the pon farr. Smart on his feet, the Doctor ad libs a song to distract Tuvok while Paris loads a hypospray that he passes to the Doctor. When Tuvok is successfully incapacitated, the whole exchange is revealed to be a daydream by the Doctor. In reality, the Doctor is upset to learn that he will not be allowed on an Away Mission that he was excited about. He sends Janeway a formal complaint which forces her to draft a formal response. During the mission briefing, the Doctor daydreams again, this time that all the women in the room are overcome with sexual attraction for him. Janeway’s formal response is not what the Doctor hoped it would be and soon, he becomes preoccupied with his daydreams, daydreams that include being converted to an Emergency Command Hologram and destroying a Borg ship in that role.

The daydreams are witnessed by an alien race that is lying in wait in a nearby nebula. The officer who is evaluating Voyager as a target cannot access any of Voyager’s computer functions, but does tap into the Doctor’s daydream subroutine. As a result the alien comes to believe that Voyager is more powerful than it appears and that the Doctor is in command, a move that prompts the Hierarchy to authorize an attack on Voyager. As the Doctor’s program is repaired, he becomes distressed when the daydream subroutines are re-activated in order for the alien officer to attempt to communicate directly with Voyager to broker a deal with the Doctor and save his career at the same time.

“Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” is a fun episode, but it is plagued with some serious issues, all of which are in the writing. There are one or two noticeably bad lines that are delivered in earnest when not attempting to be campy dream elements (saying “At your service” to the Borg seems utterly ridiculous, for example). Similarly, The Doctor is the one character who it makes absolutely no sense for his dream persona to differ from his actual one. In other words, in his daydreams, the Doctor is fast on his feet, smart, and confident. The moment he is put in command of Voyager to pull off the ruse against the Hierarchy, he turns to gelatin. All he has to do is access the specific elements of his computer code that gave him those aspects and he would instantly be the leader he was in his dreams. This exceptionally basic concept seems lost on writer Joe Menosky.

What is not lost on Menosky is the importance of making what could be a somewhat silly episode bigger and more important than a piece of Star Trek: Voyager history. Joe Menosky begins to ask the essential question: “If the EMH has become a true life form, what are his inherent rights?” Menosky is also smart enough with “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” to develop the question in a solidly entertaining episode that looks and feels nothing like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure Of A Man” (reviewed here!), which asked the same vital question in regard to the android, Data.

“Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” also serves as an opportunity for the fill cast to showcase their acting talents. While Bob Picardo is tasked with holding the entire episode together with his character’s fast transitions in personality, the dream representations of Janeway, Seven Of Nine, B’Elanna Torres, Tuvok, and even Tom Paris each offer their respective performer a chance to do something different with their characters. Tim Russ gets to play openly emotive, Jeri Ryan is an overt sex kitten (there’s a whole nude scene that seems like a particularly obvious ploy for enticing the key demographics of viewers), and even Robert Beltran playing Chakotay as something of a fanboy to the Doctor gives him a chance to play along different aspects of his range.

Ultimately, the enemy might be silly, but the ethical questions raised are good and, despite all other issues, “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” is solidly entertaining.

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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