Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Doctor's Orders"


Air date: 2/18/2004
Written by Chris Black
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"As you might guess, Dr. Lucas, I had considered deleting this letter and starting over, since large sections of it are now, obviously, fictitious. However, I decided that my delusional account would probably prove entertaining." — Phlox's letter

In brief: A skeleton plot, but it supplies some pretty decent psychological-thriller atmosphere.

The secret at the end of The Sixth Sense has to go down as one of the best-executed narrative twists in recent years. I didn't see the movie until it came out on DVD, and still I didn't see the ending coming, even though I had heard for months that there was a revelation at the end. The key, I think, is misdirection. The solution is sitting there in plain view, but you are not thinking about it, because you are not aware there is even a puzzle to be solved. You are too busy concentrating on the character drama.

Or, in the case of Scrubs, perhaps you are too busy laughing. A similar narrative twist — with a reasonable level of underlying poignancy — appeared at the end of this week's episode. I wasn't expecting it at all, perhaps because Scrubs is not the sort of series where you expect a twist like that. But the clues were there.

"Doctor's Orders" guards a similar secret (funny how the same twist aired six days apart on two different TV shows), although in this case I'm not so sure it guards it so well, since I had clearly figured it out ahead of time. (The only tiny remaining doubt: Maybe I was being tricked into thinking there was a twist, and there actually wasn't one and they were just using weird events to make me think there was. Talk about over-analysis. As Data once said, "Knowing that he knows that we know that he knows...") All the hints are clearly there in "Doctor's Orders." The second Phlox offers to walk T'Pol to her quarters, the jig is up.

I admire the intentions here, and I admire most of the execution, which deals in psychological terror. But I wonder: Was anybody actually taken in by the trick ending? Had anyone actually not figured it out? (I ask in all seriousness, and would be interested in hearing from those who were.)

The issues, then, are (1) whether the experience of the journey is worth our time in getting to this predictable destination, and (2) whether the twist holds up as dramatically sound given the underlying material. For me, the respective answers are yes, and just enough.

As a rule, I like psychological thrillers, and I liked many aspects of this one. There's nothing in this episode that we haven't seen somewhere before (and, indeed, the basic premise is very similar to Voyager's fourth-season outing, "One"), but between John Billingsley's performance of an increasingly frantic Phlox and Roxann Dawson's skillful direction of a situation slowly but surely running off its rails, "Doctor's Orders" turns into a nice little pressure cooker. It starts calm and cold, turns mysterious and ominous, and then heats up with crisis and desperation. There's not a whole lot of actual substance here; it's more about mood, atmosphere, paranoia, and momentum, and on those counts it delivers.

The premise is that the entire crew (less Phlox and — sort of — T'Pol) must be put into a comatose state so the ship can travel through a massive spatial anomaly (the same type as the one encountered in last week's "Harbinger") that would cause the humans fatal brain damage if they were awake. Phlox's Denobulan physiology makes him immune to the effects. Also immune to the effects are T'Pol (sort of) and the captain's beagle, Porthos. Passing through the anomaly will take four days at full impulse; Trip warns that to attempt going through at warp would be too risky.

So the Enterprise becomes a vessel where everyone has gone to sleep, and where Phlox now finds that every routine bang and shimmy is magnified into dreadful sounds of forthcoming doom.

It's not until near the end of act one where we even see that T'Pol is still walking around the ship. It's a nice little craftily hidden surprise that keeps us just a little off-balance — and, of course, provides a major hint that telegraphs the twist at the end.

The twist at the end, to get this out of the way, is that T'Pol isn't and never was awake during the time Phlox is tending to the sleeping ship. She's a figment of his imagination, apparently designed by his mind to keep him from becoming completely unhinged, which happens gradually as a result of unforeseen effects from the anomaly field.

Obviously, the fact that T'Pol isn't real is hidden from the audience more for our benefit than for Phlox's, and the fact that it's T'Pol whom he imagines is for obvious script reasons: she's a Vulcan and could logically be immune to the anomaly's effects.

This holds water to a point, since Phlox is no more aware that T'Pol is a hallucination than we (at first) are. On the other hand, the question "Why T'Pol?" is an interesting one, and it raises some issues that the story doesn't really address. If this hallucination is designed to help Phlox deal with his isolation (Denobulans do not like isolation, and there's dialog explaining how they choose to live in crowded cities on their homeworld), why would his mind pick T'Pol, who tends to keep to herself both in real life and in this hallucinated version? Why not pick someone he knows better, like one of his wives or a close friend? If he must imagine someone from the ship in order to fool himself into believing that he is not alone, would his mind really pick T'Pol? (I ask in sincere curiosity, not purely as a nitpick. Perhaps he identifies with T'Pol as the other non-human outsider.)

It probably doesn't really matter, because the story is more concerned with structure and technique than deep psychology or character significance. On those chosen levels, the episode works pretty well, giving Phlox a series of hallucinations that he eventually recognizes as unreal and must cope with. One hallucination is his deranged hunt for the Xindi insectoid, which ends when he nearly phasers Porthos. (T'Pol: "You nearly shot the captain's dog!")

T'Pol is in no better shape than Phlox, and is losing control of her emotions as a result of the anomaly's effects. In retrospect, I like the idea that T'Pol falls apart just as Phlox does; since they are both really just Phlox, it makes sense that they would both go insane at the same time.

The crises stack up when it turns out the anomaly is growing at a faster rate than expected, and Phlox realizes it will take 10 weeks for the Enterprise to emerge on the other side. ("TEN WEEKS!" Phlox announces desperately, in a great line delivery that makes us fully identify with his desperation.)

Ten weeks is obviously not an option, especially given Phlox's (and T'Pol's) mental state, so Phlox (and T'Pol) must figure out how to start the warp engines and pilot the ship out of here. The resulting scene shows exactly why starships need engineers, and why going to warp speed necessitates an engine room staff.

Noteworthy is how useless T'Pol proves in these scenes — how she never takes action or pushes buttons — and it's a rather obvious hint that tips us off to the ending: She isn't doing anything because she isn't really there. I have mixed feelings on Jolene Blalock's performance, which eventually degenerates into a series of weird facial expressions amid T'Pol's increasing paralysis — which may be the point, but comes across as a little off.

Much better is Billingsley, who displays a range that begins at affable and ends up at frazzled, but all the while comes off as "Phlox." The thing about Phlox is that he has an overly expressive, cheerful style of speech. Most people typically only speak like that if they're on stage or in some other stylized medium (like, say, Star Trek). But with Phlox, it's his everyday style, and we accept it because he's a Denobulan — but more importantly because Billingsley brings a credibility to it. This is a solid and versatile performance, delivered within the boundaries of Phlox-isms.

Meanwhile, Dawson and director of photography Marvin V. Rush maintain a visual style that stays active and interesting, including one odd shot that looks straight down on Phlox and T'Pol, who stare up into a fisheye lens. This shot, and the performances, are perhaps a little too over-the-top in the way they draw attention to themselves, but I respect the attempt here to go for an effect to convey the desperation. Dennis McCarthy shares musical credit with Kevin Kiner; together they turn out an effective score.

I'm sure some will argue that there isn't much story here. They would be correct. It's essentially a two-character show, the impetus of which is a silly spatial anomaly with arbitrary properties. And, no, the ending is hardly the surprise that it wants to be. But that's okay. This is an acting showpiece, and a technique showpiece, and a fairly entertaining one.

Not to mention it has Phlox's letter narration, ending with him deciding to leave the hallucinated parts in.

Gotta love that guy.

Next week: Mutiny aboard Voyager! I mean, Enterprise!

Previous episode: Harbinger
Next episode: Hatchery

Season Index

29 comments on this review

Omega333 - Wed, Oct 24, 2007 - 3:11pm (USA Central)
Why are all the doctors on star trek so awesome?

Well...crusher not so much, but that series had picard. :p

I still like The Doctor the best, but Phlox is still up there...

As to the T'Pol thing, I would say its only logical for his mind to be able to imagine her instead of anyone else. As you have noted many times, the vulcans have super plot immunity, and no doubt his plot driven brain would realize this and think of her as merely immune whereas the humans he would be forced to help. He could conjure up some denobulans, but this would take a bigger leap of faith then 'T'Pol is Vulcan Immune'. As Phlox degenerates more though, more humans are seen, showing logic is slowly being strangled into submission.

I wonder if the thing really expended at all or if that part was in his head too. The plot never makes that point clear, although of the verious figments seen throughout the episode it would be the most believable...
Stef - Fri, Nov 9, 2007 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
The ending of Sixth Sense surprised you? Wow! While I enjoyed the film, I thought it was blatantly obvious from the opening scene (Given what happened).

Thus, the whole T'Pol thing in this episode was a real cheap shot. Archer clearly said he was leaving Phlox with this responsibility in the first 5 minutes. Obviously he wouldn't have said that if T'Pol had been concious too.

So from the moment we see her, we know something is wrong. Then they make the mistake of having the meal in the kitchen, where T'Pol doesn't eat. So what more proof do we need?

It is a shame that they couldn't have worked this one out a little better. Without Archer's speech to Phlox, T'Pol's appearance would have made more sense.
Brian - Thu, Dec 20, 2007 - 11:07pm (USA Central)
This episode really falls apart if scrutinized. It's something that has a lot of holes if thought of too much. For instance, if T'Pol was asleep, did that mean Phlox never checked on her? Didn't she need some form of sustenance while asleep? Also, where did the crew "relieve" themselves? Just right in their uniforms? Were they all given adult diapers? For that matter, WHY were they even in their uniforms while asleep?

While I was surprised by the ending, and enjoyed this episode, I did feel it was a cheap trick. It seems that someone came up with the ending, and then said "Okay, now write what happens forty minutes before this!"
Surprised yes - Sat, Dec 5, 2009 - 8:33pm (USA Central)
Keep in mind that if you are simply watching Enterprise because you enjoy it, you probable won't see the twist coming. If you are a reviewer or someone who has to constantly analyze things, you have a much better chance of catching it.
Bill T. - Tue, Dec 22, 2009 - 3:23pm (USA Central)
Man, what a rip-off of Voyager's "One". Enterprise ripped off a lot of previous ST scripts, unfortunately.
Expose - Fri, Jan 8, 2010 - 11:24pm (USA Central)
No suprises for me,but then again i usually check this site to see if the show is remotely entertaining ;)

So many spoilers you provided me with Jammer,but i take all of them with gratitude.Thanks for saving me from wasted hours of television and directing me to the true gems.
Nic - Fri, Jan 29, 2010 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
The first time I saw The Sixth Sense, I MISSED THE BEGINNING and therefore could not make sense of the ending. To this day I wonder whether I would have seen it coming or not. Though I must say my favorite ending of all time is still the WTF?!? moment at the end of "Redemption".
Carbetarian - Tue, Dec 28, 2010 - 10:45pm (USA Central)
Phlox and the creepy atmosphere kept my attention long enough that I didn't think too much about the ending ahead of time. I knew from the get go that something wasn't right here. I figured it would be some kind of a dream sequence. But, beyond that, I didn't examine the thing very closely. Actually, I'm glad I didn't. While it wasn't the most shocking ending, it was very enjoyable and I'm happy I didn't over think it.

I live alone in a one bedroom apartment in a very large building in the Bronx. I have two cats and my boyfriend is here a lot. But, there are many nights when it gets quiet and I get lonely; and every little sound makes me jumpy. I hear the neighbors fighting and I get freaked out. Something falls on my fire escape and I feel like someone is trying to break in. We just had a huge snow storm here, and that felt like my windows were going to blow off. You get the idea. I think I liked this episode because I can empathize with Phlox's unfounded fear and paranoia.

I still think the characters on this show are really weak. But, that seems to be more the fault of the writers than the actors. There are four characters that I really like on this show though. I think Trip and T'Pol are great. Phlox is also awesome. Finally, I also love the unsung hero of this episode... Porthos!

I think it's time to put the travesty that was "a night in sick bay" behind us and have another go at a Porthos-centric episode. I think Porthos should have helped Phlox repair the warp drive instead of imaginary T'Pol. If he has super immunity to radiation or ions or whatever, maybe he can also regulate the intermix!

Anyway, in all seriousness, I agree with most of Jammer's thoughts on this one. Three stars from me too!
Jeff - Tue, Mar 15, 2011 - 8:47am (USA Central)
I just watched this episode again last night and I have one question. Why didn't Enterprise just travel beneath or over the anomaly? It couldn't have taken them any longer that going directly through it. I'm assuming when they said 2 weeks for the detour, they meant if they were to go around it.

Obviously, if they had just gone over/under there'd be no episode, but from a logical standpoint had I been commanding officer my order would have been to just travel over it at maximum warp. No need for a comatose crew and again, I just can't imagine the length of the journey would have been all that much longer.
Mick Jack - Sun, Mar 27, 2011 - 1:05am (USA Central)
Completely obvious from the start.

Gee, T'Pal was a hallucination? What a shock. Dumb ending.

I think the complete obviousness of T'Pal's illusion - how could we really think otherwise? - ruined the episode. Even if you were completely dense, the drawn-out engineering scene where she was a helpless fawn made it plain, which rendered the ended "no shit, Sherlock".
Marco P. - Sun, May 8, 2011 - 9:38am (USA Central)
This was one of the first episodes of ST Enterprise I came across, back when it was airing for the first time in the mid-2000s. I wasn't exactly "mesmerized", and could already notice some of the show's flaws. Nevertheless I did actually like what I was seeing and my second viewing (several years later, now that I'm watching the series beginning to end) confirmed my first impressions. "Doctor's Orders" isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but IMHO it IS one of the better episodes of Season 3.

Yes, it is a complete rip-off of VOY's "One" which was probably the superior version. In fact if you wanted to be overly negative about "Doctor's Orders", in the eternal words of sfdebris.com: "instead of being a psychological thriller where you don't know whether the enemies are real or imagined and discover the frightened girl hiding under Seven's hard Borg exterior, Phlox strolls around the ship naked and nearly shoots Archer's dog". When looked upon from that angle, nicely put.

That said, there's many positive elements in this episode and Jammer already pointed out most of them. For one thing the misdirection, so criticized as "obvious" by some of the readers actually worked for me. After all T'Pol is Vulcan, her physiology might logically be unaffected by the anomaly. To the question "why wasn't Phlox checking on her?" one might answer he didn't need to, since according to his mind she was already up and about. One would figure someone is stasis just needs occasional monitoring and only for safety reasons, not sustenance.

As for Jammer's question: why did Phlox pick the reserved Vulcan as an hallucination in order to feel less lonely? Presumably because the hallucination needed some way to be reconciled with his scientific mind. A Vulcan unaffected by the anomalies could be a lot easier to swallow (both for Phlox AND us viewers) than a talkative human.

On a completely unrelated note, any episode where we get to see a lot of Porthos action is already better than most. He is after all this show's best character (one the writers CANNOT make into a complete moron).
Firestone - Tue, May 10, 2011 - 4:47am (USA Central)
Just by being an episode that tries to scare the viewer, it loses a star in my opinion. I never liked or understand the fun of scary movies. As seen in this episode, there is basically no story but Phlox running around being scared while we listen to the typical scary music and the sudden scary imagery that pop up on semi-unpredictable cues.
While I liked the monologues and the Phlox/T'Pol interaction, I really couldn't get past the fact that this is just a rip-off of "One", only with the roles reversed. Both have the logical scientific "babe" and the doctor, an evil nebula, an unwillingness to go around it, only humans effected(sort off), hallucinations of scary stuff and invading aliens, main character loosing her marbles, engine problems at the end, etc.
Where "One" still had an interesting insight into Seven, this only shows typical horror show clich├ęs.
Jay - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Star Trek has, of course, done it may, many times, but I've always loathed the notion that a particular anomoly only affects organic lifeforms selectively (and almost unilaterally, humans are the vulnerable species) because it makes little logical sense. Radiation, poisonous gas, or whatver else working that way is simply ridiculous. It's a bad as the asteroids or the storms or the holes in the ozone layer in countless disaster movies (Armageddon and The Core come to mind immediately) that seem to have minds of their own because they inevitably target urban areas when the locations should be completely random. I guess it's not as thrilling to see a wheatfield in North Dakota get obliterated as it is to see asteroids decimate New York, electrical storms demolish Rome, or cosmic rays melt the Golden Gate Bridge.
Jasper - Wed, Nov 9, 2011 - 6:03am (USA Central)
@Jeff: That's because space has always been treated as two dimensional in Star Trek.

Of course, if you want a in-universe explanation, you could make up something about the anomaly being (approximately) spheric, meaning that the way over or under it was as long as the one around it.
Brock - Mon, Aug 6, 2012 - 6:47am (USA Central)
Haha Jammer your reviews tend to attract the most pedantic cynical commentors I've ever seen. I don't now it that's the Star Trek fan base or a combination of factors. One's things for sure I wouldn't want to go to a party with any of these folks....I'd probably commit suicide just to get away from them.

And to the people saying "Y DON"T DEY JUS GO UNDER?!" Why would a spacial phenomena expand in only 2 directions. Do we live in a 2-D world? No, nothing is restricting it's expansion therefore it will fill space in all 3 directions.
Brock - Mon, Aug 6, 2012 - 6:49am (USA Central)
* I don't know if

Boy, I really butchered that sentence didn't I?
CeeBee - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 6:23pm (USA Central)
Phlox put T'Pol under, just like the rest. Hallucination is no amnesia. Why didn't Phlox remember this? Is hallucination the same as being stark raving mad? But it doesn't matter, until the end, when you realize what a plot hole it is.

But I liked it as a stand alone story, even if it was a rip-off from Voyager. Phlox is a nice character with some equally nice quirks.
Scott of Detroit - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
I'm a bit embarrassed to say, I didn't see it coming at all. I'm so used to characters doing frustrating things that I thought the writers were just being dumb when T'Pol was so helpless, turns out I was the one being dumb!

It was an alright episode, but the pacing was far too slow. I kept falling asleep.
Captain Obvious - Wed, Oct 24, 2012 - 10:39am (USA Central)
"And to the people saying "Y DON"T DEY JUS GO UNDER?!" Why would a spacial phenomena expand in only 2 directions. Do we live in a 2-D world? No, nothing is restricting it's expansion therefore it will fill space in all 3 directions."

I'm pretty sure everyone understands it is 3D (or beyond).

The question is: Why isn't it faster to go around the anomaly at warp 5 than to go through it at full impulse? Must have been a pretty big pancake of an anomaly. But then it expanded in thickness pretty fast so that seems unlikely.

It made little sense to me and I'd have loved an explanation in the episode.

Any sort of pseudo scientific explanation on what sort of anomaly it was would have been interesting.

What made Trek insteresting to me was the exploration of possible phenomena. Here they just ignore any attempt at justifying it.
Tiarfe - Fri, Oct 26, 2012 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
I agree with Marco P and Brock!

Reading the comments on Jammer's Review scares me. There are some really creepy and cynical people on here.

Anyway, I think Phlox is one of my favorite characters of all Star Trek series among Data, Worf, and Captain Picard.

But I cannot help wonder if the writers were out of ideas so they were picking ideas from previous series.
Cloudane - Sat, Dec 1, 2012 - 9:08am (USA Central)
Haha, well Jammer's got very high standards and I guess it rubs off from time to time.

I loved this one, it didn't tell much of a story but managed to have me on the edge of my seat for Phlox. Plus it featured The Real Star of the Show a lot :)

And yes, it got me. I guess I wasn't paying enough attention to the detail (I think often this is key - scrutinising the episodes too much is commonly where all the complaints come from - it's more enjoyable just sitting back and enjoying the ride). But it got me hook, line and sinker, and I actually breathed "oh wow" when it showed T'Pol asleep. Very good.

I do think it helps that T'Pol has had a few questionable and "more emotional than they've ever been before" kind of moments recently already (like her fling with Trip). If I was new to the show but already knew Vulcans, I probably wouldn't have been fooled so easily.
Wisq - Fri, Jan 4, 2013 - 3:31am (USA Central)
Phlox talks about waking his medical crew after waking the senior staff. Aside from the revelation that he actually *has* medical crew, it does explain why he might not know that T'Pol had been put under -- it's possible his crew did it.

However, yeah, I'm one of the people who saw through the thing the moment T'Pol showed up. They talked about him having to run the ship single-handedly. They prepped him to do that. He had stuff he needed to check, he had to learn how to navigate, how to fix stuff in engineering, etc. Hell, he was *walking around the ship naked*.

After all that, T'Pol showing up was nothing short of a "wtf??" moment. After reading that there was some sort of twist at the end, I was really expecting it to be something *else*, since I couldn't imagine they would try to use something so blatantly obvious as their twist ending -- much less that people would actually fall for it.

I guess everyone watches differently, though.
John the younger - Thu, Jan 10, 2013 - 7:07am (USA Central)
I didn't mind this one. But then Phlox and Porthos are my 2 favourite characters on Enterprise.

Just thought the 'twist' at the end was there for the sake of it. Didn't particularly fit (like Sixth Sense or Fight Club) but then it wasn't bad either and they built it up farily well. My reaction was simply - ok so T'Pol was all in his mind, fair enough.

mark - Tue, Feb 26, 2013 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
This is the most bored I've been all season. 1 star from me, but part of the reason for that is I simply don't care about Phlox at all. He's okay as a supporting character but I have no interest in episodes devoted to him.
Nebula Nox - Thu, Apr 18, 2013 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
I thought it was a lot of fun! It was nice that there were no aliene, just space expanding more quickly.

Are you suggesting that I read the manual?

Lt.. Yarko - Fri, May 24, 2013 - 4:29am (USA Central)
When T'Pol suddenly showed up, I was surprised. Didn't he put her to sleep too? So, I thought: Oh! She's a hallucination too. But then as the show went on, I kind of figured that maybe she wasn't. But then when the end came near, I realized that she was. So, I guess I knew, kind of. But I was satisfied. I liked the way it all played out. And I really liked the freaky Hoshi scene.

>>The ending of Sixth Sense surprised you? Wow! While I enjoyed the film, I thought it was blatantly obvious from the opening scene (Given what happened).

The grand majority of people who saw sixth sense were surprised by the ending. Guess we all are not as clever as you.
Obi-Biber - Mon, May 19, 2014 - 6:08pm (USA Central)
To be honest, I did not see it coming. Granted, there were more than a few obvious hints and I was puzzled when T'Pol appeared (probably because the responsibility for the ship was explicitly given to Phlox by Archer), but the show just kept rolling and I did not connect the dots. What I liked about the show was that it did not really try to do anything more than just Phlox dealing with solitude. It just worked better for me than "One" did - I Don't really know, why. Maybe because of Billingsley, maybe because Enterprise is a much better Ship for that kind of show than the ever-bright Voyager. Anyway - to answer your question - the moment where T'Pol was sleeping was very effective for those who did not see it coming (I thought that T'Pols uselessness in Engineering was very much over-the-top, but just bad writing/acting). It gave me quite a chill. The whole episode managed to generate some genuine horror/creepyness - I can't recall any other ST-Episode doing that - especially not the Vulcan-zombie-show. So even if I felt more than a little stupid for not seeing it coming, it gave me a nice payoff. It does have its advantages, shutting down your brain from time to time.
Chris - Sat, Aug 9, 2014 - 1:07pm (USA Central)
Three stars?


Harbinger was better than this pile of poo. Just wow, man.
Capitalist - Wed, Feb 11, 2015 - 2:54pm (USA Central)
Yep, saw it coming but not immediately.

When T'Pol first appeared, I was just like "wtf?" However as the show proceeded I could see that she was never interacting with anything, and she wasn't telling Phlox anything that he didn't already know, etc. So I guessed that she was just in his mind and that they were going for the Sixth Sense ending.

Jolene's befuddled bubbleheaded facial expression when she's supposedly trying to find some control in engineering was PRICELESS! I almost had to pause the ep, I was laughing so hard.

3* indeed, agreed.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2015, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer