Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Heroes and Demons"

***

Air date: 4/24/1995
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It brings on the spirit of the bear and gives us strength to swing our swords."
"It's more likely to bring on profuse sweating, convulsions and acute delirium. This is a fungus common to sub-arctic climates and, let me assure you, quite poisonous."
"Yes, but those it does not kill it makes strong. A most hearty plant."

— Freya and the Doctor

When Ensign Kim runs a holodeck program of the medieval tale "Beowulf," a mysterious presence seizes control of the holodeck, causing crew members who enter to vanish without a trace. Only the Doctor may have the ability to successfully investigate and retrieve them.

When Kim disappears inside his program, Janeway sends Chakotay and Tuvok to investigate. Upon entering the holodeck, they discover the shutdown routine and safety devices do not work (surprise). They come across a warrior named Freya (Marjorie Monaghan)—the king's daughter—who has information that may help them. Kim, who was playing the part of the hero Beowulf, was killed by the evil monster Grendel, she explains. Chakotay tells her that he is Beowulf's kinsman, here to avenge his death, and that he wishes to face Grendel. Tuvok and Chakotay hope to find answers to the holodeck takeover from Grendel. They find evidence that Kim apparently went through the process of matter-energy conversion (uh-oh) due to some unthinkable malfunction. When they encounter Grendel, however, they become victims of matter-energy conversion.

Sporting the ultimate in anti-climactic teasers and a completely by-the-numbers first act, "Heroes and Demons" initially looks like a failed Voyager concept to be the first to join the series of cliched Next Generation holodeck plots. Fortunately, the story takes a perfectly appropriate and creative twist in the second act by putting the holographic doctor in the center of the action.

Using information Chakotay and Tuvok retrieved before vanishing, Janeway concludes that Grendel is the key to the mystery and that sending more people into the holodeck would likely result in their vanishing as well. This leads to the idea of transferring the Doctor's program into the holodeck to investigate. Since he's a hologram with no matter, he conceivably would be unaffected by the problems in the holodeck.

This is where the episode starts to pick up. One limitation Picardo's character has faced up to this point is that he's a doctor—and only a doctor. Not only is he often limited to spouting medical technobabble, he's been faced with the prospect of doing all his acting on the sickbay set. This plot gives Picardo an opportunity to escape the confines of sickbay and play the hero while also offering a startling amount of depth to his character. Several scenes reveal that this character has feelings and desires beyond the limitations of his programming, and, hopefully, future episodes will put the Doctor's new characterizations to use.

The Doctor even chooses a name before leaving for his mission—Dr. Schweitzer. (However, since he decides to abandon the name by episode's end, I will continue to call him "the Doctor" to avoid confusion.) In the holodeck program, the Doctor meets Freya, who takes him back to the perishing kingdom hall, which sits in defenseless terror of another attack by Grendel. The setting benefits from a number of lively holodeck characters. Freya's strength and compassion balance to make a respectable heroine, while the menacing Unferth (Christopher Neame), a warrior who doubts the Doctor's abilities, proves to be a believable roadblock to our hero's progress. King Hrothgar (Michael Keenan) is a pitiable, helpless man who has to watch his kingdom fall in front of him.

The Doctor's ability to allow matter to pass through him convinces the kingdom that weapons can't hurt him. Perhaps they have hope of repelling Grendel after all. The kingdom hall cheers and labels him their savior. Here, Picardo's looks of confused bewilderment are priceless.

In fact, this is a good episode for Picardo all around. It features his genial presence at its best, working well for the episode's humorous moments and dose of mild goofiness, as well as the serious character-driven scenes. A scene between the Doctor and Freya provides some genuinely effective soul-searching dialog. The moment when these two holographic characters kiss works surprisingly well. (The idea may seem slightly inane, but it displays one of the best qualities about Star Trek stories—their ability to take the audience anywhere.)

The plot, alas, turns into another lame-brained exercise in the obvious when Torres and Paris discover the mysterious entity in the holodeck is another misunderstood lifeform which the crew had beamed aboard the ship after mistaking it for an energy source. The "Grendel" alien changed the crew members into energy in retaliation for the crew's inadvertent "kidnapping" of two others of its race. Give me a break. You would think the crew would've learned their lesson after "The Cloud." This revelation can be so easily predicted a mile away that I wanted to slug the characters for taking so long to figure it out.

But I don't care too much that the life form plot isn't particularly inventive. The Doctor's adventures in the holodeck are much more important, and they work. In order to negotiate a peace treaty with the aliens, the Doctor must hand deliver one of the captured life forms to the "Grendel" alien as a gesture of good faith. On the way he is confronted by Unferth, who attacks him after mistaking the lifeform for a talisman to destroy the kingdom. Freya shows up in time to save the Doctor's life but pays with her own. Freya's death scene also works very well with a bit of theatrical aura.

Naturally, the Doctor is successful in his task, and all three crew members are released unharmed. Janeway logs a commendation in the Doctor's file for his successful first away mission. "Sounds like you had quite an adventure in that holodeck, Doctor," she says. Yes, he did.

Considering how many facets of the Doctor's personality and emotions this hologram program ends up tapping into, it's quite a substantial episode for the Doctor. Some viewers may find themselves saying, "It was just a program. Freya wasn't a real person, and she didn't really die." I say don't overanalyze the situation. Remember, the Doctor is only a hologram himself. (I guess, in a sense, these holo-characters are his own people.) Restarting the holodeck program to bring Freya back may sound like an easy and obvious solution but would also constitute poor drama.

Aside for the recycled bit with the lifeform, I'd like to see more like this from Voyager. An ambitious score by Dennis McCarthy and convincing production design supply added bonuses. But please give the Doctor a name already.

Previous episode: State of Flux
Next episode: Cathexis

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10 comments on this review

Mal - Tue, Oct 20, 2009 - 1:29am (USA Central)
Since we know the Doctor doesn't ever really get a name, remind me again: do we ever at least get a "Doctor... Who?" joke out of the show :-)

The Doctor was definitely a highlight of VOY. This episode is only one of the first where he gets to, ummm, shine!
Ken - Wed, Feb 2, 2011 - 10:02pm (USA Central)
I don't know if anyone noticed this problem... but didn't we just see an episode like this with "The Cloud"?

Sure, it's totally different... but this is 2 times that Voyager mistakenly did something bad to an actual life-form that they thought was an energy source.

I guess they need energy in the delta quadrant, but these kinds of episodes seem a little out of place as a whole. It reeks of the "anomaly of the week" problem, which has been overdone so many times on Star Trek.

As a whole, this series didn't really give us anything *new*. It was just more of the same, for 7 straight seasons.

People love and hate DS9 - but you can't argue that it was a new and different from its predecessor. Voyager, and later Enterprise, didn't offer anything new. And so after 11 seasons of mostly crap, we no longer have Star Trek on television, and might not for a very long time to come.
Carbetarian - Fri, Apr 8, 2011 - 9:50pm (USA Central)
I can't get over how dumb it is that they are desperately searching for a new power source, and yet are still using the holodecks. Incompatible power sources my ass! Power is power, the whole thing is just ridiculous.

Holodeck episodes are the worst. In my opinion, they're worse than ferengi episodes. There have been a small handful of interesting holodeck episodes, but usually they are just goofy and annoying. The only truly great holodeck episode I can think of was Paper Moon on DS9, and this episode is no Paper Moon.

The holodeck program on this one was far too reminiscent of TNG's Qpid for me which, apart from a few hilarious one liners from Worf, I never want to be reminded of ever again. The Alien of the Week was totally lame and forgettable, and I could definitely have done without ever having to watch Tuvok and Chakotay trudging through the forest discussing poetic ways to describe Harry Kim.

All that said though, the doctor is wonderful. He somehow managed to make this show watchable for me. His sense of timing and humor is really dead on, and he is always a joy to have on screen.

The doctor gets four stars for making something likable out of this turd of an episode, and the plot gets zero stars for being another cliche, cornball, derivative holodeck adventure.

So, all in all, this one gets two stars from me!
Matthias - Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - 5:36am (USA Central)
For the love of god is there any non-sentient form of energy anywhere in this entire freaking quadrant!?

Starfleet folk are always so respectful of the holodeck's 'rules' even when there are lives at stake and the safeties are malfunctioning and there's a seemingly malevolent entity running around disappearing their crewmen. What exactly is stopping them from simply stomping through shooting everything on sight? How come the Mysterious Entity of the week apparently agrees to be bound by the grendel_event program flag? The doctor isn't even solid, there's no reason for him to waste time interacting with anything at all here (though unlike Tuvok and Chakotay he at least has a motivation to want to take it all in.)

Ah I know, these are petty complaints, but I ran clean out of suspension of disbelief about 20 minutes in due to sheer boredom (having seen the semi-recent and entirely-horrible Beowulf movie certainly didn't help).
Ken - Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - 6:14am (USA Central)
Yeah, it's not hard to find so many logical problems and faults with the plotting with these episodes. It almost like the writers were just pumping out stories out of manufacturing plant... just putting all the basic genres into a pot, stirring it up, and seeing what shit came out.

Having said, if you take the episode for what it is, it's not bad. But the premise of the show - such as most shows in this series - is awful.
Nick - Thu, Sep 8, 2011 - 11:15am (USA Central)
This is one of the standouts of Voyager's first season! I, for one, put a far greater emphasis on the EXECUTION of an episode than whether or not some element of its plot may be derivative of another episode that has come before. "Heroes and Demons" has terrific production value, a stand out performance from Bob Picardo, memorable guest characters, and typically first rate direction from Les Landau. I've come to realize that episodes directed by Les Landau are wonders of light. Some which spring to mind: Sins of the Father, Family, Time's Arrow Part I & II, Chain of Command Part II, and The Chute.
TDexter - Thu, Nov 24, 2011 - 8:53pm (USA Central)
Along with the above commentators, I expect a high standard of realism out of my 24th-century space-exploration sci-fi television shows.
Kazon Hornblower - Wed, Oct 10, 2012 - 6:09pm (USA Central)
Ugh, watching this episode is like realizing too late that you didn't wipe well enough. And now you have an hour's drive ahead of you on a hot summer day.
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 4:54pm (USA Central)
Tuvok: I would point out there are no demons in Vulcan literature.

Chakotay: That might account for its popularity.

Perfect Vulcan human interaction... what was missing from T'Pol in Enterprise, and definitely reminiscent of Spock... excellent line
Ric - Tue, Mar 4, 2014 - 2:55am (USA Central)
Once more, a very stupid premise for the malfunction of a holodeck. Really really silly. Not to mention, as others have already pointed above and before, how it hurts to watch the holodeck being used when the ship is short on energy supply. The excuse of different types of energy is unberable.

Even though, in the end it was an interesting episode when it focused on the existencial questions of The Doctor. Just as Spock in TOS, Data in TNG and Odo in DS9, The Doctor has a lot of potential for development and is nice when it starts to be delivered. I hope it keeps coming, since he highlights the show quite a bit. If only the rest of the episode was not so ridiculous, with a plot so embarrassing...

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