Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Latent Image"

***

Air date: 1/20/1999
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Eileen Connors and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Our doctor is now our patient." — Janeway's Log

Nutshell: Hmmm...

My feelings on "Latent Image" might best be summed up as above, with the elusive, all-purpose "hmmm..." The question is what kind of vocal inflection goes with that "hmmm." Is it (1) a "hmmm" that starts at a somewhat high pitch and comes down slightly in pitch in a sort of thoughtful, melodic way? Or is it (2) a more disturbed and skeptical "hmmm," which has a lower pitch than the first "hmmm" and sounds more like an annoyed whine—a "hmmm" that, in inflection but not in consonant structure, comes across much the same way as "ehhhh"?

Or something.

As "Latent Image" unfolded, this episode had me mentally tallying both types of "hmmms." Type 1 probably wins out, but not without plenty of Type 2 cropping up along the way.

It's an episode like this one that makes me wonder just who and what the Doctor really is. Is he really sentient, or does he just appear to be so? If his claims of self-awareness are simply programmed "personality subroutine" responses, does that change his status or entitled rights as an individual? Hmmm... (Type 1).

Do the writers know the answers to these questions? I had long thought the Doctor was considered sentient, but after this episode, I'm wondering whether that was the intention. And I'm also wondering if the writers simply changed their minds before writing this episode. Hmmm... (Type 2).

The mystery arises from some gaps in Doc's memory when he discovers that Ensign Kim had been treated with an emergency medical procedure that Doc had obviously performed yet cannot remember. With Seven's help, he uncovers some buried, incomplete memories that had at one point been erased. He goes to the captain to report the mystery, at which point we realize the plot is playing a few tricks on us. These tricks capture attention early on, although the plot comes off a little uneven as a result.

First is the quasi-mystery McGuffin (i.e., no one knows why Doc has these memory lapses), and then the story reveals a dose of paranoia (i.e., they know why—because they did it—but won't tell him) before settling into the "actual plot" (his memory had been erased because the events in question had caused him to malfunction). It's the nature of the "actual plot" where the story's real issues lie.

"Latent Image" has some evident frustrations, one being that it seems to come at a time much later in the series than it should have, and another being that it seems to contradict what we had previously known about the Doctor. The two objections are interrelated to some degree, but I'll focus on the latter objection, as we can find evidence to support it.

My central challenge to this story is this: Hasn't the Doctor already grown past the "pre-programmed" point in question? Isn't this a question that has been asked if not answered long ago, in one way or another? Doc has experienced a lot over the years, whether it was falling in love in "Lifesigns," swapping jokes on cue and battling Romulans in "Message in a Bottle," or moralizing social situations in "Living Witness." You'd think the question of whether he can make choices that go beyond his original programming is something that has been answered affirmatively on many occasions. For that reason, I have my skeptical "hmmms" about whether this story is a daring stretch of past material or a total disregard of it.

BUT ... alleviating somewhat from this problem—which makes "Latent Image" overcome the inconsistencies that one would decide are problem areas—is the following argument: Suppose all of Doc's behavior in the past has managed to avoid the complexity of thought that the central crisis of "Latent Image" brings forward—the idea of sentient growth, of pondering the nature of existence, limitless choices, and an infinitely unpredictable number of possibilities. That's a "hmmm" (Type 1) that really kept my attention as "Latent Image" unfolded.

The central crisis is simple, yet not: A year and a half ago, an alien attack left two patients, both in mortal danger, both (we presume) of equal importance to the ship, with an equal chance of survival ... but there was only enough time for Doc to save one. Which patient did he choose? Harry Kim, a crewmate he is closer to, with a regular working relationship; or Ensign Jetal (Nancy Bell), a crewmate from below decks whom Doc had met once?

Time was short. Doc made a decision: Harry Kim. Jetal died. Later, Doc began trying to figure out why he made the choice that allowed her to die. A conflict arose between his independent thought process and his pre-programmed "first duty" of treating patients with total impartiality. The conflict grew and consumed him. To erase the problem, Janeway erased the memories of those events. Now, the problem has presented itself again.

The big question is, does erasing Doc's memories stagnate his ability to grow as an individual? Should he instead be allowed to work through the crisis and confusion? That's the whole point of the story, and with the cycle repeating itself, Janeway is forced to rethink her original decision.

On a plot level, the specific dilemma that brings the conflict to the surface is pretty contrived. For one, just where did this Ensign Jetal come from? It always amazes me that even though the Voyager crew has a finite number of members, the producers still manage to pluck people at random out of the sea of infinite actors looking for short-term work. Why can't Voyager have some semblance of a consistent guest cast? DS9, which doesn't even have to be as self-sufficient as Voyager in terms of crew, has a dozen or more recurring characters outside the regular cast. Yet Voyager can barely muster Ensign Wildman once or twice a year. (But I'll stop now; I've been down this road many times before.)

The episode will also have us believe that Jetal has never been mentioned in conversation near Doc since her death, and that all records Doc might encounter pertaining to her presence have been either hidden or deleted. That's quite a stretch. I wonder how the captain pulled it off.

But never mind. I said there were some significant problems here, and there are. I also said this episode works, so let's get back to the reasons why. The way Doc's program goes haywire provides Picardo with a great chance to go slightly berserk, with a strong performance that teeters on the edge of distress and insanity. And it isn't merely a trick; it works on story terms, showing a character torn in a conflict that, because of his programming, becomes irreconcilable.

The fragmented thought process is carried into a final scene where Doc's confusion has him ranting in circles, pondering the nature of the formation of the universe 20 billion years ago, which leads him to conclude his decision was inevitable, as was the ultimate formation of "starships, holodecks, and chicken soup." I found the final scene interesting because it's unconventional and borderline-schizophrenic in a way that perfectly conveys Doc's confusion. A lot of people will likely find it weird, but I think I see exactly what Menosky was going for.

Another thing I really liked about this episode was the way it worked as an ensemble piece, even though the focus was generally on Doc. Just about everyone gets some good, well-motivated screen time, most notably Janeway and Seven of Nine, whose arguments on the nature of Doc's individuality supply the episode with many of its tantalizing questions about his rights and needs as an artificial intelligence, sentient or otherwise. (Alas, Chakotay is still getting severely shafted, receiving little screen time and no significant dialog. The writers have got to give this guy a voice, because he has become far and away the show's most underutilized and purposeless character this season.)

Perhaps my biggest dread concerning this episode is that the writers will simply ignore it later—which would be extremely wrong. Given the end of this episode, I would expect Doc has a long way to go in overcoming this challenge, and if we never see it again, I'm going to be angry. The Voyager writers have a knack for disregarding long-term character continuity, especially when it comes to the Doctor—and especially when it involves the Doctor in a situation that demands follow-up consequences. There have been far too many instances where a significant problem Doc has experienced has been simply thrown away. Most notable instances that come to mind are his loss of memory back in "The Swarm" and his life-building scenarios in "Real Life." Both demanded follow-ups, and neither received them. "Latent Image" demands a follow-up even more, yet I have this fear that we'll never get it. As always, judgment will be reserved and temporary optimism maintained.

On the technical side, Mike Vejar's direction was effective. He has never been afraid to use slow-motion when appropriate, and here it brought a surreal edge to some of the flashback scenes.

On the other hand, Paul Baillargeon scored no points with me this week; the completely inappropriate music during the crucial surgery flashback nearly managed to sink the entire scene. He did a great job with the theme for DS9's "The Siege of AR-558," but Baillargeon's tendency to underscore urgent scenes with seemingly random, serene notes (see also DS9's "Valiant") is inexplicable and detrimental. I've been a long-time critic of new-Trek music, and although I've mellowed in recent years, this score was ineffective enough for special mention.

Despite my qualms and fears with "Latent Image," however, I'm going with a marginal recommendation—mostly for the ideas and implications it creates, not always so much for how it goes about doing it. This is an episode that prompted me to ask questions about Doc, and in turn had me pondering the nature of our own existence and the sometimes-arbitrary choices we make. It's in many ways a fascinating thought piece. But with some script tweaking it could've been much more. "Hmmm" indeed.

Next week: Do you THINK you stand a CHANCE against the evil CHAOTICA, ruler of the UNIVERSE?

Previous episode: Counterpoint
Next episode: Bride of Chaotica!

Season Index

67 comments on this review

TH - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 5:03pm (USA Central)
I have a conceptual problem with one of two things: Either I don't buy the Doc not being programmed with a "tie breaker" protocol, or I don't buy that with the complex mental triage system that they must have built into his program, that Kim and Jetel have the exact equal chance of survival.

While the writers used the Doc "emotional" decision to attempt and analysis of the social dynamic of helping someone you're closer to over a stranger, I don't think he's the right character for this kind of analysis. A more interesting premise might have been having a random-choice algorhythm (50/50 chances) and have doc (or someone) pondering the implications of having the decision come down to pure chance. But maybe that wouldn't have that much impact either. I just don't believe the premise:

If Doc's system is so precise as to calculate these two patients as having the exact same chance of survival and having no idea how to solve the decision, I would expect his programming to also be so precise that he would never ever waste treatment time by stopping to converse during any treatment (which if he's a computer program, he probably shouldn't do anyway, but I give that up to creative license).

I also have a bit of a problem with Doc's program second-guessing his decision. To me it sounds like a computer calculating 1+1 and outputting "1", but then later going into a feedback loop in wonder of whether the user wanted the calculation in decimal or binary. If there was a logical conflict, a computer as powerful as Voyager's should have taken all of that into account (his ethical subroutine should have analyized his decision before he acted on it - not days after, and it shouldn't change its mind later on). But I guess the point of this epiosde is to portray Doc as more human than program, and I suppose that's how humans think. But I don't quite buy that even Doc's expanded program can avoid analyzing his decision in a moment before he makes it, and not after, and if that's the situation, perhaps he should be reprogrammed.
Stefan - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
This was another example of "Artificial Intelligences are people too." TNG and Voyager did this repeatedly. TH is absolutely right. The Doctor/EMH was a computer program. That means he would have calculated all of the factors nearly instantaneously.

This episode, along with Kes always defending the Doctor's rights and the Nothing Human episode, shows that the Voyager crew was incapable of telling the difference between a humanoid and a hologram. They are simply computer programs with holographic bodies. Seven of Nine's claim that Captain Janeway's initial decision to reprogram the Doctor was the same as denying Seven her rights sounded asinine to me.

Finally, wouldn't it have been simpler to add a resolution of the conflict to the Doctor's programming? That way the Doctor wouldn't have had a problem with his decision. Of course that would have gone against the "Doctor is really a person" theme of the episode.
mscan - Fri, Dec 5, 2008 - 10:45pm (USA Central)
When yopu say that this episode should have come at an earlier time in the series, you might be missing the point that the original decision by Janeway came 18 months prior to the actual episode.. so maybe now Janeway's thoughts about his sencience has, to use Seven's word evolved.
mscan - Fri, Dec 5, 2008 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
By the way, I thought that the major problem with this episode is that it did not spell out two things : 1) The problem was that the Doctor was dealing with the consequences of an ethical decision with only 4-5 years of actual "life", and 2) The issue that the Doctor was dealing with was not his sentience, but his conscience.
And yes I'm aware that I spelled sentience wrong in my last comment.
Bill T - Mon, Dec 8, 2008 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
Man you people complain about EVERYTHING.

The only problem I had with the "equal choice" thing was the fact that Ensign Kim was a bridge officer. Doesn't that count for anything? It's all spitting hairs though. Regardless of how airtight the setup was, it was a valid and interesting story, and well-executed.

I agree with the 3-star rating, though it doesn't seem to match the endless criticism below it...
Stefan - Mon, Dec 8, 2008 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
Bill T:

You complain about us complaining and then state your own complaint about this episode. Just amazing.
John Pate - Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - 11:41am (USA Central)
This worked well enough, tho only if you went with the flow and relied on Robert Picardo to sell it. Clearly it was crass programming that an EMH - designed to be activated in an emergency! - would fail catastrophically when having to make an essentially arbitrary choice of life and death due to limited resources. Anyhoo, the came was up for this ep with "Renaissance Man" - why didn't the Doctor speed himself up or activate the back-up EMH. It's as if it works on first blush but when you think it thru you have discard the premises you've accepted to justify the artificial situation it relies on for its premise.
Damien - Wed, Mar 25, 2009 - 9:09am (USA Central)
I had no problems with this episode, it's one of Voyager's best. The quibbling about programming and priority resolution, etc, wasn't an issue for me, because the characterization (Picardo) and the narrative was of such high calibre. Yes, it's a common Trek theme - AIs are people too, but it's the telling of the story that counts, and this was done very effectively. The scene in the mess hall when the Doc goes into meltdown, alone was worth the price of admission.
Stefan - Wed, Mar 25, 2009 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
Damien's comment seems to be more about Robert Picardo than this episode. Picardo did an excellent job in this episode and Voyager in general. However, that only improves this episode from unwatchable to poor.
Damien - Thu, Mar 26, 2009 - 4:45am (USA Central)
Yes, I praised Picardo's performance, and seeing how he was the focus of the episode, that in no small part contributes to the enjoyment of the episode as a whole. I think some people get too hung up on unimportant detail and fail to appreciate the bigger picture.

For example, if I wanted to be pedantic, I could have taken issue when the Doctor spoke about the primordial atom bursting 20 billion years ago to create the universe. Well, the universe is actually about 13.7 billion years old and it wasn't an 'atom' that burst open.

Those (and other) details weren't important to the overall enjoyment of the story and its telling, which was very well done.
Bligo - Wed, Jul 22, 2009 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
@Damien

"unimportant detail" are the "the bigger picture"


"Well, the universe is actually about 13.7 billion years old and it wasn't an 'atom' that burst open."

If i wanted to be pedantic : Voyager doesnt take place today.It takes place in the future,funny thing about the future is that history is older then it is today :S (i.e the age of the universe)
Remco - Sun, Jul 26, 2009 - 11:30am (USA Central)
Stefan wrote:
"This episode, along with Kes always defending the Doctor's rights and the Nothing Human episode, shows that the Voyager crew was incapable of telling the difference between a humanoid and a hologram. They are simply computer programs with holographic bodies."

This is not true. The Doctor hologram is not a traditional computer program. It has been given the ability to 'go beyond the programming', basically rewrite parts of itself as it gains knowledge. That makes it indistinguishable from a humanoid intelligence, apart from actually having a lot of benefits such as perfect memory and a lack of an expiration date.

As Data once said: "I *am* better than you."
Stefan - Tue, Jul 28, 2009 - 8:34pm (USA Central)
Remco wrote:
"It has been given the ability to 'go beyond the programming', basically rewrite parts of itself as it gains knowledge."

That's makes the EMH an adaptive program, not human. Besides, it isn't going beyond its programming if the programming includes the ability to adapt.
Remco - Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - 5:23am (USA Central)
Humans are also simply adaptive programs, so the only difference between humans and adaptive holograms is that humans are programmed in DNA and made of carbon, while holograms are programmed in C and made of photons. When we use our cerebral cortex, we're also not really going beyond our programming.
Stefan - Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - 3:46pm (USA Central)
Scientists have built an android in Asia (this really happened). If they dismantle the android, would they have committed murder?

Based on your preceding comments, I believe you would answer "yes" to that question. Am I mistaken?
Remco - Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - 7:16pm (USA Central)
I am assuming that the android is very primitive. I'd say it is some kind of scientific killing, like animal experiments. As long as it is necessary and humanely executed, that's generally accepted and not called 'murder'.

Of course, animal experiments are controversial in their own right. A group like PETA does not approve of animal killings. I would consider a primitive artificial brain of the same class as animals, regardless of whether I approve of those kinds of killings or not.

When the brain becomes more sophisticated, like humans, then it becomes generally unacceptable to dismantle it, yes. So only then it would be murder.

I have a question for you: would you consider killing an extra-terrestrial life-form with humanoid (or above) intelligence murder?

If yes: what if that life-form does not have a quaternary code such as our own DNA, but a binary code? What if its nerves are made of copper? What if its brain is made of silicon? What if its limbs are made of steel?

If no: what if that life-form represents a civilization proposing an interstellar trade agreement? What if it told humanity that the repercussions for killing him would be interstellar war?

Oh, another question: what would you do if an alien with an off-the-charts IQ proved that humans have not evolved from dancing amino acids, but have been artificially created 200,000 years ago by them, and made to look like monkeys? Would you grant him the right to kill humans for scientific purposes?
Stefan - Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
Those questions are far-fetched hypotheticals. I asked you about something that is fact. I do believe that as technology improves in this area, all societies will need to decide the status of AIs. I believe androids will either be considered nothing more than human looking machines or will not be widely made. People will not create a large number of androids if those androids are to be considered the legal and/or moral equivalent of humans.
Remco - Thu, Jul 30, 2009 - 6:01am (USA Central)
You asked me about something that is fact, but your android is not of human-class intelligence. So that kind of intelligence is still hypothetical. We will eventually create something that equates or surpasses our own intelligence, but we will also at some point discover intelligent life, evolved here on Earth, or on a planet of Alpha Centauri. Those questions are relevant, whether they are hypothetical situations or not.

As for artificial life: if they won't be regarded as equivalents of human beings, you'll have a hard time keeping them enslaved. A fully functional AI will develop a need for survival and a moral system. Just like humans they will think about what it means to exist and what they want to do with their life. The only way to keep them in check is to destroy what makes them a human-class AI: limit or reset their brain if they become troublesome.

So either they will become real-life Cylons, breaking free and starting their own life, or they will be decimated at the first sign of trouble. I would protest against the latter.

What I'd do: Forbid mass-production of human-class androids. Create two androids and try to integrate them in society. Then take 20 years to learn from their lives and consider all aspects of what it means to be an android. After that, use that knowledge to build more, if that is appropriate.
Nic - Tue, Sep 22, 2009 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
Funny you should mention "Living Witness", an episode that occurs 700 years after this one. So any development in his character that occurred in this episode could not have an impact on future episodes. Confusing? Reset-button-ish? Maybe, but that would be a fault of "Living Witness" more than a fault of "Latent Image."

In my opinion, one of the best installments of the series, definitely deserved at least four stars.
Jay - Sat, Oct 3, 2009 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
The time frame here would have been when Kes was still aboard. This would have been a much better episode for her to guest star in rather than the abysmal Fury.
Banjo - Thu, Nov 19, 2009 - 6:58am (USA Central)
A.k.a. Red Dwarf's S2 "Thanks For The Memory", only not done as well.

Good (if stolen) idea with real potential... poor execution, IMO (typical Voyager plot-holes and idiocy abounds).
Michael - Thu, Jul 1, 2010 - 11:01am (USA Central)
Oh god... Forget continuity and all that. What I kept, increasingly exasperately and vocally, repeating during the entire episode is: He's a H-O-L-O-G-R-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-M!!!!!! I expect technology to advance quite a bit within the next four centuries but the notion of a computer-generated projection being self-aware, self-conscious and sentient is preposterous. Add to that a computer program grappling with an ethical dilemma over the course of several days, and the entire premise is beyond ludicrous. Computers will no doubt become increasingly human-like in terms of their interface and capabilities, but they'll remain just that: Computers. That hologram is no more human than the ship's plasma conduits, and - so far - we did not have counseling for them.

While the episode's beginning was very engaging and provoked curiosity, pretty soon we ended up basically having a HOLOGRAM with a self-confidence crisis throwing a tantrum. Why couldn't they just knock up a virtual Dr. Phil, like they did with the temporary Cardassian sub-doctor a few episodes back? A total abortion of an episode; I'd give it one and a half maximum.
Jeff - Fri, Jul 23, 2010 - 11:05am (USA Central)
I agree with Michael. The EMH is a hologram. The only medical officer Voyager has. I like Picardo's performance. He's probably the most consistently good actor of the VOY ensemble. And he does stellar work here again. The scene where he breaks down in the mess hall is one of my favorite EMH moments.

I just have problem with all of the EMH "trying to better myself" episodes. He is a computer program, made specifically to assist in emergency medical situation. In "The Swarm" it was shown how all of his recreational add ons were degrading his program.

I agree with Janeway's decision 100%. The EMH is the only doctor they have (I don't buy it, but fine). As a program the moment he starts degrading, medically speaking the crew is in real trouble. Paris is a medic only, Kes is gone and they have no other medical staff. The EMH was breaking down and without it they would have no doctor.

Yes, the EMH is a bit different because he does have personality and adaptive algorithms, etc. But in the end he is a medical tool, and the tool needed to be fixed.

And to leave the EMH pondering the his fate at the end was a bad decision. The possibility exists for this to happen again. A well acted episode, but yet another example of VOY not taking the ship's unique and dangerous situation seriously.
navamske - Wed, Aug 11, 2010 - 7:24pm (USA Central)
A minor annoyance: I thought it was lame that the dead woman's name on her birthday cake was "Ensign Jetal." OK, she's a totally disposable character, never seen before and never seen again, but there's no reason not to give her a first name. And in fact she did have a first name, Ahni -- Janeway said it during her memorial service. It would be like John Smith's work colleagues' throwing him a birthday party and having "Mr. Smith" written on the cake.

Otherwise, an enjoyable and affecting episode. I agree with many of the comments above, but that's why they call this science fiction -- sometimes it's more fiction than science.
Elliott - Sat, Aug 28, 2010 - 12:28am (USA Central)
Okay...this episode IS a followup to real life. What did Paris say? Doc would miss the whole point of having a family if he didn't deal with his daughter's death...

Just because the flipping Grand Nagus keeps showing up does not constitute "development." And conversely, the fact that old plots aren't always revisited doesn't mean the points behind them aren't drawn together: Generally, the Doc's development as a character haven't been at odds with his duties as the CMO--the exception being "The Swarm," which this episode also follows up. So, the crew has had no reason to inhibit his acting sentient as they have no personal motivation to do so. Locking up Paris is one thing, but no one can come close to replacing the Doctor's duties and his dilemma is so easily solved by wiping the slate. Just because the early seasons' issues aren't tiresomely pushed to the surface (DS9) doesn't mean they've vanished.

For the first time, the broader ramifications of the Doctor's development become clear, "We gave him a soul," says Janeway. This is a grave metaphysical issue and there's nothing out-of-place about it here. Not to mention, the Doctor stumbled upon it by accident 18 months after it occurred. Surely the crew had ceased worrying about it by then.

My biggest beef is that Janeway's hair is wrong in the flashbacks :p
Bill T - Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - 6:43pm (USA Central)
I complained about the massive complaining because most of the other complaints are unfair. I could take the best episode of Star Trek and drone on endlessly about minor details. The cake? Janeway's hair? Seriously?

This is at least a 3-star episode. I'd now maybe push it up to 3 1/2. The story was engaging and plausible, the characters were in-character and believable. The topic was unusual and thought-provoking. Where else could we have this kind of morality tale? This is Star Trek at its best, when instead of focusing on "the battle of the week" and the shields being at 29 percent, it tells a real, human story that wouldn't be possible in our real, human world.
Pete - Wed, Nov 3, 2010 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
This episode should really have been two episodes. The first should have aired before Seven joined the crew, when the issue of the Doctor's nature was still vague. It would have focused on the 'flashback' portion, but told in real time. Dealing with the issues then and there. Then Janeway erases the memories causing her to feel guilt which can play into many episodes after because it's left unresolved. Then Seven joins the crew then the following season should be the Doctor discovering the past and confronting Janeway and all the drama that follows.

But, alas, this is Voyager we're talking about.
Paul - Mon, Jan 24, 2011 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
"If i wanted to be pedantic : Voyager doesnt take place today.It takes place in the future,funny thing about the future is that history is older then it is today :S (i.e the age of the universe)"

Hmmm. By about three hundred years.

Remind me - what IS the result of the sum 13.7 billion + 300

Isn't that 13.7000003 billion years - or rounding to 6 significant figures - 13.7 billion?

Sorry, but if someone's trying to out-pedant someone else, they should say something quite so silly as to suggest that an extra 300 years makes a significant difference to how old the universe is.
Michael - Mon, Jan 24, 2011 - 9:34pm (USA Central)
Paul: But I thought the universe was barely 6,000 years old! ;-)
Iceblink - Tue, Aug 2, 2011 - 4:37am (USA Central)
Definitely a 'hmmm' episode. I liked the way it was built up, it was intriguing even though the mystery reminded me a lot of TNG's "Clues". Robert Picardo acts his socks off. It fell apart at the end for me though. I simply didn't buy the Doc's 'breakdown' over Jetal's death. He's been in far worse predicaments and been unaffected. As the key component of the plot, I just didn't quite buy it. I also agree that the way the other characters treat him - especially Janeway, who is coming across very unsympathetic this season - is an inexplicable regression. This story might have worked in the first or even second season but didn't quite fit at this point in the series. It kind of annoys me when the Voyager writers bend characterisation and what little progression there is in the narrative just to fit this week's plot. The episode started off so well - it all just fell apart a bit...
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:08pm (USA Central)
If they throw surprise birthday parties for everyone on the ship, then with a ship of 150 that amounts to about 3 of them a week. I think I'd get tired of attending them.
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
Also, if this is before Seven came on board, then Kes was still around. She had become quite a capable medic - pretty much surgeon - by then...she could have operated simultaneously with the Doctor. In fact, it was right towards the end of Kes's tenure on Voyager...she might have been able to perform the operation just by staring like she did when she dissolved that Borg implant in Seven's brain.
Nathan - Tue, Nov 8, 2011 - 1:12pm (USA Central)
"Computer, give me four arms."
Elliott - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 1:17am (USA Central)
I'll grant that it would have been fun if there were continuity clues built in to other episodes; like if Jetal had been someone in VOY's real history, or if, as Jay said, Kes had appeared in the flashbacks.

However, the philosophical core of this episode is absolutely rock solid. Built around that is an impeccable piece of character work regarding Doc. Framing that is a truly remarkable combination of acting, directing and scoring (Jammer didn't make note in his review of these latter two which, even among Voyager's usual good production, were standout here).

That's how you build an episode of Star Trek, and that's why this episode is one of the best.

4 stars.
paul - Sat, Dec 3, 2011 - 7:55am (USA Central)
Re: the age of the universe.

I think what the poster meant was that in 300 years, scientific advances would have given a new age for the universe.
Chris Harrison - Sun, Jan 8, 2012 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
To all those incredulous about the EMH having sentience: what do you think is so magical about skin and flesh?
Destructor - Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
I love that this episode has got so many comments!

Anyway I'm a huge fan of this one- the mystery at the beginning, and the second half that deals with the Doctor's breakdown. I personally agree more with Janeway's 'he's a toaster' argument, but I think this episode certainly gave a good argument as to why he is not just a hologram anymore, and I'd definitely give it four stars.
Justin - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 2:10pm (USA Central)
Jammer: "I have my skeptical "hmmms" about whether this story is a daring stretch of past material or a total disregard of it."

The answer is neither. It's perfectly consistent. I agree with Damien and Elliott on this one. People liken this episode to other episodes of Trek, like "Clues." Sure, but I daresay it's a lot better. Yet Jammer's review and many of the comments above heap a load of irrelevant, unfair criticism on this episode.

From the mysterious teaser opening right down to the poignant literary reference at the end, "Latent Image" is indeed a 4 star episode that gets right to the heart of what Star Trek is all about. This is one of those episodes where the moral dilemma presented in the story, and the character development that results from it are SO compelling that it transcends its own plot contrivances, minor continuity gaffes, and any viewer's attempt at nitpicking. An exploration of the nature of guilt and our relationship with it is always a worthy subject. And yes, the Doctor IS sentient. Whether its synapses or subroutines, guilt is guilt. It is something that is at the root of the human condition and it can consume any person just like it nearly did the Doc.

Also, Jammer's question about whether or not Doc's decision making was adequately explored prior to this episode is immaterial. The events over which his guilty conscience is torturing him took place before Seven came on board, when the nature of Doc's programming/personality was still very much in question. It was season 3 at the latest, possibly earlier.

Jammer, based on some of your S5 ratings and forays into questionable nitpicking I'm wondering if your objectivity regarding Voyager had become more than a bit clouded by this point. It's like you're giving it 3 stars, but you feel have to rationalize why it deserves even that much, despite the worthy subject matter. And honestly, unless it's downright awful who really cares about the music? The music in the flashback scene you mention wasn't great, but it certainly wasn't awful, or even inappropriate. Then there's the fact that you knew that there would never be a followup, yet you don't provide a reason why it needed one, except to say that it really, really did.

It didn't. The ending was meant to be ambiguous and yet convey to the viewer that the issue of Doc's guilt was settled for the most part. At least to the point where it was understood he'd be OK, but he'd be probably be carrying this emotional baggage around for the rest of his life. Just like a human would. If that's not enough, then hey, just use your imagination.

On the same token, if this review is partially the result of prejudice against VOY, it's certainly understandable. VOY had been at best mediocre and at worst terrible through most of the first 4 seasons. However, at this point in the game they were on THE BEST run of quality shows they had ever aired. And the hits will keep on coming. VOY S5 is right up there with TNG S3 and DS9 S4, imo.
Justin - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 2:11pm (USA Central)
@Michael, once again your comments illustrate that Star Trek in any of its forms really isn't your thing. If exploring the human condition doesn't hold your interest, try watching Transformers or Clone Wars instead.
Nic - Thu, Jul 5, 2012 - 8:14am (USA Central)
In the late-90s, 20 billion was the accepted figure for the age of the universe, which is why that figure is used by the Doctor. It was only several years after this episode was produced that scientists brought down their estimate to 13.7 billion.

I can understand them not bringing back Kes just for one surgery scene where she wasn't really needed, but they could at least have changed Janeway's hair and Tuvok's rank to match the time frame. It also would have been nice for the dead crewwoman to be someone we'd seen before.

Finally, I agree it would also have been nice to see some follow-up, but that is a fault of the series, not the episode. I think DS9's "Hard Time" had a more pressing need for follow-up than this one.
Curtis - Tue, Jul 31, 2012 - 5:05am (USA Central)
This episode starts out fantastically. Then, I found it just petered out and the ending was such a letdown. I mean, after a neat mystery plot, the resolution is to let him rant until he figures it out on his own? Let's sit in the bare holodeck for hours? I really dislike this episode now.

I agree with another poster how Kes should have been mentioned and Janeway's hair and Tuvok's rank altered to reflect the time period. It's like they didn't even try. And Ensign Jetal comes out of nowhere even though she was so liked that the crew, including the senior staff, throw her a birthday party.

I think what drives me crazy is how this decision that the doctor can't come to terms with is so weak. He's dealt with way worse. Two patients will never be the same and have the exact diagnosis and prognosis. The Doctor goes on and on about the decisions in life yet he's been programmed to make decisions and we've seen him do it before. Every time I see this episode, I say, "Kim is a frickin bridge officer! He's part of the senior staff!" Kim takes priority if both patients are the 'same'.
Grumpy - Tue, Aug 21, 2012 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
Eighteen months before this show, Kim's life really was in jeopardy... in "Scorpion part 2." The tiebreaker was, of course, People magazine. And that's why Doc was ashamed.

I can easily believe that Menosky would spice up an Asimovian robopsychology tale with backstage metahumor.
Cail Corishev - Sun, Sep 23, 2012 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
Very little about the EMH makes sense. Since sickbay is apparently a specialized holodeck, it should be able to produce multiple doctors and nurses. If you say it was only provided with enough memory to hold one doctor for emergency purposes, they should move sickbay to one of the holodecks. Failing that, Doc could at least copy himself into the mobile emitter and have two versions of himself going at once. And he could certain do functions faster than he can tell a human what to do.

(But once you go down that road, you start to realize that the ship itself could navigate, fly, and diagnose itself better and faster than the crew possibly can, so they should all be in the holodecks partying except for the occasional need for an engineer to plug something in.)

Having said all that, I enjoyed the show. Picardo does a great job of making the doctor human. I think instead of having him get "stuck" on the issue of a 50/50 decision, he should have just been affected by being unable to save someone close to him. Normally it wouldn't bother him, but because he's been "expanding his programming," especially by having a family, he's now affected by death and isn't equipped to handle it.

I didn't have a problem with Janeway's solution, though I didn't think it needed to have anything to do with Doc's "rights as an individual." If a human crew member had a mental breakdown because of some trauma and couldn't seem to get over it, and they determined that they could excise that one memory and make the person healthy again, wouldn't they do it? And mightn't it be the kindest thing?
Sybok - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 10:33am (USA Central)
Youre forgetting one thing....

What does God need with a starship?
dale sams - Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - 9:34pm (USA Central)
Two things:

1) I'm surprised no one has mentioned the great job they did to get one to actually care about Ensign Never Seen Before. I guess it was a combo of the actress being so cute and charming and the job make-up did of really effing her and Kim up, as opposed to the usual char mark on the chest.

2)Man I miss Star Trek. Even kinda crappy Voyager.

The new movies are fine for what they are, but it's a dead-end. I feel no emotional connection to those people. I was more moved by Winona Ryder biting it then I ever would be by any of the regulars.
Q - Sat, Dec 29, 2012 - 10:50am (USA Central)
But dale, we have Trek... Unauthorized, but Trek: Cawley's (I love that man!), Russ', Caves', Broughton's, Cook's et.c.
Cawley's New Voyages (or Phase II) episode "World Enough and Time" (with Takei, Majel's voice and beautiful Christina Moses) was Hugo and Nebula Nominee (just like '09).
And - last but not least - "Into Darkness" premiere is planned for next year's May.
silk - Thu, Mar 7, 2013 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
It seems like in military/command terms, Kim would have been the correct patient to save. This is how the real world military works, and most likely it would have been a very simple decision.

But the EMH was a pretty new invention, right? And it wasn't meant to run all the time. It's quite possible the logic to choose between patients based on military value either wasn't yet in the Doctor's programming, or it was flawed.

Even if it worked perfectly and he chose to save Kim for the correct technical reasons, his new personality subroutines and relationship with Kim may have made him suspect his judgment.

Definitely though the episode should have occurred far earlier in the series. Janeway's replicator comparison seemed absolutely ancient.

Despite the issues though it was worth it for a great episode.
Mad - Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - 1:45am (USA Central)
I really don't get why so many people don't accept Doctor as human. If we are willing to accept Data as human, why not Doctor? Much like with Moriarty, it doesn't matter how it happened, the point is that it happened. He is a person.
Adara - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 6:07pm (USA Central)
I agree, Mad. Janeway is an artificial life form racist, as are many of the people who have commented here. If DNA can create sentience, why not any other program?
Michael - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 9:16am (USA Central)
@Adara:
Wow, "racist." I guess the term means nothing anymore when it gets bandied about like this.

DNA *CAN* create sentience, but does it? The watermelon has DNA; does that make it sentient!?

Fact is, the Doctor (who, alongside Tuvok, is by far my most favorite character) is acting and indeed *existing* pursuant to the subroutines programmed into him and not by virtue of -- for want of a better word -- a soul. Does he have self-awareness and, if so, did it evolve or was it programmed?

The E.M.H. is a very advanced computer. What makes resetting his program any different from reinstalling Windows on our workstations? The fact that Windows doesn't (yet) come with a self-awareness .dll? Now THAT is a racist proposition!
skadoo - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 9:50pm (USA Central)
So no one had a problem with the last scene where they're sitting in an empty hollodeck with eons of space between them? Why wouldn't they have replicated a living room or other cozy locale. Have the Captain sit near by maybe even call up his hollodeck family to provide him some comfort. It was almost as if they decided to ditch the ending and came up with this part on the fly.

I also hated the "he's like a toaster" analogy that Janeway uses. I thought it was cruel and not indicative of how she interacts with the Dr. Kinda like her feelings stepped back a couple of years or something. Like they used an old script they'd previously put on the discard pile?

I wasn't much of a fan of this episode but with all of the comments I'll have to watch it again.

Hmmmm.
Ian - Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - 2:54am (USA Central)
The episode was good for what it was, another "what is humanity/individuality,"(TM) episode.
But frankly NOTHING is ever exactly equal in real life...
A real, if rather cold-blooded solution, to the dilemna would be which officer is more useful to the crew? A trained bridge officer like Harry Kim or whatever the other officer did?
Nancy - Wed, Aug 7, 2013 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
This episode had me emotionally engaged from the get-go. The Doctor is one of my favorite characters in the entire Star Trek canon. I was invested in his memory restoration. The mystery intrigued me. When Janeway compared him to a replicator, it angered me, as did the crew's treatment of him with the exception of Seven. I was relieved when Janeway changed her mind.

The ability for an episode to move me like that is how I gauge it. I can't argue with many of the plot holes pointed out in the comments (although a few are suspect). Like Justin, however, I believe this episode transcends them. I typically notice such things as well, but this episode had me so engaged they didn't occur to me until I came here.

Even the one moment that I thought dragged a bit - the Doctor sitting in a barren holodeck with a bored/sleeping Janeway - was redeemed by the beautiful moment when the Doctor picks up the book to help him understand himself better. As a professor of literature who sometimes has to deal with students majoring in science, math, etc. complaining about such literature courses having no "practical" value, I see in that moment an expression of why i feel they do indeed, and why I chose my career.

Picardo is brilliant, and while this episode isn't perfect, I find it to be evocative at a very deep level. As such, I applaud it regardless of its relatively minor flaws. An excellent episode.
Nancy - Wed, Aug 7, 2013 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
I want to address a comment made earlier by Cail Corishev that I doubt he'll ever see, but I feel compelled to say something.

To justify the deletion of the doctor's memory, he argues it would be the "kindest" thing to "excise" the memory of a human crew member who'd had a "mental breakdown." We'll, that's something that's been tried before. In the past, mentally ill people were often lobotomized against their will to "cure" them. Their argument was exactly the same a yours: it was "kinder" to have them rendered incapable of higher cognition, since their thoughts were so disturbing to them.

Now medical professionals see how terribly misguided that was. I personally can think of few things more horrifying than someone "excising" bits of your brain to "cure" you of mental illness. One is made better by dealing with trauma, not by operations. Your casual promotion of this outdated philosophy frankly appalls me.
April - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 12:31am (USA Central)
I get what the story's supposed to be about, but I still think that Janeway may have done the right thing for the wrong reason.

Forget rights for a moment, and remember we've seen dilemmas like this KILL AIs before. Remember Rayna Kapec from Requiem for Methuselah? Or any of the other AIs from TOS that Kirk paradoxed to death. Maybe The Doctor would come out of this all right, and maybe it would've destroyed him. They had no way of knowing.

Is it worth letting him die just to "prove" that he's "human?"
Niall - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 12:19pm (USA Central)
This is an ambitious but bad episode; everything about it is contrived. The Doctor's "going crazy" is overwritten and overplayed to a ridiculous and campy extreme, and is unrealistic. The plot specifics - the ensign we've never seen before and the evil alien of the week - are also highly contrived. Moreover, the Doctor could have easily treated both patients at once. There's no reason he must be restricted to humanoid form - he could easily have lengthened his arms, pointed one eye in each direction and treated both Kim and Ensign Redshirt at the same time. After all, we saw that the treatment involved little more than holding a device to the patient's head - so the dialogue about the procedure being too complex for Paris to perform also rings hollow. The ending, with the doctor rambling on and on in the holodeck while the ship's captain "monitors" him (for 16+ hours on end, no less) is terrible.

Seven is superb as usual and her dialogue is brilliantly written and delivered.
The Sisko - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
I don't get it. Why does everybody keep getting worked up about unimportant details, such as the plausibility of The Doctor being a sentient being? Can't you just enjoy the show for what it is? People have to learn to suspend disbelief when watching a freaking TV show, for god's sakes. Stop complaining already. This episode is clearly one of Voyager's absolute best character pieces. Easy 4 stars from me.
The Sisko - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
It makes me sad that so many people do not appreciate this episode fully. As Bill said, it's episodes like this one where Star Trek shines the most. If you can't enjoy this one, then why do you watch VOY at all? It can't be for "The Killing Game", after all.
domi - Thu, Oct 3, 2013 - 9:15pm (USA Central)
Man, Janeway's comparison of the Doctor to a food replicator made me cringe. I thought we got past that after the first season. A fine example of the inconsistent writing that we've all talked about.

Despite this, I found it a good episode the first time I saw it. Unfortunately it doesn't stand up that well to repeated viewings.

Also, regarding Harry Kim's reaction...he could have been playing dumb but perhaps he really didn't remember the surgery? Maybe they never told him? It is indeed a bit of a loose thread.
Nick - Fri, Nov 8, 2013 - 3:49pm (USA Central)
This episode covered a lot of ground in a remarkably short amount of time.

Several observations:

- Seven is once again used to defend the rights of individuality, this time of the doctor, to the protestations of the rest of the 'human' crew.

- While captain and crew clearly care for the doctor's well-being, they display a distinct prejudice against the notion a computer program can be sentient...at least by their initial hasty decision to lobotomize the Doctor, rather than working out the 'bugs' in his programing in a more elegant fashion.

- the Doctor must fight for his right to live with the consequences of his choices, the knowledge of his failure...not unlike the legal battle Data fought to be recognized as an individual in 'The Measure of a Man'. In fact, the fight for survival of the Doctor's 'essence' is much like the replicants fight in Bladerunner.

- the Doctor reacts realistically much like a computer program that has two competing bits of data that must be resolved. He freezes, just like a computer would, and his program goes into an infinite loop, forcing a shut-down and restart. --for once a Voyager episode relies on some actual Sci-fi, and not magic or fantasy! Bravo!

- the ending was innovative, showing the crew coming to terms with their initial mistake to 'erase the pain' of the doctor (echoes of star trek V there!), and shoes them devoting their time to listen to his existential angst in the hope he eventually reaches a catharsis---thereby adding that little extra bit of complexity to his program and becoming a better doctor, a better sentient life-form for it.

A very good episode in the fine tradition of ST:TNG.
Jons - Sat, Dec 7, 2013 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
I'd really like all these "he's just a computer program!" people to define what they think sentience is.

The dictionary defines is as such: "responsive to or conscious of sense impressions". Then the doctor is definitely sentient. And if it's "to be aware of one's self", then the doctor is also perfectly sentient.

The fact is, most humans don't like to be reminded they're just animals, and like animals they're "programmed" by their genes. A human will never do something that their genes don't allow them to do. Never. Just like the doctor cannot do something his programming doesn't allow him to do. What is the difference, except that we know how to modulate technology better than we know how to modulate our genes?
Corey - Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
4 stars; brilliant episode.

Picardo ranks this as his favourite incidentally.
Ric - Tue, Apr 22, 2014 - 12:34am (USA Central)
Amazingly good episode, terrific questions being raised. Very solid acting and pretty strong dialogues. Picardo is fantastic and the speech Seven gave to the captain is one of the best I've seen in any Trek show.

Sure, it is outrageous that the captain was willing to erase Doc’s memory without him even having the chance of (re)knowing why. Actually, to even consider imposing that to someone who is already taken as a person, is morally absurd. So, in this case, also out of character. Let’s face it: it does not matter how important the Doc is for Voyager because he is the only doctor around. Either he is considered a living being (although non-biological and therefore different just as Data) and should have more rights than a replicator. Or he is as a machine as a replicator and they should stop letting him grow as an individual and develop “a soul”. Within Trek’s moral standard, it cannot be something that varies according to the crew's necessities, like some people here seem to think. It means, it cannot be a matter of mere pragmatic choice. As well as it cannot be a matter of "enough-philosophy-authoritarian-is-in-his-best-interest" decisions.

In fact, the captain once again shows how much she is capable of making wrong, bad decisions. In the beginning it was looking like the episode would be just one more case Voyager bringing good episodes, very good main plots, built over an irritatingly bad initial plot device. However, all of that came full circle in the end, since it was nice to see that at least in this episode the captain was able to address and recognize that she may have done a moral mistake. That was a marvelous touch! Very moving and actually ended making the episode even better. How moving it was to see her taking care of the Doc, her talking with Seven, he assuming to the Doc that she was biased by his nature. What a contradictory (in a good way) episode. What a deep questioning both on Doc's hand and on the captain's hands. What a mature ending. Certainly 4 stars, a score of 10 out of 10. Easily easily. One of the bet episodes the how Trek.
K'Elvis - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
Comparing the Doctor to a replicator seems to contradict the previous seasons, as they have treated the Doctor as if he is a person; their actions over the course of the series make no sense if they thought he was "just" a machine.

Yes, the Doctor is running on a computer, what about it? If you think that means he's no more a person than a toaster is, then you reject AI, and you have to throw a whole lot of Star Trek out the window to so so. There's nothing wrong with thinking that strong AI is impossible, but that just isn't the way it works in the Star Trek universe. Both Data and the Doctor run on a computer, what their bodies are made of isn't important. Just because the doctor is a person with a mind, doesn't mean that anything that runs on a computer is a person with a mind.

This is one of my favorite episodes. The Doctor wasn't intended to be used over the long term. "Coin flip" decisions wouldn't have been a problem for an EMH that was being used as intended, that is, only for short periods. The key part of this episode is when the Doctor raves about having chosen to save Kim because Kim was his friend. That's an ethical situation which could drive a flesh-and-blood doctor crazy. If the EMH had been used as intended, he wouldn't have any friends, and thus there wouldn't have been the distress over choosing his friend.

The Professor - Tue, May 27, 2014 - 10:51am (USA Central)
Jammer. This episode deserved higher than three stars.
Robert - Tue, May 27, 2014 - 11:15am (USA Central)
My 2 cents about "how" the dilemma happened. Those criticizing that the Doctor should have been programmed with tie breaking software/etc... how do you know he wasn't. Perhaps he was designed to toss a mental coin in those cases and instead made a decision to not do so. That explains quite a lot about what happened and is how I choose to see it.

I doubt very much a freshly activated EMH would have any issue resolving this, if a computer program can't pick between A and B because they have equal priority a good programmer would have just let the EMH toss a coin. But OUR EMH doesn't handle problems in that fashion anymore because he's grown. And that's why he started freaking out. Because he made a decision and somebody died. It's easy when you're programming made the decision to sleep at night, but when you decided? Because he was your friend?

I'm not saying there aren't issues, but the concept holds up to me.
Corey - Sun, Jun 8, 2014 - 7:45am (USA Central)
Wow, watched this again after having watched it a few months ago. Still 4 stars Jammer! 4 stars! If any Voyager deserves your love, it's this one. Counterpoint, which precedes it, is a wonderful episode as well.

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