Star Trek: Voyager

"Critical Care"


Air date: 11/1/2000
Teleplay by James Kahn
Story by Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty
Directed by Terry Windell

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I'm going to expose you!"
"To whom? The people who employ me? They brought me here to make the hard choices they don't want to make."

— The Doctor and Chellick

In brief: An effective but not fully realized allegory on the bureaucracy of medical care.

In "Critical Care," Doc wakes up one morning (figuratively speaking, of course) and finds himself in the most chaotic wing of an alien hospital. He's thrust into an extreme situation which is written very consciously by the Voyager writers to be extreme. In the spirit of shows like last season's "Memorial" and "One Small Step," this outing goes down as another effective Voyager "message show" — the story emerges from a premise that is telling a story specifically to make a point.

Is the story's message in your face? Well, not to a point that makes it remotely unpalatable. But like "Memorial" and "One Small Step," the point is not going to escape you, because it's right there, front-and-center. It's just as well. "Critical Care" is an allegory that works on its story terms and also as something that wants to be a Classic Trekkian Commentary. After last week's awful "Repression," which wasn't about anything at all, "Critical Care" is a relief in that it turns out to be about something. And it's about it well. It plays like a good, substantive episode of The Original Series.

The allegory targets the bureaucratic corporate-ness of HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations), which too frequently seem more interested in the bottom line than in serving their customers (patients) efficiently. No, HMOs aren't The Devil, and they aren't anything remotely approaching what's depicted in "Critical Care," but there are points here that echo the bureaucratic nonsense that patients (customers) must sit through in dealing with some HMOs, as when Dr. Voje (Paul Scherrer) tells Doc that his request must be made by filling out and submitting a form in triplicate.

Quick story. One of my coworkers injured her wrist on the job last December. That was nearly a year ago, yet today she still suffers from significant pain that interferes with simple daily activities. She probably should've had surgery long ago. The case is long and complicated, but I can assure you that the insurance companies and medical providers haven't been particularly helpful in resolving the case in any way that would avoid her stress. Perhaps the biggest kick in the head came when she got a letter saying she was suspected of making the whole thing up. Believe me, if I'd been put through the amount of nonsense she has endured, I'd probably be doing research into these companies and setting fire to their headquarters by now.

In "Critical Care," the writers turn up the heat and make the consequences more dire. Reducing patients to impersonal numbers isn't simply a side effect of inefficient corporate operation; it's an intentional means to reach a rather cynical end that has been deemed necessary by the societal Powers That Be. And the consequences extend far beyond the mere decomposition of one's patience and peace of mind, and instead lead straight into death.

The plot point used to drop Doc into this situation is that he has been stolen by a scheming opportunist named Gar (John Kassir) and sold to a medical facility on a troubled world. This facility — indeed the entire society — is lacking in resources when it comes to medical treatment. This particular area of the hospital is depicted as an understaffed, overwhelmed, dim, dank, chaotic ER. With the priority of the Hippocratic Oath taking over, Doc puts aside the fact he has been abducted and quickly lends his medical talents.

The hospital administrator, Chellick (Larry Drake), witnesses Doc's abilities firsthand and decides he would be better utilized in another section of the hospital known as Level Blue. Doc is moved out of the chaotic Level Red wing up to Level Blue ... which looks to be about as advanced as Voyager's sickbay.

It's here where the story unleashes its allegory-via-absurdity approach. Level Blue treats patients who, quite simply, do not require the treatment they're getting. Crucial medicine that would save lives on Level Red is wasted on Level Blue to proactively treat possible medical conditions that do not yet exist in these patients, and may never exist. "It increases life expectancy" is about the best justification Doc is supplied by Chellick and Level Blue Dr. Dysek (Gregory Itzin). Medicine is rationed by "The Allocator," the pre-programmed hospital computer, which was supplied its inflexible directives by Administrator Chellick. Doc is outraged. His outrage is irrelevant. Chellick tells him in no uncertain terms that This Is The Way It Is.

Why are patients on Level Blue afforded such better treatment than those on Level Red? Simple: It comes down to something called the "TC" — "Treatment Coefficient" — a formula essentially derived from a patient's current value to society (engineers who work on projects important to society have a higher TC than, say, expendable mine laborers). Patients with a higher TC get the priority for medical resources, even if they don't really need them.

What's amazing is how close to plausible Chellick is able to make his reasoning seem. There's a potent scene where Doc confronts Chellick's cold, numeric approach to patient treatment, to which Chellick responds that this once-dying society has improved dramatically under such measures. I liked that Larry Drake's performance wasn't one of a villain so much as a cold, inflexible pragmatist who has been given a job to do and is determined to do it ("They brought me here to make the hard choices they don't want to make") even if it means the lower tiers of society may be paying with their lives.

This doesn't for one second wash with Doc, however, who makes it his new mission to save the lives on Level Red, which he does by stealing medicine from Level Blue and taking it to Level Red. While on this mission he recruits reluctant Level Red Dr. Voje, who is a wonderful example of a decent guy trying to do his job within the confines of a system much bigger than him. Doc pushes at Voje to bend and eventually break the rules to give better treatment to the patients of Level Red (manipulating the TC of patients and later administering them stolen medicine). Voje is understandably reluctant and annoyed; when you've been brought up on an ethics system as screwed up as this one, turning around and risking your career to oppose it isn't necessarily the first thing to come to mind.

The Level Red situation is reduced via microcosm to a teenager named Tebbis, who is played fetchingly — almost to a fault — by Dublin James. He's a Sick Boy and a Nice Kid, and thus might as well have "Dead Meat" scrawled across his forehead in a story like this. I liked the doctor/patient relationship established between Tebbis and Doc, even if Tebbis ends up as the episode's thematic equivalent of the proverbial drowned kittens.

Indeed, one of the real strengths of "Critical Care" is the way it portrays Doc completely in the role of a healer. He takes pleasure in his work, where the highest reward is in making the sick get well. And when Tebbis unexpectedly dies and Doc learns that Chellick sat by and let it happen because the rules said so, there's a scene where Doc stares at Chellick with a look of disbelief that is conveyed about as well as surprised disgust can be. (Picardo, as usual, puts in stellar work.)

There are other really good moments here, like when Doc cleverly uses the backwardness of the system against itself, convincing Dysek that using more resources on Level Blue will lead to getting more resources (which Doc then steals and routes straight into Level Red). I also liked the riff on automated bureaucracy in the recorded message that greets Janeway when she tries to hail the medical facility.

What only worked kinda-sorta for me, however, was the ending. It seemed kind of ... anticlimactic. The idea of making Chellick a patient in his own hospital is appropriate enough, but what happens in the final act lacks a certain follow-through and ends up being pretty simple. And it doesn't really come to any resolution: By having Chellick cave in to Doc's demands at the last moment, we're not really solving any problems. Perhaps we're not supposed to be solving anything, but the story's mistake, I think, is that it doesn't really commit to a larger picture for the ending, one way or the other. Do things get better after Doc's intervention, or worse? Is any change effected? Should there be?

I also didn't quite understand Dysek's motives in going along with Doc's use of this "leverage" over Chellick. Early in the episode Dysek seems to buy completely into Chellick's way of doing things as a matter of necessity, but by the end he flip-flops without much in terms of motivation.

I guess it doesn't much matter, because the episode is about this isolated case involving Doc, and it keeps the focus on him. By the end, it indicates a certain growth on Doc's part, permitting him to infect a man with a disease in order to save a dozen others. It's an ironic situation, and it's good that the episode — and Doc himself — realizes this is the case. For Doc it's a conflict that shouldn't be permitted by his programming, because his ethics are clear: Do no harm. But something else — call it necessity — takes over in him by the end of "Critical Care." Interesting.

Next week: Lt. Barclay as a pawn to ... Ferengi?

Previous episode: Repression
Next episode: Inside Man

◄ Season Index

50 comments on this review

Thu, Dec 13, 2007, 8:42am (UTC -5)
I just watched this today and thought it was an effective allegory on *nationalized/socialized* healthcare (such as Great Britain, Canada, Cuba), which often has to ration its limited resources when it claims to be "free" (aka taxpayers) for everyone.

The acting was good, as were the special effects shots. I also loved the scene with Janeway and Tuvok and the captain explaining she "already has a man." The reactions in that shot were priceless.
Jakob M. Mokoru
Fri, Feb 22, 2008, 2:27pm (UTC -5)
Interesting: I felt the episode being an allegory on the United States health care system as percieved here in Austria: Highest medical standard in the world - but not available for a large group of the population.
Tue, Apr 1, 2008, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
I watched this for the first time the other day. It was clearly intended as an allegory against the US system, but I also saw that it would work very well against socialism, where the government decides priorities. Really, when you don't have Star Trek replicators, all resources (including medical resources) are finite and need to be rationed somehow.

The bit where the kid says he was assigned to work in the mines and would never get a chance to train as a doctor adds to the socialist feel; it sounds just like a communist government deciding where each individual can best serve *society*.

It would have been interesting if the Doctor's decision had some negative trade-offs...if the doctor over-allocating medical supplies lead to real difficulties for the people (perhaps they end up without enough medication when a plague hits the planet later on). Of course, this would have likely required a follow-up episode, something Voyager is ill-equipped to do.

It's easy to argue using more resources *right now* when you're going off in a starship, never to see the planet again. Those that stay behind have to deal with long term issues that have been conveniently ignored.
Thu, May 1, 2008, 12:01am (UTC -5)
My favorite part of this episode had nothing to do with the main story...the sequence where Janeway and Tuvok go through a chain of people to try to find the Doctor was standout, and not just because of the part where Janeway pretends she's dating Tuvok. Instead of the "urgent search" angle that usually comes up in these episodes, Janeway is portrayed as completely bored and annoyed with all of the people she's having to deal with. That's perfect, a nice changeup.
Mon, Mar 9, 2009, 7:15pm (UTC -5)
I agree with methane.
Here in the States, the overriding factor in whether you receive adequate care (if you don't have insurance) is your ability to pay. Suppose you're a garbageman (or "waste processor," like in the episode) who has cancer and no insurance. In this episode, the centrally-planned, socialist/communist/utilitarian "Allocator" would have deemed you unworthy based upon occupation. In real life, your wealthy brother gives you money and you, the garbageman, get the care you need.

Sat, Jun 27, 2009, 10:28pm (UTC -5)
I just finished watching this episode and it seems especially relevant given the current debate in Congress about health care legislation. It's amazing how Star Trek stories stand the test of time.

I agree with Daniel. I felt that the search sequence had some very entertaining scenes. Especially the crew's reaction to Janeway's impromptu relationship with Tuvok.
Mon, Sep 7, 2009, 5:31pm (UTC -5)
Say what you will about the Nhs (british system), it works a hell of a lot better than what you get in the states. I hope for your sakes that Obama gets his way.
Dean Gr
Wed, Sep 16, 2009, 11:08am (UTC -5)
After reading some of the comments, I was taken aback at how differently I can interpret an episode from others. As an allegory on healthcare, the Doctor was upholding, to me, the noblest principles when he argued for the life of Tebbis, and against the inhumanity of giving treatment for "arterial aging" on the one hand, when this medicine was essential to Tebbis.

I suppose, as a citizen, if you are priviledged in money or ability, you can always access Level Blue. To me, the ultimate inhumanity is not even to think about those less fortunate - to be as blithley indifferent (to making things better) as was Dr. Dysek in the beginning.

The similarity to the US healthcare debate is striking. It is telling that during Obama`s speech to the Joint Congress, there was not universal moral outrage that currently US insurance companies can kick people off coverage when they are dying, because they are no longer profitable as customers. If you are rich, you get Level Blue treatment, or can sue if you don`t, if you lack money, you`re stuck in Level Red.

A large insurance company in a capitalist economy can be as unaccountable, and bureaucratic, as the old Soviet Union. Socialism, to me, is about from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs - it means moving toward Star Trek`s utopia. I can`t speak for all Canadians, but putting tax dollars towards universal healthcare or education makes more sense than having a huge military or using the technicalities of legal agreements, as some large US companies do, to exploit the weak.
Ken Egervari
Sun, Dec 20, 2009, 1:55am (UTC -5)
Perfectly good episode. Not amazing, but quite liked it all around. The B-plot with the thief was a little lacking, but the Doctor's A-plot was very good all around.

If only Voyager could string together 2 episodes of such quality in a row. Somehow that doesn't seem likely ;)

On to the next episode... wish me luck...
Mon, Feb 15, 2010, 10:54am (UTC -5)
HI Jammer and everyone,

Does anyone remember a VOY episode when the ship docks for repairs at an apparently abandoned station and the stations computer starts to do bad things?
I am going through all VOY episodes and reached S7 so far and I have not seen it. I would have sworn I saw that when I was younger.
Does anyone know what episode that is?
Mon, Feb 15, 2010, 12:20pm (UTC -5)
Are you sure you're not thinking of the Enterprise episode "Dead Stop"?
Mon, Feb 15, 2010, 9:44pm (UTC -5)
Thanks, that episode looks like the one. Would have sworn it was VOY
Wed, May 5, 2010, 6:07pm (UTC -5)
Prime Directive. Violation of. Check and mate.
Fri, Jul 16, 2010, 5:31am (UTC -5)
Not content with turning every other episode of Voyager into a soap-operette and/or Dr. Phil, there has to be a pervading theme of political correctness interwoven thru the entire series. This time: Universal health care.

Now, I'm all for saving people's lives. Providing medical treatment to everybody should come ahead of spending on defense or supporting the long-term unemployed. But this episode is a very thinly-veiled attempt at socialist indoctrination. ("Reallocation" of Who the hell is The Doc to be pontificating to other races how to organize their health care system? Not only that, but he (it?) takes concrete steps to subvert that system and that is portrayed as laudable! Whatever happened to cultural sensitivity, inclusivity and relativism? Isn't that a hallowed pinnacle of political correctness?

Oh, and screw the Prime Directive!


Loved the scene of Janeway grabbing a hold of Tuvok's hand and his reaction! :)))))))

The episode is fun to watch but it's sanctimonious and its instigation is execrable. Two stars and a letter to the scriptwriters to keep their schnozzles out of politics.
Thu, Oct 28, 2010, 7:44am (UTC -5)
Just as the Vulcan nerve pinch seems unfailingly to work on every alien species to which it is applied -- and even to a horselike creature in "STV: The One That Sucked" -- here the Doctor is activated in a facility populated by members of species we have no reason to think he's even ever seen before and immediately starts treating them, even prescribing medicine for them. Bad. One throwaway line of dialogue could have fixed this.
Sun, Mar 13, 2011, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
All that medical story unfolding and all that starhopping looking for Garr and the entirety of the episode was the span of four days?
Tue, Mar 22, 2011, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
This episode can be viewed as a critique of free market health care, especially HMOs, or as a critique of government run health care. The episode never reveals which was intended by the writers and producers, assuming they had a preference. Notice how Chellick never said who hired him (government or business). Also, the reference to paperwork being in triplicate could apply to an HMO (as Jammer inferred) or to a government bureaucracy.

So when watching this episode decide what you DON'T want running this nation's health care (HMO or government) and imagine that the Doctor is fighting that organization. That way, everybody can enjoy this episode.
Wed, Mar 30, 2011, 11:39pm (UTC -5)
"...there has to be a pervading theme of political correctness interwoven thru the entire series."

Are you kidding? One assumes you're a big enough fan of Star Trek to not only bother reading amateur reviews but commenting on them, and you're still amazed at the PC thread to the series?? This is one of the DEFINING aspects of Trek, and has been ever since the very beginning. If you hate this, then seriously - why on earth watch it? It can't be for the hard-core SF factor, as Trek science is notoriously wobbly.
Mon, Apr 4, 2011, 4:57pm (UTC -5)
Fascinating that this episode should follow the huge debate in the comments for the previous episode, where a flame war is raging about communism vs. capitalism.

As I suggested there, I think extremes either side are where it all goes wonky, and this episode illustrates that thought quite nicely: it works for either system when taken to extremes.

It works for capitalism - which in itself could also be seen as a merit system particularly in America where wealth is highly respected. If you don't have the money, you die. If you do and are considered valuable to your society (let's say Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple), you survive when 99.9% of others wouldn't have had a chance.

It also works for communism which ironically (for Trek) is what I think was being aimed at here. When taken to extremes, only those valuable to society are treated. Less valuable, you die. Too much of a drain on resources, you are terminated (though there seems to be safeguards in place to try and prevent people being a drain on resources in the first place. Gee.)

Just shows that it's not all black and white.

I think the UK system is fine - basic healthcare is provided for all and they do what they can. It's not perfect - it can be disturbingly similar in some cases (3 patients need a liver transplant... one runs the country, one is a normal guy and one is an alcoholic. Guess which one gets it) but I suppose they are doing the best they can with limited resources without stooping quite to the evils depicted here.
If you want better healthcare (more comfortable, quicker response, better prevention etc) there are still private plans and insurance policies just like the US. The NHS is a baseline, some would call it a bare minimum. Seems like a balance to me, I like those. I just hope Cameron doesn't kill it.

As for the episode, an excellent commentary on a very tough debate, and when delivered by Picardo you can't really lose. I agree that the ending leaves a lot to be desired though (if the Doc thinks for one second that guy will have changed his ways instead of just seeking further vengeance against the innocent, he must be more naive than I thought). For that it definitely loses a star - if finished properly it could've been 4.
Fri, Sep 23, 2011, 7:23pm (UTC -5)
My biggest issue with this episode is the lack of urgency. One of the crew has been abducted and the crew seem to be somewhat bored, looking for him.
When you compare with how the crew was when B'Lanna and Harry were lost in The Muse, it only highlights how little is thought of The Doctor.
Fri, Oct 14, 2011, 10:46pm (UTC -5)
Holy cow-- anyone who thinks that socialized medicine is the same thing as having a socialist economy or the same thing as having a communist government is a GRADE A IDIOT! Read a book, people. Open your brains up, and let the information in. Do you also think that Facebook is trying to turn the US into the USSR because it's "social" media?!?! Take off the tin foil hats, people. I can't fathom how you are even smart enough to turn on a computer and type words.
Paul York
Mon, May 7, 2012, 9:25am (UTC -5)
Sean wrote above : "it was an effective allegory on *nationalized/socialized* healthcare (such as Great Britain, Canada, Cuba), which often has to ration its limited resources when it claims to be "free" (aka taxpayers) for everyone"

Nothing could be further from the truth! I live in Canada and our health care system is good -- much better than the U.S. Everyone gets good treatment when they need it. It is free, and it is universal, for everyone. In contrast the system in the U.S. is just like that portrayed in the episode Critical Care: the rich get treatment while the poor die. See Michael Moore's Sicko. That represents what's really going on. I am glad that Star Trek producers had the courage to do this episode. Social commentary is what elevates much of ST above other television shows. It has consistently advocated human rights and the rights of all sentient beings. Universal health care is one of those basic rights. It's always amazing to me how ideologues can twist and misrepresent such ideals for the sake of advancing parochial interests of the elite -- just as Chellick does in the episode.
Captain Jim
Fri, May 25, 2012, 10:01pm (UTC -5)
Paul York said, "I live in Canada and our health care system is good -- much better than the U.S. Everyone gets good treatment when they need it. It is free, and it is universal, for everyone. In contrast the system in the U.S. is just like that portrayed in the episode Critical Care: the rich get treatment while the poor die."

Hmm, if the Canadian system is so much better, why do Canadians keep coming to the US for treatment? Oh, that's right, because by the time they receive it in Canada, it might be too late for them.

And if you really think poor people are just allowed to die here, you really are as clueless as you sound.
Mon, Jun 18, 2012, 4:29pm (UTC -5)
Yes, in the US there is preferential healthcare treatment based on what you can pay BUT in this episode there is an "allocator" arbitrarily assigning "worth" to individuals based on their, age, skills, education etc. This may have shades of the US healthcare system and maybe the writers were even trying to take a shot at the US healthcare system but if so, they missed the mark. The presence of the allocator puts this in the field of socialized medicine. NOT today's socialized medicine as practised in Britain and Canada etc but a very extreme form of it. This whole episode came off as some grad-student's back-handed attempt to be "deep."

And the Doctor was no more ethical than he claimed the administrators were. His actions in Act 4 completely kicked the soap box he was standing on the rest of the episode right out from under him.
Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 3:24am (UTC -5)
"And the Doctor was no more ethical than he claimed the administrators were. His actions in Act 4 completely kicked the soap box he was standing on the rest of the episode right out from under him."

You're actually completely wrong here.
We know The Doctor, we have seen him grow up over the series but 1 thing has remained constant - his actions have always resulted him doing the right thing.
Yes, he may have pushed the limits of his ethical subroutines at that point, however there was no chance that his actions were going to result in anyones death. If the administrator had called The Doctors bluff, he would have won.

As for the soapbox for the rest of the episode - again, his actions in the end are because of that. He makes a very human decision in his way to make a stand to try and incite change into a very shortsighted system.

As for you interpretation of the story, well, I think you're trying to be too literal and dismiss it - I can think of a few reasons you might do that.
But the simple point of the story is that the people who have worth(and in a captitalist society, it is often deemed by those in charge are the ones who have money are the ones of worth) have access to the best and the brightest while the poorly skilled labourers(the poor) have nothing.
This episode was a commentary on the the US Heslth Care system and did a reasonable job, for a show like Star Trek: Voyager.
Tue, Jun 26, 2012, 5:34am (UTC -5)
As a nurse in the United States, this episode rang very true for me. For those interpreting this episode's hospital as socialized medicine, should reconsider. This is definitely an allegory to American healthcare. If your wealthy or otherwise have clout then you dont have much to worry about (We have great health care...if you can afford it) If you dont...dont get sick. If your illnesses costs more than your insurer is willing to cover...they do have legal ways of denying coverage that would disgust you.

On the other hand this was a great episode....a great laugh with Tuvok and Janeway holding hands. Jammer thinks that this episode ended anticlimactically with no real resolution...guess what ? Its the logical place an allegory to the US system would end to...The Supreme Court will rule in a few days on the legality of Obamacare, 11 years after this episode aired...
Wed, Jun 27, 2012, 3:55am (UTC -5)
There's an unfortunate truth to what Jelendra says there. As I said earlier I'm British myself and we like to whine about waiting times or whatever else but when you sit back and compare it.. the NHS is a wonderful institution. At least they try.

I'm good friends with a guy from over there in the States whose mother is dying, precisely because of that same issue (and yes, it disgusts me): their insurers decided it was too expensive to save her, and terminated the insurance.. including his, as the two were tied to the same contract. There is now not only nothing anyone is willing to do for her, but he himself has come close to suicide on a number of occasions, because he cannot afford the Depression medication that he needs (the depression being made worse, naturally, because of this kind of BS - not even in his 20s yet and already bearing some of the worst that life and society have to offer with both his mother and himself being abandoned). The state of affairs with healthcare over there is nothing short of tragic, from my perspective.

This episode may be 12 years old, but still very relevant. The more these issues are examined, be it through debate or entertainment, the better really.
Mon, Dec 3, 2012, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
I didn't think much of this episode when I first saw it, but on rewatching it last night I was actually quite stunned by how prophetic it seemed. If the US healthcare issue wasn't one of the foremost problems in the US when it aired, it certainly is now. Great example of a classic Trek allegory.
Jonathan Baron
Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 10:29am (UTC -5)
It's interesting how much of a Rorschach test this episode is. Yes, this is a very heavy handed critique of the medical system in the United States where failure to propser means you don't live long. Yet many see it as revealing the evils of the imaginary and wholly fictional terror of socialized medicine. I suppose antisocial medicine would be better.

Simple fact is that some services don't lend themselves well to profit driven businesses. Yet perhaps the most fascinating social phenomenon of our age has been the ability of specific vested interests to convince vast numbers of good and intelligent people to support with great vigor policies that contradict both their self interest and fundamental morals.

Key to this is the illusion a zero sum game. This aspect is beyond the capable scope of a 40 minute episode of minor network television science fiction. Was this "cytoplasm" a genuine drain on resources or just a device to illuminate an appalling value system in a manner as subtle as a Louisville Slugger to the side of the viewer's head?

Fortunately, as noted above, this can be heavy stuff and was mixed with the comic take of tracking down the cat-man con artist to lighten the weight.
Mon, Jul 15, 2013, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
I think the thing that really got on my nerves was that most of these people looked completely human. No nose or forehead prosthetic, not even any skin differentiation. The only people who got make-up jobs at all were the thief (who looked like a Dr. Seuss character), the aliens that voyager had to talk to in order to track him down, and the Administrator.

I guess they don't bother actually trying to make the extras look like aliens if there are more than a handful that will be on-screen. As it's been proven that they're capable of a much higher standard of production, this is inexcusable. I know make-up takes time but at least slap a few lines or spots on them or something! This was the epitome of lazy!

That aside, a very poignant episode and I really liked it for what it was.
Thu, Aug 22, 2013, 1:01pm (UTC -5)
1. great episode! intriguing
2. the captain looking annoyed during the search was great.
3. holding hands with tuvok was great.
4. i noticed the aliens who looked like earthlings (chief of medicine) and thought, "really?"
5. i was fully entertained.

4 stars!
Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
Good episode, but it's hilarious that farming is used as an example of a more valuable contribution - a decade later and so much farm land is being abandoned or sold just to build shopping malls.

"Critical Care" was a daring episode, but nothing's changed much since then.
Jo Jo Meastro
Thu, Oct 10, 2013, 10:40am (UTC -5)
Star Trek seems to every so often turn out a great medical story, something beyond the standard Trek plague clichés.

This was one of the great stories, in no small part due to the brilliant character of the Doctor and the tense yet fascinatingly multi-layered drama which you can't help but get really submerged in along with our favourite hologram.

The gravity of the horror and disgust the Doctor feels is matched only by the ferocity of his compassion and moral conviction. And the fact it mirrors what we see in the world today only adds to the emotional ride you're taken on.

I applaud the writers for rising to the challenge so well. They could have easily spoiled everything by taking the simple un-provocative route or turning it into a mashup of meaningless action and hallow plot manoeuvres.

Instead they gave their story heart. I imagine the subtext found here was something they cared about. Even the standard search from Voyager was played on differently and made fun for once!

Easily a 3.5 from me!
Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 11:04am (UTC -5)
I find it interesting (yet not overly surprising) that this episode spawned a discussion whether it is about "capitalistic" or "socialistic" medical treatment.

I think it is rather simple: It's about neither of them, but it targets a deeper level: The prioritizing of treatment based on social status, rather than medical need. No matter whether this happens in a free market (using money), or in a planned economy (based on function), it is always the wron approach.
Sun, Feb 2, 2014, 7:40pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Thomas, this episode was more complex than just a veiled criticism of privatized medical care vs. socialized medical care. (BTW, as a Canadian, our medical system is not rationed, but allocated dependent on need, there is a difference; everyone receives treatment, you just might have to be patient.)

Anyway, on one level, we saw a society clearly suffering (economic and ecological catastrophes) - in their desperation they hired an outside alien 'consultant' and invested in a sophisticated 'allocation computer system'.

The sci-fi trope of letting a super-computer efficiently run a society is a well trodden road in Trek lore. The computer was a benevolent evil, rather than an overt one with a personality or larger motive. The system of allocating medical treatment was based completely on algorithms and databases.

We, the viewer grew attached to the sick boy and his mini-story, and to find out he suddenly and so tragically ended up in the morgue drove home the inhumanity of running an 'allocation' system by a cold-calculating computer.

An unusually thought-provoking episode of Voyager. -- Parting thought, the alien cityscapes in this episode were marvelous, complete with floating medical facility.
Patrick D
Sun, Feb 2, 2014, 10:07pm (UTC -5)
"Critical Care" was the last episode of televised Trek that I actually I was blown away by. It is not perfect by any means, but it is well told, it is about *something* and features characters that I'm invested in. Those are the requisites of dynamite Trek for me.

Enterprise was such a "dental office experience" of a series (with the exception of "In a Mirror Darkly", which was just fanfic come to life.) that I had no investment in the characters, so that even a thoughtful episode like "Cogenitor" (that I saw in re-runs) didn't do much for me.

I'm saddened that the last time I was truly invested in first run Trek for the right reasons was 14 years ago. That's truly depressing.
Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 9:17am (UTC -5)
More loading of the dice here, I'm afraid (despite being a good episode). The kid who is being refused care just happens to be a promising talent. Come on. The vast majority of people in the US that can't afford care are useless, lazy bums.
Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 9:59am (UTC -5)
Okay, dlpb, you've just turned in your sanity card. Please show up on time for your straight-jacket fitting.
Dave in NC
Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 1:26pm (UTC -5)

Are you sure you're a Star Trek fan? It sounds like you've learned very little from the shows.
Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 9:39am (UTC -5)
The kid is a promising medical talent not so that his worth is increased in OUR eyes (the fact that he's a person should be enough to do that), but so that he bonds with the Doctor.

They put them in a quasi mentor relationship so that in the end the Doctor is willing to murder the one he sees responsible. That part of the episode has nothing to do with the healthcare metaphor, it's all done to bring the Doc to a darker place.

And I thought it really paid off. It's probably the part of the episode that works the best.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 9:27pm (UTC -5)
Soviet style healthcare was excellent. Even Maoism had a pretty radical and laudable health plan, sending hundreds of thousands of free docs off into the countryside. Sharing is caring.

Of course such things are unsustainable under capitalism, in which all money is nonsensically issued as debt at interest, but then capitalism itself is.
Sun, Aug 31, 2014, 4:56pm (UTC -5)
"Tebbis ends up as the episode's thematic equivalent of the proverbial drowned kittens." Best sentence of the review. That is all.

I thought the situations presented in this episode were to extreme to be effective criticism of America’s healthcare (or any other system for that matter). Much too convenient that the same medicine can cure one disease on Level Red and extend lifespans of the healthy on Level Blue. The supposed « moral dilemma » of the Doc deciding to poison the administrator falls flat, because there is no way anyone could defend such an absurdly extreme system.

My two cents on the health care "debate":
What some of you may not know is that the U.S. government spends as much on health care per capita as Canada does. The problem with U.S. health care has nothing to do with socialism or capitalism, it is the influence that large corporations have over the government’s decisions. They finance election campaigns and get very generous subsidies in return, which they use not to help patients but to maximize their profits (by, among other things, finding very complicated ways to avoid paying for treatments, thus increasing the bureaucracy tenfold). To be blunt, a completely free-market system OR a Canada-style system would both be much better than what you have now.
Sun, May 17, 2015, 2:08pm (UTC -5)
Rosario said, "And the Doctor was no more ethical than he claimed the administrators were. His actions in Act 4 completely kicked the soap box he was standing on the rest of the episode right out from under him."

I'm surprised more people haven't commented on this. I thought the Doctor's decision to poison the administrator was clearly unethical with respect to his profession. I appreciated the final scene with Seven. Being willing to sacrifice an individual (the "bad" administrator) for the sake of a collective (the sick Level Red patients) does fit with a certain type of ethics. It's interesting to note that this was essentially the logic of Chellick. One subgroup was being sacrificed for another subgroup of society.

I initially saw this episode as an allegory for the U.S. health care system, and an indictment against allowing principles of capitalism to apply to health care. I'm also persuaded by Thomas, above. The episode does seem to assert that rationing of health care based on socioeconomic status is wrong. It also made the same point about rationing of education based on socioeconomic status - another problem in the U.S. 15 years after the air date.
Thu, Jul 23, 2015, 7:16am (UTC -5)
Was Larry Drake cast as the "evil doctor" in this episode because of his prior role as the deranged doctor in "Dr. Giggles"? ;-)
Tue, Oct 20, 2015, 8:47pm (UTC -5)
I know people who have put off medical care because they can't afford it or wait until the pain is so bad they can't stand it. Interestingly in two cases this has been for dental care. Something is seriously wrong when medical care is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in a country. I'm not holding my breath waiting for the private sector to handle this problem.
Fri, Nov 6, 2015, 5:22pm (UTC -5)

Pleased to meet a fellow trekkie. I wanted say you make an excellent point regarding education and socioeconomic status. This has been one way to keep the uneducated underprivileged classes in check for almost as long as civilization has existed.
This was partly accomplished by simply restricting access to information, books, scholars and gurus.

I would say that the rise of the internet and its global reach will quickly do away with lack of education, since there is a wealth of information readily available for free to anyone with access to it. Anything from scientific studies to advanced calculus to the even the most basic interactive language learning. You can even view foreign countries (mostly) at street level. Planning vacations and seeing the landscape has never been easier. I can choose a location I want to travel to and stay at, view the street address on google map, and from there view the surrounding area!

I believe also that there is discussion in the works for providing Wi-Fi for free to low income households in the US. I can't remember which state implemented this but if successful it won't be long before it spreads across the other states.

I've always loved the idea of information being readily available at one's fingertips. The handheld ipods/iphones and ipads are the manifestation of the handheld devices holding terabytes (or quads, can't remember which) of data in the Star Trek mythos. One no longer have to be in the dark about anything unless they simply choose to be. It doesn't get much simpler with Google. You can either type or speak your query and Google does the rest.

Not that the internet does not have its dark side as well. But I like this site because it invites enlightened (usually)debate and positive forward thinking so I won't delve into that territory.

And it did allow me to respond in kind to and meet a fellow trekkie :)

Amazing that no one really predicted the rise of the internet. It just turned out that way. I feel as if this may be the one thing that may unify minds across the globe. I'm just happy to be alive to experience it!
Tue, Dec 1, 2015, 9:00pm (UTC -5)
The Doctor is a computer program, so why couldn't the thief just make a copy? Why doesn't Voyager have a backup copy? It makes no sense that there can only be one of him.
Sat, Mar 12, 2016, 8:56pm (UTC -5)
The Doc had a training program now too. Where did this come from? Where was this every time the Doc was away from Voyager? Heck, in Message In A Bottle, Harry Kim was trying to make another Doc from scratch. And NOW, Janeway says to secure his program from being stolen. Why didn't Janeway secure the Doc's program when the Doctor's Backup Program was stolen in Living Witness or even after his emitter was stolen in Concerning Flight or even after his program was stolen in Future's End. Tuvok - Do Some Work!!!

Yes, in Canada, the wait times for some things are ridiculous, even if it is free. Getting an MRI Scan appointment can take 6-12 months. By then, its too late for some patients. Yes, some Canadians would rather pay in the U.S. to get faster treatment. When it comes to organ transplants, it's the same thing. For those needing a new organ for example, you have to wait on a list for one that is compatible. If you know you're chances of getting a new organ in time are slim, people will come up with the money and go to Mexico. Being an organ donor is a choice, that more people should choose to do. If we can receive free healthcare, then the healthy should give blood and sign their Organ Donor cards in return.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Mar 20, 2016, 7:22am (UTC -5)
Almost a throwback to a different era - a straightforward morality tale with a definite 70s sci-fi vibe to my mind. Yes it's all fairly formulaic but it gives the Doctor a good platform to do what the Doctor does, and it's a strong vehicle. I thought it was tied together very nicely by the concluding scene.

The B-story was the standard chase, but also handled in a novel and fairly fresh style - Janeways "I have a man" being something of an unexpected highlight.

And it's noticeable the FX work has taken another leap forward again. It's a real shame that the technology now available hadn't been there for the previous 20 series in the nu-Trek run. 3 stars.
Mon, Apr 11, 2016, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
Oh goody, a message show. I so love it when Hollywood feels the need to preach to me... Where should I begin?

First of all, let's point out the complete and total lack of subtlety here. Chellick was evil with a capital E, and the proles were all goody two shoes. There is no doubt that the Doctor is in the right, or at least that the writers wanted the Doctor to be in the right. Heck, just look at their faces. Chellick is fat and ugly with ugly tumor-like bumps all over his face. He might as well be a Vogon. The other doctor on Blue level was stern faced, not quite as evil but still kinda harsh. And the Doctor and patient at Red level? Cute wide-eyed baby faces. They might as well have given everyone white and black hats. Heck, look at that opening shot. Drab gray buildings surrounding the gleaming hospital. You know you're in for a class warfare episode as soon as it opens. Like I said, no subtlety.

Now, how about the message itself? It seems clear that it was meant to criticize the US health care system, or at least the insurance system as Jammer alluded to. But as Sean said, it doesn't really fit the actual US system. It's barely even a straw man! There was no money involved, no way to try to get more medicine if you might need it, just a harsh allocation system imposed from on high. I'd say that makes it sound more like a centralized socialized health care system, except European health care isn't run like this either. In fact, the closest real life analogue to this system is the Cuban system, with resources allocated for the ruling elite (and to show to visitors) while the proles get the dregs. But, well, surely that's not what the writers were preaching against, right? And if they weren't meant to be preaching, why was it such a blatant black and white, good vs evil dichotomy? So in the end, the writers were beating up a straw... something. Because normally straw men bear a passing resemblance to the actual thing they're criticizing, but this doesn't.

Which is sad, because the idea was at least worth investigating. Throwing the Doctor out of his element like this was a worthwhile approach to a plot, and seeing how he would respond to less than ideal working conditions. And his story was decent enough, how he tried to work around the evil administrator. If there were more shades of gray here, if there was a more relatable adversary for him, then we could have had a lot more fun with it.

For example, early on, they said this planet was DYING. The people were absolutely desperate. What if the situation was so desperate that one might be able to justify this situation? For example, what if those water engineers were so rare that they had to have their lives extended? What if society would collapse without them? Then we would have a reason for this situation, and force the Doctor to justify his immediate need to treat patients with society's need to survive. Or maybe have those treatments in Blue be for the actual plague as well, so that it's a matter of triage. Give something there for him to work with instead of it being a morality play.

And then there's the ending... Look, I've been harping on the inconsistent writing on the Doc's sentience since the first season. And they even brought up his Hippocratic Oath at the very beginning of the show, that this is something that he CAN'T ignore. Which makes sense to me. I've always assumed that Zimmerman would have been smart enough to program this learning machine to always have medicine as the top priority, something akin to Asimov's Three Laws. And there's been many instances throughout the show's run where this idea is backed up. When he tried being a therapist to Seven which ended up with someone else dying in Retrospect, he felt so guilty he wanted to excise all of his additional programming. In Latent Image, even the thought that he might have used some other criteria for triage than his medical programming made him go insane.

But then in Equinox, he could get a flipped switch to evil. In Virtuoso, he was willing to quit being a Doctor to become a singer. So what gives?

To complicate matters further, it's been strongly suggested that he needs other people to program in some of his other interests. Or at least needs help to program in his interests. Seven could excise some of his extraneous interests in Life Line. He asked Torres for help on at least one occasion. Which suggests that, if he was really evolving to move past his Hippocratic Oath programming, it had to be a conscious decision, and possibly one that involved other members of the crew. And given his final conversation with Seven, that clearly didn't happen.

So was this a subconscious evolution, something akin to the Zeroth Law in Asimov's books? Maybe, but, well, the Hippocratic Oath is much simpler. First do no harm. There's not much wiggle room in that. Deliberately poisoning one person to save others is well outside the norm of medical ethics. It just doesn't seem to fly with everything else we've seen. This is supposed to be a deep character issue, perhaps, but it comes out of the blue. I much prefer Latent Image.

So, all in all, a very frustrating episode to me. On the bright side, the hunt for the Doc was fairly humorous, a better run than the usual routine we see in these sorts of episodes. Of course, I wonder if Janeway would be so cavalier if it had been Tuvok kidnapped instead of the EMH. Then again, maybe Janeway has become self aware that she is a mere character and everyone has plot armor. If the Borg couldn't kill anyone, they weren't gonna be defeated by this lame guy.

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