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The Doctor (Star Trek: Voyager)

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The Doctor
Star Trek character
First appearance"Caretaker" (1995)
Last appearance"Endgame" (2001)
Created byDr. Lewis Zimmerman With help from Lieutenant Reginald Barclay and a team of other engineers
Portrayed byRobert Picardo
In-universe information
SpouseCharlene (holographic wife)
Lana (Human wife in an alternate timeline)
ChildrenOne (technological progeny via mobile emitter)
Jason Tabreez (Kelemane's species son)
Jeffrey (holographic son)
Belle (holographic daughter)

The Doctor, an Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), is a fictional character portrayed by actor Robert Picardo in the television series Star Trek: Voyager, first aired on UPN between 1995 and 2001. He is an artificial intelligence manifest as a holographic projection, and designed to be a short-term adjunct to medical staff in emergency situations. However, when the USS Voyager is stranded on the far side of the galaxy without medical personnel, he is forced to act as the starship's permanent chief medical officer. In an example of the Star Trek franchise's exploration of artificial intelligence, a simple software program becomes a major character in the show.


In a 2020 interview, Picardo said his agent told him that he was selected from 900 actors who auditioned for the role.

"I got the part without understanding that the character would be the outsider, the Spock-like character. The character who initially inherited that was Data, who had no emotion and longed to be a real boy in the same way as Pinocchio. I thought that, because Tuvok was a Vulcan character, he would deal with those issues. Once I realized that I had gotten the plum role, it was a delightful surprise. I went from thinking I had the dullest role in the show to believing I may have the best role in the show. That was a little daunting."[1]

He added that he first learned what a hologram was from being selected for the role. "I was confused, I didn't know what it meant for him to be a hologram or a computer program. I didn't understand enough about Star Trek 'science,' which is based on real science, although we still don't know how to make a hologram with density. So I got the part without knowing at all what I was in for."[1]

Picardo initially auditioned for Neelix. Despite Ethan Phillips' getting the part, Picardo was asked by the producers to come back and audition for The Doctor—something that shocked him, because usually actors would be passed over completely.[2] During his audition for the role of The Doctor, Picardo was asked only to say, "Somebody forgot to terminate my program." However, he then ad libbed, "I'm a doctor, not a nightlight!" (Picardo was initially afraid that he might have ruined his chances—ad libbing, he explained, was something that one just "did not do" in an audition.)


The Doctor begins his service on the USS Voyager as the standard Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) built into almost every newer Starfleet ship's sickbay. The EMH is to be used should the ship's doctor be incapacitated or require emergency assistance.[3] In the series' first episode, Voyager's chief medical officer, along with his nurse, are killed, necessitating extended use of the EMH. The EMH eventually develops his own personality, although he generally maintains his acerbic wit and irritating "version one" bedside manner. As he was originally intended as a temporary medical backup system, not as a digital life form, Voyager's journey strains his programming to some limits. He gives himself a name during episode S1E12 Heroes and Demons, “Schweitzer”. (This name did not carry throughout the entire series.) The Doctor becomes the chief medical officer, with Kes and Tom Paris at various times acting as nurses.

Attempting to develop a realistic personality, the Doctor not only manufactures a holographic family ("Real Life"), he also has an increasing number of other "human" experiences. This results in the Doctor's program evolving to become more lifelike, with emotions and ambitions. He develops meaningful and complex relationships with many members of the ship's crew. The Doctor also develops talents as a playwright, artist, and photographer, and even becomes a connoisseur of opera. He has multiple other experiences with "family", including having a son with a "roommate" while trapped on a planet for three years. During the episode "Blink of an Eye", he asks an associate to inquire further about his progeny.

A recurring theme are the ethical aspects of an artificial, yet apparently sentient, being. In the episode "Latent Image", treating two patients with an equal chance of survival, with only enough time to treat one, The Doctor chooses Harry Kim, a friend. The other patient, Ensign Jetal, dies. The Doctor is overwhelmed with guilt, believing that his friendship influenced his choice. When the stress nearly leads to his program breaking down, Captain Janeway has his memories of these events deleted. When The Doctor later discovers clues as to what had happened, Captain Janeway is convinced by him and others that he has a right to learn to come to grips with the guilt in the manner of any other sentient being rather than be treated merely as a defective piece of equipment.

The Doctor submits a holonovel titled Photons Be Free to a publisher on Earth, detailing the manner in which holograms are sometimes treated by Starfleet. His characters are closely based on Voyager's crew, but exaggerated to appear more intense and vicious, creating fears among the crew their reputations would be ruined. Tom Paris convinces The Doctor to make adjustments without sacrificing his theme. The Doctor lacks legal rights as Federation law does not classify him as a "sentient being". Thus he is forbidden to make any subsequent changes to the holonovel. Captain Janeway's efforts result in The Doctor being accorded the status of "artist", although not a "person". This permits him to rewrite the novel. Four months later, it is known throughout the Alpha Quadrant as a very thought-provoking piece of work. Several other EMHs, now relegated to mining duty, experience[further explanation needed] the novel.

The Doctor's standard greeting is "Please state the nature of the medical emergency" when activated, though later modified to say whatever he chooses. In "Jetrel", it is revealed that he was given the ability to activate and deactivate himself.

The Doctor later acquires a mobile holographic emitter from the 29th century ("Future's End"). Although he has previously been confined to Sickbay or the Holodeck, the mobile emitter allows The Doctor to move about freely, making him ideal for missions where the environment would be harmful or otherwise fatal to the crew. In one notable incident, when an away team is trapped on a radioactive planet, The Doctor is able to infiltrate the people and almost single-handedly rescue the team because, as he points out, being a hologram renders him immune to the radiation, stating that "being a hologram does have its advantages."

In a 2020 interview, Picardo recalled his initial reticence to the concept of a mobile emitter:

I remember I was in [Voyager producer] Brannon Braga’s office when he told me. He said, “Your character is so popular, we need to be able to put you in more scripts, in more situations and settings. What do you think?” I said, “I think it’s a bad idea.” This was one time when I was clearly wrong and the producers were absolutely, a hundred percent right. I conveyed to him exactly what I described to you earlier, that the character’s differences define him and make him interesting to the audience. If I’m not limited to the sickbay or the holodeck, then I’ll just be like anybody else. I’m glad they did it, as it gave me many more stories. But because the character had been kind of a break-out character… whenever somebody plans to mess with a winning formula, I think anyone’s reaction would be, “Are we sure we want to do that?”[1]

The Doctor's programming evolves from his first romance, Dr. Denara Pel, to the point where he falls in love with Seven of Nine, though she is unable to reciprocate. In an alternate future episode, "Endgame", The Doctor finally adopts a name (see below) and marries a human female named Lana.

In the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a future version of Janeway also informs him of his later invention of a device known as a 'synaptic transceiver', something that fascinates The Doctor; he is cut off by the 'present' Janeway, who is abiding by the Temporal Prime Directive, before he can learn more.

Emergency Command Hologram[edit]

The "Emergency Command Hologram", aka "ECH", is first coined by The Doctor in the episode "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy", in which he creates a program which allows him to daydream, such as adding routines which allow him to take command of Voyager – including a command uniform – in the event of the command crew being incapacitated. At the end of the episode, Captain Janeway promises to consider the idea. In the following season episode "Workforce", the idea is realized when the crew is forced to abandon ship, and The Doctor takes over command functions.

Backup copies[edit]

The Doctor's program requires a custom-built photonic processor, and Starfleet outfitted Voyager with only two. This hardware itself also can not be replicated, hence the Doctor can not be easily backed up, restored, or copied.

Voyager's computers can not help run his photonic program, and can not contain a usable backup of its image. The Doctor's entire program uses 50 million gigaquads ("Lifesigns" and "The Swarm" mention these limitations). The episode "Living Witness" depicts a future Delta Quadrant civilization building a museum around Voyager artifacts, including its redundant EMH photonic processor.


A recurring theme in the Doctor's life is his lack of a proper name. Starfleet did not assign a name to him, and initially, the Doctor claims that he does not want one, until the episode "Eye of the Needle", when he asks Kes to give him a name. He later adopts such names as "Schweitzer" (after Albert Schweitzer); "Shmullus" (in "Lifesigns" by Vidiian patient Dr. Denara Pel); "Van Gogh"; "Kenneth"; "Jones"; and several others. His friends suggest the famous historical Earth doctors "Galen" and "Spock". The captioned dialog of early episodes, and early promotional material for the series premiere, refer to him as 'Dr. Zimmerman', after his creator, Lewis Zimmerman. The Doctor is ultimately referred to as simply "The Doctor" and addressed as "Doctor" or "Doc", which he answers to without concern, and the issue of the Doctor's name virtually disappears over the course of the series. However, in the series finale, in an alternate future timeline the Doctor has finally chosen the name "Joe" after his new wife's grandfather (and Picardo's own father). Tom Paris remarks about this choice: "it took you 33 years to come up with "Joe"?".


Before the arrival of the mobile emitter, The Doctor's holo-program was confined to sickbay, holodecks, and other areas equipped with holographic systems.

Depending on the availability of suitable holographic patterns and the capacity of his pattern buffers, The Doctor can alter his appearance. This was illustrated especially in the episode "Renaissance Man."

The Doctor is also able to download his program and personality subroutines into a humanoid with Borg implants, indirectly "possessing" that individual and gaining control over its "host" body. Such was the case when he was forced to hide within the body of Seven of Nine in "Body and Soul".

Emergency Medical Hologram[edit]

The EMH is a holographic computer program designed to treat patients during emergency situations, or when the regular medical staff is unavailable or incapacitated. EMHs are a standard feature onboard all Starfleet ships, but they are there only to supplement the living medical crew during emergencies, not replace it. Programmed with all current Starfleet medical knowledge, The Doctor and all Mark I programs are equipped with the knowledge and mannerisms of historic Federation doctors, as well as the physical appearance of their programmer Dr. Lewis Zimmerman. However, the EMH can form a personality over time if used a lot.[3]

Mariella Scerri and Victor Grech have proposed that the EMH is "an examplar of strong AI" (a philosophical position on artificial intelligence according to which "computational states are functionally equivalent to mental states"[4]).[5] Another author observed that consequent to the EMH's portrayal in Voyager, "sentient computer programs embodied in a computer-generated hologram became a commonplace idea – even a convention – in subsequent fiction".[6]

Other appearances[edit]

In a minor role in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, Picardo plays the emergency medical hologram of the USS Enterprise-E. Doctor Beverly Crusher activates it/him, albeit reluctantly, as a means of distracting the Borg while she and other crew members escape from the besieged sickbay. He replies, "I'm a doctor, not a doorstop", an homage to Doctor McCoy's catchphrase line "I'm a doctor, not a ..."

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Doctor Bashir I Presume", Picardo portrays Zimmerman, who here attempts to develop a Long-Term Medical Hologram.

(The EMH also was a feature in the defunct Star Trek: The Experience amusement exhibition at the Las Vegas Hilton.)

In 2019, Picardo said CBS producers had expressed interest in also having him in Star Trek: Picard as either The Doctor or his creator, Lewis Zimmerman.[7]

Several other versions of the EMH have appeared onscreen. The EMH Mark II, a new and upgraded EMH, is played by Andy Dick in the Voyager episode "Message in a Bottle". Star Trek: Picard features an EMH called "Emil", part of a holographic suite aboard the ship La Sirena, modeled after Captain Cristobal Rios and played by Santiago Cabrera. Star Trek: Discovery features a 32nd-century EMH known as "Eli", played by Brendan Beiser.


In 2018, The Wrap ranked Voyager's EMH as the 22nd best character of Star Trek overall, noting the character as a "sarcastic, overworked hologram", one that also had time for jokes and helping fellow crewmates.[8]

In 2016, Wired magazine ranked the character as the 16th most important character in service to Starfleet within the Star Trek science fiction universe.[9]

In 2016, SyFy ranked "The Doctor/Voyager EMH" as the second best of the six main-cast space doctors of the Star Trek franchise.[10]

In 2013, Slate magazine ranked The Doctor one of the ten best crew characters in the Star Trek franchise.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stobie, Jay (January 16, 2020). "Voyager's Caretaker: An Interview with Robert Picardo".
  2. ^ "Robert Picardo ("The Doctor" - VOY)". Star Trek Official Site. StarTrek.com. May 6, 2002. Archived from the original on July 9, 2010. When I didn't get the part, the producers shocked me by asking me to reconsider The Doctor. Usually in TV, when you have tested for one role, they simply throw you into the ash can and move on to another actor.
  3. ^ a b Grech, Victor (2020). "Doctors in Star Trek: The emergency medical hologram in Star Trek: Voyager". Early Human Development. 144: 104993. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.104993. ISSN 0378-3782. PMID 32098692. S2CID 211525128. Retrieved August 6, 2023 – via Science Direct.
  4. ^ Scerri, Mariella & Grech, Victor (2020). "Artificial Intelligence in Medicine". Early Human Development . 145: 105017. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105017. ISSN 0378-3782. PMID 32201033 – via ScienceDirect.
  5. ^ Scerri, Mariella & Grech, Victor (July 2016). "Artificial Intelligence in Medicine". The New York Review of Science Fiction. Vol. 28, no. 11#335. Burrowing Wombat Press. pp. 22–29. ISSN 1052-9438.
  6. ^ Johnston, Sean F. (2015). Holograms: A Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780198712763.
  7. ^ Whitbrook, James (July 31, 2019). "Robert Picardo Says He Could Sign Up for Star Trek: Picard's Second Season". Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  8. ^ "All 39 'Star Trek' Main Characters Ranked, From Spock to Wesley March 2018". September 8, 2021.
  9. ^ McMillan, Graeme (September 5, 2016). "Star Trek's 100 Most Important Crew Members, Ranked". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  10. ^ Roth, Dany (June 29, 2016). "Every major Star Trek doctor, ranked". SYFY WIRE. Archived from the original on July 4, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
  11. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (May 15, 2013). "Star Trek Movies, Series, and Characters Ranked". Slate Magazine. Retrieved January 23, 2024.

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