The Doctor (Star Trek: Voyager)
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|The Doctor (EMH, Mark I)|
|Star Trek character|
|First appearance||"Caretaker" (1995)|
|Last appearance||"Endgame" (2001)|
|Portrayed by||Robert Picardo|
The Doctor, an Emergency Medical Hologram Mark I (or EMH for short), is a fictional character from the television series Star Trek: Voyager, played by actor Robert Picardo. He is an artificial intelligence manifesting as a holographic projection, designed to act as a short-term supplement to the medical staff of a starship during emergency situations, but when the starship Voyager is stranded on the far side of the galaxy with no medical personnel, he is forced to act as the ship's chief medical officer for several years. In the style of the Star Trek franchise's exploration of artificial intelligence, a simple software program becomes a major character in the show, which aired on UPN between 1995 and 2001.
The character also appeared in Star Trek: First Contact, as well as the now-closed Star Trek: The Experience amusement exhibition at the Las Vegas Hilton. In 2019, Picardo said CBS producers had expressed interest in having him appear in Star Trek: Picard, as either The Doctor or his creator, Lewis Zimmerman, whom Picardo also portrayed.
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."
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."
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. 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 began his service on the USS Voyager as the standard Emergency Medical Hologram 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. 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 developed his own personality, although he generally maintained 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 gave himself a name during episode S1E12 Hero’s and Demon. “Switzer”. This name did not carry the whole 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 manufactured a holographic family ("Real Life"), he also had an increasing number of other "human" experiences. This resulted in the Doctor's program evolving to become more lifelike, with emotions and ambitions. He developed meaningful and complex relationships with many members of the ship's crew. The Doctor also developed talents as a playwright, artist, and photographer, and even became a connoisseur of opera. He has had multiple other experiences with "family", including having had a son with a "roommate" while trapped on a planet for three years. During the episode "Blink of an Eye", he asked an associate to inquire further about his progeny.
A recurring theme was 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 chose Harry Kim, a friend. The other patient, Ensign Jetal, died. The Doctor was overwhelmed with guilt, believing that his friendship influenced his choice. When the stress nearly led to his program breaking down, Captain Janeway had his memories of these events deleted. When The Doctor later discovered clues as to what had happened, Captain Janeway was convinced by him and others that he had 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 submitted a holonovel titled Photons Be Free to a publisher on Earth, detailing the manner in which holograms were sometimes treated by Starfleet. His characters were 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 convinced The Doctor to make adjustments without sacrificing his theme. The Doctor lacked legal rights as Federation law did not classify him as a "sentient being". Thus he was forbidden to make any subsequent changes to the holonovel. Captain Janeway's efforts resulted in The Doctor being accorded the status of "artist", (though not a "person"). This permitted him to rewrite the novel. Four months later, it was known throughout the Alpha Quadrant as a very thought-provoking piece of work. Several other EMHs, now relegated to mining duty, experienced the novel.
The Doctor's standard greeting was "Please state the nature of the medical emergency" when activated, though later modified to say whatever he chose. In "Jetrel", it was revealed that he was given the ability to activate and deactivate himself.
The Doctor later acquired a mobile holographic emitter from the 29th century ("Future's End"). Although he had previously been confined to Sickbay or the Holodeck, the mobile emitter allowed 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 was trapped on a radioactive planet, The Doctor was able to infiltrate the people and almost single-handedly rescue the team because, as he pointed 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?”
The Doctor's programming evolved from his first romance, Dr. Denara Pel, to the point where he fell in love with Seven of Nine, though she was 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's cut off by the 'present' Janeway, who is abiding by the Temporal Prime Directive, before he can learn more.
Emergency Command Hologram
In these grandiose daydreams, The Doctor adds routines which allow him to take command of Voyager in the event of the command crew being disabled.
A dramatic morph transformation occurs changing his uniform from medical blue to command red, his rank pips subsequently appearing. The daydreams are picked up by a Hierarchy vessel in a nearby nebula and believed to be real events.
Once the crew discover that The Doctor is daydreaming they use the holodeck to view his dreams, including the one expressing his desire to be an Emergency Command Hologram, Captain Janeway promises to consider his proposal.
The Doctor soon gets the opportunity to live out his daydreams as, with the assistance of the crew, he pretends to be in charge to neutralize a war fleet.
The ECH made its debut the following season in "Workforce", in which after an incident with a subspace mine that releases a great amount of tetryon radiation, the crew is forced to abandon ship. To keep the ship moving, The Doctor takes over the command functions.
The Doctor's program required a custom-built photonic processor, and Starfleet outfitted Voyager with only two. This hardware itself also could not be replicated, hence the Doctor could not be easily backed up, restored, or copied.
Voyager's computers could not help run his photonic program, and could not contain a usable backup of its image. The Doctor's entire program used 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 was his lack of a proper name. Starfleet did not assign a name to him, and initially, the Doctor claimed that he did not want one until the episode “Eye of the Needle”, when he asks Kes to give him a name. He later adopted 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, referred to him as 'Dr. Zimmerman', after his creator, Lewis Zimmerman. The Doctor is ultimately referred to as simply "The Doctor" and addressed as "Doctor", 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 (Tom Paris remarked in "Endgame" that "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
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, 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. Zimmerman, along with the EMH, appeared in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?", in which the former was in the process of trying to upgrade Starfleet's EMH programs to LMH, i.e. Long-term Medical Hologram, status.
There has been only one update to the Mark I seen on screen, the Mark II played by Andy Dick in the episode "Message in a Bottle", which supposedly had a "better" bedside manner than the Mark I, as well as possibly some updated medical information. However, later episodes mention that further versions of the EMH exist.
Picardo had a minor role in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, where he played the emergency medical hologram of the USS Enterprise-E. Doctor Beverly Crusher activates 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 ..." (The Doctor also made this reference several other times, on Voyager.) Nevertheless, when the Borg do break in, he does attempt to distract them by noting that Borg implants can cause skin irritation and offering to prescribe an analgesic cream. Although the Borg would be unable to harm or assimilate him, he still appears intimidated as they advance upon him. Another EMH appeared in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Doctor Bashir I Presume".
His reference to an analgesic cream in this scene was reprised in the PC video game Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force.
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.
- Elementary, Dear Data (TNG S2E3 aired December 5, 1988 - also explored holographic A.I.)
- Vic Fontaine (a holographic personality on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
- Arnold Rimmer, holographic character on Red Dwarf.
- Whitbrook, James (July 31, 2019). "Robert Picardo Says He Could Sign Up for Star Trek: Picard's Second Season". Retrieved February 27, 2020.
- Stobie, Jay (January 16, 2020). "Voyager's Caretaker: An Interview with Robert Picardo".
- "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.
- All 39 ‘Star Trek’ Main Characters Ranked, From Spock to Wesley March 2018
- McMillan, Graeme (September 5, 2016). "Star Trek's 100 Most Important Crew Members, Ranked". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
- Roth, Dany (June 29, 2016). "Every major Star Trek doctor, ranked". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved July 4, 2019.