October 16, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Heroes and Demons"

It is 24 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

When three officers go missing on Voyager's holodeck, the Doctor (Robert Picardo) is sent into a simulation of the medieval epic Beowulf to find out what happened to them. While he prepares to fight the demon Grendel, outside the holodeck the crew stumble upon a previously-undiscovered and energy-based life form.

You really have to question why holodecks and holosuites were never banned by the United Federation of Planets. Whether in Voyager, The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, they seem to constantly malfunction, misfire or generally threaten the lives of Starfleet officers. It is a running joke among Star Trek fans, since they really do seem to malfunction more often than they work. One wonders who on Earth would willingly use one. It was inevitable that Voyager would get around to a holodeck episode; my only surprise is that they go there so soon.

It is, unsurprisingly, a tedious affair based largely around the fussy, intellectual Doctor being forced to assume the role usually filled by Beowulf and defeating a monster. The presentation of the Beowulf myth, while scripted by Naren Shankar with a visible knowledge of the source material, leans heavily towards the stereotypical. The guest performances are broad and over-the-top, and rapidly begin to grate.

There is also remarkably little tension involved. The Doctor is a hologram and a computer program, so it never feels as if he is particularly at risk from the Beowulf scenario. There is one moment where he loses an arm fighting Grendel (which is admittedly a cute reversal), but it is re-formed in the space of a commercial break. A lack of tension and a surfeit of over-acted vikings makes for a pretty dire combination.

One strong element of the episode is the opportunity it affords Robert Picardo to expand upon the Doctor's character. He's a gifted actor when it comes to comedy, and the novelty value of seeing the Doctor out of sickbay and in a medieval fantasy adventure is fairly high. He eats for the first time. He has his first romantic interaction. Outside of the holodeck Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Torres (Roxann Dawson) get some material regarding the mysterious 'photonic entities', but it's mostly technobabble with limited room for character.

This episode was clearly a lot of fun for Robert Picardo, but it really is not a lot of fun for the audience. It leaves Season 1 of Voyager at 11 episodes, with six of them worth watching. The quality ratio drops to 55 per cent.

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