Thursday, May 31, 2007

“Renaissance Man” (VOY)

It’s light on philosophical pondering, heavy on eye-candy, and throws in a cliché or two, but for me it’s still one of the most entertaining installments of Voyager.

“Renaissance Man” starts by creating a suspenseful atmosphere. Bodies are piling up in the morgue as the Doctor renders the senior staff unconscious one by one. We feel the tension rise as he juggles impersonating more and more people. And it all builds to his showdown with Tuvok in sickbay.

Now Worf seemed like the chief of security long before he became the chief of security. In any given episode you knew that was his function on the ship. Tuvok on the other hand lives in the shadow of Spock and Data—making him seem more like a science officer than chief of security. But make no mistake about it, Vulcans can be very menacing security forces. They have the brains and the brawn, and in this scene there is no question that Tuvok is in charge.

He anticipates and deflects the Doctor’s attempt to render him unconscious. And when he starts destroying holo-emitters there is no mistaking that he is a force to be reckoned with. Without the human sentimentality to get in the way, there is no doubt in his mind that the Doctor has been compromised in some way and is a threat to the ship.

Enter the eye-candy and one of the greatest chase sequences on a starship.

First the Doctor leaps through a window and his desk, before donning his mobile emmiter. Then he lures Tuvok into a holodeck full of copies of himself. He commandeers engineering and ejects the core.

In the corridor he takes on the form of B’Ellana, and again confronts Tuvok. This is another great moment where Tuvok’s no-nonsense approach with the faux pregnant woman leaves no doubt that his is the chief of security.

And the Doctor makes what is probably the only Matrix-like move in any Star Trek installment, running up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side of the corridor.

It’s over the top, but it’s just fun. So are the Doctor’s “deathbed confessions” about his list of the Captain’s most questionable command decisions, Tuvok’s sub-cutaneous eruption on his Vulcan nether-regions, and his undying love for Seven of Nine.

Sure, the story plays on the old ruthless-criminal-undone-by-his-partner-with-a-conscience cliché, but with everything else going on, I can excuse it. Besides, one of the aliens gets to make a great Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference: “We’ll drop you off in the Vinri system. The inhabitants are mostly harmless.”

As a slight aside on the Heirarchy aliens—or as my friend calls them “the-hippo-butt-guys”—I have a pet theory about their make-up. Star Trek: The Next Generation—The Continuing Mission by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, shows a Michael Westmore sketch of an early concept for the Pakleds from the TNG episode “Samaritain Snare.” (See page 84 if you have copy of the book.) The Pakleds ultimately were given a much simpler look, I’m guessing for budgetary reasons. But I think Michael Westmore hung onto that concept. Although the book never says so, this early, more elaborate version of Pakleds appears to be the inspiration for the Heirarchy aliens.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about “Renaissance Man” is the idea that each member of the crew has a holographic template. Is that a standard Starfleet practice? (If it is, it would explain how Barcaly was able to replicate the crew so easily in TNG, “Hollow Pursuits,” but it just seems like such a bad idea.) I suppose these may be scans the Doctor had taken for medical reasons, along the lines of what he was doing in the episode “Latent Image.”

For the sake of the story, we’ll just assume the templates must exist, and that the crew had all signed consent forms for the likeness to be used within the terms of certain contractual obligations . . .

The episode also made me wonder why the Doctor is such a poor fighter. When he’s struggling hand-to-hand with aliens he really seems to be struggling. I know, he’s a doctor, not a solider . . . But it seems like he should be able to make himself stronger than any biological life-form. While he may have been unprepared to do that back in season one (as in trying to pick up a sword in “Heroes and Demons”), it seems like physical strength is the kind of thing an Emergency Command Hologram might have given a little thought to.

It occurred to me that his tactic of losing his “substance” and allowing his attacker to pass through him (again, see “Heroes and Demons”) couldn’t have worked here. If he lacked substance his mobile emitter would fall off. So that’s probably a trick he has to reserve for sickbay or the holodeck.

While this may not have contributed anything of real significance to the Doctor’s ongoing quest to be recognized as a real person, it certainly took those basic ideas and spun them into an entertaining way to spend 40 minutes.