The Cynics Corner

Star Trek: Voyager

"Critical Care"

by David E. Sluss

4 November 2000

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: A decent episode, but it proves once again that subtlety is a four-letter word at the Voyager offices.


MESSAGE OF THE WEEK: Managed care is bad -- it's bad. In this episode, Voyager tries out an Original-Series-style Sci-Fi Allegory, in which a contemporary issue is tackled by dressing it up with sci-fi props and characters. The original Star Trek (along with Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and other series) aired at a time in which network censors regularly vetoed television portrayals of controversial topics, and rayguns and rubber ears made it easier to sneak such issues by them. Nowadays, of course, almost anything goes on television, and controversial subjects are addressed on a daily basis without all the latex and velour costumes, and that makes this allegory approach seem old-fashioned and out of step. That doesn't automatically make an allegory episode a bad show, but it does play into my oft-stated position that Star Trek's storytelling is terribly outdated, despite the futuristic setting and kewl F/X.

In this case, the episode turns out to be decent, but the writers stacked the deck against the bad guys so heavily that it hardly seemed controversial, even as an allegory. For instance, the administrator of the hospital is a corpulent, ugly, sweaty fellow who takes his orders from a computer -- always a good scapegoat, and a good tribute to the Original Series style this episode emulates, considering that Kirk encountered societies being run into the ground by computers every other week. The poor patients and the "good doctors" on the other hand are all attractive, fit, wide-eyed innocents. Less superficial and more significant is the fact that the "controversy" of limited medical resources and how they are rationed -- an important issue, and the potential basis for a terrific episode rather than a decent one -- is completely gelded; on this hospital ship, there isn't a limit on resources, only an inhumane misallocation of them, and this is presented so unsubtly that even the most dimwitted viewer realizes that it's Evil. With a little more care, and a little more guts perhaps, the Voyager staff could have had a real gem here.

STARFLEET UNINTELLIGENCE OF THE WEEK: I'm not sure which is more ridiculous: the inability to back up the Doctor's program or Voyager's laughable security. These contrivances seem to be the basis of a third of Voyager's episodes, and it's frankly getting tiresome. The Doctor is a computer program; I've yet to see a good reason why he can't be duplicated. And on any military vessel, or even a Disney cruise liner, a security force that has had as many failures as Tuvok and his team have had would have been canned a long time ago. On the other hand, this may be the first episode in which Tuvok was actually scolded, albeit mildly, for security lapses.

TECHNOLOGICAL ANOMALIES OF THE WEEK: The Doctor's program is merged with the Allocator's program, so that his movements can be restricted. But the Allocator doesn't notice that he's walking away from where he's supposed to be working or that he vanishes from Level Blue when Voji smuggles the emitter out? Even more strangely, though the hospital apparently lacks transporter technology, the Allocator was able to transfer the Doctor and the emitter from one location to another on Level Blue.

NEW BIOLOGY OF THE WEEK: The Doctor injects the Evil Administrator with the Dead Kid's blood factors, and that is sufficient for the Allocator's sensors to misidentify the patient. First, given the small size of the injection the Doctor gave Chellik, it seems more likely that 95% or more of Chellik's blood factors would still be his own, and that something close to a full transfusion would seem to be required in order to fool the scanners, assuming such a thing could be done in the first place. Second, since the Dead Kid had already been dead for a few days, how was it exactly that the Doctor even had his blood factors in the first place? Third, while the Doctor in the end frets that his ethics have been compromised by the fact that he infected Chellik with a virus, at no point does anyone consider the fact that injecting Chellik with alien blood could have been deadly in and of itself.

Previous: "Repression"
Next: "Inside Man"
NEXT WEEK: It's been a year and a half since the Ferengi have appeared on Star Trek. I didn't miss them; did you?



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This review is copyright 2000 David E. Sluss
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