Star Trek: Voyager – 3×04 – “The Swarm”

Star Trek: Voyager
“The Swarm”
Originally Broadcast September 25th, 1996
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: 50252.3

‘Helmsman’s log , stardate 50252.3. While Voyager takes on supplies, Lt. Torres and I are investigating some intermittent sensor readings we picked up this morning. ‘

Tom and B’Elanna have been spending 5 hours in a shuttle looking for the source of the readings and all they have discovered is that she gets cramp if she sits still for two long. He teases her about her ‘monastic’ lifestyle and the crush that Freddie Bristow has on her when suddenly the glitches are back in the shape of two aliens who board their vessel and hit them with an unknown weapon.

On the holodeck, the EMH is indulging his latest craze – imagining he is an operatic tenor. However, his chosen diva for the session is less than impressed with him, especially when he actually forgets the words to ‘O soave fanciulla’ from Puccini’s La Boheme. Captain Janeway calls him back to reality to treat their injured crew.

In sickbay, Torres is alert and reporting the incident to her Captain but Paris is still unconscious from the neuro-electrical weapon. Tuvok is ordered to start broadcasting on all frequencies to try and get the perpetrators of the attack to explain themselves. The EMH momentarily forgets what he is doing, but puts the distraction down to the diva’s upsetting behaviour.

Tuvok reports the results of the repeated hails to the remaining senior staff in the briefing room. The only response is a message that the universal translator cannot handle because the language structure must be totally alien to it. The monitor has a display of a region of space with a border around it. Neelix is concerned, because all he has heard is that ships go in there and either don’t come out again, or if they do, the crew is dead. A diversion around this area would be 15 months at maximum warp. However, if they can find a way to fool the border sensor net, they could get across it a lot quicker. Despite this being against Starfleet regulations on honouring other species territorial claims, Janeway is all for it. She won’t extend their 70+ year journey just because of a bunch of bullies. The EMH reports that he is going to have to operate on Paris’s brain. It’s a simple, non-life-threatening procedure. The meeting breaks up with instructions to tweak the universal translator and find away across that border within an hour.

The EMH explains his singing to Kes while scrubbing for the operation, and describes the diva as ‘arrogant, superior, condescending. I can’t imagine anyone behaving that way,’ he adds, completely unaware of the irony of the statement. He quizzes Kes on the procedure for the operation then finally confesses that he cannot remember how to do it. She gives the instructions but ends up taking over completely. The operation is a success.

Torres is called in to find out what is wrong with the EMH, and she diagnoses a cascading overload which is breaking down his memory circuits, despite all the additional buffers she has installed. The Captain listens to the report and asks the EMH how he feels about the only available solution – a complete reboot of his basic programme without the past two years memories added on. He puts the medical needs of the crew first and agrees, but Kes is not keen. She suggests finding the original cause of the problem first, just as the Doctor would do for a sick crewmember. Janeway concurs.

Back on the bridge, Chakotay and Kim report that they have found a way through the sensor net by adjusting the shields to refract the beams around Voyager unbroken. They could then do a 4 day dash across a narrow neck of the alien’s territory and be gone unseen. Meanwhile, Torres is testing the EMH’s sickbay systems and pronouncing them fit. He isn’t impressed by her ‘bedside manner’. She decides to get a second opinion and heads off to the holodeck.

A representation of Jupiter Station, where the EMH programme was originally developed, is the equivalent of a 3D interactive help file. She transfers the Doctor there and starts tapping at the various computer screens to try and find the index. A voice tells her not to touch that, and someone who is the spitting image of the EMH emerges from behind another row of screens. Meet Doctor Louis Zimmerman, creator and original template for the EMH including the hairline and personality, and also the diagnostic matrix. He curtly informs them that the programme was only designed to run for a maximum of 1500 hours, not two years, and suggests the shutdown and reboot solution. The memory capacity can be expanded, if they’d like to schedule it for their next maintenance layover at McKinley Station, but otherwise, they only have the one option unless they want a Doctor as bright as a parsnip. Janeway calls Torres away from this project so Zimmerman is tasked with finding the cause of the memory failure in her absence.

The team are ready to take Voyager across the border. Torres reconfigures the shields to match Kim’s refraction pulse as they pass through the sensor net, then they go to warp 9.75 whilst a huge armada of alien vessels sits still and oblivious to their actions 5 light years away. Something is not right, however. There is a resonance particle wave damping the warp field and making them slow down. Torres checks out the reaction chamber for damage,

Zimmerman has found the source of the problem – 15000 gigaquads of useless personality sub-routine. Friendships, even romance (which sparks a little jealousy) cluttering up the buffer. The programme ought to be off when it is not needed, not living a life. Kes comes to check on progress and defends the EMH’s expansion and growth into something a lot closer to a real person. Zimmerman is furious. He’s content to be the best diagnostic matrix he can be, and the EMH should be content to be the best EMH, and that’s all. The damage is worsening, as the EMH looks at Kes and tells her that he does not know who she is.

Janeway is getting a kick out of sneaking past the bullies, just like she used to sneak out of the house as a teenager, when they come across another ship with one surviving crewmember on board. He is beamed to sickbay for treatment and interrogation.

His injuries are just like Tom and B’Elanna’s and Kes is trying to help him, but she is not optimistic. Captain Janeway questions him and he tells her that his ship was attacked by a swarm of small vessels which sucked the energy from it, and his crew were attacked by painful weapons. He asks her to inform his home planet of Mislan, 5 parsecs away, of their fate, then dies of his injuries. The EMH at this point is as confused as an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease and completely useless as a doctor.

Back on the bridge, Tuvok’s sensors stop a hitherto unnoticed swarm ship leaving the stricken freighter to scan Voyager. Janeway hails it and hopes that Kim’s modifications to the translator will yield some results this time. It does – too late, should have listened they say then hit them with a polaron burst which changes the shield polarity and lights the ship up like a Christmas tree according to Chakotay. The main cluster of swarm ships can now see the interloper and come after them. They need the warp drive to stay on line, so Torres and Nicoletti have to work out how to realign the dilithium matrix without killing everyone in engineering.

The EMH’s memory is back to his first few days of activation only, but he doesn’t know that he is a hologram anymore. He becomes upset at not being able to leave sickbay, and not having a name, then is even more alarmed when his image flickers. Kes goes to the bridge to try and get help from Kim to keep the EMH going, but her request is refused as their enemy is now less than 100,000 kilometres away. So she heads to the holodeck, activates the Jupiter Station programme and starts arguing with Zimmerman about finding a solution. He had said earlier that he had the same adaptive heuristic matrix as the EMH, and together they decide to graft it onto the Doctor’s in order to strengthen it. She transfers Zimmerman to sickbay to set up the procedure.

Voyager is being caught by the swarm ships and their shields drop to zero thanks to an interferometric pulse that they are emitting. A warning phaser shot is simply reflected back to the ship. Things are looking bad. In sickbay, Zimmerman has set up the overlay programme without knowing if it will work. Either way, they will loose the diagnostic programme. Both holograms are taken off line and the main computer begins the grafting sequence, while Kes and a security guard wait.

Kim has been analysing the pulses and worked out that they are a lattice that connect the fleet together. Destroy one and the whole lot should be affected by a chain reaction. The swarm ships clamp onto Voyager and begin draining energy while aliens beam onto the bridge to be phasered by the crew. Tuvok gets the phasers locked on a target and fires. The energy ricochets through the little ships and they fall off Voyager, retreating. Shields come back to full strength and they escape from the trap.

With her work in engineering finished, Torres waits in sickbay with Kes to see if Zimmerman’s graft is successful. The computer announces that the programme is complete, Kes takes a deep breath and summons the EMH. He appears with his customary opening of ‘please state the nature of the medical emergency’, and is not pleased to be told that he was only activated to check that he is all right. He does not know who Kes is, and Torres admits to a headache to give him something to do. The EMH goes into his office to do something, and begins humming ‘O soave fanciulla’. Kes beams with delight. It worked.

Review

Despite being the B story, it is the tale of the demented hologram that dominates this episode. The jeopardy of the swarm aliens and their xenophobic attitude to travellers never seems to be serious enough to be threatening. What is does give us is yet another demonstration of Captain Janeway’s new attitude towards Voyager’s situation. In season one she was adamant that Voyager would run by Starfleet rules and regulations, but since her encounter with Captain Sulu in Tuvok’s memories, she has become much more Kirk-like in her attitudes. I almost expected her to say ‘regulations be damned’ in the briefing room. This is a good development and I look forward to seeing more rule breaking in the interests of the journey.

This is the second time the Doctor has nearly fallen apart (Projections) and you have to wonder why Janeway and Torres haven’t insisted in him switching himself off more often as a precaution. The one off appearance of Louis Zimmerman was a joy to behold, and I am sure Picardo got a kick out of the double role despite the technical problems of playing two roles in the same scene. The way he referred to the EMH as it (quite rightly) until Kes’s glare finally got to him was good, as were the lines where the EMH describes the operatic diva with total disbelief that anyone could be like that, oblivious to the fact that he is also arrogant, condescending and superior in his attitude towards the rest of the crew.

I am delighted to see Kes getting more of the action with this piece. The character is rapidly becoming the second ship’s doctor and counsellor, and deserves a bit more screen time than the one token line she often got in season two. The incomprehensible aliens were a plus too, Voyager needs more encounters like that, and the crew going hand to hand with the invaders instead of calling for self-destruct is a another step forward.

On the downside – Picardo is not an operatic tenor, at least not to my ears. I’ve heard him singing live and it’s a fair voice, but he does strain at the upper notes from time to time. I also have a gripe about a sequence where they have no shields, then Janeway orders them remodulated so they can use the phasers against the swarm, and back they come online once the swarm is gone.

Trivia note – the diva is played by Carole Davis, a British-born actress and singer who released a CD called Heart of Gold in 1989. You have probably seen her playing Latin characters in Angel, 3rd Rock and A-Team.

If you like the EMH, you’ll enjoy this one. Otherwise, it’s fair, but not spectacular.

Grade: 6/10

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