“Eye of the Needle”
Written by Hilary J. Bader and Bill Dial and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 1, Episode 6
Production episode 107
Original air date: February 20, 1995
Captain’s log. Kim has picked up subspace emissions that could indicate a wormhole. The only way to be sure is to get closer, but it’s off their course home. Janeway and Chakotay agree it’s worth the detour.
Kes has been studying medicine under the EMH’s care, and also acting as his nurse. When the EMH treats Lieutenant Baxter—in for overexerting himself while exercising, which is his way of dealing with the stress of being stuck far from home—the lieutenant will only talk to Kes, barely acknowledging the EMH’s existence.
Voyager arrives to discover that the wormhole’s mouth is only thirty centimeters in diameter. Nonetheless, Tuvok sends through a microprobe to see where the terminus is. However, the probe gets stuck in a gravitational eddy. The crew theorizes that the wormhole is in an advanced state of collapse.
During a senior staff meeting, Kim and Torres brainstorm the notion of a subspace carrier wave that can get a communication through, using the probe as a relay. A carrier wave is sent back from the other side, and Tuvok confirms that the communication is coming from the Alpha Quadrant.
Kes talks to Janeway about how the crew treats the EMH. Janeway speaks in terms of reprogramming him, but Kes convinces her that he’s a person with the ability to learn, even though he’s a hologram. Janeway talks to the EMH directly. He’s frustrated by the fact that the crew only occasionally remembers to turn him off when they leave sickbay, and sometimes he doesn’t actually want to be turned off, as he was in the midst of an experiment that he can only now get back to because Janeway reactivated him. Janeway agrees to have the engineering staff figure out a way for him to control his own activation and deactivation.
Kim manages to get a subspace signal through, and eventually, they are able to have direct voice communication with the ship on the other side. However, it’s a Romulan cargo ship who refuses to believe that they’re communicating from the Delta Quadrant, preferring to assume that they’re Federation spies.
The Romulan cuts off communication. Tuvok points out that the sector the Romulan claims to be in isn’t a shipping route, and he is more likely a science vessel on a classified mission.
Eventually, the Romulan calls back when Janeway’s asleep, though she’s happy to be awakened for that. In her quarters, she converses with the Romulan, who has examined their subspace carrier wave and determined that it really did come from the Delta Quadrant. Janeway explains that they were sent there against their will and are trying to get home. The ship can’t go through the tiny wormhole, but Janeway wonders if he can accept letters to their loved ones. The Romulan says he will consider it, but would be more willing if they could communicate visually, something he thinks he can manage.
The next day, the Romulan manages to get a visual signal through, though Kim is having trouble with some phase variances in the subspace signal. The Romulan doesn’t recognize Voyager, which surprises Janeway—the Intrepid-class is new, but it’s not classified. The Romulan points out that he’s been on his mission for a year, and isn’t always kept in the loop.
He’s passed on Janeway’s request to the Romulan government, but the Senate moves at its own pace. Janeway is worried that the wormhole will collapse before they get an answer, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that. However, Janeway has Chakotay instruct the crew to prepare messages for their loved ones, in case the Senate agrees.
Torres comes to Janeway with a notion that they might be able to punch a transporter beam through. Janeway tells her to use whatever personnel is necessary to implement it.
Kes shows off her newfound anatomy knowledge to the EMH, who is impressed with how quick a study she is. Only then does the EMH learn that the possibility of them beaming over to the Romulan ship is in play—nobody ever tells the EMH anything. And he’s tethered to Voyager‘s sickbay, so he won’t be able to go with. Sadly, he requests of Kes that, if they do all get to beam through the wormhole, that she remembers to turn him off before they go. She promises to do so.
They test the transporter by sending a test cylinder through. (Tuvok assuring the Romulan that the cylinder, which is made of multiple materials both biological and artificial, is not classified, and indeed the Romulans have similar devices for such testing.) While there are phase variances, Torres is able to compensate and the transport is a success.
After several more attempts, they are ready for a live subject, but the Romulan can’t allow Federation citizens onto his ship. He has requested a troop transport rendezvous with him, and they can beam there, which Janeway accepts. However, they still need to test it with a living person, and so the Romulan himself volunteers to beam to Voyager.
The transport is successful, but then Tuvok examines the Romulan, which tells him why they’ve been having issues with phase variances. He asks the Romulan what year it is, and he says it’s 2351—but it’s 2371 on Voyager. The wormhole’s terminus isn’t just in the Alpha Quadrant, but in the Alpha Quadrant twenty years ago.
The Romulan—who says his name is Dr. Telek R’Mor—offers to tell Starfleet in twenty years not to launch Voyager’s mission, but none of the Starfleet crew agree to that, nor can they go through the wormhole to twenty-years-ago Romulan space, in both cases due to the risk of altering the present. Janeway therefore goes back to her original request: R’Mor takes letters home back, and promises to give them to their loved ones twenty years hence, thus preserving the timelines.
R’Mor is beamed back and the wormhole collapses. Only after he’s gone does Tuvok reveal that records indicate that Dr. Telek R’Mor died in 2367, four years earlier. While it’s possible he left instructions for the letters to be sent, there’s no guarantee of it—and honestly, even if he lived, the chances of the Romulan government actually allowing it was always small.
Janeway orders Paris to continue homeward, as the Alpha Quadrant’s a long way away. Meanwhile, Baxter actually acknowledges the EMH’s existence, which is a relief to Kes and to the doctor.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The wormhole is remarkably stable, having apparently been collapsing for centuries—most natural wormholes have a much shorter shelf life (as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and TNG‘s “The Price“).
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway plays on R’Mor’s compassion, including discussing his own wife and daughter, left behind while he’s in space (his wife was pregnant when he set off, so he’s never actually met his seven-month-old child).
Half and half. We learn that Torres’s Klingon half is her mother’s side, but Torres hasn’t spoken to her in years—she’s not even sure if she’s still living on Qo’noS. Her human father hasn’t been in her life since she was five. The only family she has is the Maquis crew on Voyager right now.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH finally starts to accept that he’s part of the crew, not just a program, aided by Kes, and then by Janeway, who is convinced by Kes that the EMH should be treated as such. He ends the episode by deciding he should have a name, though he will go the rest of the show (and beyond, at least according to the tie-in fiction) without ever choosing one, making him the second character in a long-running science fiction franchise to be known only as “the Doctor.”
Forever an ensign. Kim’s the one who discovers the wormhole initially, and Paris suggests that the wormhole be named after him.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. While Neelix doesn’t appear in the episode, Kes indicates that the two of them plan to join Voyager’s crew in the Alpha Quadrant if Torres’s transporter notion works out. This is particularly amusing in retrospect, since neither Neelix nor Kes ever do leave the Delta Quadrant, and are gone from Voyager by the time they get home in “Endgame.”
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. At one point, Janeway looks longingly at her picture of Mark and Molly.
“Let’s just say I’ve become accustomed to being treated like a hypospray.”
–The EMH lamenting his lot in life.
Welcome aboard. The main guest is the great Vaughn Armstrong, in his third of eleven roles on various Trek shows, having previously appeared as a Klingon in TNG’s “Heart of Glory” and a Cardassian on DS9’s “Past Prologue.” He’ll appear again four more times on Voyager as a Borg separated from the collective in “Survival Instinct,” as a Vidiian in “Fury,” as a Hirogen in “Flesh and Blood,” and as a Klingon in “Endgame.” He’ll also appear as another Cardassian on DS9, have the recurring role of Admiral Forrest on Enterprise, and also appear as a Klingon and a Kreetassan on Enterprise. (I really hope they cast him on Discovery and Picard at some point, just so he can keep his distinction of appearing on all the spinoffs going…)
In addition, Tom Virtue makes the first of two appearances as Lieutenant Walter Baxter. He’ll be back in “Twisted.”
Trivial matters: Christie Golden wrote a three-novel sequel to this episode, the Dark Matters trilogy, in which Voyager once again encounters R’Mor. Golden expands R’Mor’s backstory based on this episode, and shows us more of the Romulan Empire in the 2350s.
This was the only Voyager story by the prolific Hilary J. Bader, who also contributed stories to DS9 and TNG, as well as a couple of scripts for the latter, and also wrote for several Trek videogames. She died in 2002 of breast cancer.
This was also the only Voyager writing by Bill Dial, who also co-wrote two DS9 episodes. Dial, who died in 2008 of a heart attack, is probably best known as the writer of the infamous Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. (“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!“)
A scene in the teaser with Janeway acting out a holonovel on the holodeck was cut for time, but a version of it will be used in “Cathexis.”
Set a course for home. “We raise one ship from the Alpha Quadrant, and it has to be Romulan!” I adore this episode tremendously, even though it ticks all the cliché boxes, because it works. One of the problems with goal-directed television shows like Voyager is that the premise sets the crew up for routine failure. They can’t make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, because if they do, the show’s over. So every time there’s a shot at a way home, you know they won’t make it.
“Eye of the Needle” solves this problem by having the wormhole not be an option from jump—the minute they discover it, they know they can’t fit the ship, or even a person, inside it. So we already know that the crew won’t be getting home—but at least communication is a possibility.
From there, the script does a lovely job of providing hope followed by the rug being pulled out. There’s a wormhole—but it’s too small! We can send a probe—but it’s stuck! We can send a message through, and it leads to the Alpha Quadrant—but it’s in Romulan space! He thinks we’re spies—no, wait, he believes us! We can transport through the wormhole—but it’s twenty years ago on the other side! It keeps the episode moving nicely and keeps the viewer guessing about how it may actually turn out.
In many ways, this episode does right what DS9’s “The Sound of Her Voice” would later do completely wrong, as the surprise about the time jump makes much more sense in this episode than it will on the DS9 episode, where the conversations were longer and friendlier. It also gets the one thing that the DS9 episode did right, to wit, a great guest character, as Vaughn Armstrong does yeoman work making R’Mor a rounded, complex, fascinating character. A respectful friendship develops beautifully between Janeway and R’Mor, starting with the heartfelt audio conversation in Janeway’s quarters, all the way to their goodbyes in the transporter room. Just fabulous work by both Armstrong and Kate Mulgrew. Mulgrew also is wonderful alongside Roxann Dawson in another nerdy technobabble exchange between Janeway and Torres when the latter suggests using the transporter. The joy both characters take in doing science is always tremendous fun.
In addition, the EMH gets a lovely subplot with Kes arguing for his rights in a manner we’ve seen before and since on Trek—notably in “The Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring” in relation to Data in particular and androids in general, and again both on this show and on Picard—and it’s to Janeway’s credit that she comes around as fast as she does. It’s a little disappointing in retrospect that the EMH never does actually pick a name, but it’s nice to see him wanting one here.
Speaking of disappointments, the one thing that keeps this episode from a perfect score is the fact that we never actually see any of the letters home that the crew wrote. This is a blown opportunity to do some quick-and-dirty character development, in much the same way that Discovery will later in “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2,” not to mention the excellent Stargate: Atlantis episode “Letters from Pegasus.”
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido has, to his great disappointment, never written any of Vaughn Armstrong’s characters in any of his Trek fiction, though Admiral Forest was mentioned in The Brave and the Bold Book 1.