Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Virtuoso”

Written by Raf Green and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Les Landau
Season 6, Episode 13
Production episode 234
Original air date: January 26, 2000
Stardate: 53556.4

Captain’s log. Voyager has rescued a Qomar ship. The Qomar are technologically more advanced than the Federation, and also spectacularly snotty. They view the EMH as primitive technology and aren’t thrilled with their medical care being entrusted to him.

Then he starts to sing “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad.”

The Qomar are utterly captivated. Music is unheard of in their culture, and they suddenly are very interested in the EMH. He sings various songs for them. Where before the Qomar couldn’t wait to be away from Voyager as fast as possible, the xenophobic Qomar now are inviting Voyager to their homeworld. When they arrive, Prelate Koru greets them semi-warmly, and he’s mostly focused on getting to hear more music, especially from the EMH. Janeway offers them a concert in the mess hall.

The EMH performs first, singing opera, then he introduces them to jazz via Kim’s band, Harry Kim and the Kimtones. However, the Qomar are not as captivated by the instrumental work, and don’t become interested until the EMH joins them on vocals. Afterward, the Qomar are only really interested in the EMH, not any of the other musicians. At one point, Paris extols the virtues of rock and roll, but when he says the EMH doesn’t really sing that (because that would require rights payments that are out of the show’s budget, unlike the public domain opera and folk songs he does like), the Qomar loses any interest in that genre. One Qomar, Vinka, approaches Kim, but it’s only in the hopes that he’ll introduce her to the EMH.

Koru invites the EMH to perform on the surface. The doctor defers to Janeway, who agrees to it. The EMH and the Qomar who has been most excited by the discovery of music, Tincoo, work with Torres to modify the lecture hall to make a good theatre. On more than one occasion, the EMH makes disparaging remarks about Torres’s lack of appreciation of music.

Despite some pre-performance jitters, the EMH performs successfully. The Qomar become massively obsessed with the EMH, visiting Voyager in order to do meet-and-greets with him. Tincoo created a small portable hologram projector of the EMH singing as a souvenir for fans. Enough Qomar are visiting the ship that Tuvok finds it a security risk, and he’s getting so much fan mail that Seven thinks the Qomar are trying to sabotage their communications systems.

Janeway interrupts one of his meet-and-greets in the mess hall by reminding him that he also has duties in sickbay that he’s been neglecting. But when he reports to sickbay, the only patients are two Qomar, Vinka and another woman, Azen, who faked a illness in order to get more private face-time with the EMH. The EMH finally deactivates himself to get away from the over-adoration.

Tincoo reveals that she’s composed a song in his honor, and the EMH is greatly flattered. Unfortunately, because he was programmed with the vocal range of a human, he can’t perform the song, as it’s beyond his program’s range. Tincoo offers to help him alter his program, but there may not be time. His final performance is coming up, and then Voyager is leaving. Tincoo invites him to remain on Qomar instead.

The EMH considers, and eventually tenders his resignation to Janeway. She refuses to accept it at first. The EMH argues very passionately for his rights as an individual, pointing out that if Kim fell in love with an alien woman and decided to stay on a planet in the Delta Quadrant for the rest of his life, she’d let him. He also indicates that he has developed feelings for Tincoo. Janeway isn’t happy about it, but as his friend, she feels she can’t do anything else but accept his resignation.

First, he leaves instructions for Paris on how to deal with various medical issues. (How he’ll deal with 90% of the medical issues he’ll have to face without a medical degree is left as an exercise for the viewer.) He says goodbye to Seven, who is almost petulant in her anger at the EMH abandoning them—and her.

And then, when he beams down, he learns that Tincoo—who saw how conflicted he was about leaving Voyager—has created a holographic doppelgänger of the EMH with a much greater vocal range, and who can actually sing the song she wrote. Now he can go off with Voyager and they still have their singer. And this singer is better than him!

The EMH is devastated, and tries to figure out a way to sing Tincoo’s song to prove that he can do it with soul, which her hologram can’t. Instead, he decides to sing a particularly sad ballad, “Rondine al nido,” and then yields the stage to Tincoo’s hologram. Her composition, while mathematically precise, is dull as dishwater—it’s a fancy version of scales, truly.

Voyager leaves Qomar and the EMH asks to be reinstated. Janeway accepts, but won’t let him delete his musical subroutines, as she wants him to resume all his duties, and all his hobbies. She also reminds him that he pissed off a lot of people on board.

One of those people he pissed off is Seven, and she comes to him with one final bit of fan mail, which expresses regret that he can’t pursue his dream on Qomar and that she thinks he is a great singer. It’s signed, “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One.”

After she leaves, the EMH smiles and starts singing, “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad.”

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Qomar are massively technologically advanced, to the point where Voyager is a spectator in their own rescue.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway tries very hard to be a diplomatic captain and a good commanding officer, but the Qomar’s arrogance and the EMH’s succumbing to his own ego make that really hard for her.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is not happy about the huge crowds of Qomar on the ship to fangoober the EMH.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH’s singing hobby turns him into a celebrity. He also falls for one of the Qomar, and is devastated to realize that she doesn’t feel the same, but is only interested in him as a singer, and only insofar as he’s unique. The minute he’s not, she’s gone.

Half and half. When the EMH asks Torres to delete his medical database to give him the programming capacity to sing Tincoo’s song, Torres reminds him that doing so would make him someone other than himself.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is the manager of the EMH’s personal appearances, managing the line and keeping the riff raff from getting too close.

Forever an ensign. Apparently Kim has a decent little jazz trio. Too bad the Qomar don’t appreciate them…

Resistance is futile. Seven is not happy about the EMH leaving the ship, then writes him a fan letter in gratitude for his staying.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. The EMH falls in love with Tincoo. She doesn’t reciprocate.

Do it. “Doctor, or do you prefer ‘Maestro’?”

“Oh, please, either is acceptable.”

“Well then, let me make it clear to both of you: Maestro, you’re finished for today. Doctor, report to sickbay—now!”

Janeway reading the EMH the riot act.

Welcome aboard. Singer/songwriter Paul Williams plays Koru, an ironic bit of casting, since his character knows nothing about music. Kamala Lopez-Dawson plays Tincoo, Ray Xifo plays Abarca, and the two groupies are played by Marie Caldare and Nina Mangnesson.

Trivial matters: Harry Kim and the Kimtones were sort of also seen in “Course: Oblivion,” as a Kim-led jazz trio played at the Paris-Torres wedding on the fake Voyager in that episode.

In addition to “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” and “Rondine al nido,” the EMH performs “Dio che nell’alma infondere” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos and “That Old Black Magic” (backed by Kim and the Kimtones). Robert Picardo did all his own singing except for on “Rondine al nido,” which was dubbed by Agostino Castagnola.

The Qomar city is a reuse of the Zahl colony that was wiped out by Annorax in “Year of Hell.”

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad all the live-long day…” I want to like this episode more than I do, and it took me a bit to realize what my biggest problem is: It’s incredibly mean-spirited toward fans which, given Star Trek’s history, is a bold and misguided move.

Trek has had stand-ins for their fans before, in the character of Reg Barclay, but “Hollow Pursuits” portrayed Barclay as a sympathetic, and ultimately heroic character who started to move past his awkwardness, a process that continued through two TV shows.

There’s nothing redeeming about the Qomar. From the minute we first see them as the show opens, they’re obnoxious, condescending, arrogant, high-handed, and insulting. They fulfill many of the most negative stereotypes of science fiction fans, and then they double down on it by throwing in more negative stereotypes, from the hero worship to the tricks to get close to the famous person to the fan mail.

On top of that, the EMH’s journey here, which is very similar to the one Data went on in “The Measure of a Man,” is treated much more cavalierly. The conversation between the doc and Janeway is a good one, but it feels like it should’ve had more weight. I’m reminded of the similar conversation between Picard and Data where the latter rhetorically asks why all humans don’t have their eyes removed and replaced with VISORs, as La Forge’s enhanced eyesight is better than normal sight. That was much more devastating. The conversation here feels like it doesn’t cover enough ground—not the least of which is that the EMH is literally the only physician on board. The hypothetical of losing Kim to an alien romance isn’t quite a one-to-one match, as Kim is replaceable. The EMH really really isn’t, and the decision to let him go has less to do with his status as an artificial life form whose sentience has not always been clearly defined, and more to do with the question of what the hell they do when someone needs surgery.

The limitations on the music to public-domain material is also very limiting, and they limit it further by sticking to some very safe European-American music options. I would have loved to have seen a range of musical styles: non-white American music, Asian music, African music. Plenty of that in the public domain, too…

The episode’s charm derives, as ever, from Robert Picardo, who does a wonderful job with the singing, with the egocentrism, and with the abashed regret at the end. Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan are also superb, the former as a frustrated Janeway, the latter as a Seven who has finally just started the process of working out friendship, only to get an unexpected lesson in what happens when that friendship is sundered. (I totally went, “Aw,” when Seven said who sent the fan letter at the end.)

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido has, with his wife Wrenn Simms, formed a new very-small-press publisher, Whysper Wude, and their first project is the anthology The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, which has alternate takes on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Four Cats, Four Lawyers, Four Emojis, Four PTA Moms, Four Rock Stars, Four Opera Singers, etc.) by Star Trek‘s David Gerrold, New York Times best-sellers Jonathan Maberry, Jody Lynn Nye, David Mack, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, as well as Gail Z. Martin, Mary Fan, Laura Anne Gilman, Aaron Rosenberg, Adam-Troy Castro, and many more! Please consider funding the anthology on Kickstarter!


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