The Great Star Trek Voyager Rewatch: Message in a Bottle

When Seven of Nine discovers a communications relay network that stretches all the way to the Alpha Quadrant, the crew use it to send The Doctor over to a Starfleet vessel at the other end of it. Unfortunately, when The Doctor arrives on the USS Prometheus, he discovers that it has been taken over by Romulans. Now, The Doctor must work together with the brand new EMH Mark II to retake the Prometheus and get a message to Starfleet.

Message in a Bottle marks a number of firsts for Voyager. This is their first contact with the Alpha Quadrant in the correct time period, not to mention the first appearance of the Hirogen, an adversary who will dominate the show for the next few episodes. It also introduces a new EMH and a brand new type of starship. A momentous episode indeed.

But what truly makes Message in a Bottle enjoyable, memorable and a fan favourite, is the double act between The Doctor and his counterpart on the Prometheus. Robert Picardo and Andy Dick are clearly having great fun with their roles here, with plenty of witty repartee and snappy one-liners to be found. It’s worth forgiving the episode for the slightly dodgy premise (more on that in a moment), just to be able to sit back and enjoy the two doctors at their best.

Points of Note

  • It’s time to talk about quadrants again. Unless Voyager flies directly through the centre of the galaxy, or heads back via the Gamma Quadrant (which we know they aren’t doing, to keep them separate from DS9), then their route home should take them through the Beta Quadrant. If the Hirogen relay network reaches all the way to the Alpha Quadrant, there must be stations in the Beta Quadrant. The Federation, the Romulans and the Klingons all have some presence in the Beta Quadrant. It seems surprising that none of these powers have encountered either the Hirogen or this relay network before.
  • Given that most things on the Prometheus are restricted to those with the appropriate security clearance, it’s pretty amazing that the Romulans were able to take over the ship and operate it. Either Romulans are amazing at hacking into computers – which, to be fair, wouldn’t surprise me – or Starfleet security remains terrible, even on experimental new ships.
  • Chakotay is a bit victim-blaming towards B’Elanna at the very start of the episode – Seven was clearly in the wrong for stealing a component, but Chakotay puts the onus on B’Elanna to act more like a senior officer and get on with Seven better. For that matter, as a senior officer, surely B’Elanna could override the lock on the door to Astrometrics?
  • The Doctor says that he has reprogrammed himself to make sexual relations possible – presumably, given how heteronormative Star Trek is, he means that he has given himself a penis. The EMH Mark II is interested in these upgrades, and asks for the modifications to be downloaded to his program. Once we get over the idea that this means he and The Doctor might end up with identical genitalia, we realise that this means the EMH Mark II, a brand new AI, already has a sex drive and sexual desires. Why bother programming an EMH with a sex drive? I can imagine that The Doctor, who has had years to evolve and change, might develop such feelings, but why program it in from the start?
    I guess it might be a side effect of loading up an EMH with so much medical information, including lots about mating rituals and the effects thereof, might have the side effect of making them interested in sexual practices, and curious to try them out. Then again, they also know more than most people about STDs and their effects, and come to think of it as a messy biological function rather than something pleasurable.
  • For that matter, who did the Doctor have sex with? Was it the hologram of Danara Pel, his holographic wife in Real Life, or someone else? Presumably it wasn’t a member of the crew, although I guess he could have had an offscreen one night stand.
  • The Prometheus splitting into three parts for its multi-vector attack mode makes me suspect that someone on the writing crew was a fan of giant robot anime.
  • Voyager was declared officially lost fourteen months prior to this episode, so around the start of season three. It seems that Telek R’Mor’s family did not pass on the crew’s messages to Starfleet after all.
  • The Doctor is unaware of the Dominion, even though they had been encountered before Voyager left for the Delta Quadrant.
  • Two Defiant-class starships appear in this episode.
  • Surely reading Gray’s Anatomy only helps Tom to learn about human anatomy – what about the other races aboard Voyager? I think reading Leonard McCoy’s Comparative Alien Physiology would have been a better bet. And of course, training some other officers to have medical knowledge would be a good idea too.

Lost, crashed or destroyed shuttlecraft running total: 11

Possibly salvageable shuttlecraft running total: 7

Number of times the entire crew gets kicked off the ship: 2

Number of times Voyager gets destroyed: 2

Summary – Message in a Bottle: “Stop breathing down my neck!”

“My breathing is merely a simulation.”

“So is my neck. Stop it anyway!”

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