(written from a Production point of view)
The Doctor alters his personality subroutines while Kes contemplates leaving Voyager for a man.
- "Captain's log, stardate 50693.2. We've been in orbit above an outpost of the Mikhal Travelers. This loosely governed race of explorers has extensive knowledge of the territory ahead of us, which they are willing to share."
Captain Kathryn Janeway talks with a Mikhal Traveler, who is later revealed to be called Nakahn. They're in his lodge at the Mikhal outpost and he's animatedly telling the captain the incredible story of one of his travels, involving a monstrous, living asteroid. Kes comes in with Zahir, the Mikhal pilot with whom she's been working on the transfer of medical supplies to the outpost. Zahir picks up the last part of Nakahn's story and it's immediately obvious that he's skeptical of it. When he makes that clear, tempers flare and there's a short argument between the two Mikhal but eventually, Kes, Zahir and the captain are left alone. Zahir explains to the captain that there is no such thing as a living asteroid in the space ahead of the USS Voyager but points out that the asteroid in question is rich in vorilium, whereupon the captain decides that might be worth a detour.
Later, The Doctor is in the holodeck, discussing passion with Neelix and the holographic simulations of two historical figures: Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Byron. He's taking note of their arguments on a PADD. When Kes comes in and asks him what's going on, he explains to her that he's working on a "personality improvement project." He's been interviewing all the holographic versions of important historical figures in the database, including Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and T'Pau, in order to select the character traits he finds admirable and merge them into his program. In this manner, he hopes to accomplish, among other things, an improved bedside manner, a fresh perspective on diagnosis, more patience, etc. He adds that he could have used her assistance on his project if she hadn't been "otherwise engaged" on the planet, making it clear that he's not happy with this "infatuation" of hers with the Mikhal Travelers, whom he considers to be "risk-taking thrill seekers with no responsibility to the ideals of exploration." Kes counters that she finds them intriguing, especially Zahir, but The Doctor warns her that how she feels about him now may just be a reaction after recently ending her relationship with Neelix. He then tells her that Gandhi would likely advise her to "take a cold bath" and walks away.
The Doctor is in sickbay with Lieutenant jg B'Elanna Torres who is complaining of nausea, after having eaten a small salad on the planet, despite The Doctor's prior warning that Klingon physiology lacks the enzymes to digest the vegetation of that planet. The Doctor reacts to this in a rather uncharacteristic way, coming awfully close to her and when Torres tells him to back off, he instructs the computer to isolate the recent additions to the EMH program and hold them for review. He then explains to Torres the project he's been working on, whereupon she tells him to be careful with adding behavioral subroutines to his program, as they have a tendency to interact with each other in unpredictable ways. She promises him to take a look at his program after her shift in engineering and as she leaves sickbay, The Doctor deactivates himself.
Meanwhile, Kes is with Zahir on the planet. They're walking an old path in a wooded area, left behind by other spacefarers like Zahir in long forgotten times. When they reach the end of the path, Kes discovers a strange kind of inscription in a rock. According to Zahir, it says "My course is as elusive as a shadow across the sky." Kes thanks Zahir for the evening and they kiss, while a cloaked figure appears in the background watching them intently.
Back on Voyager, a dreamy look in her eyes, Kes bumps into Lt. Tuvok in the corridor, who reminds her that it's 0300 and that she has an away team report due at 0800. Kes assures him she hasn't forgotten and leaves. A few moments later, Kes enters sickbay, where The Doctor, who's working on a report Kes should have done but forgot, gives her a lecture about becoming increasingly unpredictable. She lashes out that everyone's treating her like a child and that she's not a child anymore, then assures The Doctor that she knows he cares about her and that she won't forget that. Then she goes to finish the report.
The next morning, Kes enters the captain's ready room, looking very tired and after having handed her the report, asks to have a word with Janeway. She then proceeds to tell the captain that she wants to spend more time with Zahir and asks to be granted permission to temporarily leave the ship. The captain tells her to think about it for a few more days and Kes leaves.
That evening, Zahir and Tuvok are discussing which route Voyager should take to avoid the Tarkan sentries. Kes interrupts them and tells Zahir that she wants to spend time with him but must catch up on her sleep. Later Zahir walks the same path where he was with Kes the day before. Suddenly, he hears something and pulls out his weapon. He appears to have discovered something horrible on the ground before him but he is knocked off a cliff by the same cloaked figure that was there the day before. A few moments later, the cloaked figure enters Nakahn's lodge and pulls his cape off his head, revealing that he is The Doctor, with a curious expression in his eyes. He drags Nakahn's hands into the fire, then demands a ship and safe passage off the planet.
Kes enters sickbay the next morning and activates the EMH. The Doctor appears to be back to his normal self. When Kes tells him Zahir has been found unconscious and that he needs medical attention, nothing in his behavior suggests he knows anything about it and he's immediately prepared to help. However, as they reach the transporter room, Torres stops them, telling The Doctor she needs to run a full diagnostic on his Holomatrix, because something is wrong. While running the diagnostic, she explains to him that, while all the historical personalities he's chosen to incorporate into his program had some very admirable traits indeed, they also had less desirable attributes and all those, combined within The Doctor's personality, have caused his program to destabilize. She then asks him to deactivate himself so that she can purge his matrix of the added elements but when he attempts to do so, it doesn't work. He merely shimmers a bit.
Meanwhile, by the turbolift, Tuvok is explaining to Janeway that the one who attacked Zahir has curiously left no tangible evidence of his crime at all on his victim. Also, Zahir cannot recall anything. Tuvok and Janeway make their way to sickbay and when they enter it, they find Torres unconscious on the floor. Tuvok activates the EMH and although he's a little irritated, he seems to be his normal self. He diagnoses Torres with delayed anaphylactic shock from the salad she ate the day before and puts her on a biobed for a few hours of observation.
After Tuvok and Janeway leave however, The Doctor starts to shimmer again. When he reappears, he's got the strange look in his eyes once more. He grabs a few hyposprays and goes over to Torres.
After waking her with one of them The Doctor tells her he simulated the anaphylactic shock using a drug and as she discovers that he has paralyzed her from the waist down to get her cooperation, she quickly realizes he has a new personality, created from the new subroutines. He tells her she is correct and that he wants to know from her how to delete The Doctor from his matrix, threatening to torture her if she doesn't. When Torres still refuses to help him, and his subroutines visibly begin to destabilize, he turns to the historical figures in the holodeck for help.
Meanwhile, Tuvok is interrogating Nakahn before going back to the scene of the crime and it's clear that he suspects him.
A few minutes later, Kes finds The Doctor in the holodeck, surrounded by all kinds of malfunctioning holograms. He explains to her that he's the new master of the EMH and the old Doctor is locked up inside him. He then takes her hostage and transports off the ship, after having created a dispersion pattern so that Voyager won't know where to look for them.
Meanwhile, The Doctor and Kes are in the lodge, waiting for Nakahn and the scout ship. The Doctor is attempting to remove the EMH from his program and Kes talks to him and for a moment. She explains to him that both should survive. It almost seems as if she's going to manage to convince him that a place can be found for both him and the original Doctor, until Nakahn enters and tells him he won't be able to escape, because Janeway and her crew have cordoned off the entire area. The Doctor flees, planning on taking the ship onto another continent but Janeway manages to disable the dispersion field long enough to get a lock on Kes' and The Doctor's location and transfers the coordinates to the away team on the planet.
Not long thereafter, the away team finds Kes and The Doctor and Tuvok blocks their path using a phaser to shoot some rocks down. The Doctor then threatens to jump off a cliff with Kes, eventually doing so; right at that moment, they are beamed up to the ship. He is also apparently his normal self once again. Back in sick bay, Torres informs The Doctor that she has rid him of all the extra subroutines. Kes enters and The Doctor explains his gratitude that Kes has decided to remain on board Voyager with those that know her and care for her. After she leaves, The Doctor considers what recently happened and recites to himself the Hippocratic Oath pledging that he will "do no harm".
"Men and women should refrain from enjoying each other. By that I mean to say, even their mutual glances must be free of all suggestion of carnality."
"Free of passion? One might as well be free of Humanity."
- - Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Byron
"It is said the angels themselves take pleasure in their bodies of light."
"And you should take a cold bath. In such cases, it is the finest preventative."
"I'll keep that in mind."
- - Lord Byron, Mahatma Gandhi, and The Doctor
"In my opinion, you've become far too infatuated with these Travelers. From the away team reports, they seem afflicted with terminal wanderlust, risk-taking thrill-seekers, with no responsibility to the ideals of exploration. In short, bad news."
- - The Doctor to Kes
"I think I am detecting a reaction to your recent break-up with Mr. Neelix. The Mahatma would recommend a cold bath. Simplistic and no doubt effective."
- - The Doctor to Kes
"But everyone seems to be treating me like I'm still a child. I'm three years old now."
- - Kes
"Any sharp pains? Heartburn? There's nothing like a heart that burns. Your pulse is – lovely. Ah-hah. Mmm, does that feel ... good?"
"Doctor, unless you want me to knock you into the middle of the next millennium, you'd better back off!"
- - The Doctor and B'Elanna
"The fine art of putting off an important task to the very last minute... then rushing through it. In my Academy days, I was the acknowledged master."
- - Captain Janeway
"The flesh is weak, Kes. Never forget that."
- - The Doctor threatening Kes
"What am I doing here, and why am I wearing these ridiculous clothes?"
- - The Doctor
"Put those phasers away, before you hurt someone and I have to clean up the mess!"
- - The Doctor
"I swear this oath by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Health and by all the gods and goddesses: In whatsoever place that I enter I will enter to help the sick and heal the injured, and I will do no harm."
- - The Doctor (partly reciting the Hippocratic Oath)
Title, story, and script
- Shortly after working on this episode, Robert Picardo supposed the probability that the installment's title is a reference to The Doctor's "purely evil alter ego." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11)
- Robert Picardo reckoned that Brannon Braga co-wrote this episode after finding out that Picardo had played Eddie Quist, a psychopath/werewolf, in the 1981 movie The Howling. The actor commented, "My pet theory is that when Brannon Braga found out I played Eddie Quist in The Howling, he decided to write a scary doctor episode, because The Howling is one of his favorite movies. He didn't know that I played that role. So when he found that out, he decided to do sort of a return of Eddie Quist in the context of Voyager. That's just a theory." In reality, Braga had enjoyed Picardo as Eddie Quist but that performance was unrelated to the genesis of this episode. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91)
- The episode actually began with an uncredited premise that Star Trek: Voyager's writing team bought. Brannon Braga remembered, "The idea [for the episode] actually came from a pitch, and we bought the premise for it. Jekyll and Hyde was all there was." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 106) Indeed, the episode is obviously similar to the story Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Both Robert Picardo and Roxann Dawson have referred to this installment in such a way, with Picardo calling the episode "pretty much a classic 'Jekyll and Hyde' story" and Dawson saying, "That was our Jekyll and Hyde episode, with The Doctor turning a little evil." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11; The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 12)
- The first draft of this episode's script was submitted on 18 November 1996.
- The Doctor's malevolent alter ego was initially scripted as being more perverse than he is in the episode's final version. Joe Menosky remembered, "We originally made The Doctor perversely sexual and sadistic. There was a sense that his attachment to Kes was weirdly kind of psychosexual, and we took it to its limit. In the screenplay first draft that I wrote, I had a scene when Kes walks into the holodeck and sees The Doctor doing an experiment. There are Keses everywhere, and he's got one of them on the operating table, and he has some flip line about, 'Just trying to get to know you better.' It's very perverse." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 94) Presumably, this scene ultimately became the one in which Kes finds The Doctor sabotaging the historical holograms on the holodeck.
- The perversity of The Doctor's evil second self was lessened on behalf of story consultant Michael Piller, much to the disappointment of Robert Picardo. "Michael Piller [...] wrote a strong memo. He basically said, 'If you guys shoot it like this, I'm going to take my name off this episode,'" Joe Menosky recounted. "It made us reconsider doubts that we'd had. Michael's argument was that you got a sense, after the episode was done and The Doctor was back to normal, that somewhere in The Doctor was this horrible, dirty old man who was just waiting to get his hands on Kes. There was almost no way to erase that. That's probably why Picardo was so disappointed when we ended up not going that route, because he really loved the 'S and M Doctor,' as he liked to call it." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 94)
- Ultimately, however, Robert Picardo was not only excited but also surprised by the conclusion of this episode's final version. He opined, "It has quite an exciting ending [....] It's very unexpected with regard to what I do with Kes and what risks I'm willing to put her in." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11)
- The episode's final draft script was submitted, under the slightly different title "The Darkling", on 3 December 1996.  The shooting script noted when The Doctor was in "evil" mode by surrounding the character's designation in quotation marks (i.e., "Doctor"). (Star Trek: Voyager Companion)
- As of September 2020, Amazon.com's Prime streaming service has this episode listed under its working title "The Darkling".
Cast and characters
- Robert Picardo was thrilled that this episode allowed him to act outside of his usual confines of performance on the series. "I got to really be evil. I got to do Jekyll and Hyde," he excitedly recalled. "It was fun!" (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11) He also said, "I got to be very crazy [...] It's a fine line to draw, between pulling this off and [...] what[ever] happens if the audience doesn't take it seriously." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91) In addition, Picardo remembered, "'Darkling' was fun and challenging for me because it was so different from anything else I have done on Star Trek: Voyager thus far. I had the freedom to create a completely different personality for The Doctor – one that had a very evil streak. So it was incumbent on me to be frightening to the other cast members and hopefully to the audience, and to really take it as far as I could go. The episode reminded me of my experience doing horror movies such as The Howling. It was challenging." However, Picardo simultaneously felt that he didn't enjoy playing The Doctor's evil doppelganger as much as he probably would have, had he been considerably younger. He admitted, "To be frank, it wasn't fun to do. I don't enjoy playing creepy characters the way I used to as a young man. I don't know if that's a response to being a father now." (Star Trek Monthly issue 30, p. 18)
- Joe Menosky was reasonably satisfied with Robert Picardo's performance here. "He chewed the scenery as only Bob can chew," Menosky noted of Picardo, "and I think it worked pretty well." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91)
- Roxann Dawson enjoyed acting with Robert Picardo in the scenes wherein the evil Doctor persona menaces B'Elanna Torres. Dawson recalled, "Bob Picardo and I had some fun together when we were doing the scenes when he was in his Mr. Hyde mode [....] It was so disgusting, but I think it came across as very funny." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 12) Remembering such sequences, Robert Picardo laughed, "I was teasing poor Roxann about how sorry I was for behaving this way, but how they made me do it, and were paying me." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11)
- Robert Picardo liked how the episode presented him with an enjoyable opportunity to act wickedly to the episode's female performers in general. Not long after he performed in this episode, Picardo mused, "Last year I was paid to kiss all the female guest stars. This year I'm paid for sexually harassing all the women in the cast, which has been fun! [....] I abuse women, which is certainly not an image I'm promoting. But they straighten me out in the last couple of minutes." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11)
- According to the costume tag of a sold costume on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay, actor Steve Ozuna appeared as an extra in this episode. (The costume actually was not found on screen, so this has yet to be verified.) 
Production and effects
- Robert Picardo used contact lenses and prosthetic teeth for the evil version of The Doctor. "There were very subtle changes in my appearance, subtle make-up changes," he observed. "I wore some interesting contact lenses that were my idea, to reduce the size of my cornea so that my eyes appear just slightly beadier. And I also wore a dental appliance on my lower teeth that I had not worn since The Howling. I save all of my prosthetics in a drawer, so I pulled out the teeth and wore them to give me a more Neanderthal, animalistic appearance." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11) Picardo also remarked, "I've saved my Eddie Quist teeth for I don't know, 12 or 14 years. It's nice to take them out of the drawer." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91)
- The individuals on whom Robert Picardo tried out his subtle make-up changes included Joe Menosky. "He walked into our offices when we were working, looking mean and basically being mean, and he said, 'What do you think?' in his Hyde voice, and stayed in character the whole time," Menosky remembered. "It wasn't until the end of his little psychodrama that we realized that makeup had put in contacts that made his eyes beadier, and also he had put on his bottom teeth, a couple of real tiny kind of overlays." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91)
- An early indication gave Robert Picardo a good impression of the makeup. "It's pretty cool," he said. "I've seen the footage in rough cut, and it's good. I'm kind of excited about it." (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 11)
- Joe Menosky thought the makeup, in the end, was very successful. "If you're aware of it when you watch the episode you realize that his bottom lip is pushed out just a little bit. He changed his voice around this thing that he'd done to his teeth," Menosky noted. "He did look mean, totally different. He looked scary as hell." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 91)
- Metal structures (showing Kazon designs) seen in Nakahn's bar on the planet here were reused from the second season episode "Alliances", wherein they appear on the planet Sobras.
- This episode includes five matte paintings that were created by digital matte artist Eric Chauvin. The first that appears in the episode provided the background for, in the words of visual effects supervisor Mitch Suskin, "the shot with the three moons and Kes and Zahir standing in front of the mountains." The second that is shown was of the distressed holographic Socrates, having been halved by the nefarious personality that takes control of The Doctor. Of this matte painting, Suskin recalled, "There was an actor lying on the floor. Mr. Berman wanted to see that these particular holograms were just hollow shells, so Eric did the painting of Socrates in half." The other three mattes that Chauvin contributed for the episode are shown towards the end of the installment, with the first to appear being the wide shot of "The Doctor and Kes running along the edge of the cliff where we see the cliff face in the foreground." The penultimate matte to appear is the establishing shot of the forest below the cliff. The sequence in which The Doctor and Kes fall from the cliff involves not only the last matte to be shown but also blue screen footage of Robert Picardo and Kes actress Jennifer Lien hanging on wires. Chauvin composited the matte together with the wirework footage and the shot was completed with the transporter effect, as done by Digital Magic. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 105)
Continuity and trivia
- This episode also establishes that the relationship of Neelix and Kes has ended. In "Warlord", Kes (possessed by Tieran) told Neelix her decision to break up. No such decision is shown on-screen by the actual Kes, but the separation must have occurred between Warlord and this episode.
- Since Voyager is shown to be traveling through normal space again, the crew's journey through the Nekrit Expanse must have come to an end sometime prior to this episode.
- A similar technique of transporting a person but not the weapons in his possession was used in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "To the Death".
- The act of transporting individuals while falling is also attempted and succeeded in 2009's Star Trek.
- Structures that can be seen on the surface of the Mikhal Traveler's outpost here were evidently later reused in the sixth season episode "Blink of an Eye", on the surface of Kelemane's planet at its most advanced stage.
- Similarly, the metal structures in Nakahn's bar later appear again in Doctor Chaotica's lair.
- T'Pau, an important Vulcan figure who appeared in ENT and TOS, is mentioned as being one of The Doctor's added subroutines.
- Chakotay later led a Voyager away team and found vorilium on the planet. During this mission, Harry Kim was separated from the group for a time and became infected with a Taresian retrovirus. (VOY: "Favorite Son")
- In the scene where The Doctor is fleeing to the planet surface with Kes as his captive, pieces of positioning marker tape can be seen on the transporter pad.
Reception and aftermath
- This episode is the first in what is known to some fans as the "trilogy of terror" – three consecutive episodes that are often considered to be remarkably bad (the other two episodes being "Rise" and "Favorite Son"). (Beyond the Final Frontier, p. 304)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 4.3 million homes, and a 7% share.
- Cinefantastique rated this episode 3 out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 106)
- Star Trek Magazine scored this episode 4 out of 5 stars, defined as "Trill-powered viewing". (Star Trek Monthly issue 29, p. 58)
- The unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 173) gives this installment a rating of 5 out of 10.
- Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew expected that this episode's quality would be recognized over time. Speaking at the end of Voyager's third season, she remarked, "I think The Doctor's (Robert Picardo's) work this year was pretty exceptional. I think that 'Darkling' will probably go down as one of the better shows." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 84)
- The items that were used for this episode's production but were later sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction include a jacket worn by Stephen Davies (as Nakahn)  and a coat worn by Tom Morga (serving, in this case, as stunt double for David Lee Smith, in the role of Zahir). 
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.9, 21 July 1997
- As part of the VOY Season 3 DVD collection
Links and references
- Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay
- Roxann Biggs-Dawson as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres
- Jennifer Lien as Kes
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Lieutenant Tom Paris
- Ethan Phillips as Neelix
- Robert Picardo as The Doctor
- Tim Russ as Lieutenant Tuvok
- Garrett Wang as Ensign Harry Kim
- Noél De Souza as Gandhi
- Christopher Clarke as Lord Byron
- Sue Henley as Ensign Brooks
- Majel Barrett as the USS Voyager computer voice
- Damaris Cordelia as Mikhal bar alien
- Tarik Ergin as Ayala
- Holiday Freeman as operations officer
- Sue Henley as Mikhal bar alien
- Susan Lewis as
- Angela Lloyd as Resort woman
- Betty Matsushita as T'Pau
- Traci Murray as Resort woman
- Louis Ortiz as
- Steve Ozuna as Mikhal traveler
- Lemuel Perry as Mikhal bar alien
- Don Rutherford as Socrates
- Erica Samuel as Resort woman
- Jennifer Somers as sciences officer
- Scott Strozier as Resort man
- John Tampoya as Kashimuro Nozawa
Aesculapius; alizine; Algorithm; all-nighter; Alpha Quadrant; alter ego; anaphylactic shock; angel; asteroid; automaton; away team report; bath; bedside manner; behavioral subroutine; cateline; ccs; cell; child; "clean bill of health"; closing time; command sequence; Curie, Marie; da Vinci, Leonardo; dermal regenerator; dispersion signal; divine intention; DNA; EMH program 4C; enzyme; emergency outpost facility; empathy; explorer; heart; heartburn; high warp; Hippocratic Oath (Hippocrates); holodeck; holographic technology; H'ohk; ice pack; infrared; intraspinal inhibitor; kilometer; Klingon Physiology; lodge; logic; logical ability; low-altitude ship; Mahatma; mannequin; medkit; mentor; meter; Mikhal outpost; Mikhal outpost planet; Mikhal Travelers; molecule; moonquake; Nakahn's navigator; Nakahn's ship; navigator; osteo-regenerator; path; personality; Personality improvement project; philosopher; pilot; plasma belt; poet; preventative; preparatory report; preparatory report ignorers; procreation; progenitor; protein; ravine; romanticism; saint; salad; sentry; scattering field; scientist; scout ship; sex; simulacra; skin; speech center; Starfleet Academy; subspace wave guide; Sylleran Rift; Tarkan; tricorder; tongue; Tropical Resort Simulation 3; transporter; transporter operator; Transporter Room 3; trophy; turbolift; vorilium; Vulcan; Vulcan (planet); waist; wanderlust; year; Zahir's ship
- "Darkling" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Darkling" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Darkling" at Wikipedia
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