The Doctor is sent to the Alpha Quadrant to cure the dying creator of his program, Lewis Zimmerman, but the holography engineer wants no part of him.
The station is the home and workplace of Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, the crotchety genius and holography engineer extraordinaire best known for the creation of Voyagers Emergency Medical Hologram. Dr. Zimmerman grumpily allows Barclay in to see him. They speak about Barclay’s work on the Pathfinder Project and an annoyed Zimmerman mocks Barclay for still searching for that ship. Barclay tells him that they are on the verge of a breakthrough through the establishment of a communications link.
Then the subject turns to Zimmerman’s medical condition. Zimmerman snorts angrily at this, stating that he has been scanned and probed a hundred times without anyone being able to tell him what is wrong. Barclay ventures that it is only a matter of time until they find something, but Zimmerman has none of it. His next words remind Barclay that time is a luxury Dr. Zimmernan cannot afford; his condition is fatal and he is dying.
Via the MIDAS Array, Starfleet transmits a compressed data stream across the 30,000 light year distance to Voyager. It is received in the ship's Astrometrics lab by Seven of Nine who quickly analyzes the data and informs Captain Janeway about the transmission.
Janeway calls a meeting of the senior staff explaining the receipt of the data stream and that every 32 days, Starfleet will transmit a short burst of data to them via the MIDAS array, utilizing a cyclic pulsar to amplify the signal across the distance. The data is usually correspondence from crew-members' families and news of the Alpha Quadrant. However, they only have about 17 hours to respond before the pulsar's strength drops below sending range. She orders that the crew be informed and that everyone be given the opportunity to send something.
As before, Neelix, the ship's morale officer, is put in charge of distributing the individual messages. This time, he also has one for The Doctor, which he promptly delivers to him in sickbay. It is a message from Barclay who informs him about Dr. Zimmerman's condition. Barclay explains that Dr. Zimmerman is suffering from acute sub-cellular degradation and that the doctors at home have not been able to find the cause, much less the treatment. Neelix informs the Doctor gently of the time the Captain needs his response by, if he wants to send one.
The Doctor, however, intends to send more than just a reply; he believes that he can actually help Dr. Zimmerman by adapting a variety of Borg regeneration techniques to arrest the cell damage and maybe even reverse it. And what's more, he intends to administer the treatment himself by being sent back to the Alpha Quadrant. Captain Janeway is not very convinced, saying that even if they could send him, he was still needed on the ship. But the Doctor points out that for the short time he is gone, Tom Paris can take over. He goes on to say that Seven has discovered that they can compress his program and send him. He realizes that he would be asking the crew to make a sacrifice, because if his program is sent, then there won't be any room for personal messages, but he believes that while the crew can wait another month, Dr. Zimmerman might not have that luxury. He pleads with her, responding that he needs to be there and that he cannot treat a patient 30,000 light-years away. He points out that everything he is, he is because of Dr. Zimmerman and his work and that in a way, both he and the crew owe Zimmerman something. Janeway points out that Zimmerman created thousands of emergency medical holograms and that he can hardly be considered to be a father to him, but the Doctor disagrees, stating that from his perspective, his creator is the closest thing he's got and that if he doesn't help him now, he may never get the chance. Captain Janeway finally agrees hoping that the Doctor will be successful in his endeavors.
Seven prepares the Doctor for transmission. Despite the Doctor's protests, she extracts all his non-essential subroutines because his program is currently too large for transmission. Then, in the Astrometrics lab, with Captain Janeway and Ensign Kim there to prep him and see him off, Seven downloads and transmits him.
He arrives successfully at Jupiter Station, where a very excited but nervous Lt. Barclay rushes with a portable data device to Zimmerman's laboratory. Zimmerman’s assistant, a holographic Human woman named Haley, warns him that he is in a particularly cranky mood, but Barclay insists on seeing him. Zimmerman agrees to see while his assistant asks him to be nice to Barclay, because he is actually worried about him.
Barclay enters and activates the Doctor. He is without his mobile emitter, but is being projected using the emitters Zimmerman has installed throughout his lab. Zimmerman is far from enthused; he is not very impressed with being presented with the obsolete EMH Mark I, stating that he is in fact not in the mood for nostalgia. Disappointed by his reaction, Barclay informs him exactly what EMH Mark I he is looking at, but this merely elicits yet another sarcastic dismissal of the Doctor from a still unenthusiastic Zimmerman.
When The Doctor informs Zimmerman of the reason for his visit, Zimmerman's sarcasm begins to boil over into anger. "You brought a Mark I 30,000 light years to treat me?" he asks Barclay with a baleful glare. "I was wrong about you, Reginald; you do have a sense of humor." He curtly turns his back on both of them.
The Doctor does not appreciate this; he was expecting a vastly different reception from his creator. He asks Barclay what the joke is, in regard to Zimmerman's comment. Zimmerman's sarcasm disappears entirely, leaving only anger. He gives the Doctor a total shocking surprise, one that shatters his previously-held assumption that EMHs like him were performing a great medical function. he finds out that the EMH Mark I program was reconfigured to scrub plasma conduits on waste transfer barges. The Doctor is horrified. Zimmerman continues yelling that he has been treated by the Mark III, Mark IV, and not to mention the real doctors in Starfleet, none of which could help him. Barclay tries to ameliorate the situation by explaining to Dr. Zimmerman all The Doctor's unique experiences that have increased his knowledge in the medical field vastly, but Zimmerman doesn't want to hear it.
The Doctor himself is becoming irritated by Zimmerman, but this does not stop him from trying to carry out the reason for which he risked his program by coming here. He tells him that he needs to run a complete analysis by scanning him with a medical tricorder, but Zimmerman refuses to let him do so. However, his persistence makes Zimmerman see that he is going to have to acquiesce in order to be left alone, so he finally relents, standing still and allowing the Doctor to take his scans. A very mollified Barclay leaves to wait outside.
It does not last, however. The Doctor, annoyed by a holographic iguana Zimmerman has in his lab for company, deactivate it. Furious at this, Zimmerman ceases his cooperation and shouts at him to leave. The Doctor refuses, defiantly retorting that he is no longer under Zimmerman's control, to which Zimmerman sharply orders the computer to transfer the Doctor to the living quarters. The flustered Doctor finds himself suddenly relocated outside the lab, where a concerned Barclay and Haley look at him in surprise.
The next day, Haley and Barclay are sitting in the living quarters, talking about the situation. A furious Doctor storms in, demanding that the MIDAS array be powered up to send him back to Voyager at once. He spent an hour analyzing the confusing data before discovering that Zimmerman, according to the readings, is a Vulcan marsupial. The Doctor is outraged because Zimmerman reconfigured his tricorder. Barclay chuckles a bit and Haley tells him that she thinks that he is making some progress because Dr. Zimmerman only teases people he likes. Finally, Barclay calms him down, reminding him that he cannot be sent back until the following month. This does nothing to alter The Doctor's ire, however. He is becoming increasingly agitated by the situation he is in, especially when a holographic insect keeps buzzing into his ear. He angrily voices his opinion of the absurdity of the situation he finds himself, with undercover insects, talking iguanas and not to mention Dr. Zimmerman whom he considers to be deranged and in dire need of a counselor. This gives Barclay an idea.
Barclay contacts the USS Enterprise-E and speaks to Commander Deanna Troi, the ship's counselor. He asks her to come to Jupiter Station and provide some insight into the situation between The Doctor and Zimmerman. At first, she is reticent, responding that the Enterprise is on an important mission, nearly seven light years away. But Barclay pleads saying that this situation needs the best: her. She is visibly pleased by his confidence in her, and agrees to come, provided her commanding officer, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, grants her request.
Later on, Haley, having prepared Zimmerman's lunch, calls and informs him. His response over the comm is pleasured groaning, then an acknowledgment of her message. He is seen being massaged by a most exotic-looking Tarlac woman. Lying on his ventral side, he complains to her about The Doctor's harassment of him and the dread he feels just thinking about him. Then he notices her pulling out a medical tricorder to scan him. Shocked, he gets up, demanding an explanation. Suddenly, epiphany hits him. He orders the computer to realign Voyager's EMH. The Tarlac woman is replaced by an embarrassed-looking Doctor.
Zimmerman becomes livid. His face contorted with rage, he threatens to report The Doctor to the medical ethics board, screaming at him to leave him alone. The Doctor sternly tries to get him to see that he is only trying to help, but Zimmerman screams that he doesn't want his help, again asking why he just won't leave him alone. The Doctor explains that for some reason unknown to him, he cares about him. Zimmerman mocks him again, saying that he was not programmed to care but to hold a scalpel. However, the Doctor reiterates that over the past six years, he has become more than the EMH Zimmerman had once created.
Just then, Haley calls, informing Zimmerman of a visitor, who enters shortly after: Commander Troi.
Troi introduces herself, though both know who she is. She immediately gets to work, trying to engage them and bring about a spirit of détente. The Doctor is appreciative, but Zimmerman is surly and obstinate. She first tries to get The Doctor to see Zimmerman's point of view on the situation but to Zimmerman's mind, the Doctor is obsolete. Therefore, he has difficulty putting confidence in him. The Doctor understands this.
She then asks Zimmerman to understand the Doctor's position. If the situation were reversed, the Doctor would not want him working on him either, considering him obsolete. Zimmerman pretends to go along with her. But then he breaks the pretense with a snide remark that the Doctor, being an EMH Mark I, can start purging the plasma conduits on Deck Six. This arouses the Doctor's anger once again and they begin to bicker, until Troi loses her cool, calling them both jerks before storming out.
Later, in the living quarters, Troi glumly tells Barclay that perhaps she should not have come; things are now worse than before because now Zimmerman and the Doctor refuse to even be in the same room with each other.
Haley brings Troi's principal vice: chocolate ice-cream. Troi is very appreciative. Her empathic powers, not sensing any emotions from her, reveal Haley to be a hologram. Upon finding out when she was created, she realizes that Haley is in fact older than the Mark I. She wonders then why Zimmmerman pays her heed, but refuses to do so with the Doctor? After a bit of coaxing, as this is not something Zimmerman wants publicly known, Haley explains that the Mark I was Zimmerman's most prized work. He had dreamed about holograms in every corner of the Milky Way, rendering critical medical care, saving lives in situations where flesh-and-blood doctors could not go. He was so proud of the Mark I that he modeled its physical appearance after himself. But Starfleet was unimpressed, ordering the Mark I reconfigured as plasma conduit cleaners. Zimmerman was devastated and humiliated. He tried for years to repair the defects, until he gave up and started again from scratch, first creating the Mark II, then III, then IV. None of these newer models looked like him again; he made that mistake once and was not about to do it again.
And now, Troi concludes, after all these years, a Mark I appears, a reminder of his failure and shame, like staring in the mirror at a reflection one never wants to see again. She now understands exactly what the root cause of Zimmerman's attitude and belligerence toward The Doctor is. Savoring her ice-cream, she considers her next steps.
Alone in his lab, with the lights low, a quiet, frightened but resigned Zimmerman dictates to the computer his last will and testament. With nobody else present, he lets some of his hidden feelings show, evincing deep care about those few people who are close to him, such as Haley and Barclay. Then pain due to his condition seizes him with red-hot talons. He sits in his chair, gasping.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is in the station's holodeck, which Barclay has programmed to be a facsimile of Voyager's sickbay. Commander Troi enters and speaks to him about having dinner with her, Barclay, Haley... and Zimmerman. Initially, he is interested, but at the mention of the last, he flatly refuses. Then he begins to fritz. Urgently, Troi calls Barclay who immediately transfers him to the living quarters, where he begins running diagnostics on him.
The news horrify the Doctor: he is degrading, destabilizing. Soon, he will be destroyed completely. There is nothing Barclay can do.
Soon after, Barclay, Haley, and Troi are in Zimmerman's lab, with Zimmerman. Haley busies herself cleaning while Troi and Barclay speak to Zimmerman about the Doctor's deterioration. Zimmerman could not care less: "Good riddance to bad photons," is his response.
The officers plead with him: he is dying; Voyager cannot do without him. He irritatedly responds that he will send them a Mark IV as a replacement. They don't want a Mark IV, Barclay presses, they want their friend. This irritates Zimmerman even more, stating that no E.M.H. was ever designed to be anyone's friend; shouting at everyone that he is just a hologram.
A very poor choice of words. Haley immediately whirls on him, hurt in her voice, asking him if that is that how he feels about her. Mortified, Zimmerman can only mutter that he will not be ambushed in his own lab.
Haley takes over from Troi and Barclay. She reminds him of the time when he was on Vulcan to give a lecture and received a message that she was destabilizing. He immediately canceled the lecture and returned to Jupiter Station to repair her. Her voice is tinged with emotion as she says this. Zimmerman, never comfortable with his soft side exposed for others to see, tries to respond that he was merely looking for an excuse to escape delivering the lecture.
But there is no conviction at all behind his words. "You came back because you cared about me," Haley presses. "Just like you care about the Mark I; you just won't admit it." Leaning in close, she brings up the forbidden subject, admitting that he may not be perfect, but that he is one of his creations, and that right now, he needs his creator. She asks him to not turn his back on him now. Zimmerman looks around at all of them, the resistance leached out of him. He quietly relents.
Later, eating Haley's salad, alone in the lab, he begins his work. He has the computer activate the Doctor and informs him of his intention to repair him and begins working at a terminal. The Doctor, as expected, is not a good patient himself: he frantically pesters Zimmerman with questions about what action he is taking and why he is taking it. Finally, Zimmerman just shuts him off.
Seventeen hours later, he activates him again. He proudly informs him that he has succeeded. But the Doctor finds that he cannot move. When asked why, Zimmerman excitedly informs him that not only has he repaired him, he has made some "improvements" on him. These improvements are those that he always had wanted to do on the Mark I, but never got the chance to. The upgrades include changing his on-activation greeting to something more friendly, as well as adding new subroutines for compassion, patience, empathy and decorum. Zimmerman is extremely pleased. He comments, much to the Doctor's pleasure, that he has exceeded his programming and accomplished much more than he would have predicted. But, he adds, he never overcame his initial defects as a Mark I but now, he has a chance to.
The Doctor is not pleased, however. He likes himself the way he is. Zimmerman cannot understand this, telling the Doctor that he is doing him a favor after all. The Doctor is hurt; yes, he wants Zimmerman's approval, but he also wants his acceptance of him as he is, as what he made himself to be. He doesn't want any favors and he definitely does not want the new subroutines. Disappointed, he asks why Zimmerman just can't accept him as he is. Zimmerman bluntly responds that this is because the Doctor is defective. This is when suddenly the years of shame and disappointment about the Mark I surface. Stalking around the lab, he vents his feelings to the Doctor; about the perjorative acronyms Starfleet gave the EMH Mark I, such as "Emergency Medical Hotheads" and "Extremely Marginal House-calls"; about how he tried to have them decommissioned, only to have to watch Starfleet reassign them all to work waste-transfer barges.
He sinks onto a couch. And his next words reveal the full extent of his devastation over how the project turned out; feelings which are exactly those deduced by Troi on hearing the story of the Mark I from Haley; feelings of extreme shame and embarrassment, which he is always reminded of. It comes out in one single sentence: "Do you know how humiliating it is to have 675 Mark Ones out there, scrubbing plasma conduits... all with my face?"
Now the Doctor understands. He gently tells him that he is still doing what he was made for, and is quite good at it. And this is why he is here: to do that job for him, so that he may be proud of him. This is of comfort, Zimmerman admits, stating that at least one of the EMHs he created is still doing what he designed them to do. The Doctor parlays that admission into a gentle request to let Zimmerman treat him. Zimmerman considers and, to the Doctor's great joy, finally agrees.
32 hours later, the Doctor emerges from the lab to happily inform Barclay, Haley and Troi that the procedure was successful. He is certain Zimmerman will recover. However, he has a few questions regarding his earlier degradation: apparently, it had been started intentionally. He rounds on Barclay and pointedly calls for an explanation. He and Troi sheepishly confess that they set up the whole thing about his program decompiling in order to break down Zimmerman's resistance. The Doctor smiles, not holding it against them.
One month later, The Doctor is in Zimmerman's lab, snapping holo-images. Zimmerman walks in. The Doctor insists he go back to bed. Zimmerman sighs in annoyance. He voices hope that the Doctor will not be returning next month to ensure he is taking his medicine. The Doctor assures him with a smile that Captain Janeway would not allow it. Zimmerman then, still trying not to let his soft side show, offhandedly remarks that the Doctor may want to drop him a line next time Voyager sends a data stream, to let him know how he is doing. The Doctor happily agrees.
Barclay enters. The MIDAS Array is ready to send the Doctor back. But before leaving, he has Barclay take a picture of him and Zimmerman.
"Can't it wait until I'm dead?"
- - Doctor Zimmerman
"Just being thorough."
- - Leonard the iguana
"Computer, deactivate iguana."
- - The Doctor
"I'm a doctor, not a zoo-keeper."
- - The Doctor
"A smattering of photons; that's all he is!"
- - Doctor Zimmerman, speaking about the Doctor
"I found a friend waiting for me at home."
"You don't have any friends."
- - Reg Barclay and Doctor Zimmerman
"Enough questions! Finish your scans and get out of here!"
"I said get out of here!"
"I traveled halfway across the galaxy to treat you. The least you could do is show a little gratitude!"
"Thank you. GET OUT OF HERE!"
- - Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor
"Remain calm. Emotional outbursts will only aggravate your condition."
(Furious) "I'll tell you what's aggravating my condition: YOU!"
- - Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor
"The Enterprise is in the middle of a mission..."
"An important mission?"
"They're all important, Reg."
- - Deanna Troi and Reginald Barclay
"Oh, spare us your psychobabble!"
"I came here thinking that you were opposite sides of the same coin; identical, but different. Now I see you're both exactly the same. You're both jerks!"
- - Doctor Zimmerman, Deanna Troi, and Leonard the iguana
(Quietly, depressed) "Do you know how humiliating it is to have 675 Mark Ones out there, scrubbing plasma conduits... all with my face?"
- - Doctor Zimmerman
"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
"You are the emergency."
- - The Doctor and Doctor Zimmerman, after the Doctor's activation
"I can assure you I'm quite real."
"Oh, well, the last beautiful woman to walk in here turned out to be him."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
- Deanna Troi, Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor
"So this is Voyager. I like it."
"It's a remarkable facsimile. But Mr. Barclay did get a few of the details wrong. For one thing, Neelix doesn't purr."
"I think that may have something to do with Reg's cat. He named it after your friend."
"Neelix would be honored."
- - Deanna Troi and The Doctor
"Is that a fractal algorithm?"
"Very good! I'm using it to realign your matrix."
"Fractal algorithms are notoriously unstable!"
"In the hands of a novice... whoops."
"Whoops?! What's 'whoops?'"
"Computer, deactivate EMH."
- - Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor, while Zimmerman was repairing The Doctor
"You're arrogant! Irritable! A jerk, as Counselor Troi would say."
"I believe she was describing you as well."
"Don't change the subject."
- - Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor, arguing about The Doctor's personality subroutines.
"What were your symptoms?"
(Sarcastically) "Radical hair loss."
- - Doctor Zimmerman and The Doctor
- Lewis Zimmerman, previously appearing in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", and Star Trek: Voyager episodes "Projections" and "The Swarm", makes his final Star Trek appearance (although, strictly speaking, he has only appeared in this episode and "Doctor Bashir, I Presume"; the other two occasions were holographic versions of himself).
- Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi), Robert Picardo (the Doctor), Ethan Phillips (Neelix), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Reginald Barclay) and Jack Shearer (Admiral Hayes) all previously appeared in Star Trek: First Contact together.
- This episode takes place over the course of a little more than 32 days.
- The EMH disguises himself as a female member of the Tarlac species from Star Trek: Insurrection in order to examine Dr. Zimmerman.
- This episode is the first time a piece of the USS Enterprise-E is seen on a Star Trek television show, in this case, Counselor Troi's quarters or office.
- Though The Doctor is already aware of a newer EMH Mark II program from his time on board the USS Prometheus, he is surprised to learn that Starfleet has gone so far as to retire all EMH Mark Is from medical duty, judging them "obsolete", as Zimmerman puts it.
- This episode remains the only Star Trek episode written by a castmember, as it was written by Robert Picardo, who played Voyager's EMH.
- Dr. Zimmerman comments that he hasn't left Jupiter Station in "over four years", however he had visited Deep Space 9 to interview Julian Bashir for the Long-term Medical Hologram between Stardates 50564 and 50712. This was approximately three years earlier from The Doctor's visit.
Video and DVD releases
- The video sleeve gives this episode's name as "Lifeline".
- As part of the VOY Season 6 DVD collection.
- This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series.
Links and references
Special Guest Star
Special Guest Appearance By
agoraphobia; Bolian; Dawkins; Daystrom Prize for Holography; Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH); Enterprise, USS (NCC-1701-E); Federation attack fighter; field medic; hair loss; hologram; iguana; Jem'Hadar battle cruiser; Jenzo; Jupiter Station; Jupiter Station Holoprogramming Center; Leonard; Maquis; MIDAS array; Pathfinder Project; phage; Picard, Jean-Luc; plasma conduit; pork chop; pulsar; Roy; salad; Starfleet Intelligence; Starfleet Medical; Tarlac; theta radiation; Trojan Horse Project; Vulcan; Woman in Four Dimensions; Zimmerman, Lewis
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