(written from a Production point of view)
Seven of Nine finds an abandoned subspace relay network that has the ability to send a message, or in this case The Doctor, to a Starfleet ship detected in the Alpha Quadrant.
Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres and Commander Chakotay discuss Torres' dissatisfaction with the former Borg drone, Seven of Nine. Torres has run out of patience with Seven's aloof, arrogant attitude and is furious. Chakotay, on the other hand, doesn't want to hear it and advises her to start acting like the senior officer that she is. He orders her to find a way to deal with Seven in a professional manner.
While discussing this, Seven hails Chakotay to the astrometrics lab. Chakotay meets Captain Kathryn Janeway outside astrometrics. She too has been hailed by Seven. They share a bemused expression as they enter. Chakotay asks Seven, who is busy at the console, what this is about. She shows them a ship on the astrometrics viewscreen that is a Starfleet vessel.
Seven informs them that the ship is in the Alpha Quadrant. She informs them that she has been able to detect the ship because of the presence of a huge relay station network. The network is apparently abandoned but it extends all the way to the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. The ship, she tells them, is in range of the network sensors on that far end.
The two officers realize that they now have an opportunity to communicate with Starfleet, which they have not been able to do since being brought to the Delta Quadrant, four years earlier. Chakotay asks if a message can be sent to the ship. Seven confirms, though she adds that some modifications to their own transmitters must be made first. The message must be sent within the next 41 minutes or the ship will move out of range. Janeway orders the modifications be made immediately. However, the signal is too weak to reach the vessel. Lieutenant Tom Paris suggests using a stronger type of signal, one that would not degrade so quickly. Torres suggests a holographic data stream. That is when they remember The Doctor, the ship's Emergency Medical Hologram. Torres rushes to sickbay and, before The Doctor can even finish asking what is happening, she transfers him to his mobile emitter and runs with it to astrometrics. Janeway arrives in astrometrics and explains the situation to The Doctor when he is reactivated there. There, he is downloaded and transmitted.
The Doctor materializes on the Starfleet vessel's sickbay, which seems to be empty. He calls to anyone, but gets no answer. He queries the ship's computer and is very pleased to find that his transmission was successful; he is indeed aboard the target vessel, in the Alpha Quadrant. He further asks the ship's computer about the vessel's identity, and learns that it is the USS Prometheus.
Searching sickbay, he finds a crewman dead on the floor. He also finds an ensign, barely alive. Their uniforms are different from those of Voyager's crew. The ensign has sustained severe phaser burns. The Doctor manages to revive him and asks him what happened. His response, just before he dies, is that Romulans have taken over the ship.
On the Prometheus' bridge, Romulans man all stations. In sickbay, The Doctor confirms what the dead ensign told him: 27 Romulans are aboard and all Starfleet personnel are dead. He then asks the computer about the ship itself. He learns the ship is an experimental prototype designed for deep space tactical assignments. It is equipped with technologies that Starfleet is experimenting with including regenerative shielding, ablative armor, and a multi-vector assault mode.
The approaching Federation starship arrives and engages the Prometheus. On the bridge, the Romulan commander orders the "multi-vector assault mode" engaged. The lighting on the bridge (and in sickbay, much to The Doctor's surprise) turns blue. The computer counts down from ten to one, the time of what it terms "auto-separation."
The ship separates into three sections: the saucer and two stardrives, all battle-ready and warp-capable. In effect, the one ship becomes a small squadron. Rekar orders the Prometheus to engage the other Federation ship, the USS Bonchune. The three sections surround and attack the Bonchune, disabling it. During the battle the Prometheus' bridge takes a hit and a Romulan hijacker is badly injured. As the three sections reform, Rekar orders the injured Romulan taken to sickbay.
Nevala enters sickbay with her injured hijacker. The Doctor immediately puts on his best bedside manner. She is instantly suspicious, demanding to know who activated him. He lies that she did when she walked through the door. She is still suspicious because he is, after all, a Starfleet program. He assures her his primary directive is to treat anyone requiring it, Federation citizen or not, friend or enemy.
As soon as she has gone, The Doctor activates the ship's EMH – which is a Mark II, as opposed to a Mark I, The Doctor's designation.
The Mark II stands in sickbay regarding The Doctor with contempt, calling him an inferior EMH program, much to The Doctor's chagrin, and tries to hail security. The Doctor immediately stops him and explains the situation of the Prometheus and of his own ship, Voyager. He explains Voyager is over 60,000 light-years away, and was pulled into the delta quadrant four years ago. With a forceful tone, he convinces his reluctant counterpart to help him take back the ship from the Romulans. He asks if the Federation is at war with the Romulans. The Mark II responds that they are not and the Romulans have had nothing to do with the Dominion War. Confused, The Doctor asks who the Dominion is but the Mark II tells him that it is a long story. They begin to treat the injured Romulan together.
Voyager holds position while the crew awaits The Doctor's return. Janeway and Chakotay write letters to their loved ones, though they know that The Doctor's return will not necessarily mean establishing a communications link with Starfleet. Paris has been assigned to sickbay until The Doctor's return as he is the only other trained medic aboard Voyager.
The Prometheus heads for Romulan space at warp speed. The Mark II informs The Doctor that the ship is capable of a cruising speed of warp 9.9 and no other ship in Starfleet can do this. Thus, there is no chance any Starfleet ship can intercept and rescue them meaning that they are on their own. They come up with a plan to take back the ship: release an anesthetic into the ventilation system.
Rekar orders a course change. They were previously headed for Romulus, but he has decided that they should instead rendezvous with the Tal Shiar, the intelligence service of the Romulan Star Empire. The others object and begin to argue with Rekar. During the argument The Doctor, pretending to scan them, surreptitiously attempts to access environmental controls. Rekar notices him and accosts him. Rekar then checks his scanner and sees that he has not scanned anything; his plan has been foiled.
On Voyager, Seven of Nine enters astrometrics to find Torres there. They get into an argument in which Torres tells Seven that the way she speaks to other crewmembers is unacceptable.
As Seven considers these comments, a transmission comes through. A humanoid alien's image appears on the lab's viewscreen. The alien is wearing an armored helmet and an armored mask that covers his nose and mouth. He gruffly demands their identity. The man angrily tells them that the network is in fact, owned by the Hirogen. Torres apologizes and explains that they thought the network was abandoned. She attempts to explain why they are using it but he is not interested in her explanation and orders them to terminate their link before ending his communication.
The Doctor is being interrogated by Rekar, who believes that The Doctor is either a spy or saboteur. Rekar does not believe a hologram to be capable of performing such action independently and he demands to know who is operating him. Nevana enters and reports that she has found the transmission log that shows when The Doctor came aboard. She notes that the transmission that brought him on board has a Starfleet signature.
The log does not indicate its origin or who sent it so they demand this information from The Doctor. He tells them part of the truth, that he was sent from the Delta Quadrant. Rekar and Nevala do not believe him and decide that stronger action is necessary. They will extract all his algorithms and analyze his subroutines individually. This action would severely damage or destroy his holomatrix, killing him. However they do not get beyond talking about it as they suddenly begin to cough and gag before collapsing, unconscious.
The Mark II materializes. He has succeeded in releasing the neurozine gas into the ventilation system. Their next step is to get to the bridge and turn the ship around. On the bridge, The Doctor finds a way to make the ship slow from warp speed but his method causes a warp core overload. Fortunately, he manages to stop the overload before a warp core breach occurs.
However after one disaster was averted, sensors indicate that three Romulan warbirds are headed straight toward them.
Meanwhile on Voyager, Seven and Torres work to reestablish the link with the Hirogen communications network in the astrometrics lab. Janeway has joined them to help with their work. Before they can finish, the Hirogen male appears again on the viewscreen. He introduces himself as Idrin and angrily reminds them of his initial warning to leave the network alone. Janeway tries to get him to listen, explaining that they are using it to get a message to their people but he is uninterested. He again proceeds to jam their link.
Realizing that reasoning with Idrin won't work, Seven shocks him with a feedback surge along the link, knocking him out. Janeway orders them to keep watching for The Doctor's return and to alert her if the Hirogen troubles them again. With a stern look at Seven, she leaves the astrometrics lab. After making sure the captain is fully out of earshot, Torres tells Seven that she approved of her action and Seven casually thanks her.
In sickbay, Kim began programming the replacement EMH. He loads medical texts into the program, and the replacement EMH begins to recite Grey's Anatomy from chapter 1. However, the hologram overloads from all the data and crashes, deactivating it. Kim then downloads Grey's Anatomy for Paris to study himself.
Aboard the Prometheus, The Doctor and the Mark II try to get the ship moving again but without success. A hail comes from one of the warbirds. Keeping the viewscreen off, The Doctor answers, trying to fool them into thinking that he is the Romulan commander – he fails miserably. The warbirds open fire on the ship. The Prometheus' regenerative shields rapidly begin to fail as the two holograms do not have the required expertise to operate them properly. Sensors detect more ships approaching.
The holograms are relieved to discover that the new ships are Starfleet vessels. The ships, two Defiant-class vessels and one Akira-class starship, are seen approaching at warp speed. They slow and join the fight but the holograms' relief quickly changes to horror when the Starfleet ships, instead of attacking the warbirds, fire on the Prometheus. The attempt to hijack the ship has been discovered by Starfleet Command.
The Mark II tries to hail the Starfleet ships but the Romulans hijackers scrambled the comm frequencies, making this impossible. The two holograms are left with no choice but to defend themselves. At first, they accidentally hit a Starfleet ship with a torpedo, but then they prove that the ship is no longer under enemy control by attacking the D'deridex-class. The Prometheus separates into its three battle-ready components. The three sections attack a warbird. With the computer in control, the power of the vessel is very effectively demonstrated against the targeted ship. The warbird is quickly destroyed and the other warbirds retreat. The Doctor and the Mark II grandiosely congratulate each other before being interrupted by two heavily-armed Starfleet security officers being beamed aboard.
In Voyager's astrometrics lab, Seven of Nine detects a transmission coming through the relay network, from the Alpha quadrant. She informs Torres that the transmission has a holographic subroutine. Torres informs the bridge about the return of The Doctor.
Janeway, Chakotay, and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok arrive in sickbay as The Doctor materializes. He explains that he accomplished his mission and then gently informs Janeway that he spoke with Starfleet Command. Apparently, they had declared Voyager lost 14 months previously but he corrected that error, telling them that the ship is very much intact, and that the crew is searching for a way to return.
Starfleet will be contacting the crew's families to inform them of the news and have immediately begun to seek a way to retrieve them, and will not stop until they succeed in doing so. He ends by telling Janeway that Starfleet asked him to pass on a message… "'You're no longer alone.'" Janeway emotionally remarks that after hearing this, “60,000 light years seems a little closer today.”
"We need to take control of this situation!"
"I'm a doctor, not a commando!"
"It's time you became a little of both."
- - The Doctor and EMH Mark II
"Is the Federation at war with the Romulans?"
"No. The Romulans haven't gotten involved in our fight with the Dominion."
"(Takes breath to explain, then pauses and changes his mind) Long story."
- - The Doctor and EMH Mark II
"What did you feed them anyway?"
"Rodeo Red's Red-Hot, Rootin'-Tootin' Chili."
- - Neelix telling Tom Paris what he fed the crew
"I have even had sexual relations"
"Sex, how's that possible? We're not equipped"
"Let's just say I made an addition to my program"
- - The Doctor and EMH Mark II
- - Tom Paris
"We're not afraid you're going to assimilate us, we're just not used to… you just… you're rude."
"I am rude…"
- - B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine
"Four years? No wonder you're delusional – your program's degrading after being active so long!"
"I assure you, I am in perfect health! I was saving Voyager from annihilation when you were only a gleam in your programmer's eye! Now are you going to help me take back this ship or not!?"
"(Pauses, then says with some gusto) Get me the thrombic modulator."
- - EMH Mark II and The Doctor
"You are nothing but a computer-generated projection. I find it hard to believe you're capable of taking these actions independently."
"Tell me who is operating your program. Is it someone on this ship? A Starfleet crew member we missed? Or one of my own men?"
"Paranoia is a way of life for you, isn't it?"
- - Rekar and The Doctor, during the interrogation
"You know, you really should keep a personal log; why bore others needlessly?"
- - The Doctor, to the EMH Mark II after curtly stopping his tale of how he had to 'improvise'
"Mild shock? Not bad!"
- - Torres and Seven of Nine
"Stop breathing down my neck!"
"My breathing is merely a simulation."
"So is my neck, stop it anyway!"
- - The Doctor and EMH Mark II, trying to operate the Prometheus
"Is this a thruster control?"
"Don't touch it! We don't know what it does! It could be the self-destruct!"
- - EMH Mark II and The Doctor
"Beep beep beep, beep beep beep? I've never heard that one before."
- - EMH Mark II
"The secondary gyrodyne relays in the propulsion field inter-matrix have depolarized."
"I'm just reading what it says here!"
- - EMH Mark II and The Doctor
"Our viewscreen is non-operational. We've had some trouble with… Starfleet commandos…"
- - The Doctor, impersonating a Romulan
"(whispering) You first."
- - The Romulan Commander demanding an answer, with EMH Mark II not helping, tripping The Doctor up
"What are they doing?!"
"Firing on us!"
"They must think Romulans are on board!"
- - EMH Mark II and The Doctor, when Starfleet opens fire on them
"You hit the wrong ship!"
"It wasn't my fault!"
"Well, then whose fault was it, the torpedo's?! You're supposed to tell it what to do!"
- - The Doctor and EMH Mark II, after the latter accidentally fires on a Defiant-class ship
"My brilliant existence cut short… no time to explore the universe… no time to smell the roses… no time for…sex…"
- - EMH Mark II
"Doctor, we've done it! Two holograms alone, Romulans on one side, Starfleet on the other, alarms beeping everywhere!"
"EMH Mark II; newborn but filled with courage!"
"EMH Mark I; armed with years of experience!"
"Together they emerge triumphant!"
- - EMH Mark II and The Doctor, summarizing their adventure
"You got through to Starfleet?"
"I spoke directly with Headquarters. Apparently, Voyager was declared officially lost 14 months ago. I set the record straight. I told them everything that's happened to this crew. They said they would contact your families to tell them the news and promised that it may take years, but they won't stop until they find a way to get Voyager back home. And they asked me to relay a message. They wanted you to know you're no longer alone."
"60,000 light years… seems a little bit closer today."
- - Captain Janeway and The Doctor
Story and script
- Robert Picardo made some uncredited, humorous contributions to the script of this episode. Shortly before the end of Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season, Picardo explained, "I have gotten into the habit of calling [episode writer] Brannon [Braga] with joke suggestions, and I scored pretty well on that particular episode." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85) At about the end of the fifth season, Picardo commented, "I'm still phoning Brannon quite often with potential joke lines, although my record is still 'Message in a Bottle'. I think I had six jokes that were mine, in that episode." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 31, No. 11, p. 30) All six of these humorous suggestions were promptly approved for use in the installment. (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 17) One specific instance of the suggested jokes was, as described by Picardo himself, "in the scene with […] EMH Mark-2… and my scripted line was 'Stop breathing down my neck.'" (Star Trek: Voyager Companion) The actor recalled, "I said to Brannon, 'You know, we don't really breathe.' He said, 'It's just a Human expression.' It still troubled me." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85) Picardo consequently requested the addition of two particular lines of dialogue. "I remember calling Brannon," remarked Picardo, "and suggesting the following two rejoinders: EMH Mark-2 says, 'My breathing is merely a simulation.' To which The Doctor replies, 'So is my neck. Stop it anyway.'" (Star Trek: Voyager Companion)
- Robert Picardo suspected that he may have influenced some of the episode's jokes without being told he had. "There are even sex jokes which I insist Brannon Braga stole from my convention material," Picardo declared, "because I've been doing 10 minutes at conventions for a couple of years now about whether or not the holographic doctor is anatomically correct." (Star Trek Monthly issue 35, p. 12)
- The episode's final scene was considerably altered; the scene was first shot in Voyager's mess hall, with the ship's entire crew, but was subsequently reshot and relocated to sickbay. Explaining why the first version was not used, Robert Picardo stated, "It was too much. Originally, we had all these extras, and it was this big emotional moment. They decided it was too much like The Waltons. We ended up redoing that scene and keeping it small, just with Janeway, [Chakotay] and Tuvok." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10)
- The final draft of the episode's script was submitted on 26 September 1997. 
- Mitch Suskin was of the opinion that this episode was reminiscent of Star Trek: The Original Series. "In my mind," Suskin reckoned, "it was the closest thing to the spirit of some of the original Star Trek shows." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 80)
- This episode's ending is significant to Star Trek: Voyager in general. Robert Picardo noted of the episode, "Its conclusion kind of changed the tone of our journey […] It was a very important development for the series." (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 13) He also said, "It factored into a number of shows and storylines that came after it." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
Cast and characters
- Actor Andy Dick was offered the role of the EMH Mark II after letting Brannon Braga (who was a friend of the performer) know that he would be interested in making an appearance on Star Trek: Voyager. Accounting for his acceptance of the role, Dick recalled, "It just seemed like such a great opportunity. I was a fan of Star Trek, but I'm not what you would call a regular viewer of any of the shows. I just thought it would be a challenge for me to do an episode." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- Andy Dick had many other friends who were excited to hear of his upcoming role. "I have many friends who watch the Star Trek shows religiously," he explained. "They were all psyched when I told them that I was doing Voyager." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- Because Andy Dick (who was best known for playing the character of Matthew in NewsRadio) was not entirely familiar with Star Trek, he prepared for his role here by watching some episodes. Robert Picardo explained, "Clearly he had not really seen the show before he got this episode, so he watched a few episodes and got an idea of the style of the show, because he's on a situation comedy […] And even though we were setting up to do a funny Star Trek episode, there's a certain style to our kind of performance that he wanted to acquaint himself with, which he [partly] did from watching the show." (Star Trek Monthly issue 35, p. 11)
- Indeed, although Andy Dick found that he extremely liked his Voyager character, he also found that portraying the EMH Mark II took him into unfamiliar territory. "I was right in thinking it would be a challenge for me," Dick admitted. "It was really an eclectic style of acting. It's like doing a French period drama and then doing Shakespeare. It was completely different from what I had done before. I mean, there's no comparing how we do NewsRadio to how they do Voyager. None […] The characters are so different, too […] As with Shakespeare, you have to stay within boundaries when you do a Star Trek show. The words are different; the style is different. I wanted to challenge myself and try that, too." He joked, "It was really like taking a class in Trekker-ism." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- Other difficulties were caused by the fact that, although Andy Dick normally wore glasses (including on NewsRadio), he found that he couldn't do so here. He said of his Voyager appearance, "One of the strangest things about doing it was that I couldn't wear my glasses […] I was tripping down steps and bumping into things all the time. It was really funny." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- On the other hand, Andy Dick appreciated that he was made to feel welcome on the Voyager set. He reminisced, "Everybody was really nice to me […] I had a great time." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- A particular relationship that Andy Dick valued was with Robert Picardo. "Robert Picardo was so awesome!" Dick raved. "He helped me so much, getting me to relax and helping me get that Star Trek jargon right. I don't think I could have pulled it off if he hadn't been there. Robert was hysterical. He's probably funnier than I am. He had me and the crew cracking up all day." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- Early in their working relationship, Robert Picardo and Andy Dick teased one another about each others' surnames. During production, Picardo remarked, "My favorite Andy Dick story is this. About three or four days into the shooting he says to me, 'So your name is Picardo. It's so close to Captain Picard. Do you get teased a lot about that?' And I said, 'Your name is Andy Dick, and you're going to make fun of mine?' So he laughed – apparently he has a sense of humor. I don't think you can grow up with a name like that and not have a healthy sense of humor." (Star Trek Monthly issue 35, p. 11) In a retrospective interview, however, Picardo stated that the encounter in which they had traded barbs about one another's surname was "when I first met Andy" and, moments later, said, "That was our icebreaker, so […] after that, we would joke about anything." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- Robert Picardo was somewhat worried about being reported to be bosom buddies with Andy Dick. "I remember saying to him, 'My biggest fear is that, when this episode airs, that TV Guide will do a little close-up box about it and it will say something like, 'Picardo and Dick a treat,' or, 'Picardo and Dick inseparable,' […] 'Picardo and Dick, together forever.' It just seemed… it seemed to give me a note of caution. However, I didn't follow it and I did tell the story." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- Aside from the name-related jibes, Robert Picardo found that he enjoyed working with his co-star on this episode. Picardo commented that his own perception of Dick as "a bit of a loon […] appealed to me" and that, consequently, "we got along real well." Picardo went on to say about Dick, "He was very solicitous of my advice about the world of playing doctor holograms, what the conventions were, and how I said, 'Please state the nature of the medical emergency.'" Picardo also commented that Dick familiarized himself with the style of performance required on Star Trek by "asking me and the director questions." (Star Trek Monthly issue 35, p. 11)
- Initially, Robert Picardo was nervous about this episode's script. "That was one of our most overtly comic [episodes]," observed Picardo. "The whole second, third, and fourth acts with Andy Dick were quite funny, and intended to be funny. I'm always a little nervous when we try to do a funny script, because in my opinion Star Trek has never been known for its comedy […] The situations they put us in were funny, so there was a lot of high anxiety and panic." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85)
- Ultimately, however, Robert Picardo was very pleased with the episode. He opined, "It did work out pretty well." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85) He also stated, "'Message in a Bottle' was […] very well done. It was quite a funny show, but its ending was quite serious […] It was an exciting show." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18) During the fifth season, Picardo enthused, "I loved that show. It was one of my favorites from last season. It contained a lot of humor, but was also very exciting and dramatic." (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 13) Additionally, Picardo considered this episode to be "a nice demonstration of how the writers can use me, and find ways to give me interesting and different things to do, within the given circumstances of this character." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 86)
- Robert Picardo was also proud of the breathing-related joke he devised for this episode, which he termed as both "the [joke suggestion] I'm proudest of" and "my favorite exchange that I have ever gotten into a show." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85; Star Trek: Voyager Companion) Picardo further commented, "I thought [it] sounded like two holograms bickering. 'What holograms bicker about.' That was a fun moment." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 85) Additionally, he remarked, "I thought it was a good example of a Niles/Frasier one-upmanship." (Star Trek: Voyager Companion) Picardo believed that such comparisons with those two main characters from the television series Frasier were warranted. He said of himself and Andy Dick, "We do have some very high-paced comedy scenes together, where we natter at each other, and it does sound a little Frasier-like." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- The revised version of the episode's final scene was another highlight of the episode for Robert Picardo, who particularly enjoyed the performance that Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew delivered for the scene. Picardo commented, "That is a touching moment […] Kate's reaction was great, at the end. It is a moment of triumph." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, pp. 85-86)
- Executive producer Jeri Taylor was highly amused by the pair of actors who played the holographic doctors here. She remarked, "[Andy Dick] and Robert Picardo together are just hysterical." (Star Trek Monthly issue 36, p. 12)
- The two Starfleet officers beaming over to the bridge of the Prometheus near the end of this episode were played by two regular DS9 extras. This is probably because, unlike the Voyager extras, they were fitted with the latest Starfleet uniforms – the same type as can be seen worn by the other Starfleet officers aboard the Prometheus here, including the EMH Mark II.
- The production of this episode was enjoyable for Andy Dick. "They work very hard on Voyager," he observed. "Some days went as long as 16 hours. It was nice to be able to work hard, but also to laugh hard the whole day." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- There was some confusion during the production of "Message in a Bottle" concerning the registry of the Prometheus. According to Michael Okuda, he had used the number 74913 on all the internal displays and the ship's dedication plaque. However, the Foundation Imaging FX artists did not get the memo and used the number 59650 instead.  Although Okuda's number does appear on screen, the Foundation number is much more visible.
- According to the unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 219), the bridge of the Prometheus was a redress of the USS Enterprise-E's bridge.
- This would seem to contradict Michael Okuda's text commentary from the Directors Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which claims that the Prometheus bridge was an extensive redress of the Enterprise bridge set originally built for that film.
- Visual effects supervisor Mitch Suskin was highly pleased with the sets for the Prometheus. "I think the art department did an amazing job on the interior of the Prometheus," Suskin remarked. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 80)
- A shot that involved holographic appearances and disappearances being choreographed as different from how they usually were was one in which the EMH Mark II deactivates himself, duly disappears and Voyager's Doctor moves into the area vacated by the Mark II, who then – reactivated by Voyager's Doctor – reappears in the background. "Obviously, in production Andy [Dick] dropped out of frame, ran around to the background, and continued the scene," Mitch Suskin explained. "But this kind of staging makes the shot more fun and more satisfying." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 80)
- Tiny Ron (Idrin) is better known for his role as Maihar'du, the Hupyrian servant of Grand Nagus Zek, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- The exterior of the Prometheus was designed by senior illustrator Rick Sternbach. This was the first episode to feature CGI versions of the D'deridex-class Romulan Warbird, which CGI supplier Foundation Imaging built as a digital model especially for this episode. To visualize the pair of Defiant class ships that are shown here, the visual effects artists borrowed a digital model of the Defiant from Digital Muse. That company also produced the astrometrics graphics of this episode, the creation of which constituted a considerable challenge. Much of the episode's visual effects work involved adding the appearances and disappearances of the two holographic doctors (effects that Mitch Suskin described as the holograms "zimmering in and out"). (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, pp. 80 & 81)
- The effect of Voyager's Doctor being sent between the Alpha and Delta Quadrants was done at POP Film and POP Animation. Mitch Suskin recalled, "It was a 3-D mannequin that was rendered on a Macintosh, [with] a lot of compositing bay futzing around to get the whole thing put together. Obviously it needed to have some connection to the hologram universe of Star Trek and the zimmer, but we wanted it to have a different look and to get the idea that he was being compressed." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 81)
- Mitch Suskin was ultimately very proud of the visual effects in this episode. "I think that of all the things we've done, there was the best balance between all of the elements in the show." Suskin went on to explain that he thought the installment's effects shots complement the episode and are all necessary, rather than standing out, gratuitously overwhelming the installment. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 81)
Continuity and trivia
- This episode does not give a stardate. The EMH Mark II mentions, however, that Romulans have not yet joined the Federation Alliance in the war effort against the Dominion, placing this episode before the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight". The events of that episode take place in the two weeks leading up to the stardate 51721.3, placing it between the later fourth-season Voyager episodes "The Killing Game, Part II" and "Vis à Vis".
- This episode marks the first appearance of the Hirogen on the series.
- This episode establishes that Voyager was officially declared lost fourteen months before the events of this episode, which is approximately at the beginning of Star Trek: Voyager's third season.
- Although the Dominion is referenced in several other episodes, this is the only one to reference the Dominion War and includes the only direct mention of the Dominion on the series. This makes sense, since Voyager was stranded in the Delta Quadrant long before the start of the Dominion War, remained there for its duration and did not return until after the war had ended.
- As of this episode, The Doctor becomes the first member of the Voyager crew to return to the Alpha Quadrant in the 24th century. He does this again in the Season 6 episode "Life Line", to heal Dr. Lewis Zimmerman. In the third season two-parter "Future's End" and "Future's End, Part II", the entire crew return to Earth; but to the year 1996. Also, Harry Kim "returns" to Earth in the second season episode "Non Sequitur", but in an alternate timeline due to an alien race's interference. Harry and Chakotay return to the Alpha Quadrant during "Timeless"; however, the slipstream accident, and the subsequent timeline is excised due to future-Kim's actions in 2390.
- The Starfleet task force destroys a D'deridex Warbird for the first time on screen.
- This is the first appearance of EMH Mark II; its conception and first stages of programming were seen in DS9: "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" with the LMH; in that episode Julian Bashir was considered to serve as the template for its prototype, until Dr. Lewis Zimmerman abandoned the idea.
- This episode marks the first appearance of the new Starfleet uniform on the series (unless you count the "flashbacks" in the earlier fourth season episode "Random Thoughts"), which had been introduced the previous year in Star Trek: First Contact and made their Star Trek: Deep Space Nine appearance in "Rapture". From this point on, all Starfleet characters in the Alpha Quadrant wear this style of uniform, although the Voyager crew members themselves continued to wear the old style, due to being stranded in the Delta Quadrant.
- The two Starfleet officers who transport onto the Prometheus' bridge, in this episode's conclusion, carry Voyager-style compression phaser rifles, one of the few times that Alpha Quadrant personnel are seen with these weapons.
- This is the second time that Judson Scott has portrayed a character who commandeers a Starfleet ship. He previously played the (uncredited) role of the Augment Joachim who assisted Khan Noonien Singh in hijacking the USS Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- A map depicting the Prometheus flight path, "heading straight for Romulan space", shows it crossing a thin elongated area. This might have been intended to be the Romulan Neutral Zone, though it was not mentioned in the episode.
- References to 47: Voyager's coordinates are given as "18 mark 205 mark 47", and an attack pattern "beta four seven" is used.
- Neelix states that "when we get back to earth, I want to make sure I have marketable job skills", confirming for the first time that he intends to stay with Voyager all the way to Earth, even though this would put him 80,000 light years away from his homeworld and any of his species.
Other Voyager episodes
- This is the eighth time the crew of Voyager discover a direct connection between the Alpha Quadrant and Delta Quadrant, having previously discovered a wormhole connecting the two quadrants ("Eye of the Needle"), descendants of human abductees ("The 37's"), descendants of aliens who have visited Earth ("Tattoo"), a Cardassian weapon ("Dreadnought"), Ferengi ("False Profits"), former Borg that were assimilated in the Alpha Quadrant ("Unity"), and descendants of Earth dinosaurs ("Distant Origin"). In this episode, they find a communications network that extends far enough to overlap the Alpha Quadrant.
- The Doctor's message at the end of this episode seems to suggest that the Romulan Telek R'Mor from the first season installment "Eye of the Needle" did not, or could not, make arrangements to send Voyager's personal letters to their families, in 2371, after his death in 2367, which would have informed Starfleet of the ship's location in the Delta Quadrant.
- When talking with The Doctor, EMH Mark II addresses the problem of memory degradation when an EMH is online longer than it was designed for. The Doctor has faced this condition in "The Swarm".
- The Doctor also mentions to Mark II that he has, at one point, engaged in sexual relations. Robert Picardo was informed – during the fourth season – that the reference was meant to be to Danara Pel (in the second season episode "Lifesigns"). The Doctor also had possible affairs with Freya (in the first season installment "Heroes and Demons") and/or his holographic wife (in Season 3's "Real Life").
- Harry Kim's failure to successfully program a replacement EMH in this episode is seemingly reversed just a season later, in the episode "Nothing Human". It is never made clear how Harry gained the knowledge to so quickly succeed with the Crell Moset hologram where he had struggled and failed with the EMH replacement. Perhaps his failure in this episode motivated him to rapidly increase his knowledge of holoprogramming, or it may be simply easier to duplicate and build from an existing personality rather than trying to reconstruct an entire artificial personality.
- The EMH Mark II has the ability to deactivate himself, while Voyager's EMH had to be reprogrammed in order to do so, as mentioned in the first-season episode "Eye of the Needle".
- After its introduction in this episode, the Prometheus-class of starship went on to reappear in Star Trek: Voyager's series finale, "Endgame"
- The Doctor, when presented with the opportunity to travel to the Alpha Quadrant, says "far be it from me to turn down an opportunity to become a hero". This may be a reference to the first-season episode "Heroes and Demons", in which he takes the role of a herioc character in a holodeck recreation of Beowulf and protects Voyager from a real alien threat.
- The Doctor is asked by the EMH Mark II to pick up a medical device, but, not familiar with the advanced devices, picks the wrong one. This is something of a reversal of a scene in the series premiere "Caretaker", in which Paris fails to provide the correct tricorder and The Doctor becomes frustrated.
- On writing letters home, Captain Janeway points out that "it's probably a mistake for us to get our hopes up at all. we've been through this before". This is a reference to "Eye of the Needle", in which the crew write letters home to be sent through a wormhole to the alpha quadrant, only to find the wormhole's exit was 20 years in the past.
- Tom Paris, while treating acute functional dyspepsia in sickbay, says, "It's heartburn, Neelix, not the Tarellian plague." The Tarellians, and their plague, were seen in the TNG episode "Haven".
- The Doctor's retort to Rekar's threat of de-activation – specifically that, since he would be "killed" whether he assisted the Romulans or not, he had no intention of helping them – is the same explanation Spock gives to Sela in a similar situation in TNG: "Unification II".
- As well as appearing in the series finale, the Prometheus-class of starship is also seen in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Azati Prime", in a scene where Captain Archer visits the 26th century.
- Due to a production error, the main viewscreen of the Prometheus twice shows a stationary starfield despite the fact that the ship is meanwhile widely regarded as traveling at high warp. "On the viewscreen are standard stars, there are no warp stars," commented Mitch Suskin of the two erroneous shots. "It was something that was missed in production, and because both of the sequences involve moving camera, the difficulty and expense putting warp stars in there would have been prohibitive. It was decided, obviously wisely by the producers, that no one would probably notice anyway, or we would just make the conclusion that there was some technological reason on this advanced ship that we weren't seeing stars." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 81)
- When The Doctor left Voyager, his mobile emitter disappeared, despite the fact that it would not be capable of being uploaded.
- The Doctor states that Voyager was brought into the Delta Quadrant "four years ago", suggesting the events of this episode take place in 2375 rather than 2374. The episode however makes it clear that it takes place before the events of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight", as the Romulans are not yet involved in the Dominion war.
- The Doctor does not seem to know about the Dominion. However, the Federation was aware of the Dominion's existence since mid-2370, as is established in DS9: "Rules of Acquisition", and the Dominion were encountered in DS9: "The Jem'Hadar" and "The Search, Part I", months before Voyager's departure.
Reception and aftermath
- This episode was Mitch Suskin's favorite installment of Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season. "'Message in a Bottle' I'm most pleased with," he said, "because it was a really funny story." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 80)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 4.2 million homes, and a 7% share.
- Both of the episode's two lead actors perceived this episode as being a fairly popular one. Shortly after working on the installment, Andy Dick stated, "As far as I know, people liked the episode. I've gotten positive feedback from everyone I've spoken to and, from what I understand, the fans liked it, which is the most important thing." (Star Trek Monthly issue 41, p. 61) Robert Picardo later cited this as one of two episodes from the fourth season that he knew had been favorites of fans on the Internet (the other such outing being "Living Witness"). (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 16)
- One controversial element of this episode was its use of two Defiant-class ships, as many fans had previously believed that the USS Defiant was the only ship of its class, despite other Defiant-class starships appearing in shots of the Second Fleet in "Call to Arms". The question of how many Defiant-class ships there were was therefore a topical discussion point, both on the Internet and among some of the makers of Star Trek themselves. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 80) This issue was later directly addressed in the episode "Valiant", with confirmation that Starfleet had put the class into full production during the Dominion War.
- Robert Picardo was extremely pleased that the relationship between his own character of The Doctor and the EMH Mark II was publicized as being similar to the bond between Frasier and Niles Crane. The actor remembered, "When the [Voyager] show aired, we got a review in USA Today that called Andy Dick and I the 'Frasier and Niles of outer space' […] Because I love that show and both those actors, I thought that was about the highest compliment we could have gotten." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- Cinefantastique rated this episode 3 out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 95)
- Star Trek Monthly issue 41, p. 60 scored this episode 4 out of 5 stars.
- The unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 221) gives the installment a rating of 10 out of 10.
- After having appeared in this episode, Andy Dick felt he had learned how to handle the technobabble of Star Trek. "I can now talk pretty convincingly about Romulans and holoemitters and starships," he said, shortly after the episode's production. He was also very open to the possibility of returning to Star Trek. "Oh, I would totally do it again!" he enthused, before saying of his many friends who watched Star Trek, "Now they're telling me that I would make a great Ferengi on Deep Space Nine." He concluded, "I would love to do Star Trek again. I'm just sitting here right now, waiting for the phone to ring. If they came up with another show as good as that, I'd be there in a minute." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18; Star Trek Monthly issue 41, p. 61)
- Robert Picardo was under the erroneous impression that, upon the series finally depicting Voyager's return home, the plot point about The Doctor achieving the first contact with Starfleet here would, in his words, "come back and resonate." (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 13)
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 4.7, catalog number VHR 4628, 6 July 1998
- As part of the VOY Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- Robert Beltran as Chakotay
- Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
- Ethan Phillips as Neelix
- Robert Picardo as The Doctor
- Tim Russ as Tuvok
- Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
- Garrett Wang as Harry Kim
Special guest star
- John Austin as operations division officer
- Richard Bishop as operations division officer
- Lynne Burnett as Romulan officer
- Brian Donofrio as science division officer
- Kevin Finister as operations division officer
- Holiday Freeman as an operations division officer
- Dianne Harper as dead Prometheus officer
- Todd Leatherbury as Starfleet security officer
- Angus McClellan as Starfleet security officer
- Ty Murphy as Romulan officer
- Joey Sakata as science division officer
- Lydia Shiferaw as command division officer
- Deborah Stiles as command division lieutenant j.g.
- Unknown actor as Almak (voice)
- Cameron – stand-in for Jeri Ryan
- Brian Donofrio – stand-in for Robert Beltran
- Tarik Ergin – stand-in for Judson Scott
- Sue Henley – stand-in for Kate Mulgrew
- James – stand-in for Ethan Phillips
- Susan Lewis – stand-in for Roxann Dawson and Valerie Wildman
- Lemuel Perry – stand-in for Tim Russ and Tony Sears
- J.R. Quinonez – stand-in for Robert Picardo
- Keith Rayve – stand-in for Robert Duncan McNeill and Andy Dick
- John Tampoya – stand-in for Garrett Wang
- Unknown performers as
47 Tucanae; ablative armor; Akira-class (starships); algorithm; algorithm extraction; Alpha Quadrant; American cuisine; analytical subroutine; anesthetic; anesthazine; animal; antacid; assimilation; Astrometrics; attack formation; attack pattern; axonol; bearing; bedside manner; biofilter; biohazard; Bonchune, USS; brig; carrier wave; Cat's Eye Nebula; cell; cell coil; Chakotay's cousin; chicken salad; Comparative Alien Physiology; compression phaser rifle; cone; coordinates; couch; cousin; cramps; cytoplasm; D'deridex-class; dedication plaque; deep space mission; Defiant-class (escorts); delirium; Delta Quadrant; distress signal; Dominion; Dominion War; Eagle Nebula; Earth; Emergency Medical Hologram; Emergency Medical Hologram Replacement Program; English language; exoscalpel; Federation; feedback surge; field test; gas; Gray's Anatomy; gyrodyne relay; hair; heartburn; hijacking; Hirogen; Hirogen communications network; holodeck; holoemitter; holo-engineer; holo-shuttle; holographic data stream; holographic subroutine; holomatrix; holotechnology; initiation code; intercept course; interlink frequency; intruder alert; jalapeño; jamming signal; Janeway family; jaw; Jefferies tube; Johnson, Mark; leech; lie; life support; maneuvering thruster; McCoy, Leonard; medical expert; medical library; medical tricorder; membrane; mobile emitter; multi-vector assault mode; nacelle power control; navigational log; Nebula-class; neurozine; nuclei; Ohio; operative; Ops console; optronic data stream; osteogenic stimulator; ovum; paranoia; personality profile; personal log; phaser burn; physical characteristic; prisoner; programmer; Prometheus, USS; Prometheus-class; propulsion field intermatrix; psychotropic agent; rash; referee; regenerative shield; Rodeo Red's Red-Hot, Rootin'-Tootin' Chili; Romulan; Romulan space; Romulan Warbird; Romulus; schematic; senior officer; sex (aka sexual relations); shape; sickbay; smell the roses; speech recognition protocol; spherical; Starfleet; Starfleet Headquarters; Starfleet uniform (2370s); stomach; stone face; strain; Tal Shiar; Terothka virus; Terrellian plague; thrombic modulator; thrust initiator; thruster control; tissue; T'Met; T'Met's sister ships; Veil Nebula; ventilation system; viewscreen; vocal subroutine; Voyager's chief medical officer; warbird, Romulan; warp core; warp field; warp signature; warp trail
Dedication plaque references
Agalsoff, Greg; Antares sector; Berman, Rick; Bernard, Alan; Berry, Greg; Beta Antares Ship Yards; Betts, Ben; Biller, Ken; Blackman, Bob; Braga, Brannon; Brownfield, Dick; Burgess, Randy; chief of staff; Curry, Dan; Davis, Meril; dedication plaque; DeMeritt, Michael; Djanrelian, Jon; Dorton, Louise; Drapanas, Wendy; Eyslee, Bob; Farrell, J.P.; Fleck, Jerry; Fukai, Arlene; Genovese, Cosmo; Hester, Rick; Hooper, Greg; Howard, Merri; James, Richard; Karnes, Amanda; Lauritson, Peter; Menosky, Joe; Middleton, Scott; Okuda, Michael; Overdiek, Diane; Peets, Bill; registry; Research & Development; Roddenberry, Gene; Rush, Marvin; Russo, Charlie; Science Ops; Shakespeare, William; Simmons, Adele; Smutko, Alex; Spencer, Kim; Starfleet Command; Starfleet Ops; Sternbach, Rick; Stimson, Mark; Suskin, Mitch; Tactical Ops; Taylor, Jeri; Thoms, Wil; Vholia, Pat; Westmore, Mike; Yacobian, Brad
- "Message in a Bottle"" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Message in a Bottle" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Message in a Bottle" at Wikipedia
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