"Real Life"

Season Three, Episode 20
Teleplay by Jeri Taylor
Story by Harry Doc Kloor
Directed by Anson Williams
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Jennifer Lien as Kes
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
Wendy Schaal as Charlene
Glenn Walker Harris, Jr. as Jeffrey
Lindsay Haun as Belle
Stephen Ralston as Larg
Chad Haywood as K'Kath 


In order to enhance his understanding of the human condition, the Doctor creates a holographic family. However, Torres suggests he modify his sickeningly perfect family to better reflect real life. But this may just be more than the Doctor had bargained for.


I was a little apprehensive of this at first, probably still reeling from the dreadful The Darkling which was the last outing for the Doctor. But Real Life is everything The Darkling wasn't -- compelling, intelligent, amusing and moving. If it hadn't been hampered with such a profoundly mediocre sub-plot involving sub-space technobabble it could well have ranked as one of my favourite episodes of Voyager -- as such it's still entertaining (and one of the season's better episodes) but I doubt it will stand to mind as a classic.

I'll deal with the sub-plot first. It was frighteningly reminiscent of that dreadful TNG tendancy to saddle a decent chararacter story with a technobabbly sub-plot perhaps with the intent of injecting an element of "excitement". More often than not, this simply sabotaged the episode. My advice to the writers - don't be scared to do have an episode that is entirely focussed on character!! We don't need nor want silly science sub-plots with their forced "excitement". Some of the finest episodes of DS9 are exclusively character-focussed -- just look at such masterpieces as The Visitor, Duet and In the Pale Moonlight. Anyway, back to Real Life; the sub-plot here wasn't too bad, it was just boring and pointless. I lost interest and picked up a magazine when we got back to the sub-space waves or whatever the hell they were meant to be. Occassionally I thought that perhaps they were building up to something interesting -- but, no. It was as pointless as it was dull. But the worst thing of all was the way it spoiled what could have been an outstanding episode.

The Doctor storyline started off mildly amusing and rather compelling, if a little insubstantial at first. His first "attempt" at a family was very funny and reminded me of The Brady Bunch! The dinner scene was amusing, with B'Elanna getting sick of their inate "perfection". The Doc's second "version" of family life was a lot more true-to-life, even if it was a little overplayed at first. Just about every cliche and stereotype in the book was employed, from the housewife/mother rushed off her feet to the rebellious teenage son and the prissy young daughter.

But somewhere along the line things took an unexpected, but welcome twist. The Doc's attempts at integrating with this family were initially predictable, even a little tiresome, but towards the end there was a fair bit of emotional juice. The son being led astray by the wrong crowd may be a cliche, but the way it was explored it opened up some intriguing issues of cross-cultural values. I liked that there was no pat resolution. And things got even more daring when the Doc's daughter was injured and died. Yes, she died!! I didn't expect this would happen for a second, but it was a nice, honest touch. All too often in Trek (with the exception of DS9) we get a happy ending when if we're going to be honest and true to life, there simply isn't always a happy ending. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some pessimistic cynic who wants unhappy endings, but I do like honest storytelling. See also my comments for Distant Origin.

The fact that the Doctor cannot bear to live up to this tragic turn of events makes for a moving twist. We all know what it's like to burry our head in the sand when things get bad - except we don't have that luxury. The Doc's decision that he can't abandon his family is a moving, intriguing and subtlty-played piece of character development, and I liked it. The death scene was surprisingly moving despite occassionally clunky dialogue.

The only real problem with this storyline is that we are unlikely to ever see the Doc's family again. This wounds the story -- we're expected to care about this family and care about whether the Doc stays with them or not, yet if we're never going to see them again, what's the point? It wouldn't kill the writers to have the Doc's family in the background, as Miles O'Brien has his family in DS9. Keiko and the kids didn't just vanish into thin air, did they? Bring back the Doc's family -- even if it's just the odd mention.

Rating: 7

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