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From a terrible bed-side manner to singer, writer and commander

The Doctor with an aged Chakotay in Timeless

From our Voyager Farewell special:
TV Zone Special, #41

Robert Picardo is having a bad hair day. The Star Trek: Voyager actor is sitting in a hair and make-up trailer on the Paramount Studios lot where he is being fitted with a comb-over wig for one of the scenes he is to appear in that afternoon. “I look like a cross between Wally Cox and Adolf Hitler,” he jokes, glancing at himself in the mirror. Picardo, who plays the Doctor, and his fellow cast-mates are in the process of filming Author, Author, one of the six remaining episodes of Voyager’s seventh and final season.

“In this episode", explains Picardo,"The Doctor has written a holonovel [Photons Be Free] about his struggles as a hologram,” explains the actor. “He wants to engender sympathy for the plight of holograms in whoever might play the novel. However, in doing so, he’s stacked the deck against the organic characters in the story. To make matters worse, he’s based their physical parameters on his Voyager crewmates..."

Over Use

Who would have ever thought the Doctor would write a novel, develop an interest in classical music, fall in love or pursue the many other ‘human’ interests he has over the past seven seasons on Voyager. The Doctor or Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) was intended to be a short-term supplement to medical personnel in an emergency. However, Voyager’s EMH was pressed into full-time service when the vessel was stranded 70,000 light years from home and its entire medical staff killed.

“My character appeared briefly in the Voyager pilot [Caretaker], and his overall attitude back then was one of irritation,” laughs Picardo. “He complained that no one turned him off after he treated them, and had a chip on his shoulder about not being respected by the crew. He was also grouchy and had a horrible bed-side manner. So that was pretty much the Doctor’s modus operandi for the first year."

A Better Person

“As the show progressed, the physician’s bedside manner improved and he became far more sensitive to interpersonal relationships,” he continues. “The great fun, I think, of the past three seasons is that the Doctor, who now fashions himself as a master of social skills, has offered to tutor Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan] in the development of hers. That was actually based on an idea I brought to the writers. I said, ‘Why don’t we take my character’s relationship with Kes [Jennifer Lien] and turn it inside out. She was the Doctor’s emotional mentor, so why can’t he be the same for Seven?’... It’s been fun to revisit some of the entitlement issues that my character had to deal with early on.

“The Doctor has taken some big steps, hasn’t he, and this season has been no exception. Stories such as Critical Care, Flesh and Blood and Author, Author have seen him fighting for the rights of other holograms as well as humans. So I’d have to say that nowadays the Doctor’s learning far more sophisticated lessons.”

With his temporary hairpiece secured, Picardo is ready to go to work. However, before leaving he takes a few minutes to sum up his seven years on Voyager. “Becoming part of the Star Trek franchise is unlike any other acting job,” he muses. “You’re not just playing another character on a tv show, you’re joining a pop culture legend and one with a loyal fan base that’s eager to get to know you. For a segment of the public, The Doctor is going to be the signature role of my career. Twenty years from now, some tv channel somewhere will be re-running Voyager and reminding us all of this experience.

“I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. This show has given me the chance to make some wonderful friends and learn a lot of pointless technobabble,” laughs the actor. “The best part of all, though, is that in seven years no one has pointed out that I’m the only hologram who’s gotten a little bit chunkier and a little bit jollier. I’m quite delighted about that!”

Steven Eramo

Full interview in TV Zone Special #41

Kate Mulgrew interview here

Star Trek images © Paramount TV

Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction

Previous Voyager covers on TV Zone

TV Zone #137

TV Zone #128

TV Zone #121

TV Zone #118

TV Zone Special #36

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