696. Doctor's Orders
FORMULA: One + Dear Doctor as guest-written by M. Night Shyamalan
WHY WE LIKE IT: Plenty of Porthos.
WHY WE DON'T: An irrelevant interlude.
REVIEW: Spoilers ahead. It's very hard to evaluate an episode that hinges so completely on a final twist (at least, not without revealing it). I'll say this: If you don't know the twist, the episode is frustrating and seems badly written. If you do know the twist, it's rather tedious to go through its motions. Sure, you can play "spot the clues", but I'm not sure it's worth it. Voyager's "One" isn't long enough ago for it to be ripped off already. Sadly, with everyone in a coma, this promises to be a Phlox & Porthos-heavy show, but it has little of the charm of something like Dear Doctor. Not that John Billingsley and Breezy don't give it their all.
So we first see Phlox get handed the keys in a nice moment with Archer, taught how to take care of the engines, the helm, etc. How four days through a brain-liquefying anomaly only he and the dog are immune to has let him lower his guard as he walks naked through the ship (fair is fair, we saw T'Pol's bum last episode). We see his mind playing tricks on him, apparently due to his not being used to solitude, coming as he does, from an overpopulated planet. I'd say it's a more believable cause for his anxiety than it was for Seven's in One. Most of that is played with sound design, though nightmarish hallucinations eventually happen too.
So it seems like a strange cheat when T'Pol shows up lurking around. All of a sudden we wonder why Phlox had to be taught ship systems she claims are hers to maintain. Why he didn't give a second thought to parading around in the buff. Why he doesn't start calling T'Pol's name as soon as he hears the first noise. The truth, of course, is that T'Pol is just another hallucination and she's resting quietly in her quarters. The twist isn't even a difficult one to guess, but they do keep it going until the very last moment, even though Phlox is supposed to be "cured" by then.
In addition to the unanswerable questions above, there are other clues. She doesn't eat. She never interacts with equipment. And always refuses to do so. If you didn't get it the first time, you'll kick yourself for not seeing it. So while there's quite a few moments of anxiety, insectoid Xindi running around, Porthos almost getting shot, and a hairy escape out of the anomaly with Phlox at the engine controls, completely out of his depth, Doctor's Orders is little more than filler. A forgettable Twilight Zone episode, and that's all.
LESSON: Dogs will be the key to overthrowing the Sphere Builders.
REWATCHABILITY - Low Medium: At this point, we want the story arc to progress, so this is unfortunately a one-trick pony that's taking up valuable airspace. Nice limited cast, but all but one aren't exactly themselves.