Star Trek 551: Living Witness

551. Living Witness

FORMULA: Mirror, Mirror + Distant Origin

WHY WE LIKE IT: Mirror universe Voyager.

WHY WE DON'T: Laying it on a bit thick.

REVIEW: Set 700 years or more after Voyager's fourth season, Living Witness is an offbeat story that explores historical revisionism. How is History distorted by the way it is interpreted and told? Can we reevaluate History? What if it changes who we (think we) are? When I hear about revisionism today, it's usually in connection with the Holocaust's numbers, and feathers get ruffled quite a bit. I used to work in a "minority museum" like the Kyrians' and it would sometimes shock members of the minority when we didn't demonize the majority's ancestors quite as much as their grandmothers did, and even members of the majority who were insulted by the notion that their ancestors had been responsible for any acts that would today be called genocide. The biggest difference between the place I worked at and the one in the show is probably that we enforced the "no touching" rule a lot more.

Throw a copy of the EMH into this setting (we'll just wave a wand and since this neither contradicts everything else we've seen nor opens a can of ethical holographic worms) and you might as well have him come back from 1st-century Jerusalem to tell us Jesus didn't die on the cross. At least it's one real world example where I could see the same kind of rioting occur. Very recently (and using the very same actor), the same kind of belief vs. fact struggle was played out in Distant Origin, but Living Witness is a better episode for not fiddling with actual human history.

And who can resist what is essentially the "Mirror Universe" equivalent of a Voyager episode? It's actually quite fun to see the various mistakes made by Kyrian historians to turn Janeway into a fascist and the ship into an overpowered war machine. An android Doctor, Kazon crew, Borg drones at the ready, Chakotay's giant tatoo and a smiling Vulcan are only the biggest ones, but there are some more subtle errors like Janeway being addressed as "sir" (which she hates). Just as wrong is Quarren's childhood take on Voyager which not only doesn't make sense according to their world view (it's like a kid dreaming of the Nazis), but on another level, is way too cheesy. The show often tries to put forward the idea that Voyager became a legend in the Delta Quadrant and no more so than here. I always cringe a bit when the ship's legacy takes on mythical proportions.

And yet, it's an interesting destiny they've given this copy of the Doctor, as peacemaker and instrument of change, but also as quester as he eventually leaves to retrace Voyager's course. The twist is that even the story of the backup Doctor has been a historical recreation and, like the first recreation, may get the details wrong. That twist asks us to question everything we've seen even in the context of a story about that question. I wouldn't be surprised if Quarren's little speech was an invention (since the later timeline has Voyager in high regard). More than a Twilight Zone twist, it very much adds to the theme.

LESSON: Historical theories can never be empirically proven.

REWATCHABILITY - High: With cool bits like an evil alternate Voyager crew AND thoughtful SF ideas, it can be enjoyed on multiple levels.


Anonymous said...

Once again, the Alternate/Parallel/Fictional versions of the crew show up in the better episodes. (This is the second of the three really good ones in the 'fictional' slot. Possibly the second of the two, since the third one spoils the episode with the other Voyager-forward Trek hallmark, the Horrid Moral Decision. But at least it's not the Planet of the Voyager Fanfic Writers episode coming up in the later seasons...)

De said...

This, to me, is easily the best episode out of the entire series. It's a high-concept idea that's executed very well.

Siskoid said...

Yes Virginia, there IS a Voyager Top 5.

Anonymous said...

This is the only episode of Voyager I have watched and I like it.

C Whitty said...

Can I just say, horrible makeup on those aliens's faces? I couldn't stop staring at those nasty forehead bulbs

Toby'c said...

I love the bit where the Doctor has to correct their belief that Torres was the transporter chief, no doubt a reference to "Beam me up Scotty" becoming a meme despite that not being Scotty's regular job.

Siskoid said...

Cute! I hadn't thought of that.


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