Favorite Fictional Characters, #264: The Doctor
Star Trek: Voyager premiered while I was in college, and I was very ready to give it a try. Deep Space Nine had arrived during my too-crowded year 1993, and I was never able to give it the attention it deserved. But two years later I was excited for this new entry into the established Trek universe, for the introduction of a female captain, the dynamic of schisms emerging in the monolithic Federation, and the premise of a ship's crew flung far into the reaches of unknown space (sort of Gilligan's Island meets Men Against the Sea). I can vividly recall watching the first episode with RJ Burns and Jen Strickland and others at UNH. Janeway seemed a bit crisp and formal to me, but I liked Paris and Torres in particular. (This was all before Seven of Nine and cheesecake Borg). All of that said, the coolest concept and the "character" I enjoyed most was the Emergency Medical Hologram.
Star Trek has a great legacy of characters exploring humanity from the outside, whether struggling to purge themselves of the unwanted emotional influence of their Terran heritage (Spock) or striving to find the humanity in their artificial self (Data). The Doctor inherited this proud tradition, and continued to challenge our preconceptions and push the boundaries of what sentience and identity mean. Robert Picardo's fine acting infused the EMH with a weary impatience, as if he were summoned from something he'd rather be doing ("What is the nature of the medical emergency? Sigh."), evoking the grumpy acerbity of Dr. McCoy and the fragile curiosity of O'Brian's Stephen Maturin. As the series progressed, he was always expanding on the limits of his programming, seeking to become more than he was. He was an ambitious bit of software, and like Data and Spock before him, frequently overcame those limits to become as real and as human as his shipmates.