35 – Lifesigns

Grade: B

Lifesigns (1996) on IMDb


Tom Paris is late again for his duty shift for the third time this week. Meanwhile, Voyager comes across a Vidiian ship with a passenger who seems to be barely alive. They beam the passenger directly to Sickbay, where the Doctor finds out that she is in critical condition. He comes up with a plan to transfer her brain pattern into the computer and create a holographic body for her to keep her alive while he attempts to heal her real brain.


In many ways, this is a very good episode, and it’s certainly one of the best of this series so far. The romance between the Doctor and his patient is actually done very well, which is pretty unusual for Star Trek. I really only have one problem with this storyline, and it may sound a bit like a nitpick. This Doctor is supposed to be a computer simulation, not an actual character. And yet he seems much more human in fewer than 40 episodes than Data did in several years on the Next Generation. So it’s not very realistic that this episode could have even happened during the second season. If they had a similar story later in the series, it would have made more sense.

But the fact that this character is Vidiian and has suffered a tremendous blow to her self-esteem is one of the main points of this episode. This is handled extremely well and realistically. The character reacts in exactly the way that a real character would, if she were in the same position. So great job to the writers for this.

I also really liked the tie-in to Torres and her experience with the Vidiian doctor in the episode called Faces. I didn’t like how quickly and easily Torres agrees to the medical procedure that might save this character’s life. I think it was an issue that really should have been handled more realistically. I remember the episode of Next Generation when Dr Crusher asks Worf to give up some of his blood plasma to help a Romulan. For the entire episode, he refused to help the Romulan, despite the fact that he would certainly die without Worf’s help. He definitely was a very strong character, and I expected nothing less from him.

But now we have Torres who was personally tortured and split in half by an unethical Vidiian doctor who had no regard for her personal safety, comfort or freedom, and when Torres is asked to help this Vidiian doctor to be healed, she at first is adamant about not helping. But she changes her mind by the end of the scene! This is not realistic at all. So the net effect was to weaken Torres’ character at the expense of a simple plot point. I honestly wish the writers hadn’t even brought it up at all, but I guess they felt they had to, since Klingons are supposedly immune to the Phage. Still, they would have been better off not even mentioning Torres’ experience in “Faces” than to dismiss it so lightly like they did.

There are also two story arcs that continued in this episode. One is Tom Paris and his insubordination and bad behavior on the ship. It appears that he just doesn’t want to be on Voyager or subject to Chakotay or anyone else, for that matter. One scene that I really liked was when Chakotay confronts Paris in the Mess Hall to badger him about his bad attitude and poor performance.

I will credit the writers for creating a pretty realistic confrontation between these two. Chakotay shows lack of leadership by having this conversation with Paris in public. He doesn’t even try to find a private area on the ship where their conversation can take place outside the presence of everyone else. So naturally Paris is going to be defensive right from the start of this conversation. I also thought Paris’ complaints were very realistic – he doesn’t think Chakotay trusts or respects him and he feels that Chakotay prevents him from simply doing his job. His example of overruling him on whether they should go into a nebula is a very good example of not allowing Paris to do what he’s supposed to. We never saw this take place, but I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine how we would feel if we were in Paris’ shoes.

Chakotay responds by giving him some typical double-talk about how leadership means making decisions, or something like that, and then goes off to insult him by saying he’ll never be a true leader. This is so typical of what bad managers would say – I’m very impressed that it’s here. What is Chakotay really saying here? That Paris doesn’t make decisions or take risks? Obviously, that’s not true. Paris is always taking risks. And in his example of flying through the nebula certainly is an example of decision-making. So Chakotay couldn’t have meant either of those. So maybe he meant “I’m your leader so I get to make your decisions.”

But what I found to be very compelling is that while Paris had a real example of why he doesn’t like Chakotay, the ship’s First Officer had nothing but an excuse made up on the spot. Bad managers go into disciplinary discussions without any actionable goals or any concrete information.

The second B storyline is a continuation of Michael Jonas’ conversations with the Kazon. It isn’t done particularly well, but I will credit the writers for adding a couple of story arcs into this series.

I would have rated this episode a lot higher if the B stories hadn’t taken up so much time. The romance and the drama between the Doctor and his Vidiian patient were both done very well. If this were the entire focus of the episode, I would have almost certainly rated this an A-.

One last thing, Tuvok doesn’t really show up in this episode much, but he’s on the bridge when they find the Vidiian ship. He says it’s unlikely to be a trap because they don’t detect any other Vidiian ships around. I’m surprised that this is the reaction of the ship’s security officer. His job is to protect the ship and its crew, and here’s a species that has shown nothing but hostility against Voyager. These are the aliens who stole Neelix’s lungs. They also kidnapped Torres and split her human and Klingon DNA so they could find a way to cure themselves without her consent. There is not one reason why Voyager should allow the Vidiians on the ship. There’s no telling what they might want to do next. And yet just because there’s nobody else around, Tuvok thinks it’s not a trap. Bizarre. Instead, he should have suggested a more cautious approach. He doesn’t even post a guard in Sickbay. What if she had only been pretending to be sick because she wanted to kidnap the Doctor?

One other complaint I have about this episode is why couldn’t they have kept her on Voyager at the end of this? Since the ex-Q known as Quinn is gone now, couldn’t she take the quarters that he was going to use? It must be a rule of some kind that romantic interests can only be shown in one episode. As this series goes on, we’ll see many love interests who only appear once.

Of Note

In this episode, there’s a scene that takes place on Mars. Of course, it’s really on the Holodeck, but it was nice to see how Star Trek depicts Mars in the future. But there probably wouldn’t be any 1957 Chevys on Mars – why would anyone bring over a car like that all the way from Earth?

The Doctor mentions Doctor McCoy and a brain surgery procedure he developed in 2357. I don’t know if this is a reference to the episode “Spock’s Brain”, but it would seem to make sense that McCoy would have something to contribute to science after that operation. But “Spock’s Brain” is such a stupid episode that I seriously wonder why anyone involved with Star Trek would want to remind us about it.

If you look closely, you may recognize the guest actress in this episode. She played a character named “Carmen” in the Next Generation episode when the Crystaline Entity destroyed a colony of humans on some planet. Carmen was Riker’s love interest in that episode.