The usual. It's Paramount's playground; I'm just borrowing the equipment. Any resemblance to products, productions, novels, television shows, films, characters, public figures, celebrities, bodily fluids, et al., is purely intended for entertainment purposes.
These reviews are long, highly opinionated, and prone to digressions. They retell each episode from beginning to end in excruciating but dubiously accurate detail. If you haven't seen the episode yet and want to be surprised, run away.
But some people seem to like them, and if you don't mind your Trek with some tongue-in-cheek running commentary, hop on the fun bus and join the crowd, because Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.
In a touching coming-of-age story, Tom Paris puts away childish things when his holographic ego-stroking program results in the senseless deaths of 53 sentient creatures--and inconveniences the entire crew for a few days.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Brass instruments blare. Lightning streaks across the screen. An announcer loudly declares it's time for another thrilling episode of...
The Adventures of Captain Proton!
Those words also appear on the screen in lightning-shaped letters. The narrator continues.
Chapter 18: Bride of Chaotica!
The scene shifts. We see the interior of Dr. Chaotica's sinister lair. A buxom bottle-blonde in appropriate space-babe attire is strapped to a table. Satan's Robot stands guard while Dr. Chaotica, dark lord of intergalactic evil, enters the scene with a flourish and approaches his captive, long metallic robes flowing. The narrator continues.
The evil Dr. Chaotica kidnaps Constance Goodheart and plans to sacrifice her to Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People!
We get a closeup of Constance Goodheart, who skillfully delivers the only line she's ever allowed to utter: a spine-decalcifying shriek.
Pan up to Dr. Chaotica, whose goatee quivers as he chortles with malevolent glee. He throws his head back like a Pez dispenser as the laughter grows deeper and louder, a baritone counterpoint to the Mariah Carey dog-whistle soprano of the imperiled Goodheart.
The scene shifts. We see our heroes, the leather-jacketed CAPTAIN PROTON and his faithful sidekick Skippy, in working-man's flannel, ray guns pointed heavenward as they march out of his rocket ship and through the doorway onto the surface of an alien world. Narrator, if you please?
Captain Proton travels millions of miles to Planet X where he will invade the Fortress of Doom!
The scene shifts to show the mountaintop fortress, from which bolts of lightning spew. The camera pulls back to show that this scene is playing out on a circular television screen--which Tom Paris and Harry Kim, dressed like their hero/sidekick alter-egos, also in black and white, are either viewing what is to come, or what went on last time. I assume the latter. They presume the former. They share a baleful look as they view the Fortress of Doom.
The screen wipes again to show the lightning striking a rocket ship in space in the cheesiest special effects this side of Dr. Who.
Chaotica fires his fiendish Death Ray--certain death for Proton as his rocket ship bursts into flames!
Sure enough, smoke pours out of the rocket ship. The television goes to test pattern.
Harry frowns. "We didn't burst into flames in the last chapter! Why are these recaps always so inaccurate?"
Tom Paris shrugs. "Well, they brought people back to the theaters." He heads down the steps to take his place at the rocket ship's controls.
Harry smiles. "Cliffhangers..." he says, following Tom. (I would have said Foreshadowing, but what do I know.)
"The lost art of hyperbole," Tom agrees. "You ready?" Aye, Captain, Harry says with a ready grin.
Time to get serious. Time to save the universe. It's Captain Proton time.
"Let's get this show on the road," Tom says, and Harry walks across the room--excuse me, rocket ship--to another set of controls. "Computer--Begin Chapter 18," Tom orders.
Things begin to happen immediately. Harry handles the first lines. "We're receiving a transmission. It's...Chaotica." His voice drops with appropriate respect at the mention of Proton's arch-nemesis.
Tom frowns. "Imagizing." The screen turns from television to telephone. The Imagizer resolves into a view of Chaotica's fortress. Constance Goodheart is now upright, tied to a post, and-what else? Screaming her lungs out.
Chaotica notices he's online and approaches the camera. "Captain Prrrroton!" he says, rolling his R's like a Suzuki Samurai on a sharp curve. "Surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrender!"
"Not a chance," Proton vows. "Release Miss Goodheart and we'll be on our way."
Chaotica beams with evil. "I'm afrrraid your SEC-cretarrry has alrrready been prrromised to Queen ArrrrACK-nia...as a SUPrrreeeeme sACKrrrrifice!" (Which do you think came first? The speech impediment, or the career choice as Lord of Intergalactic Evil? The two always seem to go together....)
Constance Goodheart, noticing that the camera is now on her, screams shrilly. Attagirl.
Harry glowers at the screen. "You'll never get away with this!" Then he breaks character to give Tom a big ole grin.
Women in peril. Brave men in cigar-shaped rocket ships. It don't get any better than this.
Chaotica spares a look at the spunky sidekick. "Oh, ho ho HO, but I SHALL!!! You esCAPED from my Death Rrrray once, but you WON'T surrrvive THIS!!!"
The Imagizer de-Imagizer back to a test pattern. Let the battle commence.
"He's charging the weapon," Harry says, manning his controls.
"Brace for impact!" Proton shouts, working the controls on his side of the room.
The 1930s-era whine of energy weapons striking metal assaults our ears, and the rocket ship reels from the blow.
"Direct hit," Harry reports. "We've lost both engines!"
"Steering jets are on the fritz!" Proton yells.
Harry checks the short-range sensors by looking through the periscope. He sees the rapidly-growing mountains below. "We're going down!" Harry yells as the "uh oh, Proton's in danger" music reaches a crescendo.
Meanwhile, Proton is pounding the control panel with his open palms. "Landing gear is jammed..." Harry joins in the pounding, getting a pretty good samba rhythm going. The energy bursts from Chaotica's death ray continue to pound the intrepid Shuttle o' Love. "Hang on!"
The ship begins to do the shimmy shimmy shake. It's a rough landing; Proton loses his footing and lands butt-first on the iron stairs leading to the Imagizer. Metal scrapes rock, quickly at first, but gradually slowing as friction and gravity gain the upper hand.
"Opening hatch," says Harry, who managed to stay on his feet the whole time. He has more practice maintaining his balance -- on Voyager, Tom's usually sitting at Helm while Harry spends all day on his feet at Ops.
The "heroes in peril" music begins to fade.
"Welcome to Planet X," Tom says, eyes twinkling.
The two take out their ray guns. "What's the plan?" Harry asks.
"This is the part where we defeat Chaotica's soldiers, steal their uniforms, and make our way through the underground caverns." Tom, leading the way, doesn't have his weapon pointed heavenward like they showed in the preview. He also doesn't march purposefully toward the exit like the REAL Proton did--does that count as a nitpick?
Neither does Harry. In fact, his gun is aimed just below belt level as he walks--and he stops Tom at the door, gun pointed haphazardly at Little Proton. "Hey, I thought you said there were slave girls in this chapter!"
Tom's weapon is similarly aimed at Little Skippy. "After we infiltrate the Fortress of Doom we'll free Chaotica's harem." Tom smiles. "Let's go."
Harry beams at the thought. "I'm right behind you." (I have to wonder if this was intentional. Hideously casual weapons handling was a hallmark of cheeseball sci-fi. See Plan 9 From Outer Space for a great example-the "This woman is dead. Murdered. And someone's responsible" scene. And these two trained Starfleet officers tend to be much more observant when carrying their phasers. I think it's knowing that the weapons aren't real that adds to the laxity.)
Tom-Proton-and Harry-Skippy-trudge through the mountain outcropping, a wide-open exterior scene.
Something's bothering Harry. "Planet X looks kind of familiar. What was the last place we went to?"
"The Mines of Mercury," Tom says dramatically.
"They're identical," Harry realizes, disappointed.
Tom shrugs. "Sets were expensive. At least there's no erupting volcano this time."
Tom looks upward. He hears the music grow ominous. "Ah, behold the Fortress of Doom." We see a large, daunting building, the same one we saw in the narrated preview.
Harry groans--looks like a heck of a hike. "And how are we supposed to get up there?"
"I told you. The un-" Harry joins in and they finish together: "derground caverns." Right, Harry says. In they go.
The first surprise comes a moment later, when the ground shakes under their feet, as though the planet's rotation has been halted. Some rocks tumble down on them, but the boulders are Styrofoam so no harm done.
"I thought you said there was no volcano," Harry says, snickpiddled.
"I did," says Tom, macdaddied.
Harry backtracks through the underground caverns. He stops cold. "Uh...Tom...."
Tom joins his friend. Notices Harry is looking up, and does the same.
In the sterile black-and-white world of Planet X, the last thing you'd expect to see is a swirling blue wormhole, casting chromatic beams of light downward from a brilliant swirling center.
Tom's voice goes soft, grim. "Definitely not Chaotica." Not in the script, either.
Cue brass instruments. Fade to opening credits.
Let the adventure begin.
* * *
Tom and Harry stare at the anomaly. "Computer, end program," Harry says. The computer reports that Holodeck controls are off-line." Whoops. Paris tries to contact the bridge, but comm systems are apparently down as well.
"We need to find the manual overrides," Harry says. Tom says the rocket ship has an access port. (Which brings up a question--whatever happened to the Arch? TNG had it, but Quark's and Voyager's Holodecks seem not to.)
Meanwhile, back in the world of "IN COLOR" (age check...) We notice that Voyager is going nowhere fast.
Janeway enters the bridge, which is dark. Red Alert lights blink. "Report," she orders. Chakotay says they're at a dead stop. Warp just collapsed on them. Cause: unknown. Engines are functioning, just not accomplishing anything. They're stuck in a gravity oddity of some sort.
And that's the good news. Tuvok adds the bad: "Control systems are going off-line. I no longer have access to communications, deflector, weapons..." Janeway orders a scan for the usual: vessels, tractor beams, anything that might be messing with them.
On their way back to the Shuttle o' Love, Tom and harry are intercepted by a massive bald thug bearing a passing resemblance to Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, clad in imperial regalia and accompanied by two mute guards. Call them Thing One and Thing Two.
Thug Boy thunders, "Halt! In the name of Chaotica!" He gets a good look at his new captives. His face twists with fury. "Proton!" he bellows, and the rocks quiver from the sonic assault.
Harry looks at Tom. "Buddy of yours?" Tom rolls his eyes and nods.
Thug Boy makes the most of his screen time. "Surprised? You thought I perished in the den of crocodiles!"
Paris, annoyed, groans, "We don't have time for this...." Uh oh. When Tom says that, bad guys die.
But Thug Boy doesn't know that. "I survived...clinging to the thought that I would one day..."
Tom whips out his ray gun, and squeezing the trigger like it will hurt more if he squeezes really hard, nails Thug Boy in the chest with a blast from his spank ray. Thug Boy reels with melodramatic gusto. One hand clutches at his chest. The other raised in half-surrender. He staggers all over the rock cropping, going for the Emmy.
Thing One and Thing Two look at each other in panic, and then reach for their weapons.
Tom and Harry fire in unison, thrusting their throbbing weapons forward like jabs at a boxing match, hammering home their twin lances of photonic pain. Thing One and Thing Two crumble, dazed, while Thug Boy continues his staggering.
Tom and Harry give each other a Mission Accomplished look. Harry blows on the end of his muzzle with a flourish. They resume their journey toward the rocket ship.
Harry casually shoots Thing Two one more time as he walks by, just to be thorough. Thug Boy, noticing, finally allows himself to collapse against a rock cropping before Tom gets similar ideas, and allows our heroes to pass by unmolested.
The music swells triumphant for our heroes.
On the bridge in living color, Tuvok has a breakthrough. "I believe I have an explanation. Sensors show that we've entered a layer of subspace. It's disrupting our warp field." But they have impulse engines, and Janeway tells the helm girl to floor it.
So, naturally, Janeway asks for more power. And more. All they do is overheat their engines. Janeway wisely calls it off before they blow a gasket. As the whine of overtaxed engines subsides. She slumps in her chair. "Increase power to the structural integrity field. We may be here awhile."
Tom and Harry, back on the Shuttle o' Love, try to access Holodeck controls. "It's no use," Tom says. "I can't disengage the program."
"Well, you better think of something fast, Proton," Harry says, looking through the periscope. "A second distortion just appeared. Whatever they are, they're getting bigger."
"Hold on," Tom says. "I've got access to the transporter. I'm going to try a site-to-site."
"There's a third one," says Harry, awed by the spectacle.
The scene shifts. Tom and Harry appear in the corridor outside the Holodeck. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, they head for the bridge.
In Astrometrics, a short time later. Seven of Nine is wearing her two-tone blue outfit. She stands next to Torres at the controls while Captain Janeway and her sidekick, Ensign Paris, stand upstairs in front of the massive wall-length Astrometrics display. The comparison between the Proton 1930s Imagizer and the 2370s home theater is telling. As is the sight of a size-four Captain Proton with a Wookie-sized sidekick. Tom, in fact, is the only male in the room, and the one making with the sidekick-like wisecracks while all the women get the real work done.
You've come a long way, babe.
[Barb Wire, impossibly attired in an outfit of precision-cut leather, stiletto heels and cleavage custom-engineered for the cover of ESQUIRE, makes an unexpected appearance. Her expression is feral. The antitank rocket on her shoulder sizzles with unrealized potential. "Don't call me Babe." A drop to one knee, a flick of the finger, and seconds later a certain review boy's keyboard explodes in a shower of alphanumeric shrapnel.
One new keyboard later...
Seven of Nine reports her findings in classic Technobabble while a beautiful big-screen recreation of Voyager's flight path appears. It shows what could be a fault line in subspace, only slightly wider than Voyager is long. But when Voyager hits it, it stops dead. B'Elanna gives us the English version. "Basically, we've run aground on a subspace sandbar. I've tried realigning the warp field, reversing hull polarity..."
"Maybe we should just get out and push," Ensign Weisenheimer suggests. Janeway gives him her skunk eye on Setting One--hands on hips, shoulder roll, sidelong head toss, annoyed exhale. Complexity factor three, but no lasting damage. Tom does his best to look suitably chastened before both grin slightly. (The scamp. Demotion certainly hasn't impacted his sense of humor.)
The really bad news is that they're not just stuck; their stuff is beginning to stop functioning. Important stuff. "The gravimetric forces are disrupting our control systems," says Seven. Torres adds, "As long as we're trapped here we won't have access to the computer core, tactical, Holodecks, and all but six replicators." Only six replicators? I guess Neelix will be one busy Talaxian...heck, they need two just to keep Janeway's coffee mug full.
Janeway asks if there is any connection between the Holodeck distortions and their current travails. Seven calls them random and mostly harmless. Janeway orders the deck cleared and the fluctuations monitored, just in case.
Janeway and Paris stare at the image of Voyager stuck on the "sandbar." Janeway's eyes focus on a point in time. "A few years back when I was a science officer on the Al-Batani, we tried to navigate a dense proto-nebula. It stopped us dead in our tracks. For three days, we attempted to force our way out until we realized we were trying too hard." Torres isn't sure she follows, so Janeway continues. "Every time we engaged the engines we were increasing the resistance of the nebula's particle field. We may be facing a similar--"
Seven interrupts. "Our own warp field may be increasing the gravimetric forces. If we power down the core and use minimal thrusters we might be able to break free."
I don't know why, but I couldn't help but notice hand positions at this moment. Janeway's are clasped in front of her. Seven of Nine's, clasped behind her back. B'Elanna's, arms folded testily, a body-language sneer aimed squarely at the nearby Borg.
Tom's hands are hanging limply at his side, knuckles dragging along the ground like the pig-boy Neanderthal he is when compared to the three brainy vixens of Voyager, in whose presence he is not worthy to speak. If this were Proton World, his only line would be a piercing shriek of fright, over and over, on cue.
I can only assume that Betty Friedan is a script consultant this week. But perhaps I'm reading too much into this....
Anyway. Seven interrupts Janeway. Torres glares. Janeway's expression is bemused. "You took the words right out of my mouth."
"Your plan could work," Seven allows.
"Now that we have your blessing..." Torres snipes.
"Let's give it a try," Janeway says, smirking, and walks off camera.
Tom grunts and scratches himself idly, then follows.
[Oh, man, I can only imagine the mail I'm gonna get this week....]
In the Holodeck realm of Planet X, two columns of polychromatic light fall earthward from the wormholes. They coalesce at ground level into two figures. Slender, angular, male, dressed like Dixon Hill right down to the fedoras, they resemble nothing if not humorless G-men from Earth's pre-WWII period. And they're even the appropriate shades of gray.
Consulting alien high-tech devices, they turn towards the Fortress of Doom where Chaotica dwells with his robotic minions and thugs-aplenty. They nod at each other and begin their long journey.
"Halt, in the name of Chaotica!" Whoops. Uncle Fester is back with Thing One and Thing Two.
The "older" of the G-Men holds his hands up in a gesture of peace. "We intend no harm." His line delivery is stilted even for this program, the clipped monotone of one unaccustomed to the language.
"Seize them!" Thug Boy commands. As the aliens are taken into custody, Thug Boy touches his wrist communicator. "Lower the drawbridge. We are bringing prisoners." He gives a guttural laugh, coughing up a chicken bone and a bit of strawberry tart with not so much rat in it. Disgusting.
Inside the Fortress of Doom, Chaotica waits with Satan's Robot and the bound but not gagged Constance Goodheart as Thug Boy enters the room with his report.
"Yes, yes, Lonzak, what do you want?" Chaotica demands.
"Your majesty," Thug Boy (Lonzak) coos, bowing obsequiously.
"Where's Prrrrroton?" Chaotica demands.
"He, uh...escaped," Lonzak confesses, fearing for his life.
"FoooooOOOOOLLLLLLLLLl!" Chaotica says, taking a good ten seconds to spit the word out. "You will PAY for your inCOMpetence! SEEEEZE him!" He motions for Satan's robot to spring into action.
"Surrender," says the mechanical, slightly whiny voice of the robot, clanking with each step as it shuffles toward its intended victim.
Lonzak sputters. "But, Majesty...I have brought prisoners!" His look is pure please-don't-kill-me.
Chaotica perks up at this. "More Earthlings?" he whispers.
"No! They claim they're from another dimension."
Chaotica gets a full-on evil chubby. "The Fifth Dimension," he whispers. "Bring them to me!" Lonzak claps loudly and the doors swing open. The two aliens, arms twisted behind their backs by Thing One and Thing Two, are thrust unceremoniously toward Chaotica.
"Identify yourself," the elder alien says, firmly, stilted, almost as expressionless as Satan's Robot.
Chaotica chortles at the joke, then takes umbrage. "You inSULT me! I am Chaotica, RrrrUler of the COSmos!" Thug Boy, now standing beside Chaotica, with his best melodramatic gesture, orders the aliens to kneel. They don't. He repeats the order, hamming it up even more, and Thing One and Thing Two force the aliens to their knees.
"You...have invaded my planet," whispers Chaotica menacingly, walking toward his captives. "Why?"
The aliens clearly don't fit their environs. They speak like normal people rather than stage actors. "To contact other photonic life-forms...to learn from them." Did he say photonic?
Chaotica grills them, circling them like a hyena would a wounded gazelle. "Are you alone or are you the vanguard of an invading army?"
"We are explorers."
"I am grrrowing wearrry of this shah-rrraahhd ("charade"). Your armies will be NO MATCH for my spppace fffforce. We'll crrrrUSH you like INsects!" (You know, some dialog just has to be heard and not read...)
The older Alien, the one who does all the talking, looks at his partner. "They are hostile. This contact should be terminated." They share a nod like Stan and Ollie. The younger one even plays with his tie.
"Indeed," Chaotica agrees. "Lonzak, execute them!"
Thug Boy whips out his ray gun and tags the silent alien in the chest. It disappears in a puff of angry black-and-white light.
On cue, Constance Goodheart gives her best shrill scream yet.
Oh my gosh, they killed...um, beats me. So it goes.
The surviving alien activates his trusty multifunction device and shimmers away in a cloud of bluish mist.
"COWard," Chaotica says of the fleeing alien from the Fifth Dimension. "He'll learn there's no esCAPE from ChaOTica. GAther my SPace FForce. POWer the DEATH RRRay!" (Turn off the spell checker!...)
Thug Boy dives headfirst into his lines. "At ONCE, MAJesty." Bowing from the ankles, he hops to it.
I give. Just use your imagination as you read. Over-pronounce every syllable. Roll the R's. Spit out the hard consonants. Insert ellipsis marks every couple of words for dramatic effect. Think Captain Kirk. How the words come out matters this week, where Power Emoting is a big part of the fun.
Chaotica commands Satan's Robot. "Take Miss Goodheart to Arachnia. Invite the Queen to join me in battle. Together we will rain destruction on the Fifth Dimension!"
The robot advances on the helpless Goodheart.
Whose scream drowns out the peril-punctuated soundtrack.
Fade to black.
* * *
Captain's Log, Supplemental: we've been spinning our wheels for three days now, and still no progress in breaking free of the subspace layer.
In the mess hall, things are grim. Crewman are regarding their meal--a plate of soggy spinach-like vegetation--the same way a Klingon would consider dead and soggy gagh.
Neelix apologetically doles out a mound of the hideous lawn clippings to a queasy crewman. "Look on the bright side--there's only three meals a day," Neelix suggests. The crewman makes a brave face and skulks off to choke the meal down.
Janeway enters looking like a conquering general. "Coffee. Black."
"Uh, sorry, Captain. We lost two more replicators this morning--"
Janeway grabs Neelix by the shoulders. Her voice drops to that someone-will-die-soon level reserved for Evil Aliens of the Week and uppity subordinates. "Listen to me very carefully because I'm only going to say this once. Coffee. Black." Her head nods sharply with each word. There is a panicked intensity that sends half the room scurrying for cover. One fork actually spins before clattering against the chinette.
Realizing his life is in his hands, Neelix chooses the better part of valor and smiles bravely. "Yes, ma'am." He walks over to the replicator and orders up a steaming mug of Starbucks Salvation. Janeway grabs the coffee mug like it's the last one she'll ever see, actually snarling when it takes Neelix a nanosecond too long to let go.
Neelix has something he needs to tell her. "While I've got your attention, there are..."
"Coffee first," Janeway says, holding up a warning hand. She takes several heroic gulps, and steam pours out her ears and tear ducts as the bitter caffeine goodness works its magic. Janeway closes her eyes for an orgasmic moment, and when she opens them she's a new woman. "Now, what's the problem?" she asks, walking briskly to an empty seat.
How best to proceed? "It's a...It's a delicate matter."
"I don't have time to play 20 questions, Neelix." So, he spits it out. "Replicators aren't the only ... systems of convenience off-line." His voice drops to a whisper. "We've only got four functioning lavatories for a ship of 150 people." Janeway's eyes go wide. "Needless to say, lines are beginning to form. If we don't get unstuck soon we may have a serious problem on our hands..."
His voice drops even further. "Uh...Especially with the Bolians." The Bolians, you will recall, have cartilaginous tongues and can guzzle transmission fluid and toxic waste like Snapple. If what they can put into themselves boggles the mind, it's terrifying to contemplate what the end of the digestive process might be like.
Especially if you're next in line. Shudder.
"All but three sonic showers are off-line, too," Neelix whispers, continuing the bad news. "In another couple of days..."
Janeway raises her hands in surrender. "I get the idea." They'd have to rechristen the ship from Voyager to the USS Pepe le Pew.
Chakotay summons the captain to the bridge. Janeway leaves the unenviable task of allocating the dwindling hygiene resources to Neelix.
And she doesn't want to know the details. As long as she doesn't have to follow the Bolians.
Neelix watches her go, then, amazed that she actually left some coffee in the mug, finishes it off himself.
Janeway arrives on the bridge. "Status." The short version: the warp core is offline and they're going to try to coast their way out. The "sandbar" is only a couple kilometers wide, so going a few meters a second--a brisk speed-walk pace--won't take them long.
Tom starts slow. Two meters a second. The ship moves, something it hasn't done in days. Gradually, they get up to 25 meters a second--still safe enough for a school zone, if the light's not flashing.
But as they approach the boundary, they begin to slow. Torres reads power surges not unlike weapons signatures, but coming from within the ship. Too weird.
They come to a dead stop, still inside the "sandbar."
Tuvok pinpoints the weapons fire--inside Holodeck Two. But there are no life signs.
They realize the Captain Proton program is still running. Kim can't shut it down from outside the program either.
Janeway sends Tuvok down to investigate. Tom looks down at the captain expectantly.
"Well, join him," she says irritably. "Yes, ma'am," Tom says, sprinting for the turbolift.
Planet X looks like hell. Rocks and equipment are smoking and charred. The Fortress of Doom has large blackened holes in it. Corpses litter the trail.
"It appears that a battle took place," says Tuvok with classic understatement.
"Believe me, it wasn't like this when I left," Tom says. "I must have missed a few chapters." They walk around, looking for clues.
"Holodeck programs don't normally run by themselves," Tuvok notes with concern. "No kidding," Tom says.
They run across the lifeless figure of someone familiar. Constance Goodheart. Tom checks for a pulse (D'Oh!). "She's dead," Tom says, shocked. Who's going to scream now? Tuvok asks who she is. "Constance Goodheart. My secretary." Tuvok rolls his eyes.
Tom shakes his head sadly. "This doesn't make sense. She isn't supposed to die; she's one of the good guys!"
Tuvok almost smirks. "I'm sure you two were very close," he says sarcastically, noting her more obvious attributes. "But she is a Holodeck character."
Tom tries again to make his point. "A character from 1930s Hollywood. The good guys never get killed." It's against the rules, and the Proton program is nothing if not slavishly devoted to the strictures of the genre. "Something's wrong here."
They hear a new voice. A malfunctioning voice. Barely intelligible. "Invaders from the Fifth dimension: Queen Arachnia is on her way." Like a 45rpm record played at 33rpm through half-dead speakers, Satan's Robot valiantly issues the warning to the alien threat that has long since kicked holographic hiney, taken names, and departed.
Tuvok and Paris reach the robot and help it to its feet. "Satan's Robot," Tom explains to the increasingly exasperated Tuvok. Tom's speaking a whole other language. Tuvok rolls his eyes. "Naturally."
Satan's Robot continues its malfunctioning soliloquy. "Invaders from the Fifth Dimension: Destroy Proton."
Tom figures the only way to get information is to fix the robot. He opens up the access panel in its chest. "He burned out a resister," Tom concludes. Tuvok's never heard of a resister. Tom smiles. "That's a few centuries before duotronic circuitry." Tuvok doesn't ask for elaboration. (What a weenie; Spock was able to repair a tricorder using depression-era bone knives and bearskins, vacuum tubes and pre-integrated circuitry....) He just asks how Tom proposes to repair the thing. Tom yanks out a vacuum tube, re-crosses some wires, kicks the robot a few times and raps its chest with his knuckles, issuing a few choice profanities. All necessary steps in early-20th-century hardware repair.
"Your knowledge of this technology is most impressive," Tuvok says, not bothering to say that if Tom had spent this much time learning the ins and outs of Sickbay he'd be an M.D. by now.
With a final smack in the chest, Satan's Robot returns to life. "Intruder alert!"
Tom grills the robot. "Tell us what happened?"
"Invaders from the Fifth Dimension!" it shrieks mechanically. Tom tries to calm it down. Tuvok asks, "How did these invaders get here?"
Tom shakes his head. "The Fifth Dimension...There's not supposed to be alien invaders in this story. That's in 'Captain Proton versus the cosmic creature.'"
"Invaders from the fifth dimension!" the walking water heater repeats frantically.
Tom connects the dots. "Those subspace distortions...." He tells the robot to take them to the portal.
The robot jerks around to look at its benefactors, then wordlessly leads the way; the only sound is the dramatic score and the clank of metal hitting rock.
They reach an open space. The robot circles around, looking for something as Paris and Tuvok do the same. The robot finds it first. Pointing its claw skyward, it says, "There."
We see half a dozen mini-wormholes now, in living, throbbing color.
Pulses of energy begin to spew out of them.
Aimed at the robot and the two carbon-based Starfleeters.
"Photonic charges--the same signatures as the weapons fire we detected." Tuvok yells.
"The Fifth Dimension!" the robot repeats needlessly, its black-and-white exterior shining eerily from the reflection of the multi-colored wormholes. Very, very cool shot. Tres surreal.
Tuvok says they need to report this to the captain. But Captain Proton is on the job. "I'm going to check my rocket ship first." Tuvok gives him a stern look, but there is method to Tom's madness. "It's got sensors. Sort of. Maybe they can tell us something Voyager's sensors can't."
Tuvok must admit, when it comes to Planet X, Tom is the expert. He follows as Tom takes the lead; the robot brings up the rear.
Harry and Seven work in Astrometrics. "I've established a visual link with the Holodeck," Seven of Nine says. We see four of the distortions, raining photonic death from above. "The attack appears to be originating from subspace," she adds.
"Can you tell where it's coming from?" Harry asks. She cannot.
Lightning strikes the wormholes. Some of them shrink under the barrage. "What was that?" Seven asks.
Leave it to the other expert on Captain Proton physics to provide the answer. "Chaotica's Death Ray," Harry whispers, fascinated.
"Excuse me?" Seven asks.
Harry doesn't bother to explain. "Let's see if we can get a look inside his fortress--find out what he's up to."
Seven does. The scene shifts to the inside of the Fortress of Doom. We hear the cheesy music, note the smoking ruin around Chaotica as he speaks into the microphone. "Full power to the Death Ray! Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People...You have not responded to my summons. Don't--"
He continues speaking, but Seven puts the audio on Mute.
Harry shakes his head. "I don't get it. Chaotica was supposed to be fighting Earth in this chapter."
Seven would grin if it were in her emotional repertoire. "Apparently, he's found a new enemy."
"The Fifth Dimension," Harry says. (Hey, waitaminit...How would he know this term?)
Seven looks annoyed. "It seems your infantile scenario now poses a security risk."
Harry doesn't look all that abashed. "It was just supposed to be a little harmless entertainment." With slave girls! Woo hoo! He doesn't add.
"Entertainment--another frivolous human endeavor," Seven notes, staring meaningfully at the screen, urging countless millions--most watching Drew Carey at the moment, missing the message entirely--to turn the dang TV off and read a book.
Harry just snickers. Don't knock frivolity until you've tried it, babe.
I mean Barb. Please don't hurt me. Keyboards are expensive.
TO CAPTAIN PROTON FROM THE PRESIDENT OF EARTH STOP
"These are your sensor readings?" Tuvok asks as Tom reads from the ticker-tape clacking away at a screaming 75 bits per second.
Tom grins. "Telegram. It's a message to Captain Proton from the President of Earth. 'Intercepted communications between Dr. Chaotica and Arachnia. Stop. Chaotica at war with aliens from Fifth Dimension. Stop. Must strike now to disable Death Ray-'"
"Stop," Tuvok begs. "Please summarize the message."
"Well, it looks like...Chaotica has captured a couple of aliens from the Fifth Dimension."
"An alternate universe."
"Could be. Maybe they wandered into the Holodeck through one of those distortions."
"To participate in a game?" Tuvok asks.
"Intruder!" Satan's robot shouts. The door to the outside begins to creak open.
"I assume there's no locking mechanism on the hatch," Tuvok says dryly.
Tom shrugs. "It was a simpler time."
The older alien enters the doorway, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. It waves something about like a weapon.
"Is he part of the program?" Tuvok asks.
"I don't recognize him," Tom admits.
Satan's Robot's arms go all akimbo with alarm.
* * *
"Invaders!" Satan's robot advances menacingly.
"Quiet!" Paris says, slapping it upside the head with the back of his hand.
"...vaders," Satan's robot sulks, slinking into the background. (Robot abuse is rampant this week.)
Paris tries to put the alien at ease. "Look there's been a misunderstanding. I'm Ensign Paris from the Starship Voyager. This is Lieutenant Tuvok." (Lieutenant? What, did Tuvok get on Janeway's bad side too?)
The alien regards the two Starfleeters suspiciously. "You killed 53 of my people." Paris bristles, insisting they haven't killed anyone. But Tuvok interrupts before Tom can say more, and takes over the conversation. "Everything you see here is a simulation. None of it's real."
The alien is dubious. "Simulation?" Tuvok nods. "A photonically-based projection."
The alien blinks. "All life is photonic," he insists. We are not, Tuvok replies; we are biochemical life-forms. The alien frowns. "I'm not familiar with biochemical." Tuvok elaborates. "We are carbon-based. We live aboard a Starship. I believe we have become trapped in a region of space that intersects your own."
The alien is even more suspicious. "We've detected no Starship...Only this planet."
"This planet isn't real. As I told you it's part of a simulation," Tuvok insists. Paris offers to help the guy adjust his sensors. But the alien's tricorder doesn't pick them up as life forms. "You are the illusion," the alien says, looking about ready to flee. Tom breaks back into the conversation, trying to reassure the guy...
But Satan's Robot just can't hold back any longer. "Citizen of the Fifth Dimension! You will be destroyed!"
Oh, like that's gonna help. The robot advances. The alien fires. The robot reels. Because the robot is in the way, the skittish photonic alien is out the door before Paris and Tuvok can stop him or even say another word-but not before the Robot takes a final swipe at the alien, sending its scanner/weapon skittering across the room. Hmmm--that could prove useful.
The robot shoots for the Emmy. It elicits a metallic groan. The violins begin to play. Grab a hanky, kids. "Damage. Damage. Require maintenance. Help. Help. Help..."
But if it's looking for help--or even sympathy--it's on the wrong set. Tom Paris regards the pitiful evil robot with little more than annoyance.
On their way back to Voyager's bridge, Paris and Tuvok are almost stopped dead by a hideous stench. Covering their noses with their tunics, they move through the corridor, to discover many of their crewmen gasping and choking near one of the public restrooms. The only one standing is Ensign Chell, a Bolian, who shrugs apologetically. The restroom door is open. The computer blinks an environmental hazard alert.
Suddenly, a beam of energy lances through the corridor and into the lavatory. A ball of violet flame erupts from within, singing a few uniforms but otherwise causing little damage. But the good news is, the stench has been eradicated.
Lt. Biscuit, a shortish human assigned to the JAG division on deck fourteen, arrives from around the corner, phaser in hand. Nobody objects when he moves to the front of the line, though Tuvok raises his eyebrows questioningly at the junior officer.
"I like a fresh bowl," he explains simply, and the door closes. A few more phaser noises are heard, followed by a noisy flush and the unmistakable refrain of Barry White.
Tuvok looks to Paris. "Lawyers," Paris mutters.
Janeway, Chakotay and Seven join Paris and Tuvok in the conference room. The chief difficulty most of them have is keeping a straight face while Paris speaks in a lingo as alien to them as, well, as me describing a Voyager episode to a room full of Broncos fans. Tom's specialty vocabulary strikes his crewmates as simply silly, despite the serious circumstances. It's like getting a briefing from The Tick.
Janeway throws out the first shot, failing to conceal her smirk. "Let me get this straight. Trans-dimensional aliens have mistaken your Captain Proton simulation for reality."
"Yes, ma'am," Paris says gravely.
"And now an armed conflict has broken out between these aliens and Chaotica's holographic army."
Still deadpan, Paris replies, "Yes, ma'am. His Army of Evil." Chakotay and Seven maintain sufficient distance and cover to allow them to snicker without repercussions.
"And will someone please explain why we haven't simply shut down the Holodeck?"
"We've tried," Seven of Nine reports. "The controls are still off-line."
Exasperated, Janeway paces. "We're going to have to get through to these aliens and explain that they're fighting shadows."
"We've tried, but they don't believe us," Paris explains. "They think that we're not real. They can't detect Voyager so every time they scan us we seem as artificial to them as holographic characters do to us."
"That explains why they haven't answered our hails," Chakotay offers, managing to keep a straight face. Seven offers a suggestion: "The Doctor is photonic. He may be able to persuade them." Janeway approves.
"In the meantime," Tom offers, "I think we should let the program play out."
"You're not suggesting we wait until this Chaotica defeats the aliens?" Janeway snaps.
"No, no. I'm suggesting that we help the aliens to defeat Chaotica. They think that he's leading some kind of hostile invasion force. Once that threat is gone, it's a good bet that they will leave and close up their portals." Makes sense to me.
"How do you propose to defeat Chaotica?" Chakotay asks.
Okay, folks, here's where it gets surreal. Suppressed giggles abound in this scene, and Janeway is the prime offender. I haven't seen mugging for the camera like this since my last Jim Carrey movie.
Paris, of course, takes it all quite seriously--Captain Proton is his baby. "Well, he's been attacking the aliens with his Death Ray."
"It's a shame we don't have one," Tuvok says dryly. Snickers all around.
Paris gets his dander up. "Forget about what it's called, Tuvok! In the world of Captain Proton it's the most powerful weapon that there is--and because it's photonic, it's lethal to these aliens. Now--in Chapter 18, Captain Proton disables this weapon just before Chaotica can use it to destroy Earth."
Janeway smirks. "And you think that Proton--namely you, of course--could still do that?"
"Well, we'd have to knock out the lightning shield first." A force field, Seven presumes. Paris smiles. "Yeah. Now you're catching on. The Destructo Beam on my rocket ship can disable the Death Ray but only if someone gets inside the Fortress of Doom and can shut down the Lightning Shield."
You can almost feel the Ensign pip on Paris' collar being replaced by Bolian Lavatory Scrubber Second Class. This farce is what is keeping Janeway away from her beloved lattes grandes?
"And who's supposed to do that?" Chakotay asks, grinning ear to ear.
"Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People," Paris says reverently.
If St. George were here, he'd book the captain for a 412. "Charming," Janeway says, inviting her staff to guffaw along with her. Poor Tom's hobby is being ridiculed mercilessly.
But of course Paris isn't laughing. "Chaotica thinks so. In the story, he's in love with her. He's been trying to form an alliance since Chapter Three. She's the only one that he trusts--the only one that can get close enough to disable the lightning shield. Somebody is going to have to take on her character." He stares meaningfully at the captain.
Janeway's Irish accent comes on thick. She leans against the briefing table, hands on knee for balance, staring straight at Seven of Nine. "Who'd you have in mind?" Chakotay and Tuvok also look at Seven, who looks perturbed by the attention. Janeway applauds her own brilliance, and looks back at Paris for confirmation of her choice.
But Paris never takes his gaze from the captain herself.
His intent finally sinks in. "Oh, no!" Janeway shouts, leaping to her feet, running away from the Ensign.
"It's the role of a lifetime!" Paris calls after her as she paces around the table.
Tuvok joins Paris. "Captain, need I remind you that we have exhausted all other possibilities of escaping this layer of subspace."
Chakotay is the next to fall, but he's grinning. "Until we can eliminate those distortions, we're trapped."
"Think of it as Starfleet's first encounter with Planet X," Seven of Nine suggests.
Et tu, VII? (I know, recycled joke. But I still like it.)
"Thanks," Janeway says, casting her a Level 5 Skunk Eye. Seven's uniform sizzles from the heat of the glare. Impressive.
Paris presses the point. "Captain, it won't be so bad! I can explain to you what you can expect. I can tell you..."
Janeway throws up her hands in submission. "All right, all right!"
She casts an accusing glare up at Paris. He will pay for this, she vows.
"I'm a size four," she grumps.
Tom doesn't even dare to smile.
Torres arrives in Sickbay. "What's the emergency?"
"I've been enlisted," Doc beams. "I'm supposed to make contact with our photonic friends from the Fifth Dimension and convince them to call off their attack."
Torres frowns. "Congratulations. Why do you need me?"
"It's an undercover mission. I'll need a bit of cosmetic surgery. These are the parameters for my new ... costume." He hands Torres the tricorder with the specifications.
"What are you going as--the emperor of the universe?" Torres asks, smirking slightly.
"Well, I've been forced to scale back my role in the interest of credibility." You gotta love Doc. He could give Chaotica a run for his ego money. "I'll be President of Earth." He changes the subject. "I must say, the idea of an entire universe populated by photonic beings is rather appealing."
Torres, no doubt strained by three plus days of putting out fires and unclogging overworked lavatories, tries to look on the bright side as she makes the modifications to his portable emitter. "Well, if your mission fails you could be taking up permanent residence." Doc is not comforted by the thought.
Harry Kim hails Sickbay; they're ready for Doc. Torres pronounces his modifications complete, and tells him it'll kick in when he enters the Holodeck. He thanks her and heads for the door. "Break a leg," she says sincerely.
Paris briefs Janeway on her mission as they stroll the corridors.
"So all I have to do is find the controls of this Death Ray and deactivate it," Janeway says.
Paris shakes his head. "It's not as simple as it sounds. Now, Chaotica might be a 1930s villain, but he's very clever. It'd help if you knew some of the rules." (I think Bryan Fuller saw SCREAM a few too many times, but it works pretty well here.)
"I'm listening," Janeway says, remembering that there is a purpose to all this. Coffee...hot bath...coffee...hot coffee bath....
"All right. Well...first of all, he's a megalomaniac, so it's a good idea to appeal to his ego."
"Right," Janeway says, nodding sharply.
"And, um, use grandiose language. He likes to be called 'sire'--and it helps to say things like, 'the clever fiendishness of your evil plan is brilliant!'"
Janeway makes a face. They enter the turbolift. "Deck four," Janeway orders.
"Now, remember: it's ray gun, not phaser. Um, Imagizer, not viewscreen. Earthlings, not Terrans." The captain's a smart cookie. "Got it."
"And another thing...these villains always have a trick up their sleeve--trapdoors, secret weapons..."
Janeway shakes her head. "It's the Holodeck! I can't be hurt by weapons."
"Well, that doesn't mean you can't be restrained, or thrown into the Dungeon of Pain!"
Janeway's eyes go wide. One of these days she needs to have a long talk with the boy. "Noted."
"Now, as soon as you get the Death Ray shut down, call me in my rocket ship and give me the signal to fire."
The turbolift doors open and they exit. "You'll have to use Chaotica's broadcast microphone," Tom adds.
Janeway can't hold back any longer. "This is how you've been spending your free time?"
Paris looks slightly embarrassed. "Well, I've been studying how past generations viewed the future."
Paris looks somewhat abashed. "Well, let's just say it didn't work out quite as black-and-white as they imagined. Now, the specifications for Arachnia's costume." He hands Janeway a PADD.
Janeway's eyes go wide as a Ken Starr indictment. She clearly wonders just what the photon she's gotten herself into.
Paris talks while Janeway's mouth hangs open, still not quite grasping the totality of the outfit he's designed for her. But Paris has one more surprise. "One more thing...if you have trouble with Chaotica, or you can't get to the Death Ray, you can always uncork the pheromones."
That wakes her up. Janeway stops in her tracks. She whirls on her heels and glares at Ensign Paris. "I beg your pardon," she snaps, Skunk eye on level 8. Skin actually peels off his face.
Uh oh. Danger, Captain Proton!
Paris realizes he has ten seconds to live unless he has a good answer. "Uh, Chapter 16. 'Spell of the Spider.' Arachnia sends Chaotica a vial of her irresistible potion. Now, whenever he gets a whiff, he's under her spell."
Do you get the feeling that Hollywood knew as little about women in the 1930s as they did about outer space?
Janeway still doesn't look happy, but the Skunk Eye lowers from its lethal setting to one of mere consternation. "I get the picture." So she does--she's seen the costume.
"My point is, is that these pheromones seem to throw Chaotica for a loop. Well, it worked in Chapter 16, anyway. Now, the vial is sitting on a small pedestal next to the throne."
Who designed this--Roberta Williams (of King's Quest fame)? I wouldn't play this program without a hint book and a 900 number.
"I'll keep an eye out," Janeway promises, though you can already see her calculating the duration of Tom's next stint in Solitary. "Thanks for the briefing." She salutes crisply and exits.
Paris calls after her. "I'll see you at the Fortress of Doom! And remember, You're the Queen!"
Chaotica's Fortress of Doom is belching huge billows of greasy black smoke. Inside, Chaotica paces angrily.
Thug Boy enters. "Sire! Three more of our space ships have been destroyed."
Chaotica growls with frustration. "Full power to the Death Ray!" Thug Boy gets right on it.
Chaotica grabs his microphone and snaps the cord. "Citizens of the Fifth Dimension: Your feeble attacks are nothing but pinpricks to me. Surrender now...and I will be merciful."
Thug Boy announces an incoming transmission. "They are surrendering!" Chaotica breathes. But no, Thug Boy says, "It's Queen Arachnia. She wishes to cross the drawbridge."
Even better. "Ah..." he exhales ecstatically. "What are you waiting for? Show her in!"
Thug Boy exits, and returns a few seconds later. "I present her Royal Highness ... Arachnia!"
In strolls the very picture of stunning arachnid evil in female form. Floor-length, form-fitting tapered dress. Gossamer collar with a definite Charlotte's Web theme. ("Some Pig" no doubt refers to Paris.) Hair piled high. Painted lips, thickened lashes, blushed cheeks, She resembles nothing if not Cruella de Ville without the Dalmatian fur and the cigarette.
Chaotica swoons. "Ahh...At last...At last...My Queen." He kneels before her, kisses her hand with surprising softness, tickling her skin with his goatee.
Janeway tries to look nonchalant. When all this is over, Janeway swears, death is too good for Thomas goldang Paris.
* * *
Chaotica's voice is velvet-silk. Beauty has charms to soothe the savage beast, and the beastly Chaotica is full-on whipped. "This is an historic occasion. Kindred souls meet at last."
Janeway matches him theatric for theatric. "It's an honor to be in your presence, Majesty. I've always admired your..." (Oh, what was it Tom said? Ah, yes.) "Clever fiendishness."
Chaotica accepts the flattery in stride. "Ah, your taste is exceeded only by your beauty."
Janeway heads for the torture table. "This must be your Death Ray."
Chaotica corrects her gently. "That, my dear, is the Cradle of Persuasion. It's fully equipped: brain probe, pain modulator."
"Impressive," Janeway purrs. "It's good you have the...Lightning Shield to protect your equipment." Janeway reserves her mugging for the camera, but manages to stay in character when interacting with the Lord of Intergalactic Badness.
Chaotica is impressed that she's followed his career so closely. "Yes. As long as it's electrified, I am invincible! But my greatest achievement is there. Behold: the Death Ray."
Janeway takes a look at the long cannon-shaped, meters-tall weapon. She caresses the barrel lasciviously. "Oh ... it looks like a ... formidable weapon." (Sheesh--I'm blushing just describing the scene...)
"The most powerful in the cosmos! There is so much more I want to show you." Perv. "My throne, for example. The seat...of my Empire." Chaotica extends his elbow for her to take so he can give her the guided tour.
Janeway notices the vial of pheromones, just where Paris said it would be. "Ah! I see you've kept my pheromones. I didn't realize you were the...sentimental type."
Chaotica blushes. "Your perfume...inspires me." Janeway takes the vial and slips it into the sleeve of her outfit, then takes Chaotica's arm again.
He escorts her to the seat of his power--an ornate, gaudy throne. She asks if he'd mind--he'd be delighted. She sits on the throne. "Somehow I feel comfortable here," Janeway says, pleasantly surprised, slipping out of character ever so slightly.
"Join me...and you will have your own chair--one adorned with the most precious jewels and the softest silk." He kneels beside her while she sits, leaning in close.
Janeway's tone grows scolding. "Your Majesty seems overly concerned with romantic matters when there's a battle to be won. That is why you asked me here." She rises.
"Of course, my dear. Forgive me. It's just that the air itself seems to ... vibrate in your presence." Now, if Chakotay could learn to talk like this...
"We can't be slaves to our passion ... not when your empire is threatened. I have assembled my fleet of..." whoops--improvise! "Spider ships. However, the Lightning Shield prevents them from approaching your fortress."
Chaotica beams at the thought of allies joining the battle. "We'll send them directly into battle, alongside my space force!"
D'Oh! "My soldiers wish to pay homage to you," Janeway purrs.
Chaotica reacts like a typical pig-boy male. Big ole grin. Single digit IQ. Pretty girl wooing; losing resistance! "Gratifying. Of course, if I lower the shield my fortress will be defenseless. Even an ally might choose such a moment to seize my throne!" He gives her an accusing look. Paranoid little puppy, ain't he?
Janeway looks hurt. "You don't trust me," she pouts.
"There is a way you could convince me of your loyalty," Chaotica suggests, leering. "I'll lower my lightning shield--but first, you must become my Queen! Gather my courtiers! Prepare for the ceremony!"
Janeway's eyes go wide. "And don't forget to deactivate the lightning shield! ... So ... my subjects may witness the blessed event!" she amends.
Chaotica relents. "Very well. Do as she says, once her guests have arrived." Thug Boy complies. "And so, my dear ... the day you have always dreamed of has arrived ... the day you become, Bride of Chaotica!"
His joyous laughter fills the room. Janeway does her best to look enthused.
In the smoking rocks of Planet X, Doc appears, just under the chromatic wormholes. He is now in black and white, wearing a conservative 1930s-era suit, wire-frame glasses, and a patch on his pocket saying "President of Earth."
Check. Name tags were big in the 1930s.
He has the device in his hand that the alien lost on Proton's rocket ship. He presses the appropriate button.
The alien appears. Doc welcomes him. The alien performs a scan, and breathes a sigh of relief. "You are photonic." Doc smiles. "Guilty as charged," he says with diplomatic cordiality.
"You signaled me across the threshold. How?" Doc shows him the device. "I believe you dropped your calling card. I return it to you ... as a sign of good faith." The alien demands his identity; Doc introduces himself as the President of Earth, which of course the alien has never heard of. "A planet some distance from here. I've come on a mission of peace."
The alien hasn't run yet--a good sign. "Elaborate." Doc does. He explains that he and the aliens have a common enemy--Chaotica. "The one and only," Doc confirms when the alien says the dreaded name.
"He threatens to invade our realm, destroy our people," the alien says angrily.
"Join the club. Chaotica has designs on Earth, too. But we've withstood countless attacks--all thanks to one man. Captain Proton."
The alien is skeptical. The name means nothing to him. "Captain Proton?"
"Defender of the universe, scourge of intergalactic evil. And...a competent medic to boot, but don't say I said so." Whoa--a compliment from Doc about Tom Paris? About his medical duties, no less? Be still my heart! "Even as we speak, he's preparing to destroy Chaotica's Death Ray. But he needs your help."
The alien demands an explanation. Doc has one ready. "Your weapons pose a threat to Proton's rocket ship. You must cease firing while he mounts his attack. Once Chaotica's Death Ray is destroyed, you can return to your realm, confident that you'll never hear from him again."
The alien considers the words of the President of Earth. "Captain Proton ... may proceed."
Doc breathes a sigh of relief. "On behalf of the citizens of Earth, I thank you."
Inside the rocket ship, Captain Proton and his faithful sidekick Skippy are together again. Harry couldn't be happier about it. He may well enjoy the program even more than Tom does. The sidekick always gets the peril, which is definitely more fun when the Twin Temptresses of Evil are his captors.
"Space drive," Paris calls out. "Check," shouts Harry.
"Check," echoes Satan's Robot.
"Destructo beam." "Check."
Paris growls at Satan's Robot. "If I could access Holodeck controls, the first thing I'd do is delete this guy!"
"Delete this guy," Satan's Robot echoes.
"As a matter of fact, as soon as this is all over I think I'm going to delete the whole program!"
"What about your historical study?" Harry asks, not believing his ears. What about the slave girls, he doesn't add. Where else can the poor women of Stellar Cartography dress up, let their hair down, and vamp like there's no tomorrow?
Harry notices Satan's Robot putting a sympathetic metal claw on his shoulder; he brushes it aside. (Poor evil robot needs a hug something fierce, but finds no takers.)
"Class dismissed," Paris growls. "No more robots, no more mad scientists, no more Death Rays! I am retiring my rocket pack, Harry. Someone else can save the universe from now on."
Satan's robot goes to a corner to sulk. Life...don't talk to me about life....
"The final chapter, huh?" Harry asks, smirking a little, not quite believing Tom's totally serious.
"The End," Tom vows.
The door creaks open. They look over to see Doc enter.
"Isn't anyone going to sing 'Hail to the Chief'?" Doc asks, smiling proudly.
"Mr. President," Harry says. "How'd it go?"
"My performance was ... unimpeachable."
*whack* *thud* *smash* *burn* *pound*
One new keyboard later...
Cough. Sorry. I guess "Monica Madness: Year Two" has been getting to me. If Captain Proton were real I'd be handing Chaotica a map of DC about now. Grrr.
Well, okay. It was a good line. But still. If I want White House humor with my sci-fi, I'll watch X-Files.
He agreed? Kim asks. "Let's just say I'm considering running for office when we get back to Earth," Doc says smugly.
Tom chuckles. "All right, then. Let's get this thing in the air and hope Captain Janeway is giving a command performance."
Chaotica paces. Arachnia poses.
Thug Boy enters, bearing a gift on a velvet pillow for Queen Arachnia.
"Don't tell me...my wedding ring," she says, picking up the impressive bauble.
"Doctor Chaotica's wedding ring. You will present it to him at the end of the ceremony."
Janeway drops the ring back on the pillow with disinterest. Thug Boy carts it off.
"Your Majesty: perhaps we should lower the Lightning Shield in anticipation of my guests."
"Why this preoccupation with the shield?" Chaotica demands. Janeway grabs his elbow and begins purring. "Oh, forgive me. It's just that, as a fellow ruler of the cosmos I often have to do things myself."
Chaotica seems to understand. "Ah. Because of the incompetence of your inferiors, no doubt!"
"Something like that," she admits.
Chaotica exhales dramatically. "Oh, Arachnia, my love, my life! ... how well you understand our plight! If it weren't beneath my dignity, I...I would weep. How I've longed for someone who would understand."
Janeway strokes his cheek with her fingernail. "We have a saying on Arachnia: 'It's lonely at the top.'"
"No longer, my dear," he promises her.
But the tender scene is interrupted when Thug Boy announces that Proton is on an attack course. Chaotica takes a gander at the Imagizer, confirms the obvious, springs into action, and orders the Death Ray trained on the incoming vessel.
With a karate chop, Janeway takes out the minor thug working the Death Ray, and grabs his weapon.
"You have betrayed me!" Chaotica realizes. "You are in league with Proton! Impetuous harlot!"
Janeway trains the weapon on Chaotica. "Tell me how to deactivate the Lightning Shield, or I'll show you just how impetuous I can be!"
Chaotica looks to Thug Boy. "What are you waiting for, you great lummox? Kill her!" Thug Boy fires on Janeway, who laughs off the pitiful attempt. "Ha! You're no match for Arachnia!" she laughs gleefully. "Now, tell me how to shut down the shield." She advances on her former suitor.
Chaotica tells Thug Boy to activate the confinement rings. He reaches for a button on his belt; when Janeway crosses the great seal of the Fortress of Doom, a column of light surrounds her.
Janeway is trapped. Drat the luck!
Chaotica's tone grows mean. He laughs with malicious glee. "Oh, don't worry. I wouldn't kill my bride...Not until after our wedding night!" His laughter is decidedly unpleasant.
Oh, he's a dead man now. Sexual threats don't sit well with the Virgin Queen.
But Chaotica has yet to learn that lesson, and ignorance is bliss. "Reactivate the Death Ray. Destroy Proton!"
The weapon fires.
The Shuttle o' Love is rocked by weapons fire. "We've been hit!" Paris yells. Kim guesses, correctly, that Janeway ran into some trouble. "We're not going down without a fight," Paris vows. "Doc, activate the Destructo Beam."
"The what?" Doc asks.
"Big button in the middle of that panel," Paris tells him ambiguously. There are several panels.
For once, Satan's Robot comes in handy. Just as Doc reaches for the button on one of the panels, the robot shouts, "DESTRUCTO BEAM!" and waves his arms wildly.
Harry and Tom whirl around in time to shout in panicked unison: "The other panel!"
Doc jumps back. He looks at the other panel, bends at the waist, waits to get yelled at, doesn't--and pushes the button. (Not the wed one!) "Destructo beam activated," Doc says.
Well, that was anticlimactic.
The ship is rocked some more. Harry reports that they're losing altitude.
Because the program is connected to Voyager's fate, this should have been expected.
Torres reports that the activity on the Holodeck is pulling them deeper into the subspace sandbar.
Technically speaking...they're in deep doo-doo.
And we're not talking about the Bolians.
* * *
Satan's Robot gets in the way, wandering frantically around the rocket ship. "Invaders! Invaders!"
Doc looks through the periscope. Bad news. "Uh...Incoming."
The ship is hammered yet again.
Thug Boy reports that Proton's ship is damaged, but still airborne. Not for long, Chaotica vows. "Fire at will."
Joke 'em if you got 'em.
Janeway, tied to the same post that confined Constance Goodheart mere acts ago, has enough freedom of movement to reach into her sleeve and, er, uncork her pheromones. A seductive cloud of dancing vapor begins to waft toward the death ray.
But Chaotica tells Thug Boy to spell him at the trigger, while he checks on something in another room. Curses!
The vapor moves inexorably toward its target--but not the intended one. Uncle Fester takes it full in the schnozz, deeply inhaling the intoxicating Essence of Slavish Devotion. He turns toward Arachnia...
And falls in love.
He approaches. Janeway tries to rein in her disgust at the proximity of the slobbering toadie.
"Your beauty is (whimper) maddening. Entangle me in your web," he pleads.
"Let me out of here and I'll do all that...and more." Shudder. Gag.
"At once, my (sniffle) queen," he says, weeping with joy for the opportunity to serve her.
Chaotica notices that Thug Boy is slacking on the job. "Back to your station!" he commands.
But Janeway is free now, and she repays Fester's kindness by throwing him into the pillar, knocking him unconscious. She grabs his weapon. Chaotica screams his frustration at his oafish minion's idiocy.
Armed now, Janeway takes out Thing One and Thing Two. Only she and Chaotica remain standing. Janeway advances. "Deactivate the shield...now." Cold as ice.
Chaotica is clearly impressed. And a bit daunted. "Such passion," he whispers. "Such strength! Together we could conquer the universe! End this madness, and you may yet live to be my bride."
Janeway sneers. She waves her weapon. "The shield." Chaotica complies. He twists the knob from 11 to 0, and the sound emanating from the Death Ray drops a few octaves.
Janeway smirks. She breaks character ever-so-slightly. "I don't know how to tell you this...but the wedding's off." With skunk eye and hand cannon set to maximum, she lets Chaotica have it with both barrels.
The lord of intergalactic evil clutches his chest and collapses against his death ray.
Janeway scampers (hard to run with the mermaid-like dress constricting her legs) toward the microphone. She gives the mic cord a satisfying snap. "Arachnia to Proton. Arachnia to Proton. Do you read me? Arachnia to Proton ..."
Proton gets the message. "I'm reading you," Tom answers.
"The lightning shield is down."
"Acknowledged," Tom says, relieved. "Harry, target the Death Ray. Doc, fire the Destructo Beam on my mark."
Chaotica has just about recovered from the blast of the spank ray and skunk eye, using the Death Ray for balance as he scrambles to his feet.
Unfortunately, it's at that moment that the Destructo Beam strikes paydirt. Static electricity dances all over the weapon, and anything touching it--which includes Chaotica. Trembling with the throes of electric death, Chaotica goes stiff...and then goes limp, slumping against the Death Ray in mortal repose.
O frabjous day, Callooh! Callay! Captain Proton saved the day!
The aliens celebrate their victory over evil by packing up their wormholes to the Holodeck and going home. Planet X has no further interest for them. But Captain Proton will live on forever in song and story, along the length and breadth and depth of the Fifth Dimension.
The bridge of Voyager begins to calm. Tuvok reports that the distortions are closing.
"We're realigning with normal space," Torres reports.
Chakotay wastes no time. "Helm...Full impulse. Let's boogie."
Systems come online. The repair teams are immediately dispatched...to the lavatories and the replicators first of all. It's Miller time.
Janeway stands over the scorched remains of her photonic fiance when Chakotay calls.
"The aliens have closed the distortions. We've cleared the subspace layer," the first officer reports.
"Secure all systems and organize damage repair teams," Janeway commands.
"Understood. We're preparing to shut down the Holodeck--"
Janeway stops him in mid-thought. "Chakotay, give me a minute." How often does one get to be the queen?
The door opens. Paris and Kim and Doc storm in, guns blazing Charlie's Angels style, with Satan's Robot in tow.
Paris, sighing, looks almost disappointed. Janeway's the last woman standing, the situation well in hand. "I was about to say, 'Captain Proton to the rescue' but I see you have everything under control."
Janeway lifts her arms regally. "I'm The Queen, remember?" They share a laugh over the corpse of their vanquished enemy.
But perhaps I speak too soon.
Chaotica is only mostly dead. He gasps out his final lines. "Arachnia...Death as you know it has no hold on me. My defeat is but a temporary setback. I shall return to seek...my revenge."
Janeway smirks. "He doesn't give up, does he?"
"They never do," Paris agrees.
Chaotica isn't done yet. "Our love was not meant to be, my Queen. But, be warned. You have not seen the last of...Ch-ch-Chaotica..." A final gasp, and his eyes close.
"The end of a twisted madman," Paris says seriously.
Janeway points her spank ray at him." And you're going to miss him."
Paris snorts. "A little."
The Imagizer draws their attention. It resolves into two words. "The End." The music is triumphant.
But as they watch, the music turns sinister. The two words are replaced by a question mark...
And the laughter of Chaotica.
Fascinating juxtaposition, isn't it? Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Tom and Harry are able to enter an entire functioning world patterned after the cheesy sets and monotonous exterior shots of a mid-twentieth century sci-fi serial. The rocket ship actually flies, the controls do what the labels say they do. The death rays with the stereo controls do actual damage. Even the killer robots actually ARE killer robots, and not just extras in tin suits.
Why do they bother with such primitive, outdated, clearly inaccurate entertainments? Why do we still read Jules Verne, take horse and buggy rides through Central Park, spend the weekend at Renaissance faires? Heck, why do we still watch the original Star Trek with its 1960s-era technology, cheesy sets, busty women in peril, and heroic young captains with hormones to burn?
Because there's something timeless about them. They're fun for their own sake.
Likewise, there's an appeal to a Proton story even for alleged adults who have the real thing all around them. Very little ambiguity; you know who's good and who's evil. The dangers are visceral, obvious, universal--and great stories to share afterward over raktajinos. Paris and Kim get to do themselves what we tend only to be able to do with the action figures: live out the fantasy. How many of us would love to actually spend some time on the Enterprise, on the Defiant, on Voyager for a few hours? We saw how Dax reacted to being back on the original Enterprise, wearing the 23rd-century miniskirts and the beehive hairdos and reliving her glory days when chivalry didn't obviate lust, but merely channeled it. Or Riker and Geordi flying on the original Phoenix, taking part in a moment of history any Starfleet-obsessed youth can only dream of.
But those were real events. In Proton World, it's all gloriously fake, Sim-Galaxy, and Tom Paris is the master of his domain. Like Lt. Barclay, it's custom-tailored escapism.
When did we first see Proton? In "Night." What was happening on Voyager at the time? Absolutely nothing.
The ship was on auto-pilot, and would be for the next two years. Piloting the ship through the Big Dark could be done by a broomstick crammed between the steering wheel and the accelerator. He wasn't needed on the bridge, and with nothing to steer clear of, he had no desire to be there.
Sickbay was pretty dull, too. Nothing Doc couldn't handle on his own. He's a program, and even he's bored enough to be impatient about getting to the holodeck on time. Tom could have used the time to become an expert medical assistant ... but excessive proficiency in that job spells danger to his helm time.
And then there's his social life. B'Elanna was going through her no-pain-no-gain period, spending little time with him and being emotionally distant when they were together. And the Holodeck? The Camaro program is fun and all, but if there's nobody to spend time in the back seat with, what's the point?
It was time for something drastic. Something completely unexpected. Something totally divorced from the humdrum existence in which he found himself.
It's hard to think of a program better suited to the heroically-inclined and terminally-bored Paris than a Flash Gordon simulation. It's not completely solitary; he needs a sidekick, and Harry's got just as much free time on his hands. It's silly, in a fun sort of way--you can throw yourself into the role, and hamming it up is encouraged. If Torres is not going to pay attention to him, well, the Delaney sisters have the perfect temperament for a chapter or two as evil twins, and Harry is certainly not going to object.
Harry makes an ideal sidekick. And Tom is perfectly suited for the gung-ho hero type. Quick with the comeback, slightly reckless, loves the attention, despises injustice, enjoys accomplishing the impossible. The good women don't talk at all; the evil ones talk a lot--but they say it with such panache. And of course all the women are beautiful...but only the evil ones are sexual. They get all the jokes. They speak in shameless innuendo. Drooling is allowed.
It's a beer ad come true.
But all good things must eventually come to an end.
The "final chapter" undoes what made Proton so much fun for Tom Paris. The new elements--the aliens from the fifth dimension, the nonfunctional Holodeck controls, the danger to Voyager itself--necessitates improvisation.
First, Proton needs help. That violates the first rule of heroic serialization: the hero can accomplish any mission on his own. The sidekick is there mainly to be captured, and later rescued. Here, Tom needs Doc to convince the aliens to not blow his ship out of the sky, and he needs Janeway to take down the lightning shield--which was part of Proton's original mission in Chapter 18. That sort of teamwork is the hallmark not of Flash Gordon, but of Star Trek--more specifically, 24th-century Trek. Proton-style heroics were common on Captain Kirk's Enterprise, to whom Paris is frequently compared.
It sometimes seems that Tom Paris was born a century too late. He seems ideally-suited for the more freewheeling, less bureaucratic Starfleet that allowed maverick officers like Kirk to shine. On Janeway's Voyager, Tom's character fits in, but not without the occasional rough patch. Voyager is downright domesticated, and Tom's a bit of a wild thing--or would like to think of himself that way. But in those moments, as in Astrometrics, he resembles a museum piece.
Or a little boy, as in the conference room. Tom's like a "Captain Proton" Trekkie in that scene, with a grasp of the jargon and the characters and the rules that would rival even the most obsessive Trek Superfan out there. Harry and the Delaney Sisters understand; they've been there, they know the fun of it. They're twentysomethings. But the Commanders and Captains and Borg (oh my!) don't see the allure. To them, it's just "cute" (when they're being kind). They're too old to remember the necessary thrill of twentysomething pursuits, when the future is wide open and you still have some question about what you want to do when you grow up. When "fun" is a regular priority in the Franklin Planner.
When coffee is still a status symbol rather than a prescription.
So let the old folks have their fun while the youngsters play Magic the Gathering or the X Files drinking game, date casually and fret about what their parents think of them. Tom's not getting younger, but he's still got some growing up to do.
Which makes episodes like this possible. Chakotay couldn't say "army of evil" with a straight face. Tuvok couldn't fix Satan's robot. Janeway would never have thought of uncorking the pheromones on her own. And talented as Harry is, he was the sidekick, most often waiting for Megan to come along and tie him to the pommel horse of temptation.
Which means only Helm Boy could have solved this particular conundrum.
Nobody, though, knows Proton like Tom Paris. He takes it seriously, because he's invested his time and creativity in it. He calls it a study, and it's clear that's exactly what he's done--studied not only the chapters so he can play his role well, but also studied the era in which it took place, studied the audience for which it was intended, studied the behind-the-scenes stuff. He could write the book on Proton.
Is it a waste of time? Depends. I never entirely bought that he was treating this as a serious historical study, the way Picard studied archaeology or Harry went with his music. But there is an intellectual exercise involved in Captain Proton. Solving problems. Matching wits with a clever artificial intelligence. Improvising. For a helmsman, rapid response and intuition is a good building exercise, and judgment in a battle situation is particularly useful.
And if it lets him blow off steam so he isn't restless in his other duties, so much the better. Doc's rare compliment of Paris this week is telling. I don't think Tom could have blackmailed a compliment out of Doc last season.
Someone mentioned to me a concern about this week's episode-the almost complete lack of concern from the crew about the photonic aliens. In TNG, Picard would have gone to great lengths to establish communications with such creatures. (Remember the "ugly bags of mostly water" insult from a lethally self-defending light-based creature early in TNG's run?) Here, they are treated chiefly as an obstacle to get past because the bathrooms are clogged, coffee is scarce and what Neelix is reduced to serving is hideous. (As in "Demon," there is a very real danger to Voyager, but it is underplayed in the interest of the "A" story.
The light tone works much better here--this episode is downright hilarious in parts. But the glossing over of 53 dead aliens (whatever their composition, and however absurd the situation) is decidedly un-Trekkian. We don't know enough about the aliens to know how they view life and death, their philosophy or culture (beyond the fact that they're advanced enough to desire to explore beyond their realm, and to have potent weaponry for self-defense). That could be an episode by itself. Even a brief acknowledgment of distress by Janeway or Tuvok or Doc over the loss of life could have assuaged the frustration on this point.
In a sense, Paris gets to do for the Fifth Dimension aliens what he wasn't able to do in Thirty Days for the Moneans. He saves the day, and is hailed as a hero-and rightly so. Tom stops the destruction of the aliens, and ends the war that they began. (Okay, Chaotica began it when he killed the first explorer, but the aliens could have packed it up right then and there rather than moving on to less black-and-white pastures. They escalated the hostilities. But perhaps they were too trusting-they took Chaotica at his word that he would invade and destroy their realm, and they had little way of knowing whether he could follow through on his threat. With the battle, they sustained casualties, which confirmed the Chaotica threat. And who is to say that holographic characters couldn't invade a photonic realm? As long as the program was running, the Army of Evil was real enough.
So though the grown-ups snickered their way through a madcap romp in Melodramaville, they still fought a very real battle and saved very real Fifth Dimension lives. In the photonic universe, the Ugly Bags of Mostly Water were the invincible gods fighting on the aliens' behalf, who stepped down from Holodeck Olympus to rain destruction on the devastating Chaotica threat. Captain Proton is real to them, and that's what matters.
Of course, the virtual death of a Captain Proton Holodeck character can't compare to the John Tesh/David Hasselhoff faceoff in Celebrity Deathmatch. (Tesh kills Hasselhoff...but KITT kills Tesh. Now that's comedy.)
Dang...long review. I actually really enjoyed this episode. It struck a few somber chords in me-chalk it up to Winter-but this was one of the most consistently entertaining episodes since "Worst Case Scenario." Tom and Harry played off each other well, the Chaotica program was put to a highly innovative use, the "peril" the ship faced was real but didn't overshadow the Holodeck plot, and there were plenty of opportunities for high camp. I couldn't get enough of Satan's Robot.
Tuvok had some terrific lines and a nice deadpan delivery. Tuvok/Paris make a great matchup for comic tension. Harry and Tom played very well off each other; it's a pleasure to see the two together when the dialog is well written, as it is here. Doc's scenes added immeasurably to the overall fun of the episode, and his presidential humor has been a winner by all who have written me so far.
Paris and Janeway got along nicely, though I thought Mulgrew's mugging for the cameras was a little too overplayed at times in her Janeway scenes (but quite appropriate for her Arachnia scenes). Some complained that Janeway was a real jerk for the way she lorded over Neelix in the mess hall, demanding he get her coffee rather than getting it herself. She was rather rude, but I thought the scene was played for laughs, and on that level it works fine--it showed everyone on edge, even Neelix. Janeway on the verge of murder without her coffee was stereotypical, but nicely amusing.
Chaotica and, er, Thug Boy were perfectly evil. Chaotica in particular played his role to the hilt, and was a joy to watch. He even managed to portray some range and depth of caricature, if not depth of actual character. But he's Evil; you make do with what you're given.
Speaking of evil--I think this was one of the raciest episodes of Voyager in a long time. I guess it goes with the format of the Proton program, but the phallic imagery, innuendo, and other sexual stuff was pretty darned rampant. I think I may even have underplayed the naughty stuff this week, rather than going out of my way to find some....
The nutshell. (* * * *). I laughed early and often, and I even got some Deep Thoughts out of it--see my latest Starfleet Journal column. This could spell the end of Captain Proton, which could be a shame--or not. Frankly, I enjoy the Proton scenes, but it's also nice to see Paris voluntarily moving beyond it. That spells maturity for Paris, which is good to see.
Next Week: Tuvok falls for Tank Girl.