Star Trek is a worldwide phenomenon. frequently presents excerpts from the latest issue of Star Trek Magazine, which is published out of England and available internationally. And, as readers know, we’re also occasionally run theme pieces and interviews as they appeared in Inside Star Trek Magazine, the official Star Trek magazine of Italy. Today’s piece is a feature by Franca Scapellato that explores the idea of holographic love on Star Trek: Voyager. The story below had been translated from Italian into English by the magazine’s editors, and we’ve lightly edited it further with an eye toward retaining its original tone and rhythm.

What makes unique a promising science fiction series is the presence of an alien point of view. Let’s think about Spock, without whom the original series of Star Trek would not have been the same, or the comic character played masterfully by Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy, or John Crichton in Farscape, solitary hero capable to make “alien” – with respect to the reality around him – the “human being” himself. In Star Trek: Voyager there are, for what I’m concerned, at least two alien points of view: Seven of Nine and the Emergency Medical Holographic program (EMH). Both have a characteristic approach toward humanity: Seven is prudent, we may say that she is afraid (if we are not talking about a Borg) of the authentic meaning of what represents, for her personality as former drone, the fact to be a human female; the EMH, instead, explores without any reserve its own limits in order to overcome them and boldly go where no hologram has gone before. But what is the limit that no hologram can overcome? What is, just to use a typical Trek line, the last frontier? The answer that has popped in my mind has been love. A hologram cannot love.

A hologram, in fact, is not better than a photonic projection generated by a computer, in a way, it is the esthetic display of a computer, it is the manner in which a computer mange to interface with the human beings, or more precisely to organic beings. For what we know today, it is impossible that a computer can have feelings, and therefore it is impossible that a hologram can feel anything.

And yet the Doctor “loves”. In the episode “Lifesigns”, the Voyager detects a distress signal coming from a ship the only passenger of which is a Vidiian woman suffering from Phage. Janeway gives the order to bring on board the alien and the Doctor puts on stasis the body, creating a temporary healthy holographic image of it. The woman – a hematologist by the name of Denara Pel – proves to be a charming and interesting person, to the point that the Doctor finds out, with surprise, to have some feelings for her that the members of the crew (Kes, Tom Paris) have no doubt to define as love feelings. This episode is one of the most beautiful hours of Star Trek: Voyager, perhaps because the EMH, in his “inexperience” or “simplicity”, shows us that the true love disregard, in its ideality, the physical attraction. During the episode we find out that there is someone who wants to kill Denara Pel, and this person is the same Denara Pel! The Vidiian woman does not want that that appalling body still lives, she is afraid that, if the holographic self, her “mind”, would be again trapped in the sick body that lays on the bad of the sickbay, Shmullus (the name the aliens has given to the Doctor) would not be capable of accepting her for what she is. The words the EMH uses to reassure her are very poetic and he tells her that his feelings will survive anyway, regardless of her physical appearance.

Not only a hologram can love, thus, but he is capable of doing it in an ideal manner, such that an organic being will be hardly capable of reach. The theme of the holographic love comes back many times during the seven seasons of Voyager, sometimes in a very dramatic manner, sometimes in a comic one. In the episode “Message in a Bottle” the Voyager finds out a method to communicate with a Federation starship that is flying at the edges of the Alpha Quadrant. While a direct contact is not possible, the crew manages to send the holographic program of the Doctor on board of the Prometheus, a Federation starship that during the episodes we find out has been boarded by Romulans.

The holographic doctor has to collaborate, in spite of himself, with his alternate version of the Prometheus, an irritating Model 2 EMH, that treats him as galactic garbage. The Model 1 EMH will have thus the opportunity to have his revenge when, in listing to the Model 2 the improvements implemented to his program, he will say to have done a
(small) “modification” to his original program, in order to have “sexual relationship with females.” Invaluable the expression on the face of the Model 2 who asks Model 1 to download this small modification in his database before coming back to the other side of the galaxy. The EMH, thus, not only loves in an ideal way, but it can have sex too! To be honest, also Data, the other informatics form of life known in the history of Star Trek, was “fully functional” and capable of “multiple techniques”.  Who knows if the EMH’s lovers have been similarly and “completely” satisfied?

A woman that will not be able to answer this question is Seven of Nine. In the episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” the EMH’s preferred pupil, in order to improve her knowledge of the human behavior, decides to take socialization and seduction lessons from the Doctor. In an unexpected manner, soon Seven shows to be able not only to chit-chat, but also to be capable of dancing and singing. And in an even more unexpected way, the EMH will realize that is falling in love with his preferred pupil who on the other hand is not.

A hologram, thus, can feel ideal feelings for love, can explore the pleasure of sex, can also suffer if its love is not reciprocated. Intriguing choice, that of the authors, to show an holographic unrequited love, as to remind us that love, even if holographic, cannot be in any way “programmed”. In the episode “Real Life” the Doctor creates a holographic family composed by a wife and two children in order to have a more complete experience of life. When B’Elanna Torres is invited for dinner in the holodeck she is disgusted by the lack of reality in the fantasy of the Doctor and decides to reprogram the EMH’s holographic family. In the Maquis engineer’s new version the family life is much less idyllic than the Doctor has imagined it.

The holodeck, besides having an educational function, may have a therapeutic function in the field of holographic love. That is what happens in the episode “Blood Fever”, in which the Vulcan ensign Vorik goes through the pon farr. The pon farr is a physiologic state in which Vulcans lose their characteristic logic behavior and stop feed until they complete the mating ritual. During this period the Vulcan brain suffer of a neurochemical decompensation (called plak-tow, i.e., blood fever) that can cause also the death of the individual. In this episode it is explained that there are three known methods for overcome the pon farr. Find  a mate (koon), perform the ritual combat (kal-if-fee) or going under deep meditation, if the person has enough control for reach a level of psychological resolution, the chemical unbalance should in fact corrects itself.

The ensign Vorik, after having tried to solve the problem in vain, first by asking lieutenant Torres to became his mate (and then attacking her when she refuses), then trying meditation, he accepts an innovative solution suggested by the EMH: to mate with an holographic mate! The experiment thus is not a complete success, because at the end of the episode Vorik goes on the planet below for challenging Torres, who has been infected by means of telepathy during  the previous attempt of mating, to the rite of kal-if-fee, and get rid of the blood fever.

The holodeck is used sometimes by the characters of Voyager as a place in which to learn how to love. Let’s think about Seven of Nine, that in the episode “Human Error” resumes the experiment started in “Someone to Watch Over Me” with a surprising romantic relationship with a holographic copy of commander Chakotay.

The holodeck is also considered by the crew of Voyager as a fantasy refuge from reality. It is the case of Captain Janeway, that in the episode “Fair Haven” lives a romantic fantasy on the holodeck, because, contrary to the previous starship captains, has decided to restrain herself, in the real life to chastity. And what about Harry Kim, the man that, as Tom Paris says, falls always in love with the wrong woman? In the episode “Alter Ego” Harry Kim falls for a holographic characters of the holodeck. Harry, who is aware of the impossibility of that kind of romantic relationship, asks Tuvok to teach him the Vulcan technique for controlling emotions. When Tuvok meets Kim’s love interest he finds out that the holographic character is extremely... “interesting.” Marayna – this is the name of the holograpic character – in reality is an alien female that has telepathically infiltrated the Voyager, taking control of a holographic body, in order to find some company and flee the loneliness without end to which she has been condemned because of her job.

This episode, besides introducing a funny comic-logic situation between Tuvok and Kim, with Tuvok that, with his typical Vulcan superior attitude, gives Kim lessons on the irrationality of an holographic love, except then being fascinating by her too, gives also an unsolved ethical dilemma. The more attentive viewer surely has noted that the writers of Voyager seems to consider ethically not acceptable that Harry Kim, an organic being, can love an holographic woman, while the Doctor, a holographic being, can have relationships (even sexual relationships) with organic females. Why this “moral” difference? This is one of the many unsolved questions about the theme of holographic love. As real life teaches us, however, when the love is concerned it is better not ask too many questions, but just enjoy the moment.

Photonic or not.