***** (5 stars out of 5)
Dr. Denara Pel manages to put a human face on the Vidiians. Mainly by not LITERALLY putting on a human face. She's a kind-hearted physician who finds the predatory actions of her military and government deplorable. She's even remarkably well-adjusted for a person falling to bits from 'the phage'.
In a Pygmalion-style twist on the advanced cortical implant Dr. Pel uses as a brain supplement, Voyager's Doctor pops her consciousness into a temporary holographic body. Which is lovely as it's based on her healthy DNA instead of her patchwork flesh. Thrilled by her dizzying new simulated life, she's enamoured of the Doctor. His off-putting combination of total arrogance and unfamiliarity with social graces makes his courtship a study in awkwardness, hindered also by her deep rooted shyness bordering on self-loathing. Comedy Gold!
She names him "Shmullus", for an uncle who made her laugh. Her life's been short on laughs.
She wants to trade her clumsy, scaly body for a life with her prince in a single room together. But a room that can be anywhere.
Borrowing a holo-date idea from Tom Paris, they go 'parking' in a '57 Chevy on Mars, the planet of love. Er... whatever. Anyway, it is as sweet and charming as it is quirky. It would be even better if it didn't suffer from a common failing of the DVD age. The wonderful, appropriate 1959 song "I Only Have Eyes For You" performed by The Flamingos in the original broadcast was replaced on DVD by "My Prayer" which isn't as.
It wouldn't be a story at all if there weren't some complications. But fortunately no one has to die and turn to sea foam on the waves, and unfortunately no one flies naked up a chimney, either.
"Lifesigns" is a personal favourite. I think it's probably telling of my psychological deformities that I respond very well to 'programmed' characters- robots, holograms and so forth who are placed in situations in which they must grow and change. Especially funny ones. It's a painful story and it's even part of 'Suicide Season'; what with Denara trying to poison herself even though her holobody is about to expire faster than milk on a counter-top. But I find it very romantic over and over again. For me, it never seems to expire like that self-same counter milk.
There's a billion kinds of beauty in the universe, and we can either add to the beauty, or add to the ugliness.