the story: The Doctor enters the story of Beowulf.
what it's all about: This is one of those episodes where if I tell you it's a classic, you'll agree, because most fans, even the ones who don't generally like Voyager, will say the same thing. It's hugely entertaining, and a great spotlight for the Doctor.
That it's a "holodeck episode," where some sort of malfunction means the holodeck is more than just entertainment, is well beside the point, as with the best "holodeck episodes."
The Doctor had an uphill battle, in a lot of ways, right from the start. On a superficial level, he was already a redundant character, the second franchise artificial life form, after Next Generation's android Data. The Doctor, of course, was, as his full title explains, an Emergency Medical Hologram, forced by circumstances to remain in operation far longer than originally intended. This had the effect of making him grumpy, and until "Heroes and Demons" that was pretty much all there was to him.
"Heroes" supersizes the character into an instant icon of the series. He doesn't even interact with the crew for most of the episode, but rather characters in a Beowulf program, including a buxom warrior so electrifying in the episode the actress playing her (Marjorie Monaghan) would later be considered for the part of Enterprise's T'Pol. (It's kind of sad she never makes another Star Trek appearance, although maybe that's the price for being that distinctive the first time out, rather than impressing with supporting roles like Michelle Forbes and Jeffrey Combs before her.)
The episode makes the Doctor instantly sympathetic in ways he hadn't been before, shoving him well out of his comfort zone and exploring his full potential, which would lead to six seasons of highlights that would've been previously unimaginable, and a level of poignancy that's tough to match in the rest of the franchise. The simple search for a name, seemingly attained in "Heroes" and all but abandoned in it, too, because of the events therein, became a hallmark that stretched into an alternate timeline during the final episode ("Endgame"), where he settles on...Joe.
And at its heart, it really is just a retelling of Beowulf, right down to how the Doctor ends up being selected for the "away mission" in the first place. One of the cleverest episodes ever, really.
- franchise - Really hard not to love.
- series - Helps make the Doctor a standout and pillar of the crew.
- character - See the above.
- essential - See the above.