the story: The Doctor writes a holonovel, but trying to get it published ends up putting his legal rights on trial.
what it's all about: For most fans, Next Generation's "The Measure of a Man" was the definitive look at the rights of artificial lifeforms. It movingly explores Data's fight against a Starfleet engineer who wants to dismantle and study him, culminating in a trial in which Riker is forced to argue against and Picard has an unexpected uphill battle arguing for him. A lot of its impact comes from the fact that it's perceived as an outlier of the show's first two seasons, the first time fans saw dramatic worth in the series. Whatever else can be said about it, "Measure" cast a long shadow, and created an entirely different challenge for the third series of this era, Voyager, when it included in its cast an artificial lifeform, too, the holographic Doctor.
Where Data's primary motivation throughout Next Generation was to better evoke the trappings of humanity, throughout Voyager the Doctor had to struggle for basic recognition and freedom, things Data in his series had always taken for granted, outside of experiences like "Measure" and "The Offspring." Data's challenges always came from outside the crew around him, whereas the Doctor, whose crew was necessarily cut off from the rest of Starfleet for the majority of the series, most frequently struggled against his own crew. "Author, Author" is actually an exception, the first and only time he experienced something directly comparable to Data's struggles, which is why "Measure of a Man" is so relevant to it. If "Measure" had already scored a landmark victory for artificial lifeforms...what was the point of another such story?
Well, aside from the matter of self-determination, which was at the heart of "Measure," the nature of Data's victory and how it contrasts with the Doctor's trial are worth examining. Data was for all intents and purposes the only one of his kind. His trial was exclusively about him, and what it created for other artificial lifeforms was a precedent. By the time we meet the Doctor in Voyager, we already know there are other medical holograms serving in Starfleet, all of them subjected to direct activation upon request, which the Doctor uniquely circumvents due to circumstances. As the series progresses, and even as we see in Deep Space Nine, Starfleet continues advancing the medical hologram initiative with new models. Apparently models from the Doctor's initial generation of medical holograms aren't merely deleted and replaced, but repurposed. That they aren't outright deleted is a small victory. They're still considered, as a class, completely subservient, as Picard feared in "Measure" in effect slaves within the system. They have not been granted self-determination.
And why? Well, that's what the episode is all about. It's also about the Doctor's rights aboard the ship, too, his ability to voice himself creatively, and what that means to the rest of the crew, and how he's capable of acknowledging that. These are all considerable developments for him, too. After "Latent Image," "Author" is the most significant episode to feature his progress as a member of the crew and an individual.
It's also an episode that fans ought to keep in mind in relation to the final episode. Like "Human Error" before it, "Author" is classic Voyager in that it's episodic and serialized storytelling at the same time, meaning you can watch it and see a complete story, but it also works within the greater framework of the series, so that it builds and comments on developments from other episodes. The crew had gained the ability to have limited interaction with home all the way back in the fourth season, but "Author" lets us see them enjoy actual conversations with family. Fans critical of the final episode, where the crew reaches home but fans don't get to see home, should appreciate what "Author" does, letting us overhear some of the very conversations the full reunions later would entail.
It's a landmark episode all around, the last great episode of the series before the finale.
- franchise - Starfleet's view on artificial lifeforms as it exists after "The Measure of a Man."
- series - The crew enjoys conversations with family back home.
- character - This is exactly where the Doctor stands both with the crew and Starfleet.
- essential - It's highly enlightening.
Richard Herd (Admiral Paris)
Dwight Schultz (Barclay)