Star Trek: Voyager's Dr. Zimmerman originally had a tragic reason for his unpleasant attitude


In the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, John Bruno directed "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy," the humorous episode that put Robert Picardo's doctor into the spotlight. It also created a strong friendship between Bruno and Picardo so much so that when Bruno had an opening in his schedule, he decided he wanted to write a script for Voyager about The Doctor's origins.

Picardo worked with him to create a father/son story which brought The Doctor's creator, Dr. Zimmerman (also played by Picardo) onboard and gave us backstory about why The Doctor had the type of attitude he did. According to Star Trek: Voyager A Celebration, Bruno suggested the origin story explore that in particular.

"So, I said, why don't we come up with your origin story? Like, why are you such an a-hole? Why do have this attitude? Where did that come from?""

John Bruno

The Doctor was imbued with Dr. Zimmerman's bitterness, and when introduced in "Life Line," the viewers got a good long look at just how much meaner The Doctor could have been. In Bruno's original concept, there was tragedy behind Dr. Zimmerman's bitterness in that his wife had died. That gave the episode a darker edge. When Bruno and Picardo pitched the idea to the show's producers, though, that dark edge didn't earn them any favors. The producers didn't like it.

After the pitch, Bruno was contacted by writer Joe Menosky and was told the story had to be funny and that he was going to "take a pass at it." And he added in the comedic elements, and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) from Star Trek: The Next Generation were also brought in so the two doctors could comunicate with one another.

Voyager had several episodes about tragedy and loss, but, for some reason, the producers wanted a different story for The Doctor's creator. Why "Life Line" had to be a comedy, we don't know, but it was a successful episode, and Picardo did a great job playing dual roles. I do wonder, however, how different it would have been if the story had been kept to the original pitch. Would knowing that Dr. Zimmerman had suffered a tragedy and infused The Doctor with his own level of resentment have changed the way viewers saw The Doctor? I think, after six seasons, our opinion of Picardo's character had already been established. He was a beloved character because of his acerbic wit and dry one-liners, and one episode wouldn't have changed that.

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