Of course so far in the series the Doctor has been the breakout character. Whenever he has been on the screen he steals the scene and when given his own Doctor-centric episodes it has been a delight. So it is no surprise that when given an episode to stand alone and contemplate a philosophical dilemma it would be delightful.
Now the central question of whether the Doctor is a real person or a hologram is never really in doubt – there are six more seasons after all – but the episode is written in such a way that we wonder, maybe it was just an elaborate joke and what we’ve been watching was just an illusion and suddenly we’ll be thrust into an entirely different series. But not really. No, the most compelling thing about this episode is how the Doctor will grow. How will he, a construction of light, learn to think of himself? He has already begun to think of himself as more than a program and the crew has, begrudgingly, begun to accept that. but what does it mean to be alive?
This is something that will not be solved in this episode – but keep it in the back of your mind. The questions laid out here have massive implications for the doctor, yes, but for other members of the crew as well. Kes comes to mind, with her short lifespan, but the notion of “am I real?” will be played out over and over again during the run of the series.
I want to say that this is my favorite of the episodes so far in the series. Even with the “everything is normal, no it isn’t!” fake sub-ending. But to be fair that wasn’t such a bad thing given that the rest was so darned good.
Star Trek at its best plays with genre and deals with controversial, thoughtful subjects. This is Star Trek at its best.