Although legacy sequels are currently popular, they have always played a significant role in the Star Trek universe. Since Star Trek: The Next Generation’s debut, which featured DeForest Kelley as an exceedingly elderly Doctor McCoy, Trekhas taken satisfaction in finding connections to earlier episodes. In addition to the Original Series cast members Spock and Scotty making cameos in Next Generation episodes,
Deep Space Nine featured the original Klingon Kor in multiple episodes, and Voyager cleverly used a flashback to depict Tuvok working for Captain Sulu. So it felt less like a prank and more like continuing a Trek tradition when Picard brought back the majority of the key characters from Next Gen, Janeway and Chakotay appeared on Prodigy, and Quark and Kira appeared on Lower Decks.
The Doctor looks like a perfect candidate to appear on a contemporary Trek series given that several Voyager characters have already returned, either as holograms or, in the case of Tom Paris, as a commemorative plate on the Lower Decks. Because the Doctor never dies or gets older (a point that several Voyage reps made to great effect),
and despite the fact that Robert Picardo is obviously getting older than he was when he first took on the role, the writers and directors were able to make Brent Spiner’s ageing into an advantage when he returned as Data.
Picardo appreciates the notion of returning to the screen with his co-stars. But he has other suggestions about how to go about it. In a To Boldly Ask interview, Picardo said, “It’s certainly something I’m open to because the character lives on inside me.”
Picardo’s resident character, though, might not be the Doctor. In fact, he mentions returning as Doctor Zimmerman, the scientist who developed Emergency Medical Holograms and based the initial batch on himself rather than necessarily the Doctor. Since Doc Zimmerman is set in the same timeline as some of previous Star Trek shows, he noted, “I could easily play Doc Zimmerman again.”
In addition to allowing Picardo to figuratively act his age by taking on the role of Zimmerman, it also makes greater narrative sense. While the Doctor and Voyager were in the Delta Quadrant, Zimmerman mingled with personalities there.
Starfleet, however, rapidly moved on. Even during Voyager, we saw a later EMH with a non-Zimmerman model (considering that this EMH was performed by Andy Dick, I’m not sure it was an upgrade given that Rios’ ship on Picardhas an EMH modelled on himself).
But for Picardo, the appeal is more fun than practicality, especially if he gets the chance to simultaneously perform an EMH. He said, “To me, it’s a funny idea. Imagine your 18-year-old self working beside you during the day on a very essential or critical task if you were 40 years old.
Wouldn’t that irritate you to no end? Since Zimmerman and the Doctor did in fact irritate each other to no end in prior Voyage episodes, Picardo’s return would actually involve two Trek traditions!