We're Lost, Lost in Space

Star Trek: Voyager

If there was any Trek property I've watched the least, it would be Voyager. I think I maybe caught a couple of episodes of the entire run, including the pilot two-parter, but I never gave it much consideration beyond that. It was there, but it never hooked me. I've managed to somehow see more episodes of Enterprise at this point, I think, than I ever did Voyager. The point of this project, though, is to expose me to all kinds of new things, so was certainly looking forward to diving into this series to see what I might have missed.

Star Trek: Voyager

Of course, my opinion of the series is not uncommon among fans. Although not hated in the same way as Nemesis or Enterprise, Voyager is not exactly beloved among the various Trek entries. The show got off to a rocky start in its storytelling and then never really found a way to make its main storyline -- a starship stuck decades away from the Federation -- into compelling TV. It didn't have the same hook as DS9, no Dominion War to play off of, and its timeline for getting the crew home was entirely up to the whims of the studio. Clearly, the ship would be lost as long as the show demanded it so why care if they make it back when they obviously will in the last episodes (and not a second before).

Still, I hoped there was stuff to love in the series, so we'll go in with open eyes and see where it takes us. By now you should be used to the format, but let's go over it again: We're doing the top five episodes of the run (as decided upon by a few online lists I've checked), but we're discounting a few episodes in the process. As with previous articles in this project, there will be no Tribbles, no Mirror Universe, no Q, and no Two-Parters. I don't think we have to worry about Tribbles or the Mirror Universe on Voyager so it's really the other rules that truly matter. With those benchmarks established, shall we begin?

Introduction to Voyager

The first two-parter establishes the plot of the series. While we aren't watching that for this project, it will help those of you unfamiliar with the series to know the basic plot of that pilot. In short, there is a group of rebels known as the Maquis. This group of para-military fighters came about when the Federation and the Cardassian Empire came to a formal treaty and a portion of Federation-controlled space became part of the Cardassian Neutral Zone. Ay colonists from the Federation that remained in that sector of space fell under Cardassian rule. Some did remain, and after getting fed up with the Cardassians, essentially became freedom fighters trying to overthrow their oppressors.

That backstory was actually established in Deep Space Nine. Cut ahead to Voyager, and we have the titular ship, the USS Voyager, heading out on a mission to find a Maquis ship. During their flight, though, they get pulled into a strange anomaly and transported across the galaxy, as does the Maquis ship. The crews of both ships take serious losses, and the Maquis ship is damaged beyond use, so the two crews merge together and the Maquis crewmembers become de facto Federation officers. That becomes the status quo for the rest of the series' run.

The chief crew of the Voyager are: Captain Kathryn Janeway, Federation officer (and first female captain depicted in a leading role in the franchise) and Maquis first officer Chakotay. The Federation officers included Harry Kim at operations; Tuvok, Vulcan science officer; and The Doctor, an Emergency Medical hologram that has to stay on all the time as the full medical team for the ship dies in the pilot (and thus begins to develop sentience from his continued time aware and alive). On the Maquis side we have helmsman Tom Paris and half-Klingon/half-human B'Elanna Torres at engineering. There's also Neelix, a Talaxian who takes on a role not dissimilar to Guinan on Next Generation; Kes, a Ocampan who works as the ship's nurse; and Seven of Nine, a recovered Borg drone, liberated and fixed up by the Voyager crew.

Season 2, Episode 21: Deadlock

While the first of Voyager's crew goes into labor (the first baby to be born on the ship as she travels back to Federation space), the ship is forced to travel into a dangerous portion of space of space. After seemingly clearing the zone, the ship starts suffering major issues, with the engines shutting down and proton bursts happening all over the ship, seemingly as if from within the ship itself. Soon it's discovered that there are two Voyagers overlapping each other, and one of them is starting to die because of it. The two crews have to find a way to merge their ships otherwise both ships will be lost.

This is, certainly, an interesting episode. It has that sci-fi hook -- two versions of the same ship locked in space together -- that makes it a fascinating concept, but I'm not entirely certain the show really gives the exploration of the idea its due. Part of this, as noted below, is because the way to get the episode functioning requires a bunch of technobabble and hand-waving, crew men running around saying words that sounds like they should mean something but really don't. Once the scenario really starts to play out it gets interesting, but there's a good 15 minutes of setup that just feels like bad writing.

I do appreciate that the show is willing to commit to it, right down to putting both versions of the ship into a dire situation (one because of how much damage it had taken, the other being taken over by an alien race in the third act) so that only one of them can survive. It adds some actual stakes, one way or the other, and forces the show to commit to the idea that Voyager, one way or another, would be compromised moving forward. Of course, this is a television show, so any damage either of the ships received could just be ignored by the next episode ("it takes three weeks to fix this so it's a good thing it's been three weeks since our last adventure"), but I still appreciated the series even nudging towards that. I might have to go back later and watch the next episode from here just to see if it's all ignored then or not.

The episode gets far on its high concept and almost becomes a winner, but that first act is really rough. It's a decent little episode, but not one I'd watch again on a whim.

Notes:
  • I like how just having Neelix ask for some simply repairs around his mess hall, the show emphasizes the fact that Voyager doesn't get to go to stardock for regular repairs. When thing get funky, they have to fix it themselves any way they can.
  • My god, there's a lot of technobabble in the early going on this show before we even get to the opening credits.
  • Speaking of, the opening theme has none of the energy or dynamics of Deep Space Nine.
  • Damn, they killed off the baby. So I guess hope for the second birth to go okay?
  • Ditch the other ship, guys. This one is much nicer. The other one is kind of a dump.

Season 3, Episode 2: Flashback

I almost made this a bonus sixth episode for this article, just like I did with "Relics" back in the Next Gen article. However, most fan lists for Voyager relied heavily on the two-parters which, by the rules I've set out, we don't get to watch here. Coupled with the fact that this episode usually ranks highly on fan lists and it just seemed like we should go with the usual five this time around.

In the episode, while Voyagers is exploring near a gaseous anomaly, Tuvok begins to have memories (and emotional feelings) about a past even in his childhood that he apparently never experienced. This then leads him into him misremembering details and forgetting what situations the ship is in. To fix the issue, Tuvok has to mind-meld with someone, and that duty falls to Janeway. But instead of going back to Tuvok's childhood, they end up exploring a memory of his from his time on the USS Excelsior, commanded by Captain Sulu. Whatever is going on, the memory Tuvok experienced must be tied to his time on the Excelsior. But why?

While it's fun to hang out back on the bridge of the Excelsior and to see Sulu and the old crew again, this isn't really an Excelsior episode. The whole point of it is to get to the root of Tuvok's memories and see what's causing him issues. As such, the Excelsior stuff just feels kind of grafted on. Fun, yes, but nearly superfluous. The is only underscored by the fact that a plotline is started in Tuvok's memories of the Excelsior flying into Klingon space to save Kirk and McCoy, only for that to abruptly end basically because the episode runs out of time.

And to be honest, the Tuvok plotline really isn't that interesting. His issues with this weird memory he doesn't recognize don't hold a candle to being able to watch adventures on the Excelsior. It would have honestly been better if we'd just had a weird episode totally focused on that ship back in the day, one with Tuvok in the scenes, and then have be it revealed in the last few minutes that this was all a memory from Tuvok as the rest of the crew worked off screen to try and save him. That's a version that could have let us fully explore the Excelsior instead of having it grafted on.

It's sad because this episode is so close to being great. George Takei is fantastic as his most famous character, and I'm always happy to have him wander around in character. If they just want to do a series of webisodes of Sulu being Sulu (maybe "Everybody Love Sulu" or "That's So Sulu"), I'd watch this. This is still a fun episode, but it was close to being a great one.

Notes:
  • I love the doctor's list of all the possible causes for Tuvok's "memories". All the various ways screwed up things have happened in the Trek franchise.
  • I really appreciate that they brought back the whole crew from the USS Excelsior's scenes in Star Trek VI. This episode even loops around this movie, so it's all very well engineered.
  • Of course, the timeline here is all screwed up. Apparently, two days after the events on the Excelsior Kirk and McCoy were arrested for assassinating Chancellor Gorkon. However, as Star trek VI established, there were two months between these events. Sloppy, guys. Sloppy.
  • Mmm, delightful scenery chewing from Sulu.
  • Office chair technology apparently doesn't change much in the next 300 or so years.

Season 4, Episode 26: Hope and Fear

Apparently in a previous episode (this is what we get to bouncing around), Starfleet somehow managed to send a coded message to Voyager all the way from the Alpha System. Unfortunately, Voyager has no way to decode it. Janeway, along with the rest of the crew, has spent months attempting to do so, but to no avail. Thankfully, as if by fate, an alien with a knack for languages and code comes on board and just might be able to translate it. After decoding the message, a set of coordinates are revealed. Once Voyager gets to those coordinates, they find an abandoned Starfleet ship. The ship seems to be a new vessel to take the crew home, but it seems to be powered by a quantum slipstream drive, not a warp drive. What is this ship, and can it be trusted to take the crew home?

I will cop to being worried about covering this episode because it's the last one of Season 4. Traditionally, the last episode of a season in any of the Next Gen-era shows were the start of a two-parter and I didn't want to accidentally watch the first half of one without knowing it. Thankfully, while this episode does mark a turning point for the series (a possible way home, and faster bit of traveling to get there), it's not really the first part of any set of episodes.

What it is, though, is the first episode of the series I actually enjoyed. The concept of the "Quantum Slipstream" is a little doofy, but it is nice to have an explanation for "transwarp" that isn't just "more power". There's an upper limit to warp technology, a point at which a ship cannot travel because it would be going truly faster than light (that is, light within the confines of warp space). The only way for transwarp of any kind to work would be a different kind of technology, something more advanced, and at least this finds a way to make it happen and explain it in a decent way.

The mystery of the ship, and everything that comes after, works well within the bounds of the story. The ship, and the technology, are tied hand in hand, so it's not like a number of Trek episodes where there's a mystery A-plot and then something unrelated happening that splits the attention of the episode. Sure, a major "B-plot" of the episode is about Seven of Nine and her decisions about whether or not to stay with the crew if they can make it back to Earth. Even this, though, ties in nicely with the rest of the episode, keeping everything focused and together. It was very well constructed.

That said, not everything about the episode works well. Obviously, the alien is the bad guy. That's pretty well telegraphed from the beginning (or, at least, I thought so since I've watched enough Trek to spot how their episodes work). He's not a great villain, and his heel turn towards the end of the episode, while expected, doesn't land with anything near the weight the episode demands.

And then there's Seven of Nine. The character is stern and cold, almost like a Vulcan. Unfortunately, as played by Jeri Ryan, that characterization feels forced. The actress, one season in, still doesn't quite seem to have a handle on her character or, at the very least, isn't capable enough to pull of the character). I want to like her as she's an interesting concept, but her performance just doesn't land.

Still, this is a much better episode than we've gotten from the series so far, and it gives me hope that the last two we view, which come in the later seasons, can hit with anywhere near the impact of this one.

Notes:
  • The sport they played at the beginning of the episode, Velocity, looks like a bad TRON game.
  • "It's a simple matter, Captain, of blah blah blah science stuff."
  • Doctor: "I'm running the medical projections." Is that a pun because he's a holographic projection? Doctor, you sly dog.

Season 5, Episode 6: Timeless

During an exploration of a glacial planet, Kim and Chakotay find a crashed ship. As the two crewmen beam inside, we realize the crashed ship, stranded in ice for who knows how many years, is the Voyager, with most her crew on board, dead. The crew are back on the ship to try to change history. See, back some time before, the crew of the Voyager had just finished building their own version of a quantum slipstream drive. Everything seemed good, however, simulations of the drive seem to cause issues. A plan is set in motion to fly a shuttle in front of the ship, both equipped with the quantum drives, and use the shuttle as a guidance ship. However, the shuttle broadcasts the wrong "phase variance corrections", and Voyager is lost. Now, back in the future, Kim and Chakotay think there's a way to send a message back through time and get Voyager the right coordinates. Maybe...

This episode certainly has an interesting premise -- take the time to correct one mistake -- although I don't know if it quite sticks the landing. Clearly the show isn't going to have the ship crash-land, killing all her crew. While that would be a bold ending to the series, or even an interesting way for the show to pivot into a new kind of series, Trek isn't really know for those kinds of big twists. So, clearly, whatever plan what hatched to save the ship in the past was going to work. Then it just becomes a matter of how.

The problem then is that the solution isn't big and bold and action-filled (although certainly having Kim and Chakotay get pursued by a Starfleet vessel makes a nod towards that). It's mostly Herry Kim sitting over some technology spouting technobabble before everything works out. The solution is future-tech that wouldn't work in the real world, and watching people work on computers to do things that don't really mean anything robs the story of any kind of real weight.

That's not to say the actors don't try. Both Garrett Wang (as Kim) and Robert Beltran (as Chakotay) try their best to add gravitas to their characters. They act the scenes well, and they certainly get to have more character drama than the show normally gives them. It's just had to invest in this version of their characters when, clearly, by the end of the episode these two are going to get wiped out as a new timeline is set.

I wish the episode was more interesting, as it has a good, hooky concept behind it. This just isn't a story Trek can tell with any conviction. A show like Farscape where hooky twists set a new status quo at least once a season, sure. But not Trek.

Notes:
  • Hey, the future Federation tech has a version of the Starfleet insignia that matches the version of the insignia from the "future" in the episode "The Visitor" in Deep Space Nine. Nice touch.
  • Geordi is a captain in the future. Good for him.
  • Oddly, despite the new Starfleet insignia, the uniforms are still the grey-style ones from the latter movies and the back half of DS9.
  • I like that Geordi is the captain of a Galaxy-class starship. It might not be the Enterprise D (since that one died), but it's pretty close.

Season 6, Episode 4: Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy

The Doctor isn't happy with his place on the crew. He feels like the rest of the Voyager staff refuse to treat him like a full-fledged member, that they don't realize he's a sentient being. However, after lodging a formal complaint with Captain Janeway over these presumed grievances, he begins to show weird malfunctions -- long and overly elaborate daydreams and an inability to differentiate between reality and illusion. And it's all related to a group of bureaucratic aliens that have a dangerous interest in Voyager.

To be frank, this episode started out very rough. The concept was a little too silly, dumb and fairly jokey. Watching the Doctor have dreams about his many lady-loves on the ship was just awkward, and a lot of his fantasies about command, and the adventures there-in, were overplayed and pretty silly. This first act definitely took some effort to get through.

But then the episode settled into a pretty good groove. Having the aliens show up gave the episode a needed antagonist. As a bonus, too, their interference in his programming helped to explain just why his fantasies were so over-the-top. It tempered my issues with the story and allowed me to get into the actual groove of it. An episode I started off hating became one I genuinely enjoyed.

Of course, a lot of credit is due to Robert Picardo as the Doctor. Of all the characters on this show, I will admit that the Doctor is my favorite and a lot of that comes down to his performance. He has a certain acerbic charm that works for the character, makes him feel more real (despite his being a hologram) than most of the stiff officers in the series. Giving him the spotlight works really well here.

I don't know if this episode was the best way to end our time with Voyager, just due to that rough first act. I might have preferred going out on a stronger end note, but then maybe that's a good way to summarize our time with the series -- rough, but at times quite workable.

Notes:
  • Oh god, the Doctor is singing. Opera, no less. How long is this going on?
  • Wow, and apparently Harry Kim feels the same way about this scene as I do.
  • Ugh... this is interminable. Please stop singing to the Vulcan about Pon Farr.
  • Seriously, did they have to give Jeri Ryan an outfit that purposefully tucks under her breasts?

In Conclusion:

I don't think this five-episode stint with this show has made me a fan of Voyager. I didn't hate the episodes I watched, but there were very few of them I really liked either. More miss than hits, really. It's a fine show, decently made, but there's something to the series, over-all as well as in its particular episodes, that stop it from reaching greatness. While I wouldn't hate watching more episodes, this is one of those shows I probably wouldn't be able to binge either. Maybe I'll eventually get back to it, but I'm not going to go out of my way to watch it any time soon.