Before I get too deep into this personal retrospective of “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001), I have to state upfront that “Voyager” (VGR) is perhaps my least favorite series of the Star Trek canon, but that’s not to say that I actively dislike it, or that this is going to be a hatchet job on the series, because I don’t, and it’s not. In my opinion, all of Star Trek is worthy of fan appreciation to some degree or another, and individual mileage with each series will vary. VGR is one series that I’ve had a few major issues with, but there are also a number of its episodes that I still revisit, and the pilot (“Caretaker”) had much promise. The series was meant to be the flagship of the now-defunct United Paramount Network (UPN), but is now streamed on Netflix, CBS-All Access and can also be seen on BBC-America.
For this retrospective, I plan to take a look at the pilot and a few of my favorite episodes from each season. This will be subjective, and I apologize in advance for overlooking anyone else’s favorites. If you’re logged into WordPress.com, I would love to hear your own favorite episodes and opinions about the series in the comments below.
For now? Let’s start at the beginning, “Caretaker”, which debuted on UPN on the night of January 16th, 1995. I still remember watching “Caretaker” on that very night on my tiny 20” Sony Trinitron TV in my old bachelor apartment, recording it on VHS at ‘Standard Play’ (for optimal quality, of course…this was two years before DVDs). These are my recollections from the pilot…
Beginning with a text crawl not too dissimilar to what we saw in 1977’s “Star Wars,” VGR also seems to draw another inspiration from that movie, as the opening shot is of a smaller spaceship desperately trying to outrun a larger one. The smaller ship belonging to the rebel Maquis, a splinter faction broken off from the Federation. The larger ship belonging to the Cardassian Empire, who seek to drive the Maquis out of their claimed space.
After this Lucas-inspired opening, we meet three of the series’ regulars in short order; tattoo-faced Native American Maquis leader Chakotay (Robert Beltran), his half-Klingon/half-human engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Vulcan comrade Tuvok (Tim Russ). The three of them are desperately trying to evade the superior Cardassian ship by taking their smaller vessel inside of a giant plasma storm known as ‘the Badlands.’ The trick works until a massive, mysterious displacement wave overtakes them and their ship disappears…
We then cut to a 24th century prison in New Zealand, where Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) visits former Maquis member and current inmate Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). In a bit of lengthy exposition, Janeway tells Tom that her Security Chief Tuvok (whoops! Spoiler alert!) has gone missing while infiltrating Tom’s old Maquis cell, for whom Tom has no great loyalty. She offers Tom a chance to help (and reduce his sentence) by joining her on Voyager as “an observer” only, despite Tom’s natural prowess as a gifted pilot. He agrees.
Taking a shuttle to Voyager’s current port of call at space station Deep Space Nine (I see what you did there, pilot episode…), Paris creates a downright uncomfortable #MeToo moment with Voyager’s Betazoid pilot Stadi (Alicia Coppola…yes, Coppola). Lt. Stadi’s dialogue consists entirely of rebuffing Tom’s vaguely racist advances about Betazoids while rattling off statistics of her new starship like the sultry voice of a car commercial (the ship’s bio-gelpacks…did those ever become important?)
Meanwhile, aboard Deep Space Nine, fresh Academy graduate Ensign Harry Kim is having a drink at Quark’s when he is pestered by none other than the Ferengi proprietor himself (Armin Shimerman), who tries to hoodwink the gullible young hewmon into buying some ‘precious gems’ for his parents. A funny little moment occurs as Quark feigns outrage when the ensign tells him he was “warned about the Ferengi at the Academy.” Paris arrives just in time to break up the scam, and the young ensign meets his new best friend…
Aboard Voyager, we see Captain Janeway, saying her goodbyes to her fiance Mark, who promises to watch over her dogs while she is away on her ‘brief’ mission to the Badlands (“a three hour tour… a three hour tour…”). Mark agrees, and they say their goodbyes. It’s a nice, humanizing moment that shows the captain of a Federation starship as a human being in a way we hadn’t quite seen before, talking about doggie blankets, puppies and even sneaking in a bit of Skype-flirting (this was, of course, years before Skyping was a thing…).
Returning to the bridge, Janeway meets with her new Operations Officer Harry Kim, and assures the nervous ensign that he doesn’t have to call her ‘ma’am’ or even ‘sir’… she prefers ‘captain.’ Introductions are made between Kim and mission ‘observer’ Tom Paris to Janeway’s first officer, Commander Cavit (Scott Jaeck). Cavit rebuffs Paris’ handshake, sending a clear message to the paroled convict that he wants nothing to do with him. After that moment of tension, the ship departs DS9 for the Badlands…
En route to the Badlands, Harry and Tom grab some chow in the mess hall, where Tom comes clean to the young ensign about his past…how his actions led to the deaths of several Starfleet officers. Tom tells Harry he’d be better off following the other’s advice to forget about him. Harry tells Tom that he doesn’t need anyone to tell him with whom he can be friends.
Soon, the USS Voyager approaches the plasma fields within the Badlands, and the last reported position of the Maquis ship. After a few moments within the fields, the same displacement wave overtakes Voyager, and the ship is flung 70,000 light years away into the Delta quadrant, from where, at maximum warp, it would take them approximately 75 years to get home. The displacement wave has badly damaged the ship, with primary systems offline, and many casualties. Several senior officers are dead, including Cmdr. Cavit, the Chief Medical Officer (Jeff McCarthy) and helmsman Stadi. On the viewer, a large space station appears to be firing unusual energy pulses out into the depths of space.
With multiple emergencies happening at once, Janeway rushes to engineering to try and prevent a warp core breach, while Harry and Tom rush to sickbay, where they activate the ship’s new “Emergency Medical Hologram”, aka The Doctor (Robert Picardo). The EMH can act as a replacement physician until the ship is restaffed. With an immediately irksome attitude, it’s safe to say the holographic Doctor isn’t exactly blessed with a good bedside manner…
With Voyager stabilized and full repairs underway, Janeway turns her attention to the giant “array” (space station) on their view screen, as well as the energy pulses it seems to be shooting out toward a distant, as-yet-unseen planet. Taking an away team, she beams aboard the station and sees what appears to be an old-fashioned, country hoedown taking place (?!).
Janeway tells her people “don’t believe your eyes”, as the early 20th century rural-American setting is clearly a distraction, which they discover for themselves inside ‘the barn’, where the holographic illusion melts away to reveal the unconscious crew of the missing Maquis ship, suspended from wires in what appears to be a massive alien medical testing area. Yes, the mid-1990s were all about alien abduction conspiracy theories, thanks to “The X-Files.” The crews of both Voyager and the Maquis ship are teleported back to their respective spacecrafts, with the exception of Harry and the Maquis engineer B’Elanna Torres, who are the only two unaccounted for.
Back aboard Voyager, Captain Janeway is reunited with her longtime Security Chief and confidante Tuvok, who offers her his Vulcan sympathies, telling her she needs rest. Janeway is deeply troubled by the abduction of Harry, telling Tuvok she received a call from Kim’s parents before they left port. Tuvok asks if she has heard from his wife and children back on Vulcan. Janeway tells him they’re fine, but that they miss him. She then vows to get them all home as soon as possible. It’s a great little scene that could’ve easily been nixed, but like the earlier scene with Janeway’s call to Mark, it helped to humanize this new captain in subtle ways we’d rarely seen on Star Trek to this point.
Following the path of the fired energy pulses, Voyager encounters a debris field ahead. Inside the field, they encounter a Talaxian (a humanoid hedgehog) scavenger named Neelix (Ethan Phillips). Neelix warns them not to interfere in his salvage. When Janeway tells them they have no interest in his claim, he changes to a more friendly demeanor. Janeway needs a guide for this star system, and asks Neelix’s help. In trade, he asks if she has any water to spare. With Voyager’s replicator technology, she tells him he can have all the water he wants. He happily accepts her offer and beams aboard (a miraculous technology unknown in Neelix’s region of space). In Voyager’s transporter room, Neelix runs up and hugs the emotionally reserved Tuvok (“Mister Vulcan!”), making the Security Chief instantly uncomfortable. Tuvok takes the captain’s ‘guest’ to his quarters. On the alien annoyance scale, Neelix ranks about 7 out of 10 Jar Jars.
In an unspecified alien laboratory, Harry and B’Elanna awaken to find themselves in alien hospital garb, and B’Elanna is instantly angry, charging and banging on the doors as her suppressed Klingon half begins to assert itself. Harry tries to calm her down, as the two begin to share stories about their respective times at Starfleet Academy, which B’Elanna also attended before she ran away to join the Maquis. Soon, the pair are interrupted by a humanoid being with a slightly elfin appearance, who tells her they are being held for an indefinite period as part of a medical quarantine, since they appear to have skin legions on their extremities. This may be a side-effects of medical testing given by “the Caretaker.” They realize they are not on the space station, as the tall, elfin-featured man takes them on a tour of the brightly lit underground city of theirs. The Los Angeles Convention Center location used doesn’t exactly look ‘underground’, but sure. The two abductees learn that the people of the city are called the Ocampa, a short-lived humanoid species who live under the care of “the Caretaker”, the mysterious consciousness whom they worship as a god. Harry quickly realizes that the Caretaker is the one who is firing energy pulses at the planet from the array…as a means of providing energy to the Ocampa people. Energy from which the Ocampa have become greatly dependent.
Captain Janeway askes Tuvok to go fetch their newfound hedgehog ‘guest’ Neelix because he’s going to join a combined Voyager/Maquis away team to the arid desert planet which is receiving all of the array’s energy pulses. Tuvok enters Neelix’s quarters, where he finds tons of half-eaten scraps, and the sight of the naked, singing alien taking a bubblebath (to be filed under “Things You Wish You Could Instantly Unsee”). He gathers up the Talaxian and they join the Captain, Paris, Chakotay and Tuvok to look for their missing shipmates.
On the planet (shot on location in the dry lake beds outside of Victorville, California), the away team meets with the Kazon Ogla leader “Maje Jabin” (Gavan O’Herlihy). The Kazon look and act much like Klingons having really bad hair days. Neelix bluffs his way into Jabin’s inner circle, pretending the two of them are old pals. Janeway offers the Maje water, as much as he’d like, if they’ll help them find their people. Jabin doesn’t believe her until she has Voyager beam down a giant, brewery-sized vat of water. The Kazon are more intrigued by the transporter technology the captain just unwittingly demonstrated. Janeway tells him the tech is not up for negotiation. As Jabin balks at her offer, Neelix acts quickly; grabbing a phaser, he shoots the water vat, sending the thirsty Kazon scrambling to catch as much of the precious leaking fluid as they can! Neelix also makes a mad dash to snatch away a battered, young Ocampa woman whom the Kazon had kidnapped. Neelix then urges Janeway to use her transporter and get them the hell out of Dodge…
In the ship’s transporter room, Janeway watches in astonishment as the pretty young woman, named Kes (Jennifer Lien), kisses Neelix, who turns out to be her lover (yeah, this Delta quadrant is just full of surprises, ain’t it?). I’ll be honest; I never bought Neelix and Kes as a romantic couple. Not because of any age or looks disparities, but rather a total lack of chemistry. The two had a vibe more akin to a 15-year old niece stuck with her creepy bachelor uncle. It didn’t surprise me at all when the two characters broke up on the show later on, because they were never a good fit to begin with. The chemistry just wasn’t there. Moving on…
Eventually Janeway and Chakotay are able to locate and rescue Harry and B’Elanna, who have escaped to the surface with the help of other Ocampans, just as the array begins to fire energy pulses at the planet in shorter intervals. Tuvok deduces that the energy is coming at more rapid pace because the Caretaker is dying, and feels an intense obligation to provide the Ocampa with as much energy as possible before he dies. His pending death also explains the abductions; the Caretaker is seeking a replacement…someone who will take care of the Ocampa in the same way.
The Caretaker, who’d originally appeared as an old man to Janeway and her people begins to slower revert to his native form… a crystalline, blob-like entity which, upon its death, shrinks into a tiny, emaciated chunk of minerals. The Caretaker is dead, and no replacement has been found to take its place. Because the situation wasn’t bad enough, the Kazon return in their ships, and begin firing upon Voyager and the Maquis vessel. Janeway realizes that the Kazon might try to appropriate the Caretaker’s high technology and use it to upset the balance of power with the Ocampa. Fully realizing that the array is the only way to get Voyager and the Maquis vessel to the Alpha quadrant, Janeway has a hard decision to make.
Tuvok has accessed the program aboard the array’s computer that would send them back to the Alpha quadrant, but Janeway wonders…what would happen to the Ocampa? Rather than let the Caretaker array fall into the wrong hands, she destroys it, and with it any chance of getting back home any time soon. I have to stop the tape at this point; was there any reason why Janeway couldn’t have used a delay-detonation device (like the kind used in TOS’ “The Doomsday Machine”) to destroy the Caretaker array after its program had been used to send Voyager home? Just curious. If anyone has any thoughts or theories on this, I’d love to hear them.
With Chakotay sacrificing his Maquis ship in a suicide run at an attacking Kazon ship, he is beamed, along with the rest of his people, onto Voyager. Maj Jaben makes one final threat at that Federation ship before withdrawing, telling Janeway that she’s “made an enemy today.”
Janeway offers to return Neelix and Kes back to his ship, which is in Voyager’s shuttle-bay. Neelix and Kes decide to remain aboard to act as native guides, to help the crew of Voyager navigate this region of space. Not to mention that the Federation ride is pretty freaking sweet compared to Neelix’s old rust bucket, right? I’m guessing they’re also staying beecause Neelix enjoys a good bubblebath.
On the bridge, with newly appointed First Officer Chakotay at her side, Janeway announces to the entire crew (Starfleet and Maquis) that they will work together, as one unified Starfleet crew, to get back to the Alpha quadrant. Janeway believes that they will find a wormhole, new technologies, or perhaps another Caretaker out there who might just be able to send them back. She tells Tom to “Set a course…for home.”
Voyager’s twin warp nacelles lift up, and the ship bursts into warp.
Episodes of Personal Interest.
While “Caretaker” was my favorite episode of the series’ shorter first season (15 episodes instead of 26; 15 episodes would easily be a regular-length season by current TV show standards), the rest of that struggling first season were somewhat average. However, later seasons of the show offered much more interesting entries.
The first episode of the second season was called “The 37s” (which was originally slated to air in season one). “The 37s” was an atypical entry that involved alien abductions of humans from far-away Earth of the year 1937. We see the starship Voyager land on an alien planet (the first time a Star Trek series’ lead starship landed on a planet without crashing), where it finds a group of humans in cryogenic suspension, including Amelia Earhart (Sharon Lawrence) along with her navigator Fred Noonan (David Graf). The Voyager crew finds a beautiful (unseen) “city” which was built by humans, using the 37’s original DNA. This human-peopled city is apparently so wonderful that Janeway offers her crew a chance to settle there if they wish, but none of them do. Mulgrew brings down the house with her heartfelt reaction to her crew’s loyalty. The story is a little goofy at times, and works better as a collection of moments than a cohesive tale.
“Meld” is one of the strongest episodes of season 2, as well as the entire series. Brad Douriff (“Child’s Play” “Exorcist III”) plays former Maquis crewman Lon Suder, a deadly sociopath Betazoid whose random, ‘illogical’ murder of a fellow engineering crewman confounds Vulcan Security Chief Tuvok, who can’t seem to grasp random violence for its own sake (you’d think in his field, he’d often encounter random violence, but that’s a nitpick…). The only way Tuvok can understand the crime is to partake in a dangerous mind-meld with Suder, whose Betazoid species has its own unique telepathic abilities. The meld leaves both men with traits of the other; Suder gains Tuvok’s Vulcan rationality while Tuvok becomes dangerously unstable. The scene in sickbay, where a barely contained Tuvok lets loose on his ‘friend’ Captain Janeway offers some of the best dramatic fireworks of the series.
“Death Wish” is the first of several visits from “Next Generation” favorite “Q” (John de Lancie) and this is by far my favorite appearance of his in this series, as we see him in a very different light than ever before (or since). The story opens with Voyager accidentally freeing another member of the Q Continuum “Q2” (Gerrit Graham). Q2 was exiled by the continuum because he wishes to end his existence, an act unimaginably offensive to the godlike Q. Tuvok acts as defense counsel for Q2, and a hearing for asylum is held aboard the starship. During the course of the investigation, the Q magically summon Sir Isaac Newton (Peter Dennis) and Next Gen’s Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as ‘witnesses’ to the validity of Q2’s contributions. The hearing also reconvenes within the Q Continuum itself, which can only be experienced by mortal senses as an eerie desert… a vast wasteland of ceaseless boredom; a Mt. Olympus gone to seed. Ultimately, Q2 is granted asylum, but with predictably tragic results…
Season 3’s “Flashback” sees Tuvok suffering from a brain parasite that masks its presence as a childhood trauma that never existed. In order to help her longtime friend and Security Chief, Janeway agrees to help Tuvok explore and overcome the trauma through a mind-meld (over the objections of the Doctor). The meld seems to accidentally take Tuvok back to his early Starfleet career aboard the 23rd century starship, USS Excelsior, commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei, of the Original Series). We also see the return of comm officer Commander Janice Rand (the late Grace Lee Whitney). The events aboard the Excelsior, which take place around the time of the feature film “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991), are wholly irrelevant to the episode. This is unabashed fan service cynically designed to cash in on Star Trek’s then-30th anniversary (1996), and little else. That said? Seeing Takei’s Sulu commanding the Excelsior again feels like the pilot for a Star Trek series that we never got, and Takei is delightful in his old role. Yes, “Flashback” is a dreadful mess of a story, but seeing Takei in the center seat again somehow makes it worthwhile.
S3’s “Future’s End, Part 1” is a story that should’ve never happened in “Voyager”, yet it does…and I didn’t mind. The starship encounters a time-ship from the future commanded by Capt. Braxton (Allan G. Royal). The encounter flings both ships far off into the Alpha quadrant, with Braxton crash-landing on Earth of 1969, and with Voyager flung into Earth orbit of 1996.
The starship’s entry into 1996 is tracked by young radio astronomer Rain Robinson (the wonderfully raunchy comedian Sarah Silverman). The Voyager crew put on period-appropriate 1990s clothing, and beam down to sunny southern California to search for the missing Capt. Braxton, who’s now living as an elderly street person after his ship was stolen by a young opportunistic ex-hippie named Henry Starling (Ed Begley Jr.). We see the crew at various iconic Los Angeles locations such as Mt. Wilson Observatory and the wonderfully bohemian Venice Beach (where the sight of space aliens wouldn’t raise an upswept eyebrow…). Silly as hell, and with millions of plot-holes, but seeing the crew of the starship Voyager roaming around near my own SoCal backyard was quite a hoot in those days, I have to admit. The lighthearted tone of this episode is very similar to that of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986).
“Future’s End, Part 2″ sees the story take a darker turn, as Janeway’s confrontation with Henry Starling turns nasty. We also see B’Elanna and Chakotay’s shuttle crash-landing them into the dangerous hands of weapon-packing survivalists, who believe the two to be part of a government conspiracy; this was only a few years after the weapons-hoarding David Koresch cult in Waco, Texas met their violent end during a confrontation with government agents. This second half gives offers a heavier balance to the frothier first. We also see the EMH Doctor freed from his holographic confinement in Voyager’s sickbay, when he appropriates a piece of advanced 29th century technology acquired by Starling… the handy-dandy mobile emitter.
The 3rd season ended and the 4th began with “Scorpion Parts 1 and 2”, which was not only designed to bring back the Borg as a semi-regular series’ heavy, but also to introduce the new series’ cast member Jeri Ryan as “Seven of Nine.” The story sees the Borg needing to traverse an area of the Delta quadrant overrun with Borg. They also encounter a mortal foe of the Borg designated “Species 8472”, which are capable of defeating the Borg. During an encounter with the new threat, Harry Kim is attacked by the new species and nearly dies until the Doctor finds a way to counteract Species 8472’s deadly infection, which threatens even the Borg. Janeway quickly realizes that the Doctor’s cure, which the Borg do not have, could be used as leverage to allow Voyager to traverse Borg space. An uneasy alliance is reached, and a Borg representative, Seven, is chosen to work with the humans. As a former human named Annika Hansen, Seven seems to resent her human heritage, and is disdainful of Voyager and her crew. After their combined passage through the treacherous region, the Borg predictably double-cross the Voyager crew, but the crew have a backup plan; they sever Seven’s connection to the Borg, thus ending her subordination to the Borg hive’s collective consciousness. The angry, betrayed Seven begins a long, slow process of rediscovering her own robbed humanity… and a fan favorite is born.
While I’m not a big fan of Klingon histrionics, the S4 episode “Day Of Honor” sees Voyager Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres get a deserved spotlight. The story sees an increasingly grumpy B’Elanna (Roxann Dawson, who would also direct occasional episodes of Star Trek) trying to come to terms with her feelings for ‘flyboy’ Tom Paris. A malfunction in engineering causes Torres to eject the ship’s warp core, only to have to retrieve it later in a shuttlecraft, along with pilot Tom. Alien scavengers lay claim to the warp core, and fire upon the shuttle. An overload allows just enough time for Tom and B’Elanna to don their spacesuits and evacuate the shuttle before its destruction (Voyager’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of shuttles would be an ongoing source of fan amusement). As the two survivors float aimlessly in their spacesuits, their oxygen supplies dwindling, Voyager arrives and the scavengers are driven off. B’Elanna and Tom confess their love for each other before being beamed aboard the ship. Tom and B’Elanna would enjoy one of the greater arcs seen in the series, as the two eventually marry and even have a child together… a child seen both in adulthood and being born, in the time-twisting finale, “Endgame.” The character of B’Elanna Torres would also be spotlighted in “Extreme Risk” and “Barge of the Dead.”
Season 4’s “The Gift” is a fond farewell to the character of Kes (Jennifer Lien) who, for me, never quite worked. Through no fault of the actor’s, Kes always felt like a character without definition. She was a short-lived Ocampan, who, at only a few years old, was nearing middle age for a typical 9-year Ocampan lifespan. Kes was largely defined by her weird, ‘creepy uncle-vibe’ relationship with her Talaxian lover Neelix (whose own jealousy helped end their romantic relationship), and her budding friendship with the Doctor. “The Gift” sees her psychic/telekinetic abilities emerge, just as ex-Borg Seven is assisting with repairs to the ship (under strict supervision, as she isn’t trusted just yet). The climax of the story sees Kes’ ascension to a higher plane wreaking havoc with the ship, so she is spirited away in a shuttlecraft. As a final ‘gift’ to her Voyager family, she hurls the ship several thousand light-years closer to the Alpha quadrant. Meanwhile, Seven is given cosmetic surgery by the Doctor to remove most of her Borg implants and to grow back her natural blonde locks. Seven is also costumed in the first of what would be a ridiculous series of catsuits (yes, I know this was done for sex appeal, but it makes zero sense from a character perspective). After several years of underuse bordering on neglect, Kes receives a nice exit that also serves to herald her replacement Seven’s emergence. Kes’ graceful swan song was all but ruined a couple of seasons later in “Fury”, but I won’t get into that one…
Season 4’s “Year of Hell, Parts 1 and 2” are among the series’ best, even if nearly everything that happens wthin the two-parter is completely undone with the aid of a dreaded temporal weapon. This was arguably one of the most egregious examples of the series’ infamous ‘reset button’ at work (literally a button that rewrites history, in this case), but while they last, the two-parter’s dramatic fireworks, fueled in no small part by guest star Kurtwood Smith (“Robocop” “Star Trek VI”), truly work. The beginning sees scientist Annorax (Smith) enjoying a blissful life with his wife and family, just as the starship Voyager is celebrating the completion of a new Astrometrics’ lab aboard the ship. Voyager is entering a region of space disputed by the Krenim and the Zahl, when they are met by a Krenim warship. Things rapidly escalate as a ‘temporal wave’ appears, and suddenly the Zahl disappear and the Krenim warship is now far bigger and more threatening. The shockwave has instantly rewritten history. Annorax, at the helm of his time ship, continues playing god as we learn his wife and family were killed by Zahl aggression, which has fueled his thirst for vengeance complex. However, things get successively worse with each rewrite of history, as some minor variable is overlooked. With the Krenim now a massive stellar empire, Voyager tries in vain to navigate through their space but is nearly destroyed.
Tragic consequences abound; Tuvok is blinded, many crewmen are dead, and a good portion of the ship is now exposed to the vacuum of space. Janeway becomes increasingly desperate. After a year (‘of hell’) spent trying to stay ahead of desperately needed repairs to her badly damaged ship and making alliances with other species to stop the Krenim, Janeway ultimately decides that destroying the Krenim time-ship in a kamikaze run will rewrite history for good and all. She does so, and suddenly we go back in time a year. Voyager is granted cautious but safe passage through Krenim space, and we see Annorax reunited with his family once again. This is VGR’s answer to TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”
Season 4’s “Living Witness” sees the backup holographic file of the Doctor awakening to find himself as an artifact in an alien museum commemorating the infamous alien warship Voyager (!). The Doctor sees recreations of his former shipmates as ruthless, pillaging pirates who torture innocents, and sic their ‘attack Borg’ Seven upon their victims. It’s almost like a Mirror Universe episode in many ways. It’s an interesting and entertaining spin on historical revisionism, as the Doctor not only has to find a way to clear his friends’ reputations, but also to prevent this misrepresentation of history’s use as a propaganda tool in a war between rival species. I saw this episode not too long ago, and it struck me as particularly insightful now in an age where baseless accusations against “fake news” and deliberately doctored disinformation on FaceBook (and even the president’s social media) have since become the norm. Robert Picardo easily carries the episode, as his Doctor is one of my favorite characters; this is but one of a few episodes that he effortlessly carries, including “Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy.” This episode has aged better than expected.
Season 5’s “Drone” is one of my favorites of post-TOS Star Trek, and much of that is due to the waterworks it unleashes from my eyes each time I see it. The Doctor’s 29th century mobile emitter (“Future’s End, Part 2”) is accidentally fused with Seven’s Borg nanoprobes, which produce a highly advanced male Borg drone who is later named “One.” One knows nothing about the deadly legacy of his species, and is (ironically) tutored in the ways of humanity by Seven of Nine (a major development for her character, as she becomes his instructor and maternal-figure). Guest star J. Paul Boehmer projects a wonderful mix of arrogance and utter innocence as One, and his chemistry with Ryan’s Seven is palpable. Boehmer is one of the more memorable guest stars of the series, projecting a certain David Hyde Pierce wit and energy (he is equally engaging in ENT’s “Carbon Creek”). The ending sees the Borg arrive, triggered by a homing signal unwittingly transmitted from One himself. Feeling responsible for the danger he’s accidentally brought to Voyager, One beams aboard the Borg vessel. His advanced 29th century technology allows him to send the cube ship on a collision course with a proto-nebula, which destroys it. Since Borg can survive the vacuum of space, the crew detect One’s life signs among the wreckage and beam him to sickbay. The young Borg is dying. He and Seven say their goodbyes (“You’re hurting me.” “You will adapt…”). I’m not crying, you’re crying…
Season 5’s “Timeless” is the 100th episode of the series, and a rare spotlight for two of the series’ most criminally underused characters; Harry Kim and Chakotay. The episode takes sometime in the future, with Kim and Chakotay using the “Delta Flyer” custom-made shuttle to return to an icy planet in the Delta quadrant where the starship Voyager fatally crashed 15 years earlier, killing all but Harry and Chakotay, who were journeying ahead in the Flyer while the ship used an unstable slipstream drive to shave a few years off her journey. In the years following the crash, Harry and Chatokay have become bitter and ruthless, stealing the Flyer in order to violate the Temporal Prime Directive and rewrite history for their fallen shipmates. Things get complicated when the starship USS Challenger arrives to stop them, commanded by former Enterprise-D chief engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton, who also directed). LaForge is forced to fire upon the Flyer, forcing the ship’s warp core to breach…but not before Kim sends a signal of assistance back across time to his shipmates which prevents the tragedy with the slipstream drive, and thus rewrites Voyager’s history. Yes, it’s another ‘reset button’ episode, but this time younger Harry Kim is able to see the message sent by his older, more bitter self and learn a thing or two about the man he might’ve become. Aside from the rare focus on two shamefully underused characters, “Timeless” also sports a spectacular crash sequence on an icy world that is an apex of 1990s CGI-for-TV technology, and still works well enough today.
Season 5’s “Dark Frontier” was originally broadcast as a ‘two-hour event,’ but later broken up into two parts for syndication. “Dark Frontier” has Seven coming to terms with her Borg past, as she faces the Borg queen (Susanna Thompson, taking over for “First Contact”’s Alice Krige), and even meeting her drone father, who was assimilated along with his wife and young Annika when the Hansen’s research vessel was absorbed into the Collective when Seven/Annika was a child. We also see Seven attempt to help several members of a newly assimilated species regain their freedom, much to the Borg queen’s dismay. Seven’s mix of grief and shock at seeing her drone father (“Papa!”) offers an emotional gut punch to the episode. Predictably, the crew of Voyager risk all to get her back. Yes, it’s entirely possible that VGR had began to mutate into the Seven of Nine hour at this stage, but Jeri Ryan is so damn good that it really doesn’t matter. If an added character makes a series more interesting, well…so be it. It’s the end result that counts, and while Seven may have dominated later VGR storylines, it was ultimately towards the series’ success.
The ending of season 5 and the beginning of the 6th season kicked off with “Equinox, Parts 1 and 2.” “Equinox”, much like the “Battlestar Galactica” arc with the Galactica sister ship Pegasus, sees Voyager encountering another lost Federation vessel, the USS Equinox, in the Delta Quadrant which can almost be described as a darker version of itself. The Equinox’s captain is a desperate and cowardly man named Rudy Ransom (that name sounds like a Dick Tracy villain), who is well-played by actor John Savage (“The Onion Field”). Capt. Ransom has survived in the Delta quadrant by using high energy, nucleogenic living creatures as fuel to power his ship (!). Janeway is incensed by Ransom’s wholesale slaughter, and begins to develop something of an Ahab-complex herself in order to stop him, which alienates her from her own command crew. Ransom’s latent decency eventually reemerges and he sacrifices himself to the nucleogenic creatures he was shamefully harvesting, but not before putting enough distance between himself and Voyager to safeguard her from the resultant explosion. Unsettling ideas abound in this episode, such as the Equinox crew forcibly removing the holographic Doctor’s ethical subroutines, and Ransom’s creepy fantasies involving Seven of Nine on a beach (okay, that one is a bit more understandable, perhaps…). That said, the situation aboard the Equinox is a shade or two closer to the kind of desperation I would’ve loved to have seen within the bulkheads of Voyager as well. It might’ve aided the show’s realism just a bit.
Season 6’s “One Small Step” (directed by Robert Picardo, another series’ star who got a shot at directing) is an ode to the ‘right stuff’ days of space exploration. Voyager encounters a traveling spacetime anomaly which contains debris and wreckage within, including the 21st century Ares IV Mars mission’s long-lost command module (!). Seven is encouraged by Capt. Janeway to take part in the salvage operation, but she initially rebuffs the offer, as the logical Borg has no truck with nostalgia. Later, when the Delta Flyer is stranded in the anomaly, Seven has an idea to use the Ares IV’s power systems to repair the Flyer. To do this, she finally dons a spacesuit and boards the 21st century shipwreck. Once aboard, she finds the logs of the last surviving astronaut John Kelly (Phil Morris, of “Star Trek III”). Seeing Kelly’s logs firsthand gives Seven a greater sense of pride in the earlier space accomplishments of her native species. Kelly is finally laid to rest with full honors aboard Voyager. Like “The 37s” (with Amelia Earhart), a centuries-old mystery about a long lost historical flight (albeit a fictional one) is answered. As a longtime space geek and 24-year member of The Planetary Society (along with Robert Picardo and Tim Russ), how could I not enjoy this episode?
Season 6’s “Blink of an Eye” sees a planet existing within a faster-than-normal pocket of spacetime due to its unusual gravity well. Voyager becomes locked in orbit for a relatively brief span, becoming a centuries-long myth to the observers below. The ship in the sky causes unintentional earthquakes on the planet, and as their technology slowly advances, a pair of curious alien astronauts are sent in a primitive capsule to investigate. Once aboard Voyager, the lone surviving astronaut, Gotana Retz (Daniel Dae Kim, “Lost”) realizes this sky god is merely a stranded starship out of temporal alignment with his own world. Meanwhile, the Doctor had beamed down to the planet for a matter of seconds yet returns with a lifetime of experiences (and relationships) from his time spent there. A way is eventually found to break Voyager free of the planet’s gravity well, just as the an attack is launched against the ship. The episode ends with the aged Gotana watching his friends aboard Voyager warp off into the stars. A lovely science fiction concept is well-realized in one of my true favorites of this series. This is the kind of show Star Trek does best. Seth McFarlane’s “The Orville” recently put its own spin on the story with the 2017 episode “Mad Idolatry.”
In what is the single best comedic performance in the entire series, season 7’s “Body and Soul” has Seven of Nine forced to hide the Doctor from a hologramophobic alien by storing his entire program inside of her Borg implants. Directed by series costar Robert Duncan McNeill, Jeri Ryan does a pitch perfect emulation of Robert Picardo’s Doctor. Ryan’s diction, timing and body language are all spot-on. It’s uncanny. Inside of a biological body, the Doctor is finally allowed to experience natural sensations for the first time, including taste (cake), smell (Harry Kim’s un-showered self) and, yes, even sexual arousal (!). The plot of this episode is incidental and unimportant; this one is all about Jeri Ryan’s portrayal of the Doctor, and it’s a riot. One of Star Trek’s rare successful forays into full-on comedy. Just writing about it makes me want to see it again.
The series ends with the fan divisive double-length finale, “Endgame” (not to be confused with the Disney-Marvel mega-hit movie). The finale begins in the early 25th century, a full ten years have passed since Captain Janeway brought the USS Voyager back to a fireworks-filled hero’s welcome in San Francisco bay. But the return to Earth came at great personal cost; the loss of both Chakotay and Seven of Nine, as well as the mental deterioration of her longtime Vulcan confidante Tuvok. The now-Admiral Janeway thinks she could do things a bit better if given another chance…which she illegally takes by absconding with a Klingon time-travel device which she uses to zap her armored shuttle back in space and time to 2378.
Once there, the admiral orders her younger, less-cynical self to obey her instructions in order to get Voyager home a lot sooner. The admiral’s plan also involves the dangerous destruction of a Borg transwarp conduit hub, which would effectively cripple the cybernetic invaders’ ability to traverse the galaxy. Younger Janeway resists, until finally being persuaded when she learns the personal stakes involved. The elder Janeway remains behind as a decoy to destroy the Borg queen (Alice Krige, returning to the role) by infecting her with a virus that could theoretically destroy the Borg race. Voyager is flung through the collapsing Borg conduit and nearly into Earth’s orbit, just as Tom and B’Elanna experience the birth of their baby daughter.
While admittedly a very emotional and action-packed finale for the series, there are a few nagging issues, such as the elder Janeway’s wanton erasure of an entire timeline just because it isn’t personally satisfactory. The year 2404 didn’t look so badly off at the beginning of the episode, yet an otherwise healthy future timeline is undone for the sake of three lives and the settling of a vendetta with the Borg queen? I wonder how many others were unintentionally impacted or erased from existence by the admiral’s decision. This episode, while enjoyable on a surface level, leaves many nagging ethical issues, as Admiral Janeway assumes the godlike role of the obsessive Annorax from “The Year of Hell”, but without his repetition.
Yes, I had many frustrations with this series. Overall, there seemed to be a lack of courage in the show’s convictions. There was the omnipresent reset button, where dire situations and their dramatic consequences were often completely and magically erased from history by the end of the hour. The USS Voyager was stranded thousands of light years from the Federation in the Delta quadrant, yet by the end of its 7 season run, Voyager returns shipshape, her crew adorned with spotless uniforms and not a hair out of place. A better example of a solo starship traveling the universe without easy resupply or refurbishment would be former Star Trek writer/producer Ron Moore’s reimagining of “Battlestar Galactica” (2003-2009).
A few of the characters, such as former Maquis first officer Chakotay, Kes and Harry Kim remained very underdeveloped during the series’ run, as other characters such as Seven of Nine, the Doctor and B’Elanna Torres took the lions’ share of the stories. The stakes of the show rarely felt too heavy, and many of the stories began to feel like rehashes of “The Next Generation.”
However, VGR also had a lot going for it. The show introduced Star Trek’s first female captain series lead, Captain Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew (who replaced Genevieve Bujold several days into filming… to the series’ benefit, in my opinion). The series also had strong production value for a 1990s sci-fi TV series, with some excellent visual effects (a nice mix of miniatures & CGI) as well as a lush Jerry Goldsmith-composed main title theme (one of the series’ greatest coups in my opinion).
Rick Berman and Brannon Braga co-created the series with Star Trek’s highest ranking female producer, Jeri Taylor. Taylor had cut her Star Trek teeth on the latter few seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, and brought her years of experience and feminine perspective to VGR.
The series also got a second wind midway during its run with the popular reformed-Borg character Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who proved so popular that she is returning in “Star Trek: Picard” (2020) which debuts on CBS-All Access next week (January 23rd, 2020).
While the show may not have been my favorite Star Trek of them all, it did help to keep the Star Trek torch ablaze during Star Trek’s 1990s heyday, and yes, it attracted new fans to the franchise. I’m also surprised by how many new fans the series continues to attract to this day. I see young people at conventions and online, many of them born after the series went off the air, watching the series anew via streaming on Netflix or CBS-All Access.
Whenever I attend the annual Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, I usually check out the Kate Mulgrew panel because she is a fascinating woman whose own life would make a dynamic and dramatic movie someday. Her career experienced a renaissance recently with her supporting role as a tough Russian inmate Galina “Red” Resnikov, in the Netflix streaming series, “Orange is the New Black” (2013-2019). She arguably has as many fans from that series as she does from VGR.
During the Q&A portion of Mulgrew’s panels, I usually hear some young fan who was inspired by Mulgrew’s female captain. Some of these young (and now middle-aged) people talk of how Captain Janeway inspired them to seek out formerly male-dominated careers in the military, engineering, or space sciences. For that legacy alone, and a few others, “Star Trek: Voyager” certainly deserves a toast of recognition on its silver anniversary.
All Voyager images: Trekcore.com
25 Comments Add yours
I really liked Star Trek Voyager, it felt much more like classic Trek to me, as they were exploring a whole new region of space lightyears from the Federation. Janeway and her crew ere a great bunch of characters as well, and I loved it when 7 of 9 joined later as well. My fave episodes are The 37s, Unity, Year of Hell 1&2, and Scorpion 1&2. Happy 25th Anniversary Star Trek Voyager!
I thought this was one of my least-liked Treks…until I started this retrospective and realized how much good there was in this series.
I think Voyager gets a bit of a raw deal sometimes. The series really delivers some different and interesting episodes and is always well worth a re watch. Voyager had some excellent two-part stories as well 🙂
There are quite a few real gems I discovered in my reevaluation, that’s for sure.
I recently rewatched a big chunk of VGR, and I found it odd how many totalitarian regimes they ran afoul of. It also seemed strange that this bizarre alien technology would seamlessly work with Voyager, when in the real 21st century, just getting an iDevice to talk to a PC is a pain in the ass… I think they overlooked some interesting stories when they just assumed that Delta Quadrant tech would fit Federation standards.
Voyager’s 1990s origins also show when it comes to the treatment of many of the female characters, particularly Seven, who I know was brought on because of Jeri Ryan’s sex appeal. While Janeway keeps harping on bringing back Seven’s humanity, so many of those episodes revolve around making her into a ‘proper’ romantic partner, given that everyone but Paris develops a crush on her at some point. It was a storyline that quickly grew stale for me.
That said, I am looking forward to seeing how Seven has changed between VGR and ‘Picard’. And it will be great to see Seven in something other than a catsuit and ridiculous high heels.
Sooooooo agree with all of your points about Seven. 👏👏
And yes, I’m glad she’s finally wearing actual clothes now as well. It was undignified to see a truly talented performer like Jeri Ryan have to jump through those hoops.
Thanks for your insights! 🙏
Like you, I don’t love Voyager, but also I don’t hate it. Where I’d quibble a bit is that in my view (and uniquely among Trek shows) Voyager peaked early on and got progressively worse as the series progressed. The early seasons were decent if a bit unremarkable, but the final season and especially “Endgame” are virtually unwatchable in my view.
I also greatly preferred the charming Kes to Seven, who never seemed to evolve beyond being a sexed up Data knock-off. None of this on Jeri Ryan, mind you. On the rare occasions they gave her good stories to work with, she always hit it out of the park, but most of the time her writing was just so soulless.
I guess I really should do a rewatch to give a fair review, it’s been ten years, after all.
I don’t hate it by any means, but it remains my least favorite Trek (with the caveat that I haven’t seen Discovery yet, never mind Picard). My biggest gripes are the inconsistent writing for Janeway (la donna è mobile?), and the big red reset button. I have real trouble reconciling the Janeway in Caretaker, who destroyed her only way home to protect the Ocampans with the Janeway in Endgame who basically rewrote history to her own liking, à la Annorax… If that’s character development, well at least it goes to show that people don’t automatically become better with age, they can get worse.
This was a premise that would have been perfect for a serial, but the UPN execs seemingly wanted a more episodic show. There’s a reason why DS9 remains my favorite Trek, and that’s its largely serial nature. Admittedly Babylon 5 never became as big as any of the Treks, but it has to be given the credit for being one of the pioneers of serial sci-fi storytelling on TV.
I must admit that I hated Kes leaving, and due to that and the stupid catsuits, I had real trouble accepting Seven. On my first viewing I remember hating the character with a passion for pandering to the young, hormonal male demographic, because I thought that if a female captain was attracting female fans to the show, it was stupid of the execs to complain of too few male fans… More recently, I’ve come to realize that this attitude is unfair to the hugely talented Jeri Ryan. My two favorite Seven episodes are Body and Soul and the one where she was in a Starfleet uniform. I also admit to enjoying the two-part Unimatrix Zero. All that said, however, I thought it was a bit sad that they had more stories for Seven than they did for Janeway, particularly in the last two seasons.
Another gripe that I have with VGR is that it pretty much ruined the Borg as trek villains for me. One question that I’m left wondering is, do all Ocampans ascend to a higher plane and go on living in another way after their 9-year life as mortal humanoids? It’s something that’s never really explored on the show, but it would make sense.
I suspect that VGR was made about 10 years too early. In 2003 nobody batted an eye at the made-for-streaming format of Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, even if it would take a few more years until streaming became as popular as it is today.
I love reading your well-thought replies, as always.
Agree with everything you’ve written. Took me a long time to get on the Seven train, and some of my friends used to call her Barbie of Borg.
We were wrong. Jeri Ryan is one hell of an actor and she’s earned her stripes on that series.