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Star Trek: Voyager ••1/2

Greg Scott
Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager
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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s time to review the fourth Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Voyager, which ran from 1995 to 2001.

Yes, Star Trek Voyager – or as I like to call it… Star Trek: Lost in Space. Let’s recap

Greg, Voyager was the first Star Trek series that disappointed me. The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space 9 all enthralled me, inspired me, and made me proud to be a Trekkie or Trekker or whatever us nerds called today.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy a number of Voyager episodes – I truly did. In fact, Voyager has some of the best episodes in all of Trek. These episodes are magical and left me eminently satisfied. The tragedy is that Voyager also has many of Trek’s worst episodes. There is a frustratingly cavernous gap between the good and the bad. Never in the history of Star Trek has so much great potential been wasted.

And what potential there was The showrunners crafted the brilliant premise of jettisoning a starship into an entirely new quadrant of the galaxy. Here in the delta quadrant the ship could encounter all new aliens, new stellar phenomena, and fresh adventures apart from the same old familiar confines of the alpha quadrant. The set-up looked delicious.

The casting appeared to be up to the task, too. Kate Mulgrew was a bold choice to portray the first woman Captain on Trek TV. Another innovation was the holographic doctor, who is arguably the most interesting character during most of the show’s run. We have a Native American first officer named Chakotay, a Black Vulcan first officer Tuvok, a Klingon chief engineer names B’Elanna, and a navigator Tom Paris, who is a renegade looking for redemption. I like all of this.

Some missteps in the casting include a rather bland character named Ensign Kim and the most annoying character in Trek history, an alien called Neelix about whom the less said the better. Neelix had to be someone’s misguided idea of appealing to 4-year-old viewers. As for Kim, well, he was there and he did stuff, but like Jadzia Dax in DS9, the character is basically a cardboard cutout.

One of the biggest mistakes in the setup of the series was the forced mixing of the crew between Star Fleet officers and Maquis terrorist members. No doubt this was done to create a tension among the crew, but the tension was never interesting and went nowhere.

So the premise starts out promising and casting, despite some flaws, appears to work more or less, depending on the episode. But right out of the gate, the showrunners completely squander an opportunity to create a new interesting race of bad guys. Voyager’s crew encounters a race of beings called the Kazon, who appear in many, many season 1 and 2 episodes despite being the dullest antagonists in Trek history. Like Neelix, the less said the better, but good gracious sakes alive, let’s be honest – the Kazon are ridiculous one-dimensional warriors with single-digit IQs. They’re also racially insulting to us on many levels, and I can’t bear to watch them.

Soon after the Voyager series begins, it becomes clear that the once-promising premise of being stranded in the delta quadrant becomes Voyager’s worst enemy. The ship is trying to find its way home and each episode becomes a re-make of Gilligan’s Island in that we know that in each story the castaways are only going to be given false hope. The end of each episode features the crew glumly accepting that they remain stuck in the Delta quadrant. Ho hum; so much for any dramatic tension.

Yes, I agree that ST:VOY was perhaps the weakest of the series. You’ve already listed the biggest problem with the show – that they can never return home or the show ends. Another problem I had was the de-emasculating of Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway. Mulgrew (despite her Minnie Mouse voice) has a great personal presence and strength. Yet in so many episodes she starts complaining about how she is worried about the crew and their feelings. This is a departure from previous captains who expected their crew to perform because they were trained Star Fleet officers. This seemed to be an effort on the part of the writers to soften Janeway and make her more a nurturing mother figure rather than a leader on par with her male counterparts.

As you mention one of the interesting elements of the show was the integration of the Maquis – a revolutionary, even terrorist organization that Star Fleet had infiltrated and was the reason Voyager was trapped in the Delta Quadrant. To survive, the Maquis had to become members of the Voyager crew. This echoed the same tensions between Star Fleet and the Bajoran on ST:DS9. Yet, after season one, we see next to no mention of the Maquis division. In fact this schism seemed to be done away with as a plot element in the final episode of season one where Tuvok must train wayward Maquis to be more like Star Fleet. Tuvok’s lesson-learned was that he needed to be more flexible and take on some of the Maquis “ways” to create a blended crew… and it was never mentioned again.

There was also a “problem” with the casting of Kess – a pixie-like woman who was very cute, and had only a 7-year lifespan. This of course is problematic because she was at least 3 years old when she was brought on board, and the show was slated for 5-7 years. The math does itself. Sadly, the actress, Jennifer Lien, suffered mental illness that interfered with her work. She was replaced in season 4 by Jeri Ryan who played the Borg Seven of Nine. This replacement was not welcomed by Kate Mulgrew who saw Ryan as a “sex kitten” designed to attract a male audience – and distracted from her own presentation. In fact, Seven became a constant partner with Janeway on many episodes in a capacity that had no plot-based reason.

And my final complaint about the series, which is the same one I had with DS9, is “character normalization.” Over time, the characters all lost their defining characteristics. Janeway gave up much of her command to other characters. The Doctor, who was a hologram confined to the sick bay, was given an armband that allowed him to walk the ship. Neelix, the comedic relief chef, became a warrior and even navigated the ship. Overall, over time, the characters lost their ‘spark’ and became difficult to watch.

You make many good points, Greg. I had forgotten to mention Kess and the problems associated with her character. Neelix’s relationship with her seemed like a case of pedophilia, and her character eventually disappeared.

The appearance of Seven of Nine in season four I believe was a welcome addition. At first I was skeptical – do we really need eye candy to bolster ratings? But Seven turned out to be far more than eye candy. Jeri Ryan has great acting chops and the character’s transformation takes screen time away from less interesting characters such as Kim and Chakotay.

I sound like I’m complaining too much, which is unfortunate because I did enjoy a number of episodes of Voyager episodes. But toward season 6 the series became almost unbearable for me to watch due to lackluster writing and some actors just mailing in their performances.

Voyager can serve as a cautionary tale for Star Trek. There are lots of lessons to be learned. A promising premise means nothing without good characters and good writing. Also, never be afraid to make bold choices. For example, Voyager could have solved its Gilligan’s Island problem by allowing the ship to reach home in season 3 or thereabouts, after which we could follow the crew’s adventures in re-adapting to home and re-visiting the delta quadrant using the wormhole (or new technology) that allows for inter-quadrant travel.

Overall, I give ST:Voyager a rating of 3 Reels out 5 and the heroes the same rating of 3 Hero points out of 5.

I agree with your assessment of Jeri Ryan’s addition to the cast. In addition to being a beautiful woman, she also gave the character a lot more depth than another actor might have.

And you’re also right about the later seasons. There are only so many times we can “almost get home.” And so many times Janeway can choose to “do the right thing” instead of being responsible to her crew and make the choice to return to the Alpha Quadrant. In one episode she is determined to bring a renegade Star Fleet captain (OMG: how many people from “home” did they run in to?”) to justice – even when getting home was within reach. It stretched credulity.

You mentioned the final episode of the series – in which a future Admiral Janeway goes back in time to bring her crew home decades earlier. It is controversial among Star Trek fans. For me it was quite satisfying. Although, “young” Janeway (once again) turns away from getting her crew home in favor of some loftier purpose. And in the end, they did get home earlier and “old” Janeway dies in the process – making her a martyr. But it begs a ton of time paradox problems that the entire Star Trek franchise has conveniently decided not to worry itself with.

As the weakest in the Star Trek franchise, I give Star Trek Voyager just 2 out of 5 Reels. Janeway was given a very poor set of scripts and demoted from captain to ship’s counselor. The crew never gelled and Chakotay constantly contradicted Janeway’s orders up to, but not quite, mutiny. I can only muster 3 Heroes out of 5.

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Greg Scott
Star Trek: Voyager