Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 19, 2004)
Slowly but surely, we near the availability of all forms of Star Trek on DVD. All three seasons of the original series came out during a 28-month period, a rather slow pace given the existence of fewer than 80 episodes. However, Paramount rapidly accelerated the pace when they started to issue The Next Generation in 2002; all seven years and nearly 180 shows came out in a span of only about 10 months. The 2003 release of Deep Space Nine replicated that pattern and produced all of its seven seasons between February and December of that year.
With Voyager, we get to do it all again! Unless Armageddon comes, Paramount will make sure that its fans get buy all seven of its seasons by the time 2004 comes to a close. Without any further ado, let’s plow through Season One’s 15 programs. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they appear on the DVDs.
Back on DS9, we learned of Federation colonists on along the Cardassian border who didn’t like the Federation’s deal with the square-faced folks. Because of this, they formed a rebel group called the Maquis to work against the Cardassians. At the start of Caretaker, we see a Marquis ship get pursued by a Cardassian vessel and become apparently lost in an plasma wave.
After that, we head to a Federation penal settlement in New Zealand, where Starfleet Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) looks up prisoner Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). She knew Tom’s father and wants to offer the former Maquis member a job. She needs to head after the lost Maquis ship; it turns out her chief of security – the Vulcan Tuvok (Tim Russ) worked undercover on the craft. We find out that a former Starfleet officer named Chakotay (Robert Beltran) led the Maquis expedition in question; since Paris had conflicts with Chakotay, this ups the ante.
As does Paris’s Starfleet past, since we learn of his various problematic actions. The others on the Voyager don’t much care for him, but Paris befriends the new operations officer, Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang).
During their pursuit, the Voyager hits its own energy wave; this leaves many crewmembers dead and the ship in ruins as it also transports them to the other side of the galaxy. As the crew tries to fix things, they get transported themselves and end up in holographic simulation of a quaint, rural 20th century countryside.
After some weirdness, eventually the crew ends up back on the Voyager, minus Kim. The Maquis group also loses their engineer, B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson). The two sides join together to find their missing crew and generally piece through their situation.
Like the prior Trek pilot episodes, “Caretaker” bites off a little more than it can chew. These debut programs always want to make a Big Impact and they usually try too hard. Nonetheless, “Caretaker” opens the series with a reasonably interesting piece. The plot takes an awful lot of twists and turns but offers some charm and spark to make it a nice beginning to the series.
“Caretaker” sets up the series’ premise, as the Voyager gets stuck 70,000 light years from home in some uncharted portion of the galaxy. It brings on the Maquis as part of the crew; Chakotay becomes first officer, and trader Neelix (Ethan Phillips) and his girlfriend Kes (Jennifer Lien) come on board as well. Since I never saw an episode of Voyager before I plopped this DVD in my player, I wondered how it set itself apart from prior series – now I guess I know!
Footnote: “Caretaker” continues a Trek tradition. When Next Generation debuted, the first episode featured a cameo from an original series regular in the person of Dr. McCoy. DS9 opened with a guest spot from Next Generation’s Captain Picard. For “Caretaker”, we find a cameo from DS9’s Quark (Armin Shimerman).
Problems related to the intergration of the Maquis and Starfleet crews crop up during Parallax. These flare when B’Elanna pops Lt. Carey in the snoot after they argue in engineering. Chakotay recommends B’Elanna for the job as chief engineer, but Janeway favors Carey. The ship encounters a vessel trapped in an event horizon, and the task of getting it out sets up a competition between the two engineering candidates. Matters get odder when they try to depart to get help but it appears that the spatial distortion chases after them.
Although “Parallax” includes some of the clumsiest expository dialogue I’ve ever heard, it still fares well for a number of reasons. The story with the singularity seems intriguing, and the show also expands on the logical tensions between the melded crews. Overall, it’s a pretty good second episode.
The Voyager investigates a massive planetary detonation during Time and Again. They beam down to a planet on which all life has been obliterated. Kes thinks she had a mental vision of the catastrophe, while Paris and Janeway go through temporal displacement to see the planet prior to the event. There they need to figure out how to get back before the explosion happens – again.
Right after “Parallax”, it seems awfully soon to present another episode that deals with time-space fractures; in many ways, “Again” is a very similar story. It even presents a complication in which effect precedes cause. Still, the shows presents a fairly interesting tale, and it even tosses in a little action. This leaves it as a reasonably entertaining show.
In need of energy sources, the Voyager heads toward a rogue planetoid apparently rich in raw dilithium in Phage. Neelix points them toward it, so he goes on the away team to investigate. Bizarrely, parts of a station appear and a being attacks Neelix; in this incident, he beams out Neelix’s lungs. The crew checks out the mysterious situation on the planetoid while they rush to find the attacker and retrieve Neelix’s lungs.
Another episode with a ticking clock, and another episode where things aren’t what they seem. On their own, these last few shows have been interesting, but I must admit they seem to recycle some of the same ideas over and over again. Taken on its own, “Phage” offers a reasonably solid show, and it gets more intriguing when we meet the aliens who attacked Neelix. Nonetheless, it’d be good to get something without some of these same concepts.
Once again, the Voyager goes off in search of alternate energy sources in The Cloud. Inevitably, funk stuff occurs when they inside the nebula in question; after they penetrate a barrier, particles attach themselves to the ship and draw off energy. B’Elanna examines the residue of the barnacles and makes an intriguing discovery. In the meantime, Kim and Paris enjoy some time in the holodeck, while Chakotay helps Janeway get in touch with her “animal guide”.
I say this without knowing anything about what will happen on future episodes of the show: if Janeway and Chakotay don’t hook up at some point during the series, I’ll be shocked. Much of “Cloud” seems silly. The whole “animal guide” part was lame, and the relationship between Paris and Kim appears forced; I initially thought they offered little more than a feeble attempt to replicate the O’Brien/Bashir chemistry from DS9, and putting them in the holodeck makes the two pairs come across as even more similar. By the way, with such severe energy rationing at work on the ship, doesn’t their little escape seem like a waste?
The main plot of “Cloud” doesn’t go much of anywhere. The show’s focus remains on character development, so the story becomes secondary. “Cloud” doesn’t broaden the participants terribly well and feels like a self-conscious attempt to open things up without a satisfactory telling.
Ensign Kim thinks he’s found a wormhole in Eye of the Needle. Since this might allow the Voyager to get home more quickly, they go out of their way to investigate. It turns out to be too tiny for them to fly through, so they send a microprobe through it. The probe gets stuck, but it attracts attention from some mystery being at the other end. Eventually the Voyager establishes contact with someone in the Alpha Quadrant, and the show follows those developments.
It’s too early to tell, but I get the feeling that Voyager will be the most touchy-feely of the various Trek series. Perhaps that’s a predictable response to the presence of a female captain. In any case, despite some mushy moments, “Needle” provides some intrigue. Actually, it’s kind of a Gilligan’s Island episode, as we see the Voyager crew tempted by the possibility of rescue that we as viewers know won’t work since it’d end the series. Still, it’s entertaining, and it includes some interesting twists.
Ex Post Facto works in flashback. At the start, we find out that Paris apparently killed someone and then got stuck with an unusual sentence: every 14 hours, he has to experience how his victim felt at the end. Then we see Kim as he returns on a shuttle from a mission to meet with some Delta Quadrant aliens. Kim tells the crew what happened, so we see the events in flashback that led to Paris’s apparent act of murder and then the Voyager’s interactions with the alien species to work out things.
With the unusual punishment and the way the aliens gather evidence, “Facto” has some good moments. The story’s told fairly well, as it uses flashbacks in an intriguing way to expand the tale. It also offers a good mystery; it doesn’t further the series’ overall arc, but it’s an entertaining diversion.
Ensign Kim discovers a new element in Emanations. However, it turns out that this element comes from some dead bodies. When some weird energy comes at the away team, a transporter retrieval fails to bring back Kim but captures a newly-deceased body. It turns out that the dead woman’s burial rite was interrupted and she got switched with Kim, who ends up in her sarcophagus. While the crew tries to investigate what occurred, we see Harry on the alien world as he finds out more about their culture.
”Emanations” may be the first really intriguing episode of Voyager. It explores religious beliefs and the concept of an afterlife in a very interesting fashion and creates a consistently compelling story. It doesn’t explore the topic in a heavy-handed manner, but it takes things on in a fairly challenging way.
The Voyager receives a distress call at the start of Prime Factors, but that’s because the other ship’s inhabitants believe the recipients are in distress. Gathorel Labin welcomes them to the system and comes aboard with gifts. He represents Sikaris, which basically seems to be a planet of really hospitable folks, and he invites them for a shore leave. While there, they discover the Sikarins have a transporter system that can beam subjects up 40,000 light years away. This might be enough to get them home, but the Sikarins’ beliefs won’t let them share the technology. The crew then tries to figure out a way to bargain with the Sikarins and get the use of the system.
”Factors” offers another interesting examination of some philosophical issues. It relates somewhat to the Prime Directive and the Starfleet belief in not violating other cultures. The temptations cause dissension and make this a fairly rich and layered tale.
Another distress signal hits the Voyager in State of Flux. It comes from the Kazon-Nistrim, a violent sect who attacked the crew earlier in the show when they picked vegetables on a planet. When they beam over and investigate, it looks like a piece of Federation technology caused the explosion on the Kazon ship. The episode follows their investigation and the trail of probable suspects.
That leads to Ensign Seska (Martha Hackett), a secondary character prior episodes already set up as a shifty personality. That factor works against the mystery here, as she seems like such an obvious suspect. “Flux” offers a generally entertaining show, but not a particularly clever one.
Kim goes missing in Heroes and Demons. The crew suspects he’s stuck in the holodeck, so Tuvok and Chakotay enter a Beowulf program to find him. They disappear as well, so no more real people can investigate. Instead, they send in the holographic ship’s doctor (Robert Picardo) to head into the story and get the needed information to rescue the missing crewmembers.
That last twist makes “Demons” a bit more interesting than usual. I’ve never much liked holodeck-based shows, but I enjoy the scenes with the Doctor, so his prominence here allows the program to become more entertaining. Otherwise, it’s a typical holodeck adventure.
When Cathexis opens, we see that Tuvok and Chakotay were attacked while in a shuttle. Tuvok comes through okay, but someone saps all of Chakotay’s bio-neural energy. If they hope to revive him, the Doctor needs to know more about what caused the attack, so the Voyager heads to the nebula where the incident occurred. This becomes more difficult than they expect, as some external force starts to control the ship for them. Interestingly, it makes it look like crewmembers are doing this, which causes tension and anxiety on the ship.
“Cathexis” goes down a fairly sinister path and offers the kind of program found more frequently on DS9. Unfortunately, this sort of tale doesn’t work as well with the Voyager crew. DS9 enjoyed a more natural sense of darkness that doesn’t seem to come as easily to the Voyager universe. “Cathexis” provides a serviceable mystery but it never becomes terribly interesting.
The aliens from “Phage” return in Faces. They capture a few crewmembers on an away mission and genetically alter B’Elanna to become purely Klingon. They feel she’ll be immune to the phage and want to infect her in hopes that they’ll find insight into a cure. In the meantime, a purely human version of B’Elanna shows up in the prison camp with the other crewmembers.
“Faces” also goes down a dark path, but it does so more smoothly than “Cathexis”. The Vidiians provide a nasty foe in look and deed, and they help make the show more interesting. The plot as a whole seems a little stale, especially when a crewmember undergoes a physical transformation to better blend in with the Vidiians. However, the show offers enough intriguing elements to make it a moderate success.
Neelix receives an emergency call from Dr. Ma’Bor Jetrel (James Sloyan), a Haakonian; that race slaughtered many of Neelix’s people. Jetrel invented a nasty weapon that led to many of those deaths, and the fallout inflicted a blood disorder on those who visited the attacked planet. It looks like Neelix has this disease, and the episode follows the results of this discovery.
A fairly obvious and heavy-handed episode, “Jetrel” suffers from a mix of flaws. For one, it offers a rather blatant allegory for the atom bomb, but it doesn’t open up the subject for much real introspection or a fresh take. It also presents some surprises that don’t surprise; it doesn’t seem tough to tell what path the plot will take. Add to that the concentration on Neelix – so far, my pick for Voyager’s most annoying character – and “Jetrel” sputters.
Season One of Voyager ends with Learning Curve. This episode spotlights the continuing issues related to the integration of the Maquis into Starfleet. Janeway assigns Tuvok to instruct some of the more consistently problematic former Maquis personnel in a mini Starfleet Academy crash course. He finds this difficult, despite much experience in training.
Virtually every season of Next Generation and DS9 ended with some sort of cliffhanger or Big Episode. It comes as a surprise that Season One of Voyager presents such a small and almost touchy-feely piece. It’s not a bad show, but it doesn’t do much to expand the characters, and it seems fairly predictable and slight.
Like DS9 and Next Generation, Voyager enjoyed a spotty but generally enjoyable first season. Some of the shows came across as lackluster and limp, and at least a few of the characters fail to deliver much dimension or intrigue yet. The friendship between Kim and Paris seemed particularly flawed. This appeared to be little more than an attempt to recreate the dynamic between O’Brien and Bashir from DS9, and it popped up so erratically that it was even more pointless.
However, a few parts of the series stand out as positive. For one, I rather liked Mulgrew’s performance as Janeway. So far, the series hasn’t developed the character very well, but Mulgrew did well nonetheless. She brought a level of depth and believability often absent in other Trek captains. Unlike Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks, she didn’t deliver every line like something from Shakespeare, and she offered a nice sense of warmth and humanity. Right now I feel very impressed with her take on the part.
The combination of Starfleet and Maquis on the same ship also created a moderately intriguing dynamic. The series didn’t explore this terribly well, but at least it led some of the main characters to display behavior unusual for Starfleet personnel. Chakotay seemed underdeveloped, but he displayed the potential for a more rugged and forceful officer than usual.
Probably the most interesting and different and enjoyable character came from Robert Picardo’s Doctor. The series’ first active non-existent character, he got to act in ways very unusual for the personalities, and he made the Doctor wonderfully wry, snippy and amusing. The Doctor was much more fun than I expected and provided much of the series’ charm so far.
I know that Voyager suffers from the lowest level of general fan support of the various Trek series, but the first season came across as reasonably entertaining. It didn’t offer many standout shows, but it also displayed only a smattering of duds. I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.