The time has come. After having seen multiple times The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and just once The Original Series, thanks to EvilAle e bad karma… ehm, that is, thanks to 2018 Santa Claus, now it’s the turn of Star Trek: Voyager!
I’ll admit it straight away: I’ve seen little of Star Trek: Voyager and the little I’ve seen hasn’t convinced me. But, for an introduction to my trekkie side, I refer you to the introduction of my TOS mission, and here let’s start at warp speed 9.975 to talk about Voyager!
When the Voyager series was created in 1995, the Star Trek was in great shape. Just the year before, the last season of The Next Generation had ended, with the Enterprise D launched in a series of feature films that began with Generations in 1994. And Deep Space Nine was already in its third season, ready to embark on a series of spectacular episodes with virtually no major drops in quality leading to the wonderful finale of the seventh and final season. So, when veterans Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor created Voyager, they knew what to do. And it shows! There are many well thought out ideas behind the construction of this series, many of which are evident since the excellent pilot episode. So, what didn’t I like about Voyager? Well, hardly any of the characters had caught my attention, and that is key in a series like this… but now I have the opportunity to explore the whole product and, possibly, change my mind!
Let’s start with the pilot (double) episode: Caretaker.
Season 1, First Episode: Caretaker
This is a really well structured pilot. After all, this was the fourth series of the brand chronologically and it’s clear that it fits perfectly into the Star Trek universe which, at the time, was working so well. Let’s start from the plot of Caretaker.
The USS Voyager, a new Intrepid-class ship, is sent on a mission to the Badlands near Deep Space Nine to search for a Maquis ship which went missing (the Maquis are former Federation colonists who rebelled against the treaty with the Cardassians). Voyager’s security officer, the Vulcan Tuvok (Tim Russ), was undercover aboard the Maquis ship and Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is ready to do anything to save him. In order to carry out the mission, she firstly goes to a penal colony in New Zealand to personally recruit Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), a prodigy pilot who’s serving a sentence for causing an accident very similar to the one that cost cadet Locarno his place in the Starfleet Academy. Add to this the fact that McNeill interpreted Locarno in the beautiful TNG episode The First Duty and, well, Tom Paris is Locarno. So here’s a character which is already known to TNG fans.
As soon as the mission starts, though, things go very wrong for Voyager. Caught into the same anomaly that also caused the Maquis ship to disappear, she finds herself catapulted from the Alpha quadrant to the Delta quadrant in a matter of seconds. And that means that it’s 75 years away from home at full speed! But there are hopes of returning sooner than that: there’s a space station that appears to be responsible for bringing the two ships here, and so perhaps there’s a way to send them back! The investigation of a possible solution brings about various interesting developments: there’s a very powerful being on the station who’s keeping an entire population (the Ocampas) alive and safe on a nearby planet, that being, the Caretaker, is dying, and above all the crews of the two enemy ships must work together to find a solution.
That’s when we get to know the two Maquis Chakotay (Robert Beltran), a Starfleet renegade, and the half human half Klingon B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), enfant prodige of engineering but too undisciplined for the Academy. Little by little, all the main characters are introduced, such as Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and the splendid and grumpy Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) played by Robert Picardo and for now known only by the name of “Doctor“. The episode does a remarkable job in introducing all these characters, despite the limited time available! I immediately noticed the potential for conflict, a trick already used in DS9, in this case rooted in the presence of the two crews forced to travel together.
And then there are other well-known and reliable Star Trek stereotypes: Tom Paris is the self-confident handsome womanizer (following in the footsteps of Captain Kirk, William T. Riker, and Julian Bashir). The emotionless officer is Tuvok (not unlike Spock, Data, and to some extent Odo, whose uniqueness is reflected in the holographic doctor). Neelix, played by Ethan Phillips, is the outsider (I see him as a sort of Quark). In full Picard style, Captain Janeway tries not to be emotionally attached to his crew. There’s even a being with supernatural powers: the Caretaker has something of TNG’s Q and the DS9’s Prophets)… in short, we are on solid ground here! And I can almost foresee the character arcs that the creators of the series had in mind when creating the crew!
Despite this, the episode has some pretty obvious flaws. The final resolution, for example, is very hasty: surely there were better solutions than firing torpedoes at the space station. Why did Janeway do that? Ok, the meeting with Neelix leads Voyager to clash with the Kazons to save the beautiful Kes (Jennifer Lien), an Ocampa hostage of the Kazons who are looking for water. And here’s a first flaw: the Kazons have starships comparable to those of Starfleet, and yet they cannot create water or find it anywhere. A bit strange, but let’s accept it… The problem for Janeway is that they rapidly corner Voyager and are about to get their hands on the Ocampas’ water.
Here maybe some negotiations could have helped. The Captain could have tried to reach an agreement avoiding a war between these two races, or simply negotiate a few hours on the space station to be able to use it to return to the Alpha quadrant (and then maybe destroy it in the process, if Janeway really didn’t trust the Kazons). In short, a little diplomacy à la Picard! Instead, Janeway says something stupid about the Prime Directive (which no longer applies because they were already involved in the affairs of these peoples) and destroys the station and, with her, the hopes of going back home. I found it a little too rushed.
On the other hand, the expedient of destroying the Maquis ship, sacrificed by Chakotay to save Voyager, unites the two crews and provide material for cool stories and possibly infinite conflict, which is nice. As I wrote above, some thought went into this pilot! At the same time, perhaps it would have been more effective to extend the period of non-acceptance of the Maquis on the part of the Voyager crew. After all, their mission was to bring the Maquis to court!
In any case, Caretaker is a great start to this series. There are many promising things, some others which could have been better, but what matters is that now we are on a damaged ship, 75 years away from the Alpha quadrant, with a crew split in two, looking for energy and for a solution to go back home. Not a bad start to the story! Ciao!
PS: Voyager’s opening theme deserves is amazing! It was composed by none less than Jerry Goldsmith, who worked on Alien, Gremlins, and a couple of Star Trek films!
PPS: Picard’s Enterprise was used to launch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the pilot episode The Emissary, and here it was a pleasure to see Quark (and Morn!) to begin Voyager’s journey! Quark is used very effectively to introduce the naive Harry Kim, I expect him to change a lot in the next seven years of adventures!
PPPS: Garrett Wang recently stated on the The Delta Flyers podcast that one of the contenders for the role of Harry Kim was none other than Ke Huy Quan, known for his roles in The Goonies (1985) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)!
Next episode: Parallax