Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

For a show about a starship flying more or less in a straight line for seven years, it's a shame that Star Trek: Voyager progressed so little.

It's really not that hard to watch the last episode straight after the first one, in fact it's probably a better idea. I mean okay, so they've lost one castmember (Kes) and gained a replacement (Seven of Nine), but that's about it. There's the odd romance and child floating around the ship's corridors, but nothing to really make you put on a Scooby voice and exclaim in incomprehension "Hurrr?????"

Even in tone. Sorry to say, but I thought that Star Trek: Voyager hit the ground crawling, and never quite figured out how to walk.

It's a tremendous shame, for the show went into production during such an infuriatingly potential-filled planetary alignment of all the different Star Trek realms at the time. The movie Star Trek: Generations was getting made, promising to at last bring together the casts of the original series and The Next Generation. The weekly TV series Deep Space Nine was also currently in production. And the pilot for this new show Star Trek: Voyager was shooting too, and all of these properties were being overseen by the same few executive producers.

You gotta admit, the crossover potential here was a marketing man's, and a writer's, not to mention a Star Trek viewer's, dream. To bring Kirk's crew and Picard's crew together on Deep Space Nine just as the USS Voyager was setting out, and have them all encounter a common enemy together, and each from their own perspective, was nothing short of obvious.

Star Trek could have laid in a course to become the hottest property of the year.

In the event though, all the Voyager pilot show Caretaker could muster was a single brief cameo by Quark. Yes, Quark. The barman from Deep Space 9. That's it. What's that? Everyone/everything else would have been too expensive? What - with all those sets and costumes etc. getting reused in all four? And I thought Star Trek was all about how you should reach for the stars...

Anyway, they didn't even try.

As a result, that very first Voyager story was pretty straightforward, which might have been merely disappointing, had the plot not rotated around such an enormous black hole.

Having travelled to a very distant quadrant of space (the Delta Quadrant), the crew of the USS Voyager decide to break the Prime Directive to blow up the array that is their only means of getting back home. If, during this episode, you found yourself hopelessly shouting at your TV set the words "timer detonation, woman, timer detonation!!!", then you probably found that you continued to shout such suggestions over the course of much of the next seven years.

Almost as bad as being asked to root for characters who couldn't even think of the obvious, was the series' premise: that the crew of this Starship were to spend the next seventy years flying back home towards the Alpha Quadrant. You could be forgiven for assuming that this isolated set-up precluded Star Trek's tendency to introduce a new crewmember who had never appeared in the series before, but no. Out there in very deep space, week after week, for seven years, no end of Ensign so-and-so's would keep on showing up out of nowhere, while the ever-silent extras continued to get passed over.

I also doubt that there was a single viewer anywhere in the world who wasn't fully aware of the futility of the Voyager crew's hope to one day make it home. Specifically that they were all doomed to fail, every single week, until whenever the series finally got cancelled. As mentioned above, in the end we had to wait a long seven seasons for that happy event, and when that last episode Endgame finally did arrive, the writers never even showed us it. All those family reunions that we were supposed to have been rooting for? Nah, we got fewer than 20 sentences back home within less than two minutes at the end of the final scene. Terrible. What a waste of seven years.

Today I found myself rewatching this final instalment on Australian TV. (6/10 – I can't believe Paramount actually wanted their company name on this one) With it I am disappointed to have previously in the UK sat through an incredible 172 episodes of this intergalactic snail. Although Captain Janeway developed into quite a brilliant strategist - forever revealing that she had earlier anticipated a development and planned for it - most stories were still the definition of formulaic. Occasionally the direction was embracing. Trek movie director Jonathan Frakes figured out what he was doing on this series, such as with the episode Parturition. Some of the comedy lightened the mood enough to make the rest palatable, particularly thanks to Ethan Phillips as Neelix, and Robert Picardo as the nameless Doctor.

Well, he was usually nameless. Every so often we would get an episode when he was trying out a name. On 7th September 1996 in the UK, the ITV review show Movies, Games And Videos was interviewing Picardo about the latest release, when they suggested that he name himself after their presenter - "Doctor Steve Priestley".

Robert Picardo: "Doctor Steve Priestley would be a wonderful name. It does not inspire much respect however. The name Steve Priestley sounds a bit like, y'know, someone who's earnest, but, slightly foolish."
Steve Priestley [IN VOICE-OVER]: "Cheers, mate, I'll just keep my ideas to myself from now on..."

That high-spirited moment contained more joy than any other in the whole seven year run.

The thing is, I never thought that Star Trek: Voyager ever made an episode that was great, but now and then they did come out with one that was merely good, and genuinely enjoyable with it.

My list of these is quite short, but for the sake of giving this critical article a slightly kinder backbone, here they are:

#37: Deadlock

The ship and crew get duplicated, one ship in perfect condition and the other in tatters. At the end of the episode, it's the one in tatters that survives. I remain mightily impressed at this conclusion, which is apparently significantly more impressed than the writer of the following week's episode was.

#50-51: Future's End

The obligatory two-parter set in the present day. Great fun!

#75: Scientific Method

A clear anti-animal experiment message as the sickening crew slowly realise that they are test subjects for aliens who they cannot see.

#106 Bride of Chaotica!

Season five's comedy episode, set extensively within a holodeck program representing an old 1950s sci-fi movie. This one's really notable though for not featuring any threat to the crew. I think this is also the one when Tom Paris gets a terribly smug line about how rubbish continuity was in that genre. Well, maybe he should take a look at his real life sometime. Still, at least this time it's not a holographic projection of a 3D movie house... :)

#124: Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy

A rare thing indeed for any version of Star Trek - an on-the-quiet parody of Doctor Who. The opening daydream scene is probably the finest scene in the entire seven-year run, and shows just how hip and subtle this series could have been on a regular basis, if only real events had been portrayed with this much wit. At the show's climax, the Doctor really just needs to offer the Sontarans Hierarchy a jelly baby.

#132: Blink Of An Eye

They encounter a planet on which time moves much more quickly than where they are in orbit. As a result, the episode shows us an entire civilisation rising up over millennia, as all the while Voyager hangs silently in the sky, visible to all. Until it starts getting shot at.

#144: Life Line

With the final season approaching, the Doctor's program is transmitted back to Earth to treat his dying programmer. This is one of those episodes when I have to admit defeat regarding my dislike of Star Trek's human emotion content. Normally I hate the standard plot about one of the male characters not getting along with his dad, but this one is performed with such life, especially by Robert Picardo in a flawless dual role, that I just loved this. I recall that my own dad had recently passed away when we watched this, which no doubt also made this one special for me. My favourite episode.


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