Funny. I started the Deep Space Nine reviews thinking I would only need to pop one in once in a while, believing Jimmy and I would finish the Next Generation chats long before I got to the end of the Dominion War. Now I am done DS9, and Jimmy and I still have a full season plus a couple episodes of Next Generation to go.
As such, I might as well start Voyager. I had planned to anyway.
Voyager is kind of an odd duck of a show, or at least it was when it first came on. I watched the first few seasons as they aired on the fledgling UPN network, but at a certain point, I just stopped. I don’t know why off-hand, but I suspect it was due to the fact that the characters, for the most part, didn’t really grab me. And yes, I stuck around long enough to get to Seven of Nine. There was nothing about Voyager I didn’t like on the one hand, but there also wasn’t enough to compel me to keep coming back for more. I did tune in for the final episode, but there were a whole lot in-between I missed. It wasn’t appointment TV for me like TNG was.
Then again, I more or less skipped DS9 entirely. So, until I started this project, I had seen more of Voyager than I had DS9.
Enterprise is its own thing, and I’ll get to that eventually.
However, this is the pilot episode, and while it has some pilot-episode wonkiness (like how B’Elanna Torres says she’s half-Klingon), it still mostly works to introduce the main characters for the first (and to date only) Star Trek series to start off with a woman captain as the main character (near as I can make out, Discovery‘s Michael Burnham is not a captain, as least when the series starts). It also looks more racially diverse than other Star Trek shows from that period , and this is a franchise that has always (and rightfully) prided itself on its multiracial casts.
The premise also suggested something that never happened on Star Trek: there would be tensions between the crew and they wouldn’t always get along. With the remains of s Starfleet crew and a Maquis crew forced to join forces to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, it would be expected that the two crews would clash, and they do…at least a little bit. From what I can recall, the clashes between the two crews wasn’t something that last very long, and Maquis commander Chakotay settles into his role as Katherine Janeway’s first officer rather quickly. Still, the idea was there, and it wasn’t like all the characters get along.
That’s mostly limited to how Neelix, a local of the Delta Quadrant, clearly annoys Vulcan security officer Tuvok.
I could probably write most of this column just about Tuvok, honestly. Actor Tim Russ had appeared in numerous Star Trek episodes as different characters, including a Klingon and a human, and one of those appearances is even somewhat repurposed for an episode down the road. But here I think he’s noteworthy for a few reasons. First, he’s the first Vulcan main cast member to appear in any Star Trek since Spock. Second, he’s the first Vulcan not to be played by a white person. Third, he’s not the science officer or the first officer but the security officer. And finally, he’s already Janeway’s friend.
As for Janeway, she’s tough, firm, and seems like a good commanding officer, someone who knows when she has to make a change to get the best chance of success, but also someone who left a fiance and a dog behind on Earth after going on what should have been a routine shakedown cruise with a simple mission to find a missing Maquis ship, one that Tuvok was already undercover on. So, one stop at Deep Space Nine (complete with a Quark cameo), and it’s off to an unexpected trip to the Delta Quadrant.
That said, while this extra-long pilot does a good job of introducing all the characters, be it naive Ensign Harry Kim or the aforementioned comic relief Neelix and his out-of-his-league Ocampa girlfriend Kes, if anything, this is Tom Paris’s episode.
That makes a certain amount of sense. Robert Duncan McNeill had appeared in a memorable episode of TNG, and the only reason he’s Tom Paris and not that guy with a nearly identical backstory was apparently a desire not to pay royalties to the TNG writer every time McNeill’s character appeared on the show. So, give him a new name and toss him in, the fish out of water, the former Maquis who isn’t really all that beloved by either group, but who bonds with Harry almost immediately, if for no other reason than Harry was the only member of the crew who didn’t look down his nose on the guy Janeway got out of prison to act as a consultant before he was elevated to helmsman. Conveniently, all the Starfleet members of the crew who looked at Paris like something they scraped off the bottom of their shoes die in-transit to the Delta Quadrant. Paris seems to rub Chakotay the wrong way, and some of Paris’s commentary about Chakotay’s American Indian heritage probably hasn’t aged well. That Chakotay seems more upset to see Paris than learn Tuvok was a spy is telling.
And then, to top it all off, there’s the Doctor, an Emergency Medical Hologram, and an easy break-out character played by the generally delightful character actor Robert Picardo. Equal parts condescending and worried, the Doctor was something I didn’t see coming, especially as the officer he replaced, the original ship’s medical officer, was as nameless as he is.
So, with their original possible way home destroyed, and having made enemies already of the Kazon (that seem like Klingon knock-offs to me anyway), the USS Voyager has what could be a 75 year journey home. But they have a full crew made up of miscellaneous Starfleet and Maquis crewmembers, plus whatever Neelix, Kes, Paris and the Doctor count as, a mandate to explore while they go, and a clear destination. This is going to be a long, episodic journey through who-knows-how-many write-ups, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Besides, I don’t think it will take me 75 years to write these episodes up.