Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek Primer Vol. 6

The Premise

Following the cancellation of Voyager and Deep Space Nine, as well as the failure of multiple TNG films, Paramount green-lighted one more Star Trek series in a desperate attempt to revitalize the franchise. Feeling that Star Trek was growing ever more out of touch with contemporary audiences, it was felt that rather than continue in the time of TNG/DS9/Voyager or even go to the generation after that, the series would take place at the beginning... before the beginning, really, to the years leading up to the founding of the United Federation of Planets.

I didn't watch this series when it first aired. I watched the pilot and about two other episodes, but after sitting through Voyager, I was done with Star Trek. I only watched it recently after the series was canceled; I was unemployed and bored as humanly possible.

Paramount's biggest problem was bringing back Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. If a franchise is failing, you shouldn't have it run by someone who thinks of change as a bad thing. They brought all of the same problems from Voyager including inadequate character development, uninspired plots, and a stubborn avoidance of long-term plot development.

My feeling was that the only reason to do a prequel is to show how things got to where they are in the original. This would naturally suggest the beginning of the United Federation of Planets and a focus on relations with pre-established alien races (mostly from the original series) especially the Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans. While the show touches on these ideas in a few episodes, its mainly devoted to the same kind of space meandering and random weird happenings which fans were getting a little tired of. Random weirdness stories only work when they force you to question something about the character, their world, or the nature of reality.

To top it off, the show was burdened with the most unnecessarily complicated plot device I've ever heard: the temporal cold war. Don't ask me how a "temporal cold war" works. I'm certain that the writers didn't have a clue. I'm actually pretty sure that a cold war has to take place in one time period since the "cold" part refers to a mutual build up of military forces over time. Worst of all, this element is introduced in the very first episode and dominates the loose plotline that holds together the first three seasons.

By the third season, the series was facing cancellation, so the Berman and Braga introduced an unprovoked attack that destroyed most of Florida, killing millions of people. Meant to echo the World Trade Center attack, Enterprise entered unknown space to prevent a second attack which, they are assured, will completely destroy the Earth. Again, to echo modern politics, the Enterprise was loaded with an elite group of marines referred to as MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations).

While this story arc became a much needed guiding force in an unfocused series, the writers gave us something that no one was looking for. We didn't need Star Trek to tell us what it is like to be in a complex war with an undefined enemy. We didn't need an elite assault force to sell more video games and action figures. And no one asked for another poorly defined alien species with lots of CGI. To their credit, this storyline eventually represented their opponents as a complex mixture of good, frightened people and mustache-twirling insectoid villains, but by then, it was too little, too late.

In the fourth season, Berman and Braga were finally removed from the reigns of the franchise to the delight of... whoever was still watching... dozens, at least. They were replaced by Manny Coto whose very first order of business was to put to rest the temporal cold war plotline, which he accomplished in the two-part season premiere. Afterward, he organized a series of multi-part episodes mostly meant to establish Star Trek history and feature fan favorite races or ideas. In short order, he re-introduced the Romulans, showed a Vulcan coup d'etat, explained why TOS Klingons don't look like other Klingons, brought back genetically engineered humans (remember Khan?), and returned to the mirror universe of Mirror, Mirror and multiple DS9 episodes.

Although the show still had many of the flaws from the previous seasons, it was a huge improvement which indicated that the show (and maybe even the franchise) was finally headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, it was again too little, too late and the show was canceled after its fourth season.


Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula)

As much as I am a fan of Quantum Leap, I admit to being a bit disappointed when I found out that the latest incarnation of Star Trek was to feature another white American male in the captain's chair. Sure, it was a practical necessity in 1966, but in 1987, they had the ship commanded by a bald, old French guy with an English accent. I suppose they figured that once they had a black captain and a woman captain, it was time to repeal Affirmative Action.

Again, though I like Scott Bakula a lot, Jonathan Archer was a hollow shell echoing the philosophies of captain's past. In keeping with the series premise, he has the air of an astronaut about him rather than the naval qualities that defined previous captains. Consequently, his interactions with Starfleet feel more like the bureaucracy of NASA than the utopian freedom of being a Federation captain.

Sub-Commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock)

Replacing the gratuitous cheesecake that Jeri Ryan provided as Seven of Nine, Jolene Blalock similarly delivered a great performance despite the shameless and pathetic way that she was used to boost the show's ratings. T'Pol was originally supposed to be T'Pau, the revered Vulcan leader from the classic TOS episode Amok Time, but like Nick Locarno, the character was established by another writer so royalties would have to be paid. T'Pol is assigned to Enterprise by the overly protective Vulcan High Command to report back on their progress. At times, the other officers see her as a spy, but gradually she comes to resign her commission and join Starfleet. Like Seven, however, she never gets to wear a proper uniform. I was surprised to learn later that Jolene Blalock really enjoyed being on Star Trek, but she was frequently bothered by the poor quality of the scripts.

Cmd. Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer)

Possibly my favorite character from the new cast, Trip is Archer's best friend and engineer who exhibits many of the same "astronaut" characteristics as the captain. This is further reinforced by his down home, country accent. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint what I like about this character. Most likely, it's a case where the actor is imparting his own character to the role, but if I had to guess, I would say that, like McCoy, Trip's folksy charm make him seem more contemporary and relateable. When writers realize it, they tend to put the character in more emotional situations so that the viewer is more likely to empathize.

Lt. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating)

The tactical officer of the ship, Reed comes from a long-line of British Naval officers and brings all of that uptightness on the ship. I don't know much more I can say about him. They did an entire episode about him being a private person, which is not a proper replacement for a personality. Originally, he was supposed to be the first openly gay character in a major Star Trek show, but this never developed. I admit, I saw a glimmer of Reed's potential within his British seriousness, but that's all that ever came of it.

Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery)

Ensign Geordi Le Kim returns in the latest part of the franchise so that he can add absolutely nothing to it. To me, there are two types of offensive portrayals of minorities. The first is a magnification of perceived racial difference without understanding the culture that it comes from. A great example is blaxploitation. The second is a "white washed" character where all traits of racial or cultural individuality are removed thereby making them incredibly bland. The embarrassingly named "Travis Mayweather" is the latter.

Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park)

Bringing back the TOS role of the Communications Officer, Ensign Sato is a savant with unnaturally developed linguistic skills. Since the universal translator is still being developed, she occassionally has to figure out the aliens are saying herself. If this sounds dull, it's because it is. For the most part, its hard to enjoy a show like Star Trek if you have to make sense of things like "universal translators," so Hoshi rarely had much to do on the starship Enterprise.

Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley)

When I saw Dr. Phlox I immediately thought, "Oh god, not another Neelix," but after a while, the character grew on me. Unlike most of the aliens in Star Trek, he often has a very different point of view, particularly regarding medical ethics. My favorite aspect of this character is that he comes from a polygamous society. He has three wives who also have three husbands. In one episodes, one of his wives visits the ship and flirts with Trip, who is incredibly uncomfortable by the whole situation. Phlox just laughs and tells him that he is missing out. It was nice to see Star Trek return to the simple ideas that made it work: using alien races to represent alien ideas so that we can address issues that are normally too taboo to discuss honestly.

The Others

Ambassador Soval (Gary Graham)

Representing the Vulcan High Command as its ambassador to Earth, Soval is often criticized for holding back humanity but he can sometimes be seen as Earth's strongest advocate. Gary Graham delivers a consistently strong performance which isn't always easy when playing a character without emotions.

Commander Shran (Jeffrey Combs)

Returning to the world of Star Trek is one of my favorite actors to grace the franchise, Jeffrey Combs. As Shran, he also represents one of the classic races from the original series: the Andorians. Established in the TOS episode Journey to Babel, the Andorians were most notable for their antennae which were incredibly stiff and fake looking, so they were rarely seen until Enterprise when micro-technology enabled them to create antennae which could move. Shran is a great character who is highly honorable, despite his paranoia and obedience to a sometimes less than honorable government.

The Episodes

Like Voyager, there is a lot of bad Enterprise so if you don't want to watch an entire series, you can easily pick out a few, and like the original series, there aren't many seasons to go through.

Broken Bow

The pilot episode of Enterprise had a lot going for it. Despite the temporal cold war plot, the episode breaks from standard Star Trek direction and music. There is even a shootout, which is fairly uncommon in Star Trek. I got really excited when this episode first aired. Despite my misgivings, the fact that they were changing the now tired style of Star Trek music and direction really gave me hope for the series as a whole. You can imagine my disappointment when I watched the next episode and found out that it was a complete return to business as usual.

The Andorian Incident

Perhaps the one early episode that had long-term implications, this episode features T'Pol inviting Archer and Trip to the sacred Vulcan monestary of P'Gem, but when they get there, they discover the monks have been taken hostage by Andorians who believe that the monestary is hiding long-range surveillance equipment used to spy on Andorian space. This is the episode that introduces Commander Shran. I won't spoil the ending, but it is surprising, logical, and has long reaching effects across the series.

Dear Doctor

One thing that Enterprise occassionally did really well was demonstrate the importance of the Prime Directive by showing us the difficult moral decisions faced by Captain Archer when interacting with other races. As of this point in the Star Trek timeline, the Prime Directive does not exist, but references are often made regarding the need for such a moral guideline. In this episode, Enterprise encounters a race facing extinction due to a brutal outbreak. The Enterprise goes to investigate and Dr. Phlox is put on the case. While there they discover two native races, one dominant and infected, the other subservient and immune. Much of the crew is bothered by the inequality, but Phlox maintains that you can not judge a culture you just met based on your own value system. When Phlox discovers the cure for the disease, the question is raised whether it is ethical to interfere in the development of another world when saving the dominant race may condemn the others to a future of subservience.

Cease Fire

Receiving a message from Commander Shran, the Enterprise is called to help resolve a dispute on planet currently being fought over by Vulcan and Andorian forces. Archer convinces Shran to talk with Ambassador Soval, but their shuttle gets shot down during the cease fire by an Andorian acting against Shran's orders. Surviving the crash, Archer, Soval, and T'Pol must make their way across the now active warzone to Shran and convince him that his first officer has been conspiring to stop the peace talks.


After defending refugees from a hostile Klingon ship, Archer is captured by the Klingons and held on trial for crimes against the empire. J.G. Hertzler (General Martok from DS9) plays the role of Archer's lawyer who laments that their people have lost their way by becoming thugs with no sense of honor. Archer encourages him to fight for what he believes in. Despite how much it rips off Star Trek VI and has a ridiculously simple solution in the end, it is unique in its look at a Klingon society before they became entirely militaristic.


This is another episode that demonstrates the importance of the Prime Directive and (more importantly) the danger of placing your cultural values on someone else... even to treat a serious injustice. The plot centers around Enterprise meeting a similarly peaceful race of explorers eager to exchange their cultures, but when Trip discovers they have a third gender which is considered inferior to the other two, he tries to teach it the value of sufferage.


A sequel of sorts to Star Trek: First Contact, this episode features the return of the Borg. Apparently, part of the Borg ship that exploded over the Earth in the early 21st century landed in the Arctic, leaving the few surviving Borg in suspended animation. When they are uncovered by an excavation team, they quickly regenerate and assimilate the excavation crew. After assimilating a small research vessel, they head toward the Delta quadrant to make contact with the rest of the Collective and naturally the pride of Starfleet is sent to intercept them. It's a fairly good action episode that works if you ignore all of the continuity issues it brings up.

First Flight

After receiving news of the death of a close friend, Archer flashes back to the days he and Trip spent working on the Warp 5 engine which would be used on Enterprise. Again, the episode evokes more of a contemporary view of space travel with much of the story taking place in the command center as Archer competes with his now dead friend for the position as captain of the Enterprise.


When Trip is seriously injured, Dr. Phlox uses a rare substance to create a perfect clone of Trip that will mature and die in fifteen-days, by which point Phlox would extract the organs necessary to save the life of his counterpart. The new Trip is soon born and becomes something of a child to the crew before growing into an exact copy of his counterpart. When he learns that there may be an experimental method to prolong his life, Phlox, Archer, and the clone must all make a very difficult decision regarding who has the most right to live.

Proving Ground

After being alone in a hostile region of space for half a year hunting down the Xindi for attacking Earth, Archer is surprised to be joined by his sometimes ally, Commander Shran, as the two work together to steal the prototype Xindi weapon, but their mission may fail if the two can't learn to work together. This episode is a favorite of mine for showing an Andorian ship and crew. Is it just me or are Andorian women pretty hot?


After capturing a high ranking Xindi official, Archer sets up an elaborate deception to convince him that three years have passed, Earth is destroyed, and the Xindi are in a period of civil war. It's a clever deception that focuses on ingenuity rather than technology. The strength of this episode is that normally your sympathies would be for the captive, but the deception is so paper thin that you are anxious to see if they can pull it off.

Borderland/Cold Station 12/The Augments

Featuring a guest appearance by Brent Spiner (TNG's Data) playing Data's creator's ancestor, Dr. Arik Soong. Soong is an infamous biologist who stole nineteen genetically augmented embryos to recreate the experiments which created men like Khan. After raising the augments on an alien world, Soong was arrested during a trip off planet and sent to prison on Earth, never telling anyone where he left the children. Ten years later, the children, now full grown adults, take over a Klingon battleship and set course for Cold Station 12 where the rest of the augments are still stored in their embryonic state. The Enterprise, of course, is assigned to stop them and to do so, Archer enlists the help of Dr. Soong.

The Forge/Awakening/Kir'Shara

When the Earth embassy on Vulcan is bombed, Enterprise is called to investigate. The investigation leads them to a radical sect of Vulcan spiritualists called the Syrranites, but the Syrranites deny responsibility. When their Syrran guide dies, he passes on the katra (or soul) of their ancient spiritual leader, Surak, to Archer. With the help of the Syrran leader T'Pau, Archer and T'Pol must find the real culprits and save the Syrranites from being wiped out by the High Command.

Despite being an integral part of the world of Star Trek since the beginning, this is the first real look we get at the planet Vulcan and it's culture.

Babel One/United/The Aenar

Enterprise is again called by Shran to help resolve a dispute between the Andorians and the Tellarites. A rogue ship operating on the Andorian/Tellarite border destroying military targets and both armies are accusing the other. Archer must work with the rudely blunt Tellarites and the paranoid Andorians to find the ship if the peace is to be maintained.


Dr. Phlox is kidnapped by Klingons desperate to stop a virulent virus from destroying the empire. They believe the key to eliminating it lies in Phlox's study of the augments, but his cure might just be a humiliation worse than death. It's the episode that explains why TOS Klingons don't look like other Klingons.

In A Mirror, Darkly

Aside from DS9, Enterprise features the only other appearance of the "mirror universe" that first appeared in the original series. It's a fun outing for all involved, with Archer as the most incompetent captain since Janeway mercilessly ruling the warship Enterprise. It's heavy handed cheese at it's best, but my personal favorite: a reappearance of the Gorn, last seen in the TOS episode Arena.


And that was Star Trek. I'll probably write a review for the new movie soon, but since it takes place in another universe, you may want to think of this "brief" review as the old Star Trek universe.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Early movie review: Star Trek

Since I don't have enough time before the movie to finish my gigantic Star Trek primer, I figured I should at least express my thoughts about the movie. So here are my thoughts:

I don't know.

It could suck. It could also be Star Trek's Batman Begins or Casino Royale. A good movie from an outside director has reinvigorated the franchise before, so why not again?

My fear is that the approach will be to favor action, explosions, and sex scenes over intellectual content. The Hollywood perspective on Star Trek is that it should be more like Star Wars, but as multiple bad movies have shown, without its intellectual introspection, it just doesn't work. For some reason, the mainstream of entertainment is so fucked up that intellectual content is considered a bad thing.

As for the casting, someone argued that Kirk, Spock, et al can be recast for the same reason that James Bond or Superman can be recast, but unlike those examples, Star Trek's characters were established by the actors who originally played them. James Bond is a guy in a tux and Superman is an icon, but Kirk is Shatner and Spock is Nimoy.

That said... eh. You have to be flexible. Hollywood does what it wants and you can cry and scream about it, or you can take it for what it is. For my money, Zachary Quinto was a great choice for Spock, John Cho playing Sulu is fantastic, but my favorite casting choice is Simon Pegg as Scotty. It would never have occurred to me, but I am a big fan of Pegg so I think he'll bring a lot to the role. As far as the other casting choices, I'll have to wait and see.

One thing that the producers rightly emphasized in interviews was Star Trek's uniqueness in the field of science fiction as an optimistic vision of the future. It may sound cheesy, but at a time like this, after the disaster that was the Bush administration and our current economic catastrophy, I'm really looking forward to returning to a world where things turned out okay.

I think we need to have fiction that represents the best in people, whether its the idealism of Star Trek or the altruism of superheroes. We have become so indulgent in petty our disputes; it's hard to turn on the TV without seeing someone (real or fictional) acting like a self-absorbed child. We need to start imagining people being good to each other for a change because life really does immitate art.

My favorite thing about this movie so far is that I really don't know what it is about. Despite all of the trailers I've seen, all I know is that this is the story of Kirk's first mission as captain of the Enterprise and his enemy is a Romulan. To me, this is kind of like Batman versus Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins. Rather than focusing on their most iconic opponent (Klingons/Joker), they are choosing a recognizable, powerful villain that has not been seen much in the past, particularly by a mainstream audience. This leaves them with the option of doing a Klingon story in the sequel without the added burden of "fixing the franchise" or establishing the characters.

Another surprising perk is the return of the original costumes. Ever since I heard about this project, I was wondering how they'd do the costumes. Never in a million years did I think they would go back to the original look, but with a few adjustments, it really works.

Star Trek Primer Vol. 5

When trying to understand why producers make the decisions they do, it is important to understand the business model of the television industry. Basically, they don't sell the program to you, they sell you to the advertisers. Advertising is all about finding your target demographic. Television is all about building a target demographic.

As TNG went off the air to pursue feature films, the remaining writing staff moved over to their new spin-off. It was important when creating a new series that it didn't seem too similar to Deep Space Nine, which was predominant a masculine show with their focus on war. Even the two women of the cast are both warriors, surpassing many of their male colleagues in combat ability.

To appeal to a primarily female demographic, Voyager was given a distinctly feminine flavor... so much so that I'm surprised people don't mention it more often. The captain is a Mid-Atlantic Victorian with an air of Kathryn Hepburn about her, the first officer is a rugged (and ultimately vapid) Native American, the helmsman is a young rogue, the engineer is hot-tempered young woman struggling to control her anger... and then there is Harry Kim who is the male equivalent of an ingenue. It's like a romance novel in space. Even the goddamn spaceship looks like a vagina! It's like an instruction manual to help nerds find the clitoris. (Just remember, "red alert" means go to the bridge.)

The Premise and The Problems

The pilot episode, The Caretaker, features the first mission of the USS Voyager when the newly commissioned ship is assigned to locate a Maquis raider lost in the Badlands, an area of space known for its large plasma fields that can hide or destroy a starship. Upon arriving, they are pulled by a mysterious all-powerful entity to the far side of the galaxy called the Delta quadrant. Even at full speed, it would take them seventy-five years to get home to the Alpha quadrant. In short order, the Maquis ship is destroyed, the all-powerful Caretaker dies, and Voyager is stranded on the other side of the galaxy headed home.

In season six, following the conclusion of Deep Space Nine, writer Ron Moore, who had also worked on TNG, moved over to the writing staff of Voyager. The experience was so profoundly bad that he actually explained it in great detail in other interviews. Public bitching is actually fairly uncommon amongst professional writers because the guy you are insulting today could be hiring tomorrow. You also don't want to get a bad reputation because writers in Hollywood are more disposable than toilet paper. So when a professional writer criticizes his boss, my ears perk up.

In a nutshell, I have to hold the responsibility for the fall of the franchise at the feet of producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Even before Roddenberry's death, Paramount groomed Berman as the successor to the franchise. Usually when studios choose a producer, they don't choose them for creative vision. They choose someone who works well with their corporate side and puts the bottom line ahead of their creative vision.

By most accounts, Berman was holding back the creativity of the series. By insisting on more episodic plots with an eye toward syndication, Berman created a show where very little changed over the course of the series. While this worked on a show like TNG whose premise involved encountering new things, Voyagers premise was based on being alone and far from home so the fact that the characters and ship seemed unphased from day-to-day really undermined the central premise.

Berman also instituted a constrained and uniform style of direction and score which contributed to the continuing marginalization of Star Trek, whose style had now grown a bit too familiar. It seems that he was worried that too much attention on the direction or music would detract from the script and the actors.

However, one of the biggest criticisms of Star Trek is laid at the feet of Brannon Braga, the show's co-producer, who was apparently the one who implemented a "don't ask, don't tell" policy in Starfleet. Normally I don't think there would be so much pressure to have a gay character on a show, but since Star Trek has had a policy of representing diversity and it had now produced four successful television shows and several movies, but never even made mention of homosexuality... well, you don't have to be gay to be offended by that. The effect was to suggest that homosexuality was, at best, a passing fad and there was no place for it in the future. By their inaction, they effectively perpetrated discrimination and provided a homo-free vision of the future to all young homophobes.

I think Moore hit the nail on the head when he says the biggest mistake the show made was in the pilot when the Maquis crew puts on Starfleet uniforms. It is a statement to the characters, actors, fans, and even other writers that this show would avoid conflict instead of embracing it. Rather than utilizing the strengths of the premise, the show consistently defuses these matters in the most unsatisfying of ways.

If one of the primary themes in DS9 is to challenge Federation idealism (Past Tense, Homefront/Paradise Lost, The Siege of AR-558), one of the primary themes in Voyager is a blind obedience to that same ideology (Alliances, Thirty Days, Equinox). It is a philosophy which resonates to the core of both shows, with Voyager continuing in the style of TNG while DS9 tried to establish itself apart from the old formula.

This also created a schism amongst fans which exists to this day. Voyager fans believe that the dark themes of DS9 essentially betrayed idealistic Utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry while DS9 fans believe that Rick Berman spent all of his time trying to recreate the magic of TNG instead of boldly going where no writer had gone before. (You can probably tell which side of the argument I fall on.) Of course, there was also a schism amongst hard core TNG fans who hated both of them. Then there were hard core TOS fans who hated all of the later stuff.

I think Futurama's Church of Star Trek is very possible, but it will be torn apart by violent disagreements about what should be considered canon. The separate denominations will then be loosely held together by a mutual fear and hatred of Star Wars.

The series also suffered from a few conceptual problems based on the premise. By having the series take place on the other side of the galaxy, it made it difficult to feature popular Star Trek races like the Vulcans or the Klingons. Also, because they were constantly headed away, they could not establish on-going relationships with races or individuals. It became increasingly unbelievable when they would encounter the same species year after year.

In the end though, I suppose I should be grateful that Voyager took place on the other side of the galaxy. When TNG ended, DS9 was essentially allowed to do whatever they wanted. If Voyager was set in the usual Star Trek world, it is unlikely that DS9 could have had the sort of epic plots that really made it stand out.


Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)

Continuing their tradition of promoting diversity, this series featured the first female captain in Kathryn Janeway. Mulgrew's performance always struck me as borrowing something from Katherine Hepburn, so if you like her, this might be a good sign that you'll like Janeway. Personally, Katherine Hepburn always struck me as both prudish and stuck up, so Janeway didn't fair any better.

Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran)

Possibly the most underutilized character in the series, Chakotay was supposed to be a rugged spiritualist but the stories captured the Native American spirit about as well as Disney's Pocahontas. There is one or two "vision quest" episodes, but if you asked me what he added to the show, I couldn't tell you. Frankly, I don't think it would have been the least bit different if he had died in the first season. The actor actually had to fight with the writing staff when he felt his character was both being neglected and inconsistently represented.

Lt. Cmd. Tuvok (Tim Russ)

Third in command on the starship Voyager is the first Vulcan in the regular cast since Spock. I always liked Tim Russ, although I'm not entirely certain why. There are plenty of clips out there of him pulling practical jokes on the set. I think that playing an emotionless character tends to bring out the prankster in actors. Unfortunately, I have to again state that I felt the character was underutilized and the writers didn't show us anything about Vulcans we hadn't seen before.

Lt. B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson)

Probably one of the better characters on the series, B'Elanna Torres is half-human and half-Klingon so she has a quick, violent temper that she is always attempting to control. Like most of the Maquis, she attended Starfleet Academy but dropped out when her temper got her in trouble. She and Chakotay represent the only two Maquis officers, and despite a few conflicts in the first season, they quickly integrate with the rest of the crew in a manner that makes you wonder why they had this element to begin with.

Lt. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill)

The son of Admiral Paris, McNeill was originally supposed to reprise his role as Nick Locarno from the TNG episode The First Duty, but when the producers realized they would have to pay royalties to that episode's writer, they changed his name to Tom Paris and came up with a rivalry between him and Chakotay. The character is little more than a stereotypical bad boy who isn't really bad. In later seasons, they developed his love of ancient 20th century entertainment which often provided an interesting perspective, but by and large, he was their Fonzie.

Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang)

Oh god, I hate Harry Kim. It's like they took Geordi and said, "How can we make him less interesting?" The show lasts for seven years with Kim supposedly being an integral part to the senior staff, but he never receives a promotion. For those not versed in the military ranking system, ensign is the lowest rank, right above cadet. Hell, Paris got demoted and promoted in the time it took Kim to do... nothing. He was a soulless void when the series began and he was exactly the same when it ended. A long walk out a short airlock would have done wonders...

The Doctor (Robert Picardo)

This is my favorite character by far. When Voyager's doctor dies, he is replaced by the ship's new Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH). Designed by Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, the EMH was designed for temporary use when the regular doctor is incapacitated. Because it wasn't designed for long-term use, he was programmed to be professional and efficient, but not particularly personable. As his program runs beyond its expectations, he starts to become a more complex individual by asking simple questions like "What do I want?" It's an interesting new twist to themes that were largely explored with Spock, Data, and Odo.

Neelix (Ethan Phillips)

When Voyager reached the other side of the universe, they quickly made new friends with the happy couple Neelix and Kes. Neelix billed himself as both chef and guide to this new region of space. Personally, I found the character extremely annoying. His dopishly upbeat manner frequently rubbed me the wrong way. Unlike Guinan, Quark, and Vic Fontaine, Neelix was really a host to be avoided. Even the crew was constantly mocking his cooking.

Kes (Jennifer Lien)

Neelix's committed girlfriend was very pixie-ish. She comes from a race with a lifespan of only 9 years and latent telepathic powers. Primarily, her role on the ship was as the nurse. Again, the word ingenue definitely applies as Kes had a child-like sense of wonder and optimism which was more than a little redundant on a Starfleet ship. Early in the fourth season, she was killed off to make room for...

Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan)

In order to bring up ratings and attract a larger male audience, the producers stuck a new pair of boobs on Voyager and quickly worked to form a plot around them. Lacking strong recognizable villains, Voyager encountered the Borg at the end of season three and abducted one of them in the process. Taking a play from the TNG playbook, they removed most of her Borg implants and made her a member of the ship. In all fairness, Seven of Nine was one of the better characters on the show, but her role quickly expanded and overshadowed the others. She was restricted to a skin-tight catsuit, instead of getting a uniform like the rest of the cast, just so they could show off her rack. Like the others, she basically did all of her character development early on and became a self-parody as the show went on.


Since Voyager put so much emphasis on being episodic, it is much easier to pick and choose your episodes than DS9. Like TOS or TNG, you can pretty much skip whatever you want and watch them in any order. Despite my misgivings about the show as a whole, there are quite a few really good episodes so I encourage you to watch any that sound interesting.

Future's End

This two-part episode from the third season features guest appearances by Ed Begley Jr. and Sarah Silverman. It's something of an homage to (or rip-off of) Star Trek IV since it features the crew traveling to present day Earth and trying to figure out how to blend in. Paris, the resident expert on 20th century Earth, muddles his dialog with old fashioned slang and out of date cultural references while Neelix and Kes become addicted to television.

Real Life

To get a sense of how normal people live, the Doctor creates an artificial family on the holodeck, but they end up a bit too perfect like a 1950s sitcom. When Torres offers to fix his program, he's left with a career oriented wife, a rebellious son, and a daughter with a love for dangerous games. Consequently, he needs to decide whether to "fix" his new family or deal with them as they are.


This was the formative episode that introduced Seven of Nine and the Borg to Voyager. Voyager makes a surprising alliance with the Borg to face a common enemy which they call Species 8472. Always pushing the boundaries of credibility, Voyager managed to prove itself roughly five times as resourceful as the entire Federation fleet which could barely defend Earth against one Borg cube. However, as of this episode, the Borg had not become such an overused plot device.

The Gift

Directly following Scorpion, The Gift refers to Seven of Nine who is liberated from the Borg collective by Captain Janeway. Jeri Ryan gives a great performance as she goes from drone with no sense of individuality into an odd mixture of individualist and collectivist traits. For better or worse, most of her character is developed in this episode, so it does a really good job establishing why she is more than a pair of boobs.

Year of Hell

Finally, in the fourth season, Voyager and her crew started showing some signs of wear. The crew is bitter, tired, and demoralized after what they refer to as "the year of hell." While it's fun to see what a desperate Voyager is like, the Year of Hell is retroactively undone by the end of the episode and both ship and crew happily return to their fucked up lives.

Message in a Bottle

After discovering an alien communication system capable of reaching the Alpha quadrant, Voyager sends the Doctor as their distress signal to the USS Prometheus, a starship on the far edge of Federation space. When he arrives, the Doctor discovers the ship has been taken over by Romulans. Activating his counterpart on Prometheus, he meets the EMH Mark II played by Andy Dick. Together, they manage to take over ship and let Starfleet know that Voyager is still out there and headed home.

The Killing Game

This is an odd little episode from the fourth season where the ship is taken over by the Hirogen, an alien race of Hunters, who programs the holodeck to represent the worst wars in Voyager's data banks. Using brain implants, they manage to program the crew to act like holodeck characters as they engage in a series of hunting exercises. The majority of this two-part episode takes place in a recreation of World War II with the Hirogen as the Nazis and the crew of Voyager as a mixture of French resistance and American troops. As the Hirogen hunt down their prey, the Doctor is instructed to patch them up. As the only member of the crew whose memory is intact, it's up to him to rescue the others.

Living Witness

Another odd little episode, this one is set 700 years in the future where a duplicate of the Doctor's program is recovered in the museum of an alien race where they tell the story of their brave battle against the warship Voyager. The Doctor remembers things a little bit differently. After finally learning to accept that all of his friends have been dead for centuries, the Doctor must work with a local historian to try to repair their misconceptions, particularly when he is accused of warcrimes.

Bride of Chaotica!

Tom Paris has been running a new holodeck program based on an old film serial called The Adventures of Captain Proton where Paris plays the roll of Captain Proton while Harry Kim plays his dopey sidekick (what a stretch), but when a group of peaceful photonic lifeforms attempt to make contact, they mistake the programmed villain of the holodeck for a real person, thus starting a war between an actual race of non-organic beings and a overly ambitious video game. To stop the war, Captain Janeway must adopt the role of Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People.

Someone to Watch Over Me

When Seven of Nine starts studying human mating rituals, the Doctor tries to give her the benefit of his experience with a series of lesson plans. It's sort of like the blind leading the blind. It becomes yet another adaptation of Pygmalion when the Doctor makes a bet with Paris that he can make a lady out of Seven. This episode builds a romantic angle that, like most things in Voyager, never really goes anywhere over the course of the series.


When Voyager receives a Federation distress call, they move in to investigate only to discover the USS Equinox, another ship that had been pulled across the galaxy by the ironically named Caretaker. Although the crews are initially happy to see one another, they are soon assaulted by a hostile, energy-based alien lifeform. When Janeway learns that the Equinox has been capturing their people and using them to power the ship's engines, the two ships find themselves at a moral impass.


This is perhaps the one episode of Voyager that barely features the regular cast or ship. This episode takes place back on Earth where former Enterprise engineer Reg Barclay is hard at work trying to find a way to establish ongoing communication with Voyager. He has been spending all of his time in a holographic recreation of Voyager interacting with the crew (who naturally think he is a hero amongst men). Concerned with the state of the project, Barclay's boss threatens to have him removed from the project unless he sees Counselor Troi about his holo-addiction.

Blink of an Eye

When Voyager investigates a temporal anomaly above an oddly shaped planet, it becomes stuck in the atmosphere. While days go by on Voyager, millenia passes on the planet. We get to see the people of planet evolve from the stone age to the middle ages to the industrial age, each influenced differently by the ever present "sky ship." It's a religious metaphor that echoes the parable of the three blind men who try to define an elephant.

Life Line

After re-establishing communication with Earth in Pathfinder, the Doctor receives a message that his creator, Dr. Louis Zimmerman (who based the EMH image on himself), is dying of a progressive disease. Believing that the research he has done in the Delta quadrant can save his "father's" life, the Doctor has his program transferred to the Alpha quadrant. However, his creator dismisses the Doctor as antequated technology, informing him that his program is no long in use for medical purposes, but instead has been reassigned for menial labor. The episode features guest appearances by Barclay and Troi just so Robert Picardo doesn't have to spend the whole episode talking to himself.

Flesh and Blood

At the end of The Killing Game, Janeway offers her holographic technology to the Hirogen as a peace offering, thinking that this might help them curb their violent tendencies, but in order to make a more challenging prey, the Hirogen expanded the program until the holograms rebelled and began attacking them back. When the holograms abduct the Doctor, he comes down with a case of Stockholm Syndrome and becomes an advocate for their civil rights.

Author, Author

Following on plots from previously recommended episodes, this one features the Doctor's attempts to write a holo-novel to express the plight of holographic beings, particularly the menial laborers who are his counterparts. However, the story is a thinly veiled adaptation of Voyager and its crew, portraying the others in a as petty, selfish, or downright totalitarian. When the Doctor finds that his editor has been distributing an early release, the Doctor begins to worry that he is smearing the reputation of his friends.



After the completion of Voyager, Berman and Braga were given a chance to revitalize the ailing franchise. Instead, they drove it straight into the ground. Come back here at an undefined later date for the conclusion to this Star Trek primer.