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Star Trek: Voyager

Entry updated 3 August 2019. Tagged: TV.


US tv series (1995-2001). Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor, based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. Producers include Berman, Piller, Taylor, Merri D Howard, Brannon Braga, and Peter Lauritson. Directors include David Livingston, Winrich Kolbe, Allan Kroeker, Michael Vejar, LeVar Burton, Robert Duncan McNeill, Jonathan Frakes, and Roxann Dawson. Writers include Berman, Piller, Taylor, Braga, Joe Menosky, Kenneth Biller, Bryan Fuller, Michael Taylor, Nick Sagan, and Ronald D Moore. Cast includes Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway, Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay, Tim Russ as Lieutenant Tuvok, Roxann Dawson as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Robert Duncan McNeill as Lieutenant Tom Paris, Garret Wang as Ensign Harry Kim, Robert Picardo as The Doctor, Ethan Phillips as Neelix, Jennifer Lien as Kes (seasons 1-3), and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine (seasons 4-7). 162 one-hour episodes and four two-hour episodes, including the series premiere and finale.

The third of the modern Star Trek series eschews not only the fixed setting and political complexity of its predecessor, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), but the mostly-familiar, mostly-civilized space setting of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), and returns to the franchise's roots. The aptly-named titular Starship, in pursuit of anti-Federation rebels, finds itself and its quarry flung into a distant part of the galaxy. The two crews band together and begin a potentially decades-long journey home through uncharted space.

Though rife with potential for conflict and drama, Voyager's creators quickly set about homogenizing the show's premise. The Starfleet and non-Starfleet characters quickly integrate into a single crew, all of whom are happy to serve under Mulgrew's Janeway (the first female Star Trek captain, which in the show's first few seasons translates into a motherly, touchy-feely character). The difficulties of maintaining high-minded Federation principles in complete isolation and with hostile Alien races vying to get hold of Voyager's Technology are done away with first by ignoring, for the most part, the issue of resource scarcity (the ship, for example, loses shuttle-craft almost every time they are deployed but never runs out), and second through the inconsistent writing of Janeway, who either staunchly refuses to compromise even the least of her principles no matter what the potential reward, or happily tosses the entire Starfleet rulebook out of the window in the name of pragmatism, depending on the demands of the plot and the week's message. Individual episodes shy away from even the possibility of moral complexity or difficult choices by resolving the crisis of the week through invented and nonsensical "science", laying their scene on the ship's holodeck, where the crew go for Virtual Reality entertainment, or using Time Travel to undo any significant alterations to the series's setting or premise. Any meaningful experiences not done away with through these methods are usually ignored through the simple expedient of never mentioning them again, so that in contrast to the inconsistent writing for Janeway, the rest of the crew's personalities remain largely static throughout the show's seven-season run, no matter what traumatic or life-changing events they undergo. The exception is the Doctor, an artificial intelligence (see AI) intended to serve as a short-term solution in times of emergency, who ends up becoming the ship's full-time medical officer after its human counterpart is killed, and develops into sentience over the series' run, revealing a zest for life and for new experiences that make him one of the series' highlights.

Voyager struggled in the ratings during its first few seasons, and when its producers attempted to retool the show into a more appealing product, they naturally turned to Star Trek: First Contact (1996), the most successful of the Star Trek films, for inspiration. Voyager was remade in First Contact's image, introducing the film's villains, the Borg, a Hive Mind who "assimilate" other species and turn their captives into mindless Cyborgs, as recurring antagonists, and incorporating other elements from the film, such as the character of the Borg Queen, or the reconfiguration of Janeway (as with Picard was in First Contact) into an action heroine. Though the shift in focus did make for some engaging, if action-heavy, storylines, the most important change to Voyager in the wake of this retooling is the addition of the character Seven of Nine, a human woman assimilated by the Borg as a child and freed by Janeway. Though the show makes no bones about having cast Ryan for her physical attributes (which are prominently on display thanks to her skintight costume – a tradition that would continue in the next series, Star Trek: Enterprise [2001-2005], which made similar wardrobe choices for the character T'Pol), both the actress and the writing for her character are surprisingly subtle. Seven's journey, much like the Doctor's, is one of discovering her humanity, and her difficult, halting transition away from the Borg's collectivist ideology and towards an embrace of individuality, and the imperfection that comes with it, is one of the series's few successful character arcs. Whether it was this character arc, the more exciting Borg-centred stories, or Seven's costume that did the trick, Voyager experienced a resurgence that carried it, like its two predecessors, to seven seasons.

Though Voyager's producers tried to be coy on this point, the show's handling of the ship's journey home was so inelegant, frequently dangling the possibility of return before the characters only to snatch it away on some thin pretext, that there was never any doubt that Voyager would return to Earth in the series's last episode, and no sooner. And indeed, the series finale achieves such a return in a manner no less contrived than the ways in which similar chances for it had been scuttled over the preceding seven seasons. As with Deep Space Nine before it, the story of the ship's adventures after its return to Earth has been continued in a series of tie-in novels. [AN]

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