May 23, 1994 – a cheer erupted from a house packed with nerdy (and not-so-nerdy) high schoolers as the Riker-commanded three-nacelled Enterprise unapologetically demolished a Klingon bird of prey. Star Trek: The Next Generation was about to end. What was next?
Shortly after, my brother secured a bootleg copy of the Star Trek: Generations movie script, and as TNG went to the big screen, I knew the heady days weren’t over. On November 19th, 1994, (shamefully missing the premiere by 1 day) I shivered with glee as I sat down next to my patient girlfriend and watched Kirk and Picard save the galaxy together.
Only two months later, something called Star Trek: Voyager came along.
A female captain? What’s this? A funky new ship design? Not even a homage to Alexander Courage in the intro music? And most shocking, no “Space the final frontier…” intro monologue?
But I of course enthusiastically gave it a chance. The pilot episode “Caretaker” was impressive—classic themes with a slick new set of visuals and a gutsy “lost in space” main storyline, far less worrisome than TNG’s cosmic jellyfish premiere. (Though, upon mature reflection, I have come to really like “Encounter at Farpoint.” It gave us Q, and some very interesting sci-fi concepts and aliens.)
(As a side note, I had given up on Deep Space Nine some time earlier. Trek was about exploration, and being stuck on a space station just didn’t do it for me. I have heard many times from high-brow Trekkies that it is the most literary/deep/gusty/dramatic/etc. of all the series, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe there will be a “Revisiting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” blog entry some day.)
Back to Voyager.
College, missionary work, poverty, dating, and cleaning toilets to buy ramen and cereal were worthy/necessary distractions from Voyager—but the fact was the series just didn’t grab me. Every time I was on the Enterprise—Constitution, Galaxy, and Sovereign, I felt at home. As a young man, not even Seven of Nine could keep me aboard the fancy Intrepid-class bio-circuited flying machine in the delta quadrant.
For me, what was missing was that magical something in the relationships of Kirk’s and Picard’s crews.
I diss no one here… I know many felt that even more with Voyager and DS9. But it didn’t click for me.
Years passed and I found myself searching for some sci-fi company in lonely moments. I tried a variety, but my heart longed for the steady pulse of a warp engine.
So, over the last few months, I have been watching tons of Voyager. And, well, I was amazed. I didn’t find the ten-forward camaraderie I had longed for, but I did find some fabulous science fiction.
Beyond visionary things like tricorders and communicators, I don’t think Star Trek in general gets the sci-fi props it deserves—and that is especially true of Voyager. Episode after episode—well-acted and produced with many notably great moments—seized upon very cool sci-fi concepts. As a writer and a producer with an actress wife, I feel like I can appreciate the achievement of producing and performing in an incredible 172 episodes of such an ambitious show. This is touched on by Shatner’s great documentary The Captains.
But what struck me was the science fiction.
(It of course suffers from some of the normal Trek pitfalls—a touch of the dogmatically “progressive” moral agenda, silly applications of the universal translator, and “aliens” that are more human than my neighbor. (I do actually believe that the universe is populated by many humanoid-ish species, but I don’t think they’d understand my jokes!) With a few very cool exceptions, Voyager could probably have used a little more weirdness in the dilithium.)
However, Voyager really delivers some great sci-fi. Here are few examples:
A parasite disguised itself as a memory, with the ability to be contagious. (Flashback – Season 3 Epsiode 2)
A think-tank-for-hire made up of unusual, powerful aliens.. (Think Tank – Season 5 Episode 19)
Space-born telepathic pitcher-plants. (Bliss – Season 5 Episode 14)
A spacecraft that becomes jealously involved with its pilot, and has its own agenda. (Alice – Season 6 Episode 5)
A planet where time passes millions of times faster on the surface. (Blink of an Eye season 6, ep 12)
The exploration of “photonic” lifeforms, especially, The Doctor. (lots of episdes)
Pushing the limits of already-established coolness—like the 29th-century borg. (“One” – Season 4 Episode 25)
The temporal prime directive. (Many episodes.)
A crewperson becoming the “muse” of an alien poet. (“Muse” – Season 6 Episode 22)
A time fracture where different parts of the ship are in different time zones. (“Shattered” – Season 7 Episode 11)
A wide variety of FTL travel. (Many episodes.)
And it was fun to have characters with “unusual” skills—like cooking. (Neelix in many episodes.)
And much more…
I had a fun, funny, and hopefully slightly mind-expanding chat with my oldest kids after watching one of the original Kirk episodes just the other night—discussing the spiritual aspects of some of the sci-fi ideas. But in so many shows today, the “sci-fi” is just marketable window dressing. Voyager was surprising, refreshing, and deliberately thought-provoking. In a few years, and after carefully curating for kid-friendly episodes as I do with other Trek, I’m sure I’ll introduce it to my cadets.
During my revisit, I found myself staying up late many times, and enjoying not only the sci-fi, but the characters who wove it into a story.
Thank you to all the folks who made Voyager happen.
In conclusion, Star Trek: Voyager boldly went.