Star Trek Voyager and Thematic Continuity.
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(Just a note: When referring to the show, Voyager will stay in normal font. When referring to the vessel, Voyager will be in Italics).
Overall look and feel of the show:
Star Trek has an artistic and visual continuity that I find very pleasing as a viewer. This is true of all Trek, (with the exception of The Original Series due to the elapsed time, both our time-line and theirs, between the two generations). I even like the ‘Many Different Types of Forehead Aliens’ that Trek is famous for, as humanoid species are common throughout the galaxy I actually consider this a nice constant. The vessels encountered are varied in design, singularly exceptional in terms of ingenuity and variety, from series regulars such as the bioships of Species 8472 to the hunter-craft of the Hirogen, to the one-offs such as the manta-ray like vessels of the Devore Imperium or the Think Tank vessel from the episode of the same name. And they’re different colours! Starships do not just have to be silver and grey. I like the fact that Starfleet vessels are this colour as it is the best colour for ships in my opinion, but other civilisations have different colour vessels. Borg = black and green. Hirogen = brown. Romulans (not really featured in Voyager much but I include them out of courtesy to other Treks) = green. Species 8472 = yellow/orange. Its a simple device for providing continuity, but boy does it work. Of course, there are only so many colours, and sometimes this simply isn’t enough to distinguish a newly encountered race from another. Voyager will sometimes employ previously developed and used ship models and CGI models in its episodes, for example the freighter encountered in the opening teaser from ‘Warlord’, seen that ship before, and the ships from ‘Favourite Son’, but ALL Treks do this, so that’s not a problem for me). So, other looks are employed to achieve a sense of ‘new worlds, new civilisations.’ The Swarm from the episode of the same name, tens of thousands of small ships which literally ‘swarm’ ships to drain their power so they can then board them and attempt to kill the crew inside, the sheer size of the immense mothership of the Voth from ‘Distant Origin’ (sometimes size really DOES matter), the lattice from ‘Heroes and Demons’. It is seen only too briefly, but in such episodes where the threat is at first unseen and unknown, this is an intentional device. This leads nicely into my next point about continuity.
The explorers that we journey with sometimes get only glimpses of the alien presence or strange anomaly that threatens them, threatens them due to malicious intent or because of simple misunderstanding. These misunderstandings often come about because the aliens are so intrinsically different to the explorers that finding common ground and communication is initially difficult. Examples for your consumption:
- The aliens from ‘Catheixis.’
- The lattice, light-based aliens from ‘Heroes and Demons.’
- The alien (Or aliens, this is never established) that plague the crew with strange visions in an attempt to render them comatose from ‘Persistence Of Vision.’ With these particular aliens, not even their motives are discovered.
- The strange sicknesses afflicting the crew from ‘Scientific Method.’
- The dark matter lifeforms from ‘Good Shepherd.’
Sometimes these mysteries are solved, sometimes not. Things do not always end up with neat endings tied up in a little package in real life, so I like it when some mysteries remain unsolved.
When non-humanoid species are encountered, the design ethos is also one of staggering creativity. 8472 look amazing. The briefly seen creatures invisbible to other species eyes without the right technology from ‘Riddles’ are also unique. The big-ass space-dwelling organism from ‘Elogium’ resemble creatures seen before in Trek (Dunno what ep, if it ain’t Voyager I don’t care much anyway), but they are still a new lifeform. The lattice aliens previously mentioned from ‘Heroes and Demons’ may not be as well realised visually, but the very idea of a form of life made of light, with a form of transportation like their version of a starship that is also constructed of light is fantastic.
Alien worlds/spacestations/other locations:
The variety on offer concerning the locations where all this exploring and action occurs surpasses what is on offer from practically every other tv show and movie ever produced. Trek surpasses nearly all of them with ease. A minor quibble I do have, and this has been true of Trek since its inception, is that its environments can often be antiseptic, too clean and tidy for a large galaxy teeming with every conceivable kind of life. An extra level of detail would have been very welcome. The Starfleet vessels are clean cut and ordered, and that is entirely appropriate for military vessels, and its also a conscious design choice. However, the Romulan ‘city’ seen in an episode of Next Gen (I think it was ‘Unification’, both parts) screamed ‘SET!’ so loud it nearly made my eyes water. And the city seen in ‘Random Thoughts’ didn’t really feel like a city. This is in complete parallel to wonderfully realised locations such as the planet of Quarra from ‘Workforce’ or the city from ‘Dragon’s Teeth’. I reckon this is often down to budget restraints rather than lack of imagination, the creative department can only do so much with a weekly/monthly TV budget. And it not as if the makers of the show could simply substitute a real world location for a set, unless the location required an outdoor area, fields or mountains with no evidence of technology or buildings. This is not ER or CSI. This is sci-fi. We want alien worlds, not badly dressed human cities pretending to be alien worlds. This means they need to construct sets from scratch or rely on CGI. These budget restraints did require a little creative thinking in terms of reusing certain sets and props (I see a courtyard used more than once in Season 4, in the episode ‘Random Thoughts’, and then again in ‘Concerning Flight’. It is heavily redressed and looks totally different, and I did not notice on first viewing. I think it is a ‘reward’ of repeated viewings, you notice small details you missed first time around. I personally have no trouble filling in the extra details with my imagination, so I don’t mind the small omissions. They’re a bonus more than a necessity. These intentional design choices coupled with budget restraints both lend a certain aesthetic quality, an uncluttered, raw visual appeal. I suppose that the simplicity and even barren nature of certain sets and locations is not necessarily a bad thing, its less of a distraction from the action taking place on screen. Location scouts to a great job on Voyager, finding real world locations as substitute for alien worlds. It would be nice to go there for real of course, but alas, until warp drives become reality, the blue marble will just have to suffice. Some great real world locations that stand-in as alien worlds:
- The Occampan city from ‘Caretaker.’ Actually the LA Convention Centre, expertly redressed with careful camera angles to avoid LA cityscape through the large windows and the obviously earthbound entrance foyer.
- The Kazon encampment from ‘Caretaker’, in fact generally the whole surface of Occampa. Some great lighting and visual effects on the camera really hammer home the absolute desolation of the place, the utter lack of a drop of moisture.
- The lush world from ‘The 37’s.’
- The planet controlled by the Mokra Order from ‘Resistence.’
- The barren primordial world from ‘Basics, Part 1 and 2.’
- The storage facility from ‘Concerning Flight.’ Feels and looks like a working facility and power generator because it is a real, working factory in real life.
- The out of the way planetoid in ‘Equinox, Part 2′ where Voyager captures some of the Equinox crew.
Trivia Alert: The alien world nicknamed ‘Planet Hell’ by the Voyager crew from Season 2’s ‘Parituition’ is a reference to the Generic Alien Planet set re-used on all of the latter day Trek shows, due to the nickname bestowed on the set on the Paramount Lot. Planet Hell. Threat over, stand down Trivia Alert.
Going to have to compare to Star Wars here, as I am also a massive fan of that saga. I usually see little point in comparing these two wildly different sagas, but this is one area where I feel I can stand the two up against each other. One area I feel Star Wars has an advantage over Star Trek is the lived-in, more gritty feel to the locations seen. The nature of the Star Wars Galaxy is different to Star Trek’s, the galaxy is ‘older’ for lack of a better word and more interconnected, exploration is not the name of the game anymore, seventy or eighty percent of it is mapped and connected to the overall civilisation. The Trek Galaxy is set in our galaxy, the Milky Way, levels of technology vary greatly from species to species, some parts are interconnected and work together (ie, the Federation) whilst other sectors of space are very much a no-man’s land with everyone fighting for themselves (ie: the sectors Voyager and her crew initially find themselves in). These worlds may be new to us the viewers and to the crews of the ships of exploration we follow, but they are not new to their inhabitants. Some are as old and advanced as Earth, some less so, some more so. Just that extra level of detail to an already detail-rich galaxy would have been very welcome.
Here’s some examples where a massive level of detail is achieved:
- The station at the beginning of the Nekrit Expanse. Feels very old and dangerous, a floating Mos Eisley, if you will.
- The ex-Borg settlement seen in ‘Unity.’ Detailed interior set, some great exterior special effects shots, and the compound overlooking a rocky vista lend that important sense of ‘place’ and believability.
- The Occupied France town from ‘The Killing Game.’
- The Varro Generational Ship. Sharp contrast between the dirty, well-used engineering sections and the clean, calm living areas. Amazing what a bit of smoke and good lighting can achieve.
- The decimated city from Dragon’s Teeth. Wow. A picture of a society post-apocalypse. The images of the end of a civilisation in the teaser before the opening credits. The view from above as Voyager comes in to land, and as they fly amongst the skyscrapers. Huge, crumbling ruins, girders and columns reaching up to the rusty, radiation-scarred sky, appearing like a skeleton’s ribcage. That’s awesome. A very well realised location. The set for the underground chambers that hold the Vaadwaur are also excellent, and really look like they’ve been there for 900 years. Having Voyager landed amongst the ruins creates scale, makes the city look city sized, which is another nice bit of attention to detail.
- The Irish town from ‘Fair Haven’/’Spirit Folk.’
- The Hospital Ship from ‘Critical Care’. Again, exterior shots lend so much to the sense of place and of a society struggling in terms of resources and materiel. More clever use of different levels of light and the colour of surrounding scenery to emphasise the differences in the clinical and cold class system in effect on the world.
- Quarra, the world from Workforce. Sweeping shots of the megalopolis, the tram system and the river, implying a huge city in themselves, the detailed power station, the scale of the inside of the facility, the shots of Janeway and Jaffen, Chakotay and Torres in the streets of the city, interior scenes in Janeway and Jaffen’s apartments, exterior shots of apartment buildings, the shots of Voyager and other ships in orbit, passing spacestations and defence platforms and seeing the planetary shield at work, all lend to a sense of civilisation, as it it were a real, working, living and breathing world.
Trivia Alert: In the original concept for ‘Workforce’, the production team had the idea of a caste system on this particular world where the labour shortage came about because the upper classes did not work, leaving the manual labour to the lower classes. If you look closely at the city in the opening shot of the two-parter, the city on one side of the river to the left of the screen where the tram comes from is all majestic buildings and sweeping views, whereas on the other side of the river, where the tram stops, are all the power facilities, factories, workers accommodation, etc. However, due to an already packed show, this subplot was dropped to focus on other more important elements. Still, neat idea, and the first shot was left unchanged as an homage to this concept. Threat over, stand down Trivia Alert.
The USS Voyager:
Naturally, the USS Voyager NCC 74656 deserves a big mention in any talk of thematic continuity. The very strength and dependability of the ship is of critical importance to the crew aboard her. Their situation warrants a closer bond to the ship. I don’t care what anyone says, the link between this crew and their vessel is more profound than the connection between any other ships and crews that have come previously. Voyager is their home, they rely on the vessel for their very existence, the air they breathe, the heat and pressure they require in the vacuum, protection from the space outside. When I say they rely on her, I don’t just mean for her weapons and shields. They need her. The bond is particularly evident between the captain and her ship, true of many captains but again Voyager’s situation invites an extra level to the bond. She often addresses Voyager like a person, like another member of her crew, and treats her with the same care and respect she gives the rest of her crew. (Well, when circumstances are not forcing her to fly the ship between two collapsing neutron stars, absorb some punishment from enemy weapons during a battle, or riding a wavefront in front of a detonating wormhole. :D But hell, THAT is exciting and what Star Trek is all about! Its a starship, its supposed to get beaten about somewhat in adventures whenever the opportunity presents itself.)
Voyager’s overall appearance lends itself to more of a military, working starship ethic than the Enterprise D’s DFS (that’s a furniture shop, if you don’t know) feel to it. The D’s Bridge looks like somebody’s lounge, not a working, active starship. Voyager’s corridors are metallic silver, grey and black. The Bridge has more consoles, more positions for Bridge Officers to crew, it has a raised Command Deck in front of Conn, it has railings to separate areas and for crew support during rough rides, the lights dim slightly when at Red Alert to encourage and aid focus, the consoles seem brighter. Engineering feels like a real, working engine room, and warp core is more ‘realistic’. As realistic as made up technology can be, anyway. The visible PTCs (Power Transfer Conduits) underneath the decking are a great addition. To anyone not in the know, these are the long, blue-lit panels underneath the deck in the centre of the Main Level of Engineering. The blue is generated by the antimatter they use as a power source. The Shuttlebay and Cargo Bays appear to be actual, functioning areas, there is even a ‘Warning: Variable Gravity Area’ alert on the floor in yellow letters in the former, a great bit of attention to detail. The colours are more sensible, grey, silver, proper colours, not a light cream that looks really out of place on a starship. The ship has colour themes which are in-arguably silver, grey, and blue. Silver and grey for the titanium and duranium which makes up most of her primary hull, and the blue is generated by the many power sources aboard: the warp core, the bioneural gel-packs, the deflector dish, the nacelles. So, in terms of themes, Voyager is a very pleasant and excellently detailed constant.
Trivia Alert: A minor qualm many fans had with the show was Voyager’s often undamaged appearance. The ship would suffer damage in the course of an episode, sometimes minor, sometimes major, but more often than not the next episode would resume with an undamaged, clean ship flying along. The writers and producers wanted to show long-term damage on Voyager, not enough to effect everyday running of the ship so much, but simply to maintain hull damage from previous exploits that they may not have had time to repair. The from-on-high people at Paramount panicked at this idea, without merit I feel, thinking that this would turn fans off the show, believing a clean ship at the start of each episode was what people wanted. Hmm. But I digress. In context of the lore, exterior damage on the ship does weaken the entire structure of the vessel, so exterior damage would have been top priority for repair once the danger had passed or been defeated. This does explain why battle or other types of damage would disappear between episodes. It would have been dealt with. They have facilities aboard Voyager for the recycle and replacement of materials and reusing it to repair interior and exterior damage. A neat way of explaining the quick repair is this: appearances. Janeway would be aware that a vessel displaying damage from previous encounters may attract the attention of other aggressive sorts, something she would seek to avoid for her people’s safety. Threat over, stand down Trivia Alert.
This is a section lifted and modified slightly from another of my posts, but its relevant here as well so, here you go: Some people say ‘Oh, but they don’t have Starbases to go to, so whats the deal-?’ So…they don’t have to stop every few damn episodes at Starbases, hmm? GOOD! Who wants to see an episode where they sit in a Starbase and wait for repair or upgrades? That’s not exciting or interesting! They utilise alien ports on occasion, the Markonian Station and the station before the Nekrit Expanse spring to mind, the first would certainly be large enough to house port services and dedicated reapir facilities, and the crew are offered aid and assistance with repair from alien species that they help along the way, but I only need this to be implied. I don’t need to see it, and Voyager does not waste episodes on such unnecessary details. And why is the Enterprise always on its way from one Starbase or another? Seems that ship can’t spend more than five minutes alone without experiencing some kind of fault or needing a refit. AGAIN. Lucky for us there’s another crew out there having adventures, not sitting in stations twiddling their thumbs.
Continuity in terms of alien races:
I mentioned this briefly earlier in relation to the differing colours schemes used for the various vessels of the Trek universe, but I only touched upon it lightly. Of the many, many alien species seen in Voyager, the Borg and the Hirogen are particularly well realised. Borg vessels never lose their inherent sense of foreboding doom and menace, the green lighting effects and flashing strobe lights alone used to fuck me up when I was 15/16. I’m not talking ‘Alien’ levels of fear here, (the movie) but they used to make me feel very uneasy. Narrow corridors in a honeycomb-like maze of passageways and tunnels, large bulkheads which seem to encroach on the characters and therefore the viewers, and the staring, calculating evil of the drones makes for great enemies. And you can’t say anything but a capital-letter Constant when it comes to their vessels. You’ve got your cubes, your spheres, your probes (rectangles) and diamonds. Any geometric shape seems game for the Collective. I was really impressed by the Unicomplex first seen in ‘Dark Frontier’. It is located in Borg space, and it the ‘home’ of the Borg, where much of their fleet is stationed when not on assimilation or other assignments. If you’re thinking ‘what other assignments, come on! Its assimilation or nothing!’ I refer you to ‘The Omega Directive’, which reveals more about the Borg’s relentless search for perfection. What’s the point of all the assimilation, all the destruction and death they perpetrate if not to use the spoils for their own gain? Also, see ‘Unimatrix Zero’. There, their quest for total control and a desire for unity is explored in more depth, from the Borg’s point of view instead of from the perspective of outside observers. I went on a tangent there, returning to my point now. The Unicomplex is magnificent in scale and brilliantly realised. It feels like a mass of interconnected Borg ships, seemingly growing into each other and consequently outwards as well. Trams moving in-between the various components emphasize the sheer scale of the place. Tuvok states: ‘I’m reading thousands of integrated structures. Trillions of lifeforms. All Borg.’ Um, damn. That be a whole shitload of Borg. Seeing the Delta Flyer flying through the immense structures makes it even more apparent how huge it really is. It also appears in ‘Unimatrix Zero Parts 1 and 2.’
The Transwarp Hub seen in ‘Endgame’ is a very different location, but shares the design ethic of the Collective. Dark grey, green lighting, square, angular structures, a very ‘no bullshit’ design. But the idea of placing the Hub on top of a neutron star (Holy Moley!) is a fantastic one. It would provide all the power the Borg would ever need to maintain the immensely powerful Hub, and the Collective had perhaps found a way to prolong the stars life), and makes for a magnificent location for the viewers. The Hub may not share the scale of the Unicomplex, it only covers about an eighth of the surface of the neutron star, perhaps less, (these stars are not actually that large, having collapsed in on themselves, but they are big enough and dense almost beyond comprehension), but size is not as important as the actual sight of this facility, sat atop a star as if it was the most natural thing in the universe. No other race so far encountered in the Star Trek universe would be able to comprehend such an undertaking, let alone actually build such a place. their facilities would be crushed, destroyed by the colossal forces at work on the stars surface and by its massive gravitational pull. Continuity in the overall look and feel of the Borg is excellently maintained throughout Voyager’s run. They have a very real menace and evil-ness (not a word, but I like it) missing from their first appearances. Anyone who says ‘Oh, they’re not as dangerous, they were more powerful earlier on, boo hoo’ can’t handle the fact that Voyager doesn’t puss out against them, fights them, fights them effectively and actually TAKES THE FUCKERS ON. Stick it to ’em baby!
As for the Hirogen, everything on their ships seems super-sized owing to their physical size, any Voyager crewmembers who find themselves aboard Hirogen hunting vessels seem smaller than usual, more vulnerable than we usually see them. See ‘Hunters’, ‘Prey’, ‘Flesh and Blood’ for great examples of this. Again, low lighting is instinctively menacing to humans, creatures who live largely by daylight. Bones on the walls and in nets and fucking massive guns and bladed weapons mounted everywhere are also ominous signs… I also like the spherical central control system used to manipulate the vessel, unlike anything else I have seen before and a nice touch. Everything about them screams threat and danger, from their imposing size and powerful voices to their attitude towards other races, which can be summed up as: Everything Else Is Prey. Kill Everything Else And Proceed To Mount Them On Your Wall. It does rather generate an attitude of ‘Okay, dangerous. Avoid.’ However I personally am pleased that Voyager fails to avoid them on several occasions then succeeds in fighting them off, notably ‘The Killing Game, Parts I and II’ because it makes for one of my favourite episodes. Hirogen and Nazis are a winning combination for nasty bad guys in my book.
Trivia Alert: The reason the two main Alphas in ‘The Killing Game’ where not as imposing physically as all the other Hirogen encountered was down to simple real-world factors: they needed good actors, not just hulking great fellows, and this warranted more normal-sized chaps to portray them. No offence to hulking great fellows, but I imagine acting ability is limited there, unless it involves nothing but shouting and growling, like the two Hirogen from ‘Hunters’. Threat over, stand down Trivia Alert.
Voyager’s nature, both the show and the ship, of constantly being in transit and never staying in one place for very long doesn’t always invite alien races to be regular occurrences. Notable exceptions are:
- Kazon: Vast tracts of space being fought over between rival Sects invites multiple appearances.
- Vidiians. Powerful species weakened by the Phage, always on the lookout for unwilling organ donors and therefore cover a lot of space in their searches.
- Borg Collective. Ultra-powerful, all-seeing hive mind with territory that encompasses thousands of light years and who have the ability to travel around the universe at will are going to be an ever-present threat.
- The Hirogen. Nomadic species whose hunts span approximately half the galaxy. We’re going to be seeing them more than once, let’s put it that way.
Themes: (This section is NOT done yet).
There is a GOAL. There are objectives, a reason behind their actions. Goals are as follows:
- Explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, etc, you know the drill people.
- Get home.
- (Later in show). Battle and defeat the Borg Collective by any means possible.
(Not necessarily in order of importance).
Now, I need goals in my shows and movies. Any quality saga has objectives, things for its heroes to strive for. Voyager’s I explained above. Star Wars = Defeat the Empire. Alien = Stop aliens, prevent them from reaching Earth. Exploring is a worthy goal and more than enough to maintain my interest in itself. But Voyager has an extra element to it with their odyssey of crossing the galaxy…I’ll say that again to drive it home…THE GALAXY, to return home, exploring, struggling, fighting, surviving and derring-do all the way. That is quite simply the most brilliant premise of any show or movie, ever. There is a underlying theme behind Voyager’s entire run, based on an old but favoured phrase from human history. The journey becomes more about the road than the destination. The transformation of Voyager herself from a vessel and method of transportation to a home is gradual and subtle but suddenly very apparent when you realise its happened. The birth of Naomi Wildman. The affection members of the crew, most noticeably Janeway and Paris, show for Voyager. Seeing the crew reluctant to leave Voyager when a chance of getting home seems possible in ‘Hope and Fear’. Seeing Paris and Torres plan for their child and set up home together aboard. The bittersweet actual moment of getting home, happiness and relief mixed with sadness, even some regret that their momentous odyssey is over.
Okay, so we’ve seen vessels lost in space before (deep breath, and LOST IN SPAAAAACE!) the original Battlestar Galactica tv series, etc. So, its not an entirely original premise. But neither is the premise for the other shows. TOS, okay, fairly different to anything that had come before it. TNG: A rehash of the Original, but this is not inherently a bad thing. DS9, similar theme but on a spacestation instead of a starship, and it had a coloured lead, which is great. (If you’ve read this far you know I despise DS9, but respect the choice of an African American lead. Bravo, Star Trek). VOY, again on a vessel, but on the other side of the galaxy in unknown and dangerous space, and the first Trek to feature a female lead. So, aside from lead characters, Trek’s underlying concepts might not be the most original, but its the way they are constructed, delivered and enhanced upon that makes them so good, and so ripe for other fantastic stories tospring up as a result of solid foundations.
The strain and rigours of isolation and loneliness are explored thoroughly in the show. Pining for home and family is acute, and often revealed in dialogue. Good examples: ‘Eye Of The Needle’, ‘The 37’s’, ‘Persistence Of Vision’, ‘Hunters’, ‘Night’, ‘Pathfinder.’ These are episodes were the loneliness of pining is obvious and really hammered home, but there are subtle references to these feelings throughout which become noticeably less frequent as the years pass. A good way of expressing this loneliness, after all, they are surrounded by good friends they can rely on, is this: They don’t feel lonely, but they do feel alone. There is an important difference between the two words.
Other themes that didn’t really fit in anywhere else:
Wow, what a weird title for a section. Anyway, moving along. Now, I mentioned ‘Alien’ earlier, and this is kind of relevant to my next point. Season 3’s ‘Macrocosm’ is a fun episode, and people generally remember it as an action ep, which is more akin to ‘Aliens’ than ‘Alien’. But I always vividly remember being impressed at how well a real, tangible feeling of menace was created when Janeway and Neelix return to an eerily quiet, seemingly abandoned Voyager. The ep starts with a light-hearted exchange between the captain and Neelix on a shuttle as they make their way back to Voyager after an Away Mission, but the tone abruptly changes when they find the ship adrift and mostly offline.The corridors are empty, they find evidence of the crew having to suddenly flee from an unknown force, they catch glimpses of something stalking the corridors, they discover damaged systems and more evidence of some kind of unwanted and unfriendly alien presence on the ship, and then they are attacked in the turbolift by an unseen entity which literally punches its way through the door. (That actually is quite a jump moment the first time you see it, complete with shocked reactions from Janeway and Neelix and an appropriate music stinger). There are a great few scenes where it is just Janeway alone against the aliens as Neelix is abducted, and we see her trying to get the ship back online whilst simultaneously trying to find out what the hell is going on. It changes from tension to action about halfway through, and the shift is appropriate as Janeway and The Doctor figure out a way to combat the alien invaders, so as a whole the episode pans out well and everything ties in really nicely at the end.