I mean the ingenious coup of the late eighties and early to mid-nineties. It was very simple. And it was this. Hiring fantastic actors for the lead roles. Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway) and Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard). Easily the two best actors from the entire franchise, hands down. (I use the term actor for both men and women, just so we’re clear).
The rest of the cast from Voyager are all excellent, each and every one of them. Robert Picardo (The Doctor), Roxanne Dawson (B’Elanna Torres), Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) and Jeri Ryan (Seven Of Nine) stand out in particular. Every so often a line will come that will make you think ‘Hmm, could have been delivered a little better…’ but overall the quality on offer from this ensemble is top-notch. The cast of The Next Generation, on the other hand, are about fifty percent good, fifty percent not so great. I’m not going to name names, draw your own conclusions on that one.
When other actors perform alongside individuals such as Mulgrew and Stewart, they have to work harder to stay up at their level, and as such quality spreads down to the rest of the cast, and even to recurring characters and one-off guest stars.
This was a coup because it moved Trek away from the camp shite of the sixties with one smooth step. Yes, it was still Trek, it was still moral dilemmas, space adventuring and pseudoscience and engineering, but it was no longer the unconvincing sets, mincing characters and terrible acting.
Of course, I am biased towards the talented Mulgrew and think she is the best of the leads without a shadow of a doubt, but Stewart shines in his role, and even Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko) does well. I watch far less DS9 due to strongly disliking the show, but from what I’ve seen of Brooks his has his own strength and style. Mulgrew’s got more command presence in her little finger than he has in his whole body, I’m ‘with’ her in a way that I never am with Sisko…but I digress. Stewart on the other hand is even better in the movies that he is in the show, First Contact in particular. I think this is because you see Picard struggling against the biggest enemy in Trek, the Borg Collective. He has to come to terms with himself and his past, and nearly loses himself along the way, trying to balance his inner turmoil against the exterior conflict going on around him. It’s fantastic stuff, and frankly we don’t see enough of this in TNG itself. Only when the Borg are involved do we really get the nitty-gritty that sets science-fiction apart from other genres, and that’s a shame, because when TNG shows it, it shows it well.
Voyager, on the other hand, has plenty of this. Seeing good honourable people simply trying to do their best under the hardest and most trying conditions. Watching these people at their best, sometimes their worst, fighting the good fight and prevailing triumphantly over whatever trouble assailed them. That is the CORE of science-fiction. You don’t have that, you don’t have sci-fi. Of course, these dilemmas and dangerous crisis’ don’t have to happen every week, in fact it’s something of a relief that they don’t. But these elements must be there.
Naturally, I shall provide some examples. No sense making a point and not being able to back it up. I’m trying to avoid MASSIVE spoilers, but there will be some, so if you haven’t seen any of these episodes you know the drill: OMFG SPOILERZZZZZ). Here we go:
- Night: Janeway experiences massive self-doubt and guilt over some of her previous actions. The crew pulls together around her, but she seems intent on a path that may lead to self-destruction.
- Equinox, Parts I and II: Janeway encounters another Starfleet captain acting with extreme immorality and committing genocide. Fireworks ensue. She starts to confuse justice and vengeance, and her single-mindedness, usually an asset, starts to affect her judgement.
- The Fight: Chakotay is afraid of losing his mind to an outside alien influence after Voyager become trapped in ‘Chaotic Space’, and is reluctant at first to do what must be done. He has to overcome his fear for the sake of the ship and his friends. The way he doesn’t hide his fear but confronts it is admirable.
- Extreme Risk: Torres is falling down into a dangerous cycle of self-harm and unnecessary risk taking due to earlier events.
- Mortal Coil: Neelix starts to doubt his religion’s teachings after being brought back from the dead, and begins to become belligerent and unpleasant as his belief’s are turned inside out.
- Dark Frontier: Seven surrenders herself to the Collective to save Voyager, and has to confront the duality inside her, the fight between Humanity and the Borg.
- Flesh and Blood, Parts I and II: The Doctor finds himself at odds with Janeway over holographic rights to life (Other holograms, not his own life) and take extreme action.
- Nightingale: Kim comes face to face with the realities of command and discover’s he’s not as ready for the pressures and rigours as he thought he was.
- Meld: Tuvok’s sense of identity, his Vulcan soul, is fractured by an ill-advised mind meld to try to discover the motive for a murder.
- Thirty Days: Paris finds his sense of obligation and duty torn between loyalty to Janeway and Voyager and his desire to help an alien world from future disaster and destruction. Despite the fact that most of the aliens don’t want his help.
- Scorpion, Parts I and II: A bigger threat than the Borg appears with intent to destroy everything in the galaxy, Species 8472. Forced into an alliance with the lesser of two evils, Janeway and Chakotay find themselves for the first time at serious odds with each other over whose side to take in a war that could threaten everyone in the Milky Way.
- Warlord: Kes is inhabited by a murderous warlord and finds her sense of identity and self slowly stripped away by her new persona.
Striving and struggling to survive, courage, ingenuity and intelligence, brilliance and integrity, risky and daring action, violence or peaceful solutions, and resolution. This is where science-fiction and Star Trek in particular runs circles around every other genre out there in terms of variety and quality, and, to quote Queen Elizabeth the 1st, ‘it is marvellous in our eyes.’
I know this entry changed it’s focus slightly halfway through, but that’s just the way it evolved as I wrote. Anyway, hope you enjoyed!
Concerning repairs and the inability of the ship to stop at Starbases. Okay, here we go. The IMPLICATION is enough for me. I do not need to see every single bit of repair work they conduct or see them squaring away the supplies they acquire. Each episode takes place over either twenty four hours, or three or four days. There are exceptions, some episodes take place over a period of weeks or even months, but they are rare exception, usually two-parters. So, 365 days in a year, and each season of Trek encompasses roughly a year. Let’s average it out and say each episode takes three days to pass, and we have an average of 26 episodes per season. 3 x 26 = 78. So, 78 days of action, leaving 287 days of unseen events. (Roughly). Let’s make it 230 days including the occasional ‘long’ episodes. That is a heck of a lot of time for all sorts of other events to take place, some referenced in other episodes but not actually seen, characters mentioning encounters with aliens, perhaps battles or trouble they got into, perhaps peaceful encounters, exploring planets or shore leave they enjoyed. And in this time, repairs would be conducted, hull breaches fixed, ship’s systems enhanced or refitted. The implication is enough. Exposition is a wonderful thing and saves so much precious episode time for the good stuff like action and intelligent drama.
There is another very good reason, and one of critical importance, that Voyager looks relatively undamaged. Janeway’s an astute leader, this would be an obvious fact for her. Keeping Voyager looking tough and undamaged, at least on the outside, would be a very high priority for her, and she would be willing to use significant resources in that area. A ship with massive battle scars, damaged hulls, breaches hastily patched over from other encounters practically SCREAMS to other hostile types: ‘Hey! Come and get us! Another lot had a pop at us last week, maybe you’ll have more luck then they did!’ Screw that. Appearances are important when you have NO BACK UP. They are an island out there, the Voyager crew would know only to well that if the ship appeared intact with no major structural damage, hostile assholes might think twice before having a go at an attack.
This rule is not employed a few times, just enough for the reminder that they have to do all repair work themselves to stick. In Deadlock you see them repairing the ship after the danger has passed and they’ve found a safe spot to slow or stop completely and conduct repairs, go EVA, etc. In Demon they do almost run out of fuel and as the episode opens we see them searching for a source of deuterium. The plot that arises from this happens to be interesting and very well done, mimetic sentient fluid…you really have to watch it, its hard to explain. So the episode is not just a simple (and therefore not boring) search for fuel. It turns into something far more interesting. After the tumultuous events of ‘Scorpion’ in the following episode ‘The Gift’ opens with Voyager still infested with the Borg technology they were forced to install to go to war against Species 8472 and struggling to purge the ship’s systems of the virulent tech. In ‘Nightingale’ Voyager has landed on an uncolonised planet for a major overlay. By this point the ship had been in service for nearly seven years. It is an incredibly advanced starship. I think seven years is an entirely realistic time stretch before a long range explorer cruiser designed to hold its own would need its first major overlay. Any less than that…well, you’d have to question the competence of the ship’s designers.
You know, I don’t watch science fiction to watch people REPAIRING their ships. I don’t watch science fiction to watch a beautiful piece of starship technology slowly fall apart because an incompetent crew can’t keep it together! I don’t watch science fiction to watch a crew twiddling their thumbs whilst their vessel is sat in a Starbase or spacestation! Starfleet vessels are designed to be largely self-sufficient, except for occasional overlays at Starbases for refit, refuelling, etc. We know Voyager has a refinery aboard to produce important metals, it’s mentioned in Dark Frontier. We know they have the ability to mine, store and refine ore and precious gases, otherwise why the fuck would they search for them?
I am aware this is a sticking point with some fans. Fine. But it shouldn’t be. Damn, just enjoy the show. Science Fiction is riddled with such conceits to make the exiting plots run smoother.
We are a smart audience, we don’t need to be hand-held through all this repairing the ship shit. Otherwise, we’re reaching The Next Generation levels of mind-numbing, ‘tempted to look for the closest rafter to hang myself from’ levels of boredom.
Briefly to finish, I have to say I find the snide insinuations Ronald D. Moore made during his two-episode stint on Voyager offensive. If he thinks that is all audiences wants to see, he’s an idiot. Fine, Moore. You throw your toys out of the pram and sit in the corner and cry, whilst the other writers continue to do what made Voyager the best of the Treks. You whine and bitch because other writers have better ideas than you do. You got some nerve pal, criticising your colleagues like that. Artistic differences are fine, you don’t need to attack the people you work with so publicly. Everybody’s a fucking critic! (Including me dear reader, it has to be noted!) Sure, Voyager ain’t perfect, it ain’t flawless, but its exciting, its intelligent, and holy fuck is it good television. Ultimately, thank god Officer Dickhole didn’t stay aboard and ruin a great show. (If you don’t know what this last paragraph refers to, I recommend that you not to bother finding out. Such small-mindedness does not deserve any more attention than what little amount I have given it here).
The crew of the USS Voyager. They’re not to naïve, but neither are they too cynical. Their guard is up, their approach to first contacts is welcoming but at the same time wary, but never going so far as to be distrustful. They don’t take a new alien species word for it when they state that they have no ulterior motives or hostile intentions. Upon a First Contact or when an alien species helps them out, they are welcoming and open-minded. This is even true if the alien is a member of a species they have had conflict with before, basing opinions on the actions of the individual rather than generalising, which is so often counter-productive.
They’re not galaxy-weary or jaded, Janeway is particular warns Kim (and by extension, the audience) against becoming jaded in ‘Emanations.’ Its a great scene at the end of the episode, I hesitate to say its a speech because it’s not one as such, it’s a conversation, but the sentiment is clear and wonderfully expressed. In a less-eloquent nutshell, it’s the Trek mantra of ‘don’t take the wonders all around us for granted just because you see them everyday.’ But it’s very important to understand that these people are experienced. They seen and been through a lot, had experiences both good and bad. For everything wonderous out there, there is something equally horrific to match it. Voyager’s crew has seen these aspects of the galaxy, both before their odyssey and during it. So yes, there is an element of a strange blase attitude towards such momentous life events. Janeway says it best in ‘Deadlock’:
‘Mr. Kim. We’re Starfleet Officers. Weird is part of the job.’
It’s about balancing the sense of wonder with practicality and experience, and Voyager gets the balance just right. (NB, Kim and Kes are exceptions to this rule during the very early seasons because both are the young and inexperienced crewmembers aboard at the shows start, and are intended to be such. Having a crew of hardened veterans all round like Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, etc, might make for a more capable crew in the early years, but makes for less drama.)
I don’t mean the other crews are naïve, they aren’t. But they are to naive for my taste. So much of the trouble the Enterprise-D gets in is just really, really avoidable, and that’s really bugs me. I like a little cynicism in my protagonists, maybe its my penchant for sarcasm in humour, I don’t know. I like someone to be wry and cynical about a situation, especially to ease the tension. I can only take so much po-faced heroism (and I like and admire po-faced heroism) before I just need somebody to crack a joke, even if it’s a rubbish joke. No matter the situation, no matter how dire or how minor the danger is, there is room for a wise-ass remark at some points. Like in ‘Demon’ when Paris makes what Kim later refers to ‘that stupid joke about the bicycle’ or Janeway and Chakotay’s light-hearted exchanges before or during dangerous situations.
As always, I give plenty of examples to prove my point, so here are some for your consumption:
- The photonic lattice entities from ‘Heroes and Demons.’ They seem to kidnap two members of the Voyager crew, and the Doctor initially has little success in his attempts to communicate with them via the holodeck, but the crew discover the cause of the misunderstandings and realise the abductions were a response to perceived hostility from them towards the aliens, not the other way round. During some earlier experiments they beamed photonic matter onto the ship for analysis not realising they were sentient lifeforms, and in response to the kidnap of their people the lattice aliens take Kim and Chakotay. In a gesture of what can only be described as hopeful goodwill, Janeway has the Doctor release the two lifeforms onto the holodeck. They return to their people, and Kim and Chakotay are then returned, safe and well.
- Danara Pel, the Vidiian scientist whom the Doctor has a love affair with in ‘Lifesigns’. They rely on her help to get Janeway and Chakotay back aboard Voyager in ‘Resolutions’, despite their conflict with the Sodality. Pel comes through for them, even though the other Vidiians that arrive try to take Voyager.
- Acturus, from ‘Hope And Fear.’ When he first comes aboard, the crew are welcoming and pleased to have him along, he offers them help in decoding the heavily encrypted message sent by Starfleet several months earlier. (See ‘Hunters.’) However, there is a vein of caution among the senior staff which goes beyond cautious optimism. Janeway and Tuvok in particular do not take the alien simply by his word (and one could forgive them for doing so with so much at stake), but do give him the benefit of the doubt initially.
- The discovery of the wormhole in’ Bliss.’
This swaying between wonder and hopefulness to cynicism and doubt is most clearly seen when pertaining to one of Voyager’s key themes: the journey home. Early on, if even the faintest scent of getting home is caught, they are there and for it all the way, jumping headfirst into the chance. Then, they get burned a few times, and painfully. The wormhole in ‘Eye Of The Needle’, getting back to Earth but unable to stay because they are in the wrong timeframe in ‘Future’s End.’ And as the journey begins to have more importance than the destination and Voyager itself becomes home, the crew’s reaction to potential ways home changes. They are still happy and encouraged by the large jumps home they make in ‘The Gift’ (10,000 light-years) ‘Timeless’ (10,000 LY) and ‘Dark Frontier’ (20,000 LY), but the reaction to a what at first sight appears to be a direct route home becomes very cynical and even openly doubting. If something seems to good to be true they suspect that it is, rather than stubbornly hoping it’ll somehow work out. Compare the difference in reaction to a promising looking wormhole in Season 1’s Eye of the Needle’ to Season 5’s ‘Bliss.’ Wow. What a difference. Well fuck, the wormhole leads to Sector 001! I was half expecting Janeway to say something along the lines of ‘Hell! What an amazing coincidence!’ the first time I saw it. Her sarcastic statement of ‘Wormhole?’, the first line of dialogue in the episode, makes me smile every time I see it. The crew immediately suspects possible problems or subterfuge with the data they are receiving from sensors instead of immediately assuming ‘a way home woohoo!’ This turns out to be the correct attitude, as the wormhole actually turns out to be a HUGE. STARSHIP-EATING. CREATURE so caution was entirely warranted. (Of course, attitudes change when the creature starts manipulating the crew to force them into its maw, but that was the result of alien psychotropic effects and the main threat of the episode).
To summarise, I say: It is better to see too much than too little, as long as you keep an open mind. The crew aren’t wide-eyed rookies, but nor are they jaded old coots, the balance is struck just right.
Okay, going from best to worst (and btw, take a look at my blog name and gravatar if you’re not sure what way I’m going to go here).
If your sensibilities towards your favourite captain are easily offended and you get mad if someone is rude about them, (I know I do, hehe.) then I suggest you either stop reading right now or bear in mind that this is my opinion and I am entitled to it, and keep reading. And my opinion is right. 😉
1: Janeway. The best captain. Tough, courageous, intelligent, gutsy, charismatic, confident, daring, unorthodox, intuitive, noble, protective, a natural leader, justifiably brash, and she practically bleeds authority. She even has rough edges, like arrogance, stubbornness, and a touch too much self-assurance on occasion. Much like real people have flaws. Not to mention that the real-life woman Kate Mulgrew is the best actor out of the lot of them by a considerable order of magnitude. The best captain, hands fucking down. Also, and this is coming from a heterosexual woman, she’s the best looking one of the lot of them.
(Insult HUGE GAP here between 1 and the rest of the list, similar to the kinds of gulfs that separate galaxies in this immense universe we live in). I think that illustrates how strongly I feel about this matter.
2: Original Series/movies Kirk. This lad’s got some pizzazz, he’s ballsy and brave. Still, I have some questions over his ability to keep any member of his crew not on the senior staff alive…
3: Picard. This man’s way to soft for my liking. Not what I want or expect from my science fiction heroes. Being cerebral is fine and admirable, but I want some badass attitude and some pizzazz as well as that. This guy has NIL, nadda. He doesn’t exhibit forcefulness often enough, which is a shame, because when he does, he’s a real leader, reaching similar heights to Janeway and Kirk. Sure, he’s a professional, but at the cost of his guts. Just tell the Romulans to go to hell man, they do the same to you! Grrrrrrrr. He may be third on my list, but he is certainly second in terms of acting ability. The real life man, Patrick Stewart, is almost at good as Mulgrew in the believability department.
4: Kirk from the new movie. Yup, he’s perhaps a bit young, but he’s got a style and method all his own, which is quickly established in the movie. I think Chris Pine gave a fine performance. Although he does get beaten up a bit too much for my liking. I thought he had advanced combat training? Sheesh. You don’t see Janeway and Picard having their asses handed to them, they’re usually the ones delivering the punishment when necessary. Also, Pine is the second best looking one of the bunch.
5: Archer. He’s to easily led, is easily offended and loses his temper WAY to easily.
6: Sisko. Wow, what a fucking dick. He’s a whiner and skin-peelingly annoying, he looks so miserable most of the time I would reach inside the screen and give him a hug if I didn’t think he was such an idiot. There’s simmering, and then there’s just being a complete arse. He is the latter. However, I have nothing against Avery Brooks, for the record. He seems like a nice guy. If I don’t like a character I’m not going to hold it against their real-life counterpart. That’s just deeply weird.
I see no reason to go into great detail on this, because 1 : ITS FUCKING OBVIOUS, look into your quantum theory, and 2: I can’t be arsed to go into huge detail because it shouldn’t be bloody necessary.
Okay, quick and to the point:
After reading various comments around the Internet, gotta add my own to this pointless ‘debate.’ Anyone who thinks that the new film (which is great) somehow effects the canonical escapades of the VOY, TNG, TOS and DS9 crews is a FUCKING MORON. They’re not going to piss all over forty years of canon and stories for the sake of one film. I wouldn’t give a crap if DS9 was erased because its fucking rubbish, but neither it nor the other shows are changed by the movie. They set it in a different reality. Job done. Problem fucking solved. The destruction of Vulcan, which appears in later movies of TOS era, clearly indicates that it is a different universe. Sheesh. This is clearly indicated in several places in the film.
Everybody clear? Good.
If you want more ordered and less random reasons, check my other posts regarding Voyager. These are ten reasons that didn’t really go with the other lists, which I felt like posting.
Now, in no particuar order…
1. There’s an episode where they get temporarily transported back in time to the Big Bang, the beginning of the universe, and a few seconds later find themselves on a Christmas tree as one of the decorations. If you don’t know which episode that is…tough. I’m going to make you figure it out. Heh Heh. 😉
2.There’s an episode where Janeway has to fly Voyager between TWO COLLAPSING NEUTRON STARS. Sorry for the shouting, but that is FUCKING AMAZING. Its one of those seat-of-the-pants, thinking on the feet, last resort, all or nothing acts that I like so much.
3. Hirogen Nazis. Big aliens running the halls in Nazi uniforms with Mausers, holographic American and Resistance fighters in Voyager’s corridors, a fully-fledged battle going on between the crew of Voyager allied with the Americans against the Hirogen allied with the Nazis. Marvellous chaos!
4. The plan from ‘Unimatrix Zero’ is one of the most batshit crazy plans I have ever heard of! I love it! It is Star Wars levels of craziness, diving headfirst into a garbage chute/flying towards a Star Destroyer full pelt/catapulting self off gangplank to catch lightsaber craziness! I find it laudable because:
- As it is Janeway’s idea, she goes on the mission herself, regulations can take a flying leap.
- Tuvok and Torres volunteer to go with her despite the craziness of the scheme.
- The crew deems it a risk worth taking to deal the Borg a great big punch in their collective faces. (Forgive the pun, I hate puns!) That’s extremely brave, so good for them.
5. That scene in ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ where Voyager battles squadrons of Vaadwaur ships in-amongst the ruins of a decimated city.
6. They discover that the rumoured (and often poo-pooed) alien abductions and sightings claimed by many eye-witness accounts from the twentieth century did in fact happen for real. Many people that had mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again were taken from Earth by an unseen alien race called the Breori. The crew of Voyager discover these peoples ancestors living in an advanced human colony on the other side of the galaxy, over three hundred thousand of them, along with some people from the thirties (hence the episode title) still in stasis. Great episode. Also, the Ford truck floating in space, their first clue as to the presence of humans in the area, is pretty funny.
7. The whole episode of ‘Counterpoint’, from start to finish.
8. The fact that the only painfully camp acting in Voyager (what I call Shatner-ing) comes in ‘Bride Of Chaotica’, and is entirely intentional on the cast’s part.
9. The whole episode of ‘Dark Frontier’, start to finish. Particularly the encounter between Janeway and the Borg Queen. Fucking hell, how brave have you got to be to walk into the Borg’s lair, the heart of the Collective? Answer: VERY. I mean…wow.
10. The last shot of the show is the most poignant closing shot of all the finales, given Voyager’s overall story arc.
Btw, the Big Bang/ Christmas Tree episode? It was Season 2’s ‘Death Wish.’
**WORK IN PROGRESS PEOPLE! I’m always adding to this post.**
Btw, if you’re a regular viewer of my blog (and I’m getting a fair few hits at the moment) please feel free to drop me a line. Agree, disagree, voice your own opinions, I’m always up for some healthy discussion.
(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. 😀 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.