Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why I Love Voyager

Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I wrote about why I love the Original Series, then why I loved the Next Generation, and most recently with why I loved Deep Space Nine. Next up, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the combined crew of Star Trek: Voyager.

The year was 1995. Picard and company were fresh off of their first major motion picture, Star Trek: Generations. Sisko and crew were well into their third season on Deep Space Nine. Paramount had started a new network, UPN, and wanted a new Star Trek show to be the flagship (not sure if the pun is intended). Along came Voyager. Created by Trek veterans Michael Piller, Rick Berman, and Jeri Taylor (finally, a woman at the helm!), Star Trek: Voyager was the story of a new class of Federation starship that is thrown halfway across the galaxy into the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant. To further complicate things, the crew is made up of a significant number of renegade Federation citizens, the Maquis (introduced in Deep Space Nine), as well as some more unconventional crew members who were there as much as necessity as anything else. Their story was to be more akin to “Lost in Space” as opposed to the usual comforts of previous Trek incarnations.

With a fresh crew, new surroundings, and endless possibilities, fans were excited about this new show. Most of the buzz was originally around the new female captain, especially after the original actress hired for the show, Genevieve Bujold, was released from her contract (on mutual terms, as the story goes), and the formidable Kate Mulgrew came in almost last minute. There were familiar trappings (Tim Russ in his fourth and most famous Trek role, Vulcan security officer Lt. Tuvok), some new aliens (Talaxians, Ocampans, Kazon, and Vidians), and some returning fan favorites (Q, the Borg, and Reginald Barclay). Voyager had a lot of promise at the beginning, and it was great to have a second Trek series on the air again.

I had mentioned previously that Deep Space Nine was the black sheep of the Trek family, but Voyager seems to be the series where a lot of fans started to openly criticize the show. Perhaps it was the movement of the internet into mainstream society, perhaps fans were suffering a bit of Trek fatigue, but there were a fair number of vocal critics, and Voyager’s ratings were getting lower. Still, it had enough to keep it going for the full seven seasons, and there were some wonderful episodes, stories, characters, and moments that helped Voyager earn its well-deserved place among Trek lore. Here are my Top Five Reasons for why I love Star Trek: Voyager.

1.     Captain Janeway – Yes, it was finally time to have a woman in the captain’s chair on a Trek show, but Janeway being a woman is not the reason why I love this captain so much. She had likely the biggest burden of all captains up to this point. Kirk, Picard, and Sisko all had the support of Starfleet. For most of the run of Voyager, she was on her own. As was mentioned in an early episode, there wasn’t a lot of Captains and Admirals around for her to associate with. Janeway had to make some tough decisions, and they were not always the right ones, but she was in a tough situation. She took a ragtag bunch of Starfleet officers, disgruntled Maquis, and the rejects of the Delta quadrant, and made them a family. She had an almost perfect balance of toughness and compassion. She valued the members of her crew because they were literally irreplaceable. Even though her first officer was Maquis, she welcomed and valued his insight. No matter how close they were, however, she often felt alone in command. That earned my respect.

2.     Back to the basics – Star Trek was often considered to be about exploring, but by the end of TNG there was little left to explore. While DS9 got around that with a wormhole to another part of the galaxy, they still had old familiar faces to fall back on. Not so with Voyager. Everything was new. New quadrant, new species, and new worlds to discover. Thanks to advances in technology, we were able to bring about species in new ways (looking at you, Species 8472). Not everything was a home run, but there were so many cool things that came about due to Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant. It was a great to see so many new and different things, and we were allowed to have some great stories that came out of it.

3.     The Doctor – When the media releases for the new show started to emerge, there was one character that had me gravely concerned: the EMH. To hear that the new CMO was going to be a hologram made me nervous. How are they going to have a character in the sickbay all the time and be able to develop him adequately? I had seen a few hologram characters before, and I must say that they disappointed me greatly. Then I actually watched the show. It was wonderful to see this character grow from a simple program into a fully developed and realized member of the crew. His episodes are among my favorites, and Robert Picardo was able to bring such a light to his character’s eye in his brilliant performances. I loved the comedy and soul that the Doctor often brought to the show. I enjoyed how he developed a conscience and wrestled with many dilemmas that we find ourselves facing daily as human beings. Once he got his mobile emitter, the sky was the limit with him. I only wished that they had settled on a name with him sooner.

4.     The ultimate betrayer – In the first season there were a handful of Maquis crewmen who showed a lot of promise. The best, in my opinion, turned out to be a secret Cardassian agent who showed that she would stop at nothing to get home, even if it meant aligning with the Kazon. Seska was brilliantly played by Martha Hackett and stole every scene she was in. Her story seemed so well executed, an excellent example in how to develop a secondary character. I am not sure if the plan had always been to make her a spy, but it was set up brilliantly. Like all great villains, Seska eventually had her day of reckoning, but being killed off did not mean the end for her. She returned in some great ways, just to wreck a little more havoc on the crew.

5.     Building on a legacy – Voyager was able to do a lot with what had previously been established, given the setting of the show. While Q made an appearance on Deep Space Nine in the first season, he really didn’t click with the crew. On Voyager, he was able to bring things to a whole new level. Since Picard and his crew were off making movies, our omnipotent adversary turned to the Delta quadrant and traded barbs with Janeway. I actually thought that Q and Janeway had a wonderful adversarial relationship, due largely to the delightful chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and John de Lancie. Because of this, we received the wonderful episode “Death Wish”. Another favorite character of the past that was able to grow more fully was Reginald Barclay. Voyager gave our obsessive engineer a chance to shine in a new role in ways that he just couldn’t on the Next Generation. Finally, there was the Borg. While Picard and company were able to deal with the Borg on every encounter, Voyager was able to stick it to them on multiple occasions. The Borg as a collective grew more with Voyager, and we can thank Seven of Nine for that. Played the beautifully talented Jeri Ryan, we learned much more about the Borg, and it gave us a wonderful opportunity to study the life of one who was seeking to regain her lost humanity. Voyager had its flaws, but not building on the legacy of important characters, races, and aspects of the past was not one of them.

And there you go. The little show that could. I loved Star Trek Voyager for many more reasons, but these are the Top 5. Did I miss any? Please comment on what you loved about the show.

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