I used to hate Star Trek: Voyager. I loved Star Trek, mind you, but I didn’t “get” Voyager. Granted, I was young and stupid, but I thought I had a real argument here. I was brought up on reruns of The Original Series and Deep Space 9, the latter of which is still holding as my “ideal” version of Star Trek. I was largely indifferent to The Next Generation. Mostly because I thought it was kind of boring. I couldn’t hold focus, but I liked the movies well enough.
Voyager seemed too clean to me, too cookie-cutter. I enjoyed that they were on a ship, but I couldn’t gain purchase with any one character. I loved the idea of a female captain, as well as the few bits of Kate Mulgrew’s powerful performance. However, I thought she was too abrasive to get behind as a captain fully. Hell, I even played the absolute hell out of PS2’s Voyager: Elite Force, thinking that might be a way into the Delta Quadrant, but it was only a mediocre first-person shooter.
It wasn’t until last year that I saw how truly wrong I was about Star Trek: Voyager, and in the aftermath of its 25th Anniversary, I thought it appropriate to write this love letter to the little ship that could and its intrepid crew.
So, first, a bit of background. Towards the beginning of last year, I was hungry for new Star Trek content. Spurred on by how much I was enjoying Star Trek: Discovery, I sought out some Star Trek roleplaying forum to join, if only to scratch the itch for new Trek adventures. I then stumbled upon a wondrous discovery of Starbase 118, an email-based role-playing community that has been in operation for over 20 years. After a thoroughly vetted “training” process and courteous introductions to the group’s senior staffing, I was assigned as a Science Officer to the U.S.S. Eagle NCC-74659 (shout-out to the rest of my Eaglettes and any 118 alumni that might be reading), an Intrepid-class starship. The very same class as Voyager.
Wanting to do my due diligence as a new player, and realizing that I had never actually watched Voyager through from start to finish, I resolved myself to start it. Finding it all on Netflix, I settled in to flesh out my character and take in one of the few Trek shows left that I hadn’t seen. Right from the jump, I was greeted with the same sort of “forced allies” set up as DS9. For those who haven’t seen it, the pilot of Voyager is based around Janeway being tasked to track down a rogue outfit of Maquis that have been making a base in The Badlands; a tempest-tossed section of space known to house criminal enterprises.
But even before the mission, Janeway is playing with fire. In the first direct confrontation of the Federation’s prison system, she springs the hot-headed son of an Admiral, Tom Paris (series regular and occasional director later on Robert Duncan McNeill). He has it in for this particular Maquis cell as his ex — the equally hot-headed, half-Klingon B’Elanna Torres (a remarkably versatile Roxann Dawson) — is among them. The mission is to capture the crew and bring them back into Federation space for trial. The Voyager then sets out to the Badlands and is soon swept across the universe by an entity known as The Caretaker. Now years away from Federation space and heavy with pure Maquis crew members.
Though this sort of ideological divide is largely tossed aside during the first season, it is a really charged energy to bring to a two-part pilot. We even get a very early and bracing look at the kind of pragmatism Janeway brings to the table. It’s revealed that one of the Maquis’ senior officers, a Vulcan named Tuvok (superfan turned genre mainstay Tim Russ), is an embedded double agent and Janeway’s Chief of Security. From there, the ship is forced to reconcile itself to its years-long journey and try to uphold its Starfleet values throughout it. All while trying to survive the trip and dodging hostile new aliens like warlike Kazon, the ruthless, gas-breathing Hirogen, and mysterious Species 8472, a threat that even the Borg feared.
And sure, the episodes can get a little hokey. For example, the multi-episode arcs in which a LOT of people get addicted to holodeck scenarios or basically anything and every A-story involving Neelix. But what started as research became a genuine interest. The trials, tribulations, and characters, particularly Captain Janeway and her droll Native American First Officer Commander Chakotay (an immensely charming Robert Beltran), both of whom bring a sexy, almost Remington Steele-esque energy to the Bridge and their dynamic.
Also standing out are the plights of the holographic doctor, The Doctor, played with a persnickety edge by another now legend of the con circuit, Robert Picardo, and Borg drone turned de-facto Voyager Science Officer Seven of Nine, played all the way to the hilt by Jeri Ryan. Both characters get into the very essence of “do machines have souls,” both coming into their own and finding an engaging kinship with one another as they move closer and closer to self-actualization.
And for every clunky episode I got, I got at least five good episodes. These episodes aren’t afraid to address tough situations and mission conditions that have whole new angles and moralities outside Federation space. Episodes about ruthless survivalism, xenophobia, legacy, colonialism, and serial murder. That last thing is centered around immensely talented character actor Brad Dourif, who plays a Betazoid crewman with a warped sense of empathy who murders a fellow crewmember and intends to do so again. So the crew is forced to address how they have to handle prisoner situations themselves without the benefit of transfer or trial. It is really great stuff and far more complicated than the holodeck-based antics I would get when I tried to watch the show in syndication.
Not to mention, Voyager gave us the early, heady days of everyone’s gay TV dad Bryan Fuller. He cut his teeth in the writer’s room of Voyager after proving himself in the trenches of Deep Space Nine. Fuller delivered some of it’s more sterling hours either as a sole writer or credited co-writer. One example is the episode “Living Witness,” in which The Doctor is reactivated hundreds of years after Voyager’s destruction and must refute an entire society’s historical record of the ship. He also delivered “Barge of the Dead” (working from a story from mastermind Ronald D. Moore) where B’Elanna is forced to confront the actual Klingon afterlife after years of non-belief.
But the real legacy of Star Trek: Voyager is it’s just damn fun Star Trek. Despite my avoidance of it as a younger and dumber person, Voyager was there and waiting for me, delivering the same high-concept, morally centered sci-fi scenarios and engaging characters I had always wanted from the universe. All packed into 170 episodes of easy viewing. Is it perfect? Of course not. Hell, no Star Trek show is. But does it exemplify the powerful storytelling and serialized drama that Trek was founded on? It absolutely does. Take it from me, someone who used to hate it until I actually watched it.
Until next time, be seeing you, and Happy Anniversary, Star Trek: Voyager.
PS: Starbase 118 is always taking new applicants, should you want your own adventures throughout the Star Trek universe. I highly recommend it as a player character, but even if you don’t sign up, you should surf through their extensive history and lore. It is tremendous stuff, and it all started as an email ring in freaking NINETY-FOUR. Who knew, right?!