Star Trek: Voyager – Captain janeway's crew investigates the Delat Quadrant, finds a lotta Borg
Perhaps the moral of Star Trek: Voyager is that sometimes the general interest in a genre franchise can be spread too thinly. Voyager debuted in 1995, a year after Star Trek: Generations had enjoyed some nice box office returns and the same year in which Deep Space Nine was about to start producing some groundbreaking stuff.
Star Trek Voyager was created by what seemed like a dream team of ST alumni: Michael Piller, who was producer on TNG and DS9; Jeri Ryan, who came over from co-producer duties on The Next Generation; and Rick Berman, TNG/DS9 executive producer and essentially franchise overlord. Clearly, however, even the initial vision for Voyager was flawed, as the show would only peak when Ryan had left the producer spot.
Beyond nascent “franchise fatigue,” however, Berman et al may have primarily erred in the show’s setting. While set in the now-familiar confines of the 24th century, the pilot episode saw the Federation starship flung tens of thousands of light-years away, to another quadrant of the galaxy, far from the alien species we’d grown accustomed to seeing and enjoying on Star Trek. The endless new threats to Voyager’s endless journey home (what is this, Battlestar Galactica?) such as the Kazon and the Vidiians weren’t a fraction as compelling as the Klingons, Borg, Ferengi, Cardassians or Jem’Hadar.
Perhaps pressed for ideas, subplots and story arcs are often taken up with soap opera-level incidents, right down to the big bad of season 2 having the Voyager’s First Officer risking ship and crew for a baby by the EEEvil traitor claims is his … or is it? Overarching all of this is the general theme of “We’re all in this together.” Not exactly galaxy-spinning sentiments those, and the muted feel of this philosophy is characteristic of what is a rather muted and underwhelming Star Trek series.
Star Trek: Voyager – Cast and crew
As Deep Space Nine was continually expanding its massive catalogue of characters and concomitant plots and subplots, Star Trek: Voyager debuted with few less ambitious plans. Essentially down to a single crew 1/3 the size of Kirk’s lot and a mere 1/7 that of the Enterprise-D aboard a single starship, a small handful of characters would be expected to generate the interest and intrigue – but only the most charitable fans would suggest this lot achieved this.
Perhaps it was due to the lion’s share of creative talent on DS9, the lack of interesting back story, the muted tone of a series taking place in a far less badass part of the galaxy while DS9 is at the front lines of a full-scale wer involving the Federations, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians. Maybe it was the supposed “franchise fatigue” (though we doubt it). No matter the reason, ultimately what we have in Voyager is maybe four characters worth giving a damn about, while the remainder run from colorless occasional plot device to straight-up annoying.
In fact, there’s a pretty simple formula to determining, within a 91.4% rate of accuracy, whether a given episode of Voyager is: The higher the ratio of story devoted to Janeway, Tuvok, the Doctor and/or Seven of Nine, the better it is. Go ahead, look it up…
Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) – Janeway rose through the ranks of Starfleet through the sciences division, earning her various commendations without much assistance from her father the vice admiral. She came to know Tuvok early on in her Starfleet career and was often posted with him throughout their time with the fleet. While trasversing the Delta Quadrant, Janeway made riskier decisions than Kirk himself – sometimes questionably so. However, she may take credit for returning Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant (twice, even) with crew mostly intact due to sheer perseverace. When last seen (in Nemesis), Janeway had become an Admiral, outranking Jean-Luc Picard in quick fashion.
Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) – While the Voyager creative team certainly had their hearts in the right place in putting a Native American character in a command position aboard a Federation starship, but has any character aboard any crew generated more apathy among said creators? After consulting with a Rachel Donezal type in character creation, Voyager’s scriptwriters couldn’t be bothered to give Chakotay a first name, properly define his spiritual beliefs or even provide him with an explicit heritage. Chakotay’s romantic relationships with Seska and Seven are half-basked at absolute best, and the ridiculous soap operatics of Seska’s baby bottom out both Janeway’s credibility and the series itself in season two. Chakotay is truly a dull and forgettable character.
Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ) – The Spock to Janeway’s Kirk, the T’Pol to Janeway’s Archer, Tuvok is one of a handful of Vulcans aboard Voyager and the only one that gets screen time of consequence. As a result, Tuvok gets to feature in the traditional “Vulcans Are Weird” story lines and mindmelds all over the place. Like the others of his kind, Tuvok has an extremely cool temperament, most notably and nobly demonstrated by not smacking the living frinx out of Neelix every time he calls him “Mister Vulcan.”
B’Elanna Torres, chief engineer (Roxann Dawson) – Carrying on the tradition of the mixed-background character in Star Trek – a list which includes, among others, Spock, Saavik and Troi – B’Elanna is by far the most annoying. Her self-loathing schtick gets old by about halfway through episode three and literally by episode 14 (“Faces”) makes us wish this nauseating character had never been created. And don’t even get me started on the episode in which she seeks to erase her unborn daughter’s Klingon DNA because daddy issues…
Ensign Tom Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill) – A genial, likeable enough guy who is unfortunately left to do little more but jerk around on the holodeck in sentimentalized pubs or cheesy 1950s movie series and suddenly sprout lifelong interest for plot convenience. Examples of this latter principle include 20th-century history, the ocean and Kes.
Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) – You know that thing about Chakotay’s forgettability? Well, Harry Kim’s even more so.
The Doctor/The Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo) – Fittingly, the Emergency Medical Hologram, a.k.a. the EMH, a.k.a. The Doctor, is the only character other than Janeway to have appeared in any other iteration of Star Trek. Why? Because by season four or so, the Doctor has utterly hijacked Voyager’s story line, consistently getting all the best star turns, subplots and dialogue as his friendship with Seven burgeons.
Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) – Seven of Nine, a human “de-assimilated” from the Borg collective, joined the Voyager crew at the beginning of season four, instantly injecting new life into what had been mostly a low-key, low-stakes series. Her relationships with the Doctor, Janeway, Naomi Wildman and the Borg Children temporarily taken aboard make for most of the best character notes of Voyager’s entire second half. Truly one of the most interesting regulars featured in Star Trek.
Naomi Wildman (Scarlett Pomers) – Another of mixed background! Naomi is the first child born aboard Voyager – sort of. In actuality, Naomi is of a parallel universe in which she was born healthy and alive. First introduced as a neat plot device in “Deadlock”, Naomi becomes a sort of mascot for the crew and a close friend of Seven. Kudoes to the various actresses who played Naomi and the writer who scripted her for keeping her relatively unannoying.
Neelix (Ethan Phillips) – This guy on the other hand … ugh. You know who’s happiest about the creation of Neelix and the character’s stubborn persistence to exist for the entire seven-year run of Voyager? Wil Wheaton – because no longer will his Wesley Crusher unequivocally be considered the most irritating character in the Star Trek universe. Imagine a Mary Sue character tasked with every position except command at one point or another, yet being brutally bad at all of them while continuously pattering in either irritating or whiny-bitch mode and that’s pretty much Neelix.
Kes (Jennifer Lien) – A rapidly aging Ocampan, Kes was originally brought on as Neelix’s love interest. Figuring that she was too good for the pineapple-headed one and/or that Neelix’s boning of a two-year-old (sexually mature or not) was freakin’ creepy, these two broke up in a scene so moving that it was left on the cutting-room floor. While Kes does get to star/co-star is some decent episodes, the character was ultimately little more than a huskily-voiced naïf with vague psychic powers who was hardy missed when swapped out for Seven of Nine.