Sunday, May 27, 2012

Aimless In The Delta Quadrant: How Star Trek: Voyager The Complete Series Goes Wrong.

The Good: Good premise, DVD bonus features, Good initial characterizations
The Bad: Lack of serialization, Lame, recycled plots, Sacrifice of character development
The Basics: A bulky collecting of the previously-released DVD sets of Star Trek: Voyager, this multipack has the entire series with all its potential and flaws.

Sometimes, it is hard to go back to something that gets corrupted and acknowledge that its beginnings were truly great. As an avid fan of the Star Trek franchise, though, I would be dishonest if I did not openly admit right off the bat that Star Trek: Voyager began with arguably the most compelling premise of any of the Star Trek franchise shows. To be sure, it quickly mortgaged that potential and all but Enterprise remain stronger shows within the franchise, but at its outset, Star Trek: Voyager had the greatest potential for real human drama.

The concept was simple: Star Trek meets Lost In Space. Two crews from our region of space (the Alpha Quadrant) who have serious philosophical differences would find themselves 70,000 light years away in the Delta Quadrant and would team up to make the seventy year return trip. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a big twist for the Star Trek universe and made the best use of the different format its setting forced it to follow, Star Trek: Voyager started with the most potential to thrill and entertain. Unfortunately, it did not take long before that potential was lost and the show floundered. Nowhere is this more clear than in watching Star Trek: Voyager The Complete Series. The show starts off with a bang, lists for a few seasons, is retooled in the fourth season and trudges out the remainder of the series vastly different from how it began.

Star Trek: Voyager The Complete Series is actually a bulk pack of Seasons One through Seven and it is presented in the same packaging, with all of the same bonus features as the original releases. In fact, this is just the following cellophaned together without even a cardboard tray to hold them all together:
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 2
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 3
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 4
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 5
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 6
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 7
This contains no additional programming features, no incentives or even packaging changes. This is the collection of brittle, brightly-colored boxes all in one place. There is no saving shelf space with this collection!

For those unfamiliar with Star Trek: Voyager, it truly does remind one conceptually of Lost In Space and it is effectively the "Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation" recast, as it features the starship U.S.S. Voyager wandering aimlessly home exploring as they go. The characters are almost all based upon popular guest characters who were developed on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the novelty of the series is supposed to be that the captain is a female (ooh!). The problem is, the parallels are obvious and the show refused to become serialized, which the plot pretty much demands. Resistant to have two Star Trek series that actually encouraged viewers to tune in every week (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which aired simultaneously for the first four years of "Voyager's" tenure was heavily serialized), the producers of Star Trek: Voyager kept the show problematically episodic (everything was largely resolved by the end of an episode and the next week, the show began without any sense of what came before it).

The U.S.S. Voyager is on a mission to the Badlands to recover a lost undercover officer from a Maquis cell when the ship is transported seventy thousand light years away. There, they find the Maquis crew trapped in a space station that is controlled by a very powerful being that is attempting to breed itself. On a nearby planet, a peaceful alien race (the Ocampa) lives below the surface while a group of interstellar nomads occupied the surface of the planet. With the Caretaker of the mysterious array dying, the captain of the U.S.S. Voyager, Janeway, makes an ethical decision to save the Ocampa and destroy the array so it may not be utilized by the villainous Kazon. Rescuing an Ocampa (Kes), the Maquis crew, recovering her lost officer and taking on a guide to the Delta Quadrant, Janeway and Voyager set a course for home.

Almost instantly, the Maquis crew adopts StarFleet ways and Janeway promotes the former Maquis captain, Chakotay, to first officer and fills the post of Chief Engineer with an ex-Maquis, B'Elanna Torres. Guided ethically by her security chief, Tuvok, and through space by her Talaxian guide, Neelix, Janeway and Voyager try to find shortcuts to get home faster. Unfortunately for her and the viewer, Janeway insists on stopping and investigating each and every possible planet and spatial phenomenon they encounter. As well, Voyager aimlessly wanders through hostile territory of the exceedingly lame and technologically inferior Kazon and they have a few chance encounters with the terrifying Vidiians (who harvest internal organs!). But for a few years, Voyager just wanders aimlessly home with no real sense of consequence to the journey.

However, as Kes gets older, she becomes more powerful and as Voyager enters what is predominately Borg space, she makes telepathic contact with an invader so powerful even the Borg cannot defeat them. This leads to a joint mission between Voyager and the Borg and Voyager taking on a Borg drone who Janeway frees from the Collective. Seven Of Nine, once freed from the Borg hive mind, runs around the ship in a catsuit and push-up bra and becomes the focus of the series. As Voyager avoids further Borg encounters as well as new menaces, Seven Of Nine becomes responsible for saving the ship over and over again and the show finally just ends.

Star Trek: Voyager is undermined because the premise is almost instantly undermined both in the plots and the character actions. First, the Maquis crew adopts StarFleet ways with ridiculous speed and the passing mention of who was Maquis and who is StarFleet becomes just that: passing mention and forced conflict. The problem here is that the Maquis were anti-StarFleet rebels and their philosophy was diametrically opposed to the methods of StarFleet. So, the Maquis became terrorists in the demilitarized zone between the Federation and Cardassian colonies. In Star Trek: Voyager they hang up their terrorist ways by the second episode and blend with the StarFleet crew, save for episodes where the story demands character conflict. But, because the characters have adopted a StarFleet lifestyle, these conflicts almost always feel forced.

As well, Janeway's insistence on stopping to investigate every possible planet or phenomenon does not ring true for a ship in the predicament that Voyager is in. The crew never mutinies because they aren't getting closer to home and their bland acceptance of the thin hope (right from the start) that a quick way home will be right around the next star is unrealistic and boring to watch. As a result, Star Trek: Voyager soon seems like a second-rate Star Trek: The Next Generation and, unfortunately, one that borrows quite heavily from the earlier series.

But as the series goes on, it is the lack of serialization that truly disturbs viewers. The starship Voyager never truly breaks down, the crew never starves and the consequences of their adventures or misadventures never come back to bite them so bad that they lose important crewmembers or materials. Instead, the ship manages to keep the lights on and the crew fed and the realism of the experience suffers greatly as a result.

Moreover, the characters in Star Trek: Voyager are obvious draws from the most popular characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Outside Janeway and Chakotay, who are the fairly original captain and the first officer more like Deep Space Nine's, the characters largely come from characters that worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even Chakotay, who is a Native American Indian is the result of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as one of the last episodes of that series explored the role of Indians in the Star Trek universe and was received with great enthusiasm by the fans. B'Elanna Torres is an obvious recasting of K'Ehleyr, the holographic doctor was based upon the holographic Moriarty, and Tom Paris, sadly enough, was based so closely on a character Robert Duncan McNeill played earlier on Star Trek: The Next Generation that the producers just got him to play the "new" role on Star Trek: Voyager. Even Seven Of Nine, who was brought on for sex appeal, is essentially Hugh Borg recast.

That said, when considering the entire series, it helps to know who the characters are. In Star Trek: Voyager the crew consists of:

Captain Kathryn Janeway - The former science officer ended up in command and now commands the environmentally-responsible U.S.S. Voyager. She is efficient, principled and loyal to her crew. She upholds StarFleet principles in the face of an impossible journey home, even as the casualties in her crew begin to mount,

Commander Chakotay - Voyager's ex-Maquis first officer, he has a tattoo on his face and has a proud Native American culture which he uses to explore the spiritual aspects of the journey the ship is on. He quickly becomes loyal to Janeway, even though he has an encounter with the Borg that makes him resistant to ever working with them,

Lieutenant Commander Tuvok - Voyager's chief of security, he is a Vulcan and uses logic in dispensing force. He is Janeway's best friend and he is the reason Voyager gets lost and, ultimately, the driving factor to the resolution of the series, though largely he is a supporting character,

Lieutenant Tom Paris - A former renegade, Janeway rescues him from prison for the Badlands mission and he soon becomes a valuable member of the crew as the ship's helmsman. He pilots the ship and guides Harry Kim. Soon, he becomes involved with B'Elanna and the two have a steamy romantic relationship. Loves classic science fiction and develops programs for the holodeck,

Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres - The half-human, half-Klingon ex-Maquis chief engineer, she has a temper and loathes her Klingon heritage. She develops a soft spot for Harry Kim and Tom Paris and becomes romantically involved with Paris as she works to keep Voyager up and running,

Ensign Harry Kim - The operations officer, he is essentially the science officer and this is his first ship. Eager to learn from Janeway and impress her, he is naive and exerts his independence by befriending Paris,

The Doctor - The Emergency Medical Hologram is a temporary program that takes over Sickbay when the medical staff is killed during the initial transport into the Delta Quadrant. He gets some assistance from Kes, Paris and ultimately Seven Of Nine, but his program experiences glitches as a result of being left on. Ultimately, he becomes self-aware and able to move outside of Sickbay, overcoming his programming to be a true individual,

Neelix - A Talaxian, a race unique to the Delta Quadrant, he is a scavenger that earns his keep on Voyager by guiding the ship and taking over a ship's cook to try to make the ship's resources stretch. He is often comic relief and he arrives with Kes, whom he loves,

Kes - An Ocampa, the young woman has a lifespan of approximately seven years. Away from her planet - thanks to Neelix - her powers begin to grow as she ages. She begins to learn how to discipline her telekinetic talents under Tuvok and she treats the Doctor as if he were real. Despite flirtations with Paris, she . . . is abruptly replaced with . . .

Seven Of Nine - A former Borg, she was brought on for sex appeal (she runs around in a skintight catsuit and high heels, saving Voyager on a weekly basis) and she lives up to that. Freed from the Borg hive mind, she does not know how to act among humans, so the Doctor teaches her and she saves the ship innumerable times after Kes throws the ship past Borg space.

The acting on Star Trek: Voyager is variable and the problem is truly in the writing and producing. Kate Mulgrew leads the characters courageously for the first few seasons as Captain Janeway, but when Seven Of Nine arrives and begins to get all of the major stories, Mulgrew begins to act bored on-screen. It is hard to blame her: this was supposed to be her show and she is trumped by the series fishing for ratings through t&a. Still, when she is given the focus, she rises to the occasion. Those opportunities come at less frequent intervals in the fifth, sixth and seventh seasons, though.

The real acting genius comes from Robert Picardo, who develops the Doctor from a series of sarcastic quips into a viable character who is likable and steals ever scene he is in. Because The Doctor is paired with Seven Of Nine, Picardo gets quite a bit of screentime as the series goes on and he makes excellent use of that.

On DVD, each season has featurettes that include full season's overviews and a featurette on one of the main characters. These are essentially clip shows and there is the occasional featurette on the special effects and alien races of Star Trek: Voyager but largely the bonuses are clipshows. There are no commentary tracks.

Still, it is not enough to even come close to recommending anyone pick up this giant boxed set of Star Trek: Voyager. The early seasons have all of the potential and merit. The rest can easily be passed by.

To see how this stacks up against the rest of the franchise, please check out my reviews of the complete series of:
Star Trek
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek The Film Collection
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


For other Star Trek episodes, seasons, and movie reviews, be sure to check out my specialized Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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