Thursday, May 31, 2012

With “Caretaker,” Star Trek: Voyager Is Off With A Bang!

The Good: Excellent initial characterization, Reasonably good plot, Competent acting
The Bad: Only the usual starting show problems
The Basics: Quit while you're ahead - watch “Caretaker,” enjoy it, and don't break your back to watch other Star Trek: Voyager episodes!

I almost managed to keep my promise to myself that I wouldn't spend this review lambasting the entire Star Trek: Voyager series following the pilot episode. I guess right now I'm failing. There are some good episodes of Voyager in the first three seasons (there's not a single superlative episode thereafter) and the series peaked with the penultimate episode of the second season ("Resolutions," if you're interested).

Part of the problem is "Caretaker," which got the series off to a great start. Despite the simple resolution to the essential character conflicts (which are much more understandable in the immediate situation in "Caretaker" than in the following episodes), "Caretaker" is easily the best beginning to a Trek series ever. The writers and producers succeeded in making a collection of interesting characters, putting them in an interesting ethical conflict and actually succeeding in making the viewer care.

"Caretaker" is the story of a group of renegades who are whisked off into another corner of the galaxy by a powerful alien. Shortly thereafter, their pursuers from the right side of the law are similarly abducted while hunting for the renegades. In the far corner they find themselves forced to rely on each other as they unravel the reasoning behind why they were abducted and, in the process, are forced to make a difficult decision.

The problems the U.S.S. Voyager and its crew immediately find themselves embroiled in take two forms: the mysterious Caretaker (the alien who brought the crew into the Delta Quadrant) and the Kazon, a warlike nomadic race on a nearby planet that menaces the subterranean Ocampa which the Caretaker is bent on protecting. Lost in a far corner of the galaxy, the two crews must protect the Ocampa, stop the oppressive Kazon and attempt to find a way home.

As this is only the first episode of the series, one might guess they fail with that last part.

The Federation Starship Voyager is led by Katharyn Janeway, who is commanding a new state of the art starship that is environmentally friendly. She is hunting a renegade named Chakotay and the reason she was tapped was because her Security Chief, a Vulcan named Tuvok, was aboard the ship enemy ship when it was lost. The crew is rounded out by an ambitious ensign, a former criminal as the chief helm officer, a holographic surgeon and a half-Klingon, half-human woman who will soon become the chief engineer. In the distant corner of space they find themselves, they meet a guide and his telepathic assistant. They also, in the process of resolving their ethical dilemma, make a new enemy.

"Caretaker" is light on the special effects, though it has some excellent effects in a climactic space battle. This works to the strength of the show; the first episode is packed with character. And if Tom Paris seems especially well defined in the first scene he appears in, there's good reason; actor Robert Duncan McNeill taped at least two versions of it with the woman originally cast as Janeway.

The acting in the first episode seems remarkably good considering it is a pilot episode and the show has so much further to go.

To understand Star Trek: Voyager better, it helps to know who the characters are as established in this pilot episode. They are:

Captain Kathryn Janeway - A scientist who is sent on a rescue mission when her ship is abducted by an alien force. Highly ethical and humane, Janeway is forced to make a moral decision that pits the life of a planet against the easy return of her crew to where it belongs,

Lieutenant Tuvok - The Vulcan security chief, he is efficient and commanding. Tuvok was undercover investigating a Maquis ship when it was abducted by the Caretaker alien, compelling Janeway to hunt for him,

The Doctor (The Emergency Medical Hologram) - The chief medical officer when the medical staff is inadvertantly killed, he is a hologram with the sum total of the Federation's medical knowledge programmed into him. He is limited to Sickbay as that is the only place on the ship that has the holographic projectors,

Ensign Harry Kim - Fresh from the Academy, Kim is on his first mission. After leaving Deep Space Nine on Voyager, he is tortured by the Caretaker. He's not having the best week,

Lieutenant (j.g.) Tom Paris - Formerly StarFleet, Formerly Maquis, Janeway buys his way out of prison with the mission to the Badlands because in addition to being a criminal, he's an ace pilot. He is a rogue willing to work for anyone, for the right price,

Captain Chakotay - Leader of a Maquis cell that is lost in the Badlands. Chakotay is a Native American Indian who teams up with Janeway to try to find a way back to the Alpha Quadrant, though the appearance of the warlike Kazon soon scuttles his plans,

B'Elanna Torres - Chakotay's chief engineer, a half-human, half-Klingon woman who is filled with anger. Abducted and experimented on by the Caretaker, this Maquis is not having a great week either,

Neelix - A Talaxian (new race native to the Delta Quadrant) and a junk merchant, Neelix is essentially a freemarket guide living in the area who offers his service for passage on Voyager,

and Kes - A young Ocampa (also a race introduced in this episode), a race that lives very short lives. She is deeply compassionate and a friend of Neelix, she aids Janeway in rescuing Kim and Torres.

The characters start out as an interesting mix and "Caretaker" presents them in a way that gives the viewer hope that their characters might be maintained and grow. They certainly have a lot to work with!

More than any of the other Star Trek series', Voyager begins with a feeling of polish and a stronger sense of what it is. It's disappointing to see how very far off course it went. A pleasant surprise for those who aren't Trek fans as well.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for reviews on episodes, films and seasons across the entire franchise!

© 2012, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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