Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW

Star Trek: Voyager

TV Series from Paramount Studios

reviewed by Don HARLOW

(Being flat on your back for ~90 hours has its advantages. Among other things, it allows you to review approximately 50 episodes of a TV series to which you have not previously paid too much attention...)

The story is, in fact, an old one. You could claim that Moses' search for the Promised Land is the earliest known example, though in fact the wandering immortal Gilgamesh predates the Jewish prophet by a couple of thousand years. But the real prototype for modern versions is, of course, Homer's story of Odysseos (aka Ulysses), King of Ithaca, who, having successfully prosecuted the war against Troy, is punished by the gods for his hubris by being forced to track back and forth through the Mediterranean Sea for two decades before he ultimately (and without his crew) reaches his home in Ithaca. The story has been a popular one among science-fiction authors over the decades; in fact, Fletcher Pratt wrote a version which was almost a word-for-word updating of the original story, at least to the point at which the military-commander hero realized what was happening and refused to play the story out any further.

The latest incarnation is, of course, the series Star Trek: Voyager. The premise of the series is that the Intrepid-class starship Voyager, sent by Star Fleet Command to the Badlands along the Kardassian border to put an end to depredations by the freedom-fighting Maquis (1) against the totalist Kardassians, after seizing a Maquis ship and its crew is itself caught up in a wormhole-like phenomenon and dumped out at the opposite end of the galaxy, in the delta quadrant, from which it must make its way back home -- a journey of about 30,000 parsecs and the better part of a century. So far, the crew has been on its way for some four and a half years.

As is usual in Star Trek series, there are two focuses for the show the search for new life forms and new civilizations; and the developing and changing relationships within the crew. I was less than enthused about the series when it began, but a review of the most recent half a hundred episodes indicates that it has improved on both counts. The alien life forms and civilizations have become somewhat more interesting than they were early in the series (the "Kezon" of the first season were more annoying than dangerous, and showed up far too often); what could have turned into a protracted and stultifying confrontation with the Borg was utilized simply as a jumping-off point for a new character and one interesting new species. And, after a couple of years of shaking down the originally extremely heterogeneous crew, relationships have steadied and become understandable -- something not always true of the Star Trek universe.

The watershed for the last year and a half was the two-part cliffhanger "Scorpion", in which, during passage through Borg space, the Voyager gets involved in a war between the Borg and "species 8472", a terrifyingly versatile and implacable intruder from "fluidic space". During this conflict, Voyager takes on a new member of the crew, the Borg drone Seven of Nine, whom Voyager Captain Katherine Janeway is determined to turn back into a functioning human being, whatever Seven's own wishes in the matter. This also sets the stage for the disappearance of another female character, Kes the Ocampan. It also sets the stage for more than one encounter with another species in which Seven's Borg-ness serves as a major irritant.

The series writers have taken material from a number of different sources during the year and a half in question. We are faced with the problems of toxic waste dumping and other types of environmental pollution; we get to refight World War II in a two-episode holodeck simulation; we encounter a civilization in which "if unpleasant thoughts are outlawed, only outlaws will have unpleasant thoughts"; the flaws of attempting to change history are investigated at length; and the validity of historical narrative is itself reviewed. The Prime Directive is, as usual, obeyed or ignored, depending on Janeways' mood of the moment. Bad guys turn out to be good guys, even, natural appearance notwithstanding, eminently kissable (species 8472). (2) We meet Leonardo da Vinci (the inimitable John Rhys-Davies) a few times on the holodeck ... and elsewhere. And Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard are occasionally mentioned in passing (Kirk apparently claimed to have actually met the original Leonardo da Vinci, though the evidence is not conclusive). And, every episode, we get just a little closer to home.

We do, occasionally, have contact with the home quadrant, where we find, among other things, that Captain Janeway's Penelope, Mark, has not waited for her return...

It's an enjoyable retelling of Homer. I recommend it.

Addendum (2001.05.27): Journey's End

Blue waves a-rolling
  Visions in my mind
Of a strange voice calling
  "Journey's at an end;
  Journey's at an end!"

It eventually took Voyager 23 years to get home from the Delta Quadrant -- a period of time not unlike that Odysseus required to come back to Ithaca -- and we only saw the first seven years of that epic journey before the series came to the end of its seven-year arc with the two-hour episode "Endgame." Between then and the ship's epic reception at Starfleet HQ in San Francisco (where Voyager would later become a museum on the grounds of the one-time Presidio), there were no doubt numerous adventures that we never saw and now never will see. This, the final adventure of Voyager -- and there isn't really room left for a movie -- starts ten years after that homecoming, with Admiral Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) throwing a reunion for her crew. We see Janeway, now elderly and silver-haired ... Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), apparently no longer associated with Starfleet but rather an author with a receding hairline -- and, of course, his wife B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), still beautiful despite (or because of) those Klingon forehead ridges ... Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), no longer an ensign but himself middle-aged, greying and a bit stockier than he used to be, and captain of the starship Rhode Island. Midway through the party, the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) enters with his new wife, a genuine (human, solid) blonde. For a moment, we're introduced to the young daughter of Naomi Wildman, who was herself born on Voyager in the first or second year of its journey. Hovering in the background is adopted Voyager Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz), who will soon be teaching a course on the Borg in company with Admiral Janeway, the Federation expert on the topic. It's some party!

"Hear the anchor sinking,
  Voices ringing clear,
A welcome from my kindred,
  And friends I love so dear...
  And friends I love so dear."

And yet there seem to be a few faces missing. Whatever happened to Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the former Borg drone who turned into one of the series' most popular (and certainly its most voluptuous) characters? Sorry. She died during the tenth year of the journey. And Chakotay (Robert Beltran), he of the tatooed face and imperturbable wisdom? Oh, he had married Seven, and when she died he lost his zest for life, and died, too, sometime during the journey or shortly after its end (Janeway visits his gravestone, which may be a cenotaph). And where, oh, where is Janeway's most loyal friend and lieutenant, the Vulcan Tuvok (Tim Russ)? His may be the saddest case of all; he contracted a lingering degenerative disease during the journey, and while it could have been cured if he could have been gotten back to Vulcan quickly enough, he wasn't, and now he spends his days in a dark room with a locked (from the outside) door, crouching on the floor and using a pen to fill in reams of paper, with the aid of light from dozens of candles, for what he calls his "book." Overall, the situation is not totally satisfactory to Janeway, and she wonders -- as we all do, from time to time -- what decisions she could have made that would have caused things to come out differently. And, wonder of wonders! she finds one. But, as long-time Star Trek fans will have realized ever since James T. Kirk made that memorable slingshot ride around the sun and found himself over Omaha, Nebraska, in nineteen-sixty-seven, Janeway has an advantage that we don't in the world in which she lives, she can change that decision and make things have come out right!

At the seventh year of Voyager's journey, a couple of weeks after the ship has severed its last internal tie with the Delta Quadrant (by bidding farewell to Neelix [Ethan Phillips], their seven-year Talaxian cook, morale officer and ambassador of good-will), the crew discovers an interesting nebula that seems to be jam-packed at its core with wormholes that could lead anywhere -- "even your parents' living room," Janeway tells Kim, "so the next time you talk with your mother [via the communications link that Reg Barclay developed last season], tell her to move her sofa out of the way." Unfortunately, the nebula is packed not only with wormholes but with Borg cubes, one of which carries Yet Another Avatar of the Borg Queen (Alice Krige, from First Contact). Reluctantly, Janeway retreats and decides that it is better to continue on the long journey than to be destroyed by the Borg. But she reckons without Janeway, who has spent years developing technologies to make it possible to defeat the Borg and will not take "no" for an answer. Furthermore, in the heart of the nebula is a Borg transwarp hub, a huge nexus of innumerable "transwarp corridors" (which we've seen from time to time in earlier episodes), one of six in the galaxy, which makes it possible for the Borg to spill en masse out of the Delta Quadrant into the Alpha Quadrant, as they have done a couple of times before. If that could be destroyed ...

"Lost springs are fading;
  They sweep across the vale,
And with oceans of meadows
  To bring me back again,
  To bring me back again."

I enjoyed it immensely. But there are a few criticisms. In a sense -- this has been true of the finales of the other two series, as well -- the ending is too sudden. The most obvious symptom of this is the Chakotay-Seven of Nine romance. It was foreshadowed in one earlier episode, but develops here posthaste; we should have watched it develop through at least half a dozen episodes before reaching this one. It is not clear why Tuvok has to wait for this particular episode to start showing symptoms of the disease that will drive him mad; why not last season? Why B'Elanna Torres had to give birth to her baby (who, earlier in the program, appeared as a Starfleet Ensign age 26) in the middle of a battle with the Borg, I will never understand. This may have been intended to be dramatic; to me, it just looked silly.

But I'm going to miss this series and its characters. Its most obvious difference from its predecessors was in the fact that it was essentially a series for men, but with its strongest characters female (Janeway, Torres, Seven); those of us who are old enough will remember the ladies of the original Star Trek series Rand, who was meant to be decorative; Uhura, who was meant to be token. Here, the men orbited around the women. It was a refreshing change. And the ship, with its crew isolated and depending on their own resources, was in some ways a return to the popular format of the first series, this time perhaps done better.

What next? Well, according to the ads with the show, next season we will see Enterprise, a series set before the era of James T. Kirk. If I remember correctly, that means before Quadrants of the Galaxy, before Bjorans and Kardassians and even Klingons (3) and Romulans, in an era when man's emergence into interstellar space was young and the Federation was more a dream than a reality. What will the pioneer explorers of the age be doing? Who will be the main characters? Zephram Cochrane, perhaps? Maybe Alfre Woodard will return as Lily (from First Contact)? Who will be the villains? Will this new series also have a seven-year arc? Or is the Star Trek phenomenon slowly moving towards its natural and inevitable end?

We shall see. We shall see ...

"Long have I traveled
  In storm and sun and rain
And it's homeward sailing
  Journey's at an end,
  Journey's at an end!"

Verses from "Journey's End" on the Clannad CD macalla.


(1) Pedantic footnote the French freedom fighters, operating in a type of terrain known as maquis, were themselves known as maquisards.
(2) In "Scorpion" Ensign Harry Kim, infected with a few molecules of genetic material from species 8472, turns into a mass of tendrils. One wonders how Commander Chakotay, after the mentioned kiss, avoided this particular fate...
(3) As a planned-language aficionado, I have to ask the inevitable question what will this do to the Klingon language? Well, its popularity was largely a creation of the media in any case, and I suspect that the language, as used in the real world -- which is not much; as the Director of the Klingon Language Institute once pointed out, "all the fluent speakers of Klingon can comfortably have dinner together" -- will follow the fortunes of the Klingons in the Star Trek world, as it appears to have done since its high point in 1994-1995. But, one never knows, perhaps Klingons can be worked into Enterprise somehow (in Barbara Hambly's Ishmael they were even to be found in 19th-century Seattle). That may keep Mark Okrand's books in print for a few years longer ...

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