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Star Trek: Voyager – Learning Curve (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, Learning Curve is the last episode broadcast as part of Star Trek: Voyager‘s first season. It’s hard to get too excited about – or be too disappointed by – that.

Learning Curve is a bit of limp finalé to a mediocre season. Like a lot of the season before it, it’s a passable execution of what should have been a fantastic concept. (Boy, that really is Voyager in a nutshell, isn’t it?)

Is the show finally starting to gel?

Is the show finally starting to gel?

Learning Curve‘s position in the broadcast order was apparently a bit of blind luck. It was actually the fifth-last episode produced of the show’s first season. It just found itself broadcast in the “season finalé” slot when UPN decided to hold back the remaining four episodes of the season until the Fall, to broadcast leading into the second season.

However, despite this, Learning Curve seems as good a choice as any to close out the first season – and certainly a better choice than Brannon Braga and Jeri Taylor’s preferred candidate, The 37’s. It returns to the conflict between Starfleet and the Maquis promised in Caretaker, but only fleetingly acknowledged in episodes like Parallax or State of Flux. Although the execution leaves a lot to be desired, it does create a sense that the show has come something of a full circle.

It's Chakotay or the high way...

It’s Chakotay or the high way…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Jetrel (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Jetrel is an interesting episode for a number of reasons. It’s another example of how the first season of Star Trek: Voyager seems anchored in the aftermath of the Second World War. The episode exists primarily as a meditation on guilt over the use of atomic weapon, with the Metreon Cascade attack on Rinax standing in for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Negaska in 1945. Jetrel aired three months shy of the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing, and amid a national period of reflection about the morality of Harry S. Truman’s actions.

Whatever the context of Jetrel in 1995, it serves as another example of how Voyager seems like a relic from a bygone age, a snapshot of atomic age science-fiction. Cathexis was the show doing Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Faces was an old-fashioned monster movie. Jetrel wasn’t even the first time that the first season had traded in atomic imagery. The aftermath of the polaric detonation in Time and Again was very clearly designed to evoke the aftermath of an atomic blast.

The devil in the pale moonlight...

The devil in the pale moonlight…

Even without all this baggage, Jetrel still feels like a mess of an episode. The heart of the story finds a member of the ensemble confronting a former war criminal while dealing with issues of war guilt and responsibility – a structure that evokes Duet the penultimate episode of the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While that episode worked brilliantly, there’s a sense that Jetrel is burdened a little bit trying to offer a two-hander about guilt while tackling the issue of the atomic bomb.

The problem is compounded by a somewhat messy final act that eschews all the episode’s heavy character-based drama in favour of a contrived techno-babble climax that involves a lot of characters spouting nonsense while playing with light-emitting diodes. Jetrel begins as the strongest and boldest episode of the show’s first season, but ends as one of the prime examples of Voyager‘s preference for techno-babble over character work.

Burn with me...

Burn with me…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Heroes and Demons (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many ways, Heroes and Demons is a watershed moment for Star Trek: Voyager. The two previous episodes, Prime Factors and State of Flux, may have been far from perfect, but they did at least hint at a direction for the show. They suggested that maybe Voyager might be interested in engaging in some of the big philosophical questions raised by the crew’s unique situation. Stranded seventy thousand light-years from home, the ship was cut off from the Federation. It was isolated and alone. That meant that tough choices at least had to be debated.

While neither Prime Factors nor State of Flux made for particularly exciting television, they were episodes that felt specific to Voyager in a way that a lot of the first season really doesn’t. Unfortunately, Heroes and Demons represents a step backwards. Far from telling a story specific to Star Trek: Voyager, this feels like a script that could easily have been recycled from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Can the Doctor hack it?

Can the Doctor hack it?

It’s written by veteran Next Generation writer Naren Shankar, who had also served on the staff of Deep Space Nine. He wrote Heroes and Demons as a freelancer, pitching the idea very early in the development cycle. Perhaps what is most remarkable is how little of Shankar’s script was adapted or edited from that first draft. In fact he described it to The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine as “the best experience I’ve ever had as a writer, in terms of writing something as a first draft and then seeing those exact words on screen.”

There’s a sense that Heroes and Demons is a fun story that could have really worked in any context, and doesn’t fit particularly well into the mould of Voyager‘s first season. This should be the year where Voyager is trying to find its own voice, rather than simply imitating that of its older siblings.

Only mostly armless...

Only mostly armless…

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Star Trek: Voyager – State of Flux (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Prime Factors and State of Flux form something of a duology in the middle of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager. The two episodes might be far from perfect, but they seem to be the closest that the first season of Voyager comes to outlining its vision and ambitions. Taken together, they offer a demonstration that life in the Delta Quadrant might be significantly more complicated than life in the Alpha Quadrant – that everything might not be as it appears to be, that Voyager might not be the perfect Federation vessel.

While both episodes are flawed, they do demonstrate a willingness to take advantage of the basic premise of Voyager to tell stories that simply wouldn’t be possible on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In that respect, they stand apart from surrounding stories like Ex Post Facto or Heroes and Demons, both of which feel like re-worked stories from an aborted eighth season of The Next Generation. These are adventurous and ambitious episodes. They lack the skill necessary to completely realise that vision; but that skill could come in time.

Unfortunately, these two episodes wind up feeling like exceptions – a flash of what might have been, rather than what would be.

Kazon development has hit a wall...

Kazon development has hit a wall…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Prime Factors (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Prime Factors has some great ideas, but blunders awkwardly in the execution. In that respect, it genuinely feels like a first season episode of a new show in the same way that The Cloud did – there’s a sense that the series is trying to expand its own comfort zone in a way that offers potential for future storytelling opportunities. Prime Factors might make a few pretty serious missteps along the way, and often seems a little too timid to commit to its bolder ideas directly, but at least it feels more ambitious than Time and Again or Ex Post Facto.

Make way for Janeway...

Make way for Janeway…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Caretaker (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, Star Trek: Voyager.

Where do we begin? Voyager is probably the most divisive and controversial of the Star Trek spin-offs, the one that carries a lot of the blame for the franchise’s decline and decay in the mid to late nineties. It is the series that connects the tail end of the success story that was Star Trek: The Next Generation to the start of the dying gasp that was Star Trek: Enterprise. This spin-off had the misfortune to launch at the height of a revived franchise’s popularity and to finish as public interest waned.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

Star Trek: Voyager felt like an act of hubris. It was positioned by Paramount to be the studio’s highest-profile television show. It was a feature of the television landscape, finally allowing Paramount the chance to leverage its own television network – a plan delayed since the late seventies, but deemed feasible in the mid-nineties. UPN branded itself “the first network of the new century”, a rather arrogant declaration. Caretaker was the first thing broadcast on UPN in early 1995, débuting to an audience of more than 21 million. However, Voyager would never reach those figures again.

Despite that success, things fell apart quickly. None of the shows that aired on UPN’s second night received a second season. The only shows to limp on to renewal from the network’s rocky first year were Voyager, The Sentinel and Moesha. Of these meagre freshmen hits. Voyager lasted the longest, with one more season to its name than Moesha. Over the summer of 1995, it was identified by The Los Angeles Times as the network’s “star survivor”, and the show upon which all of the network’s hopes rested. By 2000, five years later, the network had run up a debt of $800,000.

"I hope you don't mind, our tailors measured you while you were unconscious. It's all part of a standard probe."

“I hope you don’t mind, our tailors measured you while you were unconscious. It’s all part of a standard probe.”

That’s a lot of pressure for any television series to bear. Following (and, in the eyes of many, replacing) an illustrious predecessor, supporting the weight of a new television network, pushing into the future while remaining anchored to the past, it’s no wonder that Star Trek: Voyager wound up the confused mess that it became. Indeed, one can recognise many of the problems that would haunt the show through to its final season tied up in this pilot episode.

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