• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Voyager – Scientific Method (Review)

Scientific Method is in many ways the flip side of the coin to episodes like Nemesis, Distant Origin or Remember.

Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember were effective demonstrations of Jeri Taylor’s approach to Star Trek: Voyager, a conscious effort to downplay the unique premise of the show in favour of pitching a more generic sort of Star Trek. With that in mind, Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember constructed powerful allegories to examine pressing contemporary issues through the lens of science-fiction, resulting in episodes that represented one of the most defining aspects of the franchise: the sci-fi-tinged morality play.

Built into Voyager's DNA.

Built into Voyager’s DNA.

Not every example of this approach worked as well as those three episodes. Voyager began leaning into this more archetypal and generic Star Trek storytelling at the start of its third season, and the results were quite hit-and-miss. There were certainly brilliant examples in the seasons ahead, like Living Witness or Blink of an Eye. But not every allegory worked as well. Sometimes, the episodes were too didactic, like Critical Care or Repentance. Sometimes, the episodes were too generic, like The Chute. Sometimes, they were just ill-judged, as with Retrospect.

Scientific Method is a very bland and forgettable episode of Star Trek. It is not necessarily bad, but it is also not particularly memorable. In some ways, it demonstrates the limitations of the “generic Star Trek” approach to scripting for Voyager. Without a set of interesting and well-developed characters with strong dynamics in a series with a unique identity, an average episode can feel rather flat.

Give her head peace.

Give her head peace.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Warlord (Review)

Warlord is another example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as the most generic iteration of Star Trek.

At its core, Warlord is an example of the old Star Trek staple, the body-swapping personality-swap episode. There are dozens of examples from across the length and breadth of the franchise, asking regular performers to play different characters. The loosest definition would include William Shatner’s work in The Enemy Within or Roxann Dawson’s work in Faces. A more narrow sampling would include episodes like The Turnabout Intruder or The Schizoid Man. There were plenty of these episodes before Warlord, and there will be plenty after.

"A toast, to that most reliable of plot devices..."

“A toast, to that most reliable of plot devices…”

It is not a bad device, in theory. After all, playing the same character for twenty-odd episodes a year can be exhausting for a performer. Many actors relish the opportunity to shake things up, to put a new spin on an old role. (Chris Pine has only played Kirk three times, but already relishes the opportunity to see the character “go dark.”) It can be refreshing for the audience as well, giving them the opportunity to see exciting new sides of familiar characters. Warlord certainly has an intriguing enough hook in that regard: casting Jennifer Lien as a psychotic dictator.

The extent to which a given possession episode work is largely a matter of execution rather than concept. By that measure, Warlord comes up very short.

Make love, not Warlord.

Make love, not Warlord.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Remember (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Much like The Chute before it, Remember is very much an attempt to do classic archetypal Star Trek.

Remember is an allegorical piece of social commentary that is as firmly rooted in the nineties as the prison politics that underpinned The Chute. As the name implies, Remember is a story fascinated with the idea of memory and legacy. In particular, it reflects the idea of cultural memory as construct that is shared from person to person and passed down from generation to generation. Touching on themes of Holocaust denial, Remember is a very potent piece of science-fiction allegory, one that treats cultural memory as something to be cultivated and maintained.

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Remember is a good illustration of what the production team is trying to do as Star Trek: Voyager enters its third season. After a disastrous (and exhausting) sophomore year, it seems like the writing staff have opted against trying to give the show its own unique voice. Instead, the plan seems to be to craft the most archetypal approach to the franchise imaginable. From this point onwards, it becomes increasingly rare for the show to do episodes unique to its setting and premise, instead telling stories that would work with most iterations of the franchise.

This approach has its limitations, of course. By the time that the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise rolls around, even the most die-hard fans have had their fill of broadly-drawn mass-produced factory-setting Star Trek. While this approach could be argued to be a waste of an interesting premise and the betrayal of the show’s original promise, Remember makes a convincing argument that an archetypal Star Trek allegory can still work on its own terms. Remember is a powerful and effective piece of commentary in the classic Star Trek tradition.

Burning guilt...

Burning guilt…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Innocence (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the remarkable things about the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager is the way that they seem to hark back to the aesthetic of classic Star Trek.

There is a palpable goofiness to some of the ideas in the second season that feels very much in keeping with the mood and tone of the classic sixties series. There’s a surprising amount of high-concept science-fiction allegory running through the first two seasons of the show, with the writer playing with concepts not too far removed from the space!Romans of Bread and Circuses or the half-black half-white allegories of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. There are points where Voyager seems to drift away from literalism and wander into sci-fi wackiness.

Kids these days...

Kids these days…

There were elements of this to be found in the first season, with Caretaker awkwardly literalising the franchise’s wild west metaphor by having Janeway’s first planetfall occur on a desert world with a primitive aggressive population. The Kazon and the Vidiians seemed like they escaped from pulpy science-fiction serials, with the show even going so far as to present the Vidiians as body horror space nazis in episodes like Phage and Faces. This is to say nothing of the Cold War paranoia of Cathexis or the primary colour atomic anxiety of Time and Again.

However, this tendency really kicked into high gear during the second season, with the crews’ dreams conspiring to kill them in Persistence of Vision, Chakotay meeting his people’s space!gods (er… “sky spirits”) in Tattoo, Voyager embroiling itself in a “robotic war” in Prototype and Paris “evolving” into a salamander in Threshold. There was a sense that the show was embracing the sort of high-concept sci-fi weirdness that Star Trek: The Next Generation had spent so much of its run trying to avoid, and had only really embraced in its final years.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

That is particularly apparent in this stretch of episodes towards the end of the second season. Innocence has a species that ages backwards, enjoying a simple allegory without getting too caught up in the internal logic of the situation. The Thaw is arguably a much greater visual tribute to the style and tone of the original Star Trek than Flashback could ever claim to be. Tuvix is a classic transporter accident story, reversing The Enemy Within. These pulpy elements of Voyager would never quite go away, but they would never be as pronounced as they were in the first two years.

Innocence is a weird and goofy little story that works best as a modern fairy tale. It is arguably proof that the Star Trek franchise probably works better as metaphorical allegory than straight-up science-fiction.

Eye see...

Eye see…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Dreadnought (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Dreadnought is arguably a much better version of Prototype.

Both are essentially horror stories about B’Elanna Torres essentially creating a new mechanical life form, making a decision that has unforeseeable consequences. There is an element of reproductive horror to all this, reinforced by the clever decision to have B’Elanna literally give the eponymous warhead her own voice and watch it engage in a course that is quite literally self-destructive. It is perhaps the quintessential reproductive horror story, the fear that we might create something that will supplant us; that our children become the worst reflections of ourselves.

Engine of mass destruction...

Engine of mass destruction…

It is interesting that Dreadnought followed Meld so closely; both are essentially stories about how Star Trek: Voyager (and its characters) cannot cleanly escape their past, as much as the show might push it (and them) towards a generic Star Trek template. The middle of the second season sees an emphasis on the idea that Voyager is composed of two radically different crews – that Starfleet and the Maquis are not as integrated as shows like Parallax or Learning Curve might suggest.

Alliances, Meld and Dreadnought all build on the idea of underlying tensions that were mostly glossed over during the first season. Of course, this creates a weird dissonance, as Voyager seems to actually be moving backwards rather than forwards – attempting a half-hearted do-over of some of its earliest miscalculations.

Engineering a solution...

Engineering a solution…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Resistance (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Resistance is a very episodic instalment of Star Trek: Voyager.

It begins with the ship facing a convenient plot-generating fuel-shortage, the type of problem that the ship had encountered near the start of Phage or The Cloud or Tattoo. It is the kind of problem that was not mentioned in previous episodes, and which will never be presented as a potentially recurring problem. In fact, Resistance is the only episode of Voyager (or Star Trek) where the word “Tellerium” is mentioned. Many of the stock criticisms of Voyager apply here.

Fifty shades of Joel Grey...

Fifty shades of Joel Grey…

At the same time, Resistance is proof that the episodic model is not entirely without merit. For all that modern television has tended towards serialisation and arcs and long-form storytelling, there is nothing inherently wrong with a good old-fashioned done-in-one adventure. On a purely cosmetic level, Resistance is the typical Voyager episode; it relies on contrivance, it features a host of guest characters who will never appear (or be mentioned) again, it has no lasting impact. And yet it works better than any episode to this point in the second season.

As easy as it is to get distracted by arguments about serialised and episodic storytelling, or about arcs and standalones, the truth is that Voyager‘s problems are at once more simple and more complex than that. The grand irony of the second season is that it is the only season of Voyager to attempt a storytelling arc, but that storytelling arc is pretty universally derided as one of the worst things that the show ever did. (It isn’t really, but it’s still pretty bad.) The truth is that it doesn’t matter how Voyager chose to tell its stories, as long as it told them well.

Mellon head...

Mellon head…

Resistance is a fairly standard episode of Voyager, but it is elevated in the telling. The story seems unlikely to rank among anybody’s favourite Voyager episodes, but it is an efficient and effective character study with a solid script and a great central performance. The production team were able to recruit Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey as the primary guest star, lending the story an incredible level of pathos. Lisa Klink also makes quite an impression with her debut teleplay, providing a story that is careful to give most of the cast something to do.

The result is proof that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a largely episodic approach to Star Trek storytelling, as long as the material is up to scratch.

"This is knife reunion, no?"

“This is knife reunion, no?”

Continue reading