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Star Trek: Voyager – Once Upon a Time (Review)

Once Upon a Time is another example of thwarted ambition on Star Trek: Voyager.

The original pitch for the episode was incredibly ambitious and narratively experimental, a Star Trek story told exclusively from the perspective of a child character trying to make sense of a world from which the adults are trying to protect her. In many ways, it recalls the original pitch for Macrocosm, an episode that Brannon Braga had originally hoped to write as a piece of silent television. However, like that earlier episode, the original plan for Once Upon a Time was vetoed in favour of something far more conventional.

Toyetic, isn’t he?

In many ways, this conservatism was a reminder of just how far Voyager was being left behind, of how the dominant production strand of the Star Trek franchise was failing to keep pace with the changing media landscape around it. Genre television had been a hotbed for experimentation in the nineties. Twin Peaks changed television, allowing the medium to embrace surrealism and weirdness in a way never seen before. Series like Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returned serialisation to prime time, after it had fallen out of fashion.

Over the course of the decade, genre shows were willing to push the boundaries of what was possible in television, proving dynamic in a way that would be hugely influential for the more high-brow “prestige” series that followed. Even shows like The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer indulged in the occasional experimental episodes like The Post-Modern Prometheus, Triangle, Who Monitors the Birds?, Hush and Once More With Feeling. There was a revolution taking place in television during the nineties.

It’ll never catch on.

Of course, that particular television revolution was already in its final days as the decade drew to a close. The next big innovation in television storytelling was just around the corner, with The Sopranos only a few months away from broadcast. Once that happened, the television revolution would shift away from science-fiction and horror shows on free-to-access broadcasters and towards more critically-respected genres on more prestigious (and exclusive) networks. Voyager would have been late to the party anyway, but instead decided to skip it anyway.

Once Upon a Time is an ambitious premise watered down to mediocre execution. It is Voyager in a nutshell.

Why, I Flotter…

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