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Star Trek: Voyager – Investigations (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.

Investigations is a misfire. It is a spectacular misfire.

Investigations is the episode that pretty much single-handedly killed any chance of Star Trek: Voyager embracing long-form storytelling once and for all. The first season had enthusiastically embraced an episodic structure, but the second season had played with the idea of playing out an arc across the majority of the season. Tying together the Kazon with the idea of a traitor on Voyager and the redemption of Tom Paris, the production team decided to attempt something relatively novel for Star Trek.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me.
Kill me now.

It is worth stressing just how experimental this kind of story was. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had played with the idea of serialisation. Threads like the Romulan and Cardassian invasion of the Gamma Quadrant were carefully seeded through episodes like Defiant and Visionary, but there was not the same tension and momentum afforded to the arcs of Michael Jonas and Tom Paris in the second season. The Romulans and the Cardassians were not discussed in every episode leading up to Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

At the same time, Deep Space Nine eased into serialisation in a way that allowed for failures and miscalculations that did not publicly humiliate the show. Bajoran politics could be quietly eased into the background when they weren’t quite working, characters like Primmin and T’Rul could be dropped when they weren’t what the show needed. The second season of Voyager was perhaps a bit too bold in its attempts at long-form storytelling, creating a situation where there was no way to pull back from an arc that wasn’t working.

"Well. That escalated quickly."

“Well. That escalated quickly.”

It became quite clear early on that the Paris and Jonas arc was not working. Episodes like Threshold and Dreadnought ground to a halt so that the audience could get yet another scene of Jonas selling out Voyager to the Kazon; treachery that never seemed to actually go anywhere. At the same time, Paris’ rebellious behaviour was tackled in a superficial manner in episodes like Meld and Lifesigns, with no real exploration of the interesting side of such a sting operation.

Investigations serves to bring the arc to a close, but in a manner that feels perfunctory rather than compelling. It is resolved out of a sense of tired desperation rather than any real inspiration. There is a feeling that the production team have determined this to be a failed experiment, of which they will never speak again.

See? I told you EVERYBODY's thought about it.

See? I told you EVERYBODY’s thought about it.

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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?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Doctor’s Orders (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

If Harbinger was a surprisingly experimental piece of Star Trek, then Doctor’s Orders is something far more conventional. If Harbinger was an attempt to do something relatively novel within the framework of Star Trek: Enterprise, then Doctor’s Orders offers the viewer something they’ve seen before.

This applies in a very literal sense. There are quite a few similarities between the plot of Doctor’s Orders and One. Both are effectively one-hander bottle shows focusing on a popular member of the cast, working from the premise that an anomaly of the week requires the rest of the crew to go into stasis. From that starting point, both episodes become studies of isolation and loneliness. Both character find themselves confronting hallucinations while dealing with a perceived threat to the ship.

Yes. Doctor's Orders was a very strange choice for Sweeps.

Yes. Doctor’s Orders was a very strange choice for Sweeps.

To be fair, this is neither the first nor the last time that the Star Trek franchise will feature a plot largely recycled from existing elements. With over seven hundred episodes in the can, there will inevitably be some overlap and similarities. However, Doctor’s Orders feels familiar in another more primal sort of way. One of the big tensions of third season is a need to balance the demands of a larger story arc with a twenty-odd episode season. There is a very odd equilibrium to be struck between the long-form story and episodic standalone adventures.

Doctor’s Orders is very much an old-school episodic Star Trek adventure that could exist quite apart from the demands of the third season as a whole. It is an example of the sorts of internal tensions at work on the show.

The sleep of the just...

The sleep of the just…

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