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Star Trek: Voyager – Thirty Days (Review)

Thirty Days is a fascinating misfire.

Thirty Days is build around a number of interesting ideas. In terms of character, there is the framing device that finds Tom Paris sentenced to spend one month in the brig after an act of crass insubordination, suggesting a relapse into the “bad boy” persona that was largely forgotten after Ex Post Facto, barring the occasional revival for episodes like Vis á Vis. It also hints at questions of discipline on the ship, something around which Star Trek: Voyager has skirted in the past in episodes like Prime Factors and Manoeuvres. There is a compelling story here, somewhere.

Watching Thirty Days can feel like…

In terms of science-fiction plot elements, Thirty Days features the first ocean planet in the history of the Star Trek franchise. That is interesting of itself. What wonders lurk within an ocean world? What would life look like had it never left the sea and set foot on land? There is something decidedly pulpy and magical about a planet that has no surface of which to speak, instead comprised of waves and tides. Even with the flimsiest of plots, this element alone should provide fodder for an exciting installment.

Unfortunately, Thirty Days fumbles both of these interesting elements, falling victim to a recurring issue with the plotting on Voyager. The pacing is awkward, the plot points are under-developed, the framing device is hackneyed. The script for Thirty Days seems far more concerned about hitting the forty-five minute mark than it does with using these elements to tell a compelling story. The result is a bit of a wash.

Water conservation.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Timeless (Review)

The one hundredth episode of any television show should be a cause for celebration.

After all, one hundred episodes exists at a number of interesting points in the life of a show. It tends to arrive late in the fourth season or early in the fifth season of a twenty-odd-episode-a-season series, meaning that any television show making it to that point has amassed some cultural cache. By that stage, most of the original contracts are expiring (or close to expiring) and so there is at least some sense as to how secure the future is. One hundred episodes also marks the series as viable for syndication; one hundred episodes airing five days a week can fill substantial airtime.

Ice to see you again.

To be fair, the other Star Trek series tended to mark the occasion with some low-key celebrations. The one hundredth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was Redemption, Part I, which was primarily notable for reasons behind the camera; both a set visit from Ronald Reagan and the end of the fourth season that had so frustratingly eluded the original series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marked both its one hundredth hour (The Ship) and its one hundredth episode (… Nor the Battle to the Strong) as “business as usual.”

However, Star Trek: Voyager turns its one hundredth episode into an epic event. It is the perfect distillation of the “Voyager as blockbuster Star Trek” aesthetic championed by Brannon Braga: a truly jaw-dropping computer-generated action scene, with Voyager crashing on the surface of an ice world; a high-stakes time-travel plot, with a killer hook; a guest appearance from a beloved Next Generation actor. Timeless is an incredibly ambitious piece of television that practically screams “this is a very special occasion!” to the audience at the top of its lungs.

LaForging ahead.

And, yet, for all of that, there is something decidedly funereal about the episode. The episode opens with the memorable shot of the eponymous starship buried under the ice on some forgotten and unnamed world. The crew are long dead, but the ship itself remains preserved and trapped in amber. While Timeless might eventually end with future!Kim changing the timeline and shaving ten years off the journey, the episode’s most iconic images are destructive: Voyager crashing and bouncing, the familiar sets encased in ice.

This is not a birthday party, it is a wake.

Seven and the EMH never saw eye-to-eye.

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Star Trek: Voyager – In the Flesh (Review)

In the Flesh is a curiously nostalgic episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Nostalgic in a number of different ways. Most obviously, it opens on what appears to be Earth, bringing the Voyager crew to something resembling home. The campus recalls visits to Starfleet Command in earlier episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine like The First Duty, Homefront and Paradise Lost. There is even a prominent guest appearance from Boothby, the groundskeeper who was referenced as early as Final Mission. When it is eventually revealed to be a ruse, it is explained as a ruse orchestrated by old villains Species 8472.

Picture imperfect.

However, In the Flesh feels nostalgic in a deeper sense, extending even beyond the Star Trek canon. There is something very retro about the threat presented here, about a top secret facsimile of a distant world being used to train infiltrators in a deep space cold war. In the Flesh feels like a piece of fifties paranoia, with specific creative choices evoking film noir storytelling and even the aesthetic of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Night of the Living Dead. The most prominent guest star is Ray Walston, a veteran of cult sixties sci-fi show My Favourite Martian.

To be fair, Voyager has always had a strong nostalgic streak for pulpy fifties and sixties science-fiction, but it is strange to see it so pronounced. In its own weird way, it fits with the general nostalgic tone of the fifth season as a whole.

Look at the “8” in their eyes.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Extreme Risk (Review)

Extreme Risk is another example of Star Trek: Voyager squandering an intriguing premise.

Hunters introduced a number of new and intriguing ideas to Voyager. Suddenly, Janeway was no longer in a long-term relationship with Mark, which made it possible for her to consider romantic entanglements in the Delta Quadrant. Suddenly Starfleet was aware that Voyager was still in one piece, rather than missing in action. These creative choices opened up new storytelling possibilities, paving the way for episodes like Counterpoint or Pathfinder.

Diving right in.

However, the most interesting revelation in Hunters was that the Maquis had been destroyed while Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant. This was not a surprise to Star Trek fans who had been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, given that this development had been covered in Blaze of Glory. However, it should have been a big deal to the characters on Voyager. Chakotay and Torres were members of the Maquis. Tuvok had been a spy working for Starfleet in the Maquis. Even Paris had spent some time in the organisation. This news should have been a big deal.

Extreme Risk feels like an interesting development of this idea, albeit one that has been greatly delayed. How would the Maquis crew members react to the news that most of their friends were dead and that the rest were in Federation custody? Voyager has never been a show particularly engaged with long-term consequences, but there is an interesting story to be told there. Extreme Risk tells one such story, suggesting that the new plunged Torres into a depression that led her to self-harm. It is certainly an intriguing and compelling story hook.

Building a better future.

However, Extreme Risk fumbles the delivery in a number of ways. It makes the standard Voyager mistake of assuming that character-driven plots still have to have a compelling action-adventure element to them, and so provides a very generic subplot about a probe that has been lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant and the resulting “old-fashioned space race” that results, including the construction of a new ship. As a result, the plotting of the episode feels very trite, offering Torres a very convenient clear-cut redemption arc at the climax.

That said, the biggest problem with Extreme Risk is much more basic than the awkward juggling of primary and secondary plots. As with Night before it, Extreme Risk demonstrates that the rigidly episodic structure of Voyager is woefully ill-equipped to tell a profound (and sincere) story about the struggles of living with clinical depression.

She knows kung fu.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Drone (Review)

Drone is a solid episode, one elevated by two central performances.

In many respects, Drone is a standard Star Trek: Voyager episode. It is something of an archetypal Star Trek story, an exploration of the human condition in which the regular characters must bestow upon a naive and inexperienced alien what it means to be human. There are countless examples in the canon, from Picard’s relationship with Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation to more specific examples like the relationship between Data and Lal in The Offspring. However, Drone has a more direct antecedent, with One evoking Hugh from I, Borg.

The view is always greener on the other side…

Drone is also very heavily plot-driven, although it is decidedly cleaner and leaner in execution than many Voyager episodes. Compared to the other Star Trek series, Voyager can often feel like a list of plot developments arranged to pad out forty-five minutes of television. This approach to storytelling can often seem quite frantic, with episodes like Worst Case Scenario, Waking Moments, Demon or Night effectively switching plot in the middle of the episode to keep it going. Drone is a much more linear story, much tighter in its construction and its flow.

The result is an effective piece of television, one strongly anchored in the two central performances of J. Paul Boehmer and Jeri Ryan.

“Was he going on to you about the alcoves?”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Night (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager typically bridged its seasons with epic two-parters, a sprawling single narrative told over two forty-five minute episodes separated by the three-month summer hiatus. In fact, it was somewhat striking when the production team chose to end the fourth season with Hope and Fear, a standalone episode with a very definite conclusion. However, it becomes even more ironic once the fifth season opens with Night. Rather than one story split over two episodes, Night feels like two narratives compressed into a single chunk of television.

Of these two narratives, one is definitely more interesting than the other. The first half of Night essentially focuses on the ship and crew as they venture through an empty (and starless) section of space known as “the Void.” No light can get in. Nothing seems to live in there. There are no anomalies to investigate. “Anything to report?” Tuvok asks Kim. Kim responds, “Not even a stray electron.” It is so dull that even Tom classifies the detection of “a sudden increase in theta radiation” as “excitement.”

Starless, starless night.

This is an interesting approach to storytelling, particularly for a show so focused on plot. More than any other series in the franchise, Voyager runs on plot beats. Stories tend to progress from one revelation and escalation to the next, affording little room for character development or exploration. As such, the first half of Night seems like a very ambitious piece of work, an introspective character-driven drama where there are no plot beats to distract from character. It is a very brave and compelling set-up.

Of course, Night somewhat fumbles the ball in this first half. The thread is never explored as thoroughly as it might be, the character never allowed to properly express themselves. There is far too much emphasis on the holodeck, and the ship’s ability to simulate comforts and illusions even in this most depressing of surroundings. However, compared to the way that Voyager usually tells stories, the first half of Night is refreshing. Ironically, it is genuinely exciting, because it feels like the writers are pushing outside their comfort zone.

A darker side of Janeway.

Unfortunately, it cannot last. Night can only resist the comfort of plot for so long. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the second plot kicks into gear. It is a much more conventional Voyager episode, particularly for these later seasons. There is a broadly drawn piece of social commentary that ties into the both Voyager‘s New Age sensibilities and its attitude towards the Delta Quadrant as a whole. There are new aliens introduced, that will become recurring foils. It is all very standard, and all very rushed. The second half of Night makes up for those missed plot beats.

The result is an episode that is deeply frustrating, a game of two halves were each horribly undercuts the other.

A black-and-white issue.

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Star Trek: Voyager – One (Review)

One is a solid episode.

Indeed, One is so solid that it is the rare episode of Star Trek: Voyager to be repurposed for Star Trek: Enterprise. The prequel series tended to borrow stock Star Trek plots, but it tended to borrow most heavily from Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Oasis was Shadowplay, Vanishing Point was Realm of Fear, Dawn was Darmok. However, One would be reworked as Doctor’s Orders, another pseudo-horror bottle episode in which a member of the cast finds themselves driven insane by isolation.

Everything’s gone askew…

However, One has an in-built advantage over Doctor’s Orders, in that it is centred on a character who practically begs for this sort of treatment. Seven of Nine is effectively a reformed Borg drone. While Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and recovered in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, and while Chakotay brushed up against a pseudo-collective in Unity, Seven of Nine is the first franchise regular to have spent the bulk of her life inside the Borg Collective. The nature of the Borg means that Seven is perfectly suited to a story about isolation.

One is a messy and clumsy episode in a number of ways, particularly in its drive for big action set pieces and tangible threats. In particular, the penultimate act of One feels awkward, as if the production team do not trust the audience to engage with a purer breed of psychological thriller. However, One leans very heavily on the character of Seven of Nine and on the performance of Jeri Ryan. Luckily, both character and actor are up to the task.

Voices in her head.

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