We now come to the 4th Star Trek TV series: Voyager. This show follows the traditional Star Trek formula of a crew aboard a ship exploring the galaxy. If you were to look up images of every Star Trek TV show and movie ever made, you’d see several people on the bridge of a ship all facing the same way. That’s the way it’s been since 1966, and that’s the way it is here. It may seem a little familiar, but with The Original Series officially done, The Next Generation up on the big screen, and Deep Space Nine struggling in the ratings, the creators chose to play it safe this time. Maybe too safe.
Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of the U.S.S. Voyager is tasked with locating a lost ship belonging to the criminal Maquis organization in an area of space known as “the Badlands”. During their search, an energy wave casts Voyager and the Maquis ship into a distant part of the galaxy known as the Delta Quadrant. Upon determining their location, they learn that it will take them 75 years to make it back home again. Rather than throw the Maquis ship’s occupants into the brig for all that time, Captain Janeway instead decides to integrate the criminals into her crew (some even in positions of power), hoping to find common ground by working together. And so begins their very long voyage home.
Right off the bat, this show feels a tad goofy in its presentation. Maybe it’s too colorful, maybe it’s too dumbed-down, maybe there are too many holodeck episodes (SO MANY!). Or maybe it’s because not one person on the ship seems all that concerned that they may never make it back home again. It doesn’t help that the show lacks any significant depth for its characters or plotlines, very unlike its darker counterpart. In the first episode, when Voyager integrates the Maquis criminals into their crew, you would expect it to be a hostile transition considering they were bitter enemies up until that day. But by the very next episode, they’re behaving like lifelong super-friends. That’s the kind of show this is: no lasting consequences. If Deep Space Nine is the university graduate of the Star Trek family, then Voyager is the remedial child. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Its goal is to be a fun-filled space adventure with a diverse cast and a strong sense of feminism, and in that way it does succeed. It’s just that it’s a bit TOO Star Treky for a show that’s supposed to take place away from everything we’re familiar with. Rather than use their predicament and location to create something original, they stick to the formula like glue. They make sure Starfleet protocol matters more than anything, even though they’re nowhere near Starfleet and might never be again. The Prime Directive (non-interference with other cultures) must be respected at all costs. No breaking or bending Starfleet regulations of any kind, for any reason, ever! Sure, other Star Trek shows did the same thing before, but that’s actually part of the problem here. Because this is a NEW show that simply…does nothing new. It’s still enjoyable in a leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way. But after 30 years, 9 movies, and 3 TV shows, one can’t help but wish Voyager had been something other than the same old thing with a new coat of paint.
Voyager has the most diverse set of characters thus far, but their differences are superficial, and not a result of deft writing (or lack thereof). Like how B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is an anti-conformist with anger issues; or how Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is a face-tattooed former tribesman who occasionally goes on “vision quests”; or how Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) is a 20th-Century-obsessed womanizer; or how Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) is a young and somehow-unpromotable Ensign; never becoming anything more than their basic character descriptions for the show’s entire run. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) may be the sexiest character in Star Trek history, but she only shows up in Season 4 (to boost ratings, of course). Unfortunately, her addition, while invigorating at first, doesn’t have a lasting impact as she “adapts” to life on Voyager, becoming another two-dimensional character in a show already full of them. Star Trek is often criticized for its lack of character growth, but Voyager almost makes it its goal. Not that they’re not entertaining. But for a show whose central plotline is about covering a great distance, the characters’ personalities feel remarkably stationary for all 7 seasons.
Star Trek: Voyager is an uninspiring but nevertheless entertaining piece of sci-fi. It dazzles viewers with exciting space adventures and colorful characters that probably make great Halloween costumes. But with such an intriguing premise in its first episode, to stick so rigidly to the same old Star Trek formula feels like such a wasted opportunity for something that could have been entirely different from everything we’ve come to expect. Oh you’ll get starship battles, alien conflicts, spatial anomalies, and lots and lots of Borg, but when it’s all over, you’ll feel like Voyager’s voyage missed its chance to really take things where no show had gone before.
2 out of 5