I mentioned before that I never saw many Star Trek Voyager episodes, but this last week I have gone back to the very beginning of the series and started watching it (thanks, on-demand TV!). I quickly realized that I haven’t seen any of these early episodes, but having now waded through the first 7 or 8 now, it’s easy to conclude why it never interested me enough to follow the show.
Gotta admit, the premise of Voyager was intriguing. It’s essentially “Star Trek – Lost in Space”, so right off the bat there was the potential of doing stuff that’s unusual for the Trek universe. Unfortunately the opportunities were very, very quickly squandered. Right out of the gate several things quickly disappointed:
- 70,000 light years away in the Delta Quadrant, what bizarre alien species would you expect Voyager to encounter? As it turned out — humans with funny ears. Yes, we know the TV shows were always constrained by available budget, but c’mon, it’s the grand opening! Do something more, make the viewers feel this was actually an alien place.
- Starfleet and Maquis forced to work together? Excellent source of dramatic conflict! Although 4 episodes in, that conflict is for the most part forgotten and non-existent, and the Voyager became just any other Trek hero ship.
- Being stranded without supplies was another perfect opportunity to tell some intriguing stories. 38 Photon torpedoes and no way to replace them? Excellent! Energy shortage so even replicators had to be rationed? Solid! Except… apparently energy was not really so tight that Tommy couldn’t run a fullscale holodeck pub for hours on end. And the 38 Torpedoes could in fact be replaced. Maybe they made babies with each other at night.
- Sure, Janeway kept talking about needing 75 years to get back home, but she sure seemed in no particular hurry most of the time. Sure, the trip will be 75 years, what’s another few days of detour to check out a nebula, right? At this rate, it would’ve taken them 150 years.
Like any Trek series, the main cast needed to gel and charming enough to attract viewers, and this is where I thought was Voyager’s main failing. For instance:
- Chakotay actually seems like good captain material, but he’s the Maquis leader. That’s good potential there for his character to shine… but somehow by episode 4 or 5 he has faded into the backdrop. It’s like the writers weren’t sure what to do with him!
- I like Tom Paris’ character. Cocky, but approachable with a bit of boyish charm, he is more successful in keeping my attention even when he isn’t doing much. I know he has a bigger part to play later in the series, but at this early stage Paris is one of the brighter stars.
- Something about Harry Kim irritates me. I’ve heard people call him whiny, but I don’t think that’s it. I think he comes across as a mama’s boy and a needy bookworm. He is supposed to be the innocent (or ignorant) rookie, but more often he comes across as a charmless sap. In fact, he reminds me of a couple of my friends from traditional Asian families that are presumably similar to that of Kim’s!
- I feel bad for Neelix. He (and his whole race) is written as a bumpkin, a space-hobbit, and general comic relief. Despite a brilliant performance, there really isn’t much Ethan Phillips can do to get out of that archetype. At least he’s not Jar-Jar Binks level of annoying.
- Tuvok is decent. Tim Russ played him straight (is there any other way to play a Vulcan?), but rather than mimicing Spock’s reserved bemusement at Kirk’s antics and Bones’ bitching, Tuvok always gives me that unspoken “WTF are you people smoking?” and resigned “Whatever you say, you’re the captain” vibe. Gotta love that.
- B’Elanna is kinda meh. While Kira Nerys worked as DS9’s resident tough girl, B’Elanna comes across as whiny and bitchy with little charm. I guess the whole Klingon thing is meant to be her angle, but unlike Worf who embraces his heritage (which in turn allows the show to tell Klingon-centric stories), B’Elanna’s rejection makes her look like a teenaged, rebellious punk. There’s also something off about the acting, that I’m still unconvinced she’s a competent techie, let alone chief Engineer.
- Kes is Kes. I’m not sure what specific role she serves in the ensemble; her character seems like a bit player. Maybe they put her in so Neelix and the Doctor have someone to talk to?
- Ah yes, the Doctor. The one true shining star of the show at this early stage. Not only because the holographic character is a stroke of genius, but Picardo’s performance is top-notch. He’s entertaining to watch, and about the only character I feel that I care about.
- And finally Captain Janeway. Oh boy, where do I even start? As much as I enjoy seeing a strong female captain, Mulgrew’s Janeway is all-over-the-map weird. The way the character is written (especially her rather fluidic sense of logic) is odd, but the acting is strange. Her facial expressions change at the drop of a hat (proverbial; I don’t mean the pile on her head that looks like a hat), and I don’t know if I’m more scared of her Death Glare or that abrupt, insincere smile. She walks like she’s in a marching band, and every time she stands up it’s like she’s posing for a superhero comic book. Her attention flits from task to task and person to person like an ADD-afflicted child. Her presence and confidence feel forced, not natural (because nothing says commanding like lifting her chin at everyone). Possibly the worst thing about Janeway is her decision-making process seems quite arbitrary; if she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, she will happily throw away a chance for everyone to get home because it fits her morality of the day. As a package, Janeway just feels like an inconsistently written cartoon caricature of a character. And in Star Trek, if you can’t sell the captain, you can’t sell the show.
All in all, I think Voyager is an OK Trek series, but probably my least favorite. It’s unfortunate too because the premise is so good, and has such potential to tell great stories. It’s a major missed opportunity.