There was a huge explosion of discussion in my twitter timeline about a very controversial topic. It shows no sign of slowing down. I am, of course, referring to Brianna Wu and Sid O’Neill claiming that Star Trek: Voyager was the best Star Trek series.
I am, of course, only jokingly disparaging their selection. It doesn’t make a lick of difference. Assuming it was something that actually mattered, here’s my critique of Voyager:
The one thing you could always rely on was that whatever rules of the universe were asserted, they would always be ignored, sometimes within the same episodes. Things like technical details of how the ‘science’ worked were not upheld for any solid duration of time. Every Star Trek series is guilty of some of this hand-waviness, but none more so than Voyager because they made the characters guilty of the same flip-flopping flaws.
In an episode called Nightingale Janeway lectures Ensign Harry Kim about The Prime Directive, and how they shouldn’t really get involved with the matters of these alien races. Her argument would be far more convincing if she had not spent the last 6 years doing that. Janeway and Kim even argue back and forth about the number of times she’s contradicted this before she agrees that he should go on this mission. It’s a peculiar choice. (Also, it’s not a very good episode, and they reused a lot of ships, which is lame.)
One of the big things at the start of the show was supposed to be the challenge of the Maquis and Starfleet crew getting along, but that just sort of fizzled out to the point where they only occasionally mentioned it when they phoned home to Starfleet.
Another big problem is the lack of scarcity. At the start of the show, they were supposed to have a limited number of resources, a limited number of shuttles and torpedoes. They even need to limit replicator use by employing Neelix as a cook and collecting food from planets. Which… doesn’t make a lot of sense really? And they just kind of seem to use the replicators anyway? And not only do they lose more shuttles than they had when they started, but they also build two specialized vessels, the Delta Flyer (kaboom), and the Delta Flyer II.
The Next Generation would lose shuttles all the time, but they weren’t all by themselves. There were even two Defiant ships on Deep Space Nine, which was part of a very dramatic arc. With DS9, you got the sense that resources meant something when they were in the thick of the Dominion War. Voyager just kind of shrugs this off. Both Delta Flyer’s look slick, even though they are ostensibly cobbled together. I suppose the writers felt it was too restricting to actually make them a rag-tag group of loners? That’s a shame, because another science fiction show pulled off the “all alone scarcity” stuff pretty well (Stargate Universe wasn’t that bad, people.)
The fact that they never really seemed to commit to any of these things made it seem a little silly whenever peril popped up.
Since any challenge could be overcome, or reset, by the end of the episode, then any obstacle they came across was a pushover. The Borg were a real threat on TNG and in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact.
Voyager fixed all that! By the end of the series, The Borg were completely defanged. Anything scary, completely washed away in a shockwave of exploding Borg Cubes. Even an episode that saw crew members assimilated had no lasting impact, unlike it did for Captain Picard after The Best of Both Worlds.
Even the “bad guys” that Voyager brought to the table were pretty ridiculous. The first ones we meet, the Kazon Nistrim, are an alien race that can’t replicate food, or water, but have ships with warp drives. They use these ships to settle dessert worlds that have no food or water… So…
One thing the Kazon had going for them was Seska. She was a crew member of Voyager, a former Maquis, that looked Bajoran, but was really a Cardassian agent. Got all that? Well she was actually somewhat effective, because she was cunning, and kind of crazy. Unfortunately, they killed her off, a decision that the writers obviously regretted because they brought her back as a hologram, and as a fake temporal thing.
There were also the Vidiians, and they stole skin, and organs, from other races to replace their decaying, infected tissues. That sounds creepy! Unfortunately, they suck, and weren’t seen very often.
The Hirogen, introduced much later, are a race that used to have an expansive empire, but now are resigned to just hunt other races like The Predator. That could be a threat, on paper. Again, the writers did something to undermine that when they decided to have the Hirogen capture Voyager and turn it in to two big holodecks so they could brainwash the crew in to posing as prey for them. This was super dumb and made the Hirogen look like the biggest idiots out of all of them.
The saddest one was Species 8472. They were introduced in the Voyager episode Scorpion. They were supposed to be an extremely challenging foe for the crew to deal with. So much so that Janeway allied herself with The Borg. This brought on the character Seven of Nine, and was a big change in the show. A lot of stuff really happened here. Then they botched it all with an episode about Species 8472 building a big holodeck in space designed to look like Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco because then they’d… something… something… doesn’t matter.
At no point in the series did anything ever get the better of Voyager’s crew, or showed that they were in any real, lethal peril. It is fitting that so many plots centered on holographic deceit, because the danger was never real.
One two-part season cliffhanger that showed a lot of promise was Equinox. Finding another Federation ship that had been wandering along on a slightly different route from Voyager presented a lot of really interesting things that could be explored. Arguably, the Equinox, and her crew, went through a process that was more like what I had expected from Voyager, and her crew. Instead of the light-n-fluffy stuff. They resolved the episode in a good way and Voyager brought on some of the crew. Only, just like every other time crew was brought on board, they were integrated in to ship life in a way that made them completely disappear (unlike Icheb and Seven). We saw what deep and lasting effects the Delta Quadrant had had on Equinox’s crew, and it’s all thrown away.
Arguably, the biggest challenge they ever faced was from Annorax. He had devised a method to obliterate things from the timeline. To try and reshape the place the Krenim held in the galaxy. Something that had a debilitating effect on Voyager and its crew. At least they gave this a two-episode arc before they hit reset on it and washed away all the damage.
Indeed, any time travel elements on Voyager were just plain bizarre, but they’re usually bizarre on Star Trek. Future’s End starts with a time-ship from the 29th century popping up and firing on Voyager, and they fire back, and suddenly everyone’s back in time, for reasons. Then, at the end of the two episode arc, they destroy the time ship and an alternate time ship appears and sends them back to the Delta Quadrant, and back to their own time.
They’re all by themselves, how will they deal with this?! (Wave of a wand) They’re all safe! See you next week!
There are still episodes that are good, even though they’re mostly self contained. They offer the chance to explore some interesting ideas.
- Prototype — Oh cool, robots! Let’s help them!
- Deadlock — Making difficult choices. Even though they don’t mean anything outside this episode.
- Revulsion — He seems like such a nice hologram, on a ship of dead people.
- Hope and Fear — Voyager encounters a pretty neat trap. A trap that actually does manage to have a plot element that carries through to other episodes.
- Friendship One — Maybe the Prime Directive is a good idea.
Since Voyager could never, ever, ever pull off being serious for more than a handful of episodes, that meant they could be as funny as they wanted to. (Intentionally, or not.)
Indeed, two of my Favorite Voyager episodes are Prometheus (starring Andy Dick, of all people), and Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy. They are patently ridiculous episodes where some very weak logic is used to get the Doctor involved in some shenanigans. In fact, The Doctor gets involved in a lot of shenanigans. They can be quite entertaining. The Q episodes mostly ellicit groans, and eye rolling, but they have funny moments too. Even the silly one where holographic aliens from another dimension break the holodeck — forcing an entire episode about Captain Proton — has moments where it’s so dumb it’s funny.
That’s not much of a silver lining, but hey, this is the section where I decided to be positive, so take what you can get.
By far, the worst of the entire series is Endgame, the series finale. It features the defanged Borg, loopy time logic, timeline changing, and Deus-Ex-Machina future technology that is never seen again.
We start out with a future where Voyager eventually got home — but not all of the crew made it. An aged Admiral Janeway really regrets this. She goes off and steals stuff from the Klingons, and travels back in time (and through space) to Voyager’s location in the Delta Quadrant. She selected this exact moment in time to save some of her crew because of reasons. Screw all those people that died before this point, I guess? She just wanted to keep the ones that died after this point from dying? Great?
Instead of using the time and space traveling device to send Voyager home — like how she got there — she comes up with this convoluted plan to give them future technology so that Voyager can go up against The Borg, and use a ‘Transwarp Hub’ to travel to Earth. You see, The Borg, long-time enemies of The Federation, apparently have a shortcut to go right to Earth’s doorstep that they’ve elected to not use. Reasons undisclosed.
Future Janeway goes over to talk to the Borg Queen, and infect her/them with a (BS) thing. But since the future she comes from doesn’t exist, because Voyager is going home, then how did… ARGGGGHHHHHH! Why do you do this, Brannon Braga?! WHY?
Certainly, the finale to Star Trek: Enterprise was equally terrible. With it all taking place as a holodeck simulation Riker is enjoying to brush up on his Captain Archer history. That was not a good way to end that either, so they both tie for worst finale.
This is a real shame when you think about TNG‘s or DS9‘s finales. I’d rank TNG as the highest of the finales. It had time elements in it, but it’s done in such a way where there’s no paradox, or sloppy side effects. Considering Brannon Braga was involved in both of those finales, it’s really strange to see him make something worse.
My big problem with Voyager was that I had high expectations they’d be able to do something great. At the time it premiered, I really didn’t like DS9. That show was pretty boring back then. However, as time went on DS9 improved, while Voyager got worse. It was because of Voyager that I didn’t have any high expectations for Enterprise. That’s why I’m harder on Voyager — they could have done more and did seven years of mostly bad, or mediocre, stuff.