Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 4: Voyager

Spoiler Warning: In addition to the spoilers for the Voyager episodes on this list, minor spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

Welcome back to the “Ten great episodes” series! In the first three entries, we looked at The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, so now it’s Voyager’s turn under the microscope. In the run-up to Star Trek: Picard premiering earlier this year, I looked at a few episodes and story points from Voyager, especially regarding Seven of Nine and the Borg, as she was scheduled to appear in the new series.

Voyager premiered in 1995, a spin-off from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine occupying the same mid/late-24th Century setting. Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, had scenes set aboard DS9 and featured Armin Shimerman’s character of Quark as a guest-star, tying the show to the expanded Star Trek franchise. Though The Next Generation had gone off the air six months before Voyager began, its cast were still together making films – Star Trek: Generations was still in cinemas at the time of Voyager’s US premiere. The show therefore joined a growing fictional universe, one which now saw two television series and a film series sharing a setting. There was potential for characters and themes to cross over, as indeed we would see with the Maquis – a faction of Federation rebels who debuted in The Next Generation and featured in multiple episodes of Deep Space Nine.

Where Deep Space Nine had been successful with the idea of a mixed crew of Federation and non-Federation personnel, one of Voyager’s weaker aspects was its attempt to use a similar formula. Chakotay and B’Elanna Torres were the two Maquis main characters, but aside from a few early episodes, and a couple of attempts to revisit the Maquis later on, Voyager’s crew quickly became an homogeneous group that was, for all intents and purposes, a Starfleet crew not dissimilar to what we’d seen on The Next Generation. In that sense, that aspect of Voyager’s story was wasted, or at the very least got lost in its “voyage home” storyline.

Voyager was the first Star Trek series to have a very definite goal or endgame in mind, and though it wasn’t strictly a serialised affair like later Deep Space Nine seasons would be, its one overarching story was the quest to return to the Alpha Quadrant. We’d seen Starfleet ships taken a long way from home before, in episodes like Where No One Has Gone Before, but by the end of the episode they’d always manage to make it home again. Voyager took that storyline but changed it up – leaving the ship and crew stranded on the far side of the galaxy, having to make it home on their own. That was a new direction for Star Trek, and allowed for a show that could be similar to Kirk and Picard’s voyages of exploration, but with a twist. The premise also meant that Voyager could introduce new factions and races without having to return to the Alpha Quadrant’s familiar Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans, which would allow for more variety and for the show to remain distinct from both Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation and its films.

Star Trek: Voyager’s opening title.

Sadly, as with Deep Space Nine, Voyager has not been remastered, and remains in its original 1990s broadcast format. As a result, it doesn’t look as good on modern screens as the remastered versions of The Original Series and The Next Generation, nor Enterprise, Discovery, and Star Trek: Picard. This difference is noticeable, especially if you’ve got a decent HD or 4K television and are used to watching content in HD or on Blu-ray. I consider this to be a major mistake on ViacomCBS’ part, and I have an article calling on them to rectify the situation, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

Just to recap this format, I’m not presenting this as a “Top Ten” list of the absolute best episodes. Instead, these are simply ten great episodes that I consider to be thoroughly enjoyable and well worth a watch – especially if you find yourself with lots of time on your hands at the moment. The episodes are not ranked, they’re just listed in order of release. I’ve tried to pick at least one episode from each of Voyager’s seven seasons.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the list – and this is your final warning that there will be spoilers!

Number 1: State of Flux (Season 1)

Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok in State of Flux.

One of the potentially interesting elements included in the premise of Voyager was the concept of “one ship, two crews”. Both a Starfleet crew, headed by Capt. Janeway, and a Maquis crew, headed by Chakotay, would have to work together on a single ship – and that scenario could lead to conflict and tension. Deep Space Nine had used a similar idea, bringing together Federation and non-Federation main cast members. However, even at this early stage in Voyager’s run, it was apparent that the writers and producers didn’t really know how to make this format work without one side or the other becoming antagonists.

Seska shook up that formula somewhat. Where Chakotay and B’Elanna Torres had largely settled into their roles as First Officer and Chief Engineer, Seska had failed to do so in her appearances across the first season.

Exposing her as a spy is a great story – because it shows a real conflict between Starfleet and non-Starfleet principles. Seska was willing to trade Voyager’s technology to the aggressive Kazon, not caring that doing so would shift the balance of power in the region because she doesn’t care one iota about the Prime Directive. Janeway would stick to this doctrine throughout Voyager – even though it could be argued that destroying the Caretaker’s station was interference in itself! But not everyone on the crew agreed, and certainly not all of Chakotay’s Maquis did.

Seska isn’t a Maquis, though. Like Tuvok, she was a plant on Chakotay’s crew; a Cardassian spy. By this point in the Star Trek timeline, the Cardassians were well-established as villains, so making Seska a Cardassian too was in keeping with that. It does mean, however, than within ten episodes, Chakotay has discovered that two of his senior crewmen were spies. I liked the way he angrily confronted Tuvok about this toward the end of the episode, furious with himself for not realising he was being spied on and manipulated.

Seska’s recurring role as a villain was established in State of Flux, and it was arguably the last good episode where the concept of “one ship, two crews” was genuinely in play, with the idea of a Maquis rebellion a possibility. From this point on, the Maquis would behave like any other Starfleet crew, and while it would be given lip service numerous times across the show’s run, any real conflict or tension between the two groups was gone with the departure of Seska.

Number 2: Tattoo (Season 2)

Tattoo sees Chakotay learn more about the history of his own people – from the aliens who once contacted them.

Robert Beltran played Chakotay in all seven seasons of Voyager, and has been vocal, both at the time and subsequently, about how he didn’t really enjoy it, especially in the latter part of the show’s run. Episodes focusing on Chakotay were infrequent, especially after Seven of Nine joined the crew – and this was a major reason why Beltran was dissatisfied. But Tattoo, from Season 2, is a great example of a Chakotay episode, and how good of an actor Beltran can be when given enough material to work with.

The basic premise of the story is that Chakotay’s Native American tribe had been contacted in the distant past by “sky spirits” – who were in fact aliens from the Delta Quadrant. After finding a clue to their existence on a moon where Voyager’s crew is collecting resources, Chakotay tracks them down.

Representations of Native Americans on television as of the mid-1990s hadn’t always been great. Chakotay’s role, at times, could lean into the trope of the “noble savage” – a character archetype going back centuries, presenting Native Americans as being inherently virtuous, especially prior to European contact. This story leans into that at points – the “sky spirits” claiming to have visited Chakotay’s people because they “respected the land”, and the overall portrayal of the “sky spirits” can both be seen as stereotyping.

Beyond that, however, Tattoo sees Chakotay rediscovering his faith and establishing a connection with his deceased father that he never had in his youth. In that sense, it’s a great character piece, looking at backstory to Chakotay as well as giving him a genuinely emotional arc.

The secondary plot of this episode looks at the Doctor and Kes – the Doctor learns about empathy by Kes putting him through a holographic illness. Kes was a character that I wish had more time on the series – she left the show at the beginning of Season 4, just as she was learning to develop her telepathic abilities.

Number 3: Basics, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 2-3)

In Basics, Maje Culluh and his band of Kazon capture Voyager and maroon the crew.

The Kazon had been antagonists since the very first episode of Voyager, but by this point in the series, the journey the ship was undertaking would soon have to leave their region of space behind – the Kazon, after all, did not span the entire Delta Quadrant. Seska’s decision to defect, as well as Crewman Jonas feeding them secret information, built up what was really a multi-episode story across Seasons 1 and 2 that needed a big payoff – and Basics, which ended the second season on a cliffhanger, definitely achieved that!

The Kazon formulate a plan, aided by Seska and the information from Jonas, to capture Voyager – and they’re successful, boarding the ship and capturing the crew. As punishment for refusing to share Voyager’s technology with the less-advanced Kazon, their leader, Maje Culluh, maroons the crew on a barren planet, forcing them to survive with nothing.

The resolution to this arc brought back Tom Paris (who had briefly disappeared from the ship as part of a ruse) and Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. As a duology of episodes which wrapped up the Seska storyline and was the last major engagement with the show’s first villains, Basics is fantastic. My only critique would be to say that it would have been potentially interesting to see the story last more than two episodes, and focus more on the crew surviving without much technology.

There was also a very funny moment involving the Doctor being holographically projected to the wrong location – in case you don’t remember I’ll leave you to spot it when you watch!

Number 4: The Q and the Grey (Season 3)

Q returns in The Q and the Grey, and Voyager is pulled into a Q civil war.

Bringing Q into Voyager posed a unique problem – as someone who is as close to omnipotent as any character in Star Trek, Q could have easily sent Voyager and its crew home. While his appearances throughout the series struggled, at points, to get around that obvious fact, Q did still manage to be an interesting recurring character for Janeway and co. to deal with.

The American Civil War is one of the periods in history that, for a variety of reasons, I find absolutely fascinating, and The Q and the Grey uses that setting and aesthetic to great effect. Depicting a war between two different factions of the Q Continuum, The Q and the Grey presents the familiar Q – the one we met in The Next Generation – as being on the side of the rebels, with those who supported the status quo opposing his faction.

Quinn, the renegade member of the Q Continuum that Capt. Janeway met in the second season episode Death Wish, was ultimately successful in committing suicide – spoiler warning for that episode. But his death shocked the Q Continuum and led to the outbreak of war. Q wants to have a child – initially with Janeway – as a way to bring about peace, but he’s too late and the crew of Voyager are dragged into the war.

The Q and the Grey built on Q’s previous appearance in the series and simultaneously set the stage for his return, but it was also an interesting episode in itself, and as a history buff I appreciated the reference to a time period I’ve long had an interest in.

Number 5: The Raven (Season 4)

Seven of Nine and Tuvok discover the final resting place of the USS Raven in The Raven.

LeVar Burton, who of course played Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation, stepped up to direct The Raven. After a trilogy of episodes had introduced Seven of Nine at the end of Season 3 and the beginning of Season 4, this was the first big Seven-centric episode in Voyager. I’ve written about this previously, but I wasn’t particularly a fan of Seven of Nine, especially by the time Voyager entered its final couple of seasons. Her character was incredibly static and one-dimensional, and I just found her to be repetitive and boring – probably not helped by the fact that many of Voyager’s later episodes gave her a large role. But we’re getting off topic! The Raven gets a pass as a Seven of Nine episode for two reasons – the first is that, as mentioned, it’s the first one. And the second reason is that this was taking place only a few days or weeks after her separation from the Borg Collective.

Because Seven of Nine experiences flashbacks ultimately caused by Borg technology, I often find myself confusing the events of this episode with the fifth season episode Infinite Regress, which sees Seven of Nine exposed to Borg technology and taking on the personae of assimilated individuals. However, in The Raven, Seven of Nine rediscovers her parents’ ship – the place where she was first assimilated by the Borg.

The Raven is thus the first episode to begin to dig into her background and humanise her for us as the audience. Having an ex-Borg crew member posed questions and issues for Voyager – most notably, how should she behave? Rediscovering all of her humanity and going on to act like any other human crew member would have been a waste, acting logical and aloof would have been too Vulcan (a role already filled by Tuvok), and so instead the producers chose this formula where Seven of Nine would be somewhat of a renegade among the crew while at the same time being taken under the wing of Capt. Janeway and the Doctor in particular to learn lessons in being human. She’d always seem to forget those lessons by the next episode, however, and that’s where my problem with her and the repetitiveness of her storylines begins!

Jeri Ryan is a great actress, though, and The Raven gave her an opportunity to take Seven of Nine away from being cold and methodical – we see her go through an emotional rollercoaster that lets Ryan show off her acting abilities in a way most other episodes don’t. The episode would also establish the existence of Seven’s parents – Magnus and Erin Hansen – who would be mentioned several times in Voyager and ultimately make an appearance.

Number 6: Message in a Bottle (season 4)

The USS Prometheus – a Starfleet vessel the Doctor visited in the Alpha Quadrant.

Message in a Bottle is a funny episode, despite its serious setting and the major change it offers to the overall story of Voyager. Robert Picardo’s portrayal of the Doctor often walked a line between serious character and comic relief, but in this episode he’s joined by Andy Dick, who portrays a different version of the Emergency Medical Hologram. The two must contend with a ship that has been captured by Romulans, and some slapstick comedy ensues.

Aside from the amusing script that gave Picardo a chance to run wild with the character, Message in a Bottle marks a significant turning point in the overall “voyage home” narrative of the series. After several prior attempts to contact Starfleet met with no success, the Doctor is finally able to inform Starfleet Command in the Alpha Quadrant that Voyager and her crew are alive and well, and headed home. This would not only change the way the crew approached their situation, it also set the stage for future episodes, including several appearances by Dwight Schultz’s character of Barclay, who was a key part of the project to establish communication with Voyager.

While this shake-up may not have been as major for Voyager as the introduction of Seven of Nine and the departure of Kes had been at the beginning of Season 4, it was another significant development for the show. The crew, from this point on, would know that Starfleet was looking for them and trying to find ways to stay in communication, as well as bring them home. That optimistic streak wouldn’t be present in every subsequent story, but it remained part of the background and lore of the series as it entered the second half of its run.

Number 7: Night (Season 5)

Harry Kim playing his clarinet in Night.

Night is fascinating for two reasons: firstly, and most importantly, it forces Capt. Janeway to reexamine and relive her decision to strand her ship and crew in the Delta Quadrant. We’ll look more at this in a moment. Secondly, it shows Voyager traversing a region of space with no stars – a void. Voids exist in nature, across the galaxy and of course in between galaxies. But Star Trek’s depiction of the Milky Way has usually been that it’s a busy, almost crowded place with plenty of star systems and plenty of aliens to meet. Changing that up entirely, and sending the ship into what seems to be dead space with nothing to explore is a fascinating concept. Personally I feel that it could have been something that lasted longer than half of an episode, and I would have liked to have seen a season or at least a multi-episode arc of Voyager in this kind of setting. There was scope, I feel, for it to have been fascinating as this kind of setting would have forced episodes to be set solely on the ship and we could have seen more interaction between different characters. But that’s a separate point!

Janeway squirrels herself away in her quarters, depressed. Looking back on a decision she took five years ago which left Voyager stranded, she’s wondering if she did the right thing after all. It seems like, in this moment, Janeway had been expecting the journey home to be easier and quicker than it has been, that some other way home would have presented itself by now. Five years is a long time – and Voyager is facing the prospect of still having decades to go. The starless void didn’t cause her to feel this way, it simply robbed her of her everyday distractions of exploring space and managing the running of the ship, leaving her with lots of time to think. This can be a bad thing for someone dealing with mental health (as I can attest).

The episode later introduces the Malon, a species who would reappear several more times and be minor antagonists in the fifth season. The Malon continue Star Trek’s long history of using science fiction to parallel real-world issues, in this case pollution and the emitting of greenhouse gases. Not only do the Malon pollute their environment and the environment of the native life forms, they’re unwilling to change when offered better technology – because changing the way they do things would lead to less profit and for waste exporters going out of business. I love the aesthetic of the Malon too; the dirty, grimy way that they and their ships appear was just perfect.

Number 8: Equinox Parts 1 & 2 (Season 5-6)

Capt. Ransom, from the two-part episode Equinox, is probably my favourite antagonist in all of Voyager.

I’m split on one of the story points in Equinox. While I adore the two-part story overall, the fact that it’s established that the Caretaker from Voyager’s premiere is responsible for bringing Capt. Ransom and the Equinox to the Delta Quadrant was, in my opinion at least, lazy and verging on nonsensical. To very briefly summarise why, Capt. Janeway destroyed the Caretaker’s space station, and that was the only reason Voyager couldn’t be sent back home. The story of Equinox ignores that, and says that the Caretaker would drag ships to the Delta Quadrant and then just leave them to find their own way home when it had already been established that that was not the case. Inconsistencies like this bug me, and while it did come over five years on from Caretaker, as an in-universe point it’s contradictory, and I feel that it would have been easy to find an alternative explanation for the Equinox’s presence.

What I love about Equinox is that it shows how bad things could have been for Voyager had circumstances been different. We got a glimpse of this in Year of Hell, but the Equinox is badly damaged and in far worse shape than Voyager, and the story Capt. Ransom tells of how they were starving and running out of fuel is indicative of just how difficult a journey like this can be.

Morality has long been at the heart of Star Trek, and the moral argument between Capt. Ransom, who believed he was justified in killing a large number of aliens to help his crew get home, and Capt. Janeway, who was outraged by his actions, was engaging and thrilling to watch. A sympathetic villain – which Ransom clearly is – can be absolutely fascinating, and this is an episode which asks us, the audience, the question: “what would you have done in his place?” As Ransom himself says: “It’s easy to cling to your principles when you’re standing on a vessel with its bulkheads intact, manned by a crew that’s not starving.” He isn’t mad, he isn’t evil, he’s a desperate man who was willing to do anything to save himself and those under his command. The responsibility of command, on a ship not suited for the kind of voyage it was being forced to undertake, pushed him to that point, and he’s absolutely one of Voyager’s most interesting antagonists as a result.

The entire premise of Voyager meant that encountering Federation ships would be incredibly unlikely, and while we had seen, by this point in the show’s run, familiar Alpha Quadrant races like the Ferengi, Klingons, and Romulans, this was the first time we got to see Voyager meet other humans and another Starfleet vessel. I’m glad it came late into the show’s run, when it had already found its feet, because I think an Equinox-type episode in Season 1 or 2 might have been too soon.

Number 9: Good Shepherd (Season 6)

Good Shepherd features Capt. Janeway teaming up with some of Voyager’s underperforming crewmen.

Good Shepherd uses a comparable setting to The Next Generation’s seventh season episode Lower Decks, focusing on three crew members who have fairly menial roles on the ship. When Seven of Nine points out that these three junior officers are “inefficient”, Janeway feels like she has personally let them down, that they’ve slipped through the cracks on her ship because of the situation she put them in.

In that sense, the episode is as much about Janeway as it is about the three younger officers. She decides to take them on an away mission to give them a chance to shine, as well as to give them some personal bonding time since she barely knows them. Naturally, not everything goes to plan while away from the ship, and luckily, Janeway and the trio rise to the challenge.

It can be great in any show to take a break from the main cast and focus on someone different. In a Star Trek show, we obviously know that there are more people involved in running the ship than just the bridge crew, so taking a step back and acknowledging that worked great, as it had done in The Next Generation too. Not all tasks on a starship can be epic in scale and heroic, and it was interesting to see the ship from the point of view of three characters in that position. I would have liked to see them return for future episodes, but unfortunately they never did.

The actual story of the away mission, pitting underperforming officers against dark matter aliens, was interesting enough, but Good Shepherd is really a character piece looking at them and their reactions to being thrown head-first into a situation they weren’t prepared to experience.

Number 10: Critical Care (Season 7)

The Doctor is forced to work aboard an alien hospital ship in Critical Care.

Star Trek has always had episodes with a message – and Critical Care takes a critical look at the healthcare system in the United States, particularly the influence of money in the system determining who can get the best care. Money in Critical Care is represented by a patient’s “treatment coefficient”, a complicated, impersonal representation of their perceived “value” to society, allocated to them by a computer. If a patient’s TC was too low, they would be refused medication.

When the Doctor is kidnapped and forced to work aboard a hospital ship using this system, he rebels, trying to force the higher-ups to change the system to provide life-saving care to poorer patients. The whole episode is a send-up of the US healthcare system.

As a character piece looking at the Doctor, Critical Care is great too. He’s come a long way from when he was first activated at the beginning of the show’s run, and the story puts his humanity front and centre – including the ability to be aggressive and devious. He makes the hospital’s administrator sick, deliberately infecting him with a virus. And then he denies the administrator treatment until he agrees to treat all of the poor patients as well.

When Voyager finally recovers him – their tracking him down was the secondary plot of the episode – he wonders if something happened to his ethical programming to allow him to behave that way, but nothing was out of place. He has to live with the fact that he was capable of breaking his own hippocratic oath in order to affect the changes he felt were important, and as a character point for a hologram, that’s very interesting.

So that’s it. Ten great episodes from Voyager’s seven seasons that are well worth a look if you have time. I was an avid viewer of Voyager during its original run, and it was the second Star Trek show I collected on DVD in the early 2000s. While it wasn’t perfect, and some characters and story elements didn’t work in the way the producers intended, it was a great show. Voyager took Star Trek to a wholly different region of the galaxy, one that has yet to be revisited. While it is very much tied to The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine in terms of its timeline, it’s also a unique show in that respect.

Capt. Janeway is definitely one of Star Trek’s best commanding officers. Her determination to lead her crew home, even through difficult circumstances, while maintaining her dedication to Starfleet’s original mission of exploration is admirable. I would love to see her return in some way in Star Trek: Picard or another future series or film.

Voyager would be the last new series set in the 24th Century until Star Trek: Picard premiered earlier this year. In fact, with the exception of Star Trek: Nemesis, everything produced between Voyager’s finale and Picard would be a prequel. Some prequels can be good, but I’ve never been fully sold on them as a broader concept. Voyager was thus the last Star Trek show of the “golden age” in my opinion.

Stay tuned, because up next we’ll pull ten great episodes from Star Trek: Enterprise!

Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Voyager – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.