Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the franchise.
Twenty years ago today saw the premiere of Endgame, bringing Star Trek: Voyager to an end after seven seasons and 172 episodes. It was a feature-length episode with a complicated story involving time travel and two versions of Janeway! To mark the anniversary, I wanted to look back at the episode – specifically at one of its key storylines. Endgame saw Admiral Janeway travel back in time from the year 2404 to 2378 – and deliberately using her knowledge of the future to radically change events for the crew of Voyager. But did she make the right decision by doing so? And was it even her decision to make?
Those are the questions on my mind on Endgame’s 20th anniversary! It seems like a great opportunity to finally dig into these issues and consider some pretty deep points from an in-universe point of view. I’ve explained on a few occasions already that time travel stories both within Star Trek and outside the franchise aren’t always my favourites, but despite some of my in-universe criticisms of Janeway and her actions (or maybe because the episode is so morally ambiguous) Endgame is an example of a time travel story that I actually like. It was an exciting and explosive way to bring Voyager to an end – and I can hardly believe it’s been twenty years already!
Time travel stories in Star Trek typically don’t proceed like Endgame. If our characters go back in time to undo some event, it’s usually with a view to preserving or repairing the timeline, not deliberately changing it. That’s the crucial difference, and it’s why Admiral Janeway’s actions are, at best, morally ambiguous. At worst I’d argue we should condemn what she did.
It’s worth acknowledging that time travel in Star Trek has not always been clear-cut. The Original Series in particular took a more liberal attitude to travelling back in time, with episodes like Assignment: Earth and the film The Voyage Home showing the crew much more able to freely interact and change things than we’d seen in later stories of The Next Generation era. But Endgame arrived after the establishment of the Temporal Prime Directive, and after several episodes in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager itself had all established that time travel is regulated and the timeline itself monitored by agencies of the Federation.
The Federation and Starfleet, through the Temporal Prime Directive and organisations like the Department of Temporal Investigations, was dedicated to maintaining and preserving the timeline, and to ensuring that no one would change or manipulate events for their own purposes. Starfleet in the 29th Century – as we saw in Voyager – spent at least part of its time enforcing these laws.
When Admiral Janeway travelled back in time in Endgame, she didn’t merely change the lives of the surviving crew of the USS Voyager. By bringing the ship home decades earlier than it otherwise would have made it, and by attacking the Borg, she changed and even erased countless lives, both inside the Federation’s borders and outside of it. Films like The Butterfly Effect demonstrate the flaw in this approach – showing how changing one or two things which seem to only affect a handful of people can have massive unintended consequences.
We can talk specifics in a moment, but first let’s consider, as a moral question, whether Admiral Janeway had any kind of right to meddle in the timeline to this extent. By changing the course of history, and undoing events that happened almost thirty years in the past from her perspective, she radically changed the future for countless people – including, of course, everyone on Voyager’s crew.
Although she had once been their commanding officer and thus bore a degree of responsibility for their lives, this was categorically not Janeway’s choice to make – certainly not decades later, when most of the crew were no longer serving under her command. And the implications of what she did for the wider Federation and for every race and empire in the galaxy cannot be overstated. Time can be weaponised; this is something we know from dozens of other Star Trek stories. So there can be only one term for what Admiral Janeway did in Endgame – it’s a war crime.
Two examples come to mind. First is the Borg attack on Earth in Star Trek: First Contact, in which the Borg attempted to assimilate humanity by travelling to the past. And the second is the Voyager two-part episode Year of Hell from Season 4, in which a time traveller named Annorax attempted to force multiple changes in the timeline to save someone he cared about. In both cases, Starfleet was on the side of preserving the timeline and fighting back against the criminals who attempted to bend the timeline to their will. What Admiral Janeway does in Endgame is the complete opposite.
Not only that, but her motivations seem to be primarily about saving the life of one person – Seven of Nine. Though there was a sub-plot involving Tuvok suffering from an illness that was only curable if he got back to Federation space, saving Seven’s life was Janeway’s main objective. So all of the damage and destruction wrought upon the timeline was for the sake of one person. On an individual level we can understand and even sympathise with Janeway’s desire to save Seven’s life. But when stacked up against countless other lives it pales into insignificance.
The early part of Endgame briefly introduced us to Sabrina, the daughter of Naomi Wildman and an unnamed individual. By travelling back in time, Janeway completely changed Naomi Wildman’s future and thus almost certainly erased Sabrina from existence. Star Trek has never been a franchise that talks up things like fate and destiny, so unless we’re going to try to inject that here and say that Naomi Wildman was always going to meet Sabrina’s father at exactly the right time and place… then I’m sorry, but there’s no doubt that Sabrina was wiped out by Admiral Janeway.
We have another point of comparison: the Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Children of Time. In that story, the USS Defiant crash-landed on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant and Sisko and co. found themselves stranded in the past. The crew’s descendants were later wiped out of existence by the intervention of Odo – who desired to save the life of Major Kira. Once again, the story encourages us to understand Odo’s motivations on an individual level, but condemn him for what he did – erasing 8,000+ people from existence.
If the future from which Janeway had originated seemed awful, perhaps we could judge her actions less harshly. Her desire to attack the Borg would be far more understandable if, for example, the Borg had conquered much of the Federation. But there was no indication that there had been any Borg activity in Federation space in the preceding decades, let alone the kind of war or invasion that might conceivably justify this kind of action.
If the whole crew had died it still wouldn’t justify her actions, but it would certainly make them more sympathetic. However, again the episode does not give us this justification. Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres, the Doctor, Harry Kim, Barclay, and others all seem to be doing well in the early 25th Century, having moved on and put their Voyager days behind them.
Admiral Janeway’s justifications are thus wearing thin. Chakotay had died in this era, but there’s no evidence that travelling back in time would have saved his life. The only two lives that would be positively affected that Endgame shows us are Seven of Nine and Tuvok; the entire rationale for her plan hangs on these two individuals. And as I said earlier, when pitted against countless other lives, that can’t possibly be acceptable.
Janeway herself took the opposite view in Year of Hell, fighting back against Annorax’s attempts to use time travel to manipulate events to achieve his desired outcome. And Star Trek has several other great examples of our heroes stepping up to preserve the timeline or using time travel to prevent exactly the kind of thing Janeway tried to do. Going all the way back to The City on the Edge of Forever in the first season of The Original Series, this is how Starfleet has generally viewed time travel. In Enterprise we saw that taken to its logical conclusion, with Crewman Daniels representing a human faction – which may or may not have been associated with the Federation – dedicated to protecting the timeline from exactly this kind of interference.
Sticking with the theme of this being akin to a war crime, I would posit that Admiral Janeway used time itself as a weapon. In this case she used it to suit only her own selfish ends, with the potential side-effect of harming the Borg Collective, but as stated above the knock-on effects and consequences are unpredictable. There’s simply no way to know if Janeway’s interference made the galaxy better or worse.
For me, the biggest case in point is her attack on the Borg. There was no evidence that the Borg had attempted another attack or invasion as of 2404, and I’d present Barclay’s class as evidence that there had actually been no major attack or incursion in those years. Barclay showed the class of cadets a hologram that looked very much like a Borg drone encountered by the crew of Voyager or the Enterprise-E, suggesting Starfleet had no major Borg contact since those events. So here’s a hypothetical scenario: what if the Borg had turned their attention away from the Federation after suffering repeated defeats?
After the Borg were soundly beaten by Species 8472, they appear to have abandoned their attempts to assimilate them and their fluidic space realm, refocusing their efforts on further expansions of their space in the Delta Quadrant. It’s at least possible, then, that the Borg had put their plans to assimilate the Federation and make large-scale incursions into the Alpha Quadrant on hold, perhaps even indefinitely. Until Admiral Janeway came along.
Though we don’t have absolute confirmation of this, the existence of the Artifact (the abandoned Borg cube) in Picard Season 1 very strongly hints at the Borg Collective surviving Admiral Janeway’s attack in Endgame – and if they did, perhaps her attack changed the Borg’s perspective. No longer content to ignore humanity and focus on the Delta Quadrant, they may have spent the next few years plotting a major attack. The consequence of Janeway’s efforts to save Seven of Nine could thus be a full-scale Borg invasion!
That’s pure speculation on my part, of course, but it serves as an example of everything I’ve been saying: altering the timeline in this extreme fashion carries unprecedented levels of risk, and with no way to predict all of the possible outcomes, Janeway was absolutely wrong. She did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, and may well have made life worse for untold numbers of people across the galaxy, including in the Federation. At the very least we can say she wiped Sabrina from existence; that little girl will be just one among millions whose lives were changed completely – or ended – by the actions Janeway took.
Star Trek is a franchise that encourages its viewers to think. Endgame is, in large part, a fun and action-packed episode – and one I really enjoy – but we can also break down Janeway’s choices and see them for what they are. In a way, Admiral Janeway is a deeply tragic character, scarred by the loss of someone she cares about deeply and willing to do anything to get them back. Mortality is something we all face, or have faced, and anyone who’s lost a loved one can sympathise with her on a personal level. Wanting to bring a loved one back from death is a theme in literature going all the way back to ancient times. Star Trek’s sci-fi setting – like religion and fantasy before it – allows for stories that explore that concept, and whether we’re dealing with Ancient Greek legends of Thanatos or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one thing stories of all kinds agree on is that resurrecting the dead comes at a terrible price.
In Endgame, Janeway pays the price with her own life. But I would argue that is barely the beginning. Her actions changed or erased the lives of countless people, and the real price for Seven of Nine’s “resurrection” – thanks to the timeline being changed – is the erasure of an altogether different timeline, and 26 years’ worth of people’s lives.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning: Admiral Janeway undoubtedly did the wrong thing by travelling back in time and undoing more than a quarter of a century of history. While we can understand her reasons and even sympathise with her, in my view there’s no doubt that she violated Starfleet principles, committed a truly heinous crime that had the consequence of erasing and changing countless lives, and triggered all manner of consequences that she could not foresee.
Events in Star Trek: Picard, including the attack on Mars and the Zhat Vash’s victory in their crusade to end synthetic life, may be influenced by what Janeway did, and that’s just one example. The big threat that remains unresolved is the Borg – not only have they been given a new reason to target humanity, but she gave them a head-start on assimiliating knowledge and technology that the Federation wouldn’t develop on its own for a quarter of a century. Time travel has unintended consequences, and Janeway’s refusal to accept Seven of Nine’s fate, while understandable and even noble in some respects, led her to commit an action that is unforgivable. As we get ready to welcome Janeway back to Star Trek in the upcoming series Prodigy, let’s keep in mind what she’s capable of.
Endgame, the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, premiered 20 years ago today and is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Voyager and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Yesterday ViacomCBS showed off the first piece of promotional artwork for the upcoming child-friendly series Star Trek: Prodigy. And it looks good… or at least, I think it does. I’m not completely sure!
Let’s take a closer look at the teaser image and try to break it down:
The first and most obvious thing to me is that none of the characters look like anything we’ve seen before in Star Trek. My first thought was that it looked rather Disney-esque due to the art style, so that was a positive. But then the more I looked at it I couldn’t get away from one word in particular: “generic.”
These characters don’t exhibit any Star Trek visual traits, and thus they feel like they could be part of any sci-fi universe. You could tell me these are characters from a Star Wars show, a show set in the world of Mass Effect, Avatar, Marvel or DC Comics… you get the picture. Nothing about it screams “Star Trek” to me, and as a result the characters feel very generic; fun and well-designed sci-fi characters for sure, and with a cute art style, but not necessarily from Star Trek. The only character who could possibly be from an established Star Trek race is the tall figure in the middle (third from the left). They could be from the same race as Jaylah – the character from Star Trek Beyond.
I suppose it’s possible that the large scaly or mineral-encrusted alien on the right is supposed to be something like a Horta (from The Original Series Season 1 episode Devil in the Dark). That feels like a stretch, though, as it would be a significant departure from the only previous depiction of a Horta.
We also have three other aliens of unknown races, including one second-right who appears to be comprised of some kind of liquid or gel. This blue alien is perhaps my favourite design, and one of the great things about animation is that it allows for more “alien-looking” aliens than live-action. That’s something we saw in Lower Decks as well. This character is cute, and perhaps because of the colour scheme I’m getting kind of a Moana vibe.
The far left seems to show a sentient robot, and this is the character who feels most like they’ve been imported from Star Wars! I’m also curious what kind of character a synth or robot could be in a show that’s supposedly primarily about kids – we’ve never really seen a child robot before. They look friendly, though, so that’s a plus!
Notable by her absence is Captain Janeway – the only named character we know of in Prodigy at this stage. I was surprised not to see her depicted in this first piece of promotional artwork given the big announcement made a few months ago that she was joining the series. Janeway is potentially one of Prodigy’s biggest draws – especially for long-time Trekkies – so giving her some kind of role in pre-release marketing would make a lot of sense.
We didn’t get any character names to go with this image, so we don’t know who’s who or what roles they might end up playing on the series. I would guess that the tall figure in the centre is the leader of this gang of kids, and the apparel of the figure second-left suggests he could be an engineer of some kind. Those are just guesses, though, and I have no idea about the others!
What the release of this little teaser may mean is that Prodigy is well underway. The image was revealed at a promotional event for investors in the run-up to the launch of Paramount+ next week, and while it doesn’t seem like Prodigy will arrive on the day the service officially launches, all being well we’ll see it later this year.
I like the art style chosen for this project. 3D computer animation can look great, and these characters have a style that’s in line with other modern projects aimed at kids. Perhaps we can say it isn’t unique – as mentioned I think it feels rather generic for a Star Trek production – but there’s plenty of positives to take away from the visual style. I’ve already picked a favourite character – the blue liquid one! I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t an obvious Star Trek race included, nor any other significant Star Trek elements in the image. There are no combadges, for example, nor phasers, tricorders, etc. So while the characters look great and the art style is cute and fun… I’m left feeling that something important is missing.
I know it’s a show for kids, but the best kids shows have something to offer adults too, and this is something ViacomCBS has been promising since this project was announced. I’m sure as we get to see more of these characters, learn who they are, and see the ship that they’re going to “commandeer” for their adventures that the elusive sense of “Star Trek-ness” will come into focus. Maybe it was too much to ask from a single teaser image!
So this was an interesting first look – a glimpse, really – at Prodigy. The art style looks to be cute and fun, and while I wasn’t hit with a strong sense that the characters are part of the Star Trek franchise, and I’m curious as to why Janeway was left out, it was certainly interesting to see. From the point of view of producing a show for kids, I think there’s a lot for kids to get excited about with these characters. Though not necessarily “Star Trek,” the characters are visually interesting and would convert well to toys, dolls, and playsets. The diversity present in these designs should help each character establish a personality and on-screen presence, and that’s a positive thing.
Hopefully we’ll get to know more about these folks soon!
Star Trek: Prodigy is currently in production and will debut on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service is available. Further international distribution has not yet been announced. Star Trek: Prodigy is the copyright of ViacomCBS and Nickelodeon. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Happy Halloween! With the scariest day of the year upon us, I thought it could be fun to delve into Star Trek’s spooky side for a change! The Haunting of Deck Twelve was the penultimate episode of Voyager’s sixth season, and premiered in the United States on the 17th of May 2000. It’s framed as a campfire ghost story, with Neelix recounting the supposedly-true story of spooky goings-on aboard the ship to the Borg children: Icheb, Mezoti, Azan, and Rebi. Naomi Wildman, the USS Voyager’s other child, is conspicuously absent.
When it was announced earlier this month that Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Captain Janeway in the upcoming animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, I wanted to write up a Voyager episode here on the website. Despite being up and running for almost a year now I haven’t done so, though I did pick out ten great episodes from the series. Voyager is, to many fans, a less-favoured series than The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, and can sometimes feel like an also-ran among Star Trek’s canon. However, I definitely feel that the show got a lot of things right, had some excellent characters, and told some unique and interesting stories. Many of Voyager’s alien races were different from what we’d seen before (due to the Delta Quadrant setting) and have yet to be revisited in any detail.
Voyager is certainly a series I enjoy. I find ranking the different Star Trek shows very difficult, because each one really brings something different to the table. Voyager is comparable in many ways to The Original Series and The Next Generation in that it’s set aboard a moving starship and the crew routinely conduct missions of exploration. However, its overarching story of the ship being stranded a long way from home makes it something different. Not every aspect of Voyager was perfect – the “one ship, two crews” storyline never really took off, and in later seasons especially, I found Seven of Nine to be a pretty boring, flat character – but as a series it tried to do some different things and succeeded in telling some excellent stories.
Is The Haunting of Deck Twelve one of them? Well, that’s an interesting question!
The episode begins with a beautiful shot of the ship in flight. The usual inspiring musical score immediately sours, however, and we get a horror-style minor chord sting as the camera fades in to Neelix in an empty mess hall. Neelix walks around looking concerned – an expression that can’t be easy to convey under such heavy prosthetic makeup – and nervously straightens a chair before turning out the lights. He’s then startled by Seven of Nine as he turns to leave, and tells her he’s feeling jumpy “after what happened last time.” A suitably mysterious line!
Seven explains that main power will soon be shut down, interrupting the Borg children’s regeneration (remember that Borg don’t “sleep,” but rather regenerate in alcoves) and she wants Neelix to keep them company. This is the setup for the frame narrative that much of the rest of the episode would use.
On the bridge we get a comparatively rare example of a starship powering down its engines and using inertia to continue moving. In Star Trek, ships at warp don’t seem able to do this (presumably for reasons related to subspace) but there’s no reason why a ship traveling at sublight speeds shouldn’t be able to fire its engines and then coast! Yet for some reason it isn’t mentioned very often. As Voyager drifts toward a nebula, Tom Paris and Harry Kim comment on its spooky appearance; the nebula is depicted in shades of brown, orange, purple, and blueish-grey, but I wouldn’t have said it looks any more frightening than any of the other nebulae the ship has visited. Perhaps the officers’ overactive imaginations (which Tuvok is happy to point out) stem from the fact that they know what’s coming. As the audience, we still don’t!
Harry confirms that the ship is ready – and we soon see what for. Main power is deactivated ship-wide; the bridge goes dark, a corridor soon follows, and the Doctor deactivates himself in sickbay. The shot of two background crew members in the hallway was particularly well put together. Filmed from a low angle, the lights in the hallway went out in sequence, and the pair of officers then activated their wrist-mounted torches. Seven of Nine’s astrometrics lab goes dark too, save for a single computer panel on the wall. Seven was oftentimes a rule-breaker, and on first viewing I wondered if she had unilaterally decided her work was too important to stop!
In the cargo bay, Neelix greets the Borg children as they’re shocked awake by the shutting down of their Borg alcoves. And it was my first time seeing Icheb since his reappearance in the episode Stardust City Rag from Star Trek: Picard Season 1 earlier in the year. In main engineering, Torres and the crew shut down the warp core, presumably completing the process of turning off everything aboard the ship, which is now illuminated only by wrist-mounted torches and lanterns. Spooky stuff.
There are many things we can consider iconic within Star Trek, and for my money the warp core is absolutely one of them. The concept of the warp core as an upright glowing column first appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and has carried through the franchise in some form ever since, even reappearing in Lower Decks and Short Treks. Though the way this vital piece of technology functions has always been deliberately ambiguous, its design and aesthetic are emblematic of Star Trek, and when you see a warp core you know you’re aboard a Federation starship.
Back on the bridge, Harry confirms every deck is without power. Janeway signals Seven of Nine with the cryptic message “we’re ready.” And after a neat shot of the unpowered ship coasting into the nebula – which suddenly appears a much brighter shade of purple than it had on the viewscreen – the opening titles roll.
Voyager followed on from Deep Space Nine in having a slower-tempo, softer theme. The themes for The Original Series and The Next Generation were upbeat, representing the excitement of adventure and exploration. Voyager’s stands in contrast to that, but is nevertheless a beautiful piece of music in its own right. The title sequence itself is a representation of the long journey the ship and crew will take; no one scene lingers, and Voyager moves past different planets and nebulae before going to warp.
When the action resumes we’re back in the cargo bay with Neelix and the kids. Icheb immediately demands to know about the loss of main power, and seems dissatisfied with Neelix’s explanation. Neelix tries to distract the kids with various campfire supplies, but they aren’t buying it. The way this scene was set up and shot was clever; there’s only one light source (a lantern) which serves as the “campfire” analogue, leaving the rest of the cargo bay in darkness. There’s just enough light to illuminate Neelix and the kids, but that’s all.
Icheb insists that Neelix be more forthright about what’s happening, and Mezoti asks if what’s going on is related to deck 12, which she has heard is haunted. It’s clear that, with part of the deck under lockdown and inaccessible without a high security clearance, something is going on!
After very little persuasion, Neelix relents and agrees to tell the kids about what’s happening and how it connects to deck 12. In a way, this is just as cathartic for him as it is for them, as he’s nervous about Voyager’s mission to the nebula. And I think we get a showcase in how great a character Neelix can be in episodes like this. Though the “one ship, two crews” concept never really worked in Voyager, as the Maquis had been wholly assimilated into the Starfleet crew even as early as the first season, Neelix always stood apart. At times he would bend the rules because he isn’t from a Starfleet background, and here, with the kids, he’s quite happy to go against what he was asked to do and tell them a story about what’s going on.
We get a “Borg take things too literally” joke when Neelix tells the kids that the story isn’t suitable for “the faint of heart,” which was funny. Contrary to what some folks wanted to tell you in the run-up to the release of Star Trek: Lower Decks earlier in the year, the franchise has always had these moments of humour. And this one was on point – even if the “Borg takes things too literally” joke was generally overdone on Voyager thanks to Seven of Nine!
As the children insist Neelix tell them everything, he gives them a final warning that it’s a spooky story! It all began with a routine deuterium-collecting mission to a nebula several months ago… and thus begins the bulk of the episode, told in flashbacks with occasional narration from Neelix, who seems more than happy at the chance to tell a story!
Neelix tells Tuvok that he’s concerned about “crew morale,” despite Tuvok noting that the crew in the mess hall seem perfectly fine. Neelix wants to know how long the ship will be in the nebula – so he can reassure everyone else, of course. Tuvok, very perceptively, realises that it’s Neelix who’s on edge, and his suspicions are confirmed when Neelix seems to snap at him in the middle of the mess hall. Clearly the stress of the nebula has been getting to him.
It will take days before the deuterium collection work is finished, though, and all Tuvok can suggest is that Neelix put up some curtains. A truly helpful and empathetic response from Voyager’s resident Vulcan! Neelix seems happy with this, however, and dashes off to find some material with which to make curtains.
Meanwhile on the bridge, the turbulence is getting worse. Harry suggests to the captain a technobabble explanation for why the nebula is “destabilising,” and then we get a jump-cut back to Neelix and the kids in the cargo bay. Icheb accuses Neelix of misleading them on the specifics, noting that “bussard collectors do not emit nadeon emissions.” Neelix tells him that the specifics aren’t important to the story – and we have another part of the setup, the “unreliable narrator.”
Using this term might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s important for the remainder of the story. Neelix’s recollections are imperfect, and while the main thrust of the episode’s narrative is ultimately revealed to be true, it’s not unfair to think that Neelix has embellished certain other elements for the sake of storytelling! I liked the way this was set up, and for a story with a frame narrative like this one, it works really well.
Neelix wasn’t on the bridge during this moment, so how could he have known everything that was said? Again, this is something we’ll keep in mind during any scene where Neelix isn’t physically present! As Neelix prepares to hand out a plate of snacks to the kids in the cargo bay, we jump back to the action on the bridge.
A minor inconsistency, perhaps, as Janeway contacts Torres to tell her they’re going to stop the “dilithium” collection – not deuterium, which is what everyone else had been talking about – but this could simply be another of Neelix’s misremembrances. Before the ship can successfully leave the nebula, however, it’s struck by some kind of electrical discharge! The kids pipe up, asking if this was the ghost.
On the bridge, the crew report minor damage and some power outages, but nothing serious and no injuries. Voyager resumes its course having harvested as much dilithium/deuterium as it could, and everyone seems to think that they got away with it. However, as Neelix explains, the ship had picked up a “mysterious stowaway.” At the same time, we see a CGI rendition of the ship leaving the nebula, complete with a glowing ball of lightning that slips through the hull – just like a ghost would!
The late 1990s and early 2000s weren’t a great time for CGI. However, on the small screen it looks a lot better – or at least less bad – than it does in some big-screen productions made around the same time. I’m looking at you, Star Wars prequels. Star Trek had been experimenting with CGI since The Next Generation was on the air, and while I’d absolutely love nothing more than for Voyager to be properly remastered, which would include redoing almost all of these CGI effects, I have to admit that it doesn’t look too bad here.
The kids ask a bunch of questions about the stowaway, and Neelix confirms that it was a space-dwelling creature. However, they keep trying to press him to tell what exactly the life-form was, but when offered the choice between debating what the creature was and resuming the story, the kids ultimately choose – after exchanging glances – to continue with the story. Thank goodness, I want to know how it ends!
After leaving the nebula, Voyager begins to suffer some unusual malfunctions. Chakotay reports to Captain Janeway some of the damage done by the “zap” as the ship escaped the nebula, including the loss of artificial gravity on one deck. That would’ve been fun to see! We so rarely see a loss of gravity on Star Trek – due, of course, to the practical difficulties in filming such a sequence. The artificial gravity systems aboard a starship are invariably the last things to fail even when every other system is compromised, so for it to have been damaged here is, I would argue, a major issue.
As Chakotay explains his findings, the captain’s replicator malfunctions, and I just love Janeway’s nonchalant response as she tells Chakotay he can “add replicators to [his] list.” Even when annoyed she manages to be in control, and I have no doubt she’ll make a great captain in the upcoming series Star Trek: Prodigy.
As Janeway speaks to the ship, Chakotay tells her that he used to have similar chats with his Maquis vessel – something I think we saw him do in Caretaker, the series premiere. Either way, it was a fun acknowledgement of Chakotay’s Maquis past. Chakotay didn’t get many scenes, let alone stories of his own, during the latter part of Voyager’s run, so it was nice to see him here alongside Captain Janeway. Though he lost his Maquis side pretty quickly as the show got going, he found a role as Janeway’s older and more seasoned advisor, as well as her moral compass. Those roles suited him. Looking out the ready-room window Janeway spots a meteorite cluster – and thinks it’s the same one Voyager has already been past. Is the ship now flying in circles?
Not to nitpick, but technically a “meteorite” is something that falls to Earth, not something in space! On the bridge, Tom Paris insists the ship hasn’t been traveling backwards or in circles, yet the presence of the meteors suggests otherwise. Tuvok runs a (very fast) diagnostic that reveals a problem – Voyager is heading back the way it came.
As the captain orders an all-stop, Paris begins to launch into a speech about how the ship relies too much on sensors and technology. Before he can say too much, however, the warp engines activate by themselves and can’t be shut down. The malfunctions suddenly get a lot worse. The communications system goes down. The computer, when asked to locate B’Elanna, lists the locations of every officer aboard the ship, and Chakotay’s turbolift to engineering takes him to the mess hall instead.
As Chakotay steps back into the turbolift and, once again, asks it to go to engineering, we get a rare look inside the turbolift shaft. As Neelix explains in a voiceover that the turbolift was falling, we see a neat CGI sequence of the turbolift itself, including the inside of the turboshaft, complete with horizontal tubes. This is a rarity, and for us nerds, a bit of a treat to catch a glimpse of the inner mechanisms of one of the franchise’s staple technologies.
Another jump-cut back to the cargo bay sees Neelix teasing the kids by pausing his story, offering them snacks. Mezoti informs him that “snacks are irrelevant!” and insists he continue the story. I loved this line, it was very “Borg,” but also a typical reaction from a little girl who wants her story. Not to mention that it was funny.
Here I think we see the frame narrative working well. The story of the malfunctions is interesting, as is the idea of a nebula-dwelling life-form, but Neelix and the kids give the episode a kind of light-hearted brevity that stands in contrast to the serious goings-on, yet somehow works really well.
The frame narrative also allows The Haunting of Deck Twelve to still tell us as the audience about some dramatic events – like Chakotay being pinned to the ceiling of the turbolift as it fell – but without having to go to the expense of filming them! Chakotay storms into engineering, but B’Elanna says she’s pinpointed the problem and is on her way to fix it.
Crewman Celes – who appeared in Good Shepherd a few episodes previously – makes a welcome return. One thing Voyager lacked was a Deep Space Nine-style secondary cast, yet its “lost in space” narrative would have allowed for that. Some background officers like Vorik, Chell, and Carey got to make repeated appearances, but none had a major impact on the story in the same way as Deep Space Nine’s secondary characters did.
Seven of Nine accuses Crewman Celes of causing a power failure, despite her having only just opened a panel. It was clear, despite Seven’s rush to judgement, that this was connected to the ongoing malfunctions aboard the ship. Seven of Nine presses a few buttons on the exposed panel, and the lights in the hallway begin to flicker.
Chakotay and B’Elanna have arrived at their destination – some damaged gel-packs. Voyager uses “bio-neural circuitry” in its systems, something that was set up way back in Season 1. These systems are supposedly faster and more reliable, but more difficult to replace. The aesthetic used for the gel-packs – which are a neon blue colour – was pretty neat, and I think still holds up today as a fun and suitably futuristic piece of technology.
The problem has “jumped” from one set of gel-packs to another, this time near Seven of Nine’s cargo bay 2. With no communications, Neelix explains in voiceover, B’Elanna and Chakotay couldn’t contact her to warn her something was going on! As the camera focuses in on Seven, who is working at her console in the cargo bay, the mysterious stowaway appears to materialise behind her…
The Borg kids are shocked and alarmed – this was happening in this very cargo bay! Mezoti once again insists on Neelix telling the rest of the story, and shuts down Icheb when he tries to interrupt! The life-form jumped into the Borg alcoves near to Seven of Nine, and then released a strange gas into the cargo bay; gas that looked a lot like the nebulae we’ve seen!
Unable to escape the cargo bay – as forcefields have been set up outside the main doorway – Seven is trapped and begins to choke on the gas. The lantern in the cargo bay suddenly goes out, just as the kids are beginning to get excited and anxious about the story and what happened to Seven of Nine. Neelix is able to fix it easily – I wonder if he did that on purpose!
Chakotay and B’Elanna arrive just in the nick of time, and after phasering the forcefield control panel manage to get Seven of Nine to sickbay. Malfunctions increase across the ship, including in the mess hall where Neelix is cooking and Harry Kim is having a meal.
Kim – despite being just an ensign – orders everyone to report to their stations. The lights continue to flicker, and Neelix nervously asks if he can tag along with Harry. However, Kim reminds him that the mess hall is his post before departing, leaving a nervous Neelix alone in the mess hall – as the lights go out.
Neelix says to the kids that Voyager was “dead in space,” though gravity and life-support still seem to be working! The bridge is overheating, and we got a cute moment with Paris and Tuvok as the latter explains the Vulcans don’t sweat unless the temperature reaches a staggering 350°K – about 77°C or 170°F.
Following the earlier scene with Chakotay in the ready-room, Captain Janeway once again tries talking to the ship. This time, she offers to make a deal, a maintenance overhaul in exchange for no more malfunctions! I like this side to her character; it took a serious story but gave it another light-hearted aspect that I think worked well in conjunction with Neelix’s frame narrative.
Her bargaining seems to have worked – helm control has been restored! But as soon as Paris steps up to the console to plot a course he’s zapped by an energy discharge – leaving him with some nasty-looking burns. As Janeway and another bridge officer try to help Paris, the bridge is suddenly deprived of oxygen and they must all evacuate. The practical makeup effects for Paris’ burns were gruesome – and come as quite a shock.
Paris is brought to sickbay – where it seems that injuries are becoming a problem across the ship. The Doctor immediately diagnoses Paris as the victim of an EM surge, similar to the electrical discharge that struck Seven of Nine when she was trapped with the nebula gas. Standing around Tom’s bio-bed, Seven, Chakotay, B’Elanna, the Doctor, and Captain Janeway come to a typical Star Trek realisation – there’s an alien intelligence at work.
The alien is trying to use Voyager’s systems to make an environment for itself – just like the nebula. And it’s attacking anyone who tries to interfere or undo its work, as all of the crew it’s hit have been doing precisely that. I called this a “typical Star Trek revelation” because it’s not uncommon in the franchise when something unusual or unexplained happens for the reason to ultimately be “life, Jim, but not as we know it!” That line, by the way, was used in the song Star Trekkin’.
The Doctor suddenly goes off-line (though no one seemed to move when Janeway ordered his programme to be transferred to the mobile emitter) and power fails in sickbay. In voiceover, Neelix explains how power was failing across the ship, deck by deck. In a dark hallway, lit only by the intermittent red alert/emergency lights, Harry Kim gets a scare – and so do we! It turns out he’s just bumped into Crewman Celes, and neither of them know what’s happening. This sequence was very atmospheric, with the intermittent red lights and Harry’s wrist-mounted torch being the only sources of illumination. It felt very eerie, and meant that when Celes appears, it’s hard not to jump even if you know what’s coming!
Celes starts rambling about Borg and Hirogen and the ship being under attack, and Harry tries his best to calm her down. The two set off for engineering, where Kim assumes the captain will have set up a command post due to the environmental failure on the bridge.
Neelix, meanwhile, has been stuck at his post in the mess hall. He’s lit a fire under one of the pans which provides some additional light alongside his torch, and we hear the doors hiss open. This music across the episode has been fantastic, horror-inspired and very atmospheric. Here it reaches another high, adding tension to an already-tense moment as Neelix looks around the deserted mess hall.
As Neelix exits the mess hall, with no one answering his calls, he sees the source of the noise: a malfunctioning door opens and closes repeatedly at the end of a hallway. This shot was another that builds up that sense of fear; Neelix is all alone, and I think many ghost stories have some kind of door opening or closing of its own volition, meaning the episode plays off that trope. It was very spooky indeed!
When Tuvok wordlessly appears behind Neelix as he investigates the door, all of the tension from the mess hall through the hallway scene boils over, and we get the second of two jumpy moments! Tuvok has come to the mess hall to evacuate Neelix, and is wearing some kind of portable oxygen mask. Neelix admits to the kids that he was very frightened as he and Tuvok must crawl through the jeffries’ tubes and descend eight decks to make it to the captain’s command post.
In a break from the flashbacks, Neelix gives the kids a lesson in fear. Icheb tells him he shouldn’t be afraid, but Neelix retorts that fear can be good thing – keeping people safe. For kids especially, I think this is a very important message. Not only because it shows that it really is okay to be scared and that everybody gets scared sometimes, but that there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about with showing fear. Fear, as Neelix rightly says, can be useful, and it’s an important emotion. The Borg kids need to know this as they rediscover their emotions, but many of Star Trek’s younger viewers would do well to remember this too!
After Mezoti elaborates on her first experience with being afraid, Neelix gets back to the story. Aside from Collective, the episode which introduced us to the Borg kids, I’d argue that The Haunting of Deck Twelve is one of the most important for their development, particularly as they wrangle with the feelings and emotions they have after being disconnected from the Borg collective. This is precisely for the reasons we discussed – learning to show and handle emotions is vital. In the flashback, Neelix tells the kids that he was stuck with only Tuvok for company.
Neelix attempts to make small-talk, but Tuvok isn’t having it. While crawling through the tubes, Neelix begins to tell a story-within-a-story: that of a Talaxian ship that similarly underwent a systems failure, leading to the crew drawing lots to see who would survive. Mezoti and Icheb pipe up, wondering what the bodies of the dead Talaxians looked like, and whether they resorted to cannibalism, before Neelix resumes his story. This moment definitely felt like “ghost stories around the campfire” in the way the episode was going for!
Neelix and Tuvok encounter a jeffries’ tube slowly filling with nebula gas and can’t progress any further. Tuvok opens a panel and plans to vent the gas – but we know that anyone doing so has been attacked! There is an alternate route, but Tuvok says it will take hours to reach engineering that way. I was still nervous for Tuvok as Neelix jumps the story to engineering…
In main engineering, Harry expresses regret at leaving Neelix in the mess hall. The nebula life-form has gotten into the main computer, and is now unable to be contained. However, the life-form uses the communications network to contact the captain. She responds to its attempts to communicate, assuming the life-form has learned how to use the systems to communicate.
Using the ship’s computer, the life-form summons the captain to astrometrics, and it’s worth taking a moment to remember Majel Barret-Roddenberry, who was the voice of Starfleet’s computers from The Original Series all the way through The Next Generation era and even up to 2009’s Star Trek. She was the wife of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, and has almost certainly appeared – in voiceover form – in more Star Trek episodes than anyone else. Here, as the life-form attempts to communicate, it’s her voice it uses.
Despite Chakotay’s concern about a trap, Janeway proceeds to astrometrics. There isn’t much of a choice, as the alternative appears to be letting the life-form take over the ship. Back in the jeffries’ tube, Tuvok works on the panel while attempting to calm Neelix down. We get a flashback-within-a-flashback, as Neelix remembers with fondness his birthday party.
However, the memory turns sour as Neelix imagines himself attacked by the nebula gas! This was another well-executed deception, taking what should have been a safe moment for Neelix, and for us as the audience, and turning it into something scary. I loved the visual before that moment as Neelix sat down with the crew all around him. He clearly has great fondness for all of them – and they for him.
Tuvok jumps as Neelix yells out, and the kids ask what happened. In astrometrics, the life-form points Janeway to the nebula and restores helm control. Seven of Nine objects, thinking it may be a precursor to an invasion. However, Janeway believes the life-form just wants to return to its home and agrees. The malfunctions are not as random as they appeared; all were designed to push Voyager back to the nebula.
Janeway can empathise strongly with the desire to return home – after all, that’s what she and the crew are doing too. Perhaps with that in mind she agrees to return the ship to the nebula. It allows her access to the bridge as Neelix tells us in voiceover that the relationship between them was “fragile.”
Upon returning to the nebula, however, there’s a problem: there is no longer a nebula! Whatever happened to destabilise it earlier has caused it to dissipate entirely, leading to the life-form throwing a major tantrum! It tries to turn off life support and tells the crew to abandon ship, but luckily Captain Janeway is able to talk it down.
This is classic Janeway – she’s an explorer and a scientist, but also a diplomat. When the life-form threatens her crew, she steps up and shows her diplomatic abilities, saving the ship and crew. This is the climax of the storyline, as Janeway must act to save the ship, and it shows why she’s such an amazing captain.
Neelix explains to the kids that this was Voyager’s only chance, but it doesn’t go well at first. The life-form refuses to communicate or unlock any more systems, and Janeway appears to be out of options.
Back in the tube, Tuvok is – perhaps predictably – shocked by a discharge from the panel he was working on. Neelix describes this as one of his worst fears. Again we see great makeup work to represent Tuvok’s grisly plasma/EM burns. Neelix uses the story of the Talaxian ship from earlier as a bad example, saying that he won’t leave the injured Tuvok to his fate despite nebula gases pouring into the tube. Tuvok attempts to order Neelix, but in an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, Neelix disobeys and lifts Tuvok to his feet. Neelix can certainly be a scaredy-cat, and at times Voyager derived humour from that. But here he, like the captain, steps up and does what’s needed. Fear may be important, as we discussed earlier, but so is overcoming it.
The two share the single oxygen mask as they make their way through the gas. Why Tuvok didn’t bring a second mask with him on his mission to retrieve Neelix is, well… unknown. But it makes the story more exciting, so perhaps it’s best not to nitpick!
Janeway is making her way back through the deserted ship, continuing to reason with the life-form. She tells the life-form to run a diagnostic, confirming that systems will fail aboard the ship. This means that the life-form cannot survive aboard Voyager without the crew, and it’s this revelation which turns the tide.
Neelix and Tuvok reach main engineering just as the captain has given the order to abandon ship. The crew race to the escape pods, though B’Elanna’s warning that the pods may not be able to be ejected felt ominous. The reply that “we’ll push them out if we have to” feels unhelpful here too, and little more than hyperbole!
Chakotay is the second-to-last to reach a shuttlebay/escape pod, but before Capain Janeway can join him the door is sealed. The life-form seems to think it can keep the captain as its slave to maintain the ship’s systems, but she refuses, telling the life-form that they will die together. The life-form, however, was bluffing, and realising it cannot survive aboard Voyager without the crew, relents. Kate Mulgrew’s performance as the pained and asphyxiating captain was riveting, and I couldn’t look away from the horrifying scene.
As Neelix explains, the creature’s bluff had been called. The crew were able to return and all systems were restored. However, one section of deck 12 was set aside for the creature to live, and the captain pledged to return it to a suitable nebula as soon as the ship detected one. Mezoti turns to Icheb to gloat; she told him there was a monster on deck 12!
It was no monster, of course, just a lost creature that wanted to return home. Moments later, main power is restored and the lights are back on. As the kids head back to their alcoves, Neelix says he made the whole thing up, and had this been the end it would have been a disappointment on par with “it was all just a dream.” Icheb in particular seems content to believe Neelix made it up, and the kids step back into their alcoves and begin regenerating.
However, this wasn’t the end of the episode! In the final scenes, Neelix returns to the bridge. The whole trip to the nebula took three hours, and he reassures the captain that the kids weren’t frightened. He told them a story, he says, to pass the time.
Neelix then asks if everything is alright. Harry activates the viewscreen, showing the nebula from the beginning of the episode. It now seems to crackle with lightning or some kind of electrical energy – the life-form is home. Neelix says he hopes it “lives happily ever after” in its new nebula.
So there we go. Star Trek: Voyager’s campfire ghost story! The life-form, despite Neelix’s claim at the end, was indeed real. But how much of his story was, and how much did he embellish or exaggerate for the sake of making it engrossing for the kids? I suppose we’ll never know, but I choose to believe that it was largely accurate.
It was a truly fun piece of television, something different from Star Trek’s usual output while, at the same time, being very familiar. The “it wants to communicate” trope is something we see a lot, particularly in older Star Trek shows, and it’s a trademark of the franchise at this point! But the manner in which The Haunting of Deck Twelve uses this familiar theme makes it stand out. We could have just had the story from the flashbacks, but instead it was chosen to use Neelix and the kids around their “campfire” as a frame, and I really think that worked. It made the episode something different from Star Trek’s past offerings, and I like that.
So I hope this was a bit of fun for Halloween! Whatever you’re doing today or tonight, I hope you have a great time and some spooky fun. I will be writing up this week’s episode of Discovery, so don’t worry. But I didn’t want to let Halloween pass unmarked, and The Haunting of Deck Twelve ticked a lot of boxes for being a fun Star Trek story to re-watch at this time of year.
Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force and for Star Trek: Voyager.
On the 20th of September 2000, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force was released. That’s twenty years ago – to my great shock – so it seems like a great opportunity to take a brief look back at what is arguably one of Star Trek’s best and most successful video game adaptations.
The Star Trek franchise hasn’t had a lot of luck in the video game arena, despite the fact that there’s a good deal of crossover between Trekkies and gamers. Most Star Trek games really only appealed to existing fans, and failed to either cross over and win support among a wider gaming audience, or to bring in any new fans. Elite Force was – for a time, at least – an exception to that. As a result it’s fondly remembered not only by Trekkies but by many fans of first-person shooters in the early 2000s.
Elite Force was the first game released that was made using the Quake III engine (also known as id Tech 3) except for the original Quake III Arena, and many first-person shooter fans just after the millennium were excited to see what this new game engine would bring to the table. Elite Force also offered local and online multiplayer on PC at a time when the idea of playing games via LAN or online was becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the PC gaming sphere; it was certainly the first such game I ever played at a LAN party!
Using the tagline “Set phasers to frag!” – where “frag” is (or was) a gaming term for “kill” – Elite Force became a moderate success for its multiplayer mode. Gaming as a hobby was much smaller around the turn of the millennium than it is today, and also skewed younger in terms of the average age of gamers. Most players at the time were aware of Star Trek, which had been on a roll through the ’90s, and where Elite Force truly broke new ground for a Star Trek game was in reaching out beyond the franchise’s usual fanbase to appeal to non-fans. It’s unfortunate that the game’s release coincided with the end of The Next Generation’s era; I think if it had been released earlier in Voyager’s lifetime it might have been able to retain some of those new players and convert them to Trekkies. The idea of the “box set” hadn’t really materialised in 2000, so with Voyager already into its final season, and with The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine already over, there wasn’t much Star Trek content for those who did enjoy the game and its setting to get stuck into.
In that sense, Elite Force was released at a time when the Star Trek franchise was entering a period of decline, and the end of Voyager’s run a few months after the game was released meant that the franchise wasn’t able to keep many of the players who gave Star Trek a chance. That’s a shame, but it can’t be helped!
Beyond its multiplayer mode, Elite Force told a really interesting story. The game begins with the explanation that Captain Janeway and Tuvok have created a specialist “Hazard Team” for the USS Voyager, of which the player character is a member. Elite Force was one of the first games I played that allowed players to choose their character’s gender; Ensign Munro could be male or female. It was groundbreaking in the sense that the game didn’t change at all depending on the player’s decision – if Ensign Munro was a woman she was just as capable as if she were a man, and no one aboard the ship would behave differently. That decision alone represents Star Trek’s vision of an equal future. Gender representation in games is getting better, and there are some great female protagonists. But some franchises and series have still never offered players a female lead, and others struggle with writing a female protagonist successfully. Elite Force got this right twenty years ago, so there’s no excuse!
To get back to the story, Hazard Team has been assembled in response to the threat of the Borg and other dangers the ship faces in the Delta Quadrant. The first level of the game is set aboard a Borg vessel – which soon turns out to be a holodeck simulation! I liked the creative use of Star Trek’s technology to explain some in-game features; players were said to have a personal transporter buffer which contained their inventory, explaining how it was possible to carry so many items at once. That was a neat little addition!
The USS Voyager itself was recreated using the aforementioned Quake III engine, and remains one of the best in-game depictions of any Starfleet vessel. It was such a shame when fan project Stage 9 was forcibly shut down by ViacomCBS a few months ago, as their recreation of the Enterprise-D was stunning. Elite Force did something similar with Voyager, and in between missions several large areas of the ship were able to be explored. This was a complete novelty at the time, and it was amazing to be able to wander around the ship looking at every little detail that developers Raven Software had built.
When the USS Voyager is pulled into a rift in space, it comes under attack by scavengers who reside there. The Hazard Team is deployed on a number of missions to recover supplies, defeat opponents, and find a way for the ship and crew to escape. Interestingly, some Alpha Quadrant races (including humans) are present in the “graveyard,” along with Delta Quadrant races like the Malon.
I don’t want to spoil the story too much, because it is still possible to find copies of the game both for PC and PlayStation 2 second-hand if you want to try it for yourself. Suffice to say that I found the story of the single-player campaign to have a solid Star Trek feel to it. Fans of the franchise might find a couple of nitpicks here and there, but generally it was great fun. Voyager would use a somewhat similar premise – getting sucked into a rift in space populated by scavengers – in the seventh season episode The Void, which was broadcast a few months after the game was released.
Almost the whole Voyager cast stepped in to voice their characters. The main two in terms of the storyline and in terms of who Ensign Munro interacted with were Tuvok – who is the head of security and nominal leader of the Hazard Team – and Captain Janeway. Aside from Jeri Ryan, who was unable to voice Seven of Nine, and Jennifer Lien, whose character of Kes was not part of the game, the entire main cast were present. A couple of Voyager’s minor recurring characters (Chell and Vorik) were also voiced by their television series actors, which was a nice touch. The game was certainly far better for having the proper voice cast!
A darling of early-2000s LAN parties and a pioneer of first-person shooters in the online multiplayer space, Elite Force is a rare example of a Star Trek video game that broke the mould and expanded beyond the fandom. It’s also one of the better Star Trek video games both in terms of gameplay, where the Quake III engine provided a rock solid first-person shooter experience, and in terms of storyline, which for the most part felt like players were taking part in a real episode of Voyager. It’s a wonderful game, well worth playing for any Trekkie, and it would have been a shame to let its twentieth anniversary pass by unnoticed.
So here’s to Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force! Happy anniversary!
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force probably remains the copyright of Activision-Blizzard. 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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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)
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.