Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and Star Trek: Voyager.
There have been a number of interesting-sounding pitches and concepts over the years for potential Star Trek series and feature films, and we recently looked at the possibility of a Starfleet Academy series. That sounds like something with potential, and you can check out my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.
But not all Star Trek pitches are created equal, and another potential series has been touted in the last few months by former Star Trek: Voyager actor and director Robert Duncan McNeill. He recently confirmed on social media that he’s pitched a Captain Proton show to ViacomCBS, though details about what the potential project would entail are light. Having touched on this idea on a couple of occasions in other contexts, I wanted to give the pitch more of an airing and put my thoughts in order.
You’ve probably already figured out from the title of this piece where I come down on a Captain Proton show: I’m not in favour of it and I can’t really see a way to bring it to screen successfully. I’d even go so far as to say that I highly doubt ViacomCBS will consider this pitch for very long, despite the known name attached to it, and though there are a few reasons why – which we’ll go into detail about – it boils down to one simple question for Trekkies. And here it is:
Out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of?
There are many characters, locations, starships, and themes that the franchise could return to one day. Off the top of my head here are five: a visit to the Enterprise era to see more of the Federation’s early years, the return of Benjamin Sisko from the realm of the Prophets, Neelix’s adventures at the Talaxian colony, Pavel Chekov’s days as an admiral or elder statesman, and John Harriman’s missions as captain of the Enterprise-B.
You can probably think of dozens more; characters and concepts that the Star Trek franchise could happily revisit. I would bet actual money that, for 99% of Trekkies, Captain Proton wouldn’t even enter the top fifty on their lists of things that they’d be interested in returning to. And I’m in that same boat. The ten Voyager episodes which either featured or made reference to Captain Proton were fun – but the concept is simply not strong enough nor memorable enough to carry an entire series on its own.
I like retro sci-fi – the likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and other older shows and films from long before Star Trek: The Original Series was even conceived are what Captain Proton paid homage to and gently parodied so well in Voyager. As one element of a larger series, a series with a much bigger picture and broader scope, Captain Proton worked. It slotted in well and gave the cast something different to do – and a chance to really ham it up and over-act.
But that’s the nicest thing I can say about the Captain Proton stories and sequences that we saw in Voyager. Out of that show’s 170 episodes, Captain Proton is far from being the most memorable aspect even among stories set on the holodeck; I’d go so far as to suggest that the Irish village featured in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk left more of a lasting impression. Those episodes certainly had far more depth than any Captain Proton story.
There’s a lot that we aren’t privy to when it comes to the recent Captain Proton pitch. Is it intended to be a 1930s-inspired black-and-white series, featuring the cardboard sets and overacting we’d expect from such a sci-fi serial? If the show wants to be purely about Captain Proton, either treating him as if he were real or showing us as the audience a kind of “show-within-a-show” look at Captain Proton through the eyes of a holodeck audience, then it has to be considered dead on arrival. A retro-inspired sci-fi aesthetic might be cool, but every other aspect of such a show would feel so terribly out-of-date that it would become a laughing stock.
On the other hand, if the Captain Proton series is actually intended to be a look at Tom Paris as he writes new Captain Proton holo-novels years after the USS Voyager returned to Earth, then perhaps there’s a bit more meat there; more of an actual concept with the potential for characterisation and drama.
I’m still not sure that it would work, but at least the latter concept has a bit more going for it. Firstly, it could be developed as a tie-in or crossover with Star Trek: Picard – or any other show or film set in that era. With Seven of Nine now a regular member of the Picard cast, the potential for a reunion with Tom Paris and perhaps B’Elanna Torres as well would be of some interest. Paris and Seven didn’t have a lot to do together during Voyager’s run, but Seven clashed frequently with B’Elanna, especially during her first year or so aboard the ship. There’s potential, perhaps, to revisit that relationship and see how things have evolved over the years – we know from Picard Season 1 that Seven of Nine has changed and become far more human in that time.
But I think that’s about as far as a Captain Proton show could go, and I don’t think we necessarily need a standalone project in order to bring back characters like Tom and B’Elanna. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the best fit for Picard, but they could certainly make an appearance in a future episode or film. Tom Paris has already had a cameo in Lower Decks, and while that was a bit of a nothing-burger from my perspective, I’m not totally against the idea of the character making future appearances in Lower Decks or any other Star Trek project.
When Michael Dorn revealed he’d pitched a Captain Worf series a while ago, I felt that the character might not be strong and well-rounded enough to carry an entire series on his own. And unfortunately Tom Paris is in that same category. Paris was an excellent character, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed what he brought to Voyager. But he was frequently used as comic relief – making a joke to lighten the mood in a tense situation. The spotlight episodes he got showed off the altruistic side of his personality, his love of retro things, and his piloting skills. And we also got to see his relationship with B’Elanna develop over the show’s run.
Tom Paris is far from one-dimensional. But he’s also not the kind of character who could easily play the main role – and if the intention behind this pitch is to create a Tom Paris series I fear it would end up meeting the same fate as Joey, the short-lived spin-off from popular sitcom Friends.
Tom Paris has a satisfying character arc already. Voyager began with him at rock bottom – a prisoner and an abject failure. He failed as a Starfleet officer, then failed on his first mission as a member of the Maquis. Out of everyone on Captain Janeway’s crew, Paris had the least to lose and the most to gain after getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but even so he rose to the occasion to become a dependable and honourable member of the crew, quite literally guiding the ship home.
So we’ve already seen Tom Paris’ character arc. By getting lost in the Delta Quadrant he found meaning and purpose in his life, he found the love of his life, and he gained redemption for his past misdeeds against Starfleet, against the Maquis, and even against his father. If his career path glimpsed in Endgame is any guide, his future is one of artistry and leisure, putting his adventures behind him to focus on doing the things he loves.
In short, we know Tom Paris quite well, and any addendum to the story that we’ve already seen play out would risk feeling tacked-on. At worst it could upset and even undermine aspects of his character arc across Voyager’s run depending on what direction the story was taken. Having spent seven years with Tom Paris – albeit in a supporting role – I’m quite content to say that his time in Starfleet ended with Voyager’s return to Earth and he’ll spend the rest of his days happily married, working on holo-novels and playing with classic cars. I don’t think we need to see any of that to believe that it happened – and it’s deeply satisfying after the long and arduous journey that the USS Voyager took to know that at least some of the characters we came to know and love did in fact get their “happily ever after.”
Unlike Seven of Nine, who had so much to gain personality-wise as she spent more time away from the Borg Collective, Tom Paris’ characterisation feels settled. As we saw in scenes set in the future in Endgame, he didn’t change much in the years after his return from the Delta Quadrant – and we wouldn’t have expected him to.
All of this assumes that Tom Paris was supposed to play a role in this pitched series at all, and that may not be the case. But regardless I think it’s worth considering that what makes for an enjoyable and lovable character – which Tom Paris certainly was – doesn’t necessarily translate to a character being suited to take a lead role. This is true of Worf and it’s true of Tom Paris – both played outstanding supporting roles, but neither should be tapped to lead their own spin-off.
After having spent years playing the same characters, I can fully understand why Robert Duncan McNeill and the rest of the Voyager cast enjoyed their sojourns to the world of Captain Proton. It was a chance to take on a different acting challenge, and to revel in a style of cinematography, acting, and storytelling that just doesn’t get produced anymore.
But there’s a reason why the likes of Forbidden Planet and Flash Gordon were superseded: technology, acting skills, and storytelling improved. Some of those improvements in the world of sci-fi actually came from Star Trek: The Original Series blended different genres and styles together, kept a tight focus on its main characters, told stories with real-world parallels and morals that audiences could relate and respond to, and depicted a vision of the future and outer space that was far more positive and hopeful than negative and fearful.
Retro can be fun. But to make a straight-laced Captain Proton television series wouldn’t just feel retro – it would feel regressive. Such a show would be a massive backwards step, trying to ignore multiple generations’ worth of improvements in everything from narrative and world-building to acting skills and cinematography.
More than that, a Captain Proton series would have incredibly limited appeal. Many fans of Voyager would be hard-pushed to remember Captain Proton, and even those that do and have fond memories of the episodes would be surprised at the very least to hear talk of a Captain Proton spin-off show. Beyond that minuscule niche, a Captain Proton series might appeal to fans of classic, retro sci-fi. But such folks are few and far between, and when Captain Proton already felt incredibly dated in the 1990s, the number of viewers who would genuinely appreciate the parodies and references is positively microscopic.
Even if Captain Proton were less about the retro sci-fi and more about Tom Paris, I don’t think that would work well either. There must be a queue of characters from past iterations of Star Trek lining up for their prospective returns to the franchise, and while Paris was a fun character during Voyager’s run, he simply isn’t strong enough or deep enough to carry a whole series. His recent cameo in Lower Decks kind of embodies that – the character could have been swapped out for any other, or a generic stand-in, and the episode would have been functionally the same.
At the end of the day, this concept comes down to the simple question I posed at the beginning of this article: out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of? Or to put it another way: if you could choose only one thing from a past iteration of Star Trek to bring back, is Captain Proton what you’d choose? For the vast, vast majority of Trekkies, the answer would be a resounding “no.”
I don’t believe ViacomCBS will do more than give this pitch a cursory glance out of respect to its creator. Both possible formulations have major drawbacks, and from a corporate point of view neither seems to hold much appeal even to Star Trek’s fanbase – let alone a wider television audience. At the end of the day that’s what sells companies on making a new film or television series: how much money would it make? An incredibly niche project focusing on either a single character or one tiny aspect of a show from the 1990s (that ViacomCBS hasn’t even been bothered to upscale to full HD) doesn’t fit the bill. Captain Proton is dead on arrival – and I’m sorry to say that it’s for the best.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Voyager and all other titles and 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.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.
As many television shows approach their summer break, perhaps you’re looking for something to watch while you wait for new series and seasons to debut later in the year. Late spring and summer have historically been the “off season” for prime-time television series, with the main television season running from September/October through to April/May. The rise of streaming services has gone some way to breaking that up, which is good news, but there are probably still fewer big television productions on the air at this time of year.
With that in mind, I thought it could be fun to take a look at five television series that you might’ve missed – or just not seen for a while! All five are, in my opinion, underappreciated today, even if they were big hits at the time they were originally broadcast. Some series end up living long lives even after they go off the air – these ones, despite picking up some attention, aren’t quite at that level.
We’ve got a mix of different genres today, from action and drama to horror and even a documentary. So hopefully you’ll find something worthy of your time this summer!
Number 1: Jericho (2006-2008)
Between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s there seemed to be a lot of interest in the post-apocalyptic genre. We’d see The Walking Dead premiere in 2010, as well as Survivors, Battlestar Galactica, and films like Children of Men and Contagion. Arriving on our screens in 2006 was Jericho, a post-apocalyptic drama series about the inhabitants of small-town America as they endure the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the country.
Jericho featured some wonderful characters, including the hot-headed Jake, his level-headed brother Eric (played by Star Trek: Discovery’s Kenneth Mitchell) and father Johnston, and the enigmatic Robert. The interactions between the residents of the town – and other characters they met along the way – was really the core of the show, and Jericho dived headfirst into exploring how ordinary, everyday people would confront such a major, nationwide calamity.
As always in post-apocalyptic works, some people respond better than others! Characters like protagonist Jake and mayor Johnston rose to the occasion, demonstrating the kind of selflessness and leadership necessary to help their community through the difficult times that lay ahead. Other characters descended into villainy, trying to shake down or scam the town, or violently attack people. This dichotomy, while hardly unique to Jericho, was put to screen exceptionally well.
While there was a storyline which focused on the bombings themselves – something that was explored further in the show’s short second season – for me the main draw of Jericho was its character-driven post-apocalyptic narrative, spending time with these folks as they tried to process what had happened.
Number 2: The Terror (2018-2019)
The Terror could be a great show to watch in October to mark Halloween – if you can wait that long! This anthology series so far only consists of two seasons, but both were interesting in their own ways. Season 1 is definitely the better of the two, focusing on the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in the mid-19th Century.
Sometimes I’m a little uncomfortable with shows that take real-life people – even historical figures – and fictionalise them, and I think that will have to be the subject of a future essay! But despite that, The Terror Season 1 was an incredibly well-done piece of character-centric drama. The horror elements came into play over the course of the story, but like with classics of the monster horror genre like Jaws, the creature stalking the surviving members of Franklin’s arctic expedition was better for being largely unseen. The tension and stress that was built up over the course of ten episodes was truly riveting to watch.
The second season picked up a completely different story, taking place in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. This story focused on a vengeful spirit, and likewise did a good job of building tension, though overall it was a more horror-centric season compared to the first. Star Trek: The Original Series star George Takei, who was himself interned during the war, had a co-starring role.
There was scope to continue The Terror as an anthology series, with new stories produced under the same banner. However, the lacklustre reception to Season 2 appears to have put the show on ice – pun intended – at least for now. Even though horror is far from my favourite genre, I had a good time with both seasons, and it feels like a lot of folks missed this one when it was first broadcast.
Number 3: Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001)
It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without at least some Star Trek, right? I feel that Voyager tends to be overlooked by at least some in the Star Trek fandom. The Original Series kicked things off and is a classic, The Next Generation is, for many folks of my generation at least, the high-water mark of the franchise, and Deep Space Nine has a fandom of its own. Modern Star Trek has picked up a following of new and old Trekkies alike, but Voyager can feel underappreciated.
I think a big part of the reason why is that Voyager struggled to find its own identity at the height of Star Trek’s ’90s “Golden Age.” The Next Generation introduced fans to the 24th Century, and during Voyager’s run its cast were starring in feature films. Deep Space Nine was something altogether different: set on a space station with a big cast of secondary characters, and dealing with darker themes. Voyager could feel, at times, a little too close to copying The Next Generation’s formula, and thus “just another Star Trek show.”
That sells it short, in my view, and there’s a lot to love about Voyager. It’s certainly true that not every element worked as intended – the “one ship, two crews” idea being the biggest, but even the overall story of a journey home could feel overlooked at points. But Voyager had a wonderful cast led by a fantastic captain.
Perhaps we could entertain the argument that Voyager could have done more to stand out. But re-watching it now, more than twenty years after its finale, it’s still a wonderful series. It’s just such a shame that it hasn’t been remastered yet!
Number 4: The World At War (1973)
There are a huge number of World War II documentaries floating around out there, with outlets like the History Channel making more all the time. Many modern documentaries make use of fully-acted dramatic recreations and use CGI and special effects to bring history to life. By those standards, The World At War might feel out-of-date and rather stuffy. But for my money there’s no documentary as interesting.
The World At War was produced at just the right moment, and I’ll explain what I mean by that! It’s difficult – if not impossible – to make a fair and balanced documentary during or immediately after the events it covers; feelings are too raw, some of those involved have careers to consider, and for all manner of reasons, getting to the raw unvarnished truth can be impossible if done too quickly. But on the other hand, waiting too long can mean that too many of the main people involved in an event have died or become too unwell to share their recollections. The World At War was produced almost 30 years after the end of World War II – long enough for passions to have faded and for people to share their opinions honestly, but also not too long after the event.
As such, The World At War was able to interview many significant people from World War II, including British foreign secretary (and future Prime Minister) Anthony Eden, British RAF leader Arthur Harris, German Admiral (and Hitler’s designated successor) Karl Dönitz, German armaments minister Albert Speer, and a number of others. Getting these individuals on record to share their views, and to be able to see and hear them, is absolutely priceless from an historical perspective.
Beyond that, though, The World At War was incredibly well-made. With narration provided by Lawrence Olivier, plenty of footage from the era, and the aforementioned interviewees providing a direct eyewitness account to the war, it’s a unique production that aimed to be comprehensive, and a must-watch for any history buff.
Number 5: The Last Ship (2014-2018)
It’s possible that, with the pandemic raging, now isn’t the best time to watch a series about the world being brought to its knees by a virus! But The Last Ship is a fun, action-packed show and something truly different in a post-apocalyptic genre that was being milked dry in the 2010s.
Some post-apocalyptic fiction uses military characters and settings, and that can be fun. But very few have a strictly naval focus, and the addition of that setting is really what makes The Last Ship so different from the likes of The Walking Dead and others. The USS Nathan James is a home base for most of the main characters, and a safe space away from the chaos engulfing the world around them. Some Star Trek fans say that the starship is like an additional character, and the Nathan James definitely fills that role in The Last Ship.
There are some fantastic character moments in what is a very tense and dramatic series. All of the main cast put in fantastic performances, and there are some villains who genuinely inspire hatred! Writing a truly nasty character whose motivations are still believable is no mean feat, yet The Last Ship managed it on more than one occasion.
Despite the dire straits the world finds itself in in The Last Ship, the series tells a positive, uplifting, and hopeful story, showing off humanity at its best as well as at its worst. This is one aspect of post-apocalyptic fiction that I really like, and The Last Ship uses the backdrop of the virus to reach for something good instead of merely revelling in showing us the bad.
So that’s it!
We took a short look at five television shows that I think are underappreciated right now. Some failed to make much of an impact when they were first broadcast and simply fizzled out, others have been eclipsed by other productions made in the years since they went off the air. But all five are absolutely worth a watch – or a re-watch – in 2021.
I had fun putting this list together, and I hope you’ll stay tuned for more lists and other articles coming up soon! We’re almost halfway through the year, so check back at the end of the month for my look ahead to the entertainment experiences that we’ll be enjoying before 2021 is over. Until next time!
All shows mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, distributor, production company, owner, etc. Availability to stream or purchase on Blu-ray or DVD may vary by region. 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 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser trailer for Season 4. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Star Trek’s First Contact Day virtual event has given us an awful lot to digest! We got teasers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and more details about Prodigy. If you missed the event, I wrote up my impressions of everything we saw, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.
This time, I want to look at the teaser for Discovery’s impending fourth season in more depth, and in particular start making some guesses about what may be going on! The teaser was barely ninety seconds long, and with the show at least six months away it may be futile to speculate about pretty much anything! But that hasn’t stopped me in the past, so let’s jump in!
My usual disclaimer applies: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not offering up these suggestions saying any are unequivocally true. This is nothing more than speculation from a fan – and a chance to spend some more time talking about Star Trek, which I absolutely adore.
In the run-up to Season 3 last year, I spent a lot of time speculating about the event that ultimately turned out to be the Burn. When we first heard its name I put together a list theorising a number of possible connections to past iterations of Star Trek – but as you know by now, none came to pass!
Discovery has had an on-off relationship with Star Trek’s broader canon. Season 1 sidestepped a lot of things, redesigning the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe years before Kirk’s first crossing, and fighting a major war. Season 2 tied itself much closer to canon, bringing in Captain Pike, Spock, and revisiting Talos IV. Season 3 shot forward into the future, and told a story that touched on past iterations of the franchise at points, but had an overall narrative that stood on its own two feet.
In short, trying to guess whether Season 4’s main storyline will be related to something we’ve seen in the past or not is a crapshoot. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Regardless, if it’s going to be something brand-new then naturally the details become impossible to predict! So in this list I’m going to look at eight possibilities from Star Trek’s past that could explain what we saw in the teaser.
First of all, let’s explain what exactly we saw! Stamets described a “gravitational anomaly” that’s at least five light-years in diameter. This anomaly appears to be incredibly destructive, and if Burnham is correct, it’s appearing and disappearing at random. As a result, it could potentially strike any Federation or non-Federation world or starship without warning.
Assuming that this anomaly is the main problem facing Captain Burnham and her crew in Season 4, I’ve got a few ideas for what it could be, or what it may be related to. I quite like the idea of Discovery sticking with the “natural disaster” concept from Season 3. It worked well last time, and presenting the crew with a puzzle, mystery, or challenge that’s more scientific in nature than military could be wonderful to see. As long as such a storyline manages to avoid feeling either repetitive or anticlimactic, I think it works in principle.
One final point of note is that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, Discovery Season 4 began filming back in November, well before Season 3 had finished airing – and crucially, before the creative team had time to process any feedback they were getting about the season’s themes and storylines. As a result of that, it may be the case that Season 4 doesn’t make as many changes from Season 3 as some fans would have wanted to see. But once again, that’s speculation on my part!
So let’s consider this “gravitational anomaly,” then. What could it be? What have we seen in past iterations of Star Trek that could potentially be involved? Will there be any tie-ins to other ongoing series, such as Picard, or will the show set up something we’ll see return in a future project, such as Strange New Worlds? Let’s jump into the list and see if we can make some reasonable guesses!
Number 1: The Nexus
When I first saw the teaser, my mind immediately went to the Nexus, the energy ribbon seen in Star Trek: Generations. The Nexus was large, more than large enough to engulf an entire planet, and while it may not have been light-years in diameter when we saw it in that film, it’s possible it grew… somehow! The Nexus was incredibly destructive, causing the destruction of two transport ships and seriously damaging the Enterprise-B, not unlike some of the damage suffered by the USS Discovery in the teaser.
There are two crucial points which made me think of the Nexus, though. The first is that the energy ribbon was said to contain a “gravimetric field,” which sounds an awful lot like Stamets’ “gravitational anomaly.” Both seem to be connected to gravity, and as we saw in the teaser, the USS Discovery appears to lose its artificial gravity at one point.
The second point I consider key to the Nexus being a possibility is that we already know it’s something that recurs. The Nexus returns to the Milky Way galaxy every 39.1 years (according to Data in Generations) and unless something major happened in the intervening centuries, this force of nature should still be present, periodically crossing through the galaxy.
At a couple of points in the teaser we saw members of Discovery’s crew looking dazed and confused, not unlike how Soran and Guinan appeared after being transported out of the Nexus by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Perhaps we can infer from their demeanours that they’re not quite sure where they are or what just happened – maybe that means they’ve just spent time inside the Nexus’ paradise-like realm.
Though the stated size of the anomaly relative to what we saw in Generations may count against it, I like the idea of revisiting the Nexus. Would Discovery bring aboard a Soran-like villain, someone hell-bent on getting to “paradise?” Maybe!
Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1
It’s absolutely true that I also suggested the super-synths could’ve been the cause of last season’s disaster! But that doesn’t mean I’m done suggesting ways for this unnamed faction to reappear in Star Trek, especially considering that the teaser for Picard Season 2 suggested that series is moving away from them.
At the end of Picard Season 1, we learned that there is a race of super-synths that exist somewhere out in deep space – perhaps many thousands of light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy. They offered to come to the aid of any synths that ask for their help, though whether this offer was genuine or not was not clear – as indeed was very little about the faction!
Soji and Sutra, two of the synths from Coppelius, attempted to make contact with the super-synths, but despite opening a beacon and a portal to their base, Soji was ultimately convinced to shut it down and cut off her attempt to communicate. We thus learned precious little about who the super-synths are or what their objectives may be. They seemed menacing, and may harbour an anti-organic hatred that could make them diametrically opposed to the Federation.
We know that, in principle, this faction can open portals in space to allow for travel far faster than warp drive. Perhaps getting too close to one of their portals causes the kind of damage seen to the USS Discovery, and their portals may appear to be “gravitational anomalies” when detected on sensors. The super-synths clearly have a powerful understanding of gravity, such that they were literally able to move stars and create a stable eight-star octonary system. It’s thus at least possible that they use gravity or gravitational anomalies as some kind of weapon.
One thing that Picard Season 1 left unresolved was the fate of the super-synths. Having been contacted, were they now aware of the Milky Way and the Federation? Might they be hell-bent on attacking the Federation? If their offer of help wasn’t genuine, might they arrive to attack the synths who live in the Milky Way? There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s at least plausible that they could be involved. As I’ve said numerous times, finding a way for Picard and Discovery to work together, using similar themes, factions, or even characters would be fantastic and something truly worth doing. This may not be the way it happens… but it could be!
Number 3: A graviton ellipse
The Voyager Season 6 episode One Small Step introduced the graviton ellipse, a fast-moving anomaly that can travel through subspace, normal space, and even other dimensions. The ellipse was drawn to electromagnetic energy – such as that emitted by spacecraft! One ellipse appeared in the Sol system in 2032, during an early manned mission to Mars, and “swallowed” the Ares IV ship. It later attempted to do the same to the USS Voyager.
The graviton ellipse was smaller than five light-years across, so again we have to contend with size. But there are points in its favour! Firstly, the ellipse was specifically drawn to spacecraft and other future technology. Though we didn’t see it attempt to “eat” anything on a planet’s surface, it stands to reason that similar technologies used in power generation may emit the same kind of electromagnetic radiation that an ellipse would be drawn to.
Secondly, the ellipse moved essentially at random, disappearing into subspace to reappear many thousands of light-years away. One single ellipse was known to have visited both the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. This seems to fit with what we know of Discovery’s “gravitational anomaly” – specifically the part Captain Burnham told us about its random, unpredictable appearances.
Finally, the graviton ellipse was known to cause damage to spacecraft, draining their power, as well as gravity-related disturbances in space. An encounter with an ellipse may not have destroyed Ares IV or the Delta Flyer, but they were known to be very difficult to escape from.
The drawbacks of this option are that graviton ellipses were relatively well-understood as early as the 24th Century, and with Discovery Season 4 set over 800 years later, it stands to reason that the Federation would be well-equipped to at least know what they’re up against if an ellipse seemed to be in the vicinity. Secondly, there was no indication that the ellipse would stay in one area, causing widespread damage in the way Discovery’s fourth season teaser suggested. Despite those negative points, however, I think it’s at least a possibility. Perhaps post-Burn technology has drawn an ellipse to Federation space, or it’s even possible that someone has found a way to weaponise one to attack the Federation.
Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise
Discovery’s third season had a couple of interesting references to Enterprise, specifically the “Temporal Cold War” arc. One faction involved in the Temporal Cold War were the so-called Sphere-Builders: extradimensional beings who were attempting to convert part of the Milky Way galaxy to match their native realm so they could colonise it.
Though the time-travelling agent Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were definitively defeated in the 26th Century, Daniels was from a time period before Discovery Season 4 is set, so he may not have been aware of any future involvement they had in galactic affairs!
The Sphere-Builders, as their name implies, built spheres. These moon-sized objects were spread throughout a region of space known as the Delphic Expanse, and emitted huge amounts of gravimetric energy, causing the entire region to become unstable and peppered with anomalies.
The spheres were also able to cloak, concealing them from 22nd Century human and Vulcan ships. The region of space a single sphere could affect was huge, and in the mid-22nd Century there was a large network of them, perhaps consisting of over 75 individual spheres. A hidden anomaly-generating piece of technology with a connection to the Temporal Wars? That sounds like something that could cause the problems afflicting Captain Burnham’s ship as seen in the teaser!
If a rogue sphere were on the loose, if the Sphere-Builders were returning, or if a single sphere had been left in the Milky Way, forgotten about since the 22nd or 26th Centuries, it stands to reason based on what we know of them that it could be the cause of the “gravitational anomaly.” This concept is potentially interesting; a leftover “doomsday weapon” unattended for centuries could make for a fun story. It would also be great to see a tie-in with Enterprise!
Number 5: Tyken’s Rift
A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned in the Picard Season 1 episode Nepenthe, but before that one had been seen in more detail in The Next Generation fourth season episode Night Terrors. It was described as a rare spatial anomaly, one capable of encompassing entire star systems.
Unlike some of the other entries on this list, size isn’t a problem for a Tyken’s Rift! If a whole binary star system (i.e. a system with two stars) was able to fit inside, it’s more than possible such an anomaly could be five light-years in diameter!
The Enterprise-D wasn’t badly damaged by its encounter with the rift, but it was trapped inside and unable to escape. The Tyken’s Rift was also said to drain power, trapping ships inside. Perhaps the damage to the USS Discovery was not caused by the anomaly itself, but by pushing the ship past its limits trying to escape?
The drawback to a Tyken’s Rift being the cause of Discovery’s anomaly is twofold. Firstly, aside from a slow but steady power drain it didn’t seem to be harmful, and we saw nothing in Night Terrors to suggest this anomaly could or would cause catastrophic damage to a ship. And secondly, the Tyken’s Rift that the Enterprise-D encountered appeared to be stationary. It was even included on stellar maps, so it would be easily avoided.
I don’t think either of these points totally rule it out, and as one of the relatively few named anomalies in Star Trek that are massive enough, it seems fair to still include a Tyken’s Rift as a possibility.
Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space
One of Voyager’s most interesting adversaries was Species 8472, known only by their Borg designation! This powerful extradimensional faction were able to outwit even the Borg, fighting a very successful war against them for a time.
Species 8472 were native to a realm filled with an organic compound. Voyager’s crew named this region “fluidic space,” and it seemed as though Species 8472 based much of their technology on this organic material, including their spacecraft.
The Borg became aware of fluidic space some time in the mid-late 24th Century, and attempted to travel there and assimilate it. But Species 8472 proved resistant to assimilation, and waged a war on the Borg, eventually travelling through to normal space to continue the fight. The intervention of the USS Voyager gave the Borg an advantage, but it seemed shortly thereafter as though the war ground to a stalemate.
Species 8472 made one further incursion, but after an agreement with the USS Voyager, agreed to return to their own dimension, content that the Federation proved no threat. However, that was 800 years ago! A lot can change, and perhaps Species 8472 have decided to make a return.
This would change the “natural disaster” concept, making it perhaps a precursor to invasion. Whether that would be good or not depends on how well it was executed – as well as your personal preferences for storylines! Given what we know of Species 8472 and their technology, I think it’s at least possible they could be the cause. Perhaps Stamets’ anomaly is some kind of gateway to fluidic space.
Number 7: The Borg
On the other side of the war with Species 8472 were the Borg! I also suggested Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains as a possible cause of the Burn last season, and despite seeing some ex-Borg in Picard Season 1, we haven’t really seen the faction proper in Star Trek since Enterprise Season 2 in 2003. Perhaps now is the right time?
Borg technology outpaced the Federation in the 24th Century by a considerable margin, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that wouldn’t continue to be the case. The anomaly Stamets and Burnham discussed in the teaser may well be a natural phenomenon, but if it turns out to be a weapon, I can think of few other factions capable of creating and wielding one so massively powerful. Other Borg technology, such as their transwarp network, was known to have gravitational effects as well, so perhaps that’s another sliver of evidence.
This doesn’t really fit with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, and that is certainly a mark against it! But then again, the Borg are very adaptable, and travelling back in time several centuries is not exactly standard procedure for assimilating a planet either, yet that’s what they tried to do in First Contact! The gravitational anomaly could be the opening salvo of an attack; the artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the Borg drones rush in to assimilate the survivors. The Borg certainly seem capable of doing something like this, and with the Federation having been on the back foot for more than a century as a result of the Burn, the Borg may have been using that time to build up and prepare for a large-scale invasion attempt.
We don’t know for sure if the Borg are still around in the 32nd Century, or if they still hope to one day conquer and assimilate the Federation. After more than 800 years, anything could have happened to them! However, it’s plausible that they still exist in similar form to how we last saw them.
The anomaly seemingly “attacking” both Federation and non-Federation targets could be indicative of an intelligence at work behind it. Space is huge after all, and the chances of it hitting a target as small as a starship, starbase, or planet regularly seems unlikely without some kind of explanation. Is it a force of nature drawn to energy, like the graviton ellipse mentioned above? Or is it a Borg weapon deliberately targeting Starfleet? The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible!
Number 8: The Burn
I certainly hope that Discovery Season 4 doesn’t just drop the Burn and proceed as though it never happened. After the cataclysm caused huge disruption to the Federation and the wider galaxy for over a century, I think we need to see a lot more of the consequences of that event before we even consider a “reset” of the Federation!
Perhaps what this anomaly will be is some kind of “mini-Burn,” affecting a smaller area. It could be a ripple effect of the original event, or otherwise connected to it in some way. Hopefully it won’t be caused by poor Su’Kal, who’s been through enough over the last 125 years! Though the Burn was presented as a unique event, perhaps it had lingering effects that are only just becoming known.
Season 4 needs to walk a line between acknowledging the events of Season 3 without dwelling on them the whole time. I understand that the writers and producers have other stories to tell in the 32nd Century beyond the Burn, but given how catastrophic it was I feel strongly that we need to see at least some of its lingering impact. Connecting the Burn to this new problem would create a degree of separation, allowing the season to go in new directions but without dropping the massive event entirely.
The Burn was a disaster which “caused dilithium to become inert,” and which caused active warp cores to explode. It wasn’t known to have gravitational effects, instead being some kind of shockwave that travelled through subspace. That could certainly count against it!
However, if this event were connected to the Burn in some other way, rather than being a direct result of Su’Kal’s outburst, perhaps it could be explained. I couldn’t even guess how such a connection could be made; it would be some kind of technobabble connecting the anomaly to dilithium and/or subspace. But it could be done, and it could be made to fit!
So that’s it. Eight very early theories about Discovery Season 4 and the mysterious “gravitational anomaly!”
As mentioned at the beginning, I quite like the idea of the series going down a “natural disaster” route, allowing the crew to solve a puzzle and unravel a mystery, rather than simply pitting them against a Federation-threatening adversary. Perhaps that will be what ultimately happens, but I think it’s at least possible we’re seeing some kind of attack or weapon as well. Time will tell!
The teaser was action-packed, and the new season looks to be in great shape. I think that there are possible downsides to another “huge galactic disaster” storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic if it’s an event smaller in scale. But despite that, if this anomaly is going to be one of the main storylines in Season 4, there’s a huge amount of potential.
Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4? Maybe!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, sometime later this year. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, and the casting of Star Trek: Prodigy. There are further spoilers for older iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
A few days ago I took you through a short list of five main characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I’d love to see come back. This time, in a similar vein we’re going to look at five secondary or recurring characters that likewise could make for interesting returns to the franchise. Though most Star Trek shows have primarily focused on a main cast of characters, every series to date has featured at least one or two recurring characters as well.
For this list, I’m counting characters who appeared on more than one occasion – not one-off guest stars. And as with my previous list on this topic, these are characters I’d like to see return to the franchise in a general sense, not characters I’m predicting will appear in any specific upcoming show or film.
As always, I have no “insider information!” This is purely for fun and a chance to highlight some of these characters, as well as speculate about what their futures (or pasts) might be like beyond what we saw of them in their original appearances.
Number 1: Shran
We don’t know for sure how long Andorians live, but it’s at least a possibility that Shran – who appeared in Enterprise as an antagonist and later ally to Captain Archer – could still be alive in the 23rd Century. If he is he’d be well over 100 years old, but that doesn’t necessarily count against characters in Star Trek!
Jeffrey Combs played Shran, and also played recurring characters Brunt and Weyoun on Deep Space Nine. As someone who has close ties to the franchise, it would be wonderful to bring him back. It was amazing to hear JG Hertzler’s voice in Lower Decks last year, and it would be amazing to welcome back Jeffrey Combs as well.
Shran offers the Star Trek franchise an opportunity to tie in Enterprise in a significant way. At the moment, Enterprise is very much an outlier in the Star Trek canon; cut off all on its own in the 22nd Century. Despite there being opportunities in the three films and two seasons of television set in the 23rd Century, only the briefest references to Enterprise have been made since it went off the air in 2005.
Strange New Worlds is the prime candidate for Shran to reappear, but if the untitled Section 31 series uses a 23rd Century setting, he could potentially appear there as well. Shran was depicted primarily as a soldier, but the passage of time could have softened that side of him, and I would love to see him occupy a less-aggressive role, perhaps as a Federation ambassador. However, if there were a story featuring the Andorians in a major way, we could certainly see him included there as well.
Number 2: Garak
We got to know Garak very well across the latter part of Deep Space Nine, and his backstory as a spy was given plenty of attention. What we don’t know, of course, is what came next – what happened to Garak after the Dominion War was over?
Sooner or later, I hope Star Trek takes us back to Bajor and Cardassia in a major way, looking at the aftermath of that conflict. I know that the Dominion War wasn’t wildly popular with everyone – some of my Trekkie friends regard it as the worst part of ’90s Star Trek! But it was a major event in the fictional history of the franchise, one which seriously impacted the Federation. Exploring its aftermath, and looking at how the Federation managed to rebuild, would be worth doing.
Garak was last seen on Cardassia Prime at the end of the Dominion War. With Damar dead and the Dominion withdrawing, it’s possible he would have been in some kind of leadership role, at least temporarily. His years living with the Federation on DS9 would have put him in a unique position to liaise between Cardassia and the Federation alliance.
However, I don’t think Garak would have necessarily stayed in a leadership position. As a former agent of the Obsidian Order he represents Cardassia’s past – an empire governed from the shadows. Having fought hard to overthrow their Dominion oppressors, the Cardassians may have wanted to look to civilian leadership. I doubt Garak would have been re-exiled or returned to DS9, but may have gone into quiet retirement instead.
Number 3: Morn
Morn was really just a background character in Deep Space Nine, but the fun alien design was unique and made him instantly recognisable. As a result he became a somewhat ironic fan favourite, and ultimately got his own episode in Season 6: Who Mourns for Morn? Though he never spoke a line in the series, Morn was a significant character at points, and during the Dominion War smuggled information to the Federation from the occupied station, allowing for the success of Operation Return.
In at least one future timeline, Morn took over Quark’s bar, so perhaps a story that revisited DS9 could see him in that role. If Quark’s is still around, perhaps Morn is simply seen there as a regular patron – he appeared to be semi-retired, after all. Even if a return to DS9 simply saw him in his familiar background role, that would be good enough!
Who Mourns for Morn already explained a lot of his backstory, so there really isn’t a lot of room to go into more detail in that regard. A story that brought back almost any of the Deep Space Nine cast could include Morn, though, perhaps as a trusted confidante. With Picard and the crew of La Sirena operating outside of Starfleet, if they found themselves in Bajoran space perhaps they’d need someone like Morn – he seems like the type who could be very helpful at flying under the radar!
Maybe this would completely ruin things, but I would dearly love to see Morn speak if he did return. Even a single line of dialogue would be more than enough! I’m sure some fans will scream and say “no! Leave Morn alone!” but I think it could be a really sweet moment if done well. If we did return to DS9, seeing Morn sitting on his usual barstool would feel like a homecoming of sorts – almost as though no time had passed.
Number 4: Naomi Wildman
Naomi Wildman made 19 appearances across Voyager, the majority of which came in Seasons 5 and 6. The show tried to explore the idea of her being the only child on a ship full of adults, but only really managed to land that kind of story once – in the episode Once Upon A Time. The introduction of Icheb and the other ex-Borg children potentially gave Naomi playmates, but we never truly saw much of this. And on at least one occasion, Naomi was not included in a story that focused on the Borg children – the episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve.
As a character who quite literally grew up in space, and aboard the lost USS Voyager no less, Naomi may have a rather unique perspective after growing up. How did she react to Voyager’s return to Earth – which would have happened when she was around six years old? In at least one future timeline she’d joined Starfleet, but whether she’d do so in the prime timeline is unknown.
Naomi had a close relationship with Seven of Nine, who is currently a recurring character in Picard. She was also close with Icheb, who we know was killed a few years prior to the events of Picard. Exploring her post-Voyager relationships with those two characters could prove very interesting. If Picard Season 2 – or any future seasons of the show – spend more time with Seven, we could be reintroduced to Naomi and learn what she’s been up to.
The death of Icheb, if explored in more detail, could also be an opportunity to bring her back. Did they remain in touch after returning to the Alpha Quadrant? Icheb joined Starfleet – did Naomi join too? If so, maybe they served together before Icheb’s untimely demise. Otherwise we could see Naomi return in any story featuring main cast members from Voyager. So perhaps an appearance in Prodigy – where Captain Janeway is set to return – is on the cards?
Number 5: Jack Crusher
Jack Crusher was the deceased husband of Dr Beverly Crusher and father to Wesley Crusher. He served on the USS Stargazer under Captain Picard’s command, and that’s about all we know. He was killed during an away mission, and it was at least implied that Picard bears a degree of responsibility for that, either through something he did or didn’t do.
As a deceased character, Jack Crusher could only come back via a flashback, time-travel story, or story set in the past. But where I think there’s scope to see more of him is in Star Trek: Picard, particularly if Beverly and/or Wesley Crusher return. We could learn the circumstances of his death, and it could be a very interesting story if Jack Crusher’s death were somehow connected to some event taking place in the current Picard era.
For example, Picard, Dr Crusher, and the crew of La Sirena may have to travel to the world where Jack was killed, only to learn that the beings responsible for his death were the super-synths, the Zhat Vash, or someone else that we met in the new series. There would be something cyclical about bringing back, even if just in flashback form, Jack Crusher.
In the future timeline shown in The Next Generation’s finale, Picard had married Dr Crusher. While there was no evidence for or against that outcome in Picard Season 1, any story that explores Picard and Dr Crusher’s post-Nemesis relationship could be made to include flashbacks to Jack. He was a significant character in both of their lives, and in addition, his legacy may have been a factor in Picard and Dr Crusher never taking their relationship beyond friendship in the prime timeline. A story that took them back to his death could be interesting for both of them.
So that’s it! Five recurring or secondary characters who I believe could be welcomed back to the Star Trek franchise in some form.
This was the second part of a two-part miniseries looking at the possibility for certain characters to reappear in the franchise. It’s unlikely to be the last time we talk about such things – with so many different Star Trek projects on the go, practically anyone from the past could come back in some capacity!
Aside from those who have been definitively killed off within the prime timeline, I would argue that basically any character could return. Not all of them would be suitable for the current crop of shows, but if the franchise continues its renaissance… who knows? Maybe we’ll finally get Star Trek: Morn after all!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and for other iterations of the franchise.
This is going to be the first part of a short two-part series in which I look at a few significant characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I would love to see return. Rather than tying these characters to a specific series, film, or ongoing project, this list is more general. I’m not advocating, for example, for any of these characters to necessarily appear in Picard or Strange New Worlds, but rather to return to the franchise at some point, when a suitable story could be written.
It goes without saying that practically every major character (at least those who weren’t killed off) could be brought back in some capacity, and with the franchise continuing to expand I think it’s increasingly likely that we’ll get some significant moments where characters reappear. For the sake of this list I’m not counting characters who are starring in shows that are currently in production, so I’ll be limited to characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the films.
By my count there are 42 characters across those five series that we could call “major” – i.e. they regularly had their names listed in the main credits, and weren’t considered guest stars or just recurring secondary characters. This time I’m picking on just five, and my usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information!” This is just a short list of characters that I think could be fun to bring back in some capacity, nothing more.
Of the 42 characters that occupied major starring roles in at least one season of the five aforementioned shows, I’m excluding five: James T Kirk from The Original Series, Data and Tasha Yar from The Next Generation, Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine, and Trip Tucker from Enterprise. All the exclusions are for the same reason: those characters have died in-universe. While there could be convoluted ways to bring back alternate versions (such as we saw with Sela, for instance) the original character can’t return after death.
Though it may be controversial, I don’t believe that the death of an actor necessarily excludes a character from returning. The Kelvin films recast the entire main cast of The Original Series, and Star Trek: Picard recently recast a couple of legacy characters as well. So characters whose primary actors have passed away are still in contention.
Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, let’s take a look at my choices.
Number 1: Chakotay
This one is inspired by the return of Seven of Nine in Season 1 of Picard. I’ve written about this before, but Seven’s return to Star Trek was cathartic for me, because the passage of time allowed her to be a very different, more emotional, and much more human character than she ever was in Voyager. Seven was sometimes annoying and difficult to root for, especially toward the end of Voyager’s run, and basically the reason was that she’d always seem to “reset” after learning what should have been a big and important lesson in how to be human. It made her character bland and repetitive. But we’re not here to talk about Seven of Nine!
Chakotay didn’t have a lot to do in Voyager, despite being the first officer. There were a handful of episodes in which he was given a storyline, but a lot of the time he was just a presence, someone there for other characters to bounce ideas off or to tell Captain Janeway he didn’t recommend she do something we all knew she’d end up doing anyway. In short, bringing back Chakotay is something I would see as a chance for his character to get a Seven of Nine-like “redemption,” with some genuine development and a significant storyline.
One thing Voyager touched on briefly but never really explored was the way Chakotay felt about the deaths of the Maquis. The episode Extreme Risk focused on B’Elanna as she struggled to come to terms with what happened to their former colleagues, but Chakotay never really got a similar moment. As part of a larger story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, learning what happened to the Maquis’ colonies in the aftermath of that conflict could include Chakotay, as one of those worlds was his home.
We could also learn that Chakotay was allowed to remain in Starfleet following Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, and may even have been given his own command. Given that Voyager quite quickly dropped the Maquis angle, I’m not sure this is the route I’d go down because it doesn’t seem like it offers a lot of development or growth potential for his character, but it’s a possibility.
The final few episodes of Voyager’s seventh season saw a burgeoning relationship building between Chakotay and Seven of Nine. With Seven now a recurring character in Picard, and with the possibility of her entering into a relationship with main character Raffi, we could potentially explore what happened between Seven and Chakotay. Voyager’s finale certainly suggested that he had strong feelings for her, even after her death in that timeline.
Unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t especially clear, the producers of Voyager lost interest in – or didn’t know what to do with – the “one ship, two crews” concept that had been part of the show’s inception. Chakotay and the rest of the Maquis were absorbed into the crew by midway through Season 1, and while lip service was paid to Chakotay’s Maquis past at numerous points, I think that’s one aspect of his background that would be ripe for exploration. In any 24th or early 25th Century story that looked at Bajor, Cardassia, and the aftermath of the Dominion War, I’d spend at least an episode or two considering the legacy of the Maquis, and Chakotay could play a major role in such a story.
Number 2: T’Pol
I’ve mentioned T’Pol before in relation to Strange New Worlds, and that series is certainly one where we could see her crop up. Because of Enterprise’s place in the timeline, unless Star Trek plans on returning to the 22nd Century for some other story, there aren’t many characters who could realistically still be active and able to play a major role. The 23rd and 24th Centuries (as well as Discovery’s 32nd Century) are where current Star Trek projects are focused – and I have to say I think that’s the right call. Enterprise was an interesting experiment, but I see no pressing need to return to the 22nd Century at this stage.
The story I’d include T’Pol in would go something like this: she’s a senior Federation ambassador by the mid-23rd Century, and accompanies Captain Pike on a diplomatic mission. The mission would make first contact with a race we met in The Next Generation era, such as the Cardassians. We’d thus tie together all three of Star Trek’s eras in one story! I think an episode like that would be incredibly rewarding for longstanding fans of the franchise; a “love letter” to the fans.
But there are many other roles T’Pol could occupy. Having spent so long with humans during those early days of humanity striking out into space, she could prove an invaluable guide or advisor to a young Spock. Whether Spock is “the first Vulcan in Starfleet” is a point of contention without an obvious answer, but even if he wasn’t it’s clear that the Vulcans continued to operate an independent fleet into the 23rd Century, and thus Vulcans serving in Starfleet seem to have been rare. T’Pol is well-placed to be a kind of mentor to Spock for this reason.
However, both of those story concepts take T’Pol out of her usual scientific role, and perhaps a story could be devised which would be better-suited to her career as a scientist. I’m still thinking of a 23rd Century story, but one which perhaps requires high-ranking Federation scientists to work on a mystery or puzzle.
Number 3: Dr Pulaski
I’ve never met a fan of The Next Generation who likes Dr Pulaski as much as I do. I understand why she wasn’t popular with fans, replacing Dr Crusher after one season and especially because of her early run-ins with Data that amounted to anti-android bigotry. But where Dr Crusher could be fairly bland, Dr Pulaski had a really strong personality that shone through.
On another occasion we’ll talk about Dr Pulaski and how her introduction in Season 2 of The Next Generation was an attempt to shake up the new series and bring in a Dr McCoy-type character. But for now I want to consider how she could return, and what sort of role she could have.
Picard Season 1 missed an opportunity to bring back Dr Pulaski – or another medical officer from The Next Generation like Alyssa Ogawa – in the second episode. Picard receives bad news from a doctor he knew while serving aboard the USS Stargazer, Dr Benayoun. This was a new character created for Picard, and if I’d been writing it I might have chosen to bring back Dr Pulaski at this moment instead. I don’t know if that was ever suggested, because it’s well-known that actress Diana Muldaur didn’t have a great time working on The Next Generation. But it would have been neat to see!
One series that has been doing great with references to less well-known parts of canon is Lower Decks, and perhaps that means Dr Pulaski would be a good fit to return there. I don’t know if Diana Muldaur is still working, nor whether she’d be well enough or willing to reprise the role. But it was at least a little sad that Dr Pulaski was dropped in The Next Generation Season 3 with no explanation. There’s scope, I feel, to learn what came next for her – even if the character has to be recast.
Almost any medical story or story involving characters from The Next Generation Season 2 could see Dr Pulaski return, and of course Star Trek: Picard has to be the prime candidate of the shows currently in production. She could, for example, be one of the chief medical officers assigned to help the surviving ex-Borg now that they’re (presumably) under Federation protection. Or how about this: in a storyline that clearly shows how much she’s changed her attitude to synthetic life, she could be the head of a Federation medical team sent to Coppelius to help the synths. This would cement her “redemption” from her earlier interactions with Data, and would perhaps provide a suitable epilogue to her role in The Next Generation Season 2.
Number 4: Benjamin Sisko
Captain Sisko is probably the character whose return I’ve touted the most! Because of the unique nature of his disappearance in the Deep Space Nine finale – vanishing into the realm of the Bajoran Prophets – he could return literally anywhere, in any time period. The Prophets don’t experience time in the same linear manner as humans, so they could send him to a point in his future, his past, or anywhere along the Star Trek timeline.
This is why I’ve proposed Sisko as a character who could appear in Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery – because he could be sent back by the Prophets at any moment in time. I would argue he would have more to do in a story set in the late 24th or early 25th Centuries than he might in the 23rd or 32nd, but in any story that brought back Bajor, Sisko could play a major role.
He could also be part of a story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, at Cardassian relations with the Federation, and of course at Deep Space Nine itself. I think Sisko has the potential to be a useful character too. If he joined the story right at the moment of his return to normal spacetime, he could potentially be a point-of-view character, and an excuse for a film or episode to dump a lot of exposition that could otherwise feel clunky and out-of-place. This would be done under the guise of other characters bringing Sisko up to speed on what he’s missed – and we could catch up on galactic affairs right along with him!
Of all the characters on this list, Sisko is the one whose story feels the most unfinished. There was almost a cliffhanger ending to his role in Deep Space Nine, with a tease that one day he’ll be coming back. Whether we’ll ever see that on screen is another matter, of course, and Avery Brooks has seemed less willing to reprise the role than some other Star Trek actors. But you never know!
Number 5: Montgomery Scott
It would be relatively easy for Scotty to crop up in Strange New Worlds as a junior engineer – or in any other 23rd Century series, for that matter. But that’s not really what I’m proposing this time. That idea has merit, and I think I included Scotty in one of my character ideas lists for Strange New Worlds. However, this time what I’m suggesting is Scotty in the 24th Century.
Relics, the Season 6 episode of The Next Generation, established that Scotty had been kept alive in a form of transporter stasis of his own devising for over eighty years, finally rematerializing when the crew of the Enterprise-D encountered his crashed ship. After working briefly with Geordi La Forge, Captain Picard, and others, Scotty was given a shuttle and set out to explore the new century on his own. We would later learn in 2009’s Star Trek that Scotty had gone back to work, developing a method of “transwarp beaming” that became important to the plot of that film.
After that, however, what became of Scotty is a mystery. He had initially intended to retire, so did his stint with Starfleet continue? Or did he resume his planned retirement in the 24th Century, catching up on the eight decades of galactic history that he’d missed? He reunited with Spock, apparently, and it’s at least possible he would have been able to visit the elderly Dr McCoy as well.
Scotty offers a “coming out of retirement” story, perhaps prompted by some horrible event or disaster that requires an engineering solution. We could learn, for example, that he’d worked alongside Geordi La Forge in preparing the Romulan rescue fleet, or even that he was helping to rebuild the Mars shipyards after the attack by the Zhat Vash. Those are two ideas based on events from Picard Season 1, but of course there are many, many other ways Scotty could have contributed to Starfleet and the Federation in the late 24th Century.
So that’s it… at least for now. The second part of this short series will look at five secondary or recurring characters who I also think could be fun to bring back!
With so many ongoing and upcoming Star Trek projects occupying different places in the timeline, there really is scope to bring back almost any major character, and I hope the creative team don’t feel constrained! As a Trekkie I think I’d be happy with literally any of them making an appearance, though of course it would have to make sense in-universe as well as not be offputting for casual viewers.
We mentioned the episode Relics, and I think that story manages to walk that line exceptionally well. For fans of The Original Series, Scotty’s return was an amazing treat. But for folks who weren’t familiar with the older series, his inclusion in the episode still managed to make sense. The story was well-written, and while knowing more about who Scotty was and where he’d come from certainly added to it for Trekkies, it didn’t put off casual viewers by demanding a lot of knowledge of Star Trek canon. That’s the kind of model any future episode, film, or story that brings back a character should try to emulate.
We can also point to If Memory Serves, from the second season of Discovery. That episode began with a short recap of the events of The Cage, establishing what happened to Captain Pike on Talos IV, who the Talosians were, who Vina was, and so on. By beginning an episode which features a returning character with a clip or compilation of their past Star Trek exploits, almost any character could be integrated into an ongoing production.
The Star Trek franchise has been running for over five decades, and has a huge roster of wonderful characters. The fact that there are too many to put on the list – or the fact that the list could literally include every single one – is testament to the quality of the franchise and the creative teams who’ve contributed to it over the years.
Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I’ll look at five secondary or recurring characters who I’d also love to see come back!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Discovery.
If you’ve been around the Star Trek fan community for a while, you might’ve heard some fans complaining about the “problem” of the USS Voyager’s use of shuttlecraft and torpedoes in Star Trek: Voyager. Perhaps this particular point of criticism was more biting in the late 1990s when Voyager was still on the air, but in some corners of the community it’s still talked about.
In short, fans have argued that, because Voyager was trapped in the Delta Quadrant and thus unable to be resupplied by Starfleet, they should have run out of torpedoes and shuttles. The number of shuttlecraft and torpedoes depicted in the series fluctuates, and some episodes focus on the need to conserve or seek out supplies, while in others, Captain Janeway and the crew seem to use these limited resources with abandon. Some fans have tried to calculate how many torpedoes and shuttles were used across all seven seasons of Voyager’s run – presenting it as a “gotcha” moment when those numbers seem larger than they should be.
There are two ways to approach this, in my opinion. The first is to use an argument that I generally dislike: “it’s just a story.” I’ve written about this before, but one of the most important things when creating an ongoing story – especially one that has to fit into an existing franchise – is internal consistency. If it was established that the USS Voyager has, for example, four shuttles, and then a future episode arbitrarily changes that, then the show is not being internally consistent – i.e. consistent with itself. That, to me, has the potential to be immersion-breaking.
In some cases, “it’s just a story” is a perfectly valid excuse. In comedies like The Simpsons, for example, pretty basic things like which character’s bedroom is behind which door can change depending on which episode you’re watching – and on what the writers need it to be for the sake of a punchline or story. And in shows which have a floating timeline and are inherently un-serious, that isn’t really an issue. But other stories – those that want to be taken more seriously – do have to hold themselves to a higher standard, and thus the “it’s just a story” excuse generally doesn’t work in Star Trek to excuse inconsistencies and mistakes – at least in my opinion.
On a basic level it is of course true that many inconsistencies and “goofs” within Star Trek are there because the writers either deliberately chose to go in a specific direction or to ignore a previously-established fact in order to make a particular storyline work. That can be said to be an explanation for what happened – but not an excuse!
The second way to approach the issue of shuttles and torpedoes in Voyager is to use the franchise’s own internal canon, and particularly established facts from within Voyager itself. A simple count of the number of torpedoes shown on screen or the number of shuttlecraft mentioned early in the show’s run is only one part of a bigger picture, and there are ways that we can interpret other canonical events within the series or within Star Trek as a whole to explain what appear, on the surface, to be inconsistencies.
There are two big points to consider when discussing Voyager’s shuttlecraft and torpedo complements, and how they could be replenished from an in-universe point of view. The first is trading and harvesting. On a number of occasions, Voyager depicted the crew visiting planets and moons to gather resources – everything from food to metals. And on a number of other occasions, the crew were able to make trades with Delta Quadrant factions in order to acquire resources that they were short of.
Weapons were only ever mentioned in the context of trading when Captain Janeway refused to sell Voyager’s weaponry to other races, but just because we didn’t see on screen the crew of Voyager bartering for someone else’s weapons – or more likely, weapon components and materials – doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Trading to acquire weapons or components wouldn’t contradict Janeway’s orders and adherence to Federation values. If the crew were able to get the basic parts needed to make more torpedoes, then there’s no reason why those parts couldn’t be used. Nothing I know of within Star Trek suggests that torpedoes can only be manufactured at specific facilities, or that they’re even especially difficult to build or modify.
What is a torpedo made of? We’ve actually seen torpedoes up close on a few occasions within Star Trek, and we have a reasonably good idea as to how they work. A torpedo uses antimatter as its main explosive element, creating a matter-antimatter explosion when detonated. There are also references to plasma and ion radiation, and in addition the torpedo casing and other internal components are made from metal – perhaps the same kind of tritanium as used in the construction of starship hulls.
The main component that the crew of Voyager would need to get, as far as I can see, is the right kind of antimatter to be used in the warhead. Every other aspect of the torpedo should be fairly easy to come by – or to manufacture, which we’ll look at in a moment. Antimatter is not naturally occurring, so the crew would probably need to trade for it, unless it could be scavenged from wrecked or abandoned ships.
Shuttles are obviously less easy to trade for, but in the episode Alice we see this exact thing happen. Paris falls in love with a shuttlecraft he sees at a junkyard and convinces Chakotay to trade for it, acquiring a new shuttle for Voyager. In that episode it would backfire, of course, but the principle remains!
As above, it would be possible to trade for and harvest components and materials necessary to repair or build shuttles. The basic metals needed for the hull would be perhaps the most important, as well as components necessary for systems like warp drive, but I can see no reason why it should be impossible for the crew to get enough components and material together to replace a lost or damaged shuttlecraft.
So now we come to the second major way that the Voyager crew could resupply themselves: replicating and/or manufacturing their own torpedoes and shuttles. To me, the single biggest piece of evidence in favour of this argument is the creation of not one but two Delta Flyers. The ship had the capability to replicate large components and the crew had the necessary engineering expertise to build a spaceworthy craft from scratch. It stands to reason that, contained within Voyager’s databanks, are the designs and schematics for both torpedoes and shuttles.
Voyager was designed for long-range tactical and exploration missions, meaning that the possibility of the ship operating outside of Federation space and far from the nearest Starbase had to be taken into consideration when it was built. Logically that would include the ability to be self-sufficient for long periods of time, being able to repair and build components on the fly. It doesn’t mean Voyager’s resources are unlimited – but it does mean that the ship clearly has the ability to build new components and presumably a stockpile of raw materials for doing so.
Augmenting that supply is something we see the crew engage in numerous times, chasing down sources of energy, antimatter, food, metal, and so on. While food and power are arguably the most urgent and immediate concerns, ensuring that they have enough components and raw materials to repair the ship, build replacement parts, etc. are all important too. How many times did we see Voyager undergo repairs or suffer damage that wasn’t present in the next episode? The ship clearly has the capability to build replacement parts – and there’s no reason why that can’t apply to torpedoes and shuttles too.
Something we learned in Star Trek: Discovery could be relevant here too, and while it’s certainly up for debate I think it’s worth mentioning as part of this conversation. In the third season episode There Is A Tide, Admiral Vance – the head of Starfleet – told us a little more about the way replicators work. The replicators at Federation HQ in the 32nd Century used a base of matter that was repurposed into new configurations. In the case of Federation HQ, bodily waste was repurposed into food – presumably with other matter thrown in there too! But the principle that you could feed any old matter into a replicator and use the technology to repurpose it seems to be how replicators (and earlier synthesisers) work in Star Trek.
This is also, at a very basic level, how warp nacelles work. The Bussard collectors on the front of a starship’s warp nacelles collect particles of hydrogen and deuterium while the ship is in flight, using the collected molecules as a way to augment the ship’s fuel supply. Insert one kind of matter, transform it into fuel, and use that fuel to fly.
The specifics of exactly how these technologies work is deliberately kept somewhat vague, but replication and collecting resources seem to me to offer an in-universe explanation as to how the crew of Voyager could replenish their supplies of expendable items like torpedoes, as well as replace destroyed shuttlecraft and even make complete repairs to the ship.
When you combine what we see on screen just within Voyager itself – the many times the crew are scavenging and harvesting resources from planets and nebulae, all the times they traded with Delta Quadrant factions, the ship’s replicators, the ability to build the Delta Flyer twice – I think we can reasonably say that it adds up. Voyager had the ability to produce new torpedoes, repair damage to its hull and systems, and even build new shuttlecraft. There is no plot hole!
I understand why some fans feel that this is a problem. Some episodes do seem to contradict some of what I’ve said, and especially in the early part of the show’s run, the supply of torpedoes in particular was mentioned more than once. Captain Janeway did once say that there was “no way” to replace the ship’s 40-odd torpedoes – but given everything we know about replicators and the crew’s ingenuity, perhaps that was either a misunderstanding on her part or something that the crew were able to overcome at a later time.
The ship started out with 40 torpedoes (and a few tricobalt explosive devices). But by the end of the series almost 150 torpedoes had been fired – at least, according to the sources I can find online! There were also at least eight shuttlecraft used on the show across its seven-year run. The only way to make this internally consistent is using some combination of trading, harvesting resources, and building/replicating replacement parts. Given that we see Voyager is capable of this when building the Delta Flyer, I don’t see it as a plot hole.
So that’s my solution to this longstanding “problem.” The crew were very resourceful, willing and able to make trades with different factions, to think outside the box when it came to how best to use what they had to make it home. The ship itself is powerful, designed for long missions, and kitted out for exactly these kinds of issues. Though it may not have been shown on screen outright, it seems like the best fit based on everything we know is simply that the crew figured out a way to build more torpedoes, shuttles, and repair kits at some point relatively early into their journey home.
Problem solved. Right?
Star Trek: Voyager ran from 1995-2001 and is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the UK and elsewhere. The series is also available on DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.
Love is in the air! Happy Valentine’s Day – even though 2021 promises to be the strangest in a long time. If you have a special someone to spend today with, I bet you’re wondering what to watch to put you both in the mood. And if you don’t… perhaps you’re just wondering what to watch. So without further ado, here are a few Star Trek episodes worth watching on the most lovey-dovey day of the year – or at least tangentially related to it! As always, the list is in no particular order.
Number 1: The Dauphin (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
It’s been a while since we talked about The Next Generation’s most controversial major character: Wesley Crusher! He’s the main focus of this episode, falling in love with the ruler of a war-torn planet. In a classic case of “bad timing,” Salia and Wesley’s relationship wasn’t to be. He learned a valuable lesson about love along the way, though, and while the episode has some cute moments and some awkward ones, it manages to be distinctly “Star Trek” all the while.
Number 2: Choose Your Pain (Star Trek: Discovery)
I often call the relationship between Stamets and Dr Culber the “emotional core” of Discovery, yet looking back on the show’s 42 episodes, there are relatively few in which they are the main focus. Choose Your Pain has a lot going on, but one of the most significant points is how Hugh and Paul clash over the tardigrade – the space-dwelling lifeform that appears to be the key to making the Spore Drive work as intended. They’re able to resolve things, of course, but only when Stamets does something life-changing to himself in order to save the tardigrade’s life.
Number 3: Threshold (Star Trek: Voyager)
When we think about Tom Paris, who’s his romantic partner? B’Elanna Torres, of course. But in Threshold – widely regarded as one of Voyager’s worst episodes – Paris and Janeway get together and even have kids! Had you forgotten about that? After passing the Warp 10 barrier and experiencing “hyper-evolution,” Paris kidnaps Janeway and flees to an uninhabited planet. The two hyper-evolve into lizards and apparently “do the nasty,” resulting in at least three offspring. The crew of Voyager opted to leave the hyper-evolved children behind when they rescued Paris and Janeway, though, and for some reason the events of Threshold were never mentioned again. I wonder why?
Number 4: Amok Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Amok Time is certainly one of the most iconic Star Trek episodes, having been imitated and parodied many times. It focuses on Spock and introduces us to the concept of pon farr – the Vulcan biological mating need. The Vulcans evidently practice arranged marriage, and when Spock’s betrothed chooses another man, Kirk and Spock must engage in a ritual fight to the “death.” As one of the first episodes to explore the Vulcans in depth, as well as our first visit to the planet Vulcan, Amok Time is incredibly important within the history of Star Trek. And as a love story, well there’s something kind of romantic about T’Pring choosing to escape her arranged marriage to be with someone she cares about… right?
Number 5: Change of Heart (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Workplace romances are bound to cause problems! After Worf arrived on the station at the beginning of Deep Space Nine’s fourth season, he and Jadzia Dax struck up a relationship. They eventually got married in the episode You Are Cordially Invited, and continued to work closely together. In Change of Heart they’re assigned a dangerous mission to evacuate a Federation spy at the height of the Dominion War. But when Jadzia is injured, Worf is forced to choose whether to save her life or complete the mission.
So that’s it. Five somewhat Valentine’s Day-related Star Trek episodes! Try not to take it too seriously; this was just a bit of fun to mark the occasion!
On a more serious note, Valentine’s Day can be difficult. It can be a day that brings home feelings of loneliness, that we aren’t loved or even that we’re unworthy or undeserving of finding someone special. If you feel that way, listen to me: it’s bullshit. You’re a King, a Queen, or non-binary Royalty and you are amazing. If you haven’t found somebody yet, that’s okay. There’s no pressure or time limit. I know people who found love well into their seventies and eighties, and a few years ago attended the wedding of a neighbour of mine who finally was able to marry his boyfriend – at the age of 85! Just because some people manage to find their special somebody early in life doesn’t mean you have to conform to that too. One thing I wish I’d learned a lot sooner is that it’s better to be single than to be in a bad relationship! So please try not to worry or let Valentine’s Day become an excuse to feel rotten. Your time will come. Until then, I wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day – platonically, of course!
The Star Trek franchise is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek and all episodes and series listed above are 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 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: 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.