Paramount // 1998 // 1216 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // November 24th, 2004
Paris (debating with Tuvok): "I give up!"
Chakotay: "After only two minutes? Tuvok, how do you do it?"
Tuvok: "I wait until his own illogic overwhelms him."
Voyager has always been the black sheep of the Star Trek family, even before the first episode aired on television. A female captain? An African-American Vulcan? This was too much for some fans to accept, despite the irony of turning a cold shoulder to what is the very embodiment of what fans widely acknowledge is the show's greatest strength: a sometimes naïve optimism about the future, and a positive message about human cooperation and diversity.
Further complicating this initial swell of negativity was the rocky start the series got off to. Characters were not meshing well, and scenes were often so packed with technobabble and pointless action that the entertainment value was lost. Certain strong characterizations surfaced immediately -- Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway, Robert Picardo as the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), Tim Russ as Tuvok -- while other roles still hadn't been properly fleshed out by writers. In some ways, this was still happening in the third season of the show, causing the initial audience of hopeful viewers to dwindle from a river to a stream.
This is really too bad, because during Season Four the show came back with renewed vitality, and Season Five finally gets it just right, delivering 25 solid, entertaining episodes that harmonize technology with heart. We accept the fantastic technology because we connect with the characters, and we connect with characters because we dream about fantastic technology.
Voyager is a ship without a home. Stranded in the Delta Quadrant, over seventy light years from Earth, and unable to contact Starfleet or any Federation planet, its crew must survive in unknown territory and make their way back home. Captain Janeway runs a tight ship and maintains Starfleet protocol even though they are on their own and the temptation is to get home at all costs. In the meantime, they must find food and fuel, and form alliances with aliens who can help them on their journey. They are also explorers, taking every opportunity for First Contact with alien species and for investigation of Delta Quadrant phenomena.
Season Five brings the overall story focus down to a more personal level, with character-focused storylines and stories that explore human and social issues. There is also plenty of action, but this is also more focused and relevant to the central storyline: getting to Earth sooner rather than later.
Highlights of Season Five include:
* A fully mobile EMH, whose ability to go into high-pressure or toxic environments opens up some interesting storylines.
* A tapped-out B'ellana (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), who secretly puts herself in the path of danger in an attempt to reawaken her sense of compassion.
* Captain Proton, the favorite holographic program of helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). Inspired by '50s scifi, this serial (in black-and-white!) provides much of the comic relief in the series.
* Borgs as individuals. The presence of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) means an interesting perspective on the Borg obsession with perfection, and seeing Borg drones as something other than disposable soldiers.
* Paris gets reduced to the rank of ensign after violating the Prime Directive.
* Tuvok reveals a softer side of his nature when he forms an emotional attachment to an alien of the female persuasion.
* Species 6339 fight back with a virus that destroys a Borg cube.
* The Doctor falls in love with a close friend.
* The crew once again plays host to a visitor from the 29th century.
* The crew finds out what things might be like if they let go of the ideals of the Federation.
Perhaps my favorite episode of the season is "Timeless," which also happens to be the 100th episode for Voyager. Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) are shown twenty years in the future, returning to the Delta Quadrant to find Voyager, which was encased in a tomb of ice after a disaster with their new slipstream drive. Harry and Chakotay were in a shuttle riding ahead of Voyager and providing telemetry that would allow the ship to safely nagivate the slipstream, but Harry miscalculated and sent the crew to their death. He and Chakotay made it home, but twenty years later he is a bitter man who is obsessed with setting things right again through the magic of time travel. Only Chakotay has made an effort to move on, knowing what he left behind. This is a touching and bittersweet episode with a knockout performance by Wang.
The season is bookended by episodes dealing mostly with the psychology of the crew. The opener, "Night," finds the crew going through a void in space, where they can see no stars. The lack of a changing startography takes its toll on the crew, who begin to have restless sleep and mood problems that are similar to the types of symptoms people have in areas of 24-hour darkness. The final episode, "Equinox (Part 1)," explores what the fate of Voyager might have been had the crew abandoned Starfleet protocols and just taken what they needed in order to survive. They find a damaged, limping Federation starship that was also sent to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker (as Voyager was). When they find the Equinox, it is under attack by an alien species. They give them protection and begin investigating a way to elude the attackers. Seven of Nine stumbles upon an anomaly in their internal sensor readings and they uncover a shocking horror committed by the other crew in the name of survival and desperation to get home. The season ends on a cliffhanger, with Voyager abandoned to hostile aliens as the other ship speeds away.
Voyager, in concept, held such promise -- a starship stranded in another quadrant of space, its crew cut off from any sort of authority, left to their own devices. The potential to bend or break the rules is enormous...surely they would have to violate the Prime Directive, at least? As it turns out: not on Janeway's watch.
The constant struggle between maintaining Federation principles and getting home in a timely manner is probably the most interesting thing about this show. Whenever the audience (and the crew) is screaming for a little maverick action, the captain manages to remember the Prime Directive. Here's the kicker: It doesn't always work out well. Sometimes, playing nice means they lose an easy opportunity to take a huge chunk of time off their return voyage, and the crew has to deal with this loss, and Janeway has to deal with the crew and any lingering feelings of resentment. After getting a third of their travel time shaved off by Kes in the previous season, they now have to rely on their own resourcefulness to get ahead, which forms the basis for the pursuit of technology and aid from other aliens and drives the storyline of the show.
Although it has been widely speculated that the character of Seven of Nine was brought in to hold the interest of young males (a key demographic for the show), Ryan and the writers put her to good use as a member of the crew. Seven provided opportunities for humor, a sounding board for technical issues (with her vast Borg knowledge), and (surprisingly) a moral compass for Janeway and others in the crew. As a student of humanity, it was often Seven who raised the questions that others would not raise, or who would challenge Janeway when the situation was particularly grim. In one episode, "Latent Image," she argues for the Doctor's soul after Janeway gives an order to erase part of his memory when a triage decision leaves him in a feedback loop. This leads Janeway to decide that the Doctor, as an emerging identity, should be allowed to work through his trauma the way any human would.
This season was also marked with some high-concept experiments, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. "Infinite Regression," where Seven was exposed to the multiple personalities of people she had assimilated, worked, and "The Fight," where Chakotay communicates with an alien species through the metaphor of a boxing match, did not.
As with previous seasons, visual quality is mostly quite good (see The Rebuttal Witnesses for the lone exception to this), with a clear and vivid transfer that shows off the episodes well. Audio quality is also excellent, with a nice surround track that handles ambient noise and ship fly-bys beautifully, using all channels to create an atmospheric sound field. There are quite a few easter eggs on Disc Seven that spotlight different episodes, characters, or crew. For example, one is a spotlight on Boothby (played by the much-adored Ray Walston) that includes a lovely little anecdote by Tim Russ. These can be found by using the arrows on the DVD remote to highlight sections of the shuttlecraft shown on the Extras screens, then pressing Enter to activate the easter egg.
The featurettes and photo gallery round out the extras for season five:
* "Braving the Unknown: Season Five"
This featurette recaps the season and discusses plot choices and character arcs; a fairly standard season recap featurette.
* "Voyager Time Capsule: B'elanna Torres"
Catching up in a 2003 interview with Roxann Biggs-Dawson about her character. She discusses casting and the arc of her character since the first season.
* "Voyager Time Capsule: Tom Paris"
Given the character relationship, it's fiting that Tom and B'elanna are given time capsules together on this box set. Follow-up interviews with McNeill highlight his involvement with the show and his opinion of Thomas Eugene Paris.
* "The Borg Queen Speaks"
An interesting interview with Susanna Thompson, who played the Borg Queen in "Dark Frontier." She was originally approached for the role in First Contact, then was invited back for this episode and one other in a later season. She talks about the rigors of her makeup and her take on the motivation for the Borg Queen.
* "Delta Quadrent Makeup Magic"
Michael Westmore is back to discuss how he gets his inspiration for the aliens in Voyager, including some of the principal cast designs like Neelix and B'ellana, and the tattoo for Chakotay.
* Photo Gallery
Mostly candid and posed shots (very few, if any, episode stills).
In praising the excellent characterization in Season Five, I forgot to mention that one character continues to get short shrift in this department, and that character is Commander Chakotay. It seems that he cannot have a breakout episode unless he's on some sort of vision quest; we hardly ever get to see Chakotay do anything interesting otherwise. There were some promising attempts to show his special relationship with the captain, but when that was played out he was once again relegated to a support function. It's a waste of an interesting character and a charismatic actor. Even Neelix (Ethan Phillips), who didn't get many spotlight moments in Season Five, got a chance just to be himself and show his character off in "Once Upon a Time."
Out of this entire seven-disc set, one episode, "The Fight," turned out to be slightly grainy during the latter half of the episode. Although it is still thoroughly watchable, the image quality is not up to par with the other transfers, but since it is the exception, I'm mentioning it here rather than downgrading the entire set.
In Season Five, the characters finally grow up and become the heart of the series. While Voyager isn't about to leave its technocentric roots behind, striking the proper balance between characters and action makes for a strong season that will please fans of the show -- and that lapsed fans should check out.
Star Trek fans are ordered to assimilate this boxed set at the earliest opportunity.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1216 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Braving the Unknown: Season 5" Featurette
* "Voyager Time Capsule: B'Elanna Torres" Featurette
* "Voyager Time Capsule: Tom Paris" Featurette
* "The Borg Queen Speaks" Featurette
* Delta Quadrant Makeup Magic
* Photo Gallery
* Official Site