Judge Sandra Dozier is spending some time unwinding on holodeck three after writing this extensive review.
Our reviews of Star Trek: Voyager, Season One (published March 9th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Two (published September 27th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Three (published August 30th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Four (published November 17th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Five (published November 24th, 2004), and Star Trek: Voyager, Season Seven (published February 2nd, 2005) are also available.
"The Borg wouldn't know 'fun' if they assimilated an amusement park!"—B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer
Voyager is the Lost in Space for the nineties, only without the cheese factor. A Federation starship stranded seventy light years from home in an uncharted region of space provides certain tantalizing story opportunities: brand-new aliens and a convenient disregard of the Prime Directive and other Starfleet dictums in order to survive. Although we do get some interesting new aliens (as well as plenty of "forehead of the week" aliens), order and protocol remain in force, even over the objections of some of the senior Voyager officers. Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) runs a tight ship, even after integrating the renegade Maquis crew into the ranks in the first season.
Facts of the Case
It's the second-to-the-last season, and it's time for Voyager to start to realize its dream of getting home. In this season, we revisit an old friend when Next Generation introvert Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) makes contact with Voyager through a micro-wormhole, and in this collection of episodes we see a lighter side of Voyager, with character-driven stories such as "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" and "Virtuoso," which both spotlight the Doctor (Robert Picardo). This is also a season that is light on alien conflicts—other than a couple of interesting Borg encounters and an amusing run-in with some imposters, most of the challenges faced by the crew are personal ones. Harry (Garrett Wang) deals with the return of a dead friend in "Ashes to Ashes," and Kes (Jennifer Lien) returns with hateful intentions in "Fury." There isn't a lot of heart-pumping excitement to this season, but for anyone who likes the characters and enjoys their personal stories, this is the season to watch.
The season opens with part two of "Equinox," which partly answers the question posed by fans and even characters in Voyager itself: Why adhere to the Prime Directive when there is no one around to enforce it? The Equinox is another Starfleet ship that was captured and deposited in the Alpha Quadrant by The Caretaker, but its crew has taken a decidedly different approach to getting home: forget everything we learned, just take what we can get to survive and worry about the consequences later. Unfortunately, consequences have a way of popping up when you least expect (or want) them, and when the crew of the Equinox cross the line into murder after discovering that the corpse of a benevolent alien being can provide fuel for amazingly fast space travel, they have more consequences than they can handle when the aliens retaliate. Voyager is caught up in the conflict when Equinox captain Ransom (John Savage) leaves them for dead in his desperate need to get home at any cost.
"Equinox" doesn't just give us a peek at a potential scenario for Voyager if they disregard Starfleet protocol, it reinforces the idea that sometimes rules are there for a reason—when they are just and sane, it makes sense to follow them whenever possible. The principles of exploration and First Contact guide ship captains like Kathryn Janeway into forming relationships and alliances in order to find peaceful solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Janeway will bend the rules, and one gets the sense that she might even break some of them from time to time, such as when she exposes one of the Equinox crew to the hostile aliens in an attempt to scare information from him (a move that horrifies Chakotay into threatening to relieve her of duty), but when it comes to the core values, she takes her cue from history and sticks to her guns.
Season Six ends with another cliffhanger, "Unimatrix Zero," which features Borg drones that function as individuals for part of each day. The captain employs a rather unconventional plan in order to spread dissent among the drones. Voyager, more than any other Star Trek series, has looked at individual personalities among the Borg. In fact, the mid-season "Collective" introduces several Borg children who are liberated from a defective cube. They become part of the Voyager crew complement.
This seven-disc boxed set includes all 26 episodes from Season Six as well as several extras and five hidden "Easter egg" extras, which can be found in the Special Features section of Disc Seven by using the arrow keys to move around and highlight different sections of the ship.
I generally like Voyager. It isn't my favorite Trek series (that would be Deep Space Nine), but I like the emphasis on the social aspects of the show—what happens to a crew that is far from home and doesn't expect to return within their lifetime? What do they do when they know they are cut off from family, friends, and loved ones? The chief weakness of this series is that the writers could never decide where their focus should be: exciting adventures and dog fights with scary aliens, or humanistic stories showcasing the crew? They try to have the best of both worlds, and eventually end up failing to do either very well. However, the lure of Voyager is in finding the gems among the coal, because when they get it right, it's a thing of beauty to behold.
In "Riddles," Tuvok (Tim Russ) is attacked and his mind is altered so much that he basically has to relearn social interactions. He becomes an entirely different person—smiling, experimenting with cooking ("Why desserts, Tuvok?" elicits a suspicious glare and a "Because they taste good!" response that makes the entire episode worth watching), and becoming fast friends with Neelix (Ethan Phillips). Other than getting to see a lighter side of Tuvok (and Russ stays in character while still completely reinventing Tuvok, no easy feat), it's an interesting look at the nature of human interaction. Tuvok and Neelix cannot be friends when both are in their right mind, and Neelix accepts this with his typical good-natured optimism. Seeing them back together at the end is heartbreaking because you realize what was lost, and at the same time it's uplifting, because you realize what was gained—Tuvok "gets" a joke that Neelix told him prior to his mind being hijacked, and actually offers up an alternate punchline.
The city of Fair Haven (a fan favorite) makes its debut this season, as well. These episodes ("Fair Haven" and "Spirit Folk") are just for fun—Tom (Robert Duncan McNeill) creates a holodeck story of a small Irish village called Fair Haven for the crew to relax in. Everyone dresses up and wanders through the town, visiting the pub and other places of relaxation. Harry romances the flower vendor, and the Captain finds herself falling for the pub owner. This latter interaction poses a problem for Janeway, who is appalled that she allowed herself to make love to a hologram. She confides in the Doctor, who points out that she cannot have a relationship with anyone in the crew because they are all her subordinates, and being celibate for however many years it takes to reach home isn't realistic. Without getting too serious about it, the writers explore the realistic danger of what it means to fall in love with photons and force fields.
One of the most interesting episodes of this season is "Blink of an Eye." Voyager is trapped in low orbit around a strange planet that is out of phase with normal space—for every second that passes on Voyager, a day or more passes on the planet. We see the evolution of a species from caveman times to a super-advanced, space-able society, all with the burning image of Voyager in their sky. What their early ancestors prayed to and offered sacrifices to, modern man studies and wonders about. A whole mythology forms around the "sky ship," including toys called the "Sky Friends" for children to play with. Innovation, modernization, exploration—all occur in an attempt to find out what the sky ship is. Unfortunately, the planet is wracked with seismic activity that occasionally decimates infrastructure, and some in the population think it might be the sky ship. This is an entirely absorbing and fascinating episode that I had to watch twice in order to take everything in. Guest Starring Daniel Dae Kim as a sympathetic pilot who is brought aboard Voyager when they attempt to make contact, this is a strong mid-season episode that is a highlight of the entire series.
The Doctor also gets a spotlight in the excellent "Life Line." In this, the second of the "contact with home" episodes, the doctor learns that his creator is dying from a seemingly untreatable illness. However, the Doctor thinks he can adapt Borg nanotechnology to treat it. Picardo plays two roles, the aging Zimmerman and the hologram we all know and love. He does a masterful job of making them seem like two men, and the episode gives fans a strange sort of double vision, as we see the creator of the Doctor and an early version of the Doctor himself. It showcases how far the Doctor has come since his initial activation, and even how much we've come to love him as a character.
The extras included on Disc Seven will be familiar to anyone who has purchased previous boxed sets: a season overview, a time capsule with Chakotay, a special effects featurette, and hidden features. There are two new spotlights this season: a look at real-life space exploration that focuses on Robert Picardo's work with the Planetary Society's Red Rover project, where kids build roving vehicles out of Legos and actually get to deploy them on Mars, and a spotlight on Vaughn Armstrong, who has guested on Star Trek at least eleven times and for all but the original series. If the name doesn't sound familiar, the face will, especially since he has two guest spots in Season Six alone: one in "Survival Instinct" and a brief appearance as a Vedian in "Fury." The hidden spots include a retrospective with Tim Russ, Levar Burton talking about his directing efforts and his brief appearance in Season Six, and Jeffrey Combs (a favorite on DS9 as Weyoun) talking about his appearance in "Tsunkatse."
Audio and video transfer for Voyager is very good, with an excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track that has a lot of ambient noise and takes full advantage of fly-bys and other ship sounds. The background hum of Voyager is very beefy in the 5.1 track. The original 2.0 stereo track is also offered for those who prefer a more front-channel experience. The image is generally very clean and crisp, with only a few sequences looking at all fuzzy or indistinct, although this may be intentional since some of these sequences involve Seven of Nine or outdoor shots.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There weren't many stinkers in this season, but "Tsunkatse" makes up for this by also being a transparent crossover to UPN's other hot property, the WWF. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) wrestles The Rock, who actually does his signature arched eyebrow glare at the audience. Seven also says "Resistance is futile," but this time without irony, and this must have cost Ryan a couple of sleepless nights. Oh, the humanity! Thankfully, this is the only cross-over episode in this season, and Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler (DS9 alums Weyoun and General Martok) appear in this episode, as well, making it at least tolerable to watch.
Outside of some good writing this season, I was disappointed by the lack of follow-through in "Fury," which brings back Kes. It's as if they couldn't really think of anything to do here and then had to wrap it up really quickly before the fifty minutes of screen time was over. It felt rushed and slapped together. There were some interesting bits where Kes travels back in time and we get to see earlier versions of the crew, including a much more impulsive Harry, an emerging personality for the Doctor, and Janeway with the old matronly hairdo, but it was almost as if too much time was spent on this and not the meat of the story. In the end, it just didn't work.
This lack of follow-through extends to some of the other episodes. Great ideas are nearly ruined by sloppy attention to detail. For instance, if we can assume for a moment that the Doctor is software, as he is constantly being told he is, then why would there be a problem like the one in "Virtuoso" where Janeway doesn't want to allow the Doctor to remain on a planet because then the ship wouldn't have an EMH? They should be able to download him and leave the original program intact. In "Spirit Folk," the townspeople, with their holographic guns, are somehow able to shoot and short out a holodeck control panel. The safeties aren't off-line, so how is this possible? Or, in the otherwise excellent "Blink of an Eye," if Voyager can receive a sped-up transmission from the planet and decipher it, why can't they send a slowed-down transmission back? These types of plot holes can be overlooked, but they are also the types of things that eagle-eyed fans (many of whom obsessively catalog things, anyway) will notice. It's sloppy not to fill them in.
Lastly, the lack of commentaries is a glaring oversight to the Voyager boxed sets. They don't have to be on every episode, but key episodes would be nice.
Overall, Voyager offers solid entertainment value. Because it's a Star Trek franchise, we viewers often forget that the show has a budget it has to stick to and that it's a weekly show with tight deadlines. Under these pressures, we still get an entertaining universe and engaging stories with characters that we care about. Season Six, while light on action, does continue to develop the human relationships on the show and lets us get to know them better. Fans who have stuck with the show mostly due to the strong portrayals of lead characters should especially enjoy this season.
Star Trek: Voyager is cleared for spacedock.
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Scales of Justice
• "Braving the Unknown: Season 6"
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