Ah, Star Trek: Voyager. In many ways the middle child of the Star Trek family (for reference, TOS would be the father, TNG the mother, DS9 the angsty eldest child, and ENT the runt of the litter). There’s nothing out and out wrong with it, but you’ll find few of the rabid evangelists that haunt the fanbases of earlier shows.
Well, there’s a fair following for Seven of Nine, but I think they’re only really interested in Jeri Ryan’s… Let’s move on.
Voyager took the lessons of Deep Space Nine and applied them to the ship-based format of The Next Generation. The overarching storyline is there in the ongoing journey home, but the episodic, exploration is also there. Invariably we get one or two episodes a season where they almost get home, but don’t quite.
And on the way, there were many episodes which lived up to the very best of Star Trek.
5) Living Witness
(Season 4, Episode 23)
The Doctor has, without doubt, the potential to be one of the most irritating characters in Star Trek. The only think keeping him from Jar Jar Binks status is a) that he’s stood next to Neelix, and b) that he has such a good character arc.
“Living Witness” is one of those Doctor-centric episodes. A copy of his programme is awoken centuries in the future in an alien museum which has some warped ideas of the Voyager crew. As the Doctor corrects their historical records, the resultant effect on the alien society is illuminating as to the basis on which our social order depends on our perceptions of history.
It also gets points for the brilliantly evil alternate Voyager crew, and incorporating black leather gloves into the Starfleet uniform.
(Season 5, Episode 10)
I worshipped the dark storylines in DS9, so “Counterpoint” being on this list was near inevitable.
Voyager travels through the territory of a species virulently against telepaths. Given that this accounts for several of the crew, it’s problematic. The chemistry between Kate Mulgrew as Janeway and Mark Harelik’s alien fascist enforcer Kashyk was fantastic, with the subtly Nazi-overtones much more effective than the heavy-handed attempts in episodes such as “The Killing Game”.
The fact that it plays out in the mode of a spy thriller, with twists and turns and subterfuge at every corner only increases its appeal. Compelling stuff.
3) Equinox, Parts 1 and 2
(Season 5, Episode 26, and Season 6, Episode 1)
I’m a sucker, too, for the ‘path not taken’ episodes. It’s what I liked about “Living Witness”, and why I chose “Yesterday’s Enterprise” as my top episode of TNG. “Equinox” gives us that in providing Janeway with a dark mirror to peer into.
When Voyager encounters a much inferior Starfleet ship in exactly the same situation as them, the ruthless lengths that they have had to go to leads to a direct confrontation between the two ships. There’s ethical dilemmas, some excellent alien creature design, and so much character development for Janeway. The series by this point had already established her obsessive personality, and it goes into overdrive when she comes face to face with the denigration of all her dearest principles — as well as the lingering question of whether her choices would have been any different faced with the same difficulties.
(Season 5, Episode 6)
GEORDI LA FORGE!
Ahem. That’s not the only reason this episode is excellent. “Timeless” was the hundredth episode and one of the very best. Jumping fifteen years into the future, an older Harry Kim and Chakotay excavate the Doctor from a crashed and frozen USS Voyager. They then try to use Borg magic — I mean, technology — to avert the disaster which led to said crash.
This is Garrett Wang’s finest performance. His future Kim is bitter, consumed by guilt at one fatal mistake which had such profound consequences for his friends. He and Chakotay will do anything to rectify the mistake. It underscores what a family the crew had become by this point. The pair had made it home, but without their friends it was hollow and empty.
1) Year of Hell, Parts 1 and 2
(Season 4, Episodes 8 and 9)
This is an excellently crafted episode in a number of ways. Firstly, it was foreshadowed back in the third season episode “Before and After”, where a flashforward shows Kes a different timeline of the same events. Secondly, it is clear from the off that the reset mechanism exists, so it isn’t pulled from the hat at the end and doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina.
In an ongoing conflict with a time-altering ship Voyager is battered and scared, her crew separated and maimed. The picture of the crew’s trials and tribulations over a year of struggle and suffering gives a real sense of vulnerability. There’s room for all of the characters to grow, particularly Seven and Tuvok as the latter is blinded by the former’s arrogance. And Janeway’s final self-sacrifice is exactly what we’d expect and hope of her.
The moment when it all resets, and all of that bonding and growth is undone is satisfying in that unfair damage has been healed, but at the same time a shame that so much that was won had to be sacrificed.
Feel free to disagree in the comments.