This article originally ran on Den of Geek UK.
Maps To TV Shows: Is there a popular show you’d really like to watch but you just don’t have time to wade through years of it all at once? Do you just want to know why that one character keeps turning up on Tumblr? Do the fans all tell you ‘season one is a bit iffy but stick with it, it gets great!’, leaving you with absolutely zero desire ever to watch the boring/silly/just plain weird season one? Then Maps To TV Shows is for you!
In these articles, we’ll outline routes through popular TV shows focusing on particular characters, story arcs or episode types. Are you really into the Klingon episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Do you want to get the overall gist of the aliens arc on The X-Files? Or perhaps you’d rather avoid aliens and watch the highlights of their Monsters of the Week? Do you just want to know who that guy dressed like Constantine is? In these articles, we’ll provide you with a series of routes through long-running shows designed for new viewers so that you can tailor your journey through the very best TV has to offer. While skipping most of season one. It gets better.
N.B. Since part of the aim of these articles is to encourage new viewers, spoilers will be kept to a minimum. However, be aware that due to the nature of the piece, certain elements of world-building, bad guy-revelation, late character arrivals etc. will be spoiled, and looking at the details of one suggested ‘route’ may spoil another.
Poor Voyager is probably Star Trek’s least loved child overall. It competes with Enterprise for the dubious honour of the title Least Popular Series of Star Trek, and unlike Enterprise, it is rarely defended on the grounds of trying to do something interesting at some point its run or just starting to get good when it got cancelled. It also produced the only episode seriously considered as a rival to Spock’s Brain for the position of Worst Episode of Star Trek Ever Made, and the fact it later produced two episodes that might be said to be even worse doesn’t really help its case.
However, Voyager is my personal favorite series of Star Trek. For all its many flaws, it offered a likeable set of characters who often didn’t seem to be taking any of it too seriously. It is, to date, the only Star Trek series with a female captain in the starring role, and for those of us of the feminine persuasion, that’s a draw (plus Kate Mulgrew’s Janeway is her own breed of awesome, even if she seems to change her mind about the Prime Directive from week to week). It boasted two talented actors in Robert Picardo and Jeri Ryan and made use of them – too much, perhaps, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it. The rest of the crew were also good actors when given good material, and pleasant company to be in on a weekly basis.
When I was growing up, we watched Voyager as a family (two teenagers, two parents) and everyone was able to enjoy it equally, while its episodic nature, so frustrating to those who preferred Deep Space Nine’s more arc-based structure, was perfect for the four of us to relax with from week to week without worrying if we missed an episode. I also watched it with friends from school, and again, being able to jump around the series picking whichever episode we felt like watching without explaining a complicated arc to someone who hadn’t seen it before was a bonus. It’s purely a matter of personal taste, but some of us actually like episodic television.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never convince Voyager’s detractors to see it in a fresh light, but for anyone who’d like to give the show a go to see if it was really as bad as all that, these suggested routes through the series may help. Alternatively, if you’re curious to see why the show has such a bad reputation (or if you hate Voyager and want to revel in how right you feel you are), there is a hate-watch route and for all that I love it, it had to be said, Voyager did produce some real stinkers in its day. Entertaining stinkers in some cases, at least!
Route 1: Honestly, this show is really good
There are a few of us for whom Voyager is our favourite series of Star Trek, and hopefully these episodes will show you why. Even season two produced some gems among what was, overall, a rather dull experience (one of Voyager’s problems was that the first series featured the usual teething troubles, and the second series was really quite bad, which presumably put off a lot of viewers).
Eye Of The Needle
Caretaker is one of Star Trek’s best pilots; many were disappointed with the show because they felt its promise was not followed up on (those of us who started watching later in its run were less likely to be disappointed, of course). To describe what makes Eye Of The Needle great would be to spoil it so we won’t, while Faces features some fine character work from Roxann Dawson as B’Elanna Torres. Add Ex Post Facto, a fairly bland but quite fun episode, if you like whodunnits.
Tuvok’s dark side was always worth seeing and it comes out the strongest in Meld, while ‘the holographic doctor falls in love’ is a much better episode than it sounds in Lifesigns, which explores illness and self-confidence, among other things. Death Wish is probably the best Q episode in all of Star Trek, while Deadlock toys with being really quite brutal for a moment (before pulling back – this is still Star Trek, after all). If you enjoy more experimental episodes, add The Thaw, which appears on some people’s ‘best of’ lists and others’ ‘worst of’ – it’s certainly an acquired taste but it’s genuinely creepy (on purpose) and please note, its virtual world pre-dates The Matrix. Tuvix is also rather controversial, but raises some interesting issues and features some good performances.
Future’s End Parts 1&2
Before And After
Scorpion Part 1
The Chute features energetic performances from Robert Duncan McNeil and Garrett Wang, and some lovely cinematography in a fairly intense story. Future’s End is good time travel-based fun while Before And After features a teaser for one of the series’ best stories, season four’s Year Of Hell. The first two-parter to feature the Borg, Scorpion Part 1, was really excellent – the Borg were rather over-used later in the series, but in this initial appearance, they are as terrifying and as impressive as ever. Add Basics Part 2 for a great performance (as always) from Brad Dourif. Add Macrocosm if Die Hard on Voyager with giant bugs, starring Janeway in a vest, is your particular cup of tea.
Scorpion Part 2
Year Of Hell Parts 1&2
Message In A Bottle
Hope And Fear
Season four was Voyager’s strongest season overall and included of its best overall episodes – Scorpion Part 2, Year Of Hell (in which the use of the reset button is entirely justified) and Living Witness, an exploration of the nature of history which also finds time for the always enjoyable Alternate Evil Crew trope. Much of the season was dedicated to developing new character Seven of Nine, somewhat to the detriment of the other regulars at times, but Seven is a genuinely fascinating character and most of the episodes exploring her slow transition back to humanity were good hours, One among them. Voyager didn’t have much of an arc plot, but season four also saw major developments in what arcs it did have, particularly in the hilarious Message In A Bottle. Add The Killing Game Parts 1&2 for a story that doesn’t make much sense if you look at it too closely, but it isn’t half fun to watch.
Bride Of Chaotica!
Someone To Watch Over Me
Equinox Part 1
Unintentional hilarity aside, Voyager often did comedy really quite well, and Bride Of Chaotica! is surely its funniest hour. Timeless, the show’s 100th episode, is excellent, Drone is less about the Borg than you might think, while Counterpoint and Latent Image are strong, bittersweet instalments. The season once again goes out with a strong cliffhanger in Equinox Part 1.
Equinox Part 2
Blink Of An Eye
Equinox Part 2 continues Voyager’s tradition of providing mostly satisfying resolutions to cliffhangers, while Riddles and Memorial once again give the cast a chance to shine with dramatic material. Add Muse for some fun meta-fiction.
Body And Soul
Workforce Parts 1&2
Body And Soul and most of Author, Author continue Voyager’s strong set of light-hearted episodes, while Lineage is one of its best character pieces as well as a nice little science fiction story, and a perfect bookend to season one’s Faces. Add Endgame for a finale that does the job well enough, though it included some serious misfires that mean it would be left off most people’s Best Of lists.
Route 2: Crossovers and connections
Voyager is, so far, the latest-set Star Trek series – only the Next Generation feature film Nemesis (plus the odd time travel story) is set further in the future. As a series, then, it offers conclusions rather than foundations for later series. There’s still some crossover fun to be had, though.
As is usually the case, the pilot episode features as appearance from a regular character from another series of Star Trek, in this case, Deep Space Nine’s Quark (logically enough, as the ship sets off from Deep Space Nine). Add Eye Of The Needle for a rare appearance of a Romulan in the Delta Quadrant.
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Reg Barclay made a number of appearances on Voyager, beginning with Projections. Death Wish also features a very brief (one-line) cameo from another Next Generation regular.
Flashback is Voyager’s celebratory episode marking 30 years of Star Trek, and it lives in the shadow of Deep Space Nine’s spectacular Trials and Tribble-ations, but is decent enough itself, featuring appearances from Original Series characters Hikaru Sulu and Janice Rand. False Profits is a direct sequel to Next Generation episode The Price.
There were no crossovers as such in season four, but Message In A Bottle and Hunters refer to events from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Voyager’s 100th episode features a cameo from The Next Generation’s Levar Burton, who also directed.
Pathfinder, featuring Barclay and another Next Generation character, Deanna Troi, was the beginning of a new plot development that would see Barclay and other Alpha Quadrant characters appearing more regularly, including in Life Line.
As in season six, we get a couple more forays into the Alpha Quadrant, mostly featuring Barclay.
Route 3: The shipping news
As ever, romance is not entirely Star Trek’s forte, but Voyager did manage to produce one of its better-realised romantic couplings, as well as a relationship or two that had audiences rooting for further developments (and, it has to be said, some less successful efforts….).
State Of Flux
Faces lays the groundwork for Voyager’s most successful romantic pairing, while Caretaker and The Cloud feature both the early stable relationship of Neelix and Kes and the quick establishment of a relationship and a dynamic between Janeway and Chakotay that had large numbers of fans hoping for further romantic developments between them. State Of Flux focuses on one of Chakotay’s more tumultuous romantic entanglements.
Elogium is pretty terrible, but it’s one of the more significant Neelix/Kes episodes, though Tuvix is much better. Parturition is even worse, largely because it focuses on the early Neelix/Kes/Paris love triangle (though on the plus side, it features an actual food fight). Non Sequitur features one of Harry Kim’s least disastrous romantic interludes, while Resolutions is the only episode that properly addresses the Janeway/Chakotay connection that was so popular among fans. Technically, Threshold, an episode so bad it was later written out of Star Trek canon, features two regular characters having sex with each other (and babies, even). It’s not exactly romantic, though – but earlier scenes do play up the Paris/Kes and (more briefly) Paris/Torres ships in a more serious way, before it all goes totally bonkers. Add Persistence Of Vision for visuals on B’Elanna’s sexual fantasies.
The Q And The Grey
Harry finds a woman who is a) not real and b) prefers a Vulcan over him in Alter Ego, so his romantic prospects continue to worsen. The Q And The Grey suggests that Janeway’s pulling power is really quite extraordinary and Coda plays up the Janeway/Chakotay relationship a little, though by Unity he’s gone off her and started pursuing Borg. Blood Fever properly kicks off the Paris/Torres relationship, but Displaced features a rather more nuanced look at that pairing. Add The Chute if you’re a fan of slash fiction (all potential subtext, this being 1990s Star Trek) and Remember for B’Elanna experiencing someone else’s romantic relationship. Favorite Son features another of Harry Kim’s doomed romances, but it’s not worth watching for that reason. Or any reason, really, except to laugh at rather than with it.
Day Of Honor
The Killing Game Parts 1&2
Vis A Vis
This is Paris and Torres’ season as far as romance goes, though Chakotay gets it on with Virginia Madsen in Unforgettable. Add The Gift for the resolution of Kes’s relationships, and Waking Moments for a glimpse into Harry Kim’s romantic fantasies.
Someone To Watch Over Me
Romance for Chakotay in Timeless, Janeway in Counterpoint, Janeway’s ancestor in 11:59, Tuvok (well, romantic feelings directed at Tuvok) in Gravity and unrequited love for the Doctor in Someone To Watch Over Me. Nothing Human is probably the best episode for Paris/Torres in this season; in Extreme Risk, B’Elanna’s friend and former crush actually does more to help her than her boyfriend. Add Course: Oblivion for more romantic scenes.
Ashes To Ashes
Alice (along with, to an extent, Memorial) is the main Paris/Torres episode from this season. Theoretically, Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are romantic episodes, but that’s no reason to watch quite possibly the worst episodes of any series of Star Trek ever made. Ashes To Ashes is rather nonsensical, but as Kim’s annual doomed romances go, it’s a sight better than Favorite Son or The Disease.
Body And Soul
Workforce Parts 1&2
Making up for lost time and tying off some loose ends, romance was everywhere in season seven, for Paris and Torres (Drive, Lineage, Prophecy, Workforce, Endgame), Janeway (Shattered, which revisits Janeway/Chakotay briefly, and Workforce), the Doctor (Body And Soul, Endgame) and Neelix (Homestead). The main relationship highlighted in Human Error and Natural Law and also concluded in Endgame was, shall we say, not very popular, but if it has any fans, those are the episodes to watch.
Route 4: OK, this might be why Voyager isn’t everyone’s favourite…
Like all series of Star Trek, Voyager also produced some entertainingly bad stinkers that are truly entertaining when hate-watched with friends. Maybe even a higher than usual number. We’ve still avoided the truly dull episodes for the most part, though – these are terrible in a hilarious and sometimes spectacular way.
It’s a classic Voyager quote – “There’s coffee in that nebula!” – but that doesn’t make The Cloud any good. It does, however, make it entertaining. Parallax and Learning Curve are pretty bad too, but also very dull (Learning Curve is worth watching only for the equally classic line “Get the cheese to sickbay!”).
It’s tempting, even as a fan, to say ‘all of it’, but some season two episodes are actually quite good (see above) while most of the rest are deathly dull. However, Elogium features space sperm trying to have sex with the ship, Twisted has everyone get lost on Deck 6 (a normal day for some of us who are navigationally challenged) and Parturition features two senior officers having a food fight in the mess hall. For some people, add The Thaw, which is Voyager’s equivalent of Marmite.
And then there’s Threshold. Threshold, frequently derided as the worst episode of Star Trek ever made, is truly glorious in its awfulness. One of the tragedies of the episode is that Robert Duncan McNeil puts in a really passionate performance and some of the material, if attached to a different story, would be some really nice body horror stuff. But all you have to do is read a summary of the events of the episode (including impossible speeds, a shuttle that turns into the Infinite Improbability Drive from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, crew members turning into giant lizard-slug-things, and giant lizard sex) to see how stupendously ridiculous, but importantly also truly entertaining in its own special way, it is. If you haven’t heard of it, though, skip the online summaries and just watch it, preferably with a very large drink in hand, and let the B movie daftness wash over you. It’s so, so very awful, I think I kinda love it.
The Q And The Grey
Nothing can quite compare to the high/low that was Threshold, but The Q And The Grey follows up one of the best Q episodes with one of the daftest, Blood Fever demonstrates that the practicalities of ponn farr were probably best left behind in the 1960s, and Favorite Son is… well it’s nearly as ridiculous as Threshold, actually, but not quite so spectacularly entertaining, as Harry Kim falls for a lure so transparent only someone as stupid as the Cat from Red Dwarf (in series six’ Psirens, when the same trick is tried on him) could be expected to fall for it.
Season Four is Voyager’s strongest season overall, and its mis-fires tend to be dull or dubious rather than entertainingly hilarious, though if you enjoy ridiculous ‘science’, you might enjoy Demon.
Once Upon A Time
Once Upon A Time’s main plot is just a bit dull, but it features one of those horrifying children’s holodeck programmes also sometimes seen on The Next Generation. The Disease is another Harry Kim romance episode. It is, in its defense, slightly better than Favorite Son.
Everyone talks about Threshold, but for me, these are by far the worst episodes of Voyager, and probably of all of Star Trek (yes, including Spock’s Brain). Offensive on every level, especially if you have Irish ancestry, and don’t even think about the practicalities of the captain retiring to a private room with a holographic character, on a holodeck – that is, a small, square room with no real walls, furniture etc. in it, that could easily malfunction at any moment – still also inhabited by other people, to have sex. Ew.
Prophecy revolves around a Klingon messianic prophecy, while Q2 features Q’s teenage son (played by John de Lancie’s real life son Keegan, who is a perfectly good actor, but the material is cringe-inducing). ‘Nuff said.
Route 5: Time travel
In season three, Captain Janeway expressed her extreme dislike of time travel and time paradoxes. She might as well have been a horror movie character saying “I’ll be right back.”
Time And Again
Eye Of The Needle
Time And Again is by the numbers but perfectly serviceable Star Trek, while Eye Of The Needle is Voyager’s first really classic episode – perhaps that’s why they decided to feature the wonders of time travel quite so often in later years.
Technically there are no real time travel episodes in this season, though a couple of characters appear out of time in Death Wish.
Future’s End Parts 1&2
Before And After
Some of the Voyager crew’s ongoing problems with time travel are kicked off in Future’s End, while Before And After is a rather good backwards episode. Flashback, as the title implies, features flashbacks, though not actual time travel.
Year Of Hell Parts 1&2
Add The Killing Game for a holodeck-based episode in which much of the crew believe they are people living in Earth’s past.
Like Year Of Hell, Timeless is a really great episode, and things aren’t entirely re-set by the end (only mostly). Relativity is also good fun and features a visual homage to classic Powell and Pressburger film A Matter Of Life And Death. 11:59 is composed primarily of extensive flashbacks to the past, but not actual time travel.
Blink Of An Eye
Blink Of An Eye is more about time differential than time travel, but it represents this season’s game of playing with the fourth dimension.
Shattered uses a rather dubious time-related incident to revisit some of the show’s highlights and point to its future, while Endgame, like The Next Generation finale All Good Things, shows us a possible future for the crew, but by the end of the episode, everything may have changed.