At what point is it safe to call oneself a Star Trek fan? I’ve seen a good chunk of TOS, and almost all of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I’ve a favourite episode and have selected my preferred position on the bridge (Security and Tactical), but I wouldn’t touch a pair of pointy ears with a ten-foot bat’leth, and perhaps most egregiously in the world of Trek fandom, I don’t hate Voyager.
So thoroughgoing is some Star Trek fans’ hatred of Berman, Piller and Taylor’s iteration of the franchise, it’s manifested in YouTube channels dedicated to Voyager’s idiocy and a canonically and legally accurate series of features called ‘The Court Martial of Captain Kathryn Janeway’.
Star Trek: Voyager is regarded with the same feelings of betrayal fanboys have shown for The Phantom Menace and the Mass Effect 3 ending. Even appreciating that Voyager is no masterpiece, its status as an object of derision baffles when you consider the tongue-in-cheek admiration a show like Farscape (which operates on a similar plain of stupidity) is held in by fans. The Fifth Element is as shallow as sci-fi gets, yet is popularly considered a cult classic.
No, with Star Trek: Voyager, the hatred is mostly about those first two words in the title. After all, what is Star Trek? For many it’s not just the most prominent science fiction franchise, it’s also the peak of the genre (yes, Doctor Who came first, but before the reboot, Whovians were comparatively niche and Trek had a much greater international presence thanks to the films), the ultimate marriage of hard science fiction with entertainment.
Star Trek presented a socialist utopia in which humanity had evolved beyond differences of gender, race and even species to work for the advancement of the whole. Then it used that utopia to facilitate battles to the death, tense dilemmas and Viagra viruses (The Naked Now in case you were wondering). And it did all this with sets, costumes and creatures so distinct that fans continue to imitate them to this day.
A lot changed between that and Voyager of course. The Next Generation eventually stopped trying to live up to Rodenberry’s utopia and allowed whole other worlds of conflict. Deep Space Nine would make its name actively challenging the concept in landmark episodes such as Homefront and In the Pale Moonlight. So when Voyager got flung into the Delta Quadrant it was now in a wild unknown where it was free to disregard the more restrictive elements of Rodenberry’s vision. Voyager was given every gift that the Star Trek universe had to offer and it mishandled every one of them.
Stranding the crew in the Delta Quadrant? Brilliant. Doing it by having the Captain protect a species with a lifespan shorter than my dog (oh the Ocampa)? Less so. Integrating Maquis freedom fighters into a Starfleet crew? Brilliant. Making them completely identical to the rest of the crew? Rubbish. Worse still, the show held the principles of the Federation – and by extension Rodenberry – as some kind of religious dogma, unwavering and immutable. The captain always had to be right, the prime directive could not be breached for any reason.
All this reached a horrible event horizon with Alliances when, to ensure Voyager’s survival, Janeway attempted to negotiate with an enemy race. It would be the beginning of a new Federation of sorts, and like so much about Voyager it was a potentially great idea, but what happened? All non-Starfleet races were once again demonised as existential ‘others’ to maintain the status quo. From then on it was clear that, unlike its predecessors, Voyager had no intention of experimenting with new ideas. It was the show that was trying the hardest to live up to the legacy of The Original Series and it never could.
Despite all this, I have never been able to bring myself to condemn Voyager. To this day I still watch the show and find pleasure in more than the prospect of being assimilated by Seven of Nine. Part of the reason was personal circumstance; I happened to stumble upon it on a good episode – season five’s Warhead, a tight ticking-clock dilemma featuring a standout performance from Robert Picardo. Even Voyager’s harshest critics have admitted that Picardo’s role as the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram, known as The Doctor is one of its saving graces. The man’s comedic flair can carry a scene even in an empty room.
On that note, let’s talk characters. Those on Trek have always represented the best of the best, symbols of how highly evolved twenty-fourth century humans were. Captain Picard and Mr Spock may as well have been gods on Olympus in terms of accessibility to me as a then-twelve-year-old viewer. Just by looking, you could tell they had never had to work at Argos or clean the bathroom like mere mortals. We were told the doors on the Enterprise were automatic but in truth they were just smart enough to get out of Kirk’s way.
The Voyager crew on the other hand, were a mismatched collection of incompetents. It doesn’t take much imagination to interpret Janeway as an inept captain, Neelix as a meddlesome nuisance, and Chief Engineer Torres as a university drop-out with anger issues. But in a strange kind of way characters who were rougher round the edges were a lot easier to get on board with. For people who make mistakes, a certain kinship is felt when watching TV characters do the same.
None of this makes for a great endorsement of the show, though if that’s what you’re looking for I’d strongly recommend seasons three through six when the Doctor began to take a much more prominent role, Seven of Nine was introduced and the Borg became a more common threat. For every clunker like The Q and the Grey and Spirit Folk, there was always a Dark Frontier, Life Line or The Thaw to enjoy. And without its diverse characters, schlocky action and comic tone I may never have watched any show that bore the Star Trek banner. Think of it as a gateway drug, if The Original Series was heroin; the ultimate high but a crippling way of life, then Voyager is cannabis; pleasant enough, easily accessible, but capable of permanent brain damage (Threshold anyone?).
There’s food for thought in that. Just how many other fans, like me, started watching The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and The Original Series because they enjoyed Voyager? And the thought of having missed out on great episodes like Tapestry, In the Pale Moonlight and Balance of Terror makes me rush right back to my original statement. I can’t say Voyager was a great show, but hate it? Never.
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