Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season six…
* Blink of an Eye. Some of the dramatic detail is rushed, certainly, but this story is built on a bold and inventive science-fiction idea. Voyager gets trapped in the orbit of a planet where time is moving much more swiftly. So for every second aboard the ship (and elsewhere in the universe), a year passes on the planet’s surface. We cut between scenes of the Voyager crew attempting to free themselves before they do too much damage… and scenes down on the ground as *centuries* pass by. Various generations of the populous look up at this strange object circling above them. Some are scared, others enraptured; there are attempts to investigate, explain and mythologise it. We watch omnisciently as Voyager’s presence has a profound effect on the planet through prehistory, medieval culture, a renaissance, and eras equivalent to our Victorian and space-race periods. Then an astronaut (Daniel Dae Kim, later of Lost and Hawaii Five-O) makes contact with the Voyager crew… There are deeply woven themes of religious superstition, scientific endeavour, fear and ignorance, as well as the domino effect of consequences. A lovely subplot also sees the ship’s hologrammatic Doctor (Robert Picardo) spend three years living down on the surface. He’s only gone from the ship for a blip, but in that times he makes friends, falls in love and becomes a stepfather.
* Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy. A playful episode that sees the Doctor begin to believe that his vainglorious daydreams are true.
* Alice. In this pervy story, helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) becomes obsessed – to the point of sexual fantasy! – with a shuttlecraft.
* Riddles. It’s a humdrum mystery plot but the character element, which sees security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ) lose his knowledge and memories, is surprisingly tender and effective. It plays like a great man afflicted by dementia, which opens his eyes to a different way of viewing the world.
* One Small Step. Sentimentality dominates as the crew find a 300-year-old command module from an early Mars mission in a space anomaly, which sparks off a discussion of discovery, exploration and wonder. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) at first has no interest in something so antiquated, but learns the power of history and context.
* Voyager Conspiracy. A gimmicky episode but an enjoyable one. Seven develops paranoia and fears that Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) are colluding in a secret mission.
* Pathfinder. An excellent sidestep, as we cut to recurring Starfleet character Lieutenant Reg Barclay back home in the Alpha Quadrant and his obsession with finding a way to contact Voyager. Reg has always been an interesting, well played character, and his no small success in this episode has emotional punch.
* Live Fast and Prosper. The crew become aware of a gang of aliens who are crudely impersonating them and ripping people off. There are some fun details, such as the con artists’ Starfleet uniforms being *just* off, as well as a few twists in the lighthearted plot.
* Muse. Chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is stranded on a pre-industrial planet, where she and her descriptions of Voyager become the inspiration for a local playwright. We get some neat discussion of how stories work, self-referential jokes, some good costumes (especially the masks used the performances of the poet’s plays) and even a hint of Shakespearean grandeur (the poet uses his scripts to influence the opinion of the local king, a la Hamlet).
* Fury. Kes (Jennifer Lien) returns after 73 episodes’ absence. It’s a time-travel special, with a convoluted structure, but it’s also a daring use of an old regular character. The years away have not been kind to her and she wants revenge on her former friends, so this is a rare Star Trek plot driven by the bitterness and regret of a ‘good’ character.
* Life Line. Since day one, the Emergency Medical Hologram character has been one of this show’s true successes – a really interesting character and a performance that marries sarcasm with sincerity. Here, the Doctor is beamed halfway across the galaxy, all the way back to the Alpha Quadrant, and actor Robert Picardo also plays the EMH’s human designer, who is suffering from an inexplicable ailment. It’s a rather sweet episode, with of course the prerequisite number of split-screen shots to show us both characters at the same time. (Just generally, this season’s slow-burn story arc about the Voyager crew finally having contact with colleagues back home has worked very well.)
* Fair Haven. Nothing better illustrates the old-fashioned nature of Star Trek: Voyager than the fact that the game-changing episode Pathfinder is directly followed by a trivial, disposable story which makes no mention of the new status quo. In Fair Haven, various characters enjoy visiting a holodeck fantasy recreation of 19th-century Ireland. (Well, a 19th-century Ireland that looks like the standing set on an LA studio backlot, anyway.) But Janeway then takes an uncharacteristic interest in one of the avatars, even artificially tailoring him to her tastes. Any dramatic substance about the captain’s loneliness is swamped by a parade of awful Irish accents, stereotypes and tweeness. Later in the season, Fair Haven gets a sequel. It’s also terrible.
Next time: Season seven