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 five…
* Latent Image. A really lovely piece of storytelling, this. It’s an existential meditation on the nature of individualism; an ethical debate about the power of guilt; and a compelling sci-fi plot all in one. The ship’s self-aware Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo) realises that some of his memories have been deleted and he pleads with his colleagues, all of whom know what he’s ‘forgotten’, to restore them. Picardo is terrific – as he has been throughout Star Trek: Voyager. So too is Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway, who must wrestle with her own moral quandaries and her doubts over whether the Doctor counts as a life form.
* Night. A bizarre little season opener. With no cliffhanger to pick up from the previous run, we rejoin the crew two months later. They’re travelling through a huge void of empty space, which will take two years to cross, and it’s having a terrible affect on morale. Boredom sets in, tempers are frayed, some crew turn to frivolous distractions such as the Buck Rogers-style VR game favoured by Lieutenant Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). Captain Janeway, meanwhile, is wracked with guilt over their plight and has become a snarky recluse. It’s decent drama – certainly more drama than many earlier episodes bothered with – even if ennui is a peculiar theme with which to launch a new season of an action-orientated show. The crew eventually come up against a plot-of-the-week that re-energises them, and along the way there’s also a fun maritime metaphor going on: it’s like Voyager is drifting in the doldrums.
* Extreme Risk. During a mission to build a new shuttle quickly enough to beat some aliens to a prize, chief engineer Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is distant and sullen. She’s also secretly self-harming via dangerous holodeck games. A downbeat episode focused on character.
* Timeless. A razzle-dazzle time-travel special from new showrunner Brannon Braga, but with a twist: it’s only a message that travels through time, not characters. Fifteen years into a possible future, Commander Chakotay (Robert Berltran) and Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) are the only survivors of Voyager after an accident, so they attempt to change their history for the better…
* Counterpoint. A well-structured and paced episode that sees a character story for Janeway woven into a thriller plot. It’s another showcase for Kate Mulgrew, who’s been consistently watchable and impressive. (There’s a parallel universe out there somewhere in which the Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold played Janeway. In our reality, she was hired but then let go after two disastrous days’ filming. Mulgrew stepped in to replace her; we got the better end of that bargain.) Mark Harelik guest stars as an alien cop who repeatedly searches Voyager under the pretence that the ship is flying through his jurisdiction. He’s looking for refugees – who we know Janeway is hiding – and spars entertainingly with the captain. The two actors have chemistry, especially after a plot twist brings their characters closer. The episode also represents a welcome change of emphasis that’s been happening in Star Trek: Voyager since last season – events now take place is a murkier, harsher, more cynical and less delineated world. The cosiness levels have been reduced.
* Bride of Chaotica! A slice of throwaway nonsense as a blah-blah-blah plot device forces characters to play a holodeck programme based on a 1930s movie serial.
* Gravity. A not-bad one about Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) falling for an alien woman (played by Lori Petty) when he and Paris are stranded with her on a planet.
* Bliss. All the crew are brainwashed into thinking they’ve found a way home – all except the former Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
* Dark Frontier. A feature-length epic: a balls-to-the-wall action movie with a huge-impact plot and plenty of drama. The Borg Queen, who had debuted in a recent Star Trek movie, shows up. The story also casts doubt on Seven of Nine’s loyalties and adds more texture to her mother/daughter-like relationship with Janeway. Great incidental music too.
* Juggernaut. A passable episode about a radiation-affected alien ship that may have a monster on board. The scenes on the alien craft are nicely shot and the aliens themselves are refreshingly normal.
* 11.58. You do have to make your peace with the groansome idea of a regular cast member playing their character’s ancestor – in this case, Kate Mulgrew stars as Janeway’s 15-times great-grandmother, a down-on-her-luck wannabe engineer who falls for a stubborn bookshop owner in the year 2000. But once you do, this flashback tale is a nice diversion from Voyager’s usual storylines. There’s also an extra layer. In the present-day scenes, Janeway learns about her forebear’s life but comes to realise that maybe the process of history cannot be relied on to be wholly accurate.
* Relativity. A head-scratchingly convoluted time-travel episode, which appears drunk on its own twists and turns but ends up being frothy fun.
* Someone to Watch Over Me. An earlier episode is almost as bad – Nothing Human, in which various characters treat a computer-generated image of a war criminal as if it were the real person (kinda like shouting at a photo of Hitler). But at the risk of sounding like a Millennial who’s seen Friends on Netflix and thinks it’s racist, Someone to Watch Over Me feels so old-fashioned it actually hurts. The Doctor attempts to tutor Seven of Nine in the ways of dating (a human ritual that may, he explains, lead to marriage). Any Professor Higgins subtext is dwarfed by its antiquated and conservative social attitudes towards women, gender, sexuality and relationships. Eugh.
Next time: Season six