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Star Trek: Voyager is an American science-fiction TV series created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor. It is the fourth live-action series in the Star Trek franchise, and deals with the crew of the USS Voyager, which in the pilot episode is stranded 70,000 light years away on the other side of the galaxy.
Why It Rocks
Of all the Star Trek shows, it's the one that's truest to the franchise's ethos of "exploring strange new worlds" and "to boldly go where no-one has gone before", as TNG, DS9, and to a lesser extent TOS often tended to be spent defending the Federation from external threats. This show features the USS Voyager journeying across the galaxy on its way home, and discovering countless new worlds and civilizations.
The creators managed to resist the temptation to make this a grim tale of a crew struggling to survive and doing morally questionable things, with the show retaining an overall light-hearted and optimistic tone throughout. This means that the show has aged very well compared to the excessively dark and grim sci-fi shows that were starting to become prevalent during its first run.
A cast of characters that, with a few exceptions, are all memorable and well-acted, with the holographic Doctor and Seven of Nine (after her arrival at the start of Season 4) standing out.
It introduces some new and unique alien races, including the Hirogen, the Vidiians, and Species 8472.
The Borg are brought back as recurring adversaries at the end of Season 3, and the show fleshes them out even more than TNG already did, showing more in the way of ship types, installations, and how the collective actually works.
Captain Janeway is the franchise's first female lead, and outside of a couple of early mis-steps (such as her chewing out Ensign Kim for mis-gendering her by calling her "sir" in the pilot episode, despite this being correct military protocol), she manages to be a strong, believable character who avoids being a Mary Sue.
The usual exploration of social issues, which like other Star Trek shows from this era, is done without hitting the viewer over the head with them.
Great special effects.
Awesome title theme by Jerry Goldsmith, in one of his few TV composing credits.
As with TNG and to a lesser extent DS9, the first two seasons are on the weaker side. Many episodes from the first two seasons have Voyager facing off against the Kazon, a race of unimpressive Klingon knock-offs, and there are some infamously terrible episodes like "Threshold".
The early seasons are often guilty of having Voyager take severe damage one week, and then be completely fine the next week despite not having access to any drydock facilities.
While the middle seasons generally manage to do a good job of featuring the Borg more often than TNG without making them seem excessively weak, as the show drew to an end they started seeming more and more easily defeated. It eventually resulted in the show's finale seemingly have the Voyager crew destroy the entire Borg Collective once and for all, with one of the few things that Star Trek: Picard doing right being establishing that the Borg soon recovered and became a galactic threat once again.
Of all the Star Trek shows, it's the one that's probably the most guilty of using long scenes of technobabble to pad out episodes, and of using technobabble deus ex machinas to resolve storylines.
While an overall great character, Captain Janeway is written a little inconsistently; one episode she'll be shown as someone with strong and uncompromising morals no matter what the cost, and the next episode she'll suddenly be willing to compromise her ethics for the greater good. Even her actress, Kate Mulgrew, complained about this.
As per usual for the Star Trek franchise, a few of the characters don't stack up to the rest:
Commander Chakotay starts off as being Janeway's hard-nosed executive officer, but soon degenerates into being a generic and forgettable character whose only function is to command Voyager when Janeway is off the ship or incapacitated. The early seasons also try to use him for some laughably bad explorations of Native American culture, whose poor quality can be explained by the fact that their consultant on said culture later turned out to be a fraud with no actual Native American ancestry.
Ensign Harry Kim's sole defining characteristic is that he's an ensign. He never gets promoted, never undergoes any character development, and outside of the occasional focal episode in the later seasons (most notably "Timeless"), never does anything of note. He was actually supposed to be written out to make way for Seven of Nine at the start of Season 4, but was saved when his actor, Garrett Wang, appeared in a "World's Sexiest Men" article in a magazine (Kes was dropped from the show instead).
Neelix is supposed to provide comic relief by being a wacky alien who doesn't understand human culture and behavior, but the poor writing of his comic relief scenes and his overly arrogant personality makes him incredibly irritating during the first two seasons. He's written a lot better from the third season onwards, though can still be somewhat annoying at points.
Incredibly troubled production history: Just getting this show to air was incredibly problematic. Originally, Geneviève Bujold was to play Captain Janeway, but had no experience with a television schedule. Reportedly, there were also creative differences: Bujold had a habit of ad-libbing emotions and differing from the director's and producers' vision of the character. According to Rick Berman, no one on set believed she would last a week, but she had been brought in by the studio as a 'name' actor for the role. On the second day of shooting, Bujold walked off the set and did not return. (Making at least one crew member in the betting pool extremely happy). This caused a chain reaction of problems: The crew filmed what they could while trying to recast Janeway, but, being Star Trek, they sort of needed to have The Captain be prominent in the first episode. This led to production shutting down for two weeks. When they finally got Kate Mulgrew for the role, after viewing the rushes, they noted that the stage lighting didn't mix with Mulgrew's ginger hair, creating a blinding distraction in every shot. This prompted more reshoots (with a severe "bun" hairstyle on Mulgrew), most of them on-location, which were no longer available and thus more expensive. A favorite joke on set was wondering if the pilot would be finished before the series ended. Adjusted for inflation, Voyager 's pilot cost more than Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
But it was all worth it just to bring smiles to the fans' faces? Right? Actually, the debut of a female Captain provoked bomb threats.
Even earlier, when the show was in the conceptualization phase, the scuttlebutt on the convention circuit was that Voyager was intended to be the first show to feature a female captain, but that this might not happen due to resistance among staff higher-ups. Fans who wanted to see Star Trek's first major female captain were encouraged to write letters to the main opponent of the idea...showrunner Jeri Taylor. A woman.
In the writer's room, there was apparently a lot of friction over the direction of the series — some of the writers wanted to follow a more serialized pattern, others wanted an episodic approach. As everyone now knows, the latter prevailed: The first season introduced several story arcs that were either aborted or left untouched. The first attempt at a multi-episode character arc, in Season 2, with Tom Paris' erratic behavior and the traitor, was wrapped up in a manner most found unsatisfactory.
Even the fundamental premise was contentious. While it was always decided that Voyager would take place in the unexplored Delta Quadrant, and much of the series' tension would derive from the crew being decades away from any kind of oversight or assistance, the nature of this was changed around. Early pre-release material established Voyager as a short-range vessel, sort of Starfleet's answer to a PT Boat, meant to launch from a starbase, be out for a few weeks or a month or two, then come back. As a result, she would not be equipped with spacious rec decks, large-scale science labs, or even advanced sensors. A faction of the staff decided playing on the drama of a short-range ship stranded decades from home wasn't interesting, and they won out, and Voyager was retconned into a "long-range science vessel" to explain the lack of issues with regular maintenance and resupply... and leading viewers to wonder why a science vessel was out hunting Maquis raiders, didn't seem to have much in the way of science facilities and staff aboard, and was as heavily-armed as a Galaxy-class, despite being a fraction of the size. Elements of the earlier idea are still present in early scripts, such as Janeway noting they have plenty of photon torpedoes, but no way to replace them.
Similarly, much of the drama was intended to come from the mingling of the Maquis and Starfleet's crew. This was all but completely dropped partway through season one, and only sparsely brought up afterwards, apparently because the "no interpersonal conflict" rule Roddenberry had handed down for Next Gen was still in effect. Mind you, Voyager still had plenty of interpersonal conflict, it just didn't stem from the Starfleet/Maquis divide. As above, early episodes are clearly laying the seeds for greater issues with the Maquis crewmembers, and the implication that sooner or later, Janeway will have to do something Starfleet probably wouldn't approve of to resolve the situation. Instead, the Maquis suddenly become happy little Starfleeters and the conflict is barely referenced again.
When Deep Space Nine concluded, Ronald D. Moore joined the writing staff on Voyager. He left after an episode and a half due to the atmosphere in the writer's room, where he specifically was told, when asked how to write a character, "we don't know, do whatever." This led to a falling out between him and former frequent writing partner (and head of writing staff) Brannon Braga, who was no longer in any mood for collaboration. Braga essentially drummed Moore out of the job by refusing to let him attend meetings, even relocating the script conferences to his own house. In recent years, they appear to have patched things up.
Robert Beltran, who had agreed to play Chakotay just to act alongside Bujold, was not a happy camper for the seven-year run. Not long into the show's run, he stopped playing nice and openly expressed his loathing of the show's plot, his co-stars, the producers, himself for playing such a formulaic (and at times borderline racist) role, and the fans for watching it (causing some disillusioned Trekkies to flee a convention in tears). His co-stars fired back in separate interviews, and the showrunners publicly told him to muzzle it. There were even rumors that he attempted to force his exit from the show by demanding an outrageous amount of money during contract renegotiations, only to have it given to him without complaint. Years later, Beltran claimed on Reddit that the public took his "flippant" comments too seriously and that his overall experience with the show was positive. Of course, he was plugging a movie at the time.
According to one account, Jennifer Lien's departure from the show was a mix of tumultuous circumstances. During production of the "Scorpion" two-parter at the end of the third season, it was decided to bring on a new cast member. The producers didn't want to make the main cast go any higher than nine members, and were considering cutting Harry Kim's actor, Garrett Wang (supposedly because he was known to be lazy and missed filming for several episodes). However, Garrett's inclusion in a People magazine article (as one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in The World") in 1997 caused the producers to scramble to find someone else to fire, and the axe fell on Lien. Reportedly, she didn't even know she had been fired until she read the script for "The Gift", her farewell episode.
On top of that, according to Bryan Fuller, "The Gift" had been meant to be episode five of the season, having allowed an arc to build to Kes's departure. Instead, it's packed into a single episode.
You may recall how an additional cast member and second pilot revitalized Deep Space Nine. Well, lightning managed to strike twice, but Seven of Nine's arrival only aggravated the preexisting tensions in the cast. In spite of Paramount's frantic efforts to paper over the cracks, there were reports of an unnamed co-star making life difficult for Jeri Ryan. The cast member in question was widely suspected to be Mulgrew, and it became something of an Open Secret in Trekdom. After two decades of fixed smiles and refutations of 'tabloid gossip', everyone involved with the show dropped the mask and confirmed the rumor was true. Mulgrew was ticked off about a number of executive decisions—the firing of Lien, Jeri Taylor's habitual lateness in delivering scripts, and the writers shifting focus away from the Captain (nominally the show's star and spokesperson when dealing with the press) and toward the voluptuous Seven—and it's a wonder she didn't pop a blood vessel from frustration. Berman, in one of his rare inspired decisions, took advantage of the animus developing between his performers to pair Janeway/Seven up as much as possible, creating a memorable double act. In later years, Mulgrew has admitted the Seven character probably saved Voyager from cancellation, but that she resented sacrificing time with her family for a television series Janeway no longer starred in. Wang, who shares more in common with his character than he lets on, compared the Mulgrew/Ryan feud to his "mother and sister fighting", and says he was reduced to tears on more than one occasion. In fact, just talking about the experience makes him weep even today. He has even done his best to "broker peace" between the two actresses at convention halls—and he seems to have succeeded.
And none of this factors into the issues with Ryan's Future Spandex costume. Alongside being uncomfortable and delicate, it was downright dangerous, with the high collar pressing against Ryan's carotid artery and causing her to faint on set at least twice, alongside creating a production shutdown any time she needed to go to the bathroom (causing her to simply not drink and suffer from dehydration).
A particular favourite of Wang's stories to tell at conventions: the series finale's final shot was to end on a shot of Kim crying Manly Tears of joy at the crew's arrival home, with it starting as him having a touched smile, to full on tears. This shot did end up being in the show...in an entirely different context altogether. The shot was shortened to Kim weeping at the birth of another character's baby. Wang was extremely pissed at this, and phoned up CBS in a fit of rage to ask why it was used in hard context.
Hell, Wang himself was a punching bag for many of the producers. A whole list of reasons would end up as long as this page itself. It's a miracle he is able to go from con to con and tell stories about the experience with a sense of humour.
Wang had a couple of flare-ups with executive producer Rick Berman. When he asked the latter why he wasn't promoted higher than his character's standard rank, Berman replied, "Well, someone's got to be the ensign." Wang has also gone on record as stating that an early interview with a reporter caused Berman to deny him the chance to direct an episode purely out of spite. (He is to date the only actor on any series in the franchise to have a request to direct an episode be refused.)
But he's not entirely blameless. Reportedly, during the first two seasons, he so frequently came in late and hungover from his weekends in Vegas that he was put on notice, and even though he did clean up his act was discreetly punished by being largely written out of a few episodes.