Why Star Trek Voyager was the worst of all

“Voyager” has a reputation for being awful. And I agree with this. But maybe not for the reason commonly cited.

It’s an article of faith amongst some people that Voyager is panned simply because it had a woman in the captain’s chair. I have no doubt that there are plenty of Neanderthals out there who do have this stupid knee jerk reaction. I remember some of the media speculation around having a female captain, and how the audience would take it. I didn’t understand why this was a big deal. Hmm, this was 1995 so I would have been 25 or 27. I’d grown up with Heinlein and others. I had a strong mother (smarter than my father). I knew women were just as capable as men. So why wouldn’t there be a female captain? (Pretty sure we’d seem them in ST:TNG as well, just not as the lead character).

The show started and… ugh, the voice. Janeway’s voice was grating. But… I got used to it. Just like having to get used to a new Doctor Who, I got used to Janeway’s voice.

Now ST:DS9 had already been running for a couple of years so the idea of a combined crew not uniquely Star Fleet was well established. The combined Maquis/Fleet would have worked. But that’s not what we got; we got a “determined Star Fleet” ship, with some of the tension being how the Maquis fit in. Disappointment #1.

But that’s not the real problem I had with the show.

Babylon 5 had just completed its run. It changed how SciFi TV story telling was done. Good shows were no longer episodic in nature; they were one linear story told over multiple episodes. Things were revealed, consequences had actions. We didn’t ‘reset at the end of the episode’.

Now previous Star Trek stories were definitely episodic. TOS and TNG were products of their time; everything was episodic. DS9 started that way, but midway through they realised “hey, story arcs are good!” and built one around the war with the Dominion. The characters grew and changed; actions had consequences that continued on. The story now had “state”.

Voyager started episodic… and continued episodic. It never grew; it never changed. “Whee! we got a super-duper transwarp drive! Home in 2 weeks! Oh, but we can’t use it ever again ‘cos it’d break the ship. Back to 69 more years of travel…“. Seriously, that happened!

And, somehow, despite being beyond the reach of Star Fleet and short on energy (hence needing Neelix to create fresh food) there’s always more photon torpedoes, spare parts. That’s all replicated? Ha, no.

There’s one episode in season 5 where Tom Paris gets demoted from Lt down to Ensign. Now, other than his title changing in every episode afterwards everything else is exactly the same. There’s no change in the character, in the way Janeway acts towards him. There’s no real consequence. It’s just a name change.

This is why Voyager was the worst Star Trek of all; it’s method of story telling was 5 years or more out of date before it started. We’d seen the future (Babylon 5), and Voyager was a disappointment in comparison. If it had been done 7 years earlier then it would have stood up pretty well (definitely better than Enterprise in many respects; that bloody Temporal War…), but it wasn’t. It was old school story telling, made even more prominent by DS9 overlapping and using the new school.

I finally bought the Voyager DVDs (they were on sale, cheap) and I’m in the middle of watching them (just about to finish season 5). As an episodic series I like it. The distance of time can make me forget that I expected more, I expected better. If I mentally place it “pre-B5” then I can forgive the episodic sins (except the infinite photon supply!). It’s good harmless fun. But I know that I can watch 50 more episodes and nothing’s gonna change (until the series finale when “magic happens”). You have to take each episode on their own and not expect anything more than 45 minutes of entertainment.