Star Trek: Voyager and its epic pilot “Caretaker” promised to take us on a brand new journey. Did it promise too much, or was it just enough to tease much more to come?
Just a couple of years after Deep Space Nine began and the next year after The Next Generation ended, we got a brand new series with a promising premise. It was also a return to form for those who weren’t getting enough of a vaguely Enterprise-esque shaped starship flying around space in a way that Deep Space Nine wasn’t delivering.
Looking back on a pilot decades after it has aired makes it impossible to review it with complete objectivity. We all know where the show went. For Star Trek: Voyager‘s pilot “Caretaker,” let’s take a look at what it seemed to promise compared to what it delivered.
The Delta Quadrant
The promise: A ship getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant where we know at least one dangerous foe of the Federation is from (ahem… Borg). What could be better? Star Trek has built itself on exploring the unknown and this was perfect.
What we got: I would say the series pretty much succeeded on this point, for the most part. I would say it took a few seasons to hit its stride, and I always found the Kazon to be a bit of a joke that somehow still managed to be dangerous to the Voyager.
There were plenty of other mysterious beings and races to encounter, but I think everyone was waiting on the Borg. Finally getting to see them sure was a payoff, but was it too late? Or even too soon? Even the Borg cubes became about as threatening as Rubik’s cubes by the end of the series.
Conflict among the crew
The promise: Integrating Maquis and Starfleet on the same tiny ship for an extended voyage? Sounds dramatic. Sounds dangerous. Sounds fun!
What we got: While there were a few episodes explicitly about this matter, everything became a bit too hunky dory too quickly. Chakotay went from being tattooed Maquis bad boy to spiritual friend of the crew in just a few days it seemed. B’Elanna actually maintained her character most successfully, but she eventually romanced the man her former commander hated.
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Perhaps everyone just realized there was no use in holding old grudges while everyone is trying to do the same thing: get back home. However, it would have been more fun to see these divisions remain a bit more deeply seated than what we got.
Neelix and the space elf Kes
The promise: Neelix could be a valuable and strange ally in the even stranger Delta Quadrant, and Kes, his girlfriend(?), is this mysterious alien woman who is naive but good-hearted and she could be the emotional core of the show… or something.
What we got: Neelix was… Neelix. He seemed potentially heroic when he saved Kes and shot the crates of water at the Kazon camp in the pilot. But after that he became chatty, annoying chef with culinary knowledge only surpassed by his awareness of every culture and space landmark in the quadrant. He reminds of Jorah from Game of Thrones. Every time the ship traveled somewhere new he’d have something to say.
And Kes? They tried with Kes. They really did. She ultimately became this super being type thing. And they used that to kick her off the show to make room for Seven of Nine, because of ratings and sexual appeal. Audiences just didn’t say yes to the Kes.
The promise: Star Trek’s first leading lady to be captain. She was butt-kicking with a collapsible hair bun that reacted to danger. When her hair got messy, you know there was trouble. She was tough as nails on the clock, but had her own moments of vulnerability that her male colleagues from other series rarely showed.
What we got: Star Trek’s first leading lady to be captain. She was butt-kicking with a collapsible hair bun that reacted to danger. When her hair got messy, you know there was trouble. She was tough as nails on the clock, but had her own moments of vulnerability that her male colleagues from other series rarely showed.
Seriously, Janeway was the ultimate fusion of all captains who preceded her, for better or for worse. For me I think it’s for the better. Kate Mulgrew was perfectly cast at the last moment, and thankfully that was the case. Test footage from the previous lady cast as Janeway was, well… just see for yourself.
And now the conclusion
Voyager seemed like the biggest deal to me when I was a kid. My family watched it, especially my mother who adored Captain Janeway after years of seeing only men in charge. While the show wasn’t as successful as its predecessors, I think it carved out its own niche in the fan base.
I love the crew, almost all of them anyway, and I find their ever-present journey home to be a great motive to drive an entire series. Maybe it didn’t push boundaries like Deep Space Nine did, or even set the boundaries the way the first two series did, but it didn’t have to. I think we can give this quirky, campy, sometimes confusingly strange series its due, post-warp-barrier-breaking-space-geckos and all.