Othering and gender roles trope in Star Trek Voyager’s Captain Proton
The Adventures of Captain Proton is a noticeable holodeck adventure series within Voyager. In it, Tom Paris gets to play the dashing space hero of a serial space adventure from earth’s “ancient history” of the 1930s with various crewmembers as supporting characters.
It is ironic how much it harkens back to many tropes the entire Star Trek franchise was built on overturning. In particular the ‘othering’ and gender roles tropes within Captain Proton were not found in Star Trek, which was known for featuring characters of different ethnicities and having women take more active roles in the show.
By demoting Harry Kim to sidekick and not giving Constance Goodheart or Queen Arachnia character depth, leaving them in gender-specific roles, Captain Proton is actually a call back to the science fiction that came before Star Trek and shows just how much Star Trek itself changed the science fiction landscape.
How Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Proton looked at old science fiction tropes
Othering Trope – Why is Harry Kim the sidekick?
It is important to note that when The Original Series premiered it broke grounds for overturning many of the tropes Captain Proton is built on. For example, Uhura and Sulu are front and center in the bridge and often take a key role in the action of various episodes, such as Mirror Mirror where Uhura tricks the Mirror-verse Sulu so she can help get her and her fellow crew mates back to the regular universe.
Compare this to the role Harry Kim has in the Captain Proton adventures – Buster Kincaid, sidekick to Proton. He’s even tied up for Proton to rescue alongside Proton’s secretary, Constance Goodheart. Asian Buster Kincaid (played by Garret Wang) is reduced to letting the white Captain Proton (played by Robert Duncan McNeil) save him, reducing his own agency. Is this also reflected in how Harry Kim remained an ensign for the entire mission?
Something also striking is how there are no other characters of color in Captain Proton. While Tuvok would not have chosen to join the others in Captain Proton, none of the other characters of color from the crew showed up in Captain Proton either. Fans rightly criticized Chakotay’s characterization and how his Native American culture was written, especially as Alex Jacobs for ICT writes about how the deception of Jack Marks was revealed so writing a respectful Native American role for Chakotay in Captain Proton could have made the Captain Proton adventures more nuanced and improved Chakotay’s character arc.
Gender Roles Trope – Constance Goodheart versus Queen Arachnia
Another uncomfortable trope Captain Proton invokes is the dichotomy of women in science fiction – helpless damsel in distress or femme fatale. Constance Goodheart barely has a personality, usually reduced to screaming for help. TOS had their almost equivalents in Rand and Chapel, yet both had some hints towards more complex characterizations. Both returned in the films with the original crew, having been promoted offscreen, indicating they worked hard during the intervening years and had lives outside of romantic entanglements with Kirk and Spock respectively.
Queen Arachnia takes the opposite role, she is the seductive, cunning, powerful villain who uses her pheromones to turn men to her whim. Janeway as Arachnia charms Doctor Chaotica to get him to let the crew try to fight off the aliens who have infected the ship, but he does intend to kill Arachnia, after their wedding night, making her power fleeting and only based on how Chaotica feels about her.
In TOS, many women were allowed to go beyond these stereotypes, Uhura was seen as a superb comms officer, took over for Sulu when needed, and even commanded the Enterprise while also enjoying music and expressing sexual desire. Many of the female one episode guest stars were accomplished scientists or researchers, such as Charlene Masters.
Captain Proton is a reflection of what Star Trek emerged from
While Captain Proton is meant to be Tom Paris’ escapism holodeck adventure, it oddly reflects the past of science fiction. The white male lead gets to save the day while his Asian sidekick is reduced to being tied up and the women in the holodeck adventure are either damsels in distress or femme fatales. These tropes, othering and gender roles, were very much de rigeur in the science fiction that preceded Star Trek and got subverted by Star Trek itself.
Captain Proton serves as a history lesson for science fiction. It highlights how much science fiction itself has evolved from the days of serials and B movies by having more diversity on and off camera and creating characters who went beyond traditional gender roles. Star Trek created an entire show within a show that highlighted these tropes in Captain Proton.