Star Trek Voyager: Caretaker

“It’s a fine crew. And I’ve gotta get them home.”

‘Caretaker’ was originally shown as a single double-length episode, so I’m reviewing both parts together here.

Whatever else critics have to say about Star Trek: Voyager (least beloved offspring of the Star Trek stable until Enterprise came along) there are two things most agree on. One, Voyager has the best credit sequence of any of the Trek shows, with a stirring theme and beautifully rendered graphics showing assorted space phenomena. And two, it also has one of the best pilots.

The first half hour of Voyager’s pilot is stunning. It wants to be Star Wars – it actually opens with a text crawl explaining some of the backstory and a shot of a spaceship passing above the camera. We meet three of our regulars-to-be mid-battle, entering the ominously named ‘Badlands’. Brief introductions for the rest of the Starfleet contingent follow, but one of the things that makes Voyager’s pilot unique is that half the apparent cast will be killed off within the first twenty minutes.

Coming to the pilot with a full knowledge of the show, it’s hard to imagine what first time viewers thought as they watched what looked like the standard Star Trek cast come together – hot Betazoid, grouchy doctor, authoritative First Officer. Did they guess which of these were, ultimately, expendable? (The answer is ‘all of them’). I’d say the Betazoid pilot was probably more obviously marked for death since we’d already heard Paris’ boast that he was the best pilot around (the accidental deaths of three fellow cadets notwithstanding) – but the Doctor must have come as quite a surprise.

Following an action-packed beginning, things slow down a bit once Voyager has been dragged into the Delta Quadrant and the crew transported to what looks like an all-American farm (which must be thoroughly confusing to the remaining Vulcan crewmember). It wouldn’t be a Star Trek pilot without a god-like alien working mischief, but at least the titular Caretaker has more solid motivation than most, in his desire to protect the short-lived Ocampans from environmental disaster and Klingons with bad hair. The Kazon are one of the pilot’s misfires, one which would unfortunately be repeated throughout Voyager’s first two seasons before we finally got rid of them, but luckily we don’t spend too much time with them here.

One of the things Voyager’s pilot was determined to do was to make the set-up ‘darker’, following the success of the ‘darker’, more soap-opera-like Deep Space Nine. So we have one regular who’s an ex-con, one who’s a mercenary intergalactic rag-and-bone man, two terrorists and even the Vulcan security officer is a pretty badass spy. The tension between the Starfleet crew and Chakotay’s one-man’s-terrorist-is-another’s-freedom-fighter group was supposed to be a source of on-going internal conflict in the series going forward. Neelix as written here is also a much darker and more selfish character than he later became, and although Paris achieves a level of redemption by the end of the pilot, he was supposed to be a bit harder-edged as well.

How much you like Voyager as a whole will ultimately depend whether you were deeply disappointed that the ‘darkness’ promised here wasn’t really carried through to the series proper. Personally, I like my Star Trek light, and was perfectly happy with the direction the show ultimately took. This is at least partly because the Maquis issue is, for me, better left alone. Originating on Deep Space Nine, it’s clear from the name ‘Maquis’, taken from the French Resistance, that we’re supposed to have a fair amount of sympathy with the terrorist group (Voyager’s finale aired in the summer of 2001 so it never had to back-peddle on Trek’s unfortunate 1990s habit of sympathising with terrorists). For me personally, I prefer quietly to pass over that aspect of the show’s set-up. On the other hand, it’s perhaps a shame that later episodes left the pilot behind so completely. Neelix, in particular, might have benefited from the more complex characterisation he’s given here.

But I digress – this review is for the pilot episode. Corny farm sequences aside, this is an action-packed hour and a half that introduces a diverse and interesting group of characters with plenty of potential. Best of all, with Voyager stuck on the wrong side of the galaxy, every planet is new and every situation unknown. Space is, for the first time since the original series, a real frontier – wild, lawless, unexplored. And that’s a very promising start for a new show.

Bits ‘n’ pieces

 - In the end, Voyager is stranded in the Delta Quadrant because Janeway made a choice she believed to be right. That’s one source of conflict that is sometimes revisited, and one of the most fruitful sources of internal drama on the ship.

 - Harry Kim sometimes seems worryingly like a slightly older version of Wesley Crusher, but he bounces well off both Paris and Torres, pairings to which the show would return many times.

 - It's traditional to see at least one cast member from a previous series in a new Star Trek pilot, and Quark is probably the best choice yet; his appearance feels natural and unforced, and provides nice character establishing moments for Kim and Paris.

 - The Ocampa are rather bland, but Kes is immediately likeable. It’s clear why Neelix fell for her – why she fell for him, less so.

 - The whole business with Chakotay’s life belonging to Paris because he saved him is cheesy and horrible and best forgotten. As, indeed, it is, by the next episode.

 - I completely love Tuvok, who manages to be ass-kicking, a constant source of dry wit and incredibly touching, while maintaining absolute Vulcan-ness at all times.

Quotes

Janeway: “Mr. Kim, at ease before you sprain something.”

Janeway: “I never seem to have a chance to get to know any of them… I have to take more time to do that.” Don’t worry Janeway, you’re about to get all the time you need.

The Doctor: “This is a sickbay, not a conference room.”

Janeway: “We’re alone, in an uncharted part of the galaxy. We’ve already made some friends here, and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we’re going to face, but one thing is clear; both crews are going to have to work together if we’re to survive. That’s why Commander Chakotay and I have agreed that this should be one crew – a Starfleet crew. And as the only Starfleet vessel assigned to the Delta Quadrant, we’ll continue to follow our directive: to seek out new worlds and to explore space.

But our primary goal is clear. Even at maximum speeds it would take 75 years to reach the Federation. But I’m not willing to settle for that… we’ll be looking for wormholes, spatial rifts or new technologies to help us. Somewhere along this journey, we’ll find a way back.

Mr. Paris, set a course – for home.”

An excellent start. Four out of four god-like aliens.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

19 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Woohoo!!! Juliette you're reviewing on Billie Doux?! AWESOME!!! :D

I for one always enjoyed Voyager as a whole, although there were a few storylines and episodes I didn't care much for. But you're right, the Pilot was excellent and quite surprising! The American farm thingy didn't do much for me though, I preferred meeting the Ocampa.

Neelix would have been better if they had kept him darker a bit longer, but I came to enjoy the loveable scoundrel so that's alright.

Never became too fond of Harry Kim or Chakotay, but I really liked Paris and Torres as well as Janeway. But my favourite had to be the Doctor! :o) I even didn't dislike Woolsey on SG-1 too much because he was Robert Picardo! (plus as a Star Trek fan how can you not like a guy whose last name is PICARDo?!) ;o)

How frequently are you going to write these? I might just watch along (again) with you! :o)

Juliette said...

Aw, thanks Cris!

Chakotay is definitely not my favourite character ever - I was kind of disappointed to realise the whole show starts with him! With Kim, it depends on the episode, same with Torres. I absolutely love Paris. Robbie McNeil signed a photo of us with kisses once :)

I'm hoping to get Voyager reviews up once or twice a week - I still don't know exactly what my work schedule will be next year, so I need to see how things turn out and how much time I have. Should be at least once a week I hope.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Welcome to the site, and great review!

Reading this brought me back to the show. I remember pretty clearly how much I liked the pilot. I was also one of the ones that didn't like the fact that they dropped the internal conflict with the Maquis, but the show did get better as it went along.

I have to count the Doctor as one of my favorite characters in all of Trek, even if I count some of the others on Voyager as some of my least favorites. But no matter, it's exciting to have another Star Trek show covered on the site, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your reviews.

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Juliette! You brought the show right back for me, so terrific review. My favorite Voyager character, hands-down, is Robert Picardo's holodoc. He took what could have been a boring character and absolutely ran with it.

Juliette said...

Thanks everyone!

The Doctor is fabulous. Picardo is brilliant - great singing voice too! He might even be my favourite unnamed Doctor in sci-fi... ;)

Josie Kafka said...

Welcome, Juliette!

ChrisB said...

As Mark would say, don't hate me, but I am so not a Star Trek fan.

But I really enjoyed this review, Juliette. Welcome to the site!

Anonymous said...

If there is anything I hate Voyager for, is that it negated the possibility of a very deserved and very needed final (8th) season for DS9. As the cast there said, they were promised more time "alone", but it looked like TNG ended, and the gears where already rotating at top speed to launch Voyager.

Berman and Braga where already on the way down, and it shows. Ron Moore and Ira Behr remained at DS9, and it shows. That's why there's so much ridiculousness in all of Voyager.

But limiting ourselves to the pilot, I felt it was a good one (for a ST pilot), but very uneven. Tuvok revealing himself immediately didn't make any sense. Converting the crew into a Starfleet crew didn't make any sense. Paris and Kim's "voyages" are not believable. Neither is Chakotay's spirituality (yeah, the "your life is mine"... ugh). Kes is bland, and Neelix just plain unlikable. Only Janeway (once you get used to her voice) and the Doctor pass the test.

Oh, and the fact that Paris was Tom Paris and not Nick Locarno speaks very badly about either Berman's & co. lack of sense of opportunity, and/or Paramount's greed for not wanting to pay royalties. Probably both.

So, much to like, much to dislike. In any case, it was clear from the first moment this was not going to be another TNG or DS9: since we saw that this time we got a flying toilet lid.

Mark said...

Count me among those who don't like Voyager. As Juliette pointed out, the pilot episode had a lot of promise. Which was (in my opinion) blandly wasted as the series went on.

I did like The Doctor. But the producers and writers should not get much of the credit. The notes on the Memory Alpha wiki site point out how often Picardo improvised and/or re-wrote the Doctor's dialogue.

DebG. said...

LOVE Voyager; it's my fave of all the Trek shows. Call me quirky, I guess, since so many bad-mouth it.

Janeway is my fave captain, too. Notable: most 1st contacts (even more than Kirk) & fought the Borg and won - not just one cube, but a ton o' them all at once! Sadly, they weren't quite sure what to do with a woman captain all the time.

REALLY enjoyed the Doctor...Kes, and Seven, too.

Would love to revisit these as you review them... Thanks, Juliette.

-Deborah

Anonymous said...

Loved this show and the Doc..Even tolerated Neelix. No, I never knew why Kes liked him. Awesome review.
Anna

Juliette said...

Thanks everyone!

Creating Paris instead of using Nick Locarno does seem a bit ridiculous, but I saw a lot of Voyager before I ever saw The First Duty, so by the time I realised the change, I was used to Paris. And it does mean we get that great line in season 2 where Kim tells his confused girlfriend (long story) that he has to go to Marseille to see Paris :)

Valerie said...

I liked most of the characters except Kes so voyager was my second favorite Trek series. They had some great stand alone silly episodes. And i loved Paris's black and white holodeck program The adventures of Captain Proton. I complied a DVD of all the clips from the series. And can the site do reviews of Ds9. I'll even do it personally!

Billie Doux said...

Valerie, it's very likely we'll be adding the other Treks. We're already talking about it. Stay tuned.

CrazyCris said...

Oooh yes! DS-9 is my favourite overall! Although for individual episodes and characters I usually go for TNG, I really appreciated the ensemble and the story arc of DS9. :o)

All this Trek talk... I might have to stop watching Firefly (for the umpteenth time) and start re-watching various Star Trek series! Which dvd should I pull out first... :p

CrazyCris said...

Re Nick Lucarno.

Other than the royalties issue (what was the deal with that? Were TNG and Voyager on different channels? 'Cause it's all Paramount on the dvds!), Lucarno got kicked out of Starfleet Academy and Voyager already had an Academy "wash-out" in B'Elana Torres. Would have been a bit repetitive. Plus taking in consideration age I imagine she would have known Lucarno since he was very (in)famous... Would have meant a whole other story...

lisa said...

Voyager was my favorite star trek series! I'm so excited to see the pilot reviewed.

Anonymous said...

CrazyCris -

Long story short, if you create a character, then you are entitled to royalties every time the character is used by the copyright holder.

There are a lot of complications and exceptions, but in general that is the rule that they follow.

CrazyCris said...

True, I hadn't thought about the character's creator, I was just thinking about the actor and Paramount...