In its third season, Star Trek: Voyager invites viewers to
continue following the adventures of the stalwart Federation crew who
have been catapulted thousands of light-years away from home, into
the Delta Quadrant. As the crew of Voyager search for a way to
short-cut the 70-year-long voyage home, they encounter a variety of
alien beings, some helpful and others most decidedly not, and an
equal variety of strange and difficult situations.
the loosest of overarching stories, Voyager lives and dies on
the quality of its individual episodes. Fortunately, Season 3 shows a
distinct improvement over Season
2's lackluster storytelling. While there are some duds scattered
throughout the season, overall Season 3 serves up a consistent menu
of entertaining, light-weight adventures. I'm surely not the only one
who breathed a sigh of relief at finding the technobabble quotient
dropping back to tolerable levels; we still get our fair share of
engineering-speak from B'Elanna, but it's no longer a mainstay of the
episodes. Instead, we get stories that set up an initial premise and
then work with it, like the Doctor's misguided personality
experiments in "The Darkling" or Kes coming unstuck in time in the nicely done "Before and After."
there's no continuing storyline in Voyager the way there is in
Deep Space Nine, the series does try to work in a few elements
of continuity, mainly in the form of ongoing antagonists. In Seasons
1 and 2,
Voyager tried to set up a story framework involving the Kazon,
but that really didn't work out all
that well, and the first episode of Season 3 disposes of the
lingering Kazon plot threads in a fairly comprehensive manner. Now
that the Kazon are out of the way, the question in Season 3 is who
(or what) will take their place?
The answer ends up being a bit ironic: Voyager, whose main
attraction was supposed to be how its Delta Quadrant setting would
allow for the invention and use of totally new alien races and
situations, ends up turning to stalwart Star Trek elements
like Q and the Borg to make better stories. In one sense it's a
disappointing failure of imagination. Yet on the other hand, what
matters when push comes to shove is "are the stories
entertaining?" If Voyager ends up reaching back into the
communal Star Trek pot for ideas, at least we have to give them
credit for choosing juicy bits to work with. And both Q and the Borg
can be used in the Delta Quadrant without contradicting any of the
backstory from other series: we know from Next Generation that
the Borg were first encountered very far from Federation space, and
Q, of course, can show up where and when he pleases.
has a handful of really outstanding episodes that serve as a welcome
reminder that yes, the writers know how to tell a good story.
"Flashback" takes a fairly straightforward story idea
(Tuvok must face what seems to be a repressed memory) and spins it
into a delightful trip back in time to the USS Excelsior under
Captain Sulu, where we get a different perspective on some of the
story elements of Star
Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Scenes from the movie are
cleverly used alongside painstakingly re-created scenes filmed
specifically for the Voyager episode to create a fun "ensign's
view" of the events. The resolution of the base storyline is
almost beside the point: the real charm is in scenes such as the one
in which Janeway comments on what it must have been like back in the
"old days"... showing that one of the strengths of the Star
Trek franchise is the depth of backstory that it's accumulated
over the past thirty-odd years.
"Flashback" took us into the past, "Future's End"
gets the Voyager crew involved with the future as well. This
two-part episode is another of the highlights of Season 3: it's a
well-plotted adventure involving time travel and all the delightful
paradoxes that are associated with it. While "Flashback"
deliberately tied Voyager to Star Trek VI, "Future's
End" evokes the light-hearted fun of another Star Trek
feature film, in this case Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The
story is well paced and has plenty of twists and turns, and it
manages to keep the action going steadily through the second half as
well as the first half of the story.
will likely be remembered by fans because of its connection to the
Borg, who emerge in Season 3 as Voyager's new "ongoing
challenge" to replace the Kazon, but it's also noteworthy as an
episode with more depth and complexity than the typical Voyager
episode thus far. Chakotay discovers what appears to be a community
of Federation origins on an alien planet, but it turns out that they
are not quite what they appear. The plot is well-thought-out here,
and the conclusion leaves some lingering questions about what was the
right thing to do.
the stand-outs, a reasonable number of solid-but-not-exceptional
episodes makes up the bulk of Season 3. Stories like "The
Darkling," a fun romp in which the Doctor develops a Dr.
Jekyll/Mr. Hyde complex, and "Fair Trade," in which Neelix
gets in far over his head with some shady trade dealings, are overall
more original than what we got in the last season. That's not to say
there aren't any duds, of course. I'm not sure who thought "Coda"
was a good idea: honestly, the "crew mourns for a dead main
character" is very tricky to pull off (think of Tasha Yar's
cheesy demise in Next Generation, for instance) and pretty
much impossible to get right when the character's not even really
dead. "Blood Fever" is really hokey, as B'Elanna starts
experiencing the Vulcan "pon farr," and "Rise"
centers around the decidedly tiresome conflict between Neelix and
Tuvok. Fortunately for viewers, the season wraps up on a strong note
with several interesting episodes, including the cliff-hanger finale
"Scorpion Part I."
The seven-DVD set of Voyager: Season 3 appears in its
signature packaging, a neon-yellow set of hard plastic pages (very
practical and easy to handle) inside a two-part slip-on clear plastic
case (very annoying and difficult to manage). All 26 episodes from
the show's 1996-1997 season are included.
Surprisingly, the image quality of Voyager: Season 3 isn't
quite up to par with the earlier two
seasons. It still looks quite good overall, but it's not as sharp and
visually impressive as the earlier transfers. Colors are excellent,
with skin tones looking natural while brighter colors also look
vibrant, and the print overall appears to be in excellent condition,
with no flaws apparent. However, the overall image tends to be a bit
on the soft side, with a touch of grain that wasn't so much in
evidence in the earlier sets. Fans will find the image quality
acceptable, but not amazing.
All the Voyager episodes are presented in their original
1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Voyager features a very tame Dolby 5.1 surround soundtrack in
this season. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with all the actors always
perfectly understandable; music and sound effects are well balanced
with the voices as well. While the overall sound is attractive,
there's minimal use of the side channels, so viewers will be excused
if they can't tell much of a difference between the 5.1 and the
optional Dolby 2.0 track.
We get the usual assortment of featurettes in Season 3, all on the
seventh disc of the set. "Braving the Unknown: Season 3" is
a 13-minute look at some of the challenges found in creating specific
episodes of Season 3. "Voyager Time Capsule: Neelix"
(12 minutes) consists of a 2003 interview with Ethan Phillips in
which he looks back on the seven years of playing Neelix; it's
reasonably interesting though it's a bit too heavy on clips from the
episodes, as are the other featurettes as well. Another "Voyager
Time Capsule" focuses on Kes, but this 12-minute piece is less
interesting, as the interview with Jennifer Lien is from 1994 and is
mainly a rehash of "my character is..."
A more interesting piece is "Flashback to 'Flashback'" (13
minutes) which includes a very entertaining interview with George
Takei talking about his guest appearance as Sulu, along with comments
from the director and Tim Russ (Tuvok) about the making of the
episode. "Red Alert: Amazing Visual Effects" is reasonably
substantial at 16 minutes, and offers a fairly detailed look at
several special effects: we get to see the nuts and bolts of shots
like Voyager's planetary landing and the lava scenes in
"Basics Part II." Finally, "Real Science with Andre
Bormanis" (10 minutes) features the series' science adviser
discussing how he tries to lend some authenticity to the show through
accurate astronomy whenever possible.
also get a photo gallery and a promotional clip for the "Borg
Invasion 4D" show. For those who enjoy pixel-hunting (not many
of us, Paramount, in case you're listening!) there are five "lost
transmissions" that feature short interview clips or
behind-the-scenes information about different episodes. As far as I
could tell, there are two of these hidden files on the first special
features menu page, two on the second, one on the third, and none on
the final page.
Given the episodic nature of Star Trek: Voyager, there's no
need to be a completionist; the entertaining Season 3 is worth
picking up even (or perhaps especially) if you decided to pass on the
lackluster Season 2. Sure, this is fairly light-weight stuff, but
there's room for it on the science fiction shelf, with a generally
solid set jazzed up by a handful of stand-out episodes. Recommended.