the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), the Federation
starship Voyager is on a mission to find a group of Maqui
rebels... until a freak energy wave throws both them and their quarry
70,000 light-years across the galaxy. Faced with a voyage home that
would take most of their lifetimes at their starship's regular speed,
the Voyager crew must find a faster alternative, while also
trying to survive in a totally unknown part of the galaxy. And so
begins Voyager's journey...
airing in 1995, the first season of Star Trek Voyager launched
while Deep Space Nine was also running, just as DS9 had
begun during Next Generation's run. After Deep Space Nine's
deeply plot-driven story, with its ongoing story developing over the
course of entire seasons, Voyager offers an entirely different
experience. In many ways, Voyager hearkens back to the
episodic storytelling style of the original Star Trek or of
Next Generation, with its self-contained episodes in the
context of a single starship exploring the frontiers of space. Within
the overall context of their search for a way home, with each new
episode the crew faces a new problem and resolves it. A purely
episodic structure has its strengths, such as the ability to tackle a
wide variety of plots and themes, but it also means that the show
can't build much on past stories.
its credit, Voyager seems to have learned a few tricks from
Deep Space Nine, with a touch of continuity stitching together
the episodes and creating a sense of a larger overall story. The
combination of the Maqui and Starfleet crews creates a large
potential reservoir for story conflicts and character development
right at the outset; while the merge is superficially complete fairly
early on, with all the characters donning Starfleet uniforms, later
episodes show that this is to a large extent just plaster over
enduring differences. For instance, in episodes like "Prime
Factors" the conflicting attitudes of the Maqui crewmembers ends
up having a great effect on the story.
also see that Voyager is willing to start building story
continuity out in the Delta Quadrant. While the first half of the
season has the crew encountering new races and new situations in each
episode, when we get to "State of Flux," Voyager
re-encounters the hostile aliens from the first episode, and more
importantly, takes a dramatic and irreversible course with one of the
trick that Voyager seems to have wisely borrowed from DS9
is its willingness to introduce a darker touch when necessary,
something that's hinted at in the very first episode when Tom Paris
is recruited from a Federation prison. And on a larger scale, an
interesting aspect of Voyager's premise is that is sets the
series up in a context of failure. If their overall mission is to get
home, then every episode in which they attempt to get home must, by
necessity, end in failure. Where Voyager has learned well from
DS9 is that failure is often as interesting as success... or
even more so. If we always assume that things will turn out well in
the end, it's difficult to create narrative tension. (It's not
impossible, of course: just think of the Next Generation
episodes with Captain Picard in trouble. We know he survives, but
we're still interested in how he manages it.) When a series
introduces the possibility of missions failing, of characters not
getting what they want, and of events turning out in unexpected ways,
then it gets a lot easier to develop and sustain narrative interest
in each episode.
the end, what makes or breaks Voyager is the quality of the
individual episodes; are they entertaining? The answer is a solid
(and, for this Next Generation and DS9 fan, surprising)
"yes." Each episode offers 45 minutes of fun, quite well
crafted science fiction; the stories are imaginative and often
provide a few surprising twists along the way. In "Time and
Again," for instance, a time travel story involving a potential
violation of the Prime Directive turns into quite a fun ride for the
viewer, as our ideas of what "really happened" (or "will
happen" or "would have happened" – time travel
is hard on verbal tenses) keep changing as more and more of the story
develops. "Ex Post Facto" turns into a murder mystery
(complete with a wry homage to the classic trope of "assemble
the suspects in the drawing room"). "Emanations"
starts off with what seems like an archaeological discovery, but soon
develops into a first contact situation in which there are no
clear-cut right or wrong answers. "Eye of the Needle" is
another quite entertaining story in which a wormhole raises hopes of
a journey home but also a host of difficulties if the crew is to make
use of their discovery.
not to say that everything is working perfectly. Some plot devices
get overused: time travel and weird singularity effects appear with
reckless abandon in the first few episodes, for instance. As far as
the characters go, the aliens Kes and Neelix remain a little awkward,
as if the writers weren't sure how to make them work. While Neelix is
not as annoying as I feared he would be (I am a hard sell when it
comes to comic relief), the Neelix-free episodes do tend to be better
than the ones in which his character plays a role. And not all the
stories work as well as others; "The Cloud," for instance,
is very light-weight, and the holodeck adventure "Heroes and
Demons" is oddly unfocused and never really comes together.
However, all in all the fifteen episodes here (counting the
double-length pilot as one episode) offer a solid package of
entertainment for both existing Voyager fans and new viewers.
Season 1 is a five-DVD set; all 15 episodes from the first season
are included, and appear on the first four DVDs of the set, with the
fifth disc reserved for special features.
packaging for Voyager is quite distinctive. The DVDs are held
in a "book" of hard plastic pages, with one DVD per page,
much like Deep Space Nine's packaging, except that there is no
"cover." Instead, there's a slip-on case in two parts, one
that fits over the top of the book, and another that fits over the
bottom. On the one hand, it's starting to get irritating that
companies feel the need to reinvent the wheel with each new series'
packaging, and the separate slip-on pieces are a bit of a nuisance.
On the other hand, one very nice touch is that the list of episodes,
complete with air date and production number, is printed on the back
of the slipcase, making it very easy to refer to.
The overall package is very slim, which is a definite benefit. The
hard plastic DVD pages are an eye-popping neon orange, which actually
looks much nicer in reality than it may sound; it's certainly
has consistently offered outstanding transfers of the Star Trek
series, and Voyager is no exception. Colors look excellent,
with vibrant, rich primary colors balanced by natural-looking skin
tones and deep blacks. The print is spotlessly clean and free of
noise, though I did see a faint touch of grain on a few occasions.
The image is occasionally slightly soft, but overall it offers a
pleasing level of detail, with no traces of edge enhancement as far
as I could see. This is undoubtedly "as good as it gets"
for image quality, and fans of the show will be very pleased to see
just how good that is.
The episodes are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Dolby 5.1 soundtrack for Voyager offers a similarly excellent
listening experience. Dialogue is crisp and clear, music and
environmental effects are always correctly balanced in the overall
track, and the surround channels do get put to use reasonably often
for special effects. A Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also provided, along
with optional English subtitles.
final disc of the set contains the special features, and a nice
assortment has been gathered; both long-time fans and new viewers
will find these features worth seeing. They're all short featurettes,
similar in style to what was presented in the DS9 and Next
Generation special features, but they're long enough to be
the Unknown: Season 1" is a 10-minute look at the origins of
Voyager and its place in the sequence of Star Trek shows.
Following that are two featurettes that focus on the character of
Captain Janeway. "Voyager Time Capsule: Kathryn Janeway"
is a 15-minute piece that includes interviews with Kate Mulgrew from
both 1994 and 2003, reflecting from two different perspectives on the
experience of getting the role. "The First Captain: Bujold"
is an 8-minute featurette that reveals the casting process for the
captain's role, including the first actor who was chosen before
Mulgrew got the part. This is particularly interesting, as it
includes clips from portions of the first episode that were shot with
"Captain Bujold" instead of Captain Janeway. We also get
"Cast Reflections: Season 1," a 9-minute collection of
interviews with other members of the cast reflecting on their
experience as part of a brand-new Star Trek series.
that, we move to featurettes that focus on other elements of making
the show. "On Location with the Kazons" is a 5-minute look
behind the scenes at the location where the Kazon encampment from
"The Caretaker" was shot. "Red Alert: Visual Effects
Season 1" is an interesting 10-minute featurette in which visual
effects supervisor Dan Curry discusses the challenges of the special
effects for the first season of Voyager. "Launching
Voyager on the Web" (6 minutes) takes a look at
Paramount's use of a website to promote the show before it aired, and
"Real Science with Andre Bormanis" (9 minutes) has
Voyager's science consultant discussing the use of real
science to ground the fiction of the show. Lastly, we get a photo
are (as far as I could tell) four "hidden files" in the
special features section, two each on the first two menu screens of
the special features. They are accessed by moving the selection
cursor around until you hit an unlabeled green blip on the outline of
Voyager, which leads to the hidden clip. About five minutes'
worth of extra material is hidden this way. It's an annoying waste of
time – real special features should be clearly labeled and easy
to access – but at least the pixel-hunting has been cut down
from the excesses of the DS9 sets.
has attractive, spoiler-free menus, but unfortunately the animations
are not skippable; it may be cute to see the starship zoom over the
screen the first time, but on subsequent viewings it gets very
annoying to have to wait for the animation to finish.
episodic adventures of Star Trek Voyager offer a different
viewing experience from the dense, highly story-based Deep Space
Nine that preceded it, but there's plenty of room in the Star
Trek universe, and in viewers' collections, for both approaches.
I came to Voyager: Season 1 without any great expectations,
and I was very pleasantly surprised to find a collection of quite
will be very pleased with the excellent image and sound quality here;
the attractive transfer and Dolby 5.1 sound make for a nicely
immersive viewing experience. With about an hour and 15 minutes'
worth of interesting special features, Voyager isn't
completely "loaded," but it does offer a nice look at the
making of the series and what was involved with getting Season 1 on
the air. Overall, I'll give Star Trek Voyager: Season 1 a
strong "recommended": fans of the series will most
definitely want to pick up this set, and viewers who enjoy Star
Trek and science fiction in general will want to seriously
consider this set as well.