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Star Trek Voyager: Complete Seventh Season
Over the past six seasons, Star Trek: Voyager has provided an occasionally bumpy but on the whole entertaining ride. Now in its seventh and final season, Voyager is on the last leg of its long journey home. As with most of the other seasons, Season 7 is a mixed bag in terms of the quality of its episodes; fortunately, Season 7 rises above Season 6 by offering a respectable number of not just good, but excellent episodes to balance out the ones that don't reach their full potential.
One thing that Voyager has handled quite well over the course of the series, and particularly here in Season 7, is to provide a sense of gradually getting closer to home. At first Voyager was entirely cut off in the Delta Quadrant, with no connection whatsoever to the Alpha Quadrant; later, the crew got occasional glimpses of home (or the possibility of getting home) even though it never panned out. In Season 6, the connection grew stronger when Lt. Barclay, back at Starfleet, was able to figure out a way to get in touch with the crew.
Now in Season 7, Voyager is at last able to have two-way communication with the Alpha Quadrant, courtesy of the Pathfinder project. It's nicely done: the Voyager crew no longer feels alone and abandoned, merely very far from home, and they know they are not forgotten; but even so, there's still the issue of actually getting them home, since there's still thousands of light-years separating them from Earth.
One of the high points of Season 7, then, is the selection of episodes that deals with the central story arc of Voyager: getting home. The highly entertaining "Inside Man" gives us a holographic Lt. Barclay being transmitted to Voyager... but behaving in a rather suspicious manner. Likewise, "Author, Author" makes use of the new communications channel to the Alpha Quadrant to move both its main plot and its secondary plot along in an interesting manner. And, of course, the season finale "Endgame" wraps up this aspect of Voyager's story arc.
As with earlier seasons, the other really successful episodes are those which feature the Doctor in a major role. The Doctor has been my favorite character from the very first season, and my admiration for Robert Picardo as an actor has only grown: in Season 7, he shows off once again just how much depth and humanity he can bring to his holographic character. The Doctor shines in episodes like "Author, Author," in which his new holo-novel about an enslaved EMH on a poorly disguised Voyager raises hackles among the crew (and at Starfleet Command) and "Critical Care," an episode that could have fallen into the category of "message of the week," but doesn't – thanks to Picardo's nuanced portrayal of the Doctor. The late-season episode "Renaissance Man" is another highly entertaining episode, with a nicely done adventure plot enhanced by some imaginative use of the Doctor as a protagonist.
The two-part "Flesh and Blood" stands out as one of the best episodes in the entire series. Not only does it present us with an intriguing premise (holographic "prey" created by the Hirogen rebel and flee, determined to set up their own photonic civilization), it actually deals with shades of gray rather than black and white. The Doctor's allegiance to Voyager is tested in a very convincing way (drawing on his entire development as a character), the two sides of the conflict are developed in a complex way, and the episode wraps up in an interesting way that sustains the overall ethical complexity of the story. Voyager would have been a whole lot better if it had had more episodes like "Flesh and Blood."
Ironically, the absolute success of the Doctor as a character – thanks largely to Picardo's performances and of course helped by interesting scripts – serves to emphasize the flatness of the other characters. While the Doctor has changed, developed, and matured as a character over the course of the seven seasons (and not just in one or two "character episodes" per season, either, but gradually and realistically), the other characters might as well have been in stasis.
The only slight exception to this rule of blandness is the development of B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris in Season 7, with the two finally getting married (and having that relationship actually affect later episodes a little bit). It's a decent move, but frankly here it's too little, too late: this is the kind of development that should have come somewhere in the third season or so if it was really going to matter in the big picture. At this point, it's hard to be genuinely interested or emotionally involved in their relationship, because it's just a hookup between characters with little personality to speak. Paris at least has gotten some attention as the Doctor's assistant and a writer of holo-novels (remember Captain Proton?), but poor B'Elanna seems to have gotten stuck as the "chief engineer who has been upstaged by Seven of Nine."
Where Season 7 flounders is in some of its stand-alone episodes. We've got the message-of-the-week style ones like the "Organ Donor/Dealing with Terminal Illness" episode ("Imperfection") and the "Dealing with Pregnancy" episode ("Lineage"... which also doubles as the "Oh damn, we have to cram in some character development for B'Elanna in a hurry" story.) We've also got the "No Voyager Season Is Complete Without a Shuttlecraft Crash" episode, "Natural Law. You'd think they'd have better safety features on these things by now! In "The Void" it seems that the writers expect us to have forgotten the identical premise (Voyager passing through a starless void) had already been used in Season 5's "Night."
Another disappointment is the two-part "The Workforce," which seems to be a shameless ripoff of Stargate SG-1's "Beneath the Surface," which aired a year before the Voyager episode. I wouldn't mind its utter lack of originality if the episode had been entertaining, but it's tiresomely drawn-out and unengaging; its only redeeming feature is the Doctor's stint as an Emergency Command Hologram. I think the episode was intended to be a thoughtful exploration of Captain Janeway's character (asking the question "what if she didn't remember ever being a starship captain?") but since I have never found Janeway to be either well-developed or interesting as a character, it doesn't really work.
Overall, Season 7 does have its fair share of weak episodes, but since they're counterbalanced with some especially good episodes, the overall impact of the season is positive, more so than for Season 6, which had a larger chunk of simply bland episodes. I still wish Star Trek: Voyager had been more daring and adventurous in its storytelling than it ended up being, but taken on its own merits, it was an entertaining series and Season 7 wraps it up in good form.
As with the other seasons, Voyager Season 7 is packaged in a "book" of hard plastic pages, with each of the seven DVDs in its own page, and a plastic two-part slipcover fitting over the whole thing.
Voyager looks as nice as it usually does in its transfer to DVD. The image, which appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, is clean and clear, offering a pleasing visual experience. Sometimes the contrast appears to be a little on the dark side, but it's not overdone, and overall fans will be quite pleased with the attractive look of these episodes.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does a nice job of presenting a clean, interesting audio environment. Some mild use of the surround channels appears, and overall the listening experience is clear and pleasant.
Disc 7 contains the special features for Season 7. First comes "Braving the Unknown: Season 7," an 18-minute featurette that provides a moderately interesting overview of the show's last season and the episodes that were particularly important. I'm sure most fans will be more interested in "Voyager Time Capsule: The Doctor" (15 minutes), with its very interesting interview footage with Robert Picardo, in which he discusses how he got the role, what he thought of it, and how he helped shape the character of the Doctor over the course of the show. The 12-minute "Coming Home: The Final Episode" speaks for itself in terms of content, and the last featurette is "Real Science with Andre Bormanis" (14 minutes), in which the show's science adviser talks about the challenges of envisioning future science. Lastly, we get a rather lame promotional/making-of featurette for the theme park ride "Borg Invasion 4-D" (9 minutes), and a photo gallery. Oh, and five hidden files: two each on the first two special features menu screens, and one on the last screen.
Star Trek: Voyager could have been a lot more than it was, but in the final analysis, at least what it was turned out to be a reasonably entertaining science fiction series. Season 7 wraps up the adventures of the stranded Voyager crew in a satisfying way; it's not a completely polished season, but it has a generous handful of excellent episodes. If you've been enjoying Voyager so far, Season 7 is definitely recommended.