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Star Trek Voyager: Complete Third Season
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.
With only 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."
While 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.
Season 3 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.
If "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.
"Unity" 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.
Apart from 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.
We 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.