The Great Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: Season 6 (part 2)

What came before: Season 1 | 2A/2B | 3A/3B | 4A/4B | 5A/5B | 6A

Here I am, on the downward curve towards Voyager’s last cliffhanger finalé, and if the first half of this season is anything to go by, I’m going to be on a rollercoaster of a ride through highs and utter lows before then.

Memorial

Harry, Neelix, Tacotray and Tom are all on a long range shuttle mission in the Delta Flyer…can a crash be far away?  Nope, we land easily and instead zoom in on It-couple Tom and B’Elanna having some much needed coupling as they watch a freshly replicated TV  – despite Picard saying TNG:The Neutral Zone that humanity had evolved beyond the need to watch stuff.  Being Voyager, it’s not long before Tom seems to get sucked into the action on the TV (hey, maybe this stuff is dangerous!).  Then the rest of the Delta Flyer’s crew get flashbacks to some great ground war, where they’re on the losing side in an effective shellacking, and emerge on the other side back in reality with effectively PTSD.  At this point I thought we were off into a Vietnam War analogue, ‘You weren’t there man, you don’t know what I’ve seen!‘.  But no, it’s not quite that.  Meanwhile as the rest of the crew also start falling victim to the hallucinations, Janeway et al trace them back to a memorial on a quite pleasant green world.  Nothing like the hell hole of the visions.

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“Caution…tested on humans for…irritancy”

Naturally, it turns out that 300 years ago this was the war zone which everyone’s been dreaming about.  It seems a rather unpleasant little incident occurred here, and the survivors erected a monument that literally beamed their experiences into space.  So, a memorial which forces you to remember events you knew nothing about (or indeed had any stake in), but a monument which is also somewhat on the fritz.  Cue much agonising and moralising around the conference table about repairing it, so the original intent of its creators can be respected.  This argument is weighed against the immensive invasion of privacy, denial of freewill and lasting psychological damage these horrific images cause to innocent passers by.  Naturally, Janeway, the most ethically dubious captain in Starfleet, opts to repair the moment and subject all comers to inadvertent horror, hand waving away any trauma for future races with “We’ll leave a warning buoy“.  Remind me again someone why she was promoted to Admiral?

I think that this was a non-too subtle ‘remember the holocaust‘ message episode (again), although the war images don’t quite mesh, hence my Vietnam impressions.  Not a terrible episode, but once again a really, really poor command judgement from Janeway.  Kirk would have just photon-torpedoed the memorial to save others…you know, the greater good.  And I wasn’t clear…who erected the monument?  The winners?  The losers?  Were any losers even left?

Tsunkatse

Gesundheit!

It’s the all-star Voyager WWF (WWE?) tie in episode, featuring The Rock… and multiple-Trek alums J.G ‘Martok’ Hertzler and Jeffrey ‘I’ve Played Everything’ Combs.  Never knew the last two were star wrestlers. On shore leave 7 and Tuvok get abducted by fight arrangers, with 7 pitted against their best fighters in a battle for both the Starfleet crew member’s lives. Definitely shades of DS9: By Inferno’s Light in the set up, wherein Worf fights the Jem’Hadar to a standstill, while Mr Garak tries to escape.And at least it’s not another episode where Tacotray shows off his boxing skills!

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Voyager in danger of getting pretty sexy

But I digress. The central plot, comprises Hertzler’s character (a Hirogen) training 7 to fight, because he himself will eventually face her and he wants a ‘worthy prey’. Given Hertzler’s acting chops, this comes across as a strong central narrative, with the actual tsunkatse matches well fight-choreographed. Naturally Voyager saves the day so 7 doesn’t have to kill the Hirogen…although she was going to. For an episode that’s clearly not going to be referenced again, it’s a pretty solid entry in the series.

There’s a subplot about Neelix getting massive sunburn and his efforts to treat it.  Why, Great Maker, why?  Did the writers feel the need to include this to give Ethan Phillips a few lines? He pops up often enough as a central character. Maybe they were just having a bit of a laugh, as this plotline is yet again a chance to wheel out a stinky Telaxian homemade folk medicine. Le sigh. What’s more  later on Neelix’s character gets totally assassinated by the writers, given his bloodthirsty cheering of the tsunkatse match is in direct opposition to all the earlier (good) episodes where we see how much he’s been traumatised by the violence of his military experiences.  As per usual, in lame-ass Voyager style, past characterisation is discarded to fit the needs of a minor plot point. Appalling, as the PTSD aspects of Neelix’s backstory are easily, for me, the strongest element of any character on the show, so to crulley ignore them is shocking. And yet, par for the course for Voyager.

Collective

Ah, the episode where Voyager didn’t so much jump the shark, as reverse back over it three or four times in rapid succession. Yes, if Cousin Oliver syndrome wasn’t already written large in Naomi ‘Child of Satan’ Wildman, why not have the ship adopt a load more kids.  Ex-Borg kids at that. Looks like Voyager is about to become a generation ship, without all the fun sexy times that normally precedes it.

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“We are Irritating of Five, prepare to be bored to tears by us. Resistance is strongly encouraged”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. A game of cards is rudely interrupted by a Borg cube’s arrival, but despite managing to capture all of the crew (with the exception of Harry Kim who hid in the Delta Flyer’s chemical toilet), not all appears space-kocher. Turns out this is a Borg crew who caught the space-swine-flu and died off, aside from a handful of younglings. Now cut off from the Collective, they try to threaten, bargain and ultimately steal enough of Voyager’s tech to get back home. Sadly, as 7 of 9 works out, the Collective have given them up as a bad lot, and officially abandoned them.

Yeah, we all know where this is going don’t we. Voyager promptly adopts them, as having one ex-Borg aboard was never going to be enoigh conflict to drive future drama. Sigh. One of the Borg kids dies, so there’s some small comfort. But I fear this episode has all but trashed what little good will has been engendered for me in watching through Voyager as a whole. Here’s hoping the next episode is a total cracker that rekindles my love for the show.

Spirit Folk

Oh sweet baby Jebus. I was wrong.

If you loved Once Upon a Time, clapped with glee as Borg kids were added to the show or even once seriously uttered the words “I wish they’d bring Kes back“…then you’ll love this episode.

If, like the rest of the sane universe, you hated the Oirish accents and racial pandering in Fair Haven, prepare to be horrified beyond measure as we go back to that holographic town with its cast of ‘delightful’ characters. Only this time…they’re getting self aware thanks to…yes, you guessed it…a holodeck malfunction.

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The Fair Haven citizens would be well within their rights to lynch the lot of them. Tom ‘Cow Maker’ Paris especially

Hell’s teeth, I thought we were past that lame ass story hook by now.

Funny, I play a lot of computer games, and no matter how much I dick around, never once have any of the AI characters realised I’m acting out of character and become self-aware that they’re in a simulation. You’d think 24th Century computer programming might be able to cope with this, but three centuries of computing improvements seem to have caused more problems than they’ve solved.

Anyway, tl:dr: the crew eventually come to accommodation with the Fair Haven folk…but it’s never made clear if they’re going to shut everything down, wipe the computer core and pretend it never happened afterwards…but the implication is they are.  Nice (not)! Onwards and upwards, and screw the holographic lifeforms it seems.  Did TNG: Ship in a Bottle teach us nothing?

I really wish I could forget this episode ever happened as easily.

Most typically Voyager moment: The Captain and crew discuss erasing the newly self-aware holograms, right in front of the Doctor, like they don’t view hard-light beings as lifeforms at all. Yes, once again Starfleet’s mission to seek out new life continues, provided that new life isn’t something they’ve accidentally created themselves.

Ashes to Ashes

A shuttle turns up carrying the late Ens Lyndsay Ballard, who perished some years before, and has been resurrected as a member of the Kobali race. Naturally, given she’s a undead girl, Harry Kim makes a play for her – since, as Tom Paris points out, his type is always the weird ones (holograms, borg, and now necrophilia – the final frontier!). In between Harry’s stumbling courtship, Lyndsay tries to reintegrate into the crew and her old life, but even after some cosmetic surgery from the Doctor (“My specialty is hair, despite appearances to the contrary“) her tastebuds, mind and attitudes remain more Kobali than human. Yes, we’re (sorta) back in TNG: Suddenly Human territory, as Lyndsay is really a Kobali now and needs to kiss her old life (and Kim) goodbye.

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“Sorry Harry, but even though I’m dead, I still don’t fancy you much”

Meanwhile, the B-plot deals with the tiresome ‘Bringing up Borgy’ plotlines with the wretched Borg kids and Naomi Wildman, combined into a narrative shit sandwich we’re forced to choke-down around the dreary Harry Kim main plot. Out the airlock with the lot of them, and 7 too, since at this point she’s in danger of becoming a background character in her story arc, with the increased focus on sprogs of Locutus.

I never knew I had it so good with just Naomi Wildman on board!

Most typically Voyager moment: after Lyndsay is invited to dine in the Captain’s cabin, Harry admits in six years this has never happened to him.  Six years, on a ship with 147(ish) crew, and serving as the bridge ops officer all that time…and not once Janeway invited him to dinner? Me thinks there’s more behind Harry’s inability to get promoted than at first glance. Maybe Janeway just plain hates him, and hence the lack of dinner invites. Bet even Tom “Bad Boy” Paris has dined with Kathy a few times!

Special mention: Janeway burns a roast in the replicator…I can’t even begin to work out how she managed that.

Child’s Play

Borg Kidz or Naomi Wildman or both?  That was my fear as this episode started, and yes, while it does focus on the Borg Bratz, mostly the story follows the only moderately bearable one, Icheb-Wesley Crusher. We open on a science fair in the mess hall…a fucking science fair. If I wanted to watch Good Morning Miss Bliss or Grange Hill I’d do so, give me some space action in my Trek for frack’s sake! Never had a science fair in Battlestar Galactica, and they had thousands more kids in the fleet…

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Shark being leapt, just out of shot

*ahem*  I digress. Icheb’s invented some incredible wormhole detecting tech (‘cos all the clever, well training professionals on Voyager are nothing compared to one child), and so with him centre stage there’s little surprise when his parents make contact. Turns out their desolate farming planet is a bit close to a Borg transwarp-conduit, and gets harvested every few years, so they all lie low and try not to get too technologically appetising. Hence a not-that-appealing-when-you-live-on-a-starship farmstead vibe permeates the world, something which Icheb with his super-science really doesn’t grok.

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Smiling hurts because we is evvvvvvilll

From here it’s into the old mother-hen instincts narrative which are a Voyager constant (given the whole ‘crew=family’ paradigm at the show’s heart), only this time it’s not the Janeway/7 dynamic but 7/Icheb. The Borg Sprong doesn’t want to leave the ship initally, but then warms to his parents (including Mr Mark “I’m in Everything” Sheppard as his father) and their agrarian (but with funky gene-resequencing technology) lifestyle.

And wouldn’t you know it; that mysterious genetic high-tech on their Borg ravaged world turns out to be the episode’s Chekhov’s phaser: Icheb was bred for war. In fact he’s the patient zero responsible for the plague which wiped out the Borg cube’s population after his parents left him in space as a honey-trap. Nice folks! So nice, that given this golden opportunity…his parents use him as a living biological weapon once again. Man, Christmas at the Icheb’s is gonna be super awkward!

Sure, Voyager saves the day, and Icheb choses (understandably) to stay with the crew, with 7 clucking over him like a proud mother hen. Overall though, it’s not a terrible episode, and Mark Sheppard puts in his requisite excellent acting in his guest turn. But I can’t help feel it’s a wasted opportunity to get rid of some of the Borg baggage.

Most typically Voyager moment: Either reset at the end of the episode or the “that’s everything wrapped up nicely at the end of act 2…duh duh duh…surprise!” with Icheb’s parent’s heel-turn.

Good Shepherd

After an episode focusing on 7’s relationships with the Borg kidz, we head into one where the initial focus is on her relationship with the rest of the crew. I imagine this continued narrative focus on Voyager’s Borg Princess, must really have pissed off the rest of the cast, consider how fewer central storylines they all get. Except Tacotray, because, fuck him, okay? Anyhoo, 7’s decided to piss everyone on the ship off by giving them all efficiency ratings[1] Mostly though, this opening is to shift focus onto the tale of three never-before-seen-on-a-tiny-ship Voyager NPC characters. That’s right…it’s TNG:Lower Decks – the Voyager Years. Or if you prefer STV:Learning Curve (hey, remember season 1 anyone…). Yeah, we’re into recycling, recycled storylines now – man, how did this get another season after this[2]?

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Least appetizing meal ever on Voyager. Even including Neelix’s cooking

Except…and here’s where I must silence my inner cynic. When Janeway ‘The Good Shepherd’ takes the three ‘lost lambs’ on a mission to try and bring them back up to Starfleet standard (which invariably goes wrong), things didn’t quite go as I expected. Okay, yes there’s a little alien threat that they have to work together to beat, and yes everyone of them learns from the experience to be more than they were. However, all three of Telfer, Celes and Harren are really interesting characters, and I’d love them to stick around as secondaries (like Vorik or Suder have been), given they add some much needed fresh dynamic to the show. However, I suspect we won’t ever see them again, which is frustrating, as I actually found, against my initial judgement, that I rather enjoyed this episode. A real refreshing change after the recent run of lame stories, with some much needed mixing in of new ‘hero’ characters on the ship.

Oh, one final note. Must Janeway be right every time? It gets real old, real quick. Maybe the aliens were the bad guys after all…

Most typically Voyager moment: On a ship of ~140 people…how has it taken 6 years for anyone to notice these three crew are borderline useless? It’s almost like the 1st Officer has been neglecting his annual crew evaluations (highly likely) or that all the section heads have just been covering it up (probable for Harry at least).

Live Fast and Prosper

Stap me vitals – after a run of terrible shows, we’ve just had a half decent episode, and then we get an utter stonker of a story! I nearly fainted from the shock. Live Fast and Prosper tells the tale of three Voyager impersonators (including a ‘Lt Tuvok’ who gets a bit too method in his acting) who pose as Starfleet officers in order to con other spacefarers out of their goods in order to ‘join the Federation’. Naturally, the real Starfleet crew eventually discover that someone is blackening their good names when they start getting complaints from some of the scammed aliens. Although, it turns out, Tom and Neelix were also scammed by the same aliens weeks ago. They managed to buy some dodgy malfunctioning tech for the galley, whilst having the Delta Flyer’s databases illegally copied into the bargain.

There’s some excellent guest performances from the fake Voyager crew, who really sell the whole act pretty well.  The ersatz Captain and crew even have hilariously poor fanboi quality Starfleet uniforms, although they got the ears and hair right. Fake Tacotray’s tattoo got a bit carried away, mind you. Naturally, the only way to win the day is for the real Janeway to pull off a massive deception of her own, involving the Doctor in drag, Tom Paris in a tube and Mr Neelix getting clobbered from behind. That last one’s a bit unfair!

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It’s the Pasadena Star Trek Convention. all over again…

The B-plot is Tom and Neelix, upon learning they’ve been scammed, trying to prove they’ve ‘still got it’ in terms of chicanery and slight of hand. Although, their efforts to scam the Doctor fall rather afoul of his ‘enhanced optical subroutines’. Nice to see the two old rogues getting the chance to be a bit more rogish again, without anyone suffering massive amounts of angst or getting demoted. This whole episode is a joy to watch, and the final scene especially left me with a big grin on my face. It was the perfect sign off to a heist story. Wonderful to know the Voyager cast CAN still pull off a cracker, if they’re given much better quality material than they usually get to work with!

Most typically Voyager moment: If there was one, I didn’t spot it. This was a story that felt more like a well polished DS9 episode. And as a bonus 7 barely gets a line! More like this please!

Muse

This may be the most meta-textural episode of Voyager yet! After another shuttle crash (hey, it’s been a few episodes since they used this overtired trope) Torres has to collaborate with a pre-warp civilizations playwright to tell the tales of Voyager. Interestingly, the playwright is so poor he has to nick all his ideas out of the vessel’s memory banks, and latterly Torres herself. If this episode isn’t a metaphor for how Voyager’s screenwriters are struggling for ideas, I don’t know what is. Moreover, there’s lots (and lots) of talk about how stories are constructed, the tricks writers employ, the structure etc., within the episode’s narrative. So yeah, it appears the screenwriter is writing about his writing craft through the medium of the playwright’s voice. Hence, it comes across a bit like a first year film student attending screenwriting 101, while trying to be clever and witty, and failing on both counts. As a result the story itself is nothing much to write home about (hah!).

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Oh no! It’s TNG: Masks all over again! The horror!! The horror!!!

That said, it’s by no means a terrible episode, but nor is it a great one. Indeed, given nothing which happens during this adventure will ever get mentioned again, means skipping this one would result in you missing nothing of value.  Oh, and Harry Kim walked 200 miles during this episode, yet his uniform was still near immaculate (his hair is mildly ruffled though). Guess he doesn’t sweat then?

Most typically Voyager moment: After affecting the culture and development of the planet through the inspiration stemming from the play, Torres beams out in full view of a few hundred people. Hello, major Prime Directive violation! Anyone? No, that’s right, why worry about utterly disrupting yet another civilisation’s natural development. Not like it’s the Federation’s foundations or anything…

Fury

This episode opens with Janeway and Tuvok sharing a rather nice little scene concerning his ‘dark’ secrets. But it’s all misdirection, because, that’s right…the Ocampan bitch is back! Yes, Kes returns and she’s mega-grumpy at being cut in favour of bringing 7 of 9 on the show, and uses her super-psychic powers to kill Torres, nick warp energy and then jump back in time to the 1st Season and try and change history. Turns out she’s pissed off at Janeway and co for encouraging her to develop her power and thinks she’d have been better off never leaving Ocampa in the first place. Ah, the regrets of your teenage years eh? You know what Kes, I agree with your beef: I too wish you’d never joined the crew, you annoying elf-pixie thing.

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Kes’ failure to maintain her beauty regime, results in catastrophic structural issues

Actually, the episode’s not too terrible, and makes the most of an intriguing time-travel premise, even if the explanation of ‘Oh, Kes now has time travel powers’ when she’d really only had telekinesis before is lacking in the extreme. Can we all just hug a warp-reactor and travel in time?! For a one-shot return of an old character, it not only gives Kes a chance to be centrestage once more, but also for all the crew to pretend to be six years younger. This is easier for some than others. For Janeway it’s accomplished with the return of the S1-bun hair do, Tom Paris gets a haircut, and for Neelix it’s achieved by acting like an annoying tit with not an ounce of self awareness or visible character growth. Actually, scratch that, this IS how he’s still being written, at least 50% of the time. Sigh.

Surprisingly Naomi Wildman’s mum, having been absent onscreen for about three years (unlike her sodding progeny) plays a key role in this episode in helping Janeway unravel the time-disruption plot. Welcome back Ens Wildman, now can you just confine your sprog to her quarters for the rest of the journey home so we don’t have to put up with episodes she features in?

Anyway, thanks to disruptions in the timeline, and Tuvok having a nervous breakdown when the revised-past crew get to the present day and Kes’ explosive arrival, Janeway is ready for her: with a prerecorded message from her sweet, innocent self. It’s all a bit Deus ex machina, but at least at the end Kes leaves, hopefully this time never to darken our turbolifts again. Just a shame she didn’t take the Borg Children with her. This may, for me, be the most engaging Kes-centred episode there’s been. Clearly we needed the character to be written with a bit more edge, rather than fawning over everyone in her sing-song accent!

Most typically Voyager moment: While I can accept Kes’ super-psi-powers let her leap across huge distances in space…how she found the Voyager in a vast, vast universe is never addressed. ‘Just because’ is hardly a satisfying answer. She’s not a Q!

Life Line

Any episode that opens with Reg Barclay talking to the Doctor’s creator, Dr Zimmerman, has huge comedy potential! Turns out this episode not only features the Doctor being ’emailed’ back to the Alpha Quadrant to help his ailing creator, but was co-written by Bob Picardo himself – apparently the only Voyager episode where a cast member does this! Naturally, where there’s Lt Barclay, there’s also a swift and very welcome appearance by Councillor Troi, reminding us of the better days of Trek. Thankfully this tale IS a better day of Trek, with some genuine philosophical questions being asked about the nature and value of holographic life, and some great performances all round.

That said, there’s some pretty horrific revelations too, as all the Mk1 EMH’s have been decommissioned as medics and assigned to scrub plasma conduits. Pretty damn brutal for a Federation which seeks to cherish ‘new life forms and new civilisations’, but embraces slavery of non-organic life. Cf. TNG:Measure of a Man for a similarly disturbing example of Federation brutality. I’m beginning to think the Romulans have had a point all along!

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Smile and say ‘cheesy’

Bob Picardo’s dual roles as the cantankerous Zimmerman and the helpful Doctor are beautifully contrasted, and this is a solid and enjoyable tale. Interestingly the Doctor mentions he’s been away from Voyager (due to the irregular inter-quadrant email he’s been transmitted on) for over three weeks: does this mean next episode the Voyager will have no Doctor to help them? Can Tom Paris and a tube of germolene really stand up to the very worst the Delta Quadrant has to offer? Tune in to find out, next week!

Most typically Voyager moment: A brief mid episode scene between Janeway and Tacotray where they admit nothing much is happening back on the ol’ Voyager homestead. Nothing? NOTHING? The Delta Quadrant has gotten suspiciously quiet if you ask me. What’s next. tales around the campfire and a mug of warm cocoa? Oh and Tom, pack that germolene away again would you, there’s a good ensign.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve

The good news: As the ship is forced to drop into a spooky darkness, Ethan Philips puts in a nuanced performance; telling a tale about a space entity which escaped from a nebula and is now haunting Deck Twelve of Voyager. The bad news: he’s telling it to those damned Borg children, and probably Naomi Wildman[3]. Essentially the space entity takes over the Voyager and plays havoc with the ship (and gives Majel Barrett the chance to play the bad guy), until Janeway dumps it into another nebula. Turns out it was ‘stored’ on Deck Twelve. There is an effort at a PG ‘haunted house’ vibe throughout – albeit nothing like as bad (or as enjoyable) as Event Horizon (shame!). Do the kids believe Neelix? Do they fu…actually, no, they don’t, but the sting in the tale…it was true after all! Poor old Neelix, everyone thinks he’s a bullshitter it seems, even though that one about the pixie girlfriend was actually true! But all the same, it’s pretty much a ‘meh’ story, which you can happily skip without missing out on anything you’re not seen a thousand times before.

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‘Gather around the ol’space camp fire younglings, and let me tell you a tale’

Most typically Voyager moment: Yes, the Doctor, despite having been away for three weeks in the prior episode, is here throughout. They should really have set this one during his absence for even a hint of narrative continuity!

Unimatrix Zero, Part I

Just what we need for a rip-roaring season climax, yes it’s the return of the once Uber Trek foe, the Borg. Having been thoroughly nerfed in earlier Voyager episodes, this time they’re all buggering off to Silicon Heaven. Well, if it’s good enough for all the calculators, it’s gotta be good enough for 7 and her chums. Yes, it seems like some of the Borg while they’re in their napping vestibules are floating off to a virtual environment that’s way better than life as a drone[4]. And it turns out one of them has had the most drippy romantic relationship with 7 in the past, which somehow she’s utterly forgotten. Man, that’s gotta be a right slap into the ocular implant for that fella! Oh, and remember back in TOS when they used to smear vaseline across the lens every time a pretty lady came aboard the Enterprise? Well, that’s pretty much what the bucolic, agrarian fantasy of Unimatrix Zero looks like too.

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Bugger. It’s jammed again! WD40 anyone?

The Ersatz-Borg Queen is back, and still not played by Alice Krige. She’s not keen on Unimatrix Zero, mainly ‘cos it means her Borgy children are skipping away from that central hive-mind mentality by which she puts so much store. I would love to report that an episode about the Borg, sans the horrific Borg children, was one that left me all a tingle, especially at the climax when (shock!) Janeway, Torres and Tuvok get assimilated. You thought it was traumatic when Picard get Borged up, well I guess we ain’t seen anything yet. Although, my gut tells me Janeway’s Borgification will get hand waved away next season!

Most typically Voyager moment: Tom Paris gets promoted back to Lt and is Harry Kim bitter? Yes, yes he is, as he even vocalises his disgust at Tom jumping up the ranks when he’s had nothing (not even dinner with the captain) in six years. Doubtless, next season Tom will get demoted/promoted again, and still Harry’s career goes nowhere. Man, he really needs to get back to Earth.


Well, that took a lot longer to get through than I planned. Hopefully I can zip through the final season in a matter of weeks. Even faster if they kill off Naomi and the Borg Children (and perhaps cripple Tacotray ala Capt Pike) quick off the bat. What delights lie ahead? I dread to think, but going on the sporadically terrible/awful nature of the latter half of Season Six, I’m not going to hold out much hope of being wowed! But onwards, I must go!

[1] That’s a bit like the time I rated all my friends…wonder why they all stopped talking to me?
[2] A remake of a remake. Man, this one’s going to be fresh and original, isn’t it?!
[3] I say probably, because I’ve had a perception filter installed, and I now can’t physically see her on screen any more. This is to prevent my constant retching everytime she appears.
[4] I make no apologies for the direct Red Dwarf references once more!

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The Great Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: Season 6 (part 1)

What came before: Season 1 | 2A/2B | 3A/3B | 4A/4B | 5A/5B 

Can it be, that I’m only two (longish) seasons away from finally having viewed the only Trek I’ve never watched in its entirety?  Yes, yes I am, 120 episodes down and 35,000ly to go!  I have survived the Vidiian and Kazon years.  I’ve moved beyond Kes’ turgid tales. I’ve had my interest (mildly) piqued by the arrival of the Borg, and then crushed as they get nerfed beyond all recognition.  I’ve enjoyed the courtship of Tom and B’Elanna, been surprised by warming to Harry Kim and frustrated by the uneven handling of Neelix.  Come on!  Is he a genuinely happy go-lucky can-do outer space twonk, or a deeply damaged veteran covering a fragile psyche with a facade of joy?  Pick one, showrunners, don’t flaming alternate between them as suits the plot.

I am, however, still suffering through the Cousin Oliver experience filtered through the Wesley Crusher-like horror that is Naomi ‘I’m the Captain’s Assistant’ Wildman.  I sense there will be much more of her to come in the remaining 52 episodes.  Oh Great Maker, I’ve just noticed Fair Haven’s coming up soon…Voyager’s Up the Long Ladder!

Equinox, Part II

With the Doctor replaced on Voyager with Equinox’s ethically subverted EMH, and 7 also aboard the rogue Federation ship, things don’t look too great for Janeway’s crew.  By and large this episode is rarely, for a Trek two parter, the better half of the story.  We get to witness ‘our’ Doctor turned unethical to extract command codes from 7.  We see Janeway impersonating Captain Ahab, in her pursuit of the great, white Captain Ransom (Moby Dick always being a touchstone for Trek).  As a result we also see Tacotray display a set of balls, when Janeway starts breaching her own ethical code to get information from a captured Equinox crewmember.  We also get some real insight into the sadness and loneliness of command for Ransom, who delves deeper and deeper into his own personal holodeck fantasy.  There’s a moment at the climax of the episode where, knowing his life is done, that Ransome drops into his own personal heaven, just before he’s literally kicked out of existence with a boom.

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Beyond the obvious sexy-times reasons, there’s no explanation for why 7’s in Ransom’s holo-fantasy

It’s clear here we’re finally exploring some deeper and more complex relationships between Starfleet officers, and while the whole floaty dimensional alien threat is pretty poorly CGIed, that doesn’t dismiss that this is a rather more adult an adventure than we normally get with Voyager.  The shades of grey are so thick you can cut them with a knife, which probably explains why the comedy stylings of Neelix or Paris are pretty much totally absent.  A special tip of the hat goes to the Doctor and 7, as once again the most interesting and well-acted pairing on the ship as the mentor turns sadistic inquisitor…and the regrets that come once his ethical subroutines have been restored.  Yes, this is an episode where the black and white Star Trek reductionism is for once shuffled off stage (I know, on DS9 everything was shades of grey) and the show is simply much, much better for it.  More engaging, more exciting, and moreover more authentic feeling.

That said, we do, however, have to suffer through another public domain duet.  Ah well, you can’t have everything.  Now, if the rest of the season can be this multi-layered and compelling, S6 is going to be a belter.  But I suspect, going on past experiences, there’s going to be a fair few narrative barrels left to be scraped yet.

Survival Instinct

I’ve decided this season to track how many times Voyager’s inciting incident is a shuttle crash, because by now it’s become a lazy, repetitive trope.  It also seemingly suggests that 24th century shuttle travel is possibly the most dangerous means of transport available.  Although, this episode opens with a Borg shuttle crash (Crash #1), which I guess is a slight variant.  But lords-a-mercy, from this crash emerges 7 of 9, back in her assimilated days and some of her Borgy chums.  The Borg quintet are suddenly cut off from the Collective, in a manner somewhat at variance with how the Borg’s hive-mind connection has been portrayed previously (cf. TNG: I, Borg), but hey, let’s just roll with it.  Meanwhile in the present day, larks-a-plenty occur when Voyager is docked to essentially the Trek version of Babylon 5 (the Markonian Outpost), meaning aliens of every size, shape and colour (within the episode’s budget) are wandering around the decks.  Before you get too excited about dealing with all these species, turns out this is just a route to getting the three remaining ex-Borg(1*) from the earlier crash aboard Voyager to stalk 7 for initially unknown reasons.

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“Inform Captain Archer I didn’t die at the Vulcan Embassy, after all”

Eventually after a nanoprobe assault on 7, Janeway and crew discover the shared history of these ex-drones (the names are a dead giveaway), although 7 can’t quite place exactly what happened.  Sadly, Tacotray’s medicine bundle is offline, and so the crew have to fallback on plain, old science to probe their memories.  Turns out the ex-drones started re-asserting their individuality after the crash, but square old 7 of 9 reassimilated them to the Borg, against their free will.  Years later they somehow (and this is really glossed over and poorly explained) escaped the Collective once again, ripped their implants out and fled a looooong way from Borg space.  However, the three of them are still linked in a mental triad and their shared thoughts have driven them all half-potty.  The Doctor, ignoring his hippocratic oath (!) offers to sever the connection, albeit at the cost of their lives: live one month as an individual, or a lifetime as part of the triad.  Now, I’m not saying this is a bad episode, there’s some solid performances from the drones and given it paints 7 of 9 not in the greatest of lights, something her character desperately needs, it makes for a nice change of pace.  However, it’s a bit of a downer ending as the three ex-drones slink off to slowly die, including one who stays aboard Voyager, who you know, we’ll never see again or even witness their unpleasant death.  Which all means, the ending falls a bit flat.

Barge of the Dead

You know what everyone was crying out for? Yet another Klingon episode dealing with their mystical side, and featuring 7 and the Doctor’s close harmony on a drinking song.  No, wait, what we needed was B’Elanna having a shuttle crash into the ship (Crash #2), and experiencing part hallucination, part mystical afterlife experience of the titular Klingon Barge of the Dead.  Aboard this grim vessel is her mother, suffering for the sins of the child.  Funny, I thought the Klingons were all about the Sins of the Father…but narrative consistency has rarely been Star Trek’s thing, has it!  A third of the way into the episode B’Elanna wakes up in sickbay, to discover the preceding 15 minutes since the shuttle crash has taken place inside her head.  Or have they?

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“By Grabthar’s Hammer, your mother will be avenged!”

Having previously demonstrated precisely zero interest in Klingon mysticism and spirituality, and being a creature of science, Torres makes a series of wild deductive leaps concluding that (a) mother is dead (b) her experiences on the Barge were ‘real’ and (c) if she doesn’t atone for her sins of not going to Klingon Church on S’Undach, mummy dearest will suffer in Gre’thor for all time.  Okay, that sounds like some sane, sober and entirely rational logic there, Ms Chief-Engineer.  As normal, the second anyone suffers a spiritual crisis, Tactray turns up and promptly tells her it was all psychosomatic.  Wait?  Mr ‘Voices of My Ancestors‘ and ‘Have you seen the Size of my Medicine Bundle‘ has suddenly gone all rational? Native American spirituality’s ‘real’, but Klingon religion’s a load of hooey?  Nice even handed characterisation there scriptwriters, if Tacotray hasn’t got his mystical subplots, he’s got nothing!  Additionally, did nobody think to check in with Mr ‘Death is Nothingness‘ Neelix at any point?  He’s got previous with the old afterlife (as, I recall, has Janeway).

Anyway, B’Elanna petitions the captain to let her undergo a ‘death’ in sickbay, so she can go rescue her mother.  At no point in the dialogue does anyone call out that Torres is clearly suffering a mental breakdown, displaying all the classic post-injury symptomology: sudden mania, irrational decision making etc.  But rather than entertaining the (likely) possibility of this, they agree to bypass the Doctor’s ethical subroutines (2*) and recreate the hypoxia and trauma of the crash.  B’Elanna transfers back to the Barge/suffers a neurological hallucination (take your pick) and after some Klingon mumbojumbo, agrees to be a proper Klingon from now on, and mummy goes off to be happy.  I’d die laughing if, when on returning to the Alpha Quadrant, Torres discovers that her mum is still alive.  Ha! Try explaining to the crew how they compromised their ethics, just to let you take a sanctioned medical voyage to tripout-city! So, have we learned more about Torres?  Possibly.  Will we see her new, zealotic zest for Klingon spirituality in later episodes? Going on past narrative experiences with Voyager, it’s a safe bet it’ll never be mentioned again.  At least until (spoiler alert) she tells Tom she’s going to raise their baby ‘Klingon Orthodox’.

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy

Having had his subroutines messed around with for three straight episodes, the Doctor unsurprisingly develops a rich, delusional private fantasy life wherein he’s the hero of the ship.  Actually, this isn’t too far from the truth, as the Doctor IS the best character on the show, so I wonder if this is actually some sort of meta-commentary by episode writers Joe Menosky and Bill Valleyly.  After a nauseating/hilarious (opinions will differ) combined operatic performance and medical treatment of Tuvok in his fantasies, in the real world he petitions Janeway to develop the Emergency Command Hologram (ECH).  Burned after agreeing last episode to B’Elanna’s batshit-crazy request, she turns him down.  Meanwhile, chubby aliens of the week (the Hierarchy) are spying on Voyager…via the Doctor, which means the information they’re working from is ever so slightly filtered through his fantasies.

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Ahoy, discount Sontarans!

The Doctor’s daydreams soon run away with him (a bit like that late season episode of TNG where Data discovers he can dream), and he has to be reprogrammed.  But not until we’ve seen his fantasies laid bare on the holodeck.  And I do mean bear, with respect to 7 of 9!  All is well until the one of the Hierarchy contacts the Doctor to warn him of their imminent attack.  Hence, hilarity and drama ensues as the Doctor has to bluff his way through a confrontation with the aliens, which he does with great success.  Leaving 7 to give him a peck on the cheek, and an admonishment that she will NOT be posing for him.  Great exit line, enjoyable if disposable episode.

Alice

I think I prefered this one when it was called Stephen King’s Christine.  At a deep space junkyard (hey, there’s a name for a new show) Tom Paris buys a new shuttlecraft to tinker with.  He calls it Alice, after the girl that got away, but pretty soon it’s clear the neural-interface it comes equipped with means he’s seeing the ship’s personality as a lovely lady.  Naturally she wants him all to herself, and tries to kill Torres in a fit of jealousy.  Tom saves her, but he’s still under Alice’s spell, and flees the Voyager to fuse as man and machine.  How Borg of him.  For once the episode ENDS with a shuttle crash, as Alice crashes into her own particle fountain, but not before Tom can be whisked to safety.  It’s not a terrible episode, but then again aside from a bit of Tom and B’Elanna romance subplot, it’s never going to be referenced again.

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Tom Paris: Low Tech Borg

Riddles

This was possibly the best episode of Voyager I’ve seen in a long time, genuinely emotionally affecting with excellent acting turns from both Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ.   Once again some of the crew are off in a shuttle. “Aha“, I thought, “Tuvok and Neelix are going to crash any minute…”  Nope, turns out an invisible alien blasts Tuvok and puts him into a coma, a coma from which the Doctor cannot awaken him, but Neelix’s incessant, annoying interference can.  But the Tuvok who awakens is brain damaged, and while he regains his sanity, he has lost his logic.  Tuvok morns for his loss, and his old interests no longer engage him – hell, even Harry Kim can beat him at Kal-toh now, so you know things are bad!  It takes a brief conversation for Neelix with 7 to reawaken in the caring Talaxian that the possibilities for Tuvok might not be as grim as they first appeared.

Seven “When I was separated from the Collective, I too was damaged. I was no longer connected to the hive mind; I lost many abilities that I had acquired as a drone. But I adapted.
Neelix “Because Captain Janeway didn’t give up on you. She kept trying to help you.
Seven “But not by restoring me to what I’d been; by helping me discover what I could become.

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Tuvok’s Vulcan-hay fever proved to an unfortunately unknown quantity

A new Tuvok emerges, a man who loves cooking and smiling, and who genuinely and warmly reciprocates on the friendship that Neelix has long offered.  There are certainly resonances with the earlier Tuvix, wherein the Vulcan and Talaxian were fused, albeit without direct reference(3*).  Yet, this is where this deep friendship began.  In a better and more continuity rich show, the linkage and character development between these two would have been more evenly handled.  Yet, even in Voyager, this episode builds on some of the rich background that DOES exist between these characters, but is seldom deployed in its episodic narrative.  Okay, the Doctor does find a magic wand to ‘fix’ Tuvok, but as with Tuvix, there is an unwillingness for the man he has become to ‘die’ to return to the Vulcan he was.  And at the end, a slight acknowledgement that not all is lost in the miasma of logic and discipline once more.  Yes, this is another episode that reminds me that with better writing, Ethan Phillip’s Neelix could have been the most complex and probable breakout character of the show.  Next week he’ll be back to being an annoying tit again, like Tuvok’s new personality, the flowering of this more engaging characterisation is all too brief.

Dragon’s Teeth

Aka ‘Voyager wakes up the space nazis, whoops’.  After a brush with a super-space vortex full of space crap, and some grumpy aliens (the Turei), Voyager cuts out the middleman of shuttle crashes and lands itself on a devastated world.  Here, it turns out a civilisation called the Vaadwaur lie in cryogenic slumber.  Thanks to old 7 of 9, for whom Starfleet protocols are still just suggestion, the civilisation starts waking up and working with the Voyager crew.  Janeway is a bit miffed, but given the Turei keep trying to bomb them from orbit, throws in with the apparently maligned sleepers.  Yeah, you could spot the twist from a mile off in this one, long before the omniscient combination of Borg databases and Talaxian folklore (WTF?) reveals that the Vaadwaur were the bad guys, and this world was their last stand.  Now they’re up and running again, they quite fancy borrowing (indefinitely) the Voyager to return to their space conquering ways.

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Vaadwaur tonsilitus is MURDERously painful

A bit of an old skirmish commences, with Voyager, having landed, struggling to get back into orbit.  Hey, maybe that’s why the shuttles are useful!  Janeway, with the help of the one Vaadwaur good guy, jam the Vaadwaur defences and allow the slowly gathering Turei armada to rain down phaser fire.  Despite this, some 53 Vaadwaur ships get away, and as Janeway sternly says to 7 “We haven’t seen the last of them“.  Except this being Voyager, of course we bloody have.  Not like they’re the Borg!

Janeway’s blastard favouritism of the ex-Borg comes through again, as given her actions reawoke and ancient danger totally against orders – 7 gets a simple slap on the wrist.  If she’d been Tom Paris, she’d be in the brig and demoted to kitchen assistant.  One rule for some, another for 7 of 9.

One Small Step

Way back in the early 21st an astronaut orbiting Mars is gobbled up by a funny glowing space lozenge (I think it’s a giant Locket).  Cut to the 24th Century and Voyager comes across the same anomaly, and sends the reliable Delta Flyer in to investigate.  It gets sorta stuck, and Tacotray get’s mortally wounded, or a slip disc (the show’s not clear) and spends most of the episode on his back looking mournful.  7 (who else) has to raid the 21st Century ship for the parts they need to repair the flyer (because as we know, the 16th Century hay-waggon has parts that can fix my car), and listens to the dying log of the NASA astronaut.  A bit like TNG: The Royale, only nowhere near as much fun, or maybe DS9: The Sound of Her Voice.  Also, a large chunk (at least 10 minutes) is just the guest actor wittering on as Tacotray and 7 listen and look serious.  Epoch making, attention grabbing great TV it is not.

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A game of “What time is it Mr Wolf” gets out of hand on Voyager

To add insult to injury, having recovered the astronaut’s body from the anomaly, Janeway fires it off into space in a funeral. Charming!  Didn’t even replicate a set of bagpipes for the Doctor to play.

The Voyager Conspiracy

Aka “That one that’s a bit like Worst Case Scenario“.  Except this time 7 of 9’s added some new processing power means she starts drawing lots of conclusions from multiple sources.  Gosh, it’s just like my research, except with 7 it’s got more Photonic Fleas.  Naturally, slowly turns into the Daily Mail and starts seeing conspiracies at every turn.  First it’s Captain Janeway who’s behind stranding the Voyager deliberately in the Delta Quadrant.  Then it’s all about Tacotray.  She even manages to make Tacotray and Janeway distrust each other, when realistically the first thing they’d do is tell each other “7’s gone mad again“.  I don’t really buy the sudden mistrust between the Captain and her first officer, after all this time.  Earlier in the show’s arc, yeah, but now.  Nah.  Eventually this turns into yet ANOTHER Janeway as 7’s Mum episode, and love saves the day. Blurgh.  Nice idea, but I could happily have skipped this one.

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Janeway’s face sums up this one for me

Oh Naomi Wildman’s in this a bit, but let’s pretend she isn’t okay.  Also an alien with a Gravity Catapult or something, that hurls them “30 sectors” (what, we’re not using light years now?) nearer home.

Pathfinder

Whisper it: This is a genuinely funny, affecting and enjoyable episode of Voyager!  And all they had to do to achieve this miracle, was bring in two TNG favourites in the shape of Lt Reg Barclay and Councillor Deanna Troi.  The framing story is Barcley, now working at Starfleet Command is falling back into obsession, this time partly with contacting the Voyager but also with interacting with a simulation of their crew.  Honestly, Reg, did TNG:Hollow Pursuits not end with you getting over holo-addiction?  Essentially, this is a TNG episode with the real Voyager crew only appearing briefly towards the end.  Reg’s trials and tribulations to convince Starfleet that his wacked out engineering ideas, despite his odd lifestyle choices, are actually works of genius makes a strong and compelling narrative.  We even finally get to meet the real Admiral Paris face-to-face too, which leads to a wonderful character moment for Tom.

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Maybe they’ll tell Voyager the uniforms got updated too?

Dwight Schultz and Marina Sirtis are just relaxed and confident in their guest performances, as you might expect given how long they’ve both played the roles.  It really shows that with polished actor performances and a solid script Voyager can make for compelling TV.  Honestly, I challenge any Trek fan to come away from this episode without a warm, satisfied glow!  However, it’s fair to say S6 is certainly making gems such as Pathfinder fewer and far between.  And after this highspot (both in terms of Voyager’s quest for home, and the show itself), we’re about to return to the race to the bottom…

Fair Haven

The Voyager crew go through another space storm and have to ride out the boredom in yet another ‘popular’ holodeck simulation: Sandrine’s and Mr Neelix’s holiday zones clearly have lost their lustre, and no-one but Tom, Harry and the Delany-sisters are keen on Captain Proton.  Hence, this time it’s the small Oirish (sic) town of Fair Haven where life and potatoes slow to a crawl, and it’s only enlivened by Janeway reprogramming one of the characters to be her sex-bot.  When she deleted his wife, increased his education and changed his personality I thought “Why doesn’t she just use a sex-toy, like the rest of the crew, eh?“.  Seriously, there’s some seriously poor ethical judgements here from Kathy, that if Harry Kim made them, everyone would be outraged.  That the Captain can reprogramme an artificially intelligent simulation (you know, like the one who works for her in Sick Bay) to match her own romantic expectations, once more we must question just HOW enlightened is Starfleet, really?

However, there are two far more important questions that must be addressed in this truly dreadful episode.  The first question is “Can Fair Haven be even worse than Once Upon a Time?“.  The second question is ‘Does this episode constitute as racist a interpretation of the Irish people as Up the Long Ladder?‘.  Tackling the latter one first, it is actually somehow even worse than Up the Long Ladder.  Sure, no friendly Colleen offers to wash someone’s feet, but every single Irish cliche you can imagine (and a few more besides) are on screen.  Not to mention, the crew all start talking in wildly terrible Oirish brogues too and affect cripplingly embarrassing stereotypical mannerisms.

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‘Top o’the morning to you’ – No NO, just fucking NO!

It is bad.  Really, really bad.  Still not convinced?  Consider this: If Fair Haven was set in sub-saharan Africa, would it have been okay for the crew to black-up and do ‘African’ accents?  No, no it wouldn’t, and hence this episode is riven with poorly and deeply racially offensive Irish stereotypes.  As to the second question: No. This episode is shite, but Once Upon a Time remains an unadulterated considered a crime against humanity.

Blink of an Eye

Voyager gets stuck above a world trapped in some kind of temporal bubble, where an entire civilisation rises in a few days.  Naturally, trying to communicate with the accelerated race is more than a little problematic (not to mention a breach of the Prime Directive), as anyone going down would age years by the time they were beamed up again.  Thankfully though, we have the Doctor and his mobile emitter to voyage and explore this strange race.  Now, by this point, if you know your Trek like I do, you’ll be saying to yourself “Didn’t Kirk do this story already with a Sexy Lady?“.  Yes, yes he did in the bloody-hell-it’s-almost-the-same-name TOS: Wink of an Eye.  The story this time though isn’t about a dying race needed to breed with strong, healthy Earthmen, but rather the effect on a civilisation of having a Spaceship locked in perpetual low orbit above them.

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How the hell does this planet not just tear itself apart?

Eventually, the race reaches for the stars (which oddly, despite the accelerated planet timeline aren’t whirling above them madly) and boards Voyager to make first contact.  Relative years later on the planet surface the aliens decide to start taking pot-shots at the ship, which means the crew must return the now time-lost astronauts and try and score a peace.  It’s not a terrible tale, although just like Blink of an Eye the whole super-advanced time-line aliens falls down when you think about it (by the time a week’s gone by, they should have advanced to the level of the Q I think).  On the other hand, it doesn’t mean a great deal to the overall voyage home.

Bonus marks for having the marvelous B5:CrusadeLost and Hawaii 5-0 future-alumnus Daniel Dae Kim playing the astronaut who finally makes first contact!

Virtuoso

Ah, another chance for the Doctor to sing his way(4*) through songs that exist only in the public domain, to avoid paying any royalty rights.  Snarking aside, this is a belter of a comedy episode as the Voyager crew encounter a stuck up advanced race (the Qomar), who love mathematics but have never heard of music.  Once the Doctor accidentally serenades them, their whole race gradually falls head over heels in love with his performances.  Bob Picardo, as we’ve noted before, has a cracking voice, and coupled with his normal great comedy chops, this makes for an episode that actually had me laughing out loud in places for all the right reasons for once.  There’s a lovely double edged sword to this episode, since as the Doctor deals with his increasingly ardent fans we get some knowing nods towards the more rapid end of the ‘Pasadena Star Trek Convention‘ types from Janeway.

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The updated Starfleet uniform specs got garbled in transmission it appears

Once again though we hit Voyager’s (and Star Trek) problem with rights and self-actualisation for artificial lifeforms(5*), as the Doctor decides to quit Starfleet to concentrate on his new found musical stardom.  Janeway is more than a little pissed off, far more than (as the Doctor points out) if ‘Harry Kim fell in love with an alien woman’.  Chance would be a fine thing eh Harry – a plotline AND a woman, no-way!  Unfortunately, the Doctor finds that hope copying is killing music (!) as the Qomar replicate an improved version of the Doctor and don’t need the original.  That’s right, Voyager is pro-copyright (shocker!).  Poor old Doctor, he’s suddenly the iPhone 6 in an iPhone 7 world.  Better not tell the Captain, or she’ll want to take the upgraded version along instead!  Poor sod, back to the Voyager he goes to eat crow and resume his duties, where the joy of one fan letter is worth far more than the adulations of thousands.


Whoo, half-way through a season with two cracking episodes (Riddles and Pathfinder), a monstrously awful one (Fair Haven) and two comedy-drama Doctor-centric episodes (VirtuosoTinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy).  I guess it could be much, much worse…and those Borg children are just around the corner now.  Onwards we go!

1*: One of whom is played by Vaughn ‘Admiral Forrest from Enterprise’ Armstrong, who I kept waiting to tell Captain Archer to do something or mention the Vulcan High Command.
2*: Again!  They don’t say this, but given his performance in the past couple of episodes it’s the only conclusion I can reach that justifies his decisions.  Maybe they didn’t fix his programme that well when they got him back from the Equinox?
3*: On reflection I’d like to view this episode as a direct, thematic sequel to Tuvix, given it deals with the same two characters.  That gives it more of a DS9 kind of feel, which can only be a good thing.  Not quite Miles and Julian level friendship banter, but close.
4*: I’m not convinced it’s Bob Picardo singing all the time as his voice changes a bit in the live performances he gives on the Qomar homeworld
5*: I know we get back to this issue again in Author, Author in S7, where copyright absolutely does play a major narrative part.  No one tell them about that monkey who took a photo!