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

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!

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