The episode does a fantastic job of presenting us with the story of Icheb’s parents and how they lost him, characterising them in a realistic way, exploring his tentativeness about returning and dealing with Seven’s inevitable loss. It is so convincing it feels that halfway through the episode we might be able to close this one down at about the half an hour point. So, when the twist comes it feels like a real knife to the gut because we have been entirely hoodwinked by the previous half and hour of gentle and probing drama. It’s expertly done.
Character – After his introductory episode I wouldn’t have thought that Icheb would go on to be one of the standout characters of the season but this episode goes a long way towards achieving that. I love that instead of thinking like a child for his science project, he dares to create something that could potentially make Voyager a safer and more sophisticated craft on its journey through the Delta Quadrant.
Performance – Any episode that asks Jeri Ryan to look longingly just off camera and emote is in luck as she is genuinely one of the finest actresses the franchise ever had the fortune to dish up. Fortunately (because this is not always the case in series six and seven) it is paired with a dramatic and satisfying script this week and Seven gets to make one more step closer to humanity. Bringing the Borg children on board and having Seven look after them means that now she is in a maternal role, and this is the episode the shows those strings being cut and has her experience the loss of losing a child. Powerful stuff, but Ryan plays it with restraint for the most part which makes it more effective and then with some furious injustice towards the end of the episode. She’s quite magnificent. This is all rolled up engagingly in Seven’s backstory where she was separated from her parents through some quite questionable decisions on their part…which makes Seven even more unwilling to let go of Icheb and even more determined to get him back when it turns out that he has been utilised in a similarly thoughtless way by his parents. This is great character growth, and I don’t often say that on this show.
Mark Sheppard and Tracey Ellis are superbly cast as Icheb’s parents. If you’re going to try and do this sort of sleight of hand well then you need actors of some ability to pull off the emotional material before revealing who they really are. Manu Intiraymi gives a solid performance in this episode. Like Ryan in series four, he’s trying to show a character who has had all of his individuality stripped away but is trying to find his voice again. He does that by coming across a little robotically but that isn’t a criticism of his acting, I think it is a conscious choice. Certainly, in series seven he would start to explore more emotions.
Great Dialogue – ‘Bred to kill Borg?’
Production – Wowzas, despite the slightly dated CGI, Voyager manages to pull of the visual of a colony on the edge of extinction with an enormous hole gouged out of it by the Borg. What is so striking about it is that it isn’t a visual that is added for dramatic value like the teaser of The Best of Both Worlds Part I, it is just an establishing shot that tells the history of the colony dynamically whilst adding some real atmosphere to the story. I would expect nothing less of Mike Vejar, he was the king of adding striking visuals even when the script doesn’t demand them.
Best moment – I practically get a hard on when Janeway and Seven get serious with each other and I am in no way attracted to either of them. They are just so strong when they are in conflict and the argument over whether Icheb should remain with his parents or not is on one of their greatest moments.
I wish they hadn’t done that – The only moment that really jars is that the rather important plot point that Icheb was on a ship when he was assimilated comes after he has left to be with his parents. If it had come any sooner than the story could not have played out as it did because Seven would have had a reason to investigate that discrepancy.
A reason to watch this episode again – If they were going to kill off Icheb in a grisly fashion, then this was the episode to do it in. His eventual fate was entirely unjust, especially after the sort of ending he could have gotten here. Child’s Play is a superb episode of Voyager and precisely the sort of thing they needed to be doing in the sixth season when they were the lone voice of the franchise. A meaty story with a great twist, pulling together some well crafted character continuity (Seven) to inform some touching development (their mother/son relationship, which is really cemented at the end of this). Add in some marvellous direction and music and the sort of location work that only Star Trek with its impressive budget can pull off and you have a top dollar episode that is surrounded by some real mediocrity in the latter half of this season. If they were all like this and Muse, perhaps fans would have been crying out for more seasons. Jeri Ryan is particularly strong and I never fail to be impressed by how much emotion can be sifted from her restraint (she reminds me of Rene Auberjonois, but I would be hard pressed to tell you who was the better actor). Finally, Mark Sheppard turns up in Star Trek so he can put every single cult TV show on his resume (Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, etc). I love the fact that it looks like the kids are staying and Icheb is leaving, when the show takes precisely the opposite direction. The twist when it comes is a real surprise and the last act has some real fire about it. This really is a forgotten gem.
****/12 out of *****