Sunday, 8 July 2012

Voyager Season Five

Night written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky (Braga always takes the first billing – ever notice that?) and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: A new deadly expanse faces Voyager…

Hepburn-a-Like: The way Janeway remains unseen for over ten minutes into the episode made me wonder if Chakotay hadn’t murdered her and was just covering for the fact that she was lying dead in her quarters! The truth is even more chilling as we finally get to see her, brooding in private and questioning every decision she has ever made since they entered the Delta Quadrant. Perhaps she looked back over the past five years and saw how inconsistent her character was and couldn’t reconcile her choices from one adventure to the next! Still actual characterisation of Janeway – I’m over the moon! Seeing her silhouetted and menacing in her quarters and she is like a messianic psychopath dreaming of the days when the ship was surrounded by Borg cubes. Isn’t it a bit late to be pondering on the decision to strand the crew in the Delta Quadrant five years after the event? Had this come at the beginning of season two it might have meant something but after all the successes and failures surely Janeway can see that they have at least achieved something because of her decision. Its not until the ship is in danger the she pulls herself out of her depressive slump. When Tuvok suggests that Janeway’s unorthodox approach to command is her greatest strength and weakness the writers are as good as admitting they have fudged her character but it is a pretty spot on description of schizophrenic Kathy. I don’t get why she is agonising over a moment of compassion that help to save an entire species. Get over it love! Apparently she wont make that mistake again so I hope there aren’t any civilisations in trouble out there next to method for Voyager to get home because she would be ‘see ya wouldn’t wanna be ya’ Janeway! ‘You realise you called all be hanged for mutiny’ Janeway states when her crew all refuse to let her stay behind and fight the cause for them. I don’t know why they all act as if she’s joking – given her behaviour here and her Nazi like punishments in the past I could imagine a gallows being set up in a cargo bay!

Tattoo: Hilariously Chakotay suggests that there has been some kind of tension between him and Tuvok since ‘day one.’ No Chakotay, that was on day one (when he discovered that Tuvok was a spy in his terrorist cell) and possibly in State of Flux but since then you have been the best of buddies like everybody else on this ship of saccharine family goodness. Don’t make such bold exclamations of character Braga/Menosky if you can’t back it up with any evidence.

EMH: I love it when Chaotica boasts that there is one horror even Proton cannot face and then the Doctor appears, greeted by a scream from the busty heroine!

Brilliant B’Elanna: More sitcom bitching between Tom and B’Elanna – after skipping from the more deftly handled Worf & Dax romance on DS9 this feels about as deep as a puddle. How lovely for Neelix to have a go at them for behaving so childishly! Now she has had her baby Dawson is playing Torres far more dynamically again – I hope we get some decent examination of her character this year because it was completely absent last year. The last decent Torres episodes were Remember and Blood Fever, the best moments of season three.

Borg Babe: Seven sabotaging the robot within seconds made me spit out my coffee! Its so wonderful to see Voyager going for the funny bone and succeeding. 

Forever Ensign: Even Harry Kim is momentarily funny in the Chaotica programme as he stands too close to the screaming victim and winces in pain. It doesn’t last too long though: ‘Let’s think of this as a two year vacation!’ Oh fuck off, Harry. Imagine being trapped in a featureless void with this lot?

Spotted Dick: I know he means well but why is it always Neelix who chirpily suggests a new fun scheme to keep everybody amused? I suggest they tie Neelix up in the Mess Hall and shoot Leola roots of his head with phasers. However it would appear that Neelix is adapting all that well to life without light and its nice to see the usually unflappable Talaxian suffering (nice disorienting handheld camerawork in his quarters!).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Now tell me – what are you doing in the middle of nowhere?’
‘I guess mass murder doesn’t factor into your profit margin?’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Seven, I want good news and that’s an order’ ‘Then I must disobey’ – after half a season of rich DS9 dialogue down we come with a thump with the Voyager crapalouge!
‘Time to take out the garbage!’ – I was hoping they would be able to resist that one…

The Good: It only took them five years but Voyager has finally managed to find a holodeck programme that doesn’t suck! I wont mention Fair Haven just yet but suffice to say it doesn’t last forever but whilst it lasts the ultra camp, black and white Bride of Chaotica programme is both entertaining and visually interesting. Bravo! The sets are delightfully retro and the fashions (Chaotica himself sports a lightning patterned dress that even David Bowie might have refused to wear!) and the garbage can robot would have been rejected from Doctor Who! Only Paris could consider his daft programme to be sociological exercise! Despite the fact that Scorpion Part II was a winner it is lovely to begin a season in such a relaxed fashion and not having to tie up the loose ends of the previous year. The idea of a completely black area of space with no stars to guide them is a chilling one and it’s a good chance to make all the characters feel trapped inside the ship and to re-examine where they are in this journey. It’s amazing that something as simple as taking the stars away can create such a striking visual look both inside and outside the ship. A blackout is the most obvious ploy to pull in this episode but its still very effective enhancing the feelings paranoia from the crew. Engineering in particular looks gorgeous lit up with torches. The costumes for the night creatures initially look dreadful but its only upon close examination in sickbay that you can see how skilfully done they are with their soft rubbery flesh extended to their faces.  The Maelon aren’t the most interesting looking of species but the idea that they dump their antimatter waste in other peoples territory does give them a attention-grabbing hook.

The Bad: Why is it that whenever this show threatens to tell a sustained story (such as their entrance into Borg space) that there is always some shitty vortex or plot device to shove them out of it when they have barely begun exploring its potential? Two years in dark space might have been really interesting – they could have found all sorts inside the darkness to have kept the momentum of the season going. We’re right back to normal at the end of the episode (and isn’t it a remarkable co-incidence that when they emerge from the darkness it is the most beautiful array of star clusters that greets them?) and from experience we know that Janeway’s doubts about her character, the talk of a possible treason between Tuvok and Chakotay and Neelix’s claustrophobia will never be mentioned ever again. Wasted opportunities all.

Moment to Watch Out For: The special effects of the glowing ships attacking Voyager in the night light are spectacular (that’s one area where I can rarely fault this show) and I like the design of the Maelon ships with their exhaust pipes spewing toxic waste into space.

Result: Voyager opens its season on a character episode? Will wonders never cease? Night is a solid piece which displays some deftness of characterisation triggered from the intriguing notion of an area space completely devoid of stars. Its not perfect mind because half of the regulars are crushing bores and non-entities but the better characters (Janeway, Seven, even Neelix) get some nice moments that could almost be called development if we didn’t already know that everything will be back to normal in Drone. Massive kudos for the new holosuite programme which is frothy and fun and the latest aliens to show up clearly aren’t supposed to be the new ‘big bad’ so they get a pass on the fact that they are quite interesting. The performances are mostly concrete (even Robert Beltran looks awake this week) and David Livingston manages to pull off some fine atmospherics in the darkened ship. Not the most thoughtful or exciting episode of Star Trek but this is a promising opener to a season that has a lot to make up for: 7/10

Drone written by Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Seven’s nanoprobes and the Doctor’s mobile emitter assimilate and create a 29th Century Borg lifeform…

Hepburn-a-Like: Oh gosh here goes Janeway back to her old self attempting to teach the superior values of humanity to this Borg creatures. Hang on a second…weren’t you just criticising your own human failings in the last episode and slumped in depression over your own character flaws? Weren’t the two writers of that episode also responsible for bringing this script to life? Besides she sounds an awful lot like Picard when she talks like this, I find it unnerving. Its hilarious how she harps on about individuality but when it acts upon that she turns up with fifty guns pointing at the creature! She’s so backwards, this woman!

EMH: The Doctor has developed an interest in holo photography which would come back to haunt him in this seasons Latent Image. His haunting of Torres whilst she is trying to sleep and get in the shower is very funny but understandable. Once you have had a taste of freedom and then you are confined to one room again it must be frustrating.

Brilliant B’Elanna: Leave it to B’Elanna to wonder how many more Borg hitchhikers they are going pick up on the way! She reckons that is their new method attack, not to assimilate but to turn up and look helpless. To suggest that Torres is ‘tending to violent eruption’ is quite succinct!

Borg Babe: Opening on Seven’s attempt to crack a realistic smile in the mirror, Drone looks set to be another step in her ongoing struggle to rediscover her humanity. She practically laughs at the thought of instructing the Borg Drone in the ways of humanity…well she raises an eyebrow at least but that is the next best thing for Seven! She looks like a proud mother when One starts helping out on the ship and offering his extensive knowledge to improve the running of Voyager. Seven is right that the possibility of this Borg wanting to rejoin the Collective would be tactically dangerous but Janeway harps on about his rights as an individual! Seven and One going to sleep together is oddly touching (although the way it walks into the alcove is a gag that just isn’t funny). When Seven is asked if she wants to rejoin the Collective and she admits that Voyager is her Collective now I cheered – that is a moment of genuine character development! She experiences anxiety at the approaching Borg so clearly she has clung onto enough of her humanity to fear becoming what she was again.

Forever Ensign: Oh bless, when everybody else is enjoying nice character scenes poor old Harry is having the piss ripped out of him by Chakotay (of all people!) for his late night Bridge command duties! Oh yeah that’s because he has no character despite the (lack of) searching for one for five years!

Spotted Dick: Of all the people to give the Drone a guided tour of the ship! Apparently whiskers and spots still give people the willies now!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m a Doctor! Not a peeping Tom!’
‘You are hurting me…’ – cleverly this is woven into the episode twice with very different meanings each time. I’m not used to this kind of subtlety of character so it is lovely when it comes along.
‘It will become what we help it to become!’ ‘Umm…hoe Starfleet of you!’ – with this brief exchange you know everything you need to know about why you should avoid Neelix and actively seek out Torres.

The Good: The talk of Tom developing a new shuttle is promising – its not exactly the most riveting kind of development (that’s when it is focussed on the characters) but I’ll take anything. The shot of the Doctor’s mobile emitter sprouting Borg probes is just intriguing enough to work. Dramatic scenes of Tuvok and his security team walking armed towards the science lab add a sense of urgency. Is it my imagination or are the directors trying to make this show look a little more dynamic so far this year? The foetal Borg is clearly the work of primitive CGI but its still a nightmarish image and it was the one that stuck in my head from my previous viewings of this episode so it must have made an impact at the time. The mixing of two technologies is intriguing but I wish the result had been more…exciting. Shots from the Borg’s POV are great, there should have been more of those. Oooh…the big round Borg Cube is practically cinematic in its scope.

The Bad: As soon as they introduce some random extraneous character for one episode that we’ve never heard of before it is obvious that he is going to be important in this episode and Mulcahey fits this category to a tee. Going one better than Tuvix, the Drone mixes elements of three crewmembers (Mulcahey, Seven and the Doctor) – an intriguing prospect but one that has been done before. Then a lack of originality is hardly Voyager’s most infrequent sin. Whilst the idea of this retarded looking Drone  hanging around doesn’t exactly fill me with joy it does bug me that Voyager could increase its dreary main cast with characters like this but they always shy away from it. Instead its characters like Naomi Wildman (cute kid) and Icheb (cute Borg kid) that get the limelight. Go figure. Its frustrating that the Drone is slapped up inside such a tatty costume and is brought to life so mechanically by J. Paul Boehemer because this character could have been something special…and why does he walk like he has shat himself? Because of his lacking performance I simply cannot make any kind of connection with this Drone emotionally – Boehemer was much more impressive as a hot Nazi. Those who have said that he walks and talks like Kryten from Red Dwarf without the charm were spot on. This is basically the same plot as DS9’s The Abandoned with an infant version of the shows Big Bad turning up and discovering about its peoples atrocities and deciding to head off into the great unknown at the end and break its mentors heart (for Seven replace with Odo). There’s even similar dialogue in this episode - ‘She was frightened of me…’ Discussion of giving the Drone a name is directly stolen from I, Borg. Haven’t they been given two shoves (The Gift & Hope and Fear) since they last encountered the Borg? Shouldn’t it take them an age to catch up with Voyager? Is anybody mapping out the Delta Quadrant so there can be some internal consistency within this area of space? The Borg are so easily destroyed these days that I feel quite sorry for them! Surely this is not the effect that Braga and company are going for? On his death bed One sounds like he has reached a climactic moment in his masturbation cycle (yeah you heard that correctly!).

Moment to Watch Out For: Jeri Ryan’s performance at the end of the episode actually makes you feel something for One. That’s how good she is.

Fashion Statement: Torres in the shower is pure titillation but I’m almost willing to bet it work for the desired portion of the audience! Erm where did Todd Babcock come from because he is just about the most gorgeous bloke on the ship? 

Result: Another reasonable character piece – bestill my beating heart Voyager! When it is focussing on Seven of Nine, Drone is excellent and it is clear that this is one character the writing staff are interested in developing. The visuals are extremely strong again too with some of Les Landau’s best ever direction on the show. What lets it down is that after creating a real atmosphere of mystery around the 29th Century Borg the finished result is so disappointing. So while this should be a touching teacher/pupil relationship you’ve got a gorgeous performance from Jeri Ryan and a wooden one from Boehemer which leaves the emotional scenes a little half hearted and lacking punch. There is nothing charismatic, interesting or appealing about this character and I refuse to believe that is the effect they were going for. On the plus side the dialogue is much stronger than usual and there really are some fine atmospherics throughout the piece. There’s not a lot more I can say – some will have you believe that this is some kind of modern day classic but its too unoriginal (I, Borg, The Abandoned) and choppy for that but it does have some good moments: 6/10

Extreme Risk written by Kenneth Biller and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: B’Elanna is in a suicidal mood because she wants to feel something…

Tattoo: Chakotay’s odd attempt at trying to make Torres admit what she is feelings sees him start up a programme that sees all of her Maquis friends being killed. He literally makes her watch the thing that is eating her up inside. What had happened if she had been raped? Would he have made her watch that too?

Brilliant B’Elanna: I would never have thought it possible and may have spat in your eye had you suggested it before seeing this episode but Roxan Dawson is phoning it in in Extreme Risk! Either the script is failing her dismally (it is) or she doesn’t care for this direction for her character but something fails to reach orbit here and she looks…bored throughout. Let me get this straight – Torres is really upset because all of her Maquis friends are dead? That’s not bad development…had it taken place in the episode following Hunters last year when she found out? This episode is practically a whole season later and this is the first we hear about it? Either deal with the problem whilst its still raw of leave it alone. It feels as though the writers just fancied telling a story that sees Torres getting off on extreme sports and this was how they thought they could justify the plot. I’m so but I’m not buying it. A shame because I have been gagging for a decent B’Elanna story for ages but this is no better than last years Day of Honor. Another thing I don’t buy is how Torres is suddenly calling the Captain ‘Janeway’ and bitching about Starfleet – I’m sorry but she hasn’t behaved liked that since season two! Throughout seasons three and four Torres was a complete Starfleet drone and showed decent respect for the Captain so why the sudden backtracking? Apparently she is refusing to allow herself to grieve because it is so difficult to come to terms with her friends dying so shockingly and so she has built up barriers that means she feels nothing. As a result she is enjoying extreme sports because she wants to feel something? What the hell? Oddly after a seconds jeopardy in the Delta Flyer Torres is suddenly cured and we never hear about any of this ever again. What a terrific surprise. Why even bother to comment? She doesn’t reach any kind of resolution and the episode doesn’t explain but suddenly Torres can smile again at a stack of banana pancakes? This is some dreadful writing…

Parisian Rogue: There is an extremely odd pregnancy metaphor behind Tom discussing how he and B’Elanna have always wanted to truly collaborate on a project and make something together. I’m glad the drop the technobabble eventually and just get on with having a real baby because its kind of disturbing.

Spotted Dick: Extreme Risk once against shows how Neelix can be an asset to this show. Not as a main cast member which he is often used as and shoehorned into awkward roles but as a semi regular and a kind of Guinan style counsellor who people head to in the middle of the night to talk to when they have a problem. He works so much better in this fashion and sweetly offers Torres some good support here. Astonishing how likable he can be when the writers give him something real to say and Philips brings the performance down from the stratosphere.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Class II shuttles just don’t cut it in the Delta Quadrant!’ – you’ve realised this now, five years into your journey home?
‘You have a new family now here on Voyager!’ – oh fuck off!

The Bad: A stomach turning observation – Jeri Taylor is being billed as a ‘creative consultant’ these days! The first scene might have worked had they taken Roxan Dawson on a real sky dive but instead the ropey effects and complete lack of buffeting as she descends insists that this is an illusion all along. When DS9 needed a kick up the ass they brought in the Defiant, the small, well muscles warship with kick ass weapons! Voyager introduces…the Delta Flyer! A new form of shuttlecraft (how terribly exciting!) which I am certain will inexplicably be destroyed several times before the show ends.

Anomaly of the Week: One of Voyager’s probes is sucked into a gas giant! Hurrah! It feels as though we are slipping back into season one again! Remember, when the show had some promise? 

Result: Written by the man who wrote Unity and the directed who brought to life The Best of Both Worlds – how can this be so dull? When your best scene is Torres and Neelix catching up over a stack of banana pancakes you know an episode is in trouble! To be fair once again Voyager is trying to do something with its characters which should be applauded but it is so unconvincing and hackneyed its one time I wish they had never bothered. Torres has been hiding her extreme sports of obsession for over half a year which makes the whole purpose of following up the news she got in Hunters feel quite superfluous. The Maelon make a tedious sophomore appearance as they race with Voyager to hunt down a Starfleet probe in a subplot which seems designed to simply fill time rather than provide entertainment. Roxan Dawson is a fine actress but even she seems bored by this material and only really comes alive at the conclusion. These days I’m not sure what I want from Voyager anymore (because all the things I do want – arc storylines, tough decisions, strong characterisation are never going to happen) but I do know this isn’t it. Kenneth Biller is a writer you can usually rely on to provide something interesting but Extreme Risk is nothing but a splurge of babble (both techno and psycho) and in both cases lacks any substance: 3/10

In the Flesh written by Nick Sagan and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: ‘You’ve never had a date with Species 8472!’

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway moons over the last time she visited Starfleet HQ which is a bit of a joke because it is the most boring place in the galaxy! As Quark says in What You Leave Behind ‘Earth is nothing but a rotating ball of borderm!’ but it appears that Voyager is taking the ‘there’s none finer than a Starfleet world’ approach that TNG promoted. ‘You picked a fine time for an ethical debate!’ – whatever happened to that sensitive, fascinating woman of the first series who genuinely seemed to give a shit about the consequences of her actions. Now Janeway just wanders in guns blazing and damn the cost (unless she is having a five years too late crisis of conscience like in Night). Even Mulgrew’s performances lack any of the subtlety of the early seasons – she wanders around her Ready Room like a blazing eyed psychopath and then robotically spits out orders on the Bridge. I miss the real Captain Janeway who has vanished in the last three years.

Tattoo: Proof that it wasn’t just his (lack of) chemistry with Kellian in Unforgettable, Chakotay cannot flirt with any woman convincingly as he demonstrates here. I think it would have been more sexy if he had tripped into the room and landed in her lap.

Borg Babe: Seven makes the claim that Species 8472 wants to purge every galaxy of life but they seem perfectly harmless to me!

Spotted Dick: I don’t know why he bothers opening his mouth. All that comes out is oral bilge. Harry has always wondered what it would be like to date an alien (forgetting that he had all those girls cooing over him in Favourite Son) – then why don’t you stop being such an irritating boil on my ass and go and flirt with one?

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Headquarters has a lot more to offer than conference rooms and consoles!’ – didn’t Harry Kim have a similarly stomach turning line about Voyager not being ‘all Jeffries tubes and corridors’ last year?
‘Voyager may be the last defence against an all out invasion of Earth!’ – nothing of the sort is on the cards but you know this line was included so they could slip into the promos and try and get more people watching! We’re so far from Earth at this point the statement is laughable and Janeway should be sectioned for her hysterics.
‘I should have brought a holoimager. You make a pretty picture’ – oh vomit.
‘Targ manure!’
‘Sit down! Or I’ll knock you right down on your human butt!’

The Good: What an intriguing teaser – opening the episode at Starfleet Academy with Chakotay taking covert photographs from afar looks like it might be the beginnings of something quite special. The sets, location work and ambiance for the Earth settings is all well above average for Voyager but when the logic and interest is lacking its just surface gloss. Going from night to day is very The Truman Show but it doesn’t stop it being the best moment in the whole episode.

The Bad: Sticking Boothby in the grounds of Starfleet HQ is another direct rip off from TNG. Voyager seriously needs to look at its own individuality and try and recognise that it has none. The very idea of bringing back Species 8472 this long after their last appearance once again leaves me questioning the logic of the journey home. Didn’t they get a massive push forward again at the end of Hope and Fear last season? How far does fluidic space extend? Now lets look at the insane logic of them attempting to pull of an exact replica of Starfleet HQ which doesn’t make any practical sense since they are so far away from the Alpha Quadrant the human race will hardly pose a threat. The idea of a training ground to prepare for an invasion is a very old idea but it does have some merit however what is going on here is much more tedious than that. It strikes me of some clever dick on the Voyager staff thinking this kind of ratings pleasing familiar imagery is the right way to run this show. The next thing you know they will be bringing back Geordi La Forge just to give the ratings a boost! Besides humanising the greatest threat known to mankind is so old on Trek now this is taken to the absolute extreme. I was never impressed with the design of Species 8472 but at least they were scarier than this bunch? And the thought of an alien race that can take on the Borg resorting to diplomacy…this is genuinely what the writing team thought was the most satisfying way to end this species’ time on the show? Imagine if they had ended the Dominion War not with an all out war with billions of lives lost but they had gone for this approach? Its shockingly bad even fore Voyager and shows a huge amount of contempt for anybody who might be following this show with keen interest in its development. Forgive me for not wanting to thinking about Chakotay and a member of Species 8472 (why didn’t they give them a decent name?) enjoying Pon Farr night in a Vulcan nightclub! There is so much that is wrong with that sentence it would tire me to point it all out. The two of them getting off with each other as ‘part of their training?’ Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Boo hiss for the worst chase scene known to man as Chakotay barely trots away from his pursuers and doesn’t even struggle as they drag him away. Are they trying to make this as incident free as possible? Boothby spitting threats to Janeway in his special geriatric fashion is hardly the climactic send off this species deserved. Then to end their time on Voyager arguing diplomatically over a table? Zzzz…

Moment to Watch Out For: The CGI on this show is generally of an extremely high standard but the transformation of the human into a member of Species 8472 looks so primitive and blocky I would tossed it away and just gone for reaction shots. It completely spoils the reveal (which to be fair throws up so many irritating questions and logic gaps that it does that on its own anyway). Later scenes of it twitching on the bio bed are robotic and similarly inauthentic taking you right out of the story.

Fashion Statement: I’m not sure about Janeway’s hair in this episode – it’s a bit too thick and agony aunt – I hope she has a trim soon! 

Result: Starfleet HQ, Boothby and humanising the bad guys – this is an episode of TNG, right? In the Flesh plays out like a bad b movie (the scene where the Federation babes leg turns all crusty is especially camp) with a crazy concept (a replica Earth) that only gets more and more confused and unconvincing as each twist unfolds. Species 8472 get an ending that is so pat its laughable and they prove that they genuinely were far more interesting in theory (a race that could take down the Borg) than they ever were in practice (aside from almost killing Harry Kim which should be applauded). They were so rubbish a race they didn’t even get an actual name, just a designation. The fake Earth raises some interest for a heartbeat or too until you realise this is all another ratings ploy rather than a story worth telling. I had high hopes for season five but this looks set to be another disappointing year of Voyager. Lame in the extreme: 2/10

Once Upon a Time written by Michael Taylor and directed by John T. Kretchmer

What’s it about: Neelix baby sits Naomi Wildman…

Hepburn-a-Like: One more cup of coffee and Janeway will jump to warp – after her schizophrenic behaviour so far this season that’s a terrifying concept!

EMH: It makes me laugh that a well rounded, beautifully performed character like the Doctor is insulted on a regular basis by the crew (mostly in jest but the point still stands) whilst the characters with genuine flaws (Chakotay, Paris, Kim) get away Scot free! In a few minutes worth of material between the Doctor and Naomi and you can see a whole other episode playing out…one where at least half of the central duo is bearable. I love the way he explains science in such a theatrical way so to get Naomi interested in it. 

Forever Ensign: Naturally Harry the village idiot is a massive fan of the Flotter stories.

Spotted Dick: Poor Ethan Philips, once he was performing in shows as deftly written as Jetrel and now he is the babysitter for little Miss Goody-Two Shoes. He starts ranting that a Starship is no place for a child to grow up but I’d say its pretty character defining! Neelix having a paddy on the Bridge about being Naomi’s Godfather is hilariously bad – is this what Star Trek has come to? Ethan Philips’ performance when he loses it at Janeway is truly, truly horrendous and he take it down a notch!

Goody Two-Shoes: I’ll tell you what the problem is with Naomi Wildman – she’s just too sickly sweet for her own good! So much so that you want bad things to happen to her just so she stops spewing out oodles of treacly goodness. Which I think defeats the object of what this episode is trying to be about. Its an interesting dilemma because if you have a child character acting all rebellious and angst ridden then they become Dawn Summers from Buffy season six (‘Get out! Get out! GET OUT!’) and you want to strangle them with your bare hands but if they are all gooey cuteness you equally want to stamp on their heads as though they are a particularly nasty form of giant cockroach. The best way is make them flawed, funny and interesting (Luke, Clyde and Rani from the Sarah Jane Adventures are all excellent examples) and try not to give them too many quirks (the idea of a ‘cute Borg kid’ shouldn’t be considered but then along comes Icheb who manages to be one of the flattest characters Voyager ever produced). Spare me the thought of Naomi working on the Bridge! Its Wesley Crusher all over again! Mind you they could replace Harry Kim with her and I doubt we would notice because they share similar character flaws (too nice for their own good, desperately in need of parenting). My favourite moment in the whole episode comes when Flotter is murdered before Naomi’s eyes and the forest is burnt and she looks as though she is going to be psychologically scarred for the rest of her life (which kind of tells me that they’re doing something wrong).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who’s the furball?’ – I’ve rarely heard Neelix described better!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Hi Neelix, did you miss me?’ is a Harry Kim line! A whole world of a no…

The Good: It shocks me to notice that the overdone theatrics in the fairytale holodeck characters are actually more deftly handled than some of the regular cast in a normal episode (I would rather hang with the grouchy tree creature than Harry Kim or Chakotay any day of the week!). I love the way he says ‘TIMBER!’ before sitting down.

The Bad: I’m noticing a trend with season five that is becoming quite disturbing. I’m going to call it the ‘Doctor Who season 24 syndrome’ because with each episode of the series so far I can detect a germ of a good idea and potential in each other episodes but the execution of said ideas (and I’m talking about in storytelling terms and not in how they actually appear on screen) are so badly mishandled its almost as if the writing staff have forgotten how to tell a good story on this show. Night could have kicked started an intriguing arc in a starless area of space but was wrapped too quickly and had Janeway suffering an attack of conscience four years too late. Drone could have been a powerful death of a child episode that was hampered by some dull writing and acting with regards to the Drone of the title. Extreme Risk could have worked if the script was roughened up and had taken place about 15 episodes ago when its ‘end of the Maquis’ plot was still relevant. And In the Flesh is trying to end the Species 8472 plotline and whilst it is nice to see them trying to resolve something on this show it is fudged in a show so lacking in tension and excitement they may have well have not bothered. With Once Upon a Time again I can see the inkling of a strong idea (young child yearning for their mother who is forced to go on a dangerous mission) because it exposes another danger of working in Starfleet but the message is lost under an absurd plot, some sickly sweet saccharine gooiness and a wealth of Neelix moments that are as annoying as itchy balls. They need to sit down and really consider how to make these episodes work and not just go ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if we open on Chakotay taking covert photographs in Starfleet HQ’ or ‘it would be ace if we killed off Ensign Wildman and saw how her daughter coped…’ and then leave the writer floundering as to how to bring these concepts alive. What’s more they seriously need to look at what has come before and stop trying to emulate previously done Trek episode. I don’t buy the fact that there have been so many Trek now that some similarities are a given because having just watched the first half of DS9 there isn’t a single episode that emulates or even resembles a previous episode of Trek or even DS9. Its because that show has developed an identity of its own. There have been a myriad of ‘trapped on the ship’ stories like Night, Drone was basically I, Borg and The Abandoned all over again, Extreme Risk felt like a retread of Day of Honor, In the Flesh was a weird hybrid of I, Borg (again) and The First Duty and Once Upon a Time is a replica of Cost of Living and Imaginary Friend. I didn’t just want to go into this episode moaning again but I wanted to take a chance here to look at where the series is at one the whole and see where it needs fixing.

The idea of a creature composed entirely of water is a wonderful fairytale idea…if it had been done entirely with CGI it might have worked but dressing up a man in a blue rubber costume doesn’t quite cut it. Do you ever think that Ensign Wildman wont come home considering she has two of the regular cast with her? They should have shoved her on an inhospitable planet on her own, screaming, injured and alone and we might have felt something for her plight. The Delta Flyer has crashed already? Its only just been built! They couldn’t wait to dive-bomb it into a planet, could they? Somehow the direction is so lacking that during one scene water completely fails to put out fire for about five seconds! Why is the Ogre of Fire boss eyed? Replicating the Flotter toy is a clear marketing strategy I don’t know why they didn’t just put a price tag and a link to a website where you could buy them on screen. The shuttle scenes are utterly pointless, lack any tension and exist merely to pad out this sorry excuse for an episode. Naomi exploring the ship and showing things from a childs perspective is not just a direct steal from Imaginary Friend they are filmed in exactly the same way! Naomi walks on to the Bridge just as Janeway is talking about the survivors of a shuttle crash – is that the best way they could think to create some drama here? Sheesh! ‘Holodeck codes have been encoded?’ – how exactly? How did Naomi manage that? At the end everybody is happy and wonderful and lovely and gorgeous and smiling. Pass me the sick bucket and hand me the bloodiest episode of DS9 (The Siege of AR-558 should do) because I feel really dirty.

Anomaly of the Week: There’s an ion storm…yawn.

Orchestra: David Bell’s music is always pretty good but it is completely out of place in this episode because it suggests drama that simply isn’t present. 

Result: Usually I can tell how bad an episode of Voyager is by seeing at what point I let out a big sigh. Sometimes its quite early when the concept of the week is revealed (Tsunkatse, The Fight) but on a good day it can be somewhere near the middle (a psychobabble explanation) or if I’m lucky not until the end (a poor resolution). There have been times when I’ve never sighed at all (The Thaw, Death Wish) but they are few and far between! In Once Upon a Time I sighed about a minute and a half into the episode and realised I still had another 40 minutes of this pantomime to go. Coupling Naomi ‘I have sugary treacle for blood’ Wildman and ‘it will become what we help it  to become’ Neelix together is a particularly bad move because I felt within about ten minutes as though I was hooked up to an IV drip of pure syrup that was being pumped around my body and making me very queasy. Apparently this is written by the same fella who gave us The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight but I flatly refuse to believe that (besides reading through the Deep Space Nine companion its clear that both of those episodes were heavily rewritten by Ron Moore) because the gulf between the quality of those episodes and this are cavernous. Besides his later credits on this show (The Fight, The Disease, Alice, Fury…) are of a similarly tedious nature. DS9’s Time’s Orphan has its own problems but I still suggest that if you want to watch a ‘child friendly’ episode of Trek that you stick that one on – it has sincere performances, a clever idea and resolution and some moments of genuine emotional depth. Once Upon a Time is the equivalent of being force fed meringue until you start vomiting frothy sugar and lacking in skill in practically every department. Sort it out Voyager – you’ve had your bad spells but this is taking tedium to a whole new level: 1/10

Timeless written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Levar Burton

What’s it about: Voyager is trapped under a sheet of ice and this is the story of how it happened…

Hepburn-a-Like: I laughed my head off when Chakotay scoured the bridge and found a deep frozen Janeway lying on the floor – she looks like the last frozen ice pop that is always discovered stuck to the bottom of the freezer covered in frost when you are trying to clean it out! Janeway makes a speech about pushing the boundaries of exploration (that is a matter of opinion) but most importantly they have survived (which is a great statement for the show to make). Janeway and Chakotay having a candlelit dinner is an eye opening moment. It almost feels like they are pushing for a romance between these two characters again, something that should have been encouraged after the season two episode Resolutions instead of being completely ignored. Obviously it is just a tease but I appreciate any tiny titbits they want to give me.

Tattoo: Lets see, Chakotay here is a criminal with survival instincts and a passion for life and love – pretty much the guy we met in Caretaker who vanished come the second episode! Why they couldn’t have kept this characterisation up I have no idea because Chakotay makes a real impact in this episode whereas the Starfleet drone we usually shack with is so forgettable. Its great seeing him as a hunted man because this a glimpse of his life before he joined Voyager.

Borg Babe: I never thought we would see Seven of Nine drunk but I’m certainly glad we do because Jeri Ryan is hilarious as she giddily pats the Doctor on the back whilst telling what a great friend he is. ‘Obviously the Borg cannot hold their liquor!’

Mr Vulcan: ‘Mr Neelix, you are an unending source of astonishment’ says Tuvok of his truly disgusting tradition of keeping a Talaxian rat stuffed and on display as a source of good luck!

Forever Ensign: An episode focussing on Harry Kim where he doesn’t act like a complete idiot! Will wonders never cease? Actually I kind of wish they had jettisoned our Harry Kim from within the alternative universe and kept the pessimistic, depressing version because he is so much more watchable! ‘I go by Harry now!’ he states when the Doctor calls him Ensign. Its only when we return to our usual ‘King Chump’ Harry that you realise just how good Garrett Wang and his characterisation is in the disaster timeline. ‘We could try it Harry’s way…’ – oh Paris you know you are in for a whole world of pain for making that suggestion! When he starts ranting in Engineering I was hoping somebody would trip him up just to make him look the fool he is. Stick him in a leather jacket and put him through 15 years of guilt and depression and he begins to resemble a vaguely interesting character! Spare me the thought of Harry Kim being the ‘most wanted’ man in the whole of the Federation! Even the glass half empty version here is far too nice to be considered as such. Harry has suffered from survivors guilt and even had bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. The Doctor’s reaction to this moribund Harry Kim makes it even clearer that he just isn’t the person he was anymore. Harry desperately working to save the ship and arguing with the Doctor is the most riveting this character ever gets, he is consumed by his passion for his task. Wang isn’t completely convincing during these hysterics but its still as good as he gets.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We got home, Doc and all it took was killing everyone we care about.’
‘With any luck my next log will be made in the Alpha Quadrant…’
‘Not exactly how I wanted to cross the finishing line!’

The Good: Despite the mountains being a little fuzzy the scale and the effect of the opening shots of Voyager being discovered under the ice have leapt straight from the cinema. We’ve seen the ship plunged into complete darkness, raided by Nazi storm troopers, from the POV of a Borg but none of these can hold a candle to the atmospherics of the ship rusted up under the ice with a chilly sheen to every deck. The frozen corpses on the Bridge are terrifying and the whole scenario is screaming with mystery. How did the ship get under the ice? Why are Harry and Chakotay still alive and so much older? The slow motion celebrations in Engineering is another unusually stylish moment for the show and one which is tinged with sadness because we have already seen where these celebrations will end. The mixture of technologies in Drone has clearly led to the crew experimenting with other hybrid technologies – that’s almost enough to be called development! There’s real excitement when Voyager prepares to make the jump and Harry in the future works to prevent it. Having the two storylines running side by side affords the show to experiment with the kind of foreboding tension it usually lacks. The story has been built up so well that you really feel for Harry as it all goes horribly wrong and the ship crashes – I never thought I would feel anything for this guy other than disappointment and its nice to be proven wrong.

The Bad: Moving from the pad on Janeway’s desk to the frozen version in the future is nowhere near as fluid as it should be. Is this a pre destination paradox? Do Harry and Chakotay wind up causing the crash by sending the details of how to prevent it? The execution is a little messy and I wasn’t sure which way the episode was jumping on that score. Programming the information into Seven’s implants was reminiscent of Cause and Effect when they tried something similar with Data. Oh no, everything is cancelled out and Harry Kim and Chakotay were never these cynical versions! Boo hiss!

Moment to Watch Out For: Voyager crashing into the ice planet and sliding dramatically towards the ‘camera’ is gobsmackingly good. The effects on this show really are in a league of their own.

Fashion Statement: The older Chakotay looks very handsome with his greying hair. 

Result: Three miracles in one episode. Firstly – a really good episode of Voyager! Secondly – a really good Harry Kim episode of Voyager! Thirdly – a really good time travel Harry Kim episode of Voyager! Timeless boasts one of Voyager’s most ambitious plots and with Levar Burton on board to make this look as cinematic as possible it feels as if this is a left over film plot that has been given full justice on television. Even more impressive is how Braga & Menosky have taken two of the weakest regulars and offer us a glimpse of a more distorted, cynical version of them and they are much more interesting as a result! This is the Harry Kim and Chakotay that we should be enjoying every week rather than the insipid nonentities that we usually suffer. Its nice to see a glimpse of Geordi La Forge post TNG and the shows best moment comes with the spectacular crashing of Voyager on the ice planet. My one major disappointment is that none of this ever happened and as a result everything is back to normal next week but as a minor (very minor) compensation at least (unlike The Year of Hell) somebody remembers something of the trials here. Timeless reminds us that Voyager hasn’t entirely gone to the dogs and is a hugely entertaining but this quality should be the norm rather than the exception: 9/10

Infinite Regress written by Robert J. Doherty and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Seven is punished by the personalities of Borg victims…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway suggests that the safety of the crew is her first priority…when it suits her! Sometimes she just goes charging into danger regardless!

Borg Babe: Infinite Regress is a chance for Jeri Ryan to prove why she was brought in to this show in the first place. Whilst she has managed to convey any and all attempts to inject emotion into the character of Seven her usual ‘ice queen’ persona is hardly a massive stretch for the actress and here she gets cut her teeth on a number of personalities and Ryan proves riveting to watch. When the little girl persona bleeds out suddenly Ryan is smiling and loose and amiable, a far cry from the Seven we know and love. Whilst it is a fun scene I can only imagine a Klingon character was included for the crowd pleasing moment when Seven comes onto B’Elanna (‘Does this qualify for our second date?’). I love her take on the Ferengi; all theatrics, smarm and about as delightful and funny as Ethan Philips wasn’t in False Profits. When she was taken from the Borg she found the silence of her own mind difficult to bear and missed the voices of the collective. Now she is an individual those same voices frighten her. When Seven screams in pain in sickbay as the voices assault her I was shocked to discover just how much I had come to care for this character.

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok can barely restrain his humour when it comes to the case of the ‘midnight snacker’ who keeps visiting the Mess Hall in the late evening and savaging the supplies!

Spotted Dick: I suddenly had a flashback to the interminable Counsellor Troi of TNG when Neelix crops up as soon as he learns that Seven is under the weather with grinning lunacy and over helpfulness!

Miss Goody Two-Shoes: The last time I watched an episode containing Naomi Wildman I had to follow it up with an X-Files episode that was so disgusting and full of perverted ideas and imagery just to wipe the gooey goodness of Once Upon a Time from my mind. Here she’s back and as cute as ever – I wish Seven would do them all a favour and accidentally flush her out of a cargo bay airlock. Alarmingly it looks like Janeway has started breeding a new race of Hitler Youth (sorry I mean Federation cadets) as Naomi can recite First Contact procedures and Bridge rules of conduct. She’s basically becoming as wet and rulebound as Wesley Crusher was when we first met him in Encounter at Farpoint and it is a worrying development for the show that this is the character they chose to add to the cast and actively pursue. Somehow I doubt she will have the same sort of development that Nog had on DS9. Kids drawings really can be dreadful and Neelix’s lack of understanding of what he has handed to Seven is a charming moment.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Of course I’m Ferengi! Is that some kind of insult about the size of my ears?’ 

The Good: The swift, fluid camerawork of the first scene really stands out. Has somebody given the directors a shot of adrenalin this year and told them they need to make this show look more dynamic because visually the show has never been better. At around 9 minutes into the episode Seven enters Engineering and the camera glides around the warp core effortlessly – the operators really are worth their weight in gold. The idea of Seven being haunted by the personalities of people the Borg have assimilated over the years is a chilling punishment for the one time drone and great way for them to exact their revenge. Having Seven embody the personalities of various Alpha Quadrant races it is a nice way to include these races without it feeling forced (such as in the next episode). Love the 80s fibre optic design of the alien that visits Voyager (although the weird coat hanger that sticks out of his head is odd!).

The Bad: It might be churlish of me to say but this is another TNG rip off. Season seven’s Masks saw Data suffering multiple personality disorder and working through an array of distinctly different personalities. Fortunately for Voyager this is one of the few times they have attempted to copy a TNG episode and bettered it. All of the games I have seen them make up in Trek all seem to have some kind of visual hook or to make sense in their own weird way (three dimensional chess and Dabo are both high tech versions of games we already know) but Cudderscat just looks like a higgledy piggledy collection of plastic counters shoved on a board. I think Tuvok should adopt a harsher training method because his security teams are always so wet they get subdued with ease! Breaking for an advert with the Doctor suggesting ‘we’ve lost her’ is typically overblown Voyager because we all know that Seven will be fine again come the next episode (perhaps having learnt something about herself on the way). In fact we cut to a potential solution at the beginning of the very next scene. As soon as the aliens turn up you know that it is going to erupt into violence because the writers do not trust that the superb psychological ending would be enough to satisfy the audience. Idiots. Coming after such a strong episode the last scene is really annoying – bloody Naomi Wildman needs to die a slow and painful death (‘I will comply…’).

Moment to Watch Out For: Kudos to David Livingston for creating a truly nightmarish sequence as Tuvok enters Seven’s mind and discovers the myriad of personalities inside – its like a trippy Borg nightclub full of screaming voices! As a metaphor for how the personalities are swamping her mind it really is very effective.

Fashion Statement: Whilst I am sure it appeals to the horny geeks out there who watch this show for kicks, Seven’s outfit here is so tight it ridiculously leaves very little to the imagination. Speaking as somebody who doesn’t unusually bother to notice such things about women I could clearly see a precise representation of her genitalia which is demeaning for both the character and Jeri Ryan. She may as well walk around the ship completely naked since she is pretty much doing that anyway. 

Result: A fantastic showcase for Jeri Ryan’s talent, Infinite Regress proves to be an intriguing multi personality disorder drama that uses its slow pace to explore the psychosis that Seven is suffering. Each character is portrayed with absolute honesty by Ryan and you never doubt that she is utterly committed to making each one distinct and convincing. The way she slips from one to the other is extraordinary and elevates her above the skill of most of the regular cast considerably. It’s a nice Janeway episode too with her showing the appropriate amount of sincere concern for Seven rather than butting heads with her again. It strikes me that at its best this show is a fantastic vehicle for female actresses in Trek and Infinite Regress is a great example of this. The only disappointment is that this show does not trust itself to be interesting without a daft action sequence shoehorned in at the end which shows contempt for its audience. Coming after Timeless this is a pleasing upswing in quality and I hope that Voyager can keep this momentum going. Visually and emotionally powerful: 8/10

Nothing Human written by Jeri Taylor and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: A Cardassian Doctor may be B’Elanna’s only possibility of survival…

Hepburn-a-Like: ‘This isn’t about logic, Tuvok! Its about instinct!’ – go Janeway! Janeway makes the right call for a change to toss aside all the morality and save B’Elanna’s life. She was probably sick from the testosterone pollution in the conference room.

Tattoo: Chakotay actually does something funny – will wonders never cease? He forces Janeway and the rest of the senior staff to endure the Doctor’s slide show far longer than he should have. I cannot believe that Chakotay would rather B’Elanna died than the Doctor saved her through Cardassian research because he considers it ‘right.’ Paris is right in his condemnation of the stupidity being expressed here.

EMH: The Doctor is boring everybody silly with his photographic recollections of several tedious away missions – everybody but me that is because Robert Picardo enthusing about anything is simply delightful to watch! I don’t understand the logic of taking out your issues on a holographic representation of Moset. When we eventually meet the real Dr Zimmerman he is a rude, womanising bully so does that mean the Doctor should be punished for his creators sins? Besides hasn’t Voyager already made a case for the independence of holograms? Doesn’t that mean Moset should have the right to all the privileges that the Doctor has? I’m getting a headache from all the inconsistencies on this show!

Brilliant B’Elanna: As far as Torres is concerned all Cardassians are cold blooded killers which feels like an attempt to inject a little of Kira’s spirit into her character. It doesn’t quite work because her hatred of Cardassians has never been mentioned before beyond the fact that she joined the Maquis. 

Forever Ensign: Whilst his friend is dying in sickbay Harry worries about how people might react to a Cardassian hologram saving her life. This guys priorities are all wrong – its not quite as bad as the time he fears they may lose a holoprogramme in Fair Haven and if they save the ship but its still woefully stupid. And oh look…he’s absolutely right about how people react too. Somebody get Jeri Taylor away from the typewriter please.

The Good: David Clennon is very charismatic as Crell and does bring some energy to his scenes although his jubilant personality isn’t exactly what I would imagine a Cardassian war criminal to act like, Garak aside. The Doctor and Crell singing together during their surgery on the creature is an oddly charming moment. There’s a nice moment between Janeway and B’Elanna at the end that reminds me how they have ditched that relationship in favour of the Seven/Janeway one. It’s a real pity because their mother/daughter relationship was one of the highlights of the early years of this show.

The Bad: Kudos for trying to create a completely alien looking lifeform but this is a terrible special effect that would have been rejected from the most low budget Doctor Who production. If we thought that Kira being trapped inside a growing crystal in Heart of Stone looked fake then B’Elanna cuddling the cute wickle creature on the floor pretending it is attacking her is hilariously bad. Watching her attempt to have a heart to heart with Tom with a giant oozing lifeform clinging to her chest must have produced some wonderful outtakes! How comes they couldn’t conjure up a holographic replacement for the Doctor this quickly in Message in a Bottle? Who is that nobody in Engineering that we have never met before who has a problem with taking orders from Seven? Oh right, this episode is about racial intolerance so naturally this is the first time we see an example of that during normal ship operations! Its called subtlety, Ms Taylor! With scenes in Starfleet Headquarters, a Klingon and Ferengi popping up in Seven’s condition, Geordi La Forge and now a Cardassian Doctor are the producers of Voyager trying to tell us that they would rather this show was set in the Alpha Quadrant? All of a sudden there is a Bajoran character we have never met before who is appalled at the idea of bringing a Cardassian hologram to life because he killed his brother and father? This is real Mickey Mouse writing, lacking any kind of delicacy. The actor isn’t particularly convincing either. Suddenly Crell is sadistic war criminal that tested on live Bajorans to create cures – its Jetrel all over again! Why should they delete a bloody hologram? Its not like it’s the real Moset and he was created as a tool to help to save B’Elanna! What a truly pointless episode this is. Its great to see the regulars arguing this viciously but what a crying shame it had to be over something so brainless. As usual Jeri Taylor suggests something interesting but more often than not snatches away from it (Resolutions).

Anomaly of the Week: A violent wave anomaly causes the coffee to jump out of their cups! 

Result: ‘There’s been enough moral controversy on this ship for one day!’ You’re telling me Janeway! This wants to be as hard hitting as Duet and Jetrel but both of those episodes worked because they were rooted in gripping character backstories and solid mysteries. Nothing Human exposes a hatred for Cardassians from B’Elanna that we have never heard about before and introduces a Bajoran crewmember who never appears away from an episode that deals with issues to do with the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. Robert Picardo and David Clennon are both superb but Jeri Taylor simply does not have the skill to pull of this kind of ethical dilemma show – its full of inconsistencies, melodramatic moments and the truly stupid idea of taking out punishment on a holographic representation of Moset when a crewmember is dying. Whatever angle this episode takes it fudges and beyond the sincere performances (except the Bajoran guy who is dreadful) it is a waste of an hour. Stop blowing kisses to the Alpha Quadrant Voyager (Borg, Starfleet HQ, Ferengi, Geordi, Cardassians) and try and do something interesting in the Delta Quadrant: 4/10

Thirty Days written by Kenneth Biller and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Tom has been put in solitary confinement for thirty days and this is the story of how that happened…

Hepburn-a-Like: As usual (unless it suits her) Janeway is bound by the bonds of the Prime Directive and it brings her into sharp conflict with Tom. Janeway issuing her final warning to Paris on the Bridge had me gripped. She’s bloody terrifying when she wants to be!

Brilliant B’Elanna: It’s the first compelling affirmation of their relationship in an age as Torres pretty much gives Tom her permission to step in and do the right thing even if he will be punished. I wish they were written for this well every week but there will be a soap opera plotline for them courtesy of Jeri Taylor in a few weeks I’m sure of it!

Parisian Rogue: Paris reminds me of an extremely unfit Joe Ford last year when he does his press ups that amazingly leaps from 1…2… to 98…99…100 whenever somebody appears! He has no holodeck privileges, basic nutrition (plenty of Leola Root Stew!) and a drop in rank…what could Tom have done that could have been so bad? There is a gorgeous special feature where Robert Duncan McNeill recounts the agonies of having to wear the Captain Proton jetpack and remembers how his arse set on fire as he was suspended off the floor with sparks flaying out behind him! When he saw the ocean planet he remembers the first time he read Jules Verne and his interest stretches back to the 19th Century. It’s a passion I can understand because I have always been fascinated by the water and have enjoyed time messing about in boats and swimming. When Tom criticises the Prime Directive I could have kissed him and Janeway’s response (‘check that attitude out at the door’) gives the episode the mutinous atmosphere it requires. His behaviour at the end of the episode reminds me of O’Brien’s bending of the Prime Directive rules in Captive Pursuit, exploiting the aliens of the week to do the right thing. Janeway chewing him out and reminding him that he had an opportunity to redeem himself when she released him from prison is great – she genuinely thought he was over this kind of mutinous conduct. Tom tells her that serving under her command has changed him and this time he broke the rules for a good reason. What a great scene this is. He doesn’t know if he will ever understand what went wrong between him and his father but I hope one day we get to see the pair of them converse because it looks like a relationship worth exploring.

Forever Ensign: Harry is just a little too desperate when it comes to mooning over the Delaney sisters and unfortunately he has fallen for the one who doesn’t like him! At least Paris points out that Harry always seems to fall for the wrong woman – first it was a hologram and then a Borg drone and now the wrong twin! He suggests he is consistent – yeah consistently boring! The idea of Harry becoming ships counsellor fills me with horror. Maybe he and Neelix could share the honour because I could imagine the horror of having these two probe your most intimate thoughts? It would be enough to keep you entirely sane! Now Tom is the same rank as Harry…how embarrassing for him.

The Good: Opening with Tom Paris being reduced in rank and sent to the Brig, Thirty Days captured my interest within seconds because I was desperate to know how this could have possibly have come about. The flashback structure of this episode is intriguing and because it features Tom writing a letter to his father it has a lovely sardonic edge to it (a lesser person might say it compares unfavourably with Sisko’s similar narration in In the Pale Moonlight but I refuse to do that because it is at least trying something different). I never thought we would actually get to meet the Delaney sisters and how fun it is to finally catch up with them in the Proton simulation! I was just moaning in the last episode about how lacking the Delta Quadrant has been of late and suddenly they present us with this glorious ocean world which is brought to life with such vivid imagery. The planet ripples from space and proves to be violently tsunamic upon closer inspection with underwater vessels that dive from the surface like graceful dolphins. It’s the best looking world we would ever see on Voyager and the first time in an age that this show has offered its audience something truly magical and remind us of the joys of travelling to unknown worlds. The underwater city is a visual treat and the sort place I would like to see Voyager visiting every single week. Something as simple as the ocean planet seen from Janeway’s Ready Room window is gorgeous. Exploring under the sea with a giant spotlight in the Delta Flyer and being attacked by a giant electric eel is really exciting in a Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones kind of way. You can’t tell a Jules Verne style story without having the submersible filling with water and our heroes trapped! I love how the show can suddenly turn into black and white without explanation and it isn’t just a matter of taking the colour down. The Chaotica sets have a true understanding of what makes black and white photography effective. Awesome underwater torpedoes fire at the Delta Flyer! Its about time that we get to see the length of a penalty issued by Janeway throughout an episode because these things are usually swept under the carpet by the next episode.

The Bad: As good it is to meet the Delaney sisters why is it we never get to see them again? Its such a shame that the marine species that they meet here should be humanoid (with such tedious outfits!) because this would have been a great chance to introduce a truly aquatic species. We would have to wait until Enterprise to see that.

Moment to Watch Out For: I was on the edge of my seat as the two missiles were fired simultaneously in the climax. Voyager should be this exciting every week!

Fashion Statement: Amazing – cut his hair and Tom Paris suddenly looks pretty hot and a bit of a bad boy again.

Result: Thirty Days suggests the magic of the Delta Quadrant better than practically any other episode of Voyager so far with the crew visiting a magnificent aquatic world with an underwater city! Whilst I don’t find Robert Duncan McNeill to be one of the stronger actors Voyager has to offer this is a fine Tom Paris episode that allowed me to get caught up in his wonder (because I felt it too) whilst also capitalising on his rebellious nature and having some severe consequences for the character. The flashback structure is well done, the effects work extraordinary and overall impression is to provide a really entertaining ride but without all the usual Voyager plot holes and illogic. What’s even more impressive is that this isn’t a big sweeps episode (ala Timeless or Dark Frontier) but just a bog standard piece that if it matched the quality of the rest of the season to date should have been appalling but has been written and directed with real care which makes it something quite special. Thirty Days is a benchmark episode that the rest of the season has to live up to and I hope we can visit a world this interesting again soon. Compelling stuff: 9/10

Counterpoint written by Michael Taylor and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Telepaths are hidden on Voyager and Janeway has to bluff her way through several inspections…

Hepburn-a-Like: The best Janeway episode in years (probably stretching back as far as season two), Counterpoint shows the duplicitous Captain at her manipulative best and gives Kate Mulgrew a real chance to express her talent in the role. What’s so delightful is that I cannot imagine this story playing out with any other Captain in Janeway’s place and that is quite a rare feat for Voyager. The very idea of Janeway being summoned to her ready room in a hail of classical music immediately throws the audience off guard. You get the sense that whilst this is a very serious situation that Janeway is loving the chance to embrace a new persona and play the innocent Starfleet Captain with nothing to hide (just look at her face when she tells Kashyk of the loss of her valued telepathic crewmembers!). These two hander scenes between Mulgrew and Harelik are the reason this episode is so effective, they are like two chess players constantly trying to outwit each other whilst looking utterly benign. She absolutely plays her part as the suspicious leader who wants to humanely grant him access to the wormhole now he has defected but wants him to know that he will be monitored at all times. Its gorgeous the way that Janeway and Kashyk work together to dupe the alien into helping them to find the wormhole by playing good cop/bad cop and preying on his insecurities. The chemistry between them verges on the romantic at times and Janeway takes the dominating role, flirting outrageously but also maintaining completely in control. Even her little ‘as you were’ reaction to the crewmember who has been eavesdropping on her outrageous flirting made me smile. Janeway goes as far as telling Kashyk that she would love for him to join Voyager and they have a habit of taking on wayward strays. She even goes him a massive snog (why not – for an alien he’s pretty hot!) as the final convincer that she has been thoroughly charmed by him! As she heads into her Ready Room for her final showdown with Kashyk she has a massive smile on her face – she literally cannot wait to bring this smug sonofabitch down. She at least has the modesty to act surprised when he reveals his deception whilst inside she is doing a little jig at the thought that she has gone one ruse further. Possibly her finest moment in this entire series comes when she changes the music on the Bridge to something a little more playful as her deception is finally revealed and she sits there basking in smugness at having outwitted her opponent. For a moment she is a truly great Starfleet Captain.

Spotted Dick: Neelix sitting atop a table telling the telepathic children a story is a fine role for the Talaxian and I love how he is outfoxed at every angle because they can read his mind and tell him exactly how the story ends.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Impressive. You gave a masterful performance.’
‘You created false readings!’ ‘That is the theme for this evening, isn’t it?’

The Good: Its another episode that starts with an intriguing hook and like Thirty Days we are brought to the party after it has already begun and we are expected to catch up pretty quickly. Mark Harelik gives a wonderful performance as Kashyk who is basically a charming Nazi officer (but portrayed with far more silky menace than anybody in The Killing Game) that enters into a game of wits with Janeway. I love the shot of Voyager being flanked by two larger warships as classic music plays, its exactly the sort of discordant and yet amiable imagery this show should be attempting more often and has never been seen before in any other Trek series. Delta Quadrant Nazi’s march through the ship as the crew stands impotent as they search the ship. It’s a fascinating parallel with the racial suffering that stains our history – the Devor Imperium hunt down ‘devious’ telepaths because they are different from them and have abilities that make them a threat. Kashyk attempts to bluff Janeway by pretending to defect to their ship and appealing to her better nature whilst still probing her crew to seek out the telepaths. It’s a good ploy but one that Janeway and the audience can see right through and yet it is still wonderfully to watch it play out because of all the layers of deception on display. Setting up a fake ambush that he helps Voyager avoid is another devious trick but Janeway is too savvy for this tricky customer! A fantastic looking alien (his nose puffs up angrily when he gets heated!) turns up halfway through the episode and one which has more personality than any of the species we met last year put together! Kashyk’s awful psychobabble explanation for why he has defected is so truly dreadful I’m surprised he went ahead and used it but he does at least try and inject it with some emotion! Janeway watches on in absolute seriousness but I bet inside she wanted to howl with laughter. The double bluff of him returning to the fleet and taking charge of the inspection gives the scenes when he returns a razors edge tension. Was he really telling the truth all along? Or is this another attempt to expose the telepaths? What’s especially clever is that we don’t see any behind the scenes away from Janeway and Kashyk so we don’t know who is telling the truth about what until the final climactic moments which makes the end of the episode a genuine delight. Playing the scenes of classical music pumping through the corridors again as the final inspection takes place gives the episode a great sense of cohesiveness. Harelik loses his rag hilariously when he realises he has been outwitted by a superior intellect. The last shot is a truly grand Voyager moment.

The Bad: Kashyk makes Janeway’s trip home trespassing through other peoples space sound a lot more exciting than it has been in reality!

Moment to Watch Out For: The final scenes where Janeway pulls her final rabbit out of a hat is an absolute joy! I can’t remember a time when I have enjoyed such playful plotting on Voyager. 

Result: Remember what I said about Michael Taylor’s debut script this season and how I couldn’t believe that this was the same man whose name adorns The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight? After watching Counterpoint now I can! Its probably his best script on Voyager; a razor sharp cat and mouse game of wits between Janeway and Kashyk that sees the pair of pulling all manner of tricks to try and deceive the other. The sophisticated plotting is such a refreshing change of pace I was lapping up every second of this exercise in subterfuge. With Timeless, Infinite Regress, Thirty Days and now Counterpoint I cannot think of a time since season two that the show has delivered four such confident tales so closely packed together and it really feels as though the Voyager is starting to turn a corner. Counterpoint shows Janeway navigating an enemy to make an ally and displaying some keen intelligence and charisma as she goes. It also allows Kate Mulgrew to flaunt her stuff better than any episode since the second season and I was truly impressed by her measured, confident performance. Uniquely on Voyager I cannot think of another episode of Trek like this one: 9/10

Latent Image written by Joe Menosky and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: The Doctor realises that somebody has been tampering with his programme…

Hepburn-a-Like: Just look at Janeway’s poker face when the Doctor tells her about the procedure he has performed on Harry – she has clearly perfected that since her labyrinthine deception in Counterpoint. She tries to make it appear that the Doctor’s memory files will be checked when she is secretly plotting to have this new revelation deleted from his databank as soon as possible. I love how a certain emphasis on events can lead the audience to believe that Janeway is under the influence of some alien power when she isn’t playing the role any different from normal but then can snap us back to reality when we realise that she isn’t corrupting him but protecting him. When Seven tells her ‘your conclusion is wrong’ Janeway turns on her with blazing eyes – she is not used to having her opinions slapped down so casually and looks as though she may dish out some punishment on her Borg drone. Its especially good that Seven’s words penetrate Janeway’s unwavering hide and she changes her mind about the Doctor. It’s a tough choice to admit you were wrong and let your crewmember take control of his madness but Seven has made such a fantastic case for the Doctor how could she possibly refuse? The warmness with which she admits that her own biasness had something to do with her decision 18 months ago is very human – Janeway is admitting her mistakes with a smile as though she has learnt something magnificent about her own character flaws.

EMH: This is my favourite ‘Doctor’ episode of Voyager and he is just about my favourite character on the show so that should give you some indication of the esteem that I hold Latent Image in. Robert Picardo is one of the few frequently praised actors on Voyager (not just by me, go and read any of the websites or episode guides) and it is easy to see why. He’s a fantastic actor who is adept at portraying drama and comedy, provides a wonderfully sardonic edge to the show and his character has seen the greatest character growth (odd considering he isn’t technically ‘real’). This episode is his greatest challenge yet where he has to explore a myriad of uncomfortable emotions and he pulls it off superbly, dragging the viewer into the Doctor’s depression and anxiety with discomforting intimacy. Its his childlike nature that makes him so appealing, he droops into Astrometrics like a puppy that has been told off and coaxes Seven of Nine into helping him restore his memory files and thank goodness he did otherwise he would never have discovered this little conspiracy. There is genuine surprise on his face when he realises the Captain has betrayed him and the scene where he confronts her on the Bridge is exactly the sort of discomforting drama this show should be aiming for far more often than it does. Picardo expresses blind anger when portrays the Doctor’s anguish at not being told what he has done to make his memory alteration necessary. Suddenly the Doctor is powerless as his friends visit sickbay and tell him they will be manipulating his programme without his consent. You really feel for this most ingenuous of victims. Janeway tries to convince Seven that the Doctor is just an instrument because of his holographic nature but she makes the wonderful point that it is illogical that they all pretend otherwise on a daily basis. You cannot allow somebody the illusion of freewill and take that away whenever you think it is for the best. Basing an episode on the horrible decision of having to choose to save one life out of two and watching the resulting angst that provokes is not the usual kind of premise for Voyager and all credit to Joe Menosky for pushing the boundaries of where this show can go emotionally for having a stab. Moving the emphasis of the episode onto the Doctor’s breakdown is astonishing because suddenly we see everything a new light with the crew genuinely disturbed and almost frightened by his behaviour. His hysterical performance suggests that Janeway might have made the right decision but the episode drives on with the tougher path of the Doctor having to come to terms with ending a life and to save another. Does the Doctor have a soul? Perhaps. The episode never decides this for you but instead allows you to review the evidence and make up your own mind.

Borg Babe: Having Seven defend the Doctor’s sense of individuality is refreshing on two counts. One it is lovely that she has taken up Kes’ mantle as the Doctor’s closest friend on the ship and there has been a subtle bond building between them for some time. Secondly it is wonderful for Seven to force Janeway to confront what she is doing to the Doctor – to show her that she stripping him of the very thing she inflicted on her a year and a half ago. Its tough dialogue, beautifully performed by Ryan and Mulgrew and it works precisely because it is rooted in their characters an previous decisions and gives this situation added depth and richness. When she admits she finds it unsettling that Janeway could so dismissively take away the Doctor’s rights and wonders if it will happen to her one day you realise that she is disappointed with the Captain and will no longer look to her as an example of humanity. It’s a scathing appraisal and the pupil has finally outgrown the mistress. Janeway asks Seven if she could go back and change what has happened to her since facing her individuality would she and she answers no. Its not only a leap of development for the character but also a good call because it confirms what Janeway’s instincts are telling her about the Doctor – to allow him the same opportunity, no matter how tough.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re a human being. He’s a hologram’ ‘And you allowed that hologram to evolve. To exceed his original programming and yet now you choose to abandon him.’
‘Why did I decide to kill her?’
‘I’m a little busy right now. Helping a friend…’

The Good: From the first scene Mike Vejar ensures that this is an imaginatively shot episode and he even manages to make ‘cuter than thou’ Naomi Wildman work for a couple of minutes (although her ‘try to hold still please’ threatens to topple this from being a flawless episode). Its lovely to see a new kind of effect rather than just dolling out the usual spaceships and the rebuilding of Harry Kim photography from the inside out is just about the most interesting thing that is ever done with his character. The mystery starts with a smallest of clues – a scar on Harry’s cranium from a procedure only the Doctor could have performed but he doesn’t remember doing. When I realised that the Doctor has been tampered with again my interest increased tenfold – suddenly a conspiracy plot is unravelling and the Doctor as the guileless victim starts investigating. Short term memory files and photographs deleted – what could possibly have happened for this nefarious activity to be necessary. What works so well is that the Doctor pieces together a mystery that we have no answers to so we go on this journey of discovery with him to find out who this mystery Ensign is. The delete images start to tell a story of a shuttle attacked and a feeling of dread emerges – what horrors happened to make this mission a cover up? Nancy Bell gives a charismatic performance as Ensign Jetal that makes her solitary inclusion in this episode and death a genuine loss to the show. Once we realise that it is Janeway that is affecting the Doctor’s memory the episode starts to take on a Whisper style tenseness as we wonder what could have affected the crew to have taken these steps not realising that it is the Doctor’s own reaction to Jetal’s death that is the catalyst. The make up on Kim and Jetal when they get a blast of the alien weapon is some nasty, bloody scabrous burns! It just goes to show how you present a piece of drama can make all the difference because had Latent Image been as upfront as Voyager usually is and started with the shuttle attack, Jetal’s death and then the Doctor’s subsequent breakdown it would have been interesting but nowhere near as gripping as presenting the whole story as a mystery with touch character choices being made.

The Bad: Its not a fault of the episode per se but the character! Perhaps the Doctor should have been punished for saving Harry ‘the Chump’ rather than the gorgeous, likable Ensign Jetal! Whilst the Doctor’s individuality would be explored again his anxiety over Jetal’s death is never mentioned. An issue with Trek, rather than this episode though.

Moment to Watch Out For: The sequence where the Doctor sets up his camera in sickbay to catch the perpetrator of his memory deletion is gripping and the resulting culprit a genuine surprise. Picardo’s performance during his breakdown in the Mess Hall is extraordinary, its one of the standout moments of Voyager’s entire run for its simplicity and emotional power. 

Result: Does the Doctor have a soul? Cut free of Brannon Braga and let loose in this unusually confident period of Voyager’s run, Joe Menosky has written a bitingly intelligent script that grips from the start and never lets go until you are trapped within the Doctor’s trauma. What I really love about this episode is that it is exactly the sort of mystery that turns out to be the work lame alien for no good reason every third week on this show but this time the truth is far more disturbing and opens up an examination of identity, tough choices and emotional distress. Mike Vejar constructs this episode beautifully and opens it like an average day on Voyager before dazzling us with POV shots, photographic imagery, flashbacks, slow motion effects, non linear cuts and dramatic handheld camerawork as we descend into the Doctor’s madness. Characterisation is at an absolute peak and I cannot think of a time when the Doctor, Janeway or Seven are better handled. It’s a great example of television that has stimulates discussion because the first time I watched this I remember enjoying a conversation about its ideas going on well into the night. A gripping, magnificently acted mystery with an ambiguous ending that lets the viewer make up their own mind, Latent Image is a blinder of episode and one of my top five all time great Voyager instalments: 10/10

The Bride of Chaotica written by Bryan Fuller & Micheal Taylor and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: Janeway gets married to a super villain and unleashes her spider people!

Hepburn-a-Like: ‘Listen to me very carefully because I am only going to say this one. Coffee, black’ – that sounds just like me talking to my husband first thing in the morning! Has Kate Mulgrew really upped her game since Counterpoint (well more like Thirty Days) or is it my imagination? Basically it the whole excuse of this episode is to allow Janeway to vamp it up as Queen Arachnia and to be fair those scenes are the best of the entire episode (and I have seen instalments of this show with less veracity to them than that!). However it still doesn’t make it worth wasting an entire 45 minutes on when this could have been a tidy and amusing subplot to something more substantial. Her ‘who do you have in mind?’ fails because it is clearly there is only one person to fill that role. Mulgrew has great fun camping it up and for a chance to see this character let her hair down its probably the best example yet. Janeway absolutely looks the part and enjoys hilarious chemistry with Chaotica and frankly she looks like she is having more fun playing Arachnia than she has being herself for the past couple of years and she certainly injects more gusto into it!

Parisian Rogue: One of the things that really pleased me about Our Man Bashir was that it managed to tale an uproarious Bond spoof whilst still making the episode about Bashir and revealing new shades to his character. No such luck here with Paris who after his recent upswing in quality in Thirty Days is right back to being dull and one dimensional again.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oh forgive me! Its just that as a fellow ruler of the cosmos I often have to do things myself…’ ‘…because of the incompetence of your inferiors no doubt!’ – I’m not saying a word!
‘Impetuous harlot!’ 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We’re being pulled deeper into subspace!’ screams Torres theatrically on the Bridge as if she wants the Voyager scenes to match the histrionics of the Chaotica simulation!
‘I don’t know how to tell you this but the wedding’s off!’ – why is Janeway still revelling in the madness of the programme when she has a job to do?

The Good: The Bride of Chaotica is book ended by two gigglesome kisses to the black and white serials of the past and it amuses me to think that some innocent stray who has never seen Voyager before might turn this on and imagine this is what it is like every single week! Cliffhangers are described as the lost art of hyperbole – a great saying but they are what made Doctor Who a cultural phenomena and Voyager…not a cultural phenomena. Mind you I have seen worse effects that the deliberately shoddy ones on display here in Doctor Who! The dreadful backdrops that look identical could almost be a comment on that appalling studio planet that turned up on every early TNG episode!  The dustbin robot has stepped straight from the Lost in Space set fifty years previously and makes a far more cute foe than many of the actual aliens we have met on this show! I felt really sorry for him as he was buzzing away like a new series Cyberman all frazzled and illiterate! I suggest they make one and have it aboard Voyager, it could sit in Harry Kim’s spot on the Bridge and would be far more amiable. Martin Rayner deserves a lot of credit for his theatrical turn as Chaotica – he might be ridiculously over the top but he’s damn watchable and funny and I can’t say that about many Voyager villains in the past!

The Bad: Colour bleeding into the Proton scenario should be visually stunning but it has been done to much better effect in films such as Pleasantville and rather spoils the effect of the black and white atmospherics. Aliens that visit Voyager and think that the Proton programme is reality and attempt to make contact with its characters? Its just not a very convincing plot, is it and the scenes of these bland photolight aliens attempting to circumnavigate the melodramatics miss the mark by a mile. The trouble is when Janeway relates the plot to the rest of her crew she says it without a hint of irony or humour…which again misses the point. Its bloody ridiculous and without a knowing wink at the audience we come to accept that Voyager is this idiotic every week (oh wait…). Ugh, the thought of only four crappers on Voyager turns my stomach! When we return to the Bridge (which is shot very slickly) and listen to David Bell’s music (which is as dramatic and cinematic as ever) why is this episode as dull as dishwater compared to the Chaotica sequences? Oh right…because all they are doing is exchanging technobabble. Its not drama between characters because neither of those things are evident, its just audible and visual waffle that means nothing when Voyager should be suggesting that ‘in reality’ things are far more interesting than in the silly holodeck version of sci-fi times gone by and not the other way around! I found it quite amusing that Allan Kroeker is such a fantastic director that he doesn’t have what it takes to make a truly terrible slice of sci-fi hokum which is what the Chaotica sequences are trying to pull off! His camerawork is just a little too slick in these sequences (certainly some of the long shots and high angles wouldn’t have been attempted in these adventure serials!) which says something nice about Kroeker in normal Voyager terms but lacks the naffness that could have made this a classic. In a similar vein the confinement rings are too good an effect when there should have been something more akin to flickering tissue paper!

Moment to Watch Out For: I especially love the way Janeway strokes Chaotica’s penis substitute Death Ray and smoothly calls it a formidable weapon! Its in the Arachnia scenes that this episode succeeds.

Result: And oddly this is the episode that seems to be celebrated rather than Latent Image. Captain Proton is a fun and frothy holodeck programme for five minutes or so squeezed into a normal plot but stretched to an entire episode it begins to lose its appeal. Not only that but the lengths they go to make this programme part of a jeopardy plot borders on the avant garde of absurd! To their credit the black and white cinematography is superb, there are some great lines, the sense of fun can be infectious and Voyager is once again taking the show into new territory – all this is true but it is taking everything a step too far and tying it into a technobabble plot ruins the fantasy world of its spirit. This episode might have been better served had it dared to be entirely in black and white and the Voyager scenes filmed in a similarly creaky way but comparing the two leaves the a bad taste in the mouth because the Voyager scenes are the least interesting and amusing. That’s hardly the effect they were going for surely? There is no point to this episode beyond ‘aren’t we funny?’ which doesn’t cut it with me. The best comedies are rooted in character but our regulars are as dull and one dimensional as the holodeck ones which means somewhere amongst the camp comedy they seem to have lost the joke. I love Kate Mulgrew’s turn as Queen Arachnia but beyond that there is very little to recommend this episode. Unambitious and oxymoronically both under and over done, this breaks Voyager’s current winning streak with a dramatic fall from grace: 5/10

Gravity written by Nick Sagan & Bryan Fuller and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: Another shuttle has crash landed…

Mr Vulcan: Flashbacks to Tuvok’s childhood are probably the most interesting material for this character since series two’s Meld because it reveals something of his character and shows how he has come to be so self disciplined. However I find scenes set on Vulcan (with the exception of the ‘How do you feel?’ gag in The Voyage Home) to be dreadfully dry and dull because they are such a passionless species (the original series’ Amok Time shows how it could be done). Tuvok used to think that his emotions freed him, refusing to deny himself passion and questioning the logic of avoiding emotions he was born with. Its something I have come to question myself because this refusal to embrace the joy of emotions leaves this species the butt of every joke in the 24th Century (Tuvok has certainly had his fair share of abuse on this show…and from characters like Neelix and Harry Kim too!). Tuvok should have punch Paris’ lights out for suggesting that he has an affair simply because his wife is on the other side of the galaxy. That’s no reason to fool around if you are in a relationship that means something. For Tuvok to say that he doesn’t experience emotion is completely idiotic – why would you do that to yourself when clearly he was enjoying it as a child without any adverse effects? By the end of the episode Tim Russ sounds as bored as we are at the ineptitude of the dialogue (‘I find myself experiencing some discomfort…’).

Parisian Rogue: After a season of scintillating character dynamics on DS9 it feels like a slap in the face to return to Voyager and the likes of Tom Paris who express very little personality (beyond lines like ‘I told you we should have brought the Delta Flyer…’) and depth. We get a scene where he talks about how much he loves B’Elanna but we don’t learn new so it is just re-iterating something we already know and beside this is hardly the worst life and death situation in which he has found himself in so I don’t see why he doesn’t think he would see her again. Compared to facing up to the Borg in Scorpion this is a mere camping trip. Paris storming over to Tuvok and demanding that he opens out about infatuation is an appallingly written scene (‘its just you, me and the rocks!’) – nothing we have seen has suggested that Paris would care about Noss this much and it feels like it is pushing for Tuvok to admit the purpose of the flashbacks. Awkward, mechanical characterisation to push an awkward mechanical plot.

Forever Ensign: Harry Kim trying to threaten Supervisor Yost – bloody hilarious!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘When I was a young man I experienced an emotional attraction towards a woman…’ – Tuvok such this with such gravitas and pain that I thought for a moment he might be about to come out of the closet!

The Good: The sunny location work amongst the arid desert plains impresses and it is wonderful to get outside after so many ship bound shows. Its nice to see a shuttle crash from the point of view of somebody on the planet they are landing on rather than the usual technobabble and sparks from inside the shuttle (although another shuttle down? How many of these babies do they have?). What’s nice about the opening scenes is that they are told entirely from the point of view of the guest characters – it feels like the regulars are intruding on their story and that is a refreshing point of view (even though it is all told through images so it isn’t quite as interesting as other examples such as Distant Origin and Prey).

The Bad: At first Noss is an intriguing character, like a 24th Century highway man (although I can imagine that she doesn’t come across an awful lot of traffic on these barren plains!) but as soon as she started opening her mouth and talking in that ridiculous made up language (I hate it when they try and pass off random sounds as an alien language!) she began to annoy. Despite being billed as a ‘Special Guest Star’ (why isn’t she just a guest star?) Lori Petty’s strangely retarded performance grates after a while and I don’t see why she couldn’t just be played normally. Her slurred ‘I’ve just had a stroke’ speech patterns draw attention to themselves every time she opens here mouth which makes the scenes less about the drama and more about the odd execution. For the most part the flashback scenes are the most attention grabbing of the episode because as soon as Tom Paris and Tuvok arrive the pace slackens and the interest levels drop considerably. It would only take a casual viewer a few seconds to switch over to this episode and see the Doctor and Noss exchanging sci-fi nonsense language to turn back to something like America’s Next Top Model and never try the show again. Watching Noss and Paris hunting large spiders is nowhere near as visually exciting as it should be. Oddly Paris seems to have accepted within about two hours that they are going to have to make a new life for themselves here – erm what? Isn’t he aware that even when all appears lost and the ship has moved on several light years there will always be some illogical plot device that allows them to be rescued (Resolutions)? It’s the rapid acceptance despite the fact that things are nowhere near as bad as they have been that doesn’t ring true. Compare this to be trapped on the planet in Rocks & Shoals for the DS9 crew and then come back and tell me about being in a sticky situation. Heading back to Voyager is almost a blessed relief for a moment after all the dreary scenes on the planet but we are soon ensconced in technobabble and pointless pretty effects – there’s nothing new here either. Hilariously (almost as if to mock Paris’ extreme reaction) within minutes of returning to Voyager we get the line ‘I guess with a pretty good idea what happened to that shuttle!’ A child could plot a story better than this. Why do they introduce the idea of the communication problems and then drop it so quickly without explanation? To suggest that this is an landscape of thieves and villains is hilarious when we cut to Tuvok meditating in silence in a scene of absolute tranquillity.  Rescuing Tom and Tuvok happens in as functional a way a possible after the predictable action scene (of course) filmed with little energy or style.

Orchestra: Like the episode itself the music is as vanilla as it comes.

Result: Utterly unmemorable aside from the flashback scenes (which account for about 10% of this show and even there doesn’t provide much interest), Gravity is a Voyager episode that doesn’t aspire to anything other than basic competence. It begins with an alternative perspective on the greatest Voyager cliché (the shuttle crash) which leads you to believe that this might be something akin to Distant Origin or Prey that takes a fresh, alien look at this show but within five ten minutes we are sitting around pontificating with Tuvok (who is pretty yawnsome) and Paris (who weirdly seems to think this is as bad as gets). The location work is nice but for all it adds to the plot it may have well have been set in a studio and you never get the sense that this is the extreme conditions the script seems to be suggesting. The lack of chemistry between Tim Russ and Lori Petty (who gives a deeply flawed performance) sabotages the romance angle but the story only flirts with the idea anyway so there’s no emotional investment either. This is desperately average storytelling and as soon as you realise the shuttle has crashed you could plot the rest of the episode using all the usual Voyager formula. I’ll take that daft photonic beings/Chaotica nonsense over this any day: 3/10

Bliss written by Robert J. Doherty and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Janeway has a chance with Mark again, Chakotay’s criminal activities are forgiven and Voyager has made it home…is it all too good to be true?

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway can’t be bothered to raise her hopes any more when an opportunity to slip straight to Earth rears its head because there are have been far too many near misses in the past. As soon as she hears that it is a possibility she asks ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ which shows she is learning.

Brilliant B’Elanna: Torres waking up in sickbay and declaring ‘they’re here! The Maquis they’re all alive!’ and then starting to have a conversation with this genuinely laugh out loud funny. How nice to see Voyager taking the piss out of characters like this.

Borg Babe: As ever Seven seems to be the only character on this show with any sense of realism about her, finding the logic of looking before they leap into the latest spatial anomaly given their terrible track record of having carrots dangled under their noses. Its rather wonderful that Seven has an aunt back on Earth who is looking forward to meeting her – I believe we do get to see one conversation between them in Author, Author but its not enough to explore the fascinating possibilities and awkward feelings Seven has about family back home. Another reason Voyager should have made it home at least halfway through its last season.  When Janeway suggests that Seven of Nine is still afraid to return home to the Alpha Quadrant I would have told her to fuck off and that her personal feelings about such things are none of her business. 

Forever Ensign: And proving he doesn’t have the ability to learn from constant disappointment (he’s like a dog sitting under a work surface where sausages have been cooked four hours previously hoping that one might just roll off onto the floor) Harry is whipped up into a frenzy of excitement that this time it might the time to get home. Again.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Goodbye Delta Quadrant!’
‘Starfleet is not in the habit of killing lifeforms!’ ‘Even if that lifeform is about to kill you?

The Good: Bliss opens in a more attention grabbing way than this show has for a little while with the nautical theme of Star trek taking up to eleven as Qatai holds on for the ride of his life as the deck sways dramatically as his ship rides a lightning storm. You could happily set this story on a sailing ship and achieve the same effect of having said ship tossing about on the high seas. At first I was appalled at how the series seemed to wrapping up any possibility of tension returning to Earth so glibly until it became blatantly obvious that something was affecting the minds of the crew – there was literally no way that even Voyager would take the churlish approach of giving tom Paris and Chakotay such easy character resolutions and gutting the show of all the drama. Most of it, yeah that’s Voyager but not all of it. The way Bliss plays on our expectations of Voyager’s penchant for easy answers is worthy of some praise (I initially wrote this about Janeway’s development before I realised it was a big con so it shows you how much I was fooled - What is all this bollocks about Mark’s engagement being called off? One of the most powerful moments in the fourth season was when Janeway discovered that her ex fiancé had moved on with his life and she was single again. To wipe out that kind of development and not allow Janeway to move on with her life (not that Janeway would ever be allowed to move onto another man unless he was a holographic Irish man because the writers on this show lack the decency to make her happy or develop) lacks any believability. To have it mentioned so off-handedly and to never deal with the consequences is utterly churlish and annoying. W. Morgan Sheppard gives a hilarious, hearty performance as grizzly old sea Captain Qatai – he’s almost channelling Brian Blessed with his mad eccentricities and OTT growling. Nice to see an actor take roles in both Trek and Doctor Who (The Impossible Astronaut).

The Bad: Just what we needed! Naomi ‘treacle tart’ Wildman heading out on Away Missions and taking the helm! At least Seven objects to the latter but the more I see of this child of sugary goodness the more I want there to be a hideous accident that leaves her gruesomely scarred for life and embittered. Somebody should have told the writers of Voyager there is nothing as irritating and obvious than ‘cute child syndrome’ and it feels like nothing was learnt from Alexander’s inclusion in TNG. You can see what the writers are aiming for by pairing her with Seven but it is simply too saccharine and sickly to work. and Seven having to pit her wits against her apparently out of character friends has been done to death on Trek in episodes such as TNG’s The Game and DS9’s Whispers. This is better than the first but nowhere near as effective as the second. Gunning everybody down in Engineering isn’t quite as fun as it should be thanks to some stiff execution. The Doctor making Voyager a bitter pill to swallow might be a good idea in theory but its one that Voyager pulled off way back in series one the last time they were gobbled up by a creature that appeared to be an anomaly! Apparently its been long enough now that Voyager is now recycling its own plots!

Moment to Watch Out For: There is a genuine dreamlike euphoria about the crew seeing Earth on the viewscreen, Neelix being greeted as a welcome alien visitor from another quadrant, Tuvok being able to touch his wife, . Its an intriguing glimpse at the possibilities that lie ahead.

Anomaly of the Week: For once we have an anomaly which looks genuinely awe inspiring and is scored to perfection to such wonder. It literally looks like a gaping maw that swallows Voyager whole as soon as the crew are tricked into believing it is a way home. 

Result: There is plenty that could have gone wrong with Bliss since it is a ship bound show and one which offers the crew hope of returning home in one easy step again. But what initially appears to be a glib retelling of Eye of the Needle and Timeless evolves into a playful piece that pokes fun at Voyager’s weakness for undemanding solutions and it is precisely the sort of self mockery that I haven’t come to expect from this show that makes it all the more appealing here. Its primarily a Seven episode which is always a major selling point but also highlights Naomi Wildman’s continuing presence which prevents it from being anything like a classic. Trust Voyager to introduce a little self mockery and then fail to apply the same technique to an appalling Trek cliché (the cute kid) like Naomi. The concept of a giant crew that leeches off of the ship by trapping them in a realm of their greatest desires is intriguing and pulled off with some style here (although its nowhere near as effective as The X-Files episode that had exactly the same concept – Field Trip) and for using the central premise of the show so imaginatively Bliss deserves some kudos. If they aren’t going to address the real drama of this crews relationships on Earth then I will take teasing digs at that dramatic reluctance over nothing. Ultimately this is another ‘crew under a spell’ episode that this show has pulled off ad nauseum, its one of the more confident examples but its still a show that takes the piss out of clichés which is constructed out of clichés itself. Less Naomi please: 7/10

Dark Frontier Part I written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Cliff Bole & Terry Windell

What’s it about: Operation Fort Knox is on and Voyager is seeking out a Borg ship to make their way home…

Hepburn-a-Like: Like an intergalactic warlord she walks amongst the Borg debris and declares this is how she prefers the Borg (‘in pieces!’). Janeway approving Torres’ Maquis style tactics because ‘this is no time for protocol’ is worthy of much praise. Borg vessels make her skin crawl. Janeway suggests that coffee keeps her sharp but for me it’s a vice I wish I had never fallen under its spell because going without is absolute hell.

Borg Babe: Its become something a cliché that when this show focuses on Seven of Nine it usually manages to pull off something worth watching and even if the writing is lacking interest (which it doesn’t here) Jeri Ryan always makes it worth your time. Discovering that the Hanson’s were exobiologists that were studying the Borg is fascinating and immediately makes them the sort of risk takers that would be worth knowing. When get to visit Seven when she was a child and known as Anika, a little girl completely without guile and full of innocent questions about the Borg. What is interesting is how childlike Seven is these days too with all the upfront questions, social awkwardness and sulks that her younger self was capable of. The childlike innocence seems to be a deliberate acting choice from Jeri Ryan because as a human being Anika has stepped from being so young to being a fully matured adult but she has missed all the adolescent period in between. There’s a moment on the Borg ship where Seven considers the peace of rejoining the Collective and it is all done through Ryan’s facial expressions. This actress is worth her weight in gold. Seven admitting that Voyager is her Collective now and that the survival of the crew is important to her is a massive step forward for her character.

Spotted Dick: There is a genuinely emotional moment when Neelix admits that all he has left of his family is a faded holoimage and the memories of them and he would give anything for a treasure trove such as Seven has. It serves the purpose of reminding Seven why she should take this as an opportunity to find out more about her parents.

Queen of the Hive: Its about time Voyager had a long running villain because it has been wandering a little too aimlessly the last couple of years. They threw away the best villainess they were ever going to have in Seska (which still makes me bitter) and this is more shameless looting of TNG but I at least appreciate that they are trying to hook the viewer with a baddie that can turn up from time to time. Susannah Thompson is an interesting choice to play the role (because I still see her as Lenara Khan in DS9’s Rejoined first) but there is an icy calm about her performance that does grab the attention.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My parents underestimated the Collective. They were destroyed Because of their arrogance I was raised by the Borg.
‘I’m not leaving without you!’ ‘Then you will be assimilated!’

The Good: As much as it irritates me that Voyager is pillaging both the Alpha Quadrant (The Best of Both Worlds) and itself (Scorpion) there is something immediately exciting about having the Borg back on the show and the intriguing POV shots, dramatic music and striking strobe lighting effects make the pre titles sequence one of the most exciting this season. The intelligence that Voyager gathers about the Borg makes their dangerous attack on their ship well worth attempting. The Fort Knox scheme to steal a trans warp oojamaflip and leap home in a couple of big strides gives Dark Frontier a dramatic impetus that the show has not had surrounding its main storyline since Timeless and is unusually simple and focussed for this show. The way the examination of Seven ties into this story makes perfect sense and like Latent Image the plotting and the character work feed each other directly. The last thing I expected to see were flashbacks to Seven’s childhood and the build up to her and her parents being assimilated but I’m really pleased the writers took that risk because this material is dramatic gold. Its brilliant to see that Seven’s folks are such risk takers, burning all of their bridges by defying the rules and crossing the Neutral Zone in their pursuit of the Borg.

The Bad: Destroying the Borg ship by beaming in the torpedo is an exciting set piece but do you remember when this was an implacable foe that threatened to bring down the entire Federation? They are far less menacing and more vulnerable these days. What is this bollocks about Janeway fiddling with her comm badge when she is lying? She’s never done it before and she will never do it again and yet apparently this is a physical sign that she shows all the time when she is avoiding imparting bad news. I’m not sure that a Borg Sphere is as visually distinctive as a Borg Cube and I’m not sure why – there was something dramatically uniform about the Cubes that really said something about the Borg. I remember once a reviewer describing the latter alternative universe episodes of DS9 as simple as ‘popping out for a carton of milk’ or something to that effect – the shots of Janeway and Seven walking around the Borg ship about 20 minutes into this story are hugely reminiscent of that kind of laziness. Cliff Bole made exploring a Cube something massively atmospheric in The Best of Both Worlds but films these scenes with all the urgency of returning a library book. There’s only so many times we can walk down the same strobe lit corridor (despite David Bell’s pounding efforts) before it loses its impact. It might be a holodeck simulation but that’s all the more reason to convince the viewer that this is the real deal – it would have made the reveal all the more satisfying. It all comes back to Naomi Wildman again – DS9 flaunts Kai Winn, Dukat, Garak, Martok  & Weyoun and Voyager fights back with this precocious brat. I’m going to have to stop whinging about her soon because even I’m getting bored of repeating myself but she is exactly the wrong sort of message the show is sending out – twee and dull. This was the perfect opportunity for her to be assimilated horribly or treated as a human physiology study where they pull her apart like a lab rat to see what makes the human race tick. She’s even unconvincing as a nightmarish mirror image of Anika. It really bugs me that the writers feel the need to point out how much development Seven has gone through via Janeway. Its almost as if they are proud that they have managed to develop a single character and have to signal it at every opportunity. If DS9 did the same thing the episodes would merely consist of people saying things like ‘Hi Jadzia its amazing what a good time gossip girl you have become over the years’ ‘Thanks Quark, you’ve been examined in some pretty dark areas too’ ‘Oh look here comes Kira who has enjoyed so many emotional experience we’ve gotten to know her far more than we thought from those early days as a fiery terrorist hothead!’ If that sounds ridiculous go and listen to Janeway’s appraisal of the character around 35 minutes in. Its just a as clunky and attention grabbing in all the wrong ways when this kind of character development should be the norm for all of the regulars, all of the time and not celebrated as a one off. The attack on the Borg ship is somewhat spoilt by the fact that Borg POV shots and their exploration of the interior has already been shown earlier in the episode – there are no visual surprises to be found in the lead up to the cliffhanger and that’s a shame. I get the idea behind bringing saving the cliffhanger for the reveal of the Borg Queen but considering her presence has been signposted throughout the episode I would have plumped for Seven turning her back on Janeway which would have made a far more dramatically satisfying moment to end the episode. The final line is a direct lift from DS9’s The Search.

Moment to Watch Out For: The last two minutes or so are an effects triumph and cannot the astonishing visuals cannot pass by without comment. The Borg City has so much potential for exploration and the grisly introduction to the Borg Queen is a movie effect pulled off effortlessly on as TV budget.

Orchestra: David Bell was the best find both DS9 and Voyager discovered in their runs musically and he has a great ear for dramatic, bombastic music that really gets your foot tapping. Whilst it doesn’t quite match the choral power of The Best of Both Worlds there is a dark sting when Anika’s parents first lay eyes on a Borg sphere. There are a few moments where he is banging those drums so hard that I felt as if somebody was hitting me on the side of my head, however.

Result: Finally a two part spectacular that manages to be about something, Dark Frontier Part I is an exciting, dramatic episode with plenty of juicy Seven of Nine exploration to counteract the fireworks. The introduction of the Borg Queen to Voyager is fun if predictably cherry picking the best of TNG as this show has a habit of doing on a too frequent basis. Susannah Thompson gives it her all and she has an icy presence that is very different from the more sensual turn Alice Krige gave in First Contact. The production is pretty but unremarkable in spots, they throw as much money on the screen as possible and the effects are glorious (the Borg city is gobsmackingly good) but the direction has its moments where it is lacks the dramatic impact of previous attempts to pull off this kind of Borg drama (The Best of Both Worlds & Scorpion). What really works are the flashbacks to Seven’s past and the chance to meet her parents and Jeri Ryan’s remarkable performance, between her and Robert Picardo they are pretty much holding this show up on their own but with real bravado. Dark Frontier is another important step in Seven’s development and if there isn’t quite enough plot to sustain two episodes there is plenty of examination of her rekindling desire to rejoin the Collective and rejection of her home on Voyager. What’s irritating is how the script points the character development out at every stage which shows real contempt for the audiences intelligence. A striking opener which is pulled off with a fair amount of style but with enough flaws to hold it back from being a classic: 7/10

Dark Frontier Part II written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: Has Seven truly rejoined the Collective?

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway refusing to tear down Seven’s alcove despite the fact that it takes up so much power that the ship cannot afford to waste is the work of a sentimental human being and not a competent Starfleet Officer but it at least shows her to be a flawed person rather than a robotic rule book. She’s so patient she will even accept a visit from Naomi suggesting a tactical plan to rescue Seven without ordering her immediate execution. Although it would do nothing for the show it makes no sense for Janeway to risk everything to get Seven back from the Borg. Defending her to the crew is something else but risking their lives in the pursuit of her return is illogical and overly sentimental (and oddly nobody seems to question that when it would be the first words out of my mouth even if I was the lowliest Ensign).

Brilliant B’Elanna: The scene where Janeway chews B’Elanna out for accessing Seven’s personal database is probably the best character moment on this show since Seven fighting for the Doctor’s individuality in Latent Image. Its so good because it remains honest to the characters throughout with Torres refusing to admit that Seven was ever a part of the crew because of her distance and Janeway standing up for her rights despite what has recently occurred.

Borg Babe: The Queen suggests that Janeway has taken Seven and made her in her own image (a lovely notion) but she suggests that it is the Borg who have changed because she expected assimilation and not conversation. ‘I will betray you’ is what Seven said when she was disconnected from the Hive two years ago and there is plenty of discussion of that point from the various crewmembers who are trying to make sense of her decision to abandon Voyager. Her reaction to watching an entire species being assimilated is pure horror and Ryan provokes feelings of culture shock as she runs from the horrific theft of individuality that confronts her. The discussion of Seven’s individuality goes round in circles between her and the Queen so that by the end of the episode I was almost past caring whether she goes home or not. There is no discussion of her abandonment of Voyager, no consequences and it makes the whole exercise utterly pointless. I would bother to sound surprised.

Queen of the Hive: There seems to be a suggestion of sexual contact between the Queen and Seven in this episode. The way she tries to seduce her back into the Collective and strokes her cheek intimately could be construed as titillation techniques. The trouble is there is very little chemistry between Thompson and Ryan (go and watch Rejoined again where you will be bowled over with the chemistry between Terry Farrell and Susannah Thompson). Frankly I think that Thompson’s Borg Queen worked better as a disembodied voice haunting Seven in the first part because she sinks a lot of the discussion scenes with Ryan. There is something a little too cold and passionless about her whereas Krige had a sensuality about her that made her compelling to watch in First Contact. With Thompson it is like you are watching a cog in a machine explain why it functions so well (her line ‘Human sentiment! Compassion, guilt, empathy…they’re irrelevant!’ is so mechanically delivered it means nothing). During the final showdown between her and Janeway the best she can manage is dialogue like ‘One order! One voice! Insignificant!’ It’s hardly the most intelligently written battle of words I’ve ever seen. In a way I wish they had just gone down the evil villainess route like Seska because at least that would have been entertaining and Janeway could have butted heads with her in some style. But by having this character flirt with being a melodramatic baddie whilst at the same time holding back because of her Borg calm functionality means that you don’t get the best of either worlds. Just a monotonous villain pretending to be something more than she is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Our thoughts are one.’

The Good: Watching a Borg invasion of a world from the point of view of the Hive is at least a new slant on old material but there is something less exciting about a discussion between two people than there is about a collection of zombies intoning their desire to crush individuality. There’s a lovely shot of Anika listening to her parents attempting to escape the path of a Borg Cube that is hunting them down that really captured the horror of the creatures better than anything else here.

The Bad: To suggest that the Borg Queen put Seven on Voyager on purpose because she knew they would force her individuality and it would add to their perfection is so unreasonably made up on the spot for this episode you almost have to admire the bald faced cheek of it. It’s a twist that would have made more sense had there been any indication of it beyond ‘ooh let’s have a Borg chick on the show!’ but there hasn’t. I was walking with my husband yesterday and we were discussing the ‘what if’ nature of most shows and both decided that many, many shows explored their potential as much as you could have possibly hoped for (DS9, Farscape, Buffy) but that Voyager was one example of missed opportunities after another. There are so many more dramatic opportunities that could have been explored besides the usual Trek clichés actually built into the show in the pilot it seems beyond idiotic to ignore them. One of the things that Simon said annoyed him about Dark Frontier was how it suggests that the ultimate Borg aim is to ‘defeat humanity’. Again. Why when this show is set in the Delta Quadrant and clearly has no desire to set foot in the Alpha Quadrant (Endgame proves this by refusing to explore the crews actual homecoming in anything other than a discarded timeline) would they make the threat in Dark Frontier and all the Borg episodes that follow be simply a retread of The Best of Both Worlds? Especially since that story explored that idea better than Voyager could ever dream of pulling off? Why don’t they set up an exciting, characterful area of space in the Delta Quadrant that Voyager can explore for half a season or so and have that threatened? Why not do something original that we can invest in emotionally? It once again shows an absolute refusal to accept that there is anything interesting worth exploring in the Delta Quadrant – if the writers show contempt for the shows setting then why should we seek anything appealing in it? All they need to do now is package a shock where the Captain of this ship is turned into a Borg in an end of season cliffhanger and the TNG rip off’s would be complete as far as the Borg is concerned but they would never attempt to be that blatant. Would they? The idea of Seven being planted on Voyager as Borg spy might have worked really well had they done anything with it but as ever Voyager merely suggests gripping idea rather than exploring them. I do admire the nerve of Anika’s parents examining a Borg Drone but doing it in front of their kid? Frankly they deserved everything they got. What is the most obvious ploy they could have roped in to create some false tension in this episode? To tie together the flashbacks and the main plot by having Seven’s father turn up as a zombie drone and menace his daughter. It’s a cheap thrill and rather than produce something that has been intelligently thought through Voyager goes for the jugular by being as unsubtle as possible. In a similarly obvious fashion the man on the bed that Seven discovers with his arm lopped off provoke mirth rather than fear. Frankly I found the psychological approach of Infinite Regress far more compelling than the comic book horror presented here. Unbelievably after all this talk of Borg invasion and Seven leaving the ship absolutely everything back how it was at the beginning of the episode at the conclusion aside from the ship has leapt 15,000 light years closer to Earth. I’m sorry but that isn’t development, it is the illusion of development and they already pulled the same trick out at the end of Hope & Fear and Timeless (basically the last couple of times the show promised a change of direction and failed to deliver). What I want is something that genuinely feels as if it is moving this show onwards, changing the dynamic of the characters by having them violently split apart or entering a region of space where they have to question everything they know about themselves. I want something as dramatic and as ambitious as the cliffhanger of DS9’s Call to Arms that means that nothing will ever be the same again. The best I can get is a hop closer to home but everything will be exactly the same again next week. Its not enough. I feel as if I complain too much about this show sometimes but I have tried to explain why here.

Moment to Watch Out For: The final set piece to save Seven goes a long way towards salvaging this episode and as well as some exciting visuals David Bell’s score once again keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Fashion Statement: No matter how much stress she is under or how much action she faces in this two parter Janeway’s hair is perfectly coiffured throughout. 

Result: Seven’s decision to remain with the Borg leaves this conclusion to explore the pretty weighty theme of whether she was really considered to be a member of the crew by the remainder of the regulars and it provokes some pleasingly diverse opinions. What frustrates me is that for a show that purports to be doing something original but it is anything but this is little more than a retread of the best parts of First Contact whilst flirting with the ideas of The Best of Both Worlds. When it is focussing on Seven Dark Frontier is okay (although the repetitive nature of the dialogue between Seven and the Queen tested my patience and the lack of consequences at the conclusion is a joke) but everything else is dressed up as something ambitious when it is anything but. A lot of this doesn’t work because Susannah Thompson’s Borg Queen is presented as a mechanical plot function rather than an interesting character in her own right and the actress is clearly completely at sea as to how to play the role (sometimes she’s a big bad villain with scenery chewing lines and at others she is trying and failing to be a psychologically menacing presence). If you are willing to accept Voyager as a shallow action adventure series with no ambitions beyond mechanically retreading the same path as TNG then Dark Frontier is perfectly serviceable with a fantastic production and functional writing but if you are looking for a show that is truly going where no man has gone before, taking risks, pushing the boundaries of what it can achieve and truly engaging its audience intelligently you need to look elsewhere. That’s the conclusion this two parter has left me with and it unfortunately can be applied to the whole series: 5/10 (and its only just on the cusp of that)

The Disease written by Michael Taylor and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Harry Kim catches am STD!

Hepburn-a-Like: With grease smeared on her face Janeway looks all business for a change! The one character beat that really struck me was the momentary moment of anger from Janeway when she tells Harry that he will lose Tal just as she lost the man she was once engaged to. Then they go and ruin any credibility for the character by admitting that she considers herself a mother to Harry Kim and that her baby is finally growing up. Oh fuck off.

Mr Vulcan: It was whilst Tuvok was dismissing Paris’ suggestions of recreating Vulcan that I realised he was now by far the most boring character on this show. He rejects any attempt at humour, fails to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of space travel and has become little more than a humourless, one note joke that all of the characters have a kick at eventually. I pity poor Tim Russ who on the few occasions gets to do something different proves to be an excellent actor but considering that is once every three seasons you would never be able to tell if you took a glance at the series as a whole. 

Forever Ensign: Frankly Harry has needed a bad girl to rip his uniform off and have her wicked way with him for over five years so this corruption of his character is long overdue. Unfortunately rather than making a man out of him it seems to have the reverse effect and rather than standing up for his rights he now sounds like a petulant, sulking child. Its hardly a swing in his favour. As soon as he has had his end away he starts agonising over violating regulations just by being in the room. But you had a good time, right Harry? So forget about it, take your STD back to Voyager and get the Doctor to (discreetly) vaccinate you! At the thought of being late for a shift he gets so het up he starts putting on Tal’s uniform. Can’t they show this guy letting his hair down for a bit? Just for once to prove he is a person and not the living embodiment of naiveté and rules. At least Tom Paris gets to take the piss in style by once again pointing out that Harry always goes for the wrong girl which seems to have become his punchline and his one character note. When he beams Tal aboard a shuttle you almost want to applaud him for blatantly disobeying Janeway’s instructions. It’s a nice moment but by having the character literally list all the rules he is breaking it completely loses its impact. You don’t always have to spell everything out for us, Voyager. Hard though it may be to imagine we can sometimes work these things out for ourselves. Nice to see Harry admit that he is the Borg Drone of Starfleet protocol – is this the writings commenting on how badly they have fudged this character? The episode ends with the writers acknowledging that because of this show Harry is now a man which I can just about buy after disobeying orders, defying protocol and making love to a hot chick. The trouble is that next week he is just as goofy, naïve and angst ridden as ever and thus would remain so until the next time they feel the need to make him grown up (I think its around season seven’s Nightingale). What’s up with a show that cannot follow up these kind of character statements with some kind of proof. Harry hasn’t grown up, he’s still the Chump he always was and will always be. So what was the point of this episode?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re glowing!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Its an old story; boy meets girl from he wrong side of the galaxy, boy loses girl’ – yeah that’s an age old story…and thoroughly gripping one too.
‘I have served on this ship for five years and said yes ma’am to every one of your orders but not this time!’ – what a twat! He then follows that with ‘did your skin ever flush when you are near another person? Did you stomach ever feel like someone hollowed it out with a knife when you’re apart? Did your throat ever swell when you realised it was over?’ I couldn’t make this shit up!

The Good: The opening effects shot is truly, truly impressive – a pan along an immense spacecraft and disorientatedly spinning on its axis and slipping in through one of the windows into a clinch of passion for Harry Kim. For an episode that lacks a single brain cell it sure opens with a lot of style. Janeway’s assertion that the Varo are like cousins because they are also on a long journey is sweet and it would have been nice had the two ships travelled side by side for part of their journey home (and Harry Kim could have enjoyed a longer, more satisfying romance that might have meant something). Another squandered opportunity. The Varo ship breaking up is another astonishing special effect – Foundation Imaging have given this show a real kick up the butt visually.

The Bad: Because the series cannot seem to decide whether Harry should be loyal to Libby back home or not I cannot decide whether his recreational sex here should be applauded or condemned. She turned up in season two and it was clear that he was still in love with her and when Paris suggested that he shack up with one of the Delaney sister he scoffed at the notion. At this stage we just seem to have forgotten about her completely and he can be as morally indecent as he chooses. Its poor continuity and characterisation but at least he’s getting his end away. Maybe a woman can shag that Starfleet rulebook out of him. I can think of so many ways that exploring a generational ship that has travelled for over 400 years that could be so interesting…why are watching a Harry Kim romance instead? Wow I can’t believe they actually compared love to a disease thus driving home the episodes message in the least subtle way imaginable. Scenes of Harry cringing with embarrassment in sickbay as the Doctor fears he has caught an alien bug when he has actually contracting an STD from the Varo are absolutely hilarious for all the wrong reasons. We’ve squirmed with embarrassment for this character before but this taking things to a whole new level. The subplot about the resistance comes from nowhere and isn’t explained in any great depth so it becomes clear that it is dropped into the plot to provide a revelation down the line. Frankly I would have been more surprised had Tal not been a part of the resistance.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Janeway chews Harry out for shacking up with an alien riddled with STDs has to be seen to be believed. Never before have these two felt more like mother and son and the way she purrs at him disappointingly for failing to keep his trousers on and his near hysterical rant about always looking up to her and trying to be the best he could possibly be to please her could be swapped with any sleazy daytime soap opera without anybody noticing. It is bloody funny because its so dreadful and I had to pause for a moment to compose myself. 

Result: Is it my imagination or does David Livingston get all the tough assignments in the last couple of years of Voyager? The man who brought a genuine sense of dynamism to the show in its early years is rewarded by episodes like The Disease, Alice and The Haunting of Deck Twelve. What a legacy! This episode proves they have learnt something from the truly abominable experience that was Unforgettable and that is the leads in any romance story need to have some chemistry and there is definitely a spark between Garrett Wang and Musetta Vander. Besides that and a general visual strength courtesy of Livingston this is a retread of the terrible season three episode Favourite Son with some appalling characterisation of Harry (but lets face it Timeless was the only time it wasn’t), absurd twists and cringeworthy romantic dialogue (‘it was like touching an open plasma relay’ is probably the least sexy way you will ever hear somebody describe love at first sight). The thought of a story beginning with the concept of ‘Harry Kim catches an STD’ makes me howl with laughter and this uninvolving, embarrassing instalment pretty much can be summed with the worthiness of that premise. It seems that everybody aside from the director and the special effects team aren’t trying: 3/10

Course: Oblivion written by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan and directed by Anson Williams

What’s it about: What sickness is tearing through Voyager and its crew?

Hepburn-a-Like: Fuck me they are all on the verge of dying and Janeway is preaching about their humanity being intact like a good little Picard clone.

Tattoo: Its important that you watch Robert Beltran’s performance very carefully in this episode because you can see an actor who has completely given up on the show he is tied to. He doesn’t just sound bored, he’s practically comatose and doesn’t bother to inject any emotion into his (admittedly functional) dialogue. Even when his face turns to goo he barely registers any pain or response.

Parisian Rogue: Robert Duncan McNeill gives his finest performance in this show yet when Paris talks to B’Elanna about their honeymoon and then loses his wife. All for nothing.

Forever Ensign: Harry’s attempts at humour during the ceremony are cringeworthy like so much of what he says.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘The Demon class planet! One of our more interesting missions!’ – proof that even as a replicant Chakotay still talks absolute bollocks.
‘Tom!’ ‘There’s no-one here by that name’ – this is as sophisticated as the dialogue gets I’m afraid.

The Good: What’s this? Tom and B’Elanna are getting married? Despite the fact that there has been no proposal (like Dax and Worf’s in Call to Arms), no preparation (like Dax and Worf in the six episode mini arc at the beginning of season six) and the lack of satisfying dramatic or humorous pay off (like Dax and Worf in You Are Cordially Invited) this still feels pleasingly like some kind of culmination of their relationship and that it was worth exploring (however badly) to lead to this kind of commitment. All the personal touches are nice too with Chakotay giving Torres away and Kim playing the music. Shame none of it means anything.

The Bad: The title! Even the Original Series would have rejected that one! Oh wait a minute – the twist that this is the replicant of the crew that we last saw hanging out on the Demon planet which birthed them in the hastily concluded season four episode. In one bold stroke the writers have managed to shit all over the fact that there is some reward for pursuing the Tom and B’Elanna relationship (because this isn’t our crew so none of this actually matters) and thrown up the logic of making the very odd similarities between this crew and ours in that Paris has also been demoted to a Lieutenant (so I guess he also went through exactly the same events in Thirty Days) and they also made the decision to return to Earth. Skipping over the illusion of development this episode offers so soon after Dark Frontier (which has been this shows raison d’etre until they start parodying the lack of development in shows like Equinox and The Void) the idea that both ships have run along parallel course is just ridiculous and not only that but boring too. Think of all the fun stuff you could do with a replicant crew? Imagine if DS9 had skipped over to the mirror universe and the characters were all exactly the same. How tedious would that be? It was a chance for Voyager to have some fun and they blew it. What’s even weirder is how (fortunately for the plot otherwise it would lose its one moment of surprise which is followed by a barrage of question about its illogic and annoyance at its damn reset) they all seem to have quite conveniently forgotten that they are replicants and have been going on their merry way back to Earth just like our Voyager. When we last left them they were fully aware that they were copies so to have everybody inexplicably contract amnesia for the sake of this idiotic plot beggars belief. The slow motion showering of rice is a lovely visual but it is followed immediately by a special effect that looks like it is going to be a sequel to season two’s abominable episode Twisted. Course: Oblivion doesn’t take that path but it does prove to be abominable all the same. The episode touts the idea that Voyager has enhanced its warp drive and is now a stones throw away from Earth – had this been the real Voyager again this would be a fascinating proposition because the ship would have made it home before the end of the seventh season and we could have enjoyed some tying up of character threads before the series ended. File under wasted potential like most of season five. Would the crew really delight in last minute exploration that would an extra couple of months to their journey when they are this close to home? I think not. The conversation between Tuvok and Chakotay regarding the duplicates on the Demon class planet and pondering whether they are flourishing or not is hilariously bad. When you have shoved the ship so close to home and killed off one of the crew (B’Elanna) you know this cannot be our Voyager because the show has proven it would never take such risks but to so blatantly point out the answer like this (I’m surprised that Tim Russ and Robert Beltran didn’t just wink directly at the audience as they said these lines) defies description. Watching B’Elanna turn into mercury based goo is a dreadful effect for the usually exacting standards of Voyager. Random space battle with a race we have never met before – check! The last ten minutes of this episode features the crew stumbling around the ship with slurred speech as if they were drunk. I wish I was and I don’t even drink! The grotesque make up for the crew makes this pretty disgusting rather than tragic – I can’t believe they made Jeri Ryan look that ugly! Any scene that starts with ‘Acting Captain’s Log’ and is narrated by Harry Kim makes me feel slightly nauseous. Some might defend this show for its depressing conclusion as being a brave move but I will criticise it for exactly the same reason. There is nothing smart or daring about wiping out this entire duplicate crew because I can think of a hundred different ways in which keeping them alive and integrating them into the show would have giving Voyager a whole new playpen to indulge in. Imagine a show that skipped from one crew to another for half a season or so that explored the nature of predestiny and how different decisions can cause different paths. Or even better pitting the two crews against each other  - the crew of Voyager having to fight itself! Or the duplicate crew could have swept in in Equinox and saved them from Ransom in the concluding part of that story. Anything but simply killing them off to wipe out any of the potential in the idea and not even having our crew know what their counterparts have been through. It means there was absolutely no point to this episode and it impacts in no way on our Voyager rendering the whole exercise utterly meaningless. The ineptitude to the writing here reaches a new low.

Result: Plus ten points for attempting a sequel to another episode, minus nine points for making it Demon, for once again indulging in the illusion of development where there is none and for making the very (lack of) exploration of this premise so utterly pointless. Going into this episode we are presented with two massive leaps, Tom and B’Elanna’s wedding and the ship being two years away from Earth and considering both have been sprung upon us with no build up it is a massive indication that this is a con from the pre titles sequence. Aside from that there is nothing to distinguish this crew from the usual monotonous crowd on our Voyager when this could have been a pleasing exploration of their differences and the start of something special that would spiral in later seasons. Its also a massive leap to say that the entire crew has forgotten their inception for the sake of learning it here – had the crew that we have watched since the beginning of the season been these replicants it might have had some impact because we would have been on something of a journey with them (and wouldn’t that be brave for a cowardly show like Voyager?) but simply returning to them for one episode lacks any interest. The writers choose to wipe them all out in a horribly defeatist, unconvincing way having learnt absolutely nothing about themselves along the way. At every turn Course: Oblivion (that really is a dreadful title) takes the easiest possible route and by the end of the episode nobody is even aware of their sacrifice so it fails to leave any impact on the series whatsoever. This is pure fudge, plain and simple and I cannot fathom why the idea ever made it off the drawing board: 0/10

The Fight written by Joe Menosky and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Boxing…chaotic space…Chakotay’s grandfather…I’m not really sure…

Tattoo: Whilst it is little more than hysterics its wonderful to see Robert Beltran injecting some passion into his performance again. Has Chakotay always had some boxing fixation that I have completely missed or is this another made up on the spot character trait? He reveals a hidden knowledge (until now) of boxing scores and talks about the sport as though he practices all the time. Its hardly the same as, say, Worf’s fighting programmes which would have made a better study for this kind of episode because we see him indulging all the time on both TNG and DS9. If Chakotay really was a regular boxer wouldn’t he be in better shape? We learn that Chakotay’s grandfather was a crazy old man who refused to take his medicine and he fears that he will become him one day. It doesn’t quite work because this nugget is dropped in during the middle of the fifth season. Wonderfully the reason the aliens picked Chakotay is because he has ‘the crazy gene.’ Somebody shoot the writing staff!

EMH: I pretty agree with the Doctor with regards to boxing. I find it barbaric and a too personal glimpse into the savage side of our nature (and most of the time that is just the audience scream their bloodlust) even though the fighters are clearly in superb physical shape and go through some violent turmoil. Its all so pointless when there are other ways to show your prowess that doesn’t involve a bloody nose.

The Good: I do like the way this episode chucks you in at the deep end with very little explanation and expecting you to pay attention and keep up with what is happening. I can’t promise that you’ll find the answers very stimulating but I do appreciate not being spoon fed everything from the start.

The Bad: Is there any reason to include Boothby in this episode other than to try and rag a couple of TNG fans back to this show? I don’t get why he is suited to this role, he has always been portrayed as a grounds keeper and not the Angelo Dundee of the 24th Century. This geriatric old codger is hardly the greatest motivational character in the world – I would have shoved in James Kirk if you wanted somebody to get you kicking the shit out of somebody for fun! At least Tuvok points out the absurdity of his involvement in this role at one point. There is plenty of talk about Chaotic space being deadly enough to destroy even Borg Cubes (mind you they are being knocked out on a regular basis these days so that’s not quite the statement it used to be in TNG) but so much of it is tedious technobabble that I couldn’t ever get a handle on what the danger is supposed to be. Chakotay suddenly turning into The Rock on the bridge and throwing punches at Tuvok made me laugh my head off. What are these writers on? Remember how gripping the last time Chakotay indulged in an episode long vision quest (season two’s Tattoo) was. What made the writers think that this would be any more worthy of our time? I understand that the scenes in sickbay were added as an afterthought when the episode was underunning and we really could have done without them because they seem to consist of Beltran and Picardo screaming at each other incoherently with choice dialogue like ‘its too much get them out!’ to absorb. Im not sure why I switch on to Voyager these days but it sure isn’t to see Neelix giving Chakotay a massage whilst the Doctor explains the physiology of boxing! Aliens communicating through Chakotay’s love of boxing…its another pitch that should have been tossed in the bin. Kolbe tries hard to make the communication scene as seamless as possible but I don’t think the editing is particularly fluid. Because it is single words being chopped up into a sentence from various sources that is exactly what it feels like. The answer to escaping chaotic space is to modify the deflector by inducing a paralateral rentrilic trajectory! I’m amazed that I couldn’t have worked that out for myself!  

Moment to Watch Out For: Robert Beltran has finally woken up in an episode that isn’t worthy of his efforts.

Fashion Statement: Chakotay’s hair looks great in this episode – he’s a real looker!

Anomaly of the Week: ‘We appear to be inside the disturbance…’ – oh dear, that can’t be good! 

Result: And I thought things were bad at the beginning of the season! Voyager is in a serious quality nosedive at the moment and The Fight is the third episode in a row where I am left thinking ‘why?’ I don’t like Chakotay, I don’t like boxing and I don’t like technobabble and this episode has an abundance of all three. It’s a script that even the writer confessed to not understanding after he watched the episode so what hope do the rest of us have? Winrich Kolbe is one of the better Trek directors and can usually salvage even the worst scripts he is handed with some atmospherics (Hope & Fear, Repression) but he goes overboard here with too many visual tricks and the net resulting is a disorienting set of images that get wrong what DS9 has been getting right with its Orb experiences since the first episode. The story gets more absurd and indecipherable as it goes on and Beltran and Picardo head into the stratosphere with their hysterical performances. This would have only been even more ridiculous sermon on boxing had they shoved Seven of Nine into a leotard and had her take on The Rock but not even Voyager would go that far into the realms of madness: 2/10

Think Tank written by Michael Taylor and directed by Terrance O’Hara

What’s it about: A Think Tank offers Janeway help in escaping a system of bounty hunters but the cost is high…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway talks the talk with the alien bounty hunters and proves a worthy successor to James Kirk with her bluffing techniques. One thing Janeway and I agree on all the time is our obsession with coffee and Neelix’s jibe about injecting the caffeine straight into the blood stream is something that has been suggested by my husband from time to time. Kurros taking a sip and saying ‘you actually enjoy this?’ is something Simon has also said! I love seeing Janeway grasp with an intelligent problem because to my mind that is when she is written for at her best. Janeway isn’t written as a mother hen and nor does she reject the idea of Seven moving onto the Think Tank. Instead she gives her the opportunity to make that choice for herself promising that they will think their own way out of this situation with or without their help. I like it when the writers avoid writing her as a robotic bully and give her the chance to behave like a human being. That might sound like a ridiculous statement but there are plenty of examples of her being characterised as the former rather than the latter. Her ‘a good guest knows when he’s outstayed his welcome’ is rather lovely.

Tattoo: Chakotay is back to being bland wallpaper on the bridge. One scene ends with Beltran visibly fuming that his contribution to this episode is little more than time wasting exposition.

Borg Babe: It would have been a bit embarrassing had Seven departed the show on an episode that was this calm. Making her the bargaining chip is a new approach to putting a crew member at risk and they subvert that and add in some intriguing discussion about what she might gain if she chose to willingly add her intellect to the Think Tank. Its not driven home effectively because Taylor shies away from this angle in favour of bluffs and double bluffs.

Parisian Rogue: Tom is responsible for all the ships latest crazes (I snorted when Janeway suggests the yo-yo was a big hit – are they that bored in the Delta Quadrant?).

Forever Ensign: Things have gotten so slack on this ship that Harry is allowed to play with his toys at his station!

Spotted Dick: The succour that Neelix gives to Janeway in her midnight study of the region reminds me of how he can actually be a useful morale officer from time to time. Its often in these quiet moments where he works best rather than when his sense of humour explodes on screen.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You have a problem, Captain. I am the solution.’
‘They must be studying it’ ‘Actually she is studying you.
‘If can’t solve a puzzle, cheat!’

The Good: The teaser features a number of really freaky make up jobs that really stand out as something a bit different – I especially like the underwater creatures which is exactly the sort of aliens we should be seeing. Jason Alexander’s Kurros is never going to be remembered as one of the finer Trek villains but there is something lovely about the way he plays the role so quietly. It adds a subtle menace to the episode. An exploding planet within ten minutes of the episode? That’s how to get your attention! Igniting a gas cloud and riding the shockwave…are they trying to make up for the last three episodes by providing as much excitement in this episode as possible? I love the idea of bounty hunters with a work ethic and I hope this isn’t the last we see of them on this show. By all accounts they are spread quite wide throughout this system. The concept of a Think Tank build from the finest minds of the Quadrant is an intriguing notion and one that hasn’t been explored in Trek before – something of a first for Voyager and worthy of applause. How wonderfully cheap is the artificial intelligence with the mind of a mathematician? It looks like something that would have been designed in 60s Doctor Who and makes very cute burbling noises! I love the mention of a cure for the Vidiian Phage, its nice to know that Voyager’s most terrifying enemy got a happy ending (even if we never got to see it). Watching the crew trying to think their way out of this problem is far more satisfying than the one line of unpronounceable technobabble that solved the last episodes plot.

The Bad: The hologram within a hologram scene lacks any surprises and doesn’t even attempt to pull of the subterfuge for longer than ten seconds! The second half of the episode seems to be trying to pull off the same tactics as Counterpoint but unlike the previous episode all the feints are out in the open which leaves little room for surprises.

Moment to Watch Out For: The trap within a trap at the climax was smart enough to make me lift an eyebrow. If that seems like faint praise be aware that the last handful of episodes have provoked nothing but scoffs, mirth and scowls.

Result: Think Tank is quite a cheap episode but for once that doesn’t matter because it forces Voyager to toss out the spectacle and concentrate on the intelligence. It’s a fun little piece that mixes tactics and psychology to intriguing effect but what elevates it is the  portrayal of Janeway which is more convincing than anything we have seen since Counterpoint. The plot bubbles along quite nicely with a lovely moment when we realise that Seven is what the Think Tank require as payment but what holds this back from being anything special is the flat direction from Terrance O’Hara. He shoots everything head on, injects little pace into the events and barely gets his actors to rise above a whisper. It must be one of the quietest episodes of Star Trek ever (astonishing in an episode that features an exploding planet!) and so whilst there are interesting ideas in play its hard to get too excited about them. Watching Think Tank is like listening to a very intelligent man talk who has no charisma whatsoever, intriguing but difficult to invest in. The last scene, however, is excellent and makes up for a lot of the episodes shortcomings. It’s a step up from the last four episodes but its still nowhere near top notch Voyager: 6/10

Juggernaut written by Bryan Fuller, Nick Sagan & Kenneth Biller and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: A destructive Malon freighter has to be subdued but there’s a monster hiding in the shadows…

Brilliant B’Elanna: Poor Roxan Dawson. When the show began B’Elanna was one of the characters that the writing team were most invested in – you could tell by the way it was her story that they focussed on immediately after the pilot. There was a nice little character arc running through the first three seasons that saw the character go from an aggressive bully to a focussed, professional Starfleet engineer and instalments such as Dreadnought, Remember and Blood Fever were some of the best of their years. Season four was where it all started to go wrong (it seems that with the advent of Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine that Torres was neglected almost as if the writers are commenting that you can’t have two such sophisticated characters on the show) and Torres underwent something of a character deterioration and the few times they could be bothered to give her an episode it seems that they felt the need to make an out of character regression. Dawson’s pregnancy might have had something to do with Torres vanishing into the shadows but episodes like Day of Honor (B’Elanna has the day from hell), Extreme Risk (B’Elanna is addicted to extreme sports) and now Juggernaut (B’Elanna cannot control her anger – this is direct throwback to season one’s Parallax which was the second episode so it feels like we are back where we started with the character) do her know favours at all. Her relationship with Tom Paris doesn’t really work for me during these seasons either because it either seems to be based purely on lust or they are written as some cheesy daytime soap opera couple who bicker and freak out at dramatic tangents. Its interesting because it is almost as if they realise this come season six (which is the point where the Seven of Nine shows start to wear a bit thin ironically enough) and suddenly Torres is picked up and dusted down and is just about the only character to escape with any dignity in the last two seasons (Barge of the Dead, Muse and Lineage see her learn some incredible things about herself). I believe that Dawson is one of the strongest perfomers on this show so the oversight in neglecting her in seasons four and five is unforgivable but here’s to the renaissance next year.

Why is B’Elanna at the mercy of her chaotic, destructive anger again? Its another moment in season five where a character has a sudden quirk thrusted upon them (Paris has a love of the ocean for one episode in the series and Chakotay boxing) for a single episode to fill some time and pad out the year. Her ‘Miss Turtle Head’ story is appalling (almost as bad as Worf’s psychobabble explanation in Let He Who Is Without Sin) and Dawson doesn’t seem to know how to bring such awful material to life. Torres has always been free with her opinion but never as abusively as she is on the bridge with the Malon characters. When Torres blatantly insults the Captain (‘Diplomacy, Janeway’s answer to everything’) it feels shockingly out of character considering what the two of them went through together in the first couple of years. That relationship has been completely ignored in favour of the Janeway/Seven duo and its almost as if you can hear Dawson’s disdain. Isn’t it fortunate that in an episode that deals with Torres’ anger she has to solve the problem by beating up the core labourer with a giant pipe. Subtlety anyone?

Mr Vulcan: With no Kes to train it would seem that Tuvok has turned his attentions to B’Elanna but since this is probably the only time we will see this relationship its not really one you can invest in.

Spotted Dick: How fortunate that Neelix spent six months aboard a Talaxian garbage scow! Another never heard of before titbit of information that comes in handy for one episode. Neelix’s bubbling pot of snot looks absolutely stomach churning and the scene isn’t much better – get onto the creepy freighter already! There’s a lovely moment when Neelix giggles at the thought of Torres meditating where I thought she would rip his head off but instead she shares the joke.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Chakotay these people are the scourge of the Quadrant!’ – B’Elanna’s dialogue in this instalment doesn’t get much better than this.

The Good: I really like the Malon ships that glide into view spewing toxic garbage in their wake. Having the Freighter on the verge of destruction that would devastate the three local populated systems give this episode a sense of urgency that has been lacking of late. Its great to see Starfleet characters on this show stripping out of their uniform and getting grimy and sweaty in an uncomfortable environment. The Malon characters enjoy some little depth beyond garbage men here and I really liked the idea of a sculptor giving up the work he loves in order to protect his people. What a shame that we never got to visit their homeworld – one of the most beautiful worlds you will ever see apparently! The sets are far more interesting than your usual squeaky clean future environments we usually visit on this show - grime smears the walls, water condenses and drips to the floor, harsh lighting silhouettes the characters and there are creaks and groans from the hull that is containing the toxic waste. Point of view shots of the ‘monster’ attacking in the smoke really help to generate some tension. There was a moment when a piece of equipment flew off the wall and smacked Chakotay right in the face where I laughed so hard I thought I would fall off my chair. Divine retribution of being so forgettable perhaps?

The Bad: Exactly how far does Malon space extend because we have made two leaps closer to home this season (Timeless & Dark Frontier) so it seems unlikely that 30,000 light years away we would be meeting up with this species again. They were introduced in Night so why didn’t we enjoy this episode at the beginning of the season? It could have quite happily have replaced tedium like Once Upon a Time. Scenes of Roxan Dawson and Ethan Phillips trying to out shout each other gave me an uncomfortable reminder of the hysterics of The Fight. Is that how this show is expressing drama these days? That the creatures turns out to be a disfigured disgruntled worker is hardly the most exciting of revelations and part of me was hoping that it would turn out to be the Malon monster of myth. Although the make up job is extraordinary.

Moment to Watch Out For: There’s a glorious moment in the climax where you might think you’re watching Alien as the mysterious creature heads towards B’Elanna and Neelix (there’s a wonderful visual of this in Astrometrics) and it comes dribbling from out of the gloom and smoke. Its totally brainless but very exciting. Plus Neelix gets beaten up which is a plus.

Result: A big dumb action adventure that is nevertheless great fun to watch thanks to a sympathetic director who gets the most out of the production. The scenes on the Malon freighter are atmospherically brought to life with stunning smoky sets and moody lighting and the sense of danger on this powder keg is palpable. Where Juggernaut fails is its characterisation of B’Elanna which has been regressing now for the past two years and she has now relapsed to the same character she was in the pilot making the last five years worth of development count for naught. She’s an unthinking bully with appalling psychobabble explanations for her explosive behaviour and Dawson seems at a loss at how to play this material so she goes for broke and feels over the top as a result. My advice is to turn your brain off and enjoy this episode on a purely visceral level because on those terms it can be exciting and even chilling on a moment by moment basis. Flawed but another step in the right direction: 6/10

Someone to Watch Over Me written by Michael Taylor and directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

What’s it about: Seven is learning about love…

EMH: Our very own Professor Higgins who falls in love with his pupil, the Doctor’s feelings for Seven sneak up on him unwillingly in the course of his education for her which makes the moment all the more satisfying. The Doctor admitting his feelings for Seven only for it to turn out to be a holographic programme is devastating especially when that is followed by Seven wishing to terminate their lessons.

Brilliant B’Elanna: How nice to see Tom & B’Elanna having dinner and just talking about their days. None of this overdone sitcom romance but just two people who have fallen in love talking in a very naturally way and enjoying each others company. More please. B’Elanna’s anger towards Seven for following them and observing their romantic behaviour is more convincing than anything we saw in Juggernaut because it is underplayed and written in a very subtle way – it feels like she is a completely different character in this episode. And a far more believable one.

Borg Babe: Taking up the mantle of Eliza Doolittle in the most convincing way since Leela in Doctor Who, Seven is exploring the idea of romance and taking lessons on deportment from the Doctor. Seven looks physically repulsed at the sight of two members of Species 8472 getting their rocks off (and it does make you wonder who the Doctor managed to capture that little snapshot!). Jeri Ryan is too good at playing this dialogue with an arched eyebrow and rigid tone and her deadpan reaction to everything makes for some delightfully warm moments when she is unintentionally funny and those around her do their best not to notice and make her feel uncomfortable. She finds dating far too complex and considers assimilation a much more pleasing method of getting to know somebody! Seven’s succinct answers to the Doctor’s social questions are worth a chuckle: What does she do in her spare time? ‘Regenerate.’ What about her likes and dislikes? ‘I dislike irrelevant conversation.’ What does she seek in life? ‘Perfection.’ When seeking out a mate Seven chooses several men that appeal to her. And the reasons? A flawless work record and efficiency! Like a sulky child she wants to terminate her social lessons when her first date goes disastrously wrong.

Parisian Rogue: He’s smart enough to see that the Doctor is becoming infatuated with his student, singing in Sickbay and enthusing about her many attributes.

Forever Ensign: Seven tells Harry in no uncertain terms that he is not one of the potential candidates on her list of suitable companions on Voyager. You had your chance Harry and you blew it.

Spotted Dick: A Neelix subplot that turns out to be really funny – go figure! The very idea of having to cater for a race with a bland palette doesn’t come easy to Neelix who is used to shoving his heart and soul into his food. Neelix is now being trusted as a full Ambassador and has to try and keep the Caati representative happy during his stay. Imagine being left in the hands of somebody as terrifying looking as Neelix? Still his heart is in the right place and there is something rather lovely about watching him sink so badly in his first assignment. He’s try so hard to be accommodating that his guest winds up drunk, abusive and talking about throwing of his vows of abstinence and joining Voyager!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How the hell do you know when we’re having intimate relations?’ ‘There is no-one on Deck 9, section 12 who does not know where you’re having intimate relations.’
‘You’re a woman, Seven!’ ‘Is that an observation or a diagnosis.’
‘Please be punctual’ is Seven’s way of asking someone to a date!
‘Seven of Mine! Assimilate me!’

The Good: As well as being visually stunning, the Doctor’s dramatic and theatrical recreation of an army of sperm attacking an egg is absolutely hilarious. Why oh why did they ever get rid of Sandrines? Its such an atmospheric location and I had forgotten clean about it in the wake of Lord Burleigh’s manor house and the appalling beach resort from seasons two and three. Paris and the Doctor make a deal over Seven’s ability to succeed in a romantic situation (the stakes being Paris pulling double shifts in sickbay if he loses or getting a month off if he wins) without once considering her feelings in this matter. What is it with Voyager creating these one off crewmembers who are more appealing and warmly played that most of the regulars? They did it with Ensign Jetal in Latent Image and now with Brian McNamara’s Chapman we have another potentially gorgeous recurring character (which isn’t picked up because they are too busy juggling Naomi and Icheb next year – bleaugh). The dating scenes would have dive bombed had Seven chosen somebody as bland as Harry or Chakotay (one of the reasons why her ‘romance’ with Chakotay in season seven failed to make any impact) but with Chapman trying so hard to accommodate her and to smooth over her embarrassment these awkward moments are absolutely charming to watch. They are both nervous which leads to some wonderfully timed comic disasters – Seven splitting a lobster with such ferocity that she splats Chapman in the face with it and dancing with real fervour that she breaks his arm!

The Bad: After raising the issue here the writers then decide to never mention the Doctor’s infatuation with his pupil again. In a way I can see why they chose to avoid this plotline in the last two season because it would prepare unfavourably with the ballad of Kira and Odo (and nobody does that sorrowful stare quite like Rene Auberjonois) but it seems a shame when it works so well here to shy away from a recipe for success. Every couple the Doctor shows Seven from his photo collection is male/female. If Doctor Who can so willingly embrace homosexuality why can’t a supposedly accommodating show like Star Trek? Seven attacking the Caati representative is the one moment this episode doesn’t quite work, it feels overplayed and a bit trite.

Moment to Watch Out For: The ‘You are my Sunshine’ sequence is so delightful for a moment I completely forgot I was watching Voyager and just surrendered to the joy of the moment. The Doctor and Seven singing together so beautifully with the Doctor realising halfway through the song that he is madly in love with Seven. Its one of Voyager’s sunniest and most bittersweet scenes. The fact that there is Borg regeneration technology flashing away in the background makes me smile even more.

Fashion Statement: ‘My appearance is sufficient’ says Seven and she’s not wrong. But when the Doctor takes her hair down and she squeezes into an evening dress Jeri Ryan looks absolutely stunning. 

Result: A Pygmalion homage that is simply delightful to watch, Someone to Watch Over Me is one of the highlights of season five. Teaming up the two finest characters on this show proves to be such an instant hit it is easy to see why they did it again (Body & Soul). Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo throw themselves into this warm, bittersweet comedy with some aplomb and with a wealth of funny dialogue, honest characterisation and charming moments it proves to be the most satisfying character drama of the year too. Robert Duncan McNeill should give up this acting lark and stick to directing because between this and Unity he has brought to of the shows most striking episodes to life and they are the complete antithesis of each other in tone. Clearly he has worked hard with the actors here and as a result all of the performances are intimate and witty and he films the whole piece with a softer vision for the show that really helps to sell Voyager as an engaging romantic environment. Last year there was a Neelix subplot that made a bad episode even worse (Demon) but this year they have figured the best way to make this character appealing is to make him suffer and his role as Ambassador to a drunken, surly representative of the Caati is very funny. Its so wonderful to see this kind of sunny character drama on this series because in a period where it is easy to give up on the show they manage to pull something this special out of the bag and remind you that at its best Voyager can stand up there with the best of them: 9/10

11:59 written by Joe Menosky and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Janeway’s ancestor and her choice to get ‘unstuck in the present…’

Hepburn-a-Like: If there was ever an opportunity to point at an episode and say that Kate Mulgrew is a fantastic actress then 11:59 will definitely qualify. Mulgrew began her Voyager adventure with two reasonably strong years as a Captain who could scare the shit out of you and yet empathise a second later. When Jeri Taylor took the reins of the show something terrible happened and Janeway turned into an inconsistently characterised bully (and Mulgrew’s public opinion about Taylor is something you should seek out) with few chances for the actress to really show what she was capable off. Brannon Braga is in charge this year and regardless of the inconsistent quality of the season he seems determined to make Janeway a strong character again (especially in episodes like Counterpoint and Latent Image) and give Mulgrew the opportunity to show why she was chosen to pick up the pieces once Bujold left. Embracing the role of Shannon O’Donnell wholeheartedly, Mulgrew is a revelation in this episode. With no Starfleet protocol to restrain her performance she provides a sensitive and thoughtful dilemma for the character. I hope we don’t have to wait another couple seasons before she gets an opportunity to wow us like this again.

Janeway speaks so highly of the first of her family to travel to the stars and pioneer space exploration that you know that things cannot be as simple as they seem. She wouldn’t have become a Starfleet Captain if it wasn’t for her, that’s how personal this mythology are for her. Shannon’s dilemma feels very satisfying because she is characterised as a progressive woman from the off and the Millennium Arch is exactly the sort of place she would like to be working. I admired how honest she was with Henry, admitting she had shared a beer with the other side and that she didn’t want to be a part of his stuffy, stifling lifestyle.

Spotted Dick: In the first scene Neelix sounds uncannily like my husband (and that is the only time I will draw that parallel in my life!) because Simon also has a habit (quite an endearing one actually…and I do learn an awful lot) of coming up to me with lots of historical facts and figures that absorbs from documentaries and brings them to life enthusiastically. I would have liked Neelix to have mentioned that he was learning so much about Earth because he wants to be able to fit in when they get home but instead it is a less than subtle way of introducing us to Shannon via Janeway. ‘Some day you may enjoy a little 7 of 9.5 running around…’ – Neelix is being all cute again this year. Keep it up.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘These are my travelling companions. They’ll take me anywhere, any time.’

The Good: The sudden fade to Kate Mulgrew driving a car through the snow with so many atmospheric little details (I love the space pod hanging from the mirror) it is jarring but entirely in the shows favour. At the time every series and its mother was trying to jump on the Millennium bandwagon and I don’t see any reason why Voyager shouldn’t have a stab – its certainly more pleasing than The X-Files/Millennium crossover. The location work stands out because for once it doesn’t feel like a trip to the Paramount backlot but that we are truly immersed in (from the point of view of our regular cast) history (even though it probably is the Paramount backlot). The multi level book store owned by Henry Janeway is just about the best set we have seen in five years on Voyager, it is packed with creative little details and hidey holes that makes it so much more fun to visit than the usual alien office or bridge. It’s the sort of place where Bastion found the book in The Never Ending Story, suggesting knowledge and magic within. You can understand Henry’s objections to the Millennium Gate because for all the tourism it might bring in they have talked so many people out of giving up their homes and businesses – its precisely the sort of cause that you would find the Doctor fighting and reminds me of a modern day parallel of the Maquis colonies in DS9. You can see instantly how Janeway and O’Donnell will be a good match – he’s a crotchety old mothball stuck in the past and she’s an ambitious, progressive woman. It’s a match made in heaven! I’ve always found a great deal of immersive enjoyment in books – especially Doctor Who books that have taken me to whole other worlds and times and so to see Henry Janeway open a book up with pictures of Paris and suggest that is where they are dining is quite delightful. I love the atmosphere of the closing scenes as Shannon marches through the drifting snow to confront Henry who is hiding out with a solitary candle. Making Henry realise that hiding behind his bookshelves isn’t working for his son, the town or her is just about the most agreeable conclusion this episode could have come to. Seven’s assertion that Shannon’s life captured Janeway’s imagination and the details aren’t important is just beautiful. The parallel photographs taken at the conclusion is very well done and promotes the feeling of family on this ship better than most I have seen so far (its just a shame the Doctor has to point it out so blatantly).

The Bad: I understand that they wanted to drive home the loss of a childhood hero (and the is a laudable premise for an episode) but I somehow wonder if this wouldn’t have been even more effective had we cut out the Voyager crew altogether and afforded Kate Mulgrew the chance to star in her own standalone adventure. Its already quite a departure from the norm, this one, but that would have sealed the deal for me. How Janeway finds out about Shannon’s defection from the programme – Tom Paris’ encyclopaedic knowledge of, well everything, is a trifle unconvincing.

Moment to Watch Out For: Janeway’s fun little summing up of the Voyager crew with all the details wrong accurately surmises that in the future the details may get a little muddled and the emphasis might be all wrong. History is only as we remember it, not how it actually was and we could do well to remember that.

Fashion Statement: How cute does Mulgrew look all wrapped up with a porkpie hat on?

Result: A sentimental but pleasing slice of drama that is so disconnected from the Voyager that people will recognise it automatically stands out. Its not the greatest dilemma story ever told nor is it the finest romance story but what it is is an atmospheric slice of character with some charming performances and a gorgeous wintry feel that makes you want to watch it wrapped up in a duvet. Henry Janeway and Shannon O’Donnell both come across as real people (trust me that is something to be thankful for this season) and their relationship provides comfort viewing and some memorable fireworks. As an example of Kate Mulgrew’s skills as an actress it is an invaluable piece and she tackles her dual role with equal assurance. When I think back over the course of seven seasons of Voyager this isn’t an episode that stands out as being particularly memorable and yet every time I watch it it gives me a big hug and draws me into its gentle, unassuming storytelling. For Livingston’s evocative direction, Janeway learning that heroes aren’t always what they are cracked up to be and Kate Mulgrew’s performance 11:59 is quietly masterful: 8/10

Relativity written by Bryan Fuller, Nick Sagan & Michael Taylor and directed by Allan Eastman

What’s it about: Seven dashes through time to stop an act of terrorism on Voyager…

Hepburn-a-Like: Seeing Janeway all tied up in a hair bun and walking around the ship like a matriarch at the helm of her family reminds me of the stuffy but fascinating woman we met five season ago. She’s memorised the schematics for the ship but that doesn’t prepare her for the real thing, the bridge is much bigger than she was expecting and she thinks the conference room looks really uncomfortable. She has been looking forward to getting her hands dirty and can’t wait for something to go wrong on the ship! The season two Janeway is smart enough to pull a weapon on an ex Borg drone and sensitive enough to know she is telling the truth.

EMH: Brilliantly we get to see the Doctor when he had no social graces and before Janeway came to rely on him totally and barely acknowledges that he is in the shape of a person. Again we are reminded of how far this character has come. With the Doctor that is apparent but let’s hope she doesn’t catch up with Chakotay, Kim or Tuvok because they haven’t changed one iota since the pilot! We get to see our Doctor too who is a charming, ebullient hologram (or a walking database with two legs and a splendid bedside manner!).

Parisian Rogue: Paris has introduced yo-yos, an odd hexagonal fruit machine device and now ping pong to the Voyager crew. Forgive me but with the added emphasis on all things Alpha Quadrant this year his ‘fad period’ may be the ultimate expression that there is nothing interesting going on in the Delta Quadrant.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So in a way the Federation owes its existence to the Borg’ – Seven hilariously explains the plot of First Contact in about two sentences.
‘Watch out for the Janeway factor!’ – this made me laugh my head off! Janeway has a habit of sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong and its great to see the writers finally admit it!
‘Like most time paradoxes it is implausible but not necessarily illogical!’ – best Tuvok line for about three years!
‘Try to avoid time travel’ – hahaha! She should have said that’s fine but there are ratings to think about!

The Good: A time travel episode and it isn’t written by Brannon Braga? I am truly impressed! I was blown away by the opening effects shot which was so exquisitely detailed as it panned across the shipyard revealing half completed, skeletal ships and tiny shuttles buzzing about. Its tied into the shows mythology too by showing Voyager at the moment of its completion – this is the first time we have skipped back before the events of Caretaker and that feels quite exciting. Heading back to Janeway taking command of the ship reminds me of all the potential this series had back in Caretaker. Janeway is the central character and the ship is our home so being able to see their first meeting is intoxicating. Seven of Nine randomly turning up proves to be really well done because they just sort of slip her in with the other crewmembers buzzing around. She doesn’t appear incongruous until she turns to face the camera. How exciting is the idea of Seven searching for a bomb somewhere on Voyager before it left the dock? If it went off the whole show as we know it would be completely changed forever (ooh don’t tempt me to make the obvious joke). Why is it always so exciting to see a new Starship on this show? I remember feeling this gleeful when I first saw the Prometheus in Message in a Bottle and the quantum slipstream beast in Hope and Fear! Is it just the chance to get off the dreary Voyager sets for somewhere that looks a bit more dynamic or is just the little boy in my that wants to go exploring? If I were going to request any assignment on a Starship I wouldn’t want to be stuck somewhere dull like under Picard’s care or in Janeway’s Starfleet hell, I wouldn’t even want to shack up with Annorax (The Year From Hell) and blast away entire civilisations. Nope, the Dauntless would be my ideal assignment, travelling backwards and forwards in time dealing temporal incursions. Frankly it’s a notion that has so much potential I’m surprised they didn’t pick it up as a possible candidate as the next Star Trek series rather than Enterprise. Just think of the possibilities, the cameos that could be had, the imaginative stories you could explore – a series with time travel built into its core can be quite malleable I hear (or at least a 50 year old British SF show tells me). I love the visual of the ping pong ball floating in he air, its subtle way of indicating that all is not well temporally. Chopping up Voyager into different pockets of time is another terrific notion and one that would usually power an entire episode but here it is just added to the mix. The crazier the better! The multiple Voyagers overlapping each other causing a massive explosion which rips through the ship is the best lead into an advert break Voyager ever flaunts. Hurrah! The ship is gone and now we can move onto the time travelling ship for the remaining two seasons! Seven bitching about the Kazon (this is the second time she has done that!) made me chuckle, this really is a healthy remembrance of this shows mythology. To actually hop back and see a Kazon attack on the ship is enchanting – can’t we head back to season two when the show had some decent running storylines?  Of course there is Braxton from Future’s End as well (this is so superior to that two part farce I wont even make the comparisons) who had to undergo extensive therapy after the events of that adventure (didn’t we all?). I never would have guessed that the saboteur would have been Braxton although that is the most obvious candidate after the events of Future’s End (I was trying to blow up the ship after watching that too!). They have disguised the twist well by having Braxton chase after himself, another loopy idea to add to the melting pot. It makes sense that if Braxton destroys Voyager before they head back to the 20th Century in Future’s End he will avoid that whole messy period where he was stranded amongst primitives for three decades. As this is Star Trek there is one of those idiotic twists at the end where Seven leaps into our time period (that of season five) and her up to date version takes over from where the sick Seven cannot continue. Its like Visionary where you are left wondering who the hell the Seven that stays on the ship is now but its all part of the insanity of this episode and because it ties into everything else so brilliantly I am prepared to go with the flow. Seven of Nine saying that Seven of Nine is efficient made me chuckle. If Janeway had met Seven twice in the past doesn’t that mean she should recognise her in The Gift when her Borg visage is removed? If Janeway knows that Seven is from three years hence then surely all those attempts to get home were pointless in the intervening years? Oh wait…they skip over all of that with ‘needless to say we need to clean up the timeline…’ and the exquisite final scene!

The Bad: Given the wealth of Seven of Nine episodes this year (Drone, Infinite Regress, Dark Frontier, Someone to Watch Over Me) wouldn’t it have been better to have given this episode to one of the more neglected characters? Isn’t ‘now give me a hug, Katie’ an inappropriate thing for an Admiral to say to a Captain taking command of her ship? What the hell was the point of threading bio-neural circuitry throughout Voyager? Have they ever done anything useful with that idea besides it being infected by Neelix’s stinky old cheese? Another time travel show this year? Let’s hope its as good as the last one! Seeing Carey again is great and points to a time when there were recurring Starfleet crewmembers on the ship. It’s a massive plus for this episode for remembering that and a massive minus for the series for forgetting that. Where the fuck has he been for the past four years? Hilarious – we do get to see Harry, Tuvok and Chakotay and it is exactly as I predicted…they haven’t changed one bit! That scene made me laugh more than anything! Imagine slipping back to DS9 season two? You wouldn’t recognise any of the cast or their behaviour (aside from perhaps O’Brien!). Oh I’ve just gone boss eyed from temporal madness! Janeway recognises Braxton despite the fact that he is being played by a different actor – they could have made a good joke about that. I would have loved the season two Torres to have said ‘I like your hair…’ Its really sad because Voyager would time travel a couple more times in the last two season but never as satisfactorily as it does here…and one of them is the series finale.

Moment to Watch Out For: A phaser fight that takes place in three time periods!

Fashion Statement: Seven looks cute as anything in a Starfleet uniform! Get her out of that catsuit!

Result: Deliriously enjoyable and head scratchingly complex, Voyager is really going for it in its home stretch in season five. I love the slow build up of this episode allowing us time to enjoy the scenes on the newly constructed Voyager before the terrorism plot kicks in and how the plot races to its heady conclusion jumping about in time with such dizzy insanity. The temporal starship is a fabulous idea and there are a few episodes like this that feel like a pilot or a test run for a new Trek series (DS9’s Soldiers of the Empire is another) and it seems a shame that this wasn’t taken up in favour of Enterprise because it had so much potential that is only partially realised within one episode (but realise very well). Voyager is a show that usually only dips its toes into certain ideas and themes so it is great to see the trio of writers embrace the time travel notion so wholeheartedly and have some fun with it along the way. You’ve got a trip back to Voyager’s construction, characters in the wrong time, our Voyager chopped up into different periods of time, multiple Voyagers and a dizzying race through many periods to find and stop the culprit. Its an intoxicating piece, completely lacking in any character work (even Seven isn’t given any moments of depth) but for once it is all the better for it because the pace and assault of creativity is enough to ride the audience home to the surprising conclusion. Its completely nutty and yet utterly focussed and plotted extremely well, it’s the best SF standalone the show has pulled off in years. Along with Latent Image, this temporal phenomenon is my other favourite of the year: 10/10

Warhead written by Michael Taylor & Kenneth Biller and directed by John Kretchmer

What’s it about: A big talking bomb! 

Forever Ensign: Four nights in a row with Harry Kim commanding the ship? How are they still in one piece? Oh no wait, silly me…he’s so dull he must do everything by the book. What’s hilarious is that Tom and Harry discuss promotions in this episode as if Harry’s hard work and dedication to duty will earn him brownie points. As if! Tom was demoted earlier in the season and is promoted back up to Lieutenant for doing a whole lot of nothing whilst Harry remains on the bottom rung of the ladder looking up at the important people above him! I had to rush to the toilet when  Harry started making a speech about the burden of command! It sure comes to something when a machine (the Doctor) has to remind a human (Harry, barely) that morality comes before protocol! He’s so predictable Chakotay can time his away team report to the second. And Garrett Wang wonders why people give Harry such a hard time! Is Harry’s first away mission decision to beam a talking bomb onto the ship really funny? Yep, I thought so. Harry managing to talk the bomb round proves one thing…he aint no James T Kirk and Garrett Wang can gobble up the scenery like William Shatner!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t think Starfleet diplomacy is going to work this time’ – B’Elanna’s rehabilitation starts here!

The Bad: They seem to be under the impression on Voyager that their night shift automatically means everybody else’s as well and nothing is going to happen whilst the Captain is sleeping. They’ve only gone and roped in that fake planetary backdrop from the first season of TNG for this episode! Take a good look at the distant skyline which is about two metres away from the actors. How many more of these Doctor-goes-dolally episodes can they pull out of their bag of tricks before it starts getting a bit tiresome? Projections presented us with a man who thought he was a hologram, The Darkling saw him turn Jekyll and Hyde, Latent Image saw him suffer a nervous breakdown and now Warhead features him as the mouthpiece for an adolescent bomb! Despite the horribly camp tone of The Darkling this is by far the worse example yet and manages to provoke something I would have thought was an impossibility – a weak performance from Robert Picardo. First though we have get past the Doctor having a conversation with the twittering, bleeping bomb that verges on flirting. Not exactly the sophisticated storytelling I am looking for when I turn the TV on! Why can’t they just switch off the demanding bombs personality whilst they are trying to diffuse it? Wasn’t the last episode about trying to stop a bomb from exploding? I’m really bored of these humanoid aliens turning up with a dull riff on the usual prosthetic – its only since I have started my rewatch of Farscape that I  can see just how boring most of the make up jobs are on this show. When the little army of dart ships went zapping off after Voyager I was reminded of the graphics of the two war fleets seen in the BBC’s version of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. Except there was a punchline in that show. You could write this stuff in your sleep – they try and convince the bomb that its mission is over, the bomb realises it has been duped and arms itself… The only surprise is the levels of hysterics this leads to. I never said it was a nice surprise. Why couldn’t they, just for once, fail in this mission and have the bomb go off and kill all these millions of people? Why do we always have to go for the easy answers? And if anybody brings up Course: Oblivion, don’t because the depressing ending was the easy answer in that story. At least if Harry was responsible for millions of deaths they would be reason why he never gets a promotion!  I beg everybody reading this to go and watch the last scene and see how abysmally written this show can be on occasion – ‘You never know when Voyager will need Ensign Kim again!’ Oh fuck off.

Result: How could they do this to me? Voyager was on the verge of closing another wildly inconsistent season with a fantastic stretch of episodes and they go and shoehorn this clunker and ruin the momentum! How can they make a show where a bomb holds the ship hostage this dull? What is essentially a remake of Voyager’s own Dreadnought only lacking the drama or the psychology, Warhead fails because it trots out the Doctor’s defence of artificial lifeforms again which has already been dealt with in a much more sophisticated manner this year. Its also an uncomfortable reminder of The Fight but instead of Picardo and Beltran indulging in overdramatic histrionics it is Picardo and Wang and these scenes are acutely embarrassing to watch (I’m glad Simon has already seen these otherwise I would be diving for the remote every time he came into the room…instead he just shook his head sadly and went ‘that was a shit one’). Don’t even get me started on what this episode has to say about Harry Kim because the writer seems to have forgotten the ‘development’ he gave the good Ensign in The Disease when he apparently became a man. Michael Taylor has either written truly diabolical episodes this year (Once Upon a Time, The Disease) or phenomenal ones (Counterpoint, Someone to Watch Over Me) but now he has outdone himself by written material so unconvincing it manages to drag a rotten performance out of Robert Picardo. Unthinkable: 2/10

Equinox written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: A Federation ship that was kidnapped by the Caretaker and found itself lost and alone in the Delta Quadrant trying desperately to get home. Hang on…

Hepburn-a-Like: They suggest there is a massive gulf between Ransome’s approach and Janeway’s and whilst one ship is pristine thanks to its Captain’s decision and one is on the verge of collapse (yay Equinox, boo Voyager) she has also made some morally unsound choices and taken the occasional questionable measure to push herself along. Its what makes Ransom a more satisfying character (despite the fact he only appears in one story) because he at least knows the kind of man he is (one who will go to any lengths to get home) whereas Janeway has convinced herself that she always takes the moral high ground when that is hardly the case on an episode by episode basis. When Ransom opens up to Janeway and says that there were times that they almost forgot that they were human beings the good Captain should have been a little more savvy at what he is actually trying to tell her about the situation they are currently in. I realise she is just following protocol (groan) but when Janeway starts throwing her weight around and taking command of Ransom I would have felt a bit miffed too. ‘My ships better than your so I’m in charge’ is basically how she comes across. She comes across as an unthinking bully when she condemns Ransome for his crimes but forgets that she once got in bed with the Borg to help destroy another species in order to plot a course safely through their realm. Talk about self delusion!

Brilliant B’Elanna: Burke calls B’Elanna BLT after a sandwich? Whilst pushing the realms of co-incidence to their limit we are finally exploring some new areas with the Tom and Torres relationship and the introduction of her ex boyfriend onto the ship produces some uncomfortable reactions in our usually cocky pilot. Although their dialogue is as sophisticated as ever (‘no need to go to red alert…’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A shower and a hot meal. I guess that’s all it takes for some of us to forget what’s at stake here.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Such a clean ship…’ – yeah depressing, isn’t it?

The Good: A desperate, morally ambiguous Captain, a ship on the verge of collapse by constant attacks, a bridge that looks more like a Ferengi scrap yard – that’s how you start an episode of Star Trek! David Livingston is back to his quirky, dramatic camera angles that made DS9’s Crossover so visually exciting (unbelievably the studio thought he had gone too far because he made a show look memorable, isn’t that extraordinary?) and the pre credits sequence dazzles with its intensity and pace (its almost a commentary on the two different ships when we return to Voyager and the way the story is shot is sudden bland, uptight and depressingly unmemorable). John Savage is a fine actor who you know has turned up in Star Trek at some point and creates a dangerous, riveting character in Ransom. Whilst the effects for the aliens are fudged the sound effects are excellent and the build up for their appearance almost makes up for hat we eventually get. When the crew beam onto the Equinox it looks an awful lot like Voyager did after their kidnap by the Caretaker, a ship on the verge of ruin, consoles exploding, smoke filling the bridge. In one breath it reminds me you of the potential of this show from its outset and pisses you off that they never exploited that. You might think you have stumbled on an episode of The X-Files as the crew explore the dark and dank Equinox with their wrist torches and crazed crewmen come screaming from the shadows but it’s a damn sight more exciting than what we usually get! Ransom suggests that living under constant attack leaves rank and protocol as luxuries that he cannot afford and I wanted to kiss him there and then. I’m not saying that the method Ransom and his crew have been using to push further home is right (far from it) but it is right from a dramatic point of view and is exactly the sort of morality Voyager should e exploring on a regular basis. The flashbacks of Ransom’s adventures reveals a very different kind of show we could be watching…and its much more exciting than the one we usually get.

And lets not forget all the dramatic possibilities that could power the show for its last two years. Another ship running concurrently with Voyager – we could even split the remainder of the show between the two and have a multi crewed trek series ala Farscape season three! Two Captains to butt heads with all the time that take very different stand points on the grey areas that Trek enjoys exploring! Or if they have to destroy the Equinox (which I suppose was inevitable…annoying, but inevitable) the idea of integrating its crew into Voyager and having some new, more exciting regulars to add to the usual lifeless bunch and handing the show back its potential for mutiny and conflict that was bandied about in season two and has never been heard of since. Surely for the love of all that is holy they wouldn’t throw all of these potentially fascinating ideas away and reset the show back to how it was? If DS9 could completely restructure its series at the end of series five for the good of its audience and Star Trek then surely Voyager can do the same thing?

The Bad: Lets look at the sheer amount of unlikely occurrences in this episode; there is another Starfleet vessel that was snatched up from the caretaker, that has managed to find its way into the same area of space as Janeway, was fitted with the spanking new EMH programme just before being taken (Relativity) and on board is a man that B’Elanna used to date. The amount of variables that would have to be in place in order to make that work is beyond unlikely and pushing its utterly implausible. At the same time why did Starfleet not mention the Equinox when Voyager managed to contact home last season? That’s another example of making up the series on the spot and not thinking to sow any seeds. What’s even more frustrating is how this so deliberately parodies the central Voyager premise of a ship lost so far away from home but manages to turn it into a dark and desperate trip home for Ransome and the crew of the Equinox. Its precisely the sort of show we should have been watching all along with a dangerous Captain, a crew with ailing morals and a complete lack of Starfleet rules. What is hysterical is how the writers seem to be suggesting ‘this is how awful it could have been if we had taken this route and not produced the show we have – a complete antithesis of Gene Roddenberry’s ideals’ when the truth (which is all there on the screen screams ‘I want to watch a show called Equinox rather than Voyager!’ In a season that offered so much promise and barely fulfilled a fraction of it now is not a great time to remind us of how good this show should have been. Like I said before, the show is now parodying its lack of development and holding it up as some kind of badge of honour which is like rubbing salt into the wound. Brannon Braga asked for something that would really scare people in the aliens and yet the special effects team somehow interpret this as amorphous gloops of matter with sticky out arms that look like an even cuter version of Slimer from Ghostbusters! If a show like Doctor Who (that trades on its scares) had dared to produce something quite this ridiculous (unless it is intentional like the Adipose) it would be laughed off the screen. I really liked Ransom and Burke but Gilmore was pretty yawnsome. Bugger me just as things were progressing nicely Naomi Wildman shows up for no reason whatsoever to remind us of why Voyager has hit some new lows this year. Are you joking – another evil version of the Doctor? Whilst we’re talking about originality this finale ends in exactly the same way last years did (albeit with a completely different focus) with Janeway pointing a phaser directly at the audience.

Moment to Watch Out For: Ransom and Burke conspiring together has exactly the sort of tension we haven’t seen in this show for about three years – more please! Remember the days when Seska was plotting behind Janeway and Chakotay’s back? I miss those days…

Result: I’ll jump to the chase; Equinox isn’t perfect but it’s the last decent finale that Voyager has on the menu and the sheer potential in its ideas is worthy of celebration. Whilst the premise stretches credulity to the limit and untapped potential makes my teeth clench (but I’ll save that for the conclusion) this first half is an action packed, morally ambiguous and tense finale that introduces a great new character in John Savage’s Ransom and propels the show into its first season unencumbered by any other Trek show. There are so many interesting (and frustrating) questions that the Equinox throws in the viewers face there is barely enough time to handle them all but the anxious undercurrents of the second crew working against Janeway in the background makes for gripping viewing. It’s a dark, brooding episode that like Scorpion isn’t trying to do anything original (stealing Voyager’s own premise for one and discovering a Federation ship in the Delta Quadrant was the exact same premise of last years finale) but makes the most of what its got. Throughout I had to stop myself from thinking about its easy resolutions and reset in the conclusion because on its own terms the opening episode of Equinox is worthy of a lot of praise and rounds off a generally strong closing run of episodes for season five in great style: 8/10

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