Sunday, 12 August 2012

Voyager Season Six

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

What’s it about: Janeway is hunting down Ransom…

Hepburn-a-Like: Real tension between Janeway and Chakotay, that’s something we haven’t seen since Scorpion! Braga & Menosky don’t quite have the talent to pull it off  though and Janeway’s sudden obsession with Ransom (its nowhere near as convincing as Sisko’s hatred of Eddington in For the Uniform) comes across as a woman who has been slighted and wants to take her revenge rather than a Captain who is trying to uphold Starfleet principles in the Delta Quadrant. ‘I’m going to hunt him down no matter how long it takes!’ she purrs like some psychotic Starfleet version of Javert from Notre Dame but the show doesn’t give us enough of a motive beyond the fact that Ransom has betrayed the Prime Directive (something, incidentally, that Janeway’s has been more than happy to do when the situation calls for it) so it seems like an extreme shift in character for no reason other than the show needed it. Her blazing eyed threats to let the aliens enter the cargo bay and kill one of the Equinox crew is the moment she crosses the line – its riveting to watch because you wonder how she can possibly return from this insane behaviour. ‘He’ll break. You’re panicking, he’s going to talk…’ – not even Kate Mulgrew can make that lines convincing. When her vendetta is question she relieves her First Officer of command. This is what Ron Moore has to say about Janeway’s characterisation in this episode: ‘She’s not really grappling with her inner demons. She just gets kind of cranky and bitchy. Its kind of emblematic of the show. There’s a lot of potential and there is a lot of surface sizzle but to what end? It doesn’t signify anything. What are we trying to say? What are the things we are trying to explore? What are we doing this episode?  It was hard to come up with an ending of a show that has no beginning. Every time I asked these questions there was no good answer.’ The trouble is, he’s right.

Tattoo: Janeway is so unflinchingly fascistic in this episode she loses all credibility and Chakotay becomes our identification character. How did that happen? Seeing the horror the Captain has become through his eyes makes him more likable than he has ever been before. Although in fairness given how the two characters began their journey at this stage in the show they should probably have these roles reversed for it to make any sense. Now Chakotay is the Starfleet puppy and Janeway is the one with the obscene tactics. Go figure. There’s a glorious moment when Chakotay says that has demonstrated his loyalty to his Captain just as he has betrayed his and she walks past him firmly and doesn’t even look him in the eye.

EMH: Now this is different. Its not just another badass version of the Doctor (which has been done to death) but instead you’ve got a version of the character that is just close enough to our Doctor to be the same person except his ethical subroutines have been deleted. So whilst he performs horrible acts on Seven he sings and retains his cheery good humour. That’s scary. The Equinox Doctor working against the Voyager crew is another fine idea that could have been carried one beyond this episode had they maintained the two ship structure.

Brilliant B’Elanna: Now I can see the point in introducing the B’Elanna/Max romance angle because in this fight they are constantly trying to outthink each other and that is far more exciting than another round of phaser blasts.

Borg Babe: Seven telling Ransom that he would be an inferior role model when it comes to exploring humanity is very succinct.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Please state the nature of the…don’t bother.’
‘This isn’t about rules and regulations, its about right and wrong. And I promise you I wont let you cross that line again.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I’ve re-instated Chakotay and we’ve set a course for home…’ – h fuck off Braga! Why didn’t you just say ‘lets ignore this whole possibility of drama and get back to boring high concept episodes.’

The Good: It’s an excellent note to begin the season on with Voyager in real danger, an evil version of the Doctor on the loose, and Janeway’s new nemesis has the upper hand. There’s nothing particularly thoughtful about any of this but it is exciting and you can’t say fairer than that! Look at the camerawork in the opening scenes of the story as David Livingston swings around the ship – Voyager hasn’t felt this dynamic in an age. There is a glorious ariel shot of the Equinox orbiting a planet that took my breath away.

The Bad: The resolution to the cliffhanger is beyond lame as Janeway gets little more than a slap around the face by the alien that was last seen rushing towards her. The CGI aliens really are a terrible design and along with the similarly fake looking species 8472 makes me wonder if the technology was just too primitive at the time to create convincing, frightening monsters. You have check out Ron Moore’s comments on this episode on Memory Alpha because he discusses all the things that I don’t feel work about this episode – Janeway’s psychotic behaviour for no reason and how the episode refuses to deal with the consequences of that behaviour – because you can see that he was clearly on the ball when it came to pinpointing this series’ problems. But when Braga was busy holding secret meetings at his house Moore was trying to tackle this show on a creative level. To Berman’s discredit, he backed the wrong man. Remember all that potential I talked about in the first episode – two ships fuelling the show creatively, tension between the two Captains, new regular characters. Even Max is killed which prevents any further exploration of a Torres/Paris/Max triangle. Voyager does exploit some of those issues…but in this one episode. After this (even though the Equinox crew is integrated into Voyager’s) we never or see or hear from any of them ever again. The short sightedness of this reveals a show that is completely devoid of imagination and common sense and with contempt for its audience for even attempting this two parter and then turning away from the dramatic possibilities it has to offer. I bet if Moore had stayed on we would have been seeing a lot more of them. It’s the equivalent of wrapping up everything that was set up in DS9 in Call to Arms in A Time to Stand and throwing away all that potential. If there had been somebody looking at this show creatively Braga would never have been offered Enterprise. Gah – we don’t even get the Janeway and Ransom confrontation this show has been leading up to! The Equinox crew are stripped of rank and are going to be serving under close supervision…and we never hear about them again! Argh! Somebody put this damn show out of its misery!

A Missed Opportunity:  Even though his stay on the show was short you can feel Ron Moore’s presence on this show in the first four episodes of the season and frankly it is more intense than Voyager has been since season two. If only he had hung around until the end of the seventh season we may have had a real renaissance for this show (but we might also have never had the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and I would write off Voyager completely for that superb show). Moore understands that you real tension between the characters and that is what we have here – it doesn’t matter how high your concept is or how exciting the scenario unless you have interesting characters then the show is running on empty. For this tiny stint whilst Moore is on the show he reminds the rest of the writers of that…and at the same time when he decides to leave he confirms all of my worst fears about Voyager in one swoop (‘I went over with different expectations than that show was prepared to do creatively and internally. And Brannon and I had a falling out and a creative clash and a personal clash and I just decided I didn’t want to work like this. I had always been proud of the fact that I tenure at Star Trek there were only two days I didn’t want to show up at work in the ten years of being there. Then I was at Voyager and found I didn’t want to go into work any day, so I just quit because I didn’t want to work like that’). By all accounts DS9 is a collaboration of talent of which Ron Moore was a heavy contributor and Voyager is Brannon Braga’s baby and I know where there talent lies out of those two show, all you need to do is compare the last two seasons of both shows to see who has a better idea of what makes a good drama show work. Watch the first four episodes of season six of Voyager and bask in what it could have been like had Moore been in charge of this show instead of Braga. He said had he continued he would have made the show darker, explored the characters more and created a real sense of community on the ship away from Starfleet protocol. Oh well we can always dream of that show!  

Fashion Statement: Seven on the beach is a sight to behold. 

Result: There is so much great material here and there is also so much frustrating material that the conclusion to this dramatic two parter shows what Voyager should be doing on a regular basis (character conflict, moral ambiguity) and what it should be avoiding (shying away from development). Whilst it is on it is a gripping cat and mouse game between Janeway (who comes across as more of a Nazi than ever) and Ransom (who would have really given this show a kick in the teeth had he stayed on) but every drop of potential that could have been exploited from this scenario long term is tossed away and we’re back where we were before this whole business took place. Technically Survival Instinct could have followed Warhead for all the impact Equinox makes on the series. Massive kudos to David Livingston who is finally given an episode worthy of his dramatic talents and Chakotay has never been better as he clashes with Janeway. I want to be able to say nicer things about an episode that is essentially very good but all I can see are missed opportunities and it sours my judgement. Ransom and Max dead, the Equinox destroyed and its crew forgotten whilst Janeway’s outrageous behaviour is completely ignored. As I said, frustrating: 6/10

Survival Instinct written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: Seven is reunited with members of her Unimatrix and they need someone from her…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway seems to be back to her amiable self again, enjoying a mixture of cultures, laughing as she attacked by alien plants and having great fun making Paris and Kim squirm after they have been in a drunken fight. Her ‘did you win?’ was really nice.

Borg Babe: Whilst I wonder if it isn’t some kind of safety hazard to have so many people conversing in one corridor, Seven’s ‘stand aside!’ is very funny! Seven’s sudden flashback to the events in the past is very engaging way of telling the audience that there will be a revelation about her character in this episode. The scenes of the Borg recalling their pasts are creepy enough but if you add in Jeri Ryan’s disturbed performance and it feels like their own personalities are claustrophobically closing in on them. Seven feels compelled to help her ex colleagues, probably because she has managed to achieve what they have not – true individuality. She learns that she made a terrible mistake and Seven of Nine doesn’t like to make mistakes and now she has to decide whether to return these people to the Borg or set them free by committing euthanasia. The dialogue that ensues is thoughtful and I hold up these scenes as how intelligent Voyager can be when it stops obsessing over quirky high concepts. When the Doctor attempts to guilt her into coming around to her point of view Seven reminds him of how he used to be confined to sickbay and mistreated and wonders how he would feel if the choice was for him to be deleted or suffer those indignities again before he attained individuality.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I went to put some water in the pot and it grabbed me!’
‘Its never a good sign when the patient feels the need to comfort the Doctor.’
‘Survival is insufficient.’

The Good: Moore is looking at new ways to explore old ideas and experiencing a chapter in Seven’s life when she a drone adds a lot to that part of her life that we never got the chance to see. Like I said in Fair Trade it is great whenever Voyager gets dock at a busy way station where they are simply another visitor rather than a strange ship with alien weaponry out to attack everybody. The station is visualised beautifully and looks like it might be a great place to explore. Have we seen this sort of cultural exchange since season three’s Remember? The image of people bustling all over the ship and Janeway’s quarters in a wreck of presents reminds us of the fun of exploring space that we haven’t seen in a while. It has been ages since anybody has focussed on the psychology of the Borg and the three drones make for fascinating characters in both scenarios. Its disturbing to see the personalities of the people that were assimilated starting to assert themselves on the planet leading to some nice moments of tension. But I also really like how they have shaken off their Borg conditioning in the future but still exist as one mind. The way they finish off each others sentences is a great, economic way to show how they are part of their own collective. Like Equinox Part I there’s that lovely feeling of paranoia as visitors to the ship are working against the crews best interests. Doctor Who flaunted the horror of making the people inside the Cybermen aware of what has become of them in The Age of Steel but Voyager got there first and did a much better job of it than just having someone say ‘I’m so sorry.’ When Marika says she hates the Borg she is expressing hatred for what she is. Suggesting that voices in the Collective become white noise is an intriguing way of allowing us to imagine what it must be like to be a drone. Live in this collective hell or die as an individual, it’s a tough choice to have to make and its great to see Voyager dealing with these kinds of questions again. I love the serene sunlit lighting in the last few scenes, it really suggests the calm that has entered these three individuals.

The Bad: Whilst the episodes focussing on her tend to be better than those in the rest of the crew there does seem to be a real feeling of ‘The Seven of Nine Show’ featuring the rest of the cast. Its co-incidence city again as we have to accept that Seven’s ex Borg mates just happen to turn at the same place as her at exactly the time they need her. This episode cannot even approach perfection thanks to the inclusion of Naomi. She’s bloody annoying, isn’t she? Anybody who finds this kind of kid cute needs to be lined up and shot so it doesn’t happen again. It seems with kids in cult TV you can’t find a happy middle ground – they are either angst brats like Dawn from Buffy or sugary eyelid batters like Naomi. The only show that has managed to get the balance right in The Sarah Jane Adventures where all the kid characters are extremely likable, flawed and funny. Goodness knows how Russell T Davies pulled that off. The ‘do you consider me t be family?’ scene made me feel violently ill. These people have little more than a month left to live so why couldn’t watch them live out their last days on Voyager? Why is this show so allergic to change? One stays behind but predictably is never heard from again.

Moment to Watch Out For: The twist that Seven is directly responsible for her ‘family’ being re-integrated into the Borg and thus also accountable for their current condition is a surprise that gives the last third of the episode a powerful climax. Its rare for a Voyager episode to promise a surprise and deliver something that is satisfying but this is a rare exception.

Teaser-tastic: It’s a mixture of good and bad – the opening shot is glorious of the Borg shuttle crashing on the planet and the shock of Seven as a Drone again is a great shock. However this weeks alien forest set is not one of the most convincing and the robotic performances of the Borg characters lacks any menace.

Orchestra: The music is especially good when Seven goes on a rampage to re-assimilate the lost members of her Unimatrix. I love the bombastic notes that strike when she detects another hiding victim with a soul to rip away.

Result: Whether Survival Instinct plays out as intended by Ronald D. Moore or was butchered by Brannon Braga its still a strong piece that takes us to the most interesting port of call in the Delta Quadrant since Thirty Days and handles Seven’s character with real adroitness. Despite the mention every ten minutes of every episode that Seven used to be a Borg drone I have never had the impression of what that really means until now as we head back into her life as an unthinking, homicidal automaton. Moore really looks at what the emotional consequences would be if you were to suddenly rediscover yourself whilst you looked like a monster and the answers aren’t pretty. The episode is intriguingly structured with the flashbacks built into the momentum of the episode so we discover the horror of what happened at exactly the same time as Seven remembers so we mirror her reaction. It’s a great twist which leads to a satisfying finale where Seven has to play God with these people again. Add to this a number of amusing scenes with Janeway and a blisteringly good moment between Seven and the Doctor where their shared development is celebrated and used to make a tough decision and you have definite winner. I can only imagine what other delights Ron Moore would have written had things not turned out so badly: 8/10

Barge of the Dead written by Bryan Fuller and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: B’Elanna is going to Klingon hell for her dishonour…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway accidentally calls Torres ‘Lanna’ which is what her mother used to call her. Rather than turning this into another mother/child relationship like Harry Kim this is quite sweet and shows how they are trying to shift the emphasis back on their relationship which has been ignored now for about four years! When Torres suggests that Janeway wont allow her pursue her spiritual beliefs Janeway draws a very quick line under any debate about freedom of worship. To be fair asking if she can simulate a near death experience to save her mother from the Barge does sound a little kooky. B’Elanna saying that Janeway is as dedicated to Starfleet principles as her mother was to Klingon honour as an intriguing parallel and one that is part compliment, part insult. Her ‘K’pla B’Elanna’ was a surprisingly touching moment.

Tattoo: The very relaxed, natural chemistry between Torres and Chakotay is resurrected too as he visits her in her quarters to show her the archaeological find. It seems to me that with this episode they are trying to resurrect some of the old relationships that really worked on this show before it became The Seven of Nine show. His story about his grandfather who believed he could transform himself into a wolf to venture out and explore the spirit world is lovely. What has happened to this character since the beginning of season six? He’s almost enjoyable!

EMH: Its nice to hear the Doctor singing the Klingon song that we also heard Worf singing in The Way of the Warrior.

Brilliant B’Elanna: Despite her efforts to be something else, be it Starfleet or Maquis, her Klingon nature continues to assert itself. Thank goodness for Barge of the Dead which is the finest Torres episode since Blood Fever in season three and gets back to the nitty gritty of what makes this character tick. The focus on her hatred of her Klingon side was what made the character so intriguing in those early seasons, trying to cope with a degree of self loathing. Its nice too to see B’Elanna and Tuvok continuing their meditations together and proving that this wasn’t just a one trick pony in last years Juggernaut. She cannot see a warriors blade crafted for precision in a Bat’leth, all she sees is something clumsy and overstated like everything Klingon.  She inherited the forehead and the bad attitude and that is all she wants from her Klingon side. Her mother dragged B’Elanna out of her Federation school when her father left and put her in a Klingon monastery to learn the ways of the warrior. Her mother is trapped on the Barge because of her, the sins of the child punish the parents after death. I love the way this episode forces Torres to confront all the things that she tries to shy away from – her angry Klingon personality and her troubled relationship with her mother. She admits that Janeway helped her to become a good officer which is a small reward for their evolving relationship in the first couple of years. Once I had gotten over my laughter I found the discussion of why Torres might find living on Voyager to be a hellish experience fascinating. Trapped between two worlds and favouring one of them over the other, he very existence on this ship is a constant reminder of what she denies herself. She doesn’t know what people want her to be – a good Starfleet Officer, a good Maquis or a good Klingon.
Mr Vulcan: The therapy that Tuvok offers is far more dramatic than what we saw last year. He’s pushing her buttons in a very violent way and its nice to see Time Russ getting material this strong. 

Spotted Dick: At first I was groaning that Neelix feels like again that he has to stick his nose into every piece of good news from home that this crew receives but his statement that finding a piece of the Alpha Quadrant on their journey home is worthy of celebration really hit home.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are not worthy of the blood in your veins!’
‘You have taken the first step of your journey…’ – I really hope so because this is exactly where B’Elanna needs to be.

The Good: That opening shot from Torres’ POV of the shuttle craft crashing landing into the cargo bay is much more visually interesting than had they shown the same scene from the exterior of the shuttle. Barge of the Dead is an episode of strong visuals (I would expect nothing us from Michael Vejar) and the thick red blood oozing from the Klingon symbol and spilling over B’Elanna’s table is the first of many memorable images. The atmospherics as the Klingon emerges to slaughter the crew are outstanding and I certainly got a giddy little thrill watching Chakotay and Harry being stabbed in the gut! The idea of creating a scenario where she was rescued and taken aboard Voyager where she in fact actually died in the shuttlecraft because she cannot face the fact that she is dead makes the first ten minutes of this episode a particularly naughty (but effective) cheat. I love the sets for the Barge which are earthy, solid and grim and the sound effects of the creaking deck, the thunder, screaming voices and the sloshing sea of blood really help to drag you into the atmosphere of Klingon hell. I don’t know what those creatures were writhing about in that sea of blood but they are terrifying! For once this is a Klingon fable that I can really buy into – a boat which ferries the dishonoured souls to is a powerful concept steeped in touches of Greek mythology. Cutting back and forth between the Barge and Voyager affords the writer a chance to play with us and suggest that B’Elanna might be dead and alive. The ship approaching the gates of hell is a truly fearsome image, it crept up on me and took my breath away. A path of hot coals that leads to an inferno…brrr! I laughed until my tonsils blew out of my nose when B’Elanna wakes up to find the actualisation of hell is…Voyager! I especially love the fact that there are no easy answers and Torres has to discover who she is for herself.

The Bad: This episode should have taken place at around the same point as Day of Honor in season four. Had we had B’Elanna episodes of this quality at that point we would have been in much better shape but drawing our attention to the Torres/Janeway relationship only serves to show how it has been ignored for the past two years. Janeway’s speech this year has been s slurred and drunken that when Vejar slows down Mulgrew’s voice I could hardly tell the difference! One of the few elements that hold this back from being a masterpiece is Karen Austin’s occasionally grunting performance as B’Elanna’s mother.

Moment to Watch Out For: Tom and Janeway both embracing B’Elanna manages to suggest the idea of family on this ship better than any scene where they ram the idea down your throat. It is simple, subtle intimacy and its very poignant.

Fashion Statement: B’Elanna’s new curly hair is nice but perhaps a little too girly for the cranky Klingon engineer. 

Result: Given Voyager’s track record and considering how much I loathe Klingon episodes it came as a surprise that I found Barge of the Dead to be one of the most effective character dramas this show has pulled off in years. Whereas episodes like The Sword of Kahless and The Sons of Mogh were dull monologues on Klingon tradition, honour and mythology, this drama steeps its exploration of Klingon hell through B’Elanna and returns the focus of the character to the study of her self loathing. It helps that the Barge is genuinely nightmarish place and that Mike Vejar is on hand to provide some frightening atmospherics (the Klingon who cuts his way through the Voyager crew is one of the enduring images I have of this series) but what really sells the idea is Roxan Dawson’s incredible performance and the development of her character as she comes to terms with her fractured relationship with her mother and her nature. It brings the character back into sharp focus after two years of playing second fiddle to Seven and Dawson seizes the opportunity to show off her talent. That’s two extremely strong character shows in the row! At the beginning of Voyager’s two years heading up the Trek franchise is this going to be a true turning point for the show? Kapla!: 9/10

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy written by Joe Menosky and directed by John Bruno

What’s it about: The Doctor learns that surrendering to your fantasies isn’t always the wisest course of action…

Hepburn-a-Like: I love the deliriously silly Janeway of the Doctor’s fantasies that feigns an injury to get him to massage her ass and growls at the other female officers in the room to keep away from her man. The sad truth is this is that far from how she has been characterised so far this year anyway – I could really see a difference between this crazy vamp and the psychotic from Equinox Part II.

EMH: It would appear that despite his extraordinary freedom the Doctor still isn’t satisfied that he is treated occasionally as a tool rather than a person. To this end he writes the Captain a strongly worded letter of complaint suggesting people are rude, don’t acknowledge his sentience and that he should be put forward as the Captain of the ship in the case of an emergency that would require it! In some respects he is right and in others he is way out of order but it is the way he so brazenly makes his objections that is so funny. From his daydreams we get the sense that the Doctor would like to consider himself an invaluable member of the crew, wishes he had more important responsibilities and desires a libido that can dazzle any woman within 200 light years. The sad truth of the matter is that he has all of these abilities (to a much subtler extent than he dreams about) but the desire for more, more, more (he’s a bit like a child in that respect) blinds him to the fact. Whilst his condition suddenly becomes very dark there is still time for a little levity and his ‘pardon me miss’ when he bumped into a forcefield made me chuckle. There is definitely a feeling of Reg Barclay’s personal life being invaded in Hollow Pursuits in this episode but it feels far less invasive (I had a very bad reaction to Riker’s bully boy tactics in that episode) and thus more intimate. The crew learn a little more about the Doctor’s fantasies and thus they learn a little more about who he is. He feels exposed, humiliated and as if he has lost the Captain’s respect because his fantasies have been invaded.

Spotted Dick: Shh Neelix! As soon as Brannon Braga here’s your idea about daydreams coming from another realm and whispering ideas into your mind that you wouldn’t normally think about he’ll commission a whole daft high concept episode around it! It is a nice idea though and it is also nice to have such an idea come from Neelix.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Paris please find a way, to find a hypo spray! I will give you the sign, just aim for his behind!’
‘You…are dissssmisssssed!’ – Janeway, drunk with passion for the Doctor!
‘We are the Borg!’ ‘I know very well who you are…’ – the ECH takes over!
‘Warning! Warp Core breach a lot sooner than you’d think!’
‘That was a plutonic gesture. Don’t expect me to pose for you.’

The Good: There’s no two ways about it…the do strongly resemble Doctor Who’s Sontarans but considering the design was so effective in the first there is nothing wrong with pilfering from the best! As comedy aliens they are cute and disposable (you wouldn’t waste a potentially brilliant new alien race on a comedy episode) and more than service this little gem. Its great how the director frames the scene where all the women on the ship come onto to the Doctor so strongly as another boring conference until the sleazy sax music kicks in and B’Elanna starts running her foot up his trouser leg! The funniest moment in Voyager’s entire run comes in this scene where the Doctor gets a love note and the camera swings around to the potential sender around the table and settles on…Neelix! Robert Picardo’s embarrassed acceptance of his amazing sexual prowess whilst he touches Janeway up is absolutely hilarious. Janeway is right, the ECH is an intriguing idea and I’m pleased that just for once the show follows up on something with promise. How wonderful that they take the piss so spectacularly out of what is essentially business as usual for Voyager – the scene where an assimilation virus infects the ship and Chakotay declares ‘we’re becoming drones!’ is exactly the sort of ridiculously overwrought plot twist I have come to expect from this show so to have it subverted for a moment of inspired comedy is a joy. The four pips that magically appear on the Doctor’s collar made me howl! The photonic canon? After last years photonic life forms I am prepared to believe anything! Suddenly his daydreams are threatening him as he is caught in the crossfire between Torres and Seven (not a place any man would want to be if he would like to keep his unmentionables intact!) and then that is immediately subverted as he is a threat to everybody else as he tries to eject the warp core in order to ‘save the ship.’ They effortless way these dreams shift from fun to dangerous is the work of a very good (I haven’t heard the name John Bruno before) director and when we slip from one fantasy to another as the Doctor is lost to them the transition of tone is expertly achieved. Don’t’cha just love the goofy, lonesome Paris who waves awkwardly at B’Elanna whilst she is declaring her undying love to the Doctor? Janeway authorising the research into the ECH programme means besides being an absolute laugh riot and a peek into the Doctor’s soul it would also have relevance at a later date.

Moment to Watch Out For: This must go down as the finest Voyager teaser ever and certainly the most amiable. Robert Picardo gets to regale us with his considerable operatic talents whilst trying to calm the crew as Tuvok starts sweating out his Pon Farr urges. The lyrics are hysterical and whenever I hear this piece of music now I have the unfortunate habit of singing ‘Tuvok I understand, you are a Vulcan man, you have just gone without, for seven years…about!’ It really makes me laugh this scene and it’s the sort of riotous comedy that DS9 usually pulls off so well…I hope Voyager learns from this experience and pushes the comedy buttons this hard again in the future. Clever and gigglesome.

Fashion Statement: Seven as a naked model certainly raises and eyebrow and if you are of a different persuasion…quite a bit else as well. 

Result: My favourite Voyager comedy and a triumph for all concerned; Tinker, Tenor… works for two very important reasons – the Doctor continues to be the most surprising, engaging character on the show and Robert Picardo is an actor of no small abilities. The dream sequences are deliriously funny and get more and more extreme as the episode progresses and the way they dovetail into the plot about these absurd peeping Tom aliens is actually quite clever. In many ways this is as much of a revelatory story for the Doctor as Latent Image was last year except it has a lightness of touch that gives it an entirely different (but just as exceptional) atmosphere. Its clear that the Doctor and Seven are the only two characters the writers are interested in developing on a regular basis and whilst I take issue with the rest of the crew I can at least take solace in the fact that these two characters have made this journey through the Delta Quadrant worthwhile. The climax which sees the Doctor having to take command of the ship and making a botch job of it has a worthy message that sometimes fantasies are better in the mind than in reality and leads to the very satisfying moment when Janeway bestows a very special gift on the Doctor that proves he is a hologram of some influence. Here’s to the next meeting with the ECH: 9/10

Alice written by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Tom Paris is seduced by the new girl in town, Alice…

Brilliant B’Elanna: After their terrific turn in Barge of the Dead we are back to the appalling sitcom antics of Tom & B’Elanna. I found the scene where Torres gets jealous of Tom who is being protective of his new favourite toy stomach churning to endure. The dialogue is atrocious: ‘Maybe you can explain why every time he gets a new hobby I go right out the airlock?’ Alice attempting to kill B’Elanna is supposed to be tense but it brought me close to tears with laughter that this episode could turn to such a desperately tragic tactic to keep the plot going. It takes Paris physically assaulting to Torres before she heads off to tell the Captain who responds with a curt ‘now you’ve lost me.’

Parisian Rogue: Seven, B’Elanna and the Doctor (my three favourite characters on this show incidentally) all received a healthy dose of development in the previous trio of episodes and now it is Tom Paris’ turn. Oh dear. Why can’t they find anything more interesting to do with this guy than to remind us that (somewhat embarrassingly) he is still trying to live out his teens. He sees a sleek ship and he’s like some Starfleet Pimp My Ride expert, wanting to spruce it up and take it out for a test drive. He names the ship Alice (which is hardly the appropriate name for a slap my bitch up restored hot rod!) after the girl he used to chase around at the Academy…and he thinks B’Elanna wont have an issue with this why? He’s late for shifts, he’s missing work and he’s distracted…for fucks sake why can’t anybody put this together? Instead that think ‘oh yeah he’s just obsessed with that ship…’ Bloody morons. I’m not sure what his rebellious break from the ship is supposed to say about his character except that he is easily manipulated and falls for sexless trollops.

Forever Ensign: Kim must be really stupid not to notice the signs that Tom has been possessed by the ship. As soon as he starts talking to her and wearing the clothes she likes him to wear Kim happily accepts all of this like the human goofball that he is. Hasn’t he been paying attention the last six years? There isn’t one member of the crew that hasn’t been taken over previously…and this is Tom’s second time round and in pretty similar way too (Vis a Vis). Just a sly wink at the audience would make this halfway acceptable but its all done in deadly earnestness its embarrassing to watch.

Spotted Dick: Doesn’t Abbadon’s first appearance on the viewscreen remind you of Neelix’s debut in Caretaker? Trying to charm, surrounded by debris and standing as close to the viewscreen as possible! Let’s hope this one doesn’t get an invite on board, use up all the hot water and become a Starfleet drone. Rather than have us work out the parallel they spell it out for us a few scenes later.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We’ve already got a full compliment of shuttles…’ – excuse me? Are you having a laugh?
‘I’ve spent the last six years with these people…they’re like my family!’ – another crappy reminder that this crew is supposed to represent domestic bliss. They care so much for you Tom that nobody picks up the signs that you are acting like a complete tit.
‘Stay out this B’Elanna!’ ‘Or what, you’ll set Alice on me again?’ – yep this episode gets this desperate.
‘Think of what you want me to do and I’ll do it…’ – bleaugh! Alice is basically a talking vibrator!
‘I promise no more affairs with strange ships’ ‘What about the Delta Flyer?’ ‘We’re just friends…’ – please don’t tell me this episode was written to slip in this punchline?

The Good: For a moment you might be convinced that we are onto a winner with this episode when Voyager turns up at a junkyard in space and is seduced by Abbadon the owner.

The Bad: Things are so exciting in the Delta Quadrant these days that Tom and Harry are playing ‘guess Tuvok’s age’ on the Bridge. A ship that can access your brain? Haven’t these guys been stuck in the ridiculous adventures on this ship for long enough to know that the mere mention of something like that would spell trouble? Its weird how watching Paris and Kim struggle with technobabble trying to bring Alice back to life completely lacks the charm of Sisko making the Bajoran Light Ship in Explorers (but then that is tied into his character maturely what with him being a builder of things). How funny are the attempts to make this hunk of metal frightening? David Livingston slides the camera through the darkened cargo bay as Alice’s lights spring on suddenly to reveal…she’s just a hunk of metal. Just suppose this ship didn’t turn out to be possessed by the seductive soul of a soggy trout and just suppose it lasted the course of the episode…is this the only way we can develop the plot of this series these days? By adding an extra shuttle to the hanger like the Delta Flyer? Claire Rankin has all the sex appeal of a rotting halibut with its guts hanging out and left out in the sun – she’s unbelievably wooden in the role and I can’t believe that the usually savvy David Livingston (especially when it comes to casting) didn’t demand a recast of this part. It kind of guts the romance angle of this story when your femme fatale is a monotonous automaton (that’s the actress, not the ship) and your protagonist is played by Robert ‘shouting hysterically creates drama’ Duncan McNeill. What is all this shitty seduction dialogue? ‘You know how you feel when you are sitting at my console with your hands running over my controls…’ Have I been blown into a parallel universe where all TV is suddenly really bad? A particle fountain is introduced in the final five minutes? Why does Alice want to reach it? Who the hell is she anyway? How did she get stuck in the ship? Does anybody actually give a toss? All this episode needed was a histrionic ending with Tom Paris screaming ‘Noooooo!’ a lot as the final nail in the coffin.

Moment to Watch Out For: Abbadon writhing about on the floor in pain as Alice talks to him…only because I was having a similar reaction every time she opened her dreary gob and her loathsome dialogue leaked out.

Fashion Statement: Sticking Tom in a silver spandex uniform and giving him some bum fluff is hardly the look of a rebellious wild child. 

Result: What is this? After three superb episodes that made me believe that maybe…maybe Voyager would crack on and tell some grand stories in its last two years we hit the ground with a bang so hard its enough to give you whiplash. Ronald D. Moore has left the building and we’re back into Brannon Braga high concept territory. Let joy be uncontained. This is Voyager’s take on Stephen King’s Christine except instead of a Plymouth Fury we are dealing with a psychotic space craft that attempts to seduce Tom Paris to the dark side. How did they think any good could come of this? Its so predictable I wouldn’t even call it Trek by numbers…its even more nursery school than that with the Daffy Duck Voyager crew failing to pick up on any of the signs that Tom has been influenced by Alice despite the fact that this kind of possession happens twice a year on this ship. McNeill lacks any conviction but when characterised this badly who can blame him and as for Claire Rankin as Alice – I have seen dishevelled bag ladies foaming at the mouth with more sex appeal. This could have worked had they taken the piss out of the hokey concept and laughed along with its absurd plot turns but in true Voyager fashion it is all told with deadly solemnity which adds a whole new level of embarrassment. Alice starts out with a reasonably intriguing teaser and then gets worse and worse and worse until at some points in the last fifteen minutes we have reached a brand new low for Voyager. Almost unwatchably bad: 1/10

Riddles written by Robert Doherty and directed by Roxan Dawson

What’s it about: Tuvok loses his memory and Janeway hunts down invisible aliens…

Mr Vulcan: I think Tim Russ has become so disillusioned with the show by this point that even he can see that the suggested development for his character in this episode means nothing and so he barely bothers to inject any life into his characterisation of the emotional Tuvok. Remember back in season two’s Meld when he portrayed murderous anger so effectively…well he has the chance here to really let go but he breezes his way through the script in an undistinguished fashion. Despite the injection of emotion there is an oddly monosyllabic delivery of the dialogue that is a real bore to endure. The way he whinges and huffs and sulks is somnambulistic – he is basically Dawn from Buffy! How is this a better alternative to our usual yawnsome Tuvok?

Forever Ensign: Harry Kim on tactical? Get me off this ship!
Spotted Dick: Why are the scenes of Neelix and Tuvok griping at each other in the Delta Flyer nowhere near as funny as those between Odo and Quark in the runabout in The Ascent or in a dozen other DS9 episodes? Is it that Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimmerman are better actors or is the dialogue and chemistry simply better? And whilst I like a good riddle the one that Neelix puzzles Tuvok with is shocking. On the one hand I find it very sweet that Neelix wants to wait and make sure that Tuvok is alright but on the other hand why would he bother? He never shows anything but contempt for Neelix – if somebody verbally abused me this much I would quite pleased they were in this condition. Of course on this happy go lucky crew it doesn’t matter how much attitude someone gives, they are all one big happy family again by the next episode. On this same subject who would want Neelix visiting every single day with his unwavering cheery attitude, playing out entire Vulcan sagas and attempting to lift the spirits? It would be enough to drive anybody back into their body and awake just so you could escape! Why does Neelix talk to Tuvok as though he is a simple child when he is ‘rehabilitating’ him? I hate it when people talk that way to children (I can empathise marvellously with children and I find the best way to get them to respond is to treat them sophisticatedly) and older people (that really grinds my gears, I tell people they are older, not retarded even if I don’t know the people in question!) so seeing Neelix behaving this way is particularly annoying. The best way to earn somebody’s respect is to treat them how you would like to be treated. As soon as he starts speaking to Janeway or Seven his tone is right back to normal…so why treat this new Tuvok like such a simpleton? How is criticising Tuvok’s old persona supposed to get him back on track? I could imagine a psychologist watching this episode in despair!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You said I had to stimulate his senses!’ ‘I said stimulate them, Mr Neelix not annihilate them!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You are Neelix. I am safe with you’ – that’s about as sophisticated as this script dares to be…
‘Only deserts, how come?’ ‘They taste good!’ and ‘We’re having fun!’ – could this be any more Playschool?

The Bad: Despite Dawson’s attempts to make the pre titles sequence dramatic (the pull upwards on Tuvok writhing on the floor works on a purely visual level) the tone is overstated and the danger under realised. We’re left thinking ‘eh?’ when we should be thinking ‘woah!’ How many more scenes can we stomach with the Doctor rushing around sickbay trying to save a patients life? You never see Bashir pretending that he is in an episode of ER (I tell a lie, you do in Necessary Evil but that is one example) but we get to experience one of these medical melodramas every third episode on Voyager. Are we really supposed to think that anything is going to happen to any of the regular characters? I suppose Voyager has met badass aliens that have been so in yer face that they always come at them guns blazing so its about time we flipped the coin and met a shadow race that like hide themselves away as much as possible whilst still committing dreadful acts. The trouble is this generates very little suspense…a race that cannot be seen – how thrilling! Visually they aren’t very different from Species 8471 and they have about as much personality. It frustrates me that even with its vague premise that Riddles refuses to address the horror of schizophrenia or many of the other fascinating psychological dilemmas that could be dramatised. Instead we get ‘Tuvok the simpleton lives a day in the life of Neelix’ with an added dose of ‘Janeway hunts for invisible aliens.’ Is this really the sort of quality you expect from Star Trek? With crushing predictability the Doctor comes up with a magic wand solution to whisk Tuvok back to normal and Tuvok doesn’t want to go back to who he was. ABC plotting at its worst with not a single moment where I even raised an eyebrow.

Moment to Watch Out For: Tuvok ices the cloaking frequency onto a cake he is baking with Neelix? Somebody put me out of my misery…

Result: Voyager hasn’t been this offensively childish and unsophisticated with regards to a serious issue since Elogium. Remember in Far Beyond the Stars when Herb commented ‘I can see it now…a lonely little girl befriended by apathetic aliens who teach her how to smile!’ You guessed it! Somebody on the Voyager writing staff was listening, completely missed the irony and decided to take up the challenge of this pitch and apply it to Tuvok and Neelix. Rather than just have them tackle an issue between them and allow their characters to grow and learn from each other Riddles tosses in one of the two worst Trek clichés, amnesia (the other being transporter accidents which was the basis for another, far superior, character study of this pair in Tuvix). It means they become close through a convenient plot device rather than meaning anything and the ending is inexcusably unsurprising from the very beginning. I think we are supposed to empathise with Tuvok (which is hard because he doesn’t seem to be suffering that badly) and fall in love with Neelix for taking care of him (whereas I found him as irritating as a tropical skin disease for the way he was constantly talking down to his patient). Toss in a race of bland CGI monsters who will never be heard of again and don’t want to be seen in the first place and this is a very forgettable episode. With so little time left for Voyager it makes me wonder why they aren’t rising to the challenge and fulfilling the possibilities of this show has built into its very structure rather than wasting their time on pointless schedule fillers like this that accomplish nothing: 2/10

Dragon’s Teeth written by Michael Taylor, Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Voyager comes to the aid of an oppressed civilisation…

Hepburn-a-Like: I know she is duped but lets not forget that Janeway willingly wakes up a battalion of an aggressive, homicidal species and inflicts them upon the Quadrant in order to get a handful of light years closer to home. Perhaps she will remember that the next time the somebody like Captain Ransom shows up.

Tattoo: Why isn’t there any hard hitting conversation between Janeway and Chakotay in this episode ala Equinox Part II? This looks like the perfect opportunity for the First Officer to question his Captain’s decision but instead he is falling asleep on the Bridge.

Spotted Dick: Way to go Ambassador Neelix telling their new guest (who incidentally turns out to be a psychopath despot!) that his peoples name in Talaxian is ‘foolish!’ Whilst I take exception as to how Neelix detects a scent of untruth about the Vaadwaur (kill Wildman…) it is nice to see him investigating in the evening whilst cooking up tomorrow’s food. I like it when we get to see behind the scenes on the ship because it adds a feeling of believability to its everyday running. 

The Good: A truly impressive opening with some outstanding special effects and dramatic direction. After two snooze worthy episodes it feels as though Voyager is waking up again. Smartly the writers begin the episode by completely wrong footing us about the Vaadwaur and portraying them as victims of terrible injustice. It adds more veracity when they show up later and claim to be peaceful victims and adds an extra layer of deception that this show usually lacks (normally it would just be Voyager meets aliens who claim to be good, aliens are bad…). Even the scenes on Voyager open with an instant sense of immediacy! It seems that condensing this story down to one part means that the writers have cut away all the flabby padding and what is left is a tight, pacy episode. The Turei work because they are instantly aggressive, wont listen to Janeway’s attempts at diplomacy and automatically whip up a sense of desperation. Visually they aren’t that spectacular but they sure get this story off to an impressive start. For once Voyager feels like it is genuinely on the run. A city of millions destroyed by radiation and left in ruins – this is exactly how Time and Again should have been dramatised in season one and goes to show that the writers have learnt something over the years. Shots of Voyager emerging amongst the shattered, broken remains of a city scape are breathtaking. At least there is a good reason to land the ship here, the engines have taken a blasting and they need a place to hide. The idea of a species that is centuries out of date, that has gone from six billion to barely six hundred but still have delusion of grandeur is an attention grabbing one – you get the sense that the Vaadwaur is being touted as a potential new enemy for Janeway and her crew (and with their subspace corridors they could turn up at any time). A fleet of ships taken on Voyager in a planetary atmosphere? Gorgeous!

The Bad: Looking at the evidence objectively perhaps they do push a little too hard to convince us that the Vaadwaur are victims, especially once the truth is out. Plus Gedrin is especially suspicious in how he keeps asking all of the Delta Quadrant strays on the ship if they have heard of his people. The effects shots of the city through Voyager’s windows aren’t quite as spectacular, they look grafted on rather than natural. The Vaadwaur make up is very similar to that of the Cardassians and Gedrin has more than a passing resemble to Gul Dukat. The fact that it takes Naomi Wildman to realise that the Vaadwaur are up to no good leaves me with some worry about the competency of the rest of this crew. When the Vaadwaur children mock Neelix that is a sign of good taste, not a reason for Naomi to dislike them! Is it my imagination or did Voyager sweep in and play God with this species and then duck out of the fight when it started and leave the Vaadwaur and the Turei to have it out? With absolutely no moral consequences whatsoever! I can’t believe that it was Seven who was apologising when it was Janeway who made all the bad calls in this episode! How odd that this conflict should be set up and never heard of again. Another loss of potential. Janeway even says ‘I doubt we’ve seen the last of them…’

Moment to Watch Out For: With action on the ground and in space, the conclusion of this episode is truly ambitious and exciting. Effects shots of the city being destroyed are especially seductive.

Result: Top notch special effects and exciting direction elevate Dragon’s Teeth into something more impressive than another ‘Voyager meets random species’ episode. For the first time in years it feels as if a planet in the Delta Quadrant has history and the way that this story plays out in a truncated single episode format means that there is little time to breathe and spot the plot holes (of which there are a multitude). It’s a frantic piece with lots of action and spectacle and by the conclusion I was left feeling I had watched a satisfying, if shallow movie with all the belly fat sliced away. Like Alice and Riddles the plotting is predictable but as long as you are prepared to go along with that there is plenty of visual splendour to drink in and the last five minutes suggest of epic that we haven’t seen on this series since Scorpion. For once I will gladly swap intelligence for action and it is a real pity they didn’t cash in on the promise of this new enemy. As the season progresses I will miss episodes like this that show promise and go some way towards realising it: 7/10

One Small Step written by Mike Wollaeger, Jessica Scott, Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor (anybody else?) and directed by Robert Picardo

What’s it about: Voyager discovers an anomaly! I know…I was shocked too!

Tattoo: Watching Chakotay have the evening from hell is actually quite amusing. There he is trying to read with some lovely music playing in the background and the door chime keeps going, the doors open and shut intermittently and the every comm signal is routed to his badge! I don’t buy his sudden love of historical space exploration – its been about as apparent as his love of boxing preceding The Fight and will mentioned as much after this episode as that was. They’re just making it up as they go along, aren’t they? Chakotay talks about spending a lifetime examining the things that the anomaly has collected but he has also never shown a single interest in archaeology either! I thought he was supposed to be tough guy terrorist with a native American background? He seems entirely mis-characterised in this story. Swap Chakotay with Picard and it would work fine. Palaeontology was always his first love apparently and it was why he joined Starfleet…then why the fuck haven’t we heard about this before? I know it pissed off Robert Beltran that Chakotay was sidelined before the end of the episode and Seven (as usual) took the central role but for me this was a massive relief because her deadpan disinterest was far more interesting than his unconvincing lust for history.

Borg Babe: As usual Seven is the only character that I can sympathise with. She has no interesting in exploring another dull anomaly, she just wants to get the job done so they can resume their course home! She wanted to be a ballerina when she was a little girl but now thinks of it as a juvenile fantasy. Seven is forward enough to tell Chakotay that he was stupid to have risked their lives over the module and he tells her to get to work without the attitude. I know who I’d rather have as a commanding officer.

Mr Vulcan: There comes a point where Tim Russ monotonous delivery becomes a bad performance and his ‘an un-ex-pec-ted discovery indeed’ is appallingly wooden.

Parisian Rogue: Of course Paris has got to get in there with the hero worship – another childhood obsession of his that has come from nowhere that he can be an expert in for the right sort of plot. Like the time he developed a love of vintage vehicles. Or the time he obsessed about 20th Century fashion. Or that time when he was suddenly a huge fan of the water. Somebody should point this out and it wouldn’t be such a joke. Or it would be more of a joke, if you get my meaning.  

The Good: Its an intriguing opening and a nice premise to have somebody hero worship a figure from the past and see that their feats aren’t as spectacular as history records them. Shame it was already done in 11:59 which blunts the impact. Phil Morris is superb and far more convincing than his co stars Robert Beltran and Robert Duncan McNeill. At least they didn’t feel the need to rewrite the ending and have Kelly survive through some time travel/technobabble/reset plot device and allow the character to die with dignity.

The Bad: Admiring the feats of Kelly and Armstrong is a noble mission statement for an episode but the episode lays the dialogue a bit thick with treacle for my tastes. Spare the thought of Voyager being space pioneers who bravely explore the unknown. It would be shameful if this dull lot went down in history! There is a massive difference between boldly facing the dangers of the unknown and stupidly diving into every anomaly that they come across. Recovering the module should mean something but because Chakotay’s obsession has come out of nowhere (a bit like Janeway’s in Equinox) it fails to have much of an impact. It seems rather reckless of him to risk three lives to salvage some debris even it is a piece of history. Listening to Kelly’s final recordings does have a touch poignancy about it although once I again I do wonder why the lives of historical characters (like Shannon in 11:59) or those who have nothing to do with Voyager (like Reg in Pathfinder) are far more compelling than the regular cast on this show. Once again an Alpha Quadrant presence is felt keenly in the Delta Quadrant…this area of space is so ill defined these days with so many elements of home turning up I don’t know why they don’t just set the series back in the Alpha Quadrant.

Anomaly of the Week: Well this is novel, an anomaly that links the ship back to a historical event! Chakotay coins it ‘the kitchen sink’ anomaly because all kinds of space detritus from all over the Quadrant has wound up on it shores. 

Result: I don’t have much to say about One Small Step beyond the fact that I have just watched it because my feelings are utterly ambivalent. It tries to whip up a feeling of pride and nostalgia for the pioneers space travel which is a laudable goal but it does so in such a way that lumbers Chakotay (of all people) with the role of a wide eyed obsessive and makes him even more unbearable than usual. The subtlety train completely bypassed Voyager and the dialogue pushes far too hard to revere Armstrong and his compatriots and winds up with the atmosphere of a science fiction convention with a bunch of embarrassing geeks who express their love for the genre with no social awareness. Seven is the one character who deserves respect here, criticising Janeway and Chakotay for their terrible decisions and refusing to get caught up in the worship fervour that might compromise the mission. Robert Picardo’s direction lacks sparkle, the pace is somnambulistic and if I’m honest it took me two viewings to finish this because the first half left me wanting to watch something with more pizzazz and Supernanny was on the telly (!!!). The closing sentiment is nice and listening to Kelly’s final recordings is quite stirring but more because he is about to die than because of anything he has achieved. You have to admire the show for attempting something a bit different but shake your head with despair that they cannot even manage to pull off something that is embedded in the very nature of Star Trek without overdoing it: 4/10

The Voyager Conspiracy written by Joe Menosky and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: Are Janeway and Chakotay plotting against each other?

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway seems to be the antithesis of Sisko when you compare them both in series six! Sisko is either fully immersed in an episode and characterised to the hilt with great moments or turns up for his contractual obligation in a scene that sees him at his best (there are great examples of this in Honor Amongst Thieves, Change of Heart, Wrongs Darker Than Death, His Way…). On the other hand Janeway is either inconsistently characterised (In Equinox she is a psychotic huntress and then following that she is cuddlesome Aunt Kathy in Survival Instinct) or she makes some really duff judgement calls. When Sisko was presented with information that they cannot win the war in Statistical Probabilities and that they should surrender to the enemy he as good as laughs Bashir right out of his office and screams ‘not on my watch!’ When Janeway is presented with evidence of a Maquis conspiracy in this episode what does she do? Objects for about a minute and winds up pointing a phaser at her first officer in a cargo bay! One of these Captain’s deserves be in command…and it isn’t the one flying the flag through an entire Quadrant. The trouble is we haven’t even reached Fair Haven yet…’Delete the wife!’

Tattoo: If I were Chakotay (thank goodness I’m not otherwise I would be so bland I wouldn’t have bagged me my man!) I would have spoken to Janeway straight away about Seven’s outrageous theories and put this whole she-bang to bed. Its what Torres wants to do because she is half way normal but Chakotay the chump is having none of it.

Borg Babe: Poor Jeri Ryan is left with the unenviable task of having to reel off so much expository dialogue in this episode even I was bored of hearing her blunt, unwavering tone before the conclusion (and that has never happened before). Seven’s wish to download Voyager’s database into her so she is a walking repository of information that can be called upon at any time is laudable, if a little creepy. Why doesn’t Seven realise that her theories contradict each other?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I believe Voyager’s presence here in the Delta Quadrant is no accident. You and the rest of the crew have been stranded here intentionally…’ –oh if only this had been true…
‘Seven was malfunctioning. We don’t have that excuse…’

The Good: Janeway and Chakotay’s infrequent dinners are often a highlight of this show and whilst the dialogue here is functional at best (half of Deck 8 is pregnant and Neelix wants to turn a cargo bay into a crèche?) the chemistry between the two actors is undeniable in these lighter moments. The only story that Seven tells that has a grain of veracity to it is the one about the mating fleas in the warp core…and I like the way this is visualised on screen from the POV of the fleas (since they were all exposed to the creatures does that mean that Janeway, Seven and B’Elanna all have fleas now?). There are some lovely flashbacks to Caretaker and a time when Voyager was willing to entertain the idea of being a revolutionary show. If anything the conclusion of The Voyager Conspiracy proves that those days are long gone. I enjoyed the effect of the ship being grabbed by tendrils of light and catapulted across space. I laughed my head off when Seven started accusing Naomi of being a spy for either Janeway or Chakotay – if only that were true! Seven’s final theory of her deliberate Borg assimilation should have been the episodes punchy twist ala the Section 31 reveal in Inquisition. That would have been a revolutionary reveal but alas it was not meant to be.

The Bad: Isn’t it a little embarrassing when the technobabble get out clause is discussed in the very first scene rendering the entire exercise null and void? The fact that Naomi Wildman turns up again and again and again means that Voyager is willing to entertain a semi regular character on the show. So why this one? When the possibilities elsewhere are Gul Dukat, Martok, Weyoun and Damar why are we forced to continually follow the life of this underwritten, overplayed child? Tell me…is anybody actually a Naomi Wildman fan? Here’s another what if…what if the catapult flung Voyager so far across space that it was picked up by Reg and his cronies. Then in the second part of this two parter (I realise this isn’t a two parter but go with me here…) they are brought back to Earth in Pathfinder where the series starts addressing some of the issues with its terrorists, strays and Borg babe in an Earthbound setting. What if this episode impacted on the series in a positive way like that? The trouble with the material presented is that it (once again) pushes too hard. In Inquisition we can go someway towards believing that Bashir is a Dominion agent because the events that Sloan recounts genuinely happened so with the correct emphasis there is every possibility that his interpretation is correct. Seven’s theory that Janeway deliberately stranded Voyager in the Delta Quadrant as part of a military takeover is such an extreme conclusion to make with no convincing evidence to back it up that it makes Chakotay look like a chump for even considering the possibility. Sloan uses solid, irrefutable facts to fit his theory whereas Seven starts with a theory and manipulates the facts – one is a convincer, the other is fabricated. For Chakotay to think this is real he is opening himself up to the possibility that he has been successfully duped for over six years! Whilst I could believe that was the case it would have been the final nail in the coffin for his character had it been true. Seven’s theory about the resurrection of the Maquis rebellion is about four years too late…had this story taken place in season three it might have had more impact. Stop reminding us of when you took risks, Voyager and start taking some new ones now! Noooo – don’t mention Seska and the baby! The last decent villain on Voyager turning up four years ago! Both Janeway and Chakotay stare in incomprehension at Seven as she spirals out more and more evidence…why doesn’t anybody just say ‘shut up.’ After all of this suggested development for the series the actual progress is – they’re three years closer to home! Just like in Dark Frontier. Just like in The Gift. Change the record, Voyager and offer us something new. We know you aren’t going to get home until the final episode so stop trying to pretend otherwise.

Moment to Watch Out For: When the Captain and the First Officer confront each other with veiled threats and insinuations I am sure it is supposed to be funny to watch but its so beyond the realms of reasonable characterisation that they would reach this point I was screaming at the TV at their idiocy! Then the two of them skip over the whole embarrassing situation with a trite ‘let’s keep this one out of our logs, shall we?’ Head hits hand. Head hits hand. It’s the crew I feel sorry for, with this pair to lead them.

Anomaly of the Week: Chakotay makes a request for a major detour for a minor nebula and Janeway’s agrees to the request on the excuse ‘we are explorers!’ Has she forgotten the trouble last weeks anomaly caused? 

Result: There is a moment in The Voyager Conspiracy where Seven of Nine talks and talks and talks her way into the advert break. It’s a great snapshot of what this episode is about and it could have worked if the talk had lead up to a halfway satisfactory conclusion. Its trying to be Voyager’s version of Inquisition in that it takes what seemed (at the time) like irrelevant plot details of previous episodes and tries to tie them into a conspiracy tale but whereas the DS9 episode genuinely changed the landscape of the Trek universe as we know it this turns out to be a malfunction in Seven’s cortical implants and amounts to nothing. Except to show that Janeway and Chakotay are easily duped and perhaps not worthy of commanding a Starship. Some could argue it is a great illustration of how evidence can be gathered to loop a noose around an innocent man (or woman’s) head but I would counter argue that this show is once again touting an idea that is far more interesting than the usual set up and tossing it away on a throwaway episode. Seeing so much of Voyager’s history dredged up was pleasant if only to remind me of a time when the show had some real potential. Had Janeway and Chakotay really been up to some nefarious activities behind the others backs I might have woken up (but it would have to be less grandiose and overstated than the theories peddled here) and paid attention but instead this winds up being another talkative episode that runs on the spot: 5/10

Pathfinder written by David Zabel & Kenneth Biller and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: Reg Barclay is trying to find a way for Voyager to get home…

Spotted Dick: The fact that Reg calls his cat (which is adorably by the way) Neelix made me laugh until my sides hurt…he’s less of an invasive, gorgeous cat and more of an ugly looking dog desperate for love but given a domestic animal his name makes really makes me smile!

Socially dysfunctional: I love Reg, he’s such a bumbling charmer and Dwight Schultz takes a lot of care in bringing him to life with enough awkward quirks to make him funny and still believable. He’s lost himself and become obsessed with Voyager which is a fine way to integrate this character into the show. He has so many theories of how to bring Voyager back but his mind is too preoccupied with the problem and he cannot see a good idea from a bad one. Turns out they wasted six months work on one of his theories that turned out to be untenable. Barclay was introduced to the show as a man who was lost in his fantasies and losing interest in his work and this is a nice development of that…he has found where he can be just as lost in his fantasies but at the same time completely devoted to his work. Its sad to see Reg so confident and swaggering in the Voyager programme when he is such a quivering wreck in reality, the only people who he can interact with are those whose actions he can completely predict. There is something really creepy about the dreamlike state that he wanders into his holographic quarters on Voyager and settles in for the night, the fact that he is only comfortable completely consumed by his fantasy world. He has tailored the programme so he is a confident, invaluable member of the team when what he doesn’t realise is that he could be that person in reality if only he dropped his guard and let people in. He avoids having real friends because they are hard work and instead focuses on fake ones that are safer  to be around. The way he so confidently tells Admiral Paris that he has a way of him communicating with his son and then falls to pieces when having to describe the specifics is…really embarrassing (I was hiding behind a cushion). Then when his holo fantasy is invaded by Pete I was under my desk! You can add a lot of humour and liability to a character by embarrassing them which must make Reg the most humorous and likable character in the whole of Trek! He’s convinced himself that this isn’t a relapse into holo addiction but this is a classic case of denial and the usual excuses and promises come pouring out. Ever since h left the Enterprise things haven’t been the same. He lost his family and he creating a new one in their image on the holodeck – that’s pretty funny too! Even Reg can see how similar Voyager is to TNG so he uses its crew as a surrogate version of the TNG lot! To have the real Voyager crew raising a toast to Barclay (something he has so desperately sought) is very touching. Reg has a new focus in life now and is going on a date with Pete’s sister. Things are looking up and that is exactly the right note to leave this optimistic episode on.

Alien Empath: Oh look, its Troi. God help us all! Where I found her intolerable on the Enterprise (because she was such a nosy no-it-all until her annual ‘I’ve lost my empathic powers’ where she became a harridan) she is actually rather warm and humorous here (go figure, Voyager writers can inject a personality into the previous series’ regulars! Perhaps Enterprise should write an episode around the Voyager crew and they can perform similar miracles?). It helps immeasurably that Reg asked for her to consul him rather than her just turning up like a bad smell to dissect his character. Reg knows how to butter her up (chocolate ice cream) but she only wants one scoop because she is watching her figure. Troi is certainly a patient counsellor, she spends an entire day listening to Reg’s story spill out (the matte backdrop goes from morning daylight to evening moonlight) and she concludes (for his own good) that he is incommunicative, petulant, paranoid and socially inept.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Voyager is important! But so are you!’ – the most impressive thing that Deanna has ever said.
‘Keep a docking bay open for us!’

The Good: How wonderful is it to see the shows central arc getting its annual dusting down (the last big push was in Timeless at around this point last year) and it looks to be in better shape than ever. Not by having Voyager turn up at another anomaly/subspace shunt/Delta Quadrant trampoline but by focussing on the characters on Earth trying to find a way to get them home. It’s a fascinating new angle and one that probably should have come about two years ago when the ship finally managed to contact home but I refuse to criticise anything that is this innovative (in a heavily nostalgic and TNG rip off sort of way…I’m sorry I can’t help myself. Its like I have some kind of disease!). I love the fact that Reg’s boss is a bland middle man called ‘Pete’, it feels like an uncomfortably real work environment. Pete is tentative around Reg as you would be working with somebody this socially awkward and yet tries hard to make some kind of connection. Bringing Admiral Paris into the show is another decent innovation because we might get to see some kind of reconciliation between Tom and his dad at some point. Chakotay and B’Elanna showing up in their Maquis outfits and Janeway with her season one severe do is a clever touch. The most touching sentiment that this show offers is that Reg fears that the Voyager crew must be agonisingly lonely 60,000 light years from home when the truth of the matter is they have found a family and comfort in their situation together that he cannot find in the very place they want to be. Barclay being pursued through the simulation of Voyager by Starfleet security and using his ‘friends’ to protect him is simultaneously gripping and funny. He should have programmed the Goddess of Empathy to distract them! Mike Vejar employs some dramatic handheld camerawork for these scenes and it feels like one of those glorious chases around the Enterprise we used to get every now and again in TNG (The Game, Power Play). It’s a very clever action scene because it is immersed in the issues in this show with Reg trapped in his fantasies and Pete trying to pull him out of them. The exchange of data and the possibility of further contact between the two Quadrants is surprisingly emotional and the close up of Paris as his father talks of their bravery made me well up. It strikes exactly the right poignant chord, offering a lot of hope for the future. Project: Voyager is just beginning and I cannot wait.

The Bad: First the Borg and now Reg Barclay and Troi…why doesn’t Voyager just call itself TNG and have done with it. There’s a reason why DS9 didn’t need to resort to bringing back old favourites like this (unless it’s a character they are genuinely innovating – Gowron, amusing – Trials and Tribble-ations or it was the first season and they needed the TNG viewers to give them a chance) because they were too busy doing their own, more interesting, thing. Whilst I am glad to see Reg (and to a lesser extent, Troi) it does smack of those ratings ploys employed by soap operas when they bring back once popular characters to give the show a shot of adrenalin when actually all they are doing is showing that they have run out of creative ideas and energy. The fact that this is one of the best episodes of the season and the Voyager crew only turns up in the last third says everything you need to know. Actually I suppose that isn’t such a stretch. Grrr…don’t get me started that Deep Space Nine is mentioned but there is no sign that this is Starfleet recovering from a long, bloody war. Trust Voyager to completely ignore the most striking modernisation that Trek has ever seen. Whilst this works on a character level, I really hope that Voyager doesn’t make it home through some incomprehensible technobabble of Reg’s. Voyager has sprung forward three times since the last time they had any contact with the Earth…so what exactly are these ‘vectors’ of completely unchartered territory that they have factored into their equations that allow them to predict where abouts the ship is? Its hilarious that when we do eventually get to visit the real Voyager (which is about 36 minutes into the episode) it opens with Neelix excitedly turning up at Seven’s alcove to begin his singing lesson! Are things really this exciting in the Delta Quadrant? It’s a sad thing to admit but this is the last moment of triumph for Voyager and by that I don’t mean it is the last decent episode. It’s the last time that we get to reap the emotional rewards of the thought of this ship making it home. Its barely touched upon in the next year and a half despite promises here, the character closure is all handled in one episode (Author, Author and even there it is but a side issue to the main plot) and their eventual method home is some godawful technobabble quick fix without a single second exploring their actual homecoming. So enjoy this moment because it is the most fulsomely realised emotional kick the central arc will get in its seven year stint.

Moment to Watch Out For: By flouting orders and going ahead with his theories Reg risks his entire career so that makes the moment when they finally make contact with Voyager a real moment of triumph – for the character and for the series. It makes the pain of being a social outcast his obsession with this ship and its dilemma actually mean something. Bravo for taking a risk and not consigning this episode to the ‘what if?’ bin. When Janeway’s voice came through this episode actually gave me goosebumps and this show hasn’t done that to me in many a season.

Result: Finally! Why not stop with all these kisses to the Alpha Quadrant and just set the rest of the series there without the Voyager crew. It pains me to say this…but this is better than practically anything that has happened in the Delta Quadrant in past six years and what’s more focuses on a more likable character than 90% of the regulars. Alas it has that agonising bore Counsellor Troi in it but I wouldn’t expect an episode of TNG – whoops, sorry Voyager to be perfect and her psychobabble (whilst verging on the edge of teeth aching) is the right side of bearable (just). The episode is skilfully constructed in flashbacks and fantasies to provide a wonderful window in which to dovetail Reg (who is so charmingly dysfunctional) into the central Voyager arc. Intelligent little details abound and the story has a very personal touch which allows us to get really close to the characters and emotionally involved. Finally it’s a show that promises genuine innovation and delivers upon that promise – Voyager is now in direct communication with Earth on a regular basis and we might get to see some of the series’ outstanding issues (the Maquis crewmembers, members of an alien race, the Borg, Admiral Paris’ son) finally explored. If they are dealt with with half the adroitness of this episode we will be in fine shape: 9/10

Fair Haven written by Robin Burger and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: I can’t quite bring myself to say it…

Hepburn-a-Like: At least Quark is honest about the holosuites being a local knocking shop…on Voyager they set them up as walk in sanctuaries and Janeway slips in quietly to create her perfect man and have her wicked way with him. This is the best sort of romance they could think up for Janeway? Not a prolonged, intense affair with Chakotay – which was touted in season two and then quickly abandoned – which could have seen them compromise their command structure and bring some real tension and drama to the show and their relationship. Nope that would be too radical for Voyager. The next best thing would be to bring somebody into the show and watch that relationship develop naturally over time (there have been plenty of potential guest stars that could have fulfilled that role). But that is clearly a step too far as well. Sisko has been exploring a relationship with Kassidy for three seasons now and it would continue to develop until they are married and have a baby together. It’s a refreshingly long term, amiable relationship between two well matched (if occasionally conflicting) adults. The DS9 equivalent would be if Sisko visited Quark’s holosuites every time he needed a wank and had his wicked way with an Orion slave girl on the quiet. It would be tasteless, tacky, offensive and completely soul destroying. This is supposed to be the strong female Captain we have been pining after for so long so why are they writing her as horny, desperate slattern who pines after a technological dildo posing as a bit of rough? We’re off beyond insulting characterisation into some crazy alternative universe…it’s the only way I can justify these decisions. This is practically a re-playing of the same psychology that was flaunted in Pathfinder – people who are so disconnected with reality that they have to revel in a fantasy world and worse…they prefer it. And Janeway is the worst example of the lot, falling in love with somebody who isn’t real because it is easier than trying to connect with somebody who is. When Janeway starts personalising her dildo to her own specifications I was literally speechless. How would this have gone down if it had been Sisko up to the same antics by making modifications to his Orion slave girl? The breasts a little larger, making her more submissive and open her up to a wider range of filthy scenarios – he would be written off as an iniquitous, chauvinistic tosspot! Well I don’t buy that it is any less offensive that a woman should be perfecting a man to take to her bed – we are supposed to be in female emancipated times you know and that means they have to take the same sorts of criticisms as men as well as the good stuff. This is not characterising a strong woman, its sheer tawdriness is quite the reverse and it feels like we have stepped back in time 50 years in that respect. And then to have dirty laundry exposed so publicly by her blow up man? Ugh when Janeway pointed out that Michael Sullivan was exactly her type and they had the same interests I realised she has made a male version of herself! Janeway is literally pleasing herself! Excuse me a moment…bleugh… It took Janeway three days in the holodeck to realise that it is all an illusion (quick thinking there, Kathy).

Tattoo: Oh gross! Chakotay admits to personalising his own holodeck characters as shag tools too! What is wrong with these people? Are none of them capable of finding real partners? 

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok rushes off to be sick at one point. It’s the first time I have empathised with his character in years.

Spotted Dick: Hohohohohohohohohoho! Even in the holodeck Harry has picked the wrong girl. Hahahahahahaha! That joke just gets better and better and better. I would rather be spanked by Neelix than hear that joke do another round.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We’d lose most of Fair Haven!’ – arggggggggghhhhhh! The ship is in mortal peril, hundreds of lives at stake and Harry ‘they never wrote me with a personality, don’t blame me’ Kim thinks this is the time to remind the Captain that she will be tossing away her stubbly dildo? This line is the epitome of why Voyager cannot work as a series with these people making the creative decisions. Its very utterance is an offensive to anybody with an ounce of intelligence watching the show, to the characters within it and Janeway’s momentary pause was when I finally lost the tiny sliver of respect I still had for the character. To my mind it is the worst line ever uttered in a Star Trek episode (beating the previous winner ‘get the cheese to sickbay!’).
‘Delete the wife!’ – that’s the next worse line in Trek ever. Not bad going for a single episode.
‘I’ve become romantically involved with a hologram…’

The Good: For a moment I thought that Voyager genuinely had abandoned the Delta Quadrant and we had wound up in the real Ireland and this was going to be Miles Edward O’Brien’s homecoming. We could have had the remaining season and a half of Voyager catching up with various TNG and DS9 crewmembers in their respective lives with the real Voyager crew turning up for an obligatory scene about 36 minutes into each episode. Lets be honest…if this is the best they can think up that would be the preferable option. The opening atmospherics are pleasant on the eye I will give them that but the rolling hills backdrop is flatter than Kroll menacing the skies of Delta Magna. And if you don’t know what that means, Google image it.

The Bad: I have to ask he question (and I don’t mean to be racist myself when I do) but are the Irish desperate for acting work? There must be a reason that they allow themselves to be shoehorned into such offensively stereotypical roles like they are in TNG’s Up the Long Ladder and this narrow minded glimpse of Irish life. What is it with these godawful holodeck programmes? Sometimes they strike lucky (Sandrines, Captain Proton) but usually the producers shy away from them rather quickly. It’s the brain achingly dire ones that they seem to spend the most money and time on – that gaudy beach resort turned up in every other episode in season three, the dribblesomely stupid  Lord Burleigh one had a ridiculous amount of money thrown at it…and was more sumptuously realised than half of the planets they visited at the time! And that amounted to nothing! Leonardo da Vinci and Captain Proton were fine in small doses but when they got an episode of their own the show dive bombed simply because they weren’t strong enough to hold up an hour of entertainment. Instead embarrassing technobabble plot devices were shoehorned in to create some false tension. And now we have Fair Haven where Tom Paris has truly excelled himself. A picturesque Irish town that looks a lot like the Paramount backlot dressed up with clover leafs populated full of bromidic, one dimensional ciphers. A setting that is perfect to peddle out the (beyond clichéd) plot of TNG’s Ship in a Bottle of holograms rights. All Irish pubs are drunken, infested piss holes (actually that one might be true…now they have banned smoking most pubs do stink of stale beer and piss) populated by rowdy, cheating men and all landlords are devoutly religious hunks with smouldering looks. Its been my observation (anybody notice how I talk like Odo these days…?) that the human characters on Voyager seem to spend an awful lot of time patronising the alien characters. Tuvok is an unfeeling robot, Neelix is an interfering nomad, Seven is an impolite drone, the Doctor is a fake busybody…that sort of thing (DS9 works far better because it reverses the trend…most of the time the alien characters criticise the human ones which is far more fun and revealing of human nature). Not content with the casual racism that runs rampant on the ship they now extend that gift to the holodeck where Tom mocks an Irish accent and creates a programme that redefines insensitivity. Thank goodness O’Brien didn’t serve on this ship! He would have let those gel packs rot! An open door policy to the holodeck on a ship that has limited reserves? A few weeks ago (Alice) Chakotay was saying that they didn’t have the resources and energy to waste on Tom’s latest hobby…and now all of a sudden they do? Is there an unlimited fuel source on Voyager now that I don’t know about? When there isn’t even internal consistency in the same season what hope do we have? Fintan McKeown has a fair stab at playing the rough and yet sensitive version of Michael but is as wooden as the Marie Celeste as the sophisticated version that Janeway creates. There is even less chemistry between him and Kate Mulgrew than there was between Robert Beltran and Virginia Marsden in Unforgettable – a feat I would have thought impossible. McKeown’s ‘Why did you leave me Katie…’ drunken rant is a new low for season six…I was actually contemplating ending it all rather than continuing with this farce (and doesn’t he sound like the drunken version of Tom in Gimme Gimme Gimme?). With dialogue like ‘don’t you think I’m good enough for her?’ I figured death would be preferable to the enduring pain… Paris as good as walks into Janeway’s Ready Room and asks the Captain ‘do you want me to save your dildo?’ What scares me about all of this is that this isn’t the worst episode of the season.

Moment to Watch Out For: The Doctor gives the Captain a pep talk that she cannot have a relationship with a member of her crew and that she should be treating the holodeck as a rent boy free for all! Has everybody on this ship gone mad? Yes, it wouldn’t be inappropriate for Janeway to have it off with a subordinate…but it would also make good drama. This character demolishing alternative is typical Voyager shunning dramatic possibilities in favour of foolishness. The very fact that this conversation between Janeway and the Doctor exists is a joke and if it had taken place between Bashir and Sisko (that would never happen but go with me here…) which is the equivalent on the sister show I would happily abandon DS9 forever.

Teaser-tastic: The teaser is literally…Tom and Harry visit the pub! We’re in for a rip-roaring adventure!

Fashion Statement: I think Michael is supposed to be an Irish hottie but he does nothing for me.

Anomaly of the Week: Brilliant, as if a dull holodeck episode wasn’t enough its also a dull anomaly episode too! This one causes space sickness! That’s new! Its not interesting…but I guess they can keep peddling out these anomalies with new side effects every couple of episodes or so.  This one is so forgettable it isn’t even the main plot, it plays second fiddle to Fair Haven.

Result: Umm…I really don’t know what to say. Lost for words would be appropriate. During seasons four and five Voyager has tread the discordant line between producing fiendishly awful and triumphant episodes with an emphasis on the former but with a good enough smattering of the latter to not give up all hope. Season six on the other hand has taken this format to the nth degree and the episodes thus far have really challenged the quality meter by being either the best of the best (Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy/Pathfinder) or the worst of the worst (Alice/Riddles) with very little ground in between (because episodes like The Voyager Conspiracy/One Small Step are completely forgettable). And then we come to Fair Haven. After a riveting adventure in the Alpha Quadrant in Pathfinder this was the chance to prove that things are still razor sharp in the Delta Quadrant…and we end up spending an entire episode watching Janeway personalise her own talking dildo in a mock Irish town. We’ve dropped into Ballykissangel except it is brought to life by a writer who completely misunderstands Irish culture and surrenders to every (and I do mean every) cliché imaginable. Janeway’s characterisation has been on a downward spiral ever since the show began (with just the odd glimpse of salvation about twice a season) but she has never been written for as appallingly as she is here and I hope to goodness she never will be again. Unbelievably this episode spawned a very quick sequel. I can only assume that the town cost a fortune to dress and the producers never saw the rushes of this episode. I can think of numerous episodes this year that could have done with more time to flesh them out and give them space to breathe (Dragons’ Teeth wouldn’t have felt so rushed and Fury might have been comprehensible if it had time to explain its motives, plot devices, sci-fi twists and character perversion) but this abusively meaningless lump of slime is not one of them. Absolutely hideous: 1/10

Blink of an Eye written by Scott Miller & Joe Menosky and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

What’s it about: Societies change and fall but the sky ship remains constant…

Tattoo: He was a massive fan of boxing in The Fight, a huge follower of the early space explorers in One Small Step and now Chakotay is hunting for the anthropologic find of his career! Once again a hidden aspect of his career that we have never heard of before and never will again. Go figure.

EMH: The Doctor returns three years after he beamed down and seems to be a changed man, embracing the Captain and overjoyed to be reunited with the crew. He found himself a place to live, friends and a lover whilst on the planet.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘For each second that goes by on Voyager nearly a day goes by on the planet’ – that’s the concept behind this episode and it’s a really good one. Watching the seasons change in a matter of seconds is a very poetic idea.
‘I doubt everything, remember? Even my own doubts!’
‘All I had to do was look up and there you were. The brightest star in the sky!’
‘How often does you very first dream come true?’

The Good: We begin the episode with the planet being pre industrial with a populace of cave dwellers that look up at the sky and see a new sky appearing (Voyager). Alarm bells began ringing, either this was going to wind up being Basics Part III or one of those godawful parable about a primitive culture having to try and comprehend a more sophisticated technological society (I’ve seen it done badly on many shows but Trek pulled off the best ever example in Who Watches the Watchers so why try again?). However Blink of an Eye manages to dodge both of those bullets and race ahead of my expectations by offering more and more glimpses of the planet at a different stage of accelerated evolution each time. It’s a fascinating idea and reminds us of how far we have come from the primordial slime and seems to making up for so many bland alien cultures that Voyager has met over the years by offering us a comprehensive and expensive glance at the entire history of one planet. Being able to watch the rise and fall of so many civilisations is like playing God for an episode and it’s a wonderful vantage point to enjoy this episode. Director Gabrielle Beaumont seems to understand this and introduces each new segment of the planets development with a crane shot that lowers onto the action, as though God is coming down amongst the people to see how they are getting on. The next stage is the medieval stage with castles and buildings filling the horizon who look down on their primitive ancestors and want to send messages to God rather than fear him. Its not just the anthropological aspects of the society that are shifting but the philosophical ones too. Its fascinating to see such a radical change in their beliefs and reminds us that what seems important today may be irrelevant in a 100 years time. Next up is the steampunk era, a world of lights, brass and rivets where the people can glance up at the stars through telescopes. I love the idea that myths and legends have built up around the sky ship and how Voyager has its own range of action figures in this phase! The idea of the Doctor going and coming back and having experienced so much time elapsing whilst for the Voyager crew it has only been seconds goes some way towards realising the potential of this concept. The period that he visits is making great technological strides thanks in part to their growing understanding of what Voyager is and they have discovered a taste for warfare and politics. Voyager has inspired religion, science and art…looks like it has had more for an impact on this planet than it did in the television schedules! There is a space race to see who can get to the sky ship first and Janeway wonders if it will be a capsule with an astronaut or a missile with a warhead! Watching this society evolve into a space faring race and begin to conquer the skies is actually far more of a love letter to human space exploration than One Small Step was in its entirety. Scenes of the astronauts stepping onto Voyager and finding the crew frozen (actually they aren’t but time is moving at a much slower rate…if they hang around for a couple of days I reckon B’Elanna might have at least turned around or possibly started working on the console she is leaning on) have a genuine sense of awe about them that we don’t usually feel when exploring this ship. Imagine being able to head into the skies and touch something that has long been revered as a deity? That’s the sort of atmosphere they have conjured. Another astonishing idea touted is of the astronauts returning home and finding that their civilisation has changed beyond anything that they recognise. I love it when the astronaut returns home…many years after he left to try and stop their attack on Voyager. Its exactly the sort of insane concept that Voyager would flaunt as a pre titles sequence – a regular character has returned from a mission and has aged several decades, that sort of thing. It seems that if you touch Voyager the curse of the high concept is upon you! The final shot of the astronaut looking up at the sky as Voyager winks out of existence is just about perfect.

The Bad: The Voyager crew have so much incomprehensible technobabble to wade through here that they have practically raised it to the level of a new language. I find it apt that my husband cannot understand Shakespeare (he begs me to turn off any of the BBC productions I have on DVD) but is fully conversed in Trek technobabble and yet I am fully versed in the language of the Bard but cannot for the life of me comprehend the tongue of Spock, LaForge, O’Brien and Torres. Together we make an effective unit as we often translate for each other what these dramas are actually about! It pains me to say it but there are some really dodgy backdrops in this instalment where the actors look obviously superimposed onto a flat effects shot. Naomi Wildman is clearly a Mary Sue for Brannon Braga since she describes this episode as ‘the weird planet where time moved fast and so do the people that live there!’

Moment to Watch Out For: There is so much potential in premise and I am so happy that they have mined it for much of its gold. Voyager being in the sky is the catalyst for so much of what has happened to this civilisation so its fantastic that there is dialogue between the astronaut and Seven that discusses what will happen when they leave orbit. It could go one of two ways – the missing sky ship might make the people look away from the skies and not try and push forward into space or it might make them more determined to get up there and see what has happened to their inspiration.

Anomaly of the Week: This week it’s a swirly grey anomaly with which Tuvok has a deluge of technobabble to explain in the opening scene (not a good sign). Janeway instantly says ‘shall we take a closer look?’ She’ll never learn.

Result: The thing about these high concept shows is that every now and again they will shoot and score and with Blink of an Eye they score big time. Its another show where the Voyager crew are the least interesting thing about it but that’s par for the course these days. What you need to focus on is the lush production, intelligent writing and attention to detail that this episode flaunts in abundance. What I really liked about this episodes execution was that it wasn’t trying to have a social message or really push forward its philosophy and it wasn’t treating its imaginative premise as something to have fun with. On the contrary it simply offers us snapshot after snapshot of this society in a very serious (yet still enjoyable) way as a parallel montage of how the Earth has progressed over time and it really stresses how far we have come. Its not trying to be The Inner Light or Far Beyond the Stars, it has an idea to flaunt and it does so to the best of its ability without making any great shakes. Its one of the finest standalone episodes of Trek in modern years because it applies itself so completely to its sweep of history and forgets that it is even telling a Voyager episode for the most part. The abundance of creativity and ingenuity on display is to be applauded. Regardless of what my feelings of the lesser episodes have been this season (mostly strong)  it has already scored more outright winners than seasons four and five by this point and seems to be really selling itself as an anthology show rather than a serialised drama. I just hope there will be a renaissance for the crew of this benighted ship before the series is over because it strikes me that the episodes focusing on them of late (Alice, Riddles, Fair Haven) have been the nadir of Trek. That doesn’t impact the skill that has gone into constructing Blink of an Eye though, one of the most pleasing high concept episodes this production team have ever pulled off: 9/10

Virtuoso written by Raf Green & Kenneth Biller and directed Les Landau

What’s it about: Voyager visits a planet of EMH fanatics…

Hepburn-a-Like: At least Janeway seems to find this all very amusing. Kate Mulgrew glides through this episode with a smile on her face, Janeway supplicating before the Qomar and refusing to engage in this nonsense on a serious level. I wish I had her patience. When Janeway slaps the Doctor’s wrists and tells him she has given him extraordinary freedom it was the one moment I wanted to cheer.

EMH: The one decent thing about the introductory scene (although I am scraping the barrel here) is the comparison between the Doctor and the Qomar. With their superior attitude and insulting manner they are a reminder of how the Doctor used to be and how far he has come over six years. When the Doctor turns up on stage looking like a complete clown it pretty much summed up my feelings towards his characterisation in this instalment. Watching Robert Picardo indulging in a signing session at a Trek convention is not what I switch on Voyager to watch and the way the Doctor’s ego spirals out of all control is agonising to watch. He hasn’t been this unbearable for many a year. I thought Voyager was his home and his family and just because this race of Munchkins revere his singing he finds that a good enough reason enough to ditch everybody who gave him a chance to express himself? Its such shallow, surface characterisation that even Picardo cannot salvage it. As soon as he calls the Captain ‘Kathryn’ he’s crossed the line and I would have had his programme restored to its factory settings and happily have tossed all of my arguments for his independence out of the nearest airlock. The Doctor’s argument to the Captain is comparing himself to Harry Kim falling in love with an alien and how she wouldn’t stand in his way? Excuse me? Was he present during the events of The Disease? Or has he deleted that sorry escapade from his short term memory because it was so painful? Continuity on this show is so selective I’m not sure if I am actually watching the same series week in, week out. After she granted research into the ECH programme I think the Doctor is fucking ungrateful to suggest that his talents are often taken for granted. His desire for independence has gone beyond a joke now, its no longer amusing or thoughtful…its just one hologram with one too many egotistical subroutines in his programme. This is the antithesis of the work done with his character in last years Latent Image. 

Forever Ensign: Harry Kim and the ‘Kim Tones?’ There is no redemption for this guy, is there? Unless Garrett Wang finds himself a decent role to play he will be entertaining hardcore Voyager fans on cruise ships for the rest of his life.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They wont be able to see anything but the top of your head. The glare could blind them.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I thought you wanted me!’ – spare me this mickey Mouse morality…

The Good: The best moments in this episode are listening to Robert Picardo sing…but that is in the presence of the Qomar who do their best to sink even his talent on screen which under any other circumstances would be unthinkable. For once the Voyager crew have a chance to look like something other than complete patsies because this horrendous lot make them look almost competent in comparison. Tom and B’Elanna’s amusing reactions to the Doctor’s out of control ego are at least amusing.

The Bad: I find it hard to try and sift anything good from Virtuoso because its new race of Delta Quadrant aliens is so obscenely awful it is hard to see anything beyond them. A race of geeky midgets with high pitched voices that sound as if they have swallowed down whole canisters of helium to release on cue…all they would have needed was to be dressed appropriately to be transformed into Munchkins or Oompa Loompas. Only not as cute or funny. There isn’t a single note of believability in the realisation of this species and I cannot comprehend the rationale surrounding them except to show that (once again) the Delta Quadrant is a yawning chasm of disinterest in the universe. The way the Qomar talk to the Doctor in the first scene is so patronising and childishly presented I felt as though I were watching Neelix in Riddles again and ignited an instant hatred for this incensing species. That introductory scene can be watched and used a immediate evidence of where Voyager went wrong in later years. The way they bunch around the Doctor, hypnotised by his voice in sickbay reminds me off a group of Doctor Who fans at a stage room door when a Doctor Who actor has taken part in a local theatre production and just wants to get home after a long night but has to face a mob of autograph hungry fanatics. This is not a good thing. Watching them learning how to clap like simpletons was pretty agonising. Calling music ‘algorithmic expressions’ kind of exposes why this culture will never truly understand it and is an affront to the vast body of work that exists. Boiling down something as incredible as music to mathematics genuinely insults me. Was the bombardment of fan mail by the Qomar being interpreted as an attack on the ship by Seven supposed to be funny? We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here, folks. In Doctor Who’s Love & Monsters Russell T Davies offers a personalised love letter to the shows fans, portraying them in a witty and sympathetic light. The best Voyager can manage is scorn and ridicule in its portrayal of fans which is kind of ironic because that is what the average Joe with common sense will pour on this show. ‘I bet you can calculate pi to over a thousand digits’ is as close to a seduction technique as the Qomar come…its about as sexy as watching Neelix bathe in porridge. Kamala Lopez-Dawson has turned up in some great shows and has fronted some fine political work but her performance in this episode is more akin to watching somebody who has recently had a stroke trying to emote. Why she would chose to play her role this way baffles me because it guts the ‘romance’ angle of any emotion. The plotting of Virtuoso is such a joke – the Doctor decides that he is leaving, Janeway suggests that tastes move on, he has an emotional goodbye with Seven and sudden as he beams down to the planet he is realises he is not the flavour of the month anymore. He changes his mind, returns to Voyager with his tail tucked between his legs and his lesson learnt. What is this, Playschool? This episode is in exactly the same spot as Far Beyond the Stars over at DS9 – the gulf in quality is so enormous it makes me weep blood. Needless to say Tincoo’s composition is absolutely dreadful, as close to aural bilge as you are ever likely to hear.

Moment to Watch Out For: The last scene is an absolute triumph and the only thing that raises the score of this nightmare episode above zero. Why Seven wastes her time on the guy I have no idea but her fan letter is very touching.

Result: Don’t get me wrong, I love music. Its something that defines each individual and is an absorbing, emotive experience the first time you hear a new song whether you fall head over heels for it or never want to hear it again. But talking about music is like singing about architecture, somehow you lose all sense of the majestic, the personal experience, the joy of the string of thoughts and emotions it coaxes from you. Virtuoso struggles gamely to address the subject but doesn’t have the insight or the elegance to tackle it and so instead becomes a treatise on being ‘the latest thing’ in society which might be a worthy goal had the society in question not been the Qomar. What were the writers/director thinking? As irritating as pubic lice, as arrogant as Simon Cowell and as believable as the bible – they are without a doubt the most horrible (if one of the most distinctive for all the wrong reasons) species that Voyager has ever encountered. To tack a character as absorbing as the Doctor onto this rotten culture and suggest that he might leave Voyager to join them simply because they enjoy his singing left me rubbing my head to soothe the pain at the pointlessness of it all. Do we ever believe that Voyager is going to ditch its most popular character? Would he really have lost all of his critical faculties to shack up with this rotten bunch? If season six has been a cross section of really good and really bad this without a doubt falls into the latter, its reprehensible viewing and not worth assaulting your good sense to risk it. There is no wit, soul or intelligence in this episode which means it is definitely no kind of music: 2/10

Memorial written by Robin Burger and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: The crew start experiencing nightmarish visions about an atrocity committed on a nearby planet…

Hepburn-a-Like: Mulgrew shows her fellow performers how it is done when she gets to join in on the hysterics at around the 30 minute mark. She’s phenomenally good, a world class act compared to the four gents that have already tried to drive the moral of this story home by shouting a lot. There’s a gorgeous moment where she comforts a completely unknown ensign which is worth celebrating because it appears as though Janeway only focuses on the senior staff these days.

Tattoo: Chakotay is far more believable as a soldier than he is as a First Officer, this is a tantalising glimpse at what he could have been in this series had they stuck with his original character from Caretaker. He’s certainly prettier when he’s dirtied up a bit.

Brilliant B’Elanna: When Torres tries to get Tom to eat and sleep and he rejects her it is really nicely played  by Dawson. Its only Duncan McNeill opens his gob and starts screaming that he guts the scene of its dramatic strength. Sometimes it is far more effective to play it quietly and this scene demonstrates that ably.

Borg Babe: Seven bringing deserts to Neelix to cheer him up really made me smile. She might be learning from the kid but the sentiment is lovely. She says her guilt reminds her of the terrible things she did when she was a Borg. She doesn’t allow it to consume her but she keeps it there is a constant reminder.

Parisian Rogue: B’Elanna’s surprise for Tom is actually very sweet and for once it isn’t an interest of Paris’ that has been made up on the spot. We’ve been told often enough that he loves retro gadgets so to assemble a television for him and download 20th century programmes onto it is a lovely gesture and makes for a pleasingly anachronistic feature in his quarters. Paris obsessing over his new toy and completely ignoring B’Elanna is played for laughs here (unlike Alice which shockingly devoted a whole episode to the notion) and I love it when we cut to her asleep on the sofa and him still watching. For once they feel like a normal couple doing normal things. See it isn’t that hard!

Forever Ensign: Just what you want on a long trip in the Delta Flyer…Harry Kim whining on like some bored housewife about dirty plates being left in the sink!

Spotted Dick: I think this is the first truly serious role Neelix has had in the series since Mortal Coil (please don’t mention Riddles to me again…). I’m not certain Ethan Philips is entirely up to the task of portray real anxiety and shell shock but he has a good stab and any time Neelix wants to start waving a knife around when Naomi Wildman is about is good by me! When Neelix sits despondently and worries about how terrified Naomi must be of him now I was shocked at how good Philips was. All he has to do is turn it down a notch or two to go from irritating to natural. I’m really pleased that it was Neelix who defended the stance to keep the memorial transmitting by explaining that the obelisk alone doesn’t tell the story of what happened here.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Words alone cannot explain the suffering.’
‘Why should anyone have to experience an atrocity they didn’t commit?’ ‘Because that’s how you learn not to make the same mistake’ – go Neelix!

The Good: I have a small confession to make about this story and the reason that I have a greater affection for it than some others. When Simon and I first met 12 years ago he was only a wee nipper (he was 16 but I was 20 so imagine the kafuffle) and we clearly liked each other but needed a reason to meet up. Alas Memorial was that very reason! The one episode of season six I hadn’t seen! If it hadn’t been for this episode he wouldn’t have come over, we wouldn’t have gotten on so well (I’ll leave that your imagination), stayed together for over a decade, got married, bought a house, moved to the coast and be enjoying a great life together! So I owe it a lot.

Using Paris’ TV as a way of introducing the war themes is quite imaginative and the battle that plays out on the screen looks violent and dirty. The way Allan Kroeker cuts from Paris in his quarters to actually fighting the war is seamless (who would have thought a spotlight could be so effective?). Harry is genuinely sweaty and terrified after he crawls out of the Jeffries tube, its nice to see that sort of terror being pumped into everybody’s favourite chump. The action scenes are really well done with some fluidic camerawork and plenty going on to convince that there is a strong force attacking. For once the crew is coming together to piece together a worthwhile mystery and the scenes of them all chipping parts of the story starts to colour in the background of the war we keep seeing (although irritatingly it is the weakest actors bringing this material to life and Philips and Wang push far too hard to be remotely convincing). The soldiers turning on the colonists being relocated when they start running is deeply predictable but this is Voyager tackling material that is uncomfortably violent and immoral and that can only be applauded for this usually happy go luck show. How the character of the different soldiers affects the crew is cleverly worked out – Neelix tries to save Naomi because his soldier protected the children, Kim has a claustrophobic attack because his soldiers was trapped in the tunnels. I really liked the crew visiting the planet from their visions. For one thing it is lovely to get out into the fresh air (unless it is a mock Irish town called Fair Haven of course) and it really feels like the satisfying fruition of the mystery that is unfolding. The discovery of the obelisk is so forbiddingly shot there is a genuine sense of awe injected into the climax. Its something of a cruel thing to do to people but leaving the beacon as a reminder of the unnecessary blood that was spilt during this war strikes me as a very moral stance to take.

The Bad: When I first saw Tom and Chakotay in the shuttle I cringed…then Harry turned up moaning…and then Neelix popped out nowhere being all chirpy! This is the perfect opportunity to get rid of all of the really shit Voyager characters in one go! Surely there is a Bermuda Triangle anomaly around somewhere that can swallow them all up into the great unknown never to be seen again! It was just a thought… It might be truculent of me to mention that this episode has exactly the same message and plot as season three’s Remember (forcing people to experiencing terrible acts to expose the truth about an atrocity) but it is so effective in both cases we’ll let it slide this time.

Moment to Watch Out For: There isn’t a silly Voyager get out clause here, these events really happened and the discussion over whether to leave the memories transmitting or not really means something because the crew have been through hell to get here. I think they made the right decision to keep it on but to give a warning so people will no what to expect. Giving people the choice to experience this history is a very satisfying ending. They weren’t victims of a conspiracy, they were witnesses to a massacre and for once their presence in this Quadrant actually feels worthwhile.

Orchestra: There’s a dark, menacing beat that plays throughout the scenes of the crew being haunted by the war that is really effective and moody. 

Result: A special episode for me. Dramatic and exciting with a great message (that we should never forget…see I can hammer it home too), Memorial is nonetheless quite predictable and overplayed. But I will suffer some poor performances from the regulars to see the show tackling some genuinely dark themes. It might have been more hard hitting had these events played out for real rather than a replay of the memories of other people but I still think that the beacon transmitting its uncomfortable material is a fantastic idea to tell the outside world of the atrocities that were committed on this planet. Allan Kroeker is the perfect director to bring this moody material to life and he drenches the show in shadows and provides some forceful imagery that lingers in the mind long after you have finished. Had this played out on DS9 were the performances from the regulars would have been far superior this would have been practically flawless. As it is with the four weakest performers (Philips, Wang, McNeill and Beltran) providing some trite histrionics it is merely a good hour rather than an outstanding one but what really pleased me was the last handful of scenes which refuse to cheat the audience and allow for a very satisfying conclusion. In a season that is veering between 1/2s and 9/10s it is lovely to finally award a healthy: 8/10

Tsunkatse written by Robert Doherty and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: Seven of Nine learns the art of WWF and takes on The Rock! No I’m not blissed out on drugs!

Hepburn-a-Like: Why was Mulgrew written out of this episode? Was she taking a vacation herself? Did she want to disassociate herself with Tsunkatse?

Tattoo: I thought Chakotay was an aggressive boxing player in his spare time? For this episode to have made sense shouldn’t it have been about him or didn’t he look as hot in a leotard? The Tattooed Terror? Sheesh!

EMH: It looks like they are trying to make a commentary on the pointlessness of boxing from the Doctor’s point of view but the dialogue is so ham fisted and eviscerated they shouldn’t have bothered.

Brilliant B’Elanna: If not Chakotay then surely B’Elanna would have been the next best option given her uncontrollable anger that was explored in Juggernaut. Surely witnessing her inner turmoil not to fight would have been an extension of that. Once again though Jeri Ryan probably seemed a safer bet in a leotard.

Borg Babe: The Doctor thinks that shore leave is the perfect opportunity for Seven to develop her relationship with the crew but she would rather be stuck on a shuttle with Tuvok. Whilst (for me) that would usually be a fate worse than death in this one instance I find myself in agreement that this is the preferable option. Seven learns nothing from the this experience, it isn’t tied into her character in any way and it would never be mentioned ever again. As I thought…it was just a chance to squeeze Jeri Ryan in tight lycra and get her hot and sweaty. Even an actress of this calibre cannot fight against such blatant sexism and the result is a loss of dignity for the show and the character.

Spotted Dick: Neelix boils up a Leola root ointment after he fell asleep in the heat of twin suns. Oh how amusing. 

The Good: The twist that the fights are being transmitted from another location was the first time I felt anything but disdain for this episode. That at least earned an eyebrow raise.

The Bad: I suppose they thought we wouldn’t notice the abundance of make up jobs that in the crowd of previously seen Delta Quadrant aliens rather than simply making up some new ones for the sake of this episode. How the hell did the Voth and the Kadi get this far out considering Voyager has made massive leaps across space since they met them? Or come to think it of it that it is the same small group of aliens being superimposed over and over again as the camera swings around. Its quite hilarious the way J G Hertlzer walks out during the teaser with a resigned dignity…I realise that is the character he is portraying but ironically there does seem to be a touch of ‘this is what I have been reduced to since leaving DS9?’ to his gait. As well as its constant plundering of TNGs back catalogue of stories (wait until the season cliffhanger…) it is now also repeating its own stories too what with Memorial being a replay of Remember and now Tsunkatse obsessing over fighting for fun like last years The Fight. Seriously things must beyond interminable in the Delta Quadrant these days…first there was Tom Paris’ crappy conundrum toy that caught on like wild fire, games of guess Tuvok’s age on the Bridge, later the town of Fair Haven become the place to be on the ship and now everybody has caught the pro wrestling bug! Even Janeway is off on vacation. When the Alpha Quadrant used to be a fluffy playpen for Picard to have adventures in has become at this point in DS9’s mythology a dark, unfriendly, dangerous place where death haunts you in every nook and cranny. The Delta Quadrant in comparison is like a Federation vacation spot. I reckon they should find another Caretaker and catapult ships into this region of space whenever things have become too exciting in the Alpha Quadrant so a Captain and his/her crew can have a rest. If they were literally trying to expose how little Voyager has to offer in the way of substantial recurring characters hiring Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertlzer and fitting them up with shallow, underwritten characters is exactly the way to do it. Weyoun and Martok, these two aint. Throwing the combined acting talent of these two and Jeri Ryan into a script this unworthy of their talents has to be applauded. The giggly obsession with boxing spreads throughout the ship and the scene in the Mess Hall is truly painful to endure (seriously watching Harry Kim try and coax Chakotay and Paris into a fight is not entertaining characterisation). Seven’s last battle is against the very man who taught her how to play Tsunkatse…if you tried to sell this sort of plotting to anybody but Paramount you would be laughed out of the room. I was wondering how they would manage to squeeze in the obligatory Voyager space fight scene into this fluffy episode but don’t worry…they succeed! It baffles me to think that this was the highest rated episode of the season – either the US audience wanted to witness the moment when Voyager finally (irretrievably) jumped the shark (actually that was Alice & Fair Haven but this is another quality example) or they simply enjoy watching absolute trash. You decide.

Moment to Watch Out For: When The Rock enters the ring in alien make up and raises his eyebrow to the audience Voyager season six hits a new low (previous entries – B’Elanna expressing jealousy in Alice and Janeway personalising her dildo in Fair Haven – have just about been edged out). Come back next week to see if Voyager can manage to sink even lower (or jump the shark even higher!).

Teaser-tastic: They throw everything at you during the teaser so you know exactly what you are getting into. A rowdy crowd, coloured spotlights, synthy rock music and skimpy leotards. Voyager has gone WWE!

Result: Absolute drivel and yet inversely nowhere near as bad as I had been expecting. Any show that begins with the premise ‘Seven of Nine gets sweaty in the ring with The Rock’ was never going to be a classic Star Trek adventure and whilst it does prove that along with the other sub par adventures this season that Voyager has pretty much gone to the dogs there was at lest some energy and visual dynamism in evidence that made it empty popcorn viewing rather than something that is completely beyond redemption. After helming episodes as splendid as Rocks & Shoals, The Changing Face of Evil & Tacking into the Wind over at DS9 it breaks my heart to see a director with as much talent as Mike Vejar reduced to bringing nonsense like this to the screen and it is only really his taste for cinematic splendour that gives Tsunkatse any credibility. This is like the Time and the Rani of the Star Trek universe; a script that is so horrendous it practically transcends its ghastliness and becomes quite engaging because it is so moronic. Plus it does have Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertlzer in it. This was fun in as much as watching a mentally deficient sport like this can be (I hate WWE wrestling, what a tedious waste of theatrical talent!) and it does bang the final nail in the coffin as far as the Delta Quadrant is concerned. This faux wrestling setting is exactly the sort of insignificance that I have come to expect from this region of space and I think it is clear that there is nothing worthwhile to explore anymore: 4/10

Collective written by Michael Taylor and directed by Allison Liddi

What’s it about: It’s the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Borg 90210…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway is pretty wasted here but there is wonderfully sadistic scene where she is holding he Borg baby and orders the Doctor to start deploying the virus to wipe out all of the kids. She’s the heroine, right?

Borg Babe: They’ve kind of given up on the idea of Janeway being a maternal leader with Seven and B’Elanna and so that role has now fallen into Seven’s lap. Introducing the Borg twinkies forces her to confront her own childhood as a drone and to empathise with what they are going through. Now this could be worth exploring in later episodes. Seven’s revealing speech about maintaining a sense of order to keep her life on track and to help cope with the loss of her parents is passionately delivered by Ryan. Where would this show be without her?

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok describes the adolescent drones as thinking that they are superior…which is kind of how he acts most days. Does that mean he is nothing but an overgrown kid?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I can’t believe we’re negotiating with adolescent drones!’ – I’m right there with you B’Elanna…

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Return Harry Kim…then we’ll talk!’ – is she mad?

The Good: We’re getting the obligatory space battle over with early in this episode but there’s no denying the effects work is slick…there is a definitely Death Star attack vibe about the way the Delta Flyer slides along the hull of the Cube. For a moment I genuinely thought the foursome of non entities in the shuttle were going to be assimilated and it really excited me! There was a breath of a good idea in the scene where Tuvok suggests murdering the children and the Doctor objects…that should have been the premise for the entire episode. Since I complain so much about a lack of development on this show I suppose I should applaud the introduction of the Borg kids to the series as a permanent fixture. Its not the sort of development I would have hoped for but it does at least show Voyager attempting some kind of innovation in its dying days. Although I guess this means we’ll being seeing a lot more of the Wildman creature.

The Bad: For a second there I thought I had wondered back into Memorial since this episode also begins with Chakotay, Paris, Kim and Neelix in the Delta Flyer. Another TNG steal - the lads are playing poker and then a Borg cube appears in the window. Why don’t they just use the TNG theme tune? It’ll bring in more viewers that way! The Delta Flyer versus the Borg – that reminds me of Dark Frontier. Harry Kim missing in action on the cube – Scorpion. Come on…think up something original! B’Elanna suggests that the Borg negotiating is unusual behaviour but that is exactly what happened when they first met them in Scorpion. This might have worked had these children been genuinely ghoulish creations with frightening make up jobs that make it clear that the Borg have experimented horribly on these children. That would have really hit home. Instead they are all individuals with their own surly opinions, rivalries and angst. There’s the cute one, the bully, the nice one…it is literally Star Trek: The Borg 90210 and who wants to watch that? Manu Intiraymi gives his best performance in this episode and he really doesn’t make much of an impact here…from hereon in he as wooden as a vents dummy throughout the rest of his run. The Borg dolly that Seven pulls out of the maturation chamber is so hideously unconvincing it provoked belly laughs!

I want to talk a little bit about the Borg who began their life as the biggest badass villains that Trek had ever seen. They were a genuinely ghoulish creation with a visual hook that emphasised the idea of the walking dead and the emotional resonance that these were people who were turned into machines against their will. With their simple yet utterly distinctive ships, a creed that was terrifying and a catchphrase to die for they were the best thought through race of nasties I had seen in science fiction in an age (and as far as Trek is concerned only the various ranks of the Dominion come close to topping their early appearances). However this being Trek it wasn’t long before some numpty decided to humanise them and we meet a cute, fluffy Borg named Hugh who is disconnected from the Hive. Then in an obscene act of suicide for TNG they had a breakaway group of Borg all with their own distinct personalities working under the leadership of Lore. That’s right…everything that made this race distinctive was snatched away until they were just regular heavies of little consequence. Voyager decided (like so much of their best ideas) that since it worked on TNG they would have a stab at it too. They brought the race back to some of their past glories in Scorpion emphasising again on the horror but losing points for having them negotiate with Janeway rather than chase her ass halfway across the Quadrant until they catch and assimilate her. TNG tried to recapture past glories in the movie First Contact and partially succeed but it was a clear indication that with the introduction of the Borg Queen that they were past their prime if they require an innovation that completely goes against the idea of what these creatures are about. Voyager once again decides what is good for the goose is good for the gander and introduce the Queen into their show as a new nemesis for Janeway but hire Susannah Thompson (as sexy as hell in Rejoined) and force her to play the role with all the sex appeal and emotion of a dead halibut. I realise that this race is supposed to be frigid and emotionless but there is such a thing as dramatic licence to make things vaguely watchable. And now we are introduced to the latest band of Borg drones…that’s right it’s a bunch of kiddie wink automatons and new friends for Naomi Wildman to play with! This is absolutely the final nail in the coffin as far as the Borg are concerned…there is no way to recover from this level regression. Some bright spark in the Voyager office probably thought ‘how about a bunch of Borg kids attacking the ship?’ and Brannon Braga’s eyes lit up. Clearly this production team is way past their creative best now (for Braga it was around TNG season seven and yet Trek would have to endure five more years of him) and as for the Borg? Beyond redemption. So naturally there are two more two part spectaculars that feature them which take that nailed down coffin deep into the Earth and well and truly bury it. Congratulations Voyager, you’ve gutted the franchise of one of its greatest foes.

Moment to Watch Out For: Remember that scene in the Stargate SG1 episode 200 (one of my favourites of that series – ‘make it spin!’) where the producer touts the idea of replacing all of the adults in the series with kids and we see an excruciatingly funny sequence of hot kids playing the roles of Mitchell, Vala, etc…? I thought we had dropped into that universe during the climax when Icheb turns on the bully boy Borg and exclaims (as much as this actor can emote, anyway) ‘what you say? I thought we were a Collective!’ What has happened to the Trek universe? This is so abysmally childish I can only think that the monkey’s are tapping away at the keyboards again.

Result: Its hard to watch this episode without seeing anything but a total perversion of the Borg as a menace. When you keep thinking of ways that this could have been done better that is a very bad sign. To its credit Collective flaunts the usual Voyager staples of lush production values with some top notch special effects and a great performance by Jeri Ryan. It also has the usual Voyager deficiencies including a lack of common sense, intelligence and surprises. All you would need are establishing shots of the Borg Cube with hip pop music (the same way they establish schools in shows like Buffy) to add the finishing touches to this painful science fiction version of 90210, Borg style. Yeah I’ve repeated that gag three times…that’s because I can’t believe they tried to pull it off! I’ve been whinging on about a lack of progress on Voyager for about 100 episodes now and after so many fantastic opportunities that have slipped through their fingers (especially the Equinox one) this is the episode they decide to follow up on? The kiddywinks are moving onto Voyager and Naomi Wildman is going to have a new robotic army to play with. When I signed up for Voyager I never realised this is the sort of thing I would wind up championing simply because it is something that actually impacts the show. When Jeri Ryan is on screen Collective is decent enough (except that horrific Borg dolly she cradles) but otherwise it is barely watchable and as such it encapsulates Voyager in a nutshell at this stage of the game: 4/10

Spirit Folk written by Bryan Fuller and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Are Janeway and her crew spirit folk with fairy magicks?

Hepburn-a-Like: Things must be pretty quiet in the Delta Quadrant if Janeway is wasting her time explaining away her existence to her holographic sexual aid. Why doesn’t she just shut the damn programme down and get B’Elanna to tweak it? When her talking dildo turns up on the bridge to starts questioning his existence I had given up all hope for this series…this irredeemably bad. If this was DS9 I would be ashamed to watch it.

EMH: Perhaps Reverend Doctor has been sipping at the sacramental wine. I wish I had been. The Doctor can’t even pull one over on this town of idiots and so if I were Janeway I would have him restored to his factory settings along with the rest of them. Umm…they can’t close down the programme or delete the characters but the populace from Fair Haven can hypnotise the EMH? I might be accused of not joining in with the fun but I genuinely cannot see any in evidence. Somebody get me out of here.

Brilliant B’Elanna: It would appear that the only character with any common sense this year is B’Elanna. She has pretty much scoffed at every one of the crappy episodes (Alice, Fair Haven…) and now she is balking at the sheer stupidity at them running the holodeck around the clock to indulge the crew and allow them to exploit the joys (I use the term as loosely as it can stretch) of Fair Haven.

Parisian Rogue: Tom Paris gets to drive a vintage motor erratically through the streets of Fair Haven as though he is a (‘Poop! Poop!’) human version of Toad of Toad Hall. To take the parallel to its natural conclusion he pretends he is the heir to an aristocrat and has come into some money. The trouble with that Wind in the Willows analogy is that Toad had bucket loads of personality, charisma and charm and Tom Pairs…well doesn’t.

Forever Ensign: Now its Harry’s turn to pursue a romance in the holodeck. I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t some defect amongst this crew that means (Tom & B’Elanna aside) that they are completely incapable of finding real lovers and have to resort to these holodeck shags to get by.

Dreadful Dialogue: When Janeway discovers that Fair Haven has been corrupted she orders ‘shut it down!’ Hooray! Common sense at last! ‘…and repair the damaged systems!’ Noooooo!
‘I’ve got a boyfriend that malfunctions…’ – how is this less embarrassing than ‘I’m dating a member of the crew?’
‘The people of Fair Haven might not be real but our feelings towards them are!’ – I cannot believe they are even having this discussion.
‘Just because we’re from different worlds it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends…’ – oh vomit.

The Good: A few seconds of entertainment when Paris and Kim are covered in a net I thought they might both be killed. For a pair of three dimensional characters it would be unthinkable to die in a place as embarrassing as Fair Haven but for this pair it feels just quite appropriate.

The Bad: The next time you think of criticising His Way remember they managed to avoid all of this bollocks with one line – ‘I know what you’re thinking…he has pretty sweet lungs for a light bulb!’ As if the outrageous sexual politics of Fair Haven weren’t enough somebody on the Voyager writing staff suddenly realised that they hadn’t allowed the populace of this mock Irish village to indulge in that drabbest of Trek clichés – holographic sentience! Cue yawnsome scenes of Seamus (still one of the most godawful stereotypes) witnessing Tommy boy committing acts of unholy magic through unnatural means! This is going to be a long hour. When these dreadful Irish caricatures started talking about another Irish town where the potatoes stopped growing and the cows stopped giving milk when a group of spirit folk visited I could hear Ireland cutting off diplomatic relations with America. Fair Haven is a seaside town? Since when? Scene after scene of the ill characterised, underwritten and overplayed villagers of Fair Haven realising that they are being manipulated by the Voyager crew. Why are we wasting our time with nonsensical material like this when there is so much still to be said about Voyager getting home, the crew being reunited with their families and being made to account for their actions and the dramatic notion of returning with an alien (Neelix), a Borg (Seven) and ex Maquis members? I can enjoy episodes like Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Badda Bing Badda Bang in DS9’s last season because for one thing they are genuinely decent episodes but also because the show is devoted to its characters and its central arc and you know that both of them will be dealt with before the series end so they are genuinely pleasing diversions. Unfortunately Voyager has resorted to nothing but diversions in its last two years (pleasing or otherwise) with absolutely no exploration of any of these potentially gripping themes that are waiting unexploited at the core of the series. It makes these idiotic holodeck episodes seem even more vacuous and time wasting than usual. I love how Harry and Tom are so easily duped by Michael and as soon as they both look at the console he gives standard evil stare number six – how can they not feel him glaring them so? How can holodeck characters shoot actual equipment on Voyager…its real and they’re not! Who is thinking up this shit? Torres (the only person on board with a brain cell or two in this episode) suggests cutting the power to the hologrid and deleting the programme when Tom and Harry’s lives have been put in danger and Neelix object because the crew will lose Fair Haven forever. Are you fucking kidding me? Then Janeway says that she would like to find a less drastic solution. Are these supposed to be real people because I refuse to buy into such blatant stupidity. A quick morality lesson, a replay of the events of Who Watches the Watchers (a primitive being given a tour of the ship) and everybody is smiling and laughing and happy again. Oh go fuck yourself Fair Haven…and Spirit Folk too while you’re at it. What a complete waste of my time. Is this really the sort of thing Paramount would rather see Braga and company conjuring up? No wonder the Trek franchise was on borrowed time.

Moment to Watch Out For: Tom Paris follows Harry and turns his fake date into a huge moo cow and Kim shakes his fists at the heaven and screams ‘Tooooom!’ Once again Voyager hits a new low, topping sick’em Alice, dildo programming Janeway and Borg 90210. All we need to pervert the show even more than this is to have Kes return and try and destroy the ship because she thinks she is hard done by. Wait a couple of weeks, you say?

Orchestra: To be fair I did enjoy the Irish jingle that played when Tom pursued Harry and Maggie so that at least counts for 30 seconds of enjoyable material.

Result: We’re back in the unpicturesque town of Fair Haven! Let joy be uncontained! As if things weren’t exciting enough the first time! Two drunken Irish farmers try and convince the rest of the villagers that the crew of Voyager are spirit folk! That’s sure to be a rip-roaring adventure! We’re never going to see the populace of Fair Haven again (lets at least be thankful for that) so what was the point of this appalling excursion into racist cliché? Why would anybody even try and rewrite the plot of TNGs Ship in a Bottle when it was done so well the first time and so badly here? You might understand it if the Fair Haven  holodeck programme was genuinely something worth fighting for (whereas it is by far the least interesting, most patronising one they indulged in…although the beach programme gives it a run for its money) but the sheer idiocy of this crew for not just closing down the holodecks and getting on with something more interesting with new anomalies or space fungus that will make the crew grow two heads baffles me. To say this beyond a joke is a misnomer because it was never funny in the first pace…the thought that this show has wasted 90 minutes of its running time on something this indulgent and empty of meaning or entertainment makes me want to weep. More season six lunacy: 1/10

Ashes to Ashes written by Robert Doherty and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: A dead crewmember returns to Voyager…

Hepburn-a-Like: There’s a wonderful moment where after a briefing in which Janeway lavishes plaudits on Lyndsey she admits quietly to the Captain ‘I didn’t even think you noticed me.’ It forces Janeway to reconsider how she treats the lower ranks and invites Lyndsey to dinner.

Borg Babe: Whilst I get that she is a clear thinking, well ordered drone of a woman thanks to what the Borg did to her I don’t buy that Seven would be quite so hopeless when it comes to looking after the children. Surely her last memories before being assimilated are of being a child…and therefore she should understand just how much they want to behave recklessly and have some autonomy. It shouldn’t take Neelix (the epitome of fun on this ship!) to have to spell it out. Given that The Rock turned up to kick the crap out of Seven of Nine a few episodes back wouldn’t it have been hilarious had Jo Frost turned up and taught the naughty Borg offspring all about the naughty stair and adaptive learning behaviour! Instead Seven has to suffer a lecture on parenting from Chakotay (like he’s an expert…) which is much less fun and more eyelid tugging.

Parisian Rogue: At the risk of sounding like Victor Meldrew (I can think of worse role models!) ‘I don’t believe it!’ The episode was cruising along harmlessly enough and I was actually congratulating the writers (in my head of course) for avoiding the trap of having Tom Paris turn up and crack that hilarious gag about Harry falling for the wrong woman again. I should have known better than to dish out credit before an episode is over.

Forever Ensign: Wasn’t Harry involved with a holographic Irish slattern in the previous episode? Whilst it is nice to see that somebody on this ship can actually attract flesh and blood and doesn’t have to rely on photons and force fields to get their kicks it would appear that Harry has no trouble at all getting over his girlfriend Libby. I’m starting to wonder if I have wandered into the morality free zone of Torchwood. Besides, Lyndsey (enough as a giant lizard like alien) is a bit of a fox…why would she fall for a rectal probe like Harry? Besides which if Harry always harboured feelings for Lyndsey why then did he end up with Libby? Imagine being Harry Kim’s second choice? That would be a new low for any human being. This episode seems to end with Harry losing the love of his life and choosing to go on a date with a 12 year old girl. I’m past even blinking at such inanities on this show.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Fun will now commence’ – Seven has no idea how to be a parent but at least Jeri Ryan is having a good time with it.
‘Commander Tuvok finished the analysis of your shuttle and presented me with thirty seven different ways of repelling a Kobali attack’ ‘Did he include your pot roast?’ 

The Good: Immediate follow up to the events in Collective – hurrah! A near impossibility! Plus the line about the kid not being able to reach the communications panel made me chuckle. Lydnsey’s transformation from a Kobali to a human is painstakingly achieved by the make up department and their continued excellence on all of the Trek shows is something that should be recognised. The clay model of Seven’s head made me spit out my coffee…that was a very funny moment.

The Bad: Hardy the most substantial opening to an episode ever. An alien is pursued and shot at and she tries to make contact with Voyager. Why do we care exactly? We’ve been tricked to many times in the past with premise like ‘a dead crewmember turns up wearing a new face’ for this to be anything out of the ordinary. Its either going to turn out to be a massive con or real but reset at the end of the episode. Either way its not attention grabbing enough after twenty seasons of next generation Trek. Massive kudos for bringing somebody as charismatic as Kim Rhodes onto Voyager and a huge slap on the wrist for once again introducing a supposed crewmember who is far more likable and enjoyable to spend time with than two thirds of the regular cast. Chalk this up as another missed opportunity along with Ensign Jetal in Latent Image and William Chapman from Someone To Watch Over Me. Perhaps in the future Janeway should set up an area on the ship because it is clear that they way they dump their bodies in space (or on planets ) causes nothing but trouble ala Hogan being discovered in Distant Origin. It would also serve to remind Janeway not to be so dangerous in the future and to perhaps drive around any fascinating anomalies with unusual properties that might kill off another member of her crew. Hasn’t Voyager leapt forward in space about 20 plus thousand light years in the past three years? Does that mean Lyndsey has encountered all of the same catapulting techniques as Voyager? Is anybody even keeping track of the internal logic of this show anymore? I have to admit I did laugh when Icheb threw the counters over the floor and stormed from the room (he literally minces…go and watch it again!). When I made a joke about watching Supernanny instead of One Small Step (well no it wasn’t a joke, I genuinely did turn off Voyager of to spend an hour with Jo Frost…) I didn’t mean that I wanted our very own Star Trek version! After a while I got the impression that Rhodes was a little too relaxed in the role – the scene where Lyndsey finds out she will get her old face back is a massive moment but she just kind of shrugs and says ‘let’s do it!’ I guessed we were going to have a dream sequence at some point in this episode to show us through metaphorical imagery and dialogue precisely what Lyndsey is going through. I think if you stuck all the Voyager dream sequences back to back on a DVD you would have enough there to fill at least two episodes worth of material. As soon as Lyndsey gets into bed with Harry you can be sure that as much night follows day that this whole fantasy relationship is going to be snatched away from him somehow and low and behold in the next scene… At least we don’t have to put up with the obligatory Voyager space fight…oh no wait we do. Trek has never felt so formulaic as it has in Voyager season six.

Moment to Watch Out For: Is it my imagination or are the Janeway dinner scenes the highlight of her time on this show? Her infrequent meals with Chakotay express an affection that is completely absent on the bridge and for some reason this setting brings out the realism in Kate Mulgrew’s performance where barking at enemies or reeling off technobabble fails. Lyndsey and Janeway have an awkward, funny and honest meal together and it is by far the best scene of the episode.

Result: Am I the only person who would have liked to have seen Lyndsey hang around beyond this episode and have a two way limelight struggle with Seven until the end of the series? Ashes to Ashes is the epitome of average Star Trek with some dreadful continuity and a couple of shameful scenes that push it a little below that. The whole piece is like a mix and match steal of plot elements from previous episodes and despite Lyndsey being a fairly engaging character she is tethered to the ships mummy’s boy which renders most of their moments flat. The subplot with the Borg children has a few moments of humour but its still an acre away from being what I would call worthwhile material and Seven proves to be astonishingly naïve considering her past. The best thing I can say about Ashes to Ashes is that it is a triumph for the make up team who manage to regress Lyndsey in subtle but remarkable stages. This is nicely filmed, pleasantly performed and utterly pointless episode for the most part. Its like the grout between my bathroom tiles – without it the flooring would have gaps but its only there to join up the much prettier tiles. It’s the fourth below average to poor episode in a row which to be fair is about the point where every season of Voyager has a dry patch but it hurts all the more because this series was flying the flag solo for the franchise at this point and the season opened with such promise: 4/10

Child’s Play written by Raf Green and directed Mike Vejar

What’s it about: Icheb is going home…

Hepburn-a-Like: If anyone’s behaviour needed to be questioned here it is Janeway’s who accepts everything at face value (when she must know that by now nothing is ever as it seems), throws out Seven’s objections and then questions that these people have been through enough when the ex Borg starts finding inconsistencies in Icheb’s parents story of how he went missing. This really isn’t a great year for Janeway’s decision making skills, is it? Each successive episode seems to prove that she is either wrong or horribly misjudged.

EMH: Icheb makes an intriguing parallel with himself and the Doctor in that he never had any parents and yet he still managed to forge a role for himself on the ship and relationships with the crew. Interestingly the Doctor would go on to meet his ‘dad’ before the end of the season.

Borg Babe: A strong Seven show and one which allows her to behave like a proud parent from the outset as she shows off the Borg children’s science projects. Even though she can bring herself to say that finding Icheb’s parents is good news there is no sincerity in her words and she’s clearly heartbroken at the thought of losing the boy. Jeri Ryan is so good at selling the emotion of these big moments and the scene where she cannot bring herself to tell Icheb that his parents are on the way through restrained silence is extraordinary. Seven finds a very easy way to explain why Icheb must give his parents a chance because she didn’t get to see hers again after they were assimilated and it is something she has always regretted. The look on Seven’s face when Icheb’s parents say that they are perfectly capable of looking after their son says it all…I’m surprised she didn’t explain to them the evidence to the contrary because I know I would. Her anger boils down to her own parents recklessness in bringing their child within proximity of the Borg and she cannot understand the foolishness of clinging onto a planet that is so ripe for attack by the Collective. Its directly linked to her backstory which makes this material very satisfying and revealing. Seven experiences the sort of pain any foster mother must feel when their child is returned to their parents and displays a rare amount of hurt. When Icheb beams away you can feel Seven’s pain and if she wonders for once if perhaps her life as a Borg might have been a better option if only to avoid heartache like this.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m not prepared to return Icheb to parents who might be as careless as my own.’

The Good: Okay I’m not very good at admitting when I’m wrong but bringing the Borg children on board Voyager seems to have been a good move after all. It has allowed for a genuinely amusing thread of humour (‘Why a potato?’ ‘They’re first idea was to clone Naomi…’) but also some decent character drama as exemplified by this episode. An actor who has shown up in Voyager and Doctor Who? And The X-Files, Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica. Mark Sheppard is one of those fine character actors that keeps getting work because he is so good but to make such an impact on so many cult shows (I can remember each of his roles in these shows vividly) is the work of a very talented thespian. Tracey Ellis is also a great catch as his mother having played two exceptional roles in The X-Files (Oubliette & Audrey Pauley). Between them they give this episode a great deal of gravitas. When they visit Voyager it doesn’t just feel like another alien of the week turning up to show off a make up job but real people joining the show to discuss a strong issue. For once the co-incidence of a lifetime (that weeks after Icheb joined the ship Voyager stumbles across the planet of his origin) isn’t a stretch of the imagination because whose to say that the Borg didn’t assimilate him and then work their way backwards (at least with regards to Voyagers journey home). Massive credit to the director for managing to bring Icheb’s world (lets call it that, shall we?) with such cinematic production values (a signature of Vejar’s). A matte painting and location work hasn’t been this well matched up since DS9’s The Quickening. This episode deals with a subject that I have long found fascinating because of my own upbringing (with a loving mother and a dreadful father) as to whether people are actually suitable to be parents and whether they should have those rights taken from them for the sake of the child. Seven objects to the safety of Icheb and Janeway blunders in with a black and white statement that they are his parents and that is enough. I’m pleased that she is proven to be incorrect in her assuredness of this statement because things are never as simple as that. I really enjoyed the scenes on the rooftop because they expressed a genuine warmth and affection from Icheb’s parents to their son and started to suggest that there would be a happy ending for this character. Its this slow, well acted build up that makes the twist so effective and by far the best surprise of the entire season. The token action scene at the end of the story is one of the best – Vejar directs with an urgent touch and the effects and David Bell’s insistent score are both excellent.

The Bad: I honestly cannot believe that Janeway’s short sightedness and bad judgement was not commented on at the end of the story. That woman gets away with murder.

Moment to Watch Out For: Icheb’s parents turning out to be horribly misguided and having used him as a weapon really hits the spot and Mike Vejar captures the moment with some dramatic lighting and handheld camerawork so the shock is as disorienting for the audience as it is for Icheb. Think of how desperate these people must be to sacrifice their own child to the Borg. Its such a menacing concept I have to applaud Voyager for choosing to explore it. 

Result: A strong dramatic episode with a killer twist, this is what I want from Voyager every week. Its unsurprising considering this is primarily a Seven of Nine episode but what really surprised was all the material surrounding Icheb which turned out to be extremely enjoyable despite his troubled beginnings on the show. Its beautifully filmed by Mike Vejar who manages to capture the sentiment inherent in the script without it feeling forced and realises the alien world better than anything we have seen for years (it genuinely feels like an agricultural community). Questions of inadequate parenting are always going to provoke debate and the furious conversation between Seven and Janeway regarding the suitability of Icheb’s mother and father is the best scene between them so far this year. Its Voyager tackling a contemporary issue in an imaginative way which is what ship bound Trek does best. The revelation that his parents sent him deliberately into the path of a Borg ship as a weapon springs from nowhere and suddenly makes you question all of the material you have seen thus far. It’s a great moment and leads to a typically action packed conclusion that for once means something because there is an emotional stake in Icheb’s safety. Superbly written, directed and acted; like Thirty Days last year Child’s Play should be held up as an example of how good a Voyager standalone episode can be: 9/10

Good Sheppard written by Dianna Gitto and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Janeway takes a trio of errant crewmembers under her belt…

Hepburn-a-Like: Janeway heads off with four wayward crewmembers who are proving to be less than efficient workers to trying and straighten them out? Excuse me? After the ill decisions and grudges (Equinox, Child’s Play), lack of good taste (Fair Haven, Spirit Folk) or simple lunacy (Riddles) it is Janeway who should be taken out to pasture here. Frankly I wouldn’t have objected had these crewmembers simply expressed that they found her command style to be tasteless. ‘Three people have slipped through the cracks on my ship…’ – erm four actually. And adding yourself to the shuttle mission means that you are the fourth, Kathryn. Kate Mulgrew seems to be enjoying this opportunity in the limelight but it concentrates on the weakest elements of her performance, that of a Starfleet Captain. It strikes me that when she manages to get out of the uniform or fight against the restraints of the job Janeway (and Mulgrew in particular) shines (Sacred Ground, Future’s End, The Gift, Counterpoint, Bride of Chaotica, 11:59) but when she is playing a Starfleet jobsworth she is too constrained to allow the performance to breathe.  It’s a little too late for Janeway to reach out to these members of her crew six years after she stranded them in the Delta Quadrant. Surely they must feel completely abandoned at this point and a simple away mission isn’t going to change all that?

Tattoo: Look at how bored Beltran sounds in the first scene spinning out the same sort of nonsense as usual. This is a man who has just come back from a Trek convention and has slagged off the show for not giving him anything to do in an age. And who can blame him? He might not be the worlds greatest actor but this is exactly the kind of repetitive monotony that can drive the weakest of performers to speak out.

Borg Babe: Seven’s efficiency analysis seems to be based on how she thinks the ship should run rather than an actual critical overview of shipboard operations. Clearly she hasn’t done that good of a job because her first item on the menu isn’t to have the Captain confined to a padded cell. Especially since Seven is her biggest critic usually. At least she includes her own department in her critical slaughter.

Spotted Dick: When Neelix sat down with Tom & B’Elanna and looked around himself without saying anything it could almost be a comment on how little Ethan Philips has had to do this year.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Which is why I don’t like space exploration. Stumbling from star to star like a drunken insect careening towards a light source is not my idea of a dignified existence.’

The Good: The opening effects shot is one of those dizzyingly expensive moments that only Trek can afford to pull off as we approach the ship and see all the activity on the ship through the windows. You can pretty much sum up these three characters as ‘the arrogant one’, ‘the ditzy one’ and ‘the hypochondriac.’ When that is the case not a great deal of effort has gone into characterising them and yet oddly they are still more fun to be around than Harry, Chakotay and Paris who have had hours and hours of screen time devoted to them.

The Bad: Remember Ensign Sonya Gomez from Q Who? That is an object lesson in how to introduce a secondary character and make it extremely memorable. She was quirky, ditzy and accident prone but most of all she was really likable. I remember saying at the time I wish she had been kept on. There’s no such insight in the introduction of the four wayward Voyager crewmembers here. The pre titles sequence is a long, tedious tour of the ship as we watch one of them pass a padd to another as they head around Voyager in their daily tasks. The problem here being that there is more focus on the padd (ie aren’t we clever for doing this extended sequence?) rather than giving any of these characters any kind of personality to attract them to the viewer. Who are these non entities that we have never heard about before and why are we bothering with them now? Remember those four Maquis members from Learning Curve? What the hell happened to them? Remember genuinely interesting crewmembers such as Seska, Suder, Hogan and Carey…what the hell did the writers decide to do with those potentially awesome characters? Dead, dead, dead and missing in action. What about Ensign Wildman? How comes she’s never seen these days but her kid turns up in every episode? Don’t bother wasting my time trying to introduce me to new members of this crew because you have had too many chances to get it right in the past with the characters you do have and failed. If any of these people are seen again it will be nothing more than a fleeting cameo rather than anything significant and don’t pretend otherwise. Mortimer is such a rude character he would have been perfect to have pointed out Janeway’s reckless behaviour this year but their dialogue instead seems to focus on his technobabble research. Yawn. There is little difference between these three and the four that went on the mission to Empok Nor with O’Brien in the episode with the same name but at least in the ‘Garak goes psycho’ episode the writer didn’t bother to pretend that they were canon fodder for a one episode stint. Repeating back Janeway’s distress message, activating Billy’s motor neurons and a giant CGI worm…these are incredibly tedious scare tactics. What a deeply unsatisfying ending with none of the mystery adequately explained and none of the characters given a decent resolution. What was the point of all this?

Anomaly of the Week: Long range sensors have discovered a number of tantalising anomalies, apparently. Yep, we’re actually lusting after them now! 

Result: A massively inferior rewrite of TNG’s Lower Decks and yet superior (just) version of VOY’s previous Learning Curve, Good Sheppard is striving to say something different about Trek (and Janeway in particular) but lacks the necessary guts to really drive its point home. Compare and contrast this episode with DS9’s The Sound of her Voice which are both character dramas set in confined spaces directed by Winrich Kolbe. One is a tightly focussed character piece brought to life by an experienced cast talking about some serious and devastating psychological consequences of war. And one is an aimless fluffy introduction of some interesting if plain characters with little point since we will never see any of them again in any significant detail to develop their characters. Its ship bound nature gives this episode a sense of claustrophobia and a lack of pace that makes it pretty hard going for the most part and the lack of a decent ending means that we don’t get to make any conclusions about these characters beyond ‘they can cope in a crisis.’ Big whoop, so can most people. Even as an analysis of Janeway as Captain it fails miserably because it doesn’t take the necessary critical stance of her command judgements this year that would have made it really uncomfortable (and enjoyable!) to watch. I would congratulate the show for doing something a bit different but since this has already been tried twice and the first example really wasn’t going to be bettered I fail to understand the point of it. Had these characters gone on to have had a vital role in season seven I would have eaten my words. As it is this is just schedule filler promising more than it delivers: 3/10

Live Fast & Prosper written by Robin Burger and directed by Levar Burton

What’s it about: Captain Janeway the con artist?

Hepburn-a-Like: When the two Janeway’s meet why isn’t there any tension between them? Its like watching two cows discussing which patch of grass to chew next. I expected a little more wit than ‘Nice hair…’ When Janeway started her sermon about being an honest person I went off to make a cup of tea without pausing. I figured I wasn’t missing anything.

Parisian Rogue: Paris and Kim are re-programming Tuvok’s holodeck programmes again and passing them off as malfunctions. What a chucklesome pair! Not. Paris and Neelix are shocked that they have been had by Dala and her team and wonder what has happened to them to be so easily duped. Paris was once a traitorous rogue and Neelix a shrewd businessman…and the episode seems to go out of its way to point out how they have lost their touch and becomes such chumps. Yes that’s right, it’s a Mary Sue moment where the writers are actually admitting they have fudged these characters right up and revealed how the Federation turns you into lazy, boring ciphers (unless you are a regular on a show called DS9). Well at least they admit it. ‘Maybe we’ve lost our edge’ – oh mate, that was lost as soon as Caretaker was over.

Spotted Dick: ‘I changed when Captain Janeway made me part of her crew’ – How could they possibly suggest that it was for the better?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Gentleman I believe you’ve been had…’

The Good: The premises are often so convoluted on this show that the simplest one (as it turned out to be) didn’t even register until it was spelt out. To be fair to them the premise is definitely the best thing about this episode, a genuinely quirky and fun way to start an episode of Star Trek. Neelix being shot after his tedious speech about honesty did raise a smile.

The Bad: Have you ever watched an episode of the BBC series Hustle? It’s a show about a group of con men (and women) who pull off all kinds of dodgy deals, fake performances and sleight of hand tricks to fleece rich wankers. The reason it works so well is the show is slickly realised (there is always plenty of slow motion, sped up shots, high and low angles, establishing ariel shots of London, characters talking directly to the audience but addressing the camera whilst the scene pauses as they explain away their con, split screen, etc) and the performances are full of such energy and humour that the hour passes by so quickly. Live Fast and Prosper in comparison is such a castrated, dreary, paceless hour with no visual style, a snails pace and little enjoyment being expressed in its performances. It is the antithesis of Hustle and feels like it is something of a chore to make. Star Trek has never exactly been known for its screwball comedy but the franchise can pull off shows like Trials & Tribble-ations, Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Badda Bing Badda Bang (this mobster infested episode has exactly the sort of flair and allure Live Fast & Prosper desperately needs) & Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy with a great of warmth and vigour so why is this so plod plod plod to experience?  They should have gone to town with the fake Janeway and Tuvok and made them such grotesque parodies of the real thing (something like the Janeway and Tuvok seen in Living Witness would have been great) but instead Kaitlin Hopkins and Greg Daniel play their parts with barely any difference from the real thing which rather spoils the whole point of doing this kind of episode. There’s a moment that seems to want to take the piss out of the overdone expression of family on Voyager when Dala is talking about how the crew all come one another’s aid in times of hardship but it needs to be played with much more emphasis and archness (we need a massive eyebrow raised at the audience here) to be funny. What transpires is that she sounds as though she genuinely admires Janeway and her crew for that which is even more groan worthy than the usual sort of love-in. They seem to want to pair the ‘oh so hilarious’ a plot with a similarly amusing b plot on the real Voyager but instead seem to want to flaunt a re-run for the ‘get the cheese to sickbay’ subplot from season one’s Learning Curve. Why they would want to remind us of this baffled me but Neelix’s latest acquisition has poisoned the ships systems and the food supply. Are the writers so desperate the have to start plundering their own worst moments? When Neelix starts talking about how he obtained the equipment the flashbacks should be rapidly edited, full of quirky camera angles and smart dialogue. Instead we get a plod by plod account of how they got access to Voyager’s systems to set up their con. The ‘if I win you take these shifts’ deal might have been funny the first time (Someone to Watch Over Me) or the second (Tsunkatse) but now its getting a little bit tiresome. Doing each others duty shifts seems to be about the worst thing these characters can experience these days. Who are these people when they aren’t pretending to be Janeway and Tuvok? Why should we give a damn about them since they don’t seem to have any history, charm or personality?

Moment to Watch Out For: What I found really funny about the opening scene was all the insane theories that went through my head after the imposter Janeway revealed her identity. Rather than figure this was a mere con job (because Voyager simply isn’t fun like that) I went through body swaps, clones and simply that Janeway had sent another officer in her place for some reason! So basically the first scene is the best one. Go figure. 

Result: This is the sort of show that Doctor Who would go to town with (in fact they did, go listen to the Big Finish story The One Doctor to see how this sort of thing can be done really well) but Voyager is too reserved a show to really let this one go to town with the crazy idea of con artists posing as the Voyager crew. What really harms the episode is Levar Burton’s painfully slow and unimaginative direction. By this point he really needs to move on from Trek because all that he displays here is a basic point and shoot competence with none of visual flamboyance that could have made this a joy. Its strange because this show is willing to commit wholeheartedly to something as abysmal as Fair Haven and yet when it comes to an idea that has real potential they shy away from the possibilities. I wanted to see a grotesque parody of Janeway (geez they could have just used the version from Equinox Part II), a hilarious inept and emotional Tuvok and lots of fun dialogue that exaggerate the feats of the Federation. Instead these con artists actually come to admire this Donald Duck crew of misfits as Neelix teaches them to be better people. Yawn. Watching Live Fast and Prosper is like having really unsatisfying sex…the mechanics are adequate but there is no lust, no energy, no flair and no pleasure. The plotting is so drab you can guess every twist a mile off, even when it is trying to be clever. Functional at best, tedious at its worst – this is about as good as the average episode of Voyager gets during the home stretch.: 3/10

Muse written by Joe Menosky and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: B’Elanna is trapped on a planet and forced to sell inspiration for technology…

Brilliant B’Elanna: B’Elanna is by far the standout character for season six of Voyager. Its reached a point now where the constant deluge of Seven of Nine episodes has started to get a bit obvious (no matter how strong Jeri Ryan is) and so the chance to get close to the sexy and sassy Torres again has been a real treat. She had a brilliant character examination in Barge of the Dead, her relationship with Tom hit some high notes in episodes such as Memorial (less so in episodes such as Alice) and she has been the only person to talk any kind of sense in shows such as Spirit Folk (‘erm Captain I know you’re dildo is facing death here but it isn’t real and Tom and Harry are!’ or some other such punch the air line). After a year of Dawson being pregnant and shoved to the sidelines and then a year where they completely regressed her character to its season one factory settings this is the best opportunity and material for Roxan Dawson to show off just how good she is. Torres initially thinks that they have been trying to kill her until the truth dawns. The have been blood letting her to try and maker her better. ‘I can see I’m in good hands!’ indeed. The way that elemental ‘B’Elanna’ pretends that she created a storm because she wanted Kelis’ help really made me chuckle and how she barters ideas for dilithium is ingenious. Kelis is appalled at how Torres is being played like a shy bride on her wedding night, especially since he has regular contact with the real thing. B’Elanna turns out to be quite the actress, taking her part in the play and using it as a chance to inspire Kelis one last time before saying goodbye.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have to sing for my supper?’ ‘We all do in one way or another’ – very profound in many ways.
‘I believe the right kind of lay can turn the mind from violent thoughts’ – that’s a fascinating discussion because it taps into the whole ‘life imitates art’ argument that has been doing the rounds for an eternity.

Self Reflective Dialogue: In a very post-modern move there seems to be plenty of dialogue focussing on Voyager itself as a dramatic piece of work…
‘The story will continue in one week!’
‘Fortunately for me no poet has ever sung about your clan’ – ie no writer has written about the exploits of Voyager. That’s pretty funny when you realise that the majority of the Voyager writing staff over the years have come from TNG and most definitely written for a ‘similar clan.’
‘Voyager…a great ship?’ ‘In a long line of great ships.’
‘This Tuvok…he’s not like anyone I have ever met! No emotions? How is that possible?’ – Kelis has trouble bringing Tuvok to life because his lack of emotions makes him so boring. A problem faced regularly by the writers on Voyager. ‘The land of Vulcan has no laughter and it has no tears. It is a very quiet place!’
‘They search for B’Elanna Torres. B’Elanna Torres is found. The end. That’s pretty straight forward to me’ ‘That’s exact the problem. Where’s the mistaken identity? The discovery? The sudden reversal?’ This made me laugh until my sides hurt. Joe Menosky is literally commenting on how the endings on this show suck because they are either too easy or utterly unrealistic. Torres talks touts some unsatisfying endings to the play because that’s how stories on Voyager usually end…which works in real life but not in drama. Very clever stuff. ‘Poets have become lazy. They rely on manipulation to move their audience. It wasn’t always that way’ Indeed not, Brannon Braga!
In the play Janeway and Chakotay get it together! Now how much more satisfying is that than the Fair Haven bollocks? Naturally B’Elanna is appalled by this plot twist!
B’Elanna suggests that the last thing on your mind in a desperate situation is romance and yet DS9 managed to weave in the Dax & Worf (the seven episode Dominion takeover arc) and the Odo & Kira (the ten episode Final Chapter arc) love stories into some of their most impressive arcs which added a great deal of substance and emotion to them.

The Good: The opening scene is one of the most intriguing of the year as a scene on Voyager is played out on a theatrical stage (astonishing how poetic their adventures seem when portrayed this way) in a gorgeously realised society. The Bronze Age sets, costumes and lighting are all muted and lavish and this immediately looks like a culture that is worth exploring. It would appear that the adventures of Voyager go down extremely well on this planet, far better received than in reality! How atmospheric does the shuttlecraft look decked out in candles as it is? Something as simple as tilting the camera in the shuttle scenes gives those such a distinctive look. Kelis is basically William Shakespeare in such for inspiration and has all the charm and intelligence you would expect from such a character. The way he talks in metaphor allows the writer to show off and craft some very creative dialogue. Playing in the background of this episode is the much larger story of a warfront approaching the settlement and what I love about this is that in usual circumstances this would be the focus because it has more opportunity for shallow action and sweeping philosophy. Instead Muse chooses to take the quieter, more subtle route of following the work of theatrical players and allows for their smaller story segue into the larger one as the episode continues. Its not often I can applaud Voyager for taking a less cinematic, more literate angle so this is something very special indeed. Trying to inject a message into the play allows Menosky to flaunt some potential future storylines for the show (especially concerning the Janeway/Borg Queen developments). Because the play has been constructed to have such a dramatic impact on the conflict blighting the land the lead up to its unveiling is genuinely tense. I’m not usually a fan of Voyagers ‘aren’t we hilarious?’ moments but this episodes strengths must have worn me down because Tuvok snoring on the Bridge really made me chuckle. The discovery, the sudden reversal and the mistaken identity are all covered when B’Elanna turns up and takes her part in the play to let the poet know she will be leaving soon. Clever, clever.

Moment to Watch Out For: Odd how watching Voyager’s day to day events on stage is much more exciting than reality…especially when Seven of Nine is revealed to be the Queen of the Borg! Imagine if that twist had been knocked out at the end of the season?

Fashion Statement: I wont beat around the bush but with his soft looks and gentle portrayal of an artistic man in search of a Muse Joseph Will’s Kelis is absolutely gorgeous. 

Result: After Barge of the Dead this is another fantastic B’Elanna Torres episode and something very different from anything that has gone before in Voyager and Trek itself (a rare claim for this show). Joe Menosky proved to be a really bad fit for DS9 (Rivals, Distant Voices) but has really flourished on Voyager (Latent Image, Blink of an Eye) and especially so when he flings Brannon Braga from his apron strings. Again its an episode that tosses aside the majority of the Voyager crew that turns out to be the most successful (ala Pathfinder, Blink of an Eye and Child’s Play this year) and as another chance to examine a character as fascinating as B’Elanna Torres it is essential viewing. I love the Bronze Age setting and the theatrical angle that is explored and Vejar has wisely cast a gorgeous and charming lead to play the Shakespeare substitute. The dialogue is a massive step up from what we are used to on this show (compare and contrast with the banality of Live Fast & Prosper) and allows for some self reflective commentary on the show. Bound together by Mike Vejar’s sumptuous direction and an astonishing turn by Roxan Dawson and you have another season six standout standalone. Whilst it might have a shocking number of lows there has definitely been an increase in the highs too and they have been better than ever: 9/10

Fury written by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor and directed by John Bruno

What’s it about: Kes is back and she’s angry…

Hepburn-a-Like: It is odd that Janeway mentions that she considers Tuvok to be one of her closest friends when they have barely shared two words in the last three seasons. Compare and contrast with Sisko and Dax in DS9 where their close friendship is used to fuel dramatic storylines (Rejoined, For the Uniform, You Are Cordially Invited) and bask in how this sort of thing is done properly. Hilariously Janeway the Younger sends two security officers off to be killed by Vidiians like lambs to the slaughter whilst she runs away. What a woman!

Spotted Dick: Oh bless Neelix is at his most loving in this episode (naturally because Kes is such an evil bitch there would have to be a moments pause for her during her sinister schemes) and it reminded me of how stomach churning he could be in the early seasons. If my other half flustered, flattered and fawned over me like this it would drive me insane. Somehow he even sounds like a paedophile when he leaves her a message about dinner in her quarters…which is handy because that’s exactly what he was!

 Elfin Alien: Kes returning should be a chance for a celebration of her character but instead she is twisted horrifically out of character and to make matters worse Jennifer Lien looks utterly bored by the entire enterprise. Kes and Seven of Nine meeting should be an exciting moment considering one was the others replacement but it is handled in such a perfunctory way its not even worth commenting on. Umm…Kes’ (much needed because she is acting so badly out of character) explanation is that she thinks Janeway is responsible for her leaving Ocampa (no) and that she is a prisoner on Voyager (no), that she has been corrupted by Janeway’s ideas (no) and that she was responsible for her leaving the ship (no) and that Janeway encouraged her to explore her mental abilities (no). How does any of that make any sense. This episode’s storyline was written by Brannon Braga for Christ’s sake who has been around since the year dot as far as Voyager is concerned? Does he have no recollection of the early years? And more to the point does he think that none of us have any recollections about it either? This isn’t even worthy of being called characterisation – its just a preposterously vague and idiotic group of words strung together that mean absolutely nothing to explain a plot which is just a bunch of events thrown together that means nothing.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘That could tear the hull apart!’ ‘The tear it apart!’ – hilarious overacting by Garret Wang and Robert Beltran!

The Good: Kes walking down the corridor with the bulkheads exploding behind her. That’s about as good as it gets.

The Bad: If Kes hates the crew that much for abandoning her (more on that later) why doesn’t she just kill the ones that get in her path rather than throw them out of the way with a flash of light? Mind you when Torres is killed you know immediately that the reset is going to be thrown because Voyager doesn’t take those kinds of risks. How precisely did Kes catch up with Voyager? Did she keep leaping through space until she found the right area they were in? They can’t even get the basics right…for example Kes looks absolutely nothing like she did back in the day. Jennifer Lien needs to lose about three stone in order to pull that one off. I thought Kes had extrasensory powers so why can’t she sense a second version of herself is prowling around the ship? Exposing the complete lack of development on Voyager the old version is no different to the current one aside from the odd haircut. The characters, the ship…everything is exactly the same. Chakotay, Paris and Neelix in particular are no different than the trio that turned up in the last episode. Why does Kes head back to a time when she was a member of this crew to punish them? Ensign Wildman shows up in Fury but hasn’t been seen for nearly two seasons of the shows current timeline…why? How the hell does Tuvok know about the Delta Flyer? Is he a psychic? Did he pick the knowledge from Kes? Then how does she know about it since she left before it was designed? Why bring back Carey for this episode when he has been seen for several decades? Why did Kes choose to deliver Voyager into the hands of the Vidiians when she could have just turned up at the point she left the ship and said ‘don’t go.’ Why hatch such a ridiculously convoluted plan for something that could have been so simple. If Tuvok has premonitions of the future why are these developments such a shock when they turn up? Why is the evil Kes/Janeway confrontation with the earlier version of the character when she doesn’t even know that Kes has left the ship? If you are going to go down this ridiculous path of retribution then it should at least be our Janeway who gets the explanation and not somebody who hasn’t a fricking clue what this psycho Ocampan is going on about. Why didn’t Janeway set some kind of alarm clock for when her meeting with Kes would take place? Why didn’t Janeway realise that Kes was about to tear the ship apart at the beginning of the episode when those events happened in the past? If Kes from the past knew all of this was to come (since she left herself a recorded message) why the hell did she leave Voyager in The Gift in the first place when she could have stopped this all from happening? More to the point when she does decide to leave in The Gift why weren’t the events of this episode mentioned? If Kes made that holo-recording why didn’t the evil Kes remember doing it? Why was Kes written out when she had a clear seven year story to tell?

Moment to Watch Out For: The ending where Kes sees the holo-recording of her younger self and suddenly remembers making it and how Janeway wanted her to remember who she was is so lacking in logic I’m not even going to try and discuss it. Embarrassing drivel.

Result: The complete antithesis of Muse; Fury is shallow, dull, stupid and utterly pointless. What a way to bring Kes back! All this fucking time travel paradox bollocking shit…they spend so much time tying the plot into knots that they don’t even allow a proper conversation between Kes and Janeway where she lets us know what has happened to her since she left! The narrative makes absolutely no sense, tramples all over continuity, destroys any credibility Kes might have had and exposes the lack of development on this show. It’s a vacuous, illogical mess that compounds its ineptitude by making one mistake after another and by the end my other half was giving me a back massage and wafting the smell of hot coffee under my nose to try and calm me down and keep me sane. Words cannot express how badly they fudged what should have been the best episode of the season and to make matters even worse Jennifer Lien gives her worst performance in the show. Its like she has read the script and was struck with the depressing reality of what the show had become since she left. The only way she could possibly look any more bored by events would if she actually fell asleep. Voyager can’t distract me with pretty effects anymore. It might have worked in the past and there are some great visuals throughout this episode but its nowhere near enough to sidetrack me from the utter drought of talent that has gone into writing this nightmare. Not only the worst episode of the season but one of the worst ever episodes of Star Trek - even for an incompetent instalment of Voyager this is bad: 0/10

Life Line written by Robert Doherty, Raf Green & Brannon Braga and directed by Terry Windell

What’s it about: The Doctor travels to the Alpha Quadrant to save the life of his creator…

Tattoo: ‘You heard the Admiral it’ll be years before we have to deal with those issues. Lets worry about it then…’ Oh maybe let’s deal with those issues now Chakotay you great overgrown lunk before the series is over and its too late! I want to see what sort of punishment Chakotay and the other Maquis members are going to receive…or at least Janeway making an impassioned plea in their defence. Just something. Chakotay’s casual response to all this makes me wonder if they will even bother.

EMH: To have an episode about the Doctor and Lewis Zimmerman when there is so much unresolved existing storylines to be told between the Voyager crew and people back home seems a bit dumb but it does mean we can enjoy double the Robert Picardo and at least it is a start. At first I didn’t exactly buy the emotional connection between the Doctor and Zimmerman (its like suggesting an Ipad could mourn the death of Steve Jobs) and allowing him to risk the data transfer to save the life of somebody he has never met seemed quite naive on Janeway’s part despite her objections. Its only when Seven starts deleting all of his interests from the buffer that I remembered that he was just another programme…its Robert Picardo’s impassioned performance that is the only thing that convinces you otherwise. Zimmerman is so horrid to the Doctor from the word go it’s a relationship you can buy into immediately, especially when he delights in telling him that his programme has been retired and he is now one of a kind. Or obsolete, whichever way you want to look at it. When he hears that his ‘brothers’ were all consigned to the mine the Doctor isn’t shocked or upset, he merely mentions that he is sure that they are doing a fine job.

Socially Dysfunctional: After the advent of Pathfinder how could the return of Barclay be anything but a triumph?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Can’t it wait until I’m dead?’ – Zimmerman has a very dry seam of black humour that kept making me chuckle.
‘Oh spare us your psychobabble!’ – finally! I’ve been waiting years for somebody to say that to Deanna!

The Good: Surely considering this time Voyager is definitely in contact with Earth permanently it means they will start dealing with the many issues surrounding this crew and toss all this high concept garbage out the window? Having the Doctor use techniques that he has used in their adventures in the Delta Quadrant (based on a procedure linked with the Vidiian phage and Borg nanoprobes) to help Doctor Zimmerman is a clever conceit and one that shows that not everybody has wasted their time on this trip home. I’m glad somebody mentioned that the Doctor has been transferred in this way to the Alpha Quadrant before. Considering Jupiter station was mentioned so many times in Dr Bashir, I Presume it is really nice to finally see it and the establishing shots with the planets red spot so prevalent makes for a vivid new visual. Haley is a very charming character who nursemaids Zimmerman and doesn’t put up with his dramatic mood swings. Frankly I feel that everybody should have a Leonard the holographic iguana if it means they can be as marvellously grumpy as Zimmerman. The writers deliberately bring up Janeway’s worried response to Admiral Hayes’ mention of the Maquis (Chakotay & B’Elanna), first contact (Neelix) and the Borg (Seven) so surely to goodness these aspects of the show and their impact upon reaching Earth are going to be handled before the final episode? The idea of having the Doctor on the verge of collapse giving Zimmerman a purpose to live for and the chance to bestow the same gift on his creation as it is trying to bestow on him is remarkably clever. It allows them to finally come to an understanding of it each other in a way that doesn’t feel at all manipulative. Zimmerman sees his failiure with the Mark Ones every time he looks at the Doctor despite the advancements he has made to his programme.

The Bad: I thought that Voyager was already in regular contact with Starfleet since Pathfinder but I guess that hasn’t been the case given the developments here…and also given we have had no mention of it since that episode. Reg turning up again is fine but to have Marina Sirtis make another appearance as well simply feels like this is trying to replicate the success of Pathfinder rather than stand up in its own right. This would become even more of a problem in season seven with Inside Man. I understand why Troi has dropped her aristocratic accent from Sirtis’ point of view but it makes no sense from a character angle. Troi just decided to sound a little rougher around the edges because she thought it might make her more interesting? She actually doesn’t contribute anything much to the episode that any third rate psychiatric counsellor could do and given Reg’s desperate plea and suggestion that she is ‘the best’ really is in evidence in the material. Getting the hologram and his creator to have dinner together? Sheesh!

Moment to Watch Out For: The final image of creator and toll standing side by side as equal is a fine moment for the Doctor and a great conclusion for the episode to reach. 

Result: Double the Doctor and Reg Barclay back? How can this be anything but a good thing? The schizophrenic yo-yoing of quality in season six continues with Life Line which is good episode following a complete disaster. This episode grabs hold of much of the potential that Pathfinder was offering the series and builds upon it and the only times it falters is when it tries a little too hard to replicate on its success (the utterly pointless inclusion of Troi in particular). Robert Picardo gives one of the best dual performances I have ever seen in Trek (its so common that this is about the 30th example of the concept and it is certainly the most memorable since Kira met the Indendant in DS9’s Crossover) and injects this drama with a great deal of passion and emotion. Its not the most riveting drama of the year and it doesn’t have a great deal of substance beyond the quirk of having the Doctor and Zimmerman meet but there is simply too much likable material to object too strongly to the psychobabble it descends to in the last act. Without Troi this would have ranked higher but Life Line remains a pleasant drama: 7/10

The Haunting of Deck Twelve written by Mike Sussman, Kenneth Biller & Bryan Fuller (three writers to bring this script to life?) and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: ‘Are you sitting comfortably children? Then I’ll begin…’

Hepburn-a-Like: Kate Mulgrew gets a chance to indulge in some coughing on nebulae gases acting (ala The Year From Hell) which she isn’t particularly good and some macho histrionics (ala most of season three) which she fares better at.

Borg Babe: Perhaps there is something to classic Doctor Who’s shrieking violet cliché when it comes to women because I can far more easily believe in a threat (no matter how absurd) if somebody is terrified of it. Seven barely acknowledges the danger she is in in the Cargo Bay, strolls over to the door casually and makes her escape. Oooh scary.

Spotted Dick: If I woke up with my fellow kids and saw Neelix leering at me from the shadows that would scare me more than anything a gaseous anomaly could throw at me! To be fair to Ethan Philips this is his best vehicle in about two years and he proves to be quite an amusing children’s entertainer – I could see him tackling the most difficult of genres with some aplomb where some presenters suck. My favourite parts of this episode were when we cut back to him trying to scare the children silly and offering them titbits and sudden shocks to keep them interested (‘the Turbolift started to fall faster and faster…anybody hungry?’). Strangely there is none of the patronising behaviour that he lavished on Tuvok in Riddles which is a relief because that is how people often talk to children. Within this setting, Neelix rocks. 

The Good: Neelix and the Borg kids huddled around a light in the cargo bay is a fabulous image and in these early stages its easy to believe that this story will deliver on its promise of a haunting horror tale. I really like the conceit of Deck Twelve being haunted too because there are always areas that are off limits to strangers in creepy old houses in horror films. The effects shot of the coffee melting before Janeway’s eyes is great and probably the most frightening moment in the entire episode…if I desperately needed coffee (I literally wake up and grunt my way to the kitchen like Neanderthal man until I have had my first gulp) and this happened I would be horrified!

The Bad: Because Neelix is telling a ghost story in the Mess Hall naturally everybody else is talking horror this week as well and Tom and Harry stare in amazement at a pretty average looking anomaly and start imagining all sorts of horrific imagery in its colourful swirls. Voyager writers are making up character traits on the spot again and suddenly Neelix has a forbid fear of anomalies which has not been in evidence once since the show began. Does he have a panic attack every other week then because that’s how often Voyager dives headlong into another anomaly with a song in its heart? Neelix suggests that ‘technical details don’t matter’ in a good story which should have been loaded with irony because this story is swamped with technobabble. Selis (one of the rookies from Good Sheppard) turning up is nice but this brief cameo is hardly adequate follow up to her first story. It would be like Garak passing Bashir in the corridor at some point in series one after Past Prologue never to be seen again (unthinkable!). Again I ask what the point of the gel packs on this ship are? They have been nothing but trouble and in six years of storytelling have been focused on three times, all when they have malfunctioned through some hastily explained reason (usually some stinky old cheese of Neelix’s). We’ve had people suffering the effects of anomalies before (One), disembodied forces roaming the ship before (Cathexis) and even David Livingston trying to frighten us in the dark before (Night). Come on Voyager you haven’t got long to go…think up something original! The sinister cloud that is wafting around the ship isn’t trying to invade…its trying to communicate with them. Yeah, they covered that in Cathexis too. And it was pretty shit that time around. Janeway faces up to a ship that is trying to kill her. That was covered with much more drama with Torres in Dreadnought. The end of the story is they isolated the creature on deck twelve and its been living their ever since? How lame is that?

Moment to Watch Out For: The best scene comes in the middle of the episode when Neelix is left alone in the Mess Hall whilst the emergency is in full swing. Its filmed like a proper, daft horror film and employs a lot of the tricks they should have used throughout the entire episode. The hand held camera rushes across the room to illuminate Neelix’s face by the stove and the doors open and close erratically. Neelix explores the corridor only to be confronted by a terrifying spectre in a mask…which turns out to be Tuvok. Its utterly ridiculous but massively entertaining. Had they injected a few more set pieces as corny as this and I might have been a lot kinder towards The Haunting of Deck Twelve. What helps is that Ethan Philips is the only person who is bothering to act terrified in the flashbacks which helps to add a little tension to these scenes.

Result: The idea of Neelix telling a horror story around a ‘campfire’ to a group of scared children is a great idea but as usual with Voyager this year it aims high but hits upon something distinctly average. For a story that could have been really frightening it lacks any of the spine chilling atmospherics that Trek has proven it can pull off (The Adversary, The Darkness and the Light, Empok Nor, Meld, Memorial) and for a show that should have been about things that go bump in the night it instead chooses to focus on a whole bunch of technobabble and Trek clichés about lost alien entities trying to find their way home. Which are both scary but in a very different way. The best sequence in the entire episode is where the entire ship plunges into darkness when the story begins…it has the shock factor that the rest of the show is lacking. It would have been more effective had the flashbacks we experienced been made up from the fevered darkness of Neelix’s imagination and had included some real gore, fearful reactions and a high death count. Instead you have Neelix trying to tart up a dull Voyager episode by pretending it is much scarier than it is. B’Elanna examines a gel pack. Seven walks smugly away from an encroaching anomaly. Voyager is evacuated. These are not the things a great horror tale are made of. David Livingston can plunge the show into darkness and throw as much atmospheric lighting at us as he wants but when the script is this lacking he is pretty much seen papering the cracks in an empty 45 minutes. Watch for Ethan Philips’ charming performance alone: 4/10

Unimatrix Zero written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: A revolution amongst the Borg…

Hepburn-a-Like: Considering how many Borg ships she has swatted aside like flies now Janeway should have yawned loudly when Tuvok informed her of an approaching Cube. There’s no tension in the conflict between Janeway and the Borg Queen because there is no history between the two characters. Seska would have been a far better prolonged villainess because there is a personal stake in their difference of opinion and the ex Maquis member betrayed Janeway’s trust. Plus Martha Hackett is far better at playing the villain than Susannah Thompson.

Tattoo: No wonder Beltran felt frustrated at this point. He hasn’t done anything useful in over half a season and doesn’t even get to lock horns with Janeway in the season finales anymore. He’s just there propping up the sets.

Borg Babe: The best things about the Unimatrix scenes are how they afford Jeri Ryan the chance to shrug off her Borg ice queen act and embrace her humanity. She looks utterly gorgeous and the warmth that she pours into her portrayal shows the sort of character we could have been enjoying for the past three years. Sp let me get this straight Seven had a relationship with this guy for six years but because it was whilst she was regenerating she has forgotten all about it. Their just making this bollocks up, aren’t they? Its not a relationship that you can invest in on any level and the actors share little chemistry to boot.

Parisian Rogue: What exactly has Tom done to earn his reward of a promotion? Nothing as far as I can see. In fact for inventing the Fair Haven programme this year I would bust his ass down to waste extraction. More to the point isn’t it beyond embarrassing that Paris has had a demotion and a promotion and in the same time Harry hasn’t even been given a pat of the back. I’m not saying the chump deserves it but it does seem odd that one character should be punished and rewarded whilst another is completely ignored. 

The Good: The opening effects shots as we pan across the Borg city and past a myriad of alcoves are extraordinary and worthy of a Star Trek movie. Add the Borg Queen to the mix and it is like some ghoulish Borg freak show but I have already mentioned this season that I will no longer be seduced by production values if the scripts aren’t up to scratch. Its no compensation.

The Bad: I went into some detail as to why I thought the Borg were no longer a credible threat in my review of Collective but you can now add a rebellion in the ranks to the list of reasons they no longer have the same appeal they once did. Seriously? A Borg revolution from within the collective that the Queen has been unable to stamp out. The Borg are no longer a threat any more so the next best thing is to invent something which is a threat to them (Species 8471) and once they are dealt with add another threat to them in the shape of a Unimatrix that has gone rogue. When Doctor Who touted the same kind of thing in Evil of the Daleks it was the Doctor who turned the Daleks against their masters. Voyager has this rebellious group spring up out of nowhere further diminishing the impact of assimilation. They’ve completely gutted the species of its worth so I would suggest that they move on to something more interesting (and more importantly, scary) in the last season. The Borg Queen might have worked for a movie where all she had to do was growl threats and seduce Data but she has little worth as a long time villain with no great depth or interest to be found in watching her robotically try and weed out her bad elements. I think that decapitated head is supposed to be disturbing but the close up on his massive shocked face (and the general rubberness of the prop) prevents this. Was there no better way to realise Unimatrix Zero than the stock Star Trek forest set? This is a virtual environment so the possibilities were endless and yet this is clearly just a redress of the same forest from Survival Instinct. DS9 and Voyager manage to teach us a convincing lesson in making up character backstory as the show continues and one manages to pull it off and the other…well doesn’t. Sisko is revealed in Image in the Sand to have been birthed by one of the Prophets that had taken corporeal form which has clearly been made up at this point but the writers have cleverly weaved this  in by using his developing relationship with the Prophets over the course of seven seasons. The Prophets even said ‘you are of Bajor’ and their continual interference in his life has been that of a parent guiding a child. It all makes sense. Seven being a part of Unimatrix Zero in the past makes absolutely no sense, it hasn’t been hinted at in any way, it isn’t segued into her characters journey. Its just the writers scrabbling desperately to try and think up something interesting to do with the character now they have started to exhaust all of their options. In complete contrast with the revelation about Sisko it feels like a betrayal of her journey so far because she was already experiencing individuality before Janeway freed her from the Collective. Why have we bothered to endure this development if it was something she had been enjoying all along? The shock moment of the Borg turning up at Unimatrix Zero is inevitable, I was counting the seconds until it happened. The Borg Queen’s stab at diplomacy diminishes these automatons even more…why can’t they just kick Voyager’s right up the behind? Oh and the new Borg cubes with the metallic panels covering them are nowhere near as effective as the originals. Before they looked like impassable spaceships and now they look like props. Did anybody wonder if Janeway, B’Elanna and Tuvok becoming drones was anything other than deliberate?

Moment to Watch Out For: Trust me Voyager jumped the shark during season three but if you had to pinpoint a moment where it really shows then look no further than the cliffhanger of this episode. Its not just that it is blatantly stolen from TNG or that it will amount to nothing in the next episode…it’s the fact that the director can’t even be bothered to package it as a shock. The three characters just walk in front of the camera like they are on  Borg catwalk.

Result: Even considering how ineffective the Borg have become on this show, Unimatrix Zero is drab. I refuse to believe that this is the best that they could come with – a Borg rebellion with the Queen completely impotent to stop their scheming. In a season of trite premises that one ranks pretty high. As well as trivialising the Borg even further it also introduces a whole other life that Seven had before we met that has never been hinted at before and completely betrays the journey that we have been on with the character. The special effects are as lush and vivid as we have come to expect from Voyager (except for the stock forest that spoils the U0 scenes) but its clear that even Allan Kroeker’s heart isn’t in this with a lack of creativity and tension in the direction. Its trying to feel like a culmination of an ongoing story but with no previous instalments to back it up it cannot generate that kind of climactic atmosphere. Tears of the Prophets genuinely changed the landscape of DS9 as we know it but I have no doubt that once all the boxes have been ticked with Unimatrix Zero part two and the reset button has been flicked everything will be back to normal in the second episode of season seven. And as for re-using the same cliffhanger from The Best of Both Worlds…Voyager has stopped pretending that it is anything but a TNG wannabe now, hasn’t it? Abandon hope all ye who enter here: 4/10

1 comment:

ali said...

When you mentioned the four weakest performers (McNeill, Wang, Russ, and Beltran) my mind misread that as "the Four Horsemen" and I laughed and laughed.