In this edition of ‘How to Fix’ the topic covered will be much broader than usual, as this piece will attempt to put forward several ways in which the concept of Star Trek: Voyager could have been better implemented into the show by the writers. On paper, the premise of Voyager is excellent and innovative for Star Trek – the idea how a Federation ship and crew would survive in a hostile part of the Galaxy for years, how the morals and tenants of the Federation would be tested by the situation, and how the Maquis and Federation crewmembers would eventually adapt and change to accept each other and take on the challenges that the Delta Quadrant throws at them is fantastic, but the true potential of this was never fully realised in the series.
To its credit, Star Trek: Voyager was able to implement many of these things and more into its seven season run, with one of the show’s primary themes for the early seasons being survival at all costs and the growing relationships between the crewmembers taking centre stage later on, but overall the final result feels lacklustre and many in the Star Trek fanbase have reacted by ranking Voyager as their least favourite of the Berman-era Star Trek shows. Whilst there is a lot to love about Star Trek Voyager, there is also a lot that could be improved, starting with:
The ship for which the series is named, the Intrepid-class starship the USS Voyager proves to be a sturdy example of a Federation starship throughout the series, earning it a top spot on some Federation starship rankings, but after seven seasons of being battered by all kinds of Delta Quadrant hostiles from Kaizon to Borg one would think the ship would have shown signs of more wear-and-tear, but oddly, the ship looks pristine throughout. Although this was likely done to reduce budget and continuity concerns, having Voyager look progressively more battered as the series went on would have been a nice touch to effectively convey to the audience the dire situation the ship is in. As previously mentioned, the early seasons did make a convincing deal out of the crew being stranded, such as implementing replicator rations and having the ship have to salvage fuel and repair parts, but later on the crew of the ship seemed to regard their trip as business as usual and not the death-defying voyage of fear and trepidation that it was made out to be in the early seasons. We get a glimpse of what this might have looked like in episodes like Year of Hell, which certainly portray in interesting alternate angle on the Voyager crew’s situation that makes their actual journey through the Delta Quadrant look like a routine scout mission.
Another interesting plot element to Voyager that was seemingly abandoned as the series progressed was the idea that a significant portion of the crew are made up of members of the Maquis, a terrorist organisation that opposed the Cardassians and, through treaty, the Federation itself. There are some episodes early on that deal with the difficult dynamic between these two crews, particularly the plight of B’Ellana Torres, who goes from authority-hating upstart to Chief Engineer (albeit over the course of a surprisingly small number of episodes) but overall the Maquis were an underused concept. What didn’t help was that Chakotay, the First Officer of Voyager and leader of the Maquis crewmembers, was as boring as a cardboard cutout and by extension his initial subplot in the first season was too. The show should have kept the Maquis plotlines running for longer, as having Seska turn up as a recurring Maquis antagonist eventually just became one of the many unrealistic things about the show that distracted attention away from the other Maquis crewmembers. If used properly, the idea of having Maquis crew could be an interesting test to the Federation way of life, particularly if a more hot-headed Chakotay had stood up to Janeway’s mad antics a little more.
Chakotay isn’t the only character on Voyager with series issues surrounding writing, as characters like Neelix, Seven of Nine and Harry Kim are written so many contradicting story arcs that all three seem like totally unrealistic characters. The audience is left unsure what to feel about Harry Kim throughout the show, as he sometimes comes across as a lovable buffoon but at other times seems to be clearly incompetent, and is actually replaced by a parallel universe duplicate partway through the series and nobody seems to care. However, by far the character in the main crew that needs the most improvement is Janeway herself – although Kate Mulgrew does an impressive performance and the character has become one of the most famous Star Trek characters of all time, unfortunately she was written to be deliberately obnoxious and, at times, reckless, and whilst this would have been a great direction for the character had it come on through some moralistic dilemma after being stranded in the Delta Quadrant for so long, Janeway seems to be wired this way from the start and it seems odd that she was not put in command of one of Starfleet’s warships.
To say that Voyager ruined the Borg is clearly an understatement as they reached a peak in The Next Generation that would never be topped – the villain decay they experienced over the course of Voyager was an inevitable side effect of them becoming a primary villain near the end of the show, and to its credit the series did utilise them fairly effectively at first, only to have their fear factor slowly diminish over the years as they appeared again and again. However, one of the main factors that contributed to the decay of the Borg as villains was the introduction of Seven of Nine, who clearly attempts to imitate the ‘Data’ type of character that has become customary in Star Trek but was also used as a means of artificially injecting some ‘sex appeal’ into the series after falling ratings, and it shows. When Seven of Nine is introduced she practically takes over the show, and potentially interesting character arcs for other characters were sidelined in favour of her, and although her love-hate relationship with the Borg is an interesting plot thread to introduce after she is separated from the collective, this should not have been the main plot of the series from Season 3 onward.
However, a pressing issue that spans the entirety of the series is Janeway herself – although clearly a capable Captain, able to get her crew back home from the Delta Quadrant more or less in one piece and negotiate peace treaties with a variety of Delta Quadrant races. However, her actions are often questioned by her crew, and despite her insistence on adherence to protocol, Janeway breaks the Prime Directive several times over the course of the series, as well as committing several other dubiously moral acts such as the execution of Tuvix. Ultimately, Janeway exists as a sort of ‘necessary evil’ in the series – as the one most capable of making tough decisions, Janeway was most qualified to be Captain during Voyager’s stay in the Delta Quadrant. However, it is fitting that Janeway was promoted to the Admiralty before Picard, as Janeway’s character profile far better suits the insane megalomania and habit of ‘making the hard decisions’ that Starfleet Admirals so often display.
Although Voyager lasted for seven seasons, the same length as both TNG and DS9, it is often the lowest rated of the Berman-era Star Trek shows – perhaps unfairly. After all, it was dealing with concepts new to Star Trek, and for a first attempt it does manage to tell a self-contained story and deliver a fair amount of excellent individual episodes. Particular strengths of the series include the character development of the EMH Doctor, and many Star Trek fans are now less harsh on Voyager following the mixed reception of both Enterprise and Discovery. However, its faults are notable, and hopefully by laying them out future Star Trek shows can learn from the mistakes of this underloved but overstuffed show.