Baz Greenland looks back at Star Trek Voyager’s lacklustre penultimate season…
As Star Trek: Voyager celebrates its twenty fifth anniversary this year, The Digital Fix continues its look back at each season of the Star Trek spin-off, continuing with season six…
- Check out our look back at season one here
- Check out our look back at season two here
- Check out our look back at season three here
- Check out our look back at season four here
- Check out our look back at season five here
The sixth season is where Star Trek: Voyager starts to run out of steam. There are still some good episodes, but there are also some terrible ones too and there’s very little about the sixth season that feels momentous. The second – as terrible as some of it was – upped the game with the Kazon and Vidiians. Season three started the blockbuster approach with Future’s End. The fourth, the show’s most successful run, introduced Seven of Nine, saw Voyager make contact with Starfleet and gave us the mighty Hirogen. Season five reintroduced the Borg Queen and celebrated the show’s 100th episode. Not all of it successful, but memorable at least.
There’s very little to remember about season six. It should have been great, with Ronald D Moore coming over fresh from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He penned the decent Survival Instinct, which fleshed out Seven’s past in the collective and developed a story for Barge of the Dead, which tackled the Klingon afterlife – a continuation of his work with the Klingons dating back to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third season’s Sins of the Father. But within weeks of joining the show, he quit dramatically, unable to develop the show the way he wanted – and arguably the show needed – to progress. Showrunner Brannon Braga, who was starting to work on Star Trek: Enterprise, would step down after season six and it is clear he had little interest in developing the show.
So, season six kind of just exists. There are some good episodes; Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy is a strong episode for the Doctor, that sees his daydreaming program spiral out of control. The aforementioned Survival Instinct is another fascinating exploration of Seven’s time as a Borg, as she faces a tense reunion with her former drones, now freed from the Collective and facing impending death. Barge of the Dead is the strongest exploration of Torres’ connection to her Klingon heritage, with some great visuals of the afterlife. Blink of an Eye is one of the show’s greatest episodes; Voyager becomes trapped in an anomaly over a planet where time moves faster. An entire civilisation becomes shaped by Voyager’s presence in a matter of days – a fascinating trip from the stone age to the spaceflight, with the ship at the heart of the planet’s culture. It’s a shame more episodes weren’t as good as this one.
Sadly, the good is outweighed by the bad. While season six has many decent to average episodes, there are plenty of terrible entries too. Alice is an appalling episode that sees Paris become a rebel (again) as he is seduced by an evil sentient ship. The Voyager Conspiracy is a laughable attempt by Seven to forge a number of contrivances among the crew, seemingly able to turn Janeway and Chakotay into bitter rivals with just a few words. Fair Haven and its sequel Spirit Folk are perhaps the worst episodes of the seven year run; holodeck episodes set around a boring, cliché-ridden Irish village packed with painful stereotypes.
Tsunkatse has Seven kidnapped and forced to fight the Rock himself in alien makeup, in a poor attempt to have a ‘wrestling event episode’. Good Shepherd sees Janeway try to help three wayward crewmen on an away mission. Unfortunately it features characters that have never been seen (or ever will again) and becomes more about Janeway’s superiority complex then making the lives of the crew better. Considering there have been former Marquis characters, not to mention the crew taken onboard from the Equinox, this is a superfluous, wasted opportunity to develop some recurring characters late in the show’s run. Live Fast and Prosper is another terrible episode that sees con-artists impersonate the crew with promises of Federation membership to various Delta Quadrant races. It could have been fun; instead it remains painfully dull and uninteresting despite the promising story hook.
And then there is the return of Kes. Jennifer Lien was shoved off the show in favour of Jeri Ryan at the start of season four, just when she was just starting to develop into an interesting character. However, her departure, evolving into a higher lifeform was a satisfying, if somewhat rushed, conclusion to her journey. Fury completely ruins that with a vengeful Kes make to seek revenge for two years of horror inflicted upon her. Her humility and grace is replaced by an oddly wooden performance and terrible writing that sees her jump back to the dull days of season one and then somehow changing the entire history of the show. Re-watching The Gift, knowing that Janeway supposedly knows what is going to happen to Kes, leaves a bitter ending to a strong episode. Kes, quite simply, should never have returned.
Still, season six isn’t all bad. While the good episodes are far and few between, there’s plenty to enjoy. The season opener Equinox Part 2 tries to do something interesting with Janeway becoming the captain she is hunting down. Her vengeful actions put her at odds with Chakotay, but don’t amount to much by the time the credits roll. Riddles sees Tuvok suffering brain damage and developing with emotions, with Tim Russ giving a much more engaging performance. But it is all brushed under the carpet far too quickly; changing his way of thinking might have made for an interesting development of the stoic Vulcan character. Dragons Teeth is the closest season six gets to the blockbuster two-parters of seasons three to five, but while the tease of recurring villains Vaadwaur, holds promise, they never appear on the show again.
One Small Step feels like a proto Star Trek: Enterprise episode, with the discovery of an Earth space vessel from the early twenty first century in an alien nebula, but there’s not enough connection made with the Earth pilot John Kelly, who’s journey should have provided the emotional hook for the episode. Virtuoso is a fun episode, that sees Robert Picardo’s singing talents on display as the Doctor is recruited by an alien race to provide them with the gift of music. Memorial sees the crew relieving the memories of a dead people, which offers a powerful message about the persecution of others but has a questionable resolution. Ashes to Ashes sees dead crewmember Lyndsey Ballard return to Voyager, now an alien. However, despite the strong performance by Kim Rhodes, it holds little impact because she is a character never spoken of before, or since. Muse is another of Star Trek: Voyager‘s fascinations with the ship being a thing of legend, with Torres caught up in an ancient Greek-style theatrical performance of the ship’s journey while stranded on an alien planet.
The episodes of season six are very stand alone, with little connective tissue. The main characters get virtually no development, making it hard to distinguish stories from this season against others, only identifiable as being post-season three due to Seven’s presence on the show. However, season six does have what amounts to two loose story threads. Continuing the show’s desire to be Star Trek: The Next Generation, the two episodes Pathfinder and Life Line become de-facto TNG episodes centred around Dwight Schult’s Lieutenant Reginald Barclay and his desire to help bring Voyager home and his relationship with a returning Marina Sirtis as Commander Deanna Troi. Arguably Troi offers little narrative purpose to either episode, other than to help Barclay and provide some nice mentions of Picard and the Enterprise. But there are enjoyable for what they are, particularly the latter, which sees the EMH transported to the Alpha Quadrant to help find a cure for a dying Professor Zimmerman, Robert Picardo delivering two terrific performances as both characters.
The other narrative thread loosely running through season six is the addition of the four Borg children Icheb, Mezoti, Azan and Rebi. Collective isn’t the strongest episode, hampering the Borg with yet another damaged Borg vessell, but the four former drones do form a nice little arc for Seven as she adjust to the idea of becoming their guardian. Given Star Trek: Voyager‘s lack of interest in recurring characters, they appear in four episodes of the show’s sixth season; Collective, a supporting B plot role in Ashes to Ashes and as Neelix’s audience in ghost story episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve.
The most memorable of these is Child’s Play, which hints at a reunion with Icheb’s parents, taps into Seven’s own struggles as a presumptive parent and adds a dark twist around Icheb’s birth, which ties nicely back to the death of the Borg back in Collective. It helps that Manu Intiraymi provides a compelling performance in these episodes. While the other three are unceremoniously dumped off the ship early in season seven, Seven’s bond with Icheb adds another interesting dynamic to her character for the rest of the show’s run (though it would be developed more effectively in this season). Given the events of Star Trek: Picard, it makes their connection all the more tragic.
However, the Borg children and Barclay’s attempts to bring Voyager home are minor story threads in the largely meandering sixth season. There’s a real sense of lethargy going into the finale Unimatrix Zero, which sees the return of Susannah Thompson as the Borg Queen in yet another episode to deconstruct the menace of the Borg race. The idea of a resistance of Borg drones regaining individually in their dreams is a nice idea, but the idea of Janeway so readily taking on the Borg is ludicrous and the ending is a cheap attempt to recapture the glory days of Star Trek: The Next Generation with a shock cliff-hanger that will never really pay off.
Season six of Star Trek: Voyager is a lacklustre affair. There are a few stand-out episodes but far more terrible ones. The Borg children don’t make for a compelling enough story arc, Barclay and Troi and The Best of Both Worlds-evoking season cliffhanger really show’s how desperate the series wants to be Star Trek: The Next Generation. When you compare the sixth seasons of that show with episodes like Chain of Command, Face of the Enemy and Frame of Mind, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s mighty Dominion War delivering Sacrifice of Angels, Far Beyond the Stars and In the Pale Moonlight, this season falls far short. As the only Star Trek series on air at that point, it should be flying the flag for the franchise. Instead, it’s dragging it down towards the approaching TV grave…
Season Six’s Best Episode: Blink of an Eye
A bold sci-fi concept, that sees Voyager shaping the growth of an entire civilisation in a matter of days. The snippets of the planet, shaped by the great ship in the sky, makes for some innovative storytelling that would stand out in any Star Trek series. The best episode of season six by far, and one of the show’s greatest overall.
Season Six’s Worst Episode(s): Fair Haven and Spirit Folk
Given that this season features the soul-destroying Kes return in Fury, it shows just how terrible these two episodes are. Fair Haven is a laughable holodeck simulation of an quaint Irish village packed with every cliché under the same and a painful storyline where Janeway falls in love with a holographic bartender. Spirit Folk is just as painful to watch, with the discovery that Voyager crewmembers have been changing the program leading them to be proclaimed ‘faerie folk’. But hey, Spirit Folk was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition, so that’s something…
Season Six’s Best Moment: Icheb faces re-assimilation
A rare instance of season continuity, Icheb’s fond reunion with his parents reveals something far darker; he was genetically created to fight the Borg and it was his DNA that caused the death of the ship in Collective. Icheb’s fate makes for a tense rescue from the clutches of the Borg.
What are your thoughts on season six of Star Trek: Voyager? Is Blink of an Eye a masterpiece? Does anyone like Fair Haven? And is Icheb’s journey now much more tragic in light of the events of Star Trek: Picard? Let us know in the comments below…
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum