Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season
Length: 12 hrs, 13 min + special features
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, English Surround
Special Features: 8 featurettes, Photo gallery, hidden files
Star Trek: Voyager is the embodiment of the wilting rose on the vine that is the Star Trek franchise. It is recognizable as a part of the Star Trek family, but there is no lustre. It has faded from its former glory, and presents us with a form that reminds us of Star Trek, but which has lost its vim. Still, it has that familiar form and presence, which continues to be mildly comforting for those in need of a Star Trek fix.
Is Voyager a bad show? Well, ask three Trekkies and get three different answers. When the show was really on its game, it was pretty good. Overall, the series was hit-or-miss, and it averaged out to be remarkably mediocre. To be sure, there are detractors who insist that Voyager was a miserable piece of... well... we won’t go there. There are others who claim the show was their favorite incarnation of Trek. For me, the show was the weakest entry in the Star Trek television franchise. But for a sci-fi fan longing for more sci-fi on television, the days when Voyager graced our television screens were better for it. Voyager was simply another voice in the chorus of sci-fi, rather than the soloist that every Trekkie hoped for.
Paramount brings the abbreviated 15 episode premiere season of Voyager to DVD on February 24. It looks as though Paramount chose to reduce packaging costs on this set. There is no disc art, and cover art on the package is minimal. The only insert is a small one-sheet advertisement of other Star Trek on DVD (including the upcoming release of the original Star Trek series in season boxed sets coming in Fall / Winter 2004). The discs are held in the book style holders that were used for Paramount’s DS9 and CSI series, although without the fold-open flaps or the slip cover. The package is simply the left-hand bound plastic pages, with a two piece cover which slides over bottom and top, meeting in the middle - with a semicircular overlap for the cover art. This makes for an unusual, and somewhat cumbersome package.
The first episode is the double length series premiere, Caretaker, which is really an impressive introduction to the series. Unfortunately, the impressive first outing of Voyager is followed by two misfires in a row. Parallax recycles several themes from other Star Trek episodes, and Time and Again does the whole time travel thing and bails on the viewer by turning in a typical paradox-based zero-sum plot. After the near derailment, the show gets back on track with the excellent Phage. Like I said, “hit or miss.”
Here are my recommended episodes from season 1:
Caretaker does an excellent job of introducing the characters and passing the baton from Deep Space Nine, while also setting up the premise for the show (a lone ship lost far from home) and introducing us to new alien species - some of whom become members of the crew. While the Kazon would ultimately become Voyager’s Ferengi (in terms of a failed nemesis - for those who remember the Ferengi’s lackluster introduction in TNG), the characters Neelix and Kes, both members of new alien races, become an integral part of the show. This two-parter manages to introduce all these characters and concepts, and still tell an engaging story - something that is often hard to do in a premiere.
Phage introduces us to the Vidiians, an alien race which has been infected with a deadly disease and must steal body parts from living donors of other races in order to survive. Voyager’s holographic doctor (my favorite character, played by Robert Picardo) comes up with an ingenious plan to keep Neelix alive after his lungs are removed by the Vidiians.
In Eye of the Needle, the Voyager crew discovers a wormhole that leads back home to the Alpha Quadrant. The problem is, it’s almost microscopic. And, there is another, even more perplexing problem...
State of Flux finds a spy in Voyager’s midst. One of the regular characters will ally with the Kazon against the Voyager crew.
Jetrel is a moving episode where Neelix comes face to face with the man who annihilated his homeworld and killed his family.
This is the one area where Voyager is superior to the previous Trek season sets. With the exception of a slight softness (perhaps accentuated by the fact that this is not anamorphic content), and some “mosquito noise” around the titles in the title sequence of Caretaker, there is nothing to complain about, here. The picture is bright, with good contrast and good shadow detail. Colors are consistent and well saturated. There are few visible compression artifacts - something that was a real problem in darker scenes on DS9. I think part of the reason for the improved quality is that the content was easier to compress. DS9 was a darker and dirtier show, offering challenges to good compression. Voyager, in contrast, is brightly lit and seems to have more static camera movements.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is comparable to what we heard on Deep Space Nine. The mix isn’t overly aggressive, which is to be expected for mid-1990’s television product. The front soundstage is well utilized for music, especially Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful and majestic theme. Sound effects also take advantage of left, right and rear channels, while dialog is usually pinned front and center. Your subwoofer won’t get a real workout with this soundtrack, but that’s not surprising. This 5.1 mix is just about what I expected, and what viewers of Trek on DVD have come to expect as well.
Beware of spoilers from season one and beyond. While my review is relatively spoiler free, the special features are not.
Braving the Unknown: Season One (10:50)
Executive Producers Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor discuss the creation of Voyager in interviews conducted in 1993. Includes clips from the show.
Voyager Time Capsule: Kathryn Janeway (15:15)
Kate Mulgrew talks about auditioning for, and ultimately winning the role of Captain Janeway (after the departure of first choice Genevieve Bujold). In an interview conducted in 2003, Mulgrew talks about her unfamiliarity with the Star Trek franchise, and how she made the role her own. Audition clips, scenes from a few episodes, and behind the scenes footage are included. Mulgrew skirts around the issue of Bujold’s departure. Also included are clips from an interview Mulgrew did on the set in 2001.
The First Captain: Bujold (8:41)
Scenes from Caretaker, which had seen several days of shooting with wonderful Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold, are shown in this featurette. Interviews with Rick Berman again skirt around the specific reasons for her departure, saying only that after the first couple of days it was apparent to all that they should “go in a different direction.” After seeing these scenes, I think Mulgrew gave the Janeway character more authority.
Cast Reflections: Season One (8:42)
All the principle cast of Voyager recall for us their start in the Star Trek universe. Armin Shimerman also appears, discussing his role in the premiere episode.
On Location with the Kazons (5:38)
David Livingston takes us on a tour of the on-location desert set of the Kazon village - shot in 1994. Winrich Kolbe also comments on the location, which had been used in TNG.
Red Alert: Visual Effects (10:34)
Dan Curry talks about the effects from season one of Voyager. In interviews from 1994 and 2003, Curry describes the processes and limitations of the effects for the show. Included are details on the building of the five foot Voyager model. Also discussed are the CG effects used.
Launching Voyager on the Web (6:07)
Web designer Marc Wade explains the construction of one of the first interactive web sites used to launch and promote a television series.
Real Science with Andre Bormanis
Science Consultant Andre Bormanis explains how real science was incorporated into the show by the writers, including current scientific theories on wormholes and time travel.
By my count, there are four of these on disc five. These are similar in nature to the “Section 31 Files” on the DS9 sets - short clips of interviews and scenes from the show that address minor trivia.
This may be an improvement in video quality over previous Trek seasons on DVD, and the program itself is okay - but I think at a price approaching $100 at retail, this abbreviated season will be a tough sell.