Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1

Starring: Kate Mulgrew
RRP 84.99
Certificate: PG
Available 03 May 2004

While pursuing a renegade Maquis vessel, the Federation starship Voyager is flung into the far-distant Delta Quadrant. The Starfleet and Maquis crews are forced to work together to find a way home. Unless they can discover a wormhole or some similar shortcut, the journey could take them over 70 years to complete...

Let me make one thing clear right away: though I am a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise in general, I don't consider Voyager to be one of its better incarnations. I would rank it under Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation and the original series.

Whereas Deep Space Nine boasted excellent characters such as Odo, Quark, Chief O'Brien, Dr Bashir and Major Kira, Voyager gives us the underused Chakotay (Robert Beltran); the underwritten Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Kes (Jennifer Lien); and the irritating Neelix (Ethan Phillips)... though he is good when he plays a more serious role, as in the post-holocaust episode Jetrel.

Tim Russ is OK as the Vulcan Tuvok, though he continually walks in the shadow of Leonard Nimoy's Spock. Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway is alternately aggressive and caring, assertive and indecisive, with an annoying "do as I say, not as I do" attitude, whereby she forbids others from violating Starfleet's precious Prime Directive (in episodes such as Caretaker and Prime Factors), but flouts it herself in later seasons. The volatile half-Klingon B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is good, but do we really need another part-human part-alien after Spock, Troi and Alexander?

The best character by far is the sardonic Emergency Medical Hologram, beautifully portrayed by Robert Picardo.

Another disappointing aspect of this show is the way in which it sets up ideas but then largely fails to follow them through. By throwing Starfleet and Maquis crewmembers together, there was a marvellous opportunity to inject some vital character conflict, something in which The Next Generation was sadly lacking, but which Deep Space Nine successfully pulled off with its combination of Starfleet and non-Starfleet personnel. However, character clashes in the first season of Voyager are few and far between, only really becoming an issue in the excellent State of Flux.

Similarly, we are rarely given any indication that this crew is roughing it out in the Delta Quadrant. We hear them paying lip service to their short supplies and the quality of Neelix's cooking, but the ship usually looks totally spic and span, and the crew well fed and well turned out. Say what you like about Lost in Space, but at least that show gave us a real sense that the Robinson family faced the threat of starvation.

Furthermore, given that the ship is stranded in a distant and hitherto unexplored region of space, you might expect the aliens they encounter to be a little more, well, alien. However, for the most part we get the usual brand of lumpy-headed species, such as the Kazon (in Caretaker and State of Flux), the Baneans (in Ex Post Facto) and the Haakonians (in Jetrel). Even worse, the aliens in Time and Again and Prime Factors look completely human. On the plus side, the episodes Phage and Faces give us those wonderfully gruesome organ hunters, the Vidiians.

Certain episodes are basic twists on old ideas from as long ago as the original Star Trek. Phage does Spock's Brain with Neelix's lungs, while Faces splits Torres into aggressive and passive halves, a la The Enemy Within. The Cloud is a rehash of TNG's Galaxy's Child, while Cathexis owes far too much to Lonely Among Us. Caretaker is the fourth Trek pilot in a row to feature a powerful alien species that tricks the captain with an illusory projection of his or her home planet.

The highlights of this season are the aforementioned Vidiian episodes, Phage and Faces; the poignant Eye Of The Needle, in which the crew is tantalised by a possible route home; State of Flux, which boasts a stunning twist; and Jetrel, which is a rare beast indeed - a good Neelix episode.

Heroes and Demons, despite featuring yet another Holodeck malfunction, is well worth watching for the simple reason that it showcases the wonderfully deadpan Doctor. Caretaker is a decent pilot, but no great shakes. It starts well, but struggles to maintain its plot for the full 90 minutes. I actually fell asleep the first time I watched it! Parallax is OK, but we would soon tire of such "spatial anomaly of the week" episodes.

The real damp squibs of the season are the sentimental Cloud, Prime Factors, and the pathetic and predictable Learning Curve. Not a good episode to end the season with.

That's right - the season ends, as far as this box set is concerned, with Learning Curve, as opposed to the far superior The '37s which, like Projections, Elogium and Twisted, was originally planned and produced as part of Season 1, but held over for broadcast in Season 2. I had rather hoped that these four episodes would have been treated as part of Season 1, as they were during CIC's original VHS releases, but sadly this was not to be. As a result, this collection contains only 14 regular instalments, plus the pilot.

To compensate for the lack of episodes, discs 5 and 6 are turned over entirely to extra features, the highlight of which is surely The First Captain, which reveals rare footage of Genevieve Bujold as Captain Janeway, recorded before the actress decided that weekly television wasn't for her.

Other features include Braving the Unknown, in which Executive Producers Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor discuss how they created the series. In On Location with the Kazon, Supervising Producer David Livingston takes us on a guided tour of the desert locale used for the Kazon village in the pilot. Dan Curry and his effects crew discuss their work in Red Alert: Visual Effects. In Real Science with Andre Bormanis, the Science Consultant explains how the writers strived to incorporate real scientific theories. There are also copious amounts of interview material with the cast, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the Star Trek: The Experience attraction in Las Vegas.

A couple of inclusions that I am extremely dubious about are two episodes from the original series, Arena and City on the Edge of Forever. These are classic episodes to be sure, but why include them here, especially when the Region 2 release of the entire series is imminent? Personally, I think it would have been preferable to ditch disc 6 altogether and sell the box set for a few quid less. As it is, Star Trek season boxes remain some of the most expensive on the market, compared to bargains such as Roswell.

If you are undecided about whether to collect Voyager on DVD, it is worth bearing in mind that the series improves enormously with each progressive season until it reaches its high-water mark at Season 4, after the which the standard is maintained.

As for Season 1, this product can be neatly summed up as: nice package, shame about many of the episodes.

Richard McGinlay

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