Star Trek: Voyager
Season 4

Starring: Kate Mulgrew
RRP 84.99
Certificate: PG
Available 01 November 2004

The crew of the starship
Voyager bid a fond farewell to their departing comrade, Kes. But they soon have a replacement in the unexpected shape of Seven of Nine, a former Borg drone. Captain Janeway is confident that Seven can be trusted, but other crewmembers aren't so certain...

Voyager truly hit its stride with Season 4, thanks mostly to the arrival of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a bloke who likes seeing curvaceous women in skin-tight outfits. Far from it: Seven's costume is the least successful aspect of her character. It demeans her, and it also makes the Doctor (Robert Picardo) seem like a pervert for designing it.

No, Ryan's main contribution to the series is not her revealing costume (though more sex appeal was demanded by the United Paramount Network) but her personality. This caustic character is not a Starfleet crewmember, and she ruffles a fair few of her crewmates' feathers during this season, finally bringing to the show the kind of inter-personal conflict that we should have had right from Season 1, when the Starfleet and Maquis personnel were forced to work together.

Seven's presence on board the ship also provides plenty of excuses for Borg action. I've always felt it a shame that the producers of Deep Space Nine denied Sisko the chance to face the Borg again, since he would have been strongly motivated to avenge the death of his wife Jennifer during the battle of Wolf 359. Instead, Voyager was given the monopoly on the assimilators - and took full advantage of them. The Borg make much better arch enemies than the dreary Kazon ever did. As Seven herself observes in Mortal Coil: "Their biological and technological distinctiveness was unremarkable."

Following the spectacular conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger, Scorpion, we enjoy further Borg encounters, both real and illusory, in The Raven, One and the season finale (which is not a cliffhanger this time) Hope and Fear. The latter episode examines the consequences of Captain Janeway's (Kate Mulgrew) deal with the Collective in Scorpion, and really shows up her cavalier attitude towards the Prime Directive.

However, it's not just the Borg who provide excitement. The Romulans and an impressive new prototype starship, the USS Prometheus, appear in Message in a Bottle. This episode also features a new version of the Emergency Medical Hologram. Beautifully played by Andy Dick, the prissy EMH-2 exchanges some hilarious banter with his less advanced but more experienced predecessor, the Doctor.

The two-part Year of Hell storyline is even more spectacular. Indeed, this time-warping tale, in which the USS Voyager takes its toughest pounding yet, was originally intended to be the Season 3 finale, before the production team decided to draft in the Borg instead.

There's no shortage of two-parters this year. It also includes The Killing Game, in which the crew are forced to play deadly war games with holographic Nazis and Klingons.

A more thoughtful instalment is Mortal Coil, which is one of those rare beasts, a good Neelix (Ethan Phillips) episode. It's funny - most of the time I find Neelix to be an extremely irritating character, but in this and the similarly gloomy Jetrel, from Season 1, Phillips's acting is superb. However, Seven of Nine's amazing ability to revive people 18 hours after death using her nanoprobes is quickly forgotten by the writers of subsequent episodes! Perhaps the process only works on certain species...

Following in the footsteps of the previous season's Distant Origin, which depicted the crew's activities from an alien point of view, Living Witness shows an amusingly inaccurate reconstruction of Voyager's exploits by alien historians, 700 years after the event.

Despite the presence of fan-pleasing elements such as the Borg, the Romulans and the Klingons, which some may regard as backward-looking, this season also moves forward in a number of ways. The ship is finally allowed to establish communication with the Alpha Quadrant in Message in a Bottle, thanks to an ancient alien device. In the next episode, Hunters, the former Maquis crewmembers learn that their group is no more, following events in the Deep Space Nine episode Blaze of Glory.

The show is propelled forward more literally in The Gift, as the developing powers of the departing Kes (Jennifer Lien) hurl the ship clear of Borg space and ten years closer to home - which kind of makes up for all the time Janeway has so far wasted making detours and exploring various spatial phenomena! The use of the Dauntless's quantum slipstream drive in Hope and Fear shaves another three years off their journey.

Jennifer Lien gets a decent send-off in The Gift. However, the impact of her departure on Neelix, who was after all her lover for the first three seasons and some time before that, are strangely overlooked.

Nevertheless, the only truly weak episode in this box set is Concerning Flight, a rather woeful effort whose sole purpose is to showcase Janeway's friendship with the holographic Leonardo Da Vinci (John Rhys-Davies).

The special features on Disc 7 comprise the usual array of extras (though they were not available for review), including featurettes on Seven of Nine, Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Species 8472.

The philosophical and technological distinctiveness of this season is far from unremarkable, and so this box set is well worth assimilating into your collective - er, I mean, your collection.

Richard McGinlay

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