by Tristan Riddell
Most people I’ve talked to would call finding the top five Star Trek: Voyager episodes a game of Boggle. “Shake the episodes and just pick five. They’re all the same level of garbage.” But there are a few, like myself, who look at Voyager and see classic SF adventure that has more to offer than just a rainbow-colored lizard chef. So here are my picks for the five best episodes.
Message in a Bottle
In true Voyager fashion, technology is stretched to its limits as the Doctor is hurled through space to the Alpha Quadrant via a Hirogen subspace relay network to make contact with the nearest Federation starship. The holographic physician is the only choice for this intergalactic away mission because Scotty has yet to discover transwarp beaming. The Doctor makes it successfully to the USS Prometheus, a ship that—for the first and only time—puts the Galaxy Class to shame with its “Multi-Vector Assault Mode” that allows it to separate into three hulls. This in itself is enough to make it into the top five, but while the Doctor is there he discovers that the arch enemy of the Federation, the Romulans, have taken over the ship and killed its crew. Now it is a race against time for him and the EMH Mark II (played by Andy Dick) to defeat the Romulans and grace the audience with the forthcoming hijinks that ensue. (Note to all the people who cringed with the mention of Andy Dick: He is absolutely tolerable if not down right funny in this episode.)
Year of Hell
Many fans are of the opinion that if all seven seasons were like this epic two-parter then Voyager would have been a better series overall. I invite those fans to watch Battlestar Galactica if they want to see a crew with no hope, at each others throats, and getting wasted every night. Thankfully, it wasn’t like this for all seven seasons. I would have been OK with maybe one season of this, but that’s neither here nor there. Trek veteran and amazing character actor Kurtwood Smith helms the spotlight as Annorax, the nemesis of the Voyager crew. A Krenim scientist obsessed with altering time to bring back his former empire and family makes life a living hell for Captain Kathryn Janeway. Protected by temporal shielding, Voyager creates a paradox and becomes a thorn in Annorax’s side. During the year-long journey through Krenim space we get to see a blind Tuvok, a kidnapped Chakotay and Paris, and a physically scarred, maniacal Janeway stopping at nothing to get her crew home. We get to see the crew react in desperate times and work together in ways they never had before. Sadly, at the end, Braga hit the reset button and all was well. But this does not detract from the preceding thrill ride.
Many of you are probably scratching your heads as to why I picked this as one of the best Voyager episodes. Not only do I think this is one of the best of the Voyager crew but it’s all around good science fiction. The episode starts out with a surprise party for Kes’s second birthday. In classic Trek form an anomaly halts the party and everyone tries to make their way to the bridge. But nothing is as it seems because no one can make it to their destination. The anomaly is warping decks, diverting turbo lifts, and making it extremely confusing for the crew to get anywhere. This is the first time we see the cast truly work as an ensemble and the crew figure things out together instead of individually. We see Paris’s attraction for Kes come into full swing, Neelix’s jealousy start to surface, Chakotay’s calming nature, Tuvok’s unfathomable logic (and respect for Janeway), and all without their captain for most of the episode due to incapacitation. Long story short, they make it through, Janeway regains consciousness, the anomaly was just an alien’s way of saying “hello,” and everyone still gets cake.
No one can argue the true beautiful dichotomy that comes from the combination of Tuvok and Neelix. Due to a transporter accident, along with some hybrid orchids to mix in some scientific juju, Neelix and Tuvok are combined into one sentient being who calls himself Tuvix. Seasoned television actor Tom Wright gives a fantastic performance as the head chef/chief of security. As the Doctor tries to find a cure for this fusion of two opposites, Tuvix finds himself adapting to life and the crew winds up adapting to him as well. Caught in the middle of all this is Neelix’s significant other and Tuvok’s pupil, Kes. Kes is torn with mixed feelings of remorse for the loss of her two loved ones but the joy of finding someone who understands both sides of her personality. In this episode we get to witness Janeway become more than just a Captain to her crew as she takes the role of a parental figure in a time of personal need. The drama unfolds as the Docotor finds the cure but Tuvix does not want his joint existence to end. Therein lies the rub and the real reason why all of us watch Star Trek. Yes, phasers are amazing and space battles are awesome, but every week we want to see our captains make the tough decisions. As Kirk once said, “Risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair.”
A Neelix-centric episode? You bet your Argus Array. I am not one to jump on the I-Hate-Neelix bandwagon; but I do understand it. I cannot deny the appeal of this episode because of the way that every person who watches it can relate to its message. Not only is this a Neelix episode but it’s also a season-one episode. First seasons are widely known as being the “practice” season, the time when the cast and crew find their feet as well as their characters. Doctor Ma’Bor Jetrel was a scientist who invented the Metreon Cascade, a weapon that destroyed 300,000 lives on Rinax, a moon of Neelix’s homeworld. He tracks down Voyager to tell them that that Neelix is terminally ill. He is really using this guise to gain access to Voyager’s transporter system in an elaborate plan to bring back the victims of the cascade. During the entire episode the two obviously do not get along. Neelix harbors justifiable hatred towards the man who killed part of his family. But as the episode progresses we see Jetrel as more than just a monster, rather he was a desperate man who was trying to stop a war and cringed at the horrors he had committed. Several parallels are drawn between Jetrel and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. While Jetrel is focusing on his regrets all I could think of was, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In the end Neelix realizes that Jetrel was trying to redeem himself for his sins, though his plan did not work. However, Neelix buried his hatred, swallowed his pride, and said, “I forgive you,” right before Jetrel died of the illness Neelix “thought” he had.
So those are my picks for the best of Voyager. Certainly there are many others that I love and that are great examples of Star Trek. Think of this as a starting point. No doubt you’ll disagree with some of my picks, and you may even think I’m a Junkyard Klingon Kazon for leaving your favorite off the list. But that passion and debate is what has allowed Star Trek to endure for 45 years. So feel free to add to the comments below and let me know which episodes are your favorites and why you love them.