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Old February 7 2012, 05:00 AM   #19
Re: Voyager in your comics pages today

Like a lot of Trek fans my age, I loathed Voyager with a passion when it first ran. I nitpicked it to death every week on this very forum. I hated the reset button, the magically-clean ship, the miraculous shuttle bays, Neelix, the Kazon, ... ... ...

Then almost a decade went by. I watched DS9 all the way through three times on DVD. When I signed up for Netflix, I watched B5, then TOS, TNG, and DS9 (again). Then Doctor Who, Torchwood, Farscape... anything and everything to keep from watching Voyager. Finally I ran out of stuff to Netflix. So just to remind myself how awful it was, I began watching Voyager. Pretty soon, I started to wonder what this show was and what had it done with the Voyager I remembered? It was actually... good
I was a fan of Voyager. I loved the concept, the idea of real exploration in the same manner as historic expeditions (albeit lost in space) like Lewis & Clark, Magellan, Drake, Cook, early Antarctic explorers, etc and was already a Star Trek fan. I ultimately ended up being somewhat disappointed in the writers not really embracing that concept and hating what they did in Season 7 (felt like they were just on the outskirts of the Alpha Quadrant even though they were, what 30,000ly away still. The premise of monthly no-delay contact across the galaxy was too huge a leap, effectively making nowhere in the galaxy too far from Earth and "Pathfinder", it was impossible for Barclay to guesstimate where Voyager was. Too many leaps even knowing average distance/year to determine. Like he could predict the Vortex, dabbling in slipstream twice, the Transwarp Coil, subspace catapults).

In the end, I enjoyed it more often than not over its whole run and gave UPN a loyal viewer for 6.5 years, someone who wouldn't have watched that channel (well, not in primetime. Still had Beast Wars, the interesting movie or two on the weekend) otherwise. I must say my enjoyment waned considerably by parts of Season 6 and 7. Huge bad decisions were made (permanent contact), some acts were shameless (let's remember lt. Carey only to kill him off then have Admiral Janeway come back in time to save Seven but not go back just 1 more month to save a man with a family. That made Admiral J seem very cruel. Same dumb idea that inspired the Stargate writers to kill off Dr. Carson Beckett who was endearing to the fans. That blew up in their faces). Multiple bad episodes/ideas have a resonance effect, a gestalt effect (more than 1+1). "Life Line" was out of place ('80s sitcom/drama script. "Father, help me help you". Please, like gag me with a spoon) and "Virtuoso" was... like they didn't have another merely below-average script lying around? They fell too much to the idea that people loved the Doctor? They gave him too much comedy when he proved he can do great with drama ("Latent Image" a shining moment). Voyager tested my loyalty and somehow it survived with even a bit of looking forward to episodes intact still. X-Files could not say the same.

I think it was Voyager did use a bunch of very interesting ideas. Most were cool, some kind of fell flat, things like macroviruses, space creatures that eat starships and lure them in, 2 kinds of Void, the accelerated world, subspace sinkholes, chaotic space, invading the crew's dreams, sneaking around their ship out of phase using them as guinea pigs, going into stasis thru a nebula for a month, a facimile ship filled with simulcra that think they're the real thing, hopscotching across a jigsaw puzzle of time ("Shattered"), the crew being all brainwashed into thinking they're average people, the Hirogen (visually very interesting, conceptually decent too), and on and on. Transwarp salamanders and crazy boxing visions are among the few places where it completely faceplanted. Compared to TNG & TOS's ventures 'round the Alpha & Beta Quadrants, the Delta Quadrant is quite exotic and different. The same elements are there, but are fewer and lack that exotic uncharted continent/ocean feel... which makes me remember, the ocean in space!

Ulitmately, Voyager was an underperforming show. Some can rightfully accuse it of mediocre overall. I think why Voyager has such a negative reception online is Voyager had very passionate critics and people that hated Voyager since Day One or thereabout but Voyager's fans weren't nearly as passionate. That imbalance allowed the negativity to overwhelm what positive feelings there were. TNG had a huge fanbase (check the DS9 ratings thread to see how high its ratings were vs. the other series) and despite being dated and corny to some, most of it endures as entertaining. DS9 had a strong, albeit whiny fanbase with a strong continued internet presence since the '90s. DS9 benefitted by being ahead of its time in the themes it dealt with, its storytelling. They complain when ultimately, DS9 was much better rated than Voyager (debunking complaint of DS9 being less popular) and Voyager's timeslot was not as solid as it seemed (numerous hockey, basketball pre-emptions across the country, some baseball, debunking the complaint VOY was given preferential treatment by being on a network). Enterprise... outside of fanbases for Season 3 (Xindi arc), Season 4 (fan's writer, respected TOS material) and the characters (Trip brigade), are there any really strong fans for that series?

I don't know... maybe it's age. Maybe VOY is more suited for people in their thirties, people who've been through hell already and held on to who they were. Because in my twenties, I thought the Equinox crew was far more realistic. But now, VOY sticking to its Starfleet principles, and putting effort into keeping the ship and their uniforms spotless seems a lot more understandable to me. I don't find it quite so hard to believe anymore that these people could spend time playing around on the holodeck, or that they could build replacement shuttles so quickly, considering they have to have something to do to take their minds off the fact they're marooned on the other side of the galaxy. In the last ten years, I've found that I can get almost a superhuman amount of work done in no time when I'm distracting myself from the everyday horrors of growing older (aging parents, dying grandparents, possibly-receding hairlines).
Well, if one of the horrors of the thirties are dying grandparents, consider yourself lucky to have had an opportunity to interact with them as an adult. Many are lucky to have grandparents alive (and mentally 'there') when they are college age. 3 out of my 4 grandparents were dead before I was out of grade school (generational timing, most lived to the mid 70s- 80s), with just an old uncle surviving til I was junior high age and 1 estranged grandparent holding on to their 90s (not that anyone would want to interact with them). I would have loved to have talked with my grandpa when I was more than a kid, my grandma, I never really knew her because she was sickly in the few memories I had of her and didn't display much personality. If I was older, I could've realized my grandpa didn't tell nearly as much stories as my dad and I could try and goad some out of him. Some people are natural storytellers, feel compelled to recount stories & memories, other's aren't.

I think, while some fans still bash Voyager for not going the dark gritty survivalist route, others feel vindicated. The Voyager complainers got what they wanted in Battlestar Galactica (and "Year of Hell", though complaining about the reset button even though Voyager wasn't even salvagable by Part 2. The reset allowed a great story that went beyond the normal scope a story could be told in to get made) and it was by a noted Star Trek alum & Voyager critic no less. Those Voyager anti-fans got the kind of series they wanted. They saw its positives/negatives, how stories would be told.

"Equinox", I knew even as a teen at the time that was the contrast that was being made. Voyager remained civilized while Equinox went feral. Voyager kept civilization (Starfleet protocol, Federation culture) alive on their ship, a small island in the Delta Quadrant while Equinox turned into savages. Of course, the episode has huge holes and if you add up all the facts (their parallel 2371 being totally incongruent with Voyager's 2371, the Ankari being only 50ly back) Equinox looks a lot more grizzly and like a crew basically driven insane by their ordeal, not just cruel & ends justify the means-like (don't take the Eq crew at their word, it looks like dolphin fuel only powered them a short distance. The 'enhanced' warp is only in their minds. Their ships sensors and their minds were damaged beyond repair. It looks like they were pulled into the space just before late Season 5, the last part of space Voyager jumped over in "Dark Frontier"). Small things like uniform and how you address other officers were to drive home that divide between the 2 crews. The Doctor with/without ethics was another example. Janeway succumbing to the dark side and Chakotay having to be the counterpoint to snap her out of her mire (a different kind of mire in the Equal Night from "Night").

Some of the things like shuttles, yeah, they should have written lines explaining it. All we got is one little line from either Ensign Jetal or Ensign Ballard that the senior staff keep them very busy in the shuttle repair division (not to mention Neelix's shuttle still there). Photon torpedoes could have been explained by in Season 3 Tuvok saying to Janeway something like: "After 2 years of making the equipment and training the personnel, we can finally manufacture photon torpedoes on the ship". A single line or two could have gone a long way instead of awkwardly ignoring it. It was clear they didn't have a continuity checker ("Juggernaut" was not out of place from being held back production-wise, not sure about the script), though some of those egregious episodes made for great stories ("Juggernaut", "Ashes to Ashes"). Still would have been nice to have some justification instead of the Malon/ensign from 2 years ago out of the blue.

Even Endgame, which previously made me want to shoot my TV and set it on fire, was exciting this time around. So damn exciting.
I remembered watching "Endgame", taping it too since I wasn't able to watch it that night. Was fun digging it out and B5 "Sleeping in Light" out and seeing what commercials were on it. Voyager's finale had a lot of car ads. A lot. I was surprised how mainstream the ads were given how small UPN's ratings were. I can post a list if people want it. Anyway, it was an exciting finale, but it had a lot of distasteful elements. It had the same elements that soured me as a Voyager fan over Season 6 & 7. One can see elements of the decay of Star Trek in it, both what ended up making Nemesis so bad ("Endgame" tried to copy "All Good Things..." somewhat) and what made Enterprise's finale so hated (Admiral Janeway steals the show, Barclay treated as if he were a major cast member on the show for 7 seasons). It was entertaining yet disappointing. It was quite clear they were writing cool things without thinking about "Endgame" being a part of a body of Star Trek literature/material (transphasic torpedoes, ablative hull armor gives the Federation a huge edge over surrounding powers). The use of the Borg, the clash with the Queen, the Transwarp Hub, striking a blow vs. the Borg, and the junction back to the Delta Quadrant/Kim's speech were all nice. Many weren't happy with the cutoff at the homecoming.

Maybe it's not age, maybe it's simply that Trek's been off the air for a while now, and so this time around, it felt a lot fresher. Or maybe it's because this time around, I watched it without also reading (and crafting my own) negative, nitpicky essays about every little thing that could've been done better or differently.
I'd say some of it is age. Sometimes tempers get tempered with time, people grow more tolerant (or their senses dulled to the outrage), or maybe it is the lack of Star Trek and wanting to experience 1/5th of the universe's episodic content. I've found that excessive nitpicking ultimately makes one oversensitized to every. little. thing. and that leads to too much agitation in other things in life. Of course some things deserve to be criticized, but there's a difference between the mountains and the molehills. Besides, as bad as Voyager was, some sci-fi/fantasy series were far worse. Andromeda or Earth: Final Conflict anyone? How about all the bad ideas that spawned from Season 5 of Xena? Stargate Universe? At least Voyager didn't kill DS9 like Universe was revealed to have done to Atlantis. And B&B, as much as they ended the franchise and their nasty "Valentine" was, they seemed to have done less damage to the fandom and the reception of the franchise than the top producers & writers of Stargate did.
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