Star Trek fever is everywhere thanks to the arrival (and, so far, critical success) of the brand new series Star Trek: Discovery, so we’ve decided to have a look at each of the older shows and try and rank our favourite five. Deep Space Nine turned out to be a lot harder than we imagined when it came to choosing five gems, but what about its successor, Star Trek: Voyager?
As always, remember these choices are subjective. Star Trek series tend to have hundreds of episodes on the whole, so we’re all going to have our favourites and some which divide opinion. This is just one selection. We’d love to hear yours…
Jetrel (S1, E15)
This one may strike you as an unusual choice, but I found a much deeper appreciation for ‘Jetrel’ when rewatching it for the first episode of my Trek.fm podcast Primitive Culture, whereby we compared this and an Enterprise character with Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb in the 1940’s. In a first season riddled with rather throwaway Trek stories that tried to replicate the recently-concluded The Next Generation, ‘Jetrel’ is a genuinely affecting, strong piece of drama that tells a cautionary allegory for Oppenheimer in the 24th century.
Unlike the majority of the rest of Voyager, it also gives Neelix (Ethan Phillips) a genuinely meaty story to chew on, fusing a futuristic take on the power of deadly weapons created to win a war with survivors guilt. Neelix went on, largely, to be an annoying comedy relief character but ‘Jetrel’ proved early on he was capable of much more. It’s unfortunate the show avoided doing strong morality plays like this for much of the rest of its run.
Timeless (S5, E6)
Voyager arguably had reached its peak by the fifth season, a season which balanced hits and misses almost on a weekly basis, before the series largely plummeted in quality over its final two years. ‘Timeless’, the one-hundredth episode of the show, cut to the score of what made Voyager damn good Star Trek when it could be – the essence of their voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant (the shows mission statement), action adventures stakes, and a particular favourite of Voyager – time travel.
Set in a future which would later be invalidated, fifteen years after Chakotay and Harry Kim manage to get back home following an experimental slipstream warp drive test, they head back to the Delta Quadrant to find the remains of the USS Voyager, which crashed to its doom on an ice world. Despite to a degree hitting the reset button, ‘Timeless’ is an unexpectedly moving love letter to the show’s premise, with some great special effects, a cameo from TNG star Levar Burton as an older Geordi La Forge, and possibly the strongest use of Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) the series ever did.
Distant Origin (S3, E22)
Oddly enough, Voyager was sometimes one of the best shows for thinking outside of the box with how it approached telling Trek stories, and ‘Distant Origin’ is a great example of doing just that. Much of the episode takes place from the perspective of an alien race, the reptilian Voth, and a scientist named Gegen who ends up co-opting the crew of Voyager to help him try and prove the ‘distant origin’ theory, linking the genetic ancestry of his species to Earth, and humanity.
The resulting revelations are genuinely quite fascinating and surprising (the Voth essentially end up being the descendants of historic dinosaurs who gained intelligence enough to voyage into the stars), with some out there science-fiction concepts wrapped around, essentially, a futuristic Galileo story – the struggle of a forward thinker combating the built-in orthodoxy of his species.
The writers play with similar ideas of Voyager‘s role in another races’ history the following season in the strong ‘Living Witness’, but for sheer scope, character work and great storytelling, ‘Distant Origin’ is among the shows best.
The Killing Game (S4, E18/19)
Outside of space and transporters, if there are two things Star Trek loves most, its the holodeck and stories involving Nazis. You get two for the price of one in two-part story ‘The Killing Game’, which arrives smack bang in easily Voyager‘s strongest year – season four. Somehow, that’s the year they got the formula spot on, and it would be easy to place ‘Year of Hell’ (the other mid-season two-parter) in this spot. Many would. ‘The Killing Game’ wins the race for being among Voyager‘s strongest outings and one of the best holodeck tales in all of Trek.
It concludes an ongoing, continuing story arc in the fourth season involving the Hirogen (the Predator done for Trek, basically), a hunter race who consider killing sport. After seizing control of Voyager, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew take to a holodeck simulation of occupied France during World War Two in order to hide, as the Hirogen dress up as Nazis and hunt them down with the safety protocols turned off. Big aliens dressed as Nazis would be repeated to lesser effect in Enterprise, but Voyager has a lot of fun having the crew play WW2 over two episodes.
You also get a genuinely inventive resolution of the Hirogen storyline (until season seven, when we get a sequel) that allows Janeway to have her cake and eat it, but provides a fascinating ethical question about how the Hirogen live. One of Star Trek‘s strongest two-parters.
Scorpion (S3, E26 / S4, E1)
It had to be, didn’t it? ‘Scorpion’ would stand out for many as Voyager firing on all thrusters, as its the story which really changed everything for the show. Three seasons in, still attempting to get home across the Delta Quadrant, the series needed a shot in the arm. They needed the Borg, arguably Trek’s most terrifying antagonists since they first appeared in TNG. Where Voyager really pulled a flanker was by not just having Voyager run into the Borg, but have to face the prospect of an alliance with the assimilating enemy to take down Species 8472, a race capable of blowing up Borg fleets with abandon.
Everything about ‘Scorpion’ is epic, from the story to the music to the effects, and it really elevates Voyager into a new realm and kickstarts a cracking fourth season. Crucially, it also allows for the arrival of the fairly controversial Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a de-assimilated former Borg drone who, for better or worse, became the muse of the writers over the next four seasons and as the proxy Spock/Data dispassionate alien figure facing a human journey, became the heart of the series.
The Borg may not have ever returned to Voyager in as powerful or exciting a manner, even when the Borg Queen shows up to menace them in S5’s ‘Dark Frontier’ and later the series finale ‘Endgame’, and ‘Scorpion’ as a season finale/opener was never bettered, but it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Voyager was capable of truly great storytelling. If only it had done more of it!