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Bon 'Voyager'

Lost in space for seven years, the USS Voyager's disappointing journey ends Wednesday

Staff Writer

In one of the first episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager" in 1995, Capt. Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is walking down a corridor aboard her lost ship when she sees a crewman staring out the window --- staring at the alien stars.

"Our journey home is several weeks old now," Janeway tells her computer log, "and I have begun to notice . . . a subtle change as the reality of our situation settles in. Here in the Delta Quadrant, we are virtually the entire family of man. We are more than a crew, and I must find a way to be more than a captain to these people."

It was only a throwaway scene at the beginning of "Voyager's" seven-year run on UPN, but it pointed a wonderful path for the series. A literal new frontier. A different way of doing "Star Trek." A brave new ---

"Nah," as Steve Martin used to say.

"Voyager's" final episode runs Wednesday (8-10 p.m., WQHB, cable channel 4). It leaves behind the ashes of what could have been a great series, if the producers only had the guts to follow through on a great idea.

The original "Star Trek," premiering in 1966, created the formula. "Next Generation" (1987) perfected it. "Deep Space Nine" (1993) built on it. "Voyager" was intended to shatter the formula by tossing a lone starship to the other side of the galaxy, free of the "Trek" franchise's 30-year-old conventions and safety nets.

The idea was daring, electrifying. But no idea is so good that it can't be turned bad. "Voyager" somehow became more hidebound, more screechingly predictable, than any other "Trek" series. Even CBS' goofy "Lost in Space" (1965-68) dealt more honestly, more emotionally, with the issue of being stranded far from home.

The "Voyager" producers, early on, knew they had to make a decision: Should the crew wrestle every week with the angst of being marooned, or just accept it and keep on Trekking? The producers decided the crew members would embrace their plight with typical 24th-century utopian good will. It might have been in keeping with the spirit of "Star Trek," but dramatically, it was dishonest, and it threw a wet blanket of disbelief over the series.

Consider a February episode: Voyager is pulled into a pocket of space from which ships can't escape. Alien ships similarly trapped there survive by raiding each other for supplies. Will Voyager escape? (Duh.) Will Janeway resort to theft and murder to keep her crew alive? (Double duh.) It's not a story (--) just a series of moral straw men for Janeway to knock down while preaching high and mighty ethics at the less-enlightened aliens. (And on "Voyager," the aliens are almost always less-enlightened.)

A lot of this stems from the producers' treatment of Janeway, the first female lead in a "Star Trek" series. All the previous "Trek" captains were presented as good people with interesting flaws (--) James Kirk could be a tomcat; Jean-Luc Picard, a pompous bureaucrat; Ben Sisko, a gruff policy wonk. But as a would-be feminist icon, Janeway wasn't allowed to have flaws. She had to be the noblest woman in the galaxy, and the dullest.

In one recent episode, Janeway was brainwashed into forgetting she'd ever been a captain. The brainwashed Janeway was an interesting woman. She even got to have sex. Then she got unbrainwashed, and it was right back to business as usual. (If Genevieve Bujold, originally cast as Janeway, hadn't bailed out, could she have worked a few real and ragged edges into the role?)

As "Voyager" ends, the "Star Trek" franchise goes on. Scripts have been written for a UPN series to replace "Voyager," but no filming has begun. The new show is rumored to be titled simply "Enterprise," and to take place aboard the very first starship Enterprise, 100 years before the 1966-69 "Star Trek," at the dawn of the Federation. "Trek" executive producer Rick Berman has told reporters he could have the new series on the air by this fall.

Paramount Pictures seems in no rush to make another "Next Generation" theatrical film. There's encouraging buzz about a script by "Gladiator's" John Logan that reportedly features Romulans and a new race of villains. "I would describe the film as being in the same style as John's film 'Gladiator,' " Berman has been quoted as saying. Whether that means Oscars or swordfights, he didn't say.

The Build-Your-Own 'Voyager' Episode Kit

  1. The Voyager enters a new star system, looking for:
    a) Spare parts.
    b) Supplies.
    c) Shortcuts to Earth.
    d) Old Marvel comics.

  2. Introduce a personal problem among the crew:
    a) Tuvok is having trouble living up to his Vulcan heritage.
    b) Tom Paris and B'elanna Torres encounter romantic difficulties.
    c) Neelix can't get his new recipe right.
    d) Seven of Nine is just too sexy for her clothes.

  3. The crew encounters a race of aliens who look and act exactly like humans, only with knobby foreheads. One of these aliens is particularly friendly ("We can learn much from the humans!") while another is particularly unfriendly ("We must not let our culture be contaminated by these humans!").

  4. One or more members of the Voyager crew run afoul of the aliens':
    a) Laws.
    b) Customs.
    c) Pointless, never-ending war.
    d) Distrust of people who don't have knobby foreheads.

  5. Janeway and her officers debate what to do next.
    Janeway: "We mustn't interfere with this culture's normal development!"
    Chakotay: "Captain, they've got our friends!"
    Torres: "Our shields won't stand up to an all-out-assault!"
    Neelix: "Can't we all just get along?"
    Meanwhile, the camera lingers over Seven of Nine's astonishing Borg body.

  6. Janeway takes the offensive, resolving the crisis with:
    a) Diplomacy.
    b) Threats.
    c) Force.
    d) Seven of Nine's astonishing Borg body.

  7. Both sides learn important lessons and the Voyager is free to continue its way home.

  8. Resolve the personal problem among the crew:
    a) Tuvok again commits himself to his Vulcan heritage.
    b) Paris and Torres patch things up with a romantic evening on the holodeck.
    c) Neelix learns to make potato salad.
    d) Seven of Nine gets a new outfit.

  9. Repeat Steps 1-8 until the next "Trek" series appears.

Bobby Bryant

--courtesy of The State newspaper

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