Looking back at the premiere of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…
Starring: Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Ethan Phillips, Jennifer Lien, Basil Langton, Gavan O’Herlihy
Series created by: Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)
Written by: Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (story by Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor) / directed by: Winrich Kolbe
What’s it about?
Transported across the galaxy whilst in search of a missing Maquis ship, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager encounter a powerful alien being known as the Caretaker…
With Star Trek: The Next Generation leaving the air in 1994 and the Paramount television studio wanting another Star Trek series to both accompany Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and launch the new United Paramount Television Network (UPN), January 1995 saw Star Trek: Voyager begin its seven year run with the double-length premiere titled “Caretaker”. The series itself created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller (co-creators of Deep Space Nine) and Jeri Taylor (a writer and producer on The Next Generation), “Caretaker” is an enjoyable introduction to the third live action Star Trek spin-off.
In “Caretaker”, Starfleet dispatches the U.S.S. Voyager (docked at Deep Space 9, providing a neat crossover with the wider shared Star Trek universe and including a cameo for Armin Shimerman’s Ferengi barkeep, Quark), under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway (the first female lead for a Star Trek series, played by Kate Mulgrew – rapidly cast to replace French actress Genevieve Bujold, who departed during the first days of filming), to search for a missing vessel belonging to the Maquis (a group of freedom fighters protesting an undesirable treaty with the militaristic Cardassians and considered as outlaws by the Federation – previously established in episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) which vanished without a trace in a volatile area of space known as the Badlands. The mission is of importance as Janeway’s Vulcan security and tactical officer, Tuvok (Tim Russ – who had previously appeared in guest roles on TNG, DS9 and the film Star Trek Generations), was placed amongst the Maquis crew to gather intelligence. To assist, Janeway enlists the help of an observer familiar with the Maquis – disgraced former Starfleet helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill – Cadet Nick Locarno in the TNG episode “The First Duty“), sentenced to a New Zealand penal colony after being caught during his first Maquis operation. There’s some ill-feeling towards Paris by members of the Voyager’s crew but he soon finds a friend in the form of the newly assigned academy graduate, Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang).
Entering the Badlands, Voyager encounters a strange phenomenon and finds itself engulfed in an energy wave. The ship damaged and a number of its crew dead, Janeway soon discovers that the vessel has been transported 70,000 light years across the galaxy to a region known as the Delta Quadrant and in the vicinity of the missing Maquis ship and a massive space station belonging to a powerful life-form known as the ‘Caretaker’. Appearing as an old man, the Caretaker (portrayed by guest star Basil Langton) is dying and has brought Voyager and the Maquis vessel to him in order to find compatible DNA to create a replacement to continue his work as guardian of a race known as the ‘Ocampa’. As events unfold, the Starfleet and Maquis crews find they must work together in order to locate missing crewmembers (one of whom is Harry Kim) and face-off against the threat of the ‘Kazon’, barbaric factions of Klingon-esque aliens (and recurring baddies throughout the first two seasons of Voyager – lead here by Gavan O’Herlihy’s Maje Jaben) who will stop at nothing to seize technology that will allow them to assert dominance. It leads to a difficult choice for Janeway, one that will protect the Ocampa but will leave Voyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant.
Through the course of the episode, “Caretaker” puts in place the rest of the varied main characters of Voyager: Janeway appoints the leader of the Maquis, the tough but reasonable Chakotay (Robert Beltran) – of American Indian descent – as her first officer, Chakotay’s hot-headed half-Klingon/half-human engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) is subsequently assigned as Voyager’s chief engineer, the ship’s holographic Doctor (a wonderfully acerbic Robert Picardo) – the Emergency Medical Holographic programme (or EMH) – is the only choice to replace the deceased chief medical officer and joining the journey back to Federation space is alien guide and cook (later ‘morale officer’), the quirky and resourceful Neelix (Ethan Phillips) and his beloved, Kes (Jennifer Lien). Tuvok of course returns to his post and Tom Paris is redeemed when Janeway entrusts him as the ship’s new helm officer. As Janeway, Kate Mulgrew is magnificent – melding her own intellectual and maternal qualities with shades of the no-nonsense leadership of William Shatner’s Kirk and the curiosity and diplomacy of Patrick Stewart’s Picard.
“Caretaker” also sets up the general concept for Voyager that’s a sort of inversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and, with some inaccuracy, labelling the series as Star Trek’s version of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space) with the U.S.S. Voyager – revolutionary for its ‘bio-neural’ circuitry and featuring those cool pivoting warp engines – exploring space inward from the outer reaches of the galaxy as it heads along a seventy-plus year course towards Earth. The integration of Maquis into the Starfleet crew creates an element of tension that’s dealt with during the first season but is, for the most part, quickly abandoned. On one hand it’s a missed opportunity, possibly a victim of the episodic story of the week style of television at the time which DS9 would increasingly eschew to great creative advantage. On the flip side, it allows the writers to focus on having the crew establish a familial bond, setting aside their differences and working together as a team in the spirit of the more holistic outlook favoured by original Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. It was also likely a response to the at-the-time divisive reception to the darker Deep Space Nine, which, ironically, is now one of the most popular iterations of Star Trek.
Star Trek: Voyager could be a little formulaic, especially in comparison to the more daring storytelling of Deep Space Nine and often seen as an inferior clone of The Next Generation, perhaps making it the weakest of the Rick Berman-produced Star Trek series (opinion amongst fandom of course varies). Non-the-less there’s still plenty to appreciate with another solid central cast (and an undeniably strong lead in Kate Mulgrew) and numerous standout episodes. It’s possible that if the series were made today it would have benefited from the more sophisticated and serialised nature of contemporary TV but as it stands, Voyager – boasting a memorable Emmy-award winning main theme from composer Jerry Goldmsith – is certainly an enjoyable if sometimes uninspired series and “Caretaker” is an engaging start to the adventures of the U.S.S. Voyager and her crew.
Scenes shot for “Caretaker” featuring Genevieve Bujold as Captain Janeway were included amongst the extra features for the Star Trek: Voyager season one DVD set.
Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).