Appreciating Star Trek: Voyager – Along with a Good Cup of Coffee
The year was 1995, and new content wasn’t as frequent as it is nowadays, in the ‘a-whole-generation-of-kids-have-grown-up-with-the-Internet’ era. But many of us die-hard Trekkies were overjoyed. A new series was about to begin! We had recently enjoyed a brief time with not just one but two Trek series on the air concurrently, when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine began about a year before Star Trek: The Next Generation ended, and once again, we were going to have two series on the air! Glorious!
Even more icing on the cake: we were not only getting a new series, but one with a female captain! I was elated. I loved Kirk, Picard, and Sisko for their own unique personalities, but to see a woman in that kind of leadership role was thrilling. Twenty-year-old me couldn’t have articulated the reason for my excitement like I now can, though.
Meanwhile in the middle of a challenging academic career – aiming to work in the space industry after graduating – I needed a powerful role model, although I didn’t quite know it yet. Confident, self-assured, and female. Enter Captain Janeway and Star Trek: Voyager.
There were a lot of criticisms of the show back then, many of which are still expressed by those who watch the show today, and it’s generally agreed the series took a good two seasons before hitting its stride. There were several imperfections, and one I still hear is this: they went to the furthest reaches of our galaxy and all the aliens still look humanoid! I get it. But I also appreciate now, in a way I didn’t back then, that there were production costs to consider.
The most endearing part of the series is the characters, and I believe they evolved while remaining true to themselves. I can only imagine how hard that is to accomplish over an ensemble-cast show over so many years. For any show that does it well, I give kudos to the actors and writers who I know are working hard to honor their creations and please a very demanding and often exasperating audience.
Rather than emphasizing hard science, Star Trek has always been about character stories. To that end, Star Trek: Voyager delivers in spades. There is love and loss, hurt and healing… all the humanity that has always epitomized Trek is present in Voyager. Nearly all the characters in one episode or another have to wrestle with tough choices and their own inner demons. Voyager also did what nearly all Trek has done: been a vessel to tell human stories – not simply to carry a crew through space on a journey of exploration.
It took me a long while to appreciate this. I graduated from college and began my career in earnest in 1997, which is about the same time I stopped watching Voyager in its initial run. Busy establishing my life and career, I didn’t resume watching the rest of Voyager until much later. By then, I was older, wiser, and established in my own career – often as a team leader. No, I wasn’t a ‘captain,’ and my varied missions never placed anyone’s lives in danger, nor had I ever had to guide a team home from far away, not knowing if we’d make it. My missions have been a little more mundane, involving software schedules, budgets, and the occasional rocket launch.
Even so, I see myself in Captain Janeway, or I see her in me – not only because we both appreciate a good cup of coffee – but in a certain strength and confidence we bring to our roles. It sounds like I’m saying, “If you want to be a strong, confident female leader, watch Janeway.” I am, wholeheartedly.
But I’m also saying watch, too, all the other characters and their humanistic journeys, wrestling with their demons and growing as a result. (Yes, the characters are not all human and I was glad a Vulcan and half-Klingon were part of the ensemble cast from the beginning… but the people who created them are human, as is the audience. Ok, maybe the cat or dog watches too, but you know what I mean!)
In the real world, one of my passions is Artificial Intelligence, so I couldn’t talk about Voyager without mentioning one of my other favorite characters: The Doctor, a sentient AI. The Doctor is one of my favorite characters in the same way that Data is one of my faves from Next Gen. Like Data, he’s on a quest to improve himself and his situation. Unlike Data, he’s not outwardly expressing an ultimate desire or goal to be human. But that might simply be because, unlike Data, from the day we meet the Doctor, he can express emotion in a way Data couldn’t (until his emotion chip).
Another time, I may write about my other favorite Voyager characters (listed in no particular order): Tuvok, Neelix, B’Elanna Torres, Seven of Nine… and maybe even the rest of the crew. Now and then, I have moments when I believe that any of the main characters, when they’re having an exceptional moment, are my favorite.
If you need another reason to watch or re-watch Voyager… do it for the deeper dive into the Borg and Borg culture. If you watched TNG and want more Borg, Voyager is indeed the series for you. Twenty-three episodes of the show feature the Borg, not counting every episode that includes Seven of Nine. While many of Seven’s episodes are not Borg-centric, very few of them go by without some reference made or some tidbit learned about her time with the Borg on her journey to restoring her human self. And she’s helped by the rest of the crew – most notably Janeway, and most ironically, the Doctor.
In summary, Voyager is worth watching for all fans of Trek. Even if it doesn’t become your favorite series, it still has a lot to offer to the franchise, and to anyone’s appreciation of Trek as a whole.
Inspired by Trek growing up and daily enabled by strong cups of coffee, Adeena Mignogna is a software and systems engineer working in the aerospace industry. She is also the author of Crazy Foolish Robots, a humorous science-fiction novel. Visit her website at adeenamignogna.com.