Voyager: “Caretaker” – A Summary of the Story
In Star Trek: Voyager’s pilot episode – the two-part “Caretaker” – there’s an initial promise of tension between the Starfleet and Maquis crews (it only plays out for a few episodes before being resolved).
The pilot features Tom Paris and his journey from prisoner to Starfleet pilot. It also sets up his series-long arc of redemption.
But Captain Janeway is at the center of the “Caretaker” plot, making the key decisions and kicking off Voyager’s ongoing storyline. As Chakotay acknowledges, she’s unquestionably in charge.
“Unhappy with a new treaty, Federation Colonists along the Cardassian border have banded together. Calling themselves ‘The Maquis,’ they continue to fight the Cardassians. Some consider them heroes, but to the governments of the Federation and Cardassia, they are outlaws.” – Introductory text
The story of “Caretaker” starts on a Maquis cruiser, in mid-battle with the Cardassians. As they enter an area of space known as the Badlands, we meet the ship’s human captain, Chakotay, as well as half-Klingon engineer B’Elanna Torres and Vulcan tactical officer Tuvok. In minutes, we see Chakotay’s command style, as he tells Torres to be creative in finding more power for the engines; Torres’ creativity, as she suggests a solution; and Tuvok’s logic, as he objects to the practicality of her idea.
Then they encounter a displacement wave, which causes their ship to disappear. The teaser ends with a mystery: what happened to them?
The next scene, on Earth, introduces Tom Paris and Captain Kathryn Janeway. Paris is the audience surrogate here, as Janeway explains the mission she’s recruiting him for: finding the lost Maquis ship. We also learn a little of his history with the Maquis and why he’s in a penal facility. We find out that Janeway was a science officer under Paris’ father, an admiral. When Janeway tells Paris that he’ll be an observer, he objects that he’s the best pilot she could have, so we discover his specialty as well.
We follow Paris as he travels to Deep Space 9 and gets his first look at Voyager, while flirting with Stadi, the shuttle’s pilot. Stadi tells us more about Voyager, including its crew complement and the nature of its bio-neural gel packs.
On DS9, we meet the young and naive Harry Kim as he’s being swindled by Quark. Paris intervenes and saves him. We’re on the Voyager bridge as the ship leaves drydock.
In the mess hall, Kim learns more of Paris’ history from other crewmembers. Paris advises the younger man that it might be wise to stay away from him. Kim protests that nobody chooses his friends for him, establishing a foundation for their ongoing friendship.
In following the Maquis ship’s course, Voyager enters the Badlands, and encounters the same displacement wave. It transports them to the Caretaker’s array, which Kim reports is 70,000 light years from where they started.
Several key crewmembers have been killed or injured in the rough passage. This brings us to Sickbay, where we meet the curmudgeonly Emergency Medical Hologram, who will come to be known as the Doctor.
Suddenly, the biological crewmembers are mysteriously transported away. They find themselves in a bucolic farm setting, where they meet an old man with a banjo, later revealed to be the Caretaker.
The Starfleet crew and the Maquis crew are transported to a laboratory, where they are probed by machinery. All but Kim and Torres are returned to their respective ships unharmed.
Janeway contacts Chakotay and suggests that they work together to solve their mutual problems of finding their crew members and returning to the Alpha Quadrant. As Chakotay’s crew beams over, Tuvok is revealed to be Janeway’s security chief, who had been undercover with the Maquis rebels. This sets up tension between Tuvok and Chakotay, who has a fair amount of hostility to turncoat Paris as well.
Investigating the disappearance of their missing crewmembers, the Starfleet and Maquis crews return to the farm setting by beaming back aboard the Caretaker’s array.
There, the old man with the banjo keeps insisting that they don’t have what he needs, and that he doesn’t have enough time. With a wave of his hand, he whisks his visitors away, sending them back to Voyager.
We find Kim and Torres in a sterile-looking lab facility and are introduced to Torres’ half-Klingon temper as she struggles to escape. It leads to her being rendered unconscious by their captors.
In the Voyager ready room, Janeway meets with Tuvok, revealing that she spoke with his family before Voyager departed. Janeway makes a promise to get him back to them.
The crew then encounters Neelix, scavenging in a debris field. He’s immediately friendly and helpful, offering to assist them in exchange for water. He provides some information about the Caretaker. When Neelix beams aboard Voyager, he gives Tuvok a hug.
Meanwhile, Kim and Torres form a reluctant alliance. They are taken to the Ocampan city, and informed that they’re very ill. Others with the same illness didn’t recover.
Voyager goes to Ocampa and meets the Kazon, who are immediately hostile to Neelix. This is when we first meet Kes, who has bruises from her rough treatment by the Kazon. Janeway offers to barter water for their assistance, but Neelix turns the tables, revealing that his true mission is to rescue his beloved Kes. We see Kes’ strength of character as she insists that it’s their duty to help the Voyager crew find Kim and Torres.
Kes leads the way through the city, to the tunnels she used to reach the surface of the planet. She, Neelix and Paris find Kim and Torres using the same route, and they emerge on the surface together.
The Caretaker’s array is firing at the surface, making the tunnels unstable. Paris and Neelix return to the tunnels to find Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok, while the others beam up to Voyager. We play out the hostility between Chakotay and Paris as Paris rescues him from a collapsing stairwell, insisting that Chakotay’s life now belongs to him.
Several Kazon ships arrive in orbit. Janeway assigns Paris, now back aboard Voyager, to the Conn as they try to evade the Kazon fleet, putting him in the post he’ll hold for the rest of the series.
Janeway and Tuvok beam over to the Array and talk with the Caretaker, who confirms Tuvok’s hypothesis that he’s dying. He fears that his powerful Array will fall into the Kazon’s hands, and that they’ll use it to wipe out the Ocampa. This sets up a moral dilemma for Janeway, who needs the Array to send Voyager and the Maquis back home. Will she use it, and leave the Ocampa to be killed, or destroy it and strand both crews 70,000 light years from home?
Chakotay uses the Maquis ship to ram the largest Kazon vessel, destroying it just as he beams over to Voyager. Everyone is now on one ship.
Janeway makes the difficult decision – she’ll destroy the Caretaker’s array. Torres challenges her authority, but Chakotay reminds her, simply, that “she’s the captain.” The Array is destroyed, and the Kazon declare that Janeway has made an enemy.
Once the Kazon have gone, Janeway summons Paris to her ready room and gives him a field commission of lieutenant. She’s going to combine the Voyager and Maquis crews, with Chakotay as her first officer. Chakotay has promised to shield Paris from Maquis retribution because, after all, his life now belongs to Paris.
Neelix and Kes come to Janeway and ask to remain on the ship. Neelix makes the case for his usefulness as guide and ship’s cook.
The captain then addresses the bridge crew, telling them that they’re seventy-five years away from home at maximum warp, but that the crews will work together to find shortcuts. All the while, they’ll be fulfilling Starfleet’s mission to explore new worlds and new civilizations.
A staff writer on Star Trek: Voyager, Lisa Klink worked on that series for three years. She has also worked on several other shows, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Roswell, and Pandora. Lisa has written or co-written four novels, as well as short stories, graphic novels and screenplays.
1 thought on “Voyager: “Caretaker” – A Summary of the Story”
Great summary! But I never understood why Janeway couldn’t have just fired at the array with delayed-detonation photon torpedoes that would have gone off right as they finished going back through to the Alpha quadrant. Of course, then they would have had to change the plot of the series. But would that really have been so bad? 😉