It’s time for another episode in our Why Star Trek Works series. This week we’re looking at Voyager.
Technically Deep Space 9 came out before Voyager. But we’ll be talking about that next week. Both shows aired at roughly the same time, so it didn’t matter which one you watched first.
Voyager was, of course, far different than the original series or Next Generation. For starters, it’s not set on the Enterprise.
Duh, I know. But think about what that means. Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation. The people who work on the Enterprise are the best of the best. Everybody from Captain Picard to the dude cleaning the toilets is the best there is at what they do.
That’s not to say that the Voyager crew is bad. But they’re not the flagship. They’re not the best of the best. They’re not getting the best of the best, either. There’s no posh bar run by an eternal psychic here. There’s a crew doing the best they can to survive a hell of a situation.
If you don’t know the premise of the show, let me break it down for you. Captain Janeway and her crew are tasked with tracking down a group of rebels called the Maquis. While trying to catch up with them, both ships are transported somewhere in space they’ve never seen. Over seventy years’ worth of travel stand between them and their families. While Captain Janeway is still dedicated to the mission of seeking out new life, her main mission is clear. To get her people home.
Now, let’s talk about why the show does and doesn’t work. Because while it’s great overall, sometimes we learn lessons from other people’s screw-ups.
Make your own rules, and stick to them.
There’s a rather infamous episode of Voyager that messes up the math for warp speed for every other show in this cinematic universe. That was pretty extreme, but it’s by far not the only example of this show just not sticking to its own damned rules.
Take the Captain, for instance. Sometimes she’s a badass no-nonsense queen. Sometimes she wants to be everyone’s mom. And no one bats an eye at this. Look, I get that people change and grow. But if you’re going through a switch like that, someone’s going to notice.
Let your characters grow.
Alright, all that being said. There is a great amount of character growth in Voyager. And I love that. The premise of the show, that they’re lightyears away from home and might never get back, is going to force growth. No one’s the same person they are by the end of this. Which, if I’m being honest, is something that was lacking in the other Star Trek shows. Picard is Picard, from the start of Next Generation to the end. The same can be said for almost everyone. And that’s just not realistic. I’m not the same person I was seven years ago. Why should any of these characters be?
Have a clear goal that not everyone shares
Here, though, is the biggest reason Voyager works. Right from the start, there’s a clear goal, get home. But, and this is the important part, not everyone necessarily shares this goal.
There are a couple of characters who might be way better off on the other side of the universe. People who were in prison or maybe heading to prison. People who might be just as happy to make their way home, or their way in a new universe.
This sets up the immediate conflict for the whole series. There’s no writer’s block here because you always have something for your characters to be working towards and against. It also sets a finish line.
Over the last few years, never-ending shows have gone out of fashion. There’s an end to most stories, after all. A moment to pause. While life may go on for the characters, one tale doesn’t go on with them. Think of your own life. Has it all been one battle? Or has it been a thousand different battles? Giving a story an ending doesn’t just prevent you from jumping the shark. It’s also infinitely more satisfying.
So that’s it for Voyager. I’ll see you next week when we’ll talk about Deep Space 9.
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