Star Trek: Voyager began life in 1995 with some truly fascinating prospects in its two-hour pilot episode. Opening in the 24th century, a setting contemporary with that of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and carrying over story elements from each of those series, "Caretaker" finds Starfleet Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) stepping into the middle of Federation troubles with the Maquis, an army of rebels violently resisting the interplanetary organization's treaty with the brutal Cardassians. In the process, both Voyager and the Maquis ship under surveillance are accidentally catapulted out of the galaxy's Alpha Quadrant (the familiar stomping grounds of Starfleet personnel) by a benign but dying being called the Caretaker. Voyager ends up in the unexplored Delta Quadrant, some 70,000 light years away.
So much seemed dramatically promising in this debut, especially the unwieldy alliance of Starfleet regulars and hostile Maquis, and the likelihood that a lifetime spent in isolation, trying to get home, would lead to the development of a self-contained society on the ship, yet Voyager never entirely made up its mind what it was supposed to be about. The curiously cheesy sets and fascinating, progressive management style of Janeway (half mommy, half taskmaster) were also new developments in Star Trek culture. As the 16-episode season continued, character backstories were developed in such episodes as "The Cloud" (arguably the best episode of the season), "Eye of the Needle" (underscoring Janeway and the crew's sadness), "State of Flux" (in which a search for a traitor reveals a past romance between Commander Chakotay, played by Robert Beltran, and sexy Bajoran engineer Seska, played by Martha Hackett), and "Jetrel" (which explores the character of Neelix, the Talaxian played by Ethan Phillips, during a parable about scientific ethics and moral responsibility).
Among other notable episodes, "Phage" strikes a nice balance among character development, story hook, and moral and emotional conflict when Neelix is literally robbed of his lungs by the Vidiians, a once-civilized people who are combating a deadly disease called the Phage by stealing organs. (The disease would return in "Faces," a fine showcase for Roxann Biggs-Dawson as Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres.) "Emanations" stirred controversy among the series' producers and some fans for its philosophical look at death, and "Time and Again" is a unique time-travel story in which Janeway and Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) get caught in a subspace fracture that places them just hours before they know a planet is going to be destroyed. In "Prime Factors," latent tensions among Voyager personnel erupts into serious conflict, an issue revisited in the season finale, "Learning Curve." Despite a pat ending that resolves the Maquis conflict much too easily, the episode drives home the fact that Voyager and its crew are all alone, making the most of a difficult predicament. --Tom Keogh and Jeff Shannon
If the first season of Star Trek: Voyager was a shakedown cruise, then season 2 represents a vital blossoming of the series' potential. As Captain Janeway, Kate Mulgrew maintained Starfleet integrity in the lawless expanse of the Delta quadrant, and became the ethical conscience of her still-uneasy Maquis/Starfleet crew, whose unanimous loyalty would be dramatically proven in "The '37's" (a first-season hold-over). Janeway's moral guidance would also assert itself in "Death Wish" (a "Q" episode featuring NextGen's Jonathan Frakes) and "Tuvix," in which life-or-death decisions landed squarely on her shoulders. Season 2 brought similar development to all the primary characters, deepening their relationships and defining their personalities, especially Robert Beltran as Chakotay (in "Initiations" and "Tattoo"), now firmly established as Janeway's best friend (and nearly more than that, in "Resolutions") and command-decision confidante.
Solid sci-fi concepts abound in season 2, although "Threshold" is considered an embarrassment (as confessed by co-executive producer Brannon Braga in a self-deprecating "Easter Egg" interview clip). It was a forgivable lapse in a consistently excellent season that intensified Janeway's struggle with the villainous Kazon, exacerbated by a Starfleet traitor in cahoots with the duplicitous Cardassian Seska (played by Martha Hackett, featured in a lively guest-star profile). The psychologically intense "Meld" (featuring a riveting guest performance by Brad Dourif) was a Tuvok-story highlight, and the aptly titled "Basics, Pt. 1" provided an ominous cliffhanger, including a second planetary landing (in a season full of impressive special effects) that left Voyager's fate in question. DVD extras are abundant and worthwhile, especially the season 2 retrospective and "A Day in the Life of Ethan Phillips" (who plays Neelix under a daily ordeal of latex makeup). Several Easter egg surprises--including a music video performance by Tim Russ (Tuvok)--are hidden (but easily found) among the "Special Features" menus on disc 7. All in all, this was one of Voyager's finest seasons, leaving some enticing questions to be answered in season 3. --Jeff Shannon
After proving its long-term potential in season 2, Star Trek: Voyager served up some of the best episodes in its entire seven-year history. The second-season cliffhanger was intelligently resolved in "Basics, Pt. II," and the fan-favorite "Flashback" placed Tuvok (Tim Russ) aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior from Star Trek VI, under the command of Capt. Sulu (Star Trek alumnus George Takei). It was a brilliant example of interseries plotting, just as "False Profits" was a Ferengi-based sequel to the NextGen episode "The Price." The two-part time-travel scenario of "Future's End" is a Voyager highlight, with clear echoes (including dialogue lifted verbatim!) of Star Trek's classic "The City on the Edge of Forever," featuring delightful guest performances by actress-comedienne Sarah Silverman and Ed Begley Jr. Character-wise, the season belonged to Kes (Jennifer Lien, whose tenure on the series was now near its end), Neelix (Ethan Phillips), and the Doctor (Robert Picardo), who shined (respectively) in "Warlord," "Fair Trade," and the surprisingly touching "Real Life" (the latter directed by "Potsie" himself, Happy Days veteran Anson Williams). By infecting B'Elanna (Roxanne Dawson) with a fellow officer's "Blood Fever," Voyager delved into the turbulent Vulcan ritual of Pon Farr, while the cliffhanger "Scorpion" introduced the relentless, Borg-destroying villains of Species 8472, which would pose a continuing threat in subsequent episodes.
Season 3 had a few clunkers (the guilty pleasure "Macrocosm" puts Janeway in stripped-down "Ripley" mode against invading macro-viruses, and Ensign Kim is an awkward "Favorite Son" to a bevy of babes), but for every misstep there's a strong science-fiction concept, like the highly-evolved Hadrosaurs in "Distant Origin," which doubles as a compelling indictment of institutionalized repression. Overall, this is rock-solid Trek, and the DVD features are equally engaging, albeit growing more perfunctory (especially the season 3 summary) with each full-season release. Don't forget the Easter eggs hidden on the special-features menus, however; they contain some of the set's happiest surprises. --Jeff Shannon
For many fans, Voyager hit its peak in the fourth season, due in no small part to a certain former Borg drone named Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 0-1, but you can call her Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). Following the season 3 cliffhanger "Scorpion," the crew enters an unlikely alliance with the Borg against Species 8472, led by Seven of Nine, who ends up restoring (mostly) her human roots and trying to assimilate herself among Voyager's crew all the time feeling the pull of the Collective and resisting the mother-hen attempts of Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). While Seven's curvaceous figure and skin-tight uniform certainly won over many fans, she was helped by a commanding presence, good writing ("So you wish to copulate?" was a classic line), and a stage that was cleared for her by the coinciding departure of one of the most prominent characters of the series.
Other significant developments of the season included the actors' getting to stretch themselves out "Mirror, Mirror"-like as evil counterparts in "Living Witness" (also Tim Russ's directing debut), the time- and mind-bending two-parter "Year of Hell," a battle with 1940s Nazis in the two-part "The Killing Game," the Doctor's comedic sparring with a new rival in "Message in a Bottle," the Alien-like "Prey," and Tom Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill) taking a personal step and switching bodies with an alien in "Vis a Vis."
The DVD set offers the usual 20-minute season overview, crew profiles of Seven of Nine (natch) and Harry Kim (both of whom show warm appreciation for the Trek crowd), features on Species 8472 and the art of matte painting, and episode spotlights. --David Horiuchi
After Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) spent much of Voyager's fourth season trying to resist the pull of the Borg, and just when the tide of battle seemed to be turning, she returns to the Collective in a memorable confrontation with the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson) in the centerpiece story of the fifth season, the two-part "Dark Frontier." The Borg also factor into the nightmare-laden "Infinite Regress" as well as "Drone," in which a strange Borg-human-EMH hybrid teaches Seven the experience of parenthood, of sorts. Species 8472 returns as well, in another of the season's gritty episodes, "In the Flesh."
The series' historic 100th episode "Timeless" goes back in history as Kim (Garrett Wang) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) try to repair a past mistake (directed by and guest-starring TNG's LeVar Burton), and in another dizzying episode, "Relativity," Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is spending her first day on Voyager when she discovers Seven, who has traveled back in time to prevent an act of sabotage. It was also a good season for buddies Kim and Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill). In addition to "Timeless," Kim takes center stage in "The Disease" when he embarks on a dangerous romance. Paris is thrown in the brig in "Thirty Days," and his Captain Proton holodeck simulation goes haywire in "Bride of Chaotica!" In "Course Oblivion," a ship wedding is the prelude to a deadly displacement for the entire crew.
It wasn't all slam-bang action. The Doctor's (Robert Picardo) buried memories lead to an ethical conflict in "Latent Image," and he and Seven (the two most consistently interesting crew members) dabble in the most unlikely of romances in one of the series' most touching and memorable episodes "Someone to Watch Over Me." Also, Jason Alexander (then in Seinfeld) guest-stars as a scheming alien in "Think Tank." Voyager didn't always close its season with a cliffhanger, but in "Equinox, Part 1" an attempt to aid another Federation starship in the Delta Quadrant uncovers a threat that might destroy them both.
The bonus features include a season recap, crew profiles of Voyager's resident couple, B'Elanna Torres and Paris, a 19-minute spotlight on the makeup process (Neelix was created as a combination of Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King), and "The Borg Queen Speaks," in which Susanna Thompson discusses the difficulties of shooting and how she had originally auditioned for the same role in Star Trek: First Contact. --David Horiuchi
In their sixth season trying to return to the Alpha Quadrant, the crew of Voyager continues to find signs that they may be close to home. They ran across another Federation starship in the season 5 cliffhanger, "Equinox," which is concluded in action-packed fashion. Then they benefit from a brief communications link to home thanks to the ongoing efforts of The Next Generation's Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), occasionally assisted by Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis). "One Small Step" sets Voyager on the trail of NASA's first manned mission to Mars (one of the bonus features details Robert Picardo's post-Trek work with NASA).
In other episodes, Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) tests the limits of Klingon honor ("Barge of the Dead"), Tuvok (Tim Russ) stretches his emotions ("Riddles), Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Kim (Garrett Wang) embark on a new holdeck program, wrestling superstar the Rock makes a gimmicky guest appearance ("Tsunakatse"), a former crew member returns ("Fury"), and the crew discovers a group of abandoned Borg children ("Collective"). The two most interesting characters continue to be the Doctor (Picardo) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The former stretches out numerous times ("Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy," "Virtuoso," "Life Line"), and we learn more about Seven's Borg past in "Survival Instinct" and the season closer, in which Seven discovers that during regeneration she can enter a dream world called Unimatrix Zero. There she meets a number of mutated Borg who can exist in this world in their pre-assimilation state and who also present an idea for destroying the collective from within. The Borg Queen, however, discovers the plan and ends the season in a nightmarish cliffhanger that recalls the great Next Gen episode "The Best of Both Worlds." --David Horiuchi
After seven long years trying to return home, it's no surprise that the seventh season of Voyager was emotional. It begins with the resolution to season 6's "Unimatrix Zero," in which Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), and Tuvok (Tim Russ) must find a way off the Borg Cube and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) faces the loss of the precious bit of humanity she has just discovered. "Human Error" focuses on Seven's further attempts to explore her human side (a romance comes from out of the blue). And if Seven isn't the cast's most fascinating character, it's the other crew member struggling to find his not-quite-human identity, the Doctor (Robert Picardo). In "Body and Soul," the Doctor gets to experience physical life in the body of--who else?--Seven. He writes a novel in "Author, Author," and in the first of a pair of excellent two-parters, "Flesh and Blood," he explores what it means to be a hologram in the midst of a deadly situation involving the Hirogen. In the second two-parter, "Workforce," the crew is kidnapped and brainwashed into becoming ordinary laborers on a planet with a worker shortage, but Janeway is forced to question whether she wouldn't prefer this version of a normal, stable life.
The seventh season also saw the first Trek wedding since Dax-Worff, the return of the old Federation-Maquis conflict, the continuing efforts of Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) to bring Voyager home, Kim (Garrett Wang) taking command twice (once with the help of the Emergency Command Hologram), the return of Q, and Neelix's discovery of a group of fellow Talaxians. The final episode, "Endgame," is less concerned with misty-eyed goodbyes than with a bending of conventional views of the space-time continuum that leads to an exciting showdown with the Borg queen (Alice Krige, repeating her role from Star Trek: First Contact but making her first appearance on Voyager). DVD bonus features include the usual season recap, a 12-minute featurette on the final episode, and a crew profile of the Doctor. --David Horiuchi