Monday, April 1, 2013

What should Voyager have been?

This post is a continuation of the post the other day (or yesterday, depending on when I finish this) about Star Trek: Voyager.

Voyager is broken up into two parts: pre-Borg and post-Borg. Seasons 1-3 were an attempt to acclimate the crew (and the viewers) to Voyager's predicament, establish relationships, and introduce the alien-ness of the Delta quadrant. Seasons 4-7 gave up any trappings of continuity and became TOS in the Delta quadrant.

Assuming that Seven arrives in Season 4, and the Borg are introduced, my suggestions:

When Voyager arrives in the Delta quadrant, they are essentially on the fringes of civilization. No replicators, and even water is scarce. Caretaker actually sets this up pretty well, but it fails to follow through. It needs to show the implications of scarcity (outside of Voyager). It's easy for Voyager to be all high and mighty when the Kazon are all a bunch of douche-nozzles.

The Kazon could be cast as a slave race from a recently disintegrated 'Roman Empire' type civilization. The first three seasons of cruising through the Delta quadrant would be like walking through eighth century Europe: some semblance of a common background (common law, similar but diverging languages and cultures, half-a-dozen wannabe heirs to the throne). You already have the Vidiians, who are suffering from a plague, who would fit right in as former members of this 'Roman Empire.' The common background doesn't prevent vastly different outcomes: Voyager could do away with the annoying Trek Tropes of: all (non-Federation) civilizations are single-species (Dominion excluded, kind of); and all members of the same species (non-Federation) share the same attitudes, culture, and political system. Some Kazon sects may be really friendly to Voyager, straining their desire to withhold technology, while others can be classic Trek villains.

As season 3 draws to a close, Voyager comes to discover the cause of the 'Roman Empire's' disintegration: the Borg.

Something has to be done to make the Borg more interesting. Season 3 episode, Unity, offers an interesting possibility (this is the episode where Chakotay meets the former Borg who want to re-collectivize). What would happen if the Borg collective were destroyed (without all the Borg being destroyed?) Picard chooses in TNG's Hugh not to use a virus that would potentially destabilize the collective. After First Contact, it seems like Starfleet Intelligence would be more than willing to do something to get rid of the Borg threat. As Voyager enters Borg space, they encounter a strong Borg, but at some point they get word from Starfleet that the Hugh-solution has been activated. The central collective collapses, but there remains some odd trillion individuals still around. The former Borg have a myriad of reactions--some wanting to re-form a collective, some wanting to remain 'Borg', but individuals, and some wanting to re-join their former civilizations.

(I don't love Species 8472. It was kind of a 'we need someone with an EVEN BIGGER stick' moment, which Voyager fell victim to often.)

The Borg who want to re-collectivize enable a story arc that provides a sympathetic picture of the Borg. Sci-Fi is at its best when it presents conflicts as between two legitimate points of view (Star Trek, though, does this poorly as a rule. The best Trek villains--Borg in TNG and 8, Kahn in 2, the Dominion, are, perhaps, understandable, but never sympathetic). The collective could really push the logic of "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." A single civilization provides its distinctiveness to a billion people or so, while that culture assimilated benefits trillions upon trillions of Borg.

The Borg who want to re-integrate with their original society provide a way for Voyager to interact with new civilizations. I'm sure Voyager could play on some immigration/war crimes stuff, with the returning Borg being accepted, shunned, or persecuted for war crimes.

What would the relationships have looked like?

Harry Kim would have had a much more intimate relationship with dead.

Kes. I would have like to have kept Kes aboard. I don't dislike her relationship with Neelix. I like her relationship with Janeway (though having both Seven and Kes aboard would have strained Janeway's motherly side). Seven and Kes could have had a good relationship, I think? (Also, why don't the Borg have Telepathy or empathic ability?)

Neelix should have been the social center of the ship. Everyone eats at the mess hall--Maquis, Starfleet, Dayshift, Nightshift, every department. Voyager shows occasional social fragmentation (outside of the bridge crew). He's ostensibly a morale officer, but that doesn't go very far. His fear of becoming useless once Voyager goes beyond his knowledge of space is a great character arc, but I think the solution of kinda making him a security officer and kinda making him an ambassador isn't satisfying. Instead, Janeway should have emphasized that Voyager is a society, not just a starship, and his role as opinion leader, connector, and 'morale officer' is a real job. (Another Trek Trope: no one outside of Starfleet ever does anything useful).

I also like the early season relationship between Janeway and Chakotay. I think the trend of passionate, but respectful, disagreement is good. There could be more tension between Chakotay and Tuvok, as Tuvok often feels more like a first officer than Chakotay does. The thing missing from Chakotay was something missing from the show in general: real tension and distinction between the Maquis and Starfleet crew.

I would have like to have seen a story-arc involving Tuvok-as-Javiert. A group of Maquis are troublemakers, and Tuvok zealously pursues them--rightly in most of the cases, but in one case he ends up pursuing, and ruining, a truly repentant Maquis crewman, and Tuvok must deal with his over-reach.

The Doctor, and Tom and B'Elanna, are fairly well done. T&B stagnated for a bit (the fake-crew T&B marriage lampshades this), but they're fairly positive. Janeway, too.

What does everyone think? Obviously there are lots of other things I would tweak, but I don't want this post to get to be longer than most of my papers.