Voyager and Discovery: The Past and Future of Star Trek

I finished watching all of Star Trek: Voyager for the first time last week. I’d watched The Original Series and The Next Generation years ago, but I’d been advised by various parties not to watch Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or Enterprise because “they’re not good.” My boyfriend’s love of DS9 persuaded me to watch it and as soon as I realized that I was enjoying it, I decided to watch Voyager too. After all, if people were wrong about one, they might also be wrong about another. Yes, I loved it.

Star Trek: Voyager exceeded my expectations by so much. To me, it encapsulated all of the things that Star Trek should be: idealistic, humanist, a utopian setting and a cast of intelligent, capable, good-hearted people. They explore the unknown, they emphasize diplomacy over conflict, and they care deeply for each other, becoming a family over the course of their time together. Boom, that is what Star Trek is to me. This is why I’m not big on the new Star Trek reboot movies – while maintaining some of the character development, they don’t care as much about philosophy and ethics as they do about lens flare and and punching.

Voyager certainly was not without its technical flaws, admittedly (no Star Trek is, I think). There’s some horribly written episodes, including the infamous warp-10-catfish-babies episode, which is widely considered one of the worst episodes of Star Trek ever. But I’d also argue that it includes some of the best, including the absolutely phenomenal Year of Hell two-parter. One of the biggest complaints about Voyager is how inconsistently Captain Janeway herself is written. Obviously the captain and main character is one of the most notable things in any given Star Trek series. There were three main writers for Voyager, and it seemed to me that they all had different ideas about who they wanted Janeway to be.

This definitely created some problems – is she willing to violate the Prime Directive or not? Is she a warm, maternal figure or a harsh, demanding one? – but to me, it did something unintended. One of the things I’ve noticed in talking to people about Star Trek is that women tend to like Janeway a lot more than men do (this is anecdotal, of course, I don’t have data on this). I think this is because the bad writing sort of comes across as Janeway trying to be everything to everyone. Sometimes she’s a warm maternal figure and sometimes she’s the hardass captain, because she literally is trying to be both. I think that’s something that women relate to a lot more than men, due to, you know, societal bullshit and whatnot.

I love Captain Janeway (I also love Captain Sisko, and I think I love them more than Kirk OR Picard, so there’s the answer to that age-old nerd dilemma) and I love Voyager. And as we get closer and closer to the premier of Star Trek: Discovery, I’m finding myself hoping that Discovery is very Voyager-like in terms of its content and tone. Recently there was one of the many Discovery-hype articles where the higher-ups said that they were aiming for something more “Game of Thrones-like”. I’m desperately hoping that in this, they only meant “with long-running plot arcs and a lot of characters and a big dramatic continuity” rather than “grimdark, full of empty meaningless death, and horrifying rape and violence shown on-screen”.

I desperately want Discovery to be good. It’s been 12 years since Enterprise went off the air (I still haven’t watched it yet; I’ll be starting soon). And yes, I know, this hasn’t exactly been a Trek-less time because of the movies, it’s not the same. It’ll be good to have a Star Trek TV show on the air again (even if it is behind another stupid paywall, goddamn you CBS), you know, provided that it still is a Star Trek show.

The tone that the movies have taken – action over thought, action over plot, action over all else – does not give me warm-and-fuzzy feelings over the new show. Now, granted, it’s entirely different people in charge – JJ Abrams did the movies (and I will never not be bitter about the fact that he doesn’t even like Star Trek and he only did it to beef up his resume to do Star Wars ugh), and Bryan Fuller was actually the one who started Discovery. That is a good sign – Bryan Fuller was the architect behind many good episodes of DS9 and Voyager. As a less-good sign, though, he left the show before filming even really got underway.

I like that Star Trek is committed to continuing its legacy of diversity. We have multiple WOC main characters, including captains and first officers, we have openly gay characters, these are solid and consistent steps forward. The Original Series was so groundbreaking with its portrayal of the crew – Russians and Americans serving alongside, black women holding the same rank as white men, and more. I want them to keep that up. Deep Space Nine gave us Captain Sisko, and Far Beyond the Stars, which I’ve written about before. I want Star Trek to keep breaking new ground, even when it’s ground that should have been broken a long time ago. People who get mad about diversity in Star Trek inherently do not understand Star Trek.

I’m gathering that Star Trek’s past, while definitely having some unfortunately missteps (Warp. 10. Catfish. Babies.), it’s overall a really good foundation for future shows to build on, and I hope they take advantage of that. The future of Star Trek has so much potential and while I’m afraid that it’ll be wasted, I can certainly hope that it won’t be. Either way, I’ll be tuning in to that Discovery premiere with my idea of Star Trek in mind… and so will thousands of others. They can’t make everyone happy… but is it too much to hope that they make me happy?

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