Jean MacDonald

Star Trek: Voyager – A Viewer's Guide

I have published a viewing guide to Star Trek: Voyager. It’s a big project that I’ve worked on as a hobby for over a year in an effort to provide a constructive response to those who have watched a few random episodes and declared Voyager is not good.

I have 95 episodes to recommend, about 60% of the total. Episodes are rated:

Y = Yes! A must-watch; these episodes are great, or at least important to the story and characters.

S = Skip. Unless you’re interested in a particular character or story.

N = Nope. Even I don’t rewatch these episodes. Some of them are truly dreadful.

I included the IMDb ratings, in case you’re curious about what the collective thinks. I generally agree with those ratings, but there are a few exceptions because I have my own biases. I try to note that where it’s relevant. (Spoiler alert: I have a crush on Tom Paris. Gingers are my weakness…)

I wouldn’t have put this amount of effort and heart into a TV show viewing guide without deeply personal motivations.

My Voyager Voyage

As a little kid in the 1960s, I watched Star Trek. I loved everything about it, but I especially loved Mr. Spock. He was handsome like my father, pointy ears and all. Some of the episodes really scared me, like The Doomsday Machine, which featured an enormous cylinder of unknown origin that just went around the galaxy destroying planets. Seven-year-old me worried such a thing could actually exist.

By the time The Next Generation aired, I was in the “No TV” phase of my life. I attended graduate school for four years; most of the time I was in the library. Even after I left school and went to work in New York, I was living with a man who was a terrible cultural snob and disdained TV watching as an activity. (He was from Buffalo, so we did get a TV in time to watch the Bills lose in the Super Bowl. Four years in a row…)

So I missed the second wave of Star Trek television including TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I might have seen snippets if I was at someone else’s house, but I didn’t see any complete episodes on a weekly basis.

In Spring 2011, I had a terrible cold, a TV of my own, and a Netflix subscription. I treated myself to the first binge watch of my life. I must have been pretty sick, because my recollection is that I watched all seven seasons of Voyager in a couple weeks. It was fun. It was a great show, but I didn’t think much about it.

A couple years later, I returned to Voyager for a rewatch. It was Summer 2013, and I was running the inaugural session of App Camp For Girls in Portland. I was up until midnight every night, prepping the next day’s materials so we could teach middle school girls how to make iPhone apps. As a way to wind down before sleep, watching Voyager seemed like a good mindless choice to me.

Instead, I found myself watching Janeway and making mental notes. She became my idol in leadership. Nerves of steel, yet kind and compassionate. Fair. And badass when she needed to be. At camp, I had a new mantra: What Would Janeway Do?

In 2014, discussing some of the criticism of Voyager with my friend and fellow Voyager fan Brianna Wu, I tweeted, “I think the series is held to a higher (aka double) standard.”

I hadn’t really noticed it before, but once I started to pay attention, it was so obvious. The mostly-male fans of Star Trek never gave this show a chance. Without watching it from beginning to end, they’d claim Voyager wasn’t as good as their favorite series.

The truth is, when you watch a whole series, you develop a completely different relationship to the characters and stories. If you dip into the series randomly, you don’t have a stake in it.

Gratuitous and uninformed sniping at Voyager continued to make me mad. I finally decided to channel that energy into a a viewing guide that would allow potential fans to avoid the truly bad episodes, skip the ones that aren’t relevant to the ongoing story, and be sure to watch the best episodes, as well as the episodes that are important for understanding the series.

I’m not arguing that every Star Trek fan is obligated to watch every episode of every series. But you cannot claim a series is not good if you haven’t really watched it. I know from my own experience. I didn’t really like Deep Space Nine. The characters mostly get on my nerves. The religious underpinning of the plot is baffling. It’s a war story, the opposite impulse from “seek out new forms of life and new civilizations.” But I had only watched a handful of episodes from the first two seasons. When I learned that the host of Random Trek, Scott McNulty, considers DS9 his favorite, I decided to give it a real chance. I watched the whole thing. I still don’t like it as much as I do Voyager. But I appreciate what is great about Deep Space Nine now.

Voyager is good, in the estimation of legions of fans. It is the most watched Star Trek series on Netflix. It has some of my favorite characters, it travels far, and and it encounters so many different alien species.

But most importantly, it has three major characters who are women: strong characters who are not relegated to second-class status, who are not pigeonholed as healers, counselors or switchboard operators. And one of them is captain. Seven-year-old me could never have imagined that.

🖖

(photo: meeting my hero at a booksigning in Seattle, 2015)