Friday, April 19, 2024

Star Trek: Caretaker

Episode: "Caretaker"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Original Air Date: January 16, 1995

via Memory Alpha

A Maquis raider led by Chakotay, desperate to get away from a Cardassian warship, blunders into a displacement wave that whisks it away to the other side of the galaxy.  A newly launched Federation ship, the USS Voyager led by Captain Kathryn Janeway, is sent to find them and suffers the same fate.  All have been kidnapped by a powerful entity known as The Caretaker.  Once both crews - ultimately united as one - wriggle out of their captors clutches, they're faced with the problem of how to get back home, 70,000 light years away.

Such is the basic setup for Star Trek's fourth spinoff: Voyager.  Simple enough, right?  The long voyage home, one of the oldest and most important stories in world literature, with a crew that doesn't entirely trust each other yet.  It's a strong premise to build on, fueling 168 episodes over seven seasons.  

Voyager certainly has its devotees among the Star Trek faithful.  However, the critical consensus has generally been that Deep Space Nine, which ran concurrently for five seasons, is the stronger show.  In my own family, our child's regard for DS9 borders on religious whereas they couldn't even make it very far into Season 4 before giving up on Voyager.  

There was a deliberate intention to make Voyager different from DS9: more action, fewer dark stories, more exploration.  There's nothing wrong with any of that.  And the creative engines behind the two shows were essentially the same.  The two series shared executive producers, showrunners, writers, directors, guest actors and more.  So, why did the one work better than the other?

My theory: Voyager tried to do too many things and, as is often the risk, didn't do any of them well enough.  The to-do list coming out of the pilot is already long:
  • Find a quicker way home.
  • Explore the Delta Quadrant while we're at it.
  • Develop the principals.
  • Resolve the tensions between the combined crews.
  • Keep the action-level high.
  • Keep the atmosphere light, at least in comparison to DS9.
For my part, I promise not to dwell on the differences too much.  I will try to judge Voyager on its own merits as much as possible.  But I also want to make my own biases clear at the outset.  And I don't mean to imply that I don't like Voyager.  I enjoy it well enough and "Caretaker" is a strong pilot.  But that's not to say there won't be issues to discuss moving forward.  The pursuits of the goals on the list above often run contrary to each other.

Okay, it's game time.  With each new Star Trek series, I match the new characters with counterparts from the earlier series.  I make these matches based on what I see as narrative function rather than job title.  In so doing, I draw a legacy line back to the original series.  This is by no means an exact science.  What I have found thus far is that the more difficult matches go a long way to defining the differences between one series and the next and that's a good thing.  As always, I welcome debate.

While the writers did their best to sell Voyager as a spinoff of DS9, including a stop at Quark's bar in the pilot, I don't feel Deep Space Nine is established enough (only 57 episodes to this point) to boast its own legacy just yet.  So, for the sake of my game, I am sticking with The Next Generation as my template.  Yes, that will mean two separate branches in the family tree and yes, that will complicate things when/if I get all the way to Enterprise.  I can live with such wrinkles.

One final point of clarification before we begin: I base these choices on what we know from the first episode.  Imagine going to a new school and seeking familiarity in all of the new faces.  That's what I'm after.  Obviously, the roles will evolve over time and there will be casting changes to address.  We'll cross those bridges when we get to them.

Picard = Janeway
via Wikipedia

The first move is always the easiest.  Protagonist becomes protagonist.  Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was the first woman to lead a Star Trek series and that was a very big deal indeed.  The Next Generation, particularly in its early seasons, received no shortage of well-deserved criticism for sexist material and what was going on in front of the camera paled in comparison with the mess playing out behind it.  Deanna Troi's survival as a character and her growth into someone more than a great body in a jumpsuit comprise Marina Sirtis's triumphant tale to tell.  But it wasn't enough to make up for the scant and shoddy material generally supplied to the show's female principals.

Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were developed with this shortcoming in mind.  Representation isn't everything, either.  The women (still outnumbered in principal cast in both shows) needed to be strong and they needed meaningful stories.  The Bechdel Test matters.

Janeway definitely has a soft side.  We see her as a nurturing dog mom as she prepares for her mission.  She also has a maternal attitude towards her crew, as we see in the way she talks about Harry Kim.  But there's a toughness, too, and a willingness to get her hands dirty.

The overall lineage thus far:  Kirk = Picard = Janeway

Riker = Chakotay
NextGen is a Picard-centered show and after seven seasons, most of the other principals are best defined by their relationship with the captain.  Will Riker is Picard's friendly foil.  Admittedly, the Janeway-Chakotay dynamic is still a bit of a mystery by the end of the pilot.   Just as with Sisko and Kira on DS9, there's obvious tension to resolve between them.  It's tempting to put Tuvok in this slot.  But in the final scene, there's a much celebrated exchange between Chakotay and his fellow Maquis rebel, B'Elanna Torres.
Torres: Who is she to be making these decisions for all of us?
Chakotay: She's the captain.
The message to Janeway is clear.  Whatever our differences, I've got your back.

Scotty = Tasha Yar = Riker (née Willard Decker line) = Chakotay

Data = The Doctor
This is more obvious.  If Data were cranky and put-upon, he'd be the Doctor, also known as the emergency medical hologram (EMH).  As he clearly has the capacity to be irritated, the EMH already has more emotional range than pre-Generations Data but he's still function-first, personality-second.  Once again, it's tempting to put Tuvok here, practically sacrilegious not to have the Vulcan in the Spock line.  But I'm going to need him somewhere else and the Doctor truly is the better fit.

Interesting that for both DS9 and Voyager, the lead physician goes in the Spock chair rather than the McCoy chair.  I swear, I don't plan these things.

Spock = Data = The Doctor

Worf = Torres
Yes, they both have the Klingon temper.  More importantly, they both bring a healthy paranoia to the operation.  Torres is obviously going to be a tougher sell in adjusting to the new command structure than Chakotay is but in the long run, her natural skepticism will serve both her and her new captain well.

Chekov = Worf = Torres

Dr. Crusher = Tuvok
Even before she is revealed to be Picard's love interest, Beverly Crusher is the captain's strongest emotional link to his past.  Tuvok is, in fact, the only principal character who knew Janeway before our story began so this chair becomes his by default.  But that's not giving him enough credit.  Already, we see that he's more than a competent subordinate.  He's Janeway's trusted friend - not quite a buddy the way Dax is to Sisko but clearly valued on a personal level.  

Uhura = Dr. Crusher = Pulaski = Dr. Crusher = Tuvok

Troi = Kes
Even in the awkward early going, Deanna Troi was Picard's emotional confidant.  To be honest, we don't have much to go on with Kes so far but the few lines she has reveal wisdom, warmth and empathy, all qualities she shares with Counselor Troi.  If she's not Janeway's confidant yet, it's not difficult to imagine she could be, especially given her outside-the-command structure civilian status.

McCoy = Troi = Kes

La Forge = Kim
If NextGen has an everyman character, it's Geordi La Forge.  Harry Kim takes up the mantle for Voyager.  Harry is not only new to the audience but new to Starfleet.  Voyager is his first assignment.  Even before he boards the ship, he has to be rescued from being swindled by Quark.  His mother calls the captain to tell her Harry forgot his clarinet at home.  That's about as close as Star Trek ever gets to adorable.

Interestingly, like both La Forge and Miles O'Brien (the DS9 equivalent), Kim will ultimately become important as the buddy to another principal.  Though it won't be the Data equivalent in Harry's case.

Sulu = La Forge = Kim

That's every match for the TNG regulars but there are still two more on the Voyager side.  This part's always especially fun for me.

Guinan = Neelix
Without the success of Guinan, I wonder if either Neelix or Quark would have happened.  Whoopi Goldberg is awesome, obviously, and her most important long-term contribution to Star Trek was the demonstrated value of a character outside the power structure.  The captain needs one person to talk to who doesn't see her (or him) as a boss or a parent.  For Voyager, both Neelix and Kes fit the bill.  Neelix fits more comfortably in the Guinan chair because... didn't he say he can cook?

Obviously, I have the benefit of having watched most of the series before and I know that Neelix takes charge of meals for the crew.  Thus, his role is closely analogous with Guinan's.  Plus, Kes really does look right in that McCoy/Troi chair.

Nick Locarno = Paris

Tom Paris doesn't fit any of the usual Star Trek principal molds.  Janeway recruits him out of a penal colony for the mission.  Once he's on-board, those who know who he is are not sparing in their contempt.  Even Chakotay bears a potent grudge against him.  No Trek principal has walked in at such a deficit before.  His story is one of redemption from the get-go.  As such, putting him in a Ro Laren chair would seem logical.  But there's some important history worth noting in this case, both in terms of the creative development of the character and the actor's history with the franchise.

Nick Locarno made only one appearance in The Next Generation but it was a memorable one.  He was the leader of Wesley Crusher's scandal-ridden flight team at the Academy in "The First Duty."  It's an important episode for several reasons.  It's the best Wesley episode.  It introduced Sito Jaxa who would feature in an even more important episode, "Lower Decks."  Most pertinent to our current discussion, it brought both Nick and Robert Duncan McNeill, the actor who played him, into the fold.  

Fast forward a couple of years.  As the creators were building the concept for Voyager, the working name for the character who would ultimately become Tom Paris was Nick Locarno.  Whether they actually intended to resurrect the character is unclear but casting McNeill was certainly not a given.  When he read the script (with the name already changed), McNeill immediately saw Nick in the new character.  In retrospect, it all feels like destiny.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Kate Mulgrew was born in Dubuque, Iowa, April 29, 1955, the second of eight children.  At 17, she was accepted into the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, though she left after only one year.  She made her on-screen breakthrough on the soap opera Ryan's Hope in which she played the role of Mary Ryan for the first three seasons.  As is practically required for Trek leads to this point, her Shakespearean resume is solid: Desdemona in Othello (particularly interesting as both Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks have played the title role), Isabella in Measure for Measure, Tamora in Titus Andronicus and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.

Before Voyager, she played the title character for the brief run of Mrs. Columbo, co-starred with Pierce Brosnan in the miniseries Mansions of America and made guest appearances on Dallas, Murphy Brown and Murder, She Wrote.  Films included Lovespell, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and Throw Momma from the Train.  She first came to my attention as Janet Eldridge, a Boston city councilwoman and briefly Sam's fiancée on Cheers.

Mulgrew was not the first choice to play Janeway.  Quebecois actor Geneviève Bujold won the part initially.  Bujold wasn't a good fit.  When she left, Mulgrew got the job.

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