Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review: Voyager 1.5: Phage

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Neelix spends the episode immobilised. :)
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Five - Phage
Written 22/5/13

This week we encounter Voyager's first decent new idea, and despite its clunky execution, the centricity of The Doctor (and the incapacitation of Neelix) most definitely makes this a stand-out. There's gore, a funky alien species, and a lovely old moral quandary to go with it. It's really the first episode to mesh with me on almost every level, and while it isn't perfect it's well on its way to getting somewhere close.
      While out looking for traces of Dilithium (Star Trek's favourite magic substance), Neelix is attacked by an alien whose weapon steals his lungs. Teleported to sickbay, The Doctor is forced to improvise, and exploits the fact that holograms can be made solid to create a pair of holographic lungs for Neelix to breathe with. Voyager hunts the alien ship into an asteroid containing a mirror-like effect. Neelix is a whiny, jealous little shit even while contained within a restraint. They discover which ship is the real one and Janeway discovers that the aliens are the Vidiians, a species affected by a flesh-eating virus that has led them to develop a culture around the scavenging of organs from other species. While Neelix's lungs are already transplanted into someone else, the Vidiians advanced technology does allow them to take one of Kes' lungs and use that to save Neelix's life. Oh joy.
     If I haven't yet expressed my distaste for Neelix's character, then my abject joy at seeing his incapacitation in this episode should fill you in. As I said, even in his restraints he manages to be annoying - firstly with the subjective sorta stuff, his quirky complaints about the Sickbay not having a sufficiently pretty ceiling and all. And then there's the subplot with Kes and Tom. See, for the first three seasons (the ones that Kes is in), the team decided that it would be fun to have a love-triangle thang going on between Neelix, Kes and Ensign Paris, driven by both Kes and Paris' assignments to Sickbay and similar duties. This is spurred on by Neelix being an absolute Jerkass every time the two so much as even talk in his presence, claiming that it's for Paris' benefit when we see plenty of times that Kes and Paris really are just good friends and that Kes, for reasons still unknown to science, really did love Neelix up until the point where she just couldn't take his bullshit any more.
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The Vidiians are relatively sympathetically portrayed here,
and rightfully so. But they'll be back.
     The Doctor, by far the most interesting character on the show and not just because of his wonderfully co-incidental name, gets another good showing here, beginning to expand outside of his programming when he finds a way to save Neelix's life and manages to tolerate his existence for a day or so without wanting to have a convenient sickbay accident. He and Kes have a wonderful friendly chemistry together, a sort of father-daughter thing, and in these early stages it's one of the better written relationships on the show. He helps to inspire her in her medicinal knowledge, while she inspires him to advance his programming and become more human.
     While the main plot of Phage may, like many of its contemporaries, be a bit thin on the ground, I do think that the character dynamics made it fun enough to bypass it. It's enjoyable on several different levels, and it's that final push that Voyager needs to really get going towards its better moments. It had a cool concept, decent characterisations (for characters we both love and hate) and managed to hold itself together quite well. If only we got to see Neelix in agony every week, Voyager would be perfect television.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Voyager gets swallowed by a space cloud. Or something. See you next week, in The Cloud.

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