Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: Voyager 3.2: Flashback

Over a year since my last Trek review... they're back!

Janeway and Tuvok relive his time upon the USS Excelsior.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Two - Flashback
Written 29/7/15

At the time of Star Trek's 30th Anniversary in 1996, the two shows currently on air were Deep Space Nine, in its fifth, phenomenally successful series, and Voyager, in its third, less successful one. In order to celebrate this anniversary, a special was written for each show, both with flashbacks to moments in the Original Series' run, both reflecting on the progress that had been made in the succeeding years. Whereas DS9 gave us the brilliant Trials and Tribble-ations in which Sisko and the crew actually time-travel back to meet Kirk and the Enterprise, Voyager takes every opportunity to be the mediocre sibling and so gives us an obscure reference to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, complete with retconned backstory for Tuvok and a villain almost designed to be forgettable.
     Voyager enters a technobabble nebula and Tuvok begins having traumatic flashbacks to his childhood, in which his childhood self accidentally lets a child fall from a cliff-edge. In order to help locate the crux of the memory, which The Doctor says appears to be a foreign object in his mind, Janeway agrees to mind-meld with him, taking them both back to Tuvok's memories of serving with Captain Hikaru Sulu in 2293, slap-bang in the middle of the sixth Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country. This seems confusing, because they're trying to find the memory of him dropping the girl off the cliff. By coincidence, it seems that the memory takes place at a time when Sulu's ship, The Excelsior, encountered a very similar technobabble nebula to the one they've just found in the present. The Doctor realises that the memory is in fact a mental virus which passes between hosts, and manages to kill it before it migrates to Janeway.
     This episode exists primarily in order to bring up nostalgia about TOS, and in that aim is does succeed. The main problem arrives in comparison - Trials and Tribble-ations actually puts us inside a TOS episode and thus can give us all of the major cast. This episode is exploiting nostalgia for a film which came out in 1991. Michael Dorn was a cast member! I don't like to keep on making comparions to DS9 here because that's not really fair - they were made by different people looking for different things. But here the anniversary-ness falls flat for two important reasons: the place it's going back to isn't as timeless as in the DS9 anniversary, and is thus less recognisable; and the fact that it's shoved into the plot, it's purpose for being there being weakly explained five minutes before the end.
Tuvok faces his most terrifying moment - an unhappy Janeway.
     Because, behind the presented facade of being an anniversary episode, the episode is a lot more suited as a Tuvok-centric character piece, shedding some light on his history in Starfleet and what he was getting up to before joining Janeway's crew. This was actually fairly imporant - most of the other characters had had episodes explaining their backgrounds, while Tuvok was just "Janeway's friend" who had spied on Chakotay's terrorist cell for her. Here we find out that he's been serving in Starfleet for over ninety years, and left at one point due to developing a prejudice against humans, spurred by the incident he remembers in the episode. It's nice to see that Tuvok is not the perfect being he often pretends to be sometimes, and it's so fun to see him as a relatively young 29 year-old. (I'm not sure how Tuvok hasn't aged at all in 86 years, but it's sci-fi, so whatever.)
     Flashback, the first of many Season Three episodes defined by vague, single-word titles, feels very unnecessary. Its nature as an attempt at an anniversary special is both its only virtue and its major downfall. The anniversary stuff doesn't work because if the audience hasn't seen Star Trek VI it doesn't bring any warm, fuzzy feelings, and the character study feels less believable because the minor, forgettable plot about the mental virus doesn't compare to buzzing around in the past with Sulu. I knew there was a reason I'd stopped reviewing Voyager here - but I know there's still some awesome episodes to come, so I'm sure this will be the first of many new articles. Shame it had to be on one so disappointing.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Oh, Harry. Poor, poor Harry. We find out just how bad he can have it in Chute.

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