Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Review: Voyager 3.8-9: Future's End, Parts 1&2

These two are together
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episodes Eight and Nine - Future's End
Written between 28th and 30th August 2015

Sometimes it's easy, when watching 24th Century Trek, to forget the time in which it was made. The effects in DS9 and Voyager are never so behind-the-times as to be noticable, and anything weird and anachronistic can be explained with, "Hey, it's the future, the future is weird." This episode of Voyager, however, decides to use the show's love of time travel and blend it with the "characters come to the present day" appeal from the incredibly successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. While it isn't as outwardly comedic as that film, the episodes do create a nice mixture of captivating sci-fi fare and incredibly goofy comedy scenes, courtesy of the Wacky Nineties.
     Voyager is accosted by a time-ship from the 29th Century, helmed by Captain Braxton, a member of a future Starfleet who focus on maintaining the time stream. He claims that a piece of Voyager was found in a 29th Century explosion, and so he has returned to the past to destroy them. Voyager outguns Braxton's ship, and in the resulting melee the two ships are sent back in time - with Voyager travelling to 1996 Earth. Putting on funky 90s clothes, a few of the crew head down to Los Angeles, and, after being perturbed by local fashions, they find Braxton as a homeless man, having arrived on Earth in 1967. He explains that his ship was found by hippie-turned-industrialist Henry Starling, who began to crudely reverse-engineer the technology, in a pattern which will eventually lead to the explosion anyway. Earth's SETI project, designed to look for alien life, detects Voyager, and eventually Starling discovers Voyager's presence. As the station's operator Rain Robinson (comedienne Sarah Silverman) encounters Tom and Tuvok, Starling does a full scan of Voyager and downloads The Doctor, giving him a Mobile Emitter which allows him to move anywhere he wants. After the Doctor is rescued, Voyager's crew try to prevent Starling from travelling to the 29th Century, and upon destroying the Time-Ship Braxton comes and whisks them back to the Delta Quadrant in their own time. There's also a random subplot about racist conspiracy theorists holding Chakotay and B'Elanna captive. That's the States for ya.
The Doctor enjoys a new found freedom. And Tuvok wears
an awesome hat. 
     It's probably a British perspective, but the thing this episode reminds me of most is Back To The Future. The California aesthetic is very similar, and so is the language involved - Captain Braxton's explanation of the time-loop feels very Doc Brownish. This episode also faces the same issue that Back To The Future faces in its "present" scenes - the fact that the episode is instantly dated both in its ideas about the present and near future. I was born in 96, and an ocean away, so I don't really know how accurate the view of 90s Los Angeles is, but the aesthetic and technology comes straight out of that video where Chandler and Rachel teach you how to use Windows 95, complete with huge monitors, massive phones and melodramatic soap operas. In hindsight it becomes incredible to think that Starling has mastered the technology behind force fields and ray guns, and yet hasn't conceived of a smartphone or a flatscreen tv or a non-tweed suit. (Haha.) There's also the unfortunate lack of foresight on the behalf of the future scenes - Voyager takes ages to download a 90s hard drive (of which the biggest was about 16 GB) but Starling can download THE DOCTOR without Voyager noticing!
     Thanks to a combination of cool sci-fi powers and the performance of Robert Picardo, The Doctor had by this point become one of the series' breakout characters. One of the elements of his character was that, as a medical hologram, he could only appear in two places - sickbay and the Holodeck. In order to increase his flexibility as a character, and to continue the arc of his becoming more human, this story gives him the Mobile Emitter - a piece of 29th Century technology that becomes one of the show's most-used techy plot devices, alongside Seven's nanoprobes in next season. I'm very divided on whether the Mobile Emitter was a good idea or not - on the one hand, it's great that Picardo now has the same freedom as the rest of the cast, and The Doctor can be involved in stories in whole new ways, but I feel like removing the main physical limitation of The Doctor's character risks making his arc a little stale. Thankfully this doesn't end up being the case and Seasons 4 and 5 would give his character a lot of interesting things to do, but those things only really relied on his ability to move about the ship - which could have been done without time travel.
I love Starling, but he is yet another Sci-Fi character who
retroactively claims to have invented the Internet. Yawn.
     Really, one of the best things about this story is how genuinely funny it is, both for intentional and unintentional reasons. Despite the similarities to The Voyage Home, the comedy elements of the script and the exploitation of its own datedness make it a really fun story to watch - especially when bolstered by expansive location shooting, fun sci-fi mechanics and an amazing guest cast. Starling is a great villain who never goes too over the top, Rain is a charming side-character and episode-of-the-week romance for Tom (despite some of Silverman's later endeavors). and Braxton is a nice window into the Trek Universe's future continuity (as would later be developed in VOY Season 5 and Enterprise.) I love Future's End and everything it represents for the series, and in my opinion, it's one of Voyager's finest hours.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: Kes finally breaks up with Neelix. Or, at least, an alien controlling her body does. It's the brilliant Warlord.

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