Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Review: Voyager 3.23: Distant Origin

Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-Three - Distant Origin
Written 09/12/15

In 1633, the Catholic Church put Galileo Gallilei on trial for his adherence to the scientific theory of heliocentrism, the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. It's held up as a classic case of reason and science being crushed under the power of a religiously motivated establishment, and it's a clear-cut inspiration for the this week's episode, which follows a race of lizard-men descended from Hadrosaurs as they attempt to bypass their race's central religion and prove that they actually hail from Earth. It's a really interesting twist on the idea, but I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be.
     We follow two reptilian aliens as they retrieve the remains of Hogan, an ensign of Voyager who died back in Basics. They are excited to discover that Hogan shares genetic markers with them, supporting their hypothesis that they are not in fact The First Race, but are descended from species on a far-off planet. This hypothesis is not supported by their race, the Voth's, high council, who follow "Doctrine", the underlay of their society. The originator of this theory is Professor Gegen, who is forced to escape Voth when the High Council attempts to detain him. His ship follows Voyager's path over Season Three, through the Nekrit Expanse. Luckily the Voth ship seems to be much faster than Voyager, and they catch up pretty quickly. Gegen kidnaps Chakotay and forms a friendship with him, but the vast Voth mothership overwhelms and captures Voyager itself, and in order to save them from a life of penal slavery, Gegen is forced to recant his views before the ministry.
     For a while it was interesting to see our characters from a distinctly alien point of view, and this gave the beginning of the episode a distinctly comic tone. This was perhaps not the best episode to begin back on after a ten-week hiatus in writing these reviews, as my sense of who these characters are is a little less toned than normal. The character who shined through the most Chakotay, and it was a difficult balance between the character actually being useful and courageous and the writers indulging the finer aspects of their "mystical spirit guy" schtick. Surprisingly, however, this episode saw Chakotay fighting for the side of science and progress against mysticism. I'm not sure whether this was a deliberate choice to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of the philosophy of Star Trek, or just a really shoddy character move on the writers' parts.
      The tracing of Voyager's path across the past season was really fun to witness, and the reappearance of Hogan posthumously had me giggling like a madman, especially with the show's patented pattern of introducing a "redshirt" character, giving them two episodes of minor development and then killing them off anyway. I expected (and, for some reason, even remembered) there being a more thorough coverage of the season; if you're going to do a continuity episode, then why only reference two previous episodes? (Hogan died in Basics, Part II, and Gegen visits the space-station from Fair Trade.) The fact that it broke through to allow the main thrust of the plot to develop isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did render the appearance of Hogan a little bit of a pointless in-joke. How Voyager.
      I made mention of the Gallileo comparison in the intro, and that's true. There are a few other little analogues here or there - there's some racial purity dynamics going on which are reminiscent of backlash against Darwin (Me? Related to a monkey?) The main problem was that it wasn't particularly subtle, and hence didn't add much to the discussion beyond presenting the historical events in a sci-fi context. Great for a Saturday Morning Cartoon, but the fact that the concept wasn't really taken anywhere meant that it lost a lot of its oomph. There was the tragedy inherant within the premise, but this is Star Trek. The whole initial starting point of the show is that these problems have been bypassed. Voyager's crew come from a utopian society where the theocratic repression of the Voth has been thrown off, but they never seemed to have any positive influence besides essentially fucking Professor Gegen over. Which is a real shame.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: A beautiful filler episode. It's the utterly forgettable Displaced.

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