Features / Roundtable Voyager

Roundtable Voyager: S01E03 – Parallax

In the yesteryears of the mid 90s, Paramount Pictures looked to continue the Star Trek boom begun by Star Trek: The Next Generation (which had recently ended) and expanded by Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Wishing to both return the series to its adventurous roots while breaking new social boundaries, they premiered the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager on January 16th, 1995. Featuring a female captain and a surprisingly diverse helping of crew members (by the end of this episode, at least), Star Trek: Voyager would continue on for six years and offer the setting to one of the best Star Trek games ever released (Editor’s Note: This was not a part of the agreed introduction, Tim.) (Tim Response: Don’t care, my phasers are set to frag!).

Every Monday we share a roundtable discussion about a Voyager episode featuring experts pulled from the close group of friends we could easily bribe. This week’s group consists of film/tv critic Ryan, the indomitable Seth and yours truly. Naturally, spoilers are a matter of course with this territory, and portions of our conversation drew on our knowledge of other episodes of both Voyager and other Star Trek shows. You have been warned. 

This week covers the third episode of Season 1, “Parallax,” though Seth started us off with  call-back to last week’s roundtable

Seth – So I felt kind of bad that I missed the Captain Janeway love-in last week, so let me jump start things by saying that I love the scene where she and B’Ellana are geeking out over temporal mechanics. It just sort of occurred to me in that moment that we don’t often see the commanding officers in Star Trek showing any kind of enthusiasm for their job.

Ryan – I really liked that she was the expert on quantum singularities on the ship. That they don’t just make her captain, they show her having the skills and know-how that earned her that position.

Tim – Indeed.

Seth – I think it’s an interesting contrast to, say, Picard, who would generally have the science explained to him and pick from options presented by his officers. Janeway knows her science, so she’s figuring things out with B’Ellana instead of soliciting theories. The downside is that means that someone has to step in to have things explained so the audience knows what’s going on, which leads is to Paris being confused.

Tim – Which continues to establish Paris as the intended audience surrogate.

Ryan – I liked “Parallax,” it’s one of the few Voyager episodes I remember from having seen sometime as a child on some channel on TV. Maybe for that reason the quantam singularity plotline has always felt to me like a quintessential Star Trek story element.

Seth – Well, the starship being caught in some kind of weird, hard to escape anomaly is a fairly regular plot, and the series finale of TNG involved an anomaly that appeared before its cause, so it is drawing on some classic Trek ideas

Ryan – Yeah, that makes sense, Seth. It feels very Star Trek-y, to a casual Trek viewer. I did find the transitions to be really jarring (about as much as punching your starship through a tear in a quantum singularity, I’d imagine). It seemed like they were trying to jam in a whole like of disparate storylines.

Seth – I wasn’t too bothered by the transitions, but Paris continues to be pretty jarring. That scene where they finally spot their own temporal reflection and Paris immediately stands up and blocks the viewscreen is just so stupid

Ryan – I can tell Paris is going to in for a rough time with this group, though I’m going to chalk his standing up in front of the ship and the silly “punch right through, I’ll have to remember that” comment as bad choices on the director’s part.

Seth – It probably doesn’t help his popularity with this group that he seems to be there for the benefit of providing an occasion to explain the weirder science bits to the audience, which all of us don’t particular need, seeing as we’re all fairly well versed in science fiction

All was not roses and berries, however. One of the characters which had curried favor with our group, we felt, had been given the “short” (ha. ha ha.) end of the stick in this episode. 

Ryan – This episode should be subtitled The Emasculation of a Digital Hologram, MD

Seth – It was kind of weird that they made the Doctor’s shrinking into a comic relief thing and everyone on board was so blase about it, given that it’s well established that he’s the only medical professional left on the ship. If a medical emergency comes up while he’s shrunken, there’s a very really chance that someone is screwed.

Tim – If nothing else (revolving the doctor), I took it as developing even further the idea that the Doctor is not considered an equal member of the crew just yet (something that gets addressed in a later episode)…though I am not certain if that was the intentional plot line going on. I think “comedic relief” is a far better description of what it was being treated as, especially towards the end.

Ryan – The Enshortening of the Doctor subplot was definitely the comic relief of the episode. That combined with his endearing catchphrase (and I’m paraphrasing) “doesn’t anyone ever remember to turn off my program” makes him one of the more immediately likable characters.

On the next page, we cover the quick resolution of a promising plot device, the challenges of running a starship far from the nearest Kwik-Stop, and science fiction minutiae. 

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2 thoughts on “Roundtable Voyager: S01E03 – Parallax

  1. So to make a quick point, it was vaguely mentioned in the pilot that the Voyager was being sent because of its small size and maneuverability in the scene where (paraphrasing) Paris says that he would not advise Janeway go to the badlands because Federation ships are to big and clunky to maneuver safely.

    This is where I enter personal speculation.

    The Intrepid class was originally meant for long range science missions, but at some point it was also heavily armed (nearly as well if not slightly better than the Enterprise… Perhaps due to the war like state the Federation has been in?) This (I can only assume) means that when the shield, and weapon systems are being used heavily, the antimatter power system is depleted much faster than the designers originally intended a peaceful science ship to use fuel.

    Needing to replicate so many repair parts to fix the ship after the damage done in the pilot would be taxing enough already on the Antimatter / Dilithium supply. What we might consider to be unlimited power is in reality a running balance game that is is just as finite as our fuel tanks on cars when given the scope of star ships.

    Except it’s more like a car motor is powering a car -and- a semi truck sized refrigeration system that is designed to draw power off a semi sized engine. Sure it works for a while…But you eventually need to sacrifice something here, to get full power there, after a while of running the system hard it needs to be tuned up and fuel gets low fast.

    This is what we are running into in the officers meeting. They know the ship is in bad shape and are trying to figure out how to make it last.

    When Voyager is fully fueled and fully repaired it can be argued that it is the most bad ass ship in the fleet (I say no to defiant because of it’s obvious design flaws.). But when it is less than perfect, it is vulnerable. What this ship lacks in staying power it makes up for in maneuverability, technology, and adaptability.

    Literally a crew of two or three people can run this ship if the need arises and it can be overhauled repaired and upgraded at nearly double the speed of a huge galaxy class ship.

    The problem here is just because the Federation designs a ship to do something does not make it what that ship will eventually be used for. I mean look at the Galaxy Class Enterprise, it was designed a flag ship for exploration and families.. It mostly ends up as the Federation’s most seasoned combat ship.

    Just as Voyager was intended to sit around and chart star systems, but was for some reason fitted with enough firepower to seriously challenge the Enterprise if Voyager’s shields would hold.

    The Federation talks peace, but they silently scream war. And this tendency has saved the crews of both the Enterprise and the Voyager multiple times.

    Thus I explain way a long range ship is so suddenly worried about power consumption. (beside the obvious distance home)

    Over all the plot as was suggested is rather cramped.

    I believe the scene with the doctor is intended to make the viewer start to identify themselves with his predicament, much like we did with Data. Next Generation created the plot crutch of using something that is not human, but disparately wants to become more human, and slowly does so, as a way to engage the audience and provide a steady feeling of progress in a serial day to day episodic show.

    It is key to make us feel like the different writing styles of each of the shows all fit together. I tend to cringe when characters do something out of character and then are right back to their old selves in the next episode and this consistent progression of a single character can help to smooth the rough spots because it has very simple rules that must be followed to make the non humanness apparent every time (such as Data’s speech patterns or the Doctors pre-programed one liners.

    I feel the playing down of crew conflict is because the writers realized early on that they had created something that would possibly detract from where they had intended to go with their show and did not want to put the work and show time into fixing it for fear of being canceled in the first season for not being Sci-fi enough. To much interpersonal drama and not enough external phaser shooting conflict makes for a boring space exploration show. (at least for that masses, I find it more interesting when not a single shot is fired in a episode) Perhaps that is why I liked Enterprise more than most people and the late season bad-assery where they take the ship into a personal vendetta/war never quite clicked with me.

    Over all There are a few painful moments in this episode, (Ala Paris,)but I still give it a good rating.

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