Star Trek: Voyager is fifteen years old today. On January 16th, 1995, the fourth-live action Star Trek series premiered on a brand new network, with a new ship, a new captain (the first woman to steer a series), a new crew and a mission to explore a strange new part of space where Star Trek had never been before.
Star Trek: Voyager – 15th Anniversary
It was the mid-nineties: the era of OJ and grunge music, and the Internet was just taking off. Star Trek: The Next Generation wound up its successful seven year run in syndication, and the cast had moved on to take over the Trek film franchise. Paramount still had Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which started its third season of syndication in 1994. But the studio still held the dream of launching its own TV network, a dream that began in the mid-seventies which was going to be fueled by Star Trek Phase II. Two decades later the network was really going to happen and Star Trek: Voyager was going to be its anchor show. The series and the UPN network premiered on January 16th, 1995 with the two hour episode “Caretaker” which received excellent ratings (ratings never seen again by Star Trek or UPN).
UPN Preview for “Star Trek Voyager”
At the time the Star Trek franchise was being run by Rick Berman, who was Gene Roddenberry’s successor. Berman selected Next Generation showrunner Michael Piller and veteran Next Gen writer/producer Jeri Taylor to work with him creating the new show. The three chose to set their new series in the same 24th century as Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but also decided to change things around. They wanted to continue the original series and TNG premise of exploration, but decided to get out of the comfort zone of the Federation by setting the show on a ship flung to a distant part of the galaxy (the Delta Quadrant). This gave the show a meta-arc of their voyage home, along with the chance to truly explore strange new worlds every week (all without the aid of the Federation).
The team also wanted to put some conflict into the cast of characters, by populating the ship with a mix of Starfleet personnel, and the remnants of a crew of ‘revolutionaries’ (the Maquis, introduced in DS9). Two of the main cast would come from the Maquis, while two more would be Delta Quadrant locals, all of which was meant to mix things up with the all Starfleet feel of The Next Generation.
The first season cast of “Star Trek Voyager”
Another big move for the team was to introduce Star Trek’s first female captain lead, Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew who was best known at the time as Mrs. Columbo or Mary Ryan (from the soap Ryan’s Hope). Mulgrew was actually their second choice. The team first hired feature film actress Geneviève Bujold, but after only two days of shooting it was determined she could not handle the rigors of series television, and they brought in Mulgrew. The introduction of a female captain was both a way to continue to break barriers for Star Trek, and to also bring in more female viewers.
Scene from “Caretaker” with Bujold
“Caretaker” did an excellent job introducing each of the ensemble cast and the overall premise of the series. You could already seen hints of many of the future dynamics on the show, like the tension between the comic relief alien Neelix, played by Ethan Phillips and the Vulcan Tuvok, played by Tim Russ (an actor who had previously appeared in Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Generations) or the friendship between the green Ensign Kim (Garret Wang) and the bad boy Tom Paris (played by Robert Duncan McNeill, who had previously appeared in the TNG episode “The First Duty”). B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) was already a force to be reckoned with, And even though he only had a few moments, Roberto Picardo stole his scenes as the Holographic Doctor with the terrible bedside manner. “Caretaker” also foreshadowed Voyager’s penchant for science and technology, with lots of ‘treknobabble’ like cormaline, nucleogenics, and tricobalt. The episode ended with Janeway laying out the mission statement for the ship and the series to “continue to follow our directive: to seek out new worlds and to explore space” but all along they will be trying to “find a way back.”
The two-hour pilot “Caretaker” was, at the time, the most expensive TV pilot ever made. Although much of that was due to reshoots, both for Mulgrew replacing Bujold, and to a hairstyle change for Mulgrew (from having her hair down, to the “bun of steel”). However, they really pulled out all the stops with multiple location shoots and a big effects budget, which garnered an Emmy for Best Visual Effects (the episode was nominated for a total of four Emmys, a tie for the most of any Star Trek episode). The episode also featured a beautiful new title sequence, along with a theme from veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith.
Opening titles for “Star Trek: Voyager”
.Star Trek Voyager went on for seven seasons and 168 episodes, wrapping up their story and coming home in the two-hour finale “Endgame” in May 2001. Included in the run were some great Star Trek episodes, including a number of two-parters like “Year of Hell”, “Equinox”, “Scorpion”, and “Workforce”. Over that time the show went through some changes, including Brannon Braga stepping into Jeri Taylor’s showrunning shoes in 1998, and a cast shake-up which saw the departure of Jennifer Lien’s Kes and the addition of Jeri Ryan as ex-Borg Seven of Nine in the fourth season. Many of the characters on the show went through interesting arcs–some together, like Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres who eventually married by season seven. However, Voyager tried to straddle the line of maintaining the episodic nature of The Next Generation and more serialized shows, like Deep Space Nine. Although the show introduced many of its own aliens and villains such as the Hirogen hunters, the gang-like Kazon, the diseased Vidiians, and the CGI tripods Species 8472, it was the Borg that ended up as the big bad of the series all the way from the introduction of Seven of Nine to the finale.
Promo for “Scorpion Part 2”
Voyager may not have caught on as well as the original Star Trek or The Next Generation, but (like Deep Space Nine) it has dedicated fans. Voyager helped bring in some younger viewers and women into Trek and the ratings were strong enough to convince Paramount and UPN to launch a new Star Trek series (Enterprise), immediately after Voyager ended its run.
Star Trek: Voyager is an important part of the Star Trek canon and TrekMovie celebrates its fifteenth anniversary.
Season 4 (and beyond) cast of “Star Trek Voyager”