Star Trek: Voyager was launched 25 years ago and continues to have a strong fan base, but it never achieved the same level of ratings as its predecessor, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Bryan Fuller, who had worked on Deep Space Nine before writing for Voyager and eventually becoming a staff writer (then story editor, then co-producer), was the guest on the latest episode of the excellent Inglorious Treksperts podcast to celebrate Voyager‘s 25th anniversary, where he revealed some of the show’s inside drama.
Voyager chasing The Next Generation
Fuller spoke about how from its start, Voyager was “very much a reaction” to the more serialized Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which had premiered two years before, adding the show was “in some ways an antidote to the vision of Deep Space Nine.” Fuller talked about how Voyager was pulled in different directions, trying to recapture the magic of TNG, while differentiating itself from DS9:
I think Voyager initially was trying to be The Next Generation and finally decided what it was going to be around season four. I think part of that in a strange way is we lost very quickly the dynamics of the Maquis interacting with a Starfleet crew. They were terrorists and committed terrorist acts and everybody was like, “It’s okay, let’s all go together.”… That’s not good storytelling. You need to know these characters are coming from a place that is culturally different, so they can’t just be regular members of the crew which it fell into very quickly to solve the problem of Deep Space Nine.
The podcasters and Fuller acknowledged that eventually Voyager found its voice and delved into some high-concept science fiction ideas. Fuller gave a lot of credit to showrunner Brannon Braga and Braga’s writing partner Joe Menosky, while pointing out their struggles with Voyager co-creator and executive producer Rick Berman:
Brannon Braga should be given a lot of credit – Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky – and it really was their two voices more commonly than anybody else’s. I think what was interesting in the evolution of the show was you could sense the creative struggle. I witnessed the creative struggle when I was working there. There was an appetite for these bigger, bolder science fiction stories. And there was a lot of resistance from Rick Berman in embracing them because he was chasing The Next Generation and was not allowing Voyager to be the show that it could be.
The “Year of Hell” season
The season four episode “Year of Hell,” written by Braga and Menosky, is considered one of the Voyager‘s best. In the two-parter, the crew was split apart and facing its greatest threat yet, from Annorax (Kurtwood Smith) of the Krenim Imperium, who used time itself as a devastating weapon. During the podcast, Fuller talked about how the writers were originally hoping for the Krenim to form a much longer serialized arc, but the idea was rejected by Berman:
The “Year of Hell” and the behind-the-scenes drama not only to craft episode, but that season, was fascinating because we wanted “Year of Hell” to last the entire season. We wanted to see Voyager get its ass kicked every episode and through that season was going to be marbled the story of Annorax and the time ship that was changing things. So, we would go back to it every once in a while to remind the audience that is the larger story. But [it was rejected] because Deep Space Nine made Rick Berman allergic to serialized storytelling, violently so.
Fuller spoke enthusiastically about how the longer serialized arc “charged up” the writers:
We are really going to be on the outskirts of the galaxy and we are going to be fighting enemies that are kicking us when we are down. The crew is going to have to separate and we are going to be following episodes that are going to deal with people on shuttlecrafts with escape pods that are electrically buoyed together. There would be an episode where you never saw Janeway and never saw Voyager because you are with the people who are on the escape pods trying to find a new source of power or safety. It was like creative crack for the writers’ room, because all of a sudden there were so many opportunities.
Fuller then talked about the letdown when the “Year of Hell” season idea was rejected:
I remember Brannon going over to Rick’s office with all of this enthusiasm and coming back broken and his head hanging low and having to break it to the writing staff. We all felt like we were doing it, we are making great Star Trek. For him to come back and say we can’t and we can only do two episodes as opposed to twenty-two, it was heartbreaking. There was an interesting division between what Rick Berman wanted the show to be, which was episodic and for the syndicated audience, and how we wanted to be creative storytellers playing with the Star Trek toy box. “Year of Hell” is such a fascinating point in Voyager history.
As for why Deep Space Nine didn’t have the same struggle, Fuller explained that DS9’s showrunner, Ira Stephen Behr, “didn’t give a fuck what Rick Berman said.”
Ira was like, “I don’t care, this is what we are doing and if you don’t like what we are doing, fire me… If you are not behind it, then I suggest you find someone else to do my job.” He was kind of fearless about it. He was righteous creatively and knew that this was the right direction for Deep Space Nine.
Listen to Fuller talk Voyager with the Treksperts
There is much more from Fuller about Voyager, so it is worth listening to the full episode. Inglorious Treksperts is available via Apple Podcasts, the Electric Now App, or your preferred place for podcasts. You can also listen to it below via Stitcher.
Keep up with all our stories involving Star Trek: Voyager here at TrekMovie.com.