Appraising Star Trek: Voyager
I’m in the last season of The Next Generation/second season of Deep Space Nine in my Star Trek rewatch. When it ends I’ll have a half season of DS9 before Voyager starts. I think somehow the show is both correctly regarded as a lesser spin-off while also being underrated. It has its share of defenders and my hunch is they’re just remembering the good stuff and shrugging off everything else. Among its 170 episodes, there are a lot of good ones, but it also has many mediocre-to-bad episodes (and characters). (I’ll confess I haven’t seen many of the later ones; it was on when I was in college and only following The Simpsons, Futurama, and Buffy regularly.) There’s not much that can be done to make, say, Harry Kim or Chakotay interesting, but my theory is that if you cut out the filler, Voyager is a pretty good show.
There’s wide agreement about Voyager’s best episodes. Search around for “best of” lists and they all mention “Year of Hell,” “Equinox,” “Blink of an Eye,” “Deadlock,” “Scorpion,” and “Timeless.” Most throw in “Caretaker,” too. Pilots tend to get a free pass but it’s actually fairly strong on its own. (Much better than TNG’s “Encounter at Farpoint” for example.) A few years ago I watched the top ten Enterprise episodes, and I recommend that method for that show. I don’t love it otherwise but do love Star Trek, and if you limit yourself to its very best episodes you’ll find a bunch of good ones.
For Voyager, though, I think I do want to watch most of the series, not just the top ten. Which, then, to skip? On reddit I found OpticalData’s Guide to Voyager, which summarizes each episode along with the question, “is it optional?” The M.O. there seems to be deciding which episodes contain critical plot points or character development moments. But how much time should I spend watching bad episodes just because they’re “important?” It includes “The 37’s”, for example, which isn’t regarded as a good one but is the first to feature Voyager landing. Many lists don’t include “Bride of Chaotica!,” Voyager’s black-and-white Flash Gordon holodeck romp which, even if some fans didn’t love it, is a good example of the show trying new things.
The question, of course, comes down to how much time you want to invest. The series has 170 episodes. OpticalData’s cuts that down to about 80. This list attempts to take the “non-optional” episodes but adds in others that, while standalone, are well-regarded. It winds up leaving in about ⅔ of the show. Here’s another that cuts it down to 50. At just 30% of the run, that’s maybe a bit too aggressive. Like, let’s face it. If economy of time is really a factor, you should be skipping Voyager entirely.
I’m going to go with one of the more inclusive lists and I’ll report back, eventually, with my final list. With new TV to watch soon and DS9 episodes to interleave it’ll take me a while. 🖖