Upon my recommendation, some of my friends are taking their first forays into Star Trek, following along (mostly) with Max Temkin’s fan guides for Star Trek: The Next Generation in 40 Hours and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 82.5 Hours. However, since Max hasn’t yet released a guide for Star Trek: Voyager (he’s told me that one is coming!) – but my friends could use it now – I’ve written a brief guide of my own…
What is Star Trek: Voyager?
The fourth live-action Star Trek television series, and the first with a female captain in the lead role, Voyager ran from 1995-2001, following the Original Series (1966-1969) and the Next Generation (1987-1994), and jointly with Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) for part of its run. Most Star Trek series focus on characters who serve in Starfleet, the joint military and exploration arm of the United Federation of Planets – kind of like a United Nations in space.
Voyager is set about 350 years from now, about 100 years later than TOS and roughly the same time as TNG and DS9. It features the adventures of the USS Voyager, a lone starship unexpectedly stranded in the Delta Quadrant (the far side of our galaxy) along with a band of Maquis (freedom fighters; mostly colonists who feel the Federation abandoned their planets to an alien race). Together, the two crews face a 75-year voyage to reach home.
Voyager is a show with many enjoyable – and some truly great – stories, and I can easily plop down in front of my screen and find one. That being said, it does merit some criticism.
A Bit of a Critique
Voyager’s immediate predecessor, Deep Space Nine, is one of the oft-overlooked forerunners of modern television storytelling, featuring significant character development over time, long-running plots and story arc, and a large supporting cast. Voyager, comparatively speaking, takes a half-step backwards.
Despite its premise of a single ship with two crews, lost in uncharted territory, stranded tens of thousands of light years from home, Voyager ignores much of its dramatic potential. For instance, in Stephen Edward Poe’s Star Trek: Voyager: A Vision Of The Future, Executive Producer Rick Berman said: “We wanted to get the Maquis into Starfleet uniforms, with a captain who had to pull together diverse groups of people into a functioning, solid, effective unit. It would get pretty irritating, and cumbersome, to have the Maquis tension in every episode.”
Other long-running elements of plot and characterization are similarly ignored. Severe hull damage and lost shuttles are restored by the next episode, characters sometimes exhibit personality traits or make moral judgments more appropriate for the past selves that they outgrew seasons ago – and so on. There’s also almost no supporting cast – even though Voyager is a ship of only about 150 persons, so we should be seeing the same faces on a regular basis. Basically, this means that you’re getting an action-adventure version of ‘TNG in the Delta Quadrant’, not the revamp of Battlestar Galactica.
Obviously, these problems don’t make Voyager unwatchable, or I wouldn’t have made this list, but I did think they were important enough to mention before you get started. Now, if I haven’t scared you away, let’s climb aboard!
How I Chose Episodes
Since Max managed to reduce TNG into a roughly 40-hour list, I figured I could do the same with Voyager. However, once I realized how many connective threads actually run throughout the show (more than TNG but fewer than DS9), that plan flew out the airlock pretty quickly. Instead, I’ve focused on episodes that include what I consider to be Voyager’s ‘essential’ elements. This includes:
- The Season 1-2 Arc. The first two seasons are the most serialized, focusing on the interpersonal conflicts between the Starfleet crew and the renegade Maquis, and how they stand together (or not) against the new alien races in this part of the Delta Quadrant. By contrast, seasons 3 and onward are heavily episodic.
- Dramatis Personae. If an episode introduces a recurring character, race, piece of technology, relationship (or an change in that relationship), that becomes important later, I’ve included it in either the essential watchlist (usually) or as an optional bonus episode.
- Treknowlegy. Where an episode references a character or event from previous Star Trek series, I made extra effort to keep it – provided that the episode also has some other merit that makes it worth including. This makes the show even more enjoyable if you’ve seen the previous series.
- Faster Than Faster-Than-Light. I picked episodes where the crew get significantly closer to home, finding themselves in a new part of the Delta Quadrant. Basically, I picked the long jumps, but not necessarily all the short hops and skips.
- The Borg. The Next Generation established that the Delta Quadrant is home to the cybernetic organisms known as the Borg, so it’s no surprise that they eventually try to assimilate Voyager as well. Once that occurs, the writers are thrilled to have a new toy to play with, so there are many Borg-related episodes from that point on.
“We’re alone, in an uncharted part of the galaxy. We’ve already made some friends here, and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we’re going to face, but one thing is clear. Both crews are going to have to work together if we’re to survive.” – Captain Janeway, “Caretaker”
After the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine, executive producer Michael Piller left to help create Voyager, and I think you can really feel his influence here. Like most Star Trek series, the first two seasons are generally the most uneven and inconsistent, since the writers, producers, cast, and crew are – appropriately enough for this series – all still trying to find their way. However, they do set up the story and character personalities that remain true for the rest of the series.
Bonus: Eye of the Needle is a solid early season ‘Voyager almost gets home episode’. If you want to learn more about Neelix’s backstory, add Jetrel to the list.
- S01E01: Caretaker
- S01E02: Parallax
- Bonus | S01E06: Eye of the Needle
- S01E09: Prime Factors
- S01E10: State of Flux
- Bonus | S01E14: Jetrel
A note on numbering: Some stories were split into Part I and Part II, while others were double-length episodes that aired in a single block but were still numbered as two episodes. The exception was the double-length Caretaker pilot episode, which some online guides still list as episodes 01 and 02. This guide uses episode numbers as they currently appear on Netflix and other streaming services.
“If things had happened differently and we were on the Maquis ship now instead of Voyager, would you have served under me?” – Chakotay, “Parallax”
Here I intended to focus mostly on episodes that continue the Voyager/Maquis plotline from season one, but Projections has a fun tie-in to TNG that I couldn’t skip. Likewise, Cold Fire is a direct sequel to Caretaker, while Death Wish gives us a thoughtful look at immortality and another guest star from TNG. Meld and Deadlock introduce new characters that you’ll see again.
Bonus: I like Prototype for its 1950s’ sci-fi style. The Thaw is a creepy, weird episode. Tuvix is probably the most controversial episode of Voyager; if you like the crew as they are, you’re better off skipping it.
- S02E03: Projections
- S02E10: Cold Fire
- S02E11: Maneuvers
- Bonus | S02E13: Prototype
- S02E14: Alliances
- S02E16: Meld
- S02E18: Death Wish
- S02E20: Investigations
- S02E21: Deadlock
- Bonus | S02E23: The Thaw
- Bonus | S02E24: Tuvix
- S02E26: Basics, Part I
“Now up until now the story has been nothing but action, which is fine, but what it needs is a little heart, a little emotion.” – B’Elanna Torres, “Worst Case Scenario”
With the season opener that concludes the previous arc, Jeri Taylor becomes lead showrunner, discarding several previous story arcs and characters, and reframing Voyager as the mostly-episodic adventure show that it remains for the rest of the series.
Flashback is the series’ nod to Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, and ties in to Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country – one of the better films. Future’s End is a silly but fun time-travel romp. Unity and Before and After preface later episodes, while Scorpion significantly affects all seasons to come.
Bonus: Remember is an allegorical piece originally conceived for TNG, but it works well here. Jennifer Lien (Kes) gets to stretch her acting chops in Warlord. Macrocosm is Voyager meets Alien meets Die Hard. Real Life is an emotionally heavy character piece for the Doctor.
- S03E01: Basics, Part II
- S03E02: Flashback
- Bonus | S03E06: Remember
- S03E08: Future’s End, Part I
- S03E09: Future’s End, Part II
- Bonus | S03E10: Warlord
- Bonus | S03E12: Macrocosm
- S03E17: Unity
- S03E21: Before and After
- Bonus | S03E22: Real Life
- S03E25: Worst Case Scenario
- S03E26: Scorpion, Part I
“Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One. But you may call me Seven of Nine.” – Seven of Nine, “Scorpion, Part II”
The show reaches a huge turning point with the introduction of Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine). She would go on to become one of the most popular characters – thanks both to her talent and her skintight uniform – but with no money in the budget to pay for an additional main actor, Jennifer Lien (Kes) was let go. The departing cast member was to have been Garrett Wang (Harry Kim), but a timely People Magazine award as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” influenced the producers to keep him around. Personally, I think Lien was both the better actor and had greater character development so far, and I would love to see an alternate-universe series where she sticks around. Still, we do get Seven, so it’s not as if it’s a bad trade, but it could have been better.
Day of Honor alternated between the essential and bonus lists many times, but its solid character work earned its final slot. The Raven is an important background episode for Seven. Year of Hell could have been a season-long arc, and I would’ve been happy with that. Living Witness is the closest to a ‘Mirror Universe’ tale that we’ll get.
Bonus: Scientific Method is memorably creepy, though we’ve seen similar in TNG before. Mortal Coil is a well-regarded Neelix episode; it just doesn’t work for me. If you were intrigued by the aliens in Hunters and Prey, follow them up with The Killing Game. The Omega Directive is one of Kate Mulgrew’s (Janeway) favorite episodes.
- S04E01: Scorpion, Part II
- S04E02: The Gift
- S04E03: Day of Honor
- S04E06: The Raven
- Bonus | S04E07: Scientific Method
- S04E08: Year of Hell, Part I
- S04E09: Year of Hell, Part II
- Bonus | S04E12: Mortal Coil
- S04E14: Message in a Bottle
- S04E15: Hunters
- S04E16: Prey
- Bonus | S04E18: The Killing Game, Part I
- Bonus | S04E19: The Killing Game, Part II
- Bonus | S04E21: The Omega Directive
- S04E23: Living Witness
- S04E26: Hope and Fear
“Welcome to Planet X.” – Tom Paris, “Bride of Chaotica!”
Brannon Braga takes over the lead showrunner role, while Seven, Janeway, and the Doctor step even further into the spotlight.The outrageous silliness of Bride of Chaotica! makes it one of my absolute favorites, and I just couldn’t leave it off the list. Dark Frontier is a cinematic spectacle, and Equinox (like Year of Hell before it) takes a hard look at what Voyager could have been.
Bonus: Watch Extreme Risk if you can’t stand not knowing where their new shuttle comes from. Try Infinite Regress to see Jeri Ryan’s diverse range. DS9 fans will recognize a tie-in to the Occupation of Bajor in Nothing Human. Latent Image features one of Robert Picardo’s most dramatic performances. Bliss is perhaps the quintessential Voyager episode. If you still like John Hughes movies, you might enjoy Someone to Watch Over Me.
- S05E01: Night
- S05E02: Drone
- Bonus | S05E03: Extreme Risk
- S05E06: Timeless
- Bonus | S05E07: Infinite Regress
- Bonus | S05E08: Nothing Human
- S05E10: Counterpoint
- Bonus | S05E11: Latent Image
- S05E12: Bride of Chaotica!
- Bonus | S05E14: Bliss
- S05E15/16: Dark Frontier
- Bonus | S05E22: Someone to Watch Over Me
- S05E24: Relativity
- S05E26: Equinox, Part I
“I traveled halfway across the galaxy to treat you. The least you could do is show a little gratitude!” – The Doctor, “Life Line”
The sixth season continues along much like seasons four and five, though we do get a few episodes (One Small Step, Pathfinder, Blink of an Eye, and Life Line) that break with the typical format.
Bonus: Barge of the Dead is an unusual Klingon mythology episode originally conceived for DS9. Alice is clearly inspired by a certain story by Stephen King. Live Fast and Prosper is a bit of fun with one of the best titles ever. Muse is a quiet drama with Shakespearean elements.
- S06E01: Equinox, Part II
- Bonus | S06E03: Barge of the Dead
- S06E04: Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy
- Bonus | S06E05: Alice
- S06E08: One Small Step
- S06E10: Pathfinder
- S06E12: Blink of an Eye
- S06E16: Collective
- S06E19: Child’s Play
- Bonus | S06E21: Live Fast and Prosper
- Bonus | S06E22: Muse
- S06E23: Fury
- S06E24: Life Line
- S06E26: Unimatrix Zero, Part I
“Hey, save some for the rest of us.” – Harry Kim, “Homestead”
Kenneth Biller steps into the showrunner role to close out the last season with a bang, and though I would have preferred he did so with a multi-episode arc (or at least an epilogue), we do get some good ensemble work. Drive accelerates some character relationships, while Homestead settles one for good. TNG’s influence is obvious in Author, Author (by way of Measure of a Man), while Endgame definitely takes some inspiration from All Good Things, but both still have enough merit to stand on their own.
Bonus: Jeri Ryan’s mimicry in Body and Soul is so impressive that I have to remind myself it’s not real. If you loved The Killing Game, watch Flesh and Blood. If you want to read the post-series novels, Prophecy is a must. Workforce is a strong ensemble piece.
- S07E01: Unimatrix Zero, Part II
- S07E02: Imperfection
- S07E03: Drive
- S07E06: Inside Man
- Bonus | S07E07: Body and Soul
- Bonus | S07E09: Flesh and Blood
- S07E11: Shattered
- Bonus | S07E14: Prophecy
- S07E12: Lineage
- Bonus | S07E16: Workforce, Part I
- Bonus | S07E17: Workforce, Part II
- S07E20: Author, Author
- S07E21: Friendship One
- S07E23: Homestead
- S07E25/26: Endgame
There are no Voyager films in the Star Trek franchise, although Janeway does make a very brief appearance in the TNG film Nemesis. However, if you want to follow the crew after the abrupt Endgame finale, there are over a dozen novels in its ‘relaunch’ series.
With the exception of the so-far-untitled Captain Picard series that’s currently scheduled for late 2019, there are no more television series that take place after Voyager, at least chronologically – but I’m thinking about making guides for the Original Series and for its prequel Enterprise series. If there’s any interest, you can comment here or tweet at me @plebotamus.
I’ve also been in the tabletop roleplaying game industry since 2001, with my most recent works published under my own company, Brabblemark Press. If RPGs are something you’re interested in, you can browse my current catalog here.