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As I sit here writing this review for the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager, a bittersweet feeling washes over me that is quite unsettling. I have finally passed the half-way mark of this one-hundred-and-seventy-two episode show, and that makes me somewhat sad. Moreover, the fifth season is perhaps the best season the show ever spawned, meaning that most of the best episodes have already come and gone. No matter, the remaining two box sets still have plenty to offer, and there are some gems forthcoming I just can’t wait to cover. But in the here and now, this season is the icing on the cake for Voyager fans the world over. So, without further ado, let us take a stroll though the best damn year Voyager offered – the epic and almost perfect fifth season.

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Series
Having no epic two-part finale last season, the fifth season has a brand new and fresh start to make. ‘Night’ does the honours and kick-starts this season, and it does a great job of it too. Voyager becomes trapped in a massive void of nothingness (a sort of space bound limbo) which makes the crew depressed and pretty low. There are no stars flicking past the window, no distant clusters to help them navigate their way though, and they have no idea how long this lifelessness will last. To make matters worse, Janeway has confined herself to quarters, isolating herself from the crew and making many suspicious as to the nature of her actions. It seems harsh that she takes it upon herself to do this. Sure, she feels guilty for stranding the crew in the Delta Quadrant and putting them though this hell, but it becomes very apparent that the crew are in need of her confidence in this dark time. Another thing of note: this episode introduces the amazing Captain Proton holodeck fantasy that is beyond cool and a concept that eventually turns into Star Trek’s finest holodeck-based episode.

‘Night’ is a truly great, if somewhat unusual opening episode, but things are about to get even better for the season. ‘Drone’, the second episode of the season, could be called a modern update or even rehash of the classic Next Generation episode ‘I, Borg’. Some of the concepts might be similar at first glance, but ‘Drone’ feels like a more mature and energetic episode than its Next Generation counterpart. It also happens to be a shade or two darker, encompassing this Borg’s far more advanced technology and needs and will to evolve.

‘Extreme Risk’ sees Torres heading down a path of self-annihilation when she tires to punish herself for the Marquis’ destruction. It also has a pretty tense ‘space race’ subplot involving both Voyager and an alien’s attempt to construct a shuttle that will rescue another. As you might have guessed, this is the episode where the famous Delta Flyer is born. Though it will always be remembered for giving birth to the coolest shuttle ever designed in Star Trek history, its dark musings concerning Torres really does stand head and shoulders above anything else on offer in this episode. It is an excellent and often quite moving character episode about loss and grievance that is not to be overlooked.

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‘In the Flesh’ is an intriguing and pretty original episode that has the notorious Species 8472 return as you’ve never seen them before – as humans! The story is set in a huge Truman Show style studio completely decorated as Starfleet Command; even Mr. Boothby has been re-created. Species 8472 are apparently attempting to clone the entire human process, as it were, in an effort to learn more about us and to study the way we behave and the way we might react to certain actions. Each human that has been created is not a replica of the original, but rather a shell that the aliens inhabit for study. ‘In the Flesh’ is a very dark and sometimes pretty creepy episode, but it brings the whole Species 8472 arc to a brilliant climax that is simply unforgettable. Yet another classic this season, and let me assure you it is far from the last.

Love her or hate her, Naomi Wildman returns in ‘Once Upon a Time’, a story told though the eyes of the razor-headed little girl and her fascination with the eloquent fable she frequently visits in the holodeck. When Naomi fears she will lose her mother, Neelix takes it upon himself to comfort her and delays telling her the truth until they can find out if her mother lived or died in the shuttle crash. But during his quest, Neelix has his own demons to contend with; he too lost his family a long time ago and his pacification of Naomi brings his dark memories flooding back. Aside from being yet another brilliant character driven story, ‘Once Upon a Time’ has some beautiful scenes in the holodeck. In my opinion, this episode features the single best use of production design and cinematography ever featured on a Star Trek television episode.

The name of the episode ‘Timeless’ does full justice to this forty-five minute masterpiece. Yes, we are again dealing with another time travel paradox, but this is easily one of the cooler paradoxical episodes ever to have been produced. Aside from boasting some of the finest uses of computer generated imagery every seen on the small screen (I know I say this a lot but I mean it here more than ever) it also has one of the most touching and fully immersive stories Voyager ever exhibited. ‘Timeless’ is so good, it almost makes this entire season its own; it is certainly the best one in this season and my personal favourite single episode out of Voyager’s one-hundred-and-seventy-two.

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Both ‘Infinite Regress’ and ‘Nothing Human’ offer some excellent character stories for Seven and Torres respectively, while ‘Thirty Days’ sees a Star Trek first when a character is demoted in rank (and its permanent too). This episode is great entertainment on all levels. It has superb visuals – the water effects were both revolutionary and evolutionary at the time – and the story of Tom Paris helping this alien race and risking his career and even life for them is very rewarding stuff. His demotion at the end of the episode was certainly a shocking twist, more so because Voyager hardly ever moulded powerful and lasting moments such as this that affect the entire series from that point on. ‘Thirty Days’ is certainly a memorable episode, but I don’t think it crosses into classic territory.

‘Counterpoint’ sees Voyager being inspected by a stern group of aliens as the ship passes though their space. Janeway and her crew are subjected to constant and often demeaning examinations from this alien race, but the suspense is upped when it is revealed that Voyager is harbouring telepaths to which the aliens are hunting. ‘Latent Image’ has the doctor fighting for his life when it becomes apparent his crewmates are trying to delete him for reasons he cannot understand. And ‘Bride of Chaotica!’ is the infamous holodeck episode that sees the Captain Proton chronicles relived as the absolute greatest holodeck episode ever.

After this stretch of breathtaking episodes, the season takes something of a cool-down period. Two or three decent episodes pass us by, but then we come to another gem – and this one is a two-part feast for the senses. ‘Dark Frontier’ is spectacular in every way, shape and form. Here we have huge cinematic visuals, the return of the Borg Queen herself, huge set designs, tonnes of action and, most of all, a good story of loyalty, trust and becoming. If it wasn’t for the episode ‘Timeless’, this would be the most memorable event this season.

The rest of the season is great, though not quite as good as the initial batch of episodes, but the quality is consistent and there are no bad episodes to speak of. The other remaining standout episodes would be: ‘Warhead’, which has the crew fighting to stop a deadly missile; ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, which has more Seven of Nine development; ’11:59’, which is a slightly unusual but very sweet episode about the millennium and Janeway’s ancestors; ‘Relativity’, which sees the return of the 29th century Captain Braxton and finally the superb season finale ‘Equinox, part I’.

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Video
Season five looks about as good as seasons three and four, but the range of episodes this season amplifies the overall quality slightly. We have episodes here with lots of black and white imagery, and this looks absolutely stunning to say the least. Without a doubt, ‘Bride of Chaotica!’ is easily the sharpest and best looking episode being almost entirely shot in monochrome, but the deep and rich colours of ‘Once Upon a Time’ look equally beautiful. Elsewhere this season, the overall image quality is once again sharp, bright and peppered with quality. This season would also get my vote for the best looking Trek box set to date. Grain is still present however – so no change there then – but I think there was a slight improvement here regarding this issue. I use the word ‘think’ because it was pretty hard to tell in this instance as some episodes do vary quite a bit.

Audio
So season five has the honour of being the best season of Voyager, having the best video and, I am pleased to report, the best audio too. Dialogue is razor sharp as always, but there is a slight increase in bass response from the sub this time around. Directional effects also seem a smidgen brighter than normal. On the whole, this audio soundtrack is essentially the same as what has come before it – as is the case with all the Star Trek releases – but there have been marginal improvements along the way and this is the biggest and best of them all. In all, season five has a very powerful punch in its audio performance and you’ll really notice the power on such episodes as ‘Timeless’ and ‘Dark Frontier’.

Extras
If you have been collecting these Star Trek releases then you know exactly what to expect from the special features, and this fifth season isn’t about to break from tradition. On offer here are the same tepid features that have been present throughout all of the Voyager sets and, as usual, the first one is ‘Braving The Unknown: Season 5’. Here we have some of the standout moments from the season, as well as some familiar faces appearing to give us a quick rundown.

‘Voyager Time Capsule: B'Elenna Torres’ and ‘Voyager Time Capsule: Tom Paris’ gives us a reasonable look at the two characters. The timing of these features is quite good due to the fact that these two characters are romantically involved during season five.

‘The Borg Queen Speaks’ is a pretty self explanatory feature that covers the grand return of the Borg Queen herself. ‘Delta Quadrant Makeup Designs’ has the makeup designer walk us though some of the cool makeup effects and designs used on various aliens from this season. Finally, there is a slightly mundane photo gallery and the usual hidden sections.

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Overall
Year five of Star Trek: Voyager is the greatest achievement in its seven year run. This is Voyager in its prime, and in its absolute top form. Though season six will begin the downfall, it should be noted that the drop from season five to six and from six to seven isn’t that great. In fact, the drop-off could probably be labelled as marginal at best. This season, however, was such a grand triumph that it almost put up a good fisticuff with its neighbouring Deep Space Nine. If there is only one season of Voyager you ever wish to buy, then this would undoubtedly have to be it. Season five is amazing to say the least and very nearly earned a perfect score.

The DVD is also a great success. Sure, the features still lack but the audio and visual aspects are arguably the best seen in all the released Star Trek box sets. In all, this collection is a truly fine piece that demands a slot on your DVD shelf. It is also quality science fiction, and I’d challenge any of Voyager’s detractors not to like this season of the show.


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