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Star Trek: Voyager, the long running hit sci-fi series that saw a Federation crew hurled seventy-five-thousand light years from Earth comes home to the graces of the digital format at long last. This first of seven seasons built up the foundations for both character and concept palettes and even manages to spare time for great ideas along the way.

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Series
Star Trek: Voyager is a great show. I don’t care if there are one or two Trekkies amongst us who didn’t take to it; it was by all measure a solid, creative and very successful show. I loved it, and so did millions of others. Sure it was no instant classic, but it had more than one significant merit to its name. For seven years it clutched onto several million viewers in the US and around twelve million worldwide – which in retrospect made it one of the more popular shows of the nineties.

All things considered it was finely tuned entertainment that while admittedly wasn’t as good as the Original Series, The Next Generation and more specifically Deep Space Nine, it was big among fans nonetheless. Voyager’s writing was tight, its ideas were sound and its characters were lovable from day one. That certainly sounds like a good thing to me…

Moreover, Voyager boasted the usual jaw dropping technical feats and had a chic about it that the other Trek’s didn’t quite realise. Yes it was flash – probably too much too often than it should have been at times – but it worked. At its heart Star Trek: Voyager was the quintessential pop show of its era and my-oh-my was it good at its job. Heart stopping visuals, hugely menacing alien races, spectacular space action and intimate character growth were all very much a part of this series from start to finish. You knew what you were getting from this series and was embraced as such by critics and its legion of fans.  

Another thing to touch on was Voyager’s rather colourful concept. Of all the Trek shows ever produced I don’t think there can be any doubt that Voyager’s was perhaps the most daunting and interesting. Not always, but most of the time it would do this concept justice. The there’s the opening credits…One of the best ever? Yes! The late Jerry Goldsmith will be remembered for a lot of fanfares but his Voyager theme remains one of his greatest pieces. That, combined with the awesome visuals of the opening sequence and a winner is born.

Onto the highlight of season one then. Naturally the pilot is the episode I shall move under the microscope first. ‘Caretaker’ is absolutely huge. Clocking in at around an hour and a half and reportedly the most expensive pilot ever, this episode screams epic. The newly created sets – which by contrast put the sets of the Enterprise-D and those of Deep Space Nine to shame – are bursting with modernism and style in every facet of their being.

The introduction of the characters is handled in a subtle, yet satisfactory way. As matter of fact, the characters are at the heart of this pilot, not the action as was seen with the Star Trek: Enterprise pilot. Janeway, Chakotay, B'Elanna Torres, Tuvok, Paris, Kim, Neelix, Kes and the Doctor are all given plenty of great material and situations to work with, and they really shine.

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The concept is quite simple really. On a rescue mission to the Badlands, Voyager is taken to the far side of the galaxy by a being known only as the Caretaker. After they become permanently stranded there, both the Starfleet and Marquis crew join together, put aside their differences and head for home. Of course it is a little more in-depth than that, and there is a lot more underlining themes flowing though it, but you’d really have to watch it to appreciate those finer points.

On the whole, ‘Caretaker’ sets the board with a memorable plunge into the unknown. It’s a great pilot, with many classic moments – probably too many to mention here – and has to be seen to be fully appreciated. I still prefer Deep Space Nine’s pilot, but this easily comes second in my books. A great start to what becomes a great season.

Elsewhere, the second episode ‘Parallax’ pits the crew against a strange spatial phenomenon which traps the ship where it stands. ‘Parallax’ also had some amazing character development for B’Elanna and effortlessly engulfs the crew in a truly gripping sci-fi tale which was perfectly timed.

‘Eye of the Needle’ was, in a word, perfection. This was the best thing to happen to the first season and easily Voyager’s first genuine classic. When Harry Kim discovers a wormhole in space, Janeway makes audio contact with a ship in the Alpha Quadrant – a Romulan ship! That’s the concept, but here’s the reality; the ship is only a minor Romulan vessel and the typically stiff commander has to be won over by Voyager’s crew before he will assist them. The ending will shock you and ensures this masterpiece a perpetual life.

‘Prime Factors’ and ‘State of Flux’ both trump up great stories, the latter being the famous turning point for the character Seska. The doctor also gets a chance to shine in ‘Hero’s and Demons’ which turns out to be a great, albeit cheesy holodeck adventure.

The most powerful episode of the season has got to be ‘Jetrel’. Coincidentally, the episode, which is the season’s penultimate, mirrors Deep Space Nine’s first season penultimate ‘Duet’. Both are very similar in tone, dealing with mass murders and war criminals and such, but both are gems to cherish. ‘Jetrel’ gives Neelix the limelight for the majority of runtime and the performance of both the actor and persona alike is stunning.

The finale – which isn’t a typical finale due to the season’s abbreviated state – is entitled ‘Learning Curve’ and deals with some chesty Marquis officers that Tuvok must ease into the fold. This is a good episode and rounds out the season well.

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So there you have it, but what of the other episodes in the season? Well, there’s a mixture of good and not so good to be honest. Most of the sixteen episodes are good, if not great, but four of them are so-so. That’s perhaps to be expected in this first year of interstellar missions, but in all fairness three of those four still make for pretty good viewing.  

On the whole, season one is a solid start. The writing is good, the character work productive, and the many arcs that begin to form here are handled well. As for the concept, well that’s tackled well too. Just for the sake of comparisons, Voyager’s debut is above The Next Generation but below Deep Space Nine’s. In all, you’ll enjoy it, it’s a good watch.

Video
I was pleasantly surprised by Voyager’s first season. Not only were the episodes well rounded, but so too was the DVD image. It was sharp, crisp and roughly on par with the later Next Generation and Deep Space Nine boxed sets. Darker scenes were again plagued by heavy grain, something which appears to be a mainstay of the Star Trek boxed sets, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the other series.  

Visual effects sequences – and there are plenty of them – are handed well, not least the space bound optical shots. Overall, the images are colourful, bright and full of texture and life. It goes without saying that the series has never looked better – bring on the Borg!

Audio
Star Trek: Voyager’s cruise to DVD comes in two distinct audio flavours; Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround. The 5.1 mix is great as you would expect, but again the LFE and surround channels are criminally underused. Still, I couldn’t help but feel the audio here was a slight improvement over the other series’ in the franchise. The dialogue is equally as rich and the front channels are graced with those marvellous sound effects. And when you hear that infamous door chime, you might just get a slight shuddering sensation down your spine!

Again, it is going to be the later iterations of the series that really show off any audio/visual elements, but for what it’s worth the audio is ripe and refreshing. What’s more, this is the best the series has ever sounded. For that alone, it is worth getting excited.

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Extras
Being the impatient person I am, I decided to buy the entire seven-season collection from the US instead of waiting for them to be release entirely in the UK. And perhaps the most prominent feature of these American Star Trek: Voyager boxed sets is the box itself. True they are very bright, but isn’t that what you want on your shelf?

I hold my hands up, the first time I saw them on the net I said to myself something like ‘yuck’ and threw up over my delicately woven blue sweater. But then as time drifted by and I dared look upon them several more times, they grew on me. Now, I love them and they sit proudly on my shelf alongside The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine collected works.

As for the quality of this packaging, they’re quite good overall. Don’t get me wrong, they are not as durable and sturdy as the region two boxes, but they are up to spec. This first season is a nice bright orange colour which, as stated, looks very pretty on the shelf. Moving on…

‘Braving The Unknown: Season One’ is a ten minute interview segment featuring many of the show’s regular behind-the-scenes crew. A few aspects of the show are touched upon, such as casting etc.

‘Voyager Time Capsule: Kathryn Janeway’ has the lovely Kate Mulgrew talking about her on screen persona, about how she got the job and many other things like that.

‘The First Captain: Bujold’ was a real treat to watch. Rough footage tapes are shown with the firstly-cast Genevieve Bujold who played Captain Janeway. For what it’s worth, I am delighted the producers went with Mulgrew. No offence to Bujold, but she evidently did not capture the screen in quite the same was as Mulgrew did. They definitely made the right choice.

‘Cast Reflections: Season One’ is a pretty self explanatory feature. There are several interviews with the cast and crew. ‘Red Alert: Visual Effects - Season One’ is a pleasant little feature regarding some of the visuals used and ‘Real Science with Andre Bormanis’ reveals the true nature of the techno-babble.

The last few features are ‘Launching Voyager on the Web’, ‘On Location with the Kazons’ and some hidden files akin to the Deep Space Nine ‘section 31’ files.

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Overall
In all, season one is a solid start to this great show. While the episodes vary in quality, a calibre-threshold exists here and every episode bar two or three adheres to it. What you get, essentially, is a fine array of great stories, superb characters and some essential foundation building. But at its core is the almighty thumping heart of Gene Roddenberry’s classic universe, brought to life though gifted eyes. Would it be an overstatement to say that Star Trek: Voyager was one of the top twenty shows of the nineties? I don’t think so. Enjoy.

The DVD presentation is fabulous. Both audio and visual elements are solid, especially the surprisingly good DVD image transfer. Elsewhere, the features, while not as robust as they needed to be, are still worthy of a recommendation certificate and deserve your undivided attention. Look out for the complete season two review in a few weeks time.


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