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Mixing fresh ideas with some tried and tested ones, Star Trek: Voyager’s third outing is a memorable one indeed. There is a marked improvement here over the previous season, and that’s saying quite a lot considering the second season was superb in almost every aspect. Welcome to the third season, crewman.

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Series
There really is no getting around it; season three really is a year of great quality and auspicious content. All of the great things from both seasons one and two have been cherry picked, and many new things were infused into the mix to create this epic third outing. The storytelling, which reached an all time high in the second half of the second season grows exponentially here; many of the arcs matured and the creativity throughout ceased to let up for a second.

While it can be said that both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine’s third season was better overall, Voyager’s was one of great potential and superb delivery. Granted, not everything was spot on, but you won’t find a better collection of episodes anywhere – well, maybe that sounds a bit over zealous but let’s go though some of the standout episodes and dissect it as we go. Ready? Good, here we go then.

First up we have the conclusion to ‘Basics’. In my previous review I said ‘Basics’ was a superb finale to that season, and it was. But what is a build up without a finale? There is a common Star Trek mantra that states second parts are hardly ever as good as the build-up episodes. If you are a fan then you are probably familiar with this. I am not quite sure, however, that it applies here with ‘Basics’. While it is mostly true that the first part has more energy, more ambiance and more intelligence, ‘Basics, Part II’ is a wonderfully refreshing episode in its own right.

Not only is the production of this episode jaw dropping, with running lava, exploding volcanoes, hugely realistic digital monsters, epic battle sequences and such, but it also has some pretty intimate drama too. And on top of that, one long-running character also meets her end in a very memorable last sequence. Better or not than the first chapter, it doesn’t really matter, ‘Basics Part II’ is a great way to open the season.

Season three of Voyager actually aired alongside Deep Space Nine’s fifth season; infamous for the classic episode ‘Trials and Tribulations’ which you can read about in my review for that season elsewhere at DVD Answers. That episode was of course a celebratory episode marking thirty years of Star Trek. Deep Space Nine might have taken the limelight with it’s enactment of the classic TOS episode, but Voyager also had its own celebration.

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‘Flashback’ is this episode, and while not a patch on ‘Trails’, it is still something of a cool way to spend forty-five minutes in front of the TV. The story has its ups and downs, and it takes what seems like half the episode before it actually leaves the space dock so to speak, but when Sulu does show up in the Excelsior, one can almost forgive the earlier missteps.

‘The Chute’ and ‘The Swarm’ both serve up some entertaining stories, not least the latter in which Voyager has to battle an enormous swarm of alien ships which attach themselves to the hull in preparation for an invasion. ‘The Chute’ is quite a grisly episode in which Paris and Harry Kim have to depend on each other for survival in a hostile alien prison. Good character development naturally ensues in this episode.

One of the, if not the standout episode this season is a two-part TV movie titled, ‘Future’s End’. When I look back on Voyager, this is always one episode event I always look upon fondly. I saw it when it first aired way back in mid-late nineties and have never forgotten it in all these years. It is in many ways similar to the fourth Star Trek feature film, ‘The Voyager Home’, in that the crew are hurled back to present day Earth to prevent a catastrophic event from ever taking place. It also has the comedy and charm to match.

If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then maybe seeing the crew interact with the somewhat primitive late twentieth century humans might. Or maybe the fact that the crew dons their actual real-life clothes for the majority of this episode. Or that it has some really cool new characters, both heroes and villains alike. Take your pick; ‘Future’s End’ is an enduring classic and one of Voyager’s highlights.

‘Warlord’ sees Kes actress Jennifer Lien come into her own and deliver a performance worthy of a golden Oscar statuette in this great Shakespearean-esque action/drama tale of politics, treachery, love and passion. Q also makes a return in ‘The Q and the Grey’. Not as good as his season two appearance, but still a comical and highly entertaining episode nonetheless.

Voyager, like any self-respecting Star Trek series, had its fair share of scary episodes, which brings us to the next episode; the formidable ‘Macrocosm’. Everything about this episode establishes an ever present sense of fear and dread. The atmosphere broods in the background, gently building itself up for the big encounter towards the latter half. Every ominous sound, every stray shadow and every dreaded silence makes for one of the most intense and nerve shattering experience outside of id Software’s Doom 3 videogame. Just don’t watch this in the dark, trust me on that one.

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‘Coda’ is another classic that season three produced, and is one that sports the best line of dialogue the whole season as Janeway utters, “Go back to hell, coward!” to her supposed ghostly father. Basically, Janeway dies and finds her residual self wandering the ship as her crewmen deal with her death. As emotional as it is, it is also a great mythological and scientifically sound episode that inspires debate.

‘Blood Fever’ and ‘Unity’ are two episodes that usher in the impending Borg threat that embody Voyager’s last four seasons. ‘Before and After’ sees Kes travel backwards though time from death to birth. It’s a fantastic episode but often quite strange and confusing. Amazingly, it also sets up the epic ‘Year of Hell’ concept that we’ll see in the fourth season.

I do have a confession to make before we proceed; the episode ‘Real Life’ made me bawl my eyes out. I couldn’t believe how wonderfully emotional this episode was for a holodeck-type adventure. The episode starts out comical and totally innocent as the Doctor creates a virtual, interactive and ludicrously perfect family for himself. It later becomes more intense as Torres decides to jazz the humdrum family up a little.

She makes them more, shall we say realistic. In dealing with the now rebellious kids and stressed-out wife, the Doctor finds himself bonding with them in an entirely different way, that is, until his younger daughter has a tragic accident and dies. He could have reset the program and saved her back from death, but he merely stands there and accepts what has happened. It is a tragic scene, and one of the Doctor’s most pivotal character-development moments.

‘Distant Origin’ is another of my favourite episodes. As a highly advanced reptilian race claims to be descendants of Earth’s dinosaurs, a massive political movement leads to a threatening conclusion. Indeed, the few reptilian aliens who believe in these findings and even manage to convince the crew of Voyager of them come to a dead stop when the reptilian hierarchy refute the evidence and become overly aggressive. This leads to a somewhat tragic finale within the council chambers.

‘Worst Case Scenario’ is another holodeck adventure and one of the best in fact. The crew become addicted to a newly discovered holo-novel that sees Chakotay incite mutiny and take over Voyager. It’s one of the best penultimate episodes I can remember. While ‘Scorpion, Part I’ finally sees the full-fledged appearance of the Borg, with a twist; they are at war with a more powerful species. This episode is cool beyond belief, action-packed beyond reckoning and as touching as any of the more intimate episodes this season. To put it simply, ‘Scorpion’ has it all. And as for a finale, it’s perfect, and easily up there with the greatest finales in the history of the franchise.

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Video
Finally, after a slightly sluggish second season image transfer, season three ups the ante to match the first season’s altogether great image. What’s also interesting about this third season is the visual effect touch-ups. Much like The Next Generation’s third season, Voyager seems to have had a pretty major technological upgrade in the hiatus between year two and three. You can tell the CGI has been improved and looks far more cinematic-like that it did before. Model work also seems to have taken a few leaps forward. Not the actual quality of them – that would be impossible – but rather their integration with CGI. This bodes well for the DVD transfer in this case; everything looks sharper and more digital, though none of the charm has been lost. In all, this is a damn fine looking image and is almost up there with some recent blockbuster DVD transfers.

Audio
Season three improves upon the second season somewhat in this area. Things tend to look a little sharper here and there and, due to the increasing action on the show, the speakers are given more of a thorough workout. Dialogue sounds quite nice too, with voices sounding richer and full of energy. Though the sub action isn’t going to shake your furniture into the garden, it will occasionally growl loud enough to scare the cat off the sofa! On the whole, season three not only looks great but sounds it too. Well done Paramount. You deserve a pat on the back for this one.

Extras
Acid green is the colour scheme for this season of the show and it looks quite striking sitting up there on my DVD shelf. The extra features themselves remain more or less unchanged from the last two seasons, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t get at least some rewards from this collection. In fact you do, though one still wishes for a little more variety. It certainly would hurt would it?

‘Braving The Unknown: Season 3’ is a quick overview of the third season. Included are some highlights from selected episodes. There’s also plenty of interview footage from the big guns. It’s pretty decent overall, but way too short and nowhere near as deep as it should be.  

‘Voyager Time Capsule – Neelix’ examines the famous whiskered chef and morale officer. I do quite like these little crew snippets and this happens to be a favourite so far. Perhaps because Neelix is such a great character and Ethan Phillips who plays him is such a great guy.

‘Voyager Time Capsule – Kes’ is a fitting feature dedicated to the ever radiant Kes (Jennifer Lien). Due to the fact that season three is her final full season, this feature is well placed and feels like a nice send off for this cherished character and actress. It’s a bittersweet goodbye.

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‘Flashback To Flashback’ deals with the titular episode in which Tuvok finds himself face to face with Captain Sulu on the Excelsior. It’s quite a good feature, though a little more would have been nice. Still, there is a few standout moments to be had here and they are wonderful to behold.

‘Red Alert - Amazing Visual Effects’ inspects the as ever awesome visual effects and CGI used during this season. Included are some little snippets of some of the standout visual moments and a few interview reels. What makes this feature better than the others from seasons one and two is the ever increasing quality of these effects.

‘Real Science with Andre Bormanis’ continues the science consultant’s quest from the previous seasons, while ‘Lost Transmissions – interviews’ nicely rounds out the extra features on the disc. So while slightly better than the previous seasons, these extras are still pretty toilsome.

Overall
Season three of Voyager is a triumphant success held from greatness only by a very small handful of episodes. That being said, season three is the best season thus far and improves over the already great second season enough to make it stand tall. Within this collection of twenty six episodes is pure satisfaction; you won’t be disappointed. You will likely come out of it with a huge smile on your face, and that is good enough for me.

The DVD set is predictably great but not superb, as it probably could have been with a few tweaks and a little more in the way of extra features. Of note, the audio/visual elements have improved over season two somewhat and overall looks and sounds fantastic. The features still have little variety but there can be no denying this is a great set for fans of the show and even those new to it. I’d highly recommend this set to anyone who appreciates quality sci-fi and technically poignant DVD’s; especially for a TV show.


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