star trek: voyager
the trek spin- off turns 20 this year. Luke Dormehl takes a trip back to the DeLta Quadrant
Janeway herself on the ’ 90s Trek spin- off.
his year marks two decades since the fourth Trek show warped onto TV screens around the world. Ultimately running for seven years and 172 episodes,
Star Trek: Voyager introduced a fresh cast of characters aboard an all- new starship.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” says actress Kate Mulgrew, who played
Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway. “It was such a big part of my life. It was a big part of all our lives.” Voyager had its origins in the early 1990s.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was winding down as a TV series and while plans called for the crew of the Enterprise- D to continue life on the big screen, television executives wanted a second Trek to accompany recently launched spin- off Deep Space Nine.
Much like the well- received DS9, Voyager appeared on paper to be a very different beast to the Treks created under the watch of Gene Roddenberry, the franchise’s creator, who had passed away in 1991. Unlike the original Star
Trek and The Next Generation, Voyager wasn’t set on an Enterprise- sized starship, but rather a smaller 130- person Intrepid- class vessel. In a twist which took a note from the Lost
In Space playbook ( ironically a show often considered a rival of the original Star Trek),
Voyager also hurled its unwitting crew to the far reaches of the galaxy. Working titles for the series included Outer Bounds and Galaxy’s
End. The pilot episode saw an energy wave hit Voyager as it pursued a ship of Maquis rebels through the galactic Badlands, pulling it to the unexplored Delta quadrant. At maximum warp speed, it would take the crew of Voyager 75 years to reach home again…
This premise sought to create a sense of urgency and peril that went beyond Star Trek’s traditional mission to seek out new lifeforms. It also established an intriguing dynamic: with Voyager stranded light years from home, it was necessary for Starfleet’s officers to form an alliance with the Maquis, several of whom became prominent members of the Voyager crew. In contrast to the eternal professionalism of the Enterprise ships, Voyager was staffed by the likes of hotheaded ( by Starfleet standards) Tom Paris, halfhuman, half- Klingon chief engineer B’Elanna Torres, rookie Harry Kim and assorted others who surely would have been weeded out under normal circumstances. In some ways,
Voyager played less like Star Trek and more like The Breakfast Club.
But the most headline- grabbing difference between Voyager and the Treks that had preceded it was the presence of Captain Janeway, the first major female Starfleet captain in Star Trek history. She wasn’t the first ever woman we’d seen commanding a starship – an unnamed female captain briefly appears in 1986’ s Star Trek IV: The Voyage
Home – but she was the first to be given a name and character.
Janeway was played by Kate Mulgrew, a veteran TV actress currently appearing in the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. “It’s always remarkable to be the first of anything,” she tells SFX. “To be the first female Star Trek captain was both exciting and humbling. I realised that this was a rare opportunity in my life that would never come again.”
“Voyager arguably signalled the end to classic star trek, and cemented the need for the franchise to reinvent itself”
Mulgrew was 39 years old when she was first approached about the role. It was a tumultuous time in her life as she was just in the process of going through a divorce from her first husband. The distraction meant that her first audition was subpar, and led to Geneviève Bujold initially being hired to play Janeway — only to quit after two days of shooting for reasons never fully explained. Mulgrew was selected as the replacement. At her suggestion, Captain Janeway’s first name was changed from Nicole to the strongersounding Kathryn.
Mulgrew may not have been a fan of Star Trek, but she was intrigued by the character of Janeway. “I deeply cared about her,” Mulgrew says. “I tried to make her as multidimensional as possible. As a person she was both incredibly lonely and fully alive. The character fascinated me.”
At first Mulgrew struggled with the techno- babble that permeated every episode of Voyager. “It was harrowing,” she recalls. “For the first season, it was just the most terrifying thing you can imagine. So much of it I didn’t understand, and I didn’t have time to understand. To understand something you have to read about it and digest it. But when I spoke the lines they had to come out fluently. It was murder.”
The consummate professional, Mulgrew quickly decided that she needed to delve more deeply into the world she was inhabiting. Despite the pressures of balancing demanding 16- hour workdays with a young family, she spent her free time reading up on science and Star Trek lore.
When she did, a strange thing happened: she discovered that she liked it.
“I had no idea just how captivated I would be with science and particularly with physics,” Mulgrew says. “It was something I found as beautiful as anything I’d ever come across in my life. I also became totally swept away by the entire science fiction canon. It was at that point that I began to truly appreciate the world of Star Trek and how far- reaching and extraordinary it was.”
On- screen, Janeway’s character arc was Mulgrew’s experience in reverse. “Janeway was scientific to a fault,” she explains. “It was her great strength, but also her weakness. She could be lacking in imagination. That’s why she spent so much time on the holodeck with [ a simulation of ] Leonardo da Vinci, who becomes something of a mentor to her. That was an idea I pitched to [ executive producer] Rick Berman, which he liked enough to run with. It was meant as a way for her to acknowledge her own deficiencies. She needed to open up her heart and her mind to achieve a greater way of seeing.”
As a female Star Trek captain, Mulgrew garnered a lot of attention. Following the show’s first season she recalls being invited to the White House to talk about the importance of helping women enter STEM fields. Despite Star Trek’s overwhelmingly male fanbase, Janeway won plaudits with that audience, too.
“There was a great deal of discussion about whether Janeway should have a relationship during Voyager,” Mulgrew says. “I thought about that question a great deal, but I nixed the whole thing. I knew that – particularly if I
wanted to win over the young male demographic – I had to appeal to them as a commander first and foremost, and as a sexual woman a very distant second.”
As with Star Trek: TNG, Voyager hit its stride midway into its run. A common early criticism among fans is that the series rushed to smooth out the rough edges of its crew; bringing both Maquis rebels and Starfleet officials under one banner to make them a happy Federation family. Later Voyager learned from these mistakes by building around the more intriguing characters who didn’t fit so easily into Starfleet- approved boxes. From season three onwards, Robert Picardo’s holographic Doctor took his rightful place as a prominent cast member. With his abrasive wit and constant questioning of what it meant to be human ( one compelling storyline dealt with his response to finding out that his mind had been wiped by the Voyager crew as if he was a faulty piece of machinery) the Doctor was an intriguing cross between Hugh Laurie’s Dr House and The Next Generation’s Data.
Another fan- favourite character who came to dominate the show was Seven of Nine, a female former Borg drone whose presence on the show allowed the writers to up the sex appeal content without compromising Janeway’s authority as captain. The Borg’s arrival on Voyager was no great surprise given the success of the then- current movie Star
Trek: First Contact, but Seven’s status as the first Borg to be assimilated into a Starfleet crew added a new twist.
By the time Voyager drew to a close with the 2001 episode “Endgame” ( SPOILER: The crew returns home), it signalled not just the end of the show, but to a key phase in Star Trek history. The 1990s was swamped with three different overlapping Star Trek shows, as well as four movies. Voyager arguably signalled the end to classic Trek, and cemented the need for the franchise to reinvent itself. When Trek did reappear on screens with the series Enterprise and the JJ Abrams movies it was now a prequel to itself, free of many of the constraints of the show’s intricately- woven universe.
“I’m immensely proud of what we achieved with Voyager,” Kate Mulgrew concludes. “We had seven wonderful years making it. Speaking personally, I’m very happy looking back at it. When it comes to Captain Janeway, I’d argue that not only did she survive, but she thrived. She proved it was her rightful place on that ship, commanding that crew. It was a real privilege.”
These redshirts were hardier than the originals… Not a look everyone can pull off. Holodeck episode “Heroes And Demons” is one of the most fun. The Borg made frequent appearances in Voyager. “Only another mile and we’ve done the 10K!”
Janeway had a life beyond Voyager in numerous Trek
novels and comics.
seven of Nine, born Annika Hansen. The Doctor will see you now – whatever you are.
Let’s have a disco! A trio that can get us all safely home. Lt Commander Tuvok was Chief of security.