This week one evening I was hunting for something to watch during dinner, and had nothing good on the DVR, so I fired up Amazon Prime on the PS3 and decided to catch up with an old friend. That led me to a thought I’ve had before but never articulated at length. I do enjoy a good pointless controversy, so here’s one to chew on this month:
Star Trek: Voyager was superior to Star Trek: Deep Space 9. (Warning: Minor spoilers.)
Saying this seems to really bother some people; I think it serves as some kind of dividing line for Trekkies. There’s always the debate of which order the movies should be ranked from best to worst, of course. (Some people put Star Trek IV at the top of the list. Those people are wrong; Star Trek II is clearly the better movie, while IV is second best. The rest of the list is subject to interpretation, as long as V and Generations go somewhere near the bottom.) And in terms of series, I’d say most people will say their favorite is the original or Next Generation. But looking stictly at the spin-offs, Voyager was the best of them all.
Full disclosure: I missed half of the last season of Voyager because the idiots running our UPN affiliate switched to WB midseason and there was no cable replacement until the series was over. I managed to see the finale though. I’ve had the series on DVD for some time but I haven’t had a chance to make it to season 7 to see the few episodes I missed; I think viewing it as time allows on my Kindle will help me finally get there. For DS9 the situation was worse, because I lost track when the series got shuffled into syndication hell in the middle of its 6th season, and missed most of the 7th entirely. However as I’ll explain, I firmly believe seeing the entire last season and a half would only have lowered my opinion of the show. (However, I’ll probably still see it someday, just to finish the experience.)
So let’s start with DS9. Their writers had a terrible habit of killing the golden goose, repeatedly and brutally. The show was established about a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. They did pretty well with a lot of one-off episodes in their first two seasons exploring worlds across the wormhole and encountering races coming through. But then they introduced an enemy so powerful, they all but killed the exploration aspect of the show. Nice move, boneheads. The Jem’Hadar were ridiculously overpowered when they were introduced, which basically put all the storylines in a vise. Then they took the mystery of Odo’s origins and resolved it not only prematurely, but lamely. For a while they forced him, a shapeshifter, into permanent human form; this is one of the few stupid choices they managed to undo, and I gave them due credit for it.
The middle seasons of DS9 did manage to keep some life in the show through a lot of homages to the original series. There were good episodes in the mirror universe, and times when Dax would visit her Klingon buddies who all used to be Kirk’s nemeses. Elim Garak’s shifty character was great. Good work was done here, from time to time; it was plenty watchable. I still liked the characters and it was enjoyable to follow them.
In the final two seasons though, DS9 devolved into a soap opera, and not a particularly good one. The first half of the 6th season was quite disastrous enough in this way, with politicking, big grand Dominion plots that were annoyingly executed, and so on. I understand in the 7th season there was some kind of thing about how Sisko was descended from the wormhole aliens who had possessed his mother or some kind of crap like that, and that’s why he was the Emissary. I caught part of an episode about that. Good gads, did they really need a cheesy retcon?
Voyager, on the other hand, is the only Star Trek series—of all of them—that ever did story arcs well. I still mark TNG as my favorite, because it didn’t need story arcs very much and it used them sparingly, mostly to good effect. But Voyager was setup to need them, and it executed them better than most. After a while, that is.
In many ways, Voyager took the exact opposite trajectory of DS9. Things started out rocky for them, and they seemed to be mired in the same region of space forever in the first two seasons. The fact that they were still dealing with the Kazon at the end of season 2 was a joke. But the series did show some real promise, and they eventually lived up to it. It was in season 3 that they really “grew the beard”, finally leaving behind Kazon space for good and moving on into unknown territory.
The 3rd season was where Voyager finally showed progress in their mission to get home, and was the beginning of the end of feeling like a glorified Gilligan’s Island. They encountered their first traces of the Borg here, which eventually led them into Borg space itself and forced them to attempt a dangerous crossing. As a result they acquired the character 7 of 9, who was interesting in her own right but also served to advance a number of Borg-related plot lines. As a result of this, Voyager did better by the Borg than any of the other series; I’m sure they had the benefit of being able to reuse a lot of props from First Contact, the only good TNG movie, which undoubtedly helped.
And finally, Voyager really shined when they managed to advance quantum slipstream technology to get closer to home, and when they encountered a long-range communications network that allowed them to finally reestablish contact with the Federation. It was a real moment of triumph for the series, showing they were more than just Lost in Space.
One other thing, and this is a whole sub-controversy in itself: Tuvok out-Vulcaned the green-blooded crap out of Spock. You heard me. It’s appropriate after all as his character was full Vulcan, not half human. I mean no offense to Leonard Nimoy or to his iconic character, and Spock will always have a special place in my heart too, but you have to give Tim Russ full credit for absolutely nailing his role. Not taking anything away from Spock, Tuvok was a hard role to play with a very high bar set already, and Russ totally stepped up. Kudos.
Now of course plenty of people will disagree with my assessment of both series. To some fans, no doubt the final two seasons of DS9 were wonderful. I’m all for continuity in a series, but the soapy quality of what I did see there was just too much to stomach. The drama was almost cartoonish (in the bad way), like if Disney had produced Babylon 5 and hired Joel Schumacher to direct. That bad. (Clarification: Babylon 5 was brilliant, at least for four seasons. But imagine morons trying to pull off its story.) Still, I suppose it would appeal to some die-hards who really thrive on that kind of thing. Heck, the same people probably loved the 3rd season of Enterprise. Bwahahaha!
And sure, both series had their stupid moments. In Voyager the most memorable ones were the terrible warp 10 episode—so bad that some fans consider it non-canon—and that at the beginning of the 4th season they were going through irreplaceable shuttlecraft like freaking Skittles. Still, it was the better show.
Okay DS9 apologists, bring on the debate. I definitely still liked a lot of DS9, but it wasn’t as good as Voyager by a mile—or more accurately, about 30-50,000 light-years. Go on and rail otherwise. But no matter what else, you have to admit the leader of the Founders sounded silly every time she opened her mouth, in everything from her annoying voice to her stupid word choices. (“Solids”? Really?) Also, why did she look not-quite-human when Odo only looked that way because he was inexperienced? Come on, you gotta admit the Founders were stupidly written.