The fall of 1996 was the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. To celebrate, both of the shows running at the time, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, did episodes to celebrate this milestone. When I did the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch from 2013-2015, I did a special thing when I reached this point in DS9’s run: “Tribbles Week Redux,” in which I covered not just DS9’s anniversary episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” but also the original series’ “The Trouble with Tribbles” and the Voyager anniversary episode, “Flashback.” I stand by what I wrote in 2014 about the episode, so we’re just going to rerun that entry here. On Monday, I’ll be back with a new rewatch entry for “The Chute.”
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Season 3, Episode 2
Production episode 145
Original air date: September 11, 1996
Captain’s log: Voyager has found a Class 17 nebula, which is filled with sirilium, which can be used by the ship as an energy source. However, as soon as the nebula appears on the screen, Tuvok experiences dizziness and disorientation. As he goes to sickbay, he hears the voice of a little girl asking for his help. He gets flashes of himself as a boy trying to save a human girl from falling off a cliff. Tuvok loses his grip on the girl in his hallucination and his grip on reality in the present, as he collapses as soon as he enters sickbay.
The EMH examines Tuvok, saying that his heartrate and his adrenaline increased—in a human, he’d call it a panic attack. That tracks with his emotional response to the memory—except it wasn’t an actual memory. It never happened to Tuvok. The EMH lets Tuvok go, but attaches a doodad to his ear to monitor him in case he has another episode.
Tuvok tries a meditative exercise involving building blocks with his eyes shut while candles burn (because it isn’t a proper meditative exercise if there aren’t candles). Of course, it doesn’t work, because that’s the plot. He also can’t find any basis for that particular memory.
Kim has checked the sensor logs, and can find nothing to explain what happened to Tuvok. He suggests a tachyon sweep to try to detect a cloaked ship, as you can’t be too careful this close to Klingon space. The others point out that the Klingon Empire’s on the other side the galaxy, which Tuvok knows of course. Then he sees the nebula again on a monitor, has the flashback again, and collapses.
This time, the EMH has something: Tuvok has a repressed memory, which in Vulcans can cause brain damage. The treatment is to mind-meld with a family member and bring the repressed memory forward. Janeway’s the closest he has to family on board, and she agrees to participate in the meld. During the meld, Janeway’s function is to counsel him, help him objectify the memory and reintegrate it into his consciousness.
Tuvok initiates the meld, and they find themselves sent, not to Tuvok’s childhood as they expect, but to the bridge of a Starfleet vessel. They’re on the Excelsior, which was Tuvok’s first deep-space assignment as an ensign under Captain Sulu. Tuvok explains to Janeway that they’re in a battle against the Klingons—Janeway recalls that he thought they were near Klingon space in the engine room—and that the battle was precipitated by something that occurred three days previous.
Suddenly, they’re in the mess hall three days earlier, and Commander Rand is commencing gamma shift. The Excelsior is charting gaseous anomalies, just like Voyager was. That’s two similarities, which Janeway figures is not a coincidence.
We then get the opening scene of Star Trek VI all over again, with Praxis exploding, the Excelsior being caught in the subspace shockwave, and Sulu ordering Lojur to turn into the wave to save the ship.
Then we jump ahead to Sulu’s decision to rescue Kirk and McCoy from their imprisonment in Klingon space. He sets course for Qo’noS, and he orders Lojur to go through the Azure Nebula. Tuvok protests this action, as it’s in direct violation of orders. Sulu notes the protest, but also says that he served with Kirk and McCoy for a long time, they’re family, they’re in trouble, and he’s going to help them, regulations be damned.
They approach the Azure Nebula, which looks very similar to the one Voyager saw. As soon as he sees it, he flashes on the repressed memory again—and so does Janeway. But then Tuvok has a seizure, and the meld is broken. The synaptic pathways are breaking down, and the EMH has to sedate him for a bit.
Janeway reads up on the Excelsior’s mission, but Sulu’s logs are parsimonious with details. There’s no mention of a battle with the Klingons or of the Azure Nebula, probably because they were breaking regs. Tuvok awakens and they try another meld.
They’re back on the Excelsior. Tuvok and Valtane talk in their bunk as the ship goes through the nebula. Tuvok says that he doesn’t like the egocentricity of humans and their need to have everyone act like them. He only joined Starfleet because his parents wished it, but he resigned after his term on the Excelsior ended. He studied Kolinahr for a time, but then succumbed to pon farr, married T’Pel, and had children. With age, and parenthood, he came to understand why his parents thought Starfleet was a good fit, and he rejoined.
Valtane and Tuvok are awakened by a red alert. A Klingon ship fires across their bow. Kang is the captain of the Klingon ship, and he contacts Sulu, who explains that they were examining the nebula and had a navigational malfunction and got lost. Kang offers to escort the Excelsior back to Federation space, which Sulu can’t come up with a good reason to refuse.
Tuvok reports the composition of the nebula to Sulu, including the sirilium. Sulu recognizes that as combustible, and Tuvok suggests a method of igniting it that would disable Kang’s ship. Sulu implements that plan, and they resume course to Qo’noS. But then, they’re attacked by three Klingon battle cruisers. Valtane’s console explodes, and Tuvok runs to Valtane, who calls Tuvok’s name, and then they both see the memory. But the meld is also breaking down, and now Sulu can see Janeway. He orders them both to the brig. They need to go back to Valtane’s death, but Janeway needs to be inconspicuous, so they go back to the destruction of Praxis and nerve-pinch Rand so Janeway can take her uniform. Why they can’t just break into someone’s closet is unclear.
Meanwhile, the EMH and Kes determine that there’s a second memory engram inside Tuvok’s, which appears to be a type of telepathic virus. He tries to eradicate it with thoron radiation.
The battle occurs again, and Valtane dies again. Tuvok concentrates, and this time so does Janeway. They soon determine that it’s a virus that jumps from person to person, posing as a memory engram of a traumatic childhood memory of dropping a child down a precipice, something so awful that the person would naturally repress it. When Valtane died, it went from him to Tuvok, who repressed it until he saw a nebula that looked almost exactly like the Azure Nebula where Valtane died.
The EMH and Kes are able to destroy the virus and everyone is healthy and happy again. Tuvok admits that the experiences of those days are ones he is grateful to have had, which is as close to nostalgic as he’s likely to get.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Sirilium can apparently be ignited by a polaron beam, which Sulu then likens to like striking a match on gunpowder, or some such analogy that was so commonplace on the original series that Futurama made fun of it.
There’s coffee in that nebula!: Janeway doesn’t hesitate to help Tuvok in his time of need. She also goes on about those crazy 23rd century captains and how they’d all be drummed out of Starfleet today, but they were kinda cool, too, a rather patronizing attitude taken by someone who can’t even get her own crew home.
Mr. Vulcan: Tuvok was a stuck-up prig when he was an ensign, believing humans to be annoying and insistent on fobbing their emotionalism off on everyone else. He also protests Sulu’s actions on the bridge of his ship, which is a ballsy move for an ensign.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency: The EMH shows a remarkable awareness of what TV show he’s on by providing a lengthy list of possible reasons why Tuvok is suffering as he does: hallucination, telepathic communication from another race, repressed memory, or momentary contact with a parallel reality. “Take your pick,” he adds, “the universe is such a strange place.”
Forever an ensign: Kim verifies that there’s nothing strange about the nebula, and also confirms that it’s not even the same type of nebula as the Azure. It may look the same visually, but not on sensors.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s: Apparently, Talaxians like to tell the story of where their food came from. (Tuvok is less than enthused at the notion, saying he would prefer not to hear the life history of his breakfast.) Neelix also creates a fruit juice that is, to Tuvok’s abject shock, drinkable. (I was disappointed that no one chalked up Tuvok’s hallucinations to drinking one of Neelix’s juices.)
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Tuvok renders Rand unconscious so Janeway can take her uniform because, as he puts it, “Asking female officers for their clothing could lead to misunderstanding.”
“I’ve observed that Captain Sulu drinks a cup of tea each morning. I thought he might enjoy a Vulcan blend.”
“Oh, I see. Trying to make lieutenant in your first month? I wish I’d have thought of that when I was your age. Took me three years just to make ensign.”
“I assure you I have no ulterior motive.”
“Whatever you say, Ensign. See you on the bridge.”
“You’ve never brought me tea.”
–Tuvok explaining to Rand what he’s preparing in the mess hall, Rand teasing him about it, and Janeway doing likewise at the very end.
Welcome aboard: The big guests, obviously are George Takei as Sulu and Grace Lee Whitney as Rand, reprising the roles they played in the original series, as well as the TOS films. Also back from the Excelsior crew in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country alongside Sulu and Rand are Jeremy Roberts as Valtane and Boris Lee Krutonog as Lojur. To add to the awesome, Michael Ansara puts in an appearance as Kang, having previously played the role in the original series’ “Day of the Dove” and DS9’s “Blood Oath.”
Trivial matters: Unlike “Trials and Tribble-ations,” Voyager’s tribute to the 30th anniversary was able to be aired only a few days after the actual 30th anniversary. The DS9 episode required more prep time and more post-production time, so it aired two months later. (DS9’s season also started later than Voyager’s, as the latter show was on a network instead of syndicated.)
The only “main” characters from TOS who weren’t in “The Trouble with Tribbles” were George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, and Majel Barrett, so they weren’t in “Trials and Tribble-ations,” either. This was made up for by the former two appearing in this episode. Barrett was not at all involved in either episode, but given her recurring appearances both as the voice of Starfleet computers and as Lwaxana Troi, it was probably not considered urgent to get her in there. (Having said that, plenty of pieces of tie-in fiction have Dr. Christine Chapel as the chief medical officer of the Excelsior.)
The original notion for this story was to have it be a flashback to Janeway’s earliest days in Starfleet and meeting Tuvok for the first time, but when it was decided to make it part of the 30th anniversary, it was adjusted to Tuvok on the Excelsior. It was already established in “Alliances” that Tuvok was around during the Khitomer Conference and spoke out against a Federation-Klingon alliance.
A scene was written for Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, but it was only a brief cameo and Nichols declined.
Director David Livingston made an effort to re-create as many of the camera angles from Star Trek VI as possible. They couldn’t simply insert the footage from the movie into the episode, as five years later everyone looked different, so the scene with the Excelsior being struck with the subspace shockwave had to be reshot. We learn that the tea Sulu was drinking in that scene was actually prepared by Tuvok.
Several novels and comics have been published featuring Captain Sulu on the Excelsior, with Rand, Valtane, and Lojur all present, though there was no consistency in terms of the rest of the crew across the Star Trek VI novelization by J.M. Dillard, Peter David’s The Captain’s Daughter, L.A. Graf’s War Dragons, Denny Martin Flynn’s The Fearful Summons, the Captain Sulu Adventures audios, etc., all of which predated “Flashback.” Following this episode, there have only been two Excelsior novels: Forged in Fire and The Sundered, both by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, though Captain Sulu has appeared in several other novels and stories as well.
The tense camaraderie between Sulu and Kang is given its origins in the aforementioned Forged in Fire, which features not just those two, but also Kor, Koloth, and Curzon Dax.
With this appearance, Michael Ansara joined a select group of actors who played the same role on three different Trek series, and the only one for whom one of the three wasn’t TNG. The others are Jonathan Frakes (William Riker), Armin Shimerman (Quark), John deLancie (Q), and Richard Poe (Evek).
The Azure Nebula plays a critical role in David Mack’s Destiny trilogy.
This episode fails to explain how Valtane could have died prior to the Excelsior’s joining the Enterprise at Khitomer in Star Trek VI’s climax when the character was clearly seen with the rest of Excelsior’s bridge crew at the end of the film.
Set a course for home: “Perhaps you can be nostalgic for both of us.” This episode tries hard, it really does, but ultimately it comes across as yet another tiresome technobabble episode. There are some decent insights into Tuvok here, but what promises to be a look at a childhood memory instead turns out to be some silly technobabble virus that has nothing to do with Tuvok.
In fact, it has nothing to do with anybody. Once it becomes clear that it relates to Valtane, there’s a chance it might provide some insight into Valtane, perhaps, make his death meaningful, but that falls through as well.
George Takei has some good moments where he justifies his not following orders to Tuvok, though that too is a missed opportunity. There was a line in the script of Star Trek VI that was in both the novelization by J.M. Dillard and the comic book adaptation by Peter David that was one of the best lines in the script, and sadly got cut. Sulu says that he always hoped that if he was ever given the choice between betraying his friends and betraying his country that he’d have the guts to betray his country. I remember when I watched this episode in 1996, I was waiting for them to use the line, and was disappointed that Brannon Braga failed to do so. It would’ve been the perfect thing to say to Tuvok when he objected to Excelsior’s course of action.
Tim Russ isn’t at his best here, as his priggish younger self isn’t sufficiently differentiated from his priggish older self to be effective. We should see a noticeable difference between the 23rd century Tuvok and the 24th century one, but the superior attitude Tuvok gives to Valtane on Excelsior is exactly the same attitude he gives to Neelix on Voyager. And his bug-eyed portrayal of the seizures is just comically absurd. Russ does dry wit better than anyone this side of Leonard Nimoy, but that’s the only mode he’s comfortable in.
It’s a noble effort, but it feels meaningless at best, annoying at worst—particularly Janeway’s insufferably self-righteous look back at Kirk and Sulu’s heyday. Once the initial nostalgia hit wears off, there’s nothing to it, the solution coming out of the EMH in sickbay discovering one bit of made-up science that can stop the other bit of made-up science, which drains all the tension out of it, exacerbated by the actual culprit being something utterly irrelevant to the characters.
But it is fun to see Sulu in the center seat again…
Warp factor rating: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido never expected this entry to be reprinted because he never expected to actually be doing a Voyager Rewatch. Silly silly silly Keith……