Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Distant Origin”

“Distant Origin”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Season 3, Episode 23
Production episode 165
Original air date: April 30, 1997
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Two Voth scientists, Professor Gegen and his assistant Veer, are on the planet the Kazon left the Voyager crew on in the “Basicstwo-parter. They find Hogan’s remains and his uniform, and discover 47 genetic markers in common with the Voth themselves. Gegen is thrilled, as this is the best evidence of the “distant origin” theory.

Voth Doctrine is that the Voth are the greatest peoples of the galaxy, and that they originated in the Delta Quadrant, but there’s a theory that they evolved elsewhere. Hogan’s remains are the best evidence to date they have for that.

Gegen gives a presentation to Minster Odala, who is less than impressed. The distant origin theory goes against Doctrine. Odala says she will consider his request to mount an expedition to further investigate these genetic similarities, but Gegen can tell that she’s blowing smoke up his ass. He sends Veer to talk to another group of scientists whom he thinks supports him—but Veer returns with the devastating news that Gegen’s arrest is imminent.

After offering Veer a way out—which the loyal assistant declines—the pair of them set out on their own. Gegen has found the name of the ship on the back of the rank insignia on Hogan’s uniform. They go to the space station on the edge of the Nekrit Expanse and find out that Voyager was there, and they left behind some warp plasma. The Voth use that sample of warp plasma to track Voyager. (A neat trick, considering that the warp plasma that was used in that episode, and presumably left behind, wasn’t from Voyager, it was only pretending to be.)

The Voth track Voyager down, and use their phasing technology to covertly observe the crew in action. However, Kim is able to detect them through their phasing cloak, and eventually, there is a nasty confrontation in the mess hall. Veer hits Chakotay with a stun needle, and then Tuvok stuns Veer. Gegen transports back to his ship with Chakotay while Veer is taken to sickbay to be treated.

The EMH discovers the same thing Gegen did: that the Voth and humans have 47 genetic markers in common, way too much to be a coincidence. Janeway and the EMH use the holodeck to re-create images of species on Earth that have the most in common with the Voth, and they come up with a hadrosaur. They then have the computer extrapolate how the hadrosaur might have evolved had it survived to the present day, and the extrapolation looks pretty much like the Voth.

Despite being held in a force field, Chakotay opens a dialogue with Gegen, and they soon start to exchange ideas, with Gegen letting Chakotay out of the force field. Chakotay looks at Gegen’s data, and comes to the same conclusion that Gegen (and that Janeway and the EMH) did: the Voth originally came from Earth. They left before the cataclysm that wiped the dinosaurs out, and made their way to the Delta Quadrant, turning into a quite powerful species.

Chakotay wants to go back to Voyager, but Gegen is already en route back home to use Chakotay as the best possible evidence of the distant origin theory being correct.

The Voth track down Voyager and fire on it, capturing it with consummate ease—including beaming the entire ship into a hold and dampening all the power on board.

Gegen is captured and put on trial by Odala. He is accused of violating Doctrine and spreading the horrific notion that the Voth originated on some other planet. Odala finds the entire notion insulting, but Chakotay steps forward and points out that the theory speaks well of the Voth. The braveness of the their ancestors to brave the unknown rather than face extinction, and to form such a great society is inspiring.

Star Trek: Voyager "Distant Origin"

Screenshot: CBS

However, Chakotay’s words fall on deaf ears, especially since Veer, having been rescued from Voyager‘s sickbay, is now testifying that he and Gegen jumped the gun, and their theory has flaws. Odala herself says that the 47 common genetic markers is just a coincidence.

She urges Gegen to renounce his theory, which he refuses to do. So Odala sentences him to imprisonment—and does the same for Voyager and her crew. The ship will be destroyed, its crew incarcerated.

Rather than see that happen, Gegen agrees to renounce his theory. He’s transferred to a different discipline, and Chakotay is told that Voyager is free to go, and she suggests they set course very far from Voth space.

Before heading out, Chakotay says his goodbyes to Gegen, giving him a globe of the Earth as a keepsake.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Voth are one of the most technologically advanced species seen in the Delta Quadrant so far—indeed, only the Borg and the Sikarians are even in the conversation. They have transwarp drive, enabling them to travel in days what took Voyager the better part of a year, and personal phase cloaks that do on purpose what the Romulans did to La Forge and Ro by accident. Their transporters can also teleport an entire starship.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is completely fascinated by the Voth, and she nerds out over their origins gleefully. She also never gives in to the Voth when they’re captured.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok takes down Veer, but is unable to stop Gegen from kidnapping Chakotay. He’s also later taken out by a Voth stun needle. Not his best day…

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH discovers the same thing Gegen did when he examines Veer, though he comes to the conclusion much more quickly—understandably so, since the similarity to humanity is much easier for him to diagnose as a physician who regularly treats humans.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris and Torres are now in full-on flirt mode.

Star Trek: Voyager "Distant Origin"

Screenshot: CBS

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Janeway and the EMH use the holodeck as a research tool to determine the Voth’s origin.

Do it.

“We are not immigrants! I will not deny twenty million years of history and Doctrine just because one insignificant Saurian has a theory!”

–Odala showing prejudice toward immigrants and a complete lack of understanding of what the word theory means.

Welcome aboard. The most impressive guest here is the great character actor Concetta Tomei as Odala. Henry Woronicz—last seen as J’Dan on TNGs “The Drumhead,” and who will return to Voyager as Quarren in “Living Witness”—shows tremendous passion as Gegen, while Christopher Liam Moore—next to be seen in “The Disease”—shows eagerness followed by crippling fear as Veer.

Trivial matters: This is the only time the Voth are seen on screen, though they will be mentioned again in “Friendship One.” They play a role in the post-finale Voyager fiction, particularly the novels Protectors and Acts of Contrition by Kirsten Beyer. They also appear in two works by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett: in the short story “Brief Candle” in Distant Shores, and in the alternate timeline of the short novel Places of Exile in Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism. They’re also seen a great deal in Star Trek Online.

Gegen goes to places Voyager has been in the “Basicstwo-parter and “Fair Trade,” though there’s no explanation of how the Voth track Voyager through the warp plasma that doesn’t actually belong to Voyager. They also find a combadge and a tricorder, even though Voyager has been very careful not to leave such technology lying around. (Having said that, it’s possible that Wix stole some and sold them.)

Veer’s scan of Voyager reveals 148 life forms, which is odd, since there are, at this point, 141 biological life forms on board. (Maybe Voth sensors identified the plants in airponics as life forms?)

Around the time this episode came out, theories about dinosaurs all having been cold-blooded were changing, and it soon became clear from further research that some were cold-blooded and others warm-blooded. One of the ones that were warm-blooded were the hadrosaurs, unfortunately.

The original notion writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky had was dinosaurs with big guns invading Voyager. It was executive producer Rick Berman who suggested that one of the dinosaurs should be Galileo, which pulled the whole thing into focus. Just a reminder to folks who knee-jerkily slag Berman…

Star Trek: Voyager "Distant Origin"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Some day, every Voth will see this as home.” One of the main issues I have with the Star Trek spinoffs is how few of them ever employ people with experience writing science fiction. Where the original series had your Harlan Ellisons and your Norman Spinrads and your Theodore Sturgeons and your Robert Blochs, the spinoffs rarely went out of their way to seek out scripts by people in the SF field (with the notable exception of Enterprises final season, with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens on the writing staff).

This has resulted in a lot of spectacularly unimaginative and unthoughtful science fiction—as recently as the last episode, in which Jeri Taylor’s script was unable to move past the late-20th-century family stereotypes she grew up with to think about what the future would be like.

So it’s really nice to see this story that really feels like a science fiction story, one that embraces an alien point of view—yet still does that thing that SF in general and Star Trek in particular are spectacular at: use a science fictional premise to make a commentary on humanity.

And “Distant Origin” does a brilliant job of that. What I particularly like is that Gegen is our POV character. This episode is about him, and his quest to learn the truth about his people—and his conflict with the hidebound government of his people. In a year in which the disconnect between politics and science is particularly brutally sharp, this episode resonates. Odala isn’t interested in evidence, she’s only interested in maintaining the status quo, and she does so by dismissing the evidence as “just one person’s theory,” as if a theory wasn’t something heavily backed up by evidence. (If it’s not, it’s a hypothesis. Theories have the weight of research behind them.)

This episode also gives Robert Beltran a chance to shine, and he nails it. His quiet plea to Odala, his heartfelt explanation of how awesome the ancestral Voth had to have been, and how proud they all should be of them, is magnificently delivered. Concetta Tomei’s bland refutation of everything Gegen and Chakotay say is equally magnificent, perfectly embodying the hidebound politician who sounds so reasonable when she ignores reality.

The episode isn’t quite perfect. Brannon Braga’s love-hate relationship with evolutionary biology continues, as there’s no way to accurately extrapolate the evolution of the hadrosaur without knowing where the hadrosaurs wound up. Environment is a big part of evolution, something Braga has never understood, and it’s dogged many of his scripts. Also there are minor mistakes (the warp plasma, e.g.) that really shouldn’t be made by guys who are on the writing staff, not to mention the cold-blooded/warm-blooded thing.

Still, this is one of Voyager’s absolute best episodes, a very Star Trek show about the fight for rationality in a universe filled with irrational people, with a good spotlight for a character who doesn’t get enough of them.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido did a whole mess of programming at the virtual Dragon Con last weekend. Click here for videos of just about everything he did, including a reading and panels on a wide variety of subjects.

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