Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Season 5, Episode 1
Production episode 195
Original air date: October 14, 1998
Captain’s log. Paris and Kim are acting out a Captain Proton adventure on the holodeck, which is interrupted by the EMH, who declares that they’ve gone over their allotted time, which leads to a fight between Paris and the doctor for time, and then a power surge on the holodeck.
This is but one of several ways by which the crew’s sinking morale is manifesting. They’ve been going through an empty region of space that the crew has taken to calling “the void” for two months, and it will take another two years to get through it. There are no star systems within 2500 light-years, and a large concentration of theta radiation means they can’t even see distant stars. The viewscreen just provides a black screen.
Janeway has spent most of the last two months in her quarters. Chakotay holds a weekly staff meeting, which boils down to “nothing new,” as the ship is in good shape, they’re well supplied, they’re just bored shitless. They also want to know why they haven’t seen the captain, but Chakotay assures them that she has the right to stay in her quarters.
Neelix wakes up in a panic, goes to the mess hall in time for a Paris-Torres argument, and then has another panic attack. The EMH diagnoses him with nihilophobia, the fear of nothingness.
In astrometrics, Tuvok and Seven detect a massive amount of theta radiation on long-range sensors, source unknown. Chakotay reports this to Janeway, and tries to get her to leave her quarters for a game of Velocity on the holodeck. But the captain is uninterested. The lack of activity has caused her to go all introspective, and she questions her decision to strand them in the Delta Quadrant to save the Ocampa.
During the night shift, power suddenly goes out on the entire ship. The crew struggles to restore it. Kim is able to get partial sensors back up and running, and detects a dampening field, but can’t trace the source. Tuvok uses a photon torpedo as a flare, at which point they see three ships. Seventeen aliens from the ships beam aboard and attack the crew. The one that attacks Paris and Seven on the holodeck is taken out by Captain Proton’s ray gun after Seven disengages the safeties. Janeway finally comes out of her quarters and wounds another before leading the repowering of the ship in engineering.
Voyager and the aliens exchange weapons fire, and then another ship arrives. This is a Malon cruiser. Sixteen of the aliens beam off, but the one Seven wounded is helpless in sickbay.
The Malon shipmaster, Controller Emck, beams aboard, though they have to keep him behind a force field until the biofilter can screen out the theta radiation he’s awash in. The Malon’s warp drives create theta radiation as waste byproduct, and Emck has been using a spatial vortex to dump the waste in the void. He’s more than happy to escort Voyager to the vortex so they can get out of the void faster, but only if they turn over the alien they’ve got in sickbay.
Janeway and Chakotay question the alien in sickbay, in which the EMH has turned the lights down, as the aliens are photosensitive. They’re native to the void, but the Malon dumping their waste is killing them. The aliens attacked Voyager thinking they were the Malon’s allies. They’ve tried negotiating with Emck, but he’s ignored them and his ship is too powerful for them to fight. The alien begs for Janeway’s help.
Voyager travels to where there are more alien ships and beam the alien off. They then rendezvous with Emck. They can’t turn the alien over to him, but they can offer him something better: a way to refine their warp technology so they won’t emit such noxious waste. But while Emck expresses an interest, it’s feigned—refining warp drives will put him out of business, and he makes some very good coin using the void as his dumping ground, which no other Malon know about.
Janeway beams Emck off the ship and decides to go for plan B: destroy the vortex. But she doesn’t want to force Voyager to go through this soul-sucking void any longer, so she will stay behind in a shuttlecraft and destroy it after Voyager goes through. The entire bridge crew rejects the notion of her being stuck hundreds of light-years behind them in a shuttlecraft, and she’s faced with a very heartening mutiny.
So they go with plan C: burn the bridge as they cross it, as it were, destroying the vortex when they go in, staying just ahead of the shockwave. Torres boosts the aft shields, while Tuvok adjusts some torpedoes to delayed detonation.
Emck, however, doesn’t let them go quietly, and they get into a firefight. The good news is that the aliens come to their rescue, and with their help, Emck’s ship is destroyed. The bad news is that Voyager has lost propulsion in the battle damage. So instead, they ride the shockwave of the torpedo detonation through the vortex. It doesn’t quite get them all the way through the void, but soon they find themselves back among the stars.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? One of the benefits of a rewatch is that I realized that one of the things that annoyed me about this episode was actually covered. It made no sense that they couldn’t see any stars while in the void because there was literally nothing blocking their view of the stars beyond the void. However, Seven tells Chakotay early on that the theta radiation is occluding sensors, keeping them from seeing past the void. (Something else to ding the Malon for, as Emck’s clandestine waste-dumping is contributing to the psychological awfulness of crossing the void.)
Having said that, after they’re through the vortex and past where Emck was dumping his waste, they should have seen stars immediately.
There’s coffee in that nebula! When she served as commander of the U.S.S. Billings, Janeway finished a survey herself after the first attempt injured three people under her command. When she tries something similar with collapsing the vortex, the entire crew tells her to screw off and forces her to be the captain again.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok uses astrometrics to meditate, as the inability to see stars interferes with his usual meditative practices.
Forever an ensign. At one point, Kim has the bridge to himself, and he plays a song he composed on the clarinet, “Echoes of the Void.” When Tuvok enters the bridge, Kim plays it for him.
Resistance is futile. Seven is dragooned into joining Paris on the holodeck for a Captain Proton adventure. She approaches the role with absolutely no enthusiasm and ruthless efficiency. However, when Paris later pilots them through Emck’s attack, Seven comments, “Captain Proton to the rescue.”
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH apparently suffered from a form of nihilophobia whenever he was shut down. His descriptions of that don’t really make Neelix feel any better about his own panic attack.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix’s suggestion for a way to alleviate the boredom is for the crew to cross-train in areas of the ship they’re less familiar with. A ship that’s lost so many of its crew and had to integrate a bunch of terrorists should have cross-discipline training as a matter of course, so it’s weird that that hasn’t happened in four years. Then again, Neelix may have just been suggesting it by way of he himself getting more training, consistent with his endless desire to make himself more useful to the crew.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris and Torres play a game of durotta together, which leads to a nasty fight that only doesn’t escalate because Neelix has a panic attack in front of them.
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. We’re introduced to the Captain Proton holodeck scenario, which is a 1930s movie serial that Paris is a fan of. Paris plays the title character, Kim plays his loyal sidekick Buster Kincaid, and Seven plays his secretary Constance Goodheart.
Also, when power goes out from the void aliens’ attack, the holodeck power remains intact, but the lights go out for no compellingly good reason.
“Needless to say, the view from my quarters has been less than stellar lately.”
–Tuvok making a terrible pun.
Welcome aboard. Martin Rayner debuts the role of Doctor Chaotica, Captain Proton’s arch-nemesis. He’ll return to the role in “Bride of Chaotica!” and “Shattered.”
Steve Dennis plays two of the void aliens. He’ll return as Fennim in “Think Tank,” Onquanii in “Warhead,” Thompson in the “Equinox” two-parter, and an Andorian in two Enterprise episodes.
Ken Magee plays Emck.
Trivial matters: After season four, Jeri Taylor, who had worked on Trek shows for eight years, and who had just turned sixty, retired. Like fellow co-creator Michael Piller, she remained as a creative consultant, and would write one more episode of the show later this season (“Nothing Human”). Brannon Braga was promoted to executive producer and show-runner to replace her.
The Malon will continue to recur as antagonists throughout this season. They also appear in your humble rewatcher’s novel Demons of Air and Darkness (which takes place at the same time as Voyager’s sixth season) and in the games Star Trek Online and Elite Force.
This is the only appearance of the game of Durotta, which looks like Quarto given a different “science fictiony” name.
Voyager uses more than a dozen photon torpedoes. At this point, they’ve used about forty, which is more than the thirty-eight that they were established as having in season one, and which were deemed irreplaceable.
The String Theory novel trilogy, done for the show’s tenth anniversary in 2005 by Jeffrey Lang, Kirsten Beyer, and Heather Jarman, takes place between “Hope and Fear” and “Night,” and provides an explanation for the void, as well as for Janeway’s depression (and for later instances of inconsistent behavior on the character’s part).
The Captain Proton holodeck program will continue to recur throughout the rest of the show’s run, and even be the focus of an episode, “Bride of Chaotica!” It’s also referenced in an Enterprise episode, “Cogenitor.”
The tie-in fiction also proposed the notion that there were Captain Proton prose stories. One such appeared in Amazing Stories magazine, “The Space Vortex of Doom,” written by Dean Wesley Smith (under the pseudonym of D.W. “Prof” Smith, a riff on E.E. “Doc” Smith, author of the Lensman novels, which were one of the primary influences on Star Trek, and pretty much every other space opera in history). Later, Pocket Books published Captain Proton: Defender of the Earth, also written by Smith, which included four short stories, two articles, and a letters page, the latter of which included a letter from a young reader named Benny Russell (who would grow up to become a science fiction writer in DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars“). The short story “Captain Proton and the Orb of Bajor” by Jonathan Bridge in the Strange New Worlds IV anthology also linked Russell to Proton, by having Russell be the scripter for a Captain Proton radio drama.
Set a course for home. “Time to take out the garbage.” This is a very low-key, but very powerful opening for a new season of this show about being far from home. What I particularly like about it—something I didn’t really appreciate when I first saw it as a 29-year-old in 1998—is that it’s a fantastic meditation on clinical depression.
Janeway has always been fiercely protective of her crew, and always taken her role as their caretaker (ahem) seriously. Sometimes that’s been to the point of ridiculousness—barreling through where angels fear to tread in both “The Swarm” and “One,” for example—but she’s always focused on what will get her people home safely, while still generally maintaining Starfleet’s ideals—for example, willing to sacrifice the ship to save a civilization in “Dreadnought,” and even in this episode offering the hand of friendship to Emck even after he’s proven to be a jackass.
But being stuck with no distractions for eight weeks gets her all introspective, and sometimes that way lies madness—or, at the very least, a very dark self-examining hole that it’s really hard to crawl out of. There’s no ship’s counselor on board, and indeed only one actual medical professional, and he’s an AI patterned after a jerk. Honestly, we should be seeing more of this kind of thing, especially given that we’re talking about people separated from home at a distance that makes their getting home in their lifetime unlikely who’ve also watched more than a score of their shipmates die. Oh, and we know at least three of the Maquis who joined the crew had some manner of psychological issues, between Torres’s anger issues and the murderous impulses of both Dalby and Suder.
I would’ve liked a little more discussion of the fact that Janeway’s decision to strand Voyager was specifically made to save the Ocampa from being pillaged by the Kazon, which was absolutely the right thing to do. For that matter, I would’ve liked her introspection to have been less focused on the general issue of her stranding them in the Delta Quadrant and more on the specific issue of the twenty or so people under her command who’ve died since they’ve been stranded.
Still and all, these are minor points, and at the very least, Janeway gets a good reminder of the right thing to do when she’s given another opportunity to save someone, in this case the aliens who live in the void, who are being slowly murdered by Emck’s greed. The Malon’s villainy here is even more resonant now as it was two decades ago, as he places his own profit margins over the lives of innocent people.
And, for all that it’s sappy and against military protocol and all that, seeing everyone basically tell Janeway to go jump in a lake because they’re not gonna let her sacrifice herself is a tug-the-heartstrings moment. It’s a good reminder to Janeway that, while she may be responsible for the family they’ve built on Voyager over the past four years, they are a family, and they all help each other out.
On top of that, we get the absolutely delightful Captain Proton holodeck program, which is one of the best contributions Voyager made to the Trek milieu, and by far the best of the various recurring holodeck programs.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel was released this month: Animal, a thriller he co-authored with Dr. Munish K. Batra about a serial killer who targets people who harm animals. Here’s an interview Keith did about the book on Second Life’s “The Mystery Hour with Con Sweeney.”