VOY S04E08 Year of Hell (4.5 out of 5 stars). As I’ve noted, Voyager does like to play with narrative conventions, although as I’ve also noted, for my money it needs to do this an awful lot more and start giving us the kind of bonkers storytelling delivered by Farscape over on the Sci-Fi Channel, or knock it off and start digging into the characters a bit more. However, this episode certainly isn’t business as usual, opening with a shot of what looks like 24th century Earth and the cryptic caption “Day 1”.

Clarence Boddicker manages to erase Earth from history but their scans show he didn’t quite succeed in resetting the timeline to his liking. I guess it’s like trying a get a fitted sheet onto a mattress – as soon as you get one corner in place, the opposite corner pings off. Voyager meanwhile is showing off two amazing new innovations: Harry Kim and Seven of Nine’s new GPS navigation system, and Janeway’s new haircut – which is an enormous improvement.

Janeway faces down the teeny ship firing at them with insouciant smugness which pretty soon returns to bite them where it hurts. The friendly Zahl ship which was accompanying Voyager winks away in a blast of timeywimey pixels, and now the Krenim weapons which were previously ricocheting harmlessly off the shields are ripping through them like tissue paper. Fighting off these attacks continues for the next 32 days. Decks are being evacuated. Photon torpedos are running out.

There’s no particular reason why a story like this needed the timeywimey Krenim to make it happen. Indeed, if Voyager were being made for Paramount+ today, it would no doubt involve the ship being gradually smashed up and patched, in the way that the survivors lose and gain over the course of multiple episodes in shows like Lost or Yellowjackets. The reason for the Krenim backstory is fundamentally to create a reset button so that we can go back to adventure of the week stories next time.

But as an examination of this crew with their backs genuinely against the wall, this episode works better than anything we’ve had so far. Oddly, for an episode explicitly designed for the presence of a reset button, things really feel like they matter this week, not because the plot is particularly apocalyptic, I’ve learned not to take that seriously, but because the regulars are genuinely put through the mill. Tuvok is blinded (which is humiliating). Janeway has a birthday (which is irrelevant). Seven has a roommate (who is messy). The Doctor has to seal a bulkhead (which is fatal).

About the only thing I don’t like about this episode is that Kurtwood Smith’s character is called “Annorax”. They put it right there on the screen, they’re so pleased with it. Presumably it doesn’t have the same connotations in American English, but for pity’s sake, did no-one notice? I still can’t give this one a five though, because I can see the wires far too clearly. What is done by messing with the timeline can be undone by messing with the timeline just as easily. We might as well be blowing up a duplicate Voyager in the Mirror Universe. Janeway asserts that she’s made it her mission to avoid ever travelling in time. By my count this is the seventh Voyager time travel story and it won’t be the last.

The Krenim spent “months” working on these calculations. How long is a Krenimish month? Also, recall that this whole story exists only because of a throwaway line in Before and After last year.

DS9 S06E07 You are Cordially Invited (2.5 out of 5 stars). I don’t recall a Star Trek wedding since Kirk married a doomed crewmember back in Season 1 of TOS. Sisko’s opening narration awkwardly tries to square the circle of everything’s-okay-again-now and but-let’s-not-forget-that-we’re-still-at-war. Marc Worden returns as Alexander, present for his dad’s hasty wedding to Jadzia. “It’s sort of like a best man,” says the Trill, translating Klingon customs into human concepts for the benefit of a Klingon. She gets her comeuppance soon enough when Martok’s wife Sirella spots her using replicated candles and threatens to block Dax’s entry to the House of Martok. Ron Moore as usual can’t think of anything more enthralling than making up absurd Klingon rituals, and I can’t think of anything more tedious. Dax vs Sirella is a little more interesting, but not much. So, while it’s nice to have the gang back together, this is inessential to say the least. Odo and Kira’s thread is the most interesting and their “big talk” happens off-screen. Hungover Dax is funny though and Terry Farrell is always watchable. Quark gets a few good laugh-lines too.

VOY S04E09 Year of Hell, Part II (4 out of 5 stars). We last saw the Voyager extended family abandoning ship, leaving behind only a skeleton crew of names-in-the-titles. You’ll be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Janeway hides her ship in a nebula, but the “ventilation system” allows gas to leak in. Seems like more of a design flaw than a malfunction to me. Fixing it burns Janeway’s lungs, and together with the moody lighting and general atmosphere of chaos and decay means this instalment lives up to its title before we get to the theme tune.

We even get some conflict in the crew. Seven and Tuvok privately agree that Janeway’s impatience with their hidey-hole is a weakness and that getting back out into open space is premature, which Tuvok doesn’t think she should have pointed out in public. The Doctor tries to relieve the Captain of her command and she essentially responds “You and whose phaser?”

Red Forman has Chakotay and Paris on his station (he’s been looking for Voyager “for the last two months”) and tempting them with a temporal do-over. Chakotay thinks he can erase a single comet and fix everything, but he’s apparently not familiar with the Butterfly Effect. The scenes of genial problem solving between them on the Babylon 5-looking ship make a poor contrast with the desperate need for survival elsewhere. The Time Meddler’s personal tragedy is so removed from anything relatable to a contemporary audience that it’s impossible for me to engage and Chakotay’s sympathies for him feel entirely synthetic.

There’s a glimpse here of a much better, darker, grimmer more interesting show. But the series about people coming-and-going on a shopping mall in space has cornered the market in dark and grim, and that means that the story about the isolated ship stranded on the other side of the galaxy with no hope of rescue has to be the standard-bearer for Star Trek’s traditional good humour and sunny optimism. The third spin-off has been falling between those two stools for countless episodes now. Here at least it manages to strike one of them a glancing blow as it tumbles inevitably to the floor.

DS9 S06E08 Resurrection (2 out of 5 stars). Kira and Odo having resolved their five years of deeply complicated emotional entanglements off-screen last episode (seriously, what the fuck?), Kira is considering (and rejecting) various different options for a date to bring over to Worf and Dax’s. This cheerful domesticity is interrupted when some guy beams onto the station and everyone freaks out. Despite watching these episodes at the rate of one a day, I had to pause and Google him. It’s the Mirror Universe version of Kira’s earlier squeeze Vedek Bareil, who fell victim to Julian Bashir’s tender ministrations in Life Support, back in Season 3.

It’s only after he’s been disarmed and locked up that anyone speaks his name. He’s stunned to discover that his counter-part is a) dead and b) used to be a religious leader. Cue a lot of mumbling in robes and processing through dimly-lit caves. His presence does solve Kira’s social dilemma however, and everyone seems super-impressed when he’s a dick to Worf, especially Kira who jumps into bed with him, a development that urgently requires Odo’s presence if we’re going to make sense of it, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Later the Intendent turns up, and so this nonsensical development turns out not to be real in any case, merely a ruse to cover the theft of a Bajoran Flashback Box. Even Nana Visitor can’t seem to bring much to Goatee Kira this time round. Maybe that’s why Mirror Bareil switches sides at the end, obediently phasering his actual girlfriend and resolving the plot.

VOY S04E10 Random Thoughts (3.5 out of 5 stars). Once more, Voyager is in no great hurry to get home, and so the crew is spending three days shopping and sharking on a friendly planet. You can tell it’s friendly, because Michael Westmore has barely stuck anything on anyone’s forehead. This is a telepathic planet, and Tuvok suddenly seems able to chat silently with the Chief Examiner in the way that Troi and Lwaxana sometimes did, and that Vulcans have never been seen to do before – Vulcan mind melds look very different and have very different results. Somebody bumps Torres and her momentary anger contaminates their perfect society, causes another inhabitant to fly into a violent rage. The smug Chief Examiner explains that they don’t barbarically lock people up who transgress their laws, instead they provide friendly lobotomies.

There’s some diverting stuff going on here, but we’re back to ignoring the premise of the show and just stopping off at interesting-looking planets long enough to get into trouble. And like other episodes before it, the concept which is put under the magnifying glass here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Quite apart from the fact that a justice system based on thoughts and not deeds is morally bankrupt, the Mari don’t behave as if violent thoughts never ever enter their heads. Indeed, the Grand Inquisitor is so tetchy with Tuvok when he smoothly observes the flaws in her reasoning, that I assumed her wanting to belt him was going to be a major plot point. And if the mere presence of visitors with passing annoyances had the power to corrupt and enrage an entire society, then this society surely should have learned never ever to let outsiders trade with them? And don’t their infants ever have violent thoughts before they’ve learned the necessary self-control? Purging Torres and then returning her to Voyager seems redundant too. Who cares what violent thoughts she has once she’s light years away?

But if we take this allegory rather than as science fiction, it becomes a bit more interesting, as the black market trade in dark imagery is a commentary on pornography, censorship and the damage that can be done when governments attempt to impose their own ideals on the people – see also prohibition, the war on drugs and so forth. It’s a good episode for Tuvok and Tim Russ is excellent, and Seven’s take down of Voyager’s MO is pretty epic too. But, ultimately, what begins as our-crew-turns-paradise-into-a-nightmare, which might have been fascinating, ends up as the much more familiar patrician-Federation-fixes-a-broken-society-in-a-few-hours-bye-now. Casually fridging Neelix’s would-be girlfriend is pretty disgusting, and we never see Neelix again after her slaughter. That’s one half of the Duras sisters, Gwynyth Walsh, as the Witchsmeller Pursuivant.

DS9 S06E09 Statistical Probabilities (3.5 out of 5 stars). Bashir’s backstory regarding his genetic superiority, which seemed to energise the actor, without transforming the way he was written or played, is now made into a story in its own right, as we get the chance to examine how the Federation manages citizens with behavioural problems. Riffing on stories like Rain Man, The Dream Team or 12 Monkeys which had proven popular in the previous decade or so, this pits Dr Julian against and eventually alongside Tim Ransom as Jack, who seemingly draws on Hoffman, Keaton and Brad Pitt to create this manic character.

Alexander Siddig began his DS9 journey working a shade too hard with scripts that did little more than portray him as a sex pest. While other characters like Odo, Kira and Dax flourished, Bashir languished and although Siddig relaxed, his character never really got the depth that even secondary characters like Nog and Dukat were getting. But watching him discuss the collection of unhappy people he’d just met, and stepping through the minefield of his similarity to them and yet utter difference from them, I was struck by the delicacy and clarity of his performance. He really is a very fine actor, and the franchise was lucky to have him.

Meanwhile, the Cardassians have remembered that they declared war on the Federation and Damar starts making speeches live on YouTube about seeking peace talks. The patients see through the deception – this is the old story of the idiot savant – and Bashir sees giving them access to holotapes of the conference as a therapeutic tool. And maybe it will give the Federation an edge in the negotiations.

Taking a page from Asimov’s Foundation series, Bashir reckons that his team of mad geniuses can tell the future – confoundingly, their predictions getting more accurate the further into the future their analysis goes. And while we’re paying tribute to the science fiction giants of the 20th century, Bashir puts on a celebratory rendition of “The Blue Danube” when their report is accepted by Sisko. But their celebrations turn sour when their predictions show that the only sensible course of action for the Federation is to surrender to the Dominion now and save countless lives.

This is all good, serviceable Trolley Problem stuff, with a dash of Racism is Bad thrown in, but undermined slightly by the overplaying of the Four Who See All, who too often come off as Batman villains rather than troubled souls seeking peace. And it’s not the most enlightened depiction of mental health issues you’re likely to see either.

Trekaday 084: The Raven, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favor the Bold, Scientific Method, Sacrifice of Angels
Trekaday #086: Concerning Flight, Mortal Coil, The Magnificent Ferengi, Waltz, Waking Moments, Message in a Bottle, Who Mourns for Morn?