Imagination Connoisseur and frequent blogger, Willow Yang, shares her opinion about the first episode of STAR TREK: VOYAGER, Caretaker, where the audience is introduced to Captain Janeway, a holographic doctor, rebel Maquis and the rest of Voyager’s crew. But is there enough room in the episode for a good story?
Oh hai Rob,
Because Josip wouldn’t stop calling me “betrayer” in the chat for not watching the long list of STAR TREK: VOYAGER (ST:VOY) episodes that he had compiled for me a while back, I’m sending over my thoughts on the series pilot, Caretaker.
I’ll say right off the bat (and even Josip concurs with me on this): I didn’t think this was a particularly good episode. It was entertaining, and it was certainly important in setting up the entire premise of the series, but there were just a lot of problems with the story that are a bit difficult for me to ignore.
I’ll start out with a small gripe that I had (and this is a pet peeve of mine with a lot of science fiction involving extraterrestrials): with the exception of the Caretaker himself, all the new species of aliens in the Delta Quadrant – the Ocampa, the Kazon, and whatever Neelix is – were humanoid.
Okay, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (ST:TNG) did attempt to explain this with The Chase, which stated that an ancient humanoid race seeded various planets with their DNA (I’m not going to go into all the scientific issues with the latter episode other than just to say “that’s not how DNA works”). Just how much of the galaxy did they seed? Is the entire Milky Way populated with humanoids?
Of course, I understand from a practical point of view it’s probably difficult to depict more outlandish types of aliens on screen, but as a viewer who wants to see the diversity of adaptations that life has evolved across the galaxy, that is just depressing.
Related to this issue is the entire “plan” of the eponymous character, the Caretaker, of wanting to procreate so that he can have replacements. I’m not going to go into the incredible creepiness of him kidnapping people and trying to reproduce with them against their will, and often killing them in the process; that is honestly a horror film a la ALIEN. From a strictly practical perspective, if the Caretaker had come from another galaxy, why would any species in the Milky Way be even remotely genetically similar to whatever he is?
His race was so technologically advanced that they’re capable of intergalactic travel and transporting people from the other side of the galaxy; surely, they’ve got some alternative methods for reproduction. Moreover, why did he pick Kim as one of his candidates? B’elanna is part Klingon, so her genetic makeup would be a little different, but isn’t Kim just another regular human? What made him stand out from all the other human crew that the Caretaker had been testing?
And granted, I don’t know anything about the Caretaker’s species and what sort of life cycles they have, but shouldn’t he have tried procreating a little sooner so that he could teach his offspring what to do and how to manage the array before he dies? Maybe he should have planned a few hundred years ahead and not procrastinated until the last couple of months.
Finally, and most obvious of all, did it ever occur to the Caretaker to just transport the Ocampa to another planet? Wouldn’t that be a far more practical solution than putting them all underground and infantilizing their race? They could have at least tried coming up with some half-baked excuse for why the Ocampa had to remain on their home planet, but since they never did, I’m just left shaking my head.
As for the crew, I haven’t really spent enough time with them to be able to form much of a connection: I will say that, having already seen Year of Hell, I do quite like the dynamic between the main cast. While I enjoyed Kate Mulgrew’s Janeway in Year of Hell, she didn’t really leave much of an impression on me in Caretaker: I think that the character probably just needed more time to properly develop.
I was intrigued by the reveal that the doctor was actually some kind of emergency hologram that the ship had to replace the original doctor, who was apparently killed during the transportation. If they have a hologram doctor, do they have backup programs for other major crew members on board the ship? And apparently, Chakotay and B’elanna were part of the rogue Marquis who had to join forces with Janeway and her crew in order to survive their new ordeal.
While I do like seeing former enemies having to come together in a time of crisis, I do feel that the union between the two ships was quite rushed. I would have liked a scene at the end where everyone convened and discussed the state of their affairs, and worked out what they should do going forward. I also felt that Janeway didn’t really seem to be at all shaken by the deaths of so many of her crew members. On one hand, she went out of her way to rescue Kim, indicating that she really cared about her crew; on the other, she didn’t waste any time addressing the loss of half her bridge, including her original first officer. It just felt a bit strange.
The character that really stood out to be me in Caretaker, even more so than Janeway, was Robert Duncan McNeill’s Paris (whom, I’ve just realised, played Nick Locarno in ST:TNG’s The First Duty). He’s pretty colourful to say the least, with an apparently checkered past and a strong animosity towards Chakotay (it’s a little ironic, reflecting back on Year of Hell now, that the two of them just happened to get kidnapped together by Annorax).
I’m sure that he’s going to go through character development and become a much more mature and stalwart officer later on the series, but right now, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick. There was one moment that caused me to raise my eyebrows a bit, and that was when Paris was helping Chakotay escape from the underground complex, during which he teases him about his Native American beliefs, saying: “Isn’t there some Indian trick where you can turn yourself into a bird and fly us out of here?”
I thought the joke might be a little out of place. Is that something someone from the 24th century Star Trek universe would say? The humans appear to be pretty much colour blind when it came to each other; I don’t think that anyone has ever really pointed out another person’s ethnicity or brought up racial stereotypes (sure, they might make a cheeky remark about another alien race, but not fellow Earthlings). It seemed a bit strange that Paris would take such cracks at Chakotay, but that just might be me.
I know that I’ve spent the majority of this letter being critical of Caretaker, but the truth of the matter is, I didn’t think it was a terrible episode. There was enough of the pilot that I liked for me to find it overall still enjoyable. I think it achieved its goal of introducing all of the main characters and setting up the premise for the series, and I do look forward to watching more later down the line…or just to stop Josip from pestering me in the chat.
Live long and prosper,