|Star Trek: Voyager began life in 1995 with some truly fascinating prospects in its two-hour pilot episode. Opening in the 24th century, a setting contemporary with that of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and carrying over story elements from each of those series, "Caretaker" finds Starfleet Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) stepping into the middle of Federation troubles with the Maquis, an army of rebels violently resisting the interplanetary organization's treaty with the brutal Cardassians. In the process, both Voyager and the Maquis ship under surveillance are accidentally catapulted out of the galaxy's Alpha Quadrant (the familiar stomping grounds of Starfleet personnel) by a benign but dying being called the Caretaker. Voyager ends up in the unexplored Delta Quadrant, some 70,000 light years away.
So much seemed dramatically promising in this debut, especially the unwieldy alliance of Starfleet regulars and hostile Maquis, and the likelihood that a lifetime spent in isolation, trying to get home, would lead to the development of a self-contained society on the ship, yet Voyager never entirely made up its mind what it was supposed to be about. The curiously cheesy sets and fascinating, progressive management style of Janeway (half mommy, half taskmaster) were also new developments in Star Trek culture. As the 16-episode season continued, character backstories were developed in such episodes as "The Cloud" (arguably the best episode of the season), "Eye of the Needle" (underscoring Janeway and the crew's sadness), "State of Flux" (in which a search for a traitor reveals a past romance between Commander Chakotay, played by Robert Beltran, and sexy Bajoran engineer Seska, played by Martha Hackett), and "Jetrel" (which explores the character of Neelix, the Talaxian played by Ethan Phillips, during a parable about scientific ethics and moral responsibility).
Among other notable episodes, "Phage" strikes a nice balance among character development, story hook, and moral and emotional conflict when Neelix is literally robbed of his lungs by the Vidiians, a once-civilized people who are combating a deadly disease called the Phage by stealing organs. (The disease would return in "Faces," a fine showcase for Roxann Biggs-Dawson as Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres.) "Emanations" stirred controversy among the series' producers and some fans for its philosophical look at death, and "Time and Again" is a unique time-travel story in which Janeway and Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) get caught in a subspace fracture that places them just hours before they know a planet is going to be destroyed. In "Prime Factors," latent tensions among Voyager personnel erupts into serious conflict, an issue revisited in the season finale, "Learning Curve." Despite a pat ending that resolves the Maquis conflict much too easily, the episode drives home the fact that Voyager and its crew are all alone, making the most of a difficult predicament. --Tom Keogh and Jeff Shannon