New 'Voyager' upholds the 'Star Trek' tradition

January 16, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Make no mistake. Kate Mulgrew is the captain, a worthy successor in the line of steel-jawed space explorers for the United Federation of Planets. In tonight's premiere of "Star Trek: Voyager," she takes firm and fascinating command of the launch vehicle for the new United Paramount Network.

In a movie-length debut episode (8 p.m. on WNUV, Channel 54, and WDCA, Channel 20), Ms. Mulgrew barks orders, strides through exploding bulkheads and frets about her pregnant dog back home. As Capt. Kathryn Janeway, she easily dominates every scene she has and should make Paramount thankful that Genevieve Bujold, originally signed for the role, walked off the set after a few days.

The third series to spin off from Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek" offers the familiar high-quality special effects Paramount brought to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

Yet it still hews to the humanistic idealism of the original. Indeed, although it has some weak moments, the premiere establishes a new star ship crew intending "to seek out new worlds and explore space," as the captain says to close the episode.

Marking a minor milestone in the "Star Trek" universe, Ms. Mulgrew is the first female captain of a star ship, although women have been admirals, commanders, executive officers, communications officers and other strong figures.

The show opens with text scrolling up the screen (just like in "Star Wars"!), introducing a group of rebel colonists called the Maquis. They have continued to battle a race known as the Cardassians (regulars on "Deep Space Nine") and have been declared outlaws by the Federation.

Wham! We're quickly into a patented pyrotechnic space chase, as a rebel ship flees pursuit by entering an area of disturbed space nicknamed the Badlands -- just like in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and countless other westerns.

After the opening credits roll -- good effects! -- we meet Captain Janeway, who is recruiting a penal colony inmate (Robert Duncan McNeill) to join her crew.

Soon enough the new star ship, Voyager, which boasts "bio-neural circuitry" (not really explained in the premiere), finds itself inexplicably snatched 70,000 light years through space. It encounters not only the escaped Maquis spacecraft, but a mysterious new life form, known as the Caretaker.

More plot details might spoil things. Besides, some of the twists are tortuous and others pretty tenuous. For instance, the Voyager crew encounters a war-like race that, at first, seems to be a primitive nomadic tribe, yet turns up in the show's climax in spacecraft doing battle with the Voyager.

But at their best, all "Star Trek" series have been about character development and the exploration of ideas, and "Voyager" offers the promise of both.

Viewers may especially want to learn more about Officer Tuvok (Tim Russ), a Spock-like Vulcan tactical officer, B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), a half-Klingon member of the Maquis, and Chakotay (Robert Beltran), the Indian leader of the rebels.

Ethan Phillips offers the requisite humorous alien role as a space scavenger named Neelix. Some viewers may recognize him under the makeup as the public relations man in the series "Benson."

And, the Voyager must have an unusual medical officer. But here he's not even alive -- Robert Picardo plays him as an efficient but irritable holographic image.

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