Friday, April 24, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Distant Origin
Voyager, Season 3 
"Distant Origin"
Airdate: April 30, 1997
64 of 168 produced
64 of 168 aired


When an alien race happens upon the remains of a Voyager crew member, everything they believe about themselves is called into question.

 "Thank you, computer. Now give it some realistic shadows."


Matthew: It doesn't get much more high concept than this. We spend many minutes of this episode with no human characters on screen. We get a tale in which echoes of Galileo and the Scopes monkey trial are felt. The theme is the resistance of society to changes in worldview brought about by science. I think that largely, these themes are developed and dramatized really nicely, in the way that some of the best Trek does, using allegory and alien civilizations to hit on topics that would be too blunt if portrayed by human characters. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Gegen and Veer, clearly someone on the writing staff was intimately familiar with graduate student/teacher relationships. The way the council on doctrine was written was intelligent, too, it wasn't a simple set of posterboard villains. There were enough cultural details to make the Voth seem like a real people.

Kevin: I agree. I remember being super intrigued by the teaser and set up. I also like the way it built. It was some nice continuity nods that they followed to find Voyager, so that was fun. I liked the jokes about Tom and B'Elanna's romantic sparring. I also liked little touches like their initial drawings of humans being off, as they obviously would be. The focus on the alien culture reminds me of "First Contact" and I like that a lot. The actions and interactions of the Voth also read really credibly. Watching the Voth watch the crew reminded me of "Who Watches the Watchers?" and for once all of the callbacks were pleasant and didn't feel like phoning it in.

Matthew: I think there was an admirable lack of B story here. I do wish we would have seen more than just Chakotay interacting at length with the Voth, maybe more of Janeway negotiating with them, more military peril for the rest of the crew, etc. Come to think of it, this is exactly what they did with "Year of Hell" next season, and that structure was really pleasing. That said, Chakotay's scenes with Gegen were good, advanced the plot well, and showed him as more of a scientist, which has been lacking a bit of late. I also really appreciated the continuity touch of finding the remains on the planet from "Basics."

Kevin: I appreciate the attempt to give Chakotay, well....anything to do, but come on, if anyone should be going on a scientific adventure and personally battling the forces of ignorance, it's Janeway. Chakotay calling himself a scientist feels a bit like a retcon. I mean beyond the general sense that all Federation citizens appreciate the sciences, are they really pinning his Starfleet career as a scientist, it felt a bit forced to me. I also would have loved to see Janeway spar with Odala. That being said, there were several moments in the interaction with Chakotay that were really nice, like Gegen admitting his prejudice. I have to say that I liked the overall way the conflict was handled. I enjoy that they managed to land a debate about evolution vs. creationism without having to cloak it in allegory. The show presupposes the accuracy of the theory of evolution and paints the debate about the Voth creation myth in the same terms as the one on Earth is, and I like that they didn't shy away from that. I also liked little things like the "non-indigenous species have no rights under Doctrine" line. It gives some life to the debate. The Voth self-image requires they have evolved in this region of space, so threatening that image feels like, well. a threat.

Matthew: I do have a few gripes, and though they are somewhat large, they aren't fatal to the episode. First, I just have a hard time believing the dinosaur evolution angle. To be able to survive a cometary impact, these dinosaurs would have already had to evolve technologically to the point where they can develop space travel, perhaps even interstellar capability. Would such a momentous development really leave no traces, even after a hundred million years? If so, this should be mentioned and established. I would have preferred if the Voth had been saved from the planet by some wayfaring space travelers who wanted to preserve them. Anyway, the other aspect that annoyed me was the "genomic progression" on the holodeck as if they had "continued to evolve." While this wasn't as egregious as the misunderstanding of evolution in "Threshold," it still smacked of simplistic thinking. Species evolve to adapt to an environment, not to reach some sort of teleological goal state. The dialogue should at least have been something like "if they had continued to evolve on Earth," or "if they had continued to evolve during radical climate shifts."

Kevin: I completely agree on how annoying the misunderstanding of evolution is. I will also add that by the time we get to the back half of the episode, I honestly become a little less engaged. I live with the debate in the real world, and once the novelty of the setup up wears off, the actual debate is good on its own, but because it's centered around a race that I have not seen before and will not see again, I am less invested in the actual cultural sturm und drang over Doctrine. Matt said something about this episode in a conversation a few weeks ago, and I think it's true: this episode is Voyager's "Darmok." It's an exquisitely high-concept and very, very Star Trek episode, but it lacks a bit in the execution. The final result relies on a silly misunderstanding of evolution and becomes a bit talky by the end. It's still such an interesting idea in the balance, but the problems remain. I want to be clear that I would identify the problem as one of pacing more than anything.


Matthew: The big guest stars all did an admirable job of acting through some pretty heavy makeup. Much of it relied on voice and posture. Henry Woronicz, who was relatively undistinguished as J'Dan in "The Drumhead," was excellent as Gegen. He gave the role just the right sense of ego mixed with an intellectual remove from normal people. Christopher Moore was also quite good as Veer, playing the perfect toady. He was sympathetic even as he turned on Gegen. Concetta Tomei (no relation) was also excellent, with an imperious voice and carriage. She gave the impression of intelligence mixed with intransigence, and kept the role from devolving into caricature.

Kevin: I really want to single out Tomei for praise. Whatever my plot issues are, she just gave Odalla some real, but not cartoonish menace. I liked the idea that she was legitimately trying to protect something of value, so her stubbornness is just much more interesting. And all the guest stars really did act well through the make-up, no mean feat.

Matthew: Robert Beltran portrayed a nice curiosity and collegiality in his interactions with Gegen. His final speech was also pitched well. Janeway had some nice "badass" interactions with Marshall Teague as the military Voth Haluk. He was suitably dick-wad-ish, too.

Kevin: Beltran handled a lot of the dialogue well. I agree he also had a nice rapport with Gegen. Like I said, I can't help but imagine that a scene of Mulgrew and Tomei butting heads would have really crackled. Dawson and McNeill really made their brief scenes sparkle, too.

Production Values

Matthew: Well, this is certainly a makeup show. These are definitely in the upper echelons of Westmore-heads. Despite covering the entire actor, they allowed for expressiveness and all looked different. It never looked rubber, either, which is an achievement. The Voth ship, both interior and exterior, was somewhat less successful. The design was nice, but the CGI wasn't great.

Kevin: The detail work in color and texture really gave it the look of actual skin. The contact lens work, particularly in the closeups of Odalla were just gangbusters. They really nailed a sense of the characters having internal life but still really being foreign.

Matthew: The set designs and props were pretty good, if a little dark. The Voth room interiors had a definite look. The hearing room and its funky chair had personality and were a good dramatic backdrop. I guess I do have a complaint that we never got to see more of the ship and more Voth, though I understand this is a budget thing. The montage of Gegen's search was well done, making nice use of previous sets and mattes.

Kevin: Yeah, I liked the tight shot then pull away of Voyager inside the City Ship as a piece of cinematography, but yeah, the CGI was a little hazy.


Matthew:Although the first segment of the episode leaves us wanting for some humans, and a few science-y aspects were off, this was thought-provoking and entertaining. A uniformly solid guest cast pushes this into 4 territory for me. 

Kevin: I agree with the 4 for a total of 8. There are a few places, and important ones where the episode doesn't work, but the concept alone almost gets you to a four. Add some really good guest stars, and I agree that this is solidly above average.


  1. I liked that Chakotay took the lead in this episode. I like Janeway a lot, but it can get tiring to always see her hit the philosophical jugular of story lines. I enjoy watching the other characters be at the center of an episode once in a while and make the tough calls.

    And generally I really like the Chakotay character. He is resolute but there is also a certain calm and tranquility, almost peacefulness, to him and his voice. The way he was dealing with the Voth at a time where Gegen was getting more agitated provided a wonderful counterbalance. I love that he can be calm and together without being mechanical (Data) or emotionless (Vulcan). I really wish they had developed his character more over the course of the series. Something which, as i understand, didnt happen as much as the actor Beltran wanted (and complained about) because of the introduction of Seven and all the episodes about her and her humanity or her, Janeway and her huanity.

  2. Really enjoying the blog, thank you. I've always enjoyed the exploration of ideas more than the political arcs, so I find Voyager more interesting than DS9.

    This episode really shines, the idea of a dinosaur civilization is fascinating. If humans were to disappear there would be no visible signs after 50,000 years. After a few million years everything would be gone except some pockets of radiation where our nuclear reactors currently sit assuming the materials are left there. The chance of finding evidence of a previous civilization after 65 million years is extremely unlikely, even in the 24th century.
    There is a place in Oklo, Africa that has the remains of archaic nuclear reactors where self-sustaining nuclear fission reactions took place. Though to be natural concentrations from a billion years ago, it's conceivable they were more recent 100 million year ago rectors from one stage in the Saurian's development. Perhaps it would have been good to mention that after that amount of time there would be no trace, I certainly would have liked them to mention the evidence of Voth nuclear reactors.

    Your reviews are very good and I really enjoy the podcasts, please keep it up.

  3. really good episode. I agree with you about the ship as well. My complaint however has to do with scope of size. From the show with voyager the ship didn't look nearly big enough to be able to house voyager in a huge cavernous hangar. Also I wish they had explored a little bit more about how the Voth seem to live on a city ship but also have colony's on planets. Is the ship so much better than the planet?