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Star Trekkin' Across the Universe: Discussing The Porgs


#881

Encounter at Farpoint

Let’s do some origin for the show first:

TNG was originally shopped to Fox, but they couldn’t commit to more than 13 episodes, which wasn’t enough for Paramount to justify the financial outlay to get the show going. It was then decided to go for first-run syndication, a distribution method dating back to the 50s in America, with major shows including The Adventures of Superman, Mister Ed, The Cisco Kid, and The Muppet Show. TNG’s success in syndication prompted other genre shows in the same distribution style, including Friday the 13th: The Series, Freddy’s Nightmares, War of the Worlds, and, uh Star Trek: Deep Space 9. The only other major hit in first-run syndication was Baywatch, of all shows. After 1997, there’s only been a handful of first-run syndication drama series, with most of the output in that format being animation, reality, daytime talk, or game shows.

The show was first announced in October 1986, with an intended release in the following Autumn. And information started being shared with the fans in short order. An early 1987 issue of the official Star Trek Magazine said the show was planned to be set in the 25th Century, some 150 years after TOS, and the ship would be the Enterprise G. Gene Roddenberry changed this to the 24th Century, 78 years and the Enterprise D in the following months. TNG series 1 was eventually given a solid date of 2364, which would put Star Trek IV’s 23rd century scenes exactly 78 years prior.

In an interview for a documentary, Roddenberry said he had no interest in revisiting the long days of the original Trek production, especially if there were going to be network execs figuratively hovering over his shoulders. Apparently Paramount guaranteed him a level of autonomy and said that producing for syndication meant the deadlines wouldn’t be as harsh.

Roddenberry went on to hire many TOS alums, including Andrew Probert (given the chief design role), producers Robert Justman and Edward Mills, writers Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold and John D.F. Black.(the former two were major contributors to the series bible and background material), costume designer William Ware Theiss, assistant director Charles Washburn, composer Fred Steiner. Due to various issues, every one of these people would leave the production before series 1 finished.

Fontana was assigned the task of writing the first episode, titled Meeting at Farpoint. She had a first story draft on December 5th, 1986, which was quite different from the final script.

Originally envisioned as a one-hour episode, the Enterprise would rendezvous with a science vessel called the Starseeker, with the Enterprise’s current XO, Kyle Summers being promoted to Captain to take command. After their arrival, an alien ship would arrive and threaten the ships, destroying Starseeker in a brief battle. The Enterprise crew would encounter the aliens on Farpoint’s surface, an ape-like race called the Annoi. Eventually Riker would lead a team onto their ship where they’d discover the ship was alive and had been enslaved by the Annoi.

This draft had many character details which would change before the filming script - Picard’s first name was Julien, Riker’s name was spelled Ryker, Yar was Macha Hernandez, Wesley Crusher was a girl named Lesley. Data would join the ship’s crew on Farpoint, and would have had an established friendship with Ryker.

There was also a lot of back and forth on the episode’s running length. Paramount’s president Mel Harris stated the première would be a two-hour telefilm. Fontana felt her story had ninety minutes (including ads) in it, but she was told alternately that there may or may not be a making of or retrospective piece included in the run time. While she was writing the episode, Roddenberry’s lawyer Leonard Maizlish, who’d somehow managed to get an office in the TNG production department and was basically acting as Roddenberry’s heavy behind the scenes, was bugging her every few days and suggesting different running lengths. This was causing havoc on Fontana’s writing, as her treatments and scripts were changing massively from week to week

Eventually Encounter at Farpoint was given the full 2-hour run time, though Fontana was still writing a 90-minute script on Roddenberry’s instruction. This was an additional frustration as Fontana’s contract stated she’d be paid a bonus if she was to write a 2-hour script. Roddenberry decided to add the missing half-hour himself, giving him a co-writing credit (and Fontana had to go to the writers’ guild for arbitration to keep her name on the script).

All the while Roddenberry said he’d take good care of Fontana - though this event reminder her of a similar situation during the production of TAS, where he successfully screwed her out of a promotion and raise, with the difference in her pay going to Roddenberry instead. To this day, Roddenberry’s estate receives an equal share of the residual payments for Encounter at Farpoint as Fontana does.

Roddenberry’s addition to the script was primarily the framing device of Q confronting the Enterprise, the trial, and his various appearances later in the show. Q was already a planned antagonist for the show, but he would have been introduced later in series 1. This was over the objections of the writing staff, many of whom complained that Q was a bad copy of Trelane. Roddenberry was insistent, claiming that he’d write the character in a way the fans would love.

He also added McCoy’s cameo to the script. It was a late addition, coming after a meeting between the pair in which Roddenberry asked Kelley’s permission to add him to the show. Kelley said he’d be honoured and insisted on taking no more than scale payment for the show. Robert Justman said that he felt it had been on Roddenberry’s mind to add a TOS character cameo for some time. The scene was kept secret, with no reference to McCoy’s name in the script or in the finished dialogue to prevent leaks. It marks DeForrest Kelly’s final TV appearance in Trek barring the archive footage in Trials and Tribble-Ations.

During shooting, scenes were found to be coming in shorter than expected thanks to the pace at which Corey Allen, the director was filming. As such additional scenes were written to pad out the length, such as Geordi and Dr. Crusher’s scene in the Sick Bay.

During the writing process, Doug Drexler, a Trek fan who would later work on the show was visiting the offices. While chatting with Edward Mills and Robert Justman, Roddenberry burst into the room, and says “I’ve got it! The Captain turns the ship around, stops it and surrenders!”. Drexler was dumbfounded thanks to the lack of context, and Justman remarked “Gene, you don’t know what you just did to this guy”

This episode marks Colm Meaney’s first appearance in Trek, with his role credit as “Conn”, being the position he mans on the Battle Bridge rather than his name. Hw would, of course eventually gain a recurring role as Chief Miles O’Brien, though it wasn’t until All Good Things… that it would be confirmed that the character he plays here is indeed O’Brien. As with pretty much every O’Brien appearance in TNG, he’s got the wrong rank insignia on. Here he’s an ensign.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that many of the sets are redresses of ones from TMP, and thence from Star Trek: Phase II. Most notably the corridors are straight-up repaints, though that corridor complex would grow over the years while maintaining the general style. The engineering and sickbay sets were a similarly redressed, and would go back and forth between the facilities on the Enterprise D and A for the last couple of movies and their concurrent TV productions. (The sickbay would later be redressed to serve as Voyager’s equivalent, and similarly switch between it and the Enterprise D one)

All of Q’s scenes were shot in the last two weeks of production to accommodate John DeLancie’s schedule, he was appearing in a play at the time.

ILM were credited for effects work throughout the show, though they only ever shot footage for this episode. Their raw footage was reused and recomposited in different sequences repeatedly over the years. ILM were the only people to ever use the largest model of the Enterprise-D.

The original cut of the episode has no teaser, the credits scroll rather than fade in and out on screen (also, the character names are not included with the actor’s credits), and Roddenberry is credited as the show’s creator rather than executive producer at the end of the opening credits The syndicated version makes a teaser out of the first few minutes of the episode, cutting to the regular credits after Q demands humanity returns to Earth.

This episode marks the only time Troi wears a Starfleet uniform until she permanently switched to a jumpsuit in Chain of Command. Similarly, Yar is seen wearing the dress/skirt uniform for the only time in the final scene of the episode.

The episode had a full novelisation. written by David Gerrold.

The reception for the episode was quite positive. Mainstream media gave good reviews, Paramount’s executives loved it when they saw it, and the episode won the Hugo for best dramatic presentation. Robert Justman felt the episode dragged at times but loved DeForrest Kelley’s cameo. And perhaps most glowingly, Michael Piller said he loved how the show introduces about half the Enterprise crew in the first half hour, and then the rest afterwards - and aped the format for the pilot episode of Deep Space 9.

All that said, the show was not a big hit with traditional Trekkies when it launched. There was a lot of pushback for not being a direct continuation of TOS, even though the movies were still coming out at the time. This state of affairs would continue through to the end of series 3.

(opinion to follow)


#882

This seems to have been a pattern with Roddenberry.

He also famously wrote lyrics to Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme which gave Roddenberry half of the royalties even though the words were never intended to be used.


#883

Oh yeah, he used his production company and started Lincoln Enterprises, the company he used to sell Trek merchandise in Majel Barrett’s name to keep assets out of his first wife’s hands when their marriage was falling apart.

Classy guy.


#884

It was my first time watching Farpoint so I was amazed just how not terrible it was. Although you saying that they padded the script with an extra 30 minutes makes sense, the pacing is way off.
But as it stands, it’s a pretty standard and serviceable bit of TNG.


#885

Any mention of Encounter at Farpoint must go back a couple months before the premiere. On an easel in my friend Jesse Silver’s bedroom/atelier/studio/garbage-heap-of-paint-tubes was a moon, with a modernistic city. Yep, Farpoint Station. I think Jesse did three matte paintings for S1e1, and a few over the next couple of years. It was rather a Roddenberry situation, I guess, as I heard rumbles of credit-theft. Rumours, mind! Do not quote me as a source. All I know is I saw several of Jesse’s paintings appear with somebody else’s name in the Chyron, so I dunno what might have happened!

Also heard that, in early test shots, Picard had hair.


#886

When Patrick Stewart was brought in to read for the role, he was asked to wear a wig - which he did, he had one back in the UK which was couriered over for the audition. But apparently it looked awful. After his read was over, he was getting ready to go home, had taken the wig off, and they asked him to do one more read. So he went back in and did it bald.

There’s a photo of Picard in uniform with hair that does the rounds as an alleged test shot, but it’s a production still from the filming of Violations, the flashback/dream sequence where Dr. Crusher remembers Picard bringing Jack Crusher’s body home.


#887

That was one terrible rug.


#888

Speaking of hair…

image


#889

Half way through the pilot of Voyager.
There really are some odd choices here. I really don’t like the barn folk rednecks but my biggest concern is how much I hate Harry Kim.
Like scream obscenities at the screen every time his stupid gee whiz face in on screen.
And Tom Paris is a dick in the most annoying way.
And Kes and Neilix haven’t happened yet.
This is going to be tough.


#890

My problem with it was that Tom Paris was a dick, but then decides to be altruistic for no apparent reason.


#891

I haven’t gotten to the let’s be friends and never mention our disagreements again bit.
It’s all terrible isn’t it.


#892

I am going to go with the controversial opinion that the Enterprise pilot is quite good. Not brilliant but it rattles along okay.


#893

Opinion at Farpoint:

So, this is one of the episodes of Trek that has a huge emotional resonance for me - far beyond the quality of the episode itself.

You see, young Lorcan was a burgeoning Sci-fi fan, avidly watching repeats of OG Trek, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, and whatever else showed up on TV. And here’s the thing - it took three years almost to the day for TNG to show up on TV over here. I had begun venturing into nerdy shops in Dublin, and flipping through US magazines like Starlog showed me shots of what was by comparison an amazing SF world. And before Encounter at Farpoint made it to TV here, I found it on video in a local rental place.

So it was extra special to me at 12 or 13 to see this. I must have watched it 2 or 3 times in that day. So there’s a huge nostalgic and emotional baggage attached to this pilot especially for me.

And so, it’s almost 30 years since this episode first aired in the US (the 30th anniversary is 8 days away as I type this, if I remember the dates correctly), and about 27 years since I first saw it. And some of it holds up well, other parts less so.

The best parts are probably the effects - ILM did some fantastic work with the six-foot Enterprise model, and the alien ships are exotic and unusual - a feat which the show would seldom match in its regular run. There’s also some impressive composite and model work in the Bandi city when the alien ship attacks.

After that, which the script is clunky at points, the cast ranges from good to fantastic - the standouts being Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner even at this early point, elevating the material they’re working with.

But beyond that, the episode is showing its age in a lot of ways. The dialogue and the way Q is used feel like throwbacks to TOS in a way that TNG would rapidly outgrow. A lot of that is down to the writing being two of TOS’s old hands - Roddenberry and Fontana, and a lot of it is the heavy work of introducing the setting and characters in a way that TV didn’t really do in their heyday.

The best thing one can say about the episode is that it shows TNG’s potential. It’s cerebral, has strong characters, and bears strong themes of peaceful exploration and deducing the solution to a conundrum rather than punching a monster. It captured my attention way back when, and I can still look past its flaws to the decades of enjoyment the show and its successors have given me.


#894

Emissary

So Brandon Tartikoff, the president of Paramount at the time decided that to capitalise on the success of TNG and the six extant TOS-era movies, there should be a new Trek TV series. His high-concept pitch was “Star Trek and Next Generation were Wagon Train to the Stars. Now we need Gunsmoke in Space”

In the planning stages it was decided that DS9 would work out a way to have interpersonal conflict that wouldn’t break the letter of Gene Roddenberry’s rules - so the idea was formed that the town - in this case a starbase would be in a territory outside the Federation, and as such much of the cast would be from other races. And having the show set in a fixes place, they had potential to have a recurring cast outside the main one.

As Roddenberry’s health was failing, he was never consulted on the show’s format beyond the very earliest stages.

At an early point in development, the idea was floated of setting the show on a planet rather than a space station. The producers decided to change this to avoid excessive location shooting, and to have at least some ties to space so as to not alienate fans. Michael Piller and Rick Berman were having problems naming the show, with The Final Frontier being the front runner, but it wound up with Deep Space 9 as the working title for both the show and the station, and it stuck despite neither creator being a big fan of it.

The worksuit-style uniforms favoured by the DS9 crew were a reaction to the earlier TNG uniforms, which were reportedly quite uncomfortable (you can see them changing slightly over the years in TNG), though the cost of replacing the uniforms on the parent show would have been prohibitive, and as such the idea that the older-style uniforms were used in some areas of Starfleet and the newer ones in others became a story element.

The story elements for DS9 were sewn in TNG with the episode Ensign Ro, which introduced Bajor and their relationship with Cardassia. The producers approached Michelle Forbes about adding Ro Laren to the cast, but she declined, not wanting to tie herself to a six-year contract. Ro would eventually become a member of DS9’s crew in the Series 8 novels, initially as the station;s security chief, serving in the Bajoran Militia, and eventually rejoining Starfleet when Bajor joins the Federation, ultimately becoming a Captain and commanding the station. Colm Meaney became the TNG cast member to jump over to the new show to keep a continuity point, and because the producers felt he was too good an actor to keep behind a transporter console.

JG Hertzler, who would later play Martok appears as the Vulcan Captain of the Saratoga in the flashback to Wolf 359.

Michael Piller would cite the prior Trek pilots - The Cage and Encounter at Farpoint as influences. The points in The Cage where Pike is sent into telephathic visions by the Talosians was more a motif rather than a specific inspiration for a scene, but structurally he cited Farpoint as why he introduced Dax and Bashir later in the episode. Like Farpoint it allowed the viewers to acquaint themselves with a few characters - Sisko, Jake, Kira, Quark and Odo, and then added Bashir and Dax (but also Opaka and Dukat). The philosphical nature of Farpoint’s conclusion was an inspiration for Sisko’s encounter with the Wormhole Aliens.

Some 23 minutes of footage was cut from the episode for time, with one notable scene depicting Sisko returning the Orb of Time to Opaka, and trying to explain the Prophets are aliens living in the Wormhole, but she doesn’t want to hear, preferring to keep her beliefs intact. Rick Berman called the scene beautiful, and regretted having to cut it.

Outside of the main cast (excepting Terry Farrell), Aron Eisenberg (Nog), JG Hertzler, Max Grodénchik (Rom), Marc Alaimo (Dukat) and Mark Allen Shepard (Morn) all appear in both this episode and What You Leave Behind.

Herman Zimmerman claimed that more money was spent on Emissary than on Star Trek VI. This could easily be true with the costs of building new sets, models, alien makeup and costumes, with very little reusable from prior productions. The first scenes to be shot were the effects for the battle of Wolf 359, while the first principal photography was Sisko’s arrival in Ops. Dax and Sisko’s encounter in the Wormhole was one of the last scenes to be filmed. Terry Farrell’s first scenes were shot 11 days into production, and she found it quite hard to keep the technobabble straight, leading to as many as 17 takes for some scenes. Apparently she was secretly hoping she’d be fired. On its’ first airing, the wormhole opening was not included in the credits sequence to prevent spoilers.

While Michael Piler was anxious during the filming and editing of the pilot - there were extensive rewrites during filming because he felt elements weren’t working - he was very happy with the final cut when he saw it. Similarly various members of the production crew had glowing statements. David Carson, who directed the episode had qualms about how late the casting process ran, but said the experience was highly enjoyable. The episode got good reviews from TV Guide (which called Quark the Donald Trump of space!) and Variety. It was one of the most-watched syndicated shows in TV history.

And Opinion!

So, like how there was a gap of some years between TNG’s first airing in the US and reaching these shores, when DS9 came along it aired exclusively on the Sky Channel (now Sky One), which was not part of the standard cable TV package we had at the time. We got Sky back shortly before series 2 began, so I’d only seen bits and pieces of series 1 - the odd episode here and there, and only the second part of Emissary. As a result I didn’t have the best image of DS9 going into the second series. And of course it compared poorly to Babylon 5 in my mind.

As a result, of the pilot episodes, this is the one which I’ve warmed to the most vs my initial opinion. Part of that is my tastes in SF changing - at the time I was annoyed at the montage of Sisko talking with the Wormhole Aliens, I wanted more action. And the whole thing with Kira trying to bluff the Cardassians didn’t work for me. But now, the slow burn of the episode’s progression, the care with which it introduces the issues that both Starfleet and Bajor will face, and the acknowledgement of how the Wormhole will change things are some of my favourite aspects.

So let’s look at some of those elements. There’s some very clever tricks to show the positive effect that Starfleet is having on the station. When Sisko and O’Brien first tour the promenade, it’s a wreck. The lighting is dark and moody, there’s smoke, flickering lights, everyone who looks at them is suspicious, or in the case of the Vedek who approaches Sisko, is viewed with suspicion. And as the episode progresses, these elements fall away. Note the episode where Gul Dukat’s crew is in Quark’s, playing Dabo - the lights are working, the space is clean, but the lights are still low and the murky atmosphere is still extant. But by the end of the episode - when Quark and Sisko have decided to embrace their roles, Kira has some respect for Starfleet, and the show’ ready to begin we’re at the normal level of lighting and filter.

This is also reflected in the scenes that take place on Federation starships - we go from the Siskos in a corridor on the ship that brings them to DS9 to the opening credits, to Sisko and O’Brien on the Promenade at its worst. And then as he’s trying to get a handle on all this, he’s summoned to the Enterprise to speak with Picard - going from the wreck that is his new assignment to a pristine meeting room, and then back to DS9.

What’s interesting is that unlike other Trek pilots/first episodes, this is really a Sisko-centric story. The Man Trap is a monster story that kinda focuses on McCoy, Encounter at Farpoint is similarly about the mystery of Farpoint Station, but Emissary is about Sisko’s decision to remain in Starfleet, it’s about his conversation with the Wormhole Aliens, and the events that surround that are largely a reflection of his plot - DS9 is repaired as he decides to stay. The station is saved as a result of his coming to terms with Jennifer’s death and using that to demonstrate linear time to the Wormhole Aliens. This symbolism continues with Picard’s cameo appearance. As Locutus he’s responsible for Jennifer’s death and sending Sisko to his lowest point. He’s somewhat despondent on the station, and then he’s summoned to the Enterprise - in both these appearances Picard has control of Sisko’s destiny, and the only way he can assert himself is to growl that he might resign his commission. But Picard’s final appearance in the episode is in Sisko’s office on DS9. Sisko has decided to stay in Starfleet, he’s seized his destiny and by letting Jennifer go, he’s relinquished the psychic hold Locutus/Picard had over him. And by visiting him on the station, we’re shown that Picard and Sisko are now equals.

And of course, there’s a fair bit going on in the periphery of Sisko’s plot. Kira gets the bulk of meat here, being the main cast’s representative for Bajor. And we learn in short order that she’s the kind of revolutionary that continues to make waves after the rebellion has been won, there’s been an attempt to sideline her, and in many ways, she’s still fighting the war. She also gets to form the most relationships - she’s clearly got a history with Quark and Odo, but she and O’Brien bond over their attempts to get the station to the Donorios belt, and their shared experience fighting the Cardassians and the antipathy it’s engendered in them.

And she gets that brusque exchange with Bashir about Bajor being a backwater, which has some interesting elements to unpack. Bashir’s attitude is very colonial, and very much in line with how TOS and to a lesser degree TNG frequently treated the inhabitants of the planet of the week. But Siddig El Fadil/Alexander Siddig is Sudanese (though he spent most of his early years in the UK) - they only got independence from the UK 9 years before he was born. And while Nana Visitor’s homeland was a colony 200 years ago, it’s been more of a colonial power in the last 100 years. So all of a sudden their ethnicities and cultural histories give the scene a certain role reversal, even if it wasn’t intentional. And of course those particular actors would begin a romance, get married and have a kid during the show’s production.

There’s a few awkward moments in the show, however. Colm Meaney looks uncomfortable delivering exposition to Avery Brooks in the first act, though his final scene with Patrick Stewart and his later scenes in Ops shine. Similar Odo’s makeup and changeling effects look pretty ropey, and thankfully improve substantially as the show progresses. I also feel the show’s not sure what to do with Odo in the pilot. He shows his changeling abilities when he apprehends Nog and his accomplice, infiltrates Dukat’s ship, and then emoted about being found in the Donorious belt. And really, that whole thing with Dukat’s shp could have been streamlined or done differently.

But overall this is a very good pilot. As a show Deep Space 9 would be highly variable over the next two years, and only get great in series 4, but the potential is there from the start. At this point it’s the pilot I’ve rewatched the most in recent years, even though Encounter at Farpoint has that huge nostalgic value, and Caretaker was the pilot which grabbed me the most when I first watched it as an adult. It might not be my personal favourite episode, but it might be the best in terms of quantifiable qualities.


#895

Hell of a good read, Lorcan! Cheers!


#896

It hits its stride in the back half of the second season. The third season is phenomenal; my overall favorite season of the whole franchise.


#897

Caretaker

Voyager originated as a request from Paramount to have a second Trek show on the air after TNG finished up, running simultaneously with DS9. It was decided early on to have the show on a starship again, but there was a desire to endure the show wasn’t just TNG with a new cast and ship.

The plot elements were worked out during a series of working lunches between Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor. They decided at this point to have the ship stranded in deep space, like various episodes of TNG where Q or the Traveller or someone would maliciously or inadvertently send the Enterprise to the other side of the galaxy, but they’d always get home by the end of the hour. Taylor said she was very excited to be cutting as many ties to the Alpha Quadrant as possible.

Michael Piller also said that there was a decision at this stage to make the pilot episode more action-oriented compared to Emissary’s cerebral tone. The trio also added the Maquis element to the show at this point in planning, looking to adding some strife to the cast in a manner similar to DS9’s, but also to give the show another factor for exciting storytelling.

The first official documentation for the show is from 3rd August 1993, a series of notes from Jeri Taylor to Berman and Piller which detailed the core of Caretaker’s plot - the ship, as yet unnamed goes on a mission (at this point covert), with a disgraced officer aboard as an observer. Over the course of the mission, they pick up two more misfits, and the ship is zapped to the other side of the galaxy, ten years or more away from home. The Captain (already identified as a woman) decides to begin the trip home, and everyone has to work together. These notes also mention a “mayfly” alien race which would become the Ocampa.

On the 8th August, another note was added simply stating the ship was on its maiden voyage, and then on the 10th they add the idea of Voyager searching for ships missing in the Badlands, and Nick Locarno (Robert Duncan McNeil’s character in The First Duty) is mentioned by name. These notes suggest tha mayfly aliens would be from a world that is ‘squatted on’ by a race noted as being like the Crips and Bloods (which would become the Kazon). On the 16th the plot was altered so the two people Voyager was sent to find were sent to the planet the Crips and Bloods were squatting on, and the idea that they’d choose to join a Starfleet-style crew at the end of the episode. In notes from two days later these characters are notes as taking over the science officer and engineer roles - though the engineer character would refuse to wear the Starfleet uniform.

In September Michael Okuda, Rick Sternback and other long-term TNG staffers were brought on-board to add some depth to the backplot and add a reason for Voyager to be catapulted to the Delta Quadrant. At this point the idea of the Caretaker was added, with notes from Taylor dated 9th of September calling him a “dying goo-man” and he’s looking for DNA compatible with the mayflies to rejuvenate their race. The sympathetic mayfly character (who would become Kes) is given some background here, as someone who rebels against the idyllic life under the surface, she wants to work and become self-sufficient.

Michael Piller was assigned the task of writing the script, with Berman and Taylor providing notes. Brannon Braga was unable to contribute to the writing for Caretaker as he was on holiday. Piller set about writing the series bible first, and then working on the script proper later in production. While he and Jeri Taylor have the screenplay credit, Piller frequently pointed out that the writing was a collaborative process, he sought feedback from other members of the Trek staff on-site at Paramount, and focus groups were used at various points as well.

As writing progressed, it was decided to frame the start of the story from an outsider’s point of view, and Paris was chosen for this role. Piller struggled with how to close Paris’ story arc in the episode, as a memo sent to Berman and Taylor early in October 1993 showed. He finished the first draft plot on the 18th of October, with many revisions over the following months. On the 16th February 1994, a draft that was considered final was submitted, though a number of changes were made in March.

While scripting the episode, Piller felt that something was missing - and decided it was a mysterious, surreal environment like the Talosian’s mindgames in The Cage, Q’s courtroom in Encounter at Farpoint, and the Wormhole Aliens’ realm in Emissary. At this point the Caretaker’s array was intended to be a standard spaceship affair, and he hit on the idea of having an illusory environment there when they first arrive. Piller also found it hard to work out a reason for viewers to care in the back half of the episode, saying that while the conflict was exciting, there was very little emotion to hook viewers to, because characterisation had taken a back seat to the plot, and only Paris was really fleshed out in the first half. They relied on Kes as a way to add emotional content, especially for Neelix.

The script was completed on 1st September 1994, with final revisions to the teleplay on 20th September. Apparently Ron Moore, René Echevarria and Brannon Braga snuck into Jeri Taylor’s office, stole a copy of the script and read it.

While Piller worked on the script, the production crew set about the work of making the show. The budget for the pilot was set at $6,000,000, and shooting was scheduled to start on August 15th 1994 - though this slipped to September 6th (the first scene shot was Tom Paris asking the replicator for tomato soup). By June, production design was in full swing, with the art team producing concept pieces and the costuming department.

During preproduction, it was suggested that they do an alternate title credits for episode 1, listing Stadi, Commander Cavit and the original chief medical officer instead of Torres, Chakotay, Neelix, The Doctor and Kes, as a fakeout towards the deaths of what would normally be standard cast positions in the show. It was nixed because they figured the actual cast would be featured enough in promotional material before the show began that it wouldn’t be a surprise as they’re introduced.

As is often noted, Geneviéve Bujold was originally cast to play Nicole Janeway, but she left the production after two days (on September 10th), not ready for the intensity of TV filming schedules. Kate Mulgrew was cast shortly thereafter, her first day on set was 19th September (a Monday, she recalls that she was cast on the prior Friday). The scenes used for the audition were her conversation with Tuvok where she talks about Kim and his family, and her speech from the end of the episode. when watching dailies, they noticed that Mulgrew’s hair was very fine, and because she was wearing it down it wound up looking thin and see-through on-screen. She switched to the bun hairstyle as a result, prompting reshoots on a number of scenes.

Robert Beltran joined the production about a week after Geneviéve Bujold left, and recalls getting fan mail even before production had begun. It was his first indication of how much people loved Trek, that he got letters saying things like “welcome to the family” and “we’re looking forward to Voyager”. He also said that he greatly enjoyed working on the pilot. (Of course, that attitude would change through the years)

Roxann Dawson noted that she didn’t have a great idea of what her character would be during filming, and it was hard to emote through the heavy makeup. Also in Trek trivia, Dawson’s professional credit at the time of filming was Roxann Biggs-Dawson. She was married to Casey Biggs, who played Damar on DS9, though they later divorced.

While Caretaker initially aired as a feature-length episode, it was split in two for syndication, necessitating some cuts - the scene where Paris firts with Stadi, Kim being stuck by the needle in the Caretaker’s Array, Kes advising the crew to avoid touching the forcefield, and Javin’s communication to Janeway at the end of the battle were removed entirely, while Quark’s attempt to scam Kim had a few moments shaved out of it, and some scenes were moved around to end episode I at the end of the 4th act.

Dan Curry, the visual effects supervisor noted that even leaving aside the need to design and build a new lead starship, this episode had a huge workload, later saying it was as much work as Generations from an effects perspective. The only member of the regular Trek effects team to not work on the episode was Ronald B Moore, who was finishing up Generations at the time (readers may recall he was the effects supervisor on Voyager by the time Scorpion was filming). Amusingly, the Kazon ship that crashed into the array was a cardboard mockup to allow it to crumple and be set on fire.

There was a lot of location filming for the episode - the Kazon camp was the El Mirage Dry Bed, the Ocampa city was the LA Convention Centre, and the farmhouse was in Norfolk, California. The amount of location filming, as well as reshoots lead to the episode’s budget swelling to $23,000,000, making it the most expensive single episode of Trek to date, and more expensive than Wrath of Khan when adjusted for inflation.

The production staff were largely happy with the episode, with Michael Piller, Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor all making positive statements, amongst others. The main dissenting voice was Ronald D Moore, who didn’t like that the Maquis were integrated enough to be wearing Starfleet uniforms by the end of episode 1. The episode was also criticised for apparently agreeing with Newt Gingrich’s contract with America policy (a welfare froem scheme which would, amongst other things propose moving welfare children to orphanages), most notably when Janeway says that the Ocampa should be able to fend for themselves. Jeri Taylor noted that she can see the parallels, but they definitely weren’t advocating for anything like Gingrich wanted.

As of this episode, Armin Shimmerman, Richard Poe (Evek), and Mark Allen Shepard (Morn) became the first actors to play the same characters in three different Trek productions. Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and John DeLancie would later join them. Frakes misses out on four because he played Tom Riker in DS9, but Will Riker in his Voyager and Enterprise guest slots.

The episode was also well-recieved by critics. Cinefantastique gave it 3.5/4 stars, and various Trek reference books also rate it highly. Captain’s Logs likened Emissary to The Cage, and Caretaker to Where No Man Has Gone Before in terms of cerebral plot to action plot. The episode was nominated for 4 Emmys - Costume Design, Hairstyling, Music Composition, and Visual Effects. It won the last of those, beating out the DS9 episode The Jem’Hadar.

Opinion!

So here’s my secret shame: I went to a one-day Trek Con type thing, just to see this episode before it aired. They showed it twice, with some DS9 episodes from the end of series 2 that hadn’t aired on UK/Irish TV yet in the middle (but I’d seen them because they’d come out on home video and a friend of mine bought them and loaned them to me).

And yeah, I watched Caretaker twice in one day. But in my defence, I… Like this episode.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still think the criticisms I levelled against Voyager are valid, and the show eventually made me quit Star Trek for like 10 years. But all that is in the future. Here, we have Voyager at its most potential-laden. We don’t know yet how insipid and boring the show will become. And there’s a lot of promise shown here.

Some of it is open text - the idea of an ideologically divided crew who need to work together is a great idea for a Trek show (someone should do it sometime!), as is the ship being cut off from Starfleet, in a far more hostile area of space. Watching it again, I remember the potential I saw in characters like Tuvok, Torres and the Doctor (less so Paris and Kim, and the others were OK), and there’s a lot of nice moments with glances cast, especially by Tuvok when interacting with Neelix, and The Doctor in general.

Speaking of those last two, there’s some great comedy moments from Neelix’s first exposure to a Federation ship, the Mister Vulcan line still makes me smile, and the Doctor’s “Tricorder. Medical Tricorder” is a wonderful moment.

There’s a few moments of WTFfery as well though. There’s a lot of talk of water being scarce in the region of space around the Ocampa planet - and I can get the planet itself being turned into a wasteland by the Caretaker’s people and water being scarce on the surface as a result. But water is one of the most common compounds in the universe, and the Kazon have faster-than-light technology. There’s no inherent reason for them to be fighting over water. Even Neelix should have no problem synthesising water from hydrogen and oxygen. It’s a nitpick, but it gets on my nerves.

As expected from a story that aimed to be more of an adventure than Emissary, there’s less to chew over here in terms of philosophical themes or symbolism, but there’s still some strong content around Janeway’s dilemma - use the Array to get home, and in doing so doom the Ocampa and possibly a chunk of the Quadrant?

The problem is, of course that we know how little of this potential is going to be fulfilled. While most of the cast will remain pretty bland, the fact that Janeway’s decision-making process will contradict itself all the bloody time rankles, the separation from Starfleet never really mattering annoys, and like Ron Moore said, what’s the point in having a disparate crew if it never really matters?

So yeah, Caretaker. Shame about the seven years of TV that followed it, eh?


#898

Lorcan, another masterful missive, marvelous to peruse!

Let’s get down to Voyager. Nice idea. One problem. I did not like the crew, not one of them. Every one had such gaping critical flaws when it came to basic survival and socialization that it was a wonder there was anyone alive after the first week. And they did not get better. And they did not change. And they kept doing stupid shit! Again, almost every episode was riddled by the bad writing tropes of people not stating problems, overwhelmed by ego and/ot emotion, basically nobody keeping on any given task, and basically just dithering.

No one was going to die. Sure, keep with the bridge crew doing most out-of-ship activities. Joe Redshirt from Oil Maintenance should have been promoted up to the bridge in no time, due to the horrible attrition of what really would have happened.

And then it went on. And on. And on.

And Janeway got a promotion,

Voyager sucks.


#899

Presumably that was because she could do less damage behind a desk at Starfleet command than in the centre chair of a starship?

I’ll admit, I may have laughed when she was assimilated and turned into the new Borg Queen in the novels.


#900

And you know what happened next, right?