Orbit - January 1995

THE VOYAGE CONTINUES

An Insider's look at Voyager, the new Star Trek series that premieres this month.

It's 10:00 a.m. on an unusually miserable day in L.A. The skies are threatening, the wind howls loudly and, off in the distance, the letters that spell out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D appear ready to collapse. On soundstage #8 at Paramount Pictures, however, things seem much more sedate, at least for the moment. Kate Mulgrew, Robert Duncan McNeill, Garrett Wang and most of the cast of the latest Star Trek incarnation, Voyager, are standing at their characters' respective stations on the starship Voyager's bridge, waiting for their next scene to begin.

Suddenly, director Kim Friedman shouts "Action," and the inclement weather outside sounds like a Club Med vacation in comparison. The actors and, in a few cases, stuntmen, toss themselves about violently, like rag dolls in a blender, for a scene in which Voyager hurtles through a rough patch in space. As the actors earn their pay the hard way, a cameraman, his hand-held camera quivering like L.A. during a quake, captures the action for posterity. After several shakin' takes, Friedman studiously scans a nearby replay monitor and smiles. "That's a print," she announces to a relieved crew. "Let's move on."

It's just another day in the 24th century, as the cast and crew Voyager put the finishing touches on "Parallax," the first episode set to air after the January 16th unveiling of a two-hour pilot "The Caretaker" (Voyager will air in syndication. Check local listings for times.) Big things are expected of this new Star Trek as it fills the tremendous void left by The Next Generation's recent transition to the big screen and serves as the flagship show for the fledgling United Paramount Network. To meet those expectations, Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor, Trek's executive producing triumvirate, have fashioned and ambitious, high-energy and fresh-yet-familiar premise.

"There is a ship that a Starfleet vessel is following," says Rick Berman, explaining the events of the pilot. "One of these vessels is the Voyager, the other is inhabited by a small number of Maquis renegades [introduced last season on both Deep Space Nine and Next Generation]. Renegades may be too strong of a word, but they're ex-Starfleet officers who have taken on a certain vigilante-type activity near their home planets. Both this ship and the Voyager, through a series of circumstances I don't want to give away, find themselves at the very end of the galaxy, 75 years from Earth, even if travelling at top warp speed."

It is at the point in the pilot episode, Berman explains, that the two groups meld into one and form what viewers will come to know as the crew of the Voyager. The series will follow the Voyager as the crew looks for a way home, all the while traveling, literally, where no one has gone before.

Goodbye to the Enterprise

That means no more Borg or Ferengi or Romulans, but all new aliens. That also means no more Enterprise, but, rather, the Voyager, which needs a cook because it doesn't have enough energy to power its replicators, and which will eventually require fuel and supplies. There's no more Kirk, Picard or Sisko, but a whole new cast of characters for Trekkers to embrace.

Among the crew is Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), the ship's passionate and commanding leader; Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), the Maquis pilot with a checkered past given a fresh start by Janeway; Chakotay (Robert Beltran), the Maquis ship's Native American captain, who agrees to serve as Janeway's First Officer; Tuvok (Tim Russ), Voyager's full-Vulcan Tactical/Security Officer and Janeway's loyal friend; Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), a 21-year-old who just finished Starfleet Academy and finds himself on his first and, quite possibly, only adventure; B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), a half-Klingon half-human former Maquis member who hates her Klingon side but makes an excellent Chief Engineer; Neelix (Ethan Phillips), a bizarre looking but likable alien whom the Voyager invited aboard as its cook, guide and everyman; and finally Doc Zimmerman (Robert Picardo), a holographic emergency physician who becomes the entire medical staff when the ship's doctors die in an explosion.

At the center of everything, of course, is Captain Janeway, played with style and verve by Mulgrew, best known for her work on Mrs. Columbo and in the film Throw Momma From the Train. A every Trekker worth his or her weight in Tribbles knows, Mulgrew stepped into the Janeway role after Genevieve Bujold resigned two days into production, explaining that she wasn't up to the rigors of shooting a weekly hour-long show.

"In the wake of what happened with Genevieve and the whole recasting process that ensued, which was pretty extraordinary, I feel both a great responsibility and great expectation," says Mulgrew. "I've set some pretty high standards for myself because I feel what I absolutely have to do here on Voyager is what no woman has done before. We do not want a butch, screaming, tough broad. We want an excellent human being running this ship, one who's sexy, alive, and who is completely in control of what she's doing on that ship."

24th Century

Back on stage #8, the behind-the-scenes crew sets up the next long shot, leaving time for a tour of what millions of television viewers will see as the stuff of the 24th century star trekking. The Voyager bridge is a massive, impressive set that recalls that of the The Next Generation Enterprise. However, as a newer, Imperial class ship, the Voyager bridge is even sleeker, all metallic grey (seats and carpeting) and pistachio/blue (walls, doors), with bright, multicolored computer graphics and lights a-flashing. Just to the right of the bridge set sits a meeting room, and on its right is Janeway's ready room (Trekspeak for an office), adorned with funky chairs, a desk and a shelf, a plant, a sculpture and a 19th century microscope. Behind these sets are the Officer's Mess (or cafeteria, formerly Guinan's bar of Next Generation) and a variety of corridors and crew quarters sets, all darkened and waiting to be brought to life when the camera roll.

Ultimately, Voyager will very much adhere to the vision of the future Gene Roddenberry outlined nearly 28 years ago when he created the original Trek. The fans can expect all the things that made them love the Star Trek concept in the first place.

"Voyager has a high action and adventure quotient. It has a fascination blend of characters that are everything we've come to expect from our characters," says executive producer Taylor. "For all the new challenges and all the new things fans will see, at the core, Voyager will still very much be Gene's universe."

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By Ian Spelling

brown@ftms.com
Last modified on January 3, 1995