“The three of us sat down, and I don’t remember it being tortuous in any way,” Berman recalls. “We were given some time to come up with the premise. With Next Generation off the air, it gave us an opportunity to create a new starship and crew. Voyager was done back in the day when you would create a premise, create characters, and then start writing. We had some general ideas of where we wanted everything to go, but we hadn’t developed multi-seasonal arcs at all.”
Voyager brought together two disparate crews, from Starfleet and the Maquis, and forced them to gel as the USS Voyager warped her way home from deep in the Delta Quadrant. During the seven-year journey, Captain Janeway and her crew explored strange new worlds and sought out new life and new civilisations. Fans embraced most of the characters – particularly Janeway and The Doctor – but by season three, the powers-that-be informed Berman that the Kes/Neelix coupling concerned them.
“Michael, Jeri and I analysed it, and we realised that Kes just wasn’t clicking,” Berman says. “It was a shame, because Jennifer Lien was very talented and it was sad to see her go. The studio felt pretty strongly – we didn’t really disagree.
“We’d wanted to put a little sex appeal into the show and, simultaneously, we’d been thinking about a character who’d been assimilated by the Borg and was rescued, so we could have a partial Borg character on board. That it’d be a beautiful female… I don’t know whose idea that was, but that was the direction we went.”
Jeri Ryan beamed onto Voyager in season four as Seven of Nine. The character delivered the desired sex appeal and boosted the show’s ratings. Kate Mulgrew has acknowledged that she wasn’t thrilled, and Ryan has stated that she considers Voyager to be an unhappy time. Berman reports that he wasn’t usually on set and didn’t witness the purported conflict between the actresses.
“They were both the female leads, in a sense,” Berman says. “Kate was the lead, but when Jeri arrived, she got a tremendous amount of attention. The press was extremely interested in this new, sexy character who also happened to be [played by] an extraordinary actress. I don’t know whether that had something to do with any tension between these two women or not, but there was tension. I don’t think it interfered with the work, nor does it show in the work.”
Cut to 2020, and not only is Jean-Luc Picard back in action in Star Trek: Picard, but Seven of Nine is along for the adventure. Berman even attended the Picard premiere in Los Angeles, after years of being away from the franchise he once masterminded.
“That was exciting,” Berman says. “I think there’s a possibility of integrating another character from Voyager, and characters from DS9, possibly from Enterprise, making appearances – not in a major way, but in the same way that Brent [Spiner], Jonathan [Frakes] and Marina [Sirtis] have been integrated into the first season with Picard.”
What are your three favourite Voyager scripts?
The ones that I’m most fond of personally, and turned out really exactly the way I hoped in capturing something special about Voyager, are: “Someone To Watch Over Me”, which is a little bit of a screwball comedy. “Deadlock” was one of those sci-fi, mystery thrillers that I liked to do. And it would not have worked as well on TNG, because there was a certain desperation in the Voyager crew that was required. And “Distant Origin” was a story about science in the face of oppression, using an alternate history where dinosaurs actually left Earth and evolved. It’s got weird aliens. It’s a metaphor for our history, and has a tragic ending.
Janeway changed Trek as the first female Captain. Why is she still so beloved?
You have to give most of the credit to Kate Mulgrew. She came along and suddenly you have a very distinctive voice. My approach to Janeway was that she’s captaining tragedy in the making, and she has to get her crew out of it, and there’s no gender there. And I think what was interesting about her as well is she matured into a maternal figure for the crew. I think the addition of Seven of Nine was interesting for Janeway because it gave her a child, of sorts. And then, she was a scientist. She was a captain, but her background was as a scientist. That was an important part of her character to me.
What do you think has been the legacy of the series?
What 25 years gives you is a chance to talk to the grown-ups today. I went to a Star Trek convention two years ago where a woman who’s a microbiologist walked up and said, “Thank you for my childhood.” She was referring to Voyager. That’s the people you can look at and say, “Yes, they were affected by this character.” And there’s just nothing more gratifying. That’s all I needed to hear to make my career complete.
Was a Voyager movie ever on the cards?
I pined for a Voyager movie. I was trying to do a proof of concept with the two-parters, but there was never any official movie talk as far as I know.
If you could write an episode around any character today, who would it be?
I’d probably pick the holographic Doctor. What became of him? Was he decommissioned? Was he allowed to leave and live a life with his mobile emitters? What became of that guy who’s not even real?
KATE MULGREW PLAYED BY KATHRYN JANEWAY
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