The Great Star Trek Voyager Rewatch: Gravity

When Tuvok, Paris and The Doctor crashland on a planet trapped in a subspace sinkhole, there seems to be little possibility of escape. Unaware that Voyager is working on a way to save them, they resign themselves to a life stranded on the planet, and make an ally in the form of Noss, an alien woman who develops feelings for Tuvok.

I have mixed feelings about Gravity. I like the setting and Noss’ introduction, establishing her as a tough, hardy woman who doesn’t think twice about spearing and eating a giant spider. I’m also appreciative of the unusual pairing of Tuvok and Paris (the Doctor being used sparingly here), and of the attempt to flesh out Tuvok’s past here. Mastering his emotions may be second nature to him now, but there was a time when felt things deeply, and struggled not to be overwhelmed.

All that being said, the episode is far from an unqualified success. I was distinctly unimpressed by the presence of yet more subspace bollocks, not to mention the terminally dull lizard-like alien villains of the week. I was also somewhat disappointed with Noss’ development, as her personality gets reduced to “woman in love with Tuvok” for the latter part of the episode. I really felt like she could have been so much more.

Should we ever think too deeply about the Universal Translator?

The Universal Translator is amazing. It provides real-time translation of almost any language into the native language of the listener, even altering their lip movements to match the new language! Yes, that last point was tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended), but what exactly is going on with this miraculous device?

Let’s consider a Starfleet encounter with a new alien race. Starfleet personnel are equipped with universal translators (ostensibly via their comm badges, even though it all seems to work even when the badges are taken away). Usually, the aliens-of-the-week do not have such a device. Even so, most new languages can be translated instantly – except that one time in DS9’s Sanctuary where the aliens had to talk for a while before translation started working. So, what’s happening, exactly?

Let’s assume that the average Starfleet human is speaking English, as we hear on our primitive 21st century viewing devices. An alien has no translator, so is presumably hearing the outgoing speech in their native tongue. Is the universal translator essentially overdubbing everything the Starfleet officer says with native speech? In that case, what happens when the listeners all have different native tongues? If they aren’t in possession of a translator of their own, where is the audio generated, and how would it sound different to each listener?

When the alien replies to the Starfleet officer, they now hear the response in English. They at least are in possession of the translator, and perhaps have entered some settings as to the target language. However, if it’s the comm badge that’s doing the translation, again, where is the audio coming from? How are they not hearing both the original speech and an overdubbed English version? The only way this could conceivably work is if everyone, like the Ferengi, has an in-ear translator that is altering the audio before it reaches the brain. I think the universal translator do use the ship’s computer to help with processing where possible, but even so, that’s a pretty powerful device.

Obviously, having a language barrier in every episode of Star Trek would get old fast, so I’m glad that everyone in the galaxy has their speech magically translated into English, but even so, one sometimes has to examine these premises in more detail.

Other points

  • It’s season five and we have the Delta Flyer now, but we still lose another shuttlecraft in this episode.
  • Again we’re told that Vulcans do have emotions, but push them all deep down inside themselves in a tiny little ball. And again I say that that doesn’t sound at all healthy.
  • Voyager is now said to be 50,000 light years from home, with a crew complement of 152 – which I think is more than it even started with, and certainly more than the 127 of a few weeks ago.
  • How was the transporter able to negotiate the time differential? Shouldn’t Tom, Tuvok, The Doctor and Noss felt like it took at least a few minutes for them to dematerialise?

Lost, crashed or destroyed shuttlecraft running total: 14

Possibly salvageable shuttlecraft running total: 9

Number of times the entire crew gets enslaved or kicked off the ship: 3

Number of times Voyager gets destroyed: 3

Summary – Gravity: In which Tuvok gains an admirer, and Tom eats some spiders.

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