Star Trek Continuity Issues Part IV: Voyager and miscellaneous

Parts one, two and three.

Voyager

First contact with the Borg

For years, it seemed as if humanity’s first contact with the Borg happened in 2365, when Q flung the Enterprise across the galaxy to give them a taste of the horrors that awaited. Even though it was implied that the Borg were the perpetrators behind the destruction of Federation and Romulan colonies way back in TNG season one, this was the first time the Federation found out anything at all about this new adversary.

Flash forward to Voyager season four, however, and we learn that Seven of Nine’s parents, the Hansens, had set out for the Delta Quadrant in search of the Borg as early as 2353. What gives?

Again, I can think of two possible explanations for this. The first is one that is often used in this debate – at the time, the Hansens were viewed as crackpots by most people in the Federation, and their theories about the Borg were largely discounted. No one else gave credence to their theories, and therefore the crew of the Enterprise-D, like the average Federation citizen, really had no idea that something as terrifying as the Borg actually existed. It was only when the respected flagship of the Federation returned with actual proof of their existence that the threat was taken seriously.

The second explanation relies on the fact that the events of Star Trek First Contact had an effect on the timeline. Everything we see in TNG up to First Contact takes place in the ‘alpha’ timeline, in which the events of Q Who genuinely represent humanity’s first contact with the Borg. However, whilst the Enterprise-E crew are largely able to restore the timeline, not everything is at is was. We are now in a new, ‘beta’ timeline. For the most part, these two timelines are indistinguishable, but there are a few key differences:

– Zefram Cochrane is remembered as having mentioned ‘cybernetic creatures from the future’, although no one took him seriously due to his alcoholism and propensity for tall tales.

– Borg corpses are left on Earth, and are reactivated during the events of Enterprise’s Regeneration.

– Although the events of Regeneration are kept under wraps, there is enough anecdotal evidence floating around for some people – the Hansens included – to believe in the Borg.

– The Hansens go to the Delta Quadrant and are assimilated.

Essentially this means that Seven of Nine only exists in the beta timeline, and hence Voyager seasons 4-7 in the alpha timeline might have been very different.

The Borg Baby

In the episode Collective, Voyager rescues some Borg children who have been cut off from the Collective. Four of them remain on Voyager for a while, giving Seven of Nine the chance to develop as their mentor and teacher. However, alongside the children, Voyager also retrieved a Borg baby, who is then never seen again. What happened to it?

You can’t really blame the writers for not wanting to feature the Borg baby as a recurring character – what exactly would it have added to the show? And, when asked about it, Brannon Braga assured us that it was returned to its people off screen. Maybe we just need to be satisfied with this, although it feels a bit too convenient. Let’s assume Voyager rocks up to a planet which has just been devastated by the Borg. Unlike the other Borg kids, who are old enough to provide details on their families, there’s no clue as to this baby’s identity, and its immediate family has almost certainly been assimilated. I guess said planet might be happy to accept the child and put it in an orphanage, but if they’re busy rebuilding after a Borg attack, they just might not be interested.

Assuming that they did take the child back, it would have been nice to have a bit of closure on screen. How hard would it have been for Janeway to begin an episode with a log entry explaining that they’ve just returned the baby and are now moving on to their next mission?

Voyager’s supplies

In the early episodes of Voyager, much was made of the fact that supplies were limited. Replicator use had to be rationed, and very early on, we were told that the ship has 38 torpedoes left, and no way of making more.

By season five, however, Voyager is merrily firing photon torpedoes with the best of them, and never seems in danger of running out. When you add in Voyager’s laughably ridiculous consumption of shuttles, clearly something is amiss. Writing under long term constraints on supplies is no fun, but couldn’t Voyager have been a little more circumspect?

Voyager’s resource issues boil down to three things: generic raw material, special raw materials, and power. Generic raw material is anything that can be broken down into the ‘undifferentiated matter’ used in the replicator. As long as the ship can power the replication systems, you can gather as much of this as you like, and turn it into pretty much anything you need. The Delta Quadrant is full of rocks, dust and debris that can be used for this purpose.

Special raw materials are a bit harder. These are essential materials that cannot be replicated. The big one is antimatter, which is required for both the warp core (the source of most of the ship’s power), and photon torpedo warheads. We know that Voyager hasn’t always had an easy time procuring special materials, but we can assume that every so often they do some off screen trading that replenishes their supplies. When Janeway complains that they have ‘no way of making more’ photon torpedoes, it’s because Voyager has only just arrived in the Delta Quadrant, and hasn’t yet scoped out the possibilities for setting up the trading relationships that will keep them comfortably furnished in torpedo warheads and shuttle components for years to come.

Another possible explanation for why Voyager’s supply problems seem to ease could be the arrival of Seven of Nine aboard the ship. Her Borg improvements to the ship’s efficiency might have been the thing that gave Voyager the breathing space to offer a more reliable replicator service, and to start manufacturing photon torpedoes.

Voyager’s holodeck

Holodeck stories have been a Star Trek staple since the start of TNG, so it’s no wonder that the Voyager writers didn’t want to do without it. However, given that the whole premise of Voyager meant the ship was struggling with resources (see above), there was a glaring hole – how could a ship subsisting off replicator rations possibly have the energy to power a holodeck?

In an attempt to explain this way, an early episode has Harry Kim explaining that the crew did try to siphon energy from the holodeck to the rest of the ship, but due to incompatibility, all they managed to do was blow out a load of power relays. But why would the ship even be designed this way? What kind of special power source is the holodeck using that just happens to be incompatible with the rest of the ship’s systems? At best, this seems like a shockingly poor design decision – at worst, downright implausible.

To complicate matters further, the climax of the episode Fair Haven sees power being drawn from the holodeck to save the rest of the ship, at the expense of everyone’s beloved Irish village. Now, admittedly this episode is in season six, by which point a) the initial power transfer problem may have been solved, and b) Voyager’s power issues seem to be a thing of the past anyway. And really, anything that puts Fair Haven out of commission is not be sniffed at.

But still, we can’t leave this issue behind without questioning why the seemingly limitless power of the holodeck was not put to better use. Many items in the holodeck are replicated, which would surely allow the crew to circumvent the rationing in place elsewhere in the ship. Why not use the holodeck replicators to feed the crew when food is scarce? Why did Harry Kim save up his replicator rations for a clarinet when he could have just made one on the holodeck?

Voyager’s medical team

One of Voyager’s main gimmicks was the fact that their original chief medical officer died in the pilot, forcing them to rely on the Emergency Medical Hologram for the rest of their trip. Working alongside him as assistant medics were Kes, and Tom Paris – the latter earning his place thanks to two semesters of biochemistry in his Academy days.

Even though this biochemistry course hardly seems like a robust medical qualification, it seems amazing that in the remainder of Voyager’s seven years in the Delta Quadrant, no one else was ever assigned to learn even the tiniest bit about nursing or triage. Nonetheless, in the episode Threshold, when Paris collapses after his warp ten flight, Torres says “Torres to Sickbay. We need a medical team in the mess hall right away.” What medical team?

Since the Doctor doesn’t have his mobile emitter at this point, and thus can’t visit the mess hall, we can only assume that the “medical team” in question must either be Kes, or some other triage medic who never once gets any screen time.

Speaking of medical continuity, the episode Latent Image establishes that the death of Ensign Jetal took place towards the end of season three. However, despite the fact that Kes was serving as the Doctor’s assistant at that time, it’s Paris we see helping out in the flashbacks. Obviously this is because the episode was filmed after Jennifer Lien left the series, but we’ll just have to assume that she was off duty when Jetal and Kim were brought to sickbay, and Paris was on hand to help instead.

Ktarian spikes

Yes, it’s another “alien race changes appearance between series” continuity issue. Those who recall TNG’s The Game will remember that the Ktarians were the villain of the week, and they looked something like this – bony hemispherical forehead protrusions and yellow eyes with horizontally slitted pupils.

Flash forward to Voyager, however, and Ktarian-human hybrid Naomi Wildman looks almost entirely human, except for the presence of three small forehead spikes. Why the huge difference?

Naomi’s lack of forehead structure and weird eyes can obviously be explained by the fact that she is half-human, and thus takes after her human mother in this regard. The spikes themselves are either a racial variation that are only possessed by some Ktarians, or they are a feature that is either lost or removed as a Ktarian ages – certainly I could believe that the indent in Etana Jol’s forhead in The Game might once have contained spikes. However, we should also note that adult Naomi as glimpsed in an alternate future does still have her spikes, so this theory might be a bit of a stretch.

How many Vulcans are on Voyager?

Regardless of how many Vulcans were on Voyager at the start of the series, by season five’s Counterpoint, it was made explicit that only Tuvok and Vorik were left. If any other Vulcans were present, they were certainly not put into transporter suspension to protect them from the Devore inspections.

However, in season seven’s Repression, one of the ex-Maquis crewmembers we see on screen is a Vulcan. She must have therefore been on the ship the entire time, yet somehow did not feature at all in Counterpoint.

It’s hard to see how we can find an in-universe explanation for this one. Maybe the Vulcan woman was actually a Changeling, and no one noticed or commented on her changing species partway through the trip. Maybe she lacks telepathic abilities – either due to a congenital defect or mixed Vulcan/Romulan/human/other heritage, and thus wasn’t at risk during Counterpoint. That’s really the best I can do.

Cross-series

Molly, Alexander and Naomi Wildman – they grow up so fast

When it comes to drama and development, few things can equal having a character embark on the journey of parenthood. However, once the infant comes along, it’s hard to make good use of them – babies and toddlers can’t work long hours, and unless you’re a new parent, they’re also pretty dull. What to do?

For years, TV has solved this by getting through the boring baby stage as quickly as possible, abbreviating it in order to get to a point where the child can talk, interact and generally be more interesting. Star Trek was of course no exception.

First up, we have Alexander, the child of Worf and K’Ehleyr. Conceived during a brief fling in TNG’s second season, he first visit the Enterprise early in its fourth season. At most eighteen months have passed, and yet Alexander already resembles a five-year-old.

For the remainder of TNG, Alexander ages at pretty much the normal human rate, but after a few years off screen, he returns in DS9 season six. Chronologically, Alexander is now only eight years old, but thanks to an additional growth spurt, he has now become a rebellious teenager in body and attitude. Can we cobble together a reasonable in-universe explanation for what’s happening?

The first and most obvious go-to is to state that Klingons simply grow up faster. Given their warrior culture, that makes sense – pregnancy and infancy are both vulnerable times, so natural selection would likely favour shorter gestation periods and faster maturation. I’d be happy enough with this, if not for the fact that it is seemingly contradicted by Alexander’s own father, Worf. From what information we can glean about Worf’s past on Earth, it sounds like he grew up at a human-equivalent rate.

But Alexander isn’t a full-blooded Klingon. Could his rapid maturation actually be explained by his mixed heritage – some sort of genetic quirk that arises when human and Klingon DNA combine? For all we know, K’Ehleyr grew up equally rapidly.

However, again we have an example that disproves this – B’Elanna Torres. Over the course of Voyager’s run, we learn about B’Elanna’s troubled childhood through both flashback and anecdote, and again, it sounds like she grew up at a human-equivalent rate. If Alexander’s ageing is either a Klingon thing or a hybrid thing, it’s definitely not universal.

Alexander isn’t the only Star Trek kid to advance quickly, though. After a remarkably long pregnancy that lasts from before Voyager launched until partway through its second season, Ensign Samantha Wildman gives birth to a half-Ktarian, half-human daughter, Naomi. By the time Naomi is two years old, she looks more like six or seven.

This time around, the writers are more self aware, with Samantha commenting on how her daughter is always growing out of her clothes. The in-universe explanation is put down to her Ktarian heritage, and since we’ve seen very little of the Ktarians elsewhere in Star Trek, there’s nothing to contradict this.

We’re not done, however, for sometimes there just isn’t weird alien physiology to fall back on. Molly O’Brien is the child of two human parents, and yet by the end of her first year she already appears to be around three or four. And by the time the O’Briens move to DS9, somehow her actual age is greater than the time elapsed since her on-screen birth in Disaster. What gives?

This time around, instead of invoking physiology, we’ll turn to relativity for the answer. Time dilation effects are never discussed on Star Trek – on top of warp speed and time travel, it would just create an insurmountable headache. However, if we allow for the possibility of even slight time dilation aboard the Enterprise, then things become clear. Every time you visit a starbase or take shore leave on a planet whilst the rest of the crew flies off a mission, you risk ageing a few years in comparison to your colleagues. This is happening to everyone, of course, but it’s more noticeable in young children. No wonder everyone in Starfleet really hates taking leave.

Klingon Blood

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it was fairly important to the plot that Klingon blood be easily distinguishable from the plain old human stuff. It also helped the Klingons to feel more alien – hence their blood was pink. Fair enough, you say, except that the early seasons of TNG had already established Klingons as having red blood, and indeed, all Klingons on the subsequent TV shows were also red-blooded.

Can we reconcile this at all? Is there some way late 23rd century Klingons could have had pink blood, whilst their 24th century descendants were all red-blooded? Could there possibly be some environmental or genetic condition that causes some Klingons to have pink blood, whilst most others have red? It could be that in the 23rd century, “pink blood” is a symptom of a deficiency that affects Klingons who have spent a lot of time in space. Even though Klingons aren’t one to shout about their scientific and medical developments, it could be that by the 24th century, a lot of work has gone into curing said deficiency, and also into improving the conditions aboard Klingon starships such that this pink blood syndrome doesn’t even happen in the first place.

Warp speed in Where No One Has Gone Before, and general distances and times

We know all too well that Voyager, flung some 70,000 light years from home, could expect, at high warp, to take some 75 years to get back to the Federation. However, way back in TNG’s Where No One Has Gone Before, the crew optimistically believe that it would take 300 years to travel some 2.7 million light years – that’s almost ten times faster than Voyager can travel!

We know that, technically speaking, Voyager is a top-of-the-range starship that is meant to be both newer and faster than the Enterprise-D – it’s certainly not nine times slower. We know that Data would never make an order of magnitude error in calculating something like this, but it is in fact Geordi who reports that the 300 year estimate is down to his calculations. We’ll just have to assume that Geordi made a mistake, and for some reason Data hadn’t double-checked his calculation, even though it would take a mere fraction of a second for him to do so.

Of course, we run into numerous other issues if we start thinking about TOS, with its throwaway lines about most of the galaxy having been explored, and trips to both the centre and the edge of the galaxy. But we might just have to leave all that for another time.

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