Star Trek: Voyager was a series with a great premise and stories that somewhat frequently — but not always — lived up to it.
25 years ago today, Voyager premiered with the two-hour pilot "Caretaker" and forever changed the franchise with its introduction to the first female Captain, Kathyrn Janeway (a perfect Kate Mulgrew). Resilient, Janeway was unyielding in her efforts to get her untested crew home after they were zapped to the uncharted Delta Quadrant, 75 years away from Earth. Starfleet personnel mixing with former officers/current members of a resistance group known as the Maquis promised great, "only-on-Star-Trek" conflict — coupled with a ship stranded from the usual resources and aid afforded Kirk and Picard’s Enterprises.
Sadly, Voyager never fully embraced the full potential of that core conceit, leading Voyager to spend a big chunk of its seven-season run feeling like "Star Trek: The Next Generation lite." The ship was usually always fixed the next week if the previous one had it under attack or badly damaged. And the crew seemingly didn't mind too much about taking detours to explore and map this unknown area of space instead of doing what normal humans would — less sightseeing, more getting this 75-year journey underway as soon as possible and without distraction.
Despite Voyager's uneven feel, when the show hit its stride, it produced some of the most entertaining hours the genre has ever seen. To celebrate Voyager's 25th anniversary, here are the 15 best episodes.
“Caretaker” (Season 1)
Voyager's feature-length series premiere is one of the strongest pilots ever for a Trek show. Starting off at Deep Space Nine before stranding Captain Janeway and her motley crew of Maquis deserters in the Delta Quadrant, "Caretaker" has a riveting first half, peppered with exceptional character interplay. Then the pacing and tension slow in the second hour where we spend way too much time with an alien race that seems to have modeled itself after the citizens of Mayberry and The Waltons.
"Eye of the Needle" (Season 1)
"Eye of the Needle" has a bittersweet twist that ranks up there with some of the best Twilight Zone endings. With the help of an anomaly via a wormhole, Voyager is able to communicate with a ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The catch? It's a Romulan vessel and not one in the same time as our lost heroes.
"Dreadnaught" (Season 2)
If Speed and Runaway Train had a kid, it would be "Dreadnaught."
This compelling and tense hour of Voyager centers on engineer — the Klingon-Human Torres — struggling to reprogram a deadly missile designed by her enemy, the Cardassians, before it destroys a planet. Most of the hour is just Torres in a room, talking to a computer, and it is some of the most harrowing scenes in all of Trek history.
"Mortal Coil" (Season 4)
Neelix, as a character, struggled to find solid footing among the ensemble jockeying for meaty storylines. But "Mortal Coil" remedies that with a dark, brooding storyline that takes on the afterlife and Neelix's near-death experience with it. After realizing the afterlife his culture believes in isn't really there, our favorite Talaxian suffers a heartbreaking existential crisis.
"Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy" (Season 6)
Veteran Star Trek: The Next Generation writer Joe Menosky — with a story from cartoonist Bill Vallely — crafted one of The Doctor's funniest outings, as the sentient hologram struggles with the hilarious consequences of giving himself the ability to daydream. The good doctor's fantasies catch the attention of an alien race's surveillance, but they think they are real — which brings about some trouble for the crew. How the Doctor saves the day is one of the best scenes Voyager has ever done.
"Blink of an Eye" (Season 6) / "Relativity" (Season 5)
"Blink of an Eye" has a perfect Trek premise — Voyager orbits a planet where time passes differently for its inhabitants that for the ship's crew, so Janeway is able to watch this society evolve in, well, a blink of an eye.
This first contact scenario allows the show to invest the "explore strange new worlds" mandate with more emotion and nuance than Voyager usually affords its stories, giving fans a surprisingly poignant episode that still holds up to this day.
And despite time travel being a popular narrative trope in Star Trek, the show never failed to find new ways to explore and subvert it. "Relativity" is a fun, ticking-clock caper that sends former Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) back in time to prevent the destruction of Voyager. Co-written by Discovery co-creator Bryan Fuller, this exciting episode keeps you at the edge of your couch cushion with an impressive act four twist.
"The Equinox, Parts I & II" (Seasons 5 & 6)
In a plot worthy of a Star Trek movie, Janeway and her crew encounter another starship stuck in the Delta Quadrant, The Equinox. Commanded by a battle-hardened, Ahab-like figure, Captain Ransom (John Savage), The Equinox plots to hijack Voyager and strand her crew aboard their dying ship — in order to escape a race of subspace aliens that have been plaguing them.
Part of the fun of this excellent two-parter is never really knowing for most of its run time where the plot is going to go — for a moment, we actually think Janeway will lose this one.
"Deadlock" (Season 2)
"Deadlock" is one of the few bright spots from Voyager's bumpy early days. While the episode could take place on any of Trek's ship-based shows, the stakes feel higher and for Janeway and her crew as they must work with those belonging to an alternate version of Voyager to get out of trouble.
When our Voyager — Voyager Prime — becomes fatally disabled, Janeway volunteers to sacrifice her ship so the other Voyager can go on. How Janeway handles the idea of this sacrifice results in the Ensign Harry Kim (Garret Wang) the show started with being replaced by his doppelganger.
"Scorpion, Parts I & II" (Seasons 3 & 4)
"Scorpion" is action-packed Season 3 finale/Season 4 premiere that kicks off with a hell of a hook for a teaser: A small fleet of Borg cubes easily destroyed by an offscreen threat.
That threat is revealed to be Species 8472, a long-standing rival of the Borg in this quadrant of space — the only thing the Borg are afraid of. Enter Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a Borg attache who becomes a remember of Janeway's crew as Voyager teams up with the enemy of their enemy to both defeat the Borg and shave some time off their trip home.
"Scorpion" represents a turning point for the series and for the franchise, with the introduction of the instantly-iconic Seven — another member of Trek’s deep bench of alien characters struggling to learn what it takes to be human. Or, in Seven's case, rediscover her humanity.
"Counterpoint" (Season 5)
"Counterpoint" (Kate Mulgrew's favorite episode) is arguably Voyager's most underrated episode, with a storyline whose elevator pitch could be "The Diary of Anne Frank" in space.
Voyager is secretly providing safe harbor to a group of telepaths being hunted by an alien race that hates them. (So, basically, Space Nazis). When the latter's charming leader defects to Voyager, and sparks a relationship with Janeway, it's instantly fraught with suspicion that boils over into bittersweet betrayal. The hour is an acting showcase for Mulgrew, as she pushes Janeway to uneasy places with the hard choices only this captain can make — and learn to live with.
"Latent Image" (Season 5)
The most successful medical storylines on Star Trek are those that tap into moral/ethical dilemmas with a tech twist. In "Latent Image," the Doctor finds himself caught in the middle of both as he and Seven work to uncover who appears to have tampered with his memory — and why.
What starts as a whodunit becomes a powerful drama dealing with consent and the rights afforded all lifeforms — including artificial ones like the Doctor — when he discovers that Janeway altered his program against his will. Why? Because the doctor was confronted with a hard choice that broke him: With two patients' lives on the line, and only enough time to save one of them, the Doctor chose to save his friend.
"Hope and Fear" (Season 4)
A rare non-two parter season finale, "Hope and Fear" is a landmark episode in the Janeway-Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) dynamic that puts the two at odds — only to come together in the end — in ways that echo Kirk and Spock.
When a sketchy alien (Ray Wise) shows up with the promise of getting Voyager home with the help of an all-too-convenient new starship, everyone fantasizes about the pros and cons of their long journey coming to an end. But the alien's plan is revealed to be a long con — he is a Borg attack survivor seeking revenge on Voyager, specifically Seven.
After he suffers a fitting but tragic end, "Hope and Fear" wraps up with a crew overcoming the letdown of still being stuck lightyears from home by focusing on a renewed purpose to keep going.
"Message In a Bottle" (Season 4)
This fast-paced mix of action and comedy is a solid two-hander between Voyager’s EMH and a more advanced version (Andy Dick) aboard a sophisticated new starship that’s been hijacked (naturally) by Romulans. The two unlikely heroes are Voyager's only hope as they must use the ship's unique ability to separate into three different sections to defeat the bad guys.
Star Trek is hit and miss when it comes to comedy, but "Message In a Bottle" finds a near-perfect balance between laughs and sci-fi action while providing further proof that actor Robert Picardo is the series' MVP.
"Timeless" (Season 5)
Voyager's 100th episode is one of the greatest ever produced on any Star Trek series. "Timeless" opens in a future where Voyager crashed on an ice planet while on its way home, and centers on Ensign Harry Kim's efforts to save his crew in a very "timey wimey" fashion. (Captain Geordi La Forge, played by LeVar Burton — who directed the episode — stands in the good Ensign’s way).
With "Timeless," showrunner and writer Brannon Braga set out to do for Voyager what "The City on the Edge of Forever" did for the classic Original Series. A high bar this entertaining, high-concept hour effortlessly reaches.
"Year of Hell," Parts I & II (Season 4)
Voyager achieved feature film-level quality with this epic two-parter.
Janeway and crew struggle to defeat time-manipulating genocidal villain (a perfect Kurtwood Smith) as he risks breaking the laws of physics — and chipping away our heroes' starship with battle damage — all so he can get back to his lost wife. To right that wrong, and alter the timeline by doing so, he and his time ship destroy an entire civilization. With some of the best space battles in the franchise's history, coupled with the moral and ethical dramas only Star Trek can do, "Year of Hell" is an all-timer.