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STAR TREK: Ronald D. Moore, Part III
The former writer-producer gives his opinions on the failure of the VOYAGER premise.
By Anna L. Kaplan
January 25, 2000
Moore says that he recognized VOYAGER's biggest problem by the end of the first episode. 'By the end of the pilot, you have the Maquis in those Starfleet uniforms, and boomwe've begun the grand homogenization. Now they are any other ship. I don't know what the difference is between Voyager and the Defiant or the Saratoga or the Enterprise or any other ship sitting around the Alpha Quadrant doing its Starfleet gig. That to me is appalling, because if anything, Voyagercoming home, over this journey, with that crewby the time they got back to Earth, they should be their own subculture. They should be so different from the people who left, that Starfleet won't even recognize them any more. What are the things that would truly come up on a ship lost like that? Wouldn't they have to start not only bending Starfleet protocols, but throwing some of them right out the window? If you think about it in somewhat realistic terms: you're on Voyager; you are on the other side of the galaxy; for all you know, it is really going to take another century to get home, and there is every chance that you are not going to make it, but maybe your children or grandchildren will. Are you really going let Captain Janeway [Kate Mulgrew] rule the ship for the next century. It seems like, in that kind of situation, the ship would eventually evolve its own sort of society. It would have to function in some way, other than just this military protocol that we repeat over and over again because it's the only thing we know. You've got the Maquis onboard. From the get-go they are supposed to be the anti-Starfleet people. They behave exactly like the Starfleet people with the occasional nod towards B'Elanna [Roxann Dawson] making a snide remark about Starfleet protocols, or Chakotay [Robert Beltran] getting a little quasi-spiritual. But in essence, they are no different than any other ship in the fleet. The episodes that you watch week after week are so easily translatable to NEXT GEN that it's almost a cookie-cutter kind of thing. It's a waste of the premise. That's not to say they don't have any good episodes. There are some good episodes in the mix, and I have seen a couple. The show can work.
'But the ship wouldn't look like that,' Moore continues. 'It's not truthful. On DEEP SPACE NINE, that was the watchword. We wanted it to be true. There was a lot of truth in DEEP SPACE NINE, a lot of difficult questions that we tried to answer, and some difficult questions that we couldn't answer. DS9 was a real place, a truthful place; it was a place where we explored things on a real level. But VOYAGER doesn't go there. It just will not go there. You are trying to tell the audience on the one hand, 'We're so far from home, and it's going to take us so long, and we really wish we could get home. It's rough out here.' Janeway wrings her hands about all the things that she has sent the crew through. Then, it's off to the holodeck. You can't talk with any kind of a straight face about food rations and energy conservation, and having a real kitchen in the mess hall, when at the same time you've got the holodeck going. It's such a facade, and no matter what kind of technobabble bullshit you come up with, the audience intuitively knows, again, that's not truthful. There is no reality there. That would not happen. Even on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, they didn't have the Skipper and Gilligan sitting in the Minnow, watching color television. But on VOYAGER, who cares? We want the holodeck to run so we can go do period pieces, and we can do dress up and we can do fun adventures on the holodeck, and we don't want to give that up. Okay, but don't try telling me at the same time that you are really out scraping by and barely making it out there on the frontier, when none of their hair is out of place, and their uniforms are pristine, and the bridge is clean every week.'
Moore laughs, 'What is the difference really between Voyager and the rest of the fleet? When that ship comes home, it will blend right in. You won't even know the difference. They haven't personalized the ship in any way. It's still the same kind of bare metal, military look that it had at the beginning. If you were trapped on that ship and making your way home, for years on end, wouldn't you put something up on the walls? Would you put a plant or two somewhere in a corridor? Wouldn't you try to make it a little more livable? That is the challenge that I think they have really dropped. They just won't deal with the reality of the situation that ship is in. They look for stylistic twists, and ways to make the show interesting visually, and up the action quotient, and up the sex quotient. But that's not the problem. If you can't believe in your own premise, you then certainly can't take the next step and try to have a point of view about life, about what it means to be human: what is the nature of the human heart, and good and evil, all of the great questions that STAR TREK is famous for trying to grapple with in a science fiction context. When VOYAGER tries to go there it is so completely superficial that it doesn't mean anything. Even when they are trying to really mine something, it's undercut by the fact that nothing else surrounding it is real, and that you can't accept these people in the positions and what they are doing. Kirk and company had a point of view. Kirk was a man of opinions. He was a man who had his own take on right versus wrong, when to take action, and when not to. I think he is respected for that. People that looked up to that character, looked up to him because he was a leader who said, 'We are going this way, and this is the right thing to do.' Picard is a different kind of leader. Picard was a more thoughtful guy who saw there was a little more gray in the world, but still had a very high sense of ethics, such a high sense of ethics that I think it bound us a little too much; it bound the character a little too tightly. Sisko [Avery Brooks] was a man who saw the world in shades of gray, who was always thrust into ambiguous situations, who was always having to grapple with questions of faith and reason and right and wrong, and had to do it in an interesting in compelling way. The people around him supported that premise. They were all flawed characters on a flawed station dealing with a flawed situation. It gave them permission to explore that ground. I don't know what VOYAGER is about. It just doesn't seem to speak to me. I watch the show; I try to understand what it is saying to me, what it's trying to explore. But it doesn't seem to explore the human condition. It doesn't have a point of view on the subject. It falls back on STAR TREK boilerplate; it falls back on the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive has now become this cop out for doing anything in an episode, for having any point of view.'
In addition, Moore is bothered by the show's lack of continuity. 'The continuity of the show is completely haphazard. It's haphazard by design. It's not like they are trying desperately to maintain continuity of the show. They don't care, and they'll tell you flat out that they don't care. Well, that is misreading the core audience. The STAR TREK, hardcore audience loves continuity; they love accumulating data on these ships. They love knitting together all the little pieces, and compiling lists, and doing trivia. That's been a staple of the STAR TREK culture from the get-go. People really love the details. They love the fact that the details all add up and make one mosaic, and that the universe holds together. When you don't give a shit, you're telling the audience: don't bother. Don't bother to really learn this stuff, because it's not going to matter next week, anything that happened this week.'
The writer-producers of VOYAGER maintain that they don't want continuity, so people can watch the shows out of order, for example, now in five-nights-a-week syndication. Says Moore, 'I've just never believed that argument, because it seems to me that you're just underestimating the intelligence of the audience. You're just saying the audience is a bunch of idiots. Who is going to be watching the show in strip syndication five nights a week? People that like that show, and presumably have watched more than one show. Got forbid the stations have to run them in order. It's an excuse that sounds plausible but is basically a way for them not to have to care about maintaining continuity, because it is tough to maintain continuity. It's very hard to write in continuity, because of the nature of television. You are writing ahead, and you are writing at the moment, and you are changing things in post. It's really hard to keep all the ducks in a row, which we found at DEEP SPACE NINE. In that last ten-episode run, where it was almost completely serialized, that's a tough act to carry off. But it's also worth the effort, because the payoff is the world has more validity. The audience can sense there is truth in it. It's a better show, and it will last longer as a result. If you are really just so concerned that this week's episode won't make sense because you didn't see that episode three years ago, why can't STAR TREK do like ALLY MCBEAL, or THE PRACTICE, or ER, all the big successful shows do. Put a little recap at the top of the show: 'Previously, on STAR TREK: VOYAGER...'even if it's an episode from two years ago. You just quickly get the audience up to speed, because the audience is not stupid. The audience has watched television for a long time. They understand that they have missed some things, that perhaps this is a reference to a show that they didn't see. They aren't just going to throw up their hands and move on. If you are pre-supposing that, you are aiming towards the person that is grabbing a beer, and isn't really paying attention, and is walking out of the room every ten minutes and coming back and sitting down; all you are going to do is dumb down the show. You are reducing it to its lowest common denominator, and what's the point of that? What do you get out of that? You just get a so-so kind of television experience.'
Moore asks, 'How many space anomalies of the week can you really stomach? How many time paradoxes can you do? When I was studying the show, getting ready to work on it, I was watching the episodes, and the technobabble was just enervating; it was just soul sapping. Vast chunks of scenes would go by, and I had no idea what was going on. I write this stuff; I live this stuff. I do know the difference between the shields and the deflectors, and the ODN conduits and plasma tubes. If I can't tell what's going on, I know the audience has no idea what's going on. Everyone will say the same thing. From the top down, you bring up this point, and everybody will say, 'I am the biggest opponent of techno-babble. I hate technobabble. I am the one who is always saying, less technobabble.' They all say that. None of them do it. I've always felt that you never impress the audience. The audience doesn't sit there and go, 'God damn, they know science. That is really cool. Look how they figured that out. Hey Edna! Come here. You want to see how Chakotay is going to figure this out. He's onto this thing with the quantum tech particles; it's really interesting. I don't know how he is going to do it, but he is going to reroute something. Oh my God, he found the anti-protons!' Who cares? Nobody watches STAR TREK for those scenes. The actors hate those scenes; the directors hate those scenes; and the writers hate those scenes. But it's the easiest card to go to. It's a lot easier to tech your way out of a situation than to really think your way out of a situation, or make it dramatic, or make the characters go through some kind of decision or crisis. It's a lot easier if you can just plant one of them at a console and start banging on the thing, and flash some Okudagrams, and then come up with the magic solution that is going to make all this week's problems go away.'
Moore ran straight into these problems when he started working on VOYAGER. While writing notes on drafts of the scripts, as is customary, he was immediately being assaulted by techno-babble. He says, 'When we were working on 'Equinox Part II,' I remember the pages coming in, and I would take notes, and send the notes back. There were just pages of it that I have no idea what's going on. It was just page after page of, 'Reroute the so-and-so, and engage the blankety-such, and the subspace dewop is doing its other thing.' Just pages would go by, and in reading the script I'm flipping through it to find something of substance. It just fell on deaf ears. To be honest I haven't even sat down and watched 'Survival Instinct' or 'Barge of the Dead.' I have them; I just haven't watched them. They sent me the final drafts of the scripts, and I glanced through the script of 'Survival Instinct,' and I knew that they had done some extra shooting after the show was over. The show was a little short, so they had to add some pages, which was nothing unusual. But they added the pages with all this techno-crap in sickbay! I hate it so much. It is so off-putting. It doesn't add anything to the drama.'
He continues, 'I read Bryan's first draft [of 'Barge of the Dead], and I was giving him notes, and I liked things about it. I was looking forward to helping him through the rewrite, but it was right exactly at that point that the whole thing came down, and I left. The last week on the show, I was just waiting for the legal things to get straightened out, contractual issues here and there. The distancing had begun. Dailies were coming in on my own show, and I couldn't even watch the dailies. It was becoming too painful. I just stepped away. I haven't sat down and watched those two shows.'