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STAR TREK: VOYAGER--'Tsunkatse'
Trek hopes for big ratings during sweeps week, thanks to WWF crossover.
By Anna L. Kaplan
February 07, 2000
For the all important February television sweeps, a lot of cooks got together to mix up a brew for STAR TREK: VOYAGER. While co-executive producer Kenneth Biller and writer Robert Doherty worked on an episode that turned into 'Tsunkatse,' they thought about taking a look at an alien arena-style sport, something like futuristic gladiator wrestling. TREK honcho and executive producer Rick Berman thought that bringing some guest stars from DEEP SPACE NINE in might encourage some fans to try out VOYAGER. Jeffrey Combs, DS9's Weyoun and Brunt, and J.G. Hertzler, best known as Martok, head of the Klingon Empire, both appear in the episode, but not as their former characters; each found a new role for the episode. No doubt, everyone involved thought that Seven of Nine, played by Jeri Ryan, would make a wonderful combatant. Eventually bringing in an element of another UPN show, WWF SMACKDOWN, Dwayne Johnson, better known as 'The Rock' will appear as an alien competitor in the sport, called tsunkatse. The show, set to air February 9th, was originally entitled 'Arena,' until someone remembered that there was an episode of the original STAR TREK series with that title already.
A race new to the Voyager crew enjoys pitting combatants against each other in a high tech, martial-arts, wrestling sport. Some of the crew decide to take shore leave and have a look at it. Seven of Nine and Tuvok (Tim Russ) think this is silly, and decide not to join the others. They are captured by an alien named Penk, played by Combs. He has possession of combatants for this sport, many of whom he has captured, now including Seven and Tuvok, as well as a Hirogen, played by Hertzler. The Hirogen Hunter, whom he captured many years ago, long before the Voyager ever encountered the Hirogen during season four, is his best warrior. Penk must convince Seven to fight. Tuvok, who is injured, cannot. She is pitted against both an alien played by 'The Rock' and the Hirogen.
Hertzler explains, 'Aliens from all over space are captured by a race of promoters who make a great deal of money forcing these captives to fight each other in gladiatorial combats, including and especially in death matches. They broadcast it to locations where people pay money to see the matches, which are holographic projections. The viewers do not know that. They act as if they are live. The Hirogen are a nomadic race of hunters. My character was captured almost 20 years ago, and I have been fighting to stay alive since then. I am the best and the crowd favorite because I am undefeated against the best the Universe has to offer! I see Seven and recognize a worthy opponent. I take her under my wing and train her. The crew of the Voyager is on 'R and R' and Chakotay [Robert Beltran] takes Neelix [Ethan Phillips] to see a bout. To their surprise, they see Seven of Nine in a match. They call to her, but she does not respond.'
Hertzler continues, 'I had nothing to do with 'The Rock.' He was an earlier opponent of 7. [I did] all my scenes with Seven, a tiny one with Picardo [the Doctor] and Chakotay. Tuvok was in some of the prison scenes but we did not communicate. Jeffrey Combs and I did have some funny exchanges, though. Nearly all the alien fight audience were DS9 aliens who knew me as Martok and I knew them as DS9 personnel, so that was like old home week.'
Laughs Combs, 'I got to meet 'The Rock.' I got to work a little bit with J.G. Hertzler. I never worked with him all those years on DEEP SPACE NINE. We were in opposing camps. I suspect that if we had ever had a scene together, there would have been another dead Weyoun.'
Hertzler is one of the actors on record for the most species played by one actor on TREK. He played a Vulcan in DEEP SPACE NINE's pilot, 'Emissary.' He guest starred as a shape-shifter in 'Chimera.' He played a human in 'Far Beyond the Stars.' He of course is best known as the Klingon Martok. Hertzler is unrecognizable in the Hirogen makeup. How long did it take to get the makeup applied? He says, 'Even longer than Martok. It took four hours and was very, very hot. It was the dead of summer, and I was covered in latex and spandex from the top of my head to my toes. I lost 14 pounds in two weeks. I needed to, but the scenes that were shot later, in them I am noticeably thinner.'
Combs has also played a number of different aliens on TREK, including the devious Vorta Weyoun, and the Ferengi Brunt on DEEP SPACE NINE. He also played an alien named Tiron in the episode 'Meridian,' as well as appearing as a human in 'Far Beyond the Stars.' Penk is from a previously unknown Delta Quadrant species.
Both Combs and Hertzler were happy to be working with a director they knew from DS9, Mike Vejar. Says Combs, 'Mike Vejar, who directed me a number of times on DEEP SPACE NINE, was doing this, and there was a definite comfort zone there. That was good.'
Adds Hertzler, 'The director was Mike Vejar whom I think the world of. That made the whole experience much less stressful, because he already knew me, what I could do, and how I work. It would have been tougher with a director who did not know me. It would have been like walking into a totally new environment and having to force my way in to find some comfort level of working with everyone. That is stressful and that did not exist in this case.'
The actual fighting sequences were grueling. The were choreographed by James Lew, as well as STAR TREK's resident stunt coordinator Dennis Madalone. Says Hertzler, 'Both Seven and I were doubled by extraordinarily talented martial artists. There was another fight choreographer expert in martial arts [Lew] brought on to enhance the fights along with Danger Dennis Madalone, the resident fight arranger for all of STAR TREK.'
Adds Combs, who worked with Jeri Ryan, 'The poor thing was sore, because she had been doing a lot of fight, Kung Fu, ultimate boxing rehearsals for days on end, so she was hurting. Having to get up, get down, lay down, sit up, it's like pain. But she's a trooper. She is a pro. She really knows what she is doing, and she knows how to take care of herself, which I really respected. She knows what she is doing, and she is friendly.'
Combs enjoyed working with the VOYAGER actors, some of whom he already knew. He says, 'I really liked Tim Russ. We got along well. He was lying in the background. He was injured in this episode, so he's just lying there recuperating, and all they shot was him lying on the bunk sleeping. Before they rolled, I walked up to him and said, 'Now this is what I want you to do. Think of all the pain that you have been going through, and at the end of this take I just want one tear to roll out of your eye, just one tear.' He started to laugh, because it is so ridiculous. He seemed like a real personable fellow. I know Robert Beltran. We did theater together almost twenty years ago, 1980. We did 'Hamlet' and 'Midsummer Night's Dream' together. I spent a summer with him lo those many years ago. I ran into him on the set a couple of times, and we chatted.'
For both Combs and Hertzler, it was an odd feeling, being on STAR TREK but not DEEP SPACE NINE. Says Combs, 'It's the same process. It's sci-fi, and it's space, and it's STAR TREK. It was good to work with those people over there, good actors, kind of the same, but different. I ran into so many of the old crew from DEEP SPACE NINE. A lot of them are working on ROSWELL, which Jonathan Frakes is producing, and he was directing that episode. The old A.D. Lou Race is there, the continuity supervisor, some of the extras that did background stuff on DEEP SPACE NINE were doing background on that. People were knocking on my trailer all the time.'
Notes Combs, 'I am thankful to Rick Berman. It's supposedly a very big sweeps week. They are going to tie in all that WWF stuff, and the Rock. Rick Berman said they will also capitalize on the fact that it's me and J.G.'
Adds Hertzler, 'It was Rick Berman's idea to offer me the part, same with Jeffrey Combs. We both felt very good about that. I think if the Internet gets the word out that Jeffrey and I are on the show, there will be some crossover pickup. The Rock will certainly bring in a massive crossover from the WWF world, and who knows what that is?'