Any new Star Trek series faces an inherent contradictory objective: How do you feel “familiar” while also being “different” from the mothership? The Next Generation answered this by going nearly a century into the future. Deep Space Nine set itself apart by placing their characters on a space station, and not seeking new worlds. This was just one of a multitude of obstacles that faced the fourth Star Trek sequel TV series, Star Trek: Voyager, which celebrates its 25-year anniversary on Thursday.
Over time, Voyager has become one of the franchise’s most culturally relevant Star Trek series. It was the first Star Trek series to feature a female captain in Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway as its lead character.
Mulgrew's casting was the result of producers tackling one of the final obstacles before the show's debut on Jan. 16, 1995 -- on the freshly inducted UPN channel, which used Voyager strategically to help launch. Geneviève Bujold was originally set as the show's lead, and even got a day and a half into shooting before dropping out. At the time, it was reported that creative differences and the grueling one-hour drama filming schedule were to blame.
ET was on the set for Mulgrew's first week of production, speaking with the actress on a Friday.
"This all happened two seconds ago. This happened, what -- on Tuesday?" Mulgrew told ET at the time. "And it's not a bit overwhelming. It feels great. That's the truth."
“There wasn't even time for a table read,” Garrett Wang, aka Ensign Harry Kim, commented to ET the following week.
ET later caught up with Mulgrew at the series wrap party in 2001, where she reflected on her groundbreaking character.
"I think it was bold. Certainly unprecedented. I think rather daring on their part. This is, after all, a franchise. Numbers are important. And I think that they made a timely and rather political move. A gesture that certainly I will never forget and I think probably culturally will serve as a great motivator for women,” Mulgrew said.
At the dawn of the show's fourth season in 1997, Voyager introduced a brand new character: Seven of Nine, played by Jeri Ryan. Constraints stemming from the show's central premise (i.e. isolation) left only a few options for producers as they looked for new ways to shake things up for the audience.
"They've added a terrific character. They made a great character when they made Seven," Ryan told ET in 1998, more than a year into her role as the Borg drone. The former ambassador for the Borg was abandoned onboard Voyager (later, it's revealed she was only made to think that and the Borg intended her to be a Manchurian candidate-esque spy on board) and the crew band together to make her human nature return years after she was first infused with their bio-tech.
"She's well-written. She's a tough cookie. She's smart. She's complex,” Ryan praised.
Still retaining some of the exterior cybernetic hardware, all of Seven's past scars were literally on display throughout her internal struggle back to humanity. According to Ryan, the character's emotional state basically had to start from scratch in childhood. Even after a season’s worth of adventures on Voyager, progress was slow.
"This is Seven experiencing a lot of growing pains. Because, emotionally, she's a child still. And this is her sort of hitting her preteen years," Ryan said.
The show's legacy is defined by the diversity gains it achieved for the beloved franchise, as well as the numerous Star Trek touchstones it never failed to produce over the course of its seven seasons. Plots included time travel, visits to 20th century Earth, interactions with real-life historical figures, dangerous Holodeck malfunctions and encounters with several one-off species that will no doubt make for a never-ending supply of deep-cut references in future Star Trek stories. (Hi, Vaskans!)
Ryan returns to reprise her Voyager character on CBS All Access’ anticipated series, Star Trek: Picard (premiering Thursday, Jan. 23), which surprised many Trekkies, considering Sir Patrick Stewart’s beloved Jean-Luc Picard and Ryan’s Seven never shared screen time.
Ryan spoke about her upcoming return to the Star Trek universe during an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019 as a special guest on the Picard panel. "To be honest, over a year ago, I was at the Hollywood Bowl with one of the producers and he, after about four glasses of champagne, [brought up the possibility]," Ryan shared, admitting last summer that she wasn't planning on a return. "I kept hearing it from other creators of the show over the course of the year. But I never thought it was going to happen. And here we are!"
So what’s the common thread between Picard and Seven? Both suffer PTSD due to their experiences at the hands of the Borg, and their shared screen time will be intriguing to unravel as Star Trek: Picard continues. "What the hell are you doing out here, Picard?" Seven asks Picard in the show's trailer. It's been 20 years since Ryan referred to Seven as a preteen, which means change and development, is by no means futile.
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