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Star Trek Voy - Season 3 - Episode 23

Star Trek Voy - 3x23 - Distant Origin

Originally Aired: 1997-4-30

An alien professor kidnaps Chakotay. [DVD]

My Rating - 10

Fan Rating Average - 7.84

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# Votes: 12 1 2 1 6 1 12 14 13 32 64

- There are 148 life forms aboard Voyager according to Voth sensors. This would seem to be too many people, considering how many people have died since the last time we got a crew count in Voy: The 37's, which was 152 people. Way more than 4 people have either died or left the ship since then. Though it's possible there are crewmen aboard with pets, which would certainly constitute a life form to Voth sensors, though perhaps unlikely.

- This episode is the winner of my "Best Episode of Voyager Award" and is therefore a candidate for my "Best Episode Ever Award".
- The Voth have transwarp.
- Gegen calls Voyager: "The Voyager." Another rare use of the word "the" to prefix Voyager, unlike the common use of it on front of "The Enterprise".

Remarkable Scenes
- The Voth analyzing the human remains.
- Gegen approaching the Ministry of Elders with his Distant Origin theory, the human remains, and his request for an expedition.
- Good continuity with regards to the station at the Nekrit Expanse from Voy: Fair Trade. It's kind of ironic that the Voth believe the fake green plasma is actually Voyager's warp plasma.
- Gegen: "Simple binary system. I've downloaded their database." Wow. That was fast.
- Veer regarding the Voyager social structure: "It's obviously hierarchical with clear differences in status and rank. The males appear to be subordinate to that female. Perhaps a matriarchy." Gegen: "My conclusion exactly."
- Chakotay's meeting with Gegen.
- Janeway plotting the evolutionary model of the Voth.
- The Voth city ship beaming Voyager into its hull... Wow.
- Gegen and Chakotay confronting the Ministry of Elders.
- Chakotay: "I know from the history of my own planet that change is difficult. New ideas are often greeted with skepticism, even fear. But sometimes those ideas are accepted and when they are progress is made. Eyes are opened." Minister: "When I open my eyes to this theory, what I see appalls me. I see my race fleeing your wretched planet. A group of pathetic refugees. Crawling and scratching their way across the galaxy. Stumbling into this domain. I see a race with no birthright. No legacy. That is unacceptable." Chakotay: "I see something very different, minister. An ancient race of saurians. Probably the first intelligent life on Earth. Surrounded by some of the most terrifying creatures that ever lived. And yet they thrived. Developed language and culture. And technology. And when the planet was threatened with disaster, they boldly launched themselves into space! Crossed what must have seemed like unimaginable distances! Facing the unknown every day. But somehow they stayed together. Kept going. With the same courage that had served them before. Until they reached this quadrant where they laid the foundation of what was to become the great Voth culture. Deny that past and you deny the struggle and achievements of your ancestors. Deny your origins on Earth and you deny your true heritage."
- Minister to Chakotay: "It would be in your best interest if I never saw you again."

My Review
For almost the first entire 15 minutes of the show, there isn't a single scene aboard Voyager. We're shown the perspective of a mysterious reptilian alien race, the Voth, investigating what is to them a strange species: humans. We get the rather surreal experience of watching "dinosaurs" excavate human bones (who is actually Hogan who died in Voy: Basics, this is genius writing in more ways than one), then as they catch up to Voyager we get to see them analyze the alien human culture. Some great funny tidbits, like the Voth watching Tom court Torres, the conclusion that Voyager is a matriarchy after watching Janeway for a few minutes, and Gegen's first words to Chakotay: he knew his instinct was to flee. ;) These details aside, the critical issue of the episode is of religion vs. science and it couldn't have been explored better. The Voth culture satirizes our own present day culture's evolution vs. scripture controversy with this fictional Distant Origin theory vs. Doctrine controversy. The dialogue of the episode couldn't be more nicely constructed; there is pointed discussion all around. No character involved is wasted and the episode leaves the viewer profoundly moved, with a deep sympathy for Gegen, for he, like our very own historical Galileo Galilei goes down a martyr. He sacrifices his science to save Voyager from the wrath of the Minister's power; her power is absolute, like a 16th century Pope. She prevails despite the fact that she neither disproves Gegen nor seems entirely convinced of her own Doctrine herself. My final comment regarding this episode is that I hope we once again some day see the Voth. They've got to be one of the best alien races ever presented in Star Trek and this episode was one of the best Star Trek episodes I've ever seen. Well done.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From David from California on 2007-10-04 at 3:46pm:
    Wow! That was *ridiculously* good! I can't believe I missed seeing this one until now. The early change of narrative perspective, the delightful humor in the first half, the performances of all the supporting cast playing the Voth, sets, dialogue, costumes. I found myself wondering how the production team could suddenly raise their game for one episode to this extent. Coming here now and seeing it's highly rated by others confirms I'm not going mad. :)
  • From EKH on 2007-11-23 at 2:11am:
    I actually found the life form count to be rather low, as I assumed it included *all* life forms - including the ocntents of the hydroponics bay.
  • From Mark McC on 2009-07-03 at 5:38pm:
    This is easily my favourite episode of Voyager to date (watching it for the first time). Nice to see them taking a leaf out of TOS - tackling issues that are topical back here on present-day Earth and presenting them in an original way.

    It would have been pretty well perfect if not for a little silliness at the start with the Voth's attempt to track down Voyager. They may be advanced, but being able to translate one word ("VOYAGER" from the uniform) with no knowledge of the language, alphabet or any kind of context to work with is simply impossible.

    That, and the fact that the Voyager crew seem to have been giving away technological souvenirs to alien races along the way (handing out tricorders and containers of warp plasma - didn't Neelix find it impossible to get hold of that for his drug-dealing in "Fair Trade"?)

    Only minor flaws, and totally forgivable considering the excellence of the rest of the episode. I'd give it a 9.5, but since I can't vote halves on here I'll round it up to a nice fat 10.
  • From Thomas on 2009-10-01 at 7:15pm:
    I agree this is one of the best Star Trek episodes ever made. The struggle between honest science and hypocritical religious doctine was never dealt with this well. However, there is quite unnecessary misrepresenting of evolution again - surely not nearly as bad as in "The Threshold". However, the scene with holo-evolution of the Voth implied quite the same evolution=progression-misunderstanding.
    There are no most "higly evolved" lifeforms and certainly the extrapolatation of how the dinosaur evolved wouldn't work this way, not even with extremely advanced computers. You just cannot predict to such detail how a species will evolve, because of random environmental changes.
    Another real mystery is how the Voth culture could evolve on earth to a spaceage technology level without leaving any trace at all.
  • From Dennis on 2011-09-13 at 10:44pm:
    Unfortunately there was something that bugged me. When the Minister asked Gegen if he could have been mistaken, Gegen should have said yes. Because he said no, he appeared as stubborn, but no where near as heartless, as the Minister and the Doctrine she represented. In spite of all the evidence supporting this notion, that they were in fact Dinosaurs from Earth, it is entirely possible (though completely implausible) that they could have developed native to the Delta Quadrant. Science itself is not about believing in the infallibility of whatever theory you have with enough evidence to make it seem real, it is about challenging the status quo and reaching beyond the world as it is and seeing what it will be tomorrow.

    Even so, apart from that minor blemish, I readily enjoyed it. 9/10.
  • From distant@origin on 2011-09-18 at 3:52pm:
    Agree with everything above. Great episode.

    One thing I would've enjoyed more: the "change in narrative perspective" in the very beginning could've been kept up a bit longer. That was really fascinating and novel to watch.

    There is also a minor wrinkle in the plot: at the trial, Chakotay refers to Janeway's and the Doc's research and analysis of the Voth... but he's been more or less kidnapped during that time, and as soon as he got on decent terms with Gegen, Voyager itself ended up kidnapped, its systems locked down and overrun. We neither see Chakotay communicate with Voyager, nor is it even very likely that he could do so off screen... So it's kind of implausible that he'd have access to that information.

    But who really cares about a wrinkle in this case? I agree with the general consensus: this episode fries some pretty big fish, and does it well.

  • From Josh on 2011-09-28 at 11:36pm:
    One of the best Star Trek episodes of all time. It's incredibly refreshing to see such a solid example of 'hard' sci-fi on Star Trek, let alone on television in general.

    Obviously they missed some of the finer scientific points, but its easily forgiven considering the rare form of the episode's subject matter. Arthur C. Clarke would be pleased.
  • From Joseph Angeles on 2012-08-09 at 7:23pm:
    Without question one of the most compelling Star Trek episodes, and probably the very best Voyager episode. I only wish the writing team had stuck to such rigorous attention to detail throughout the series.
  • From TheAnt on 2013-09-24 at 4:31pm:
    I cant but chime in with most other comments here.

    The idea of what the dinosaurs might have become have gotten a treatment in pop science.
    So the story is not entirely original.

    Even so it really reminds me of the episodes in TOS and TNG where science fiction writers provided the storyline and resulted in outstanding episodes.
    Distant origins can only compare with those few and in my opinion is one of the best Star Trek episodes ever made.
  • From thaibites on 2014-05-11 at 12:41am:
    Finally, a good episode! The last 2/3 of season 3 has been poo-poo.
    I loved how the the first part of the show is seen through the eyes of the aliens. It was really refreshing to get away from the Voyager crew and get a different perspective on things.
    This episode affected me deeply because I live in Thailand, which is on the brink of a civil war as I write this. The cause of the problem that is splitting the country is dogma. The royalist side wants to continue lies that have portrayed the king as a god. They have a law called lese majeste where anyone who challenges dogma (the myth that the king is perfect) gets thrown in jail. The royalists only have money and power as long as the myth continues to be believed in by the citizens. It's the same with the Minister in this episode. Her power is built around myth. Take away that myth and she loses everything.
  • From tigertooth on 2016-10-08 at 1:57pm:
    Besides starting from the Voth perspective, after some Voyager perspective in the middle, the trial is Voth-centric with Chakotay offering a well-done but ultimately ineffectual (plotwise) monologue. This episode is Gegen's story, and Voyager is just a supporting player.

    If you gave this a "Filler Quotient" it would actually be high, since it has little to do with the Voyager crew. But of course this is not an episode to be skipped.

    One quibble I have that I didn't see mentioned: it seems implausible that a species could have warp technology but A) not leave any trace of their existence on Earth and B) not keep records of their history that would survive. Yeah, it's 65 million years, but still - this is *the* most important thing to happen to this species: packing up and leaving their planet of origin. How could that ever be lost to history?

    It's a shame Voyager didn't offer Gegen a chance to get away from his sad fate by coming with them. I don't recall him mentioning having a family, and joining Voyager would be vastly more scientifically rewarding.
  • From tigertooth on 2017-04-25 at 11:56pm:
    D'oh - of course Gegen's daughter was *in* the episode. So yeah, he had family.
  • From Rick on 2017-05-02 at 9:02am:
    I dont see the problem with the way evolution is presented on the holodeck. Janeways asks the computer to display what would be the most highly evolved species from that specific dinosaur. Since Voyager has all environmental data from Earth's history, it has a basis for making a reasonable extrapolation of evolution from that dinosaur. The end result isnt exact, which is a nice nod to the fact that it is just a guess and not meant to be perfect.
  • From Mike on 2017-05-28 at 6:58pm:
    I was also expecting that this would end with Gegen joining the Voyager crew, maybe as some form of exile. It would've made sense: the Voth authorities clearly would see life among a mammalian species as being fitting punishment. But that, of course, would've necessitated the addition of yet another character so within the show's constraints it was good enough ending.

    I agree, this one begins fantastically well and immediately piques your interest. It's a great piece of science fiction, and the problems to me are excusable as it tells a compelling story and deals with important themes. The most glaring problem is that raised by the reviewer above, that in the ST universe there is no archaeological evidence for a spacefaring race of hadrosaur descendants on Earth. Keep in mind that how the Voth left Earth is up to the imagination. Maybe they joined with another spacefaring species that was visiting Earth. It's a detail, that's all.

    What matters is that the truth of their origin is a threat to the species' mythology about itself. I remember studying Darwin in college, and that he clearly did not set out to overturn and eliminate all religion. He merely sought to explain something he observed in the natural world, and could not have foreseen the implications of his theories or how they would be perceived as such a threat by religious authorities. Gegen, in this story, asserts that he isn't trying to upend the Voth worldview entirely, just bring some truths to light that may require some adjustment in the historical record. For a scientist, this isn't a problem because science is constantly challenging itself until left with the truth. But challenging even a small part of a religious belief has historically been seen as dangerously disruptive to the socio-religious order, and that has led to countless wars and persecutions. THat's really what this episode is about.
  • From McCoy on 2017-08-11 at 11:46am:
    It's an enertaining episode, but a 10? Best of Voyager? With all that nonsense included? Please... This episode is based on silly idea of advanced warp capable dinosaurs escaping Earth - it's almost as stupid as newts from "Threshold". Am I suppose to believe, they didn't left any signs of existence and after millions of years further evolution are only a bit more technologically advanced than humans? As was written above - holodeck reconstruction of evolved dinosaur is based on complete lack of understanding what evolution is. We have plenty of evolved dinosaurs aroud us - they're called birds... Next - it's really that strange voth and humans have common parts of DNA? It's Trek! Almost every race can mate with another and have children, so humans, vulcans, klingons, ocampa and so on... - they all must have similar DNA. So even in delta quadrant the voth could find plenty of other "cousins". Sorry, but I just can't take this episode seriously, it's almost a parody.
    PS - Galileo's conflict with Inquisition and pope (who was in fact his former friend and supporter) wasn't such simple and one dimensional as we may think:) I recommend further investigation of this matter, off duty:)
  • From Axel on 2018-06-10 at 8:12pm:
    Some interesting criticism of this one in the fan comments. I don't share most of it though. I think the overall lessons and themes of this episode are more important than any science-fiction blunders, and if anything, the "blunders" get you thinking about the science rather than forcing you to suspend logic so badly.

    First, on the question of how a civilization of evolved, space-faring hadrosaurs could have existed without any trace: I recommend an excellent article in the The Atlantic back in April by Adam Frank. It was more about how long the impact we humans are currently leaving on Earth's geological and atmospheric record will be available, but it posed some questions that made me think of this episode. We assume that we'd be able to detect an ancient civilization, and if it's a few thousand years ago, we could. But that ability becomes a lot murkier if you turn back the clock several million years. An advanced civilization may not be as traceable as we think, especially if it only lasted a few thousand years itself. Just some modern science to inject into a sci-fi premise :) Could something like the Voth have actually existed? Of course it's extremely unlikely. But if nothing else, it raises some interesting questions about the long-term impact a civilization can make on a planet, depending on its technology.

    Second, I don't think the Saurian they show in the holodeck, or the Voth themselves, are such an outrageous slap in the face to evolutionary biology because of the existence of modern birds. Homo sapiens and other modern species of ape share common hominid ancestors that no longer exist. And, the more fossils we uncover, the more complete our understanding of the evolutionary process becomes. The only known evidence linking birds and dinosaurs used to be Archaeopteryx; now we have a lot more. It's fun to imagine, I think, that in the distant future, when every continent on Earth has been excavated, how much more we'll know about evolution. That's how I looked at the holodeck extrapolation: just a sci-fi imagination of a real-world future technology. We'll one day be able to fill in a lot of gaps that we currently can't.

    All in all, this was badly in need of a sequel. If you accept the webmaster's view that the last couple seasons of Voyager could've been spent back in the Alpha Quadrant, then you would have the makings for that sequel. Of all the discoveries Voyager made along their journey, this would be earth-shattering, and they could've done a great sequel involving Federation efforts to re-establish contact with the Voth. Maybe then, some doctrines change.

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