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STAR TREK

Ever since the first episode of "Star Trek: The Original Series" premiered on television in 1966, our world has never been the same. Created by Gene Rodenberry, this new show would eventually become a giant empire with millions of fans around the world. William Shatner as "Captain Kirk" and Leonard Nimoy as "Spock" became icons which are revered today along with the rest of the original cast.

But back in the 1960's, science-fiction on television was scarce as it was the era of light entertainment where fantasy had a "cotton-candy" quality. And unfortunately for them, a show set out to "discover outerspace" was a real departure from the usual television subject and therefore, the ratings were abysmal. The real Nielsen champions in those days were lightweight comedies such as "Bewitched", "The Munsters", "The Addams Family" and "The Dick Van Dyke show" just to name those few.

As a result, the show didn't get much attention in its original run. And the network didn't hold much faith in the whole venture either as it got stuck in one bad time slot after another, trying to find an audience. Every "Trekker" out there knows that the first series struggled for three years before being cancelled in 1969. But it was in reruns that the Star Trek saga found its "niche", acquiring a devoted fan base and transforming our popular culture forever. After its demise, several stations started to air the episodes frequently on television. Over time, the show became a monster hit being shown on countless television sets all over the world.

After a few years of that intense exposure, all the actors on the series became more popular than they had ever been while the show was still in production. The Star Trek conventions where thousands of fans meet their idols and buy memorabilia started to become hugely popular, growing into stratospheric proportions. People dressing up as favorite characters from the different shows is by now a long-established tradition. Many fans are viscerally attached to this phenomenon and want to immerse themselves in the Star Trek world as much as possible.

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The icing on the cake came when, ten years after the first show was cancelled, Star Trek was back by popular demand but this time, on the big screen with the best in special effects available at this time in history. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" released in 1979 was a box-office smash and the original cast would appear in five additional movies over a period of twelve years: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn", "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock", "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" and finally, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" released in 1991.

Then in 1994, "Star Trek: Generations" was released with both the original cast and the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". This movie was in essence a way for the older crew to pass the torch to their younger counterpart with "Captain Picard" at the helm. And since then, the new crew has appeared in two more movies namely "Star Trek: First Contact" and "Star Trek: Insurrection". The former which was relased in 1996 featured the best nemesis the Star Trek franchise has ever known, "The Borg". That movie also introduced a great new character called the "Borg Queen" which hadn't been seen in previous appearances by those famous mindless automatons.

Now, at the risk of offending a few "Trekkies" out there, I was never really fond of the original series . True, it was somewhat innovative for its time. But seen today, the acting looks painfully forced in many cases and the sets were hopelessly outdated even by the standards of that era since the show had a very low budget. If one views them as high camp, I guess they might be enjoyable to some degree. And I can certainly appreciate the legacy that first show left to the future generations. They have paved the way for science-fiction on television like no else had before. But honestly, I can't sit through any of the old episodes without cringing.

Even when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" came on the scene in the mid 1980's, I wasn't captivated. Only "Captain Picard" and "Data" retained my interest on this second series which premiered in 1987 for seven seasons until 1994. I didn't connect with most of the characters on that show for some reason. They all felt a bit too rigid and fake to me. Therefore, I never watched it much, except in a few instances when I happened to catch it on the fly. There were a few interesting episodes and the "Q" character was a bright spot but aside from that, I just didn't care that much one way or another.

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Then, there was "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". It premiered in 1993, a year before the end of "Next Generation". This new show was created to perpetuate the Star Trek saga and this time, the action would take place on a huge space station called "Deep Space Nine". I tried to watch for a while but soon found out that all the storylines were feeding on some conflict between alien races and it bored me out of my skull.

It seemed like they never left that dame space station and it became way too static for my tastes. Also, I never really clicked with any of the characters, except maybe for "Quark", the lovable "Ferrengi" and "Odo", a Changling who was made of liquid and could change his appearance. But I never watched it enough to really get that attached to any of them. It was finally taken off the air in 1999 after seven seasons just like "Next Generation" had done before.

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STAR TREK: VOYAGER

But during that time, a new twist developed and another Star Trek show was introduced. "Star Trek: Voyager" first premiered in 1995 with the two-part episode called "The Caretaker". The story involves a spaceship crew getting propelled 70 000 light years away from earth and lost in the "Delta quadrant". "Kathryn Janeway" was the first woman ever to be captain of a spaceship and I instantly liked "Kate Mulgrew" who played the part with a fierceness that is truly spellbounding. The other characters all seemed interesting as well and I was very hopeful I had finally found a Star Trek show I could really sink my teeth into.

I stuck with it for three years, watching religiously even though I sometimes felt like the program hadn't really found its direction yet. The writing was often stale and some of the plots ill-conceived. What kept me interested though was the set of characters which I found all very endearing for some reason. But it wasn't until "Seven Of Nine" was introduced that my captivation for the Star Trek phenomenon became so strong.

"Voyager" wasn't doing well in the ratings in the first few years and at the end of the third season, "Scorpion Part I" aired as a cliff-hanger. The plot revived "The Borg" originated in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" as previously stated. And this made perfect sense since the Delta Quadrant is where they come from. The Borg are cybernetic creatures with biological components enhanced with technological elements. They assimilate other beings against their will, enslaving them into "drones" who will work endlessly for the greater good of the whole colony. They are supervised by a Borg Queen which, from her own words "Brings chaos into order".

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"Scorpion part I" was a rating success and all the fans (including me) couldn't wait to see the end which would air the next season. The storyline centered around the fact that the Voyager crew and the Borg collective had to come into an uneasy alliance to fight against "Species 8472", a highly evolved biological race with amazing resilience. But the big surprise would be that "Seven of Nine" which had been part of the Borg species and acting as an "interpreter" between the collective and Voyager would be kept on the show, freed from the evil crutches of the "collective".

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SEVEN OF NINE...

The first time the public saw "Jeri Ryan" who portrayed "Seven Of Nine" was as a Borg with a full prosthetic suit and greyish make-up which makes every actor playing a "drone" look like some demented android. But we could still tell that there was a "babe" hiding underneath all that technology. And when the Doctor (the "EMH" or Emergency Medical Hologram) restored her previous human appearance before she was assimilated, we got to see just how gorgeous the actress was. Amazing body with full breasts, beautiful face and features, long blond hair... The perfect sci-fi "babe".

The continuing story of this character is her struggle with humanity. She is a human being but, since she was assimilated at a very early age, all her human traits had been eradicated as part of the Borg. And once she was separated from the collective, even though she became free to regain her individuality, the transition was very difficult since she still had to contend with her quest for "perfection" instaured in her by the Borg. This manifests itself as a need to always be in full control of herself.

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This character has a few similarities with "Data", an android from "The Next Generation" who was certainly one of the most interesting characters in the Star Trek Saga. His longing to become human was a subject endlessly explored on that show. Seven of Nine is the opposite of Data in a way. She is a human being who was transformed into a technological being and then, had to accept that by reverting to her previous human state, flaws which are inherent to biological beings would reassert themselves in her. Therefore, she fought her "humanity" every step of the way, even though she gradually became more and more human as the show progressed.

Seven of Nine was pivotal into transforming Voyager into a sensation. It gave the show a direction and purpose it hadn't found before. Personally, I instantly fell in love with her. Seven as portrayed by "Jeri Ryan" is a beautiful but icy woman gorgeously lit and dressed in a space suit so tight that every curve is amplified. For a show that badly needed a new twist, "Seven" as she is often called was the ultimate antidote. The character was perfectly integrated into the show even though she wasn't there from the beginning. And she has remade it into a highly entertaining fan favorite, saving the show from possible cancellation.

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At first, it was primarily Jeri Ryan's looks that kept my attention. Like any man, I can recognize a very beautiful woman when I see one. Breasts with just the right size and shape, a gorgeous face and a body so well proportionned that it almost looks synthetic. In a way: the "perfect" woman. I guess I am a sucker for feminine beauty so gorgeously wrapped up in some outerspace adventure...

But I was pleasantly surprised that, aside from her very pleasant appearance, Jeri Ryan is also a very good actress. She has succeeded in creating a fully believable character with a cold exterior and rigid perfection. I love to watch her facial expressions which are highly precise and controlled while letting you see the turmoil she feels inside. Jeri Ryan can easily emote any of her character's feelings. Certain episodes such as "Infinite Regress" and "Body and Soul" have showcased her versatility, as she was asked to play a vast array of different characters through Seven Of Nine's Borg capabilities.

But Seven isn't the only character I enjoy on that show. In fact, I love them all. There is just something about that whole ensemble that really clicks. And what was amazing about the arrival of Seven of Nine is that she made everyone else become even more interesting. It's almost like there were two eras for that series: "a show trying to find a voice" stage and then, the "Seven and all that Borg stuff" period. The latter is far more interesting even though there are a few episodes in the first three seasons which are still worth watching.

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But it wasn't until the Borg came on the scene that the show really started to thrive. Ever since the Voyager crew started to fight them head on, the show grew into a new direction which was met by the approval of many fans. Suddenly, they just didn't yearn to get home. They became trapped in a complicated conflict with a race that is superior to them in terms in technology. The Borg threat acted as a fly in the ointment and made every character flourish in the heat of the battle.

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THE CAST...

The interaction between the different characters have become stronger and richer over the years. The fact that they are lost in some uncharted region of space have made them interact with each other much like a big family. Many friendships have grown and we can feel, by watching them evolve, the deep bond that exist between them. There are many great characters on this show and I had become so attached to them that when the show ran its course, it almost felt like I had lost many good friends. Here is a list of the major actors who have made this show truly great.

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KATHRYN JANEWAY

Kate Mulgrew, a versatile actress with a commanding presence plays "Captain Janeway", the first woman ever in such a position of authority in the Star Trek franchise. As a matter of fact, that character has broken new ground for female power in many instances. The actress has very strong abilities in delivering complex emotions with flawless fluidity. Watch her face in any close-up and you'll see an amazing actress at work. She is the undisputed star of the show and most storylines revolve around her.

Best known for her parts in the defunct Soap Opera "Ryan's Hope" and on the short-lived television series "Mrs Columbo" in 1979, Kate landed the role after "Genevieve Bujold" dropped out. Bujold had been previously cast as the fierce Janeway but walked off the show during the pilot because she didn't really click with the ensemble and couldn't get used to the very demented shooting schedule. Bujold had been a fairly succesful movie star in her younger days. But she was used to the movie-making process where you shoot only about one minute of usable footage a day. It is a lot less demandind than a weekly hour show like Star Trek requires.

The producers had a hard time finding a replacement and screen-tested hundreds of actresses but none of them had the proper air of authority and commanding presence a character like "Kathryn Janeway" needs to be portrayed accurately. Finally, they struck gold when they found Kate Mulgrew. She stepped into the role without missing a beat and changed Star Trek history forever. Her portrayal of Janeway keeps me endlessly fascinated and, along with Seven, is my favorite character. Their highly complex relationship is of special interest to me and I can never get enough of both of them.

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SEVEN OF NINE

The full name of the character is "Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One" which was her designation in the Borg collective. Just look at her... I mean, what's not to like? When a woman is this gorgeous and talented, it is very hard to resist. And call me pervert but even as a gay man, I am ogling like a school boy everytime she appears on the screen. Jeri Ryan wasn't well-known before being cast as the ultimate "Borg-babe". Many fans like me discovered her with this show and almost instantaneously, the ratings went through the roof and she became a star of the first order.

Seven has had an impact on every character on the show but the most interesting connection she made were of course with Janeway but also, the Doctor with whom she shared many scenes over the years. Janeway is like a mentor to Seven, guiding her through the difficult road back to her humanity. And the Doctor is like her confident, ever so willing to give her advice and help her deal with life as an individual.

Since the show was cancelled, Jeri Ryan was cast as a teacher in the show "Boston Public". But honestly, even though I love her as an actress, I have no interest in watching her in that new character. The impact she had on me as Seven of Nine was so strong that I can't picture her in any other role. This is what we call being "typecast" which is something most actors dread to the chore. I am glad Jeri was able to make the transition into another onscreen persona but for me, she will always remain "Seven", the flawless half-human half-machine outerspace babe.

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B'LANNA TORRES

Played by "Roxanna Dawson", B'Lanna is the Chief Engineer with a "volatile" temperament. She is half-klingon and half-human. After a few seasons, she suddenly developed a strong bond with Lieutenant "Tom Paris" as they eventually married and conceived a child. B'Lanna is a very strong character just like the other two female leads but in a different way. She abhors her Klingon side which makes her quick-tempered in many situations. Her relationship with Seven is somewhat icy and rich in conflicts which was a catalyst for many great scenes between the two women.

I must admit that whenever the story revolves around her, it is usually associated with the "Klingon" phenomenon. This is a race very popular in the Star Trek world. But somehow, I never really liked them that much. I usually prefer when B'Lanna is in a supporting role even though she is a very gifted actress because of the fact that the writers always make a point of discovering some new "Klingon" ritual she has to deal with when they put her in the center of the story.

Frankly, I am at a loss to understand the appeal of that very violent race as Klingons are always on the verge of some agressive eruptions. But the fact that B'Lanna hates her Klingon heritage makes for an interesting plot twist. Roxanna is a very good actress and I enjoy watching her playing B'Lanna as a brusque and somewhat crusty but very intelligent woman. Over the course of the show, she has mellowed a lot, especially in the light of her relationship with Tom Paris. But she retained her fierceness which is one of the best aspect of the character.

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THE DOCTOR

Now, this is a fascinating character. The EMH or "Emergency Medical Hologram" is simply called Doctor because he never settled on a name until the very end of the series. This character is a holographic projection who stepped in to perform the medical duties when the ship's real doctor died in the first episode. Played by "Robert Picardo", The Doctor has evolved a lot over the years and became one of the most complex ever in Star Trek history. Just like Data from "Next Generation", he is also longing to explore humanity. And what could have been a simplistic gimmick gone haywire became a highly complicated mixture of artificial intelligence and human-like emotions.

The actor plays the hologram with a dry wit and somewhat acerbic demeanor which has mellowed progressively over the years. Robert is a great actor and every inflection in his voice displays a wide range of conflictual emotions which is perfect for the character who is neither human nor robot but in essence, a highly sophisticated projection of photogenic energy. His presence on the show has created a new life form which has now become an important part of the Star Trek universe. Since then, several other holographic characters have appeared as well.

I must admit that I was disappointed that the romantic relationship between this character and Seven Of Nine, which had been hinted at during the last seasons, didn't really have a chance to blossom. They remained friends but as lovers, they would have been fascinating to watch. But the actor succeeded at fleshing out a character which could have been devoid of human emotions into a highly entertaining entity. It is my third favorite character, after Janeway and Seven of course.

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CHAKOTAY

That character was introduced at the beginning of the series as part of "The Maquis" rebel movement (along with B'Lanna and Tuvok) and was promoted to First Officer by Janeway when the casualties on both ships made it essential for them to collaborate. He is played by Robert Beltran who was fairly unknown before entering the Star Trek "universe". I didn't like this character much in the beginning and found the actor to be a bit too stiff and unnatural in his performance. But over time, I grew into liking him, especially in light of his very endearing relationship with Janeway.

A romance between Chakotay and the Captain had been hinted consistently over the years until inexplicably, the writers decided to romantically pair him off with Seven Of Nine in the last few episodes. This a is a plot twist which disappointed me greatly because I had always felt him to be the perfect compliment to Janeway's flaming but vulnerable temperament. And even though I still feel like he is the weakest actor in the cast, Chakotay has been a great part of the show and his contribution is undeniable.

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TUVOK

Tim Russ plays "Tuvok", the vulcan security officer who has very strong bond with Kathryn Janeway. As the answer to "Doctor Spock" from the original Star Trek, this character has the same emotionless and logical dispositions as any Vulcan character but through the show, has deepened on many levels. His relationship with "Neelix" is probably the most interesting. Neelix is the complete opposite of Tuvok but yet, everytime they share a scene together, their chemistry is very palpable.

Tuvok is usually a supporting character even though a few episodes centered on him. The actor delivers his line in the perfectly monotone and "logical" manner first made famous by "Leonard Nimoy" as Spock. I also like his relationship with Seven. As two entities emotionally distant and always striving for self-control, their scenes together almost play like two androids trying to act "within normal parameters". Tuvok often acts as the straight man to many comedic scenes and his dead-pan delivery always works to maximum effect.

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NEELIX

Played by Ethan Phillips, Neelix is a Talaxian. He was an outsider first introduced with his love interest "Kes", an Ocampan character played by Jennifer Lien. Kes was written off the show when Seven arrived on the scene but Neelix stayed aboard and continued to act as the comic relief in many hilarious scenes. He became the cook on the ship when, to preserve the replicators, it was decided that growing organic food the old fashioned way was a necessity.

Neelix has developed many lasting relationships on the show and even became a mentor to a young girl named "Naomi Wildman", the first and only child to be born on Voyager. But like I said, for me it was his relationship with Tuvok that clinched it. Their scenes together were always full of humor. Ethan Phillips played the character with bubbly enthusiasm and energy and became a very lovable and indispensable part of the crew.

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TOM PARIS

This character, played by "Robert Duncan McNeill", actually made his first appearance on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" where he was accused of causing the death of three fellow students. In the first episode of Voyager, Kathryn Janeway offers him a chance to redeem his past and join the Voyager crew as a pilot. Tom Paris was depicted as being quite the ladies man in the first seasons. But then, he fell in love with B'Lanna Torres and marital bliss became his focal point.

This is not my favorite character and everytime the story is about him, I usually find it quite boring. He became more interesting to me only when he was paired with Chief Engineer Torres. I grew to like him more over time but still, he remained one of the few characters which I found were not essential to the story. The actor plays the role convincingly and is likable enough but in my opinion, he was often eclipsed by many other characters who were a lot more interesting to watch.

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HARRY KIM

This is my least favorite character on the show. Played by Garrett Wang, I never really took a liking to him and could only suffer his presence when he was a supporting element in the story. His strong friendship with Tom Paris was somewhat interesting and he possessed some redeeming qualities. But I often found the actor's take on the character bland and lifeless. At first, he was pining over the Seven Of Nine character and was quite immature emotionally. But eventually, he grew up and became an important part of the crew.

For some reason, I just never cared about this character that much. Like Tom Paris, he was only good whenever he was peripheral to the plot. His relationship with the Captain was also in focus where she acted as a mentor to his young and immature dispositions. He grew a lot over the years and a few episodes gave him some meaty material. He was good enough I guess but we can't always love every character the same on any given show.

KES

This character was written off at the beginning of the fourth season in an episode called "The Gift", apparently to make room for Seven Of Nine. I heard that they had to let someone go and the ax fell on her. Personally, I wish they would have gotten rid of "Harry Kim" instead since there were not that many women on the show to begin with.

Played by Jennifer Lien, Kes was an Ocampa which is a race who only lives for 9 years. As I said earlier, she was the love interest of Neelix for a while but they eventually broke up shortly before she left. Jennifer played her as a soft-spoken and innocent creature emulating the fact that Kes was only a 1 year old when she first came aboard Voyager.

She possessed telepathic abilities which eventually forced her to leave the ship in search of a new existence. I must say I liked her and was sad to see her go. She came back a few seasons later in a preposterous storyline where, as an old woman, she exacts revenge on the Voyager crew for supposedly abandonning her, even though it was her choice to leave the ship. She had a special relationship with the doctor and was instrumental in making him discover some of his human-like qualities.

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THE FINAL FRONTIER...

When this show terminated its run in 2001 after seven seasons, I felt a deep void in my life. I had watched the many tribulations and adventures of this amazing cast and was saddened that it had to come to an end. But frankly, the last season was nothing to brag about and it felt like the writers had lost their momentum. Maybe this is inevitable. When a show gets to a be a certain age, all has been said and done. So, they had no choice but to wrap things up.

And now that I can watch the shows in reruns, I can see that not all the episodes were great. Some of them were magnificent and I will watch them many times in the future but quite a few didn't deliver the goods. The writing is without a doubt the weakest part of the show. Even though it improved considerably over time, especially with the introduction of Seven Of Nine, the story concoctions remained uneven at best. It often seemed to me like the writers only knew how to write great episodes with the Borg and Seven Of Nine in the center of things. Many times when they tried different venues by focusing the story on other principal characters, the action became stale and often bordered on the cliché.

But there are enough wonderful episodes to make this one of my favorite shows of all time. The strongest element in this Star Trek venture was without a doubt the great characters. True, sometimes the material they were presented wasn't up to the challenge. But I would still watch to see those wonderful characters evolves and live their existence with the intense desire to finally reach "home". And they did exactly that with "End Game", probably the greatest final episode in the Star Trek Saga in my opinion.

In "Endgame", we saw Janeway already back on earth ten years after the crew has made it home. But it took them 26 years to come back and Janeway now an Admiral, goes back in time to try and change history so the Voyager crew can make it home more quickly, thus saving the lives of Seven And Nine, along with several other members of the crew who didn't survive in this version of reality.

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These two episodes represented the ultimate "showdown" between Janeway and the "Borg Queen" who had a long history of conflict. The Queen is intent on stopping Voyager at all cost. Of course, the Voyager crew gets the upperhand and succeeds in getting home destroying another version of the Borg Queen in the process. She was first killed off in the movie "Star Trek: First Contact" but the Borg can easily build up a new one as she is only a combination of everything the collective stands for.

I really loved this last two-part episodes as it was the proper send-off to a series that gave me tremendous joy over the years. But in a way, it saddened me that the show had to end. I had become very attached to that team of characters. But just like in real life, nothing lasts even in the 24th Century. I miss this show like crazy and often wish it could have aired for a longer period of time. But seven seasons is what we have to rely on and personally, I plan on buying the best episodes on DVD as soon as they get released. All those characters were an important part of my life for a long time and I will never forget them...