Star Trek: Voyager: Distant Origin   Rewatch 
August 14, 2017 8:16 AM - Season 3, Episode 23 - Subscribe

A reptilian species makes contact with humanity; although they seem friendly at first, these aliens, with technology far in advance of our own, known as V, have intentions that--wait [scans through index cards quickly, throws them down, picks up another pile]--never mind; here we go. Initially set in 60,000,003 BC in Pangaea, the show centers on the Sinclair family: Earl Sinclair (the father), Fran Sinclair (née Phillips - the mother and Earl's wife), their--damnit. [throws index cards in the air] Dinosaurs. Talkin' dinosaurs, that's what we got here.

Memory Alpha still insists that it's turtles all the way down:

- This episode started as a premise that co-writer Joe Menosky described as "basically dinos with automatic weapons." Menosky added, "That was the fun of it. [Co-writer] Brannon [Braga]'s a big action guy, a perverse horror story kind of a guy. That's the direction we had." He also referred to the premise as "basically Aliens II, as it were, with automatic weapons." Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky then took this premise and several other story ideas to executive producer Jeri Taylor's office. While they were there, executive producer Rick Berman happened to walk into the office and influence the story considerably. Joe Menosky remembered, "He happened to come into the room when we were talking about this show. The first story notion that Brannon laid out to Rick in Jeri's office was [the action-oriented story idea] and Rick just hated it. He said, 'All I see is a bunch of lizards with AK-47's. Where's the humanity? This should be Galileo.' As soon as he said Galileo, I thought, that's perfect. I've done a lot of research in Italian history, so I knew exactly what he was talking about [....] Rick Berman's participation at that basic story level made this episode happen."

- The writers enjoyed detailing the alien culture of the Voth. "What was really fun about this episode," Joe Menosky reminisced, "was basically creating a culture, and all the little sort of texture details, knowing that we might not ever see these guys again."

- Joe Menosky was thrilled by the performance that Chakotay actor Robert Beltran gives in this episode. Moments after citing the episode as one of two Season 3 Voyager installments (the other being the third season finale "Scorpion") that have "these scenes where Chakotay basically talks for an entire page of dialogue without break," Menosky remarked, "Robert Beltran was just awesome in 'Distant Origin'. He's just got massive amounts of charisma."

- While filming this episode, David Livingston endeavored to accentuate the other-worldly quality of the aliens. He recalled, "I chose to shoot them with a really wide-angle lens, in close, to magnify and get as much detail and distort even the makeup that [Michael Westmore] had done. And by doing so, it made them look even more terrifying and weird and stuff. To me, distorting those dinosaurs was going to be really cool. So we put the camera right up against their face, and they did – they look really weird and somewhat, a little bit terrifying. It's a technique to make the makeup even weirder. You can't do that to Humans, because if you do that to Humans, they look distorted and stuff. But you can get away with that on aliens."

- The Voth scientists' discovery of the Human skull and their subsequent search for Voyager are examples of continuity with previous episodes: the skull was left in the third season opener "Basics, Part II", which establishes that the bones and uniform fragments found in the same scene of this episode belonged to Ensign Hogan, and the canister of warp plasma that the Voth retrieve at Bahrat's space station in this episode is an acknowledgment of the events of "Fair Trade".

"Did your eyes see the planet of our origin, the true home of our race? Was it beautiful? Was it covered by oceans? By sand? Were there nine moons above your head? Were there none?"

- Forra Gegen, to the Human skull

"I'll see you tonight. BYOB."
"What?"
"Bring your own bat'leth."

- Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres

"We are not immigrants! I will not deny twenty million years of history, and doctrine, just because one insignificant Saurian has a theory!"

- Odala, to Forra Gegen

Poster's Log:

Another great entry in the late-third-season run of quality episodes, this one has a great premise: that humans aren't the first sentient species to arise on Earth. It's not 100% new to SF; I think that there's both stories and actual kooky theories out there that have several successive advanced societies that have been periodically wiped out by recurring disasters on Earth, and I've also seen some speculation about dinosaur species that could have evolved into sentience; one was rather striking as the evolved form looked like the "Greys" of UFO lore (although, of course, we know who the Roswell aliens really were). But it's new to Trek, I'm pretty sure, and the Voth have sufficient detail to distinguish them from any SF predecessors. There are lots of neat little details--the use of color-changing scales as part of communication (this also shows up in Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet), having a bug-attracting lamp that serves as a snack bar, a "city ship" that's big and powerful enough to beam Voyager inside of it, etc. Plus, of course, the Voth belonging to the transwarp club, which includes the Borg and at least one other race which we'll see in a season or so, and arguably some others.

That we haven't seen or heard from the Voth until now, even though they theoretically could have reached the Alpha Quadrant, may have something to do with the peculiarities of their society. We also don't have any indication that the Voth have planetary colonies; their city ship seems big enough to support quite a number of people, and living aboard a transwarp ship would also make them less vulnerable to the Borg, who aren't mentioned, although the Voth may be advanced enough that they wouldn't have to fear assimilation. If the episode has one weakness, it's that I would have liked to have known a little bit more about the Voth and their society, since their insistence on having evolved in the Delta Quadrant drives the plot. Despite their sadly trenchant anti-immigrant stance (or at least opposition to the idea that they were immigrants) and mentioned-but-not-particularly-displayed anti-mammalian sentiments (which must be awkward, given the number of DQ sentient mammalian species, although between their technological superiority and their apparent standoffishness, that may not be a real problem for the Voth), they don't seem particularly aggressive or hegemonic; it would have been interesting to dig a little bit deeper and maybe get a sense of how a society that has had spaceflight for millions of years might have larger and longer societal patterns that lead it to maybe turn inward and isolate itself from other societies in order to protect its myths and beliefs about itself from outside influences, this resulting in their not progressing even further to something like Q-hood. (And maybe the rebels/heretics/Distant Origineers being a nascent movement that takes the Voth out of that regression/stagnation.) It's not enough of a shortcoming to rank as an instance of the ten percent syndrome, but it's a shame that we don't see the Voth again.

The episode was helped greatly not only by the design and special effects but by the performances. There's some nice banter between Gegen and Veer, which made Gegen's shock that the orthodoxy got through to Veer more effective, and I also liked Concetta Tomei as the head of the orthodoxy. Chakotay also gets a good Kirk Summation. (It doesn't really work, although, as noted in the trope description, they rarely do.) And there's some hope for the future in the phrase, "Eyes open." And we get to see Hogan again! Well, sort of.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Let's go out on a musical number!
posted by Halloween Jack (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love love love this episode. It's one of only two VOY episodes that have ever made me tear up (the other is "Blink of an Eye"), but it's the ONLY one that does it every time—though at different points on each rewatch. (This time, it was the last scene with Gegen and Chakotay; the time before, the part where Gegen renounces his own work and gets reassigned.)

I remember how blown away I was the first time I saw it. I'd gone into it with a general awareness of the plot ("Dinosaur aliens from Earth abduct Chakotay to learn more about their own history, and by the way we don't even see the Voyager crew until well into the episode") and my expectations, calibrated by the last couple seasons, were dire. I mean, just look at that summary, and tell me that's not a recipe for disaster. Then it comes along and knocks me on my ass.

Why, I'm not sure. It can only be a confluence of factors, which in order of impact for me, could be:

- The fact that I have a bone-deep, personal hatred for the kind of stuff that people like Minister Odala do and stand for (and I bet a lot of Trek fans do, and I bet the writers knew that), and they give us that great Fuck You Ending of letting her win. Sincere kudos to Rick Berman for the Galileo idea.

- The fact that the Voth actors do an astonishingly good job through astonishingly heavy (and also really well-done) makeup. Gegen and Odala particularly kill it, acting their asses off with really only their eyes and their voices. Likewise Haluk, the dude with the one menacing scene with Janeway (and, unsurprisingly, he also played a Jem'Hadar); he's a stronger villain after one scene than probably 90% of Trek single-episode villains.

- The writing and conceptualization of the Voth individuals and culture, which is so effectively and efficiently done in comparison with other one-shot Trek aliens (not just VOY aliens) that you almost think they must've brought in writers from some other franchise.

- The dramatic camera angles, which at times feel like they're an homage to Terry Gilliam, although maybe that's just me associating this episode with his whole "hopeless bureaucratic nightmare" thing.

- An ambitious yet adequately-supported hook (implausible, yes, but in my first viewing my Hypercritical Nerd Brain shut itself up about halfway through). It's truly a classic Star Trek concept.

And, in that great scene where Chakotay gives him a little Earth of his own, the episode brushes against the show's own pervasive yearning WITHOUT rubbing our noses in it via on-the-nose dialogue. Everything is, in a word, artfully done.

So whether this is truly VOY's finest hour? Debatable. But it's gotta be my very favorite VOY episode (which puts it in my top…15? 20? of the franchise overall), and I would probably take the side that, yeah, this is the show's pinnacle.

Asides re: the Voth's hunt for evidence: This is the only other appearance of a Tak Tak in the series (the alien who gives Gegen the warp plasma on Bahrat's station). And, as Bernd of Ex Astris Scientia points out, "I am somehow glad that Hogan's death on the savage planet in 'Basics' was not entirely useless."

If the episode has one weakness, it's that I would have liked to have known a little bit more about the Voth and their society, since their insistence on having evolved in the Delta Quadrant drives the plot.

Yeah, this one's such an obviously major (in terms of world-building) and impactful episode that one would expect them to bring the Voth back later, as they hinted that they were considering. On the one hand, that's too bad, but on the other, VOY doesn't have the best track record when it comes to revisiting powerful aliens without weakening them. Maybe this being all we get of the Voth (in canon) adds to the episode's bittersweetness a little.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:34 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


the canister of warp plasma that the Voth retrieve at Bahrat's space station in this episode is an acknowledgment of the events of "Fair Trade".

I think I may have found a plot hole? Did Neelix leave actual warp plasma from Voyager behind in that episode? I don't think he did, right?
posted by zarq at 9:50 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that was a continuity error--it was some kind of garbage plasma. Still a nice callback to Deep Space Nope, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:34 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: The 47 genetic markers that prove the Voth are terrestrial in origin.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The Voth were a season-long antagonist in Star Trek Online, complete with space and ground battle zones, a plot arc and a repeatable mission that involves blasting your way into and raiding a city ship. They're incredibly powerful, though their tech is missing the phased cloaks, and includes both mechanized power armor and weaponized 'V-Rexes' with Dr. Evil style head-mounted laser beams, hewing closer to the silly original script. As depicted in the game, they are clearly able to hold their own against the Borg, although they're used to shill both Species 8472 (probably warranted - I'll discuss this more at Scorpion), and the Vaadwaur (which is a major moment of WTF when it happens, because no just no). It's even possible to obtain a Voth bridge officer who is a clear expy for Gegen.

Ongoing Counts: Rolled forward again.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 22, despite Paris' best efforts.
* Shuttles: Down 4.
* Crew: 142.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* I love this one too.

As a child, dinosaurs were my favorite thing in the entire world. Indeed, I credit my early facility with spelling to loving them, because regular words were so easy compared to their various names. The Voth themselves remind me somewhat of the Yilanè from West of Eden, which was a favorite book of mine growing up. (The Yilanè incorporate color-change into their language too, and their tech is eons ahead of humans, although they use creepy biotech derived from selective breeding instead of Trek-tech.)

In other words, I'm precisely the target audience for a high concept thing like this. I love the interaction between Gegen and Chakotay in particular - episodes like this one, it's easy to see why Chakotay entered Starfleet, and how he made officer rank before joining the Maquis. It's also easy to see why he might be seduced back with the Cardassian threat no longer front and center. It's a great episode for Robert Beltran generally.

I also love the Voth. I agree with the sentiment that it feels like they brought in a whole new writing team for this due to the detail and thought that went into them. I'm also glad they didn't return: it's clear that they only barely engage with regular space at this point, given their ability to move around undetected and whatnot. Plus, as Cheeses mentioned, they would've suffered inevitable Villain Decay.

they don't seem particularly aggressive or hegemonic; it would have been interesting to dig a little bit deeper and maybe get a sense of how a society that has had spaceflight for millions of years might have larger and longer societal patterns that lead it to maybe turn inward and isolate itself from other societies in order to protect its myths and beliefs about itself from outside influences, this resulting in their not progressing even further to something like Q-hood.

I would've liked more, but maybe in a Voth-centered book or something. (Maybe a Voth version of The Final Reflection?) I do get the impression their culture specifically holds them back from ascension to higher planes and the like - from the way Odala treats Gegen, one imagines the Voth who invented transwarp was quite the badass, and that every advancement they have was hard-won.

I noticed the warp plasma cylinder thing too, but apart from that, no complaints at all. I loved the silly camera angles and, like Cheeses, assumed it was a nod to the bureaucratic nightmare angle of the plot. I also liked that Voyager never got the upper hand on them, not really - no Borg style vulnerability in the computers, no red dust, nada.

Anyway, another episode where we got the Voyager I wanted to see, rather than S1/S2 Voyager. The concept was admittedly pretty silly, but they sold the hell out of it, and that's what makes for great sci fi in general.
posted by mordax at 11:09 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Voyager: All I see is a bunch of lizards with AK-47's

This is one of my fave Voyager episodes, and I think it as kind of a mirror image Living Witness. Hmm. Voyager is on Netflix now, so I might have to watch them back to back, which I never have done.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:22 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.

Listen, I love you, I love what you do here. Sure, this isn't a early 20th century car with a working radio floating in the Delta Quadrant, but if "Hey we're a sentient race that evolved on Earth eons ago that you've never heard of before and now lives on the other side of the galaxy because of Reasons" isn't a Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contact then I don't know what is.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:09 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Hehehe. Fair. I should've addressed this in my post, although my answer's still 'it's not.'

IMO, it doesn't count for a couple of reasons:
1) The Voth are transwarp capable, operating across an unspecified domain of space with extremely advanced cloaking technology. This is sort of like how the Borg don't count in my mind: races like these may plausibly be encountered pretty much anywhere in the galaxy because their ships are so fast and powerful, provided there's a reason they'd take an interest in Voyager in particular, which happens here.

2) The episode spends the entire first act showing us Gegen deliberately tracking Voyager down, step by step. It's true that he found Hogan accidentally, but it falls into his actual specialty: he had a plausible reason to be investigating the planet from Basics, (dinosaur bones!), and to care about Hogan's skull. Plus - warp plasma aside - they did a pretty neat job of retracing Voyager's steps to establish how he found them.

That's a whole different can of worms than 'Voyager just happens to encounter [Ferengi|Romulans|whatever] on a straight line between the Caretaker array and Earth.'
posted by mordax at 11:19 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah, seems like an edge case to me. More of a Credulity-Straining Alpha Quadrant, well, Origin. That courtroom stuff might have ended up a little more ambiguous if the Minister had asked "So what, we left Earth before the asteroid and left behind no trace at all of our advanced industry? And chose to cross half the galaxy to live right next door to the Borg for some reason?"
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:34 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


It's good to see that Braga got a chance to show us the other side of the Threshold. From lizards we arise, and to lizards we will return. Very touching in a way. Heh.

I continue to be impressed by how much Braga manages to fit in his episodes, each of them seeming to have almost double the content of any others, and fun too. He always provides some good conflict and lots of throwaway ideas, some pretty good, some not so much, but there's always something worth thinking about as a take away.

For me, this is mostly just a fun well made episode, but not one of my favorites. The science is, um, odd and were I to put forth much credulity in Voyager's take on a lot of their lore, it would indeed be strained a bit by the logic here.

It's not a big deal to me though, since it isn't something I'd get too worked up about given Trek's general premises, and they do try to cover it in the writing of the episode so as to give some aura of plausibility to the actions, which works better than hoping no one notices, so that's something anyway. I guess one could try to make some deeper accounting for Gegen's theory of Distant Origin being so crucial, unacceptable, and at the same time so easily validated to attempt to make it all fit, but it isn't immediately apparent to me that, as presented, it all works very well under deeper consideration, and neither does the chain of events leading to his discovery and contact with Voyager really, but a story needs some animating events to get told.

None of that, however, was really a problem for me. It was more in the rather didactic analogy they present that hews too closely to our history in ways that seem unlikely for spacefaring lizardfolk and ends a bit too predictably in the values reinforced, go science, even as Chakotay goes mum watching Gegen recant to save Voyager. The importance of truth not being something Voyager is going to have to put added effort into for Voth sake. That's on Gegen and the council to figure, which sort of dulls the importance of the message as a more universal premise and removes Voyager from being implicated in choosing a side, which saves the viewer from feeling they too would have to choose between freedom and a lie a bit. Gegen acts nobly to spare Voyager and the truth remains obscured while Chakotay and the viewer know the real story, yet make no sacrifice of their own to take away their beliefs.

But, as I said, this, for me, is a pretty fun episode with everyone involved doing good work, and since it seems others really like this one I'm not going to make a big deal about arguing the details since they're, as usual, not all that important anyway. I'm a bit surprised that this is a favorite episode since I wouldn't have guessed that offhand, but it is definitely one that sits squarely near the heart of Trek's MO and is quite well made, so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised at that.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:38 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


More of a Credulity-Straining Alpha Quadrant, well, Origin.

Right. If you allow for the Voth existing as depicted, everything follows pretty reasonably. However, I definitely concede their existence is a stretch.

And chose to cross half the galaxy to live right next door to the Borg for some reason?

To be fair, they predate the Borg by tens of millions of years, and are probably advanced enough to mostly ignore them. (Later on, the Vaadwaur make it sound like the Borg have only been around for centuries, which sounds about right given that their species designation counter has only hit 8472 by the end of S3 - I'd give good odds that the Dominion is actually older than the Collective, while the Voth actually predate the Iconians by an unfathomable span of time.)

Gegen acts nobly to spare Voyager and the truth remains obscured while Chakotay and the viewer know the real story, yet make no sacrifice of their own to take away their beliefs.

In this case, I was willing to look the other way on that because they were so thoroughly outclassed. The Voth completely trivialized Voyager in a way even the Borg never really managed to do. There was clearly no convincing the council, and there was clearly no way to oppose them with force.

Also, there's a different angle to consider: convincing the Voth Earth is their home is probably not in humanity's best interest, as the Voth could just roll over the Federation if they decided to take the planet - or worse, the general area of space - *back*.
posted by mordax at 10:47 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you can see why the Voyager crew doesn't play power as a pastime since they're absolutely terrible at keeping information to themselves. Telling the Voth they're from Earth really isn't a great idea in a strategic sense, but they're all about trust, so what the heck.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:19 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


I was amused though that, for all Voyager's many security problems, where even the Kazon can take over the ship without raising much of a sweat, the super advanced Voth are caught in a matter of moments. Just goes to show once again Harry should be head of security and Tuvok Ops.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:22 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you can see why the Voyager crew doesn't play power as a pastime since they're absolutely terrible at keeping information to themselves.

Haha. Yeah. The TNG guys were always playing poker, the DS9 guys had tongo and the Voyager command crew played pool.

It shows.

I was amused though that, for all Voyager's many security problems, where even the Kazon can take over the ship without raising much of a sweat, the super advanced Voth are caught in a matter of moments.

To be fair, Gegen wasn't trying to fight back - I was amused by the Voth completely shutting down Paris' attempt to fire photon torpedoes.
posted by mordax at 11:46 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


It's good to see that Braga got a chance to show us the other side of the Threshold. From lizards we arise, and to lizards we will return. Very touching in a way. Heh.

Wow! I think we have a new fandom axiom: You cannot get to the Distant Origin without passing through the Threshold.
(And…to meet the Visitor, you must Move Along Home?…)

I continue to be impressed by how much Braga manages to fit in his episodes, each of them seeming to have almost double the content of any others, and fun too. He always provides some good conflict and lots of throwaway ideas, some pretty good, some not so much, but there's always something worth thinking about as a take away.

Yeah, ambitious stories do seem to be his thing—at least so far. In looking ahead, it seems the next couple of seasons also include a fair number of ambitious and reasonably successful episodes, but IIRC the last couple seasons sort of…tone themselves down, to put it politely. It'll be interesting to see whether any of that is Braga himself seeming to phone it in.

Initially set in 60,000,003 BC in Pangaea, the show centers on the Sinclair family: Earl Sinclair (the father), Fran Sinclair (née Phillips - the mother and Earl's wife), their--

Well played. #notthemama
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:01 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]


I was very pleasantly surprised by this episode. Big story concept, well supported by unusually expansive production values, and I really love the idea of making Voyager's cast and crew into supporting players. At first, going into it cold, I thought there was a possibility that the entire show would take place only from the Voth's viewpoint.
posted by mwhybark at 12:58 PM on October 21 [1 favorite]


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