Star Trek: Voyager – 3×23 – “Distant Origin”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Distant Origin”
Originally Broadcast April 30th, 1997
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: Unknown

It is a world of scrubland and volcanoes. In a tunnel in a familiar looking rocky outcrop, a pair of reptiles are ‘fingering’ some scraps of material and studying bones. Their torch lights up a human skull part buried in the dirt.

On their ship, Professor Gegen and his assistant, Veer, have laid out the bones and are coming to some conclusions about them. An upright warm-blooded species with opposable thumbs, a small brain, who was part of a social structure that came here on a spaceship – and shares forty seven genetic markers with their race! They must contact their superiors to tell them of this important find. The little research vessel arrives at a massive Voth City ship and Gegen explains his find and conclusions to Odala, the highest authority available. The Voth have believed that they were the first lifeforms to develop intelligence in that region of space, and thus have the right to claim it as their own, making everyone else inferior ‘johnny-come-lately’s. However, this skeleton proves that they arrived here from another part of the galaxy, and are actually immigrants. This is the Distant Origin theory, and it is total anathema to Odala and the Council of Ministers. The idea that they are not the First Ones, and that they are related to endotherms fills her with revulsion. Gegen is challenging Doctrine and the foundation of who the Voth are, and it is not going down at all well.

After the meeting, Gegen sends Veer off to rally his supporters, while he reassures his daughter Frola who is having trouble believing in her father’s theory. She is worried about what will happen to him if he persists in pressing his case. Back on the research ship, Veer informs the Professor that the Ministry has decided to charge him with heresy against Doctrine and has confiscated his research. However, he stands by his mentor, and together they set off to find something called ‘Voyager’.

‘Across the vastness of space to find one ship among sea of stars is no easy matter, and for many weeks we found nothing. And then fortune glanced in our direction. A trader from a space station bordering the Nekrit Expanse informed us of a curious group of explorers, claiming to be from the other side of the galaxy. The merchants there spoke of a vessel called Voyager. They were able to help us clarify certain details. With this new information, we began to acquire other items and new evidence. Our most significant find – a canister of warp plasma from Voyager’s engines, so now we are scanning space for a matching signature. Little is known about these explorers, but they call themselves human and they claim to be travelling home to a distant planet. ‘

The two Saurians detect their quarry sixty two light years ahead, and cloak their ship before dropping out of transwarp to avoid passing them. Then they cloak themselves to board the ship and study the crew. Veer didn’t expect the smell of mammals to be so pervasive, and Gegen downloads Voyager’s database in seconds. Then Paris and Torres come past, verbally sparring. She loses a bet and has to join Tom for a Klingon holoprogram. On the bridge, the two scientists watch as Janeway dismisses a three month detour around a hazardous region of space in favour of enhancing the shields and going straight through, leading to a conclusion of a matriarchy. Then Kim announces that he has detected some sort of cloaking field on the bridge. Tuvok throws a forcefield around the area but Gegen manages to transport the pair of them down one deck to the mess hall. As Chakotay and Tuvok lead a security team down in the turbolift, Kim works out what frequency their phasers need to be at to reveal the intruders. It works, but Veer fires some sort of dart at Chakotay before collapsing, and Gegen transports himself and the unconscious first officer back to his ship.

In the Sickbay, the EMH and Kes examine Veer, whose language remains incomprehensible to the Universal Translator, before he puts himself into a protective hibernation, Meanwhile Gegen is introducing himself to Chakotay, safely confined behind a forcefield. He has found details of Earth in Voyager’s database and wants to know if there are any of his kind still live there. Chakotay manages to persuade him that he is no threat, and gets the forcefield lowered, so they can make first contact and talk about Earth in a more friendly manner.

The EMH summons Captain Janeway back to sickbay urgently. He has found the forty seven common genetic markers shared by Veer and humans, and discovered that these same markers go back eons. They go to the holodeck and get the computer to search for their common ancestor. It comes up with Eryops, from the Devonian Era over 400 million years ago, and the last common ancestor of both warm and cold-blooded creatures. The most highly evolved cold-blooded descendant is revealed to be the Hadrosaur, which vanished in the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous era. They theorise as to how it might have evolved over 65 million years, and discover that Veer is a dinosaur.

Chakotay and Gegen are thinking along similar lines, and assuming that evidence for the Hadrosaur civilisation was obliterated by natural disasters. Gegen apologises for not simply saying hello, but admits that his people do not get along with warm-blooded life forms. He also admits that Chakotay will have to remain with him for a while longer. They are on their way to meet with his supporters, with Chakotay as his prime exhibit.

Paris and Tuvok are experimenting with Veer’s personal cloaking device when a massive spatial displacement appears dead ahead. The Voth City Ship’s tractor beam cuts straight through Voyager’s shields and beams them inside. Then the systems are all shut down remotely as the Voth board the ship and take them all prisoner. Gegen receives a message telling him to return to stand trial for heresy, or Voyager and its crew will be destroyed. Unwilling to allow needless killing, he sets his course for the City Ship. As Paris vainly tries to regain weapons control, and Haluk requests a interrogation surgeon to help get answers from Janeway, word comes through of Gegen’s capitulation.

Gegen’s trial for heresy is held in front of Odala, and basically consists of her asking him to admit that his interpretation of the evidence is wrong, and that the Doctrine that they are the supreme lifeforms of this part of space is correct. She suggests that the genetic markers are simply random convergence. Gegen stands by his conclusions and Veer is brought in to testify. With eyes downcast, he confesses that they were overzealous, and saw connections where none exist. Gegen suspects threats were made against his young assistant and begins to lose his temper. He accuses Odala of having already made up her mind, and she responds in kind by announcing that she will not deny 20 million years of history and admit that they could be immigrants. Chakotay steps in, and points out that their Doctrine has been changed in the past, in order to accommodate new ideas like the breakthrough to transwarp technology. Where she sees a group of fleeing refugees, he sees what may have been Earth’s first intelligent species, bravely leaving the planet of their birth to overcome incredible trials before finally settling down so far from their starting point.

After a break, Gegen is asked again if he will retract his claims. Once again he refuses, and the sentence is pronounced. Gegen will be sent to a detention colony and the Voyager crew will go with him. Their ship will be destroyed. Appalled, Gegen offers an alternative resolution, admitting that he was mistaken in public before the Circles of Science. Odala suggests that after this, Gegen could become a metallurgist instead. Then she tells Chakotay that he will be returned to his ship, which will set course away from Voth territory, never to be seen by saurian eyes again.

On Gegen’s ship, Chakotay brings the disgraced scientist a gift – a globe of Earth.

Review

This is an excellent story. It focuses on the Voth, with Voyager as the catalyst for the challenge to Doctrine, the status quo of this incredibly ancient and arrogant race. It’s rather like the challenge that Galileo and his contemporaries made to the orthodox view of the Earth as centre of creation. There was big official resistance, threats were made, reprisals taken. Eventually the new idea gained wide acceptance and became the new orthodoxy, but we don’t get that far with the Voth. They are firmly in the denial stage, and willing to use all sorts of bullying tactics to stay there.

Our intrepid travellers are almost incidental to the show. The anthropologist First Officer gives a good speech to Odala, but it makes no impression. This story could just as easily been a single episode of Outer Limits or some such anthology show, and like The Chute before it, that is one of it’s great strengths. By focusing on such an alien race and it’s attitudes, it focuses closely on ourselves, and points out to us how intolerant human society can be when faced with new, radical ideas. Star Trek has liked to challenge accepted doctrine in it’s time, notably the Original series with it’s anti-war and anti-cold war stance, as well as the crew that included a black woman and an alien, and the scripts that denied the existence of God. Portions of the United States were not happy with Roddenberry’s vision of the future, yet now it all seems so normal.

Visually, this is a rather different show. There are lots of unusual camera angles, from below, looking at chins, and up Chakotay’s nostrils. Not his most flattering angle. It does give the Voth an impression of being bigger, greater, from that perspective, than they really are. On the Delta quadrant development front, we’ve got a race with a working transwarp drive, and Voyager have picked up one of their personal cloaking devices. I wonder if we’ll see that again, or if it will get stored away in locker 51, never to reappear.

I recommend this episode. It is good science fiction in the classic mold.

Grade: 9/10

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