‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Boss Discusses The Enduring Legacy of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’

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Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t been shy about wearing its history on its sleeve. The characters on the show, which focuses on the Ensigns who help keep a ship running (versus the bridge crew), are huge Star Trek nerds in and of themselves, shouting out references to big, in-canon events from every show and movie in the franchise. But this week’s episode turned its lovingly satirical lens towards one of the more ignored series in the canon: Star Trek: Voyager.

Voyager really spoke to me when I was a kid,” Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan told Decider. “I didn’t quite have a great grasp of Deep Space Nine… I loved Odo I was like, give me a show about Odo. But as a little kid, Deep Space Nine was maybe a little above my head.”

As McMahan touches on, sandwiched between the franchise rejuvenating Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the boldly dark and creative Star Trek: Deep Space NineStar Trek: Voyager almost seemed like a throwback. The concept, in case you’re not aware, was essentially Lost in Space, but in the Star Trek universe. A Starfleet crew led by Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) ends up trapped in the distant Delta Quadrant, with no way home.

Though the show ran for seven seasons, it’s been a bit of a slow-burn in the Star Trek fandom when it comes to respect. And recently, Paramount+’s Star Trek series (previously CBS All Access) have seemingly been working hard to bring the best aspects of Voyager back to the forefront. Former Borg collective member Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) is a cast-member on Star Trek: Picard. A hologram version of Janeway will appear on the upcoming animated Star Trek: Prodigy. And on this week’s Lower Decks, we got an appearance from both Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), and a talking commemorative plate of Voyager’s Lieutenant that Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) was hallucinating.

So why all the Voyager, now?

“It’s just great TV,” McMahan said. “I think other people are maybe catching up on that. You know, the fandom, for a long time, Voyager wasn’t as beloved, just because, every Star Trek is different and every Star Trek is loved and reviled for a little while. But at the end of the day, Star Trek is Star Trek. The format and Starfleet and the basic tenets of Star Trek shine through.”

McMahan continued, noting that while Picard is in a certain sense the “TNG show,” looping in elements of that series like Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis’ Riker and Troi, he didn’t want to comment too much on Prodigy, “because I think [EPs] the Hagemans are doing amazing stuff, and I want to leave that for them to get to talk about, but their show very specifically has ties to Voyager that I think are really elegant, and really fun, and perfect for the type of story they’re telling.”

As for Lower Decks, though, the point wasn’t to pay tribute to a relatively less ballyhooed part of the franchise.  “I don’t think we’re singling out Voyager, it’s more that Tom Paris is cool,” McMahan noted of the appearance. “Of course Boimler would love him.”

After getting reassigned to the USS Cerritos at the end of last week’s episode, Ensign Boimler is struggling with the fact that the ship’s computer no longer recognizes him. Doors won’t open, the food replicator doesn’t work, and there’s no way he’s going to get a complete signed set of commemorative plates featuring the Voyager crew if he doesn’t make his way to Paris’s brief bridge visit on time. So naturally, Boimler begins crawling through the Jefferies tubes, releasing some toxic gas, and thinks the plate of Paris is talking to him, something that was teased in the Lower Decks Season 2 trailer.

“I’m so glad we put that plate stuff in the trailer,” McMahan said. “I’ve always been obsessed with the plates, my friend’s mom growing up had the plates, I’ve always thought that they were fascinating; a little Star Trek, and so ’80s and ’90s. Making Boimler a collector of the plates, and that he’s so excited for Tom Paris to be there because he wants him to sign his plate, like that’s the fucking most Star Trek thing I can think of. It just really makes me happy.”

That said, though Tom Paris is very cool, he’s not actually McMahan’s favorite Voyager character.

“The Doctor is the best character in all of Star Trek, he’s a perfect character,” McMahan said. “I love how Bob Picardo plays him, so I was there just for that. And then everything else good about Voyager.”

Maybe if he asks really nicely, Picardo will sign one of McMahan’s commemorative plates.

New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks stream Thursdays on Paramount+.

Where to watch Star Trek: Lower Decks

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