Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Prototype"

**1/2

Air date: 1/15/1996
Written by Nicholas Corea
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Don't make me laugh Starfleet ... and don't make me pull rank on you either." — B'Elanna to Harry

Nutshell: A plot-oriented episode with few unexpected turns. Inoffensively standard.

When the crew finds a mysterious robot drifting in space, Lt. Torres takes it upon herself to repair the damaged unit. It's a longshot, but her adept engineering skills are up to the challenge, and when she repairs the unit, it turns out to be more than just interesting technology, but a sentient artificial being.

The unit has a name—or, more appropriately, a designation. It's called 3947, and it's just one of an entire line of sentient robots produced by a now-extinct race known as the "Builders." The units do not have the programming to repair or replace their power units—only the Builders have that capability. Since B'Elanna can successfully repair power units, 3947 thinks she is a Builder. He asks her to build a new prototype unit which could be copied in the future without the assistance of a Builder. This way his robot race could revitalize their waning population and avert their imminent extinction.

B'Elanna is drawn into 3947's situation, so she asks Captain Janeway to approve the building of this prototype. Janeway can not approve this, though, because it would clearly be interfering in their culture. That's right—"Prototype" is another Trekkian take on the Prime Directive Issue. But that's just the first cliche—the second is the Nature of Life Argument.

It's a credit to the writers that, although these are both fairly jaded premises in the Star Trek universe, they can still keep things entertaining. Even if watching Torres and Janeway argue these issues is not all that compelling, it is a pleasure to see their points of view come to the surface. Janeway's Prime Directive argument here is much better suited to the premise than in the pedestrian "Time and Again," and much more polemical than the seemingly arbitrary (and relatively ambiguous) decision she made in "Caretaker." At the same time, this gives Torres her best vehicle since "Faces," revealing a sense of creation in her character that we haven't seen until now.

B'Elanna tells 3947 she can't build the prototype. 3947 finds this unacceptable. So when the Voyager meets 3947's ship to return its lost unit, he kidnaps B'Elanna and beams onto his ship—holding her under the condition of building the prototype model. If she refuses, the commander of the robots' ship will kill her and destroy Voyager.

"Prototype" is a marginal Voyager episode. The premise is so-so, with some above-average execution. But there are some general elements about the season that are beginning to show their exhaustion here. Take, for example, nearly the entire third act. This is where Janeway tries to negotiate with the alien ship for B'Elanna's return. Where the alien ship refuses. Where Janeway opens fire. Where the aliens return fire and cause the bridge set to smoke and explode and the camera to shake.

We get another scene like this:

Chakotay: "They're firing some kind of quantum resonance charges, Captain."
Tuvok: "Our aft shields are down to 53 percent and dropping."
Kim: "Rerouting power to aft shields."

[Ship rocks]
Tuvok: "Down to 24 percent."

How many iterations of this dialogue has the series supplied, concurrent with the bridge rocking, the lights dimmed, and the red alerts flashing? I can name six instances this season alone containing such scenes: (1) The protozan beating in "Elogium," (2) the unidentified alien attack in "Parturition," (3) another unidentified alien attack in "Persistence of Vision," (4) the severe atmospheric storm in "Tattoo," (5) the Kazon bombardment in "Maneuvers," and (6) the Mokra planetary defense strike in "Resistance." The similarity in these scenes is startling. Tuvok usually makes some status report, Kim usually confirms it, Janeway gives an order, the bridge shakes and some circuits explode. I, for one, am sick of these variations of act three. Voyager has so many pointless, unimaginative battles, and the creators don't come up with any spin to make them fresh. Instead they use the same cliches that give Star Trek its reputation for inept space combat. I'm game for something new.

Then there's Paris, who I'm beginning to think is the Official Commentary Person on the Exchange of Dialogue on the Viewscreen. How many times this season has Janeway or Chakotay talked to the aliens on the other ship, and then after its over Pairs remarks something like "They're a friendly sort"? Granted, this isn't exactly a crucial element of the show or the series, but it's something that pops up enough that I thought I'd mention it for some trivial food for thought.

There's also a lot of unnecessary technobabble in the early acts. B'Elanna spouts so much technical gobbligook in act one that it begins to sound like a joke. Perhaps some of it is. One sarcastic response the Doctor has ("That's exactly what I was going to say") somewhat lessens the annoyance of the non-stop jargon, but one thing Voyager has entirely too much of is technobabble. To the producers: Decrease it. Please.

But I digress. Despite these annoyances, the story works, even while being one of those connect-the-dots type of stories where you can all-too-easily follow the progress from one anticipated step to the next. These steps include the arrival of another ship piloted by rival robot units, B'Elanna's successful construction of the prototype, and the revelation that these two warring robot races actually killed their Builders. B'Elanna realizes that by building this prototype she would be allowing one side to create an army and overwhelm the other—exactly what the Builders wanted to prevent by inhibiting their abilities. This gives B'Elanna no option but to destroy her prototype, despite the consequences to her or the Voyager. Fortunately, right after B'Elanna destroys the prototype, Paris comes to her rescue with his hotshot shuttlecraft piloting skills, and while the two robot ships are fighting, Voyager slips away.

How does this episode overcome a mediocre premise and a number of cliches? I'm not sure. Probably because, aside from a few isolated moments, the directing and acting is on-the-money. The writing supplies some good character moments and some nice touches, too. Best is Chakotay's line to Paris, "I'd hate to lose another shuttle." (After all the shuttles Voyager has lost, it's good to see the writers finally acknowledge it. Those things don't grow on trees in the Delta Quadrant, after all.) And Paris' response "Your concern for my welfare is heartwarming," is a good touch, reminding us of the history these two guys have. They never really liked one another. I can't remember the last time we had any character interaction between these two, and this little exchange is fun. Now it's time for a story putting these two on some mission together.

Well, enough about "Prototype." It's okay, never mind some hackneyed ideas. It makes a likable B'Elanna Torres show.

Previous episode: Resistance
Next episode: Alliances

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32 comments on this review

Christopher Alexander - Thu, Feb 7, 2008 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
While it is a Star Trek tradition that internal security is very poor, I felt this episode was ridiculous. It was OBVIOUS that the robot posed a grave threat - the survival of its race was at stake - but the crew seems totally oblivious and allows it to kidnap Torres with ease. At least they could have assigned a couple token redshirts to guard it!
David Forrest - Sat, Mar 8, 2008 - 5:57pm (USA Central)
I just re-watched this episode and while it did have some cliches in it, I did enjoy. I would given it a 3 star rating. The technobabble was a bit much, but it was okay in the sense they were discussing robotics and therefore there were going to be some long technological names. The story moves at a swift pace and the direction under Frakes was teriffic. Frakes did comment that the costumes for the Robots was awful and that could have been a little more creative, but I did enjoy the episode. The conversations between Torres and Janeway were great and we started to get a sense that Torres now respects Janeway and sees her as her captain. Overall, I defintely enjoyed this episode to recommend it.
Anthony2816 - Sun, Jun 29, 2008 - 7:24pm (USA Central)
You know, if the robot had told me that the builders were all dead, I think my first question would have been, "Oh? What happened to them?"

But that's just me.
Occuprice - Mon, Jul 7, 2008 - 10:11pm (USA Central)
I was bored to tears by this episode.

Reading the season 2 reviews, I realized that I was bored to tears with most of them. Not a good season.

Season 1 was the best season I think.
Mike - Tue, Sep 23, 2008 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
Totally agree with the 'internal security' comment. After the Kazon captured transporter technology in Maneuvers (all of 2 episodes ago), you'd think Voyager would stop all transports (or use of other ship technology) by non-crewmembers. Oh well.

Also, it appears that the writers were starting to realize that Voyager being the strongest ship in the Delta Quadrant was going to be bad for drama.

And Kes gets like 2 lines....so I give this episode 1/2 star for each Kes line.
Jay - Mon, Aug 3, 2009 - 11:36am (USA Central)
The "friendly sort" bit got old fast, and it was lame the first time.
navamske - Sun, Aug 8, 2010 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
Also a tiresome cliche:

CREW MEMBER: "There's an unauthorized transport in progress."
CAPTAIN: (after wasting a second looking shocked) "Block it!"
CREW MEMBER: "I can't!" or "It's too late!"

How about they add this to their copy of "Starfleet For Dummies": If there's an unauthorized transport in progress, block it!
Ken - Tue, Feb 8, 2011 - 3:44am (USA Central)
I thought the ship was supposed to be getting home? Why does the crew pick up stray piece of chunk in the galaxy on their way back for?

The premise of this episode just doesn't work. Tuvok was right - let the power drain and be on your way. Logic does in fact work.

I just don't understand what any of this has to do with getting home. B'Elanna talks about this challenge as if it's more important than getting back to the Alpha Quadrant.

I can understand investigating things that have a reasonable chance of getting them home, like in the episode "Cold Fire". But I have to draw the line when it comes to robotic beings, rusted iron, etc. Are there sensors even configured to detect this crap at warp 9.9? Absurd.

And then make it out to be a moral issue... and that's fine, but it doesn't work for this kind of series. We've had these kinds of episodes on TNG - a series built for that sort of thing.

For a crew that needs to get home, they certainly know how to waste their time.
Destructor - Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - 9:03pm (USA Central)
@Ken- it's also part of the premise of the show that they are also trying to explore the Quadrant as they go- and it seems clear they're not constantly going at maximum warp- they're always stopping to check stuff out.

Anyway, I like this episode, it's a bit 'stock', but as stock VOY episodes go, it's enjoyable.
Ken - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
That's very hypocritical of Janeway to say she must do everything possible to get her crew home... and at the same time... check out every nook and cranny in the galaxy.

There has to be some standard of which to judge their exploration. If that exploration will help them stay alive, get the ship to move faster, investigate wormholes... fine. Those things support the premise of getting home.

I submit that investigating iron in space does not do this.
Carbetarian - Thu, Apr 21, 2011 - 10:32pm (USA Central)
@Jammer I am so glad you brought up the Tom Paris bit! I was thinking the same thing while I was watching this episode. Tom said his "very polite, these automated units" line and I rolled my eyes so hard I think I might have sprained my eyeballs. This show take formulaic writing to the extreme.

You know, I watched Star Trek Enterprise in it's totality a few months ago and kept up with your reviews as I went along. You did a really funny (and very apt) review of "the xindi" where you went off on a tangent about Berman and Braga creating scripts using the F keys on their keyboard in the writers office for automatic script cues. I think you had pressing F12 as the "send Archer and Crewmate to jail" button. But, man, I feel like that scenario is even more plausible on Voyager.

F1 - the crew finds some random crap floating in space, stops to check it out.

F2 - Spatial anomaly, shields drop to 15% instantly

F3 - Hostile alien

F4 - Someone gets kidnaped

F5 - We found humans/an alpha quadrant alien! Again!

F6 - Tom Paris makes what some writer clearly thought was a witty remark

F7 - unauthorized transport

F8 - ten minute long space battle

F9 - something involving the *ugh* holodeck

F10 - pointless Neelix scene

You get the idea.

It bothers me so much how they never really show Voyager deal with all the beatings it takes. The ship loses it's shields, has hull breaches and generally takes a licking in almost every episode. And yet, in the next episode the ship is always fine. It doesn't even have a scratch on it! It's ridiculous.

I always know that whatever kind of thrashing the ship takes in a given episode won't ever really matter, because Voyager is a show that refuses to really think about consequences. It makes it very hard to care about all these fourth act space shoot outs.

@Ken I agree with you on this point. It always bothered me how Voyager seems to stop for every little thing. It's like going for a drive with my mom. When she's in a certain mood, she wants to stop for everything! If we pass near a neighborhood where someone she knows used to live, we have to go drive by. If we are near a place where someone she knows used to work, we are going to alter our course to go see how the place looks now. Suddenly what should have been an hour or two with mom has turned into an entire day. And that's fine, because I love my mom.

But, if we found ourselves suddenly stuck in, say, Mexico and discovered that we had to find a way to get my mom back to Detroit and she still wanted to stop at every little restaurant or bar she ever had a good memory at, that would be a different story. I would have to say "sorry, mom. But, I'm not stopping this car to see if that guy in Nuevo Laredo still sells those churros you like.", and that is pretty much how I would feel about Janeway stopping for every little particle of rust on the way back to the alpha quadrant if I were on her crew too.

Ok, about this specific episode, did anyone else think the robot kind of looked like Lal from TNG painted silver? That's some pretty disappointing costuming. Still, the story moved well and I always enjoy Be'lanna. I agree with Jammer on this one. It was definitely inoffensively standard.

Two stars from me.
Fido - Wed, Aug 3, 2011 - 9:48am (USA Central)
I really liked this episode. I consider it one of my favourites. It was really creepy at times.
Matthias - Wed, Aug 17, 2011 - 8:05am (USA Central)
Ohoho Data is totally to blame for Torres and Janeway trusting creepy sentient robots.

I don't feel enough attention was paid to the fact that unlike your standard should-we-cure-the-virus-or-not prime directive ethical dilemma ROBOTS DON'T DIE and giving them the ability to procreate at will means they can expand their numbers exponentially until the galaxy runs out of metal ore.

Angular - Wed, Oct 19, 2011 - 4:58am (USA Central)
This episode was so-so. The roboter ideas didn't really look fresh for me, but then it hasn't been done in Star Trek I guess, at least not too often.

The technobabble in Voyager was annoying not only because it was too much, but also because it is often inconsistent and seemingly made up on the fly. The writers were doing a really bad job in that regard.

Space battles become really annoying after a while. No matter how technologically evolved the alien space ships are, Voyager will always be in mortal danger but it also has a fighting chance every time. Voyager is as powerful as the story needs it to be. Instead, the writers could have tried to adapt the story to Voyager's power more often.
Justin - Tue, Mar 13, 2012 - 12:09am (USA Central)
By-the-numbers sci-fi story + By-the-numbers Trek writing = mediocre episode. BUT add great acting and direction and it becomes a fun hour of television. I like this one.
duhknees - Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 8:19pm (USA Central)
This blog site has really influenced my Trek viewpoint. When they were first out, I hated (HATED) DS9 and its space cowtown premise, where every few days some local rowdies had to be rounded up and dealt with. I also hated Sisko and his "I'm having an anxiety attack" method of acting. But now I can appreciate its arc and character growth as superior to the Reset Button mentality of TNG and Voyager. Think of how great Voyager could have been if, instead of examining every nook and cranny of the Delta quadrant, in a paler version of TNG, we showed a ship growing progressively beaten down, held together with chewing gum and baling wire, where the focus was always on getting a few miles closer to home. The prime directive would have to be somewhat battered, and morality would take a back seat to forward momentum. Characters would grow more irascible, less Star Fleety, and there'd be a lot more pairing off. But it could have been a great series.
DG - Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 7:16am (USA Central)
@ duhknees

I couldn't agree more.

While I still really hate Sisko (To the point where, when I ran an RP in DS9 universe, Sisko was the first one to get... removed...), the *rest* of the universe is awesome!


On this: "Oh god what have I done?" WTF? Srsly?! wow...
Sintek - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 3:39am (USA Central)
I'm convinced Weyland-Yutani was one of the founders of Starfleet. Why else do they never learn that studying obviously malicious aliens and technology should be done before you reactivate them on your ship?
charlie - Tue, May 21, 2013 - 5:40am (USA Central)
Janeway: "Unfortunately extinction is often the natural end of evolution."

Four words: WHAT THE FUCK, BITCH???
lucy - Tue, May 21, 2013 - 5:49am (USA Central)
@duhknees
"the Reset Button mentality of TNG"

Examples, please
Nathaniel - Wed, May 22, 2013 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
@Charlie

In response, she says: "Two words. Dear Doctor."
charlie - Wed, May 29, 2013 - 6:35am (USA Central)
@Nathaniel

Is that supposed to be some kind of defense to what Janeway said?
Nathaniel - Sat, Jun 1, 2013 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
@Charlie
No. Just pointing out that that her version of the Prime Directive is shamefully consistent with later Star Trek productions.
ian - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 12:48am (USA Central)
The first unit was the voice of Dr. Theopolis from Buck Rogers by the way...
inline79 - Fri, Oct 11, 2013 - 7:39pm (USA Central)
As an engineer, I could relate to B'elanna's drive to repair and create - it's a wonderful feeling when things are brought back to "life". But as an engineer I also watch lots of robot-apocalypse movies so I saw through this plot from minute one. Being the Chief engineer of a starship she should have known better and designed in some clever after-warranty destructor timer like Samsung engineers do today.
Chris - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 3:24am (USA Central)
@charlie
"Janeway: "Unfortunately extinction is often the natural end of evolution."
Four words: WHAT THE FUCK, BITCH???"

As harsh as it sounds, she's right... species that don't adapt to their environment and such and thus evolve, more than likely will go extinct...

Natural Selection...

However, in the case of these robots, I'm not sure... but in a biological organism, it's true.
Jons - Tue, Nov 19, 2013 - 8:53am (USA Central)
That's two episodes I didn't watch in their entirety because the premise bored me to death.

This one, I want to slap B'Ellana, or more precisely slap the actress and her ridiculous over-acting. The way she's almost crying for the robot at the beginning, you'd think it's her husband!

Ridiculous. I love Voyager, I hope it's going to get better again...
K'Elvis - Sun, Mar 2, 2014 - 11:11pm (USA Central)
Another solution would be to give the prototype robot new programming. 3947 seemed open to possibilities that the other robots were not. Create programming that is of a more peaceful nature, and hardwire it into the power source. Then, give it to both sides. Of course, there wasn't time for that.

But the robots should have enough information to get a head start, if they have been monitoring what Torres was doing.
Liam - Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - 11:21am (USA Central)
I'm a little confused by this episode. Aren't the robots passed warp technology? If so how is it interferring with their natural evolution.

1) Preventing a volcano from exploding and destroying developing civilzation violates the prime directive.

2)If the civilization has the technology to ask the federation for help it can they save them no violation of Prime Directive.

Janeway here I think needed to ask the question is this species Warp capable? If so then help them. The vulcans did for humans.
Ric - Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - 3:33am (USA Central)
Ha, pretty comendable premise. But in fact so many flaws that it gets on the nerves. One of them is precisely the inconsistente way they have used the Prime Directive in na episode heavily based on it. Like: "Torres my darling, we cannot interfere saving their lifes. Oh yes, but we have brought one of them to life like gods, and with my authorization! Holy crap!".

Another is pointed by Liam just above: ha, these robots migth have warp tech. What would be helpful as hell and also let officers much more free without stepping on the Prime Directive. But did someone thought of learning if they had before making decisions? Nope, who the hell needs warp, right?

Still, there was something powerfull in the oldschool way the look of these robots. And paradoxically, something juicy in the "lesson" Torres learns about why the heck there is a Prime Directive. This was quite interesting and a relief, considering how DS9 for instance seems to exist in a parallel world where there is no Prime Directive at all...


Finally, talking about DS9 and Voyager comparison, I have to congratulate the comment made by @duhknees. Well done! Although I still didn't watch Voyager to the end and although I still think DS9 got really bad from the end of season 5, Voyager totally had the potential do use a "shades of grey" tone, a darker tone, much better than DS9. Voyager would have been an ideal instalment to explore trully interesting dubious moralities that emerge when the crew becomes isolated for too long. When they have to fight and help others in a hopeless scenario. When they loose (btw they should loose sometimes) crew members all the time they find planets offering good live conditions. Officers like Sisko go crazy in DS9 (even becoming religious from the nowhere), start doing all sort of things that would be reason enough for going to prison (like destroying entire planets). And the lazy excuse is alway the high pressure they were under because of being in the eye of the confront. What means: by expieriencing what they were there in the station for... While Voyager had the true potential for a great Trek show powered by real moral ambiguity without having to completely disrespect usual Starfleet and Federation portrayal as DS9 did in the end. While in DS9 some viewers even seem "human condition" talking louder - what btw is philophically silli and the ultimate disrespect to Trek as it is in any other show - in Voyager, shades of grey cast by a real continuity could deliver the debate on how people individually sustein their values when they stay too far and for too long from the social environment where their ethics were forged.

Of course, I digress, because it was not what happened to Voyager. Unfortunatelly. Voyager missed a very good oportunity, and the fact the comendable premise of this episode in what regards Torres dealing with respecting the Prime Directive againm, ends up not having real significance in the next episodes. Sad.
Vylora - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 9:00am (USA Central)
Pretty decent Torres stuff. Otherwise, it is typical filler that is watchable enough with a few nicely conveyed character moments and some by-the-numbers plotting.

2.5 stars.
Charles - Wed, Oct 8, 2014 - 12:59pm (USA Central)
Apart from the unsufferable character that is Belanna, I actually enjoyed this episode, and it is one I have remembered many years after I first saw it.

I thought the premise was very "old-star trek". But at least there was an attempt at creating new aliens, with an interesting backstory, and I thought it worked. I'd give it 3.5 stars.

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