Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Dragon's Teeth"


Air date: 11/10/1999
Teleplay by Michael Taylor and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Story by Michael Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"When it rains, do you run from doorway to doorway, trying to stay dry, getting wet all the while, or do you just accept the fact that it's raining and walk with dignity?"
"Rain's one thing; plasma bombs are something else."
"But the principle is the same."

— Gedrin and Janeway

Nutshell: The first few acts are pretty good, with some interesting ideas and approaches, but the closing passages comprise a thoughtless mess that sinks the show.

Perhaps the toughest question at the heart of "Dragon's Teeth" is where to draw the line between helpfulness and caution, between trust and skepticism, between exercising the Starfleet way of seeking out new civilizations and in fending for yourself because those you're seeking out might want to take you for a fool and hijack your ship.

Actually, to say this question is at the "heart" of the show is probably wrong; this is an episode that can't maintain long enough focus on what's important. It ultimately can't really even seem to decide what's important. Or perhaps its most important goal is to supply a Trek show that has enough action and FX and bad guys to be worthy of November sweeps.

If I sound somewhat cynical about "Dragon's Teeth," it's because it's an hour with some ideas that hold promise and deserve better treatment than they get. A lot of that promise, though, seems to be playing second fiddle to improbable movements in the plot and action that exist to fulfill some need to create a new Delta Quadrant enemy rather than to tell the story at hand.

While "Dragon's Teeth" features some good elements, scrutiny uncovers too many moments that just aren't believable, and too many motivations that seem governed by the Plot Gods rather than believable characters within the given situations.

It all starts about 900 years ago (892 according to Harry's handy estimates), as a society known as the Vaadwaur is bombed virtually out of existence. Several hundred survivors go deep underground into stasis chambers where they expect to wake up five years later and rebuild their world. Fast-forward almost 900 years, where Voyager happens upon this destroyed world while being chased by This Week's Xenophobes [TM], named the Turei, who are determined to hunt down Voyager and force them to erase all data pertaining to the subspace corridors Voyager had accidentally wandered into. These corridors are quite the commodity, permitting travel across long distances in very short periods of time. Such a commodity, in fact, that any outside knowledge of them is prohibited.

Hiding out on the surface of the planet under an irradiated atmosphere, Voyager discovers the underground Vaadwaur survivors. In a moment of questionable judgment, Seven brings one of the survivors, a man named Gedrin (Jeff Allin), out of stasis. Gedrin tells the tale of his world's destruction, and we get an interesting recap of the Vaadwaur culture, which is revealed subtly over a number of scenes.

Among the show's strengths is the way it gradually uncovers who the Vaadwaur are and what kind of intentions they might harbor. I liked the idea, for example, that the word "Vaadwaur" meant "foolish" in an ancient Talaxian tongue—the implications of which are revealed with a good amount of storytelling care. Neelix's role in the plot as he uncovers the linguistic mystery is commendable; the cipher of last year is now actually getting some material that shows him as a useful contributor to the ship's operations.

There's also the interesting use of Vaadwaur beliefs that make for some good foreshadowing. Gedrin's analogy between falling bombs and falling rain ("Accept the fact that it's raining and walk with dignity") is a telling sign of the Vaadwaur warrior ethic, as is the Vaadwaur attitude to so easily accept death, as revealed in a scene (Torres' only scene, we must note) that draws a parallel between the Vaadwaur and the Klingons. And don't forget Naomi's reaction to the bad vibes she gets from the Vaadwaur children; in mass entertainment mediums, inherently perceptive kids who pick up bad vibes are never wrong.

Unfortunately, what I have trouble with is the fact the episode goes to these nicely conveyed lengths to show us the Vaadwaur are a potentially dangerous bunch, yet the Voyager crew doesn't stop to ask the tough questions. That is to say: How prudent is it to uncork the bottle and wake up the "dragon's teeth" when they have their own ships and outnumber your people four to one?

In fact, the placement of Chakotay's "dragon's teeth" tale hurts the overall scope of the episode. Said tale is about a slain dragon, whose teeth, after buried, became seeds that gave birth to new warriors to rise up against the enemy. A very interesting observation, I must say. But nobody seems to be listening. The episode makes the point and then the characters ignore it; Janeway agrees to help Gedrin's people escape the Turei by allowing him to wake up the remaining Vaadwaur survivors, who according to plan will escape the planet with Voyager's help, once the ship is repaired.

Meanwhile, Neelix and Seven find historical evidence that the Vaadwaur had a warlike history that once extended through the Delta Quadrant thanks to the far reaches of the subspace corridors. The Vaadwaur were eventually conquered, but Voyager might become the long-deferred next victim. The episode makes it clear for us when we see Vaadwaur characters making plans to seize Voyager and use it as their new device to become competitors in the current century.

So back to the first question posed in this review: Is Voyager obligated to help these people when turning away could mean the remainder of their culture being permanently annihilated? That's a toughie, and a question that somewhat justifies Janeway's decision to be a humanist and help out. But the episode itself doesn't consider the question long enough, and once it starts showing us evidence the Vaadwaur cannot be trusted, the plot hijacks the episode and makes almost every other choice in the course of the hour irrelevant. (At the very least, I am glad that Janeway didn't cave regarding the weapons issue, and that she wisely put her ship's safety first after Neelix's discovery was made clear.)

But what could've been good analysis of a tough situation turns into a mindless wind-up action toy. Once Janeway confronts Gedrin with the historical evidence, Gedrin gives assurances that he is willing to accept peace and change in the new Delta Quadrant. Unfortunately, he's the only one. When it becomes clear to the other Vaadwaur that an attempted dupe of Janeway isn't going to help them become renewed conquerors, the plot instantly becomes "Voyager versus the Vaadwaur bad guys."

This leads to an "action" finale where the Vaadwaur launch their ships to attack Voyager, and Voyager desperately tries to escape the planet's atmosphere before they are destroyed by the vengeful pack of Vaadwaur. Apparently realizing that the Vaadwaur alliance was a mistake all along, Janeway pulls a 180 and contacts the Turei and asks for their help to stop the Vaadwaur, who obviously want the subspace corridors back. Meanwhile, Tuvok and Gedrin beam down to the underground tunnels to contact an orbiting satellite that will help the Turei penetrate the atmospheric interference and bomb the remaining Vaadwaur from orbit.

These events constitute a chaotic mess without regard for what any of it means.

First of all, Janeway's 180 strikes me as based purely on convenience, as she essentially makes a deal to help one enemy destroy the other—while the story sits by and doesn't begin to consider the consequences. Sure, Voyager is in danger, but does that mean the entire remaining Vaadwaur culture is fair game for being destroyed by an orbital bombing (including the innocent children mentioned earlier in the episode)? That in itself might be debatable given the Vaadwaur's extreme actions, but my point is that this question is the farthest thing from the writers' minds. Janeway's decision seems more a result of the Plot Gods, who make the Vaadwaur into convenient Bad Guys who deserve to die for their cold, warrior-like inflexibility. Early in the episode the Vaadwaur (through Gedrin) can be seen as people, but by the end the Vaadwaur are hopeless villains with zero depth or desire to see reason. They're hell-bent on taking over the universe, or whatever.

Meanwhile, the action scenes just don't work very well. Tuvok beams down to help Gedrin contact the satellite, but later beams up (we assume) in a manner that is executed so awkwardly that it almost appears Voyager leaves Tuvok behind. (And how would he beam up through all the interference and blocked communication signals, anyway? Convenient how the crew can't get a transporter lock on someone only when it suits the plot.) This of course means Gedrin will die alone in a cave-in, since any good-guy subset of the Bad Guys must be killed for their beliefs. But what about those beliefs? What exactly is it that makes Gedrin different from the rest of the "bad" Vaadwaur, except for the fact that he's the guest character with the most lines? By the end, he seems practically eager to go along with Janeway's teaming with the Turei, never mind that his own people will be slaughtered as a result. I don't buy it. (There's no room here for subtlety or torn loyalties; either you're with Voyager or you're not. Bah.)

Voyager's escape from the atmosphere is anticlimactic, done with an unfollowable technobabble procedure that's supposed to have the urgency of, say, fighter pilots using flight jargon as they take emergency procedures to save themselves. Unfortunately, technobabble just doesn't have the same perceived credibility. This escape sequence is a joke.

And although it's been awhile since I've climbed aboard the musical Trek bitch-train, I must point out that Jay Chattaway's notably unmusical score also didn't help matters in this final act. Are random-sounding, discordant notes supposed to constitute excitement? (Tell you what: Just let David Bell score the rest of the shows and we'll call it a season.)

The deficiencies in action might've been okay if the ideas here were worthwhile, but the action is the episode's priority.

The final scene tries to give the show some perspective, and, in theory, I liked the idea that Seven's intention to revive a culture is turned upside down into a violent showdown. But, again, it doesn't wash. The ending purports that the handful of Vaadwaur that escape are somehow going to be the new fearsome bad guys of the Delta Quadrant. Excuse me, but how? Resourceful or not, I'm with Seven: Their technology is nine centuries out of date, there's only 50-some of their ships floating around, and even with access to the corridors they're hardly invincible (otherwise, why would they even have needed Voyager in the first place?).

I don't buy for one second Janeway's line, "the repercussions could be catastrophic," which was inserted solely for the audience's benefit as a cue that we'll be seeing the Vaadwaur again. (The whole idea is the writers' toss of a coin; if the line hadn't been there, we wouldn't expect to see them again and it'd be Voyager business as usual.) I also don't think the notion, however subtle, that this was in a way Seven's "fault" holds water. While I find interesting the idea that Seven perhaps set an ages-old conflict back into motion with one action, it ultimately isn't quite so simple. After all, Janeway's the one who decided to wake up the rest of the Vaadwaur.

This nonsensical ending is really a shame, because this episode makes good use of Seven, whose appropriately interesting desire to rebuild a culture turns into a tragedy; makes good use of Neelix, whose use of historical knowledge and research goes a long way toward making him a useful character; features some well-done scenes early in the episode that maintain patience in establishing the Vaadwaur; and asks a few interesting questions regarding caution versus exploration. It could've been a great episode. By the end it's an action-packed mess.

Next week: A three-century-old spacecraft intended to go to Mars has ended up in the Delta Quadrant. And Voyager happens upon it. How very nice.

Previous episode: Riddles
Next episode: One Small Step

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29 comments on this review

AJ Koravkrian - Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
I'm sorry, but doesn't the prime directive apply here ? It's the incidents like this one that makes Janeway's claims of never having broken the prime directive completely baseless.
Pauly - Sun, May 18, 2008 - 6:32am (USA Central)
Even though we never see them again, and the episode is 100% plot driven - I find it one I like to watch over and over again?? I can't even put my finger on why I like it so much.
Aaron - Thu, Jul 31, 2008 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
Talk about an episode demanding two parts! The whole idea here is great. The first 20 minutes are great. And the last 25 minutes are so rushed and insane, that the episode falls apart. Pity.
Stephen - Wed, Apr 29, 2009 - 11:03pm (USA Central)
I'll admit that VOY definitely had plot problems throughout its run, but I always liked this episode. I think it may be that the special effects, at least for me, sell the "epic" quality that the show is going for. Sure, it fails in the present, but there are just enough establishing shots of the ruins, plus the attack in the teaser, that convince me that, even if the story as presented by the episode itself isn't very deep, there was a much bigger, and definitely much more interesting, story happening in the background. I know what matters onscreen is the only relevant part, of course, but for me what came before helps elevate what is happening now. I guess I'm more lenient to this show than you are because its something that inspires my imagination.
Ken Egervari - Wed, Dec 9, 2009 - 2:24am (USA Central)
A show like this is so frustrating... because a lot of it is very, very good. It's one of the few episodes to really grab me and hold my attention most of the way through. I liked it.

And like your review says... the ending sucks. It seems like the lesson is the wrong lesson. How many other episodes in star trek did we awaken people in stasis pods? My god... it's happened enough times that it's probably considered protocol.

And then leaving the aliens to fight off the battle for them while Voyager makes the escape... really? That seems... unethical. It just didn't sit right with me.

I wouldn't give it quite 2 stars... it's probably better at 2.5. There are worse episodes that have gotten 2 stars.

It's really too bad... because this is an episode that had promise.
Ken Egervari - Wed, Dec 9, 2009 - 2:52am (USA Central)
Oh, there's a few other things I thought up as well.

When they were fighting the ships and transported tuvok... didn't they have their shields up to protect them from the incoming fire? Isn't it established that you can't transport with the shields up? I caught this when watching it... and then as I read the review, I remembered I thought this.

I also didn't understand why Gedron was against his own people. I mean, there is so few of his race left... and he's going to kill them off? Who would be left? Ugh.

The one thing I never get with Voyager is... why are all the weapons comparable with voyagers? It would stand to reason that even 100 years of technology would give someone a MASSIVE advantage.

Let's put this in perspective. Computing systems typically become twice as fast every 18 months. When I was 19 years old (I'm 29 now), I think I had a 400mhz processor. These days, we have 3000mhz x4 processors. That's just 10 years! Not 900!

Now, I don't suspect that equating the Vaadwuar with Earth's technology 900 years ago... but come on... It's obvious that Voyager is way more superior. Those phasers on those Vaadwaur ships shouldn't even be scratching the shields on Voyager.

Yet, week after week, every other species' weapons are comparable to voyager... without fail. I mean seriously... they have little dinky ships... they are nomadic, spread out races... they only occupy 1 world... and they have ships to match. I can never believe it. The federation is composed of hundreds of worlds, is it not? At least dozens... over the course of what... 300 years or so? Are you seriously trying to tell me that 300 years and several dozen worlds can't make better shields and weapons than some lonely races out in the backwater delta quandrant? Give me a fucking break!
Nic - Fri, Feb 12, 2010 - 10:57am (USA Central)
According to Brannon Braga, this episode was initially planned as a two-hour telemovie, but he and Menosky decided while writing Part One that it would work better as a single hour. By the time the compressed version of the script was finished, their opinions had turned around again - but it was too late to re-expand the story.

This probably helps explain the messy second half of the episode. A two-hour show would certainly have given us enough time to explore all the issues that were raised in the first two acts.
Michael - Wed, Jul 7, 2010 - 2:38pm (USA Central)
I don't know why everyone is so scathing of this episode. I liked i enormously and, as someone said, it's one of the few shows that kept me riveted for much of its duration.

The premise and plot were great. There was no extraneous philosophizing, moralizing, sermonizing and analyzing. I personally don't need every loose end tied and everything to fall into place. Voyager left the two species to battle it out; so what! The denouement was that neither race was completely good or bad; no black and white. I thought that was what we wanted: Isn't Voyager often criticized for a simplistic moral polarization?

As for the holes and inconsistencies... *sigh* Hasn't it been established a billion times already that that's part and parcel of Voyager? If it wasn't so annoying at times, it would be almost part of its charm! :D

3-3.5 stars to this one.
Jay - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
How can the Vaudwarr know for sure that there are corridors still unknown to their enemies after nine centuries?
Jay - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 7:29pm (USA Central)
And...does Neelix live with the Wildmans?...he comes (presumably) home to (presumably) his quarters (at least he acts like they're his quarters) and Naomi is there, in (presumably) her bedroom.
Robots4Ever - Sun, Nov 27, 2011 - 5:52am (USA Central)
This worked for me. There were few sentimental interludes apart from the odd hint of Seven trying to join the human race. The revival of the guy from stasis seemed a better of the two evils. Events then unfolded, not necessarily as the only script choice, but one that had sufficient air of plausibility to carry through.

One issue is the corridor and a missed opportunity to go back home so easily lost.
Just Another Trekkie - Sun, Mar 25, 2012 - 5:49am (USA Central)
Another great review.

Anyone else notice the resemblance between the Vaadwaur and the Cardassians?

It seems to me to be a cop-out to have all the most frightening-looking races also be the most war-like.

What would REALLY be interesting is to have a harmless-looking race turn out to be the fiercest and more war-like. Thoughts?
Zero - Sat, Apr 7, 2012 - 12:46am (USA Central)
So this is very minor... but.

Janeway says, "What I wouldn't give for a Betazoid right now." But they had a Betazoid! In "Counterpoint" they have TWO Betazoids!!!
Captain Jim - Tue, Apr 10, 2012 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
Second episode in a row where I've thought Jammer was too harsh. Certainly there were some shortcomings, but all in all I found it a very entertaining hour.
Destructor - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 10:57pm (USA Central)
Agreed with the people commending the 'epic' feel of the episode. Yes, the knowledge that the Vadwaar were never encountered again does hurt the episode some, but as an ominous 'Part 1', it does a pretty good job of showing unintended consequences. I like it.
Billy - Sat, Dec 29, 2012 - 2:05pm (USA Central)
This episode packed so much I can't believe it wasn't a two parter - or an arc.

I loved the SFX with Voyager trying to take off from the destroyed city, eventually leaving a war zone behind.
Nina - Thu, Feb 14, 2013 - 7:25am (USA Central)
I kept wondering if the Vaadwaurs’ neck ridges were re-used Cardassian ones, just twisted the other way.
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - 11:54am (USA Central)
Jammers' review pretty much says what I had thought, which was basically; a good episode that got spoilt by a rushed and fuzzy conclusion.

Making it a 2 parter probably would have been best to allow the story room to grow and maintain its depth and intrigue.

I still enjoyed it, I just wish the ending to Dragons' Teeth had been at least more sharper and with more *ahem* bite. Perhaps a trip to the dentist was in order *bows head in shame*. 2 or 2.5 stars sounds right to me.
azcats - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 4:17pm (USA Central)
1. yes, didnt Janeway open up stassis units with the "the Clown" and "Amelia Earhart?"
2. fun episode, but it was ended abruptly. i REALLY enjoyed the premise. the beginning was very intriguing.
3. jammer always gets on voyager when janeway says "we will see them again." but yet they dont. so at least they dont follow script. lol
4. I agree with Jay. it looked like Neelix was coming home from a long day at work and Naomi is there? that was weird.

this was 4 star entertainment. 3 star overall episode!
Nic - Tue, Aug 13, 2013 - 10:50pm (USA Central)
@Just Another Trekkie: they actually did do that in the season 4 episode "Nemesis".

Luckily, the writers realized that they had botched the introduction of the Vadwaar and they never appeared again.
Lt. Yarko - Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - 12:38am (USA Central)
Unbelievable that Seven would open that stasis pod. She would know better by then. That was just silly. And, how stupid are the Vaadwaur? "We are weak. Let's attack our only hope of success!" The Klingons wouldn't even be that stupid. What a strange episode.
LT. commander holman - Mon, Jan 20, 2014 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
A update zero-
Voyager did have two batazoids but in the pilot the female helmswomen (can't remember her name) was killed when the caretaker flung them into the Delta Quaternet and suetter was the other who was killed by the kazons In basics part two so fyi janeway was correct in her statement when she said she wished there was a batazoid aboard...
mwallace85 - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
@ LT. commander holman - yea those 2 betazoids where killed BUT what Zero is referring to is the Voyager Crewman who had to hide in Counterpoint as they had telepathic abilities, we know of Tuvok and Vorik but what species where the other crewmembers? don't know of any other telepaths in the Federation so where they not Betazoids??
Dave in NC - Fri, May 30, 2014 - 2:31am (USA Central)
@ nwallace85: Next Generation had a telepathic Starfleet crewmember in the episode with the skeleton in the nacelle of the Enterprise D. I don't know the species, but he had a big forehead.

domi - Tue, Jun 17, 2014 - 1:40am (USA Central)
I found this episode to be interesting considering the complex political and ethical factors involved. Although the "alien double-crosser" was a little bit predictable, the episode still had plenty of suspenseful and unique elements. It's hard to understand why this episode got a lower rating than the shallow and cliche-filled "Alice".
Eli - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 7:46pm (USA Central)
Interesting setup. It seems very similar - almost a remake of Space Seed. I don't think anyone else mentioned that. But, it's certainly not a boring rehash. There are a number of interesting twists in this story not present in Space Seed.

I agree with almost everyone that the setup is better than the payoff. The struggle between the two species and the mystery of the subspace corridors was interesting (though somewhat unexplored). However, it seems the writers put the Voyager in such a ridiculously vulnerable position that the climax required a massive leap of logic for the ship to survive. It seems hard to process why Gedrin would abandon his whole race so quickly. It was also confusing to me who was in charge of the Vaadwaur.

It's been said that here that Janeway wasn't following the prime directive. However, I have some refutations of that argument (and bear with me I'm not quite as much of an expert trekkie as some of you):

1) In general given that the Voyager is stranded in the Delta Quadrant and in unknown territory, it seems there are many instances where "breaking the prime directive" is a matter of perspective. Voyager may need to interact with species more vigorously than a Federation ship that is part of a vast population of intermingling species ready to help one it.

2) I thought that the Federation was stricter about interactions between species with no warp technology, but less restrictive about interacting with more technologically advanced species. I think both of these species would qualify as more advanced.

3) I suppose it may seem dubious ethically or even logically to awaken the sleeping people. But, the Federation and/or Voyager often seem to see themselves as benefactors of species in vulnerable situations. I don't know what the rule of benefactors are under the prime directive exactly, but the general intent of helping someone in need is not necessarily a violation of the prime directive.

4) Lastly, some have criticized Janeway for switching sides simply because it was "convenient." I disagree with this accusation. She was simply operating as any diplomat or representative of a country would when dealing with other potentially hostile countries. Initially, the Turei appeared more threatening, but later the Vaadwaur was the greater threat. Initially, the Turei threatened Voyager, the Vaadwaur did not. Most importantly, there are many occasions in this episode where it's clear Janeway is simply trying to ensure the ship will survive. It's too harsh to equate survival (or self-defense) with convenience.
navamske - Fri, Oct 3, 2014 - 8:05pm (USA Central)
Things that annoy me, though I understand they are necessary dramatic devices:
-- When a denizen of the Delta Quadrant refers to "the Delta Quadrant" or even to "this quadrant." The notion of dividing up the galaxy into quadrants, let alone what those quadrants are called, is an Alpha Quadrant–centric construction. Suppose extraterrestrials came to present-day Earth and said to us, "You're the first aliens we've encountered here in the Stenhegen Ellipse" -- we would be like, "WTF?"
-- The assumption that every planet's year is the same length as an Earth year. Kim said the Vaadwaur city had been destroyed 892 years before. Then they wake up Gedrin and tell him he's been on ice for 900 years. Imagine if they'd shown him a calendar (or the equivalent) and he said, "No, I was right when I put Jisa in the stasis tube -- we've been sleeping for five years." Maybe a Vaadwaur year is 180 Earth years. (I don't know much about astronomy: Maybe it's a given that an M-class planet, which virtually by definition has to be in what present-day astronomers call "the habitable zone," will have a year comparable to Earth's. But even an alien species on a planet that takes ~365 days to revolve around its sun might not call one revolution a year -- a "year" might be when they complete 180 revolutions!)
Robert - Mon, Oct 6, 2014 - 8:28am (USA Central)
I'm assuming that if their universal translators were as good as Star Trek's they translate Stenhegen Ellipse to Milky Way Galaxy as easily as they can translate the words dilithium and warp drive.

I'll give you the year thing though, at least DS9/Bajor weren't on 24 hour days. I always liked that.
Charles - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 3:13pm (USA Central)
I'm just going to complain about one thing: the whole "their technology is 900 years old!" "oh I can't use these controls, I'm 900 yo too late"- which makes NO SENSE.

Civilizations across the universe haven't evolved at the same time or at the same pace even. There is no such thing as an alien race with technology that's "900 years older" than another's unless they've had at some point the same exact same technology. For all they know the Vadwar were a billion times more advanced 900 years ago than the Federation is now.

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