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Dreadnought

WARNING: Unstoppable spoiler information lurks below for VOY's "Dreadnought".

In brief: Not overly deep, but nothing particularly problematic either. An hour's pleasant diversion.

Written by: Gary Holland Directed by: LeVar Burton Brief summary: When a Cardassian-turned-Maquis weapon unexpectedly shows up in the Delta Quadrant and threatens a peaceful planet, it falls to B'Elanna Torres to try to stop the monster she had a hand in creating.

"Dreadnought" is the sort of race-against-the-clock episode that you could find in almost any series that tries to build suspense. It's very plot-driven, with very little emphasis on character -- and as soon as the plot is wrapped up, so is the show (almost to the millisecond, in this case). There's nothing particularly wrong with a plot-driven show; they often tend to be a little less deep (unless the plot is something that runs over a great many episodes), but they can still work and be diverting. That's about the way I'd categorize "Dreadnought": no big deal, but fun.

What character work there was centered on Torres and on her feelings of guilt over the creation (or rather, re-creation) of Dreadnought. This again falls under the heading of "diverting, but not much beyond that"; although I don't recall any particular wrong notes being sounded in Torres's reactions, there were also very few notes that just sounded so *right* as to make everything worth the trip. A few lines like Kim's "and I bet [Dreadnought] doesn't spend much time worrying about what it could have done differently" definitely helped make up for more pedestrian scenes like the Paris/Torres "gee-I'm-really-worried- and-here's-why" exposition-fest, so on the whole it was certainly positive -- it just wasn't exactly earth-shattering.

Beyond that, the only character with any significant questioning going on was Paris, and I'm mostly reserving judgment there so far. This is the second week in a row that Paris seems to be doing something more suited to his "I am rebel, hear me sneer" persona from the first season than his "I'm going to redeem myself" persona that we've seen much of this year. If this is leading up to something significant for him (such as a more major confrontation with authority), then these may end up being nice lead-ins. If not, they may end up feeling like wastes of time and abrupt character alterations. Right now I'm not overly impressed ... but I'll wait and see.

That more or less leaves the plot. While once it gets going, it pretty much works, I have a few plausibility bones to pick with the premise. For instance, it's incredibly convenient that absolutely *everything* works aboard Dreadnought except for the information about where it actually is. When the Maquis ship and Voyager were taken in "Caretaker", they had much more significant damage which did *not* include those sensors; this felt like a plot convenience. Similarly, I'm not entirely certain why Dreadnought was taken in the first place; if I remember "Caretaker" correctly, the Caretaker was deliberately grabbing ships in the hope of finding a "compatible biomolecular pattern" with whom he could procreate. An unmanned missile strikes me as an exceptionally unlikely place to find such a pattern, and the Caretaker certainly seemed capable enough to be able to tell before grabbing them.

That aside, much of the rest of "Dreadnought" worked well. The attempts to track it seemed sensible; Voyager's ease of finding it made sense, given that Dreadnought was working from defensive plans Torres had given it. Torres's initial attempts to convince Dreadnought that its scheduled attack was in error were sensible enough, and the fact that Dreadnought lied through its metaphorical teeth to her because of past instructions she'd given it was great fun. (I was reminded ever so slightly of Data in "Clues", lying to Picard because of orders Picard had given him; in this case, the sense was more one of "damn, I did my work a little too well" than one of mystery, but that's okay.) The warning from the missile and subsequent failed feint also worked; they were hardly surprising, especially the latter, but they were done in plausible ways. (I also liked the speculation that Voyager's new breed of photon torpedoes might work, even though they didn't.)

Once the preliminaries were out of the way, the plot focused on growing desperation; both Torres's on board Dreadnought and Janeway's in trying to help the Rakosan people through Minister Kellan. In both cases, as in most of the show, I thought it came off reasonably well, but also thought it was nothing I hadn't seen before. The attempt to dissuade fighters from a hopeless cause is almost a staple of stories like this (semi-recent genre examples being the Wolf- 359 battle in TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds" and the Narn/Shadow battle in B5's "The Long, Twilight Struggle"); B'Elanna's near- success getting to key circuits fouled by backup circuits was also familiar; and the decision to destroy Voyager for the sake of the planet was expected, but still powerful.

The last act and a half or so was, perhaps not unexpectedly, the most powerful section of the show. Dreadnought's conclusion that Torres wasn't being coerced, but had willingly changed loyalties was somewhat chilling -- and despite myself, I found the decision to destroy Voyager and its implementation somewhat affecting. The Janeway/Chakotay/Tuvok exchange in particular worked well, with Janeway suggesting a large antimatter explosion directly in front of Dreadnought, Chakotay's "To work, it would take more than all our photons put together", and Tuvok's "Or, more to the point, it would take a warp-core breach" hit well; Tuvok's dispassionate noting of that fact lent the scene just the right air of finality. I also enjoyed Torres's concurrent quest to destroy Dreadnought from within, combining the tactic of creating an identity crisis (reminiscent of Kirk talking myriad computers to death) with a 2001-esque journey into the core. I can't say looking back that any of it was so stunningly done as to linger on forever after, but it all worked -- and it kept me drawn in at the time, which is after all the point. (Tuvok's insistence on staying on board as Janeway prepares the ship's last run was also appreciated, even if Janeway gave in so easily one wonders if she wanted Tuvok dead after his insults in "Meld". :-) )

There were a few elements of the plot that I had difficulty with, however. Chief among them was Janeway's ease of setting the self- destruct -- she both implemented and countermanded it by herself. That's not just a breach of past continuity, it's damned stupid thinking in a strategic sense; all it would take is the captain going nuts to cost Starfleet one ship. Apart from that, it's mostly nitpicks, which I'll include below with other short points. Nitpicks first:

-- if Torres had managed to disable the security codes, why was she still insisting that she couldn't make it back to the missile if beamed away? Granted, the backup systems proved her right shortly thereafter, but that's not the point.

-- why didn't she *finish* the early detonation she was trying to bring about? There was no real sign that Dreadnought had managed to block her in that attempt, so far as I remember; so why not do it?

And now, a few other short points:

-- I appreciate the continued use of Jonas feeding information to Seska, but we do need to see some kind of payoff on this before *too* much more time goes on.

-- The "baby names" scene at the start of the episode was pretty much a waste of time. I've certainly seen far worse moments (such as most of "Threshold"), but it felt like obvious filler.

-- I definitely enjoyed the reason Dreadnought didn't fulfill its original mission against the Maquis. It does seem somewhat Cardassian to design everything so well and then screw up the detonator. :-)

-- The shot of Dreadnought moving to intercept the approaching Rakosan fleet felt like CGI. Anyone know for sure? (It seemed very smooth, which is what gave me that impression.)

That pretty much covers it. It's not a memorable enough episode to go back and watch several times over, but "Dreadnought" was a pleasant hour -- a few glitches, but nothing really major enough to cause a big problem. So, wrapping up:

Writing: Some plausibility problems at the outset and a few gaffes here and there (such as the self-destruct issue), but solid on the whole. Directing: Nothing earth-shattering, but effective. Acting: Roxann Biggs-Dawson did a fairly good job, as did Mulgrew -- but for a show this plot-driven, the importance of the acting is often minimized. OVERALL: A 7, I think; pleasant but uneventful.

NEXT WEEK: Q -- and I don't mean 007's gadget specialist.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu "When a bomb starts talking about itself in the third person, I get worried." -- Paris (after having just seen "Dark Star"?) Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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