VOY: S3E23: “Distant Origin”

In which dinosaur-Galileo lives in a post-fact world. 

This Voth is giving Ensign Whatshisname the finger.

This Voth is giving Ensign Whatshisname the finger.

We open on a barren landscape, and a familiar-looking cave. An alien picks up a shredded Starfleet uniform, and human bones, and clicks at its buddy. They are arcaheologists for the Voth, confirming a revolutionary discovery of genetic matching. And humans are the key to it. On their ship, one of them pieces together the bones to confirm the presence of opposable thumbs, although in a neat nod it looks like once they found the three expected fingers, they stopped looking. Sadly for poor humanity, our skulls are 22% smaller than Voth skulls and lack a lobe that makes the sense of smell much more robust. You can tell a lot about a species from what they find intriguing about other species, but the headline here is that the Voth are surprised and dismayed that the remains of this technological species is non-Saurian, despite being related.

The Voth are looking for their true home of origin, and believe that the human remains they’ve found hold that clue. The Circle of Archaeology contains their supporters, whereas apparently the Ministry of Elders (the society may be a geritocracy, or have its roots in one) does not support them nearly so much. This revolutionary new theory is evidently threatening to the dogma of the Voth, who believe that they were the first intelligent race to rise up in the region.

The Distant Origin theory is heavily supported by this skeleton – humans are not native to any nearby system, but are somehow related to the Voth. If, by this time, you’ve guessed that the point of departure was some time in ecess of 65 million years ago then we agree, but I’m definitely interested in how the dinosaurs got from here to there. Also, the proposal that the Voth are related to mammalian endotherms is taken as both laughable and offensive. The Ministry of Elders spokesperson looks to every angle of attack she can find to discredit Professor Gegen: the skeleton might be a hoax, but also that the discovery challenges established dogma. Gegen and his aid go to look for support among the Circle of Exobiology, where scientific minds are already willing to challenge existing dogma. Even Gegen’s own daughter suggests that he’s wasting his time.

His aide, Veer, rushes into the next scene warning Gegen to run before he gets arrested for Heresy Against Doctrine. Gegen refuses to be cowed, and Veer will join him, and also it turns out that communicators have serial numbers and identifications on them. Oh, and the Voth can translate Federation Basic. Gegen sets about trying to find Voyager, and picks up a lucky story by some trader. He gets his composite sketch fixed, and some tech samples including some warp plasma. Gegen sends off a letter to his daughter.

The fact that neither of the Voth was played by David Attenborough or Steve Irwin is basically a crime.

The fact that neither of the Voth was played by David Attenborough or Steve Irwin is basically a crime.

They pick up a match for the warp plasma, find Voyager trundling along at Warp 6.2, and engage an interphasic cloak so they can observe without being detected. They also have to slow down so as not to overshoot. Pity the Voth probably won’t be willing to help use their transwarp drive to help speed the journey. When they beam aboard, they have personal-level cloaks as well, and can wander around without being seen, but also without falling through the deck. Also, they’re able to download Voyager‘s databases in a matter of moments. Sure, the Voth have tech even beyond the superscience available to the Federation, but anyone who’s ever worked with a database has got to be impressed by Voyager‘s access speeds. They also manage to catch Tom and B’Elanna arguing over his engineering chops.

In preparation for entering a region of heavy tetryon radiation, Janeway orders the shields enhanced. From this, the Voth draw the conclusion that humans are a matriarchal society.  During the preparations, however, Harry detects the Voth cloak, but they can’t escape due to Tuvok initiating a containment field as countermeasures. Harry’s able to track them even as they beam out to the mess hall, harry figures out a setting for the phasers to disrupt the cloak, and contact is made. During this, Veer panicks, shoots Chakotay with a bone dart, gets stunned, and Gegen transports Chakotay out.

Veer wakes up in sick bay, under restraint, and goes into voluntary catatonia or hibernation. Meanwhile, Chakotay wakes up on an examination table and Gegen is a lot more talkative and reassuring. He’s desperate to find out if there are Voth on Earth, and Chakotay parlays his freedom for answers. At about the same time, the Doctor has found the DNA link as well – the Voth are Dinsosaurs.

Now, time out. They figure this out because of all the genetic similarities between humans and Voth – too many to be coincidence. As a point of comparison, humans and chickens share about 60% of DNA, and we come from the same planet. Chimps are 96-98% similar. Presumably, the relationship between humans and, say, Klingons, goes back a lot farther and we share even less of our DNA with them. And yet Humans and Klingons can breed, while humans and chickens almost certainly can’t.

In the alternate universe where Ken Ham wrote this episode, the hadrosaur has a saddle and the Ministry of Elders are the good guys.

In the alternate universe where Ken Ham wrote this episode, the hadrosaur has a saddle and the Ministry of Elders are the good guys.

Anyway, Janeway and the Doctor run to the holodeck to display the best match for a common ancestor between humans and the Voth, and find the ancestor in the Devonian era, as the last common ancestor between cold- and warm-blooded life. They follow the link to Hadrosaur, and iterating it towards the humanoid body plan laid out by the Progenetors. Now, I would have no problem if Janeway asked the computer to morph the model of a hadrosaur into a humanoid body plan and came up with something like a Voth. But that’s not what she does. She asks the computer to model the ‘most likely’ evolution of the Hadrosaur over 65 million years. Without knowing any of the surrounding environmental pressures, the computer is awfully quick to return an answer, which is just one more notch of evidence that in Star Trek, evolution is a force with an end goal.  Or that these writers were on the crack.

Chakotay and Gegen decide that the Voth survived on an isolated landmass like Atlantis or Lemuria, and fled to the stars for some reason when their continent sank under the sea. Instead of, like, going next door. Maybe they had a noninterference policy with Neanderthal. Currently, the Voth have very poor relations with non-Saurian lifeforms, probably because of their prejudices against mammals. Also, Gegen is going to kidnap Chakotay to go show him off as proof of his hypothesies. If there’s anything we’ve learned from European history, it’s that if someone from a race that thinks it’s superior to yours offers to take you on a boat ride to exhibit you to its colleagues, don’t go.

Paris and Tuvok have figured out how the Voth cloak works, just as a Voth ship comes out of cloak and transports Voyager into its bay. Whole and intact and with plenty of room to spare. Voth city-ships do not mess around. They’re also draining power form Voyager, and the humans prepare for boarding action. Unsuccessfully, as it turns out, due to a Voth tech-dampening field. Fortunately it doesn’t blow the warp core. It turns out the Ministry of Elders is holding Voyager ransom and are threatening to destroy it and everyone on board if Gegen doesn’t return to answer the charge of Heresy Against Doctrine. Any bets on whether Heresy is still Heresy even when it can be proven as factual?

When asked where they come from by the Ministry’s head goon, Janeway unwittingly falls into the Doctrinal trap. Meanwhile, in Engineering, Paris has managed to get weapons control, but the dampening field prevents him from firing. Thankfully, Gegen turns himself in before the Ministry goon can bring in an Interrogation Surgeon. Gegen does not bow lightly to the charge of Heresy against Doctrine, and the tiral episode finally starts.

The Distant Origin theory  is seen as damaging to the Voth doctrine, regardless of whether Gegen specifically attacked the Doctrine or not. The Ministry scientists have determined that any similarities between human and Voth are random chance. Chakotay offers Voyagers database as evidence, but the Ministry simply insists that Gegen’s interpretation of the data is wrong. They bring in Veer as a countering witness. Whatever they have on him turns out to be sufficient. Gegen gets his And Yet It Moves speech.

I don’t think Chakotay speaking up is helping all that much, even pointing out previous times when Doctrine was objectively, provably wrong. For the Voth as well as for humans. In this case, though, the theory of Distant Origin calls into question the Voth’s Mandate of Heaven. Chakotay doe shis best to stroke the minister’s ego. It’s a nice little speech, but I do have to wonder why the ancient Voth kept going for so long. Surely there were suitable planets some time before they reached the Delta quadrant? Either way, it doesn’t work. Dogma is a tough row to hoe, and Gegen is remanded to detention for life.

Chakotay and Voyager are also condemned to detention, and Voyager is to be destroyed. Faced with this threat to the innocent, Gegen recants. In return for a public refutation, Gegen gets reassignment to a less… dangerous… field of study, and Voyager gets to go free. The implied threat is that the Voth are now in a permanent state of war with humanity, should the two species ever meet again. As a parting gift, though, Chakotay gives Gegen a tiny little enamel globe. And Yet It Moves.

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