Dan Luisi visits our cousins on Voth.
Distant Origin is one of the more clever and intriguing episodes of Voyager to be broadcast. It tells the story of Voth paleontologist
Forra Gegen and his battle against the institutionally-enforced ignorance of his superiors. In many ways it can be seen as a play on the ongoing battle between evolutionists and creationists.
Gegen discovers the skeletal remains and tattered uniform of the recently dead Crewman Hogan on the planet Hanon IV, the one upon which the Kazon deserted the crew of Voyager in the season two finale, Basics. Based on his analysis, the alien scientist determines that humans and his species share some 47 common genetic base pairs in their DNA. The Voth resemble highly evolved dinosaurs, and Gegen has long theorised that his species evolved from beings originally native to another planet, but had come to reside in the Delta Quadrant, whereas the established belief among his superiors, the Ministry of Elders, is that they evolved locally and are the oldest species in that area of space.
The Voth are a significantly advanced saurian species, they are cold-blooded creatures with a superior sense of smell, and skin pigmentation which alters according to moods. From a design element they are a very successful one, visually resembling the Silurian race from Doctor Who in both physical resemblance of costume and the make-up ised for the two alien races. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but as they are both advanced reptile species who evolved on Earth before Humanity and subsequently disappeared, I'm guessing it was a gentle nod of appreciation to the British series.
Now Gegen has evidence to support his Distant Origin Theory he takes his discovery to his superiors and shows them the proof that their species did not originate in the Delta Quadrant; but, instead, find their ancestral origins on Earth in the Alpha Quadrant, and that their reptilian species and the newly discovered mammalian one are, in fact, cousins, of sorts.
Unfortunately for our alien protagonist, his theory of evolution, if you will, stands in direct contravention to the prevailing "doctrine" of his people, who hold as sacred truth that their ancestors originated in the Delta Quadrant.
To further prove his theory, Gegen and his research assistant Tova Veer go in search of
the ship from which this dead man originated. Soon they find Voyager
and use their advanced cloaking technology to sneak aboard the ship.
This is the first time we actually see any series' regulars in this episode, and because the story is so strong up until this point it's not something that you even find yourself considering where they are or when they will come into proceedings.
The two Voth study the crew of the Voyager until their presence is detected. After an initial struggle, Chakotay chooses to help Gegen find more evidence for his theory. As it turns out, the Voth had evolved from Earth's hadrosaurs and avoided extinction by developing space-faring technology, leaving the planet, and ending up in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay then goes back with Gegen back to the Voth city ship to present his evidence.
The events that transpire echo the creationists vs evolutionists argument that has long been fought here on Earth. The Ministry of Elders are so closed minded, like those who consider Darwin's theory of natural selection heretical and lobby to have creationism taught in our schools as scientific fact under the absurd, fabricated "science" of "intelligent design". They demonstrate a blithe willingness to extort silence from those who dare to suggest any contrary scientific theory, regardless of the strength of the evidence in support thereof. As a result, he is charged with "heresy against doctrine", and
threatened by the authorities of his people if he doesn't promptly
recant his heretical assertions.
Ultimately, Gegen withdraws his theory lest he end up exiled to a penal colony. To make matters worse, the authorities also threaten to exile the entire Voyager crew, as well, in a clear attempt to get rid of the evidence of this radical theory that would throw thousands of years of institutionalised ignorance into chaos, and loosen the authoritarian governing body's hold on the unsuspecting populace.
As Chakotay departs the Voth ship he gives Gegen a globe of Earth, and the scientist expresses his wish that, someday, all Voth will be able to call Earth "home".
Coming near the end of series three, Distant Origin was nice narrative change for Voyager, less of the horror and death and more exploration, but from a reverse point of view. It's an interesting premise and execution, because when we are the aliens everything looks different. It's a very creative story, a clear metaphor for humanity's own debate over origin, and a story which finally sees Voyager really return to, and fully embrace, Star Trek's sense of wonder and open-mindedness - the principles that Gene Roddenberry built Trek upon.
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