“The Destructo beam on my rocket ship can disable the death ray, but only if someone gets inside the Fortress of Doom and can shut down the lightning shield.”
“BRIDE OF CHAOTICA”
Star Trek: Voyager
Story by Bryan Fuller; Script by Bryan Fuller, Michael Taylor
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Original Air Date January 27, 1999
Guest Stars: Martin Rayner (Chaotica), Nicholas Worth (Lonzak), Tarik Ergin (Satan’s Robot)
Voyager becomes “grounded” on a subspace phenomenon and is unable to get itself unstuck. While there, aliens that are native to the subspace region, beings from a photonic reality, detect a world that they intend to explore and make first contact. Unfortunately, the world that they detect is the photonic world of Captain Proton, Tom Paris’ holodeck program. What ensues is a 1930s style monochromatic high camp romp, with dialog, acting, and music to match.
Captain Proton, as you probably know, is a character that was introduced earlier in Season Five as part of Tom Paris’ obsession with the past, which ranged to anything from old automobiles to classic science fiction. He was fascinated with how the past imagined the future would be, and so was attracted to especially the old Flash Gordon-type serials, which gave mass audiences some of the first depictions of other planets and other beings, and the means to get to those places and peoples. He started a movie night as an entertainment for the crew, but eventually started creating holodeck programs to be a part of the stories that he loved so much. But when aliens mistake the made-up world for real, things get hairy.
At first, the ship’s sensors do not detect any lifeforms on the holodeck. What’s fascinating in this concept is that the photonic beings are equally unable to detect corporeal lifeforms, as their sensors are calibrated only to detect photonic “matter.” To them, the holodeck and everything on it is real, and the ship’s crewmembers are fiction. The photonic are in truth peaceful explorers, but become embroiled in a battle with Chaotica’s forces, thinking him to be a threat. The crew’s solution is to aid them in their struggle against Chaotica in order to…. well, something. In all honesty, none of that really matters, as even the writers would agree, because in the latter portion of the episode the photonic beings aren’t really ever mentioned again. No, the whole point here is to get our crewmembers — particularly Janeway — involved in a Captain Proton story.
Kate Mulgrew gives a very enjoyable performance that comes close but never quite goes over the top (let’s just say she’s teetering for balance right at the summit) as Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. She is salacious, slinky, flirty, and manipulative. She plays Chaotica like a fiddle. Or at least that’s the idea. He never quite falls for her ploy, so instead she ensnares his main henchman, Lonzak. The real star of the show, though, is Rayner, who imbues his Chaotica with all the theatrical evil and campy depravity that one expects from a villain in this type of story. He’s a comic genius, and plays his role with a very deft hand. In fact, in a making of documentary, Mulgrew called Rayner “the funniest man I have ever met in my life.” At the end, after the Lightning Shield has been lowered and Captain Proton fires his Destructo Beam, Chaotica is holding onto his Death Ray. When the Destructo Beam hits it, Chaotica is electrocuted. Rayner’s performance has to be seen to be believed. Mulgrew commented “When he electrocuted himself, I wet my pants.”
But the episode is filled with wonderful comedic moments. The Doctor, being photonic himself, is forced to portray the President of Earth in order to convince the aliens to go along with the plan. Upon his return, Tom and Harry Kim ask him how it went. He replies, “My performance was unimpeachable.” (Remember, this is 1999, right around the time of President Clinton’s highly publicized impeachment hearings.) Paris is reading off a telegraph message, as Tuvok clearly grows impatient behind him. “Intercepted communications between Dr Chaotica and Arachnia. Stop. Chaotica at war with aliens from fifth dimension. Stop. Must strike now to disable death ray.” At which point, Tuvok interrupts him and says “Stop.” When Paris and Tuvok first encounter one of the photonic beings, Satan’s Robot, who is with them on
Proton’s ship, loudly warns “Invaders! Invaders!” Paris backhands him in the face and says “Quiet!” The Robot then very quietly mumbles “Invaders.” Trek doesn’t play for comedy very often, which makes it all the more effective when it does.
Not only the actors remember this episode fondly, but also the crew, with set designers, prop designers, special effects designers all having enjoyed working on the episode. The standout amongst the crew, though, is composer David Bell, who brilliantly matches the music to the scene he’s scoring, with scenes on Voyager having what can be considered standard scoring, and the scenes set in Proton’s world matching the rollicking, unceasing symphonic style of the old serials. There are moments where the music shifts mid-scene as the action shifts from “real world” character discussion to “in holodeck” character acting. It’s one of the most enjoyable elements of the whole episode. To my eyes at least, the direction doesn’t match that approach, with the Proton scenes having camera movements, angles and edits that are indicative of modern television and not the way the serials were shot in the 1930s.
“Bride of Chaotica!” is a highly enjoyable slice of Trek and a loving homage to the some of the earliest sci-fi thrillers. It’s lightweight entertainment, but gives some of the main cast a chance to play outside their normal roles and ham it up a bit.