17 – The 37s

Grade: C

The 37's (1995) on IMDb


Voyager comes across a rust and gasoline trail, which they follow until they find a 1930s style truck, floating aimlessly in space. They bring the truck into the cargo bay, and Paris starts the engine. He stumbles across an Earth-style SOS message that they’ll now trace to a planet a short distance away. Once they land, they find several humans locked inside stasis chambers.


This episode exemplifies missed opportunities more than any other that I’ve seen so far in this series. First, we have a situation here when the ship must land on the planet. Don’t ask me why – I didn’t understand all the technobabble. Later, they find out that the people here have built magnificent cities and they invite Voyager’s crew to visit them. But the viewer never sees these cities. So the technical people spend who knows how much time and at who knows how much cost to create a visual effects shot of the ship landing on the planet, but we didn’t get to see even one bit of the cities they’ve built.

From a story-telling point of view, this is a critical mistake. By the end of the episode, Captain Janeway allows all of her crew to decide if they want to stay here on this planet or on the ship. As the viewers, we don’t share in their decision-making process because we haven’t seen their cities. We just have to take their word for it that these cities are beautiful. But if we had seen them ourselves, the story would have had a much stronger impact. It’s impossible for us to put ourselves in the same position as these characters, because we don’t have all the information. So instead, we just watch moving pictures on the screen. The episode becomes completely flat and hollow. Any TV show needs to have strong character moments if it’s going to resonate with viewers. I really wish Berman and Braga understood this before they created this episode. This episode is really just a premise, and it has no depth.

Second, they find Amelia Earhart among those who were abducted and placed in stasis. As an aside, I really hated how long it took Janeway to realize it was Amelia Earhart. We saw the name clearly on TV for a good 4 or 5 seconds. Janeway then strains to look through the glass and spell out the name one letter at a time. Then it took her at least 3 more seconds to realize what that spelled. Later in the episode, she claims that Earhart was one of her idols when she was growing up and that she influenced her to be a captain. Are you kidding me? If that were the case, why did it take her 5 minutes to realize who it was? That was extremely lame.

But back to Earhart. At the end of the episode, she’s trying to decide if she wants to stay on this planet or travel the stars with Voyager. I honestly expected her to go with Voyager. If this really were Amelia Earhart, I’m certain she would want to travel the stars. Obviously, she was an adventurer and I have no doubt that’s what she would have decided to do. So there’s a missed opportunity there by the series to pick up a very interesting character who would certainly be amazed at everything she would see.

But then I thought about it a little, and I don’t think the series could have survived having Amelia Earhart on the ship. The whole idea is preposterous anyway. It would have been a “Jump the Shark” moment for this series to add Earhart to the crew. Who’s next? Charles Lindberg? How about Neil Armstrong or perhaps Carl Sagan? It would have been very silly to have her on Voyager.

So that brings up another question – why did Earhart have to be in this episode at all? Oh, sure, it explains why she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean back in 1937, but what’s the point? What did they hope to accomplish? Could it have been accomplished without actually having her alive? What if they found that the people inside the stasis chambers were all dead? They could have still solved the Earhart mystery, but they wouldn’t have to deal with what they would do with her next.

The third missed opportunity was when Janeway and Chakotay go to the cargo bay to find out how many people had chosen to leave Voyager and remain on the planet. I’ve already mentioned that this episode carried very little weight because we couldn’t really understand how the crew felt about this decision. But the episode missed an opportunity to become more realistic. I honestly can’t believe that not one person on the ship would decide to leave. What about all those former Maquis who didn’t want to be in Starfleet in the first place? What about those two officers they mentioned who want to be married and start a family? Not even Tom Paris wanted to stay? He was in a prison colony back on Earth, and he’s on the ship because the Captain thinks he had some special skill that she could use. As far as he knows, he’s going back to prison once the ship is home. If I were Tom Paris, I would definitely stay on the planet.

Fourth, they made a huge mistake when they used this as the season 2 premiere. The way this episode ends, it’s a perfect set-up as a season finale instead. They could have lost a few crewmen who decided to stay on the planet, and they could have picked up a few passengers who could be used in the next season. The entire ship could have stayed on the planet for 2 or 3 more episodes in season 2, while they teach these humans new skills, they could have seen more of their cities, they could have shared technology, they could have used the planet as a base, or to repair the ship or pick up new supplies, etc. Then when Janeway finally decides to leave the planet for good and head for home, the entire decision of “should I stay or should I go” would have a much stronger impact.

By the way, Jetrel’s ship is still in the shuttle bay, isn’t it? Maybe they could have left it there on the planet for the humans there to use. Hmm. Another missed opportunity there. Oh well.

Something else about this series in particular just bothers me. Having recently seen the very last episode, the ship returns home pretty much in exactly the same condition in which it left the Alpha Quadrant – it looks the same on the outside, it’s clean and doesn’t have any obvious flaws. The crew is pretty much the same. Later in the series, they pick up additional refugees, but very few people die on this trip, and really only those we don’t know very well. So it doesn’t seem terribly realistic.

But what does all of that have to do with this particular episode? Well, here we have a chance to pick up additional passengers and crew. Wouldn’t it have been interesting if during the series’ run, they had actually ended up with a completely different crew? And who knows, maybe the ship that makes it back home is only Janeway and a few others plus a bunch of Delta Quadrant aliens. Or what if the series ended with a twist that maybe all the humans stay on various planets and the people who end up on Voyager decide they don’t want to go to Earth at all?

OK, I’ve digressed. Still, this episode for me represents a lot of missed opportunities for this series. It pretty much proved to me that Voyager is going to take very few risks. It’s not going to be very different from the other series at all. It’s also not going to be about the characters and how they change over time, but it’s going to be episodic in nature. All the stories will be wrapped up and complete in 45 minutes. This is why people stopped watching this show.

One last thing – Harry Kim actually asks “Who’s Amelia Earhart?” That really bothered me. Are they really trying to say that in 400 years, people will forget who she is? Christopher Columbus died well over 400 years ago, and yet I think it would be pretty well impossible to find someone who didn’t know who he is. But Star Trek thinks that the first woman to fly a plane around the world is going to be forgotten about in 400 years. OK, whatever.

Of Note

The title of this episode refers to the people who were taken from Earth in 1937 by the Briori aliens. Also, this is the first time (but not the only time) that we see Voyager land on a planet.

Originally, this episode was intended to be the first season finale, but after it was produced, Paramount decided to air it as the season 2 premiere instead.

Janeway explains that this planet is “millions of miles” away from Earth. She should have said “thousands of light years” instead. Earth is 93 million miles away from the Sun. So yeah, this planet is at least “millions” of miles away. Very helpful.