65 – Distant Origin

Grade: B+

Distant Origin (1997) on IMDb


Some reptilian aliens find the remains of one of Voyager’s crew who died during the events of Basics, Part 2. They believe this crewman’s bones may prove their theory that their species originated from a different part of the galaxy.


Finally, a really good episode from this series – it seems to have been forever since they made one that was this good. The best thing (by far) about this episode is that it finally does something unexpected. Here we have a group of aliens who are very different from any other aliens we’ve seen in this series – they’re reptiles instead of mammals. Not only that, but these aliens may actually be descendants of ancient dinosaurs that left Earth millions of years ago. And at the end, there are some very compelling arguments made by both the main alien and Chakotay. This all adds up to one of the most memorable episodes that the series ever produced.

But I rated it a little bit lower than many other people have rated it, since there are some weaknesses in the plot. First of all, this is yet another Alpha Quadrant connection that Voyager just happens to stumble upon. Yes, it’s true that these aliens actually found Voyager, but still, the point is that for a series that takes place 70,000 light years away, they sure find a lot of connections back to Earth. The story itself is pretty unique, even if the circumstances of it are not.

Second, for this alien scientist to actually have a working hypothesis of how life began on their home planet, he certainly seems to have very little evidence. When they find a set of bones on that distant planet, they refer to their theory and that this might be the missing link to their home planet. But they must have had some other evidence that led them to this idea in the first place. It wouldn’t make any logical sense otherwise if this scientist had nothing else to go on, and this other evidence never seems to show up.

Third, Star Trek rarely deals with religion very well, with the obvious exception of Deep Space Nine. Most of the time, religions in Star Trek are shallow representations of simplistic rituals and mysticism. I recognize that this episode is a metaphor for Galileo and what happened to him, but I honestly would have preferred a storyline that treated both science and religion with more respect and skill. In reality, not all believers in religion are closed-minded, and not all scientists are out to destroy religion. What I was hoping for was some religious depth that equaled the depth of the science portrayed in this episode. I understand religion is not the focus of the story, but as is often the case in Star Trek, this religion can’t stand on its own merits. It is as if Braga, et. al. deliberately create a shallow religious belief so they can poke holes in it later. Just like I think people who misunderstand science should avoid writing sci-fi stories, and I also believe people who misunderstand or mistrust religion shouldn’t write about it. Now I don’t expect something by Billy Graham or Martin Luther, but what is often portrayed as religion in Star Trek amounts to nothing more than mindless philosophy.

Fourth, the science in this episode really isn’t that great either. Janeway extracts DNA from the alien in sickbay and then asks the holodeck to display the common ancestor between them and humans. Then she asks the computer to generate what this ancestor’s descendant would look like given millions of years of evolution. Well, there’s no way for the computer to be able to do that, but if she really wanted to see what one looked like, all she’d have to do is go look at the alien on the bed in sickbay. Duh.

Fifth, it really bothered me that this alien knew how to pronounce the word “Voyager” when he saw it on his computer screen. There’s not even an explanation of how he knew that was even a word or that any of the letters were symbols representing sound. But I guess for the sake of moving the story along, we have to take a few shortcuts. Still, I wish they would have shown the name on the screen and had the character say, “this was probably this person’s name” or something else that represented their best guess. Think of it this way. When archaeologists first discovered Egyptian relics, they didn’t immediately know what all their hieroglyphic symbols meant. They needed the Rosetta stone first, which had ancient Greek written on it to serve as a translation of the ancient Egyptian.

OK, so all of that adds up to a story that was probably better than it deserved to be. I honestly can’t rate it much higher, out of respect for other Star Trek writers that really did their homework before they started putting their stories on paper. Distant Origin is an excellent concept and it has an excellent climax and one of the best endings of any Voyager episode, but it also leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the fine details. So for now, this goes down as a very good Voyager episode, but not quite as good as it could have been.

Of Note

I thought it was pretty ironic to show a dinosaur excavating human remains – it’s an interesting touch.