"Waking Moments"

Season Four, Episode 13
Written by Andre Bourmanis
Directed by Alexander Singer
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
Mark Coulson as Alien   


The crew all suffer bizarre nightmares, in which they see the face of an alien man, watching them. Harry Kim is in a coma and the Doctor cannot wake him up. Janeway deduces that this mysterious alien from their dreams must be responsible. The crew take stimulants to prevent them from falling asleep, while Chakotay enduces a lucid dream where he encounters the alien, to whom the dream state is just as real as waking reality. Upon awakening, the ship is attacked and taken over by the aliens. It's then that Chakotay realises he's still actually asleep, and wakes himself up properly this time. He finds that all the entire crew have fallen into comas, evidently locked into the same dream. Realising that they will never be able to defeat the aliens in the dream state, Chakotay decides that he has to find where the aliens are sleeping so he can stop them. After briefly falling asleep again, he tracks the aliens to a giant cavern, where the entire race lies asleep. Using the stimulant he took to keep himself awake, Chakotay awakens one of the aliens. But after having ordered the Doctor to fire a photon torpedo on the cavern in two minutes, he falls back asleep himself, where he blackmails the aliens into releasing the crew -- or else he destroys the cavern and the aliens themselves. The aliens do so and the crew are freed from their dreamscape prison.

Hmm. In sitting down to review this I'm reminded very much of DS9's Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night. No, I'm not talking about any plot similarities between the two, rather the fact that both are superficially entertaining...yet when you try to analyse the plot things seriously start to fall apart. 

Let's deal first with what I liked about Waking Moments. Well, perhaps the biggest surprise was Alexander Singer's directing. My gosh, it was actually good for a change! Don't mean to sound harsh, but this is the man that spoiled the otherwise excellent Nemesis with his clumsy, poorly paced helmsmanship and I haven't been all that impressed with much of his other work, either. But the guy must have been taking a crash course in "how to direct", because his work on Waking Moments is really rather good. He keeps the pace brisk and lively and despite being a ship-board story, it's nevertheless a visually striking episode, partly due to the moody lighting and partly to Singer's directing. So, credit where credit is due -- well done, Mr Singer! 

Yup, Waking Moments is a nicely packaged product: good directing, excellent use of lighting and a nicely bombastic score by the ever-reliable David Bell. The episode is engaging and it's always nice to see Robert Beltran assume centre stage as Chakotay. The only problem is -- and it's a pretty major one -- the plot. Oh boy, did the writers write this in their sleep? They might as well have, because logic of any shape or form is thrown out the window in favour of a convoluted, plot hole-ridden mess. It's almost like they took elements from various previous episodes of Trek and stitched them together with little in the way of rhyme or reason. Or didn't you notice the similarities to Scientific Method, Displaced, Projections, Worst Case Scenario, The Next Generation's Night Terrors and Schisms and DS9's Distant Voices? That's quite a list. 

That, in itself, would have been forgivable had they put a little more -- nay, a lot more -- thought into the actual plot. For a start, we have the aliens to whom the dream state is just as real as waking reality. OK, fine, that's a very interesting concept. But did we ever learn why they attacked the crew of Voyager, locking them into a shared dream? When you have a villain, it helps if they actually have a motive. It's suggested that this is to protect themselves, but there's never any attempt to explain this. How did they manage to link into their dreams anyway, let alone fabricate a giant shared dream? I'm just gonna forget that technobabble transmitter thing, because that's not a satisfactory explanation. Similarly, you can't help but wonder if these people spend their entire lives asleep (as would seem to be the case). If they exist mainly in the dream state then why would they need physical, corporeal bodies? And how would they feed and sustain their physical bodies? So you see, while the concept of aliens controlling people's dreams is undeniably an interesting one, it's not been developed at all well. 

With all due respect, the writers must credit the audience with some brains. We're not going to sit back and lap this all up without question. I know, I know, it must be incredibly hard writing a TV series week in, week out -- but, hey, it can be done and it can be done very, very well. I think the Voyager writing staff really need to work harder on these stories instead of presenting us with half-baked, ill thought-out ideas. This has been the problem for several weeks in a row now.

There were some good touches, however. I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists, particularly effective was the imagery of the moon and Chakotay realising that he's still asleep...though that did kind of wear a bit thin by the third time they did it. :-( You could also cite it as a severe cheat that the dream reality was virtually indistinguisable from waking reality. Huh? There were perhaps one or two touches to indicate that these were dreams (such as the warp core breach which, um, didn't breach) but the sleep state is vastly different to the "real" world and I saw little attempt to capture this. The more I think about it, the more I realise that this episode had the opportunity to be something quite outstanding, but it flounders on its by-the-numbers, illogical plotting which really needed quite substantial work. Take, for another instance, the story's resolution. How big an anti-climax was that?! Chakotay blackmails the aliens. Cut to the ship, with the Doctor stating in his log that the crew have all fully recovered. Where's the drama in that, I ask you? There was none. No pay-off of any kind. 

I believe I've said enough. I'm frustrating myself just thinking about it. The message is clear -- the writers really need to get their act together and spend perhaps twice the amount of time just constructing and developing these plots. Sadly, I very much doubt that the nature of television allows for that...which is a big shame, because it's the root of Voyager's problems. Waking Moments proves that the show has a good, charismatic cast, it's impeccably well-produced -- it's just undermined by a lack of care on the writing front.

Rating: 5

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