“Threshold” is the most notorious episode of Voyager, possibly of all of Star Trek television. Its writers have called it a “royal steaming stinker.” There have been arguments about whether or not it is canon. At best its been called “that silly warp 10 episode.” Over the years I’ve been one of those voices who have piled on this episode, but much like my newfound appreciation for Star Trek V, I now believe that “Threshold” is not only canon, but is in fact the best episode of any Star Trek series*.
Quick recap of the plot. Paris breaks warp 10, is everywhere at once in the universe, turns into a lizard, abducts the captain, has babies with the captain, then is restored to humanity by the doctor who shoots him full of anti-protons to eliminate the bad DNA while keeping the good. Janeway makes a crack about possibly initiating the mating. The end.
To get where I’m coming from you have to consider the two Star Treks. There’s what we think Star Trek is, and there’s the actual show. In an EHG canon pitch for the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” Adam Grosswirth said that Star Trek manages to be “both good and so bad it’s good at the same time.” I think that’s dead on. Star Trek does raise some interesting social and scientific commentary, even the original series, but it’s also pretty silly. It’s okay to like Star Trek for both those reasons. It’s why I insist on watching TOS episodes with the original special effects instead of the remastered.The silliness is part of the charm, and this episode is no different.
“Threshold” is funny
For starters, I forgot how funny the Doctor is in this episode. There’s a dry wit and delivery to everything he says, which is good since we spend a lot of time in sickbay.
Some examples (all quotes are from Memory Alpha):
Janeway: “Can you wake him?”
Doctor: “I don’t see why not. WAKE UP LIEUTENANT!'”
Doctor: “What did he ingest?”
Torres: “Just a cup of Neelix’s coffee.”
Doctor: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
Paris: “I lost my virginity in that room. Seventeen. Parents were away for the weekend.”
Doctor: “I’ll note that in your medical file.”
Even Tuvok gets in on the fun. Upon finding lizard Janeway and Paris, Chakotay is more than a little flummoxed, but Tuvok displays his trademark Vulcan calm:
Chakotay: “I’m picking up traces of Human DNA… it’s them. Although, I have to admit, I’m not sure which one is the captain.”
Tuvok: “The female, obviously.”
Chakotay: “I don’t know how I’m going to enter this into the log.”
Tuvok: “I look forward to reading it.”
“Threshold” is award-winning
Did you know this episode won an Emmy? It beat DS9’s “The Visitor” for “Outstanding Makeup for a Series.” That should make it worthy of some serious consideration, right? I mean, it takes a lot of work to make pulling out your own tongue believable.
I was going to add a picture but I still like you guys more than that.
The premise is sound
I know a lot of people have argued that the original series went faster than warp 10 on many occasions, but it was established by Gene Roddenberry sometime toward the beginning of TNG (though not before “Where No One Has Gone Before” apparently) that warp 10 is the top barrier. It has something to do with different scales of measurement between the two warp drive numbering systems, but truthfully it’s because TOS threw those numbers out pretty willy-nilly and TNG decided to be a little more consistent.
This is the first of several engineering project episodes for Paris and it really establishes him not only as a good helmsman but as a test pilot as well, in the tradition of Chuck Yeager and Zefram Cochrane. There’s even a reference to Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier breaking flight (he had close the cockpit door with a broom handle because of two broken ribs). Paris is almost scrubbed from the flight because of health concerns, but insists on flying anyway. Working on stuff like this is what brought us the Delta Flyer a few years later. It takes him from being just one of the vaguely handsome people on the bridge and makes him interesting, and it establishes his working and personal relationship with Torres early on.
That warp 10 would have some unforeseen physiological effects is pretty consistent with the way Star Trek handles these sorts of technological advances. The exact direction is weird to be sure, but no more weird than the virus that devolved everybody on TNG and made Worf into some kind of werewolf-snake thing.
And Voyager could have gotten home using this technology. The doctor did develop a treatment. Two people recovered from it. If they’d known the weird evolution thing was coming they could have flown at warp 10, gotten treatment, and been home in time to avoid the Borg. Sure maybe one or two would have stayed lizards but that’s a small price to pay.
Star Trek is pretty weird
So leaving TOS out of it let’s take the show that a lot of people think is the best trek, TNG. You remember that episode with the flying space pirogi?
Or how about eating Deanna Troi cake?
And okay let’s pick on TOS a little. A dog is an alien?
Lizard’s looking pretty good now, right?
Threshold is high-concept
Though most of these beats were removed from the script, “Threshold” does challenge some assumptions about human evolution. Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, assume that a higher form of life means something either basically human, or maybe pure energy. This episode actually flips the script, saying that we might have a deeper understanding of the universe as a simpler form of life. Sure it looks pretty alien to us now, but in a few million years who knows?
This is actually an interesting idea, and one that Star Trek or some other show could do more to tackle. At the very least it seems logical to assume that we won’t fully understand the benefits of our next stage of evolution as a species until we encounter them, and we might not know where the human race is really going. That’s an exciting notion.
Why “Threshold” is the best
So if I haven’t convinced you that “Threshold” is the best or even a good episode of Star Trek, try this on for size.
The evolved form of humanity might be “The Doctor”
When Paris is revived from an initial brush with death, he has two hearts. As we know, another Doctor whose name we do not know also has two hearts, and can go anywhere in time or space. Tom Paris just brought Tardis technology to Voyager, and without the annoying grinding sound.
Have a pleasant weekend.
*Somehow I managed to finish this without various internal organs trying to leap up and beat my brain to death. Weirdly, I leave this at least convinced it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek. I mean there was that other Voyager episode with the giant flying bacteria. Bleagh.