Throwback Thursdays: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home aka “The One with the Whales”

I’m still grieving Leonard Nimoy and watching all things Trek, so it seemed only logical to review my favorite Star Trek film—one that Nimoy directed—for today’s Throwback Thursday.

The Voyage Home castLet’s make no mistake, guys; this is the best Star Trek movie ever made. Now before everyone starts yelling “What about Wrath of Khan?!” let me say this: I know Wrath of Khan is genuinely regarded as the best Star Trek movie, and I grant that it is absolutely excellent. But of all the Trek movies, the 1986 movie The Voyage Home, more affectionately called “the one with the whales”, best captures the spirit of the Star Trek original series (TOS). The humor and action portrayed in this movie gives a chance for all of our favorite characters to really shine, and introduces one of my favorite female characters.

The Voyage Home takes place almost immediately after the events of The Search for Spock. In Search for Spock, Kirk and his crew, at the behest of Spock’s father Sarek, go to the Genesis planet against Starfleet orders to retrieve Spock’s body (after his death in The Wrath of Khan). Of course, things are never that easy, and the crew come into conflict with Klingons during the course of their mission to save Spock.  Which causes the death of Kirk’s son and the destruction of the Enterprise. But we get Spock back, so… Yay!

The Voyage Home starts with a large cylindrical probe moving through space, sending out an indecipherable signal and disabling the power of ships it passes. Its journey ends at Earth, where it takes up orbit. Its signal disables the global power grid and generates planetary storms, creating catastrophic, sun-blocking cloud cover that could destroy the planet if the probe is not answered.

Whale ProbeMeanwhile, Kirk and the gang are on Vulcan. The crew has decided to return to Earth in their stolen Klingon vessel to face the charges against them for their actions in the last movie. Spock, however, is still attempting to recover from being, well, from being dead, but returns to the crew so that he too can go to Earth and defend now-Admiral Kirk. As the gang returns home, they hear a distress call from Earth warning about the probe and telling all ships to stay away. The crew listens to the message that the probe is broadcasting and deduce that the probe is actually broadcasting whale song, and is specifically trying to contact humpback whales. The only problem is that humpback whales have been extinct on Earth for millions of years. So, the crew attempts to travel back in time to retrieve some humpback whales for the probe to communicate with, so that it’ll hopefully stop causing havoc on Earth.

The crew successfully travels back in time to 1986; however, the ship was damaged and needs a new source of energy in order to get back home. In addition, the crew must find a way to safely carry the whales. Scottie, McCoy, and Sulu are tasked with finding a way to build a tank for the whales, Uhura and Chekov go to find a nuclear reactor to help fix the ship, and Kirk and Spock head out to the Sausalito museum, where they find two humpbacked whales named George and Gracie. They also meet whale biologist Dr. Gillian Taylor whose help Kirk enlists to retrieve the whales.

Gillian TaylorI won’t say any more in case you haven’t seen the movie. All the Star Trek movies (with the exception of the first reboot movie) are on Netflix, anyway, so there is no excuse not to watch it.

My favorite thing about this movie is, of course, the humor, which perfectly reflects the humor of the original series. In this movie we are treated to everything from Kirk and Spock trying to swear, Scotty trying to talk to an old computer from the 80s, and Spock jumping into a tank to mind meld with a whale. There are many more humorous moments than just those I listed. My favorite moment in the movie actually comes after Chekov gets seriously hurt and is taken to a hospital. McCoy, of course, insists on going after Chekov because he claims the medicine of the period is barbaric. The hospital scene manages to be both intense and hilarious as the gang tries to save Chekov from twentieth century doctors all while McCoy is also basically curing other patients in the hospital with his more advanced medicine. The best part is probably when McCoy gives an elderly woman going through dialysis a pill that in a matter of moments grows her a new kidney.

McCoy ST4

gif via antennata

My other favorite part of this movie is definitely Dr. Gillian Taylor. I have heard some fans describe her as being annoying, claiming that she is “overly emotional” and cares more about whales than people. I’m not saying that these fans are sexist, but if I had a nickel for every time a female character was labeled as “overemotional” I could pay off everyone’s student loans. And as someone who is also passionate about a cause, I can say from experience that being accused about caring more about one thing than another is pretty damn common. “You care more about women than men”, “You care more about gay people than straight people”, etc. It’s a common tactic used by people to discredit a cause without actually presenting any real evidence against it. I identify a lot with Gillian, who responds pretty much in the way I would if I ever met strange aliens and people from the future. Gillian is definitely shocked, confused, and intrigued by Kirk and Spock and wants to know more about them, but she still seems suspicious of them. She is passionate about her cause and doesn’t take shit from anyone who is trying to demean her for it. Especially not her male co-worker, who, throughout the film, puts her down and completely disregards her beliefs and feelings. She also takes the risk of going into the future with Kirk in order to protect her whales, leaving behind everything she knows and even risking her life, which certainly takes guts.

Dr. Gillian TaylorGillian, furthermore, has no romantic inclinations with any of the male cast. Yes, both she and Kirk do seem to be attracted to each other, and I mean, let’s be honest, Kirk is very charming, but both Gillian and Kirk are very clear that they have more important things to worry about. Even when the two return to the future Gillian and Kirk seem aware that nothing romantic is going to develop between them. Gillian is now the universe’s only whale biologist and has a ton of knowledge to catch up on keep pace with anyone in the future. She doesn’t have time for relationships; Kirk knows that and knows he has his own Starfleet assignments to handle as well. I think it is great to have a female character who is attracted to another character but chooses to ignore that attraction because there are more pressing things to deal with. More often than not our media portrays female characters ignoring romance and attraction as some deep fatal flaw, especially if they ignore romance in pursuit of a career or intellectual interests. Having a female character who does feel attraction, and maybe even is interested in romance, but puts that aside, is a rarity in our media so it was great to see that in Dr. Gillian Taylor.

Finally, The Voyage Home has a great environmental message about preserving our planet and the other species inhabiting it. Star Trek is a utopia, but the show, and the movies, make it very clear that before Earth was able to achieve peace and prosperity, many terrible things happened. It’s really depressing to see a universe where people don’t know much of anything about whales because they’re extinct. I’m sure if you explore the Star Trek mythos more we would find other similar examples. All at once the movie is able to ask us to do better while still presenting a hopeful future, and it still manages to not be preachy or come off like a “very special episode” of Star Trek.

Overall I like this movie because it most reflects the original series that I know and love. It introduces a great new female character and manages to deliver a great message at the same time. Star Trek at its core was always meant to portray a hopeful future, while still addressing the problems of our time, and this movie does it perfectly. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend you check it out.


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2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursdays: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home aka “The One with the Whales”

  1. Yes! This particular movie was always my favorite, for the very reasons outlined in your review .This one was everything that the first Star Trek movie should have been.

    I agree. Too often the media shows that women will drop everything, no matter how passionate they may be about it, for a chance at romantic entanglement.

  2. YES! It has always been my favorite one. I mean even yesterday I sat down in front of my work computer and went “Hello, Computer” in a Scottish accent.

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