This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe. An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile V'Ger, the antagonist from The Motion Picture. This non humanoid villain of sorts comes in at number 8 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.
(Watch out for those light bubbles, they sting a bit!)
V'Ger is a vessel encased in an incredibly large energy cloud that tracks through the Alpha Quadrant through Klingon space on the way to Earth. The Enterprise crew is led to investigate why this mysterious cloud entity is coming for the home planet. Like the Whale Probe in Star Trek 4, V'Ger threatens to destroy Earth, this time with a number of plasma energy spheres located at equidistant points around Earth.
Unlike the Whale Probe, V'Ger attempts to communicate with ancient radio technology. As Kirk, Spock and Bones uncover the layers to this entity, it becomes clear that this is a relic of Earth's past, specifically the Voyager 6 space probe launched in the 20th Century by NASA. V'Ger was reprogrammed by a machine planet race to learn all it could learn and return to its creator.
In this process of learning, V'Ger became a conscious machine and struggles with complex, non-scientific concepts as a result of not having intuitive, irrational elements. That makes V'Ger want to merge with the human creator to gain this ability to process all the information it has gained. That allows the writers to get rid of Captain Willard Decker at the end of the movie as he merges with his former lover Ilia (Quote of the Week: "I am V'Ger") and V'ger, thereby giving the Enterprise back to Kirk and crew for more movie adventures.
Although V'Ger turns out to not be much of an actual evil villain, it makes viewers think about the long-term implications of space decisions made today. V'Ger also allows for Star Trek to take on a big sci fi concept much like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. This connection to reality makes V'Ger more compelling even for re-watching this movie, and that pushes this "villain" into the top 10 of this list.
V'Ger has since been linked many ways to potential other story lines of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry proposed that the machine planet that reprogrammed V'Ger might have been the Borg home world, which led to a couple novels running with this concept. V'Ger also appears in the Star Trek Nero comics to explain how Nero used this machine to calculate precisely when Spock would reappear.
V'Ger could have ended up with a much different appearance, as the original visual effects house working on The Motion Picture wanted a much darker living machine that opened like a flower on the inside. But this visual effects house overstretched their capabilities and budget and was canned by Paramount, leading to the hiring of John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull, who took the visual effects in a whole different direction that led to an Academy Award nomination.
Ilia, who ends up representing V'Ger in humanoid form to the Enterprise, was played by Persis Khambatta. Although she missed out on being a regular on the Star Trek Phase II series that was replaced with this movie, she did later appear in MacGyver and Lois and Clark before her passing in 1998.
Until next time, live long and prosper...