Robert Duncan McNeill:
Paris on Captain Proton
and directing Trek's winning musical,
"Someone to Watch Over Me."

April 2000
© Frederick S. Clarke
by Anna Kaplan

Robert Duncan McNeill's favorite experience during Voyager's fifth season may have been directing "Someone To Watch Over Me." In the past, McNeill directed "Sacred Ground" and "Unity," both more or less traditional Star Trek fare. This was different. Said McNeill, "It's a very unusual episode. There are no strange, weird planets or aliens. It's a real traditional romantic comedy. I think it's a really fun and surprising way that they have dealt with it. I think the audience is going to be sucked into the story."

McNeill is starting to feel more like a real director. He explained, "This time directing, I really felt very comfortable and relaxed. I just recently started directing over at Nickelodeon. The fact that I started directing outside helped me not only feel comfortable, but it helped the whole crew and cast feel like, 'He's becoming a real director. He's not just an actor on our show who is trying to direct.' I also had a short film that I shot, produced, and directed. That movie has been out at film festivals all year. It's called The Battery. Ethan Phillips is in it. The directing has been very exciting, and I'm very excited to continue with those opportunities here at Star Trek. As we wind into our last couple of years around here, I hope to be doing more."

As Tom Paris, McNeill was busy fifth season. The episode which featured his character the most was called "Thirty Days." Recalled the actor, "The first version of that episode I didn't like. By the end, the episode was about ten minutes short when they cut it together. It gave us an opportunity to look back at it and say, 'How can we improve it?' The whole concept of Paris being in the brig from the beginning, and telling this as a flashback in a letter to his father, brought in a whole other element that was much darker and much more complex; it had a lot more character stuff to play with. All those scenes with Paris in the brig gave it a framework that was much more interesting, and had much more mystery to it. I was very happy with it by the end. I thought it turned into a really good show."

Tom Paris also got to play in the Captain Proton holodeck program on and off all year, which he enjoyed, despite the fact that during the filming of "Bride of Chaotica" the bridge set caught on fire. McNeill remembered, "We've been here five years, and there's some dust that has collected on tope of these sets, on the ceilings. There are lights that hang up high and one of the light bulbs popped."

He laughed, "I guess the spark smoldered down in the dust, and caught fire on the ceiling of the bridge, right during a photo shoot with Rick Berman on the bridge. I don't' know what the connection is, but I am sure that there is some meaning behind it. No one was hurt, but we had a hungry crew, and our lunch was on that stage."

In general, Paris' relationship with B'Elanna Torres was visited infrequently during the fifth season. Commented McNeill, "Brannon wanted to put the focus back on sci-fi stories, and edgy stories, and use this relationship when it was appropriate to the particular story. I would like to do a little more with the relationship. I think there's a lot of value there. But I kind of agree with Brannon. I don't want it to become a soap opera."

The relationship between Tom and B'Elanna was explored in a unique sci-fi way in the episode, "Course Oblivion," which allowed the viewers to see the two getting married. Only later in the story does it become clear that this is not the real Voyager crew, but the alternates created on the Demon planet last season. Enthused McNeill, "It's a classic sci-fi thing. You follow this story along, and these horrible events are happening. You realize later on that its an alternate group of people you have been watching. B'Elanna and I get married, but the audience does not know until much later on, that this was the cloned ship. Referring back to that old episode, this is what happened to the ship that was cloned. Things took a little different course on that ship. It's a real tragic ending, because at the last moment, when they thing that maybe there might be some survivors, like the Titanic, the ship disappears. You think the real Voyager is going to swoop in and save at least a few, and it misses them. It's an interesting way to deal with the relationship, and refer to it but not have to live with it forever."

"Extreme Risk" was one episode where McNeill thought Paris could have been more involved with B'Elanna. He noted, "I wish they had used Paris more in that. I think that there was a little bit of fear of getting melodramatic, so rather than let Paris be the one to help B'Elanna with these issues, they let Chakotay. I though that would have been a really nice opportunity to let Paris, as her significant other, be really concerned and pro-active there. Instead, I was off building the Delta Flyer in that episode."

Just as Tim Russ enjoys working with McNeill, McNeill likes the Paris and Tuvok combination. They got together in "Gravity." Says McNeill, "I love working with Tim. One of my favorite combinations, in terms of characters, is Tuvok and Paris. I just think they are hilarious. They are such opposites, and they can dig at each other in such a light, fun way, I think they make a great team. We got to have all the subtle, fun jokes with each other. I thought it was particularly well-written, and I thought our guest star, Lori Petty, was great. It was great to be out on location. When you get on location, you feel you are making a real movie.

There were also a lot of ensemble shows this year, as well as episodes where Paris was called on to help the Doctor. McNeill noted, "Sometimes it gets a little confusing. I'm like the jack-of-all-trades. I can help the Doctor, I can fly the ship, I can do pretty much everything, kind of mediocre, so I end up everywhere. I'm like the utility man on a baseball team, I play every position.

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