A Writer’s Own Terror Created Star Trek’s Scariest Moment

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

One of the observations that always stuck with us was Mike Stoklassa’s declaration that he always saw Star Trek: The Original Series as a horror show due to its many gruesome deaths and scary situations. That arguably carried over into later spinoffs, including a wild plot in the Voyager episode “Phage” where aliens manage to steal Neelix’s lungs, requiring him to temporarily get holographic replacements. We didn’t think this episode could get much stranger, but in a wild twist, this story beat was inspired by the writer’s fear of parachuting.


neelix lungs

How the heck does a fear of parachuting lead to Neelix losing his lungs? “Phage” was co-written by Skye Dent, a freelancer who hadn’t written for Star Trek before. She simplified her approach to writing for these 24th-century characters by channeling her own experiences and fears of life in the 20th century.

Like most serious would-be screenwriters, the freelancer who would take Neelix’s lungs away eventually moved to California. Deciding that a new home required new hobbies, she started researching parachuting as a fun new thing to try. The more she learned, though, the more fearful she became of this daredevil hobby.

Fear Of Paralysis

neelix lungs

At this point, you might think that the writer was mostly scared of dying. Most people who seriously consider parachuting become paralyzed by fears that the chute won’t open or some other freak accident would happen that results in them dying on impact. However, in a weird twist, Skye Dent was paralyzed by a fear of becoming paralyzed.

Later, when discussing the plot point about Neelix losing his lungs, Dent claimed that she was motivated by stories of parachuters who got into accidents and became paraplegic. “That’s part of what this story is about. Because death isn’t that scary to me – having to live as a paraplegic would be even scarier to most human beings,” she declared, concluding “And that’s how Neelix feels.”

Neelix’s Lungs

neelix lungs

Obviously, parachuting is the last thing most of us were thinking about when watching an episode where Neelix had his lungs stolen by aliens who looked like they were all cosplaying as Leatherface.

However, the writer’s point makes plenty of sense in context: in the episode, the Doctor makes it clear that Neelix can live a long life after having his lungs yoinked. The catch is that he must remain perfectly still inside sickbay so that his holographic lungs will keep him alive.

Neelix’s Struggles

Throughout the ep, we see how much Neelix hates this in scenes where he can’t so much as scratch an itch and eventually begins panicking so hard that the Doctor has to sedate him. The episode practically beats us over the head with the point that a person’s quality of life is more important than simply being alive.

In this way, Dent perfectly illustrated her point: for many who go parachuting for fun, it might very well be preferable to instantly die than to live a life paralyzed as Neelix is when dealing with his holographic lungs.

Seeing Behind The Curtain

In addition to helping us appreciate a Voyager ep on a whole new level, Dent’s story also helps us appreciate how these futuristic stories are crafted. In this case, someone’s own terror led to Star Trek’s scariest moment. We can only hope the writer overcame her fear of parachuting, but in all honesty, you won’t find us falling through the sky unless Spock is ready with his trusty rocket boots to catch us.

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