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Yesterday’s Enterprise

It’s the Star Trek that few people love – not even Star Trek fans themselves. Enterprise was the last endeavour for Trek on TV, not even last the customary seven seasons (The Original Series ran for five, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager for seven each), as time was abruptly called at the end of the fourth year of its voyage.
With Discovery, the new attempt to bring Trek back to the small screen, arriving later this year after 12 years since Enterprise concluded, we’ve taken a look at what was bad about the series that many people said killed Trek, and then why it actually stands up pretty well against some of the other entries in Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.

The Bad

Writing
Enterprise’s biggest criticism stemmed from some of the scripts that the cast delivered. In bringing humanity closer to it’s spacefaring roots, there was said to less reliance on the technobabble that had plagued later Trek franchises, especially Voyager. Instead there were just as many “antimatter relays” and “phase couplings” as before, and for a show that wanted to bring in new viewers, it offered precious little in terms of accessibility. Then there was the other extreme, with Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer at one point threatening to urinate on Government’s sacred trees if his dog were to die from a pathogen it picked up there, and many, many occasions of Connor Trinneer’s Commander Tucker using the phrase “poop”. Many, many times.

Image via Paramount Television

The Temporal Cold War
As was en vogue for many TV series at the time, and had been featured to great success in the last three seasons of Deep Space Nine, Enterprise attempted to weave a story arc into its first season. The idea was relatively simple: An evil future presence was trying to manipulate the past for its own benefit, using new Trek baddies the Suliban to do their bidding. Only problem was, after a strong scene setter in the pilot episode “Broken Bow”, it rapidly turned into a storyline that went nowhere quickly. In fairness, Enterprise’s creative staff – Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Manny Coto – all confirmed the idea was imposed from studio level, with Paramount wanting something “more futuristic”. It ran as a thread through the end of the first season, playing a part in the much improved third season and ending at the start of the fourth. It had run out of steam way before then.

Franchise fatigue
By the beginning of Enterprise’s fourth and final season in 2005, Star Trek had been a continual presence on TV screens and cinemas for 39 years. There’s only so many stories you can tell in that time before people start to see the similarities. One of the best examples in Enterprise’s third season story “Oasis”, where the crew find a crashed ship that’s populated nearly entirely by holograms. It’s done by one of the elder crew of the downed vessel to try and protect and help his daughter adjust to their surroundings. That elder crew member is played by Rene Auberjonois, who in an interview with StarTrek.com, highlighted it replicated the same plot as the Deep Space Nine episode “Shadowplay”. Auberjonois had, of course, been a main cast member in DS9 as the shapeshifter Odo:

I was sitting with Scott Bakula at lunch about two or three days into shooting the episode. He said, “I like this script. I think this is a good one.” I said, “Yeah, we did this one in season three.” And he looked at me and said, “What?” I said, “It was the same sort of story.” That was not really a putdown, but when you’ve done that many years of writing stories, there will be recurring themes.

Image via Paramount Television

Reliance on established technology
One of Enterprise’s big marketing tools was the fact that the crew wouldn’t be using the increasingly convenient Star Trek technology to get out of every problem they encountered. Right from early episodes of the Next Generation, there was scarcely a problem that couldn’t be solved by modifying the deflector dish, and even the most terrifying of planetside situations were only ever a transporter beam away. Medical emergencies were solved with many cure-it-all concoctions in the ubiquitous hypospray. Enterprise depicted the transporter as new technology, where crew members were afraid to put anything other than cargo through it, save them being splattered into a million atoms. The ship’s sick bay was populated with bizarre creatures that John Billingsley’s Doctor Phlox brought on board to treat ailments with varying degrees of success. By season three, the transporter was being used frequently as the crew hunted down the Xindi. Phlox came to rely increasingly on Starfleet’s medical technology to cure the wounded. The ship’s phasers and torpedoes, originally shown to be much weaker armaments than those of the Klingons and Vulcans, were upgraded so they could trade blows with more advanced races. The only concessions seemed to be not introducing shields or tractor beams – although Enterprise’s hull plating got much stronger as time went on that it seemed the ship could deflect blasts from a variety of alien spacecraft, whereas in the opening series, a couple of shots put the ship in jeopardy. Maybe it just got easier to say science moved on, to make the show more dramatic.

The theme song
Even the most staunch Enterprise fan (including this writer), can’t defend the show’s theme song. Whereas every Trek series before then had featured an epic instrumental that displayed humanity’s yearning to go to the stars, and gravity of their achievements, Enterprise got a reworked Rod Stewart song. Opera star Russell Watson was invited by the song’s writer, Diane Warren, to cover it with a view to it being used as Enterprise’s theme. Braga and Berman staunchly defended the choice of a vocal artist for the show’s opening credits, and Watson himself was equally strong in his passion for the track. Most fans, however, didn’t take to it, with petitions mounted to bin it from the beginning. It was reworked with a guitar baseline for the third and fourth seasons, but Dennis McCarthy’s “Archer’s Theme”, which is more in keeping with Star Trek, and played over the end titles, would have been a better choice. You can listen to both songs below and make your own mind up.

Image via Paramount Television

The last episode
The only thing that could possibly beat the theme song as the worst thing about the show was the final episode. “These Are The Voyages…” was, in the words of Rick Berman, “a valentine to the fans”, when it was, in many fans’ opinions, a poor send off for Trek on television. Setting it during a Next Generation episode as a holodeck “flashback” was bad enough, as was expecting fans to think that Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis (who reprise their TNG characters Commander William Riker and Counsellor Deanna Troi) hadn’t aged from when that episode, “The Pegasus” was shown – in 1994. Above all of that, was the almost pointless death of Tucker, who had appeared in every episode of the show so far, and sacrificed himself in an almost ridiculous attempt to stop some pirates that invaded the ship. Later spin-off literature would resurrect the character, but for the casual viewer, he’d thrown his life away incidentally. The show’s writers had said that because the show’s Enterprise scenes were set some years ahead of the show’s normal continuity, then Tucker’s death was immaterial. He could have been back had the show been granted a fifth season. Brannon Braga has since said he had regrets about this being Enterprise’s final episode – even though all he wanted to do was to “send a love letter to the fans”, while Rick Berman has also expressed misgivings. Manny Coto even said this was more of an epilogue to the series, with the real finale being the previous two parter made up of “Demons” and “Terra Prime”. Perhaps the best thing about is was producer Mike Sussman’s suggestion that, rather than have the Enterprise warp off into the distance for the final shot, a montage of future ships to carry the name, along with their respective captains’ voiceovers, should be used. Whatever you think of the final episode, then this was a poignant way for Trek to finally leave television.

The Good

Exploration
Enterprise’s setting was prior to that of Star Trek’s most famous captain, James T. Kirk. That gave it scope to explore the “strange new worlds” that Kirk, Spock and company had already found, interfered with, and probably had coffee shops built in their honour. Archer’s crew were heading out into space for the first time, and as such, for the first few episodes, there was a sense of wonder, and trepidation, that chronologically later Trek series didn’t have. While Picard always seemed to be ferrying some alien envoy to a peace conference (a trope Enterprise would later inherit), Sisko settling some trade dispute and cataloguing his cargo bays, Janeway wanting to get her cranky misfit Voyager crew home as quickly as possible, and Kirk wanting to procreate with every female and fight ever male he came into contact with, Archer genuinely wanted to explore. The fact their ship was vastly inferior to other races to begin with also heightened the drama, as they couldn’t outrun or shoot their way out of every situation, and while Scott Bakula attracted criticism at time for his portrayal of Archer, the character was setting a precedent, often with no previous experience, every time he met a new race. Seeing how he would handle it, and what the response would be, was part of the fun.

Image via Paramount Television

Realism
Far away from the 60’s primary colour-fest of The Original Series, and the later pastel of The Next Generation and Voyager (plus the blacks and greys of Deep Space Nine), Enterprise had a look very close to modern day. There were uniforms with zips and undershirts – an conscious decision by costume designers to replicate modern navy and submarine garb – buttons, switches and manually operated doors that didn’t make a swishing noise. It was all part of an effort to make Earth technology and clothing as close to our time as possible. When future Trek series had replicators to conjure up any dish possible, Enterprise had a chef, a galley and a mess hall, and crucially, looked like they were eating actual food instead of some maddening bland looking block of nutrients. The joy of seeing Lieutenant Reed open a serving hatch and take out a piece of cake instead of a bowl of brown something appearing from a replicator was a sight to behold. Not only that, the more militaristic tone of the third and fourth seasons dictated the addition of dedicated special forces on board – as would be the case in real life. The decision to add fresh cast members in the form of the Military Assault Command Operations (or MACO) troopers added new life into the crew, and also meant that there was an excuse for more action packed episodes. Instead of Starfleet security staff judo throwing their way to the enemy, now there were actual soldiers who got involved too. It gave the show a more gritty feeling that, at that point, it was lacking.

Emotion
The best episodes of Star Trek have always involved the emotional vulnerabilities of its characters. Kirk being forced to pick between being in love with Edith Keeler or watching her die to preserve the future in “City on the Edge of Forever”, Picard realising his young nephew had died in a fire in France, reminding him of his own mortality in the movie Star Trek: Generations, or Sisko looking distraught at having to commit murder and lie about it to ensure the Federation had a chance of winning the Dominion War in “In the Pale Moonlight” – all examples of when the hard exterior of a Starfleet captain shattered, if only for a moment. Enterprise’s poignant scenes though, largely belonged to Connor Trinneer’s Commander Charles Tucker. With he, Archer and Jolene Blalock’s Vulcan science officer T’Pol replicating the Kirk – Spock – McCoy triumvirate of The Original Series, he often found himself being the heart of the show, compared to T’Pol’s colder, logical approach, and Archer being the squaring point between the two. Tucker loses his sister Elizabeth on Earth during the season two finale “The Expanse”, and Trinneer makes Tucker carry that with him throughout the rest of the show. He’s driven by grief, and that in turn leads to a romantic relationship with T’Pol – which is a natural character progression. Blalock’s character meant she couldn’t really display the emotion needed in the situations the two found themselves in, so Trinneer had to shoulder a greater burden. That’s even more evident during the penultimate Enterprise story in season four, when Earth supremacists clone a child from Tucker and T’Pol’s DNA. Both become attached to the child, and are genuinely saddened when a flaw in the cloning process sees it lose its life before the end of the tale. It’s hard not to be upset when they discuss the arrangements for the funeral, even though they hadn’t known the child long.

Image via Paramount Television

The crew
Enterprise’s crew had one big advantage over their chronological descendants – they were genuinely pioneers. As such each adventure for them was a big deal, because it was the first time they were encountering it. Picard et al were so blase about meeting Klingons they more or less treated them like long lost relatives. Archer and his crew were wary and more than a little scared. For that reason, Trip’s eagerness to go on away missions mirrored exactly what it would be like for most of us – falling over ourselves to get down there. Malcolm’s stoic nature and willingness to sacrifice himself was the story of someone who had something to prove, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Malcolm wanted to be a hero, and he saw the great open space as a way to do it. T’Pol actually developed over the course of the series, changing from typical Vulcan to a character struggling with her emotions and learning more about humans as a result. Mayweather was perhaps the least developed of all the crew, and that’s a little criminal given the performances of Anthony Montgomery. He could have been given much more to explore, especially given his backstory of being born on a freighter, and his all-too-late romantic history that was revealed in the penultimate episode. In truth, the good part about the crew was that they were all experiencing this together, passing on that sense of wonder and astonishment to the viewer. That’s highlighted during a touching scene in the episode “Breaking the Ice”, when they’re passing on details of their voyage to a class of schoolchildren back on Earth – it’s the type of thing that real astronauts do – proof that Enterprise was closer to modern day sci-fi than some of its contemporaries. During the Xindi arc of the third season, Archer himself undergoes a change – highlighted by perennial nemesis and Suliban leader Silik. He’s now more reckless, determined, and quick to anger. He’s changed from an explorer to a warrior, and it develops him to the extent that in the final season Archer is a much more rounded and experienced character – Credit must go to Scott Bakula for that.

The Mirror Universe episodes
These are more guilty pleasures than anything else, and serve as a little insight into what the cast could do if they were allowed to ham it up for the regular episodes. In a nutshell, the Mirror Universe is an alternate Star Trek dimension where the good guys are bad, and the bad guys are much worse. In the two parter “In a Mirror, Darkly”, the alternate Captain Archer is an ambitious usurper who stages a mutiny, and takes over the Mirror Enterprise to steal the USS Defiant (a future starship from The Original Series episode “The Tholian Web”) and conquer the universe. Bakula chews the scenery with aplomb. John Billingsley’s Mirror Phlox is supremely evil as a horrible geneticist as opposed to a kindly doctor, Tucker is an embittered grease monkey, and Mayweather and Malcolm are bloodthirsty soldiers who love blowing things up. Linda Park’s Hoshi Sato though, steals the show. Ostensibly as eye candy for whoever the ship’s captain may be (she’s the ship’s translator and communications officer in the “normal” universe”), she ends up being the architect of Archer’s eventual downfall in a glorious overplayed twist ending. It’d have been great to see more of these interpretations of these characters.

Image via Paramount Television

The birth of the Federation
Really, this was Enterprise’s premise all along: To chart the rise of humanity from being the galaxy’s newborn children to being a major power amongst other more senior spacefaring races. Season Four features the initial truce between Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans and Earth that would defeat a Romulan plot and lay the foundations of their future alliance, and whatever the criticisms levelled at Enterprise, that was pretty cool to see, given it was something which had defined every show that had chronologically followed it. To see Archer be one of the co-signers at the initial ratification of the Federation Charter, in the final episode “These are the Voyages”, was a special moment, and even if the series didn’t end the way most fans wanted. They at least got to see an occasion pivotal to the history of the show.

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