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Rediscovering Star Trek: Enterprise

I've been a fan of The Original Series of Star Trek since it first aired. It ran for 3 great seasons (I realized Season 3 was lower quality as I got older).

  • Star Trek Returns To The Small Screen

So I was in the same camp as all the other trekkers and trekkies who were looking forward to the reappearance of Star Trek on the TV when TNG came to our screens in 1987.

I actually found “Encounter at Farpoint” on the shelf in my local video rental store before it aired on TV so I grabbed and rushed home to watch it. My reaction? Dear, oh dear, what have they done to Star Trek? I thought pretty much everything about it was awful.

The first season of TNG lived up to my worst fears, culminating with the insulting “Up The Long Ladder” episode in Season 2. While TNG was strongest in Season 3/4, I never loved it. It was set too far in the future for my taste. I didn't want to see teenagers saving the ship every few episodes; I didn't like the touchy-feely character-driven stories; most episodes had B and C stories (in case the A story bored the audience) and, most of all, I didn't like that the Enterprise didn't do much exploring. It was all diplomatic missions, ferrying dignitaries and such - too much navel-gazing and ship-based stories. That said, there are a handful of first-class episodes that give any TV series a run for its money.

I also didn't like the flat lighting, low contrast and generally soft look of the series. Where TOS looked filmic, TNG looked like it was shot on low quality video cameras. The recent release of TNG on Blu-Ray has corrected all of those issues.

  • Then Came Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine was a departure from previous incarnations in that nobody went anywhere (for the most part) but aliens came to the station. It was also more big-story-arc driven than TNG. It suffered the same soft-focus, low-contrast fate as TNG which made it less appealing to watch. Because there was no spirit of exploration in it, it didn't appeal to me that much. However, I think it's stood the test of time better than TNG and doesn't look as dated. Overall, I'd say it's a stronger series than TNG.

  • And Then There Was Voyager

This started out strong with the “The Caretaker” season opener. It then rapidly went downhill. And kept going in that direction. I had high hopes that this would be the series to recapture the sense of excitement at discovering new life and new civilizations that TOS had given us. Sadly, it didn't. Easily the weakest of the Star Trek incarnations, this was a series mired in time-wasting technobabble, badly written A, B and C stories in each episode and an insipid cast (apart from Kate Mulgrew who I liked).

  • And Finally, There Was Enterprise

Back in 2001, when Star Trek: Enterprise first aired, I didn't much like the series. There was that woeful intro song (while I now like the melody, the lyrics still sound like a square song being hammered into a circular receptacle).

Then there was the fact that the ship looked far more modern than the original series (TOS) Enterprise, making it a bit jarring in terms of continuity.

Then it played fast and loose with Star Trek cannon, rewriting history with apparent abandon.

I gave up watching it somewhere in the second half of Season 1.

Roll forward a few years (about 2007/2008) when the series came out on DVD. I bought the first series and did that new TV-watching thing - I binge watched it. While getting through the first several episodes was a bit of an effort, the series picked up in the second half of the season. I liked it enough that I bought seasons 2-4 and watched them. And I really enjoyed them.

Roll on to a few weeks ago and for some reason I decided to re-watch Enterprise. Maybe it was because “Star Trek Into Darkness” left such a bad taste in my mouth and I'd recently come across a story about J.J. Abrams apologizing for his overuse of lens flares, that Trek came back into my consciousness.

So I delved back into Enterprise. And, you know what? I think it might be my favourite Star Trek series. While I love TOS, I've seen the episodes so often that I can't get anything new from them. And, even through my rose-tinted glasses, the series looks dated, even the remastered edition.

Binge-watching makes all the difference with some series as it allows you to immerse yourself in the world that's being presented to you.

What I like about “Enterprise” is that it captures that sense of adventure that was such a part of The Original Series. The ship and its crew go out exploring and do actually seek out new life and new civilizations. And they have to be resourceful in handling the outcomes when things inevitably go wrong.

I can forgive the changes to the Star Trek cannon because the series' heart is in the right place, more so than any of the previous Trek outings (apart from TOS, of course).

Most episodes centre on a single story and devote the 42 minutes to it (as did TOS, though it had a longer running time of about 47 minutes). Where B and C stories do exist, they're low key and are related to the A story rather than being totally separate (and distracting) sub-plots as appeared in TNG and Voyager (I don't remember DS9 well enough to say).

There's minimal technobabble (a time-wasting exercise invented by bad writers), and stories move along at a good pace. And most of the episodes are good. There are always some clunkers in a series but overall, I found the episodes in Enterprise to be of better quality than in previous versions of Trek.

Enterprise really got into its stride in Season 2 and ended with a great cliffhanger that led into a much darker Season 3. Easily the best season of “Enterprise”, this was one long story-arc rather than discretely episodic. Captain Archer is faced with strong moral dilemmas (a true facet of real Star Trek) along with his crew. All undergo trauma of some sort and each is radically affected by the events in this season. This isn't the touch-feely crap so prevalent in TNG - the closest affecting episode there would be “The Inner Light” (Season 5).

With the close of Season 3, Enterprise returned to more episodic territory in Season 4, though it was comprised of 2 and 3-part stories. This season also has the brilliant “In a Mirror, Darkly” two-part episode. This story is set in the Mirror universe (first introduced in TOS) and stands completely separate from the rest of “Enterprise”. Even the opening credits were redesigned for these two episodes.

  • The Trouble With Vulcans

Most actors can't play Vulcans. They think they're humans with pointy ears. Actors are all about emoting and Vulcans are the antithesis of this. You can see how badly most actors portray Vulcans by wearing their emotions on their sleeves - smiling, grimacing, getting angry (this applies especially to Zachary Quinto's Spock), etc. Pretty much every actor in “Enterprise” who plays a Vulcan misses that stillness and stoicism that I've come to realize was so brilliantly characterized by the actors in TOS - Leonard Nimoy as Spock, Mark Lenard as Sarek, Celia Lovsky as T'Pau, Arlene Martel as T'Pring and even Lawrence Montaigne as Stonn. Anyone playing a Vulcan should watch the original “Amok Time” episode for a masterclass on how to play a Vulcan.

Jolene Blalock as T'Pol in “Enterprise” nailed it. She's the best played Vulcan since Spock and Sarek. Gary Graham has a recurring role as Vulcan Ambassador Soval but, again, he's far too emotional. He does get better as the seasons progress though.

“Enterprise” was cancelled after 4 seasons. It ended on a whimper. The final episode was a complete let-down (like Voyager's was) and takes the format of Commander Riker (TNG) looking back at the final mission of the NX-01 (Enterprise). Maybe cancellation came quickly and there was little time to put a fitting farewell episode together.

TOS didn't have a stellar final episode either (Turnabout Intruder), so Enterprise is in good company.

Enterprise is the forgotten gem in the Star Trek Universe. For me, it has everything that makes Star Trek “Star Trek”. It's got what J.J. Abrams and his lousy writers completely missed - moral dilemmas, stories that make you think, proper character development, an understanding of Vulcans, it doesn't use “magic” technology to quickly solve a plotting problem, it has a true sense of adventure, of being “out there” for the first time, seeking out new life and new civilizations and boldly going where no one has gone before.

If you gave “Enterprise” a miss first time round, think again. This is real Star Trek!


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