The Trouble with Enterprise

I hope to write a companion piece to this on the positive aspects of Star Trek Enterprise.   Sadly, I doubt it will have anywhere near the same wordcount.

There is a lot of bad in Enterprise. Tonnes of it- most of Season 1 and 2 in fact. Season 3 was interesting with its Xindi arc but it was Season 4 that truly felt like a prequel show – addressing why the Klingons appeared they way they do in The Original Series, fixing mistakes made with Vulcans earlier on and showing how they became the true Vulcans we see in earlier series. But one thing that was bad for many reasons was the Temporal Cold War.

I love time travel shows- Voyagers Year of Hell, Future’s End and Relativity. TNGs Times Arrow (an underrated story if you ask me) and Cause and Effect. DS9s The Visitor, Past Tense, The Sound of her Voice and of course Trials and Tribble-ations. TOSs City on the Edge of Forever and the movies The Voyage Home and First Contact. All of these are stand out shows and time travel is my favourite science fiction story type. So I should have been overjoyed with Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War. But I wasn’t. One main reason for this is it just doesn’t seem very urgent, not nearly as urgent as the Xindi arc of Season 3. The TCW is just there. Its something we vaguely know about but aren’t given any real information as to what it is or why its happening. We know that there are several factions in the 29th century and 31st and maybe elsewhere. We never know how many factions there are or why they are at war until we meet one faction – the Na’Khul – who believe they have the right to alter time as they please. But this is the most detailed explanation of why a conflict exists we ever get. We never find out who the Shadow Man from the 29th Century is, and we are never quite sure who Daniels is working for. Indeed, one potential thread which comes up and is pretty quickly dropped is the suggestion by the Na’Khul that Daniels is actually the antagonist and they are the good guys. This is pretty quickly dismissed but for me I think it would have made a much better twist – the human who we think is helping us is the baddie and the good guys are the ugly Nazi aliens. That’s a twist I’d have liked.

The other problem with the TCW is the appearance of the Na’Khul in the first place. So much time was spent building up the Suliban and the Shadow Man that it’s a shame we couldn’t have had a show down between Archer and Shadow Man, possibly it being revealed that Shadow Man is a corrupt, alternate time-line Archer. Now that again would have been good television.

Another failing of the TCW story is that it simply doesn’t make sense considering what we know of the Star Trek universe.  The reason we only ever see the Shadow man as a shadowy character is because in the 29th Century they have only developed time travel to allow an image to be projected into the past, not the whole form. This simply does not gel with what we know about the Star Trek universe and time travel. We know, for example, that by the 29th century Starfleet will be utilising time-ships in much the same way they once used star-ships. They can quite easily send people and vessels back in time. Maybe one could argue that Starfleet alone have access to this technology, but I find it hard to believe that considering one of the key purposes of these time-ships is to help protect against changes to the time line suggesting that time travel and time incursions are common enough to have dedicated Star-ships. Another problem is that in both the 23rd and 24th centuries not only do we see time travel occurring but that it occurs intentionally and not simply as a result of an accident (Past Tense, City on the Edge of Forever for example of accidental time travel). As early as Kirk’s era we see crews intentionally travelling back in time, indeed it seems so easy that Kirk is even sent back on one occasion to do general observation of the 1960s. Then we have the Borg who are able to travel through time in the 24th century using trans-warp conduits as easily as a star-ship can travel at warp 9. And what about Janeway in Endgame who straight up steals time travel technology from the Klingons. Or Chakotay and Kim when they alter the past in Timeless. Or how about in TNGs A Matter of Time where Rasmussen steals a time ship originating in the 26th century.

Nothing about the TCW holds water and what could have been a major plot arc with interesting stories became a dud. There are no good time travel episodes of Enterprise that spring to mind, and this was a show where for the first three seasons they had a Temporal Cold War on their doorstep.

Then we have trouble with characters- most of the characters on the show are quite well drawn and devlope well. Both Archer and T’Pol have clear and justifiable development as characters. Reed is pretty samey throughout, but it fits with who we are told he is in the early episodes. This is a man who had the same three meals a day for months on end just to prepare himself for endurance tests. Trip is probably the best Chief Engineer on any Trek show, yes better than Scotty and Geordies love child. Phlox is one of the most interesting Doctors we’ve seen, despite being an alien he feels quite humane. In fact, throughout Star Trek, the doctors are amongst the best written and crafted characters. I genuinely find it difficult to rank them knowing only that Pulaski is in bottom place. Hoshi also has some great character moments and though she, like Reed, doesn’t change, we do at least learn more about her and she feels like a real character. So why is this in the “Bad” section? Two words. Travis. Mayweather.

Travis is played by Anthony Montgomery, and his acting ability has been called in to question by others. However, its clear from episodes like Observer Effect that actually Montgomery isn’t a bad actor. Its Travis who sucks and the writers learn this early on. Outside as smattering of episodes in the first two seasons, Travis becomes little more than a walk-on extra throughout seasons 3 and 4. Indeed, it seems the most attention his character gets is in Observer Effect where actually, it isn’t Travis but an alien inhabiting Travis’ body. Throughout season 3 especially, Travis hardly gets screen time let alone lines. And the lines he does have could have been said by anyone. He is a non entity on Enterprise and the writers should have killed him off, possibly during the Xindi arc instead of killing off two dozen nameless red shirts. Outside of Tasha Yar and Trip, no other main character in Star Trek has died and remained dead (I’m not counting Admiral Forest as he is supporting cast) and Trip isn’t killed until the end of the finale episode anyway. This is the problem with ensemble shows, someone is always going to suffer and end up rather pointless. In TOS it was Chekov, in TNG it was Deanna, in DS9 it was Jake (who was principal cast as he was in the credits), in Voyager it was Harry Kim – and arguably Chakotay. In Enterprise it was sadly Travis, and in all honesty if one character was going to become insignificant he was the one it would be. All the others had pivotal roles, even Hoshi in a universe that hadn’t perfected the Universal Translator. There are even episodes where a nameless day player with zero lines is sat piloting the helm and we don’t really miss Travis. He was expendable and kind of useless and should have been killed off.

Then we have a large smattering of episodes that straight up make no sense and are amongst the worst of Trek. Its unsurprising that a lot of what we see on Enterprise has been done before, and better. But with a franchise spanning almost 800 episodes it isn’t unrealistic to expect ideas to vaporise. Many Enterprise episodes are amalgamations of previous stories told elsewhere. There are some stand out episodes in the early seasons- Shuttlepod One is a truly wonderful piece of drama, Dear Doctor is highly controversial but raises questions about the Prime directive and why it is needed. But much of the early seasons is forgettable. There were also attempts early on to get viewers hooked by using familiar characters and aliens. The Ferengi appear very early, despite not being met by the Federation until the TNG era. One argument to justify this is that they are never named as Ferengi, however it is clear the Ferengi are out there and have made contact with several planets fairly close to Earth- are we to believe that they managed to take part in piracy and trade with civilisations and vessels within a few light years of Earth but manage to avoid further contact with either the Vulcans, Humans, Tellerites or Andorians in that time? Its just too much of a leap.

Then we have issues with just how many humans are out there in the galaxy. Human colonies appear to be everywhere, freighters are zooming around at warp 2 and we even have a colony in the Delphic Expanse (Admittedly they were brought their by aliens, but it raises the question of just how far out into space humans have been). The show is also internally inconsistent. We are told that Klingons do not have escape pods, yet in almost every episode featuring Klingons we are told and even shown that they DO have escape pods. Archers father Henry also seems to have died at several different stages during Archers youth. At first we are told 12 but are later told his father was around when he entered Flight School. Do they send children to flight school in the 22nd century? Seems a bit of a stretch. And what about the transporter? We are told in Broken bow that the transporter has just been deemed fit to transport people, yet we meet the inventor of the transporter in season 4 and are told that they have been transporting humans for decades- even experimenting with sub space transport 15 years earlier. However, season 4 is the best season. It manages to really feel like a prequel show and tell some interesting stories. This is likely in no small part thanks to the new Executive Producer Manny Coto. It is a shame Coto wasn’t given the chance to continue as on the strength of his season 4 work it’s easy to believe season 5-7 would have elevated the show to Deep Space Nine levels of quality.

And no reflection on the show is complete without looking at These are the Voyages. The finale not just of Enterprise but of television Trek to date. Apparently this show was written as a valentine to the fans, but its been accepted more as a fuck you to the fans. The entire episode is set 6 years after the previous one and is in fact a Next Generation holodeck episode. It is absolutely not an episode of Enterprise. The Enterprise characters play second fiddle to Riker and Troi. Riker is having some problems and decides to look at the final mission of the Enterprise to get some perspective because. Well, just, because. The trouble is, this all happens within a fairly easy to forget episode of TNG- The Pegasus. The Pegasus isn’t a bad story, but it hardly presents a problem that needs solving through an extended Holodeck show. Also, no offence intended toward Jonathan Frakes but he very clearly isn’t the same Will Riker of the TNG episode not unless the stress of The Pegasus has caused him to fluctuate between young/ slim and old/ fat. If they really wanted to have Riker and Troi visiting the past via Holodeck why the hell not set it aboard the Enterprise E around the time of Nemesis? The only reason to set it during The Pegasus is to provide some nostalgia for when Trek was good. But this manages to sully both the memory of TNG and the end of Enterprise. If the producers really wanted to have it as a Valentine to the fans they could, nay should have either had this episode appear earlier in the season- which could actually have turned this show in to a classic. Or they should have not called it Enterprise and have it instead as a television special aired after the conclusion of Enterprise.  Another criticism of this episode is the killing off of Trip. This was absolutely not needed, didn’t make for dramatic scenes but instead angered the fans to such an extent that one of the first post Enterprise novels sought to retcon this death by saying it was all a fabrication by Section 31. The only way this episode could really have worked is to a) not kill Trip, b) not have it set so far after and c) have it placed earlier in the season. Those three tiny things would have elevated this episode to cult status.

When I first saw These are the Voyages I hadn’t seen much Enterprise and wasn’t a fan, so I liked it as a fan of TNG. Now as I make my way through Enterprise I am dreading reaching this episode but will do for completionist sake. I have only a few episodes to go and may well add an addendum here is those episodes are terrible, but form what I’ve heard, with the exception of These are the Voyages, I’m in for some great television, not just Star Trek.

It’s a shame that Enterprise was cancelled just when it was getting good. But with the horrendousness of the earlier shows, the complete re-write of Vulcan personalities (something that is later addressed but still doesn’t quite explain why they are all basically dicks), the not caring attitude toward continuity it is not surprising it was cancelled. Even the Xindi arc which went a long way to improving the show was not without flaws. It simply went on too long. One problem with such serialisation is that if you miss a few episodes you wont know whats going on and would feel it pointless to continue viewing. Enterprise had great potential- so did Voyager- but Berman and Braga as producers effectively destroyed the chances of televised Star Trek for years to come. It may seem unfair to put it all on their shoulders, there were a lot of writers who turned in sub par scripts, but as producers they were the guides and its clear to see form when Coto came on board that a good producer can make a wonderful show. Simply put Berman and Braga were not good producers and thanks to them both Voyager and Enterprised missed the mark by so much I can’t imagine a television network commissioning a new Trek series for another decade. We need to let the bad taste of the failings of Voyager and Enterprise fade and allow a new generation of producers to bring Star Trek back on course and boldly take the show where it has not gone before.

Oh, and that theme tune? Jesus Christ.

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One Response to The Trouble with Enterprise

  1. observaterry says:

    I agree with pretty much everything here. However, I seem to be the only person willing to say that I don’t have a problem with the theme song; Dennis McCarthy’s music -as it was throughout the Next Gen era- was utterly insipid, especially compared to better composers like Ron Jones who was fired for making music that was too good (eg, ‘Best Of Both Worlds’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Jones_%28composer%29 ).

    I thought the temporal war in ‘Enterprise’ was misconceived; it would’ve been better to concentrate on the work of building the Federation, and the Romulan War. It really went off the rails when they had the Xindi attack Earth in a thin allegory of 9/11. Season 3 didn’t do a hell of a lot for me. What really gets me is that by putting time back together again, they effectively nullified the whole temporal cold war story – in effect doing a Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower to three whole seasons of the show.

    I suppose each Trek reflects the time in which it was made – in Enterprise’s case, it was derailed by a bad response to war, the desire for action instead of thoughtful politics, and a sense of not really knowing what to do next – for the USA as well as the show’s producers.

    For me, it was a mixed bag. There was a lot to like about it, but a lot frustrated me because it could’ve been done so much better (something you couldn’t say in the same way for the original show, Next Gen or DS9; the Next Gen movies and Voyager were the warning signs that the franchise was getting moribund).

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