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Star Trek: Enterprise – Strange New World (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Strange New World is the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to come from a writing team other than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman. Berman and Braga would dominate the writing credits for the first season. Even when the final teleplay was credited to another writer or writing team, there was often a “story by” credit given to Berman and Braga. Braga himself has conceded that he essentially re-wrote all of the episodes of the first season.

Still, Strange New World is credited to the writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Both had worked on Star Trek: Voyager before migrated to Star Trek: Enterprise along with André Bormanis. Sussman had pitched the story for Meld and worked on a number of solo stories and scripts before teaming with Strong on the seventh and final season of the show. The two would remain a writing team for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, hitting their stride with some of the strongest episodes of the troubled second season.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

Strange New World is an interesting début for the pair. On the hand, it is a story that celebrates the unique place of Star Trek: Enterprise in the Star Trek pantheon. It’s a story about how great it must be to set foot on an alien planet, and how wondrous it must be to breath air from outside our atmosphere. With its emphasis on shuttlepods and primitive transporters, it does remain relatively true to the prequel premise of Enterprise.

On the other hand, Strange New World is a very familiar Star Trek template. Indeed, it’s a very familiar first season template. It’s the episode where the crew of the ship are exposed to some strange outside force that makes them all act out of character. It’s something of a Star Trek standard. The original Star Trek had The Naked Time and Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Naked Now, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had both Babel and Dramatis Personae. In many ways, Strange New World feels like a familiar old story.

Strange yellow daisy fields forever...

Strange yellow daisy fields forever…

To be fair, there are lots of reasons to do an “out of character” episode so early in a show’s run. In terms of science-fiction plots, it’s a very basic and easy-to-justify premise. It’s also an effective way to demonstrate that our heroes are engaging with forces that are beyond our comprehension. Space isn’t just home to Klingons or Romulans, but to existential horrors that will chip away at and erode our very sense of self. It’s a great hook, and it makes sense to include a story like this in the first season of a prequel show.

From a purely pragmatic production point of view, these stories are also great for establishing the dramatic ability of the cast. Auditioning the primary cast of show will generally ensure that you end up with an ensemble that can play the roles as written. However, if you want to grow and develop those roles, it’s probably best to play to the strengths of the performers. Consider how Voyager re-conceptualised Tom Paris to fit Robert Duncan McNeill’s style – turning him more into “cool dad” rather than “flirty rogue”, or how Deep Space Nine eventually figured out how to make Jadzia Dax work for Terry Farrell.

Oh, so THAT's what happened to the aliens from Conspiracy...

Oh, so THAT’s what happened to the aliens from Conspiracy

So episodes like Strange New World are a great opportunity to see what the cast can do. Asking various performers to step outside the comfort zone established in the pilot is the best way to get a sense of their relative skill level. And Strange New World demonstrates that Connor Trineer is probably going to be one of the ensemble’s best assets. (Of course, Unexpected would help to cement that, putting him through the old “thankless script” routine.) It also confirmed that Jolene Blalock was reliable in the role of T’Pol, even if the writing was not always ideal.

However, the flip side of that equation is the fact that this is essentially a very traditional Star Trek plot. “This experience is only marginally different,” T’Pol remarks of her trip to the planet, and she is correct. One of the more appealing attributes of doing a prequel series rather than a sequel series was the opportunity to get away from the familiar Star Trek plots and clichés – an opportunity to engage with a wondrous universe, embracing the kind of things that have become commonplace in the later shows.

Pistols slightly before dawn...

Pistols slightly before dawn…

And, for a little while, Strange New World seems to strike that note. This is the story of one of the crew’s first encounters with an inhabitable planet. It isn’t the first, as Broken Bow had the crew visiting Rigel X and Qo’nos, while Fight or Flight had the crew stopping at another planet to let Hoshi’s pet slug off the ship. Still, there’s a sense of excitement and novelty to all this. There’s a sense that Archer stumbling across a planet like this is a much bigger deal than Kirk or Picard encountering another M-class planet.

Framing the arrival through the eyes of the lower-deck crew members is a nice touch as well. After all, we’ve only seen the senior staff leave the ship up to this point. Most of the less senior crew members have been cooped up on a ship that resembles a submarine since Broken Bow. So having the crew assemble around the viewports to get a good look at this new planet is an endearing visual. It’s nice to get a sense that the universe is big and vast and amazing, and it comes quite close to fulfilling the promise that Enterprise would put more relatable characters in space.

Going green...

Going green…

It’s also nice to get a sense of life on the ship that extends beyond characters likely to be invited to dine at the captain’s table. One of the more disappointing aspects of Voyager was the way that the show never built up a proper supporting cast of characters. Despite the fact that the show was about two crews stuck on a ship together trying to get home, it often felt like it was the leads and the guest stars of a given week. In contrast Deep Space Nine managed to build up a pretty solid recurring cast over its seven years on the air.

Enterprise eventually strikes something of an awkward balance here. The show develops an impressive recurring cast of characters like Soval, Forrest, Shran, Hernandez or Duras. However, the vast majority of these characters are outside the crew of the Enterprise. Strange New World introduces two lower-deck crew members, Ethan Novakovich and Elizabeth Cutler. Novakovich was never seen again – although he had been designed as a one-shot guest star. Cutler appeared twice more over the course of the first season and was fleetingly mentioned in the third.

Just trying to Trip her up...

Just trying to Trip her up…

(It is worth noting that the premature death of Kellie Waymire in November 2003 may have been a factor in Cutler’s disappearance from the show. According to producer Rick Berman, the show had been planning to bring Cutler back at the time of Waymire’s passing. However, the character had not appeared at all during the show’s second season. Either way, it’s disappointing that Cutler was really the only major recurring Enterprise crew member outside the regular cast for the first few seasons.)

Of course, the reason that Novakovich was unlikely to recur is due to the fact that he was originally intended to die over the course of Strange New World. Indeed, the episode seems structured so that Novakovich’s death is practically a given. He is the first crew member to freak out on the alien planet, he is put through the transporter, and he suffers unforeseen complications from a strange infection. Taking all that into consideration, Novakovich may just be the luckiest member of Starfleet not to appear in the opening credits of any series.

This is their window of opportunity to get off the ship...

This is their window of opportunity to get off the ship…

As Mike Sussman has confessed, the original plan to kill off Novakovich met with some understandable resistance:

In an early draft, Novakovich did die after sniffing the alien pollen (I guess that means he would’ve been pushing up the hallucinogenic daisies). It was felt at the time that the death of a crewmember would require time to show Archer and the crew dealing with the loss, and there wasn’t time for such a scene. Personally, I always liked how Kirk shrugged off casualty reports like they were yesterday’s sports scores.

While Sussman is perhaps being a little too glib, it does raise an interesting discussion about Enterprise‘s attitude towards crew casualties.

A rocky alliance...

A rocky alliance…

As with a lot of the choices facing the production staff on Enterprise, it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. On the one hand, killing crew members off regularly was a tired storytelling device. There’s a reason that the term “red shirt” is used with such self-aware irony. Killing off characters we hardly know in order to generate drama is lazy writing. On a purely practical note, it’s hard to accept the Enterprise as a ship alone on the frontier if it has so many replacements to hand that it can handily kill off crew members every other week.

On the other hand, the threats to the ship and the crew needed to feel real and meaningful. These were pioneers carving out a new frontier. They were engaging in a risky activity. The production staff have argued that Enterprise was modeled on The Right Stuff, the story of NASA’s attempts to put men into space. However, those attempts cost lives. As tragic as those losses might be, that element of risk gave the decision to press on more weight than it might otherwise have had.

Don't worry, I'd be pretty jumpy too if I were one of two people on the mission without my name in the opening credits...

Don’t worry, I’d be pretty jumpy too if I were one of two people on the mission without my name in the opening credits…

In the documentary Uncharted Territory, writer Chris Black remembers having these sorts of discussions about the show:

I remember at one point coming in and pitching some story – I don’t even remember what it was. There was an issue with the transporter and it didn’t work and being told, “No, no, no, the ship works fine; everything works fine.” And it was like… really? Because I thought kinda the premise of the show was that it was new and untested? And it was like, “No, the ship works fine.” So it was those kind of things where I felt the premise of the show was slowly being whittled away. And, like I say, that may well have come down from studio and network. I don’t know.

Here, despite being told that the transporter is a risky and unsafe device and witnessing Novakovich beamed up with branches and leaves embedded in his body, it all works out okay in the end. Phlox can repair the damage. There are no lasting repercussions or consequences.

Looking homeward...

Looking homeward…

This became something of an on-going debate about the show. Some fans quite liked the idea that death wasn’t treated as casually as it had been on Voyager. Other fans protested that the refusal to kill off supporting cast members made everything feel a little too “safe” for a ship that was supposed to pioneering space exploration. While both sides of the argument have valid points, it’s something of a false dichotomy.

It is possible to kill off a guest star and have the death mean something. On The Next Generation, The Bonding is an episode built around the death of a co-star the audience never actually met. On Deep Space Nine, The Ship goes out of its way to mourn the loss of crew members killed during an away mission. It would have been quite easy to kill of Novakovich without resorting to traditional “red shirt” clichés, if Enterprise were a more adventurous show.

Stopping to smell the poppies...

Stopping to smell the poppies…

Novakovich could have been introduced in earlier episodes like Broken Bow or Fight or Flight. To avoid making his fate too obvious, he could have been introduced as Archer’s first choice for science officer, replaced by T’Pol. (After all, one imagines that must have come up at some point.) Or he could have been a supporting character and friend to another member of the main cast. He could have been working in engineering on science stuff, or been Reed’s old buddy from college. These are fairly cliché, but they’re more effective than “that guy we just met.”

Alternatively, the show could have kept the character as a one shot character first appearing in this episode. After all, maybe it’s implausible for Archer or the senior staff to already know everybody on board. Instead, his death could have been carried over to the next episode. Open the episode with his funeral, have the crew reflect on his loss and the implications of his death. Of course, Unexpected would have been a bad fit for that sort of plot, but it might work well in the background of something like Vox Sola or Silent Enemy.

Hey, look, there are other characters on the ship!

Hey, look, there are other characters on the ship!

This approach would also have the benefit of ensuring that Unexpected was not the fourth episode of the show to air, which is enough alone to recommend it. However, Enterprise is not a show that leans towards serialisation or long-form storytelling, at least not in its first season. What is raised within an episode has to be dealt with within the forty-five minutes of that episode. It is something that causes a lot of problems in the first season, and has the net effect of diminishing how big a deal this should be and how real the concerns must be.

For better or worse, the production team decided not to kill of Novakovich. The trip through the transporter is an excuse for some pretty nice make-up work, but it’s little more than a hiccup in the episode. One wonders why Archer doesn’t just order the rest of the away team through the transporter, knowing that Phlox will be able to fix most of them up quite nicely. The transporter might be a tiny bit glitchy under sub-optimal conditions, but between this and its handy resolution to Broken Bow, it’s a lot harder to accept the implicit risk of the device.

Sleepover time!

Sleepover time!

Strange New World is also the first point where the show puts establishing risk and stakes on the long-finger. From here until the third season, the show seems to push the idea of demonstrating the dangers of space travel further and further out, as Mike Sussman has conceded:

Who knew then that, two years later, the lack of casualties would be criticised to the other extreme as unrealistic. “It was never intentional,” Sussman says. “It’s just that whenever we tried to kill someone, it never quite seemed the right way to do it, so it never happened.”

It became something that the show clearly wanted to do, but never found the time to explore. This is an understandable problem, even if it’s hard to accept that Enterprise thought episodes like Unexpected, Two Days and Two Nights and Acquisition were better ideas than exploring the risks that come with space flight.

Sampling her work...

Sampling her work…

Of course, the low casualty rate on Enterprise might be more plausible if the plots didn’t hinge of the crew behaving like over-eager amateurs. Had Archer been more cautious or professional during these missions, the lack of a bodycount would make sense. Unfortunately, many of the early episodes of Enterprise rely on the crew behaving like fools in order to generate plot – Archer makes a decision that puts the crew in an risky position. Fight or Flight is an example, with Archer’s heroic conduct nearly getting the ship killed. Here, he strands a team on a strange planet.

The way that Archer the crew manage to consistently escape without any trouble (or any cost) becomes frustration, as does their refusal to learn from any of the experiences. In Strange New World, T’Pol repeatedly cautions the crew about the need to properly survey the planet before sending down a team. Her cautious approach is vindicated when it turns out that local planet life creates spores that drive the crew into a paranoid frenzy. Had Archer listened to her and done the proper investigation, the risk could have been avoided.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

However, Strange New World doesn’t give us a scene where Archer and Trip apologise to T’Pol for disregarding her advice out of hand. Instead, the show offers a scene where Phlox is very apologetic about not being able to foresee the way that Novakovich’s symptoms might develop. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Captain,” he tells Archer. There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that Archer’s gung-ho attitudes were responsible for sending Novakovich down to the planet in the first place.

The episode also lacks any sense that Archer and Trip have learned from the experience at all. The very next episode features Trip repeating the mistakes made here, failing to appreciate that things that look innocent may be dangerous. Over the course of the series, Archer will make a number of similar errors, foolhardily refusing to treat nature and the universe with the respect that it deserves. It’s this attitude, coupled with the lack of any real consequences, that sits so uncomfortably.

Gettin' their grove on...

Gettin’ their grove on…

To be fair, this is another point where discussion over Enterprise tends to split. There’s an argument that Archer and his crew are inexperienced and unseasoned. These are precisely the sorts of mistakes that somebody with no knowledge of the cosmos would make. There’s no reason that Archer should be as experienced and as capable as Kirk or Picard, because he doesn’t have any frame of reference for what is going on.

On the other hand, episodes like Strange New World are frequently used as a crutch against Archer. They are presented as evidence against the character, suggesting that Archer is incompetent or incapable. To be fair, this is an exaggeration. While the character’s happy-go-lucky attitude towards the galaxy could be unsettling and frustrating, the show was struggling to find the right balance in its portrayal of mankind’s first journey to the stars.

"And this was the last time Trip was allowed to bring his own home brew on a mission..."

“And this was the last time Trip was allowed to bring his own home brew on a mission…”

As with most issues on Enterprise, the disagreement presents a false dichotomy and the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The problem wasn’t so much that Archer made stupid mistakes during his first year in command of the ship, the problem was that he refused to learn from them. Archer never seemed appropriately humbled or enlightened by his encounters. The show would repeat the formula far too often.

One of the defining moments for The Next Generation occurred when Q humbled Picard in Q Who? After a season-and-a-half of treating mankind as hyper-competent and hyper-evolved, it was a moment that revealed that the Federation was not ready for everything. The problem with the first and second seasons of Enterprise is that it feels like Archer confronts these moments on a weekly basis, but it takes him two years to reach the epiphany.

Having a bit of a blast...

Having a bit of a blast…

Still, there are nice moments in Strange New World. The idea of “space age ghost stories” is a surprisingly endearing concept, and one that offers some charming world-building – it’s a nice example of Enterprise doing its “things are different in the future, but not too different” schtick. It also ranks as the best use of Travis all season, and the idea of space-age urban legends that sound suspiciously like the kinda crap that Kirk and Picard faced on a weekly basis is very witty.

“Some people say it was an alien life form that got into him, others think it was the ghost of a dead crewman,” Mayweather tells us, in what sounds like a snippet overheard from a pitch meeting. “I never knew what to believe, but Webb is still out there, drifting. When the subspace noise is real low, some comm. officers say they can still hear the echo of his distress call. Beep, Beep.” It’s a very corny little scene, but it works very well.

Stoking the fire...

Stoking the fire…

Although Strange New World was written before 9/11 – it was written before the show was even cast – it also manages to engage with post-9/11 realities. Many of the individual elements of the first season seem bizarrely prescient in this respect, even if it doesn’t quite add up to the same biting social commentary that Deep Space Nine offered in the nineties. Here, there’s a very heavy undertone of anxiety and paranoia.

When Trip rants and raves about T’Pol’s plots and Vulcan conspiracy, he voices fears that seem to echo the concerns of the “truther” movement. He is suddenly accusing T’Pol of lies and cover-ups, arguing that the destruction of Enterprise and the loss of everybody on board would be part of some elaborate conspiracy to justify a political end. “Your people have been telling us that kind of crap for a hundred years,” he accuses. “Looks like you finally found a way to put us back in our cage.”

Oh no, space tourists!

Oh no, space tourists!

When Travis voices confusion, Trip articulates his theories, “Imagine the news back home, Travis. Enterprise crew found dead. Six weeks into their historic voyage, the bodies of all eighty two crewmembers were located on an uninhabited world. A Vulcan ship made the unfortunate discovery. Cause of death remains a mystery. But what the Vulcans won’t say is they know exactly who attacked us. In fact, they arranged the whole thing.” It sounds suspiciously like the arguments of people who believe that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the government.

This is, of course, all a coincidence. Airing less than a month after the attacks, Strange New World aired before the “truther” movement had an opportunity to become mainstream. Indeed, given the awkwardness with which Enterprise would try to deal with the post-9/11 climate during its first two years on the air, it seems unlikely that Strange New World could have been written (or even re-written) as an commentary or exploration of that culture. It’s just a nice little point of resonance.

Captain Archer has already figured out his pose for the annual Star Trek "ship of the line" calendar...

Captain Archer has already figured out his pose for the annual Star Trek “ship of the line” calendar…

To be fair, there is a timeless element to the paranoia at the heart of Strange New World. With a story by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, it’s easy to imagine Strange New World as a companion piece to Braga’s own Cathexis from the first season of Star Trek: Voyager. The episode riffs on a very retro sense of paranoia and mistrust. It hits on the same core themes as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street and almost plays as an example of Cold War paranoia about supposed allies colluding with sinister outside forces.

Along with the focus on trippy drugs and strange pollen, this makes Strange New World feel a little bit like a fifties or sixties throwback. (As much as the coincidental echoes of the “truther” movement would seem to anchor it in the present.) “You’ve all been exposed to a psychotropic compound,” Archer warns the away team. “It causes heightened anxiety; hallucinations.” He seems like a public service announcement from the late fifties or early sixties. LSD will make you see rock monsters and freak out with your friends.

Worlds apart...

Worlds apart…

Indeed, Strange New World pushes the “drug trip” aspect of the story quite heavily. Not only is the drug that caused the freak out a “psychotropic compound” like LSD, it is also derived from a flower, recalling opiates. “The compound comes from the pollen of a flower,” Phlox advises. “We think it was blown down from the mountains when the wind started.” The rather specific mention of the mountains evokes the opium trade, which flourishes along the mountain ranges of Asia. The trade flourished during the late fifties and sixties.

Another example of overlap between sixties and contemporary culture, it is worth noting that the production of opium ties back into the post-9/11 War on Terror. By November 2001, a month after Strange New World aired, a collapsing national economy in the wake of an invasion launched the week that Strange New World aired had seen more and more Afghan farmers resorting to the production of the opium poppy in order to sustain themselves.

Cavern fever...

Cavern fever…

All of this gives Strange New World a rather strange resonance. As a television show, Enterprise exists in a rather strange middle ground between the present and the past. The show is structured both as a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact and a prequel to the original Star Trek. As such, it is rooted in both the sixties and the present, something that the show often struggles to reconcile. (Consider, for example, its issues with gender and sexuality – Enterprise‘s attempts at doing a “sex romp” never end well.)

However, Strange New World is perfectly positioned between the two eras, the rare example of an episode that could stand very well as a piece of sixties science-fiction, but also resonates with contemporary audiences. It’s probably more down to luck than design, but it does feel worthy of note and acknowledgement. In a way, despite the problems with the episode, the first season of Enterprise would be a lot stronger if more episodes could strike that sort of balance.

"It's beautiful..."

“It’s beautiful…”

That said, it is strange that the first season’s attempts to make the crew of the ship more relatable consist primarily of making them more racist. Coupled with the fact that this is the least ethnically diverse ensemble since The Next Generation, the dynamic is distinctly uncomfortable. Even before Trip catches cavern fever, he is making all sorts of derogatory remarks about T’Pol. When Cutler politely attempts to strike up a conversation with T’Pol, Trip quips, “You’d have better luck making friends with a house fly.”

It would be one thing if the crew’s treatment of T’Pol in the cave were an anomaly, but Strange New Worlds never acknowledges that this is just an exaggerated form of the prejudice that she has been facing since joining the mission. While Archer hasn’t threatened T’Pol with a phase pistol, his attitude towards her isn’t that different from Trip’s own paranoid fantasies. When she comes on board in Broken Bow, he almost immediately accuses her of being a Vulcan spy.

Oddly enough, Trip is proving to be the most troublesome engineer in the franchise, more troublesome than the Chief Engineer who used to be terrorist...

Oddly enough, Trip is proving to be the most troublesome engineer in the franchise, even more troublesome than the Chief Engineer who used to be terrorist…

(To be fair, it is clear that Enterprise is trying to replicate the “big three” dynamic that defined the original show, casting Trip as McCoy and T’Pol as Spock. Certainly, McCoy was more than capable of making racist remarks about Spock. The difference is that Kirk tended to offset McCoy’s racism, and that he was life-long friends with both characters. In contrast, both Archer and Trip both seem aligned against T’Pol from the outset of Enterprise – almost as if they are picking on the new girl who would dare to ruin their boys’ club.)

Still, with Strange New World, the show is working on developing its cast dynamics. While Archer, Trip and T’Pol are established as the show’s de facto lead characters, the series is trying to fit the rest together. Strange New World tries putting Trip and Mayweather together as buddies, to see if the two play well off one another. The results are less-than-stellar, with Mayweather feeling less essential to the story than either Novakovich or Cutler.

There's an alternate cut of the episode where Trip and Travis resolve their problem by building a tree house. T'Pol spends the rest of the episode trying to guess the password.

There’s an alternate cut of the episode where Trip and Travis resolve their problem by building a tree house. T’Pol spends the rest of the episode trying to guess the password.

To be fair, while the show never figured out how to work with the character, Enterprise did attempt to find dynamics that could work for Mayweather. When Trip didn’t strike it off with Mayweather, the show would try to push Reed and Mayweather in Breaking the Ice. (Oddly enough, the show would finally manage to get a bro-mantic pairing to work with Trip and Reed, locking Mayweather out.)

Speaking of Reed, the early first season episodes tend to play the character more as the Captain’s wry personal assistant than as tactical or security officer. Here, he’s presented as the somewhat cynical and detached military man who has to put up with Archer’s more relaxed and personal command style. “You’d make a good two metre man,” Archer suggests, after throwing a water polo ball at his security officer. “Too bad we don’t have a pool on board.” Reed deadpans, with all the sincerity of Kiff Kroaker, “A shame.”

Sparks fly!

Sparks fly!

(To pick a more practical example, it is Reed who points out that it is impossible to land the shuttle pod during the hurricane, over Archer’s objections. Reed is the character who essentially forces the issue here, pushing Archer to make the difficult – but correct – choice, while Archer himself is willing to risk more lives against unreasonable odds. It’s a scene that reinforces the sense that Archer is a character who isn’t necessarily cut out for command.)

Dominic Keating does great work with the minimal material given to him, playing Reed with just the right amount of wry detachment to make the dynamic work. There are a number of points in the early episodes where Reed’s answers seem just a little too sharp or too smart, with just the faintest hint of sarcasm underpinning them. There’s a lovely little sequence in Unexpected where Archer asks about the safety of lighting the ship’s exhaust, and Reed seems to be humouring him.

Caving under the pressure...

Caving under the pressure…

Strange New World, like Fight or Flight before it, is an episode of Enterprise that struggles to reconcile the old and the new. The episode tries to engage with the novelty of this sort of exploration, while struggling against the familiarity of Star Trek storytelling. While it doesn’t quite succeed, the result is interesting and suggests potential for the future. Strange New World might not be strange enough or new enough, but it seems at least aware of the need to break out of the mold.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

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7 Responses

  1. I liked Cutler. Poor Kellie Waymire. 😦

    I do wonder though if it is fair to compare the supporting cast of DS9 with Enterprise. DS9 had the tremendous advantage of having a lot of non-Starfleet even in the main cast: Kira, Quark, Odo, Jake. We had every chance to see an internal viewpoint outside that of a Starfleet officer. When you include the supporting cast they in turn brought in you just had much richer tapestry to draw from. In contrast Archer’s Enterprise was a navy ship and the opportunities were just much more limited. Even DS9 told us very little of the lower ranks of Starfleet, presumably because it’s not all that exciting to watch Ensign Smith and Jones mop the floors every week.

    Also in defence of the Vulcan bashing, I seem to recall Spock was at least as racist as McCoy. 😉

    • Good point, but I think even The Next Generation managed a more rounded supporting cast than Enterprise, despite its confined setting. Enterprise never quite managed to have “around in the background long enough to develop” characters like Ogawa or O’Brien or “introducing a crew member so we might use them through the season” like Ro.

      It was very sad about Kellie Waymire.

    • While it’s true that Spock spars with McCoy, I think the meaning of his actions is different from the meaning of McCoy’s. Think about it: As far as we know, Spock is the only Vulcan on the ship. In fact, as far as we know, Spock is the only non-human on the entire ship, at least until Star Trek: The Animated Series. So when McCoy makes fun of Spock’s Vulcan features, he does it from the majority position, as one of 429 humans aboard the ship. When Spock makes fun of McCoy’s human features, he does it from the minority position, as the single non-human in a group of 429 humans.

      If the positions in the Spock-and-McCoy sparring feel equal to you, translate them into a real-world context instead. Imagine that McCoy was “teasing” the one black crew member about the color of his skin, while that single black crew member teased the white doctor about the color of his. Those two things would feel very different! Most people would see the black crew member’s giving as good as he got as his standing up for himself and would see the white crew member’s remarks as racist. And that’s the point of view I take for the Spock-McCoy sparring.

      Yes, Spock gives as good as he gets most of the time (though he never descends to the level of nastiness McCoy reaches in “The Tholian Web.”) But the MEANING of what Spock does is different, because his position on the ship is different. Being a member of a minority is wildly different from being a member of the majority.

      Of course, this kind of analysis is a lot more common today than it was in 1966; I think this sort of thing would have been invisible to most white Americans in 1966. So I don’t blame TOS for McCoy’s unfortunate attitudes; they were a product of the time. But we know better now; at least, I hope we do!

      I’ve written a story curing McCoy of his anti-Vulcan prejudice, here, if the idea interests you.

  2. Because Star Trek Discovery is supposed to be set between TOS and Enterprise, I’ve started watching ENT for the first time. (I’ve seen all of TOS many times, the first seven episodes of TNG, none of DS9, and the first two seasons of VOY.) Then, as soon as I’ve finished the episode, I come here to see what you have to say about it.

    Both the previous episode — “Fight or Flight” — and this one had me shrieking “Are you people freaking STUPID!” at the screen. I know that this is supposed to be humankind’s first foray into space, but we’ve been THINKING about entering space since the days of H. G. Wells. ENT evidently takes place in an alternate universe, one in which there is no science fiction. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why Archer does such STUPID things.

    The scripts act as if we’re supposed to see T’Pol as a stuck-up bitch, but actually, it seems to me as if she’s the only one with a clue. No, we CAN’T stick around to contact the families of the aliens in “Fight or Flight,” because OUR WEAPONS ARE BROKEN, and the bad guys who killed the aliens are coming back to harvest their fluids at any moment.

    No, we SHOULDN’T waltz onto a strange planet without having done any preliminary surveys first. I couldn’t believe that Archer even brought his DOG down to the planet, where he let it roam free, knowing that dogs — especially beagles, which are known to be serious food hounds — will eat pretty much anything they come across. By rights, Archer’s dog should have died of poisoning in this episode. No, by rights, Archer’s dog should never have made it to this episode, because the evil aliens from last week should have blown up the entire ship.

    I know they’re beginners. But geeze, don’t they THINK? Hasn’t Archer ever been exposed to the fictional equivalent in his world that Jim Kirk is in mine? I learned that pretty planets could be dangerous by watching “The Apple” and “The Way to Eden” and a bunch of other episodes. Archer’s had Starfleet training — which this episode tells us involved simulations — and he doesn’t seem to have thought as much about exploring a new planet as *I* have.

    The show shouldn’t make us think the captain is an idiot or think we could make better decisions than he did even with half our brains removed. Sure, make the captain of ENT less of a captial-H Hero and more of a regular guy than Kirk was; that’s fine with me. But make the audience look DOWN on him, and you have ruined your character.

    People told me I would hate the Vulcans in ENT, but so far I don’t. I don’t much care for the bitch face that T’Pol seems to be wearing nearly all the time, but so far, she’s the only one I actually respect. I feel sorry for her; not only is she facing a lot of prejudice, but she’s like a governess with too many children in her care, children who don’t even have to mind her and who she can only persuade, not control. Being the only actual adult on board seems like a very lonely and frustrating position. I guess I take it back about the bitch face; if I were in her position, I’d probably make that face, too.

    Sheesh. From what you say, it’s gonna keep on being like this. *sigh*

    I guess I needed to rant; sorry to have dumped it all on you. 🙂

    • No worries about the venting! I hope I’m here to help!

      If you don’t mind my asking, that is a very strange selection of Star Trek, outside of TOS. Is there a reason you only watched the first seven episodes of TNG? The first two seasons are generally quite terrible, with a few notable exceptions (The Measure of a Man, Q Who?, A Matter of Honour, The Emissary). If you’re interested in trying again, I’d recommend jumping on around season three? The show’s final five seasons are pretty great.

      DS9 is an acquired taste, although I think it’s a great example of updating Star Trek for the twenty-first century, dealing with issues like multiculturalism and religion (and politics) in a way that the other series don’t. Although I can understand Star Trek fans have ideological objections to certain storytelling decisions in abstract, I think it’s very true to the spirit of Star Trek. (It’s actually the most Coon-ian and least Roddenberry-ian of the spin-offs, if that makes sense.)

      The first two seasons of Voyager are an interesting choice, because I’d argue the show actually begins improving in its third season. I think it’s the weakest of the shows in the franchise, but the first two years are particularly tough, because there are a lot of outright terrible episodes in there. But I have a fondness for the third and fourth seasons, as produced by Jeri Taylor.

      Enterprise… is a mess. Particularly for the first two years. I’ve mentioned it on here a couple of times, but the second season is so bland that it actually led me to stop watching Star Trek. It’s not terrible (TNG S1, TNG S2, VOY S1 and VOY S2 are all weaker) but it is just dull. The first two thirds of the second season can be described as “[older Star Trek episode] by way of [another older Star Trek episode or popular television show/movie].” There are some great episodes in those two years (Shuttlepod One, Dead Stop, Judgment, Regeneration, Cogenitor), but they are the exception rather than the rule.

      But I do really like the last two years of Enterprise. The third season is a mess, but it’s the must dynamic the franchise has been since DS9 went off the air, and it embraces the reality that Star Trek cannot be “business as usual” after the events of 9/11. It’s very much a story about the franchise trying to find its way back to itself. The fourth season is a huge valentine to Star Trek fans, though. I’m not as fond of it as most, but I do appreciate the care and love that went into it.

      • Why such a strange viewing history? I lived in a TV-free household for a couple of decades, starting in 1986. So I’d seen TOS over and over again as a child (and I re-watched all the TOS episodes twice once the household rules were relaxed), but when TNG came on in 1987, I was living in a TV-free household and was still living in it when the other Treks were first broadcast.

        Once the rules were relaxed, I tried to figure out how to catch up on the HUNDREDS of Star Trek episodes that had been produced while my household had “no TV” rules. I felt slightly daunted at the prospect and also slightly suspicious — would it really be Star Trek without Kirk and Spock? — but two people who know me well assured me that I would like the other Treks.

        The first thing I did was try to watch TNG, since it was next. People had warned me that the first season wasn’t very good, so I persevered through an unexpectedly racist episode, a wildly sexist episode, and a really stupid episode. Then I watched “Lonely Among Us,” and I was SCREAMING at the screen. Picard ADMITS to the ship’s doctor that he’s been taken over by an alien creature. The first officer and doctor try to do something about this, but Picard tells them to go away and stop bothering him, and they run away with their tails between their legs.

        Say WHAT? If Kirk had admitted to Spock and McCoy that he was possessed by an alien creature, first they’d have tried to talk to it. But if that didn’t work, Spock would have neck-pinched him or McCoy would have hypoed him unconscious. I couldn’t believe that Riker and Crusher just kinda shrugged and told each other that there was nothing they could do. How the hell are these people going to SURVIVE in a dangerous galaxy?

        Where’s my confident, in-charge captain? Where’s my knows-everything, ready-for-anything Vulcan? Where’s my crusty, fearless doctor? Who ARE these new clowns, and why have they been dignified with the title “Star Trek”? *sigh*

        I’ll try TNG again someday, but at that point, I decided to try a different Star Trek. Everyone had said that TNG was fabulous, and I suppose it will become so, but geeze.

        Since everyone had said TNG was great, and I was finding it hard to swallow, I decided to switch to the Star Trek that a lot of people hate and tried VOY instead. I found the combination of a dynamic captain, a loyal Vulcan, and a snarky doctor an easier one for a long-term TOS fan to love. But poor Tuvok never gets to be as wonderfully effective as Spock was, but then, Spock is Spock. 🙂

        Of course, the first officer seemed curiously ineffectual, and I found it hard to like either Paris or Kim, and I felt extremely sorry for Ethan Phillips, because “Jetrel” showed us he could ACT, but the show tried to use him as comic relief and just made him annoying instead. But watching a female captain geek out with a female chief engineer was so very wonderful for a female viewer who’d managed to adore TOS in spite of its sexism that I was willing to forgive VOY quite a lot.

        I was intending to continue with VOY, but then Star Trek Discovery was announced, and it seemed wise to watch ENT instead.

        I’m not boycotting DS9 or anything, and since I love what Gene Coon did, not only do I understand your comment about it’s being more Coon-ian than Roddenberry-ian, but that comment makes me quite look forward to it. But I can’t see everything at once. 🙂

        I’m going to persevere with ENT, because Star Trek Discovery will be my first opportunity to watch a Star Trek series at the same time as everybody else! (I started watching TOS during the summer reruns of Season 3. I hadn’t been allowed to watch it before then, because it was on opposite something my mother wanted to see, and in 1969, most households only had one TV. So my first exposure to TOS was during the season fans say is terrible, but it was the first Star Trek *I’d* ever seen, and I loved it. And as you’re discovering, there are some gems in the third season, plus even the less-than-stellar episodes usually have some redeeming feature. I think even “Spock’s Brain” has a certain goofy charm; the only third-season TOS episode I genuinely hate is “And the Children Shall Lead.”)

        Anyway, that’s the reason for my being a passionate TOS fan who’s seen almost no other Trek; decades in a TV-free household will do that to ya. 😉

      • Sorry Cory! I think you mentioned that before. Apologies for forgetting.

        With regards to the first season of TNG, the pattern of “an unexpectedly racist episode, a wildly sexist episode, and a really stupid episode” continues for most of the first year and about half of the second. There are episodes I really like in there (the show never looks more like TOS than in episodes like Hide & Q and The Arsenal of Freedom) but I’d be reluctant to describe any as actually good. Some are absolutely dire. (Lonely Among Us is bottom tier, but is not even the worst. The Last Outpost and The Neutral Zone come close, but nothing quite matches Code of Honour and Angel One.)

        On the subject of Voyager, I do really like that cast. It’s worth noting that actors Ethan Phillips and Robert Picardo have appeared in significant supporting roles in the last two Coen Brothers films, to great effect. In particular, Picardo steals his scene in Hail, Caesar! The Voyager cast is really good, and its guest casting (particularly in the troubled second season) is superb.

        I wish you luck with your Enterprise rewatch. At least the first season is stronger than the first season of TNG.

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