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Star Trek: Enterprise – Future Tense (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Temporal Cold War arguably works better as a metaphor than a plot.

There is something quite compelling about the imagery of Star Trek‘s past and future doing battle within the confines of a troubled prequel, of outside forces meddling in a narrative, of the characters caught in the grip of forces they cannot understand. To expect the Temporal Cold War to make sense is to miss the point; to expect clear resolution is foolhardy. Instead of serving as a strong narrative thread running through Star Trek: Enterprise, it serves as a visual manifestation of the troubles haunting the show. It also serves as a very effective story backdrop.

Let's do the time warp again...

Let’s do the time warp again…

Future Tense has a pretty straightforward story. Archer and his crew discover a piece of floating space debris. They bring it aboard, discovering it is not what it appears to be. The Suliban show up, claiming salvage rights. The Tholians arrive, demanding the same. A chase ensues, as Archer tries to outrun the two alien species desperate to get their hands on the technology. Future Tense is a classic chase narrative, as multiple parties fight over what Hitchcock described as a “macguffin.” Little is revealed, nothing is proven, everything is resolved so neatly that it seems divine intervention is at work. Maybe it is.

And yest, despite – or perhaps because – of this narrative simplicity, Future Tense stands as a highlight of the troubled second season. Future Tense leaves almost every question about the Temporal Cold War unanswered, but it is a tight and efficient action adventure. Like Cold Front before it, it recognises that the Temporal Cold War is a story as much as a backdrop. The fact that it is mysterious and nonsensical and arbitrary make it all the more compelling. After all, that is how it must appear to Archer.

Alien bodies...

Alien bodies…

Appropriately enough for a narrative about the Temporal Cold War, Future Tense sees the past and future in collision. Both the show and the characters find themselves caught between history and potentiality; what once was, what might be again, what could be. There is something quite reflexive about Future Tense, as the episode watches even better in hindsight. It is an episode that feels all the more insightful in 2013 than it did in 2003. The future was now; the future is past.

Future Tense is an episode that went through multiple iterations before making it to screen. Much as the architects of the Temporal Cold War seem to revise history for their own ends, Future Tense was revised in a number of ways before it was eventually broadcast – each change perhaps nodding towards the future. In fact, even the episode’s title was changed. Future Tense was originally announced as “Crash Landing”, but the name was quickly and quietly changed in early February 2003. It is still identified as “Crash Landing” in some international markets like the United Kingdom.

Reed to the rescue!

Reed to the rescue!

Although never confirmed, it seems like the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia may have been a contributing factor in the decision to rename the episode. More than two weeks before Future Tense was broadcast, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it attempted to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members were killed in the tragedy. The search for debris from the shuttle was the largest land search ever recorded, as one and a half thousand people worked to recover the wreckage and remains.

Investigation into the disaster seemed to suggest that human error was responsible. The disaster had been caused by the misapplication of insulation foam on the external tank. In the wake of the tragedy, technicians in at the Michoud Assembly Facility Lousiana were re-trained to prevent the error from occurring again. To many members of the public, the Columbia disaster was a repeat of the Challenger disaster – with initial findings suggesting similar “errors in judgement” on the part of NASA. History was repeating.

Alien autopsy...

Alien autopsy…

The Columbia disaster was seen in a larger context around the decline of the space shuttle program. It underscored the growing public sense that the space shuttle program had had its day and was no longer fit for purpose:

“When the shuttle turned out to be not what we thought it was, all those downstream visions began to crumble,” says Howard McCurdy, a specialist in space policy at American University in Washington, D.C. “The business model collapsed, and it wasn’t just the business model for shuttle, it was the business model for shuttle, station, Mars, the moon. … It was like a corporation going down.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Columbia disaster, President George W. Bush vowed that this would not be the end of the program. “The cause in which they died will continue,” he pledged. “Our journey into space will go on.”

In space, all warriors are temporal cold warriors...

In space, all warriors are temporal cold warriors…

However, it seemed like this was not to be. It quickly became apparent to observers that the space program would not be maintained. Immediately following the Columbia disaster, NASA suspended the space shuttle program. In 2004, President Bush announced plans to completely abandon the space shuttle program by 2010. This left NASA in the ironic situation of depending on the Russian space program for support. The United States spent so long competing with Russia in the space race, now it relied upon them completely.

It seems reasonable to draw a connection between the Columbia disaster and the decision to abandon the American space program. It was not the only factor. NASA had been in decline for decades by the turn of the millennium, to the point where it had become common for shows like The Simpsons or The X-Files to acknowledge these issues. Still, this public and spectacular tragedy – one that appeared to be a repeat of an even earlier tragedy – undoubtedly contributed to the administration’s decision to finally pull the plug. It seemed like the bright future promised by the space program had evaporated.

The future will be better tomorrow.

The future will be better tomorrow.

Star Trek has enjoyed a long and symbolic association with NASA’s space exploration program. After all, the original Star Trek television show only went off the air a few weeks before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Astronaut Mae Jameson cites Lieutenant Uhura as a major inspiration. NASA’s prototype shuttle was named “Enterprise” and – appropriately enough – appears in the opening credits of Enterprise. After the Columbia disaster, Enterprise decided to name the second Starfleet vessel Columbia in tribute.

As such, it seems fitting that the decline of Star Trek should find itself inadvertently tied into the decline of the American space program. In some respects, the American government’s decision to abandon the stars reflects the death of Star Trek‘s utopian ideal of a space-bound future. The final frontier might remain uncharted. The romance of space exploration was a major part of the appeal of Star Trek, so it seems appropriate that such romance might be abandoned just as the franchise found itself at its lowest ebb. The future is abandoned.

Long dark midnight of the katra?

Long dark midnight of the katra?

Despite its status as a prequel series, Enterprise feels quite insecure about the Star Trek legacy. It seems like the show no longer takes the franchise’s utopian future for granted. Episodes like Cold Front and Future Tense literalise these issues, but so do stories like Shadows of P’Jem and Cease Fire. Utopia can no longer be assumed or assured. It feels like a commentary both on the mood of popular culture in the wake of 9/11 and the precarious pop culture standing of the Star Trek franchise as a whole. The Temporal Cold War is a potent metaphor, throwing the entire future into danger.

(Still, perhaps the story has a happy – if belated – ending. JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek seems to have arrived on the crest of a wave of sixties nostalgia. It is worth noting that one of Brannon Braga’s more recent projects was Cosmos, a surprisingly popular cosmology show produced in collaboration with long-time Star Trek fan – and occasional Star Trek guest star and talking head – Seth McFarlane. Movies like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seem to reflect a renewed interest in the wonder and potential of space.)

All fired up...

All fired up…

Of course, the script for Future Tense itself was revised quite heavily from its original pitch. Prompted by David A. Goodman in an interview at the end of the season, writer Michael Sussman reflected on his original plans for the episode:

The original idea for Future Tense was a sequel of sorts to The Tholian Web. We’d learn that after the Defiant disappeared into the “spatial interphase”, it emerged in the 22nd Century. Archer would eventually discover that the Tholians from his era had somehow weakened the fabric of space/time, hoping to trap a ship from the future. The Tholians would then try to reverse engineer the ship and get all sorts of cool futuristic technology. And of course it would fall upon Archer to retrieve the Defiant and destroy it to prevent this from happening.

As much as I would’ve loved to see Archer and the gang wandering the decks of a Constitution Class starship (and possibly running into a ghostly James Kirk in his silver bee-keeper suit), the story had some problems, not the least of which would be the expense of recreating the Defiant. And since DS9 pretty much did the same thing in “Trials and Tribble-ations” (a great episode, Mr. Goodman, if you haven’t seen it) it probably wouldn’t have been as cool as I thought at the time.

Once again, both the future and the past seem to intrude on Enterprise. After all, The Tholian Web is the future to Archer, but the past to the audience – putting Future Tense in the odd position of being a sequel to an episode that takes place later in continuity.

"Alright! I finally get to fire a phaser! Multiple times!"

“Alright! I finally get to fire a phaser! Multiple times!”

However, there is also something more substantial and self-aware going on here. Michael Sussman and Phyllis Strong’s original pitch might have been revised and rewritten, but a significant portion of their story would still manifest itself. During the fourth season, Michael Sussman would write the script for both episodes of In a Mirror, Darkly. That two-part mirror universe episode that would revive a lot of these core ideas and serve them up as a gloriously gratuitous fan favorite continuity romp. The original pitch of Future Tense is both the past and the future, at the same time.

While In a Mirror, Darkly undoubtedly amps up the fan service to a ridiculous degree, there is a clear sense that the finished version of Future Tense has pulled back dramatically. It feels like Enterprise is not entirely sure about how it wants to engage with the franchise’s history and continuity. Future Tense features the return of the Tholians for the first time since The Tholian Web. While there were a couple of references to them in scripts like The Icarus Factor or The Way of the Warrior, the franchise had largely left them in the sixties; like the Andorians up until The Andorian Incident.

He has a bright future ahead of him...

He has a bright future ahead of him…

After all, there is something delightfully trippy about the design of the Tholians. They look weird and alien in a way that is undeniably and inexorably anchored in sixties psychedelia. In The Tholian Web, they are portrayed as talking flashing mood crystals. If the Berman era Star Trek spin-offs felt that antennae were a little “out there” when it came to alien design, imagine what the producers would have made of the Tholians. While Enterprise had managed to introduce the iconic blue-skinned Andorians, the Tholians were perhaps a little too weird for the show at this point in its life cycle.

So the Tholians are handled respectfully. Their ships are clearly modeled on the design from The Tholian Web, even if the episode avoids having them spin a web around their prey. The voice transmissions from the Tholian ship sound suitably alien, a series of high-pitch screams that play behind a calm vocoder voice. However, Future Tense takes the idea as far as it feels comfortable. It is one thing to acknowledge the Tholians in a more active manner than any episode since 1968. It is another to put a talking flashing mood crystal on prime-time television.

They should implement a (Suli)ban on firearms in the docking bay...

They should implement a (Suli)ban on firearms in the docking bay…

To be fair, Sussman has argued that the decision not to show the Tholians made sense from a storytelling perspective, as a way to tease the fans:

“We didn’t see them [Tholians], but it was really great when they were knocking on the door. I thought all the fans were gonna love it, ’cause in your mind’s eye, behind this door you’re going to see these guys. But again—once you finally show them, it’s like, ‘Ohhh—is that it? Is that all?’ But it was cool to inject the long-time fan speculation that they were a hot-planet species.”

That said, the fact that Sussman took the next available opportunity to feature a full-sized Tholian suggests that there may have been something more at play.

The Tholian Web of intrigue...

The Tholian Web of intrigue…

The Tholians are just one example of the past and future intruding on Enterprise. The second half of the second season seems to be dominated by the franchise’s future history as the series makes a conscious effort to tie itself into what came before. Regeneration introduces Archer to the Borg, and helps to make the entire history of the Borg within the Star Trek universe something of a predestination paradox that hinges upon Enterprise. Judgment features the ancestor of the Duras family from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Most interestingly, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country seems to hang over the second half of the season. Tarah’s betrayal of Shran in Cease Fire plays out as a repeat of Valeris’ betrayal of Spock in The Undiscovered Country. In Canamar, Archer and Trip find themselves in an alien prison. The entire plot of Judgment borrows liberally from The Undiscovered Country. Following on from that, Archer is declared an enemy of the Klingon Empire. Even in Future Tense, Archer and Reed find themselves reliving the “surgery on a torpedo” sequence from the climax of The Undiscovered Country.

"Captain, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?"

“Captain, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?”

Whether intentional or otherwise, the echoes of The Undiscovered Country seem appropriate. The Undiscovered Country was the last movie to feature the cast of the original Star Trek television show. It represented the passage from one era to another; the death of one form of Star Trek so that a new form of Star Trek might live in its place. As such, it makes sense that Enterprise should work through The Undiscovered Country at the same time that the cast of The Next Generation had taken their bow in Star Trek: Nemesis.

However, it may also reflect the show’s growing sense of uncertainty about itself. When Broken Bow went into production, it seemed that a seven-year run was all but inevitable. Star Trek was a golden goose that would keep on giving. It might not be the pop culture juggernaut that it had been in the mid-nineties, but it was still strong and vibrant. However, that certainty had been chipped away over the show’s first two seasons. Enterprise was no longer looking at an extended run. In fact, it was quickly becoming clear that the show was dancing on the edge of a razor.

To be fair, Reed seems at least more competent than Worf.

To be fair, Reed seems at least more competent than Worf.

Enterprise was facing the very real possibility that it might serve not only as the start of the Star Trek universe, but also – somewhat paradoxically – its end. Enterprise might be the first Star Trek show to be cancelled mid-run (rather than retired gracefully). That anxiety seems play subtly across the second season, even before The Expanse all but acknowledges a last desperate grasp at relevance. The show seemed be facing the possibility that the second season of Enterprise could serve as The Undiscovered Country to the entire Berman era of Star Trek.

There is something quite clever and self-aware about Michael Sussman and Phyllis Strong’s script for Future Tense. It seems to externalise and literalise a lot of anxieties around the show. As Archer and Reed work away on the torpedo, they find themselves repeating the sequence time and time again. “It’s happening again,” Reed reflects. “We’ve had this conversation before.” Archer wonders, “How many times do you think we’ve done this?” The plot of Future Tense sees the ship affected by “temporal radiation” that has the crew essentially repeating the same actions over and over again.

Trip rests his case...

Trip rests his case…

It plays almost as a cynical criticism of some of the worst impulses of Enterprise‘s second season. Much of the show’s second year has been spent covering old ground, repeating familiar story beats and going through the motions on a number of classic Star Trek plots. The Communicator is A Piece of the Action with the humour stripped out. Vanishing Point is Realm of Fear by way of Remember Me. Dawn is a blend of Darmok and The Enemy. Precious Cargo is Elaan of Troyius mixed in with The Perfect Mate. Even The Breach is Jetrel with a reversal of the series regular and guest star dynamic.

To be fair, this is an inevitable part of television production. There are more than six hundred episodes of Star Trek, so themes and ideas are bound to recur. However, the second season of Enterprise has a habit of stumbling into retreads without any real energy or verve. Future Tense seems to acknowledge this tendency quite candidly and quite logically. “It was the weirdest thing,” Trip tells Archer. “When we were standing next to the ship, it felt like we were having the same conversation over and over again.” The audience might empathise.

No time like the past...

No time like the past…

In fact, Future Tense even uses its time travel macguffin as a vehicle to explore the philosophical and narrative challenges of a prequel series. While having the inevitable “time travel is cool” conversation with Reed, Trip hits on one of the bigger problems facing the writing staff on Enterprise. He wonders, idly, “Where’s the fun in exploring if you know how it all turns out?” It is a criticism of Enterprise that has existed since Broken Bow, an argument which suggests that the story is pointless if the audience knows the ending.

Nevertheless, Future Tense does not let itself get too bothered in these big questions about the nature of Enterprise as a television show. Despite his protestations about knowing the future, Trip seems to concede that the past can be interesting in its own right. “Now if I had a chance to see the past, I’d jump at it.” In essence, this is Trip’s answer to what might be termed “the prequel problem.” The past is fun, and cool, and an exciting place to hang out. Just because Trip knows that the stegosaurus is extinct. And a herbivore.

"Oh, boy. We're going to have to explain that to the Vulcans."

“Oh, boy. We’re going to have to explain that to the Vulcans.”

Indeed, that short conversation between Trip and Reed seems to foreshadow the two different approaches that Enterprise would adopt to “the prequel problem” in its third and fourth seasons. The third season would send the ship into uncharted waters, offering new aliens and a new status quo that was utterly unlike anything the franchise had done before; it was a clear attempt to avoid the sense that the audience already knew everything about the past. In contrast, the fourth season embraced the prequel nature of the show so it could joyfully play with all the classic Star Trek toys.

Future Tense is fascinated with the idea of the past and future coexisting as a strange sort of nexus. Examining the body from the craft, Phlox reports, “This was a human male. A microcellular scan should tell us his age at the time of death. Apparently, you’re not the first humans out this far.” This is a statement that might not be true in the context of the episode, but makes sense in the context of the franchise. Archer is not the first character to explore this far from the audience’s perspective; this is familiar terrain to Kirk, Picard and Janeway.

“Whoever this is, he’s rewritten our history books,” Archer replies, getting a bit of time travel irony in there before the episode confirms the visitor to be a time traveler. Much of Future Tense is built around the divide between the characters as participants in the drama and the audience as observers of the drama. “I wonder if this could be Zephram Cochrane,” Archer reflects at one point. “They say he was piloting a one-man vessel when he disappeared.” Of course, the fans in the audience know it can’t be, because they’ve seen Metamorphosis. However, what is past to us is future to Archer.

Interestingly, Future Tense represents a union between past and future even outside the limits of Star Trek as a franchise. The Temporal Cold War is an interesting concept that clearly owes a debt to the alien mythology of The X-Files, the grand conspiracy storyline that was slowly revealed and layered across the show’s nine seasons on television. While this sort of long-form storytelling had been novel when The X-Files first came on the air, it did seem quite outdated by the time that The X-Files was quietly retired almost a year before Future Tense. So this mythology provided a link to the past.

In a discussion published in the paperback release of Broken Bow, Rick Berman explicitly acknowledged the influence of The X-Files on the Temporal Cold War:

Why have they come back to the twenty-second century? What is their purpose? Is there one faction from the future? Are there many? We don’t know and, in an X-Files kind of way, we may not know for years.

It seems like an odd comparison to invite in late 2001, at a point where the television audience was not so much intrigued by the mythology’s mystery as frustrated by its reluctance to offer closure. In a way, it speaks to the sense of Enterprise‘s status as a holdover from an age of television fading into history.

Future Tense consciously reinforces the comparisons to The X-Files. As with Cold Front, T’Pol founds herself cast as Scully, a character making perfectly rational assumptions that sound completely insane because the character lives in a world where those rational assumptions don’t apply. T’Pol refuses to believe that time travel exists, which would be a reasonable position if she did not live in the Star Trek universe. (There’s a wry irony in having T’Pol adopt this position; after all, Vulcans also don’t exist just about everywhere except the universe she inhabits.)

There is a rather surreal absurdity to T’Pol’s certainty, to her refused to budge on the issue of time travel. Discussing the Vulcan Science Directorate, Phlox reflects that they might adjust their theories to account for new evidence. “After they review our findings, I have a feeling they might reconsider their opinion of time travel,” he asserts, a fairly defensible suggestion. T’Pol, with all the certainty that made Scully’s worst moments a ripe target for mockery, responds, “It’s not an opinion. It’s simple logic.”

If Future Tense casts T’Pol in the thankless role of Scully, it positions Archer in the role most often associated with Mulder. Archer is the headstrong character rushing into danger in pursuit of answers. With the same frustration that drove Mulder, he laments, “This is the first chance we’ve had to get some answers.” Indeed, Future Tense has all the fun of early X-Files mythology runarounds like Fallen Angel or E.B.E. It feels like the sort of loose thriller that The X-Files would throw together before the central conspiracy storyline took shape with The Erlenmeyer Flask at the end of the first season.

This does bring up perhaps the biggest problem with Future Tense. The X-Files was doing these sorts of fun action thriller stories in its first season; by this point in its second season, it had already begun to galvinise the central mythology with episodes like Duane Barry and Ascension. Carter might have eventually fumbled the landing, but he did accept that there had to be some answers (or at least some new questions) to keep things fresh. Like Cease Fire, Future Tense seems like a story that should have arrived at this point in the first season, rather than so late in the second.

"I'm half-human. On my mother's side."

“I’m half-human. On my mother’s side.”

Interestingly, Future Tense also seems to point towards the future. Future Tense might almost serve as something as a loose conceptual crossover between Star Trek and Doctor Who, although undoubtedly on a much smaller scale than Russell T. Davies briefly dreamed of when he relaunched Doctor Who in 2005. Future Tense is an episode where Archer and his crew recover a TARDIS floating in space, damaged and dead. In the context of the relaunched of Doctor Who, it seems like the Temporal Cold War might as well be another front in what the Doctor would come to describe as “the Last Great Time War.”

The Time War would not exist in Doctor Who continuity until 2005, when Davies positioned it as a metaphor for the trauma of cancellation and the wilderness years – the time when Doctor Who continuity was fractured and chaotic, branching and bending and breaking in multiple directions in multiple media.  Christopher Eccleston was the third version of the Ninth Doctor, standing alongside Richard E. Grant’s animated web broadcast Doctor and Rowan Atkinson’s comic relief Doctor. It was quite ironic that Grant was willing to return for the show’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations and Eccleston wasn’t.

"It's bigger on the inside."

“It’s bigger on the inside.”

As Future Tense was broadcast, the future of Doctor Who was still in flux. The BBC were toying with the idea of bringing back the Doctor in a variety of off-television media. Paul Cornell’s The Scream of the Shalka was a web animation designed to launch a new range of BBC media featuring the character. However, behind the scenes, Russell T. Davies was proposing to bring Doctor Who back to prime time television. Plans would be officially announced in late 2003, making the release of The Scream of the Shalka in November 2003 something of a lame duck.

So the fact that Future Tense sits so comfortably with the continuity of a reboot-yet-to-be-agreed seems fortuitous. It is clear that Michael Sussman and Phyllis Strong were influenced by Doctor Who in writing Future Tense. The production team on Star Trek had been acutely aware of Doctor Who since at least The Neutral Zone. In an interview with Star Trek Magazine, Sussman joked about wanting the recovered craft to change shape into a blue phone box. Perhaps that would have been a bit much.

"You've changed the desktop theme!"

“You’ve changed the desktop theme!”

Nevertheless, the recovered craft is quite clearly a TARDIS. Future Tense gets considerable mileage out of the spacial geometry of the ship. Using a line that had would become almost mandatory for anybody who set foot inside the TARDIS during the reboot, Archer and Trip both acknowledge that it is “bigger on the inside.” The “organic circuitry” inside the ship seems to consist primarily of blue paint, another nod to the TARDIS. The control room investigated by Trip and Reed loosely resembles the classic TARDIS design, down to the central control panel. There are lots of circles and loops, evoking Gallifreyian design.

At one point, Trip removes a piece of circuitry from the ship, believing it to be a log recorder that might shed some light on the situation. However, when he turns it on, he discovers that it is something else entirely. “This isn’t a black box,” he tells Archer. “We thought it was a data storage matrix, but after we got the power running it started generating a subspace signature. I think it’s a micro-transmitter, some kind of emergency beacon.” It is, it seems, a phone. How delightfully appropriate.

"Before light and time and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created."

“Before light and time and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created.”

This is to say nothing of the body recovered from the crashed ship. The body initially appears human. “He’s human,” T’Pol reports. Later, Phlox clarifies, “Our guest is no ordinary human.” It is quickly established that the pilot is a hybrid of a variety of different DNA, making him only part human. Given that the last piece of Doctor Who broadcast before Future Tense had revealed that the Doctor was half-human (on his mother’s side), it seems like another sly nod towards that other science-fiction franchise.

In fact, Future Tense seems to touch upon some ideas that Doctor Who would not address until its return to television. There is an obvious thematic overlap between the Last Great Time War and the Temporal Cold War, but there are other ideas that seem to overlap. Most obviously, there is the notion that the body of a time traveler is potentially dangerous – something stated explicitly by River Song in The Impossible Astronaut, broadcast in April 2011. Sussman and Strong’s original proposal to have the time traveler visit his own body echoes the Doctor visiting his own grave in The Name of the Doctor in May 2013.

Beaming with enthusiasm...

Beaming with enthusiasm…

That said, these ideas were not necessary new to Doctor Who as a franchise. The Last Great Time War was arguably an extrapolation of a number of points of continuity dating back to the Hinchcliffe era, something Steven Moffat confirmed in The Day of the Doctor. The idea of framing a war in time as a war in heaven can explicitly be traced back to Lawrence Miles’ 1997 novel Alien Bodies:

The Time Lords had fought the first battle of their war on Dronid almost half a century ago. The natives never spoke of it, but the off-worlders liked to think of it as a War in Heaven, all hellfire and thunder.

In fact, Alien Bodies seems to have quite an influence on the development of Doctor Who since it returned to television. Not only did the story suggest that the Time Lords had been waging war upon a higher temporal plane, but it also featured the Doctor caught up in plots to weaponise his own mortal remains. Steven Moffat has made a number of overt nods towards it in his own work on the series.

It seems unlikely that Sussman and Strong would have read Alien Bodies, but there is considerable thematic overlap between Future Tense and Alien Bodies. In fact, the original ending to Future Tense had the owner of the dead body returning to reclaim it before it could cause any further damage or confusion. In that light, it is interesting to consider what Miles thought about his decision to tie the Doctor to his logical end point:

It was one of the things fuelling the book [i.e. Alien Bodies], I think. Every great myth has got an endpiece to it. Arthur has to put the sword back in the lake, Robin has to do that firing-an-arrow-to-mark-his-burial-place thing. But here was the Doctor, the great British myth of the twentieth century, and he’d never had a Gotterdammerung waiting for him down the line. Alien Bodies was kind of necessary, I thought, as a back cover to the legend. The point where it ends, at some time in the future. It’s a very mythic thing to do.

In light of Enterprise‘s eventual cancellation, perhaps the Temporal Cold War serves a similar function here. It represents the turmoil and instability of the entire Star Trek universe as the prequel continues; it suggests that everything might be lost, that everything might fall, that everything could end. It suggests that even with six hundred episodes in the bag, the future cannot be taken for granted – a theme echoing through the show’s Vulcan/Andorian arc as well.

In hindsight, Future Tense seems to position Enterprise as a show waiting for Doctor Who to arrive – even though nobody could have known it was coming at the time. When Enterprise premiered, Star Trek was still the largest science-fiction franchise on television, with only Star Wars challenging it for pop culture supremacy. The dwindling ratings for Enterprise and the box office failure of Nemesis had completely undermined that sense of self-confidence. While the decline had been in effect since The Next Generation went off the air, it was now impossible to ignore.

If had not arrived already – and there was a good chance that it had, given the relative success of Stargate SG-1 – there would come a time when Star Trek was not the world’s largest and most successful long-running science-fiction franchise. Entirely by fluke, Future Tense seems to herald the arrival of that successor. Watching Future Tense in 2015, it is impossible not to see it as trumpeting the revival of Doctor Who months before that revival was even announced. It is a beautiful moment of pop culture synergy, albeit one that adds to the gloomy funereal atmosphere of the second season.

Future Tense is a highlight of the second season because it is quite candid about the challenges and issues facing Enterprise, but also because it seems to offer an actual glimpse of the future.

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

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5 Responses

  1. This is the one episode where I felt the Temporal Cold War worked because the “MacGuffin,” however inexplicable it might have been, made the antagonists’ actions understandable. Also, the moment where Enterprise races from the Sulliban to the protection of the Vulcans – only to find the Tholians waiting! – did a great job of increasing the tension.

    >To be fair, Reed seems at least more competent than Worf.

    To be perfectly fair, if Enterprise had the kind of devoted fanbase that Next Generation enjoys, we’d have a Youtube “Reed is denied” video.

    • Or “Harry Kim” is denied.

      He was sort of the anti-Worf, always looking on the bright side and stepping on rakes.

    • I like how Odo is generally the most competent security officer in the franchise, while Deep Space Nine has absolutely no qualms about arguing that he is an unapologetic fascist. On a large scale, these urges lead to war and genocide; but they also give you clean promenades. Is it Hippocratic Oath where Odo has a dossier of all Worf’s embarrassing screw-ups just ready and waiting for him?

      I also love how Reed spent a significant stretch of the first season (particularly Strange New World) acting like he was increasingly tired of humouring Archer’s increasingly insane suggestions.

  2. Nice reading of the TCW as a foreshadowing of the reboot.

    What a swerve that would have been. The NX-01 falling into a wormhole into a dimension where the Federation didn’t exist, and they had to carve out a new one. Sort of like Andromeda.

    • I can’t help but wonder if Enterprise would have been a better show if it had boldly gone with a “the future is broken, we need to fix (or earn) it” narrative as part of the Temporal Cold War that would have resonated after 9/11, when it seemed optimism really was dead.

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