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Star Trek: Enterprise – Dear Doctor (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.

Dear Doctor is certainly the most ambitious episode from the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, and also the most controversial.

The show’s first true “Prime Directive” episode, the show wrestles with the moral implications of “playing god”, attempting to justify the inevitable development of “Starfleet General Order Number One”, the rule prohibiting interference in the development of “less advanced” species. As such, there is almost an impossible amount of weight bearing down on Dear Doctor, as the show tries to explore the moral conundrums that result from contact with a less technologically advanced species.

Stargazing...

Stargazing…

Dear Doctor is an episode that is deeply problematic. Indeed, it was a show that was so controversial and so divisive that UPN itself insisted on a change to the episode’s ending. It’s an episode that tends to provoke strong reactions, from both defenders and detractors. It inspires passion. It is not uncommon to find people who will rank the episode among the very best of Enterprise and the very worst of Enterprise.

While the show’s internal logic and conclusions are quite unsettling, Dear Doctor is a provocative and challenging hour of television. It is decidedly more ambitious than any of the episodes surrounding it, even other experimental shows like Breaking the Ice or Shuttlepod One. While it might not be the best episode of the first season, it is certainly the most breathakingly ambitious and engaging. And that must count for something.

There's trouble in its DNA...

There’s trouble in its DNA…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Breaking the Ice (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.

Breaking the Ice is the first episode of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise not to reserve a “story by” credit for Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. (Although – in the To Boldly Go documentary – Braga has suggested that at least some of the episode came from his own ideas.)

It is instead credited solely to the writing team of Maria & Andre Jacquemetton. A husband-and-wife writing team, the duo have a long history of writing for television. Before they worked on Enterprise, their credits included Baywatch Nights. However, they are probably more notable for the work that they did after Enterprise, working as executive producers and writers on Mad Men. The duo have won WGA awards for their contributions to Mad Men and been nominated for Emmys.

Guess who's coming to dinner...

Guess who’s coming to dinner…

It is very easy to take the pedigree of the writers on Star Trek for granted. After all, Ronald D. Moore went from a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan with a spec script to the showrunner on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. Bryan Fuller went from a workhorse on the Star Trek: Voyager staff to a television auteur with work on Dead Like Me, Pushing Up Daisies and Hannibal. Brannon Braga has been prolific since his departure from the franchise, while Ira Steven Behr and René Echevarria have worked consistently in genre television.

It is tempting to claim that Enterprise was something of a formative experience for the Jacquemettons, but that would be disingenuous. Despite writing the show’s first script without a credit to Berman and Braga, the duo were not around long enough to make an impression on the show. They departed at the end of the first season, along with most of the writing staff. Indeed, the most significant influence that Enterprise had on their career was probably the fact that they used to discuss the idea for Mad Men with creator Matt Weiner while they were working on this show.

They're cracking up out there...

They’re cracking up out there…

Still, while hardly a demonstration that Jacquemettons were a creative force to be reckoned with, Breaking the Ice is a solid little episode. It ranks as the strongest episode of Enterprise since the pilot. In many respects, it recalls the Prime Factors/State of Flux duology from the first season of Voyager. It is a flawed episode that has no shortage of ambition, offering a taste of what could make its show unique in the Star Trek pantheon.

It is an episode that celebrates everything that makes Enterprise unique as compared to the other Star Trek shows, taking a great deal of pleasure in things that the audience had come to take for granted in the franchise. It’s a quiet character piece, where what little plot exists is pushed very much to the background, and which offers a much more nuanced view of human/Vulcan relations than Strange New World or The Andorian Incident.

Those Vulcans are cold so-and-sos...

Those Vulcans are cold so-and-sos…

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