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Star Trek: Enterprise – Countdown (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 August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek: Enterprise spent a lot of the final stretch of the third season playing at being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are a number of episodes that provide a direct parallel with stories from that earlier underrated Star Trek show. Damage riffs on In the Pale Moonlight. is very much Children of Time. More than that, the moral ambiguity and the long-form storytelling that define the third season of Enterprise also owe a very conscious debt to the work done on Deep Space Nine.

However, the final two episodes of the third season drift away from the ethical uncertainties and moral quagmires that defined a lot of the year’s stories. The Council effective resolved the big thematic questions hanging over the third season, allowing Archer the chance to propose a diplomatic solution to the Xindi crisis. This allows Countdown and Zero Hour to go about the task of providing a suitably impressive action climax to this twenty-four-episode season-long arc. There is precious little soul-searching here; instead, there is one big race against time.

The life aquatic...

The life aquatic…

In that respect, the last two episodes of the third season hark back to a more traditional form of Star Trek storytelling. In particular, Countdown and Zero Hour feel like an old-school blockbuster two-parter, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, with Archer’s fate in question and a hostile unstoppable force invading the solar system only to be destroyed in orbit of Earth, Countdown and Zero Hour play like an extended homage to The Best of Both Worlds.

While one of the most frequent criticisms of Enterprise is the sense that the writing staff are simply regurgitating classic Next Generation and Voyager plots, this feels almost earned. The third season has largely been about the show’s journey back to the heart of the Star Trek franchise, a trip that concluded with Archer embracing traditional Star Trek values in The Council. But what fun is that journey if you don’t get to celebrate it with an epic high-stakes world-ending rollercoaster ride?

"We cool?" "We cool."

“We cool?”
“We cool.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Harbinger (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 August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It goes almost without saying that the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was an attempt to revitalise a franchise that had already been on television for a decade and half. It was an attempt to do something quite radical and dynamic with a television property that had become rather staid and conservative. Star Trek: The Next Generation had been perfectly calibrated for the late eighties and early nineties, but its approach towards storytelling was increasingly outdated after seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

One of the recurring issues in the first season of Enterprise was the conflict between the established franchise structure and something more adventurous and exciting. So many of those first season episodes seemed laboriously paced and awkwardly arch; there was a sense of dull routine rather than exciting adventure. The show would occasionally try to deviated from the established template (to varying degrees of success) with stories like Dear Doctor, Shuttlepod One, and A Night in Sickbay, but narrative conservatism won out in the sophomore season.

"So... sweeps?"

“So… sweeps?”

In many ways, Harbinger plays as a return to those earlier experiments in story structure. It is an episode that is not driven by story. Although the strange alien discovered by the crew provides a suitably dramatic climax, most of Harbinger is built around established character dynamics. Trip and T’Pol begin working through the sexual tension that has existed between them since the start of the third season; Reed and Hayes do something similar in a very different fashion. In the meantime, the ship just cruises along en route to the third season’s next big plot beat.

Harbinger is not entirely successful in this regard. There is a sense that the franchise is still figuring out how to construct episodes that don’t conform to a rigid story structure, with the mysterious alien visitor serving as an effective crutch to help get around these problems. Still, it is an interesting experiment and an example of how the show is consciously trying to reinvent itself in a manner that is more than simply cosmetic.

Expanding his Sphere of influence...

Expanding his Sphere of influence…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Singularity (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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation casts a pretty long shadow.

Singularity aired over eight years after All Good Things… and it still feels like an attempt to re-capture the mood and atmosphere of that second-generation Star Trek spin-off. Singularity feels like it might have made for a passable seventh-season instalment of The Next Generation, airing somewhere between Phantasms, Masks and Genesis. You would probably only have to tweak Singularity ever-so-slightly for that earlier cast.

"Hai!"

“Hai!”

Of course, this fixation on The Next Generation is not unique to the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. After all, Star Trek: Voyager spent a significant portion of its run trying to re-capture the magic associated with The Next Generation. There were lots of generic aliens- and anomalies-of-the week. The second season of Enterprise is just interesting in this regard because it is really the last gasp of this sort of nostalgic storytelling on so wide a scale.

It would not be easy. It would take the box office failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, a change of management at UPN, falling ratings and the threat of cancellation. Nevertheless, Enterprise would eventually manage to exorcise the ghost of The Next Generation. In the meantime, Singularity offers a reminder of just how closely Enterprise was hewing to The Next Generation.

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Communicator (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.

One of the biggest problems with positioning Star Trek: Enterprise as a prequel is that the original Star Trek was very much a product of its time. It is very difficult to line-up a television show broadcast in the early years of the twenty-first century with a series that was produced towards the end of the sixties. It is a completely different world, and so the show itself must inevitably be completely different.

This reflects itself in the production design of Enterprise. One of the more frequent fan complaints about the series concerns the design of the new ship. After all, it doesn’t look like anything Matt Jefferies would design. If anything, it looks like the missing link between a modern submarine and the Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. All the pastels and mood lighting have been replaced with functional grey and buttresses. Kirk’s Enterprise and Archer’s Enterprise speak to two different aesthetics.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate..."

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…”

Of course, it is possible to land a little closer to the classic design as Scott Chambliss demonstrated with his work on JJ Abrams’ reboot. Then again, this only reinforces the point. The general mood and tone of design when Star Trek hit cinema screens in 2009 was markedly different from the mood and tone of design when Broken Bow first aired in 2001. It just so happened that one was more compatible with Jefferies’ original vision than the other. (And even then, Chambliss’ update is markedly different.)

However, while the design of the ship itself is a handy indicator of just how difficult it is to line up a show produced in the first decade of a new millennium to a show produced before man walked on the moon, there are more substantial cultural and social differences at play. The Communicator is another second season Star Trek mash-up, this time taking the ending of A Piece of the Action and offering a perfect example of how Enterprise could never be an entirely comfortable companion to classic Star Trek.

"Westmore's not gonna like this..."

“Westmore’s not gonna like this…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Minefield (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.

Shuttlepod One worked very well in the first season, didn’t it?

The episode was one of the highlights of the first season, received very well by both the cast and fandom. So it makes sense to revisit that basic set-up early in the second season. This time it isn’t Malcolm Reed and Charles Tucker facing death in the cold void of space. Instead, Jonathan Archer and Malcolm Reed find themselves struggling with a mine as a countdown ticks away in the background. Facing all-but-certain death, characters are thrown into conflict with one another. Sparks fly, drama happens.

Let's go outside.

Let’s go outside.

To be fair, Minefield ups the stakes dramatically. It takes the same high-stakes characters-against-the-void drama that made Shuttlepod One such a success and then blends it with Star Trek: First Contact and throws the Romulans into the mix just two months before the release of Star Trek: Nemesis. It is very much a high-concept cocktail of episode, a show with a lot going on and a lot of focus in contrast to the more relaxed pace of something like Carbon Creek.

Minefield does feel a little bit too derivative and like it is promising something that never quite arrives. However, it is built around a very sound structure, makes good use of the special effects available for the show, and gives Scott Bakula and Dominic Keating a chance to play off one another. It offers a lot of promise for the second season, only to be retroactively tainted by the fact that the second season never delivers on any of these promises.

All I need is the air that I breath...

All I need is the air that I breath…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shuttlepod One (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.

Shuttlepod One is the best episode of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

If you want to be particularly cynical about it, you could argue that it’s the show’s first absolutely unequivocal success. Enterprise‘s first season is a lot stronger and more interesting than most give it credit for, even if most of its stronger episodes were qualified successes – like Breaking the Ice, Cold Front or Dear Doctor – that hinted at a new type of character-driven Star Trek without entirely committing to it.

... it is very cold in space...

… it is very cold in space…

The first season of Enterprise tried quite a lot of new things that didn’t always work. That’s fine. That’s what a first season should be for. The greater tragedy is that the second season (or even the tail end of the first season) didn’t necessarily try to improve on those experimental successes, and instead fell back on that conventional Star Trek plotting that had been competing with that more experimental style in the first two-thirds of the first season.

In many ways, Shuttlepod One is the unlikely zenith of the first season. It comes off a string of flawed-but-intriguing episodes only briefly interrupted by the misfire that was Sleeping Dogs. However, the episode was written by creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to save budget in the second half of the season, filmed as a way to recoup budget overruns from elsewhere in the year. Despite that, it’s a compelling glimpse of Enterprise as it seemed to want to be – very much character-driven Star Trek.

Reed has a close shave...

Reed has a close shave…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Silent Enemy (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.

Silent Enemy is very much a game of two halves.

It’s an episode that suffers from the decision to incorporate two radically different plots into a single episode. In many respects, it’s a show that suffers from Star Trek: Enterprise‘s decidedly old-fashioned storytelling aesthetic: the sense that most hours of Star Trek need to have two plots running through them for pacing and structural reasons. This storytelling technique is a decidedly outdated approach to television, reflecting the narrative conservatism at play in the first season of the show.

We come in peace...

We come in peace…

Silent Enemy is built around two plots. The primary plot sees the ship coming into conflict with a bunch of strange predatory aliens who do not respond to attempts for contact, and who grow increasingly belligerent over the course of the episode. Archer and his crew find themselves facing an opponent far stronger and more aggressive than they are. It’s a pretty bleak, pretty heavy plotline. Inevitably, the show decided to pair it with something a bit more light-hearted, so we get Hoshi trying to figure out what Reed’s favourite food is that Chef can bake him a super-special birthday cake.

While the combination of plotlines isn’t the worst in the history of the franchise – the episode doesn’t feel like Frankenstein’s monster in the same way that Life Support does, for example – it’s still rather incongruous. Silent Enemy is an episode weakened by the decision to combine these two into a single story; the desire to offset the doom of the “Enterprise under siege” story with something a bit more easy-going and comedic.

Alien aliens...

Alien aliens…

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