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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (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.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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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 – Similitude (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 is hard to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto.

It is quite easy to get distracted from the episode itself, which is a sublimely moving piece of working with skilled direction from LeVar Burton and a beautiful central performance from Connor Trinneer. More than that, Similitude is very much pure Star Trek. It is a metaphor about the human condition, wrapped up in a morality play fashioned from some admittedly questionable science-fiction. This good old-fashioned allegorical science-fiction in a style that really works, capitalising on the status quo of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise to tell a moving story.

Send in the clones...

Send in the clones…

And, yet, despite all that, this is the point at which Manny Coto arrives. Much like it is impossible to talk about The Bonding without talking about Ronald D. Moore, it is impossible to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto. Coto arrived on the show fresh from Odyssey 5, and quickly made himself invaluable and essential. While his scripts were quite hit-and-miss on an episode-by-episode basis, Coto demonstrated an aptitude for producing television in general and Star Trek in particular.

Indeed, Coto managed to climb the franchise rungs faster than any producer and writer since Michael Piller in the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Piller had found himself running the show after Michael Wagner suddenly decided to step down only a few episodes into the season. Coto had a bit longer to get the lay of the land; he would have half of the third season to establish himself before being placed in charge of the writers’ room for the start of the show’s fourth year when Brannon Braga stepped back into a more supervisory role.

Genetically engineered engineer...

Genetically engineered engineer…

A number of factors helped to establish Coto as an almost mythical figure in Star Trek lore. The dramatic change in tone and style into the fourth year, which catered to a core group of Star Trek fans – including Coto himself – surely helped. The fact that Coto was succeeding Brannon Braga probably helped establish his credibility as well – a vocal section of fandom has complete disdain for Braga’s style. Despite the fact that Coto was only in charge for twenty-four episode, he made a surprisingly enduring contribution to the franchise as a whole.

Hindsight seems to suggest that Similitude was almost prophetic; it is the story of incredible growth and development over an incredibly short amount of time, making a deep and lasting impression.

Designer baby...

Designer baby…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Dawn (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.

Dawn arrives at a very delicate moment in Star Trek history.

Star Trek: Nemesis had hit cinemas the weekend before The Catwalk aired. It had been an immediate and humiliating disaster for Paramount. It arrived in a stuffed Christmas season, amid a relentless onslaught of big budget blockbuster fare – competing for space against Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It was the first Star Trek film not to open at the top of the United States box office, landing second to Maid in Manhattan.

Engineering a solution...

Engineering a solution…

The prognosis for Star Trek as a franchise had not been particularly optimistic for quite some time. The ratings had been in decline since Star Trek: The Next Generation went off the air. Star Trek: Enterprise was airing on a dying network. Changing management at UPN was less friendly to the franchise than it had been. However, the spectacular failure of Star Trek: Nemesis was perhaps the most public blow the franchise had taken. The critics now had ammunition; the vultures were circling; the franchise was on the ropes for the world to see.

The Catwalk had aired a few days after Nemesis crash-landed, when the franchise was still reeling. The first episode of Star Trek to air in 2003, Dawn was broadcast after the franchise and the public had time to properly process the disaster. It goes without saying that there was a lot of pressure on the episode.

Alien nation...

Alien nation…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Precious Cargo (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.

Precious Cargo is a disaster. It is a spectacularly terrible piece of television. It is the kind of episode that fans point towards when they want to belittle or diminish Star Trek: Enterprise.

To be fair, it isn’t as if the show has the monopoly on bad episodes of the franchise. After all, the original Star Trek gave us And The Children Shall Lead, The Way to Eden and The Apple. Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us Code of Honour, Angel One, The Child and Up the Long Ladder. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine produced Let He Who Is Without Sin, Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak. Star Trek: Voyager is responsible for Fair Haven and Spirit Folk. When you produce twenty-something episodes of television a year, terrible episodes happen.

We are Trip, of Bored...

We are Trip, of Bored…

Indeed, they will keep happening. Precious Cargo cannot even make an indisputable claim to being the weakest story of the troubled second season. There are fans who will argue that A Night in Sickbay or Bounty deserve that accolade. Nevertheless, it seems like everyone is agreed that Precious Cargo is a disaster from start to finish. It is a collection of pulpy science-fiction clichés that feels overly familiar, a lazy comedy without any solid jokes and a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads.

Precious Cargo is a spectacular misfire, an ill-judged and poorly-constructed addition to the franchise.

"Wait, another Trip comedy episode?"

“Wait, another Trip comedy episode?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Dead Stop (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.

Dead Stop is an interesting beast.

One of the stronger episodes from the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise, Dead Stop follows on directly from the events of the previous episode without serving as a direct continuation. It is very rare to see this approach taken on Star Trek, and it’s the perfect example of the sort of episode-to-episode connections that were lacking during the show’s first two seasons. Dead Stop is not a direct follow-on to Minefield, but it is fascinated with the fallout from that episode.

A model ship...

A model ship…

And yet, despite this, Dead Stop is also based around one of the most generic premises imaginable – a sentient space station with a sinister agenda. With a few choice edits, the premise could easily be adapted for Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Indeed, it’s not too difficult to imagine Kirk and Spock dealing with the rogue space station at some point during their five year mission. It is a story that could – in broad strokes – even work for a television anthology series.

The beauty of Dead Stop is the way that it blends these two conflicting elements together, to construct a show that feels like it showcases the best parts of Enterprise while working from a core story that could be told across the franchise.

Piecing it together...

Piecing it together…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Vox Sola (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.

Vox Sola is a rather sedate late-season instalment of Star Trek: Enterprise. Largely designed as a bottle show, Vox Sola has a rake of interesting ideas, but doesn’t offer any particularly insightful exploration. The alien creature of the week is unique and distinctive, but the episode constructed around it feels rather lacklustre. There’s a sense of late-season fatigue at work here, with Vox Sola feeling rather like a more low-key variation on the strange-space-phenomena-of-the-week story template that Star Trek: Voyager would use routinely.

"It's alive!"

“It’s alive!”

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