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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Awakening (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

9/11 forever changed the world.

In doing so, it also changed popular culture. As part of that, it also changed Star Trek. When it comes to discussing the way that the franchise was shaped and moulded by 9/11, there are a number of easy points upon which to focus. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise quite blatantly positions itself as an allegory for those terrorist attacks, with Archer directly responding to a terror attack upon Earth and seeking to hold those responsible to account. Star Trek Into Darkness evokes those attacks both in its imagery and its conspiracy theory subtext.

Fallout warning.

Fallout warning.

However, the influence is much stronger than any of that. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek touched on the themes of trauma and loss that inform a lot of post-9/11 culture by making both Kirk and Spock survivors of horrific and unprovoked destruction. Similarly, the cosmology of Enterprise had been shaped and defined by those attacks since at least Shadows of P’Jem, reflected in the hostile and paranoid universe suggested in episodes like The SeventhCease Fire and The Crossing or the destruction of the timeline in Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II.

The fourth season is no less shaped by the War on Terror than the third season had been, even if that influence is less overt. The chaotic asymmetrical warfare of Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II evoke the political quagmire of foreign intervention in the twenty-first century. Home explores responses to traumas both personal and cultural. However the Kir’Shara trilogy is most overt in its War on Terror imagery, paralleling Archer’s journey into the desert following a terror attack with the looming spectre of war.

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Defiant (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Defiant is a cheeky piece of work.

On the surface, it appears to be a rather lame bit of cross-promotion for the release of Star Trek: Generations. The first movie featuring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation had opened three-days before Defiant aired, and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a nice cameo from a well-loved cast member and remind audiences that the film was currently in cinemas. Jonathan Frakes is a likeable actor, and Riker has been used as an ambassador for the series before. He appeared in Cybill, after all.

However, then Defiant takes one sharp left-turn, massively upsetting expectations and becoming something a lot more interesting than a cross-media tie-in.

Guess who's coming to Quark's...

Guess who’s coming to Quark’s…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Perspective (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

A Matter of Perspective is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s a disappointment for the same reason that The High Ground is a disappointment. The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is at least trying new things, and playing with big ideas for a syndicated television science-fiction show in the late eighties and early nineties. There is some charm to the episode’s basic premise (Rashomon in space… with the holodeck!”), but the script never quite manages to deliver on that wonderful set up.

Instead, we end up with a show that lacks the nuance to follow through on its central themes, and a mystery that confuses techno-babble for a satisfying solution.

Painting a pretty picture...

Painting a pretty picture…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Defector (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Defector is the script that earned Ronald D. Moore his place on the writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The writer had contributed the first script produced by Michael Piller, The Bonding, but it was his second pitch – improvised in the heat of the moment – that cemented Moore’s place with the franchise. He would stay on The Next Generation until it finished, before moving on to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and eventually Star Trek: Voyager, although he departed Voyager quite quickly.

Although Moore retains the credit on the finished episode, apparently – like so many third season scripts – the final draft of The Defector was a collaborative effort involving the whole writing staff. The episode, the first instalment of The Next Generation to air in the nineties, turned out surprisingly well. Indeed, The Defector is one of the strongest episodes of a very strong season.

A defective defector?

A defective defector?

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Vengeance Factor is an ambitious little episode that never quite manages to follow through on its potential. Something of a Riker-centric romance to compliment the Troi-centric romance in The Price, the episode is an exploration of vengeance and generational strife – the cost of feuds that last decades, even centuries. It’s a story where Yuta’s thirst for revenge keeps her young, and one that opens with Crusher tracking the acts of piracy back to the Gatherers using a blood stain on a shard of metal. Subtle, it is not.

However, there’s something almost endearing about The Vengeance Factor, from its very eighties leather Mad Max reject space pirates through to the way that channels the optimism of Star Trek quite well. Although the ending is unbelievably forced, at least it is striking and effective. Far from perfect, and not among the high points of this third season, The Vengeance Factor still marks a sharp improvement from The Price.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Price (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, the streak had to end some time. After seven episodes ranging from “flawed but still interesting” to “pretty great”, the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation hits a bit of a snag. The Price is the weakest episode of the show’s third season to this point, and confirmation that the writers really have no idea how to write for Deanna Troi. It’s still the best episode to focus on the ship’s half-Betazoid counsellor, but being better than Haven or The Child is hardly an accomplishment for the ages.

All that glitters...

All that glitters…

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