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STAR TREK At 50 - ENTERPRISE (2001-2005)

We continue our tribute to 50 years of Star Trek with a look at the franchise's most recent series.

Words by Nick Sauer (njsauer)

Enterprise or Star Trek: Enterprise, which the series was later renamed during the third season, was the sixth and, to date, final television series of the Star Trek franchise. It ran for four seasons from 2001 until 2005 on the United Paramount Network (UPN). Unlike the previous spin-off series, Enterprise was a prequel series set 100 years prior to the original Star Trek. Also unlike the other spin-off series, it was the first to be cancelled prior to the completion of its planned run. While most Trek fans tend to rate this series pretty poorly, it's my second favourite Star Trek series after the original. The reason for this is that, of all the follow on series, Enterprise was to me the most reminiscent of the original Star Trek.

Enterprise begins 90 years after the first contact between Humans and Vulcans depicted at the end of the movie Star Trek: First Contact. The Vulcans have helped us rebuild the planet, but at the same time have kept humanity from exploring the universe with our new warp drive technology. This has engendered a good deal of suspicion and mistrust directed at the Vulcan High Command. Having the Vulcans as a minor antagonist was one of the interesting concepts that I really liked about this series. Their plan to keep Humanity on earth goes well until a Klingon ship carrying a message to be delivered to the Klingon homeworld makes an emergency crash landing in Oklahoma. At this point, Jonathan Archer, who is the captain of the Earth's newest warp capable star ship, Enterprise, convinces Starfleet it's time to move into space exploration by delivering the courier who survived the crash to the Klingon homeworld. Archer quickly assembles his crew and the adventure begins.

The characters that make up the crew of Enterprise are an interesting lot. They are lead by Captain Archer, played by Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula. The first officer, as well as science officer, is the Vulcan T’Pol. While she is obviously intended to act as a watchdog to rein in the behavior of this human crew, she just as frequently ends up agreeing with their judgment. The only other alien member of the crew is the ship’s chief medical officer, Doctor Phlox. He is a Denobulan and is part of a cultural exchange program with a Human physician now serving on the Denobulan homeworld. His species has a number of interesting characteristics, such as being a polyamorous culture and hibernating for one week a year instead of sleeping. Malcolm Reed is the ship’s security officer and is a very solitary individual, to the point of being exceptionally socially challenged in the new group environment he finds himself in. Hoshi Sato is the ship's communication officer and, while being a brilliant linguist, is extremely uncomfortable with space travel. Ensign Mayweather is the helmsman and has the unusual background that he was born and grew up on a space freighter and has lived most of his life on spacecraft. Finally, the ship’s engineer and Archer’s confidant is Commander 'Trip' Tucker. The crew chemistry of the show is interesting in that they are literally put together for the first time in the pilot episode so we get to watch them learn about each other as well as form relationships over the course of the series.

While the setting is a very familiar one by this point in the franchise - and, as a result, there is a good amount of material to work with - being a prequel, some of this background is limited in its use. Having said this, Enterprise really does go out of its way to embrace stuff from the original series. This starts off gradually with the Andorians and Tellarites, in addition to the Vulcans, being major races in the series, as well as references to other less covered species. For example, one of the first ships they encounter is an Axanar vessel. By its fourth season, Enterprise totally embraces the original series' Star Trek universe. The one major difference from classic Trek is the lack of the prime directive. This considerably opens up the storytelling possibilities of the series, as it allows a more “hands on” style of space exploration than we have seen in any previous franchise.

As I said earlier, Enterprise captures the feel of the original series the most closely for me, but at the same time, the series makes a major shift in the episodic nature of the series by moving it to the longer story arc format more common to modern genre television. The first two seasons of Enterprise feature the standard episodic format for a Star Trek franchise, including a cliffhanger two part episode as the season one finale/season two premiere. However, there are a number of secondary stories that make up continuing arcs throughout the seasons.

There are some classic episodes from these seasons, which I will cover in broadcast order. Fight or Flight is the episode directly following the pilot and is great at showing just how scary a universe without the prime directive really can be. The crew comes across a ship whose crew has been placed in suspended animation by another, far more advanced, species in order to harvest certain bodily fluids from them. Terra Nova is an episode that probably will not be on many people’s classic lists, but it made mine because I feel it examines some really novel problems surrounding early planetary colonisation. The Andorian Incident gives us our first view of the Andorians and their relationship with the Vulcans. Dear Doctor is an episode that centres on Phlox as he composes a letter to the Human doctor of the exchange program he is involved with as well as a first contact with a species facing an ethically challenging biological situation. In the second season, Carbon Creek is a story, told by T’Pol, about the real first contact between Humans and Vulcans in the mid 20th century. Stigma was another episode featuring T’Pol where she is forced to deal with a potential fatal Vulcan mental disorder. Finally, Regeneration is an episode that is actually a sequel to events from the movie Star Trek: First Contact.

The third season was one which featured one major, season encompassing, story arc that was actually previewed with the final episode of season two. The story deals with an attack on the Earth from a group known as the Xindi that seem intent on trying to destroy not only the planet but humanity as a whole. They reside in a mysterious area known as the Delphic Expanse, a region of space poorly explored due to ships that enter the region generally not making it back out. While it was one continuous story, there were two episodes that I felt stood out as outstanding stories in their own right. In Twilight, Captain Archer’s brain gets infected with a temporally static parasite. This episode is one of the most solid pieces of science fiction in Star Trek and would easily get my vote for the best episode of the entire series of Enterprise. Chosen Realm, while not exactly new territory in that it is about a planet’s warring religious factions, is still a remarkably well done story on that theme. The third season as a whole was where, much like The Next Generation, I felt Enterprise really found its footing in a big way. The story arc was engaging and there was some serious character development on the part of some of the crew members.

The fourth and final season was where Enterprise truly embraced the original series' background. This season also featured a format that I felt was perfect for any future Star Trek series. This format consisted of story arcs made up of two or three episodes each. It’s a format that does bear some similarity to classic Doctor Who, but I felt it really worked perfectly to bring the franchise into the 21st century. One of these was a three part arc that featured Dr. Arik Soong (played by Brent Spiner), an imprisoned Eugenic scientist and the great grandfather of Dr. Noonian Soong. The storyline focused on the crew needing his help to recapture some of his escaped “experiments”. Another two part story involves the Klingons and, ultimately, the explanation for the more human looking version of the species we saw in the original series. Finally, the two part episode In a Mirror Darkly features a return to the popular Mirror Universe. The first scene of the story was an alternate ending to the movie First Contact, which led directly into a completely redone credit sequence featuring a martial theme over the regular exploration one which ended with the “dagger through the planet” mirror universe emblem. The story line takes place completely in the mirror universe this time and actually ties in with the original series episode The Tholian Web as well.  Unfortunately, the final episode of this season and the entire series is actually a Next Generation holodeck episode with Commander Riker and Counselor Troi that covers events taking place 10 years later in the Enterprise story line. Many fans of Enterprise took this as a huge slap in the face to the series, and I would be included among them.

Overall, I really felt the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise were solid, but the ratings were not enough to satisfy UPN at the time. I really think that fans who never gave this Star Trek spin-off a chance really owe it to themselves to take a look at it, especially the final two seasons.

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