In September of 2001 (that month that lives in infamy) a new Star Trek series debuted called “Enterprise”. It was also released minus the Star Trek brand name (at first…it was reinstated by Season 2). Produced by longtime Star Trek writer/producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the series was a prequel to TOS Star Trek, taking place in the mid-22nd century (a little over 100 years before the time of Kirk and Spock). One of the show’s recurring ideas was a “temporal cold war” (involving rogue time travelers), but it seems that “Enterprise” (ENT) has fought its own war against time… and won.
The series’ production design (by longtime ST production designer Herman Zimmerman) attempted to walk a line between looking less sophisticated than TOS Star Trek (cramped interiors, clunky technology, etc), yet convincingly futuristic enough as to not be laughable to modern audiences. It partly succeeded, though some detractors argue (not without merit) that the show’s overall aesthetic is far more futuristic than the pioneering 1960s parent series. In fact, the series’ ongoing “temporal cold war” (TCW) was perhaps initially conceived as a means to explain away certain visual discontinuities between the new series and later Star Trek incarnations. The TCW became the series’ “a wizard did it” card… a way of explaining why certain events didn’t seem to track with later Trek.
Continuity nits of ENT didn’t matter so much for me, since I saw ENT more as a sequel to 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact” than as a direct prequel to TOS. The movie “First Contact” saw Picard and the Enterprise-E crew going back in time to the 21st century to stop a Borg invasion. I’ve always assumed (?) that their incursion into the past somehow altered history just enough to (now) include an as-yet-unheard-of, pre-Federation starship also named Enterprise. The NX-01 is a ‘legendary’ starship we never saw or heard of prior to “First Contact” (it’s not even displayed on Picard’s wall of “little ships”, either). Without getting too much into it here, I have a link to my own detailed breakdown of how ENT and Discovery fit into the greater Star Trek timeline (The issue of Star Trek and its continuity). In short, ENT is not truly in line with TOS Star Trek; it’s part of the post-“First Contact” Archerverse, which through a series of detours, eventually dovetails with the classic series… well, more or less.
At first, Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) comes off as a blustery “ugly American in Space”, but he definitely mellows over the by the end of the series, becoming less proto-Kirk and a bit more proto-Picard.
Archer’s initial bluster eventually smooths into compassion and open-mindedness. Archer has a beagle named Porthos and enjoys water polo.
The Captain’s new science officer is the Angelina Jolie-esque Vulcan T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), who is initially sent by the Vulcan High Command to keep on eye on the semi-savage human crew, but grows closer to them over time… particularly the chief engineer,
Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) is the captain’s best friend. Engineer Trip is a likable cross between TOS Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Trip and T’Pol’s initial friction with each other masks a latent attraction that manifests itself later on.
Other bridge crew members include linguistic genius/comm officer (and nervous flyer) Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), underused “space boomer” helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) and somewhat uptight tactical officer Lt. Malcom Reed (Brit actor Dominic Keating, who couldn’t be less like his character in real life).
The crew are joined on their maiden voyage by non-commissioned chief medical officer Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley). Denobulan Phlox was practicing medicine on Earth as part of an alien-exchange program. Phlox is characterized by his jovial manner and open mind. He quickly became one of my early favorites.
Stumbling Into An Eventual Sprint.
ENT left spacedock with a few hard knocks; the prime of which was debuting the same month as the worst terrorist attack on US shores, 9/11. The show’s production team was hard-pressed to suddenly try to incorporate those horrific events into its storylines for relevance. The pilot episode, “Broken Bow”, was filmed months before 9/11 happened, yet its new series’ villains were already called the “Suliban” (a name meant to evoke the US’ own radical terrorist adversary in Afghanistan, the Taliban).
Given the tragic circumstances of 9/11, the TCW soon evolved (or devolved) into a metaphor for radical jihadist terrorism (these days, there is a far greater threat of domestic terrorism, but that’s another subject). We later saw an entire third season of ENT that seemed to serve as a metaphor for the unpopular US invasion of Iraq, with the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 flying into “the expanse” (a dangerously distorted region of space) to find a Xindi “weapon of mass destruction.” The metaphor seemed ripped straight from the headlines, with the series seemingly supporting the US invasion of Iraq.
It was at this point that ENT kinda lost me. There was already a heavy sci-fi metaphor series dealing with post-9/11 anxieties called “Battlestar Galactica” (former ST writer/producer Ron Moore’s bold reimagination of the 1970s family show) and frankly, BSG was doing it much better. BSG dealt with the topics by turning them on their heads; getting audiences to see all sides of the conflict with the now jihadist Cylons, rather than relaxing into tired jingoism and chest-thumping. ENT seemed less empathetic with its Suliban and Xindi adversaries, with only perfunctory olive branches offered now and then. However, it got better. Much better, in fact. The 4th and final season of ENT became not only a best for the series, but arguably one of the best seasons in all of Star Trek.
ENT’s 4th season, under new showrunner Manny Coto (“Dexter”) ended the TCW in a two-part season opener and then rededicated itself to the show’s original mission statement… being a prequel to TOS Star Trek. 4th season ENT began connecting the dots between the seeming disparities of ENT’s 22nd century to the more benign, smooth-running universe we later see in ST’s 23rd and 24th centuries.
The 4th season used mini-arcs (two and three parters) to explain everything from 22nd century Vulcans’ shame of mind-melding to a lack of Klingon forehead ridges in the future of Captain Kirk. But the 4th season wasn’t merely about explaining discontinuities… it was wildly entertaining as well. The season saw the initial formation of what would eventually become the United Federation of Planets and the first stirrings of the upcoming Romulan War (later chronicled in three excellent ENT novels). We also saw visits from the Orions, the omnipotent Organians (from TOS’ “Errand of Mercy”) and even the grandfather of Commander Data’s creator, Dr. Noonian Soong (Brent Spiner, as Arik Soong, in a delightful 3-part appearance).
Season 4 of ENT was a veritable Star Trek smorgasbord.
Season One of ENT kicks off with the ambitious pilot, “Broken Bow.” In it, we see the launch of the United Earth starship Enterprise (the NX-01), which is tasked with taking an injured Klingon courier named “Klaang” (Tiny Lister of “The Fifth Element”) back to his homeworld. The journey is complicated when the shadowy, shape-shifting Suliban kidnap the giant Klingon for the nefarious aims of a ‘temporal cold war’ being waged from the far future.
“Broken Bow” is among my personal favorites of the Star Trek pilots, and it is also the only one where we see an actual launch of a starship from Earth (in a scene that evokes the spectacular launch of the refurbished USS Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”). Each member of the cast is also given a nice introduction, and we get a good sense of their personalities.
“The Andorian Incident” which introduced us to Jeffrey Combs’ hotheaded Andorian “Shran.” It also gave us much insight into the pre-reformation Vulcans of the 22nd century, who seemed very much capable of lying and practicing deceit (unlike their 23rd century descendants).
“Dear Doctor” sees Dr. Phlox dealing with an unjustly subjugated sentient species, and gives us our first look at perhaps the reason why future starships have ‘the prime directive.’ An intriguing exploration of Phlox’s character.
“Shuttlepod One” is an intimate, Apollo 13-like character study of Trip and Malcolm stranded together on a dying ship. They get on each other’s nerves, but their eventual rescue is quite heartfelt, despite Malcolm’s creepy flirtation with T’Pol in sickbay…which is comically rebuffed.
“Fusion” is an examination of Vulcan emotional suppression, cultural taboos, and the brutal horrors of date-rape when the NX-01 encounters a shipful of Vulcan outcasts who secretly practice emotion and are considered deviants in Vulcan society. Trip has some nice scenes with a Vulcan engineer who is estranged from his father.
Season Two takes things a bit further, while still maintaining a standalone storytelling format. Personal favorites of mine in that second year include:
“Carbon Creek” is a fanciful tall tale told by T’Pol during dinner in the captain’s mess. She tells of an ancestor of hers who may (or may not) have landed on post-Sputnik 1950s Earth in Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. Despite some whimsical comedy (much of it from guest star J. Paul Boehmer), the episode also has surprising heart, thanks to the addition of a “October Sky”-style subplot of a young boy who wants to leave his coal town and become an engineer. One of my favorites of the series.
“Dead Stop” sees a mine-damaged NX-01 stop at a sterile, fully automated repair station that promises to carry out all needed repairs…for a seemingly reasonable price; but all is not what it seems. Without spoiling it, this episode creeps me out. Wonderfully eerie direction by former “Star Trek: Voyager” star Roxann Dawson.
“Cogenitor” is a favorite largely because of the passionate debate it inspires. In a first contact gone awry, Trip befriends an a third gendered alien being who seems to exist only to aid in the reproduction of the two other genders. This being, called a cogenitor, has no rights and is treated like an unloved pet. Trip tries to do the ‘right thing’ but it doesn’t end well. Some may hate this episode because it paints the altruistic motives of Trip in a bad light, but I like it precisely because it is so fearless. No easy answers…
“Regeneration” is a somewhat divisive episode that introduces us to the Borg a good 200 hundreds before their ‘first’ appearance in TNG’s “Q Who.” In retrospect, it really doesn’t matter because this is the Archerverse; a separate timeline that was splintered off following the events of “Star Trek: First Contact” (see: top of article). While “Regeneration” is arguably a retcon, it also made the Borg truly scary again. For that feat alone, it gets a solid “A” from me.
“First Flight” is a tale told largely in flashback by Captain Archer as he recalls his friendship and rivalry with recently deceased Starfleet test pilot, A.J. Robinson (Keith Carradine). Both Robinson and Archer were struggling to see Starfleet hit Warp 3 (eventually leading to the warp 5 starship, Enterprise). It’s “The Right Stuff” meets Star Trek. Some of the macho histrionics are a bit dull (and anachronistic), but it also tells the story of how Trip and Archer became friends.
The third season felt a bit more like “Battlestar Enterprise” than Star Trek. While it was thematically ambitious to have an entire season devoted to the crew entering a dangerous region to space to stop a Xindi super weapon from destroying Earth, the end result feels like a ugly justification for the US invasion of Iraq (a war I’ve never abided, then or now). I also cannot abide a Star Trek captain willfully committing torture on a sentient being. Despite my personal issues with this season, there were a few solid stories told within this Iraq/WMD analogy arc, such as:
“Twilight” (not to be confused with the damned sparkling vampires) is an intriguing alternate reality story that sees a temporal weapon damage Archer’s memory, and he awakens to find himself older and living on Ceti Alpha V (the pre-disaster, future home of Khan in “The Wrath of Khan”). He is tended by T’Pol, who has taken care of him following the destruction of Earth to the Xindi super-weapon. Of course, the ending sets things right, but it’s still an interesting what-if.
“Similitude” sees Trip near death. Given the engineer’s desperately skills on the mission, an ethically-challenged decision is made to clone Trip, thus harvesting the clone in order to save Trip’s life. The clone grows to adulthood in a short time (minus Trip’s southern accent, of course) and even shares the original’s infatuation with T’Pol. Nice ST-style study in medical ethics.
“Azati Prime” sees Archer pulled out of his time into the 26th century by the enigmatic, time-traveling “Crewman Daniels” (Matt Winston, son of the late makeup legend Stan Winston), where he is allowed to see a future (aboard the Enterprise-J) that all might cease to exist should he make a fateful decision. One of the better temporal cold war stories.
“E-Squared” is perhaps my favorite of the third season. In many ways it’s little more than a ship-bound remake of DS9’s “Children Of Time” but it still works. The crew encounters a future version of the NX-01, which has become a generational ship filled with children (!). The captain is a middle-aged, half-Vulcan son of Trip and T’Pol named Lorian (David Andrews), who is forced to practice a bit of deceit in order to safeguard his own future.
I sincerely wish that the 4th (sadly final) season of ENT had been the first, because this was the season where the show fulfilled its promise of being a prequel to TOS Star Trek. S4 is an embarrassment of riches, and is (in my opinion) one of the finest single seasons in all of Star Trek. The ‘mini-arcs’ structure of the 4th season means I’ll be counting two-parters and even trilogies as single stories:
“Borderland”/”Cold Station 12”/”The Augments” is a 3-parter that deals with leftover embryos from Earth’s ‘eugenics wars’ of the late 20th century (in Trek’s reality, not ours). Some of these embryos are stolen and raised into adulthood by a Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner), an ancestor of 24th century’s Dr. Noonien Soong, the creator of the android Data. The overly aggressive and ambitious super-humans commandeer a Klingon vessel and nearly start a galactic war. A far more successful (and exciting) story than TOS’ own original (overhyped) Khan story, “Space Seed.” Solid guest performance by Alec Newman (“Dune” 2000).
“The Forge”/“Awakening”/“Kir’shara” is the 3-part bridge between the dishonest, mind-meld eschewing Vulcans of the 22nd century with the more enlightened variety we see a century later in Spock’s time. The Vulcans have ‘strayed from the true path’ of societal founder Surak’s teachings. A newly discovered artifact of the late Vulcan philosopher nearly leads to a civil war within Vulcan society (current Earthly religious infighting is commented upon) as well as a galactic war between Vulcan and Andor. Wonderful character moments from Archer, T’Pol and Trip, as well as guest stars Gary Graham (returning as Vulcan ambassador Soval) and Jeffrey Combs (as the perpetually hotheaded Andorian, Shran). Great outdoor California-desert-for-Vulcan location photography as well.
“In a Mirror Darkly” parts 1 & 2 takes place entirely within the ‘mirror universe’ first seen in TOS’ “Mirror, Mirror” (and later seen in DS9). In this brutal, totalitarian universe, Commander Archer grudgingly serves under Captain Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong) while plotting to advance to the captaincy. The opportunity to do so presents itself when a 23rd century starship (from TOS’ “The Tholian Web”) falls back in time a century and lands within the mirror universe. The advanced ship is immediately exploited for its superior speed and weapons technology. A wildly fun episode that makes ingenious use of the spartan TOS set designs to suggest a clean, futuristic aesthetic far in advance of the cluttered, cramped NX-01. The cast get to play a wonderfully twisted, corrupt versions of their characters. Wicked fun!
“Terra Prime”/“Demons” is the two-parter that should’ve been the series’ finale (I won’t get into “These Are The Voyages”… that’s a whole other discussion). The story is a grueling exorcism of those final ‘demons’ inhabiting humanity’s collective psyche…racism & intolerance. The far-right “Terra Prime” movement (led by former “Robocop” Peter Weller) takes control of a movable mining colony and sets up shop on Mars, with a super-weapon aimed directly at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco if all extraterrestrials don’t leave the Solar System ASAP. Trip & T’Pol go undercover to infiltrate the group but are captured, where they discover a baby has been created (without their consent or knowledge) using stolen DNA samples from Enterprise. This implies that the Terra Prime movement has followers everywhere, even on the NX-01. Keep tissues close-by… the ending will turn you into a blubbering mess if you have a working heart.
Meeting some of the folks from “Enterprise” during my now-annual pilgrimages to the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas:
ENT ushered in a lot of firsts for the Star Trek franchise. It was the first prequel series to TOS (“Star Trek: Discovery” came 12 years later). It was the first new ST series of the 21st century. It was the first Star Trek series shot (and broadcast) in 16:9 widescreen format, which is the industry standard today. With the first few seasons’ principal photography shot on 35mm film, the final 4th season was shot entirely on digital video, making previous time-consumptive digital compositing of the special effects unnecessary (the transition is seamless, thanks to director of photography Marvin Rush’s brilliant work). ENT was also the first ST series to not have a miniature built of its lead spaceship, since all the visual effects (including the ships) were shot entirely as computer-generated elements. The sets were also littered with working computer flat-screen monitors (no more bulky, cathode-ray tubes on set). ENT opened a lot of doors for future Star Trek productions.
Another first for ST is the use of a pop song (Diane Warren’s “Faith of the Heart”; a song written for the 1998 Robin Williams’ comedy “Patch Adams”, and originally performed by Rod Stewart). ENT’s cover version of “Faith…” was sung by Russell Watson, and to be honest, it’s one of my least favorite elements of the series. While the lyrics have a certain “Star Trek” vibe to them (“I can reach any star…”), the song sounds a bit like a Michael Bolton coffee commercial. Personally I prefer the orchestral music from longtime ST composer Dennis McCarthy which is played over the show’s end credits. It has the kind of aspirational feel to it that has been long associated with ST scores. It’s also punctuated with a few contemporary guitar licks here and there to give it a slightly closer-to-our-time feel. It could’ve easily served as ENT’s main title theme, but Rick Berman and company wanted a pop song. Oh well…
While quite a few episodes of the series felt like tired retreads of “Voyager” or TNG scripts (especially among its standalone episodes), there were also some innovations as well; an entire season was spent on a single mission. This was another ST ‘first.’ Yes, “Deep Space Nine” began serializing of ST storylines back in the 1990s (it also had a two-season Dominion War arc), but the NX-01’s mission into the expanse to destroy the Xindi super weapon was unique for its single-mindedness. It was also the first and last time we saw the Federation equivalent of Marines aboard, with the Starfleet MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations). One assumes their branch was later absorbed into Starfleet tactical/security (the future redshirts of TOS and goldshirts of TNG). I may not be the biggest fan of ENT’s third season, but I have to give credit where its due.
One of the biggest shames of Star Trek was that ENT (and the since-failed UPN network that hosted it) folded just as it was gathering creative steam, and never got a chance for a fifth season. In the book, “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years” by Ed Gross and Mark Altman, we learn that Jeffrey Combs’ Andorian ally “Shran” would’ve become a series regular. ENT’s 4th season saw the show getting its second wind, freed of the shackles of Iraq invasion metaphors and some of the post-9/11 angst that BSG was covering. ENT was creatively finding itself. Imagine if “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were cancelled after its third season, and you get the idea.
If Netflix (or CBS-All Access) existed in those days, one can imagine a universe where ENT was allowed to finish its journey, possibly getting at least three more seasons (or more). ENT currently makes for great binge-watching… even its third season possesses a few hidden gems which I failed to give a proper chance to back in 2003 (“Similitude” “Twilight” “Azati Prime” and “E2” being personal favorites of mine from that year). In fact, the streaming service Netflix was how I came to give this series a second chance, and I’m grateful that I did.
Seen trough the prism of today’s now-standard arc storytelling form, ENT’s simple standalone stories are ironically refreshing now (even if some of them feel like recycled TNG or Voyager stories). The characters of ENT (save for the criminally underused Travis Mayweather) also come across as far more vibrant than they did in 2001, particularly in contrast to the dour and angsty characters populating current Star Trek. Compared to the brooding crew of the USS Discovery, the crew of the NX-01 are a decidedly cheerful bunch.
With a hit-and-miss first two seasons, a divisive third and a spectacularly successful fourth, ENT was truly on the verge of great things when it was cancelled. One can only imagine where ENT could’ve gone if the sturdy NX-01 hadn’t been prematurely recalled to port. I have little doubt that those never-seen 5th, 6th and 7th seasons of ENT could’ve easily yielded new classic episodes on a par with the very best of Star Trek.