Unlike most of my articles, this one is strictly editorial. I've had many people emailing me to talk about the the newest incarnation of Star Trek, "Enterprise", and this has prompted me to try and organise my thoughts here.
I have a rule when it comes to judging any television series; I hold off judgment on it until I have seen the first seventeen episodes. Seventeen is a pretty arbitrary number which I came up with because I was seventeen years old when I decided on it. My rule is that a series must have at least one really interesting episode within the first seventeen if I am to continue watching it.
With The Original Series of Trek, it doesn't take anything like seventeen episodes to come across a good one; the first seventeen episodes of TOS include "Balance of Terror", "The Galileo Seven" and "The Menagerie". With The Next Generation it was more iffy; the first couple of seasons of this show are widely regarded by as being its weakest. Nevertheless, while I couldn't really point to any specific episode and say "that's a great episode!", I did like the show as a whole; the characters were good, especially regular Data and the recurring character Q. I liked Picard - his stuffiness was an interesting change from Kirk. And after years of watching TOS re-runs, it was great to be able to sit down and watch a Trek episode without being able to quote the dialogue line for line!
Deep Space Nine interested me from the get-go; the pilot alone qualified as interesting enough to hold my attention. And as it turned out, the episode after my seventeen episode marker was "Duet", which remains one of my all time favourite DS9 episodes.
Voyager struggled, in my opinion. Its first season managed to clinch my attention with "Prime Factors", "Faces" and "Jetrel", but the show as a whole suffered problems that I will talk about later.
And now we have had the seventeenth episode of Enterprise ("Fusion"), what do I think of the show? Read on...
My biggest issue with Enterprise has always been the basic premise of the show. Probably the single most defining aspect of Star Trek is summed up beautifully by Kirk's opening dialogue from TOS : "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." This was - and indeed still is - an almost uniquely optimistic premise for a science fiction series. Just look at some of the major sci-fi shows around in the past few decades :
|Lost in Space ||About a family who are lost and trying to get home. |
|Space 1999 ||About a group of astronauts (Lunanauts?) lost and trying to get home. |
|Blake's Seven ||About a group of renegades, and how their noble fight for freedom eventually turns them into little more than terrorists. |
|Babylon 5 ||About a space station which co-ordinates an interstellar alliance in a war against an ancient evil. |
|UFO ||About aliens attempting to invade Earth. |
|Space : Above and Beyond ||About a group of soldiers fighting a war. |
|Doctor Who ||About an alien and his companions, usually wandering around lost, helping out the people they meet. |
|X Files ||Aliens are visiting us (actually attacking us), and our own government is co-operating in it. Oh, and all kinds of other stuff is going on as well. |
|Dark Skies ||Aliens are visiting us (actually attacking us), and our own government is not co-operating in it. Most of the history of the last few decades is a lie. |
|Andromeda ||Civilisation has collapsed, all is chaos, let's pick up the pieces. Oh, and by the way a few trillion Magog are coming to eat everybody. |
Now there are some fine shows here, some that have given me countless hours of viewing pleasure. But virtually all of them are based in a pretty negative environment. In not one of them are Humans going out into space because they want to, because it is a challenging and interesting place to go - because, in the words of Q, "It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross..." That, in my opinion, is the reason that Star Trek has such a widespread and long-lasting appeal.
When I heard about DS9, I had my doubts - "what, you mean they're just going to sit
there? No boldly going?" As it turned out, the wormhole meant that strangeness and adventure would come to our heroes, rather than they going towards it. After a few years DS9 gave up on the whole "going through the wormhole" aspect of the show and settled on a long war arc instead; this made it less like Star Trek and more like all the other sci-fi shows out there, but by then I was interested enough in the characters and the complex political setup of the show to stick with it to the end anyway.
Then Voyager came along, and presented us with a show which had the most anti-Trek premise yet. Essentially Voyager would be a Trekified version of "Lost in Space". The ship would not be boldly going into unknown space to seek adventure, but rather would be running back towards home. The crew would not be bold heroes, but a mixture of bold heroes and traitors. Even worse, having established this disappointing premise the creators of the show then completely failed to live up to it. The so-called "tension" with the Maquis never materialised in the early episodes, though it did fizzle up now and again later on. And for a ship that was heading home, Voyager seemed to spend a whole lot of time diverting to look at passing nebulas.
The show had some other problems in terms of characterisation and writing, though to be fair Voyager certainly did produce some excellent episodes, and maintained a consistent quality high enough - just - to keep me watching all the way through.
When Voyager finally finished, I looked forward to the next series with glee. I never really doubted that there would be a new series, and I was sure that after two such non-Trekkian outings that "The Powers That Be" would give us a real, proper Trek series again. Rumours abounded about the new series on the net - the commonest was that it would follow a group of Starfleet Academy cadets through their training, but some said it would be set on a Klingon ship, or would follow some kind of "trouble-shooter" team which went to wherever the Federation had major problems. The Academy rumour seemed silly - what organisation would put cadets in jeopardy, week after week? An alien ship also seemed unlikely, as it seemed unlikely that an audience would identify with a ship of aliens. The trouble-shooter team was a curious idea - isn't going to the Federation's trouble spots exactly what both Kirk and Picard had routinely done anyway?
One of the rumours that I most disliked was that the next show would be a prequel series, set either between the time of Kirk and Picard or even many years before the time of Kirk, at the founding of the Federation. I couldn't believe that these ideas were being seriously considered! And yet, soon enough it was announced that there would indeed be a new series, set in the 2150s and featuring the adventures of the first Starship Enterprise.
I was crushed. Any "boldly going" that these shows did would be going into territory that was old hat to Kirk and Picard. A whole seven year series was going to be devoted to filling in the gaps in the existing Trek timeline. I couldn't believe that we were getting yet another non-Trek Trek series.
Perhaps worse than this was the fact that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would be in charge of the new series. Berman and Braga had taken a lot of bashing from Trek fans during Voyager, much of it centring around the fact that they apparently didn't care all that much about keeping that show in line with established Trek history. Braga was quoted as saying that he had never watched TOS and didn't think continuity was especially important. In the early years of Voyager I tended to ignore such rants, or occasionally even argue against them. Continuity problems are nothing new, I argued; with a show as complex as Trek had become mistakes were inevitable, and it was surprising there were as few as we have seen. Besides, I have always loved trying to explain such things away anyway.
I can date to the second exactly when my attitude changed. It was during the episode "Fury", when Janeway asked Tom Paris what was the first thing he had ever learned about warp drive. Paris replied with a little rhyme to the effect that while in warp drive a ship could only fly in a straight line.
I was agape with astonishment at this flat-out absurdity. I mean, it's one thing to have a character contradict something Kirk said offhand in some thirty year old episode of TOS... but this was the continuity equivalent of having Janeway suddenly declare that she worked for the "United Empire of Planets". I couldn't believe that anybody could make such a stupid mistake. Since that moment I have never tried to defend Berman and Braga from criticism, and indeed have weighed in with my own fair share on occasion.
Berman and Braga's "stuff it" attitude to continuity is the worst possible one to have on as show like Enterprise. It's far easier to trample over continuity in a prequel series than it is on a show set in the "present". It would be almost impossible to pull something like Enterprise off well even if you were of a mind to be incredibly careful about such things. But with an attitude of "I don't care, and neither does anybody else who matters", Enterprise was doomed to be a continuity nightmare from day one.
And so it has proved. Even before the show premiered it blundered badly with the design of Enterprise itself. Ideally Enterprise should have looked like the ring-ship seen on the recreation deck wall in Star Trek : The Motion Picture. At the very least a ship built during this era should share the general design ethic of the Daedalus class, or be more primitive even that that. Instead Enterprise borrows heavily from the Akira class, a design which post-dates the show by over two hundred years. A ship like Enterprise in the timeframe of the 2150s is like a stealth bomber featuring in a series set at the turn of the 19th century.
The first episode revealed a few more clangers - Enterprise's crew was equipped with "phase pistols", which look and act exactly as phasers do. Yet people of this time should have been using lasers, at best; Worf once stated that there were no phasers in the 22nd century. The ship is stated to be capable of warp 5, yet makes a trip to Kronos in only four days; in all fairness this particular type of nit is hardly unique to Enterprise, but by setting the show at a time when the ships were inherently slower than even Kirk's ship, the makers are compounding this problem.
As if all this wasn't bad enough, we even have blatant and deliberate gaffes such as the introduction of the Ferengi in an episode, more than two centuries before they were mysterious unknowns in The Next Generation! Yes I know that they never said that they were Ferengi, but it beggars belief that Archer and his crew wouldn't at least draw pictures of their attackers. Data at least would have recognised the Ferengi at once when he first came across them, and would have commented on the fact.
This is the contradiction at the very heart of the new series - Berman and Braga have chosen to found a show on a premise which is particularly demanding precisely in those areas which they don't think are important. After all, what on Earth is the point of doing a retro series if you are not going to do it in a retro way? I can't imagine what it was about a prequel that really attracted Berman and Braga in the first place. It was rumoured that Berman was jealous of the "never equalled classic" status that Roddenberry's TOS has in the minds of many fans, and wanted to rewrite Trek history in his own image. I don't know the man, but I find it hard to believe that he would be this petty. It's rumoured that the idea of a prequel was somewhat down his list of things he wanted to do, and that he only took it up when his first choices were rejected by the studio. This is a better possibility, but it's something that we will only know in many years when everybody concerned writes their memoirs. If then.
In a way I feel sorry for Enterprise. I mentioned earlier my seventeen episode rule for holding off on judgment of a new series. But Enterprise's "boldly filling in the gaps that other captains have not filled in before" ethos was built in from before the first episode, and its continuity problems were a disaster waiting to happen given the people in charge. I was vocal in my criticisms during the run up to the pilot episode, but I tried my best to hold my tongue during that seventeen episode run. Well, that run is now over and the judgment is in.
Enterprise has some of the same problems that most other series suffer in their first seasons - everybody is settling down into the job, getting used to the universe, finding out what works and what doesn't. The first season has not been a great one, but it's been as good or better than the likes of Space : Above and Beyond or Dark Skies managed. Its apparently doing okay in the ratings, and I have little doubt that it will eventually mature into a pretty decent show. But in my mind it will never - can
never - be a true Trek series, and it can never be the shining star that it could have been. UPDATE :
The following is a slightly modified copy of a post I made to alt.startrek in response to the question "Why Dont U Like Enterprise" (that's how they spelled it). I figured that since a goodly stretch of episodes has now gone by this would serve as an update on what I think is wrong with the show.
First and foremost, I still don't like the premise. I want to see starship captains visiting strange new worlds, and while what Enterprise explores is new to Archer and new to us, in the context of the Trek universe it's anything but new. They're boldly going to fill in the gaps that none have filled before.
As such Enterprise lacks the capacity to really engage me, and always will.
That said, it would be possible to do a prequel series that was at least well made and worth watching. Enterprise does this to an extent, but it has serious flaws : Action :
Archer simply doesn't cut the mustard as a Starfleet captain. Kirk virtually NEVER lost a fight - offhand I know of only one time in his whole life that he did. [it's been pointed out by Tool Packing Mama that this isn't quite true, and though I would argue that the exceptions mostly involve godlike beings or some such, it's not really relevant to the point, which is that Kirk kicked ass and Archer gets his ass kicked.] Even Picard beat Klingons in a knife fight! Yet Archer is beaten up on frequently, and almost never even manages to put up a decent fight. Sex :
Enterprise's attitude to sex is childish. If they want to have sex in the show, then actually have sex! Get Hoshi into a relationship with somebody, hell even do it with T'Pol if you like. Make one of the crew a real man-eater (or woman eater) like that genetically engineered gal off DS9 and have them work their way through the crew if that's what you want. But oh noooo, we can't do that... B&B's idea of "sexing up" consists of finding absurdly flimsy excuses to put people in their underwear and have them massage one another. Oooo, I'm in the decontamination room wondering if I have an alien disease that's going to eat my skin off, don't I feel sexy... Continuity :
In terms of the odd wrong date, I find Enterprise's "couldn't care less" approach to continuity annoying but tolerable. But on a broader front, the whole premise of this show demands that this be a more primitive setting than other Treks. Yet it is not. We have a ship that can get from adventure to adventure in an average of two weeks, just as every other Trek ship did. We have "phase pistols" that are essentially identical to phasers, we have "polarised plating" that is essentially identical to shields (in the dramatic sense, not the technological one), we have a food synthesizer that is essentially identical to a food replicator, we have a transporter that IS identical to a transporter, we have no prime directive, but a crew that has followed the prime directive anyway, right from day one... and so on. Enterprise's attempt at doing things in a retro way consists entirely of doing exactly what Trek always did before, but with slightly different words for everything.
Enterprise should be taking months to get from place to place; we should see a few shows set on one planet, then three or four on the way to the next planet, then three or four shows there, and so on. There should be no transporter, no polarised plating, no phase weapons - I'd have given them handheld slugthrowers. And the ships should use lasers to chew at one another, and nukes as their "big punch" weapon.
There should be no Prime Directive nor any concept of not interfering. Let's see Archer happily arm some locals because they look like the "good guys" in their war, only to come back six months later and find that they are using the weapons for genocide. Let's see him make the mistakes that made people back home say "hey, every time we interfere it turns out badly. Let's not do that anymore."
Above all, let's see the "balls to the wall guys, let's grab this galaxy by the throat, show it there's a new kid on the block and MAKE IT RESPECT US!" attitude that you need to carve out a big chunk of the alpha quadrant and make it your own. When they meet bad guys I want to see them shoot first, shoot again, shoot some more, then MAYBE see if they can ask the smoldering wreckage a question or two! Where are the Humans
who taught the Klingons to fear and whupped the Romulan Star Empire so bad it went and hid behind the neutral zone? Where are the people who will make 150 alien races say "yeah, these guys kick SERIOUS ass, let's sign up to this Federation thing they're setting up!"
Coz sure as hell Archer and his crew don't look like those people.
And that's why I don't like Enterprise.