Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 3, 2005)
With every new Star Trek series, it became tougher and tougher for the producers to find ways to twist the old formula. The Next Generation didn’t even try. It largely acted as a continuation of the original series’ themes and goals, albeit with new characters and a more modern world view. Deep Space Nine reversed the exploration concept and put its participants on a space station, while Voyager cut its crew adrift in the middle of unknown territory with survival and a return home as their main goals.
For the fifth series, Trek returned to its roots with the first show since Next Generation to embrace basic space exploration. However, it does offer a twist: while the first three spin-offs took place a considerable amount of time after the original, Enterprise leaps back to a period about 100 years before Captain Kirk did his thing.
So there’s your concept. How well Enterprise will deal with that theme remains to be seen since I’ve not watched any of these shows yet. Without any further ado, let’s plow through Season One’s 25 programs. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they appear on the DVDs. The plot synopses come from http://www.tv.com – thanks to them for their great work.
Broken Bow: “After decades of being held back from deep space exploration by the Vulcans, the human race makes its first venture into interstellar travel with Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) at the helm of the Enterprise NX-01. The Enterprise crew's mission is to return an injured Klingon — the first the human race has ever encountered — to his people. But when a villainous race of aliens called the Suliban kidnap the Klingon, Archer and his crew must make an unexpected detour into another world to retrieve their precious cargo — and stave off a dangerous diplomatic interstellar crisis.”
Every Trek spinoff launches with a big double episode, and Enterprise is no exception. To some degree, this is necessary to introduce the new crew and theme. However, Bow doesn’t utilize a lot of time for exposition, as it prefers to pour on action via the Suliban plot.
I think that’s a mistake. Bow should simply establish the universe and let us see how the era resembles the Trek world we know. The story should have dealt with the first contact between humans and Klingons. I suppose the Suliban will pay off later, but right now they seem like an extraneous distraction. “Bow” got me moderately intrigued in the series, but it’s a so-so show on its own merits.
Fight or Flight: “As they continue their deep space exploration, the Enterprise crew comes across an alien ship where they discover 15 humanoid corpses that seem to have been part of a scientific experiment. The horrific sight inspires Hoshi (Linda Park) to panic and demand a return to Earth, but Archer insists on continuing the mission and finding out more about the abandoned dead. Trouble comes calling when the aliens that were conducting the gruesome experiments return and begin attacking Captain Archer and his team.”
Early prediction: Hoshi will become the series’ whiniest character. Actually, I suppose that here she comes across as the most human since she shows the fears most of us would experience in such peculiar situations, but in the world of Trek, she looks like a cry-baby. Her attitude makes “Flight” only sporadically interesting.
Strange New World: “When the Enterprise investigates an uninhabited planet that turns out to be far more dangerous than expected. The crew members that visit the planet are infected by an alien pollen that induces hallucinations and paranoia.”
Essentially a ghost story with a twist, “World” stands as the best of the series shows to date. Really, there’s not a lot to it; we just wait to see the cause of the crew’s problems and how the situation will rectify itself. Nonetheless, it works as a tight little thriller of sorts.
Unexpected: “When Trip (Connor Trinneer) is dispatched to assist an alien ship with its power source problems, he is delighted to have a friendly encounter with one of the ship's female engineers. But after discovering that their special moment has resulted in his becoming pregnant, he realizes he's had an unwitting experience with alien sex. Archer and his crew must then try and return the rapidly growing alien baby to its mother.”
When a story reminds you of the Original Series’ “Spock’s Brain”, that ain’t a good thing. “Unexpected” may not be quite as ludicrous as the 1969 howler, but it takes on a high concept that feels too silly to succeed. I like the idea that Trip needs to become acclimated to the alien ship; in all other Trek, the Starfleet personnel find it easy to adapt most of the time, so this adds verisimilitude. Otherwise, this is a mildly amusing show at best.
Terra Nova: “The Enterprise crew alters course to investigate the mystery of Terra Nova, a legendary Earth colony whose inhabitants mysteriously disappeared decades ago. But when they arrive, they confront descendents of the colonists who have become more alien than Archer could ever have imagined.”
Another old standby for Trek: Starfleet personnel must help an antagonistic primitive culture that doesn’t necessarily want their assistance. This one offers some potential twists but fails to make good use of them. The best scene flirts with the concept of the Prime Directive but doesn’t exploit this idea well and ends up as just another mediocre show.
The Andorian Incident: “The Enterprise crew pays a friendly visit to an ancient Vulcan spiritual sanctuary, despite T'Pol's (Jolene Blaylock) concerns that her human colleagues will be an awkward and disruptive presence there. Upon landing, they discover that the monastery has been forcibly taken over by the Andorians, a paranoid and highly excitable race of aliens with a long history of conflict with the Vulcans. Archer soon discovers that the Enterprise crew has gotten in the middle of an interstellar Pandora's Box and now must find a way out.”
Since “Incident” brings back the Andorians – a little-used race first seen in the Original Series’ second season – it makes sense the show features Archer in his most Kirk-like state. He’s not as clever as the classic captain, but the program requires him to use his wits at least as much as his fists and creates an intriguing tale. I like the episodes that tie in with established Trek, and this is one of the better takes from Enterprise.
Breaking the Ice: “While the Enterprise crew researches a newly discovered comet, Archer tries to deal diplomatically with a Vulcan ship that is suspiciously watching them.”
Normally I favor action over chattiness on Trek, largely because the various series usually feature the latter to the exclusion of the former. The reverse is true for the more Neanderthal Enterprise, so it’s nice to get an episode with some genuine character exposition. Not all of it quite rings true, but it adds some zest to matters.
Civilization: “Captain Archer and the crew discover a fully inhabited, civilized though less advanced Earth-like planet. Disguised to look like its inhabitants, they pay the planet an exploratory visit where they learn that a pernicious illness is afflicting the local population. As Archer seeks to help them find the malady's source, he finds himself in a close encounter with a comely female alien.”
This episode could have offered a thoughtful look at first contact and the ramifications of dealing with a less advanced culture. Instead, it acts as little more than an opportunity to get some romance in Archer’s life. The story fails to develop much beyond that and the program falls into the “failed opportunity” category.
Fortunate Son: “The Enterprise crew is dispatched by Starfleet Command to assist Fortunate, a human freight vessel that has been attacked by Nausicaan pirates. On arriving, they are surprised to find that Fortunate's crew is resistant to Archer's efforts to help them and determined to seek revenge against their attackers, no matter what the repercussions.”
Like “Civilization”, this show comes across as a blatant attempt to develop a character. Here Mayweather gets to spout about his childhood as a “boomer” on freighters. The program lacks depth beyond that, as we don’t learn much about the Nausicaans or their ways. Instead, it’s mostly action with some speeches by Mayweather.
Cold Front: “When the Enterprise comes in contact with an alien vessel transporting stargazers to observe a spectacular stellar event, Archer invites them aboard the ship not realizing that Silik, a Suliban enemy, is among them. Archer quickly realizes that Silik is engaged in a nefarious time-traveling mission and must stop him before he can tamper with the course of history.”
I don’t know if the “Temporal Cold War” theme will go anywhere, but it’s good to see some bigger developments for Enterprise beyond the Alien of the Day. This show gets into dense plotting about time travel that it pulls off surprisingly well. All of this adds up to an intriguing episode.
Silent Enemy: “When Enterprise is attacked by an unidentified enemy ship, the crew must work frantically to get their new phase canons to operate. Meanwhile, Archer realizes that no one knows Reed (Dominic Keating) well enough to give him a personalized birthday gift.”
As I’ve noted previously, I like the episodes that accentuate the crew’s inexperience with space. “Enemy” highlights that element as they’re forced to scramble with a way to ward off a superior foe. The bits about Reed’s birthday are a distraction, but the rest of the program offers enough tension and ingenuity to compensate.
Dear Doctor: “The crew discovers a new planet with two races, one in desperate need of medical and scientific assistance. In the course of trying to help, Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) recalls his own Denobulan past to address the ethical dilemmas that arise in the present.”
Early on I figured Phlox would become my least favorite member of the ship’s crew, mostly because he reminded me too much of another jovial alien, Voyager’s Neelix. The jury remains out, but so far Phlox has seemed inoffensive, and he spearheads a pretty solid show. Unusually for Enterprise, this one skips the action to favor philosophical issues. Those factors allow it to become rich and thoughtful.
Sleeping Dogs: “When Enterprise comes across a wounded Klingon vessel, T'Pol, Hoshi and Reed take a shuttlepod down to investigate. There they are ambushed by a hostile female Klingon who hijacks the shuttlepod, leaving the Enterprise crewmembers dangerously stranded aboard the Klingon vessel. Now it's up to Archer to take the Klingon under guard and enlist her help in rescuing his crew.”
I do enjoy the episodes that allow the Starfleet experience with the Klingons to progress. That happens well here, especially when Archer needs to figure out a little Klingon psychology. The program offers a taut little piece.
Shadows of P’Jem: “Archer and the crew are disappointed to discover that T'Pol has been ordered by the Vulcan High Command to leave Enterprise -and equally frustrated at her seeming indifference to leaving their ranks. T'Pol's last mission as a Starfleet officer, however, proves eventful when she and Archer are kidnapped by a militant faction on an alien planet.”
We return with more action here. That’s fine with me, especially since “Shadows” helps further the Andorian/Vulcan conflict subplot. Some of the scenes with Archer and T’Pol in captivity seem aimed at a little sexy rubbing, but this still comes across as an interesting program.
Shuttlepod One: “Tucker and Reed set out on a mission in a shuttlepod, as Enterprise is busy investigating an asteroid field. Disaster strikes while the pair are away, leaving the shuttlepod damaged and the warp drive inoperable. They manage to make it back to the rendezvous coordinates only to discover Enterprise was apparently destroyed when it crashed into an asteroid. With the ship seemingly no more, the pair are left abandoned in the middle of nowhere with only a few days of air remaining.”
”One” feels a little too much like “Dogs” since it strands crew in need of rescue. Actually, I suppose both shows are pretty different, especially because this one more heavily concentrates on the dynamics between Tucker and Reed. It feels like a somewhat artificial exercise in character development.
Fusion: “The enterprise encounters a group of Vulcan civilians who have split off from the normal way of Vulcan life in an effort to explore their emotions. T'Pol is disturbed by the new visitors and warns the Captain that all attempts in the past to integrate Vulcan emotions into their lives has proven disastrous. Meanwhile a message from Admiral Forrest leaves the Captain with the difficult task of trying to convince one of the visiting Vulcans to call home to speak with his dying father.”
Emotional Vulcans are usually fun. Heck, they even made the much-hated Star Trek V more interesting. Unfortunately, the Vulcans of “Fusion” just don’t seem all that different from the standard issue Vulcans. The series already portrays that species as being different than what we saw in other series, so don’t expect big changes here.
Rogue Planet: “While exploring an uncharted planet, Enterprise crew members encounter a group of aliens who are hunting down indigenous creatures for recreation. During their exploration, Archer is mesmerized by visions of a woman desperately attempting to communicate with him. The woman's ethereal distress signal informs Archer that she and others like her are actually the prey of the alien hunters. Heeding her call, Archer levels the playing field against the alien hunters.”
I suppose some will accuse this episode of an anti-hunting bias. And that’s fine with me, as I think it’s a barbaric “sport”. The show doesn’t preach, though, and it creates an intriguing twist on the subject. It gets a little silly at times but it creates an entertaining take on the subject.
Acquisition: “The Enterprise encounters Ferengi pirates who use gas to knock out the crew and look for treasures on the Enterprise. But they haven't counted on Tucker, who happens to be in the decon chamber and avoids the gas, and attempts to win back the ship from the pirates.”
If you ask me, Enterprise should only use aliens who appeared on the Original Series. But since no one asked me, the Ferengi – who debuted on Next Generation but appeared most prominently during Deep Space Nine - pop up here. Despite my feeling that we shouldn’t see them here, I must admit they help make this an entertaining show. It has more of a Trek “feel” than usual, and it’s fun to watch the crew get themselves out of their predicament.
Oasis: “While exploring a crashed vessel on a desolate planet, the Enterprise crew is haunted by some ghostly figures, and they encounter an alien race that has survived despite insurmountable odds. Trip helps repair their derelict vessel and is befriended by Liana, an attractive humanoid alien who develops feelings for him.”
“Oasis” is one of those shows in which the surprise doesn’t work that well because we’re waiting for it – and it’s also pretty easy to predict. There isn’t much chance it’ll feature actual ghosts, so without giving away the twist, this doesn’t leave a lot of options in the Trek universe. Still, it’s nice to see DS9 regular Rene Auberjonois again, and the show offers decent entertainment.
Detained: “While exploring a planet, Archer and Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) enter a "military zone" and are detained in an internment prison by an alien race called Tandarans, who are at war with the Suliban. While the Enterprise crew's previous encounters with the Suliban have been disastrous, Archer and Mayweather find themselves sharing a cell with some Suliban detainees who they believe may be wrongly imprisoned.”
”Detained” wears its political heart on its sleeve. “Suliban” was always an obvious slant on “Taliban”, and this episode offers a not-so-subtle hint that the kind of racial profiling that occurred after 9/11 wasn’t cool. The episode doesn’t go much of anywhere other than that, and it seems too heavy-handed to be very successful.
Vox Sola: “A strange, symbiotic alien creature boards the Enterprise capturing a few of the crew members, including Archer and Trip, and cocoons them in its web feeding off their bodies to survive. With the captured crewmembers' lives in jeopardy, Hoshi, under T'Pol's command, faces her biggest challenge by trying to find a way to communicate with the lifeform in order to return it to its home planet.”
Wow – an episode of Enterprise where brains win out over brawn! “Vox” borrows a little too much from Alien and includes some cheesy conveniences, but at least it presents a more advanced mindset than the usual Enterprise shoot-em-up finale. It doesn’t compete with classic Trek but it’ll do.
Fallen Hero: “The Enterprise is sent to the planet Mazar to pick up a Vulcan ambassador expelled for misconduct.”
At first I thought “Hero” would be little more than another excuse to expose T’Pol to an untraditional Vulcan, but it ended up as more than that. Though it doesn’t present a lot of depth, it manages to explore notions of trust and loyalty. It also offers a reasonably good action piece that involves a bit of daring as well. All of this adds up to a good show.
Desert Crossing: “When Archer and Trip are invited to a desert-like planet by an alien leader, they discover he is a terrorist who has lured them there under false pretenses.”
Whereas the Original Series was noted for its many instances of female flesh – those sexy aliens usually wore skimpy outfits! - Enterprise seems determined to corner the market on beefcake. Do Archer and Trip need to run around shirtless during the game? Nope, but I doubt the female fans complained.
Otherwise, “Crossing” is an interesting show, mostly due to its concept. A prior good deed haunts Archer and shows the Enterprise’s growing stature in the galaxy. The program drags at times but works pretty well overall.
Two Days and Two Nights: “When the crew takes shore leave on the famous pleasure planet of Risa, Archer has a mysterious encounter with an alien woman; Hoshi has a surprising romantic rendezvous; Mayweather has a rock-climbing accident; and Trip and Reed go clubbing only to end the evening as unwitting victims of robbery. Meanwhile, Phlox stays on board the Enterprise with T'Pol to take his annual 48-hour hibernation and exhibits some uncharacteristic oddities when they have to wake him up after an injured crew member returns from shore leave.”
”Nights” does a little to advance the series’ story arc, but mostly it exists as a standalone diversion. It follows predictable lines. We see a little intrigue, a little menace, and a little romance. It adds up to only a little entertainment.
Shockwave Part 1: “Starfleet orders Enterprise to return home when the crew seemingly causes the destruction of an alien planet they were exploring. Archer is visited by former crew member Daniels, who traveled through time to warn him that the Suliban are trying to sabotage Enterprise's mission, and the two travel through time to try to thwart the Suliban's plans.”
”Shockwave” ends Season One with a Trek staple: the cliffhanger. It acts as a pretty good teaser, though this whole “Temporal Cold War” thing is probably too confusing to be worth the time devoted to it. Still, “Shockwave” gives us some decent action and makes me more curious to see Season Two than I otherwise might be.
That’s because Season One of Enterprise was so lackluster. I probably shouldn’t judge the series too harshly based on its first year, however. Only the Original Series worked well in its initial year. The three shows between TOS and Enterprise were all decidedly flawed in their early runs. They only became consistently interesting in later years.
So the jury’s out on Enterprise, though I maintain one criticism of it that I didn’t have for the others: it often doesn’t “feel” like Trek. The series clearly tries to do things differently, but most of the changes don’t work. Enterprise favors an edgier, sexier tone, and that leads to silly scenes like the notorious one in which T’Pol and Trip slather each other with gel in “Bow”. These do little more than pander to the audience and they add nothing to the series.
Enterprise also favors more action than normal. As I stated earlier, I usually welcomed fights in Trek series because those shows tended to lead toward chattiness too much; the action came as a welcome relief. Here, however, I happily greeted the quieter scenes because so much of the series was so loud and aggressive. Trek at its best balances the intellectual, the philosophical, and the physical, but Enterprise tilts toward big and dumb.
The only unforgivable sin relates to the series’ atrocious theme song. Enterprise lacks the usual orchestral fanfare and instead comes with a dreadful Eighties-style power ballad written by schlockmeister Diane Warren. It’s a terrible track that should have never made the air.
At this point I can chalk up most of these missteps to growing pains. As I noted, it’s not fair to judge the series based on its first season. I appreciate the efforts to do something different, and I do like the show’s orientation, as it’s fun to learn more about Starfleet’s early days. I look forward to seeing where the series goes.