Twenty years ago, the final Rick Berman-era Star Trek show premiered on the former UPN network to a mixed reception, at best. Originally called Enterprise, the fifth Star Trek spinoff held a lot of promise with its premise—a prequel to the original Star Trek universe which detailed humankind’s initial exploration of space and the events, such as First Contact with famous Star Trek alien races, that led to the formation of the United Federation of Planets, and the acclaimed Star Trek universe.
When Enterprise was conceived, the Golden Age of Star Trek was already coming to a close. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), two highly revered shows, were no longer airing and Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) was ending its seven-year run. By the time the final episode of VOY aired, Enterprise and its premise was known to fans, as was the fact that popular genre actor, Scott Bakula, the star of the beloved sci-fi time travel show Quantum Leap, was cast to play the lead, Captain Jonathan Archer. However, around this time the Star Trek franchise under the helm of Rick Berman was running out of steam, creatively. Many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager were formulaic and many feared for good reason this malaise would carryover into Enterprise since Berman created it and was the main showrunner, along with Brannon Braga.
There were signs that the new show was going through the motions, starting with it premise, another starship crew exploring the unknown sectors of space; the characters seemed bland for the most part and echoed the makeup of the original cast with a few differences.
Still, many held out hope that Enterprise would deliver and rekindle the spark of imagination that the Star Trek franchise was noted for. Many were cautiously optimistic about the show, yet others were not enthused about the show and were ready to move on to other properties.
Enterprise premiered on September 26, 2001, which obviously was the first post-9/11 Star Trek show just a few days after the catastrophic event struck the United States.
The pilot episode “Broken Bow” introduced viewers to the crew of NX-01 Enterprise, Earth’s first starship that was capable of reaching warp 5. The more notable crew members consisted of Captain Jonathan Archer (Bakula), Chief Engineer Travis “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer), and First Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), a skeptical Vulcan who acted more as a guide to the humans when they ventured into unfamiliar space.
The ship and crew were pressed into service when an alien Klingon crash landed on Earth and the Enterprise crew undertook the mission to return the Klingon to his people. What they soon learned was that a shape-shifting alien race called the Suliban were after the Klingon. This put the humans into conflict with the Suliban, which Archer learned were being manipulated by a great power in the far future.
This was part of a confusing sub plot throughout most of the show’s run about a so-called temporal cold war. Apparently, the time period Enterprise took place in (the 2250s) was pivotal in history and certain unknown factions in the future wanted to change it. According to some reports, co-creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were forced to include this plot line by the network, and the duo even admitted the plot was never fully developed, and it showed. Berman and Braga also revealed that initially they wanted the series to take place on Earth for a large bulk of the first season as the Enterprise was prepared for its maiden voyage. But the network asked that the starship immediately launch into action during the pilot episode.
“Broken Bow” was entertaining but not as inspiring or memorable as previous Star Trek pilots. A bad sign for the show was the opening credits which featured a montage of humankind’s history of exploration. The montage was fine, but it was ruined by a rancid rendition of “Faith of the Heart” that was so treacly and annoying.
Many of the characters introduced felt too familiar or were not memorable. It felt like the showrunners were trying to recreate the famous Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic with Archer, T’Pol and Tucker. Just swap the sex of the token Vulcan and make the emotional member of the trio an engineer instead of a doctor. Some characters were interesting but never got the screen time they deserved, such as Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), a quirky alien doctor who was the chief medical officer of the ship. Other characters were completely forgettable, such as Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), the ship’s helmsman. What was known about him was that he was one of the first generations of humans to be raised in deep space. Other than that he was relegated to being a glorified extra.
The early episodes themselves were not very exciting or captivating, though there were a handful of standouts, such as “The Andorian Incident”, which established first human contact with the Andorians and introduced Shran (Jeffrey Combs), a volatile Andorian officer who was one of the show’s best characters. But in other episodes basically not much happens and felt routine. The basic premise of the show was that it was supposed to chronicle the first steps humanity took when it began exploring deep space. The tech was supposed to be crude, shuttles and grappling hooks were used by the ship instead of transporters or tractor beams. With that in mind, the transporters were still brand-new technology that was not trusted, yet they soon used all the time instead of shuttles. It’s a shame since the early reliance of shuttles inspired one of the better first season episodes “Shuttlepod One”.
Some of the storylines had interesting premises but the execution was mundane and the end result was by the numbers. Other episodes were outright copies of previous Star Trek episodes. For instance “Vanishing Point” had the same premise as “The Next Phase” from TNG, which did it better. The same went for “Precious Cargo”, an outright rip-off of TNG’s “The Perfect Mate”. It was obvious that Berman, Braga and other crewmembers were burnt out and going through the motions. Many of them, including Berman, had been involved with Star Trek since the mid-1980s. It was time to bring in new blood but the people in charge refused to see this and this is why the show suffered.
By the time the second season of Enterprise came to a close it was clear something had to be done. Ratings were declining, as was interest in the Star Trek franchise. Many fans abandoned it for fresher properties that were making their mark at the time such as Stargate: SG1, Firefly and Farscape.Continue reading