In the Fall of 2000 the world was introduced to the fifth incarnation of the "Star Trek" television franchise. Dubbed "Enterprise," taking its name from the ship of record, the series was intended to take viewers back to a time when deep space exploration was still novel rather than a matter of routine. In truth, one of the biggest problems I've always had with the "Star Trek" universe is just how easy everything comes. Translators work instantaneously, there are a plethora of weapons at every officer's disposal, and most races from "The Next Generation" on are either completely peaceful or bent on the destruction of the universe. There is no ambiguity, no middle ground, and ultimately no interest for me.
So does "Enterprise" do anything differently? Yes and no. The program seems to walk a precarious line between the lighthearted nature of the original program in the sixties that, admittedly, had a lot of silly aliens and plots, and the dark, war-torn universe at the end of Deep Space Nine. While it was interesting watching this crew of the Enterprise discover technology that would become routine in later years, like Phase Pistols, the Transporter, and Photon Torpedoes, I kept feeling like all the dialogue was tongue-in-cheek, like the writers were forcing new "familiar" inventions to keep fans interested. But I would have preferred to see what came before? What came between bullets and laser weapons? How was this technology discovered? Were there any problems with it? These sorts of moments were what I wanted to experience with this program.
Furthermore the program drops us into the same sort of nonsense that plagued, in my opinion, the middle years of "Deep Space Nine," and caused me to cease watching that program; a clandestine threat working toward war. In this case it was a being from the future who was attempting to initialize conflict with the Klingons for their own purpose. I'm sorry to say that I honestly didn't care much for the concept of a temporal cold war and felt it superfluous to the overarching narrative. It's as if the writers weren't confident they could put together interesting stand alone stories and needed a reason to draw people back.
As you can tell, there are things I appreciated in the program and others that rubbed me the wrong way. Let's start with the former. The simple feel of the crew and structure of Enterprise has a naval tradition that's closer to "Master and Commander" than "The Next Generation." Captain Jonathon Archer (Scott Bakula) is a gunslinger who takes point and runs headlong into situations he may not understand in the name of exploration. While he may be inordinately qualified for his position, he still seems insecure about all of his actions, not knowing the ultimate ramifications. It's a solid characterization as Archer is, in fact, doing things that have never been done by Humans.
Archer is given guidance, or overseen if you prefer, by the Vulcans. One thing "Enterprise" does right is give a very different take on that species. They have always been seen as a benevolent helper of humanity, a best friend from Spock on, "Enterprise" rounds them out. They are an ancient group who hide their true motives along with their emotions. While they won't actively sabotage the Human's efforts in space, they are a hindrance for their lack of assistance. I love how this is done.
Beyond Archer, the crew is fairly stereotypical and feels very familiar to anyone who has experienced "Star Trek" before. Fortunately there is a good dynamic in the crew so it overcomes its stock limitations. The way the crew works on a ship that hasn't been field-tested as thoroughly as it should have is neat, though they seem to overcome those handicaps rather simply. It takes a single episode's breadth to encounter a problem with a system or weapon, it is struggled with and overcome, then never mentioned again. I would have liked to see more talk about uncertainty with systems and their capabilities. In the first episode everyone is worried about using the transporter… but by the third they are ready to use it in an emergency situation like it's no big deal.
There are a couple episodes where the gap in technology is discussed at length, including the pilot where people talk about the time it takes to get from Jupiter to Earth and another which focuses on the advance of Star Fleet and what it will mean to independent space freighters, but they are entirely too few and far between. Speaking of technology, and I figure this is as good a place to mention it as any, the effects work in this show are excellent. Set design and dressing are magnificent and the properties look like actual weapons and tools, more than any other Trek program I've ever seen. The show looks like it could actually occur.
The one standout theme, however, comes from the character of Comm. Officer Hoshi (Linda Park). Her job is to work at translating alien dialects in the line of fire and under intense pressure and her struggling with the job, expressing frustration at failure and inability to completely comprehend is exactly what I was looking for in this show.
On the other side… the show just doesn't seem to be having fun. While there are childlike glimpse of awe that sneak from Scott Bakula's eyes when Captain Archer sees something neat or new, the program is too rigid in military protocols to be an adventure, which is what I want from "Star Trek." I know I'm broadcasting my expectations onto a program that has no requirement to fulfill them, but I would have liked to see people get excited about their work. Hoshi was inspired when she first heard Klingon and wanted to find out more in the pilot, but walking on an alien world is cool and it was taken for granted by the very people who should appreciate it.
In addition to the show feeling heavy there is a manufactured conflict that doesn't seem germane to the natural flow of the show. I've always hated time travel stories because it's a cop out and that doesn't change in "Enterprise." Instead of a clear and present danger we need to create an abstract concept that can't resonate through the rest of the program in a "temporal cold war." The very concept sounds silly and in execution it's even worse. Instead of an organic conflict that takes time to develop, we're thrown into the middle of something we absolutely don't care about. Make us care about the ship first, the war second. You'd find much better reactions that way.
Fortunately the show doesn't focus solely on that cold war and does take the time to introduce us, slowly, to the major players on the board, like the alien Dr. Flox in the episode "Dear Doctor" and Commander Tucker and Lt. Reed in "Shuttlepod One." Rather than introduce the characters and establish them in their interactions with the crew we're forced to focus on them in extreme situations, which I'm not sure I like. It works, yes, but it makes you wonder if this is the true nature of the character.
On the character front, we are forced to accept another 7 of 9 clone, this one a Vulcan called T'Pol. Played ably by Jolene Blalock, the character never quite worked for me because it has been done so many times before. It doesn't help that the creators of the show were hell bent on portraying her as a sex symbol when I, personally, didn't find her all that attractive.
I do recall watching a few of these programs during their initial broadcast run. I had a roommate at the time who was an undeniable "Star Trek" fanatic and do remember disliking them rather intensely. My revulsion has subsided, perhaps with age, but were I not required to view the complete season I don't know that I would have. It's interesting, yes, but there isn't a sense of cohesion that draws the universe together and nothing to pull me from week to week. It's a good show, but not exactly my cup of tea.
The 16:9 Anamorphic video transfer looks very nice, no artifacting from compression or the original stock. It's not razor sharp, in fact some scenes look very soft, but overall the video is good. I've no complaints.
I limited my listening primarily to the default Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix on each episode and found it very pleasing. Clean and loud, there is a good dynamic balance on the track. There isn't much channel separation so you shouldn't expect phase blasts to envelop you, but effects, music, and dialogue are all intelligible. Even the theme song, which would be more in-place at the end of a sappy 80s movie than at the beginning of this show, sounds good. I know I'm off on a bit of a tangent here, but I do like the opening credits. It's a great recap of human exploratory achievements.
Any discussion of extras on a "Star Trek" television program should rightly start with the packaging. This handsome container is a solid piece of plastic with the Enterprise logo sketched in, and the program snuggly packaged within. There is a booklet that brings the viewer up to speed with the "Star Trek" universe at the time of Captain Archer and the nature of the Prime Directive. It's also got a list of episodes and the corresponding extra features.
Credited series creators Brannon Braga and Rick Berman provide an audio commentary on the nature of the program, where they got the ideas, and are generally interesting. Dry, perhaps, but they do provide a good amount of information from their perspective.
On three episodes, including "Broken Bow," "The Andorian Incident" and "Vox Sola" Trek historians and set designers Michael and Denise Okuda provide a text-based commentary. They are novel in presentation, in a box that is very "Star Trek" in design that spews an enormous amount of information both about the making of the program and the world in which "Enterprise" is set. If you wanted to know it, you'll learn it through these dialogues.
There are deleted scenes on the pilot, "Fight or Flight," "Sleeping Dogs," "Shuttlepod One," "Oasis," "Fallen Hero," "Two Days and Two Nights" and "Shockwave, Part 1." The A/V quality is decent, but about what you would expect. Fortunately they provide a little perspective, but for the most part you can understand why they were excised.
The seventh disc houses a few more bonus features, including a guided tour of the various workings of The Enterprise. "Creating Enterprise" is a promo featurette that looks at what the title implies. Interviews with the cast and crew are included.
"Oh Captain" is a feature that looks at Scott Bakula as a person and actor, and how he crafted the character of Jonathon Archer. Director LeVar Burton also chimes in, who viewers may recognize from "Reading Rainbow," though I don't know that he has any prior "Star Trek" experience.
"Cast Impressions: Season One" is a 12 minute look back at the first season and the various episodes. Purely complimentary, of course.
Focusing specifically on the episode "Shuttle Pod: One" which was a more character-driven story rather than the epic space battles that "Star Trek" has become. The reflections are deep and seem very honest.
"Star Trek Time Wars" looks at the exact element of the show that I hated, the time traveling. While the creators aren't completely complimentary to the concept, they don't take a critical eye to it either. I still don't like it.
"Enterprise Secrets" runs a brief 2 minutes… and exposes how the Warp Core really works. Who knew I could build one in my basement! And now I want a replicator…
Vaughn Armstrong, who plays the recurring Admiral Forrest, sings a little song for us and exposes the nature of his character and how he got the part. Armstrong, a "Star Trek" regular, looks at what he's done for the program. He played a Klingon on short notice and goes through the process of learning the dialogue he had to perform. An interesting study.
And Outtakes. What would a DVD set be without flubs, goofs, and giggles? It runs about 9 minutes.
And if you've never been to the "Borg Invasion" at Vegas, you get a commercial. It's fun.
This season of "Enterprise" isn't nearly as bad as fans have made it out to be. Sure, it's very different. The Vulcans aren't as benevolent as Spock, but the Humans are more akin to their contemporary counterparts than they are to Picard and crew. It's a departure from the norms of the "Star Trek" universe and was maligned for that instead of the legitimate problems it suffers from, like rapid acceptance of technology, blind warfare and species introductions and uneven plotting. If you blew it off the first time like I did you might be pleasantly surprised what you find upon a second look with a clean slate.