Thursday, 30 September 2021

20 of Enterprise

Aside from The Original Series, Enterprise has the ignominy of being one of only two shows from the franchise to date that were cancelled before the end of their projected run. 

Running to a rather unfortunate 98 episodes, two short of that key 100, Enterprise has received mixed reviews over the years and is often, perhaps wrongfully, accused of attributing to franchise exhaustion at the end of the Berman era.

Offering many similarities to the classic Kirk show, Enterprise even went down the line of a minimum number of alien races amongst its crew - two - and even chose to go back beyond The Cage to the very origins of Starfleet, even going as far to initially ditch off the ‘Star Trek’ moniker due to its setting on the timeline.

Billed as the prequel series, Enterprise promised a lot. After the saturation of the 24th Century from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager it was, literally, a step back to a simpler time of warp five, shuttles  and exploration. A time when the Klingons were Klingons, the Andorians were angry, the Vulcans were super-sneaky and the Romulans were unseen.

Viewing figures started well with 12.5 million tuning in to watch Broken Bow but there was a steep slide with that US audience over halving by the end of the season with just 5.28 million watching Archer get stranded in the future.

While The Next Generation had pulled in a consistent 12 million across the years with 17.4 million for its finale, All Good Things... , Enterprise struggled to retain its audience, dipping as low as 2.53 million in its final season (Babel One) and never hitting about five million after season two's Marauders which was only the sixth aired of the year.

There were a lot of changes to try and shore up its future - the reintroduction of the Borg, a season long (and brilliant) arc with the Xindi and a fourth season that really tried to explore some of the origin stories of Star Trek. Alas it was all too late with the cast being informed they were cancelled during the filming of In a Mirror, Darkly.

But was the writing on the wall long before that point? Of course it was and any Star Trek fan will readily agree. Enterprise has undoubtedly aged well. In fact I would be as bold as to say that it is much better on a rewatch and a hundred times more enjoyable 20 years on. At the time the change to the very flashpoint of the Federation was an exciting prospect. A new old start and a back to basics approach however the first season was mired with some very average stories about mysterious aliens and cargo ships. 

There were some standout points such as the return of the Andorians and their discovery of the secretive nature of the P'Jem monastery. The Temporal Cold War (since featured in Discovery's muddled third season) worked well for a time especially with the season cliffhanger but it all seemed a bit familiar.

Behind the scenes that was certainly the case with Rick Berman in charge since the late
1980's and TNG and VGR writer Brannon Braga helming as producer. The characters themselves in some degrees were a little bland with Mayweather receiving next to no screentime or development bar one or two episodes. Scott Bakula was dependable as Archer but the spark of a Kirk, a Sisko or even a Picard(!) just didn't materialise. In truth, Enterprise was not that exciting.

Step forward the Xindi and the sheer destructive power of their prototype weapon that rips a whole in the US in what was a very clear parallel to 9/11 with Archer and the NX-01 embarking on a war against terror - or in this case a mission to stop the Xindi from perfecting and launching Weapon Zero. Made up of six distinct species; Primates, Arboreals, Reptilians, Aquatics, Insectoids and the extinct Avians, the Xindi social structure was likened to that of the Dominion with its compartmentalised nature. Season three would be the year that Enterprise became Star Trek: Enterprise just in case anyone was in any doubts to its background and there would be some seminal highlights. There was the the mesmerising Twilight as well as the shocking Azati Prime which demonstrated that Enterprise wasn't afraid to mix things up and leave them mixed and the excellent conclusion in Zero Hour but even this shift wasn't enough.  The other issue was that it actually went against some of the premise of the show. Ok, it was extremely different to try a story contained to just one season (DS9 had swung an arc across its last three/four seasons) but fans were "troubled" by how such a huge event had been completely overlooked by later Star Trek series. It was messing with established continuity! Not that that has happened since...???

Think about it; Enterprise was supposed to be about the origins of Starfleet, the beginnings of the Star Trek we had come to know in the 60's, 70's and 80's but instead its third season was dominated by a singular thread with all other concerns seemingly cast aside. Yes, it was making an incredibly loud social commentary as Star Trek intended but this wasn't necessarily what viewers signed up for.

So it was that too little too late chimed in with season four. Embarking on three part narratives, exploring the background of the Vulcans, the Augments, the Mirror Universe, all of which were well received yet the ratings continued to plummet. Even with the assistance of new producer Manny 24 Coto on the scene and a breath of fresh air in the storylines the audience was already gone. 

After 18 straight years of Star Trek TV and movies, 2005 marked the end of Enterprise and rightly so. The franchise was tired and repeating itself. Take a ganders at the early two seasons of Enterprise and spot the backsteps to pull in the Ferengi, the Borg, even the later E2 is Children of Time from Deep Space Nine given a cover over. Star Trek had suddenly become frighteningly irrelevant and a shadow of its former self, retreading its own ground and failing to go where no episodes had gone before. It was knackered, run down and needed a breather. New hands at the helm, a new butt in the captain's chair, whatever you want to term it as but Star Trek needed it like a Tribble needs pregnancy advice.

We can debate the fifth season possibilities for an age - the Romulan War, Future Guy, the NX-01 refit - but they will never happen apart from in the novel series or in onscreen references in the shows currently or about to air. Enterprise was perhaps not different enough given its press and even Trekkies had consumed too much with around 24/26 new episodes constantly every year at a minimum. 

Maybe newer shows have learnt something and with the condensing of modern TV seasons to 13(ish) episodes, the quality can be refined and the aren't as many space filling shows to flesh out the year. The Kurtzman era of Star Trek has and also needs to learn something from that period in its history. Too much of a good thing can indeed be too much however look at where the franchise stands today.

The variety within the shows is impressive. Each series has an identity, each show is diferent and not all are limited to a single ship or base. There's diversity and that, in many ways, is what Enterprise didn't have. TV was changing and Star Trek just hadn't. Shows such as CSI, The West Wing, 24 and Lost were all hitting the airwaves and Star Trek was stalling in its 90's format. 

Change of course would come in the form of JJ Abrams and then the televisual rebirth from Alex Kurtzman but Enterprise represents a huge milestone in the franchise. The end of a style of Star Trek born in the 1960's that met its end in 2005. Star Trek had inspired much including the rebirth in fantasy and scifi TV but it had been left behind. Now, oddly on a rewatch, Enterprise stands out as an exceptional series that was a grassroots show we actually needed but it was lost in the lethargy and over familiarity of the time. Go and grab a coffee and celebrate Star Trek's most understated and underrated (visually and verbally) with a catch up. Maybe it's time to give this one a bit more love. 

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