Enterprise had the misfortune of arriving at a low point in Star Trek’s history, as the TNG movies staggered to an ignominious conclusion and franchise burnout seemed insurmountable. Competing sci-fi series like Farscape arrived with a freshness that Trek couldn’t hope to match, and for a time it looked as if the iconic sci-fi property would fade into oblivion. Enterprise arrived with the mandate of reversing that trend, a task it simply wasn’t equipped to manage. It vanished four years after it arrived, the shortest-running series since the original. Ten years on, however, the dust has settled and the show has aged better than its detractors might think. It’s not perfect, but its attempts to find a different vibe for Star Trek produce some surprisingly good stuff. Hit the jump for the full review.
The producers made the then-controversial decision to take Trek backwards in time instead of forwards, detailing mankind’s first exploration into space and the relationships that would eventually create the United Federation of Planets. At the forefront sits the starship Enterprise, helmed by Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and populated by the expected collection of technicians, scientists and oddballs. Humanity has forged an alliance with the Vulcans, but chafes under the logical aliens who treat them as younger siblings in need of constant care. The Enterprise is our first effort to really stretch our wings, and though a disapproving Vulcan (Jolene Blalock) comes along for the ride, it’s mankind’s show to make or break.
“Halting first steps” thus become the watchwords of Enterprise, as the firm rules and confidence of the Federation are replaced by over-enthusiasm and a few big mistakes. There’s no Prime Directive to guide their footsteps and, no colossal Starfleet backing them up. The ship itself reflects a more rough-and-tumble reality, with push-button controls, rattling hallways, hatches instead of doors and transporter devices that no one quite trusts. The heroics take on a greater degree of relevance, with the characters flying without a net and looking at a very hard fall if they slip.
The show does best when it stresses that precariousness, as well as throwing standard Trek expectations for a loop. The Vulcans, for instance, aren’t always as trustworthy as they seem, while races like the Klingons are greeted with more bafflement than concern. The best of these involves the Andorians, those weird blue aliens who hadn’t appreciably appeared since the original series. We see them here as rivals of the Vulcans, not-quite-bad-guys who find themselves as our allies by default. Jeffrey Combs gives the show a major shot in the arm as the temperamental Andorian leader, marking some of the first season’s best moments.
As long as it follows those instincts, the series does fine. Watching the protean developments of the Federation makes a treat for old-school Trek fans, and provides enough interest to hook a few new ones as well. The problem is that it doesn’t always stick to that formula. More than once Enterprise falls back on the stale pattern that it was supposedly created to vanquish: the crew arrives on a new planet, spots the threat, and takes care of it. The characters struggle to separate themselves from easy archetypes, and their assigned roles reflect the tried assumptions of a franchise suffering from serious fatigue. It hamstrings the early season and while Enterprise eventually recovered, it wasn’t permitted the leeway to find itself.
A slow first outing is hardly unusual for Star Trek shows, most of which needed at least a couple of seasons to find themselves. (Voyager seemed to be the only one to get it right out of the gate, which may explain why it struggled more in later seasons.) Enterprise was saddled with a bigger task than most, and – like its crew – it ultimately triumphs amid the odd misstep. Its desire to do something different with the property resulted in a quietly original series that fleshed out the Trek universe in ways that no other show could quite manage. The first season delivers it in all its messiness, its daring and its ultimate success… and ten years on, it looks surprisingly good for its age.
The Blu-ray enhances and expands upon a lot of the materials found in the earlier DVD collection. The image quality is rather grainy, especially in comparison to the remastered Next Generation sets out there. Audio suffers from the same issue, though it’s never bad enough to become a distraction. Extra features are copious – including deleted scenes, audio commentary, early PR presentations and a long interview with show runners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Unfortunately, they’re scattered throughout the discs, so finding a specific feature takes a little hunting. (The liner notes inside the case help a lot.) That said, Trek fans should find more than enough here to make a purchase worthwhile, and subsequent seasons benefited immeasurably from the groundwork laid by this one.