It’s been a long road…

Posted: 7th April 2010 by Get No Happy in Miscellaneous, Reviews
Tags: , ,

Having had the ‘pleasure’ of being unemployed for around 5 months now, the one highlight of my day has been Virgin 1’s Star Trek afternoons. Thanks to this I’ve been able to watch TNG, DS9 and Voyager from their beginnings and in doing so reignited my disappointment with Enterprise. It was awful, just awful.

And here’s why

Themes and motifs
Star Trek has always been at its best when imparting thinly veiled moral tales onto it’s audience: From the famous half white/black TOS episode and it’s bitter satirical examination of the stupidity of racism to discussion of what constitutes life and the morality of execution (Measure of a man, Silicon Avatar). These ideas worked because the Federation was good: It had no poverty, war, racism etc and so these issues were delivered from a position moral authority. It was the learned scholar correcting the class and taught America people of a different culture are not automatically evil.

Of equal importance “the road to hell…” motif. The futility of vengeance in ‘Silicon Avatar’, the danger of witch hunting in ‘Drumheads’ and the superficial security of a military junta in ‘Home front’ and ‘Paradise Lost’. Framed against the ideas of the Federation, these faults shine through with an ethereal glow. If even Starfleet can give in to to the sweet nothings of Tyranny anyone can.

Enterprise however was different. The show was based around “Humans are new to space”, we have no authority, hell, we’ve just recovered from a nuclear war. DS9 adapted the ‘traditional’ Star Trek motifs to its premise, and thus became the best incarnation of the franchise; Enterprise did not and was much poorer for it. Without that position of wisdom afforded by the Federation many episodes were no more than the Enterprise flying around being smug about other cultures despite these cultures having been space-faring far longer. So many episodes of the first two seasons simply made no sense in this context; like a 10 year old giving marriage guidance. This was not the morality of the wise but the arrogance of the adolescent and it was both grating and embarrassing to watch

Trip-fucking-Tucker, or rather ‘Mary Sue’. It has been well documented he was Brannon Braga (Star Trek’s Peter Mandelson) favourite character; he’s, like, so clever and attractive, but so down to earth; a real southern old-boy. Hence, instead of character development, we have Mr Tucker texan drawling his way through several alien females while pointing out how horrible their culture was while he was at it.

T’Pol and Dr Flox. Each addition of Star Trek has featured characters learning to be American Human. Early attempts with Data were hit-and-miss, but both the Doctor and Odo worked very well. So the why not make a series with TWO such characters, that’d be good right? No. Data worked because he actively wanted to be human, The Doctor worked as he was an emerging form of life and Odo due to a thematic mix of the two with parental abandonment issues thrown in. Sadly the Enterprise two had no such developmental potential. T’Pol and Flox are just there. They’re fully formed, they’re observers with no growth potential. Instead of two wannabe-people, we had two Wesley Crushers always on hand to say “Wow humans are so barbaric / stupid / amazing” and to helpfully point out the moral of each episode with a laser-pen and highligher. They contribute nothing to the narrative apart from the occasional limp reference to Flox’s xeno-menagerie.

Archer was a terrible Captain. He had no defining features: Picard was a diplomat; Kirk a womaniser; Sisko a badass; Janeway had ovaries yet Archer had nothing (Save a small amount of Daddy angst). He was a gurning fool who spoke to other races like an outreach worker rather than a military captain. Archer in fact emobies what was wrong with Enterprise as a series; He behaved in a way that did not fit Earth’s galactic standing (see themes) nor did he fit the caricature of early space explorers painted by other series (see prequel.

Finally. The rest. 1 dimensional rent-a-crew to a man (See development. Although Hoshi was very attractive

Character Development…
…Or the lack there of. Now yes, all the other shows had their issues but they also did a lot right, DS9 especially: The Odo/Quark, Bashir/O’Brian, Sisko/Dax, Bashir/Garak, Odo/Kira etc relationships were very well handled and made up a complex tapastry of interaction, and more importantly these organically evolved . Even Voyager managed this: The Doctor’s quest to be more than a device, Kes getting her psychic powers, Nelix / Tuvok, Janeway / Seven, and the Animal House-lite Paris/Kim relationship. They worked. These formed a rich background to any episode.

Enterprise? Nothing. Instead of bonding events and scenes we were just told things. Take the Archer/Trip relationship: Sisko and Dax were established as ‘Old friends’ yet also shared well written friendly repartee, yet in Enterprise we’re simply told that Archer and Trip are close friends*, “I’ve known Trip a long time, we’re best friends” occasionally shoe-horned into the dialogue, and with this the creators didn’t feel the need to write compelling scenes for the two. The writers were equally happy continue this throughout the support cast; instead of well rounded characters we received a string of one-dimensional caricatures with development outsourced to the occasional exclamation of individuality; “I speak languages, I’m an alien, I’m British don’t you know a-what”. Even the Trip/T’Pol romance was ludicrously forced through with sensual massage scenes.

The whole prequel thing
Don’t make a prequel to a slavishly worshipped and long running franchise if you are not going to respect the source material. It’s the little things like having the “disastrous first contact with the Klingons” that lead to “decades of war” reduced to a silo accident. Disastrous for grain prices yes, but not exactly the trigger for a 100 years of animosity. Season 4 tried it’s best to recover but it was already too late.

This really relates to the point made in the above spiel about morality. The creators never adapted their vision of Star Trek to the premise they themselves invented. They clearly wanted another TNG after the more serial style of DS9 (and to a lesser extent Voyager), but it didn’t work, it simply couldn’t work within the setting created for Enterprise. What should have been a futuristic reimagining of the early oceanic explorers and the birth of what would be the Federation was instead a hack-job of recycled material and a twisted non-nonsensical time-travel story arch. They didn’t have the nerve to create something like Caprica: Set in an existing universe but at the same time unique.

Too innocuous for the casual viewer and too insulting for fans it died a tragic death. Much like a depressive waking up after taking a paracetamol overdose it in the end saw the error of it’s ways but the damage had already been done.

Well that was a rather pointless rant about a now long-canceled and unmissed science fiction show.

And it’s 1am. Oh dear.

*I would like to point out I drafted this before watching the latest Red letter media review of Attack of the Clones

  1. goldendalek says:

    Amen brother. Also:
    – Thematically Star-Trek is always about looking forward – so why the fuck make a prequel? I want to see what happens next in the canon.
    – The fucking theme music. The later season’s cheesy additional keyboard bass wound me up further.
    – I don’t like beagles.