“It’s been a long time getting from there to here.”
Thirty-five years to be exact. Enterprise is the fourth spinoff from the original 1960’s hopeful series. The Earth is finally ready to send its first starship to explore the vast galaxy. This first starship Enterprise is smaller than the ships we’ve become used to. There are no shields or photon torpedoes. The transporter has only been cleared for inanimate objects. Not that this stands in the way of its occasional “emergency” use. The ship is very much like the cramped spaces of today’s submarines. It adds an even greater sense of reality to the show. The crew is composed of Captain Jonathan Archer (Bakula), First Officer and Vulcan High Command liaison, T’Pol (Blalock), Chief Engineer Charles (Trip) Tucker (Trinneer), Tactical Officer Malcolm Reed (Keating), Denobulan Dr. Phlox (Billingsly), Pilot Travis Mayweather (Montgomery) and Linguist/Communications Officer Hoshi Sato (Park).
The third season of Enterprise saw its greatest number of changes. The theme song was re-recorded to be less acoustic and more upbeat. The title was changed to finally reflect that it was, indeed a part of the Star Trek franchise. The first two seasons omitted Star Trek from the title. It was added now. The biggest change, of course, came in the storytelling itself. For the first and only time a Trek series used a single story arc to tell over an entire season. Deep Space Nine fans will question that, claiming that series did so with the Dominion Wars. Those episodes actually spanned more than a year and certainly dominated the story, but they were more of the landscape the show operated in. Those were the “times” that existed during those stories. Here the arc is the single-driving purpose of nearly every episode.
As season two ended we saw Earth attacked in the cliffhanger. An unknown weapon cut a huge path through central Florida and left seven million dead, including Trip’s sister. It was Star Trek’s method of dealing with the events of 9/11. When the third season begins we find Enterprise being prepared to go after the race that attacked Earth with the knowledge that they are building a larger weapon, one that could destroy the entire planet. This spherical weapon must be stopped or the human race is doomed. Yes, the Enterprise is going after the Death Star.
There were cast additions this season. Since the ship was now on a military mission a compliment of special forces personnel were added. Steven Culp would head the group has Major Hayes. He was technically under Reed’s command, but the two would bump heads quite a bit, establishing a fierce rivalry.
There were some internal changes to the series. Manny Coto joined the writing and production crew, and it was obvious he was a fan. He’d really get to make his touch felt in the fourth and final season. The show also lost Jerry Fleck mid-season. He died during the season’s production. He was an AD.
Enter the Xindi, the species that attacked Earth. They are actually five different species that evolved on the planet at the same time. You have a reptilian species that serves as the most aggressive species. These guys are the gorillas on Planet Of The Apes. They are led by Commander Dolim, played by frequent Star Trek alien Scott McDonald. He’s the General Urko of the species. He hates humans and is league with a trans-dimensional species that is driving the Xindi to destroy Earth for their own purposes.
The other four species in the Xindi makeup are insectoids that are like small preying mantis creatures and are completely computer-generated. There are the aquatics, who look like manatees and are also computer characters. Arboreals are like sloths and are the philosophical thinkers of the group. Finally there are the primates, who resemble humans with the usual Trek facial bone prosethics. This group is led by scientist Degra, played by another frequent Trek alien Randy Oglesby. He created the weapon, but like the scientists of the Manhattan Project on Earth, is having serious moral conflicts. The crew work to gain his trust as an ally.
On the surface, this sounds like a pretty good idea. They were almost ahead of the current trend of having a complicated season/series-long arc of mythology. The problem is that Berman and company began the idea without really locking down where they were going. They were literally making this up as they went along, and it shows terribly in the uneven pacing and plot. There’s plenty of evidence that Berman himself never fully committed to the idea. Writers were constantly told to prepare alternate episodes in case the Xindi story were to be jettisoned. Unfortunately, many of these ideas were integrated into the season to create some of Trek’s most awkward episodes like:
Extinction, where crew members contract a disease that evolves them into an extinct species looking for a home city that is long gone. You get the impression that the actors felt like idiots doing this one.
Exile, where Hoshi is contacted by a telepathic being who claims to have information they can use. It turns into a really bad take on Beauty and the Beast and serves little to propel the arc forward.
North Star. It appears every Trek series has had their Wild West episode. The Original Series had its OK Corral episode, and Next Generation had A Fist Full Of Datas. This one carries the idea that a group of humans in the Old West were captured as slaves by an alien culture. They eventually revolted and now run the planet but are still stuck in the ways of the West.
To get to the Xindi the crew must travel through a region of space known as The Expanse. It’s populated with large artificial spheres that warp space in rather crazy and unpredictable ways. These anomalies cause quite a bit of trouble and damage. There is a substance to insulate the ship, but it’s toxic to Vulcans. This leads to one of the most unique Trek episodes where we encounter Vulcan zombies. Now that was a cool idea.
The story attempts to fold in the almost forgotten Temporal War, and that means the return of Daniels played by Matt Winston. I actually always liked his appearances on the show even though I was not a fan of that particular story arc. He should have remained as a more regular character in some capacity. Fortunately, he made the most of the episodes he was in.
Another returning actor to season three is fan favorite Jeffrey Combs as the Andorian Shran. Again, he was always a treat and made the most of the character. Enterprise was a bit of a missed opportunity. The Andorians were made into a pretty compelling species because of actors like Combs. He had wonderful chemistry with Bakula. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of that development the way Klingons, Vulcans and even Borg have been fleshed out over the years.
The season takes a few obvious and unnecessary turns, mostly involving the T’Pol character. She ends up having intimate relations with Trip that will eventually lead to a season four child. She also becomes addicted to a substance toxic to Vulcans but would protect the ship from the spatial anomalies. She prepares it very much like a crack addict would prepare a hit of crack. Not sure it’s the best example to be setting here. Actress Jolene Blalock was quite vocal about where the character was going in the third season. She was not happy, and Berman wouldn’t even return her calls. Nice guy.
There are some exceptional things in the third season hidden among the debris. Scott Bakula pushed his performance of Archer to the limit. He was forced to make decisions that clearly crossed a moral line. These episodes were ahead of their time. Later the country would be engaged in the debate of how far interrogations should go in an attempt to protect us from terrorism. Archer uses an airlock to torture information out of a prisoner. He steals a warp coil by force from an innocent ship leaving them stranded three years from home because he needed it to make a meeting. Finally, he created a Trip that would live only a week in order to harvest it for the real Trip who had a near-fatal accident. Trek was always good when it pushed back against society’s morals, and these represent highlights of the season and the franchise.
The truth is, this was one of Trek’s weakest seasons in the entire franchise. There’s enough here worth seeing that you’re not going to sacrifice it for a gap in your collection. At least it leads into what will become one of Trek’s best seasons when Enterprise takes its swansong in season four.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. This was the first Star Trek series to be filmed in both HD and widescreen. Most areas broadcast the series in that way, so this will look very much like you remembered it, only better. The computer-generated ships and planets are the most impressive here. You really get a sense of what the original show could have looked like if it had been done today. Solid black levels really sell the deep inky blackness of space, while superior contrast really brings out star fields and other objects in space. There’s a texture to this show very different from the glossy world of previous shows that makes it all stand out. This was the way the show should have looked for all of you who didn’t have HD broadcasts ten years ago.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty much what you might expect. It mostly serves the dialog. Subs make their presence known during the fiery space battles, and surrounds add just a touch of atmosphere with that faint but always present engine hum and the classic Trek sounds like doorways and communicators.
All of the features from the DVD sets are included in this five-disc collection. There are also select deleted scenes and commentary tracks.
The new HD features include:
In Time Of War: This has become a typical three-part feature on all of the high-definition releases. Here it’s in three parts:
Call To Arms: (28:07) This is mostly writers and production crew talking about the decision to do the Xindi story. They are candid, with a few admitting the mistakes that were made.
Front Lines: (29:50) Here it’s mostly the cast who talk. Blalock is up-front with her issues.
Final Conflict: (28:36) A bit of a mix here with some episode-by-episode breakdowns. There is more philosophizing about the arc. There a little talk about the strange cliffhanger that was quickly resolved and ignored in season four. They also reveal who future man was in the Temporal War arc. It was…..
It was absolutely correct for a series like Star Trek to address 9/11. I’m not even sure I mind it being for an entire season. Certainly, the idea has serious merit. As already stated, however, no one really thought it through, and the end is rather anticlimactic. It certainly doesn’t live up to a season-long buildup. A better idea would have been to use a known race as the enemy/terrorists. The original series had already established that there had been a war with the Romulans around this time period. Now the show could do their dark venture for revenge and stop the genocide, and we could have had enemies worthy of the effort. Ah, for the things that might have been. “It’s best not to think about it.”