It seems I just can’t get enough of Star Trek, or let’s say a specific kind of Star Trek. But after only recently finishing Star Trek Voyager and whilst still watching the latest season of Discovery, I figured I might as well jump into the next show of the franchise.
The title of this article is somewhat misleading, I did happen to catch a glimpse of the beginning (the first minutes) of the show back when it was released. What stuck out for me was the fact that Klingons looked “wrong” (compared to TOS) and the ship design was way too modern for something supposedly taking place way before the first Star Trek show. It also doesn’t help that I generally don’t enjoy prequels (the Star Wars prequel trilogy might had something to do with that).
Modern on the outside, contemporary on the inside
One of my main concerns regarding Enterprise turns out to be very misplaced. Even though the ship design of the NX-01 looks very modern (compared to the NCC-1701), it is very basic on the inside. Starting with all the displays, they look like someone put up 15” TFT screens from around 2000. The size of Captain Archer’s ready room feels like a broom closet and I swear I see some CD holders in the background there. The same is true for the pads the crew uses, they look very pre-iPad era touch-device. The uniforms used by the crew are also more reminiscent of early space travel, or the Airforce and less of the space uniforms used later. They do however already contain a small color detail (red, gold, and blue), which is of course a nice touch.
This thought through design process doesn’t end in little details. Very commonly seen set pieces like the bridge, the machine room with its turbine like warp engine, or a sickbay filled with strange creatures ensures the viewer: This is still an early space ship. There is even a kitchen on board with a chef. Even though transporter technology already exists, no one likes to use it. So they dock with other ships, use shuttle pots and go through de-contamination.
Speaking of space travel, the ship lacks basic (at least for Star Trek standards) technology like a tractor beam. They seriously use a grappling hook. The same is true for shields. Humans don’t have that technology yet, so they instead “polarize the hull plating”. Another important technology is also still in its early stages, the universal translator. Very often thematized is the fact that aliens speak a different language and humans don’t always understand them right away.
Taking place in such an early time of Star Trek – it’s set around 100 years after First Contact and 100 before Kirk – there are also a lot of firsts. The pilot of the show introduces humans to Klingons, later many other follow like the Andorians or Ferengi, just to name a few of the more prominent examples.
However, my first contact with the crew of Enterprise was somewhat mixed. I guess I always need some time to warm up with a new Star Trek crew and I eventually did with this one. But I did miss some diversity, only two women on the bridge felt like a step backward from Star Trek Voyager. Enterprise does take place in a time where humanity overcame some of its past differences (not just in regards to gender) and I don’t see this too much represented in the lead roles for the show. But I admit that Trip and especially Malcolm started to grow on me very fast.
More Star Trek
Even though Star Trek Enterprise starts with a compelling story idea, they quickly ditch this (with a handful of exceptions) for the Star Trek formula I personally enjoy: Exploring and solving neat scientific or diplomatic challenges. This also includes episodes centered around specific (bridge) crew members, giving them more of a backstory and bonding them together (Episode 16 “Shuttlepod One” is probably the best example of that).
Should you still watch Enterprise today, almost 20 years later? Luckily the show is available in high quality and the characters do hold up. I had my reservations against prequels, but at least when it comes to technology and the overall vibe of the show, it feels very much like a Star Trek show in the early days of deep space travel. The show adds a great nuance to a time when cargo ships were still useful, other species technologically way ahead of the humans and it also sheds an interesting light on a somewhat troubled relationship with the Vulcans. And at least for its first two seasons, you will also get a lot of that old “Star Trek feeling”, if that is something you’re missing in the light of recent Star Trek shows.
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