Star Trek: Enterprise Season Three Review
Enterprise, by far the least popular and successful of the Star Trek spin-offs spent its first two seasons building a reputation as a bland, unexciting and frankly boring show. Continuing the downward trend started with Voyager, Enterprise became less and less adventurous to the point where future villains that shouldn't even be known in the 22nd Century were drafted in to boost the show's fortunes.
Sensing the audience deserting the series, creators Brannon Braga and Rick Berman decided to try and inject some new blood with the Season Two finale by introducing a new threat and a storyline to fill the Enterprise’s third year in space. When the Earth is attacked by an unknown civilization known as the Xindi, Captain Archer (Bakula) is tasked with entering a region of space known as The Delphic Expanse to stop the destruction of humanity.
Quickly knocking the ongoing 'temporal cold war' arc into the background, Season Three kicks off at quite a pace and while it doesn't manage to sustain this for the whole season the first 10 or so episodes are some of the best so far. Unfortunately, in the hands of Enterprise’s writers and producers the premise of the season just doesn't have enough meat to create a strong, cohesive and tight story and by the end of the season you get the impression that the material is becoming more and more thinly stretched to meet the target number of episodes. Coupled with a ridiculous end-of-season cliff-hanger this makes Season Three something of a failed attempt at reviving the franchise.
Season Three is an improvement over the previous two years and Berman and Braga should be given a little credit for attempting to give the series a much needed change of direction. However you can't help but get the impression that they really couldn't give a shit as long as they get their next paycheque. Enterprise is the probably the worst example of television on autopilot with no risks and a demonstrable lack of understanding of what made the franchise so successful in the first place. Star Trek was always supposed to be about breaking through boundaries, tackling taboos and challenging modern-day issues. Enterprise does none of this and is content to jump from episode to episode recycling old plots and pressing that big red reset button whenever necessary. There are not-so-subtle parallels drawn with 9/11 - but it's done so bluntly that is carries no kind of resonance and do we really need Trek's take on the events of that terrible day? There's also an attempt to deal with addiction when T'Pol becomes addicted to a substance that protects her from the effects of the Expanse but this rarely rears its head other than to serve as a plot point every now and again.
At a time when TV series quickly build up deep, believable characters, Enterprise’s biggest failing is in its inability to give its characters any real development. Nearly every member of the cast could play any of the other characters - the only three that stand out from the pack are Scott Bakula (Captain Archer), Jolene Blalock (T'Pol) and John Billingsley (Doctor Phlox) - but this is faint praise when they draw so heavily on similar characters from the franchise's past.
So who is to blame for Enterprise’s failure to engage? Certainly not the cast themselves - they do a fine job with the material they have and some of them have been quite outspoken in interviews regarding the direction the series takes; they're all aware of the series' faults but are powerless to do anything about it. The main problem is the lack of purpose, perfectly demonstrated by the quick dropping of the temporal cold war arc in favour of something else. Even with a new arc, the lack of planning means that the writers fail to take advantage of the fresh chance they've been given.
Despite the negativity above, there are one or two moments that show that Enterprise does inherit something special from the franchise. In particular the episode Similitude is an example of Trek at its best. It tackles a genuine science fiction concept that borrows heavily from the real world (the cloning of human beings for medical purposes) and takes it to the logical ultimate conclusion asking important questions regarding ethics along the way.
Unfortunately, we'd have to wait until Season Four and some new guidance by Manny Coto to allow Enterprise to show its true potential.
Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 is presented in a seven disc box set - the first six discs feature all the episodes of the season while the seventh holds the bulk of the extra features.
The first Star Trek series to be filmed for both widescreen broadcast and HDTV is presented at a suitably high quality. The DVD transfer is pretty much first rate with nothing notable in terms of compression or film artefacts.
Presented at the correct 1.77:1 aspect ratio and anamorphic, there is absolutely nothing to complain about here. The colours and depth of detail are, as expected, perfect.
The 5.1 channel mix is again as good as we've heard from a Star Trek series - made specifically for multi-channel set ups, there's no surprise that the DVD release is better than any UK broadcast. Nice and active, the sound stage is nicely layered with background effects coming from all directions in a much more subtle way than anything that takes precedence on-screen.
In addition to two audio commentaries and multiple text commentaries, the seventh disc features a number of extras made specifically for this set.
Text Commentary on selected episodes by Michael and Denise Okuda
The Okuda's once again do what they know best and give us another load of useless Star Trek facts that you want to know, but are pretty irrelevant outside of the series itself. There's plenty here on show: continuity, background jokes, character motivations and so on.
Audio Commentary by Writer/Executive Producer Manny Coto on Similitude
Enterprise’s saviour Manny Coto provides his thoughts on most fans’ favourite episode of the season. It was Coto's writing here that gave him the chance to mould the franchise for Enterprise’s fourth and final year. Coto himself comes across as an engaging commentator who knows plenty about how to make not only good Star Trek, but also good television in general. Given Similitude is his first attempt at a Star Trek episode, this is all the more surprising.
Audio Commentary by Assistant Director Mike DeMeritt on North Star
Star Trek does the wild west is nothing new, but North Star offers a little more than usual by incorporating an alien abduction plot. Unfortunately, the wild west in space has been done far better in Firefly and this Enterprise episode has little going for it. Mike DeMeritt, on the other hand, does have something more to add to the concept and his commentary on the episode is a welcome diversion. Worth checking out, as while DeMerritt isn't quite as engaging as Coto, he still has a good idea of what makes Trek tick and certainly justifies his contribution to this set.
The Xindi Saga begins
An introduction to the main plot points of the season. It features interviews with Berman and Braga along with a few of the other cast and crew members. It's a reasonably good overview of the year and worth a look for a quick recap.
Star Trek: Enterprise Moments: Season 3
Continuing the retrospective look at the season, this featurette has a more specific look at some of the seasons defining moments. It does a good job of outlining the key episodes of the year and again is worth watching.
Star Trek: Enterprise Profile: Connor Trinneer
Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, Trip Tucker, gets centre stage for this feature and we take a closer look at the character and the actor with plenty of interviews not only with the man himself (although interviews with Trinneer take up the majority of the running time), but also the producers.
A day in the life of a director: Roxann Dawson
Roxann Dawson, better known to fans of Voyager as that show's half-Klingon, half-Human Chief of Engineering B'Elanna Torres, turns her hand to directing Enterprise episode, Exile. This is something of a video diary charting her role in putting the episode together. Another one worth a look and offers something a little different to the usual EPK-type material found on these kinds of releases.
Behind The Camera: Marvin Rush
Marvin Rush is the show's cinematographer and is a long-time Star Trek contributor having started working on the franchise with The Next Generation before moving on to Deep Space Nine, Voyager and now Enterprise. This is another video diary similar to Roxann Dawson's above and is a nice companion piece to the show.
This is a short four minute featurette in which David Trotti points out where we may have seen some of the non-starship sets in previous Trek incarnations. It's an interesting, if somewhat redundant featurette but worth a watch for Star Trek continuity geeks.
The set also features a selection of Outtakes and a Photo Gallery.
Enterprise: Season Three is a minor improvement over the previous two years, but that isn't saying very much at all. A reliance on cliché and the reset button are the series trademarks and the final cliff-hanger is enough to make even the hardened Trek fan roll their eyes in despair. With both better and worse to come these DVDs will most likely only make it into the collections of completists and serious Star Trek fans and the extras and presentation at least mean they'll be getting some semblance of value, albeit a very superficial one.