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May 05

Enterprise: These are the Voyages…

And here endeth the saga. Enterprise has always been embroiled in controversy, and a lot of fans have been resentful of the fact that this whole series has inserted a pre-Kirk “Enterprise” ship into the universe where one never existed. I remember a convention compere describing the series as, “probably being good sci-fi, but for me, it’ll never been good Star Trek”, in reference to the irreverent rewriting of Trekkian lore.

The whole thing could have been avoided simply by giving the starship a different name, but over the duration of its four short years, and although the naming thing still nags at me, the the series has grown on me. I still think it’s one of the weaker series, with a more bad episodes than good ones, it has improved. Knowing the series was about to be cancelled, the writers had fun with Season 4, trying some innovative new story-telling techniques (3-episode movie-length story arcs, the “In a Mirror, Darkly” episodes, and so on). Finally, however, the last Enterprise episode had to air, and for once, the lots at Paramount are missing Star Trek sets.

So that leaves us with the last episode. How would they decide to send off the series? TNG’s “All Good Things” was about the Enterprise-D saving the galaxy. DS9 had a wonderful, poignant montage sequence of the crew’s adventures over its 7 year run. In Star Trek VI, before the Enterprise-A was finally decommissioned, the original crew saved the collapse of the Khitomer Conference, where the peace treaty was brokered, ending the decades-long war between the Klingons and the Federation. Trek VI closes with Kirk saying, “This ship and her history, will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one, has gone before.”

Warning: There be spoilers ahead.

The final episode of Enterprise was very tasteful and fitting, paying ample tribute to the other Trek series along the way. It opens with the ship on the way to a conference that will see the signing of the Federation Charter – the birth of an interplanetary “United Nations”. Then, suddenly, we hear a familiar voice saying “Computer, freeze program.” The camera pans to none other than… Will Riker. The Enterprise’s bridge dissolves and we find ourselves on the Enterprise-D’s holodeck. The title sequence then plays. At this point, I’m sure a shiver was sent up every Trekkie’s spine. Did they make it all a dream?! A holodeck simulation? Is that how they’re getting around the history problem?

Fortunately, the writers have a little more self-respect than that. The episode is told from the point of view of Riker viewing a historical simulation of the final days of the Enterprise NX-01 (set about 6 years after the previous episode, “Terra Prime”). It turns out he is in a predicament, whether to talk to Captain Picard about a matter he is bound to secrecy by an Admiral – a secret that could jeopardise the Treaty of Altron which sets out the Romulan neutral zone. The events in the TNG universe are of no importance, however. It takes a little time to realise what Riker is doing, but when the realisation comes, it is fitting. Riker is trying to get advice on his predicament by drawing inspiration from the character of the NX-01’s first officer as he deals with a prickly situation as the NX-01 heads towards the Charter Conference (involving Jeffrey Combs, who gets to appear one last time as Commander Shran). Riker chats with the rest of the bridge crew, with Trip himself, and in the process portrays the bond that all Enterprise captains have had with their first officers. Along with Jonathan Frakes’ role reprisal, Marina Sirtis also reappears as Counsellor Troi (surprisingly, not looking like she’s aged very much), along with Brent Spiner’s voice (as Data).

Apart from looking at the personal growth shown by the Enterprise crew, the episode works on a second level – the culmination of the Enterprise’s voyages resulting in the formation of the Federation. In many ways, this episode and the last several have covered similar themes to Star Trek VI – putting aside mistrust and xenophobia (on a personal and inter-racial level), not to save the galaxy as we know it, but to forge diplomatic alliances – which is a far more formidable feat than succesfully blowing up the Bad Guy’s Big Weapon of Death. It also preserves the distinguished lineage of Enterprise ships, which always go on to do Great Things.

It’s an event that on the surface really has apparently nothing to do with the “sci” in sci-fi (apart from the fact that there are a whole bunch of aliens in the room where the Charter is being signed), but at the same time it’s a theme that is central to a lot of good sci-fi but is rarely associated by mainstream audiences/readers with it – the visionary drive for exploration of new frontiers, which are not necessarily in the stars, but also within ourselves, and the struggle as things change and how people react to this change in different ways. The formation of the Federation is the optimistic keystone in Roddenberry’s vision of Trek, and it was conveyed reasonably well in this episode and throughout the season.

There are lots of neat self-referential touches in this episode. The Charter is signed in a location that the time traveller Daniels showed Archer a few seasons ago in a temporal “flash-forward”. Archer toasts “to the next generation”. When Trip says to Reed, “It’s been a good run, Malcolm. I never thought it’d come to an end,” Reed replies, “All good things…”. And of course, there are the shots of the Enterprise-D, where the 10-forward set has been recreated and the crew is in TNG getup. The closing sequence has a montage of the three Enterprises from TNG, TOS and Enterprise, overlaid by the three respective ship captains reciting the Enterprise’s mission statement. Surprisingly, the writers opted to have Archer say “man” instead of “person” or “one”, maintaining the timeline integrity of how political correctness has gradually made its way into the mission statement in the Trek universe (as opposed to our real-world timeline). Enterprise was not a great Trek series, but it nonetheless received a fitting send off. Farewell, Star Trek. It’ll be missed.