Booby Prize

A look at the TV Series ‘(Star Trek) Enterprise’ created by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and starring Scott Bakula & Jolene Blalock.

Nature has ways of protecting itself. Within the species it has nurtured through the millions of years of life on our planet, there are instinctual reactions for just about every purpose.

Take for example, a Strawberry Poison-Dart frog. It is an alarming shade of red. Everything in nature instinctively knows “that dude means trouble”. Therefore, it probably goes fairly untroubled within its lifetime.

On the opposite end of the scale, you have the much beleaguered wildebeest. A creature that comes in lots of very neutral shades that most hippies wouldn’t mind decorating their houses in. There is nothing about the wildebeest to warn of any danger. This may well be why every nature documentary ever made – without exception – shows herds of wildebeest being chased down and killed by predators.

And let’s be clear on this… You get a docu’ about big cats; they chase down and kill a wildebeest. Crododiles, more wildebeest get killed. Crikey, I swear I’ve seen a programme on hummingbirds where one chases down and kills a wildebeest! I can’t think of any species of animal that is preyed upon by literally everything else it has the misfortune to live in the same galaxy with.

But regardless of what is trying to turn it into a meal, said wildebeest has an instinctual reaction and attempts to make a run for it. It senses danger, summons up some adrenalin and goes in any direction it can in the hopes that it can outrun its foe.

What’s interesting is that humans, despite all the mental developments we’ve achieved and our sentience and our logic and our reasoning, we’re just as reliant on these instincts as even the dumbest animal.

I believe it was Professor Robert Winston, sometime in the mid-nineties, who studied how instinct can override all our reasoning in just about every aspect of our daily lives. It was absolutely fascinating to learn about just how basic a creature us humans really are and that it’s only our ability to construct artificial worlds around us that set us apart from everything else.

Seriously, it was a great documentary series, go look it up and find it somewhere and watch it!

The times when instincts kick in the hardest is in the fight or flight scenario; do we attack or run away? Most of the time, flight is the preferred method because we don’t always know the capabilities of our attacker. But let’s say that the animal is already wounded, is immobile or severely impaired and remains under threat. Instinctively it will bare teeth, growl or roar, thrash about a bit, do things to try and deter further assault.

This will have the desired effect on some occasions, after all, the attacker is operating with the same set of instincts, and if it feels it has taken on more than it can handle, will choose to back off.

Now, I’m going to segue a tad, but there is a reason for waffling about animal instinct and I promise it will make sense fairly soon.

I recently got an absolute bargain on the complete ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ Blu-ray collection. These replaced my DVD’s and I was curious how well the high definition remaster really was.

One word; glorious!

It has scrubbed up incredibly well. In fact, it looks so crisp and polished that it is too easy to forget that this was a show that began in the mid-eighties. If you’re of a Trek persuasion, then I urge you to watch the HD remastered episodes because it just makes the whole thing better.

Aside from the presentation quality, what was more interesting was watching this shaky, nervous new show, struggle through its first two years while it found its feet and then find a groove and run with it.

Seeing it grow and grow into the fine series that it became was a thing of beauty. And as it gained confidence and security, so the powers that be began creating further iterations of Trek, the fabulous ‘Deep Space Nine’ and the troubled but still highly watchable ‘Voyager’.

Star Trek was a healthy and thriving animal.

But as ‘Voyager’ was drawing to a close, and was no longer as strong as it could have been having started to scrabble around looking for content and dipping into the Borg pool for a drink just a little too often, so Star Trek felt as though it was winding down. The end of an era.

But no. The executives had other things they wanted to do. They wanted to keep Trek going and they were going to do it with a prequel series. We must remember that this was back in the early-noughties when prequels were still the new big thing. It didn’t seem like a wholly bad idea and I remember tuning in eagerly to check out the pilot episode.

And I also remember shouting some terrible rude words at that pilot episode. Something about how it can ‘fornicate elsewhere and expire within its rectum’. I was most unimpressed with the presentation, the cast, the characters, the treatment of established timelines and events within the Trek universe… I could go on.

Suffice it to say, I never watched any more of it. Until very recently, having completed all seven seasons of ‘Next Gen’ and was curious to see how middle-aged Rob Roy would cope with ‘Enterprise’ now he’s softened up quite considerably. It remained the only non-animated Trek series that was unwatched, and my trip down ‘Next Gen’ lane and it’s highs and lows told me that perhaps ‘Enterprise’ would do something similar and make that dreadful pilot episode but a distant memory once it bedded in.

Star Trek used to be a prime creature. Standing proud on its land and unshakable in its self-belief. But by the time it relied solely on the likes of ‘Enterprise’ to carry it, it was an emaciated, scared, wounded, weak and feeble shadow of its former self. It was cowering, bleeding from an open wound and it was using what tiny little life it had left to snarl at anything that went near it. It was purely a reactionary instinct to try and cling on to life for as long as it could, but everyone could see it was as good as dead.

Quite what Rick Berman was thinking is beyond me. He had become top of the food chain for Trek when the original creator, Gene Roddenberry, died in ’91. He’d been doing most of the big stuff for a short while already by that point, but it was then he became the proper successor. He seemed to be doing a good job as well. After all, ‘DS9’ and ‘Voy’ both held their own and they wouldn’t have happened without his go-ahead and input. So, the guy knew Trek. Or at least he did up to a point.

You see, ‘Enterprise’ broke away in all the sensible ways. It threw away virtually all of its core values and the DNA which made the previous series’ all successes, and it went off on a tangent that made no sense.

Watching them in sequence in a relatively short time-frame, you see just how much the creators and the writers realised how badly they had missed. You see them desperately trying to claw back credibility with plot points shoe-horned in, stories that appear out of the blue to try and explain something that was raised as a plot-hole in a previous Trek series, and trying to backtrack on decisions they’d made after writing themselves into many a miserable corner.

The theme song for example. Gone are the rousing musical cues, the sweeping, bold and beautiful orchestral scores that we’d come to know from Trek. Instead, we had relative newcomer Russel Watson signing some insipid pop ballad written by Diane Warren.

Perhaps it’s not as bad as I make it out to be, but one thing we can all agree on is that this is not what Trek needed. A decision that was shared to some degree by the shows producers who decided to rerecord a snazzier version of the same song for a more upbeat and uplifting tone. What you ended up with, was a bit of electric guitar and few drums making this mindless drivel even worse than it already was.

They introduced this up-tempo variation to try and offer a glimpse of hope to a despondent and scared (mostly American) audience in a post-9/11 world, but managed to make it coincide with the shows darkest story-arc involving terrorist alien plots to exterminate planet Earth. It was the most ill-advised mis-step and tone-deaf attempt at connecting with an audience I’ve ever seen.

Then you have Jolene Blalock’s character; the Vulcan named T’Pol. She’s this shows answer to Spock from the original. A logical and balanced view to help flatten out the neurotic and impulsive humans. But, unlike Spock, she struts about all four years of the show in catsuits that make natural human skin look baggy.

I’m a red-blooded male like many others. This sort of thing can be quite nice to look at. And let’s be honest, in Star Trek, if you’re not in some kind of one-piece outfit, you’re not with the in-crowd. Yet having survived some questionable jumpsuits in ‘Next Gen’ and even poor Jeri Ryan’s costume in ‘Voyager’, somehow, T’Pol’s catsuits just seem gratuitous and illogical.

And then the shows creators realised that no matter how bangin’ a chick you have strutting around in her ultra-tight lycra, if she doesn’t have any personality at all, then she’s going to start to turn off all except the horniest of teenagers. So they begin coming up with reasons to let Blalock do some real acting, show a bit of emotion. But they weren’t nicely done and mostly were just confusing muddles that left the show looking a bit hollow and poorly conceived.

And it goes on. Trying to explain the Klingons. Trying to explain the Romulans. Trying to explain anything it can get its grubbly little mitts onto whilst trying ever so hard not dig itself into an even bigger hole than it has already.

By this point, Star Trek the animal was no longer an attractive proposition to any predator. It was just flea-bitten, scrawny carcass with a one or two last whimpers of breath in its lungs.

Eventually, the patience of the studio wore thin enough that they pulled the plug on the show. They allowed the fourth season to finish, but everyone knew they were wrapping it up. And with no more Trek projects lined up, mercifully, Trek would come to an end before all of its credibility could be destroyed.

The studio put a shotgun in Trek’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

What’s most unfortunate is the finale that sent it on its way. Unlike its predecessors, instead of a grand ending that tugs at the heartstrings and make fans cheer and cry and salute an old friend good-bye, we had something inflicted upon us that still has the faithful Trek followers shuddering to this day.

The shows creators have even come out and said that the finale was actually the penultimate episode and that the final one was a coda. That’s studio talk for “sorry guys, we ballsed it up and it’s too late to go back and fix it.”

There was endless potential for a series about the birth of Starfleet, the Federation and the inaugural steps of interstellar exploration. But it had no confidence in itself to pull it off. It walked into the night club wanting to attract a girl, but instead, shuffled around nervously in the shadows of its big brothers, ‘TNG’ and ‘DS9’, and wondered why it was regarded as this sort of weirdo-freak who would just get ejected before the night was done.

It borrowed too heavily, had no regard for established cannon of events and played fast and loose with our suspension of disbelief. It ran out of ideas so early, they began trying to work-in poorly conceived time-travel tropes which vanished unexplained as quickly and as randomly that they had initially appeared.

Modern Star Trek is a God-awful mess. I’m actually a little scared to admit to people that I like Star Trek because people are going to automatically assume I mean the JJ Abrams films and the new series like ‘Discovery’. They forget that Star Trek peaked in the late eighties and didn’t wane until ‘Deep Space Nine’ had closed up shop just prior to the turn of the century.

Somehow, even compared to the grenade-in-a-butchers-shop mess that is ‘Discovery’, ‘Enterprise’ manages to actually feel like part of the Trek universe that I used to know and love. But that’s not saying much when the best thing you can hope for in an episode is a shot of Blalock’s arse as she struts down a corridor so it hasn’t been a complete waste of time watching another episode.

If ‘Enterprise’ was a trophy, it would be one awarded for participation only. If ‘Enterprise’ was a piece of jewellery, it would be one of those crappy plastic rings from a cheap Christmas cracker. If ‘Enterprise’ was an animal, it would be a lowly wildebeest; being chased down by a household variety goldfish, and it would still manage to be felled and savaged.

Anywhere ‘Enterprise’ is being hosted, sold, streamed, whatever… It should have all its artwork replaced with images of the Strawberry Poison Dart frog. Because at least then, you could rely on your primal instincts to ward you away from the danger and into safer territory.


A reason why you should watch it: Scientific research; because you don’t believe it could be as awful as modern Star Trek

A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Because it ‘is’ as awful as modern Star Trek.

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