We find ourselves living in an age where there is more Star Trek happening now than at any time in the series’ 55-year history. As well as there reportedly being multiple films in development, numerous shows are in production, covering a period from immediately before James T. Kirk first took up the Captain’s chair, right into the distant future of the 32nd Century in Star Trek: Discovery.
From live action programming to animation, and from small to big screen adventures, Star Trek does appear to be in rude health. However, it was not all that long ago when it seemed the franchise would be put on indefinite hiatus, with no new projects in sight. Star Trek: Nemesis had underperformed at the box office in 2002, curtailing any further cinema outings for the time being, and its future on television also appeared to be in jeopardy.
Star Trek: Voyager came to an end in May 2001, meaning for the first time since 1993, there were no Star Trek series that were being aired concurrently or overlapping. What came to fill the void was an entry to the canon which ended up being unfairly maligned by many, and was viewed for a time as the show that had killed Star Trek; in fact, for a while it shunned the name of the franchise that had spawned it, being known initially by only a one-word title: Enterprise.
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The United Paramount Network (UPN) was hungry for more Trek content to replace Voyager, which was coming toward its conclusion, following a seven-year run; Rick Berman and Brannon Braga – two of the team who were responsible for creating Voyager – were given the task of devising a brand new programme to take its place, and the expectation of the network seemed to be that it would continue to be set in the exact same timeframe of the 24th Century.
For a franchise which was known for boldly going forward, it was a surprise that Berman and Braga found reverse, ending up creating a Star Trek prequel for the first time. Their idea was to go back to around 100 years before the original series was set, showing the very first Starship to bear the legendary name of Enterprise, as well as the rise of the Federation, and the first meetings with many already-familiar alien species and races, like the Klingons and the Andorians.
Suddenly, everything old would be new again, meaning that there would not be a need to have an in-depth knowledge of Star Trek mythology, something which might deter a casual audience from tuning in; everything would be explained and viewers would discover things at the exact same time as the characters did. Hopefully, this would be a far more accessible series, and part of that came from the deliberate decision to drop the words Star Trek from the title, instead trading upon the familiarity of the name ‘Enterprise’ as a draw.
It would also help avoid potential criticism of what had been planned for Enterprise’s first season, which was to have it all take place entirely on Earth, while the experimental Starship Enterprise NX-01 was being constructed; after all, how could you have a Star Trek which fails to ’star trek’? The notion was to avoid doing standalone storytelling, and instead have an ongoing arc, which would show the formation of the crew, as well as the politics taking place in the run-up to the eventual launch.
UPN, however, had other ideas, and nixed the plan, with it all ending up being condensed down to the feature-length pilot episode, ‘Broken Bow’. Network interference also prevented the show being a conventional prequel, as they wanted there to be some more futuristic elements (seemingly overlooking that Enterprise would be set during the 22nd Century, which is reasonably realistic by any objective measure).
This led to the concept of there being a Temporal Cold War, with various factions from time periods as far ahead as the 31st Century vying to alter established history for their own ends. While this was a controversial move at the time, what was set up here has paid off in the future history featured in the latest season of Star Trek: Discovery, where the impact of this conflict has made itself felt upon the 32nd Century‘s time period, building on what had first been established in Enterprise.
Outside interference would continue to affect the show, with one executive even reportedly proposing the idea of having a different boy band boarding the USS Enterprise each week to perform a song. Perhaps the biggest impact of UPN bringing its weight to bear was in failing to give the producers enough time to properly plan out the new show, ending up in it being rushed into production before all the series’ details had been fully sorted out and nailed down, which led to them trying to play catch-up in some areas of its development.
Going for name recognition with its lead role, Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame was cast as Captain Jonathan Archer (it was apparently down as Jeffrey originally, and then changed to Jackson by the time the show’s ‘bible’ was written). It was the intention to show the crew of the very first Enterprise as being true pioneers, with Archer’s vessel not having shields, tractor beams, or photon torpedoes; the aim was to offer up a Star Trek version of The Right Stuff, demonstrating all the dangers of early deep space exploration.
Another marked – and potentially the most controversial – difference between Enterprise and all of the Star Trek which had gone before was in the choice of its theme tune: instead of using an orchestral piece, the Diane Warren song ‘Faith Of The Heart’ was chosen instead. Originally recorded by Rod Stewart for the film Patch Adams, the new version – sung by Russell Watson – sharply divided fan opinions; the track – retitled as ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’ – remains perhaps one of the most contentious elements of Enterprise to this day.
Viewers should have perhaps had some inkling that a break from tradition was coming, when UPN’s promotions for the launch used The Calling’s ‘Wherever You Will Go’. However, the premiere was understandably overshadowed by all the real world events of the 9/11 terror attacks, which took place just over a fortnight earlier. It cast a very long shadow over Enterprise, culminating in a significant change of direction for the programme at the end of the second season, and the addition of the words Star Trek to the title.
An alien probe launched a devastating attack on Earth in the season finale, resulting in the deaths of some seven million people. The mission of the Enterprise NX-01 was changed as a result, and the ship’s crew under Captain Archer were sent to a remote region of space to track down the species behind the attack, and stop any further action against Earth. It led to a move into a more serialised storytelling style, setting a template for the format of the Star Trek series which would follow after Enterprise ended.
Changes in the lineup of executives at UPN meant whatever supporters they had now dwindled, and soon the show was fighting for its existence. Despite it rating highly for UPN, it seemed that the network was feeling franchise fatigue, and after four seasons, Enterprise was cancelled, bringing to an end an 18-year run of Star Trek on television. It seemed the series was destined to be a bookend to the saga, at least for the time being, while Star Trek vanished into an apparently indeterminate parking orbit.
With its three immediate predecessors each having racked up seven years apiece, Enterprise only managed a total of four seasons before being axed, which added to the view of the programme having been a failed experiment. Yet more ignominy came when it ended up having one of the least-beloved finales ever, reducing the characters to effectively just guest stars in their own vehicle, and even going as far as offing one of the crew, adding insult to injury.
Was Star Trek: Enterprise merely to be seen as the final nail in the coffin for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, or a curious footnote in the franchise’s history? Well, it seems to be the case that Enterprise’s true legacy is not in fact one of failure, or being overlooked; instead, its contribution to the next phase of the Star Trek story is still being written, and it looks likely that its overall significance will continue growing over time.
Enterprise almost definitely appears to have opened studio heads and creative teams up to the possibility of going back in the franchise’s chronology, and telling stories from earlier than the 24th Century period in which The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager were set. J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie reboot managed to do the previously unthinkable, by recasting Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, et al; perhaps Enterprise had demonstrated there was actually a market for pre-TNG adventures and prequels?
Captain Archer was name-checked by Simon Pegg’s Scotty in the 2009 Star Trek reimagining, having risen to the rank of Admiral. Pegg’s script for Star Trek Beyond not only had an historic vessel – the USS Franklin – which was similar to the Enterprise NX-01, but also made reference to elements of continuity which were featured in Enterprise, such as the Military Assault Command Operations (MACO), along with the conflict with the Xindi from the third season. Although it was gone, Enterprise was far from forgotten.
Discovery has probably mined all the heritage provided by Enterprise the most out of all the new tranche of Star Trek shows, having made heavy use of the Temporal Cold War to set up a shift in its own direction, as well as embedding the notion firmly in the franchise’s mythology. In its first season, Discovery also incorporated elements used in an Enterprise two-part tale set in the ‘Mirror Universe’, again bringing the earlier show into the fold, rather than simply disregarding or ignoring it, and making it part of a key story arc.
It seems that some Star Trek shows have to go around two decades before they get a reappraisal, as both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were poorly received by some sections of fandom when they were airing. A 2018 documentary film – What We Left Behind – took a look back at DS9 for its 25th anniversary, and made people revisit that series with fresh eyes; the same team are currently making To The Journey, a similar project all about Voyager, which is due out in Autumn 2022, and will likely have a similar effect.
Hopefully, they will carry on and take a ‘warts and all’ look at Enterprise, so that it finally starts to get some of the much-overdue appreciation and attention it deserves. Given that it kicked off 20 years ago now, it certainly has been a long road getting from there to here, so after it being such a long time, perhaps Star Trek: Enterprise’s time is finally here.
Star Trek: Enterprise aired in the US on 26th September 2001, and in the UK on 1st October 2001.