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It’s Been a Long Road, Getting from There to Here…

Twenty years ago, Star Trek: Enterprise made its debut on UPN. The fifth live-action incarnation of the franchise, it starred sci-fi favorite Scott Bakula. Over the course of four seasons, it took viewers, each week, on adventures of the starship Enterprise NX-01, taking the crew where no humans had previously gone.

More of the Same, But Not at First

The genesis of Enterprise was initiated during the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager, as a result of UPN asking Rick Berman for another Star Trek series to come after Voyager ended. According to a Blu-ray documentary about Enterprise‘s first season, Berman actually told UPN that the franchise needed a year or two off before coming back. UPN overruled him, and he agreed to begin work on the new show immediately.

Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the creators of Enterprise

Berman then approached Brannon Braga, who was the main showrunner for Voyager at that point, to help develop the forthcoming series. Braga and Berman wanted to do a prequel, and at first UPN said no. Eventually, Braga and Berman came up with combining the prequel concept with the mandate of a futuristic element of the show; they therefore devised a Temporal Cold War.

Also, Berman and Braga wanted to set the show’s entire first season on Earth, which would have followed Archer assembling his senior staff, and the Season 1 finale would have seen the NX-01 launch. There would have been conflicts and political ramifications, but UPN decided they wanted the ship launched in the first episode.

Prequelitis Hits Star Trek

By the time news of Enterprise was publicly declared, Hollywood had begun to release an overload of prequels, and already sci-fi fandom kind of hated this. The prequel film Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had been released to theaters two years prior, and fans generally did not approve of it. When Enterprise was announced as a forthcoming prequel, fans took to the Internet message boards – the 2001 equivalent to social media – and made their grievances known. By the time Voyager concluded in May that year, franchise fatigue was also becoming visible.

The First Star Trek After 9/11

Enterprise was in production on the first season episode “Civilization” when word came down of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon and the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania. It has been stated that Mike Sussman, who co-wrote “Civilization”, could not bring himself to watch it afterwards because the attacks psychologically affected him and the show’s cast so badly.

Starship Enterprise NX-01 launches from drydock in the show’s pilot episode, “Broken Bow” (CBS-Paramount)

Enterprise premiered on 26 September 2001, fifteen days after the 9/11 attacks. Even though the United States was still suffering from the aftermath of those horrendous incidents, the show started out strong; its pilot, “Broken Bow”, drew fifteen million viewers and was seen as a success.

The First Two Seasons

In general, Enterprise started out very shakily, though the first season did feature some classics, such as “Dear Doctor”, “Shuttlepod One”, and the finale “Shockwave”. I found that some episodes, like “Unexpected” and “Acquisition”, were much more questionable and generally poorer quality; Braga even admitted “Acquisition” was the worst episode of Enterprise he ever wrote.

Season Two marked a little higher quality – especially when writer John Shiban, who had worked on The X-Files, joined Enterprise‘s writing staff as a co-executive producer. Episodes like “First Flight” and “Minefield” became fan favorites, and the show even proved controversial when the Borg returned in “Regeneration”. Set up as a prequel to “Q Who” and a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact, the episode generated controversy simply for using the popular cybernetic race, even though the word “Borg” is never mentioned at any point in the episode.

The Xindi War Saga

Ratings were sliding, and Berman and Braga decided to write the second season finale “The Expanse” in an effort to change the direction of the series. Depicting a harrowing preemptive strike on Earth by a multi-species group of aliens, they decided to tackle the American sentiment after the September 11th attacks.

In “The Expanse”, Archer and Trip brood over Enterprise‘s forthcoming hunt for those who attacked Earth (CBS-Paramount)

The third season would also be a serialized story with a few standalone episodes. Manny Coto, who had just ended Odyssey 5, joined the series as a staff writer, and episodes such as “Twilight” and “Similitude” delighted the fans.

Too Little, Too Late

Although the third season was widely expected to be the last season, the show was renewed in May 2004, surprising most viewers. Paramount Television also paid a lower licensing fee for new episodes. Manny Coto became the showrunner, and, as a result, Season 4 included many fan favorites for the franchise, as the series attempted to connect the dots from Enterprise to Star Trek: The Original Series. A return to the Mirror Universe was also to occur – with the popular “In a Mirror, Darkly” two-parter, which was a prequel to “Mirror, Mirror” and a sequel to “The Tholian Web”.

Enterprise of the Mirror Universe: the main setting of the “In a Mirror, Darkly” two-parter (CBS-Paramount)

However, just as the show seemed to have finally found its feet, the series was cancelled on 2 February 2005. Fan protests took place, and US$30 million was raised in the hopes of financing a fifth season. The cancellation happened during the writing of the fourth season finale, which allowed Braga and Berman to instead craft the finale of the series.

The Finale Crashes and Burns

“These Are the Voyages…” is arguably one of the worst Star Trek episodes ever made. The episode was much maligned for pretty much wrapping the episode inside an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Aired 13 May 2005, the series ended on a whimper, rather than a satisfying conclusion, and with it eighteen years of solid Star Trek produced by Rick Berman.

TNG characters Riker and Troi in the Enterprise series finale “These Are the Voyages…”, a misstep for the Star Trek franchise (CBS-Paramount)

Overall, Star Trek: Enterprise, while it wasn’t the best at first, gave viewers a chance to see Starfleet in its infancy and before it became a dominant force in the other Star Trek series, since they are all set in later eras. While it was cut short before the Romulan War could be depicted on screen, the series is definitely one I recommend you start watching, especially if you haven’t seen it already.

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