Thursday, July 22, 2010

DVD Review: Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete First Season

Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete First Season

(Released: 2005 by Paramount Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Yes, you’ve seen some of these comments in other posts, but why not collate them into a more formal DVD Review? We could all do worse with our time…

In the beginning, Zefram Cochrine invented Warp Drive technology. The rest was (TV, movie, and merchandising) history!

Somehow, I’d never seen STAR TREK ENTERPRISE before. That had far more to do with my own life, circa 2001-2005, than anything concerning the show. That is until an DVD sale proved irresistible, and I finally took the plunge.

I didn’t know what to expect. What I did know is that, while I loved both STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES (“TOS”) and STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION (“TNG”- Great shows for different reasons!), each succeeding TREK series left me less and less satisfied.

I liked DEEP SPACE NINE (“DS9”) less than TNG, and VOYAGER (“VOY”) less than DS9. As VOYAGER was winding down, ENTERPRISE (“ENT”) was starting up. Life’s ups and downs notwithstanding, I was also not too eager to sample yet another TREK show that would presumably continue the downward trend.

Elaborating on why I felt this way toward DS9 and VOY, I can only say that each moved further away from the “core” of what I thought STAR TREK should be.

Both series were not about a ship (Extra points if the ship is named “Enterprise”!) in active service to the Federation. Yes, Voyager was a ship too, but it was (um…) “lost in space”, full of weird characters, and wasn’t nearly as much fun as was the Jupiter II.

There were also too many strange aliens on these shows. In contrast, TOS and TNG were far more relatable to us humans. Vulcans, Klingons, and the occasional Betazoid are okay, but I really started drawing the line at regularly featured Ferengi (DS9 – I HATE Ferengi!) and the very annoying Neelix (VOY).

ENTERPRISE goes back to the beginning and, much as J.J. Abrams has done in his recent feature film, starts to tell the story from the ground (Earth’s “ground”) on up.

Scott Bakula, as Captain Jonathan Archer, is the perfect middle-ground between “womanizer/ cowboy” James T. Kirk and “stiff-upper-lipped” Jean Luc Picard.

The crew he leads is predominantly human (Engineer Trip Tucker, Armory Officer Malcolm Reed, Navigator Travis Mayweather, and Translator Hoshi Sato), with just the right number of aliens… Vulcan Science Officer Sub-Commander T’Pol and genial Doctor Phlox (a Denobulan who is part of the “Inter-Species-Medical-Exchange”).

As this series took place a century before the original STAR TREK, efforts were made to look… not merely retro, but “pre-retro”, if you will. This Enterprise is small, almost cramped, compared with later models. Try as they might, the set design crew couldn’t always make this 2001 show look 100 years more primitive than its 1966 predecessor.

The clothing had to step back as well. Starfleet Admirals wore basic (but somewhat futuristically designed) military dress uniforms – and Archer and his crew wore garb that was a cross between NASA gear and the crew jumpsuits from VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.

Oh, and Archer has a DOG! A beagle named “Porthos”. A first for a TREK series!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


Packaging: Why is it that ALL STAR TREK SERIES have packaging that is both annoying and difficult to open and negotiate?! The discs of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE are housed in a large “clamshell” pack that opens like an oversized stick of deodorant!

Attached to the package with TWO DABS OF GLUE is a cardboard piece that wraps AROUND THE TOP FRONT, BACK, AND BOTTOM FRONT of the package! You cannot open the package without removing the cardboard. BUT, on this cardboard, is the ONLY PLACE that it is identified as being the FIRST SEASON! So, if you remove it, nothing else on the package can distinguish it from subsequent seasons. WHY?

Menu Navigation: STAR TREK SERIES often have the most difficult, and outright noisy Menus to navigate. Though, I must admit that the menus of ENTERPRISE are easier to navigate than that of the Original Series. Still, it is a CON.

No Skipping the End Credits: To my surprise, I found that the EPISODE END CREDITS – the SAME end credits that Paramount routinely shrunk, squashed, and did not allow to be read in its original UPN TV broadcasts – COULD NOT BE CHAPTER-SKIPPED on it’s DVDs. Of course, I can choose to fast forward through them, if need be. BUT… Just thought I’d share the irony, folks!


Wide Screen: STAR TREK ENTERPRISE is the first TREK series to be filmed in wide-screen. As great as I’ve described TNG, when played on my HD and Blu-ray, this is BETTER! No TREK series has ever looked as good!

The Episodes – with a special emphasis on the pilot:

“Broken Bow”: No Star Dates here! This takes place in the almost-relatable year 2151!
It has been 90-100 years since Cochrine’s introduction of Warp Drive and travel to the distant stars is now a more a reality than a possibility.

The planet Vulcan has taken notice of these early experiments, and has sent emissaries to Earth… to “guide us” along the correct path. This is a SUPERB inversion of all those TOS and TNG episodes where the Federation declines or refuses to share its superior technologies with developing planetary cultures, due to the “Prime Directive”.

Resentment toward our Vulcan “friends” has grown, as they are suspect of holding back on technological developments and suppressing the development of Earth’s Warp Program efforts.

Jonathan Archer, the son of Henry Archer – an associate of Cochrine’s – is selected to be captain of the just completed “Enterprise NX-01”, a forerunner of the more familiar later USS Enterprise NCC-1701. The Enterprise NX-01 can reach the as-of-yet unheard of speed of Warp Factor 5! Later ships could travel at Warp 9 and above.

Without spoiling too much for those who STILL haven’t seen it, we have such grand moments as:

The great speech about “boldly going, etc.” that all starship captains seem to spout was actually from an historic speech by Zefram Cochrine. The speech is played on the occasion of the launch of the Enterprise NX-01.

The first human to go through a transporter. Under duress, I might add. It was originally, not thought of for human use. Shuttle-Pods are routinely used for transport.

The introduction of the “phase-pistol” (with two settings “Stun” and “Kill” – nothing in between).

No Deflector Shields yet. Instead, they “polarize the hull plating”.

No phaser-weaponry that can be fired by the ship. There are “photon torpedoes”, but they are exactly that – torpedoes that are physically loaded as on a submarine! “Phase Cannons” (the forerunner of ship phaser-weaponry) are developed during Season One.

Communicators are of the good old “flip variety”.

The initial mission involves a Klingon that was pursued to Earth by hostiles unknown, and the sensitive diplomatic mission to return him to the Klingon homeworld. Klingons were an unknown species at the time – the one was even referred to as a “Kling-got” by the admiral in charge.

The Fourth Season TNG episode “First Contact” stated that a botched First Contact mission with the Klingon Empire resulted in decades of hostilities between the two cultures. We never learn the true disposition of the Klingons, after Archer’s mission (though their final comment was something best left untranslated), so perhaps this ties into that.

Notably, the Klingons, at this early point in their development, DID NOT SPEAK ANY ENGLISH – nor had they ever met an Earther before. They were of their “movie and later TV series, ridge-faced appearance”, and not the more conventional look of the Original Series. I’m hoping that story of that is dealt with over the course of ENTERPRISE.

We also meet the series’ new major villains: The Suliban. This race is conducting a campaign of aggression against the Klingons and other species, taking its marching orders from a mysterious presence from “The Future”. This campaign, referred to as the “Temporal Cold War” slowly unfolds over the course of the season – and beyond.

Some pilot, eh? Now, a few other highlights…

In an almost eerie parallel with old favorite series LOST IN SPACE, the first two “regular” episodes, “Fight or Flight” and “Strange New World” respectively, concern NX-01’s first encounters with a derelict ship and an unknown planet.

“The Andorian Incident”: Archer and crew stumble onto the ongoing hostilities between the Vulcans and the blue-skinned, antenna-ed Andorians, with unexpected revelations. Perhaps my favorite episode of this season.

“Cold Front” Archer is surprised to find his steward hails from 900 years in the future, and is a player in the “Temporal Cold War”.

“Dear Doctor”: A grim choice on the part of Archer and Doctor Phlox results in the first contemplations of “The Prime Directive” of non-interference with alien cultures.

“Sleeping Dogs” Archer and company assist the crew of a doomed Klingon ship. They don’t want the assistance.

“Shuttlepod One”: Trip and Malcolm’s ordeal marooned aboard a lost shuttlepod.

“Acquisition”: A boarding party of Ferengi incapacitates the crew of NX-01, and begins to loot the ship. ENTERPRISE does the impossible. A Ferengi story that I actually like!

“Detained”: A militaristic society imprisons Archer and Travis in a detention camp filled with Suliban victims.

“Vox Sola”: A web-like creature invades the Enterprise, takes over a cargo hold, and wraps its captured victims as would a spider! The images of Archer and his fellow captives webbed-up are effectively disgusting. A visual masterpiece! What Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s “The Monster’s Web” was to 1966, this is to 2002!

“Desert Crossing”: More striking scenic visuals, as a seemingly friendly desert warlord takes Archer and Trip hostage to obtain knowledge of his enemies. Clancy Brown (“Superman the Animated Series”, “Lost”) is a standout as the warlord.

“Shockwave”: Ah, what would a modern STAR TREK series be without a season-ending cliffhanger episode! This one reveals tantalizingly more about the “Temporal Cold War” and the devastating consequences for the Earth when Archer is removed from the time stream.

Extra Features:

Numerous features on the genesis and background of the series are included. Scott Bakula appears in a featurette to introduce the series. Bakula is also profiled as Captain Archer. There are also cast impressions of the season and outtakes.

There is an audio commentary track for the pilot, “Broken Bow”, with producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, and two additional pop-up “text commentaries” by production staffers Michael and Denise Okuda.

My favorite feature is: “Star Trek Time Travel: Temporal Cold Wars and Beyond”. The “Temporal Cold War” of ENTERPRISE is examined, along with all other notable instances of time travel that occurred in the various TREK series and films.


I’m sorry I missed STAR TREK ENTERPRISE in its original 2001-2005 run. From this first season – and what I’ve seen of the second season thus far – it is severely underrated, likely from its having come along at a time when the mass audience (myself included) was suffering a prolonged case of “Trek Fatigue”.

If you are so inclined, give it a chance. You won’t be sorry!


Pete Fernbaugh said...

Hey Joe!

I never really got into any of the modern Trek series, with the exception of VOY. I'm not a big TNG guy (I still feel that Patrick Stewart's acting resembles that of a robotic tree stump.), DS9 has eluded me, and VOY grew old fast (my love for Kate Mulgrew, notwithstanding).

However, ENT is a great series. Wait until you get to the third season when a season-long story arc ensues. Then, the fourth season gets into tying ENT continuity with TOS continuity, and there are multiple pleasures to behold...including "In a Mirror Darkly" which completely takes place in The Mirror Universe (with a brief crossover into TOS times).

Fans at the time excoriated everything about the series. In fact, the TREK message boards at the time were rarely laden with anything positive about any of the episodes. I thought most people watched the show simply because they wanted to exercise their bitching-fanboy muscles.

Ironically, a lot of the things for which ENT was criticized mercilessly were actual "crimes" that J.J. Abrams committed in his reboot of the Trek universe. (Love or hate Abrams take-I'm mixed-he and his writers turned out a highly problematic and lazy script. In fact, when reading the latest issue of BOOM!'s "Ultraheroes" line, I find myself wondering if Orci and Kurtzman are providing the plotting. Wouldn't surprise since they seem to be behind every third story that's written in any format these days.)

Incidentally, the same fans loved the very things about Abrams' take that they hated about ENT's take. Yet another reason I don't hang out with Trekkies/ers.

Oh, right! Let's not get into the frequently hateful and at times, slanderous tirades against series co-creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. There were weeks when I thought the poor guys would have to hire the Secret Service to protect them from enraged Trekkies.

All that said, I look forward to your future reviews of ENT.

Pete (...remember me?).

warcraft gold said...

I’m a late bloomers, before I hate their movies, action figures or any related to them. But when this was introduced by my girlfriend, the hate turns to love and now I’m cope-up on all the things I’ve missed including the first season.

Joe Torcivia said...

Pete and Warcraft:

Warcarft: DVD has given me the opportunity to “catch-up” with so many great shows that I never started watching – or had stopped along the way for various life-reasons. ENTERPRISE is one, LOST, HEROES, and older shows like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS… and coming soon reviews of FUTURAMA – another show I liked but didn’t see all the way through.


As you can tell, ENTERPRISE is a great ongoing experience for me! I’m to the point of four episodes left in the Second Season and it’s not lost any steam (…or would that be Dilithium?).

“Carbon Creek” (Vulcans crash-land in 1950s Pennsylvania) may be one of the single greatest TREK stories ever!

“Minefield” introduces us to the Romulans – though they were mentioned in an historical context in “Shockwave”.

“A Night in Sickbay” is a great character story for Archer and Phlox – and Porthos the Beagle’s illness makes us all sad.

“The Communicator” shows why you should never be careless with your equipment, when observing more primitive alien cultures.

“The Catwalk” is an amazing story of the Enterprise crew “in-exile” aboard their own ship!

“Dawn” is a superb “Archer and Trip in Danger” story.

“Cease Fire” expands on the bitter history of the Vulcans and the Andorians.

“Judgement”: Archer’s life is in the hands of a worn-out Klingon defense advocate.

“Cogenetor”: Trip’s interference with an alien culture has surprisingly bad consequences.

“Regeneration”: No Spoilers, but I actually said “Oh, F***!” out loud, when I saw WHO was discovered in the Antarctic!

That’s where I’m up to!

I REALLY look forward to the things you describe to come! PLEASE, READERS… NO SPOILERS!


Kneon Transitt said...

"Carbon Creek" is one of my all-time favorite episodes as well!

Though, as a native Pennsylvanian, I have to say that the locale looks more like Northern California than PA to me. ;)