First, some quick acronyms for the uninitiated. TOS==The Original Series, TNG=The Next Generation, DS9==Deep Space Nine. I'll be using these frequently throughout the review.
One of the first things I noted was the music used in the promotional advertisements for "Enterprise", in which they used pop music in the background. It was a bad omen for the series, and one I very much hoped wouldn't carry over into the show itself. I was suitably disappointed when the opening title sequence used more pop crap. Star Trek has a very good composer, Jerry Goldsmith, who rivals Star Wars' John Williams. Whatever you might say about Voyager, I think the music used in its title sequence was some of the best yet in a Trek series. Nothing of the sort can be said for "Enterprise". On the other hand, this is exactly what I would expect from a show on the UPN network, a network that makes Fox look intellectual.
After we got into the actual show, I noticed that some of the camera work and lighting seemed to be quite different from other Trek shows. For instance, the big phaser battle contained a lot of wide-angle shots that showed the entire battle scene. Most Star Trek phaser battles use more close-up shots focusing on one or two people at a time. This sort of camera work reminds me of cop shows such as "Nash Bridges", and I think it really contributes to showing a much tougher, meaner universe then what we saw in TNG.
Notice, too, that the show was not named "Star Trek: Enterprise". I think the lack of "Star Trek" being appended to the title could mean a lot of things. Perhaps those two words should only be attached to the Federation, which has not yet been formed in "Enterprise". The creators may wish to get away from the stigma Star Trek has generated in the past, knowing that they need the average American to watch it to survive. Or perhaps this is a signal that they want to junk Gene's vision entirely and move in new directions.
In the pilot, it is stated that these events take place about 90 years after Zefram Cochrane's first warp drive test. 30 years prior, Zefram Cochrane founded an advanced research facility to create a human starship, the result being the Enterprise.
Now let's check with the existing Star Trek timeline, as taken from "The Star Trek Encyclopedia", first edition. The information here is taken from canonical Star Trek sources, though it is possible that later editions of the encyclopedia have changed this. Here goes:
- 2061: Warp drive invented
- 2065: S.S. Valiant lost near galaxy's (mentioned in TOS series)
- 2079: World War III; 37 million killed
- 2117: Zefram. Cochrane disappears, believed dead
- 2156: Romulan Wars begin
- 2160: Romulan Wars end
- 2161: United Federation of Planets incorporated. Starfleet established.
- 2218: First contact with the Klingons
"Enterprise" would therefore take place 2150. Zefram Cochrane would have founded the research facility around 2120 (there are enough "abouts" floating around the dates that this could have happened before he disappears in 2117).
Big oops with the Klingons; first contact with them isn't supposed to happen for another 70 years. Additionally, in the TNG episode "First Contact" (not the movie),
Picard describes first Contact with the Klingons as disastrous. However, while the "Enterprise" pilot doesn't seem to show a rosy first contact situation, it didn't seem disastrous. Perhaps later events will show more problems with the Kligons that will build off the First Contact.
Also of note:
- 1992: Eugenics Wars begin (between genetically engineered "supermen")
- 1996: Eugenics Wars end.
In one episode of Voyager, they traveled back in time to 1996 San Francisco. They should have beamed down into the middle of the Eugenics Wars, or at least the clean up that surely came after word. Since San Francisco seemed normal, this is another break in Star Trek's timeline (even if it's one that fits better into more current events then what was set in TOS). Some have suggested that previous fiddling with the timeline (particularly by Kirk) could have put off the Eugenics War. This gives the writers a very convenient excuse for any other problems with the timeline.
Out with the new, in with the old
Many elements of the new series feel a lot like TOS. When the doors open around the ship, it has that squeaky sound of the TOS doors. The color codes of the uniforms (such as yellow for command officers) are also similar to classic Trek. Communicators look and sound much like the ones Kirk originally used, and the phasers are a similar design to those used in movies numbered 2-6. Many of the controls used, though, are much more TNG-style, except for a certain scope-thingy (it was never explained exactly what it was used for), which looks very much like a TOS scope used a lot by Spock.
There are a few hand-to-hand fight sequences in the show, which reminded me a lot of the TOS fight sequences (even if the fighting style is different). TOS had at least one scene per show where Kirk was throwing punches, and it's rather nice to see Star Trek getting back to "another show, another fight".
Not everything is similar to TOS. The way in which the bridge's front view screen is used seems completely different from any other Trek series. Frankly, I think it's the way it should have been used all along. For instance, it uses text to supplement the visual information, and the image can be overlaid with information generated from the sensors, such as flight vectors and areas of radiation.
One very important (IMHO) similarity to TOS is the character interactions. Such interactions are often considered one of TOS's strong points, but they seemed to have lapsed in the more recent series. Like TOS, Enterprise has an uber-logical Vulcan science officer who seems even less tolerant of human emotions then Spock was. The ship also has a very quirky medical officer, though he comes from a race that have been traveling the stars a lot longer then humans have. I doubt there will be the same clash between the Vulcan and the doctor as there was in TOS. More likely it will come between the Vulcan and the first officer, with the captain again stuck in the middle. If there is something to be said against all this, it's that it is too much like like TOS; Enterprise needs to find new ways for the characters to clash to be interesting.
It seems to be rule of Star Trek that the weapons get weaker as time goes on. The progression looks something like this:
- TOS: Hand phaser destroys side of building
- TNG: Phaser causes sparks to fly
- DS9: Singes some rocks
- VOY: Makes the enemy feel a little warm
Being that this series takes place before TOS, a hand phaser ought to be able to eliminate a city block in one shot. I didn't see any of that, but a Kligon did destroy a silo with a hand phaser at the beginning of the show, so at least we get that much.
Klingon Brow Ridges and Other Galactic Mysteries
Klingon brow ridges: What up with them? Smooth in TOS, then bony in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". In every show since then, Klingons have been shown with bony brow ridges.
Almost. In one DS9 show, "Trials and Tribble-ations", the crew gets to go back in time, right into the middle of the TOS show "Trouble with Tribbles". Much of the show was spliced together using film from the TOS episode, so all the Klingons are shown to have a smooth brow (excepting Worf). The rest of the crew was apparently oblivious that Klingons ever had smooth brows, and they ask Worf what happened. Some sort of species-wide genetic change? Or are there actually two Klingon species? (That last one wouldn't work, as some of the same Klingon commanders that appeared in TOS showed up on DS9 with bony ridges). Worf only gives the reply "we don't like to talk about it", which isn't at all satisfying.
It is of note that Klingons in "Enterprise" have the bony ridges. I think the writers could make quite a story about how the Kligons acquired their ridges, and I hope they don't pass it off with some cockamamie techno babble in an off-hand comment some time during the series (although even that would be more interesting then the truth, that Klingon make-up cost too much for TOS).
Getting off the subject of foreheads, I think we could see some interesting events occur if the series is allowed to continue. In about six years from all this, the war with the Romulans begins. Hopefully, Star Fleet will have a few more ships come out of the shipyards before then (right now, it's just the Enterprise). In about eleven years, the Federation itself will be born, though this assumes that the timeline will hold up better then it has so far.
The Romulan Wars would pose a problem, though. Spock said in the TOS episode "Balance of Power" (I think) that the ships fighting it were not capable of visual communications, so they never actually saw what the Romulans looked like. It could be that the Romulans, being very secretive, simply choose not to make visual communication, but Spock seemed to indicate the ships were not technologically capable of it. This makes a rather large hole, as this Enterprise seems perfectly capable of visual communication (though it was never actually shown), and we are capable of such communication right now. It was even possible in the days of TOS; the moon landings sent TV signals to back Earth.
There are some intresting oppertunities for some cross-series stories. For instance, Q once mentioned in an episode of Voyager that the Romulan Wars were sparked by the actions of another Q. The writers would have to put it out of the notice of Our Heros, who would make a report about it to Star Fleet, and thus Picard would still never had heard of Q in "Encounter at Farpoint".
Should you watch it?
"OK, Mr. Fancy Pants Reviewer", you may ask, "is the show really any good?" I think we should give it a chance. There are several very interesting elements at work within the show that could make it a great series, if we give it the chance. If it turns out later that the writers have screwed it up, then we can go back to watch Babylon 5 reruns (bring back "Crusade"!).
I haven't mentioned what I think is the most important element of TOS: Compromise. Gene Roddenberry wanted to make a good TV show, but he had to deal with annoying things like ratings that the big corporate executives wanted. The executives would demand that Roddenberry make certain changes to the series to make the ratings higher. I submit that part of Roddenberry's brilliance was knowing what to give up and what to keep. The executives demanded that there not be a female first officer in the original series, so he gave it up, but he kept Nimoy for playing Spock. I think the producers of the current show need to learn the lesson of compromise; what should they give up to the corporate executives and what should they keep? This lesson may be much harder to learn, UPN being what it is, but it must be learned if the franchise is to survive.