Where to go after Voyager and Deep Space Nine? There is, of course, a certain interest in the time frame already established, and maybe it would've been nice to see how things develop after the Dominion War, after the return of Voyager. But what new would that bring? Wouldn't this only increase the risk of bringing the same old stories over and over again? Hasn't the Star Trek universe become too known, too thoroughly established, too convenient even?
Deep Space Nine was set after the events of The Next Generation. To depart from the known scheme, it would not center around a starship anymore, but around a space station at the edge of the known territories, near a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, a boring outpost until the Dominion conflict began. Voyager was to take up the exploring, and to find something unexplored and fresh, it was thrown into the Delta Quadrant, returning to the days of exploration and discovery, truly seeking out new life and new civilizations. All these three shows happened in the same time frame, together charting some sixteen years. Can you just leave it at that?
The first six movies pushed forward the storyline of the original series, establishing a connection between the first series and The Next Generation. The TNG movies took off after the TNG series had ended, pushing forward that thread but also going back in time: Establishing the historical moment of First Contact between Humans and Vulcans. Insurrection went back to the normal time frame, so will the next one. The 24th century will be charted by the movies, it will not be forgotten. But what about a television series? Should that not pick up the story thread also? Can you just leave it at that?
Yes you can. You must, even. If Star Trek wants to be fresh, it needs to start somewhere, somewhen else. Alas, going either forward or backward in time. Forward had been done already (TNG), also, going even farther into the future could mean to push technology this far that the risks for the crew, and thus the edge of storytelling, might get too pointless. Star Trek is about hope and a strong belief in the benevolence of the future, so a farther future may have less conflict, be so advanced that you'd be too detached from today's political and social problems. So there's indeed just one logical solution for now: Going back in time, and why not pick up after First Contact, why not tell the story of the foundation of the Federation? Why not do a history show? Enterprise: The Making of the Federation?
That being established, how should you do it? You would need to walk a fine line between keeping the congruence with the old series and not appearing too outdated, meaning, inhowfar is the original series considered to be something like a historical document for the Star Trek universe, or a television series of the Sixties. Of course, the new old ship NX-1 should not be more advanced than the NCC-1701 model; yet it should definitely look better. Here you have to differenciate between what's the original vision for the future (which is more of an ideology, an abstract idea) and what the technical possibilities and requirements were at the time of the shooting of the original series. Of course, Klingons now can have ridges on their face, that's a makeup thing. Of course, the surfaces should look better, that's a budget and technology thing. But the main elements should stay the same: basic transporter technology, no more than Warp 6 or 7, hand-held communicators, the science station, no food replicators or holodecks, the basic Star Trek species like Vulcans and Klingons, things like that.
All that has been taken care of minutely by the new Star Trek series Enterprise. The adherence to "historical" detail is remarkable, and somewhat touching. The show thus turns out to have quite some sentimental value, re-discovering and re-constructing known truths about the Star Trek legacy. The characters are still under development in the first episodes, and the introduction of each member takes place less sloppily and less contrived than it was done in the very first episodes of DS9 and VGR. This show centers around a very strong Captain Jonathan Archer, utmost convincingly portrayed by Scott Bacula. The Vulcan science officer by his side reminds of the connection between Kirk and Spock, as well as between Janeway and Seven, yet there's much more to it: T'Pol actually is superior, the Vulcans still treat the humans as children and haven't yet acknowledged their values, it is because of Vulcan, and due to the continuing grace of Vulcan, that Earth is even allowed to have a starship of her own.
The future arch of the show becomes visible in the very first episodes already. Vulcans may be superior in logic, science and peacefulness, but it's the human factor that will make the United Federation of Planets a reality. It's Enterprise, not Vulcans, who will start being mediators and allies; Vulcans, however, are pragmatists, logic dictates, nothing else. The ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination is an ideal - just like the Melting Pot or the Multicultural model of society; but it has to be lived. What we see of the Vulcans, what we will be seeing (i.e. have already seen) in the classic series, as well as on Voyager, is that Star Trek is about defending the value of emotionality over cold rationality: Star Trek is not about thinking, it's about feeling; oddly enough, as the storytelling is done rather rationally, less oriented on Aristotle's model of catharsis. Going back to the early days of the would-be Federation makes this more apparent: Here we have a captain who is truly human, truly emotional. This is not the distanced Picard, this is a man with features commonly acknowledged as human. He is not actually illogical, but he acts more on emotionality than rationality, he acts on the dream - because of the dream - the dream of the future.
The frontier is visible again: Something we haven't seen for a long time. In TNG, the frontier was something that was always weakened by fact that the Federation was always nearby, that civilization was already there. DS9, the outpost, was settled at the very frontier of the empire - yet this theme got lost with the Dominion War and the issues surrounding Bajor; the frontier was a fixed one. With Voyager, the frontier was an obstacle, a hindrance, something standing between the Delta Quadrant and home, something to be overcome, not colonized, something which still would get to be explored, but rather by passing through. The premise of Voyager was to come home, to overcome the frontier while leaving it also behind, the frontier was not something to be colonized or "civilized".
With Enterprise, this has changed: Now it is precisely about exploration. Earth has just one starship, and this one is even just experimental (alas, NX-1). There is no backup fleet. Vulcan is watching every step, waiting for the humans to make a mistake. Earth is a third-world mini-power who is allowed into the playground of world politics. There are no attempts at "globalization" yet: Vulcan is no teamplayer, neither are the Klingons. The brave new world is a cold one, waiting to be warmed up by the touch of human emotionality, it seems. Archer is a good choice for propagating that message.
The situation thus may seem similar to that of Babylon 5 in its fourth and fifth season: building an alliance, combining forces. But there it was against a common enemy, the Alliance was supposed to stand against the Shadows, against the forces of darkness, against an almost mythical might, liberating the New Age from the traces of the world, letting the Gods, the Vorlons and Shadows and the other Old Ones, leave and managing the remains. Star Trek is different. The Federation surely is a defensive means at the pragmatic core, but it is more than that: It is about the American ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination - it is about the re-definition, the deconstruction, of the nation state, the creation of something new: something beyond nationality, beyond class, beyond race, beyond gender. Star Trek is the epitome of the post-something dream: Having overcome those elements that have been holding us back, and are holding us back still, while fostering what makes us productive, what makes us individuals, what makes us individuals within a state that is no more seen as an obstacle but as a carrier of the Dream. Star Trek is the personification of this utterly American Dream: Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness.
All that being the premise and the ideology behind the entire phenomenon, how does the new show hold up to it? Does it fulfill this premise, does it fill the footsteps? Yes. There are still some weaker points, some characters still lack proper characterization, but that's always the case in a first season. The start was neither great nor groundbreaking, but still very good and solid, Archer, T'Pol and Tripp having been established as the central figures so far.
Those criticizing Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are wrong, utterly wrong. This new show is the truest follower to Roddenberry's version of the American dream to date, and it will prove to be a worthy successor of the Star Trek legacy.
January 7th, 2002