The Great Star Trek Enterprise Rewatch: Broken Bow

The year is 2151. It’s been the best part of a century since humanity made first contact with the Vulcans, but it’s still taken a while for them to progress technologically. Now, finally, Earth’s first warp five ship – the Enterprise NX-01 – is ready to launch. Their first mission is to return a stranded Klingon to his homeworld, but this simple act soon embroils the Enterprise and its brand new crew in a greater conspiracy.

So, here we are at last. It’s two weeks since my last Star Trek blog, and it’s also no coincidence that we are now starting on my least favourite Star Trek series. My viewing companion is back, and that necessitated some careful timetabling so that I could watch this episode with not just him, but also my other, occasional viewing companion. Then, filled with apathy for the episode we’d just watched, it’s taken me a further week to finally get down to blogging it.

Before I discuss my most recent experience, I’m going to think back to my anticipation for Enterprise way back in 2001. I was probably at or just past the peak of my Star Trek fandom, with shelves bulging with novels, VHS tapes and tiny model starships. I was also just about to head off to university, but that wasn’t going to stop me from following Enterprise from its inception to its eventual airing.

And I was definitely looking forward to it. The pilot episode, which promised to shed light on what had always been described as humanity’s “difficult” first contact with the Klingons, would surely be amazing. Star Trek magazine was filled with articles about how the show would depict a future that was a lot rougher and less polished than that of 24th or even the 23rd centuries. At the time, I think I even enjoyed Broken Bow and some of Enterprise’s earlier episodes. It was only later on that it all went downhill – but more on that in later blogs.

Unfortunately, this time around, I found I cared little for the Enterprise pilot. Plot elements like the Temporal Cold War left me cold, whilst my cynical eye felt that every scene was over-engineered to entice me in, with the result that it just all felt a bit dull. Oh look, an action scene – I guess I’m supposed to care for the hero. Now T’Pol and Trip are rubbing gel on each other just so that we can see some flesh. Oh, and T’Pol is now randomly helping Archer and Trip instead of hindering them, because the plot demands it. Honestly, I was just not very enthralled.

The new crew

Enterprise makes a deliberate move to try to recreate the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad that worked so well, with its new threesome of Archer, T’Pol and Trip. Unfortunately, not only are they less interesting, but it also means that the supporting characters get just as little attention as Uhura, Chekov and Sulu did back in the original series. Anyway, I really shouldn’t be so cynical so early on, so let’s meet the characters.

  • Captain Jonathan Archer is the commander of the Enterprise. He’s meant to be an all round heroic nice guy, but unlike Picard, Sisko or Janeway, he doesn’t represent any kind of ‘first’. Unless he’s secretly bisexual, of course, but if so, we never see any mention or evidence of this onscreen.
    Archer has a real problem with the Vulcans, since their superior attitude and tendency to withhold their technology meant that his father never managed to complete his work on the warp five engine before his death.
  • Subcommander T’Pol is a Vulcan observer who eventually joins the crew as science officer and first officer. Her relentless logic often puts her at odds with the humans on the crew.
  • Command Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III is the chief engineer. He is good friends with Archer, and often clashes with T’Pol. Which is of course why they end up sleeping together later in the series.
  • Ensign Hoshi Sato is a xeno-linguistics specialist and the ship’s communications officer. She is especially talented in learning new and obscure languages, and also is in charge of the newly developed universal translator. She’s also very uneasy about being in space.
  • Lieutenant Malcolm Reed is the ship’s tactical officer. He has a fondness for weaponry, a mistrust of anything out of the ordinary, and a British accent.
  • Dr Phlox is the ship’s medical officer. He is a Denobulan who came to Earth on the Vulcan interspecies medical exchange program. His quirky and eccentric nature makes him the Neelix of the series, albeit far less annoying. He also has three wives, each of whom has three husbands, but more on that another time.
  • Ensign Travis Mayweather is the ship’s helmsman, and also a ‘space boomer’ – one of a generation of humans born and raised in space.
  • Porthos is the captain’s dog, a beagle.

Early technology

  • The transporter is used for moving cargo, but although it has been rated safe for human use, everyone is reluctant to try it. Nonetheless, it is used to retrieve Archer in this episode.
  • The tractor beam has not been developed yet, and so the Enterprise uses a grappling hook instead. Various alien races do have tractor beams, however.
  • The universal translator is far from effortlessly perfect at this point, often proving slow to grasp a new language, and also imperfect.

Aliens, old and new

  • Vulcans: humans and Vulcans have a rather tense relationship at this point. The Vulcans treat humans as not yet ready to join the galactic stage, and their superior attitude has rubbed many humans up the wrong way. Although the Vulcans claim to be committed to logic, they are not yet as pure and wholesome as their 23rd and 24th century descendants.
  • Klingons: this episode marks humanity’s first contact with the Klingon Empire. This is very much the Klingon Empire of the 24th century, with the ‘smooth-headed’ phase skipped (but explained in a later episode). Although first contact with the Klingons has previously been said to be ‘disastrous’, it actually doesn’t go too badly in this episode, at least by the end.
  • Suliban: the new antagonists. The Suliban have been genetically modified to give themselves new abilities, such as being able to slip through thin gaps, make themselves invisible, and detect when someone is telling the truth. They are working with a mysterious future figure who is one of the players in the Temporal Cold War.
  • Denobulans: as represented by Dr Phlox.

Other points

  • Then again, loyalty’s an emotion, isn’t it?” Can loyalty really be considered an emotion? Dictionary.com offers up the following definitions for loyalty:

    1. the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.

    2. faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.

    3. an example or instance of faithfulness, adherence, or the like:

    a man with fierce loyalties.
    So, loyalty is a quality or a state rather than an emotion in and of itself. Yes, it might arise from an emotional attachment to a person, but it could just as easily arise from a logical basis. For example, it may be logical to be loyal to the captain, because that makes for a more cohesive crew. Or because said captain has demonstrated an aptitude for leadership.

  • Am I sensing concern? Last time I checked, that was considered an emotion.” What about concern? Well, feeling anxious or worried about someone is definitely an emotional response, but there’s probably some level where one could have a completely logical concern for someone. Perhaps one wouldn’t be personally invested in the subject of concern, but might be aware that their absence or illness would negatively effect their peers, or impact upon the situation.
  • At the end of the episode, Archer orders the ship to fly into an ion storm. In an alternate timeline, the Enterprise is immediately destroyed and the series ends.

Summary – Broken Bow: We embark upon the worst Star Trek series.

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