Popular Culture (TeeVee) 20100924: Enterprise and Others (With Poll!)

(11AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

I apologize for being away last week; Translator was a bit under the weather.  Not really ill, but feeling poorly enough that I could not have monitored comments for the hours that I always promise after publication.  I would rather post nothing at all than not be available to respond to comments, because I respect my readers and know that the comments are usually the most interesting part of the post.

Tonight we shall discuss the final spinoff of Star Trek that appeared on TeeVee. Enterprise (after the first couple of seasons renamed Star Trek:  Enterprise) is, in my opinion, held in much lower esteem than it should be.  I always liked it, but since SyFy has been running it, I have come to appreciate it even more.  It sort of lost its way halfway into the run, but the final season more than made up for it.

Before we get started, I have a couple of comments about other TeeVee events.  They are both positive.

First, hats off to Keith Olbermann for using EXCELLENT music in his closeouts of major stories recently.  Tonight he used David Bowie’s Changes to add a bit of emphasis to the story about the Republicans’ turnaround on using reconciliation as a legislative tool.  In the past few days he used the well known I Can See for Miles and the very obscure A Legal Matter, both by The Who, to make his points.  I wonder if he picks the tunes personally.  If he ever gets around to reading my poor posts, I would be interested to know.

Second, I really like the new “That’s Logistics” advert by UPS.  The full version is just great (the song I mean), but not really original, since it is set to the tune of the old Dean Martin hit, That’s Amore.  The voice quality of the female singing it is tentative, but perfect for the piece, and the syncopation becomes more and more complex as the advert proceeds.  By the last few bars it sounds for all the world like the way that The Beatles (and later The Plastic Ono Band) arranged some of their tunes.  Please comment and let me know if I am just imagining.

Now for Enterprise.  It has been criticized for having poor stories (there were some, just like all TeeVee shows) and for having poor casting (I am not a big Scott Bacula fan, but he made a fine Archer, and the others were great).  The other criticism is that there was poor character development.  I strongly disagree.  It took a while, but by the time that end of the run came, if you are into the Roddenberry universe, you have come to know these people better than those from the other spinoffs, and in some cases even The Original Series (henceforth referred to as TOS).  For example, except for being Irish and having his parents killed, who knows anything about Reilly?  And except for one, old boyfriend, what is the story about Christine Chappell?

I want to focus on two stories, both of them multiple part ones, near the end of the series.  One had to do with the Eugenics Wars, first mentioned in Space Seed in TOS.  (This is the episode that was the basis for the motion picture Star Trek:  The Wrath of Khan).  The other one had to do with no fewer than four TOS episodes, all of which recognized are as some of the best of TOS.

The first story was represented by the episodes Borderland, Cold Station 12, and The Augments, and later with another two, Affliction and Divergence.  It had to do with the “leftover” embryos of augmented humans that were not destroyed after the Eugenics Wars.  It turns out that they were kept in cold storage at Cold Station 12, and at the time the Laboratory Director was one Dr. Arik Soong.  This becomes important later, since his lineage developed Lt. Cmdr. Data in Star Trek:  The Next Generation (afterwards referred to as TNG).  Arik, his progeny, and Data were all played by the brilliant Brent Spiner.

The significant contribution that this storyline was to explain why the Klingons looked different (cranial ridges) in TOS (no ridges) and even the first motion picture that had them (with ridges).  It almost seems like describing coins (with rays, without rays, and I challenge you numismatists there to tell me to what coin I refer.  Hint:  It is the same size, composition, and mass as a currently issued one).  This is not a trivial question.

When TOS was made, they were on a very thin budget.  Betwixt Leonard Nimoy’s ears and Grace Lee Whitney’s beehive hairdo, there was barely enough money to go around to powder the faces of the rest of the cast.  Thus, when the Klingons made their debut, they were pretty much human looking actors with very dark makeup (not even the proper color for the black actors who later played them to a great extent), with beards right out of The Beverly Hillbillies glued onto them.  The change was never explained, and even an episode of Deep Space Nine tried to do it, but chickened out on the issue.  In that episode, some vintage footage of The Trouble with Tribbles, perhaps the most famous episode of TOS, was shown, and someone asked Mr. Worf about the difference.  I thought that he would explain it, but in that perfect Michael Dorn way, he averted his eyes and merely said, “it is PERSONAL!”

Since I do not want to repeat every scene, let it suffice to say that the Klingons were attempting to create their own race of augmented people, and, since Klingons are more adept at battle than at medicine, botched it, creating a horrible plague instead.  Dr. Phlox was able to create an agent to halt the disease in the first, non infective stage, but had to use human DNA to do so.  Since Archer was the only human handy, he provided the material for the treatment.  Under the storyline, the Klingons were still infected, but the plague was suppressed in the first of four stages, so they were not infectious and the germ was arrested, but not killed.  Because the augmented people carried human DNA, some Klingon physiology was changed, and, you guessed it, it showed up mostly as the lack of cranial ridges for several generations.  Evidently, the Klingons finally found a way to remove the human DNA and the infectious agent, and became ridged again.

Those of you who read me faithfully, both here and on my Pique the Geek series that posts on Sunday evenings at 9:00 Eastern know that I like connexions betwixt things.  The two part set, In a Mirror, Darkly, has more than I can count.  I am sure that I shall miss a few, but here is what I gathered.  Please bear with me from time to time, because I will have to mention specific scenes for this to make sense now and then.  You would be hard pressed to argue me out of my position that this might be the greatest Star Trek story ever, including TOS and all spinoffs, AND the motion pictures (by the way, I liked the newest movie only a little bit).

It starts off with a clip from Star Trek:  First Contact (the actual motion picture clip).  As the Vulcans land and introduce themselves, Zephran Cochrane takes his plasma pistol and kills the first Vulcan, and then they overrun the Vulcan vessel.  For only these two installments, the opening credits were radically altered to emphasize the violence of humans.  That is the first connexion, this with First Contact.  There are many, many more.

Even in the opening credits, the sabre and Earth (Terra) was used.  This was the symbol used in the seminal TOS episode, Mirror, Mirror.  In that TOS episode, Kirk was transported into an alternate universe wherein the people were somewhat similar, but the culture was one of huge suspicion and conquest.  But wait, as they say on adverts, there’s more!

There was another TOS episode, The Tholian Web, that had to do with the Starship Defiant, NCC-1764, being lost into what Spock called “Interphase Space”, essentially the meeting of two universes in a small volume of space.  In modern physics jargon, we would say that two “branes” were penetrating each other.  (Remember, I do not call myself “Doc” for nothing, and it is not out of the bounds of physics).  The Defiant was slipping in and out of our brane, and Kirk with it.  Not only that, but the spatial rifts were affecting the neurons of the crew both on Enterprise (the TOS one) and on the Defiant as well.

People became insanely violent, and Bones finally found a drug that would bind to the neuronal receptors responsible for the delusions and stop them.  Those are my words, in the mid 1960s Bone’s words were essentially “to paralyze that part of the brain”.  Neuroscience has come a long way since then.

In The Tholian Web, they finally transported Kirk back to Enterprise as Defiant disappeared and they left the region of space, after foiling the Tholians.  Not until Enterprise did we ever see them again to my recollection. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Now we go to the alternate brane, with the NX-01 as the fastest ship.  They go to the Tholian hideout where Defiant is stored, and then we meet Trip.  This is another connection to TOS.  When we first meet him, he has an eye almost drawn shut on his right side, and he tells T’Pol to wear her radiation indicator.  He tells her that he has absorbed enough delta rays (a fictional thing) to shorten his life by a decade for every year by the warp engines.  This is a direct connexion with the seminal The Menagerie, the only two part story in TOS.  In that, Captain Pike (played by Jeffery Hunter) was exposed to massive delta radiation while trying to evacuate trainees.  However, there is a contradiction, because in The Menagerie, the Admiral told Kirk that Pike would live as long as anyone, but without being able to move or speak.  This has NEVER been resolved.  No matter, but nice effects to have Trip with mostly the same affliction, but not as severe.

There was a power struggle betwixt Archer and the former Captain that was not too important for the story.  They finally used a Suliban cloaking device to get NX-01 into Tholian space undetected, and found the Defiant, over one hundred years from the future.  It turns out, in the storyline, that the Tholians used powerful weapons to cause the branes to coalesce for a while.  Finally, the NX-01 crew transported onto the Defiant.

What they did not explain on the program is what us fans already knew.  The crew, insane, killed each other.  Archer had to have help to get the captain and his first officer off of the bridge, the first officer’s hands clearly clamped around the captain’s neck.  According to TOS, this was because of the unstable space causing neuronal breakdown, and treated as explained before.  Too bad that Defiant did not have as good of a physician as Enterprise had.

So, only the away team were living, and they found lots of bodies hither and thither.  But there were some workers (slaves of the Tholians) stripping the vessel, and one very interesting slavemaster.  More on that later.

The away team went to work to get Defiant back into service, but the Tholians were webbing Enterprise NX-01.  As the captain saw that it was useless, he ordered everyone to abandon ship and tried to fire on the Tholian web.  It was useless, and the ship was destroyed.

Now, there was a big difference betwixt the original TOS The Tholian Web and the web that these ones spinned.  In TOS, the ships had to come into contact with each other, then stretch out the energy field.  In this iteration, they signaled each other and the web sort of bounced off of the hulls of the Tholian ships.  I think that it just has to do with better special effects in 2005 versus the late 1960s.  In any event, the Enterprise crew finally gets Defiant up and running, except for warp drive.  It turns out that another old nemesis from TOS, a Gorn, was responsible.

The Gorns were only showed once in TOS, in the episode Arena, where Kirk had to fight one on a desolate planet in the first season.  The Gorn, a reptilian race, was played by an actor in a rather cheesy suit, but in the Enterprise episode the computer animation was much more convincing, if less charming.  Once warp drive was restored, Defiant engaged battle with rebel forces, destroying them.  Archer, then drunk with the lust for power, killed the admiral and claimed the leadership of the Imperial Fleet.

T’Pol and Soval, along with Phlox, decide to sabotage the Defiant, and of course are foiled.  Defiant finally goes to Earth and issues an ultimatum to the Imperial leadership that Archer will become the new Emperor, and with the advanced technology of Defiant would have no problem with it.  However, his consort, Hoshi, poisons him and claims the post.  Thus suffer those with lust for power.

This pair of episodes was notable for a couple of other things.  First, the entire bridge of the Defiant was rebuilt for a set.  Previously, only bits and pieces of Constitution class starships were built for spinoff episodes, and computer animation was used to fill in for the missing bits.  Second, they used original uniforms that Archer and several others quickly adopted.  If you look very closely you will see that the insignia is different than that worn by Kirk and the other Enterprise crew, but that is proper.  According to the TOS storyline, each ship had its unique insignia.  Since the insignia for Defiant was never shown originally, they just made one up for these episodes.  They payed so much attention to detail that even the bridge crew who killed each other in the TOS Tholian Web episode were in the proper places.  Nothing was ever said about why they became homicidal, but that was not necessary for these episodes, but put a bit of tension in the original.

I normally do not go into this much narrative when describing specific episodes of anything, but in this case it was important in order to show how much effort that the production staff put into these episodes.  Their attention to detail, agreement with previous episodes, some decades earlier, and canonical accuracy have to be respected.  I believe that if this much effort for excellence had been made earlier rather than the whole year with the Xindi war and the Temporal Cold War that Enterprise might have lasted a couple of more seasons.  These, along with the trilogy explaining the reawakening of the Vulcan culture, where T’Pau was first introduced (she was the High Council leader who was to marry Spock and T’Pring in the TOS episode Amok Time), were of much higher quality than many episodes that caused the show’s ratings slide, and by the time that these were released, it was too late.

Finally, this was the very last Star Trek episode in which Majel Barrett (Gene Roddenberry’s widow) appeared during her lifetime.  She provided the Defiant computer voice, just like she did for all of the Enterprises.  She also appeared as the computer voice on the “reboot” Star Trek movie in 2009, but died months before it first screened.  She was in more iterations of the franchise than anyone, from The Cage, the original pilot shot in 1964 (playing the second in command), to Nurse Chappell in TOS and movies and in the cartoon series, to Troi’s mum in TNG and Deep Space Nine (ugh!).  Only Leonard Nimoy has lasted as long, but she was in more series and had more roles.

Well, I hope that the rambling nature of this post is not too distracting.  I thought that it was important to do into some detail to make my point.  Your viewpoints are always welcomed, and very much encouraged.

Warmest regards,

Doc

Featured at Thestarshollowgazette.com.  Crossposted at Dailykos.com

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2 comments

  1. for going boldly?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

  2. my friend!

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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