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The Once and Future Voyages...

Star Trek has been my constant companion for close to thirty years now (I started young). It's been an outlet for creativity, a facilitator of friendships and, lately, a far too attractive way of procrastinating away the hours. My interest in Trek has waxed and waned, but never gone away.

With the screening of Enterprise's "These Are The Voyages..." some hours ago the franchise ends an uninterrupted tenure on TV that extends back to 1987. The failure of Nemesis makes the timing of an eleventh feature film uncertain (though there's no doubt in my mind that one will happen). Eventually Trek will probably also return to TV but in what format nobody yet knows.

All six extant shows will of course continue to live on in re-runs and home theatre, and few fans have seen every episode. But even 700 hours of on-screen adventures plus a similar number of books, comics and games may not be enough. So where will fans - those non-casual viewers who won't fade away from the franchise now that its flagship format has entered a hiatus of unknown duration - where will they get their new Trek fix from? Pocket Books will continue to publish new works but Pocket has recently cut back its schedule.

They'll get it from themselves. Fans creating for fans.

I hope that just as in the 70s, where much of the fannish impulse manifested itself in DIY adventures, the next few years will see a resurgence in high quality fan fiction and fan films. These have never gone away of course but have played second fiddle to the official product. This may well change. I hope to contribute to this in a minor way.

But first, a few thoughts on "These Are The Voyages..."

It was okay. It wasn't awful, it wasn't brilliant. Was it a fitting finale to Enterprise and farewell to televised Star Trek? Not really, but it did sum up much of the creative philosophy that has governed the franchise (with some notable exceptions) over the past two decades: take no chances and make no changes.

I admit to getting a kick out of seeing the Enterprise-D again, though the interior sets didn't look quite right for some reason. The exposition setting the episode within "The Pegasus" was handled a lot more smoothly than I expected. (And it's weirdly nice that Ron Moore got a mention in both the pilot and finale of a show he had no involvement in.) Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis did an admirable (and unenviable) job fitting bodies into characters supposedly ten years younger. The Spiner cameo was cute though - with respect to the "rain check" gag - wasn't Data over his literal interpretation of metaphors by the seventh season? There were many cameos and nods in the episode and I didn't mind any of them, even the ones that should have produced a cringe, like "Here's to the next generation".

Yet the central conceit of Riker observing and interacting with the NX-01 crew to solve his deeply personal "Pegasus" crisis didn't ring true. It was, to appropriate John Billingsley's now-infamous observation, "somewhat flaccid and dramatically arbitrary" . I dare say that if you watch "The Pegasus" and "These Are The Voyages..." back-to-back the tone of both episodes is very different. I didn't buy that Riker would embark on such an elaborate holodeck fantasy at this point.

But... it was just an excuse to get the two eras to interact, so I put that reservation aside and ran with it.

But by setting the entire NX-01 story within the holodeck it undercuts the dramatic reality of the characters. Yes, they're just fictional creations, but now they're fictional recreations of fictional creations. I was constantly asking myself: Did this "really" happen to the crew? How much of it is "real" and how much did the holodeck computers extrapolate? Maybe the "subjective mode" bits (when Riker interacted with the characters) were less "real" than the "objective mode" scenes? Not a good way of building viewer empathy in the episode though I suppose you could argue it makes for an interesting post-modern intellectual exercise.

And for a story which was set a full decade after "Broken Bow" and six years after "Terra Prime", what dramatic changes did we see in the characters and ship? The uniforms have name tags now. That's it. The uniforms have name tags. Archer is still captain. Tucker is still chief engineer. Everyone is still at the same positions and even at the same rank they were ten years ago. Poor Ensigns Mayweather and Sato. We all thought Harry Kim had a tough time climbing the ranks. What about the relationships between the characters? Nope. T'Pol and Trip are still on the same break they initiated earlier in season four. Phlox still has his three wives. Archer and Tucker are still best friends. For all intents and purposes "These Are The Voyages..." could have been set just after the previous episode (which I believe was the original intention).

Ironically it's Shran, a guest star, who who is best served by the six year flash-forward. He at least got another mate and a daughter. But even his mysterious disappearance was just another copout. He can resurface and bark the same bark how the "pink skin" "owes him". There is no significant evolution in the dynamic between Shran and Archer, only superficial changes to Shran's family and career. But at least he got those superficial changes.

Okay: Trip's death. It didn't move me. Maybe because of the distancing effect noted above. Maybe because we never actually saw the moment of death (arguably a bold choice but ultimately a wrong one). Maybe because Connor Trinneer, normally so at ease in the role, totally overplayed the scene where he blows the Rigellian intruders - and himself - up. Maybe because that whole setup felt forced. After ten years working together with his CO and close friend he actually tells the bad guys to knock Archer out rather than finding a way of working together with him to overcome them? Maybe because it was a meaningless death, both within the story and because it's no big deal killing people off in the last ever episode. And - unlike Tasha Yar who suffered a similar fate - he didn't even get a poignant farewell scene.

Harsh criticisms, but justified I think. Still... the cast and guest cast did a good job (Trineer's over-acting in the one scene aside), the line paying off the "is Reed gay?" rumours produced a guffaw, and technically the show looked as good as ever...

And that short, final sequence when Stewart started narrating "Space. The final frontier..." as the Enterprise-D moved through the asteroid field. It was obvious what they were going to do. Segue into the original Enterprise flying past as Shatner continues the speech. Segue again into the NX-01 as Bakula completes with that most famous of split infinitives: "To boldly go where no man has gone before."

Yeah, I finished the episode with tears in my eyes. Once a Star Trek fan, always a Star Trek fan.

Enterprise is my least favourite Trek incarnation. The first two seasons were intolerable - almost never bad as such, but stupefyingly bland. If Voyager was TNG-lite, then Enterprise was Voyager-lite. A copy of a copy of a copy. Star Trek as muzak. The third season shook things up a bit but it was the fourth season that got me interested again. Under Manny Coto's creative direction Enterprise embraced its unique status as a prequel. We began to see more events shape the course of future history. Fan-wank? Continuity porn? Hell yes, but fun. Dramatically the stories took an upturn, though they never attained the quality of its predecessor series. No "Before and After", no "The Visitor", no "Lower Decks", no "Amok Time". But we did get episodes executed with unabashed panache: "Affliction", "In A Mirror Darkly", shows which made me laugh out loud with the joy of being a Star Trek fan.

Some months ago I got involved in a fan project to continue Enterprise in the form of "virtual seasons". Virtual Star Trek: Enterprise is affiliated with the well known Virtual Star Trek site which hosts the long-running Trek virtual series Renaissance, Frontiers and the forthcoming Star's End. All these series are script-based, meaning they look and are structured like Hollywood teleplays rather than written in narrative prose. (Unlike fan-films however Virtual Enterprise won't go to the next step and actually film the stories.)

Virtual Enterprise will endeavour to produce episodes on a regular schedule. We've plotted out in broad strokes where the series will head in its fifth, sixth and final seasons. We will be dramatising the Earth-Romulan War. We will see how the United Federation of Planets was born. We aim to tell bold, innovative stories that will continue to take advantage of Enterprise's unique prequel status, that don't neglect certain characters, that will allow people to grow and things to change, that take chances in subject matter and form, that emphasize meaningful drama over meaningless action or technobabble, and that remain true to the fundamental ethos of Star Trek in all its incarnations.

We've set our goals high. Will we meet them? I hope so - but we're none of us professionals so our abilities may not match our aspirations. But it'll be fun. Heck, even the professionals miss their mark sometimes.

Over the next few months you should see more visible progress on Virtual Star Trek: Enterprise. Two major steps will be the launch of a website and the release of a two-part episode (set between First Contact and "Broken Bow") that acts as a prequel to the virtual (and real) series.

If you're interested in getting involved - as a writer, editor/beta reader, artist or other capacity - we'd love to hear from you. We have a committed core team, but can always use more talented people. Please send an e-mail to Jay Everington at nx84 AT yahoo DOT com or me at prouvaire AT gmail DOT com or leave a comment at this blog entry.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 15, 2005 12:00 AM.

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