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Friday, February 04, 2005

Enterprise flys off into the sunset...

Well, its finally happened. The latest Star Trek incarnation has been axed. Its been on a sticky wicket since day one really. Many in Trek fandom were leery of the idea of a prequel Trek set 100 years before Kirk. Sure, there was potential for some cool ideas. Many suggested the Birth of the United Federation of Planets would be interesting (although Trek purists reckon that the Federation's start date had already been defined quite clearly and was unlikely to fall within the time frame of ENT, assuming it ran for 7 seasons at 1 year per season). Others suggested that the Romulan Wars would be a good story line. Many of us looked forward to perhaps seeing some of the aliens that turned up only once in the Original series (TOS to the uninitiated), and to be fair, the Andorians were given a cool makeover with moving CGI antennae and a powerful centerpiece in the character Shran played by the veteran Trek actor Jeoffrey Coombs.

What worried fans most though, was that the series was being developed and largely written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (B&B), who are largely responsible for the direction of Trek since the death of Gene Roddenbury in 1991. Star Trek the Next Generation (TNG) finished in 1993, and the pair launched into 3 trek projects simultaneously. Firstly there was the ongoing Star Trek Deepspace Nine (DS9) series that had run alongside TNG for the past two years (which to be fair these two had little to do with). Next there was the Next Generation crew's leap to the bigscreen, with StarTrek Generations. A rushed and flawed affair that saw the controversial decision to kill of Captain Kirk. They also started development of StarTrek: Voyager (Voy).

ST:Voy was, for many the start of the decline of star trek. Many felt it was poor and action driven. The ditching of the popular "Kes", played by the homely Jennifer Lien in favour of the catsuited, fullsome charms of former Borg drone "Seven of Nine", played by Jeri Ryan, confirmed for many that the producers were after the covetted 16-24 male demographic and were determined to use sex to get it. When Berman and Ryan became an item, many fans were unimpressed to say the least. At the same time however, DS9 was going to strength to strength (critically at least) with powerful character-driven stories, a truly talented and fully ensemble cast and long multi-episode or even multi-season story arcs. Voy in contrast seemed to have little direction and was entirely episodic. Whilst this worked well for TNG and TOS, based as they were within spitting distance of earth, many felt that Voyager, trapped on the far side of the galaxy 70 years from home, needed more epic story arcs. A good example of this was the overuse of the "Reset button". In the early episodes it was made abundantly clear that Voyager was on her own with none of the backup that the various incarnations of the USS Enterprise had enjoyed. There were no starbases to patch up the ship, no way to replace lost crewmembers, and even basic supplies had to be aquired from the uncharted and often unfriendly planets of the Delta Quadrant. However, on more than one occassion we saw Voyager get the mother of all beatings up against some foe before finally winning and limping off into the sunset at the end of the episode. Lo and Behold, next week Voyager is all gleaming and travelling at maximum warp without a care in the world. How? Where did they repair the damage? How did they replace the consumables destroyed in the previous episode? Relationships were similar, principle cast would fall in love one week (with an extra usually), the next week there would be no evidence that it had ever happened.

When Voyager finally finished her 7 year journey, many were left thinking. "Is that it?". The last episode was mediocre and dull at best. Nothing like TNG's swansong, "All Good Things...", a rip-roaring adventure with one of the fans favourite villains, culminating in a moving ending that left a sting in the eyes and a lump in the throat. Similarly, DS9 spent the last few episodes of its final season closing and resolving the many complicated and interweaving story arcs constructed over the past 7 years. Both of these endings were as good, in their own way, as Frasier or Friends last year.

So, before Voyager has even finished, the details of Enterprise are leaking out. When it finally aired in 2002, it was already up against it, with much of the series' premise out for all to see on the internet. Many fans loathed the soft rock theme music that replacd the traditional orchestral score. The ship, which supposedly predated Kirk's Enterprise by 100 years, looked more futuristic than both Kirk's Enterprise and the Enterprise-D from TNG. The stories were bland, cherished Star Trek legends cavalierly picked up and played with before being carelessly tossed to one side broken and damaged. T&A was even more in abundance than Voyager, with the pneumatic Jolene Blalock, supposedly playinga Vulcan, sharing nearly nude showers with half the cast, under the guise of "Decontamination".

I have only seen the first 2 seasons, since Channel 4 which won the rights to show it on terrestrial in the UK can't be bothered to show it. Ironically, some claim that season 3 improved greatly, but sadly the ratings didn't. Ominously, a fourth season of the show wasn't given the greenlight until almost the last possible moment - something that had never happened to modern trek before. Season four, it was claimed improved greatly. But already it had begun the death dance - the moving from slot to slot in the US schedules. Worries grew as it was revealed that this season would be several episodes shorter. A minor coup was scored with the return of Brent Spiner to play the role of an ancestor of Dr Noonian Soong, the creator of Lt. Cmmdr Data, the character he played in TNG. However the real coup - the possible return of William Shatner, possibly as a Kirk from an alternative future - foundered over money. Last month Paramount announced that it had sold the syndication rights for the show. Yesterday it announced that its 4th season would be its last.

There are no firm plans for a new series (although Paramount insist that the franchise is "resting", rather than retiring). Development of the next film is "on the back burner", the box office disaster of Nemesis making people wonder what lies in wait for the franchise.

So where next? Will we continue to boldly go, perhaps in a few years time with a new creative team? Or will Trek be put out to pasture. Now I know how those who lived in the dark days of the 1970's feel.



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