Shiny Shelf

BOLDLY GONE: These Are The Voyages

By Jim Smith on 09 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The final episode of ‘Enterprise’ the intertextually entitled ‘These Are The Voyages…’ has come in for a lot of flack. While to deny that it’s flawed would be foolish in the extreme, it’s hard to see how the episode has inspired quite the level of hatred that it did in a section of the audience, especially given that the episode’s authors called it, before production, a ‘valentine’ to ‘Star Trek’ fans.

Now those authors, executive producers and ‘Enterprise’ creators Brannon Braga and Rick Berman, are people for whom a certain – perhaps sizeable, I don’t know – section of the fanbase (I refuse to use the word ‘community’ in this context) wield a dislike for. They are controversial figures and I suppose their prior (in)fame could have created a bubble around the episode; a bubble where everything which is good about it pales while everything which is bad about it expands.

‘These Are The Voyages’ is, although it’s the ‘Enterprise’ finale, actually set during ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, during the seventh season episode ‘The Pegasus’ in fact. (The episode itself is a goodie, from the pen of Ronald D Moore, later to be responsible for the ponderously dull ‘Battlestar Galactica’). In a series of scenes which seem designed to knit in and out of that show, guest stars Will Riker and Deanna Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, both reprising their TNG roles) watch moments from the past on the holodeck, observing the final voyages of the NX-01 Enterprise under the command of Jonathan Archer, with Riker learning lessons from interacting with and observing the crew of his ship’s predecessor.

Conceptually one can see why an episode like this would attract the authors. It answers one of the dumber questions asked by fans (“If these guys are so great, how come they never got mentioned by Captain Sisko?”) by integrating the prequel into the main body of the ‘Star Trek’ universe – indeed into the main body of an extant episode.

One can also see why it would annoy the most ardent fans of ‘Enterprise’. It gives a large chunk of screen time (and indeed the major plot and character ‘arc’ of the episode, such as it is) to two characters from another show. Two characters who have both have seventy plus more hours of television (and four movies) in which to strut their stuff than the 2001 vintage ‘Star Trek’ cast have. That’s it there – the heart of the appeal and the crux of the problem resting in the same thing. The thing that got the episode a TV Guide cover (and made more than a few people of my acquaintance want to watch it) is also the thing that made some fans mad.

So, step back from the furore. What’s the episode like as TV? Well, for my money ‘These Are The Voyages’ is hugely entertaining. It’s better than the majority of ‘Enterprise’ episodes and better than all but half a dozen ‘Voyager’ episodes and three of four ‘Deep Space Nines’. It is also the worst episode of this season of ‘Enterprise’ by a very long way, although that’s more because of the high quality of this season than any intrinsic problems with the episode itself. (Had it been made in Season Two it would have wiped the floor with every other episode that year with the exceptions of ‘Regeneration’ and ‘The Expanse’.) It also makes a decent fist of the impossible, which is its task of not merely ending the prematurely axed ‘Enterprise’ but calling to an end eighteen consecutive years of ‘Star Trek’ on television.

It’s in this context that the appearance of Riker and Troi (two of ‘Trek’ history’s smaller big hitters, but big hitters nonetheless) makes most sense. If you’re an old TNG hound like me, the reappearance of Riker and Troi and even the sight of the Enterprise D (a ship eleven years gone, as far in the past as ‘Turnabout Intruder’ was when ‘The Motion Picture’ was made) is a bit of treat, as are the dusted off and re-used sets. The mere premise of integrating the two shows together (and the mention of, and voiceover by, Captain Kirk) appeal to the continuity hound inside of me too. It’s nice to sit back and think of all ‘Trek’ as one huge puzzle.

So, good things? All the actors perform well herein. It’s possible Bakula has never been better and Jeffrey Coombs is, as ever, a delight as the multi-faceted Andorian Shran. For a change all of the regulars get big scenes, although they don’t really get scenes together – instead they interact with Frakes (who is his usual excellent self). The script goes out of its way to demonstrate that Jonathan Archer is remembered as a ‘Great Man’ – something that ‘Enterprise’ fans should surely appreciate; while the sight of Archer preparing to effectively deliver the foundation speech for Roddenberry’s utopia are surely worth the price of admission for anyone who has loved any ‘Star Trek’ at all?

Bad things? Well, I’m not sure how the lesson Riker learns really ties into the events of ‘The Pegasus’, in fact I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. In the ‘Enterprise’ era sections of the show the ‘rescue’ plot is ordinary and the marauders who ‘kill’ Trip Tucker are unmemorable. Thus it is that ‘Enterprise’s most likeable creation, an archetype-defying, good-natured redneck genius, is despatched in a puff of smoke and a cloud of electric sparkles. He surely deserved a better send off than this provides.

However, that we see Riker’s discussion with Trip after the character’s death in the main bulk of the plot, is intelligent scripting as it brings home to the audience what Trip meant to them, and Trineer’s performance in this scene is wonderfully touching and humane. This ‘coda’ to Trip’s life allows one to appreciate both actor and character in a way perhaps no other approach would. (Note, though, Trip goes into a cryogenic tube after being electrocuted and is never actually pronounced physically dead. What’s to stop him coming back? This is ‘Trek’ and he’s a lot less dead than Spock was or Kirk was in ‘The Tholian Web’. Never mind O’ Brien in ‘Visionary’.)

Other problems lie in the episode’s casual abandonment of the Trip/T’Pol relationship (surely this show’s shining jewel?) and the way the episode cuts away from Archer and co at the very, very end for a few more seconds of Riker and Troi. I like Riker better than nearly any ‘Enterprise’ regular and acknowledge he’s more important to the franchise over all, but even I can see that it should be Bakula or Blalock who delivers this series final line of onscreen dialogue. This is, all aside, an episode of ‘Enterprise’ not of TNG even if the ‘purity’ of that statement is compromised by ‘These Are The Voyages…’ status as the last screen ‘Trek’ for the foreseeable future.

It’s this incredibly compromised approach, forced on the producers by their netlet, that results in the final multi-ship fly by with accompanying multiple voiceovers – a clearly desperate attempt to create wider closure for the whole of ‘Star Trek’. Yet this brief scene is one of the most memorable moments in modern ‘Trek’, an indication of how fractured and complex this iconic series’ place in the TV landscape has become. It’s a show that can produce an episode like this, a curate’s egg which produces bitterness in the audience its creators wanted to love it most, an installment which is part innovation, part derivation, part celebration, part wake. It shows hard it has become to make ‘Star Trek’ that can appeal across the board these days, how hard it is to make ‘Trek’ that engages and matters to a mass audience while satisfying its fans.

As a comment on the (hopefully temporary) ending to one of the sixties most creative shows, and one of the entertainment industry’s most enduring properties, I find that really rather sad.

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