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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

13 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    April 30, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    The paragraph counting the number of seemingly useless references to past episodes (which conveniently ignores the one episode, Judgment, that made such a difference in the development of Klingon culture) shows a problem that modern Star Trek faces: the weight of dreaded continuity. As you say, the need to maintain consistency of the fan-made Phase II's continuity with that established for the rest of the franchise gets in the way of what Kitumba can actually accomplish as a story. This impulse (along with its dreadful Carolinas country radio theme song) is what turned me off Enterprise when it first started: they seemed to shape whole episodes around repairing obscure continuity inconsistencies instead of actually crafting a story with characterization.

    And there's no real need to maintain fealty to the constraints of previously established continuity other than the compulsion that one must do so. Even JJ Abrams' attempt to escape continuity in his first Star Trek film only resulted in a more terrible constraint for Star Trek creators who want to tell more 24-25th century stories: they have to deal with the destruction of Romulus.

    Doctor Who learned this lesson in the 1990s. Many of the worst novels of the Virgin line were preoccupied with nailing down continuity gaps and slippages, but no one seemed aware that maintaining a single continuity prevents people being able to tell new stories. Those were precisely the flaws of the Ian Levine influence on the transmitted show during the Saward era. It was only with John Peel's War of the Daleks that everyone declared that continuity fixing was madness for Doctor Who. But the claim didn't rest on continuity's constraints on narrative; only on the purely shitty quality of Peel's book and ideas. Nonetheless, escaping those nets let the show develop the potential to fly again. After all, one thing blogs like yours and Phil Sandifer's does is deal with Star Trek and Doctor Who as modern myths, high-budget folktales. And folktales have no care for continuity.

    What matters for great Star Trek is the characters and the settings. Having to maintain fidelity to a continuity that has grown enormous by now only constrains a writer's ability to make the franchise truly fly.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    April 30, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    "This impulse (along with its dreadful Carolinas country radio theme song) is what turned me off Enterprise when it first started: they seemed to shape whole episodes around repairing obscure continuity inconsistencies instead of actually crafting a story with characterization."

    Honestly, to me this is more descriptive of where Enterprise ended up then where it began. The entire fourth season is nothing more then one great big continuity wank runaround to the point I might actually consider “Borderland”/“Cold Station 12”/“The Augments” the absolute nadir of post-TOS Star Trek.

    Meanwhile, the third season is terribly confused and the first and second seasons are dreadfully, dreadfully underappreciated. They're badly flawed and there are certainly still fanwanky bits, but you can see the kernel of the brilliant, subversive and transformative show this was supposed to be in those initial two years.

    Enterprise is the only incarnation of Star Trek that's getting an entire volume of this project all to itself. That's how serious I am about telling its story as properly as I can. Even "Faith of the Heart" has a hidden backstory to tell.

    (Obviously I agree with you about fanwank, BTW.)

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  3. Adam Riggio
    April 30, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    I actually went back to watching Enterprise periodically in the third season as it attempted an engagement with the contemporary politics surrounding the Iraq occupation that was, indeed, terribly confused and written with fists of ham. And I'm very much looking forward to the redemption of this show.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    April 30, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    And naturally, that was the season where I started to lose faith in the show. Essentially because Battlestar Galactica was doing the same thing, except a hell of a lot better and I remember Stargate SG-1 being outstanding that year.

    But, I saw it out, enjoyed a good deal of it and there are parts of that season I still rate very highly.

    And then EVIL ALIEN NAZIS happened.

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  5. Adam Riggio
    May 1, 2014 @ 12:50 am

    Yeah, I gave it something of a chance when I saw it was trying to be topical (and a generally darker Star Trek that openly engaged the political issues of the day was an innovation as far as I was concerned), then when I saw the evil alien nazis, I just walked away.

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  6. them0vieblog.com
    May 1, 2014 @ 12:56 am

    I think the third season of Enterprise struggled because the franchise had effectively cut off the limb that had been figuring out how serialisation works, meaning that the production and writing staff were effectively in the same place that the writers on DS9 had started from.

    Not that the writers of DS9 ever fully figured out long-form serialisation, but they improved as they went along. The final chapter might have had some logistical problems – basically, the two episodes directly before the finalé were effectively stand alone tales and they had difficulty synching up Winn and Dukat – but it was still the product of years of experience.

    In contrast, the writing and production staff from the show was scattered to the four winds, meaning that when Enterprise wanted to do serialisation, it was effectively starting from nothing. And that's my biggest problem with the third season, which is endearingly ambitious, has quite a few great moments and its heart in the right place as far as pushing the franchise forward goes.

    That said, while I'm not as enamoured with the fourth season as most fans, and I'd rank it as weaker overall than the third, I do appreciate the attempt to make it a coda. After all, the television franchise was effectively dead at the end of the third season. Short of a miracle, it was not getting a fifth season. While appealing to insular fans and focusing on continuity minutiae certainly didn't help that cause, the third season had tried telling a story aimed at broader audience and that hadn't redeemed the show either.

    From that perspective, I can tolerate a fourth season of fanwank, even if the Vulcan three-parter and the Earth two-parter are the only ones I would consider to be particularly worthwhile. Yes, the pacing and structuring of most of the episodes is terrible – the Federation three-parter in particular – but it's coming from a place with a great deal of affection for what came before, with a realisation that the franchise is probably going to be going away for a while – at least on television.

    (On the special features, I find myself empathising with John Billingsley, who pretty much said: "We were dead. We all knew we were dead. So it was a nice valentine to the fans to do a season of episodes that tied into the larger mythos. I don't think I would have liked it if that had been a fifth, sixth or seventh season but – in the situation – I think it was a nice gesture.")

    As for the first two seasons… I always saw them the way that the respective features on the recent blu rays portray them. It felt like a show that wanted to be more radical than was being permitted. You could feel with weight of UPN coming down in a way that wasn't even apparent on Voyager. (Which, despite the addition of Seven of Nine and occasional scheduling issues, always felt like it had a production team making poor decisions of their own accord.)

    Cheers,
    Darren

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    May 1, 2014 @ 7:32 am

    "As for the first two seasons… I always saw them the way that the respective features on the recent blu rays portray them. It felt like a show that wanted to be more radical than was being permitted. You could feel with weight of UPN coming down in a way that wasn't even apparent on Voyager. (Which, despite the addition of Seven of Nine and occasional scheduling issues, always felt like it had a production team making poor decisions of their own accord.)"

    Yup. While this will of course be a major theme to explore in the future, pretty much this. From what I've seen of the special features on those sets so far, they do a very good job of explaining just what went wrong for that show. Really, everyone should stop reading me and go watch the new special features on both them and the Next Generation sets if they want an overview of the play-by-play production history of Star Trek.

    While I'll put in a major effort to redeem Enterprise, as usual, I'm a bit more interested in the show that exists in the negative space of the show we got…

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  8. BerserkRL
    May 10, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

    FWIW, here's my anti-Enterprise screed: http://praxeology.net/unblog05-04.htm#09

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    May 11, 2014 @ 5:25 am

    Worth talking about much, much more later, but the writers of Enterprise deliberately wanted to write their Vulcans different from Spock, so they focused on Original Series episodes about other Vulcans, most notably "Amok Time"…where Vulcan actually is depicted as traditionalist, xenophobic and isolationist.

    And T'Pol basically is T'Pau; that's literally who she was supposed to be and who Jolene Blalock, a die-hard Star Trek fan, modeled her portrayal after (even after the change happened, she still used Celia Lovsky as an inspiration). For me, she's a highlight of the show. Yes, often in spite of itself, but a highlight nonetheless.

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  10. Ross
    May 11, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    I recall during the first season of Enterprise saying "It feels like they're building toward some kind of big cutural reformation on Vulcan that will lead to them changing their approach to logic and becoming less douchey". To which everyone I knew said I was being stupid and there was no chance that was what happened, they'd just retroactively decided that everything good about Spock was from his human half and vulcans were always boring jerks.

    Then when season 4 came around and they did the whole Kir'Shara thing, and the same people were complaining that it was totally out of nowhere and a last-minute ass-pull having nothing to do with anything shown previously.

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  11. Daru
    May 11, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

    In a lot of ways I enjoyed the spectacle of this episode more than anything – seeing the Klingon home-world and the whole way that the CGI has improved massively on the show. I could though have done utterly without the need to refer back to other episodes so much. Additionally I did kind of like the inclusion of many different types of Klingons too. In the end though story wise it ended up feeling quite generic for me.

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  12. Ross
    September 3, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    So I hadn't really been in the mood at the time to watch this, but today, my son took an interest in a fragile Captain Power toy I had out, so to divert him, I let him play with a toy phaser, which led to a discussion of what Star Trek was, and because I had a copy handy and it was a thing in the range of Star Trek that I'd never seen before, I'd put this on.

    I may have to go back and re-watch the older ones, because, CGI aside, this seems.. Really really bad. I mean, maybe it's just me, but everyone's acting seems way off and a lot of the direction seems misguided at best, and I get a distinct sense that this script was written with the assumption that they had an hour and a half of exposition to squeeze into an hour of show.

    I'm really thrown by this, since I could have sworn that I'd always found Phase II to be at least "Acceptable in a high-end sort of community theater way"

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  13. Josh Marsfelder
    September 3, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    I think whether an individual episode of this version of Phase II succeeds or fails rests entirely on the way the preproduction is approached. "Kitumba" itself isn't a bad script, far from it: The original was the best story of its lot by far. This one suffers from being condensed into one part and being rewritten to tie neatly in with established Star Trek canon. It also probably doesn't help this was the last episode James Cawley was actively involved in. I do think first handful of episodes in the series are the best, and long about the time Gerrold got involved things got a bit…stagnant.

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