Star Trek: The history of the ‘Enterprise’

Elliot counts down the best of the differing iterations of the Starship Enterprise...

The Enterprise through history

Versions of the Starship Enterprise are a bit like incarnations of a certain Time Lord. Each looks different but still recognisably the same. Each has certain nuances that the others don’t have.But one has to be an all-time favourite and this writer made his choice futures ago.

Note: this article contains some spoilers!

9. NCC-1701B – captained by John Harriman

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What are the chances? Out of the hundreds of starships across the galaxy that it was an Enterprise on which Kirk met his (apparent) death.

I like the Excelsior in TSFS, if only for comedy value. But in TUC she becomes a ship in her own right so it seems natural that the next vessel to become Enterprise would be an Excelsior-class. Her saucer-section, albeit small, balances well against her nacelles. But for some reason, GEN’s designers saw fit to add what can only be described as ‘go faster’ wings to the hull. The ‘scoops’ ruin the natural flow of her shape just so the Nexus Ribbon has a nice bit to latch onto. And surely the quality of a vessel is promoted by the competency of her captain, because it’s the captain who should know why things work on a starship and not just how…?

We’re left to wonder how the life of this particular incarnation played out. Certainly with an untried captain at the helm we wouldn’t be surprised if she was taken back to dry-dock and given an overhaul – if not just to plug the Kirk-shaped hole in her side.

8. NX01 – captained by Jonathan Archer

As a forerunner of the Constitution-class vessel, this NX-class Enterprise is naturally limited in her capabilities and that’s fair enough.

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Her lines, of course, echo the design that we know so well and she takes a United Earth further into space that any person has gone before. It’s been said that the designers based her interiors on a nuclear sub, so it follows that on the outside she doesn’t look like she’s a comfortable ride. She certainly doesn’t have the panache and majesty of some of her more illustrious offspring. But her life and adventures still seem enticing enough to Riker for him to seek out answers to a personal moral dilemma (via a holodeck program of her last mission).

Yet, perhaps because she is the first (from a canonical sense), she has yet to develop the assurances and stability of the yet-to-be created Federation – so the odds are stacked against her. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. But for this writer, sadly, it’s a little of the other way around.

7. NCC-1701C – captained by Rachel Garrett

We only saw Garrett and her Ambassador-class Enterprise just the once, but nevertheless they made an impact when they crawled out of that temporal anomaly.

But what of the Enterprise-C? She has very little screen-time and as a result she is unable to show off her moves, as it were. But she’s pleasing on the eye and as a version of Jeffries’ design, she means business: she’s weighty and solid and would likely give as good as she gets in a fight. And by what we’re told, she impressed the Klingon Empire enough to pave the way to lasting peace. It’s a great shame that we didn’t get to see her in action more, but her potential, her ability to re-set the timeline and put everything back to how it was (perhaps she should make an appearance at the beginning of Star Trek 2 [v2]!), surely means she is worthy of our affections?

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6. NCC-1701 – captained by Christopher Pike, Spock, James Kirk

When I started writing this article, I consciously decided to ignore all the Enterprises that were from alternate realities – hence leaving out the refitted Enterprise-D from All Good Things… and the Mirror Universe versions. But somehow this didn’t seem fair in light of the new movie – so I broke my own rule to give JJ Abrams’ incarnation a fair crack at the whip.

When I saw this version, I had reservations – many of those because she wasn’t the original Constitution-class from TOS. But now I’ve seen the latest big screen adventure, I must say I’m impressed with what they’ve done with her.

One thing that bugs me though is that the warp nacelles are too close together when viewed directly before the bow (but that doesn’t stop Scotty wanting to get his hands on them, from an engineer’s sense!). Yet, that’s a minor gripe.

She’s shot beautifully (particularly in one scene where she rises through Saturn’s rings) where we get to experience how powerful this ship could potentially be. We see her from all angles – after all there is no ‘up or down’ in space – and close-up too, but because of that, impressions are skewed slightly. There are no panoramic passing shots to speak of, no indication that her crew knows how she works (but they are all cadets at the controls, including Sulu) and no feel that she’s part of the ensemble cast. Her curves are unfamiliar to us and we need to see her blossom beyond this version of her maiden voyage to make a true judgement call. If that’s all because this is our first sight of her, then so be it – but that didn’t stop Robert Wise.

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Love her or loath her, she’s here to stay…for the moment.

5. NCC-1701E – captained by Jean-Luc Picard

Does size matter? If you’re Godzilla, yes. If you’re a Jawa, no. If you’re the flagship of Starfleet (and the most advanced they’ve got), you can be whatever the hell you like because no one is going to argue with you.

From the underside, Enterprise-E looks messy and overdesigned. Yet she’s sleek and she’s big.

This is an Enterprise that means business, that rams an enemy to save her crew, that takes on the Borg and survives partial assimilation, that’s as graceful as she is deadly. This is an Enterprise for the future.

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Yet, while she protects her gallant crew, she is in many ways incidental to events around her. She’s simply a vessel to carry them along and not a companion to share the danger (even though virtually the whole of FC is set within her – albeit assimilated – corridors). And her adventures were cut short by the unfairly maligned tenth movie.

But what lets her down completely and utterly is that darned joy-stick – sorry: ‘manual steering column’. And for that reason alone, Frakes…you’re fired!

4. NCC-1701 – captained by Robert April, Christopher Pike, James Kirk

While the effects are questionable (but at the time, probably utterly fabulous), one can’t ignore the fact that she’s iconic, this Constitution-class Enterprise.

She’s the blue-print for all subsequent Federation vessels. Her lines are simple, business-like and basic, no flourishes, no pointless add-ons or unnecessary garnishes. Her very essence speaks volumes about seeking out new life forms and new civilisations.

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When watching TOS one can actually believe that this ship is real. She’s reliable and familiar and gets Our Heroes out of the Scrape of the Week with illustrious ease…even when bits of her don’t necessarily work correctly – if at all. Her engines can ‘nae take it’ according to her chief engineer on many an occasion, but we all secretly know that they can – hmmm…perhaps this version should be number one in the list?

3. NCC-1701D – captained by Jean-Luc Picard, William Riker, Edward Jellico

When I first spied this Enterprise in 1987 I thought she looked odd: her saucer was too big; her deflector dish came straight from George Pal’s war machines from War Of The Worlds; she was just too…flat. She was nothing like her predecessors.

Then I saw her in motion in Encounter At Farpoint and didn’t change my mind. She looked unreal…not quite there.

TNG Season 2 came along and production subtly altered the way she was lit and shot – enough to make her lines stand out so we could finally see the grace that had been the intention for her from when she only existed on drawing boards.

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We’d then spend the following five years in a front-end heavy but incredibly smooth Galaxy-class vessel. The fact that she looks like she has been trodden on doesn’t matter a jot. She always will be Picard’s Enterprise. He knows it. She knows it. There’s no ‘love affair’ as with Kirk and his, but more a respectful, mature relationship. The Enterprise-D takes the family along for the ride and she protects them in her broad grey-blue shell.

And then they blow her up! She looks so fabulous up there on the big screen in amongst those sunset backdrops that it’s a terrible shame that they didn’t give her enough silver screen time. Give her one more movie, I cry! The Borg should have assimilated her…that would have been the ultimate sacrifice she could have made to her captain. And the impact of Picard detonating his ship to secure the Federation’s future from the Borg threat should be the anguished way this lady goes – not as a result of a sneaky hidden camera trick via Geordi’s visor.

Joint 1st. NCC-1701 (refit)/NCC-1701A – captained by Will Decker, James Kirk, Spock/James Kirk

Remember I mentioned the majesty of the Enterprise, in most of her shapes? This one for me is the most majestic of them all.

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Think initially of TMP and Kirk’s exterior tour. This is the first time we get to see her up close. We get to feel what Kirk feels and why he was so desperate to get back in that centre seat, irrespective that he knew her a tenth as well as Decker. She’s Kirk’s one true love and any number of Edith Keelers or Carol Marcuses couldn’t hope to come even close.

Her lines are gently improved – just enough to show that this is a natural progression from her original shape. She’s functional and sturdy and as much a character of the story as her captains and crew. Even bruised and injured, she proudly stands her ground and we cheer her on as she slides through the Mutara Nebula, willing her escape as she crawls from the Genesis countdown.

When she’s destroyed and plummets to her death in the atmosphere of the Genesis planet, Kirk’s act of sacrifice is felt by all. It’s a supreme moment in the history of Movie Trek that, even now – 25 years and countless viewings later – the build-up to her demise is as effective as it was the first time around.

And then she’s back at the end of the next sequel – with an added ‘A’ to show she’s exactly the same but a little bit different.

Her swansong shows her in her full perfectly-lit photographed glory: TUC makes her look simply breathtaking.

Across the six films she was in, we saw her from every angle. We witnessed her birth, her death and her resurrection. Nothing was left to the imagination. We got to know her intimately.

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Just like Kirk did.

He treated her like a lady. And for that, she always brought him home.

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