Ah, Enterprise. Although it didn’t entirely kill off the Star Trek franchise, it did undeniably wound it quite badly to the point where it had to crawl into a corner and wait for JJ Abrams to come along and perform CPR. But let’s be fair – contrary to popular belief, Enterprise wasn’t all bad. Some, including me, would argue that, even at its worst (which, for reference, was during the execrable year-long Xindi arc in Season 3), it never quite got as bad as Voyager did, But facts are facts. Low ratings and lukewarm reception means that Enterprise shoulders the burden of being the only Star Trek series since TNG that couldn’t make a 7-season run.
Still, four seasons gives us almost 100 episodes to choose from. So. here we are, the 10 Enterprise episodes that any Star Trek fan can watch and enjoy, regardless of that niggling feeling you get any time Scott Bakula is on stage that he’s about to utter the phrase “Oh, Boy” and disappear in a blue flash.
10. These Are The Voyages… (Season 4, Episode 22)
Famously criticised by various Enterprise cast members for being an insulting send-off, These Are the Voyagers is actually set during TNG season 7 episode, The Pegasus, and features Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprising their roles as Riker and Troi to view ‘holodeck footage’ of events on the NX-01 several years after we last saw the ship. The rebuilt sets might look the wrong colour, Riker and Troi might look like they’ve melted slightly, but there’s an undeniable joy in seeing the familiar and beloved characters back on screen, reminding us of happier times for the franchise.
Ironically, Season 4 was the best season of Enterprise, so there’s a bittersweet note to this finale as Enterprise gets the bullet in the head it had previously been begging for, just as it was starting to change its mind.
The events in the past provide a serviceable epilogue to the series, even if all of the major plotlines had been tied up beforehand. The creation of the Federation was always the likely end-point for Enterprise, so it’s good that fans were able to see that, and although the death of Trip felt somewhat tacked on, let’s face it – who among us wasn’t happy to see him go?
9. First Flight (Season 2, Episode 24)
A prequel to the prequel, First Flight harks back to Archer’s earlier days and explains how he came to be in charge of the Enterprise and befriend Trip. It’s a rare moment of character drama for Archer, and the look into some lore specifically created by Enterprise, in the Warp 5 programme, helped the series establish itself and gave it some of the experimental, space-race feeling that had been sorely lacking.
The episode never quite manages to make Archer into the tortured maverick it apparently wants to, but between his devotion to his friend and his father, it demonstrates the passionate loyalty to people, not policy, that makes Archer the most Kirk-esque Captain since the original.
8. Similitude (Season 3, Episode 10)
Enterprise had a much harder time with its allegories than previous Star Trek series – certainly never more than the painfully simplistic ‘suicide bomber aliens’ episode – but whether by accident or design, when it tackled the issues of stem cells, cloning and designer babies, Enterprise actually managed to get it right.
Leaving aside the hard-to-swallow macguffin of a “mimetic symbiote” that explains how a functioning, memory-intact clone with a two-week lifespan comes to be, the episode itself asks pertinent questions as “Sim” attempts to deal with his creation as, essentially, spare parts for Trip. Throw in a decent character moment for T’Pol at the climax of the episode, as she admits her feelings to Sim rather than Trip, in the knowledge that he’ll take them to the grave, and it manages to be emotionally affecting as well as intellectually stimulating. Or at least, as much as Enterprise ever managed to be.
7. E² (Season 3, Episode 21)
If episodes set in the past entertain, that goes double for episodes that deal with the future. Trek fans still marvel over the one scene in Enterprise where Archer visits the Enterprise 1701-J. In E-squared, the Enterprise encounters a version of itself from the future where it has become a generation-ship, staffed by its crew’s own offspring.
Admittedly, it’s a cheap thrill and there’s little to the episode beyond the initial novelty, but spare a thought for uptight Brit security officer Malcolm Reed, who discovers that his future self goes unmarried and unloved. The episode is worth watching for those scenes alone.
6. Borderland / Cold Station 12 / The Augments (Season 4, Episode 04 – 06)
Season 4 saw incoming writer/showrunner Manny Coto move the series towards a ‘mini-arc’ format, where several episodes ran together to tell one longer story. A greater reliance on established Trek continuity didn’t hurt, either, and this early example played heavily on both of those elements.
This mini-arc features two things that’ll keep any Trek fan interested – the appearance of Brent Spiner as the criminal genius, Dr. Arik Soong, the grandfather of the man who created Data, and a group of villains from the’Eugenics wars’, peripherally related to Star Trek II‘s iconic villain Khan.
Spiner’s screen presence could carry the episodes single-handedly, but the exploration of genetic engineering gives the arc a mildly allegorical tilt, while the three-episode structure allows us to get to know the characters in far better detail than usual. This was truly the first sign that Enterprise was finally on track for a good year.
5. Affliction / Divergence (Season 4, Episode 15 & 16)
Another 2-parter aimed at more hardcore Trek fans, Affliction/Divergence finally explained one of Star Trek‘s biggest continuity problem: the changing appearance of the Klingons.
Fans will know that in TOS, Klingons looked mostly human. From the first movie onwards, they had prominently ridged foreheads and spiky teeth. Enterprise went with the latter look for the alien race, but this raised a question that couldn’t previously be answered about why the Klingons during the TOS-era looked human. Indeed, the anniversary DS9 episode Trials And Tribbleations featured Worf candidly declining to explain the difference in appearance to his time-travelling crewmates.
However, as much fun as filling continuity holes is, it’s the compelling villains and retro-charm of human-Klingons that makes this episode a must-watch. For a series that positioned itself as a prequel, it was surprisingly rare to see it attempt to evoke the visuals and feel of TOS. This two-parter is one of the few times that it does so successfully.
4. Bound (Season 4, Episode 17)
Green women from another planet requesting more information about “this human thing called kissing” is a staple image of Star Trek, to the point where JJ Abrams ensured that his Trek film included a green-skinned Orion girl. In this episode, the Enterprise receives three Orion Slave Girls as a gift, but they turn out to be slightly less well meaning than it initially appears.
The episode works for two reasons: again, it continues Season 4’s penchant of giving Star Trek fans some actual Star Trek references, but furthermore, it manages to offer an intelligent subversion of the traditional slave-girl role.
The original series’ depiction of slave girls was far from emancipated. Enterprise found a way to include them in a way that preserved the eye candy and shifted the power in the Orion relationships. It wasn’t exactly the Female Eunuch, but hey, at least they tried, and like all the best Trek episodes, it does give you something to think about.
3. Regeneration (Season 2, Episode 23)
The Borg are one of Star Trek‘s most popular villains, so it’s no surprise that Enterprise found a way to shoehorn them in somewhere. In fairness, it resulted in one of the series’ most memorable episodes, and provided a neat sequel to First Contact, so it’s hard to complain too much.
Regeneration finds a group of Borg frozen in the arctic, presumably after their time-travelling adventures on the big screen. The Borg soon awaken and go on a typically Borg-esque rampage, but are eventually stopped by our heroes on the Enterprise.
Although the full fervour of a Borg attack during a less sophisticated era was never quite realised, even a nameless Borg drone is more entertaining than most of the Enterprise cast , and that’s why this one gets a free pass into the top 10.
2. Carbon Creek (Season 2, Episode 02)
Everyone loves it when Star Trek does a period piece, and although Carbon Creek doesn’t actually involve any time-travel, the appearance of Jolene “T’Pol” Blalock as her own Vulcan grandmother, stranded on Earth in the 50s, gives it that air. The story itself plays to classic Trek themes of acceptance and alienation, and transposes it brilliantly to 50s America where its themes fit in perfectly, for obvious reasons.
However, as good as the flashback story is, the framing device – T’Pol recounting the story to an enraptured Archer and Trip over dinner – gives the principal cast members some of the warmth and familiarity that had been sorely lacking in the series to date. A script overflowing with dry Vulcan humour doesn’t hurt things either.
It took a while for Enterprise to find its feet, but Carbon Creek was one early moment where it definitely had them.
1. In a Mirror, Darkly (Season 4, Episode 18 & 19)
The ‘mirror’ universe first visited in the classic TOS episode Mirror, Mirror has been an oft-referenced piece of fan-favourite lore. So Enterprise‘s excursion into the universe was a high point for the series.
The plot sees the crew of the Mirror Enterprise, part of the Terran Empire, getting embroiled in a conflict with the Tholians, who have recovered the USS Defiant, a starship from another universe, referencing another classic TOS episode, The Tholian Web.
Although the novelty value of seeing the cast playing cartoonishly evil versions of themselves is a good enough reason to watch this 2-parter, In a Mirror, Darkly manages to include some of Enterprise‘s most inventive moments, not least the revised opening credits which offer a potted history of the Mirror Universe, and indeed, the pre-credits sequence which shows, using footage from Star Trek: First Contact, the moment where the Mirror Universe diverged from ours.
Unlike other ‘mirror’ episodes, this one is set entirely in the alternate universe, something that actually rather helps it, since the rather tedious ‘we have to get back to our own universe’ plot retread is entirely side-stepped.
Admittedly, this episode doesn’t stand alone particularly well, but once you’re familiar with the basic set-up of Enterprise, it provides a definite treat.
Images from Memory Alpha Star Trek Wiki