Star Trek: Enterprise
Season 3

Starring: Scott Bakula
RRP: 84.99
Certificate: 12
Available 05 September 2005

Following a devastating assault upon Earth by a race called the Xindi, the crew of the starship Enterprise are searching the mysterious Delphic Expanse to locate the Xindi and prevent another attack - by any means necessary. However, the mission is hampered by tensions between the crew and dangerous spatial anomalies within the Expanse...

The third year of Star Trek: Enterprise (it was at this point that the Star Trek prefix was added to the series title) was a bold experiment that truly paid off: an ongoing storyline that lasted for an entire season. In fact, the arc went on for even longer than that, because it really began with The Expanse, the final episode of the second season and spilled over into the first two episodes of the fourth.

The stories remain predominantly episodic to begin with, which each instalment dealing with a particular problem or issue to be resolved - such as pirates in Anomaly, a strange infection in Extinction, a stricken Vulcan vessel in Impulse, and racial prejudice in North Star - though the larger mission continues unabated. As the season progresses, however, more and more is revealed about the five races that comprise the Xindi, until eventually the overarching plot arc builds up a momentum that is almost worthy of Babylon 5, as different races vie for power while humanity's future hangs in the balance. For me, the Xindi-Aquatics are reminiscent of B5's Vorlons, with their powerful ships and enigmatic ways. The final seven episodes, with the exception of the exciting but distinctly episodic E2, comprise a riveting continuous narrative.

The Enterprise's new mission also gives the show and its characters a drive and intensity that had been largely lacking until now. Following the attack upon Earth, the crew are motivated by fear and anger, particularly Trip (Connor Trinneer), who lost his sister in the carnage. The presence of MACO (Military Assault Command Operations) troops also leads to tensions among the crew, as MACO commander Major Hayes (Steven Culp) puts security chief Reed's (Dominic Keating) nose out of joint. Their rivalry comes to a head with some distinctly homoerotic sparring in Harbinger.

All the while, Archer's (Scott Bakula) methods grow ever more dangerous and desperate as he struggles to get the job done. The entire Xindi arc is clearly inspired, whether deliberately or subconsciously, by America's post-9/11 mindset, as is demonstrated when Archer tortures a pirate using an airlock in Anomaly, assumes guilt by association in Extinction and takes on suicide bombers in Chosen Realm. He also condones the creation of a designer baby in Similitude before becoming a pirate himself in Damage.

My favourite episodes are the time-jumping Twilight, the pivotal Harbinger, the spectacular Damage and the nail-biting final two instalments, Countdown and Zero Hour. Having said that, the tense Xindi, the emotive Anomaly, the creepy Impulse (featuring zombie Vulcans), the Western-styled North Star, the moving Similitude, the crowd-pleasing Proving Ground (guest starring Jeffrey Combs as the ever-popular Andorian Shran), Azati Prime and the rest of the closing seven-episode escapade aren't exactly slouches either.

In fact, by stark contrast with Season 2, this year's weak moments are few and far between. They include the rather uninteresting Hoshi (Linda Park) based A-plot of Exile, the predictable Hatchery (it's obvious why Archer is behaving strangely), and plot holes such as the fact that, prior to E2, the Xindi appear to have forgotten about the attacks made against them by the century-old Enterprise.

The latter could have provided an element of "Did we provoke the Xindi after all?" self-doubt on the part of the crew, had the season been a little better thought out. In fact, as is revealed by the special feature The Xindi Saga Begins, the production team were more or less making it up as they went along, which makes it all the more remarkable that the season works as well as it does.

As usual, several instalments rehash elements (or sometimes entire episodes!) from previous incarnations of Star Trek. Extinction is pretty much a remake of the Next Generation episode Identity Crisis, with a bit of Genesis thrown in for good luck. Similitude tries hard not to cover the same ground as Voyager's Tuvix, but some crossover is inevitable. The ending of Chosen Realm is pure Let That Be Your Last Battlefield from The Original Series. The Sphere Builders, who appear intermittently during the latter half of the season, look rather like a cross between the Borg Queen and the Founders.

However, the worst offender has to be Doctor's Orders, which takes the plot of Voyager's One, in which Seven of Nine is the sole active crewmember while the remainder are unconscious as the ship passes through a dangerous region of space, and replaces Seven with Dr Phlox (John Billingsley). The only real differences are the more comedic tone of many scenes and an element of the movie The Sixth Sense - though, of course, even that is second-hand.

The final disc comprises more than 90 minutes of extra features, including profiles on actor Connor Trinneer, Voyager crewmember turned director Roxann Dawson and cinematographer Marvin Rush.

The episodes The Xindi, Impulse and Countdown can be viewed with text commentaries by Denise and Michael Okuda. They reveal, among other nuggets of information, the dodgy science in Impulse (which can be attributed to the effects of the spatial anomalies in the Expanse) and the inventive set and costume reuse in Countdown (and I'm not talking about Richard Whiteley's ties).

Assistant Director Michael DeMeritt provides an audio commentary for North Star, while writer and Co-Executive Producer Manny Coto does the same for Similitude. DeMeritt discusses his episode in terms of the technical ins and outs of filmmaking. He succeeds in making what could have been a very dry subject quite fascinating, thanks to his own evident enthusiasm for the techniques involved. Meanwhile, Coto concentrates on the script-development process.

There are fewer deleted scenes than we have become used to during previous seasons - only six minutes' worth in total from three shows: Similitude, Chosen Realm and E2. The reason for this is that the episodes in this season had a tendency to run short rather than long. At least two instalments, Impulse and Countdown, needed to have extra scenes added to them when they ran short, as their commentaries reveal.

In fact, the season as a whole runs shorter than previous ones, comprising 24 episodes as opposed to 26. However, that's still above average for an American drama series, and the quality of Season 3 far outweighs any shortcomings in the quantity department.

Richard McGinlay

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