One of the perks of a Netflix subscription is access to countless series from days gone by. Lately I’ve been indulging in the Star Trek series from the 80s and 90s and this past weekend I settled on Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s very timely because I just released Bernard’s Promise, which, in many ways was inspired by Star Trek: Enterprise. When watching the pilot in 2001, an excitement overcame me right from the opening credits. These weren’t the usual orchestral majestic space themes of TNG, DS9, or Voyager. This was a montage of Yeager-esque aviators and astronauts set to contemporary music:
Scott Bakula, of Quantum Leap fame, played Captain Archer. I remember him in the pilot wearing a casual jacket and baseball cap inspecting Enterprise. The whole premise had an electricity to it, a hopeful vision of the future centered on exploration with a touch of hard science set in the 22nd century. It was Hayden’s World, after Riggs became mainstream.
The release date was two weeks after 9/11. It’s interesting, in hindsight, watching series from the early 2000s. Battlestar Galactica’s reboot in 2003 featured gasps from Galactica’s crew as Caprica was nuked by Cylons, and subsequent episodes, such as “33” revolved around Viper pilots faced with shooting down a civilian spaceliner for fear it was taken over by Cylons and set on a collision course with Galactica. The 9/11 parallels were heavy in Galactica’s first few episodes, but it worked well.
In Enterprise, this manifested as the Xindi Earth attack, which killed 7 million people, including a main character’s sister. Afterwards, Earth takes on a xenophobic fear of all alien species, including those onboard the Enterprise. and the crew returns to a dark, fearful Earth.
Enterprise was, unfortunately, a forgettable Star Trek series. If you disagree, ask yourself this question: Picard, Kirk, or Archer. Like me, you’ll probably struggle to remember anything specific that Archer did in the series. I mainly remember him as often annoyed and periodically delivering lines with a John Wayne swagger. Picard I remember for taking the moral high ground and giving eloquent soliloquies. Kirk was a force of nature who nearly propelled his starship with his own will. Was there ever any doubt that Kirk would not get what he wanted? It doesn’t mean Enterprise was bad, but it does mean that there was a bit of a bait and switch. The grand opening with Apollo 11 footage and the Space Shuttle promised an exploration series which didn’t quite materialize. To some extent, I can’t blame it. The decade in which the series lived was shaped by 9/11, and television programs like 24 dominated ratings. Enterprise followed suit, ditching the first season exploration plots in favor of apocalyptic storylines with dark futures and epic struggles against foreign threats. The pilot - Broken Bow - was great fun. Enterprise never reached the tight storytelling of Galactica’s “33”, but it still was a solid sci-fi yarn.
I sympathize with the writers. Pure exploration stories are a tough sell. To be a story, you need conflict, and just “seeing what’s out there” isn’t enough. Usually the writers (myself included) need to introduce a bad guy or some catastrophe to move the story forward. 2007’s Sunshine started out as a trek to the Sun, the first half of the movie suitably hard sci-fi.
Halfway through the movie, you could almost feel the heavy hand of the producers demanding something less cerebral and more action-based. Next thing you know, it’s an entirely different movie with a monster, shifting gears from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Event Horizon.
2014’s Interstellar was very much an exploration movie which attempted to ground itself in science.
It had its moments. Matthew McConaughey crying as he watches his daughter grow up in video messages over the course of five minutes due to time dilation was potent, and a theme I touch on in Bernard’s Promise. Ironically Matt Damon provides the conflict by being, once again, an astronaut stranded on another world. Flat and generally emotionally-detached characters stunted the story, however.
More recently, exploration is an increasing theme in video games, which I’m happy to see. No Man’s Sky creates a procedurally generated galaxy for you to explore, and the game’s mechanic is centered on finding and building things.
Subnautica crashes you on a water world, where you must survive. Survival depends on you venturing further into new frontiers, exploring wrecks, and scavenging resources. The game’s few weapons are mostly-ineffective against the native life, and your hands are more-likely to be filled with scanners. It’s like the Martian, if the Martian were underwater and filled with things that wanted to eat you.
So, it’s great to see the theme of exploration continuing on. It’s the lifeblood of the Hayden’s World series, and will continue being a central theme. Hope you enjoyed reading about some of my inspirations.