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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Doctor’s Orders

Synopsis: While the crew is asleep, Doctor Phlox is left in charge of Enterprise.

Review: Doctor Phlox has been the most consistently underused ENTERPRISE crewmember with the exceptions of poor forgotten Mayweather. But unlike him, Phlox actually has an incredible amount of potential that tends to get wasted by just utilizing him to occasionally move the plot along or as a minor supporting character. A situation that has only grown worse in the third season as a recent interview by the actor testifies.

star trek enterprise doctors ordersNevertheless, Phlox has managed to steal the show in even the smallest parts in other episodes. His appearances in “A Night in Sickbay” that cataloged his routine were the highlight of an awful episode. “Doctor’s Orders” is strongest at the start when as in “Sickbay,” Phlox is simply and calmly going about his routine. But it’s when the episode tries to fit him into a remake of VOYAGER’s “One” that the material begins to unravel.

“One” was a very strong episode and a great concept in no small part because it was a way of creating character development for Seven of Nine by demonstrating to her that she needs other people. But there is no similar development necessary for Phlox and “Doctor’s Orders” doesn’t provide that development. As Billingsley has himself pointed out in the interview, Phlox is at heart an unflappable character. Odd as it might be, a scene of Phlox making his rounds with Porthos is somehow more interesting than one with Phlox stalking imaginary Xindi. “Doctor’s Orders”‘s plot would have made sense for T’Pol, incredibly derivative of VOYAGER as that may have been. But aside from training him to run parts of the ship it fails to do much in the way of developing Phlox.

While Roxann Dawson‘s direction is smooth and effective, visually “Doctor’s Order” simply never comes close to “One” in evoking a hallucinatory, paranoid atmosphere in which the unreal merges with the real. Instead, the episode quickly demarcates the line of reality with the only exception being the SIXTH SENSE-style twist involving T’Pol.

Billingsley and Blalock do get the chance to do some comedy and Blalock is surprisingly funny but Phlox is funniest when he’s relaxed and reacting normally, not in forced scenes when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off. The problem is that the producers have not grasped that Billingsley’s Phlox is naturally funny and that they don’t need to put him through awkward routines for that humor to shine.

All in all, “Doctor’s Orders” is a somewhat average and uninspired episode about ENTERPRISE’s most underused character, whose best moments are not so much plot-derived as montages of Phlox wandering an empty ship. The narrative device of Phlox’s letters to the same Doctor Lucas as in prior episodes are good but fails to serve as an adequate showcase for Phlox and Billingsley’s talents.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Chosen Realm

Synopsis: Fanatical aliens who worship the creators of the mysterious spheres hijack Enterprise.

Review: “Chosen Realm” has many of the ingredients of a good and possibly even great episode. There’s a strong performance by both Archer and the Prenom. There’s a story with current events and sociopolitical relevance. It’s an episode written by promising ENTERPRISE newcomer Manny Coto, who had also been responsible for the rather intriguing “Similitude” and directed by Roxann Dawson, who has quickly become a veteran series director. But “Realm” never actually becomes a great episode or even a particularly good one.

star trek enterprise chosen realmThere are a number of reasons for this. First is the formulaic plot that when stripped down to its skeleton is yet another story about aliens hijacking a starship and forcing the crew to retake it. And as formulaic plots go, “Chosen Realm”‘s is a thoroughly uninspired, by-the-numbers rendition of episodes we’ve seen a hundred times over. Right down to one of the aliens proving to be a sympathetic ally and aiding the crew in the retaking of the ship. It’s all predictable. Very predictable indeed.

But not only is it predictable but it’s also clumsily executed. Archer is too quick to cooperate with the hijackers while at the same time picking arguments over religion he knows will achieve nothing instead of using the Prenom’s obvious desire to bond with him for his own purposes. The method of Archer’s execution–his chat room style conversation with Phlox and Phlox’s bat would have been great moments in a comedy episode–but feel out of place in the stridently serious “Chosen Realm.” The hijackers go from open ruthlessness in taking lives to ignoring missing personnel and being satisfied with trying to chase down the saboteur instead of lining up members of the Enterprise crew and threatening to shoot them if the saboteur didn’t turn himself in. Behavior that would have been entirely in character for them. But the Prenom abandons his supposed ruthlessness just in time for the crew to get the drop on him. The result is action scenes with no real intensity or impact.

It’s also a little hard to believe that the Prenom had read Archer’s logs, that he and his crew had full access to Enterprise’s systems and yet didn’t know the function of the transporter. Even if he hadn’t read up on it before this, it would have taken a few seconds of reading the logs to determine what it really was for. Certainly the notion that a starship would build a special device for executions on board a ship that doesn’t have all that many people on it to begin with should have raised some serious suspicions.

All this might not have mattered too much if “Chosen Realm” had managed to make the characters and the ideas gripping enough to make us overlook the threadbare plot. Unfortunately the script doesn’t have ideas so much as it has cliches with no real life or depth. Like many religions on STAR TREK, the religion of the aliens is absurd and vague. Where real religions and ideologies connect to the lives of their worshipers in a real way, no matter how unreal they might be, religions on STAR TREK usually fall into two categories. They’re either incantations of vague spirituality in which the religion is hodge-podge of new age and a Hollywood writer’s surface grasp of eastern philosophy that neither stands for anything or means anything except ‘peace’ and ‘love’ and ‘destiny’; or their entire religion is defined by fanatical lunacy in which they’re out to slaughter everyone who doesn’t believe as they do. “Chosen Realm” is a textbook definition of the latter, especially since Archer frames his accusation in almost these exact same words. But it rarely feels like a real religion, a faith people would be willing to kill and die for.

Even the most extremist and fanatic religions are not defined by fanaticism, so much as the fanaticism is an expression of their interaction with the larger world. But “Chosen Realm” makes the commonplace STAR TREK mistake of assuming that creating a believable religion is just a matter of throwing together an absurd belief with fanatics who rant on about it. But no real life religion is as simple as that and the result is another two-dimensional villain overcome by the predictable and unchallenged good of Starfleet ideals. By the time we learn that the entire conflict over their belief system lies in a difference over how many days the spheres were created in, the episode has stopped even bothering to maintain the illusion of its credibility.

And that is a shame because drama comes from a conflict in which the victory is not easy or inevitable. An episode in which the villain is easily beaten would be boring. Similarly, a battle of ideas in which there’s never any doubt as to the outcome holds little interest. No episode whose battles are fought solely with weapons and in which there is no actual contest of ideas can seriously claim to be an episode about ideas. STAR TREK’s best episodes of ideas have been episodes that were never that simplistic. There are no complications in “Chosen Realm,” though, no doubt as to who is right. There is a physical struggle but no intellectual struggle.

Its strongest point is the guest-starring performance by the actor portraying the Prenom, who in cooperating with Dawson plays the character as a man who genuinely believes himself to be a hero, instead of an obvious villain as such characters are often portrayed on TREK. As such, he’s closer toKurtwood Smith‘s ‘Annorax’ than F. Murray Abraham‘s ‘Ru’afo’. That makes his final revelation on the planet all the more tragic when he finally has no choice but to see himself as the villain.

But Coto’s script gives little to anyone else on the Enterprise crew other than fight or distract the guards. T’Pol has an out of character angry confrontation with the Prenom over science vs. religion but has little else to do except be casually restrained when attempting to prevent the Prenom from destroying his enemy’s ships. Thus once again demonstrating that the ENTERPRISE producers have again forgotten that T’Pol as a Vulcan has superhuman strength and special combat training. And instead she ends up as another helpless female in yet another episode.

Archer gets the bulk of the dialogue but he never manages to to come off as particularly cogent in dealing with the Prenom and no real connection ever occurs. Coto’s script seems to be making some attempt to link the Prenom and Archer perhaps as a commentary on the possible person Archer could become if he continues down a path of ruthless fanaticism. But that element never really comes through in the episode, especially as Archer is confronting a physical threat, and the Prenom’s threat is independent thought. The Prenom needs to see himself as a hero while Archer has increasingly abandoned that notion in favor of a brute force pragmatism. The Prenom makes a great show of his sensitivity and empathy to compensate for the self-indulgent nature of his brutality while Archer conceals those outwardly in order to do what has to be done because he knows he has no other choice.

Ultimately the invocation of religious fanaticism, suicide bombers, and holy wars bringing down societies is supposed to seem topical and relevant but it never does. Aside from the suicide bomber preparing to blow himself up as a crewmember watches, “Chosen Realm” doesn’t feel particularly relevant. A truly insightful episode should have something more to say than ‘killing people in the name of religion is bad’ or at least find a better way to say it. “Chosen Realm” very badly wants to be “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” but lacks either the intensity or the struggle. So, unfortunately, it fails to make the grade as either an action episode or an ideas episode, leaving it with little to offer except a memorable guest star and yet another hole punched in Enterprise’s side.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – First Flight and Bounty

“First Flight” and “Bounty”

Summary: While on a mission with T’Pol Archer recalls the rocky history of the Warp program. Archer is taken by a Tellarite bounty hunter as T’Pol’s mating drive kicks in

star trek enterprise first flight

First Flight

By airing two ENTERPRISE episodes on the same night UPN has given viewers the chance to compare two different approaches to the show. Both are clearly priority episodes and both have excellent production design and outstanding special effects and are professionally and capably directed by LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson, respectively. The difference lies in the stories they tell and how they tell them. “First Flight” is a relatively subdued episode mostly told in flashbacks by two people in a shuttlecraft. It features very little action and its entire strength rests on an evocation of the risks and emotional drives of space exploration. “Bounty” by contrast goes to the well yet again by putting Archer in peril and featuring a sexually exploitative storyline for T’Pol with Klingons and a space battle thrown in for anyone who might be losing interest. By the logic of the school of plot development, which STAR TREK has often been accused of subscribing to and says an episode needs to put its main cast members in danger, include some T&A and deliver some action scenes to keep viewer interest, “Bounty” might be considered the better episode. But in actuality “First Flight” is far superior.

After the Columbia shuttle disaster there was talk of how ENT might commemorate the tragedy; intended or not, “First Flight” serves as a valid homage to the sprit that drives space exploration and the costs along the way. For all the solemn grandiloquence of the historical montage that opens every episode, the series has never come as close to the sprit of those discoverers, explorers, aviators and astronauts as it does here. Like VOYAGER’s “One Small Step” it offers a look back at the time when the future was made possible but “First Flight” is able to deliver on ENTERPRISE’s premise of the Birth of STAR TREK by showing that that time is now.

The series had promised to deliver this but its premise seems to offer just another starship with a slightly more rugged interior and just another crew slightly greener around the edges while substituting friction with the Vulcans for a genuine look at the progression of events between history and the future. “First Flight,” though, does what ENT up till now had only tried to accomplish with occasional references to the continuity of Starfleet’s warp program by actually showing just how raw and precarious the process that led from first contact to the 23rd century was. Countless episodes have gone back in time but “First Flight” is one of the few that actually orients itself and the series it’s part of in time.

Co-written by John Shiban and Chris Black, two of the staff’s best writers, and for once an episode not [apparently] originated by Berman

star trek enterprise bounty

Bounty

and Braga, “First Flight” has Archer piloting a shuttlepod on a mission of exploration even as he ponders and tries to find meaning in the death of a man who was his rival and who helped make him the Captain he is today. With T’Pol along to serve as his confessor, “First Flight,” as one of the last episodes of the season turns the tables on one of the first, reversing “Carbon Creek”‘s setup by having Archer tell T’Pol a seemingly unbelievable story about the past in flashbacks. It also reverses TNG’s “Tapestry,” which showed the young Picard as a risk taker by showing the younger Archer as a ‘by the book’ officer. The flashbacks don’t only show a less mature Archer but a less mature Starfleet in the form of Commodore Forrest, who finally gets some character development of his own, as he nervously tries to appease the Vulcans. Trip makes an appearance to show the origins of his relationship with Archer but Trip is just too ridiculous to allow for any character development by the contrast of his past and present selves. The flashbacks also ground Archer’s anger against the Vulcans in real complaints by showing that their refusal to fully share technology could have cost lives and how close they came to nearly derailing the entire space program in contrast to his contemporary grudge which has often seemed petty and prejudiced.

The process of the search for nebulae itself by Archer and T’Pol parallels the psychological process in which, even as she uses the shuttlepod’s instruments, T’Pol searches out what is bothering Archer and as he fires the charges that illuminate space, he comes to terms with the chain of events that brought him here. He also copes with what no captain has been shown to confront before: the possibility that maybe the best man for the job was the one who wasn’t chosen. Kirk’s rival Finnegan was so very clearly a bully and a fool. Picard’s friends in “Tapestry” were sidekicks like Trip. Anderson though, while at times reckless and unsympathetic, seems a more plausible candidate for the job than Archer does. It’s his idea that salvages the warp program and it’s the friction of his character that drives Archer to become more reckless and gregarious. And even at the end Archer hasn’t entirely let go of his jealousy so that it falls to T’Pol to suggest Anderson as the name for the newly discovered nebula. The nebula’s illumination, though, serves as closure for both the scientific and psychological search as Archer finds the drive for exploration that brought him here.

“Bounty” is in its own way an odd sort of episode. On the surface it appears to be designed as the ultimate sweeps episode and to that end it throws in just about everything imaginable to peak viewer interest. In a single episode the captain is kidnapped and threatened with death, T’Pol experiences her mating drive and there’s a space battle with Klingons. The only thing the producers seem to have left out are the Borg and they were on last week. But with all that content the actual episode mostly turns out to be a lukewarm story about a Tellarite captain with an unnatural attachment to his impounded ship. The problem might be that the episode is based on yet another Berman and Braga story and that the final script seems to have contributions from five different writers each of whom may have had a different episode in mind. But whatever happened behind the scenes the end result has a Tellarite Bounty Hunter getting more camera time than anyone else as he tells his listless story of woe involving the Klingon department of traffic enforcement and ship impoundment while T’Pol begs Dr. Phlox for sex.

“Bounty”‘s premise is a nice touch of continuity in that it follows up on the events of “Judgment” and even bases on an episode around its repercussions. It is good to see ENTERPRISE developing the Klingons as a hostile and expansionist alien race, as they should be in this time period of TREK, even accounting for this series’s warped continuity. If Archer’s rescue of the refugees led to the events in “Judgment” open hostilities between Enterprise and a Klingon vessel should have even more serious consequences. And Archer being kidnapped by an alien bounty hunter makes for an interesting premise.

Unfortunately, “Bounty”‘s premise does not involve an alien bounty hunter ruthlessly kidnapping Archer. Instead its premise has an alien bounty hunter kidnapping Archer and then complaining about his sad lot in life. On the way to the docking bay Trip reminds Archer that Tellarites are belligerent and aggressive, unfortunately he failed to remind the writers of this since the Tellarites we see are all depressed and whiny. Yes the Bounty Hunter is kidnapping people and taking them off to be disemboweled by the Klingons but that’s only because he really wants his ship back. And of course that makes it all right. Any number of people who have had their vehicles impounded by the traffic department probably have the urge to buy a gun and go around the country hunting down people to pay off their fines and could probably sympathize with Skalaar. Unfortunately while Robert O’Reilly is wasted on a minor part, the part of Skalaar is tepidly acted with all the energy of a Prozac medicated Ben Stein. That leeches any remaining momentum out of a storyline whose few twists and turns are borrowed respectively from “Precious Cargo,” “Canamar” and “Dawn”; all from this very season.

That leaves us with “Bounty”‘s B-story, undoubtedly gleefully thought up by Team B&B, that has T’Pol going into premature Pon Farr. It’s ironic that Roxann Dawson directed “Bounty” as she was stuck with the same ridiculous and degrading storyline in VOY’s “Blood Fever.” The difference is that this time she gets to be on the other side of the camera. John Billingsley has no such luck and even though Phlox has managed to keep his dignity in some pretty bad scenes and some pretty bad dialogues in the past, Billinglessly not only can’t redeem the scene but loses Phlox’s dignity too. Meanwhile ENT’s writers demonstrate that not only can they not keep track of STAR TREK continuity, they can’t even keep track of their own, as Dr. Phlox–despite being part of an interspecies medical exchange program and possessing expertise with large numbers of species–doesn’t know about Pon Farr while both Hoshi and Trip do. It can be hard to remember now that the original Pon Farr episode was a heartfelt and powerful production written by talented Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. It wasn’t about sleaze, or snickering gags about mating urges but about the power of the bond between two colleagues and friends. It’s an episode these writers might do well to review before they touch on the subject again.

To some fans each STAR TREK series creates new low points going lower than any spin-off has gone before. As “First Flight” presents one franchise high point, “Bounty”‘s scenes with T’Pol present a new low point. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for any series to pull off in one night.

Next Week: Hostile aliens probe Earth as Archer looks resolutely into the camera.

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