Enterprise: Parallels in History

Written by Dan Carlson@minutiaeman@tenforward.social

Published February 17, 2004

Me being an avid history student and all, I frequently tend to think of things in terms of historical significance and potential parallels to past events. For some crazy reason or another, this carries over into my obsession with Star Trek. 😉

I’ve been thinking a bit about potential parallels to Enterprise in Earth history. After all, DS9 was frequently compared to World War II (even during the show), and TOS was always touted as “Wagon Train to the stars,” an analogy to the American West of the late 1800s.

So, if TOS was Wagon Train, and DS9 was World War II, then what is Enterprise? Personally, I think that the NX-01 could be compared to Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in 1805-07. I read the official journals of Lewis and Clark, which they wrote as they were traveling across the undiscovered country. (Pun not intended!) It was a very enlightening read, about what these guys went through to pave the way for future exploration.

Hmmm... pave the way for future exploration, huh? Where’ve I heard that before?

It seems to me that a lot of the perceived problems with Enterprise— especially those before the show was transmogrified by the Xindi arc— have been discussed everywhere ad nauseum, but I’m starting to realize just how easily they could be avoided, simply based on historical precedent. The issues of transportation, crew discipline, contact with natives, supplies, weather, shelter... all of these can easily have some sort of analogue to the NX-01’s mission. Though Lewis and Clark were hardly diplomats in their own right, they were practical, businesslike people. They weren’t simply wandering around the western North American continent looking to sightsee and meet some new people— they were supposed to chart the area, survey its features, observe local tribes, and record information for future expansion. They had specific targets, specific goals, and specific timetables.

Obviously there’s a great practical difference between the US’s prejudiced and racist expansionary policy and the Earth/Federation goal of peaceful coexistence and respect for other cultures. But at the same time, I think that there would be a lot that should be the same, too. For instance, when (if?) the Enterprise made it past Vulcan-explored territory, there would be great difficulty in interacting with other cultures. A universal translator can be useful and make the First Contact rather straightforward... but think about what can happen if things go wrong?

Lewis and Clark’s journals repeatedly describe encounters with various Native American tribes where there was difficulty communicating intentions, where all sorts of gifts were exchanged, and rituals performed (like the now-stereotypical smoking of the pipe). There was even a point where one tribe was so friendly they pleaded with the explorers to stay for days on end— only it turned out to be a cover to rob them of their supplies.

Then there’s the issue of the crew. Lewis and Clark were fairly sturdy individuals overall (though there was still some trouble and moments of self-doubt for both of them when they ran into difficulties). However, the same can’t be said of the entire expedition crew— even during the first few months of the journey, the captains had to deal with crew discipline and some fairly serious issues. Humans in the 22nd century may have “evolved,” but I can’t believe that they’re completely perfect. In unexplored space, surrounded by unknown alien cultures and months or even years away from home, nerves should inevitably fray. Yet why don’t they fray more on the NX-01?

It’s a real shame when you start looking at it from this perspective, what ENT could have been, and what it is instead. Berman and Braga have promised great things to show the first era of Human exploration in space. Yet none of the issues mentioned above would really have changed too much about the overall series idea— even hoohah like the Temporal Cold War isn’t excluded by simply altering the perspective of the ship’s mission a little bit.

It should still be possible to portray a bold, daring, and difficult expedition into the unknown. Yet instead, we see a boatload of clueless space cadets wandering around and starting interstellar conflicts. I don’t buy that part about Humans still in the learning process (vis á vis Vulcan “parenting”)— yes, learning to interact in the galactic community is going to take a long time to figure out, but it doesn’t mean that the first people out there have to approach the mission like wide-eyed children.

Now, it may be far too late for the series. With ratings declining, even grandiose and overblown attempts to create new storylines and recreate the series— such as the current Xindi arc— are apparently not enough to save Enterprise. Even UPN, the quasi-network with its bargain-basement standards, is displeased with Enterprise’s performance and is considering its cancellation (see The Long Road Cut Short?). All we can wonder now is whether anything could have been done to improve things.

So what happens if the series is cancelled? What happens if there is no more Star Trek on television? Then, of course, it will be in the purview of the fanfic writers. ;-)

Disclaimer: I’ve actually been enjoying the Xindi arc this season, for the most part. I still think that Enterprise could do better, though.