Ever since we found out a new Star Trek TV show would be coming to CBS, there have been questions about the show’s scope, timeline, and focus. According to showrunner Brian Fuller, the new Star Trek: Discovery will focus on seven main characters with a female lead who’s a Lieutenant Commander rather than the Captain. It’ll feature a diverse crew, and address an incident that supposedly was referenced in the original series but wasn’t explored in any great detail (Axanar and black ops like Section 31 are off the table and supposedly it’s an incident discussed in the original series). It also takes place in the original Star Trek universe, not the rebooted Abramsverse.
Setting the show in the original timeline and so close to the original series is both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, Fuller has already said he intends to explore a significant event referred to on the original show, even if he’s being coy about which event it is. The ten-year gap between the two shows even offers the option to visit familiar characters or settings, though we’d hope the show avoids this initially (and Fuller’s comments seem to imply it would).
But there’s a challenge here as well — something I’ll call the Enterprise trap. If Fuller wants to bring a fresh version of Star Trek to television that actually resonates with fans, he’ll need to avoid it.
I re-watched Enterprise earlier this year and found, to my surprise, that it wasn’t as fundamentally bad as I remembered. While it suffers from some poor pacing and weak plots, I’d say the first season of Enterprise is leaps and bounds ahead of the first season of The Next Generation, which features some plots and acting so cringeworthy I’m surprised the show got picked up for a second season.
Enterprise, to be sure, had some casting issues — Captain Archer whines, T’Pol comes across as less Vulcan and more “block of wood,” and the less said about the entire “Time War” plot, the better. Nonetheless, I don’t think any of these issues were what sank the show.
What killed Enterprise, in my personal opinion, was that it rarely felt as though the crew of the NX-01 were actually brand new explorers venturing out into the great unknown for the very first time. Outside of a handful of episodes in which it was clearly over-matched, the Enterprise and its crew were generally the equal of any problem they found themselves facing. The Original Series of Star Trek often stated that the Enterprise was too far from Starfleet headquarters for Kirk to discuss options with his commanding officers, while in Enterprise, Starfleet was just a subspace booster away.
Enterprise could have been a show about a group of well-trained but inexperienced officers in an unproven starship taking their first steps into the great unknown. Instead, it was another Star Trek show with some minor concessions to an earlier level of technology, like relying on shuttlepods instead of using the transporter on a regular basis. Instead of hearkening back to the TOS era, it felt like TNG with smaller starships, a weaker cast, and blue uniforms.
Discovery may only be set 10 years before TOS, but the difference in the two ships’ Naval Construct Code (NCC-1031 vs. NCC-1701) implies that this ship is older and less-advanced than the TOS Enterprise. That’s not a bad thing — in fact, it opens up its own storytelling potential as far as exploring new environments and dealing with fresh challenges. The Enterprise crew was always presented as serving on one of Starfleet’s most advanced and powerful first-line starships — setting the show on Discovery could be an opportunity to explore life in the rest of the fleet.