Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 5: Enterprise

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the Enterprise episodes on this list, further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

My relationship with Star Trek: Enterprise hasn’t always been smooth. I was listening to the radio sometime in either late 1999 or early 2000 when news was breaking that a new Star Trek show was entering production. Here in the UK, Deep Space Nine and Voyager were still on the air – but were approaching the end of their runs. It wasn’t clear what would come next, and as a teenager who was a big Star Trek fan, I was naturally curious and anxious to see what we were going to get. I was definitely expecting a new Star Trek show sooner or later – the franchise had been on television for practically my entire life up to this point, so the idea that it might go off the air never even crossed my mind!

However, when the show was revealed to be a prequel (I can’t remember if that was part of the initial announcement or was something that I found out later) I was less than impressed. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had been in cinemas around this time, and I just remember feeling that prequels as a concept were not something I was a fan of. This was a pretty childish reaction: “The Phantom Menace was bad, therefore all prequels must be bad!” Nevertheless, that’s how I felt at the time. Enterprise would also be shown not on the BBC, which doesn’t have advertisement breaks, but on Channel 4, which does. Having seen all of the other Star Trek shows free of ad breaks I wasn’t especially keen to have them in Enterprise.

The inclusion of Scott Bakula, who had previously starred in an underappreciated science fiction series called Quantum Leap, did improve matters somewhat for me, but I still wasn’t sold on the premise of Enterprise. Why did Star Trek need to go back in time to before Capt. Kirk? For me, the whole point of the franchise was, and always had been, to press further forward into the future. Looking at how the Federation formed and Earth’s early missions of exploration, meeting races I’d already seen developed in other series, just didn’t hold much appeal as a concept.

Opening title card for Enterprise in its first two seasons (before the Star Trek prefix was added).

When Broken Bow premiered in late 2001 I did tune in, but for much of the rest of Enterprise’s original broadcast run I didn’t, and as a result I didn’t see well over half the series until I picked it up on DVD around 2009-10, long after it had gone off the air. This was the moment that I came closest to no longer following the franchise, as I’ve previously discussed. When I did pick up Enterprise on DVD, however, I was pleasantly surprised. While it still isn’t my favourite part of the franchise, it’s a series which has heart, and the spirit of exploration – seeking out strange, new worlds – which had been largely absent from Deep Space Nine and parts of The Next Generation and Voyager was on full display. I’ll often use Enterprise as an example whenever I hear the expression “no one asked for this”. No one in 1999-2000 was asking for a Star Trek prequel, yet the show found its feet and told some interesting and enjoyable stories with a great cast of characters. Despite my initial feelings, I’ve warmed up to Enterprise in the years since it was broadcast.

Enterprise wasn’t just controversial with me, though, and the show struggled with ratings during its run. It managed to last for four seasons – one more than The Original Series – before being cancelled in 2005. In the aftermath of Enterprise’s demise the Star Trek franchise seemed dead – until rumours of a reboot film were first heard over a year later. It would be twelve years before another Star Trek show would grace the small screen, though, and by then a lot would have changed for the franchise. The CGI used for almost all of the Enterprise‘s special effects is very much of its time, and thus looks dated by today’s standards. The late 1990s and early 2000s were, at least in my opinion, not a great time for CGI. Many shows and films – like the Star Wars prequels – tried to take advantage of the technology before it was properly ready for prime-time.

In case you missed it, here’s how this format works: this isn’t a “top ten” ranked list of my all-time favourite episodes. Instead, this is simply a list of episodes that I find enjoyable and would recommend – especially if you find that you have more time than usual for entertainment at the moment! I’ve picked stories (a couple of which are multi-episode arcs) from all four of Enterprise’s seasons, and they’re listed below in the order they were released.

This is your final chance to jump ship if you want to avoid spoilers!

Number 1: The Andorian Incident (Season 1)

Shran would go on to be a recurring character.

One of the unexpected things about Enterprise, not just in its first season but really for its entire run, was that the Vulcans were quasi-antagonists. We’d seen human-Vulcan relations being generally good across Star Trek, and even in First Contact there was no real indication that it would be a rocky road. Nevertheless, the Vulcans are presented as being arrogant, interfering, and are suggested to have deliberately slowed the development of humanity’s warp technology. Even at this early stage in Enterprise, they’re not exactly good friends.

The Andorians had been established as one of the Federation’s core races as early as The Original Series’ second season episode Journey to Babel – which featured on my list of ten great episodes from Star Trek’s first show – and after the blue-skinned aliens were curiously absent for almost all of The Next Generation’s era, Enterprise brought them back. The show was focusing on the build-up to the birth of the Federation, and with the Andorians known to be one of the founding members, encountering them was inevitable.

Journey to Babel established that relations between Vulcans and Andorians could be complicated, to say the least! And The Andorian Incident takes that story thread and runs with it, not only telling a really interesting story that showed the Vulcans at their most arrogant and duplicitous, using a site they claimed to be a religious sanctuary as a high-tech spy post, but also laid the groundwork for the Andorians’ future appearances on the show.

Shran, played by veteran Star Trek actor Jeffrey Combs, makes his debut here and would go on to be a recurring character. Jeffrey Combs had previously portrayed Weyoun in Deep Space Nine, among several other characters, and is outstanding in the role of Shran. This Andorian commander would be both an enemy and later an ally of Capt. Archer and Enterprise’s crew, and the complex character was a perfect fit for Combs to play. Despite the difference in makeup and prosthetics from Deep Space Nine, it is clearly him, and if you’re very familiar with Weyoun from the Dominion War arc that can take a little while to get used to!

Number 2: Sleeping Dogs (Season 1)

Shuttlepod 1 departs Enterprise.

Broken Bow, which was the premiere of Enterprise, showed first contact between humans and Klingons. While this first contact wasn’t exactly smooth, the two powers maintained an uneasy peace, and the Klingons had already reappeared in Enterprise’s first season. Sleeping Dogs is another episode featuring the famed warrior race, showing an early (in terms of the in-universe timeline!) example of cooperation with humans as Archer and a Klingon named Bu’kaH attempt to free a stricken Klingon ship.

Enterprise stops to investigate a gas giant only to discover a Klingon ship trapped in its atmosphere. An away team consisting of Reed, T’Pol, and Sato is sent to investigate, but they become trapped when their shuttlepod is stolen. These three characters weren’t often working together, despite being bridge officers, so giving them a chance to interact and face adversity was a good move for a series in its first season. Recent outings aside, Star Trek has always tried to give every main cast member opportunities like this.

Bu’kaH is an interesting guest star. While the way she was ultimately convinced to help – appealing to her Klingon sense of honour and fear of a dishonourable death – isn’t original and had been done before, it was nevertheless nice to see her come around and work with Archer to rescue the stranded away team.

Number 3: Carbon Creek (Season 2)

Vulcans in the ’50s!

Prequel stories can often mess up existing canon, overwriting what we thought was the established backstory, lore, and history of a fictional universe. As a result, I find that they can be very difficult to get right, as I’ve already explained in my introduction. Carbon Creek, however, is different. The episode tells the story of the crew of a small Vulcan craft who find themselves stranded in 1950s America – in the town of Carbon Creek.

Time travel stories in Star Trek, like the film The Voyage Home or the Voyager two-parter Future’s End, feel very dated very quickly, because they dump the crew in a contemporary setting. Carbon Creek deliberately avoids this trap, putting the crew in a nostalgic 1950s setting rather than the early 2000s – when Enterprise was in production. Stories that go down that route tend to work better, at least in my opinion.

T’Pol, aboard Enterprise, entertains Archer and Tucker with a story of her great-grandmother, who happened to be one of the stranded Vulcan crew members. The episode focuses largely on this Vulcan crew, meaning T’Pol actress Jolene Blalock is the only main cast member with significant screen time. It was a great episode for her – but not one which really let her get away from the stoic Vulcan behaviour of T’Pol. The two characters – T’Pol and her great-grandmother – are essentially the same; we could do a whole article about Vulcan personalities and how easily (or not) one Vulcan could be swapped out for another!

Regardless, Carbon Creek is a sweet story, and the classic 1950s Americana setting is something I personally enjoyed. It’s definitely a different kind of episode – it’s not a time travel story, it’s something comparable to Voyager’s fifth-season episode 11:59 in that it’s a story set in the past, relayed by a character in the present. I found it enjoyable, telling a hidden story of human-Vulcan contact.

Number 4: The Catwalk (Season 2)

Mayweather and Tucker in the titular catwalk.

What I like about The Catwalk isn’t necessarily its major storyline, which sees a species called the Takret invading Enterprise, trying to catch three of their deserting officers who had been given refuge aboard the ship. Instead, what I like is the driving force behind the plot, that the crew are trapped in a storm and forced to take refuge in one of the nacelles.

To me, this is Enterprise showing off just how dangerous space exploration can be, even for a ship designed explicitly for the purpose. We’ve seen Starfleet ships face anomalies and space weather before, but this is the first time that we’ve seen them come up against something they couldn’t outrun or avoid. Instead, the crew are forced to sit through a storm, hiding in one of the most heavily-shielded parts of the ship.

Much of the plot is set in the catwalk – part of the ship’s warp nacelle. The crew take refuge there when a massive storm front hits, and we see them having to survive in very close quarters. Morale could easily dip very low under such circumstances, so this is a moment for Capt. Archer to show off his leadership abilities.

The main storyline is interesting, showing the abandoned ship invaded by the Takret, but it parallels the Voyager fourth season episode Scientific Method in some respects – particularly its resolution.

Number 5: Regeneration (Season 2)

Borg drones in Regeneration.

The Borg are one of Star Trek’s most interesting villains. I have an article discussing how they can be used as an incredibly effective storytelling device, including how they play on our collective fears of brainwashing and out-of-control technology. You can find it by clicking or tapping here. In-universe, however, the Federation’s history with the Borg only begins in The Next Generation’s era; the 24th Century. Bringing the Borg into Enterprise was a challenge, but one that the producers decided was worth trying. Even by Season 2, things weren’t going smoothly for Enterprise – the show had lost some of its core fans, and after more than fifteen years on the air, there was an element of franchise fatigue setting in, at least for some people. The Borg had usually been a guaranteed winner in Star Trek, and I’m sure that was a key production-side reason for doing a Borg story.

The story that results makes a mess of canon, but no more of a mess than the introduction of Seven of Nine’s family had in Voyager. Both of these stories shifted humanity’s first contact with the Borg to before Q Who (the second-season episode of The Next Generation which first introduced them). Setting aside canon issues, however, what results is a strong story taken as a standalone piece. Sure, the reason for the Borg’s presence is a bit of a stretch, but aside from that it was interesting to see 22nd Century humans try to deal with an enemy like 24th Century Borg.

By having a tiny number of drones and one small, sub-light ship being all there was, there was a reasonable and realistic way for Archer and Enterprise’s crew to prevail; pitting them against a fully-operational Cube and thousands of drones would have clearly been too much to handle! And the episode’s resolution does handle at least part of the canon question – by saying that the Borg’s transmission to the Delta Quadrant wouldn’t be received until the 24th Century it excuses the fact that the Borg didn’t attempt to visit Earth in the interim… though it does, perhaps, set up a time-loop paradox!

Number 6: Impulse (Season 3)

Vulcan “zombies”!

Season 3 of Enterprise was Star Trek’s second experiment with serialised storytelling, following the Dominion War story arc in Deep Space Nine. The season also saw Enterprise receive the “Star Trek” prefix, in line with other shows. In its first two seasons it wasn’t titled Star Trek: Enterprise, but simply Enterprise. The serialised nature of Season 3 makes it difficult to pick individual episodes, but Impulse is a great choice as it’s a fairly self-contained story.

While in the Delphic Expanse searching for the Xindi, Archer and the crew encounter a Vulcan ship. The crew of the ship have been driven insane by a compound that’s toxic to Vulcans but which ships traversing the region need for reinforcing their hulls. The Vulcans were unaware of the side-effects and were driven mad – coming close to animalistic or zombie-like. In fact, the 28 Days Later style of fast-moving zombies is probably a good analogy for the sick Vulcans in Impulse.

The episode focuses in part on T’Pol, and her struggles with the toxic compound. She would later develop an addiction as a result of her exposure here, something which would be detailed in later episodes in the third and fourth seasons. This set up not only an interesting new angle for her character, but a great storyline about dealing with addiction.

Number 7: Countdown and Zero Hour (Season 3)

The Xindi weapon in Countdown.

As previously mentioned, Enterprise’s third season essentially forms one continuous story. While there are semi-standalone episodes contained within, it’s by far a better experience if watched from beginning to end as intended. Countdown and Zero Hour are the culmination of more than twenty episodes’ worth of story, and really need to be viewed in that context.

At the end of Season 2, Enterprise was recalled to Earth following an attack by the Xindi. It would be revealed to Capt. Archer that the Xindi were developing another weapon, larger in scale, that would destroy the Earth, and thus the ship was dispatched to prevent this from happening. The season continues the time travel themes established in previous stories, and explains that the Xindi are being manipulated by a faction in the Temporal Cold War.

By this point in the story, Capt. Archer has managed to contact the Xindi, and the race is on to prevent them from using the weapon – which is now fully-operational and ready to be deployed. Major Hayes, who had been a recurring character throughout the season, is killed off in a pretty brutal scene, and eventually it’s up to Archer to do whatever it takes to save Earth.

A season-long arc like this needed a truly awesome ending, and Countdown and Zero Hour delivered, providing an explosive finale.

Number 8: Home (Season 4)

Tucker, Archer, and T’Pol in Home.

Home is an interesting story, dealing in part with the way Enterprise’s crew are treated after returning to Earth. As we’ve recently seen in Star Trek: Picard, and saw hints at in Star Trek Generations, some Starfleet officers and crew seem to become semi-celebrities in the Federation, or at least people whose names are known to the public. Home explores this concept in a way we haven’t really seen in any other Star Trek story, however.

While we’d seen the Xindi weapon defeated at the very end of Season 3, Season 4’s two-part premiere took the crew on another adventure, finally wrapping up the Temporal Cold War arc. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, time travel stories have never been my favourite (both within Star Trek and outside it) so from my point of view I was glad to see that element of the show brought to a conclusion. Home is thus the first episode of Enterprise taking place after the victory over the Xindi.

The episode introduces Enterprise’s sister-ship, Columbia, which would appear on several occasions before the show wrapped production at the end of the season. This story element was nice, showing humanity finally expanding its fleet and beginning another mission of exploration. Archer’s comments that the new ship would need all the weapons it had was an acknowledgement that his optimism had been tainted by his experiences in space – with the Xindi in particular.

Home would also set up what I consider to be the fourth season’s most interesting storyline: the Terra Prime anti-alien xenophobia which would be further explored toward the end of the season.

Number 9: The Forge, Awakening, and Kir’Shara (Season 4)

Tucker and Ambassador Soval in The Forge.

As I mentioned earlier, the way Vulcans were portrayed in Enterprise as pushy, rude, arrogant, and even aggressive at times may have been in keeping with some of what we’d seen previously, but it was also quite different from how we’d seen characters like Spock and Tuvok. This trilogy of episodes essentially removes many of the higher-ranking Vulcans we’d come to know over much of Enterprise’s run, setting the stage for the changes in Vulcan society that would be needed to get them closer to prior depictions.

We’d learnt earlier in Enterprise’s run that mind-melding was something considered taboo among many 22nd Century Vulcans, and given that we know by the 23rd and 24th Centuries this would no longer be the case – and would not even be referenced – that was one of many Vulcan storylines that needed concluding. Given that Enterprise’s ratings had always been shaky and cancellation was always a threat, it may have seemed to the show’s creators that the fourth season was going to be the final opportunity. Having developed the Vulcans over three seasons, with T’Pol and Ambassador Soval in particular, there was a sense that it was necessary to try to move the Vulcans themselves closer to their 23rd and 24th Century depictions.

The resulting story is a fascinating one that takes a far deeper look at Vulcan history than anything we’d ever seen, greatly expanding on the role of Surak – the legendary father of Vulcan philosophy and logic who debuted in The Original Series third-season episode The Savage Curtain. This was a great tie-in to the franchise’s past, and explored the Vulcans from a different point of view, while at the same time making that abrupt turnaround from the way they behaved in Enterprise to what we’d already seen in other Star Trek shows.

Number 10: Demons and Terra Prime (Season 4)

John Frederick Paxton was the villain in Demons and Terra Prime.

At the beginning of Season 4, Home established that there was a faction of humans on Earth opposed to any and all dealings with aliens, something which had been a minority view but had grown massively as a result of the Xindi attack. This duology of episodes explores that idea in much more detail, and continues Star Trek’s tradition of using a science fiction setting to parallel real-world issues.

I’ve written a number of times about how it’s important to consider Star Trek episodes in the context of their time when looking at real-world parallels, and Demons and Terra Prime were written and produced in the aftermath of both the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War – both of which were major events in the early/mid-2000s. Among the many consequences of 9/11 and subsequent conflicts in the Middle East was a rise in xenophobia targeting Muslims – and I’d argue that’s what Demons and Terra Prime is paralleling with its anti-aliens storyline.

However, it’s never good enough for a story to have a moral or a message – in some cases, being too in-your-face can detract from the enjoyment. So where Demons and Terra Prime really succeed is that the story is engaging and well-told. The primary villain – John Frederick Paxton, who’s portrayed pitch-perfectly by Peter Weller, who would also play Admiral Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness – is one of Enterprise’s best. His motivation, while abhorrent, is something we as the audience can understand because, at least in 2005, we were living through what many considered to be a similar time. Paxton is a reactionary, a far-right conservative who wants to take Earth back to an era before humans and aliens had contact. He’s by no means a sympathetic villain – as we’ve spent four years with T’Pol, Phlox, and others, we feel we know them on a personal level in a way Paxton doesn’t – but he’s a fascinating one nevertheless.

Terra Prime ends with a major emotional revelation for Tucker and T’Pol, and these two characters in particular are at the heart of the story.

So that’s it. Ten great Enterprise episodes. There’s a lot to appreciate in the series, despite my initial reaction to it all those years ago. While it can certainly be argued that Enterprise led directly to Star Trek’s second major cancellation in 2005, in other ways it laid the groundwork for what would come later. The serialised storytelling in particular went a long way to modernising the franchise from a narrative point of view, and the focus on exploration brought Star Trek back to its roots.

Prequels can be difficult to get right for many reasons, and while Enterprise does create some issues for Star Trek’s wider canon, overall there were more hits than misses. The undeveloped fifth season, which supposedly would have shown parts of the Earth-Romulan war, as well as more of the lead-up to the founding of the Federation, remains to this day something I’m disappointed we never got to see.

By 2004-05, Star Trek had been on the air approaching twenty years without a break, with two shows running simultaneously for large parts of that. The whole reason Enterprise was envisioned as a prequel, instead of making another 24th Century spin-off or moving the timeline forward, is almost certainly because the people in charge of Star Trek at that time were running out of ideas. There exists such a thing as “franchise fatigue” in the world of entertainment, and thus I’d suggest that by that time, Enterprise’s cancellation had as much to do with Star Trek as a whole needing an overhaul than the series itself.

Enterprise’s 2005 cancellation seemed to mark a definitive end to the franchise, and for at least a year it seemed as though we’d got all of the Star Trek films and shows that we were ever going to. But of course we know that it wasn’t the end: Star Trek would be successfully rebooted in 2009, and finally in 2017 would return to the small screen. Enterprise’s reputation as “the show that killed Star Trek” can thus be fully rehabilitated, and while it isn’t perfect, and much of its CGI in particular is very dated by today’s standards, it is a very enjoyable show.

There’s one more article to come in this current series, which has the working title “everything else”! I will be picking ten episodes from other Star Trek productions which currently don’t have enough episodes to have a “ten great episodes” list of their own, including The Animated Series and Short Treks. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that in the next few weeks.

Star Trek: Enterprise is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Enterprise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.