ENT S03E01 The Xindi (2 out of 5 stars). The season-long arc kicks off with “Last time on Enterprise” setting us up for the epic story to come. The crew of the NX-01 are coming to kick some alien ass. The episode proper starts with a council of bugs and fish, so if you were wondering who sent the initial probe (whose sole purpose seems to be to alert humans to the fact that an ill-prepared enemy has us in their sights and give us time to get our act together) you aren’t kept in suspense for more than five seconds.

When the titles start, that dreadful theme song has been augmented with more percussion and I think maybe tambourines and now sounds significantly worse, which the appearance of the words “Star” and “Trek” does little to alleviate (at least on my DVD copy, for broadcast they turned up a few episodes later). Further changes are in the offing. Enterprise has had a new command centre retrofitted, which the Captain and Malcolm helpfully remind each other about. And Jolene Blalock’s naturally arching eyebrows have finally been made to look like every other Vulcan. And rather than have her rolling around in her undies, this episode simply goes for broke and has her topless.

Plodding around the galaxy asking if any dive bars have heard of these “Xindi” of which you speak seems like a lot of shoe leather to accomplish very little. The invincible, unstoppable, unknowable threat we faced at the beginning of The Expanse is now being written more like someone’s disreputable brother-in-law who skipped down after burning down his car wash. Meanwhile Trip is suffering from generic nightmares in a misguided quest to add depth to his character and specificity to the disaster. There are finally some more characters on the ship, notably Steven Culp and Daniel Dae Kim. But since these are soldiers, they are almost all required to be American male humans. These new space marines get to rescue Archer and Trip, further undermining the qualities of our screw-up regulars – not that any of them are particularly well-serviced. T’Pol and Phlox get a couple of scenes each. Hoshi gets to do her Henry Higgins act. Was Travis in this episode at all? I don’t remember.

The Xindi arc was a last roll of the dice by producers. Enterprise had debuted to something like 12 million viewers. By the end of Season 2, it was down to 4 million. Everything was riding on ordinary Americans flocking back for this episode, but they continued to stay away in droves. The death knell of the show was sounded right here.

ENT S03E02 Anomaly (3 out of 5 stars). So we’ve been promised that this terrifying “Expanse” is going to prove highly problematic for the ship – and indeed in the last episode we saw some crates in the cargo bay jumping around – but like the Briar Patch, or the nebula in Wrath of Khan, or the whatever it was called in Nemesis, this is just about making our super-duper futuristic ship and crew have to slow down and solve trivial problems while they plod towards the main plot. And as if revealing that the terrifying super weapon which claimed 7 million lives on earth was just a trial run, with the rest of the Armada still being painstakingly assembled countless light-years away, hadn’t sapped enough suspense from the scenario, now we put quicksand between our heroes and their goal because that buys us another episode. I’m not here for it.

Having given up on character development for the main seven, we are returning to the space marines in hope of finding some engaging personalities. At least Archer knows the names of more than six other people on board I suppose. Someone else who seems impatient to get to the main plot is Archer himself, barely blinking at the sight of his ship being turned into gelatinous rubber. He makes a quick stop off to examine some alien corpses, and then is all like: full-steam ahead, we’ll patch up the ship on the hoof.

Still, if you can forget about the season arc, and you can tolerate the usual junk science, this is at least exciting, with boarding parties, alien corpses, floating coffee cups and plenty of running and shooting from all concerned. and exploring the death star which they find upon following the ion trails of the departing pirate ships does have some of the majesty and wonder which I associate with some of the stronger parts of this franchise. What I don’t associate with Star Trek is the 24-style torture deployed by Archer, which is hateful.

Funny kind of spatial anomaly which seems to preferentially affect foodstuffs and their containers.

ENT S03E03 Extinction (1 out of 5 stars). Taking a leaf out of Steve McQueen’s book, Trip attempts to seduce midriff-baring T’Pol with soft fruit. This kind of happy ending male fantasy wish fulfilment is toe-curlingly obvious and possibly my least favourite aspect of what’s a pretty soggy episode. Stop trying to make Trip and T’Pol happen! If this is cringe, what happens next is absolutely mortifying as the landing party goes all Mike Westmore noses and scary grunting. It’s all utterly derivative and violently uninteresting.

ENT S03E04 Rajiin (1 out of 5 stars). Who’s playing Star Trek trope bingo? Over the last few episodes you’ve been able to check off Zagbars vs Zoobles, space porn, spatial anomalies which look weird but leave no lasting damage, the crew transformed into monsters and Earth under attack. Anyway, this episode is centred on a beautiful slave woman on the run. Somebody must have a line by now? If not, then here’s another dose of bartering for information with nefarious alien traders for you. Even the arc plot is botched here. The terrifying probe which tore up Earth in The Expanse has been retired in favour of a bio-weapon which is still under development. Great, I was beginning to worry that they had more than one of those probes. Guess I’ll just relax. One star for using “exotic” Earth spices as currency, or this would have been my first zero.

“Season Three is where it gets good” is something that fans of Berman-Trek hear and say a lot. Well, it hasn’t held up for Enterprise so far. This has been about the poorest run of episodes I can remember, making me nostalgic for rubbish like If Wishes Were Horses or Too Short a Season. More than anything, I get the sense that nobody on the writing team has any real idea what to do with the Expanse, the threat to Earth or the Xindi, the details of all of which seem to shift from episode-to-episode. Brannon Braga fired the entire writing staff at the end of the first season, but it didn’t seem to help. No-one seems to understand how to put together a multi-episode narrative. Where’s Ira Steven Behr? Where’s Ron Moore? Where’s Michael Piller?

ENT S03E05 Impulse (4.5 out of 5 stars). Teasers on this show seem to fall into two categories – calm people having ordinary conversations for longer than would seem necessary, or incredibly brief snatches of chaos and hysteria. This is the latter, seeming more like “this week on Mission Impossible” than the traditional curtain raisers, and features T’Pol having an attack of the screaming ab-dabs which requires her to be physically restrained. It seems a day earlier, Trip planned to screen a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby picture. Maybe that’s the cause.

Of rather more interest is the distress call from a Vulcan ship. Vulcans, you’ll remember, were full of ghastly tales about the hideous nature of the Expanse, exactly none of which have been bourn out by Enterprise’s experience so far. Archer takes a shuttlepod to investigate while Travis (hey Travis) tries to land on an asteroid to mine it for unobtanium. Old hand David Livingston does lovely work behind the camera, making the distressed Vulcan ship genuinely creepy, even before the survivors turn out all to be murderously nuts. Luckily, Archer thought to bring along one of those space marines for protection, even if he’s the first one to be seriously injured.

Once again, the main characters are just a bunch of guys trying to solve a problem. It scarcely matters who they are, or what beliefs they hold – except that one of them is T’Pol. And it’s not just that she’s Vulcan and therefore subject to the same Expanse hoo-doo that nobbled the existing crew, it’s that we can see how hard she’s trying to conceal her mounting anxiety for the sake of the mission, her professionalism and her silly Vulcan pride. When she loses it, it’s terribly affecting, and Jolene Blalock is even more amazing than she’s been previously. Combined with the strong thriller plotting, strong direction and atmospheric lighting, it makes for a thankfully very impressive episode, with a very disturbing unresolved ending.

First script credit for Terry Matalas, who returned to show-run the widely-acclaimed Star Trek Picard in 2022. When Trip, Travis, Malcolm, T’Pol and the Captain leave the bridge, all their stations are unmanned. Hoshi’s there on her own!

ENT S03E06 Exile (2.5 out of 5 stars). It’s our Hoshi episode for this year, and because this is Enterprise, that means we open with her walking about her quarters in her scanties, and because this is Star Trek, she’s being menaced by a mysterious male voice in her head. At this point I’m just praying the episode doesn’t go full Sub Rosa. The hilariously named “Tarquin” (presumably his alien telepathic buddies are called Jules and Sebastian), promises he has all sorts of handy-dandy info about the Xindi, but he’ll only work to generate it (huh?) if Hoshi sticks around to brighten the place up. She agrees, and he proceeds to invade her privacy, creep around her, bully her, and she still refuses to fall in love with him, the silly cow. Sigh. I guess this is the story we tell with female regulars. Welcome to the club, Hoshi. Beverley Crusher, Deanna Troi, Kira Nerys, B’Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine are here to show you the ropes (in fact one of them directed this episode). And poor old Maury Sterling has so much prosthetic gubbins in and around his mouth he sounds like he’s saying his lines while undergoing a dental exam. Half a star extra because the Expanse actually has some teeth this week. Even fake hallucination Archer only knows the names of six other crew members.

Trekaday #117: Cogenitor, Regeneration, First Flight, Bounty, The Expanse
Trekaday #119: The Shipment, Twilight, North Star, Similitude, Carpenter Street, Chosen Realm