ENT S04E07 The Forge (3 out of 5 stars). Finally, Manny Coto remembers that the original pitch for Enterprise was “Let’s see how we got from First Contact to The Original Series” and Admiral Forest is hoping that the Vulcans will finally be ready to begin joint missions with humans. Of all the things I had heard about Enterprise (and vaguely remembered from watching it at the time) nobody seems to be talking about the hatchet job that this series did on the Vulcan character. Once again, they are portrayed here as fearful, paranoid, deceitful, proud and petty, but there is some softening and Gary Graham manages to do something other than sneer. Bumping off Admiral Forest is a big move – he’s been a supporting player on the show since Broken Bow and was played by Vaughan Armstrong who first appeared in Star Trek back in 1988.

The strongest early episodes of Enterprise were the ones dealing with the Vulcan/Andorian conflict and so I am delighted to hear their name spoken, but in fact it’s splinter group the Syrannites who are in the frame. This emotional faction appears to have no connection to those we met in Season 1’s Fusion. Lot of splinter groups floating around Vulcan at this time, huh? Adding to the soapy feel, T’Pol’s husband turns up and reveals that her mum is one of these Syrannites too, all of which strains credulity a bit, but I’m nevertheless grateful that the emphasis is on one of our regulars and not a guest character. (Malcolm and Travis are kept busy with a largely irrelevant I’ve-stood-on-a-mine sequence after which is not seen again. Hoshi is MIA as usual.)

The titular Forge is one of the best-looking alien worlds we’ve yet seen and the pairing of T’Pol and Archer is often worthwhile, but there’s yet more thrilling-escape-from-death busywork to be done before they actually start uncovering the mystery (or learning more about each other, I’m good either way). And that’s because this is another unheralded multi-part story. Yet more mind-meld ret-conning. This time it’s still vaguely unsavoury but any random Vulcan can do it, if the need is sufficiently urgent. Also, the notion of a katra (which saved Spock’s life) seems to be a wacky fringe belief.

ENT S04E08 Awakening (3.5 out of 5 stars). One of the problems of prequels is that it’s so easy for the audience to be ahead of the characters. That’s not necessarily a problem. Dramatic irony is just as useful and legitimate a storytelling device as surprise. But when I’m already feeling as if I could have done better than my leading characters given half a chance, it doesn’t help that I know all about preserving a Vulcan’s essence by transferring their katra to another, and Archer and T’Pol are both clueless. Of rather more interest is Ambassador Soval’s transition from supercilious parent-figure to concerned ally, and the rapprochement between T’Pol and her mum. As usual, when we do get crumbs of character development, they are with the supporting characters, but pairing T’Les with her daughter and Soval with Trip helps enormously.

Director Roxann Dawson does well with Archer’s visions as well, making what could have been a rote wisdom-from-hallucinations scene into something a bit more personal and powerful. And there’s a sense here too that these paranoid and vindictive Vulcans needed human contact (and Archer in particular) to become the dignified and compassionate people we’ve known since 1966. I find it hard to believe that this was the plan from the beginning, and I would have rather seen dignified and compassionate Vulcans from the beginning – Vulcans who actually were logical instead of simply using the word “logic” as a stick to beat lesser races with. But we are where we are, and this isn’t a bad fix, especially as again it makes clear that humans were a vital part of the Federation puzzle. We also aren’t done with this story yet – it’s a second consecutive three-parter. Gotta love the ambition suddenly on display here. Helmsman Travis gets one brief scene where he tells Chief Engineer Trip about the engineering fix he’s pulled off. Hoshi is almost entirely absent (as is Phlox).

ENT S04E09 Kir’Shara (4 out of 5 stars). The “blue-skins” are back! Shadows of P’Jem has proven to be a remarkably influential episode. This early triumph of the first season pointed a clear way forward for the show which was sadly often ignored, but the thread which starts there and ends here is probably what I will remember Enterprise for most. It’s also nice to see Trip stepping up in Archer’s absence. This gun-toting good old boy might make a decent officer yet.

But this is really about the continuing political double-dealing between the Vulcans and Andorians, with great work from both Gary Graham and Jeffrey Combs, who really sell the (still rather distasteful) torture scene. And it’s about how the Vulcans and the humans finally manage to bring out the best in each other, which is all rather sweet.

Manny Coto’s apology tour for the past three seasons continues as the nonsense about T’Pol’s mind-meld disease is ret-conned away. All he needs to do now is turn Malcolm, Hoshi and Travis into actual characters and he truly will have achieved the impossible. That last twist is basically nonsense though, and costs this episode half a star. Vulcan divorces are remarkably quick and easy. All it takes is for the husband to say “laters”. Whether the wife has the same power is not clear.

ENT S04E10 Daedalus (3 out of 5 stars). The title is a giveaway of course. Daedalus was the father of Icarus whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. This hopeful aerial pioneer is Dr Emory Erickson, inventor of the transporter, which in four short seasons has gone from unreliable and experimental death-trap, to only-to-be-used-in-emergencies-but-probably-fine, to routine mode of travel for people and cargo alike. As usual the title sequence is just shoved in between routine scenes of calm domesticity. We’re a long way away from the punchy teasers of past franchises.

Erickson, the crackpot inventor in a wheelchair, feels like a bit of a trope. Even today, breakthroughs tend to come from whole teams of researchers working together, not one mad genius whose broken body allows the mind to soar. But Cobbs makes him charming and reasonable, and having one character stand in for an idea or a point of view makes for better drama than an army of anonymous drones all working away. However, after a strong run of serialised episodes, this stand-alone story feels thin, and the drama unfolds with few surprises or innovations. I’d have been delighted by this in Season 1 or 2, but by now the show can do much better than this.

ENT S04E11 Observer Effect (4 out of 5 stars). Super-powerful aliens appear to have taken over Malcom and Travis. It’s hard to spot this at first as Dominic Keating is playing it as Evadne Hinge whereas Anthony Montgomery is just playing Travis. Having what’s essentially a director’s commentary from inside the episode is a novel wrinkle, which adds some useful dramatic irony, but Travis’s alien observer is so poor at his job that (not for the first time on this show) he makes the rest of the regulars look like dummies for not immediately going “Something is badly wrong, put this guy in the brig until we figure out what’s up.” In fact, in general it does seem like rigging up little cameras would be a better MO for super-powerful aliens who want to spy on humans, rather than inhabiting the bodies of two of the crew.

Even more surprises – Hoshi gets some lines, and she and Trip end up coughing and puking in quarantine. Trip is astonished to hear Hoshi’s tales of being chucked out of the Academy, and no wonder as they all flatly contradict everything we’ve learned about her so far. There’s a line between revealing layers and just writing a brand new character, and this feels like it’s way over that line.

So, this is yet another riff on Q putting humans on trial, but while the plot machinery of the crew infected with a deadly virus is fairly routine, this is a good excuse to shut two characters in a small room together, and the perspective of the “Observers” adds a nifty extra layer. I especially like how they pass from person to person with no distracting visual effects. The moment of eye contact between Malcolm and Travis on the bridge when they are repossessed is deliciously creepy.

How a silicon-based virus interacts with carbon-based cellular machinery is not clear.

So… what did I think of… wait, what?
Trekaday #124: Babel One, United, The Aenar, Affliction, Divergence, Bound