Blu-ray producer Roger Lay, Jr. previews the Enterprise: Season Four Blu-ray and looks back at some of the greatest discoveries made along the way while assembling the Blu-ray extras.
With the upcoming release of Star Trek: Enterprise – Season Four on Blu-ray, we get to close the book on our behind-the-scenes exploration of one of the most controversial chapters in the Star Trek franchise. Premiering in the fall of 2001 to critical acclaim and stellar ratings (the pilot episode was seen by more than 15 million viewers), the show soon found itself languishing in a creative black hole – with the creators constantly fighting to create a new identity for the long-running television franchise, which, at the time had produced more than 500 hours of programming following some very specific and perhaps restrictive creative parameters.
Producing the Enterprise Blu-ray releases has allowed us the opportunity to create a series of in-depth, multi-part documentaries exploring what might’ve been if Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had been given the freedom to create a prequel to the Star Trek Universe we know and love -- without any creative limitations dictated by the needs of the studio or the network producing and broadcasting the series, respectively.
On the Season One Blu-ray, we got to explore Braga’s ideas for a prequel series set mostly on Earth during the show’s inaugural season. This early concept for Enterprise was intended to present the socio-political challenges and consequences a project of such grand scale as the launch of the first warp-five vessel would present for the United Earth Starfleet. Berman and Braga felt it would be immensely compelling to explore the challenges faced by Jonathan Archer and his colleagues to get such a risky endeavor off the ground. Not only would this be an incredibly difficult and complicated process, but Archer would also have to confront a human isolationist group, which had no desire to let him reveal Earth’s existence to countless of potentially dangerous alien species by going out into the galaxy and announcing humanity’s presence. Even though this concept was part of the final story arc of the series in the form of Peter Weller’s John Frederick Paxton and his followers (Terra Prime), the initial idea was to explore this threat right from the start.
With the launch of the NX-01 at the end of the first season, Captain Jonathan Archer’s problems did not come to an end, since commanding a long-term exploration mission aboard a highly experimental craft resulted in many fatal complications. The crew of the NX-01 was always envisioned by the series’ creators as true pioneers of space exploration. These heroic men and women put their lives at risk every day, round the clock, by dealing with cutting-edge and untested technology just like Chuck Yeager and the early test pilots did every time they jumped into the cockpit of a new craft.
On the Season Two Blu-ray special features collection, Chris Black and many of the other writers also revealed their constant attempts to include elements in the scripts that would help remind viewers of the high price these pioneering explorers paid by taking part in such a dangerous mission. In this early vision for the show, crew members would’ve been seriously hurt or lost their lives in the in the line of duty aboard the experimental NX-01 vessel. Notes from executives kept forcing writers to remove these elements from scripts, and we soon found our characters as safe and comfortable on this experimental vessel as Picard and his crew were on the luxurious NCC-1701-D 200 years in the future.
The studio was also incredibly worried about producing a prequel series, so they informed Berman and Braga there needed to be some “future element” to the show, prompting the creation of the Temporal Cold War subplot and the idea of unknown forces in humanity’s far future attempting to change the past in order to impede the expansion of the human race into the final frontier. Since this was an element the creators added to the series’ overall plot at the last minute, there was never a clear sense of how it would pay off or what specific discoveries Archer and his crew would make to help unravel this mystery. On the Season Four Blu-ray set, we finally got the opportunity to reveal some of the ideas the writers had tossed around in the hopes of resolving this long-running story thread. Braga even reveals the identity of “Future Guy” himself – the man attempting to stop Archer from fulfilling his destiny -- as one of the key figures in the creation of a United Federation of Planets.
Everything changed with the devastating attack on Earth by the Xindi in the season two finale. That set the stage for seasons three and four which would bring us some of the boldest and most daring stories the series would offer. After wrapping up the Xindi arc, Manny Coto found himself in command of the show’s creative development as showrunner in season four after Brannon Braga stepped down in order to develop other projects, including the short-lived science fiction drama Threshold. Now, with this final installment of our Blu-ray collection, we get the opportunity to explore what might’ve been if the series had continued on to a fifth year and beyond.
The centerpiece of the season four special features collection is the two-hour documentary film “BEFORE HER TIME: DECOMISSIONING ENTERPRISE.” This four-part documentary sheds light on the development and production of the series’ final season, still considered by fans as the show’s shining hour, with an amazing collection of episodes that finally helped the series fulfill its promise as the prequel chapter in the Star Trek saga. Almost every episode in this season helps bring the storytelling one step closer to the world of Star Trek: The Original Series.
To close out this Blu-ray collection, we’ve also put together another reunion piece: this time bringing together members of the show’s writing staff from all four seasons. Fans who’ve picked up the previous sets are well aware of the many drastic changes in the writing staff and creative direction during the show’s entire run. We felt it was really important to reunite the key group of individuals responsible for some of the more significant creative developments during the series’ run.
This feature-length writing staff reunion special tracks the complete creative arc of the series from its rocky beginnings to the chaotic and frantic development of the Xindi War story arc, and ultimately the highly satisfying mini-arcs developed for season four by writers and longtime Star Trek fans such as Coto, Mike Sussman, and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who relished the opportunity to finally tell stories that could help lay the foundation for some of the classic elements first seen in The Original Series.
Since the show left the air in 2005, fans have been wondering about the lost tales of the NX-01 crew leading up to the founding of the Federation. Viewers will be thrilled to discover some of the incredibly mind-boggling plots and ideas Coto and company had planned for season five and beyond, including an origin tale for the cloud city of Stratos first seen in the TOS episode “The Cloud Minders,” a mini-series set in the Mirror Universe, more tales centered around the Gorn and the Orion Syndicate, and, more importantly, the complete details for the storyline cooked up by the Reeves-Stevens which was being considered by William Shatner to reprise his iconic role of Kirk… Tiberius Kirk!
There’s still so much more for Trek fans to discover in this Blu-ray collection. I hope they pick up a set later this month and revisit the show, since Enterprise really does deserve a second chance. The cast did a remarkable job at bringing these characters to life and defining them early on with great emotion and likability; it took some time for me to warm up to the crew of Voyager and the inhabitants of Deep Space Nine, but I loved Archer, Phlox, T’Pol, Trip, Malcolm, Travis, Hoshi, and Porthos right from the start.
As a fan of Enterprise, I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to help give the show a new lease on life via these Blu-ray releases and to offer fans some answers to the many questions they’ve had relating to the key creative decisions made during the series’ run. If you’re a fan of Archer and his crew, you will get a great deal of satisfaction in hearing Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Manny Coto, Mike Sussman and the other architects of the show as they give an incredibly candid look at what might’ve been if the crew of the NX-01had been afforded the opportunity to truly boldly go...
Star Trek: Enterprise -- Season Four will be available tomorrow, April 29, at a cost $130 in the U.S. and $150 in Canada. Visit Amazon.com to pre-order. Keep an eye on StarTrek.com for additional details.