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27 July 2007 @ 02:43 pm
How They Should Have Done It: Enterprise (Part 2)  

When Enterprise was announced, they talked about "NASA with warp drive", and that's what I was hoping for.

Unfortunately, we didn't get it. Well, maybe we got this NASA; we sure didn't get this one. The first few episodes seemed determined to confirm what the Asshole Vulcans on the show insisted: that humans shouldn't have been out there in the first place.

Would it really have been so hard to write them as competant professionals who really are the scientists and seasoned explorers they claim to be?

The episode that pretty much made me dump the show was "Strange New World". The ship surveys a planet that the Vulcans haven't yet surveyed, and Archer insists on sending a landing party down without protective gear or any reasonable survey, because it's exciting and new and awww, come on, T'Pol, don't be a big MEANIE!

Change half-a-dozen lines in that script, and the Earthers would look like practical, pragmatic professionals instead of a bunch of joyriding teenagers playing catch with the Idiot Ball.

Damned right we're going to do that week-long geophysical survey! That's why we're here: we're explorers and scientists, not tourists. Sure, collecting and processing remote sensing data isn't exactly thrilling television -- I know that better than anyone; it's what I do for a living, when I'm actually working. It doesn't have to happen on screen, though.

Archer (VO): Captain's Log, 17 May 2151, ship time. For the last week, Enterprise has been conducting an orbital survey of a new world -- new even to our science officer, as this is our first excursion outside the boundaries of the Vulcan star charts. We've collected as much data as we can from our ship's sensors, and are organizing a landing party to collect samples from the surface....

Maybe the Horrible Mind Warp Plants only pollenate under certain seasonal conditions, instead of every night. Heck, tie the storm into it: maybe the plants only pollenate in heavy weather, like the Terran plants that need a brush fire to germinate.

How's this for an alternate exchange?

Archer: We should have been more cautious. We barely spent a week on the orbital survey...
T'Pol: Nonsense. You could not have predicted the psychotropic effects of the pollen of a single species; not without analyzing samples of the indeginous vegetation. There was no logical reason to assume a potential threat.

Oh, but capable professionals content to do routine tasks to prepare for Really Exciting Stuff? where's the conflict? You can't have Drama without Conflict!

Well, let's start tweaking the backstories a bit, and look for Drama a bit more sophisticated than you usually find on Livejournal.

Enterprise established that Starfleet wanted the Best of the Best of the Best for their first deep-space Warp 5 mission -- and this was largely considered a research and exploration mission. There might be one or more civilian experts on board, the pinnacle of their respective fields, but not members of Starfleet, not uniformed, not subject to military discipline -- and maybe a bit on the eccentric side. Phlox and T'Pol have that kind of status; why not some human experts, as well?

Yoshi the Magic Linguist makes a lot more sense that way -- and it makes her flakier tendencies slightly more tolerable than they were in someone who was theoretically a trained military woman. (Of course, it would have been even better if the flaky character who insisted they turn back when they ran into a ship full of mutilated corpses had been male...)

I could see a lot of entertaining conflict between cautious, professional military officers and crew and a band of fractious, idiosyncratic geniuses. Friction between the human specialists, each top in their field, and the general polymath Vulcan observer/coordinator could be even more amusing.

Or does the Stargate franchise have a monopoly on the Eccentric Expert Who Isn't Part Of The Chain of Command?
I feel: geekygeeky
Tombfyretombfyre on July 27th, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I really would have liked that show more if it was far more serious and technical. Hell, I'd have loved it if it started right after the first few years of warp flight, rather than a century down the road.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on July 27th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
I agree, overwhelmingly, with everything that Athelind has said, but what really fries my noodle is this: he's right. I'll go a bit farther. He's obviously right. So, given that he's so obviously right, why is this kind of bad writing and plotting so absurdly common?
scarfman on July 27th, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC)

Because writing well is harder than it looks?

Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on July 27th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't think so. I think that if a writer is surrounded with honest, intelligent and interested people it's reasonably hard to write truly badly.

For instance, Athelind himself has had occasion to tell me, personally, that I was writing something deeply stupid. By the way, thank you for that, A. ;)
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on July 28th, 2007 06:26 am (UTC)
Well, you were writing some of it ON MY COMPUTER.
John "The Gneech" Robey: One True Trekthe_gneech on July 28th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
Well, there's also a matter of who's in charge of the show. If everybody but the boss knows that something is stupid, they'll do the stupid thing anyway.

That's the story of my job in a nutshell, in fact. -.-

"The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe."
--Leonard McCoy

-The Gneech
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on July 28th, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)
I agree with you, but it still fries my noodle, because the next obvious question is, "How did these guys get to be in charge in the first place if they're incapable of recognizing, consistently, when serious mistakes are being made?"
John "The Gneech" Robey: Blankthe_gneech on July 28th, 2007 02:13 am (UTC)
Well, yes. I don't have a good answer for that one.

-The Gneech
Hafochafoc on July 28th, 2007 02:20 am (UTC)
Because it's not a mistake.

The basic problem with ST-Enterprise is sequelitis. It's a prequel or, I would say, kind of sequel-slash-recreation of the original Trek. In the movie business, sequels generally suck, but any good and original flick spawns a slew of sequels anyway. The studios don't care if the sequels suck; they're just about guaraunteed to make about 2/3 what the original did, if I remember correctly.

So oh, yeah, we'll redo Trek Classic. It may suck, but we'll make a tidy profit with no risk, simply because it has the Star Trek brand name.

"Those guys" get to be in charge, in any bureaucracy, because they ALWAYS followed the former boss's procedures and NEVER EVER took any risks. Therefore they never make any enemies, never get reputations as troublemakers, and never make any mistakes. Prime management material. The fact that they also never did anything good in their entire careers goes unnoticed.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on July 28th, 2007 02:41 am (UTC)
See, at this point, if I said I was trying to guide the conversation in this direction, I might not be believed. ;)

But, yes. ST Enterprise was seen as a way to make a tidy profit, one way or another, because they knew that a bunch of people, at least initially, would see it. That the industry does not select for quality, that people are not promoted on grounds of artistic merit or even long term franchise success, but, at best, a superficial ability to make money.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on July 28th, 2007 02:42 am (UTC)
And, yes, because they know people in the system that promote them.
Hafochafoc on July 27th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
Or what's wrong with a story where the Star Fleet chain of command hadn't really been worked out yet? One thing about short range exploration missions; they don't really have that much of a chain of command, and nearly no broad independent authority for the commander.

With today's tech, once a ship heads off to the moon or another planet, it can't even turn back. If you built a reaction-drive slowboat to travel to Alpha Centauri and return without refueling, it could presumably slow down, stop, and return to Earth without having completed the whole trip, but not much more than that. When you move to an early warp drive, you improve things. But say (as is likely) it takes months or a year or two ship's time to get to your destination star and return. And say it would take a significant fraction of your available resources to change course to another star.

Under those circumstances, Proto-Fleet would probably take the NASA approach of drilling the Captain and crew mercilessly to prepare them for any situation imagined. Although presumably Proto-Fleet would value independent problem-solving skills (or would say they did), they would probably make their final choice based on who was best in simulations and drill. Who was best, in other words, at falling automatically into a pre-programmed response to any emergency, with no independent thinking at all.

Now, with Enterprise NX-01, Proto-Fleet has gone beyond a leaky galley that's going to starve its crew or sink unless it scoots across the ocean exactly according to a preset plan. Now they have a man-o'-war that might be out there for years, setting course from this side of the ocean to that side to around the Horn and completely out of sight, at the commander's discretion, however contingencies warrant.

Presumably they know they need a crew with more independence. But that will go directly against all their traditions. And try as they might, they won't really have any idea of the command and social structure they'll need to make an independent ship work.
Your Obedient Serpent: veteranathelind on July 28th, 2007 06:32 am (UTC)
On the other claw, the one real example we have of a catastrophe in space that didn't immediately result in instant death for the astronauts was Apollo 13 -- and the reason the crew made it back safely was because of their improvisational skills.

The Big Inky Will Kill You Even Faster Than Mother Ocean, and you need Really Smart Polymaths out there to make sure it doesn't. As I see it, in the scenario I described above, the breaking of tradition comes from allowing people who AREN'T trained to think and improvise during a crisis -- namely, the "civilian" science team.
Hafochafoc on July 28th, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC)
I considered Apollo 13 before I wrote my crackpot screed. In that case the improvisational skills of the crew itself consisted of being good enough at piloting to prevent spinning out of control and ruining their navigational system during the first minutes of the disaster. The actual improvisational skills were supplied by the geeks in the back room in Houston. The geeks figured out how to bounce this particular graviton particle beam off this particular main deflector dish. They told 13 what to do, by radio, and the crew aboard 13 did as they were told.

Apollo 13's response to something that wasn't on their checklist was to get a new checklist.

NX-01 might be the first human spaceship that has to carry its own back room full of geeks. And if so, all the established command structure and the established traditions will contain nothing to handle them.

That's not going to keep it from working, but it will cause stresses and hostility. Good plot material.

Historical examples: World War II, where the "black shoe" (battleship) personnel couldn't stand the less formal "brown shoe" (aviator) types. And both shoe colors had trouble with the reservists, who ended up doing their job just fine, but didn't respect Traditions and Proper Discipline, dammit...
Fraggle: Darth Fooffragglemon on July 27th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on July 28th, 2007 06:33 am (UTC)
...Janeway remains my favorite Starfleet captain. She's tougher than Kirk and a better diplomat than Picard.
Fragglefragglemon on July 28th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
Hafochafoc on July 28th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)
She's less histrionic than Kirk and less pompous than Picard.
doc_mysterydoc_mystery on July 28th, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)
I could see a lot of entertaining conflict between cautious, professional military officers and crew and a band of fractious, idiosyncratic geniuses. Friction between the human specialists, each top in their field, and the general polymath Vulcan observer/coordinator could be even more amusing.

A.E. Van Vogt's fixit novel, Voyage of the Space Beagle, essentially has this set up you describe.

Except with a human who is an expert in everything (a so-called Nexialist) filling the role of the Vulcan...

Your Obedient Serpentathelind on July 28th, 2007 06:35 am (UTC)
There's another book from the '70s that does something similar, though I can't remember the name. In fact, there wre a lot of good models for Early Trailblazing Starflight Missions that they could have used for inspiration, if they'd just bothered to look beyond the boundaries of their own franchise.
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on July 28th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
Hmm. I agree as a general rule. Mostly. }:>
Stalbonstalbon on July 28th, 2007 07:55 am (UTC)
I never got into Enterprise. I caught part of an episode on the other day, and Archer just...ugh. He doesn't look like a captain. He's the dashing man who's out to prove he can do things in a physical manner. I'm always used to that role being filled by the Number 1, or perhaps the Security Chief. And yes, I realize Ryker was promoted to Captain, but under his Captaincy, he more emulated Picard than kept his dynamic 'romantic hero' role. So I pretty much wave away Enterprise, even though I realize it has it's good moments.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on July 28th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
...so basically, he was too much like Kirk.
Stalbonstalbon on July 29th, 2007 08:01 am (UTC)
*Smirk* Yes, I suppose that's it in a nutshell. I always preferred Picard and Janeway over Kirk...especially since they never showed Janeway to be the 'less rational, more emotional' captain simply because she was female.
Pyatpyat on July 28th, 2007 07:48 pm (UTC)
I like these. Again. :)

I'm just reading Alan Dean Foster's Star Trek Log books from the early 70s, and was noting how they were periodically out of contact with Starfleet.
AraKaraath halfDragon: laugharakaraath on July 28th, 2007 09:11 pm (UTC)
As much as I hate to say it, 'Stargate: Atlantis' got it right. An expedition, under the command of a civilian who has command over both the civilian scientists and the millitary crew there to defend them. You get the professional millitary personnel with enough personality to be likable and the annoying, eccentric scientists who think they are Gods gift to intellect (ok, maybe that's just McKay).

My only gripe with Stargate is whenever they step through the Stargate somewhere on a pilot episode they piss off the local badguys and end up having to fight them off for the series.

Enterprise was a bad idea from the beginning. Long live Picard.