Being Captain Archer
The Back Story, When Enough is Too Much
I am not going to lie, I am one of those people who really liked Star Trek Enterprise. I am not saying that the series was without it’s flaws. I won’t even say that it’s detractors are wrong about it. To quote the captain himself,
– Jonathan Archer, 2152
I am not going to try to defend the series or all of it missteps and mistakes, instead I am going to talk about two of the things that it offered. As a whole Start Trek, especially with The Next Generation and all of the iterations around that, had been come very clean and clinical. I have talked about the differences between Kirk and Picard and how by the time Picard came around Star Fleet was very much a interstellar negotiating team. That, I think, is why the Borg took them so much by surprise.
What Enterprise and particular Captain Archer brought back the the series was a feeling of making those first unsure steps, that sense of wonder, that sense of, we are out here all alone and we had to deal with this problem anyway. In that way Archer is much more like Kirk that he was like Picard. He had to fly by the seat of his pants because he had no other choice, there was no back up coming. There is no Remmler Array where they are scheduled for a baryon sweep, a maintenance cycle that removes large amounts of radiation that builds up in the hulls of starships that travel for extended periods at warp. In that way Enterprise puts a very human face back on Star Fleet. We can all relate to that feeling of having to be out there on our own and figure stuff out along the way.
The other major thing that Enterprise did was give us was back story. Where did the Enterprise come from? Why was it chosen as the flagship? How did the federation get started? Basically, where did it all begin? And Enterprise and again Captain Archer did just that. We find out that Archer played a huge role in getting the Federation started. We find out that Vulcans are not the peace loving totally logical beings we thought they were. And it answered some silly questions like what happened to the Klingon’s head ridges.
And that leads me back to how this relates to writing. As I said in the beginning there were a lot of problems with Enterprise, but I want to focus on two of them. The first one, is that while it was putting a more human face on the series as a whole, it might have gone a bit overboard with putting a human face on the characters. You had a engineer who didn’t seem to be able to engineer himself out of a paper bag, a communications officer who can’t communicate very well, and a Captain, and there by the person who will make first contact with other species, who can’t seem to keep his cool during a negotiation that has gone wrong. All of these can be clearly seen in one episode Vox Sola.
The problem here is not that they don’t always know what they are doing, the problem is that they don’t know what they are doing even though they are supposed the be the best at what they are doing. You can’t make your main character(s) the best in their field and yet have them stumble over the simple things. To offer another example you can’t have a doctor lacking basic knowledge of anatomy. These almost caricatures of the point of view characters detracted so from the series that it took away from the stories credibility. Don’t get me wrong here, a bumbling character can be funny, they can offer comic relief. A bumbling character can even drive the story. A really good example of this in Galaxy Billies by Michell Plested. However, when a character is supposed to be an expert in their field, when it comes to that field, they had better know what they are doing.
The second major problem with Enterprise was in the back story. In a lot of ways it really offered too much in the way of back story. Did we really need to know about the Xindi if they never see them again? Did we need to know the story of how the Klingons lost their head ridges, or were we as consumers willing to chalk it up to a budget thing and leave it at that.
This can be a problem in writing too, and something that I constantly struggle with. I love to do research. I love to do research for the pure sake of learning something new. I will start down a path to find out one simple thing about someone or something, and end up reading about how three hundred years before that persons great great great grandfather fought to bring peace to the land, and was killed so the great great great grandmother had to raise ten kids on her own. All very interesting but how does it tie in to my pov’s being left handed and do the readers really need know about it.
What Enterprise, and what probably this article itself suffers from is too much back story. There are just things that we don’t need to know about. The whole episode with the Temporal Cold War and the Second world war. While that was somewhat interesting, at least to a history buff like myself, it really didn’t do much to move the story along, and really didn’t add anything to the Star Trek universe as a whole that it could not live without.
What you are you left with at the end of the day is asking yourself does this information need to be here? Does it help to move the story along? Could the story stand on it’s own without this information? If the answers to these questions seems to lead you to think maybe you don’t need some of the back story in the story itself, then maybe it is time to do some editing.
So yes, I can proudly say I am Captain Archer, Taking those first tentative steps in to a new adventure, but before I am ready to publish something, it had better look more like I Captain Picard.