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Star Trek is a very lucrative franchise that has seen many different incarnations in various formats over the last few decades. Arguably the most superior is the second major series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, but many fans still favour the original Kirk-led 'classic' Star Trek vision. Personally, I do not think they will ever top the second movie that was produced, the Wrath of Khan, although the Next Generation's first solo cinematic endeavour, First Contact, was graced with the presence of one of the best Star Trek enemies: The Borg. The Next Generation saw several spin-offs, which were generally regarded as superb, not least Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The latest Star Trek incarnation is Enterprise, a series set before all of the others in the franchise, following the early voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season
If you have not had the pleasure of catching Star Trek Enterprise then I strongly recommend that you go back and start it from the beginning. It has often been commented that the first couple of seasons were disappointing at best, but I would argue that many TV shows take a while to find their feet. Either way, it is still essential if you want to get the best out of this series' later seasons that you revisit the earlier ones and get a feel for the characters and the story. In its briefest form, what we have seen so far is the Enterprise set off on its mission to seek out new lifeforms across the galaxy. Led by the heroic Captain Jonathan Archer (played as more Kirk than Picard in nature by Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula), the ship's major crew members include the clinical second-in-command, T'Pol (a female Vulcan precursor to Spock), the gung-ho engineer Trip, the tactical officer Reed, the communications officer Sato and the doctor, Phlox.

They have seen new worlds, encountered new species, seen future versions of themselves and been threatened with annihilation on more than one occasion. We pick up after the Enterprise has been given a new mission of the utmost importance, the outcome of which could determine the fate of the human race. A new alien species has been discovered, the Xindi, who believe that in the future they will be wiped out by humans and so have planned a pre-emptive strike to wipe out human life and thus prevent their own obliteration. Captain Archer learnt about this at the end of the second season and his new mission became to seek out the Xindi and their super-weapon (which they have already test-fired, with devastating results) and prevent them from proceeding with their plans of war.

"I can't save humanity without holding on to what makes me human."

Enterprise Season 3 kicks off exactly as it means to go on, following the Xindi story-arc that carries straight through from the end of the last season to the start of the next. It is one of the first times that I have come across such a strong story arc, which pervades almost every single episode and it works to good effect, giving the stories much more depth and importance and also leaving you wanting to watch them back to back because of the ongoing evolution. Obviously some episodes are more 'important' to the Xindi sub-story than others, but most of the episodes contribute in some small way towards it. To divulge the specific nature of each individual story, especially in order, would ruin the pleasure of watching this for yourself, but basically this season sees the Enterprise make significant progress in its quest to seek out and stop the Xindi, although at a high price to the ship and the crew.

Archer faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles at every turn, not least having to voyage through 'The Expanse' in order to find his prey, an area of space dotted with strange spheres that cause significant problems aboard the Enterprise through spatial distortions. This is also one of the many reasons why we see the ship attacked, boarded and sometimes overrun by various opponents across the season. The ship has already been outfitted with extra weapons (photon torpedoes) and the crew extended with a Military Assault Command Space Marine Unit trained for combat situations, in anticipation of the dangers that they may encounter on this mission, but the distruption caused by the Expanse is a new problem which the crew must find a solution to.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season
Character-wise, Archer's own personality is possibly the most significant in its development, as we see him graduate from an ideological Christopher Columbus-esque Captain into world-weary war veteran, embittered by his desperate quest and constant struggle and forced to use tactics of death-dealing and torture that he would not have previously condoned. He is aware that this mission simply cannot fail and soon learns that he has to do whatever it takes to ensure that success. Not afraid to be on the front line and first to volunteer for even the most hazardous of operations, he often gets down and dirty with his fists and ends up bloody on more than one occasion, but this Archer is much darker than the one we have come to know over the past two seasons, and much more interesting.

"Mercy is not a quality that will serve you well in the expanse, Captain."
Another significant character development is the relationship between the engineer, Trip (who has become pretty vengeful after his sister was killed back on earth during the Xindi's first attack) and the science officer, T'Pol (who refused her orders to return to Vulcan and not proceed on this particular voyage at the end of the second season, resulting in a slight change in temperament and a definite improvement in dress sense). Many have commented on how T'Pol was a little too uninvolving in terms of her character (sure Spock was ludicrously Logical, but he had much more charisma) and so, rather than see some inexplicable change in personality, we instead get drip-fed the reasons behind any future evolution - the most prominent being the growing affection between her and Trip. Despite the fact that there is a little chemistry between her and Archer (particularly notable during a episode where there is a vision of a possible future where they were married), it is all generally smudged over in favour of this new relationship development between T'Pol and Trip, which is not without its complications. (Fans of Jolene Blalock will be happy to hear that this DVD version features the uncut sequence where she strips off to reveal that ass). T'Pol herself also faces several near-death experiences and further struggles in a drug addiction that develops across the season.

All in all this is easily the best of the first three seasons, not least because of its pervasive story arc but also because it is generally a much darker, more involving season. There are many more space battles than before, broader planetary and in-ship confrontations mainly thanks to the introduction of the new Marine unit (who frequently clash with the tactical officer, Reed) and several life-threatening encounters that never fail to keep you on edge as to the possible outcome (highlights including a fabulous zombie-laden story, a Wild West episode, some classic Mission Impossible style trickery, a couple of alternate futures, some futuristic pirates and a second Enterprise). Offering up the point of view of the Xindi War Council, and their perspective on self-preservation, we also get to see their reservations on wiping out the entire human race and their battle tactics as they seek to out-manoeuvre Archer before he can seek out and confront them. This further adds to the many levels of the season, rounding it off as the most enjoyable thus far. The price we pay for all this tension and urgency is that the episodes are more gritty and less fun than before, but I think that this was just what Enterprise needed, making it more of a 24-style drama rather than the classic Trek romp that it was before. I think that it is a great shame that the show was culled so prematurely, especially on the strength of this and the superb fourth season, and it is a pity that we never got to see this particular crew graduate to the big screen, but at least we can enjoy the delights of the many episodes that they did make on glorious DVD.

"I thought we were here to try and stop a war, not start one."

This season of Enterprise is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks pretty luscious. The detail is good, edge enhancement negligible and softness apparent in some scenes more than others. There is very little noticeable grain and the transfer is completely devoid of print damage and the like. The colour scheme is broad and imaginative, and equally well represented, with good skin tones and vivid reds and blues. Blacks are also solid and deep, providing for decent shadowing. Obviously some episodes look slightly better than others, particularly when they change the setting from the standard ship's quarters' background (the Wild West setting offers a higher contrast and more grain) but overall this is a solid TV transfer that should please fans.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season
The main track is an absorbing Dolby Digital 5.1 effort that makes this TV show sound cinematic in terms of dynamics. The dialogue is understandably limited to the frontal array but it comes out clear and coherent throughout and we are given plenty of other goodies to keep the surrounds active, not least the plentiful effects and the underlying score (although they still have not fixed that horrendous opening theme, despite tweaking it considerably). The effects range from massive shoot-outs and explosions (in space, on the ships and on the various planets they land on) to more subtle observations like the Xindi Insectoid noises and all of the ship's ambient sounds that we take for granted - it hums almost constantly. As for the score, it is cleverly utilised to splice the scenes together and bring the more exciting moments to life, penetrating through to the rears more often than any other aspects of the track. There is no significant bass to speak of but this is a minor quibble in an otherwise resoundingly good TV soundtrack. For completeness we get a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which provides most of the same content, only confined to a smaller array.

First up we get Audio Commentaries on the central ninth and tenth episodes, North Star and Similitude. For the very expensive North Star, Assistant Director Michael DeMeritt talks about the alternate Wild West-style setting, the concepts they had and the things they wanted to get across to audiences. DeMeritt discusses, at great length, his rise to being an Assistant Director, progressing on to offering some rich anecdotes about his work on the series and his experiences in the Trek universe. Similitude has a commentary with the writer and co-executive producer Manny Coto, who is just as interesting and revealing in his discussions about his work on the story. He takes a few too many breaks and occasionally lapses into just blind praise of the show and the rest of the crew, but often comes up with some nice trivia about the on-screen action and off-screen antics. Both of the commentaries are nice additions, although further commentaries at the climactic end of the season would have been a bonus.

We also get Text Commentaries on the first, fifth and penultimate episodes, revealing every little minute bit of trivia you would want to know, from the names of all the different Xindi species to the changes in crew uniform, explaining the story arcs, the reasons behind story points, background information on cameo and bit part actors and special effects revelations. There are also quite a few nice facts about the science behind the show, highlighting the many concepts and theories (some real) that hold the Star Trek universe together. Clearly the first and final text offerings are the more significant, identifying the ongoing story concepts to a greater extent than the other text commentary. All in all, though, they are easily as informative and enjoyable as the audio commentaries, and are presented quite colourfully in typical Star Ship Enterprise-style format across your screen, although not so oppressively as to prevent you from enjoying the episodes with text playing alongside.

Finally, on the main episode discs, we get deleted scenes for three of the episodes: Similitude, Chosen Realm and E2. The three deleted scenes on Similitude total two minutes of largely unnecessary footage, offering more Archer, Trip, Flox and T'Pol, although none of it is particularly interesting. Chosen Realm has just one deleted scene, running at a minute and featuring a nice speech by T'Pol about Vulcan ancestry but still understandably excised. Finally, there are two deleted scenes on E2, neither of which adds anything  special.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season
On the Seventh Disc we get a whole bundle of other extra features. First up there is a thirteen-minute featurette on the whole Xindi Saga, where various crew members discuss the decisions made to re-vamp the series during season 3, making the whole plight of the Earth at risk in order to increase the significance of the voyages and extending the story arc across every episode of the season. They interestingly talk about two of the movies being integral in their decisions - First Contact (good choice) and, wait for it, The Voyage Home (yes, the one about the whales). Why no mention of Wrath of Khan, I have no idea, not least because it is the best movie but also because it is referenced so many times during the story (they echo the 'Needs of the One' Spock line in one of the episodes and also visit the planet that Khan was marooned on in another). Scott Bakula pops up to talk about his darker character and how it was controversial amongst fans and overall it is quite a thought-provoking featurette (for fans at least), even making observations about the story reflecting 9-11 to a certain degree, in one poignant moment.

Enterprise Moments: Season 3 is a thirteen-minute look at the best bits of this season, with cast and crew members talking about their favourite moments, including the brief Archer-T'Pol love story, the episode which draws parallels with the Israel/Palestine conflict (allegedly), the cloning episode, the overall story arc and the conflict between Reed and the Marine Major. It is an interesting featurette which utilises clips from the series as necessary but also has some behind the scenes footage hidden in there.

We also get a seventeen-minute profile of actor Connor Trinneer, who plays Trip, the ship's engineer. Trinneer himself gets to talk at length about his character's developments, both maturing (after his sister's death) and evolving (from his interaction with T'Pol). There are plenty of clips of his best and most significant moments from the season and every aspect is explained in a way that those familiar with the season will find merely repetitive. Still, it is quite nice to get such a large contribution from one of the main cast members.

A Day In The Life Of A Director is a seventeen-minute look at Roxann Dawson's experiences directing one of the episodes of Enterprise (Exile). There is some nice split-screen comparison footage of the scenes being filmed, with dailies, behind the scenes footage and plenty of interviews with the director, talking about her process of filmmaking. She discusses the long days, the hard work, the work they did on sets, the performances and the notes she makes to put the script into action. It is quite an interesting featurette that will be particularly revealing for fans who wish to know more about how these episodes are put together.

There are also six minutes of outtakes, which include plenty of line fluffs, goofing around on set (particularly by Scott Bakula and Connor Trinneer) and we even get a brief taste of Jolene Blalock's real accent. Overall it ranges from mildly amusing to just plain tepid, but it is still a nice addition to the extras and worth watching once to catch the few gems.

Finally we get a photo gallery with about fifty shots in it that range from behind the scenes of the cast and crew to publicity stills and episode stills and a brief Borg Invasion Trailer advertising the new '4-D(?)' show available at the Las Vegas, Hilton, if you happen to be nearby.

I also found a couple of Easter Eggs on this last disc (out of many, I am sure). If you go to the first extras menu and go left to highlight the top schematic, pressing select will get you a three-minute anecdote with Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) talking about how his nude scene came about. This is quite funny. Then if you go back to the same menu and go down one, and then left (to highlight the middle ship schematic) and press select, there is a five-minute look at the various uniforms that the main crew wear and the developments that have been made. On the second extras menu, only the middle schematic can be accessed, offering a look at the two Enterprises concept. They are not exactly the highlights of the disc, but are still quite nice finds.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season
Star Trek Enterprise is a vastly underrated addition to the Trek universe that was cut down in its prime. The third season saw many massive developments and should have been reason enough for this series to last longer but at least it has been given the DVD presentation that it deserves. The picture quality is superb, only topped by the outstanding audio treatment, and the whole package is made all the more attractive by a rich set of interesting and informative extras that include almost everything you would want - from commentaries and featurettes to deleted scenes and easter eggs. Fans will already be clicking on their shopping baskets to pick up this splendid package, newcomers are advised to become familiar with the previous seasons first even if this still marks the first must-have Enterprise offering.