Season 3 of 'Star Trek: Enterprise' marked a number of changes for the series – some of them good, some of them bad, but all in an effort to boost ratings for the show. Even though 'Star Trek: Enterprise' was the most-watched series on the UPN Network, the studio was looking for a way to grow the audience, so Executive Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were given the freedom to change the show in whatever way they felt best in order to get the ratings up. While their effort didn't save 'Enterprise' from cancellation (although it would return for one final season), the general fan consensus is that Season 3 is the best of 'Enterprise's four-year run.
The idea for what would happen in Season 3 basically came when plotting out the cliffhanger for Season 2, which found the Earth attacked by the mysterious Xindi, resulting in millions of deaths – including the demise of Trip Tucker's (Connor Trinneer) sister. Season 2 ends with the Enterprise heading into a mysterious part of space known as 'The Expanse' to try to find and stop the Xindi before they attack Earth again. While Season 3 does contain a number of stand-alone episodes, the Xindi story arc covers the entire season and doesn't conclude until the final episode (and technically doesn't wrap up until the third episode of Season 4).
There's no denying that the Xindi arc of Season 3 is a parallel to the events of 9/11, and the result is a 'Star Trek' season much darker in tone than viewers have ever seen before. It also leads to at least one character – Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) – acting in ways that seem much different than the way he was portrayed in the first two seasons of the show. He's a more angry, vengeful Captain during the first-half of Season 3, even torturing an alien by depriving him of air in an airlock in the season-opener to get information from him. Eventually, as Archer learns more about the enemy they are hunting (which, in an interesting twist, turn out to be five different races/species instead of just one) he begins to turn back into the Captain he used to be, but his new attitude as Season 3 starts – while understandable considering the attack on Earth – is a significant change from the Archer we have come to know.
While the switch to a season-long story arc was a move in the right direction, some other changes come off as just last-ditch efforts to boost viewership. For example, the title of the show is changed from just 'Enterprise' to 'Star Trek: Enterprise' this season, as if there were actual potential viewers who had no idea that 'Enterprise' was a 'Star Trek' show. An even sillier change is a new version of the theme song that plays over the opening credits ('Faith of the Heart') from a slower song to a more up-tempo one. Not only is the new version more horrible than the old one, but the change makes little sense, given Season 3's more somber storyline.
Finally, there's the change that just drove me crazy as a 'Trek' fan: the 'sexing up' of the Vulcan character of T'Pol (Jolene Blalock). Trying to lure new fans in with a sexy female cast member, of course, is nothing new to 'Star Trek', who did the same thing in 'Star Trek: Voyager' in Season 4 with the introduction of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, the only Borg in the galaxy who wore skin-tight outfits. That's more or less what happens to T'Pol in Season 3, as she gets a number of new uniforms that are even more form-fitting (they look painted-on, to be honest) than her previous attire on the show, and the writer/producers use any excuse they can to show her in various states of undress. Despite being used as 'eye candy' for much of Season 3, T'Pol is actually perhaps the most interesting character this season, thanks to both a new relationship with Trip and her occasional objections to the way Captain Archer is handing things. So even though far too many scenes are used just to show off Jolene Blalock's body, there's just as many moments where she's really allowed to shine as an actress.
One's enjoyment of Season 3 is going to depend a lot on how much you like the overall Xindi storyline. Although I did enjoy the arc, by the time the season was over I was more than ready for it to wrap up. My favorite episodes of Season 3 are actually a few of the standalone ones, including 'North Star' (a fun Western, that most fans seem to dislike) and 'Similitude', an episode that deals with the issue of cloning. Regardless of whether you enjoy the serialized episodes or the standalone ones (many of which still reference the Xindi arc in some way), there's plenty to like about Season 3, and I'm in agreement with most fans that this marks the high point of the series.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 3' arrives on Blu-ray in packaging that is designed the same way as prior season releases. Six 50GB dual-layer discs are housed inside a keepcase, with discs placed on each side of the inside cover, plus two plastic hubs which hold a disc on each side. The keepcase contains no inserts, but – like previous seasons – the reverse side of the slick (seen from inside the keepcase) contains a list of the contents of each of the discs. An embossed slipcover matching the artwork of the slick slides overtop the set.
Upon loading each disc, viewers will be asked to choose a language – as is the case with all 'Star Trek' Blu-ray releases. Disc one of this release is front-loaded with trailers for Enterprise: Season 1, Enterprise: Season 2, Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5, and the Star Trek: Unification release. There are no front-loaded trailers on the other five discs. The Blu-ray menu matches the design that has been used for the prior two seasons.
It's a sad bit of irony that the season that 'Enterprise' fans were looking forward to the most actually turns out to be the least impressive in terms of video quality. I'm not sure exactly what happened here, but this set has all the video issues the prior two sets had, with a few more to boot this time around.
'Enterprise' was still shot on 35mm film in Season 3 (and then transferred to digital for broadcast), so a good deal of grain is still evident in the print. However, this season set also features a lot of digital noise, which I didn't really notice much of on the first two season sets. It's seen more easily in many of the well-lit shots (such as scenes in sickbay), but there's definitely a lot of 'mosquito noise' buzzing around in many scenes that clearly has nothing to do with the grain.
In addition to the digital noise, I also noticed occurrences of dirt on the print that popped up every now and again – usually in the form of white (although sometimes black) 'flecks' on the screen. While these are far less frequent than the noise issues mentioned above, the previous sets were pretty clean when it came to film dirt…that's not the case here. I have no idea if the production had to use a cheaper 35mm film stock in Season 3, but considering the show was always worried about budget, I suppose it's a possibility.
Added to the above problems, the video still has all the issues of prior releases. Even though all new special effects at this point in the series were being rendered in 780p, many effects still suffer from noticeable aliasing issues. Black levels are, once again, not very strong, and the murkiness is even more noticeable in Season 3, since there are only a handful of instances where episodes feature 'real' locations instead of being shot on a set.
Viewers with larger TV screens will be most annoyed by the above, while viewers with sets under 50" will probably either not notice or not be too bothered by most of the video issues. However, it does appear that Paramount did very little to try and improve the quality of the transfer here, resulting in this being the worst of the three sets so far in terms of visual quality.
While the video takes a step backward in this Season 3 release, there is no such trouble with the audio, which maintains the quality of the prior season sets.
One again, each episode is provided with a lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is free of any popping, hissing, dropouts, or other issues. Dialogue is sharp and crisp, and the rear speakers are almost always active, even if they never really provide the kind of 'immersive' experience that one gets from a more recent television show or movie mix. Balance is well-done, with the sounds of action sequences and explosions never drowning out the spoken word.
In addition to the lossless English track, Paramount has once again provided a 5.1 Dolby Digital track in German and 2.0 Dolby tracks in French and Japanese, although for some reason Paramount has eliminated both the Spanish and Italian options that were part of both the Season 1 and Season 2 sets (the Spanish elimination is especially surprising, since one would almost expect a Spanish track by default). Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French, German, Japanese, and Dutch, but not in Spanish, Italian, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, or Swedish – all of which were available on the prior two sets.
Although I have some reservations regarding both the video quality and the amount of new bonus materials on this set when compared to the previous two seasons, 'Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 3' is still enough of an upgrade on Blu-ray to get rid of one's old DVD set. This is arguably the best of 'Enterprise's' four seasons in terms of storytelling, and it's certainly the boldest in terms of risk taking, so for those reasons this release still gets a solid recommendation.