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A continuing Enterprise

(Page 3 of 3)

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, says her initial career inspiration came from seeing Nichelle Nichols's character of Uhura on TV. Comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, a lifelong "Star Trek" fan and an occasional cast member of "The Next Generation," says Uhura emboldened her, too.

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It's not surprising, then, that in the tradition of all the other incarnations of "Star Trek," the crew of "Enterprise" will feature an Englishman, an African-American man, and a Japanese woman. And there's a token pair of pointy ears, too. The ship's sub-commander will be a Vulcan woman, T'Pol, played by Jolene Blalock.

But the crew of the "Enterprise" won't be the tight-knit family units of "The Next Generation" or "Voyager." Internal frictions - akin to that between Dr. McCoy and Spock in the original series - will surface between Bakula's Captain Archer and his Vulcan officer.

"They seem to be more thrown together this time, with less understanding, perhaps, of the cultures from which the various people on this new crew come from," says "Star Trek" author Judith Reeves-stevens. "I think that's certainly going to change the character arcs as they change assumptions about other races."

Conflict, after all, makes for good drama.

The last two series didn't have action-adventure," says Roger Nygard, director of a documentary film about Star Trek fans called "Trekkies." "Audiences enjoy watching battles with aliens. It's part of the fun of a sci-fi show. Every episode, Kirk would get into a fight with somebody. My guess is the new series will come out swinging."

Another key element of the original series was exploring the unknown. Commenting on the space-station exploits of "Deep Space Nine," "Trek" associate producer Justman says: "It wasn't as thrilling a premise. You knew that next week they were going to be in the same place." Similarly, the "lost in space" premise of "Voyager" meant "they were trying to get home. They weren't going out to get adventure."

Venturing into the unknown

By contrast, "Enterprise" will once again dare to "boldly go where no man has gone before" - but in a crucially different way from Captain Kirk's personnel. Space exploration was already an established way of life for Kirk, observes Reeves-stevens. ("I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space," was how Kirk put it in the movie "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.")

But Captain Archer's crew will be the first humans to explore the galaxy. It's hoped that the premise of venturing into the unknown will connect with jaded audiences.

"Are we going to lift ourselves off this stone ball in space? This new 'Enterprise' series has that potential to say, 'Yes, this is within that realm of possibility," says sci-fi expert Lancaster.

Furthermore, "Enterprise" hopes to capture brand-new audiences like a powerful tractor beam. The show is set 150 years from now, and, since it predates Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Janeway, first-time viewers needn't have any prior knowledge of "Star Trek" lore.

"Every year, there are new fans born into the 'Star Trek' world. New people find the shows. The fan base only grows," observes "Trekkies" director Nygard.

With considerable excitement surrounding the première of the new show and a 10th "Star Trek" movie, featuring the popular "Next Generation" cast, due in 2002, "Star Trek" may yet resume warp speed.

Make it so.