Star Trek: Enterprise had a long road, getting from there to here. Initially the most universally disparaged of the Trek shows (aside from perhaps the unfairly maligned Star Trek: The Animated Series), the prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series has been widely reassessed in more recent years. It’s been a long time, but could the time for the return of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) is finally near?
Star Trek: Enterprise embraced
There is plentiful evidence from the recent batch of Franchise shows that indicate the high respect with which the creators hold Enterprise. Just one example are the many allusions to Denobulians. This alien species was introduced in Enterprise, and first represented by the NX-01’s Doctor, Phlox (John Billingsley).
In recent years, Denobulians have had cameos in Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2’s 'Mugato, Gumato,' and were referenced in dialogue in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.' And there have been many allusions to Enterprise throughout Lower Decks, in dialogue and through other allusions (like the heavy inspiration drawn from Enterprise’s depiction of Vulcans for the Lower Decks season 3 episode 'wej Duj').
Speaking of Lower Decks, the NX-01 played a significant role in the recent Strange New Worlds crossover episode, 'Those Old Scientists.' After traveling back in time, information retained by Ensigns Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) regarding the NX-01 and 1701-nothing is integral in returning the pair of Beta Shifters to their rightful time period.
Furthermore, the important role played by Enterrprise's ship spurs the Strange Ne Worlds crew to geek out about the NX-01’s crew, with specific references in dialogue to Archer, Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), and Hoshi Sato (Linda Park). Perhaps its no wonder Pike’s crew are such fans of the NX-01 gang, considering an expanded Strange New Worlds season 2 Ready Room set revealed an illuminated image of the NX-01 (across from one depicting the Phoenix). And in addition to all this, a ship called the USS Archer appeared in the Strange New Worlds series premiere, 'Strange New Worlds.'
And Archer’s legacy is guaranteed to be remembered centuries into the future by the Star Trek: Discovery season 4 premiere, 'Koayashi Maru.' In this episode, which is set in the distant future of the 31st Century, the Federation unveils the newly constructed Archer Space Dock. In addition to taking Archer as its namesake, this reveal is accompanied by a musical allusion to Starfleet’s first cap through the melody to 'Archer’s Theme.'
Would Scott Bakula come back to Star Trek?
Clearly, the creators behind the current era of Trek have wholly embraced Enterprise. Furthermore, a cursory examination of any social media site in the wake of episodes containing these allusions reveals that Trekkies have embraced these ENT allusions. But what is the likelihood that Bakula would be willing to reprise the role nearly two decades after Enterprise left the air?
It seems likely that Bakula would consider a return. Consider his appearance on a virtual Star Trek Day panel in September 2020. During this appearance, Bakula spoke very highly of Enterprise's evolution and described his pride at his involvement with the Franchise.
Furthermore, depending on the series on which Archer makes his return, there might be a lower 'buy-in' required from Bakula. For example, if he appears on Lower Decsks or Star Trek: Prodigy, the appearance could be performed via voiceover, thus potentially allowing Archer to reappear without Bakula even having to leave his own home.
How might Archer return to Star Trek?
There are many possible ways the return of Archer could occur. In fact, there is plenty of precedent already present in Franchise canon that demonstrates how characters from previous shows can reappear in later ones, even when that seems to defy standard chronological expectation.
The first such example takes place in the series premiere of The Next Generation, in which Doctor 'Bones' McCoy (DeForest Kelley) visited the Enterprise-D. Rather than having arrived in 'the next generation' by any sort of time travel shenanigans, McCoy has simply survived to the age of 137.
McCoy wasn’t the only The Original Series character to visit the D, either. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Sarek (Mark Lenard) appeared on The Next Generation thanks to the fact that the long lives of Vulcans made this naturally possible.
And in the season 6 episode 'Relics,' a comparatively un-aged Mongtomery 'Scotty' Scott (James Doohan) is transported to the TNG era thanks to decades of suspension in a transporter buffer. These sorts of time jumps could bring Archer from the Enterprise era to the time period of any of the ongoing shows, even Discovery’s far-distant 31st Century (when he might get to visit the space dock bearing his name). And it’s worth noting that in the Picard season 2 finale, a rip in space time occurred. Now guarded by the Jurati Borg Collective, this enigmatic and so-far narratively unutilized rip in the fabric of the universe could easily afford a method of bringing disparate time periods together.
Furthermore, it is possible that Archer’s arrival in a new time period could be permanent (like Scotty remaining in the The Next Generation era timeline). However, it could also be temporary, as when the Beta Shifters were returned to their time period at the conclusion of 'Those Old Scientists.'
Another possibility is that Archer could appear as a hologram on any show. This could take the form of an appearance on the holodeck, paying homage to the still-not-all-that-we-recieved Enterprise series finale. In fact, dialogue in the Lower Decks episode 'No Small Parts' suggests Captain William T. Riker continues to visit the Enterprise crew on the holodeck. Alternatively, a simulation of Archer could appear as a special advisor program, just like Prodigy’s Hologram Kathryn Janeway.
And finally, it's always possible a crewmember from a currently ongoing series could travel back to the Enterprise era. Pike even imagined just such a scenario during his interactions with Beta Shift in 'Those Old Scientists.' Furthermore, there is precedent for this occurring both through more conventional time travel, as in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode 'Trials and Tribble-ations.' It could also happen through more abstract methods of visiting the past, as with the appearance of the USS Excelsior’s captain, Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), as well as Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), in the Voyager episode 'Flashback.'
Where and why else could Archer return?
Finally, we'd speculate there is the possibility of a full-fledged Archer spin-off. This could be a full series, like Picard, which in its third season became Paramount+’s most successful streaming Star Trek series to date. It’s also possible that, following the pattern of the upcoming Star Trek: Section 31 event movie, Archer could headline a 'one-shot' streaming movie.
There could be a very specific narrative reason to bring Archer back into the spotlight. While many of the subplots introduced over the course of Enterprise’s four seasons were resolved by the show’s controversial holodeck-simulated time-skip finale, 'These are the Voyages,' one major thread remains unfinished.
Throughout the Enterprise seasons 1 and 2, the Temporal Cold War was a significant subplot for the series. This included a shadowy figure playing the role of puppeteer from the distant future. Ultimately, this subplot was largely abandoned, and the identity of the shadowy figure was never canonically unveiled. However, in a 2012 Tweet, one of Enterprise showrunners, Rick Berman, revealed plans for the shadowy figure’s identity to have been revealed as none other than Archer himself.
While the fact that the reveal never occurred does mean that the shadowy figure’s identity could instead be canonically revealed to be another character, it also affords the opportunity to revisit this ENT storyline in a current era show and finally unveil Archer’s fate in the future. And with the re-introduction of a temporal war in the Strange New Worlds' season 2 episode 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,' replete with new agents working for Starfleet’s Department of Temporal Investigations, the stage for this storyline may have already been set.
The Return of the Archer
There’s no guarantee that Archer will be returning on one of the current era Trek shows. But with the copious allusions to ENT in general and Archer specifically, perhaps it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him return, either. If nothing else, its clear Trekkies have come to embrace the prequel series as yet another essential chapter in the ongoing human adventure depicted by Star Trek.