Creators: Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones
Episode 1. The Vulcan Hello
Episode 2. Battle at the Binary Star
Well it’s been a good 15 years since a new Star Trek series graced our screens, and despite a rather bumpy development road Star Trek: Discovery is finally here.
In the 23rd Century the crew of the USS Shenzhou encounter a damaged communications satellite at the edge of Federation space. As Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) investigates a mysterious object close to the damaged satellite, First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) discovers that the Klingons have deliberately caused the damage to lure the Federation there. With the Cold War between the Federation and the Klingon Empire threatening to heat up, is it possible that a new leader called T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), could unify the disparate Klingon houses and ignite the spark to go to war.
As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy loudly proclaims, “Don’t Panic!” All of the Star Trek pilots to date have been poor to middling, and this is a long way from the warp-core breech that was Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Encounter at Far Point. Rather this is a solid piece of TV that does both a lot that is good, and more than a bit that is terrible.
The downside is, as a prologue, this doesn’t give a clear indication as to where the show is going to go, which is a change for Trek. In that aspect Star Trek: Discovery seems to be embracing a more long form mode of story telling, something Star Trek has rarely done before (the later seasons of Deep Space Nine and season three of Enterprise, being the exceptions rather than the rule).
Which is not to say Discovery doesn’t make some perplexing choices. Casting the series 10 years before Star Trek: The Original Series, and not in the alternative timeline created by the recent movie series (despite sharing more design elements with the Kelvin-verse than original Trek), seems a bit limiting. It locks in to established canon, and can be more than a little confusing given the look of the Shatner and Nimoy era. You can see the attempt to tie it into that popular property, but in doing so, have the show runners set themselves a nigh impossible task of having to please established fans and bring in new ones? They really haven’t left themselves much room to move.
The Klingon redesign seems to be one example of this. A perfectly good design, taking much of the design aspects for the modern Klingon, and making them sharper and more Gothic. It’s just that this is a completely different look established in Star Trek: The Original Series. A look that the script writers of Star Trek: Enterprise tied themselves into knots to justify.
All of this is crystalised in the character of Michael Burnham. In making her a ward of Sarek (Spock’s dad), she is someone that should have been an important part of previously established continuity, that we’ve just never heard of before. Heck, we know Spock’s teddy bear name, but not that he had, for all intensive purposes, an adopted sister. Seems like a significant oversight, although not the first time that the character has acquired previously unmentioned siblings. Let’s just hope that Discovery fares better than Star Trek 5.
The saving grace is that Sonequa Martin-Green does a good job as Burnham. The character so far fulfils a standard Trek archetype of the over-intellectual outsider (Spock, Data), and she does well at handling the tactical needs of any given situation, although there is also a core of unresolved anger that slips far too frequently to the surface to sit entirely comfortable with her Vulcan training. Which way she goes, will likely be a major development over the season, and given the ending of Battle at the Binary Stars it’ll be curious to see how the character does develop. There is a genuine sense that this is the fire that the character will be forged in, unfortunately we will have to wait to next episode to see how things start to shape up.
So what does all this mean going forward? Well, so far so good. Star Trek: Discovery has shown itself to have a significant amount of flash in terms of the design, and the engaging couple of action sequences that the two part opening stages (especially the second episode). It has also shown itself to have the possibility of decent characters, although mainly due to fine performers being able to push through some questionable dialogue.
Discovery might not have hit warp speed straight away, but there is enough of interest to see how it grows from here. The question is then, how has our viewing habits changed in the decade since a Trek series was last on our screen?