Review: Star Trek: Discovery – Season One

Good sci-fi, but not necessarily good Star Trek.

I will start this review off by saying I am a huge Star Trek fan, all of them, and I was looking forward to this new season. We have had three movies which covered the early years of Kirk and Spock, and created a new timeline for new adventures to take place in. I liked the casting in these films, but I was not a huge fan of the first two films, however I really enjoyed the last film Star Trek: Beyond (2009). What I feel is important in a Star Trek property is the feel, Gene Roddenberry created a very unique feel with the original Star Trek, an optimism which permeated through all the series, even the darker ones like Deep Space Nine (1993). This feeling was something which worried me about the new series, with the creators saying they had deliberately not gone down the traditional route, but moved to a more adult and current tone.

The series is different to others in a number of ways but the main one is that it is serialised where the others were more often than not stand alone episodes, with the exceptions of a few multiple part episodes and arc storylines in DS9 (1993) and Enterprise (2001). This might be a sign of the times more than anything else and there are episodes which do not tie directly into the narrative however most do and it sets up what I feel might have been the main issue with Discovery, which is that the twists plotted from its inception don’t come as twists. This is what I like to call the post-Lost (2004) era of television, where twists and pay-offs are set up to keep viewers watching.

Though this is not in place of character development as Discovery does have some great arcs for its main characters, headed by Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) (no explanation why she is called Michael by the way), whose character is the driving force of the series. However, in the age of the internet it is difficult for anyone to create a truly mind blowing twist in a series, almost every one of these reveals had been telegraphed or guessed by someone. There were about 3 within the series and I had known them all going in before the end of the episode. For me these should be secondary to the plot and more importantly the character development within the show, which I didn’t feel this was.

Another gripe I have is the time period. This is set around 10 years before the Original Series, which poses a problems in terms of setting it within the same universe. Everything looks new and shiny and modern, and they have better technology etc. However this is not necessarily something that would completely hinder the show, the same problem was apparent for Enterprise 15 years ago and for the most part they managed to solve it by basing their technology on more contemporary sources. However Discovery (2017) suffers a bit from this, with the inclusion of things like Holodecks and the new Spore Drive.

The main issue setting it in this time period is expectation and ‘fan service’. I put fan service in quotation marks because I do not think fans are tuning into the show to have half-baked references to the original series thrown in. The main character’s father figure is Spock’s dad Sarek (James Frain), which seems to promote the idea that Spock will be in the show in its second series. I am not sure why the creators of this series felt the need to set it so close to the original series instead of writing something in the future as they do seem intent on introducing new technology. The only reason I can think of is because they feared it would be too far away from what the viewers were familiar with.

The story itself begins with our main character Michael Burnham starting a War with the Klingons who have not been heard from in over a century. The series revolves around this conflict and for the most part it is relatively intriguing. However the Klingons themselves have had a redesign and they look kind of weird. The worst part of this is that when the Klingons on screen are talking to other Klingons they insist on doing so in Klingon, but the prosthetic teeth have been increased massively and it sounds awful. The other series did use this language but more like the Cold War Spy thrillers where they would speak a couple of lines in Russian and then speak the rest in English and it was assumed they were speaking Russian. The story revolves around some interesting sci-fi elements and there is a move into the alternate Universe which has featured in the Original Series, DS9 and Enterprise which really gives the series a shot in the arm.  This universe has always been very interesting, an alternate universe where the Federation is replaced by a Terran Empire who are a fascist organisation whose main focus is on conquest and despise alien life.

The series as a whole looks amazing, and more so than other Star Treks we get the impression of vastness and the awesomeness of space itself. In fact it is almost a character in itself. This is the strength of the series and there are of course threads to work on and some good character developments which will no doubt be picked up in later seasons.

Overall I would recommend watching this latest incarnation of Star Trek as it is a very interesting take, perhaps a newer more modern take on a classic idea. I would like to know how people felt about DS9 when it hit screens in 1993 as this is probably the closest comparison in terms of tone; however it is still wildly different. I have criticised a lot of this show however it has started reasonably strong and there are some story arcs I look forward to seeing, and traditionally Star Trek series have started slowly, Next Generations’ (1987) first season was pretty terrible, DS9 (1993) started poorly with some terrible overacting, Voyager (1995) didn’t really get going until season 2 or 3, and Enterprise (2001) really began to pick up speed as it was cancelled.

With this in mind I think this show is good sci-fi but not necessarily good Star Trek. Whilst the science fiction elements and story revolving around an intergalactic conflict may serve well in a more open series the fact that it is linked so intrinsically with the Star Trek universe and more specifically the time period hampers and restricts the show. This is however the granddaddy of science fiction series and if anyone can retcon some elements to help develop the show then this would be it. I look forward to season two, and I am interested to see how they work towards the Original Series.

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