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Friday, 17 November 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S1 (First Act)

Star Trek: Discovery
Series 1
(First Act)

Star Trek: Discovery, the first Star Trek series to air since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005, was easily one of my most anticipated shows of this year, not least because there was a long period of time where it seemed like it'd go the way of the Star Wars live-action series -- a cool concept that ultimately just kind of fizzled out before it saw the light of the day. I'm very glad that that turned out not to be the case, and while Discovery's debut series has not been without its problems (including airing on CBS' absurdly overpriced online streaming service), it has nonetheless been one of the most exciting new shows of the year, a well-written, well-produced space opera helmed by a compelling lead character.

In many ways, the show doesn't feel much like Star Trek: The decreased focus on the crew at large in favour of focusing on the Burnham-Lorca-Stamets triumvirate of characters, the fact that the show has any kind of significant budget, and the more serialised and arc plot focused storytelling all combine to make it feel Trek-ish, but something of a far cry from the Star Trek people grew up with. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I admit that it's the source of almost all of my reservations about the series. It is a fascinating, deeply engaging show in its own right, but as an entry in a wider franchise with an established style, structure, and aesthetic, it feels oddly jarring.

Nor am I the only one who has noticed, and unfortunately any criticism of the series immediately becomes grist for the 'ohhhh, Star Trek is ruined now' fanboy mill, that asserts that the inclusion of a black woman as the main character, and of a gay man as a prominent tritagonist, is somehow insidiously 'making political', and thus ruining forever, a franchise that is both not ruined forever and which has always been political (actually political, not political in the sense of 'some characters aren't white and that makes me sad'), giving us such gems as 'the episode in which Kirk discusses abortion politics with a planet of pro-lifers,' 'the episode about the treatment of prisoners of war,' 'that entire series about the politics of colonialism,' 'the episode in which Troi discusses abortion politics,' 'the episode in which Riker fights for the rights of a transgender alien,' and 'approximately sixteen episodes about alien species that are half black and half white, and are inexplicably racist against aliens who are the same but the other way around.'

Just because you were too young to notice the politics, doesn't mean they weren't there, guys.

Anyway, onto Discovery. Set before the original series, Discovery follows Michael Burnham, a human raised by Vulcans, initially in her capacity as the first officer of the Shenzhou. When the Klingon clans rally behind messiah figure T'Kuvma, Burnham's rash actions start a war between the Klingons and the Federation, and she is convicted of mutiny. Sent to the Discovery, a science vessel pioneering a new and dangerous technology that might win the war, Burnham ends up under the command of ruthless, Machiavellian Captain Lorca, as the Discovery and its crew become integral to the war effort against the Klingons.

The series is high on glitz, with a sleek, ultra high tech aesthetic that is very striking, even if it looks vastly more technologically advanced than either Enterprise, set before it, or the original series, set after it. In general, though, there are a lot of aesthetic changes made: The Klingons have been redesigned to look markedly more monstrous and intimidating than they were ever in previous series, along with making the insides of their ships look like spikes and evil red lighting were on sale; the uniforms look vaguely like those of Enterprise, but nicer and more expensive; and space has been refurbished from 'a black box with tiny stars painted on it, which we're slowly moving a puppet through' to actually pretty okay CGI.

(Although in general, I would like this series to use less CGI and more practical effects. Then again, every other Star Trek series has been pretty high on CGI too, it's just that that CGI was worse.)

It's not just the aesthetic that's received an overhaul, though, as the show also trends far darker than just about any Star Trek show that isn't late-series Deep Space Nine -- and while I'd really, really like a more light-hearted Star Trek show (I'm not going to watch The Orville, stop asking), the grimmer, bleaker tone works for Discovery, to an extent.

I say 'to an extent' because while previous Star Trek shows were built to last basically forever, Discovery feels like it has ticking time bomb elements. I cannot see Lorca lasting more than two series before the show has to write him out and replace him with a less actively malevolent captain, and Tyler's involvement in the show (because he is definitely a Klingon, you guys) can be measured in episodes rather than series -- and that's not even getting into how certain elements have to be written out so that they don't completely change continuity, namely the mycelium drive, which is doomed to either catastrophic and irretrievable failure or to the Discovery vanishing to alternate realities and never, ever returning.

Speaking of the mycelium drive, which isn't a continuity snafu yet, the show does have its fair share of awkward continuity moments. Characters reference the Romulans despite first contact with them not having happened yet, there's a brief scene of Lorca and Tyler in a kind of holodeck thing despite that technology not being around in the original series -- stuff that's minor, but which really should've been picked up on in the writing phase.

I really, really enjoy this show, and the fact that it's returning for some six or seven more episodes in January, and has been renewed for a second series on top of that, fills me with a fair amount of delight.

1 comment:

  1. While Discovery's holo-shooting-range and holographic communication may at first seem out of place continuity-wise, there is actually precedent for holographic technology in this era. The Animated Series had a holographic recreation room, which was an idea Roddenberry originally intended to use for TOS but couldn't. Plus, there was a simple holographic shooting practice program in Enterprise. EC Henry's video "Star Trek Hologram History (Including Discovery)" goes into even more depth about this and is a really good watch.

    Also, it's not that the Earth hadn't already made contact with the Romulans (they fought a war with them), they just hadn't made visual contaxt yet.

    (also sorry if this is the third version of this comment to show up on this page, I tried posting it before on desktop but it didn't work, so I'm using mobile now)