Star Trek: Discovery - It's Trek Jim, but not as we know it
It's 2017 and Star Trek returns to the "small" screen. It's true that when Messrs. Kirk, Spock and McCoy jumped onboard the wagon train to the stars in 1966, most screens were small. Today, not so much, which brings me to the highlight of the newest Trek incarnation; ST:Discovery - it looks gorgeous on today's HDTV screens.
With a history (or is that a future?) spanning centuries, where do we find ourselves for the latest incarnation? Ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have been and always shall be a committed fan of Star Trek. I will watch it in all of its incarnations from the original series right up to Jar Jar Abrams' reboots. There is not a single episode or film I've not seen....many times. For this review of ST:Discovery I have seen the first two episodes of Season One: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars.
Let's talk about all the good stuff. Firstly, it's Trek and its on the TV. Secondly we have an amazing cast including Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones. In terms of casting, we have one of the finest collection of actors one could hope to assemble. Thirdly is the look. The production values are extremely high and every dollar is up on the screen. It's a pity they did not spend more dollars on the wooden dialogue. Oops, did I say that out loud?
All of this brings me to the long list of things that, as a fan, bugged me. I fully understand that if you are new to Trek and Discovery is your first outing, then not much of what I say next will make sense. Why say it then? - I hear you cry. Well, because ST:Discovery sits in a linear timeline of previous Trek incarnations. We are told that this series is set ten years before Kirk and Spock and yet the USS Shenzhou has technology that they did not have. We are told by the captain of the Shenzhou that it is an "older ship". When Starfleet arrives to save the day, not one starship was a Constitution class ship, which we know were in existence. According to Trek canon, Capt Robert April was commanding the USS Enterprise at the same time as the events in these first two episodes. Am I nit-picking?
The Klingons, let's talk about the Klingons. I have tried to get over the new look but I can't. It makes no sense whatsoever. Again, ten years from the events in Discovery, Kirk will meet Klingons and they look nothing like the Discovery Klingons. One hundred years from Discovery, Klingons will be serving aboard the USS Enterprise-D and they look nothing like the Discovery Klingons. What gives? How can a race of people evolve so quickly and so differently. I can forgive Kirk's Klingons as the TV budgets of the 1960s did not permit the prosthetics we have come to expect. Discovery's Klingons not only looked wrong, they behaved wrong too. How come, given how far Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored Klingon history and culture, have we never heard of coffin-ships before?
And what's this? Spock has a half-sister we never knew about? The half-brother Sybok was bad enough in Star Trek V. Just how many waifs and strays did Sarek take in? And was it even necessary to have the first officer a ward of Sarek? It did nothing to move the story along other than provide an anchor into Trek lore.
I'm sorry, I have to go back to the technology and the starships. Kirk never had holographic communications with Admirals. He never had a Ready Room off the bridge. He never had a 180 degree panoramic viewscreen. His phaser rifles looked archaic compared to what we saw on the USS Shenzhou. The ship's computer, well what can I say? It seems more intelligent than Kirk's and able to perform more functions. The first-officer's ethical/logical discussion with the computer was a nice wink to Kirk's ability to outwit computers though.
Trek has always been about the characters. The most successful incarnations have focussed more on the characters than the stories. For the first two episodes of Discovery the focus was on the tech. Character development was patchy. The Klingons were better fleshed-out than the Starfleet crew. The dialogue was clunky and the wooden performances from Starfleet's finest will hopefully improve as the actors settle into their characters. In terms of story, what was missing for me was allegory. Trek's best episodes have been allegorical. The first two episodes of Discovery were more Star Wars than Star Trek.
Will I watch more episodes? Yes I will. Will it sit comfortably into Trek canon? Probably not.
Based on the first two episodes, it's a disappointing 2 out of 5.