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Review: “Star Trek: Discovery”

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave on Vulcan you’ll know that there’s a new “Star Trek” series on TV. “Star Trek: Discovery” takes place after the years of the series “Enterprise” and before the Kirk years of the Original series. I think it’s fair to say it has, er, “divided” Star Trek fans. Some love it. Some hate it. Actually, a quick look on Twitter will show you that some loathe and detest it to a quite stunning degree.

That’s not too surprising really. After all, the…reluctance… of science fiction fans to accept change is well known, you might even say legendary. For example, whenever a new Doctor is cast in Doctor Who now, war breaks out online as die hard fans predict the new actor will ruin the show. When a female actor was recently revealed as the new Doctor it was unbeLIEVABLE the amount of rage and fury that erupted. And Star Trek is as bad; the fans of the show are very, very loyal, some to the point of obsession, and when they feel “their” beloved show is threatened they rebel. And boy, have they rebelled over “Discovery”. They hate the new characters, they hate the design of the ship, they hate the uniforms, they hate the music and the opening titles… they hate almost everything about it.

“It’s… not… Trek!!!!” they howl, falling to their knees like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet Of The Apes.

But others have fallen in love with the new show, declaring it is a “shot in the arm”, or claiming it has “breathed new life” into the franchise.

Which side is right?

Neither. Both. It doesn’t matter. This is something you have to decide for yourself, if you’re a Star Trek fan.

I think your enjoyment of “Discovery” will depend on how willing you are to embrace change, and… dare I say it… move on. I know those two words usually make sci-fi fans break out in a cold sweat, but seriously, it’s time. If you are one of those fans who think that the only good Trek is TOS (“The Original Series”) Trek, with its wobbly sets, unconvincing monsters and velour uniforms, then boy are you going to hate the new series. If you are one of those fans who hated the JJ Abrams “reboot” films because they were too glossy, too shiny, too… modern… then “Discovery” isn’t for you, because it looks and feels more like those films than the original series. If you loved the most recent films I think you’ll love Discovery, I really do.

At the other end of the spectrum, some Trek fans are so open-minded, so in love with the whole Trek universe that they embrace EVERYTHING. They believe, as one of my Facebook friends (hi Dave!) is fond of saying, that “There’s no such thing as bad Trek!” Now, I love Star Trek, but I’m not prepared to go THAT far; I certainly do think there is such a thing as “bad Trek”. Of the films, Star Trek 5 was godawful, “Insurrection” was a yawn-fest that would have been an average single TV episode, and some episodes of each and every Trek TV series sucked too – such as every single holosuite-centred episode of “Voyager” which featured the sphincter-tighteningly dreadful “Captain Proton”, and the Bajoran religious gumpf-drenched episodes of DS9, which bored me to the point of wanting to gnaw my own arm off. And the most recent Trek reboot film, “Beyond”, was well below par. It looked gorgeous, and it started very promisingly with Kirk and his crew growing bored and listless as the monotony and repetition of boldly going into deep space begins to get to them, but then it turned into what was essentially “Fast And Furious In Space”, with an unconvincing villain and a lot of silly motorbike riding in a quarry which was strangely reminiscent of an episode of Blakes 7. But generally I love most things Trek. Hell, I even enjoyed “Star Trek: Nemesis” which puts me in a very select group indeed…

So, what did I think of “Discovery”?

Well, I’ve watched the first three episodes now (I actually subscribed to Netflix so I could watch it… not JUST so I could watch it, I’ve been thinking of jumping down that rabbt hole for a while, this just helped me make up my mind), and I love it. I do. It’s not just “good Trek”, it’s good drama, full stop. The first two episodes were suitably action-packed and looked absolutely sumptuous. They were very dark in tone, quite militaristic, which made them more like the rebooted Battlestar Galactica than the original or even Next Generation “trek” series. Those forst two episodes introduced the new main character, Michael Burnham well, and rebooted the Klingons very effectively, making them seem interesting, dangerous and “alien” again, after they had become rather too human, too cuddly and too comical in the pre-reboot TV series.  I finished watching ep2 and thought “Yeah, that’s good… I like that…” Not Earth-shatteringly original, not slap-across-the-face radical, but definitely “Trek” and very watchable.

And then tonight I watched episode 3. And the show took a big leap forward.

Suddenly it all made a lot more sense, the darkness and conflict I mean. In Voyager the Maquis were supposed to be edgy mutineers and rebels, but they just came across as unconvincingly sulky. Michael Burnham is a genuinely tortured character, painfully aware that she has thrown away everything she has worked so hard for, even though she still believes she did it for the best reasons. At the start of episode 3 her life seems to have been flushed down the toilet but then along comes the Discovery, and its Captain, Lorca, and everything changes. By the end of the episode we are in a new Trek, a different Trek, but one that links firmly and affectionately to previous Treks, no matter what those die-hard fans may tell you.

So, what about all those gripes I listed earlier? Well…

They hate the new characters…

Ok, let’s be honest here: like those Doctor Who fans who needed CPR when they heard a woman actor was taking over the role, and the Star Wars fans who hated the fact that both Force Awakens and Rogue One had female leads, there will be some ST/sci fi fans who just don’t want a female lead. Not many, but some. Well, tough. Discovery has one, and she’s a good character too. I am looking forward to seeing her developing. As for the others, watching Jason Isaacs playing Captain Lorca made me wish he’d been in a Starfleet uniform YEARS ago, he’s a natural for The Big Chair. The “interesting alien” character is promising, too. The others… hmmm, we’ll see.

They hate the music and the opening titles…

I’ll admit, the first time I watched the opening titles and listened to the music on YouTube I thought “Hmm…. not sure about that…” and tree episodes in that hasn’t changed. I quite like the animation style, and I do like the music, but I’m just not sure about the actual content of the titles. Some sequences seem to bear absolutely no relevance to the show whatsoever. And I don’t like the parchment-yellow colour scheme either. That’s odd, and distracting.

They hate the design of the ship…

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Ah, the new ship… the USS Discovery, NCC1031… how Trek fans despised this ship when it was unveiled! With its blocky, angular body, split-ring saucer section and odd-looking nacelles it looked nothing like any Starfleet vessel seen before. And I’ll admit that the first time I saw it I thought “Ugh, no, don’t like that…” But having seen the 1031 in action, in flight, I’ve come around, big time.  The whole point is she’s not SUPPOSED to be a “standard” Starfleet ship, she his operating kind of outside of Starfleet, a rogue ship, a ship with a mysterious purpose, so of COURSE she’s going to look different. I’m sure all will be explained in episodes to come, but I’m happy to wait and find out. She’ll get there.

And even if she is ugly, a little, she’s still more beautiful than the abomination which was the Enterprise B…

They hate the uniforms…

Ok, I’ll give them that one. I hate the uniforms too. Badly-fitting, with gold-soled boots and silver piping they look cheap and flimsy,  like something a budget fancy dress shop would sell in its “space outfits” section. I suppose one could be generous and say that they kind of look like they might bridge the gap between the crew uniforms from “Enterprise” to the ones seen in the new films, but that’s a heck of a reach. And if you’re looking for a way to link them and the colourful outfits seen in the original series, well, ha! Good luck with that.. 😉

“It’s just not Trek…”

Oh it’s not? A quick checklist…

Starfleet? Check.

Starships? Check.

The Federation? Check.

Klingons and Vulcans? Check, and check.

Phasers? Check.

Strange new worlds? Check.

Of COURSE it’s “Trek”. It’s just a different take on it, and that’s fine. You can’t live in the past forever, not even sci-fi fans can. This is a dark Trek for a dark time, but it still has all the original elements. And “different” is not rare and not always a bad thing. Purists hate it when classic Shakespeare plays are modernised and placed in alternative settings, but that’s just the way of things. I enjoyed the modern takes on Coriolanus and Romeo and Juliet every bit as much as the more traditional filmed versions of Much Ado and Macbeth. One day a company of native-born martians will perform Henry V or Othello on the top of Olympus Mons, dressed in spacesuits, and someone will say that “It’s just not Shakespeare!”

It’s just the way of things.

So, I enjoyed “Star Trek: Discovery” and I’m impatient for the next episode. You might see it ad hate it. That’s fine. Just watch it and make up your own mind afterwards, don’t just assume it’s “rubbish” or “wrong” – or “brilliant” or “right” – just because others have said so. It might not be for you, but at least decide that after watching it.

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