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Embrace The (Star Trek) Discovery

I woke up at 0600 and decided to get up because I’d heard that Star Trek: Discovery was getting released on Netflix at 0700. I did this because Star Trek is a big thing for me. It’s not big because I’m an obsessive fan, well, I probably used to be, but because it had a big impact on my life. The whole fandom life thing exists because of Star Trek. It’s why I started to go to conventions back in the day!

I have a personal interest in seeing a new, good, and I hope different, Star Trek show airing on TV.

Regrettably, it wasn’t released that early in the morning and I had to watch it in the evening. The short answer? I really enjoyed it and I hope the show goes from strength to strength.

The longer take on it follows…

Warning: There are epic spoilers from this point.

A Good Star Trek Film

What you get in the two-part pilot of Star Trek: Discovery is a Star Trek film on TV. It’s a good Star Trek film, especially since it also has the burden of introducing original characters.

It’s probably better than all the Star Trek: The Next Generation films. This does create a bit of an oddity. While you get a solid Star Trek film it is like the creative minds behind Discovery have created an original film and then decided to create the TV series that comes after that film and which features some of the same cast members.

It’s a very odd way to start things and probably has something to do with the massive amount of executive producers.

I assume a lot of those credits are historical.

The Vulcan Hello

It is the first episode, The Vulcan Hello, that sells Discovery. I’ve watched it twice and it is a thing of beauty. It is far better written than the second half and this maybe represents the inherent unevenness in the show.

The Vulcan Hello is just very well done. It is well-paced. It looks gorgeous in a stand back and take it in way, rather than a series of ‘this is some awesome now’ images. The characters have scenes together that feel natural while mixing in good natured banter, philosophy, debates over what to do next and great characterisation. It just flows and is brilliantly paced in terms of layered reveals while giving you just the right amount of time to soak it all up.

The moment when Burnham sets out in the space suit to investigate the ‘strange artefact’? It is pure Star Trek brilliance, exemplifying the focus on exploring and that Star Fleet focuses on scientists. It is a great moment of wonder in the face of danger and it’s a pure Trek moment to rival any previous show.

In The Vulcan Hello you are watching a very good implementation of a modern Star Trek show. There needs to be more episodes like it.

We’ll Miss You Michelle Yeoh

There is a lot of characters on Discovery but most of them are people you don’t remember. They have names, but it’s not really important. The only characters of note are Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, Doug Jones as Lt Saru and Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou.

I loved Michelle Yeoh. Yes, there was the odd line that felt like it was delivered wrong, but I suspect this was accent related. That is a minor point. As Michelle Yeoh’s character was amazing. She was part diplomat. She was part warrior. Her relationship with Burnham is warm and complex. In fact, that’s one of the great elements of her character she manages to be warm, compassionate, strong and a leader you would not doubt all in one package. She shifts from warm and well-natured interplay between her bridge crew to commanding in a moment and it feels entirely natural.

She puts in such a good performance I find I’m disappointed that Michelle Yeoh is not the captain moving forward. I hope she gets some flashbacks as I’d like to see the Burnham and Georgiou relationship explored further.

Battle At The Binary Stars

It’s not that the second episode is terrible, it’s just not as stand out as the first and is of a very different nature. While The Vulcan Hello is a great Star Trek episode, Battle At The Binary Stars feels a bit more like it’s moved into the more outrageous territory of the recent films and it has some terrible scenes.

The space battle is okay but I wasn’t so sure on the phaser effects and how it was edited together. It didn’t feel exciting. It felt like an opportunity wasted.

There are two scenes that are just terrible. The scene were Sarek communicates with Burnham across thousands of light years due to some ‘Vulcan bollocks’ is dire. It’s not a great scene. It introduces magical and impossible elements to the show that detract from it. The breaking of established canon doesn’t bother me it’s just a stupid idea. Even worse it doesn’t facilitate a strong scene. There is no profound character growth in the intergalactic psychic conversation. It just happens.

This would be the worst scene in the episode if it wasn’t for the ‘helmsman visits Burnham in the brig because he got confused going to sick bay’ scene. It’s absolutely terrible. The actor is really bad at acting confused and it serves no purpose other than for him to be present when that section of the ship gets ripped apart so he can be pulled into space.

This in itself only serves to facilitate scenes were Burnham is separated from the depth of space by her cell forcefield. It adds very little to the episode other than someone thinking it would look great. It’s also then used to provide a perspective on the battle which would have been better served being done in a different way.

In short, Battle of the Binary Stars is more style over content while The Vulcan Hello is a master stroke of style and content perfectly perculated and synthesised.

It’s All On Burnham

Discovery looks like it may have more of a singular character focus rather than being an ensemble show. Possibly. I’ sure other characters will feature and be important but I think the focus is going to be more on Burnham and Green will have to carry it.

It’s good she seems to be able to carry it. The parts that let her down seemed to be the writing rather than acting choices.

I do find this a bit shocking as I wanted to turn The Walking Dead off every time it focused on her character. There is some of that in Discovery. The flashback to when Burnham joins Georgiou’s isn’t a good look for Green. She’s delivers a much better performance in the present with the edges of her Vulcan upbringing filed off.

I want to know more about Burnham. I want to follow her on her future journey. I like that she isn’t perfect, a bit of a confused person from two cultures and with problems due to the Klingon attack in the past.

Are Those Klingons?

I’m probably one of the few people who think it’s good they changed the look of the Klingons. We can debate whether the new look works, but a new look was necessary. It was necessary because the previous look had become a bit of a joke across numerous series.

I can also respect the brave and the bold choice. If you’re going to change it then change it big. I’m just not sure it fully works yet.

I like the fact all the Klingon houses seem slightly different in terms of ships and the look of the Klingons themselves. I think the Klingon women looked really cool. There is a lot to like about the new Klingons. The problem is they weren’t sold particularly well in the show.

I think this came down to the bold choice to have all the scenes done in actual Klingon. The reason for this was to try and capture a real and authentic feel. To make it more alien. While that may have been true it also restricted the power of the actors in the scenes and some of those scenes were very long. It was exactly like having an actor who cannot speak Italian do a dramatic scene as a Roman senator but then forcing him to speak Italian wrote fashion without any understanding of the words. There is a reason all Roman senators in films speak English and this should have been applied to the Klingsons. The only scene that the main Klingon comes across well in as when he speaks English. The difference is very telling.

The Klingon change is also worth it just to read or hear the cries of anguish as certain types of Star Trek fan try and use various types of torturous explanations to canonically explain why they look different. It’s really stressing some of them out.

Does It Respect Genes Vision?

Teeth. Grating. Let’s get something clear, that very phrase sets me on edge. It actually gets a physical and mental response from me. It gets that response because of it’s almost religious qualities. It’s the same when any of the ‘visions’ of any of these messianic-like figures are raised (Walt Disney is another one).

Why? Because exactly like religion that vision has become so distorted it’s not worth introducing into the conversation. It’s been distorted over time by those beholden to it because, as time passes, it gets merged with a whole load of personal philosophies that have nothing to do with the original intent.

Second, and possibly more importantly, the messianic figure himself becomes slightly unhinged and starts to distort the simple principles of his own vision into something that is often anathema to good TV. This happened to Roddenberry, as by the time Star Trek: The Next Generation was being made he’d started drinking his own vision to such an extent he’d doubled down on it and started throwing in the incredibly stupid that didn’t apply in the original series.

The better question is: Is it Star Trek? The answer to that is wholeheartedly yes.

It’s clearly Star Trek. Anyone saying it could have been a generic science fiction show with Star Trek filed off is just too beholden to what Star Trek used to look like. As if Star Trek is about the things and the setting. It’s not, it is about the story content. It was full of Star Trek stuff. The Federation being an institution of peace and unity. Alien cultures working together on the bridge. Discussions about race, culture and the principles of the Federation during intense periods of decision. It is all there.

The first series at least is going to be one continuous, serialised story. It’s yet to be seen how true this is. Does it have one, overlaying story that it features to different degrees in each episode? Or is it literally one, continuous story with each episode being like a chapter in a book? I thought it was the latter, but then some of the leaks on episodes suggest the former.

I’m looking forward to how they play with the structure of episodes and the story. I certainly think the contained, episodic format needed to change and would not have carried through successfully into modern TV, so it’s a good change.

I just hope they make the best of it.

Leave Canon Behind, Sort Of

I’m happy to admit that in this world of needing to constantly categorise and label everything Discovery can confuse people. Is it a re-imaging? Is it a re-boot? Does it exist in the primary time line? The truth is it could be described as all of the above and none of them.

It exists in the primary time line, but beyond that forget all the other labels and just watch it.

Each Star Trek show has done two things: update itself for when it is airing (aliens, technology etc) and tweaked and poked the canon of what has been established before. Discovery does exactly the same thing. The Klingons are updated to present a story for our times. The technology on the show is updated to meet the expectations of now.

There are a number massive canon breaking things in the show and probably a 1001 small ones I don’t even see.

The Klingons use a cloaking device which is a clear canon break as they get them off of the Romulans in the original series. They also have hologram communication technology and that is something that has never existed in Star Trek beyond a small experiment with it on the Defiant in Deep Space Nine. It’s one of those stylistic choices in the show. They get holodecks but they never really use them for communication. I get why they’ve gone with it in Discovery, it allows for more dynamic scenes with the actors, but I personally could have done without it and kept communications to view

Still, you just embrace the changes. If you’re really stuck on canon. If you really need the show to have really strict echoes of the original series for it to be canonically correct. If these issues are more important than quality stories then you should not tune into Discovery.

The Four Irritations

There was only four minor irritations I had with Discovery and one of those irritations is a positive.

Why is she called Michael? It’s not a big thing. It’s more of a slight, unnecessary head shaking situation. It’s an irritation on a microscopic level. I get that it’s a thing Bryan Fuller does and that is pretty much the reason.

I didn’t really see the point of Sarek being Burnham’s surrogate father. I get they potentially wanted a link back to the original series but it didn’t add anything for me. It could have been a totally new character and, for me, it would have not changed things at all. Possibly, this will play into things later in the series, but in the pilot, the name dropping is superfluous.

The already mentioned crazy Vulcan psychic powers that are further compounded by not facilitating a good scene.

Finally, I’m really going to miss Michelle Yeoh. She was brilliant.

Are There Risks?

Yes, there are numerous risks going forward with Discovery.

We’ve not seen that TV show yet. While you can argue this is always true to some extent, it’s more true with Discovery. We don’t even know the majority of the characters on the bridge crew of the Discovery, for instance.

The show has a ridiculous number of executive producers. It was madness. While I’m sure a larger part of this is historical it was a pretty good incitement of the chaos. It’s also a worry to what degree this might impact the show in terms of consistency.

Avika Goldsman is involved. Who is a writer who has managed to be a hack of the worse degree but a hack who seems to write shit people see at the cinema in their droves. His involvement is a worrying prospect. IMDB suggests his touch might be limited but then Alex Kurtzman is also a risky prospect? Who has actually written the episodes? IMDB seems very confused overt the whole thing.

It may turn into a homage-fest which would really annoy me. I don’t want to see a series of episodes which wraps the story contortionist style around fan-favourite things just to make it feel like it is steeped in history and is respecting what has gone before. For instance, how does the Mirror Universe fit in to the overall story of the war with the Klingons or is it just because they know the fans like it? Be brave, be bold and just do something new.

And, Finally…

I enjoyed the two-part pilot of Discovery. I enjoyed it more than the majority of Star Trek films. The first episode, The Vulcan Hello, was pretty, damned sweet. I’m hoping the series as it moves forward is more like that episode.

It is very much Star Trek.

I’m crossing my fingers Discovery it is going to go from strength to strength but I’m not sure we can be sure of this from the pilot. The troubled production, the mount of people involved in the credits and the difference between the first episode and the second does indicate a schizophrenic show to some degree.

It’s going to be interesting finding out.

About Ian O'Rourke

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