When I was 4 years old, there was a show on BBC 2 that would interest me and terrify me. It was repeated, having ended a few years before I was born. It was a very human show, it showed us a version of the future where mankind had made so much advancement, but it wasn’t preachy, it didn’t have an agenda. It was sci-fi, it was human, it was great. It was Star Trek.
Star Trek is a big franchise, which I am sure you are at least aware of, through the movies, or the TV shows. The last Star Trek series aired between 2001-2005, was mediocre, but improving, for most of its run. One thought the Abrams movies were to be the only outing for the franchise, with a new movie every few years. But then the announcement came that we would get a new series, and fans were ecstatic. This series was to be called Star Trek Discovery, a prequel to the 60’s series, taking place 10 years before Kirk and The Enterprise. When it came in 2017, fans all over the world…gave it mixed reviews.
This post has been a long time coming. I wasn’t going to do a review of the new series until I have seen the first season, and review it retrospectively. As of November 2017, we have just had the Midseason finale, and the show won’t be back until January, so I figured we might as well do this now. My thoughts on ST:D (Forgive the initials, it’s their fault) is that it is a very good show, that is let down by its characters, stories, and its aesthetic. So it is not a very good show.
That is actually a bit unfair. I think that Star Trek Discovery is a good show, but it isn’t a good star trek show. And I will explain my reasons why based on what I think lets it down, starting off with its characters:
The characters are really a mixed bag, in my opinion, and I think they made an error on who the show’s main character was. Michael Burnham is not a good character. She is well acted, the actress who plays her does a good job, but she is so unlikeable. The character is a stick in the mud, always miserable, always antagonistic. That is not the hero we should have in the series. I get what they are trying to do, by making the hero three dimensional, but I really don’t like how they did it.
The character who they did make very 3 dimensional and did it right was the captain of the Discovery; Captain Lorca. Lorca is my favourite character, hands down. He is a great anti-hero because he believes that what he does is the right thing. He is very morally questionable, including plugging in a living creature to use for his ship and making a criminal a part of the crew. My other favourite character is Saru, who plays the first officer. He is a good character in the vein of Data from TNG. He is an alien who evolved sense danger and death, it is an evolved behaviour in him. He is probably the most Starfleet character in the main cast, in that he is the most by the book.
There are other characters, such as Cadet Tilly; a very bubbly cadet in the vein of Wesley Crusher, but less annoying, Ash Tyler, a Chief of Security with PTSD, which actually is portrayed very well in the show’s last episode, I’ll get to that. The only other character worth mentioning is probably Paul Stammets, the Chief Engineer, in that he is noteworthy because he is the ship’s mode of transport, and that he is the first openly gay character.
The focus on Burnham is a misstep. She is not the character I want to follow on this show, at all. Lorca and Saru are the characters I want to follow because they have a great dynamic which would be interesting to explore. One thing that I dislike is that there are characters in this series; character meaning in that they look unique, who never get any time. The focus on Burnham at the expense of others makes me feel that way. She has an interesting journey and character growth potential, but she is not a character I want to follow. This focus on that character is a factor in the story too.
Plotlines focused on Burnham revolve around her being trained by Vulcans and being a Mutineer who gets Starfleet involved in the war with the Klingons, killing her captain, and destroying her original ship. That, to me, should have been backstory, but focusing the first two episodes on her backstory and setting up the main conflict was a poor choice. Star Trek Voyager, for all its flaws, had a great two-part opener, in that introduced a disgraced character; Tom Paris, into Voyager, which gets flung across space with a rebel Maquis ship, forcing the crew to work together. To me, that was a great opener and set up. This series took 3 episodes to set up the story, which I consider a waste of time. I’d have made those episodes flashbacks or exposition to the 3rd episode, making that a 2-hour long pilot to introduce the story and the setup for the conflict. I felt like they set up one story, for it to drop us into another, with new characters, a new ship, and a character I don’t like.
That is the main plot of the show, it revolves around Michael, at the expense of other plotlines. Lieutenant Tyler, Chief of Security, suffers from PTSD, as a result of 7 months of captivity, torture, and rape by a Klingon captain. That PTSD is really only given one episode, the midseason finale. That is a great plotline they have wasted. The dynamic between Lorca and Saru is mentioned but never explored. There are background characters, some of which from the ship in the pilot, who we see who are not a part of the story besides being extras in the bridge scenes! The main plotline focuses on one thing, at the expense of getting to know our characters; which the Star Trek series in the 80’s and 90’s did exceptionally well, even in DS9 during the Dominion War. The Federation-Klingon war is just boring to me, the Klingons are united because religious analogies and the Federation are fighting them because of muh Alpha quadrant.
I feel like the main plotline should really have been more in the background, rather than the foreground. Influence the character’s decisions and actions, and therefore the story of the ship and its crew. Give characters their episodes, let’s see how Tilly sees things or Stammets Point of view. The conflict between the federation and the klingons, and the conflict between characters could have been good, but I feel like plotlines got lost.
I understand that we’re in 2017, and technology since the 60’s, 80’s, and 90’s is much better, but the aesthetics are just too futuristic. It is supposed to be that way, but the ships in ST:D look far more advanced than those in the canonical future. It makes you think that 10 years from now, the Federation and Starfleet will have a 60’s revivalist era, and make their ships and uniforms very 60’s. That’s more to do with when the shows were made, but there is making something look futuristic, and making it look out of place with the timeline that it is portraying. They did this well in Star Trek: Enterprise, with the Enterprise in that series taking advantage of the technology available in 2001, but making the ship more basic and more industrial. In this series, they have holograms. There were no holograms until DS9; or did Starfleet have budget cuts, stopping the ships all having holograms?
I like the uniforms that the characters wear, a cross between the original series and the enterprise uniforms, which look good. I don’t like how the division colours have changed though. It should be Red, Yellow, Blue.
I really hate the new Klingons. I know that times have changed, and I know that things are more advanced now, but Star Trek’s Klingons have had a set design since 1979, in the Motion Picture, lasting until 2005. Changing them and making them so different is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. The actors look like they can barely talk under the extensive prosthetics, something the classic design didn’t have. The original 60’s Klingons were poorly designed, due to budget, but the ones we saw from ’79 were good. You needn’t have done anything to them. Perhaps make the makeup a bit more updated, but it was fine the way it was! They didn’t change the Vulcans, why change the Klingons?
A quick paragraph on production. This show has a lot of action in it, which goes against what Star Trek used to do. There was action in all Star Trek series, but it was balanced between discussion, and character moments, it wasn’t the main aspect of the series. I feel like there was too much action in this series compared to others. I love a good laser fight or a duel with a Klingon, but we see that in many of the episodes. We see some discussion, but I believe more of it was to do with Klingons than with the Federation. That just doesn’t feel like Star Trek. Oh, and the editing. In the episode where Lorca and Tyler escape the Klingon ship, I feel like the escape scene was cut out. I did not like that.
THE LITTLE THINGS
Saying ‘F***’. Saying that word in a Star Trek series is a betrayal of what Star Trek is to me. I mentioned the Holograms, I mentioned the makeup, but this to me is the nadir of the whole problem with this series. That is not a word ANY of the previous series used. There was no swearing in it. At all. Star Trek saying a swear word to appear adult in what is already supposed to be an adult show is a betrayal of an adult show. The one line uttered by Cadet Tilly really irked me, it irked my Dad, and I bet it irked a lot of Trekkies too. I never use swear words on my blog, and this occasion where I am is a quote because I am writing to an adult audience. I don’t need to show you I am an adult by swearing.
There are lots of things that annoy me about Discovery, such as the violations of the Prime Directive in the first episode, plotholes, language, editing, it all adds up. There’s probably stuff I have missed and didn’t consider, and probably a lot of stuff other people can mention too.
Star Trek Discovery is a good series, but it is a bad Star Trek series, at least now. No first series of the show was good, even the previous series had awful first series compared to their later ones, but there was a lot more to like about them than there was with Discovery, which I have touched on. The first few episodes of the series were not good at all, but they did get better, the same with other series. Episode 7, with Mudd as the main antagonist, was my particular favourite, as it was perhaps the most Star Trek the series got. What I think makes this series bad is that its tone is all wrong, its characters are largely unlikable or ignored, a mumbled storyline, bad editing, and the F Word.
I have waited 12 years for new Trek on TV, and while I got it, I am not happy with it. It needs to be worked on, it needs retooling, it needs to remember Roddenbury’s vision, and be more positive. We can have complex characters, and amoral characters at that; this is a story about a war in the stars; a Star Wars if you will. We can have action, but it needs to be balanced with discussion, diplomacy, levity, and exploration. Star Trek Discovery isn’t Star Trek, but it could be.