It’s finally here – the latest chapter in the Star Trek saga beamed to our screens over the past couple of days, marking a return to television for the first time since Enterprise ended in 2005. Star Trek Discovery is, like its predecessor, a prequel show – it is set ten years prior to the events of the original 1960s series. Bearing that in mind, Discovery is visually very different to TOS and this has not gone unnoticed – a number of fans took to Twitter and to message boards to criticise this approach. After all, we’re not talking minor changes; the controls and displays on the Federation ships are as up-to-date as you can get, reflecting more of what we would conjure up now than the aesthetic of the original show. Given that Discovery is meant to be set in the ‘Prime’ universe and given it has been declared canon by the powers that be, we can either accept this very different set of visuals, or we can complain – but A: complaining won’t undo anything and B: we have had only two episodes – who can say how the show might progress, on all fronts, as the story progresses?
Perhaps the biggest redesign (and one certainly noticed in the trailers) was with the Klingons. Their ships look different, their dress code is different and the Klingons themselves look different. Whilst they are immediately recognisable as Klingons, it’s also very clear that they are not only visually altered, but there are cultural differences as well. Case in point is how they treat their dead, among other details. Once again there are complaints from certain elements of the fanbase – but this isn’t the first time the Klingons have undergone physical and cultural changes. Recall the sudden (and unexplained for decades) change the Klingons underwent visually between TOS and the first movie. Recall the cultural changes between TOS and TNG, when the Klingons went from scheming political maneuverers to Vikings in space. The suggestion that Klingon society should be presented as static and unchanging is no more realistic than suggesting human societies and cultures have remained static.
Finally, before delving into the episodes themselves, a few words on the canon matter. ‘Canon’ in this context refers to an established continuity, a set timeline and set of events that is fixed into Star Trek lore. The ‘Prime’ timeline refers to the one established back in TOS, whereas the ‘Kelvin’ timeline refers to the new, divergent timeline established in the 2009 Star Trek film. Executive Producer Bryan Fuller said at the San Diego Comic Con in 2016 that the show was set in the Prime timeline. That is, frankly, all the information we need, and sets the rules we have to work by. That being said, Discovery does feel like a reboot, in terms of style, with so far, very little to connect it to the rest of the Star Trek franchise. It cannot work with the Kelvin timeline at all, despite early hints that it could in theory slot into either timeline. Nonetheless, the official statements are the ones we live by.
On to the show, so to speak. Was it any good (beyond this point, there be spoilers)
(you have been warned)
The short answer is – maybe. The long answer – it was interesting without being overly tremendous. Although a lot happened in the opening episode, not a lot happened (if that makes sense), and whilst the second episode (hidden beyond a pay wall, something I’ve griped about already) involved a lot of action, it still didn’t really feel like a lot happened. The first two episodes have been entirely about setting up the rest of the episodes, rather than standing on their own right.
We don’t even see the starship Discovery herself – the titular vehicle isn’t even hinted at. Instead, virtually all the action takes place on the Shenzhou, and this ship – which got a lot of airtime in the trailers – is short-lived.
Of the characters… well, only two appear to be moving from the Shenzhou to Discovery, and of those, we only really get to know one, Commander Michael Burnham, who we learn was learning the ways of the Vulcans before an attack by the Klingons. Her story will be the main thrust of the series, but beyond establishing a firm dislike of the Klingons and having her confidence in herself badly shaken, we don’t yet know much. This is not surprising – a pilot episode is hardly going to reveal all the show’s secrets – so we can’t really jump to many conclusions. All in all, there is enough there to lure me back, though I am thankful I have family/friends with Netflix, as there isn’t enough there to convince me to subscribe.