We are now five episodes in to the sixth TV incarnation of Star Trek. I don’t think it wise to judge a show on so few episodes (if we judged TNG by the first few episodes, or indeed the first season, what would we make of it?), however there’s enough material for me to put pen to paper, and offer up my early thoughts on this show.
I’d describe it as something of a slow-burner. The first two episodes don’t involve the main setting (the ship Discovery) and instead forge the backdrop to the show – a war with the Klingon Empire. With each episode, I feel the show has gotten stronger, as we begin to establish the characters. Of particular fascination is Captain Lorca, whose methods are quite different to previous Starfleet captains, whilst lead character Michael Burnham is outwardly methodical, almost to the point of being ruthless in pursuit of what she believes to be the best outcome, but internally conflicted. Tilly is quite a nervous young woman who is trying to overcome anxiety and her character is subtly raising awareness of this issue.
Stamets is a science officer and Star Trek’s first openly gay character in a TV series. So far, his character has not been defined by being gay (always a danger by a well-meaning yet ignorant production), and instead he has cut a frustrated figure, as an arrogant scientist who nonetheless wants his ideas to benefit humanity, yet seems them co-opted by Starfleet to aid in their war with the Klingons.
Saru is second-in-command of the Discovery and this character served alongside Burnham on the Shenzhou, and therefore was present as Burnham committed mutiny and arguably started the war. He is therefore not exactly enamoured with Burnham and their relationship is a tense one.
Burnham (played by former Walking Dead actor Sonequa Martin-Green) is a complex character. Her parents appear to have been killed in a Klingon raid on a joint human/Vulcan facility and she was raised by Sarek (Spock’s father). As a result she has incorporated elements of Vulcan philosophy, such as adherence to logic, however this is overridden – or tempered – by – human emotion and instinct. Burnham is quite prepared to circumvent authority if she believes she is justified, even though this has caused her tremendous problems in the past.
On the Klingons
They’ve undergone a major visual change, both in terms of their appearance and also their outfits, as well as the décor of their ships (mind you, Federation ships are notably different to the TOS era). Given that the show is set just ten years prior to the events of the original series, this creates a bit of a stylistic issue. I have no problem with modernising the overall aesthetic of the show, but some of the changes have been quite drastic, and I’ve wondered a few times during the course of the show so far, if it might have been better off marketing itself as a reboot.
The F Bomb
The Star Trek TV shows don’t tend to feature swearing, and least of all ‘fuck’. That’s not to say that swearing is completely absent, and the movies (especially the Kelvin-verse films) have featured swears on a few occasions. That said, the F-word on Star Trek was unexpected, but it’s hardly the huge deal (at least, in this meerkat’s humble opinion) that some quarters are making it out to be. There is a perception that Star Trek is and always has been a family show, yet large chunks of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise moved away from being aimed at a family audience – they might have been about families, this doesn’t mean they were for families. The Kelvin-verse films are not, in my view, appropriate for younger children and it’s an individual judgement call as to whether you let older kids watch them.
I’m also not sure of the action sequences. The space battles have been a touch too disorganised for me, in that I’ve found them a little hard to follow. This isn’t to say they’ve been bad, but I can’t call them great either.
I’m warming to Discovery. I’ve read a lot of things elsewhere from people who are determined to hate the show, but then, a lot of these people were determined to hate the show before it had even aired. Not everyone can handle change, yet if Star Trek remained static, it would fade away. Just look at what happened with Enterprise (which was basically an second attempt at recreating TNG, following on from Voyager). Star Trek cannot stubbornly stick to the same approach and expect to remain relevant; nor can it expect to maintain or expand its appeal by sticking to a tired formula. Discovery isn’t perfect, but it is trying to be different, which is no bad thing. So far, 7.5/10.