So, the newest entry into the Star Trek canon is here and, at time of writing, we’re now three episodes into Star Trek Discovery.
The short version here, is “I like it”. So far the setup has been more than intriguing and to my mind has successfully blended the Star Trek Universe with a more modern style of storytelling that you see in shows like The Expanse. Sure, Trek has played with deeper, more serialised storytelling before in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise season 3, but here its fully embraced, which also allows the show to become its own thing, rather than respinning previous highlights, a problem which started to seriously bog down the franchise by the time we got to Voyager and earlier parts of Enterprise.
I even like things like the design of Discovery herself. I know many have complained about the look of the ship, and while there are aspects I’m not keen on (weird holes in the saucer where perfectly usable deck space could be) in general I like the retro styling it gives off which help sell it as a precursor to Kirk’s time (ok, technically according to canon the Enterprise is around 10 years old at this point, but I can at least see them as contemporaries, versus the flashier streamlined ships we’d get in later Trek).
Of course, the elephant in the room I find is fandom itself. Its probably the most tiring thing I’ve found about the show. Now don’t get me wrong. People are allowed not to like the show. If you find it too dark for your tastes, or you just preferred a more episodic approach, that’s fine. No the problem is the constant harping on about it.
Of course, this is not unique to Trek. Doctor Who fandom has its own “female Doctor” controversy to tear itself apart over now that its previous target, Steven Moffatt, is moving on. Linux fans can argue endlessly over distributions. Ever fandom will generally have these kinds of wars. The problem I find though is it just gets so negative. Certainly in the case of Discovery there are more than a few naysayers who seem to have decided a year ago that it was going to be awful, and have done nothing since but just spout off the same old views. Even once the show aired, they just picked up on stuff to justify their pre-existing reasons as to why everything was terrible.
The two common themes are prequel bashing, and comparisons to “JJ-Trek”. Now to be honest, the latter is understandable, since the modern movies set the standard for how Trek can be viewed for a modern audience, so for me its a bit of a no-brainer to take inspiration from it for the styling of the show. Even then though, Discovery obviously has its own ideas about things, and seems content to just use those films as a starting point. And to be honest, the “JJ Trek” bashing has gotten old as well. Sure, ST09 had some plotting problems (Cadet Kirk becoming Captain overnight etc, etc), but in general it revitalised Trek for a modern cinema audience while keeping the main characters recognisable. Now, Star Trek Into Darkness is probably the most troublesome of the movies, but I really got tired of the bashing by Beyond, which felt like a really nice blend of cinema and classic Trek to me. And the tendency to hold up some ridiculous notion of “true Trek” in some corners is just entitlement gone mad. Trek has always been a flexible format, whether its on-the-nose social commentary, Kirk and co mucking about with time travel to save some whales or Picard stripping down to his vest to battle space zombies. At this point it just feeling like the bashing has taken on a life of its own and I doubt any creative team could do anything right in the eyes of those fans.
The prequel thing is a trickier sell. Personally I’ve got no problem with it, but you do need to be able to live with a degree of reinvention so that the show works for a modern audience. A slavish recreation of the visual style of the Cage is going to get axed pretty damn quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan who loves stuff like Star Trek Continues, but lets not pretend they’re not aiming for totally different audiences here. If CBS gave Vic and co a multi-million dollar an episode budget to create a Trek series that could be marketed internationally to the likes of Netflix, I imagine their show would look pretty different too.
There’s stuff in there to give the fans headaches to reconcile. The uniforms work as something that followed on from the Enterprise jumpsuits, but the holo-communicators? Pretty much a must-have in a modern sci-fi show of sufficient budget, but slightly breaking the established canon. Although since the same (albeit better) tech was in DS9 and subsequently ditched, you could make the argument that its something Starfleet plays with every so often, but never finds it worth the hassle to keep around. The 3D viewscreens etc are easier, since the intention has always been for Trek screens to be 3D, it just wasn’t obvious on our puny 20th/21st century TVs. We’re just finally seeing what it always looked like. Probably.
I have seen the argument that there’s nothing to say Discovery couldn’t have been set 10/20 years post-Voyager, and I find that a more interesting argument. Enterprise certainly tried to push the prequel angle further, even in its first seasons. Here, its very true to say there’s nothing tying the show to its time frame other than probably the appearance of Sarek. And he could be easily replaced by some new Vulcan character without affecting the narrative at all. Sure its interesting to go back and delve into the Klingon conflict that seemed to precede TOS (although personally I always got more of a Cold War vibe, until things were heating up and the Organians stepped in), and its an idea that’s been approached in multiple versions in the past (lets just say the FASA role playing game and leave it there, shall we?). However there’s nothing here that couldn’t be a result of the Klingon Empire destabilising after a couple of decades of peace post-Dominion War.
The prequel idea, I’m fine with, but I’d really like to see them do more with it. Will we have Pike’s Enterprise show up at some point (I know it has in the tie-in novel)? Visiting those characters would be an obvious way to go. I wonder if Bruce Greenwood could reprise the role from the movies? Will they be able to resist Cadet Kirk turning up?
The final thing would be the constant comparisons to Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville. Now, The Orville isn’t currently available in the UK so I haven’t seen it. However I enjoyed the trailers (even if they sound like they were misleading), and all the word of mouth makes me look forward to the show. However online there seems to be a constant need to proclaim one as better than the other. Sure, it sounds like The Orville is more akin to TNG or something, which some fans wanted. But as I said above I can appreciate that Discovery is trying to carve out its own identity, just as TNG and DS9 did. And this way, we effectively have two Star Trek shows to enjoy. And if you don’t like one, then there’s a chance you’ll like the other. Isn’t this a good thing? Can’t we all just get along?
A fairly lengthy, ranting, geeky post I know. But really this is a show that online fandom is being a chore over. Thankfully some have been willing to give the show a chance and are reacting fairly, positively and negatively over the first few episodes, but the vocal minority who are intent on proving its a disaster both tire and worry me. If they dominate the conversation too much, the most likely thing they could achieve is to turn off viewer, and kill off Star Trek for the foreseeable future on TV. How would that be a good thing for anyone? Thankfully so far, ratings and CBS All Access subscriptions seem to be proving these people wrong, and Discovery is pulling in some solid numbers. Here’s hoping it continues, as I see a lot of possibility for the show, both in delving into its current mysteries and storylines, as well as taking the ship and crew into new territory in future seasons. There’s 10 years to explore before we get to The Man Trap, after all.