One Foot in the Past and One in the Future – Star Trek: Discovery (First Impressions)

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 15 years since the last new Star Trek television series premiered with the Scott Bakula led Enterprise. In the meantime we’ve had the highly successful relaunch of the movies with Chris Pine and company but with so many story possibilities Star Trek has always felt more at home on television. The reception to Enterprise wasn’t spectacular compared to Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager and it only survived for four seasons before cancellation. Getting Star Trek right on TV is a tricky job as fans all have different ideas of what Trek should be and what the show should offer. Then there’s the need to appeal to a whole new generation of potential fans too and suddenly it becomes a real juggling act. These struggles were evident in the run up to creating Discovery with numerous delays and creative issues, but we can all breathe a sigh of relief as the show has finally launched. But was it worth the wait? On first impressions it’s a solid if not spectacular yes.

Right from the opening scene we’re thrown into action with Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou on an away mission from the USS Shenzhou. There’s no introductions, no real elaboration on their relationship or history, but you get an immediate sense of respect and loyalty between the two. Captain Georgiou talks to Burnham as her equal, someone she’s willing to work with and listen to, but shows her smarts and experience when necessary. They discuss Michael’s future but it’s clear she’s still got a way to go before she’s ready to take that step up. That’s the core story of the two part opener of Discovery – ‘The Vulcan Hello’ and ‘Battle at the Binary Stars.’ Yeoh has a gravitas and presence that makes her the perfect choice for the wise Captain while Martin-Green gets to show tremendous range throughout the opener as an ambitious yet troubled crew member.

It’s an interesting decision for Discovery to follow a First Officer rather than the Captain but it’s the right one as Burnham is by far the most complex character we’re presented with in this opening two-parter. To see her development as a member of the crew and her own personal changes means that we go along on this journey with her. She’s not perfect by any means, and this inner battle between logic and emotion is one that we can all relate to. It’s the same conflicted nature that made Spock such a popular character and why it’s a good decision to give Michael a backstory involving the Vulcans. It’s traditional Star Trek lore but brought up to date with a fresh spin. Long term species The Klingons are a good choice for a first villain with Discovery doing its best to build them up as a viable and determined threat but I must admit I’m looking forward to more original characters in the future.

Outside of the Captain and her Number One, we’re not given much opportunity to get to know the rest of the crew. The main interactions involve Saru (Hellboy’s Doug Jones), a Kelpien who is a Lieutenant and Science Officer and a real contrast to Burnham. He’s a highlight of Discovery with Jones’ delivery being reminiscent of Brent Spiner as Data in that he’s still learning about those he works with and the environment he finds himself in. It’s a strong compliment to compare him to one of the best characters in Trek history and hopefully he’ll develop as strongly as everyone’s favourite android did on The Next Generation. Beyond Jones we see a number of familiar faces such as James Frain as Sarek, well known as Spock’s father, and Jason Isaacs as Gabriel Lorca, Captain of the Discovery. No doubt the latter will get far more to sink his teeth into over the series and Lorca looks like a character that’s one to watch.

Star Trek has always been about different races and coexisting and the ability to relate to real world issues and Discovery is no different. At times it’s a little too on the nose and comes across as a bit preachy, telling people not to make assumptions or be judgmental, as well as commentary on violence. While these subjects are important for Trek to approach it works far better when there’s a subtlety to it. Star Trek has always had its cheesy and hokey moments so they’re to be expected, and as with many sci-fi shows Discovery can get caught up in clunky scientific dialogue, but thankfully not too often. For a new show it does a good job of introducing characters without overdoing the backstory, giving us just enough information to feel like we know them and to form an emotional connection. There’s a good mixture of set-up and action in these first two episodes and hopefully going forward we’ll delve deeper into the characters and the conflict and it will become a must-watch show.

Discovery looks like a 2017 Star Trek series should and certainly follows the expected template for the majority. There’s plenty of variety in the characters to keep it interesting, and enough nods to the old for long term fans while maintaining its own identity to ensure new viewers aren’t alienated. Much like Deep Space Nine, one of the most polarising Trek series, Discovery has the opportunity to put its own stamp on an established universe and take a fresh and exciting angle on a much loved franchise. Before it aired my hope was that it would balance the modern of the new Trek movies with the ideals of the older TV series and thankfully Discovery seems to be taking this approach. It’s not scared to take risks and understands that it exists in a different TV environment than previous series but never loses sight of where it has come from. Let’s hope Discovery chooses to boldly go in new and exciting directions for the rest of the season.

Star Trek: Discovery episodes 1 and 2 are on Netflix UK now with a new episode released every Monday.

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Michelle Yeoh, Maulik Pancholy, Kenneth Mitchell, Mary Wiseman, Clare McConnell, Damon Runyan, Terry Serpico, Rekha Sharma, Sam Vartholomeos, Emily Coutts, Rainn Wilson