By Luke Farnish
Star Trek, the optimistic space-western featuring Captain Kirk and co. aired more than fifty years ago and various iterations of the show have graced the silver screen ever since, with a hiatus in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, with the last episode of the adventure to the final frontier airing in 2005, an entire generation of fans have been devoid of new Trek. So, when in November 2015 CBS announced a new series, fans were understandably excited.
Throughout production, press releases and leaked information began to worry those following developments. There seemed to be numerous issues with production issues. Writing was one, from the change from episodic to continuous plots and the choice to make characters flawed and the setting dark raising eyebrows among many. The setting of the series too raised concern. Within Star Trek canon, there are many periods where little is known, yet Discovery is set just ten years before the original series, a period which is already populated with stories. News was released very rarely and what was shown seemed troubling, a radical departure from what had come before. Then came the news that the US distributor for the program would not be CBS, but CBS All Access, a paid for subscription service. Many were concerned that the show may simply be an inviting tidbit to lure in subscribers. Despite all of these and many other issues, I, along with many other fans, were simply excited to have a new Star Trek series and were willing to give Discovery a chance.
The first two episodes, released at the same time and featuring a two-part plot introduce us to the main characters of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones) aboard the starship U.S.S Shenzhou. The U.S.S Discovery itself would not be revealed until episode 3 and neither would very much else. The plot, scripting and editing of the first two episodes left much to be desired. Even the special effects, which were visually interesting, were not particularly groundbreaking nor did they add particularly to the flow of the show. Over all, I was left feeling hollow from these episodes. A show about hope and progress in the future had shown flawed characters at each other’s throats and the style was such a radical departure from the style of the original series (whose aesthetics should be near identical to Discovery) as to almost appear insulting. The writers of the show had spoken of their affection for the original show but these first two episodes did not demonstrate this whatsoever.
However, Star Trek pilot episodes have a tradition of being far worse than the finished product. The pilot for the original series was enough for the show to be nearly cancelled indefinitely and only a hastily put together second pilot episode was enough to convince studio produces to continue with the show, for example. Discovery has continued in this tradition, with episodes gradually improving in their scripting, flow and feel. The characters began to show development including newly introduced crew such as Paul Stamets (Antony Rapp), Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) showing far more depth than had previously been seen. Episodes were proving to be more episodic than previously thought and, although the changes to style are still hard to stomach for some, there are enough references and Easter eggs to make Discovery feel like Star Trek.
Episode 7 (Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad) in particular stood out. A self-contained plot with a well-known character from the trek canon featuring the usual technobabble, morality and the human condition marks Discovery as belonging among the other series of Trek. Ironically though, this is perhaps the episode most different from all the others and not a particularly typical Discovery episode.
Episode 9 (Into the Forest I Go) leaves fans wondering what the rest of the season (and the now confirmed season 2) will lead with the potential answer to many of the issues fans have had being hinted at towards the end of the episode. However, we shall have to wait until after the brief break for Christmas for the series to resume on January 8th (UK date, the US date will be January the 7th).
Discovery has given us some firsts for Trek too. The first use of the F-bomb lead to mixed responses from fans, but more positively received (in general) was Trek’s first gay kiss and homosexual relationship, the sort of issue that should have been covered by the sci-fi whose theme is progress many years ago.
Overall, Discovery is a departure from the other six series of Star Trek, but not so much as we were led to believing. It has many issues still to work including writing, editing, pacing (of both episode and the series as a whole, both of which at times feel rushed) and use of effects. But it is finding its feet and promises many hours of wonder and entertainment to come.