Netflix’s Star Trek: Discovery has given the franchise a new lease of life.
A few years ago, it would have seemed impossible for a new Star Trek series to grace our television screens. Fortunately, 2017 proved us wrong. CBS and Netflix’s Star Trek: Discovery thrust us back into the wonder and chaos of the 23rd century, aboard a new ship, fighting and exploring alongside a new crew. And we couldn’t be happier.
With the show returning from its mid-season break, we look at what viewers loved about Star Trek: Discovery.
1 – The Plot
Discovery centres around disgraced Starfleet officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her experiences aboard the USS Discovery, captained by the polemical Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs).
The first half of season one focuses on the Federation-Klingon war with the Discovery helming a breakthrough that could change the course of the war. On the way, they pick up strays, deal with scientific and personal setbacks and achievements, and forge new relationships and alliances.
Discovery is the first of the Star Trek shows to not have a ship captain as its protagonist; it is also the first to have one over-arching storyline throughout the season. Most TV shows have adopted a similar format and it suits Discovery to follow in the same vein, especially as the war at the centre of the story has a lasting impact on all the characters.
2 – The Visuals
It goes without saying but the special effects on Star Trek: Discovery are beautiful. The interiors of the ships, both Federation and Klingon, are seamless. You immediately feel like you are back in that universe.
I particularly love that a number of sound effects from the original series are used in this show. Discovery is set ten years before the events of the original series, so it works in setting up the franchise’s continuity.
The make-up and creature effects are also tackled well, but I do not know what to make of the Klingon redesign. We have had too many varied looks for the Klingons – Enterprise did try to explain why the Klingons’ appearances were so different in the original series versus The Next Generation and beyond, but there seems to be no explanation, as yet, for why the Klingons in Discovery look the way they do.
There is also a lot of Klingon spoken in this series, mainly because the Klingons rarely interact with humans. This added element of otherness to the Klingons is good, but it seems like the actors struggle with the Klingon dialogue. It sounds too clipped and forced, even to someone who is not fluent in the language.
3 – Highlight Episodes
Discovery’s war-based storyline was strong and kept the action flowing throughout the first half of the season. But it was the individual episodes that really stood out.
Episode three, ‘Context is for Kings’, was a particular highlight, combining horror and mystery with the space setting to create an otherworldly Star Trek experience. It also helped to set up the crew and methods of the Discovery as being a little off-kilter.
Another favourite was ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’, the seventh episode, that brought in time-travel as a plot device. It was an enjoyable and exhilarating ride that also helped to progress characters’ storylines while being quintessentially Star Trek.
And, of course, the mid-season finale, was nail-biting stuff. It also left us on tenterhooks about the fate of the characters when the show returns.
4 – Michael Burnham
More than the sci-fi spectacle of a space-based show, Star Trek has always been about the characters. In protagonist Michael Burnham, Discovery has an interesting, if polarising choice. Star Trek’s characters have conventionally always been heroes with few blemishes to besmirch their records. Burnham is the exact opposite.
When Burnham is introduced in the show, she is serving as first officer on board the USS Shenzhou under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), well on her way to having her own command. We learn that Burnham was raised as a Vulcan after being rescued from a Klingon attack that killed her parents. This tragic past and her dual identity as human and Vulcan then lead her to make disastrous choices.
During a routine exploratory mission, Burnham accidentally trespasses aboard a Klingon ship. All the logic in the universe cannot allay her fears that the tragedy she suffered as a child will once again befall the people she cares about. Burnham acts on her instincts and the repercussions of these actions have far-reaching and devastating effects.
5 – Great Characters
Burnham isn’t the only character to straddle the line between good and evil. Captain Lorca, in his quest to win the war, makes questionable decisions and pushes his crew to extreme, almost fatal lengths. What makes the Discovery so special is the inclusion of a new technology called the spore drive. The drive gives the ship the ability to jump incredible distances within seconds. However, neither Lorca, nor his chief engineer, Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) fully understand the technology. It does not stop them from using it, unfortunately.
As the show unfolds, we realise that, alongside Burnham, many crew members are recovering from tragic pasts. Lorca is the sole survivor from his previous command and is determined never to let his ship or crew fall into enemy hands. Discovery’s first officer, Commander Saru (Doug Jones) was formerly on the Shenzhou. He thus resents Burnham’s presence aboard Discovery, not just because of her criminal acts but because he holds her personally responsible for destroying his life aboard the Shenzhou.
Half-way through season one, Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) was introduced. A prisoner of war aboard a Klingon ship, Tyler suffers silently through untreated PTSD and it almost costs the crew a mission.
6 – Diversity
Diversity is a standard Star Trek will always be held to because of the pioneering work in Star Trek: The Original Series. Each show has tried to up the ante, but Discovery has much more breathing room. And, fortunately, the show has taken every opportunity to expand its horizons.
The lead character is a woman of colour, Michael Burnham, a first for Star Trek, and better still, she is written well. Her eventual love interest is played by South Asian origin actor Shazad Latif, another rarity in Star Trek. The Chief Medical Officer is played by Puerto Rican Wilson Cruz. The background crew is also very diverse and gets more so with each episode.
Michelle Yeoh embodied her role as a Starfleet Captain so completely, it felt like she had really been sitting in that chair on the Shenzhou bridge for nine years. Her absence after the first two episodes continues to rankle.
Rekha Sharma’s turn as the Discovery’s chief of security was much too short, but immensely powerful. She was all fire and brimstone and we would have loved to see more of her. Though she is replaced by Latif’s Ash Tyler, it would have been wonderful to see more than one South Asian-origin actor side by side in a science-fiction show.
Despite all the diversity, almost all the chief positions on the Discovery are held by men. This is in keeping with the original series but it really doesn’t make sense in the current cinematic landscape. Hopefully this will change as the show progresses.
In addition to racial diversity, Discovery was finally able to bring LGBTQ+ characters into the frame. Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Chief Medical Officer Dr Hugh Culber are a couple and Discovery defines their relationship very clearly. We also get to see another same-sex couple during a party.
Star Trek has been noteworthy for pushing the boundaries of diversity and inclusivity, so one would expect Discovery to continue that trend on its return.
Star Trek: Discovery is definitely the kind of Star Trek we need in the 21st century and has built upon the progress of previous Star Trek shows. The story we have had till now has been powerful and relevant but, most of all, Discovery has given us characters who we can relate to and care about.
We do not yet know what the show has in store for us following its return, but if the first nine episodes are anything to go by, it is going to be epic.
If you love Star Trek (you’ve gotten this far so you must at least like it a lot), have a read through this awesome interview with Patrick Stewart.