You Can Relax, Star Trek: Discovery is Actually Quite Good

By Tom Pritchard on at

Fandom, as its come to be known, is a very strange situation. In it you have a large group of people who are passionate about a franchise, to the point that they all band together to share that passion with each other. At the same time those fans also end up being a franchise's harshest critics, adamantly expressing their distaste for anything they don't quite like.

Star Trek fandom is no different. It's one of the earliest example of what people now call a fandom, with groups of fans referred to as Trekkies or Trekkers depending on who you ask. In many ways Trekkies were the original fandom, before fandom was even a thing, and while they were known for their seemingly over the top interest in Star Trek (even before it was the major franchise it is today) they too weren't innocent of exceptionally harsh criticism.

Nowhere is that more true than with Discovery. It seems that there are a number of very vocal people who want Star Trek: Discovery, the latest instalment in the franchise, to fail. Pessimism has been high almost from the get go, whether it was aimed at the setting (10 years before the original series), the set and costume design (clearly inspired by the Abrams movies), the delays and lack of communication about how the series was progressing, or the fact that CBS was going to lock the series behind a $6-a-month paywall in the US (ok, they have a point there).

I can tell you now that having seen the first two episodes, Star Trek: Discovery is actually quite good. So far anyway, since there are 13 episodes to go before the first season concludes. If you were concerned we'd end up with another Encounter at Farpoint or The Caretaker, then you can relax. You can trust me, after all I'm not afraid to dish out some much needed Star Trek criticism when it's deserved.

I'm not going to go into spoiler territory, but it's safe to say that A Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars are very self-contained. Despite not being called Episode Parts 1 & 2 it is one continuous story told over the course of 90 minutes, setting the stage for what's to come over the next 13 episodes. It's uncharted territory for Star Trek in a way, because there will apparently be no one-off episodes. Instead the series will focus on a single narrative, which is something that has become more commonplace on TV in the 12 1/2 years since Enterprise was cancelled.

It's obvious from the beginning that the series has been inspired by the JJ Abrams movies, which you can see throughout the first two episodes. The sets, the backdrop of space, and even the action sequences themselves are covered in Abrams' stylistic fingerprints. There's even some lens flare at certain points.

You can probably attribute part of that to the improvements in effects and general TV production over the past 12 years, particularly the lowered cost of more cinema-style production, as well as a deliberate attempt to mimic Abrams' work. After all his films were designed to attract a mainstream crowd, and there must be some people at CBS who are worried not doing this would alienate them newer fans who didn't grow up watching Star Trek.

I wouldn't say it's a bad thing, though it does make the effects and set design from other Trek series look more dated - particularly the original series. Still, it's strange to see exterior shots of the ship with stuff in the background. Go back and watch the older series, and you'll find that it's usually just a plain black backdrop. Even the bigger battles, like that at Wolf 359 look totally different to this.

The opening credits are unlike anything we've ever seen in Trek before. If you're expecting something to challenge the dominance of Voyager's title sequences then you're going to be very disappointed. To me it felt more like the opening credits of Fringe than Star Trek, and it can't be a coincidence that Akiva Goldsman is a consulting producer on both series. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it feels out of place. Though maybe not quite as out of place as the use of Faith of the Heart in Enterprise.

The main problem is that we don't get to see very much beyond the three central command characters: Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Lieutenant Commander Saru (Doug Jones). There are plenty of other characters on screen, but no time is spent on them and I have absolutely no idea who they even are. There is a reason for that, but seeing as how Star Trek is best when it's focussing on its many characters I can't help but feel that there are some missed opportunities there.

And to mention the elephant in the room, the Klingons also take up their fair share of screen time but I still can't get over the fact that they've been given such a massive design overhaul. The ships, the costumes, and their bulbous heads just don't work. Even the Klingon language itself feels awkward compared to previous series, and while I'm no expert in fictional languages it doesn't really sound like Klingon to me. There are some bits here and there that sound familiar, but it just doesn't sound right. It doesn't help that the Klingon captain T'Kuvma (Chris Obi) speaks with an accent very different to that of previous Klingon actors.

That said it'll be interesting to see how the appearance of the Klingons develops over the course of the series, and in the future - particularly with regard to the smooth-headed Klingons from TOS and Enterprise. Unfortunately the Klingons are more alien than ever, and that's probably a mistake.

Overall the acting was a bit choppy as well, which you should probably expect from a first season of Star Trek. Martin-Green in particular stood out because, despite her background growing up on Vulcan, she never quite gives a consistent performance. From an emotional perspective at least. She can switch from a Spock-mimicking cold-hard Vulcan persona to obvious human hysteria (from a Vulcan perspective) quite easily, which didn't sit right with me. It might be deliberate, or it might be an issue of acclimatising to the very unique emotional perspective required by such a role. Still she doesn't come off as boring and annoying, which makes her a hell of a lot more enjoyable to watch that T'Pol was.

Doug Jones's Saru, on the other hand gave a damn good performance. He's designed to be the Spock or Data of this particular Trek series, and I can see him achieving that similar level of fan-favourite status. Maybe not quite as high as the other two, given their long history, but up there none the less.

While it is far from perfect, Discovery has potential. It's jagged at the edges and a little awkward at times, but after 51 years any Trek fan should be accustomed that in the beginning. Provided you can look past the Klingons, who are admittedly incredibly weird, you should find plenty to enjoy. Bring on the next 13 episodes, because I am looking forward to seeing where this goes.