a review by the Crow.
Oh boy. Here we go. How divisive this new chapter has seemed so far. It leaves us with no choice but to…
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
Disclaimer: I’m not going to go into all the issues surrounding Star Trek: Discovery‘s production, or the lead-up to its release. Rather, I’ll stick mostly to the episodes released so far, my personal thoughts, and some general commentary.
Note: Considering this is the first series of reviews we’re tackling where we’ll be looking at the episodes as and when they come out, they’ll run a little longer than our usual TV reviews, and will contain a moderately high level of spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery was released early today morning for worldwide viewers, less than 24 hours of debuting on CBS All-Access in the United States (as promised). This latest addition to the “Prime Timeline” takes place around a decade prior to the events of the original Star Trek — albeit following the originally-unaired pilot The Cage — and around a century following the last entry in the franchise: Star Trek: Enterprise.
For clarification: The “Prime Timeline/Universe” (as it has come to be known) is the original Star Trek storyline, unrelated to 2009’s Star Trek movie reboot and its two big-screen sequels (read about Star Trek Beyond here). Some argue that Star Trek: Enterprise has a foot in the alternate timeline as well, but let’s not complicate matters.
Full disclosure: I’m a fan. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a full-blown Trekkie, but I’ve watched every second of The Next Generation (some of those seconds a few times over) and some bits and bobs of the other entries. I know the lore, and then some (err, maybe not so much about Enterprise). I even have a Star Trek mobile game I’ve been meaning to review some day on The Corvid Review. So, it’s safe to say I’m a bit of an expert.
While I’d dearly like to see more about the future (post Nemesis and the potential destruction of the Romulan star system, soft-canon video games notwithstanding), I’m not opposed to prequels or interquels.
True, the original announcement about when Discovery was set and the initial reports I became aware of did raise some worries in my mind, but I really tried not to let it affect my viewing when I finally fired up the old Netflix app and perched myself up for a return to this universe I hold so dear.
Disclaimer: I did judge certain aspects of this show during the run-up to its release. But I’ll leave all mention of them out since they’re more to do with what was going on behind-the-scenes.
Before we proceed… Just in case I start throwing abbreviations around, here’s a handy guide to what they mean:
- TOS: Star Trek (The Original Series) [1966-1969]
- TNG: Star Trek: The Next Generation [1987-1994]
- DS9: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (9) [1993-1999]
- VOY: Star Trek: Voyager [1995-2001]
- ENT: Star Trek: Enterprise [2001-2005]
- DIS: Star Trek: Discovery [2017–]
And it’s important to note that Enterprise and Discovery are set before the events of TOS.
Right. It’s time to review Star Trek: Discovery! Let’s…
…make it so.
REVIEW: THE VULCAN HELLO
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MODERATE SPOILERS
(When I first heard the title for this episode, I thought to myself: “Well, that sounds dumb.”)
We start with a speech in Klingon. Klingon that sounds somewhat… different (compared to what I’m used to, anyway). But it’s an effective speech, so we’re fine. It’s an eye-catching scene, and sets the immediate danger up quite nicely. The production value is fast to make a statement with some very pretty set design, prosthetic make up, and costume design all on display.
And then, we cut to an equally-pretty desert. Immediately, two things struck me.
- One: My dearest desert! Exposition-land must be thy name!
- Two: Why is the captain down here with “Number One”/Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green)? Why, always?! I think this scene would actually have been better off if Saru (who we’re soon to meet) was down here instead of Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
There’s a bit of a fun scene to do with footprints, and I’m immediately throwing my hands up in frustration. There must be quite a decent stash of cheese in this desert.
Cut to: the intro! And oh my, is it ever gorgeous! I love it! It does spoil a teeny-tiny thing, though, which is a shame.
The episode thereafter settles into a more familiar setting. We encounter most of the people we’ll be spending time with quite quickly. Saru (Doug Jones — a man whose work I’ve long-admired) steals the eye with his usual flair.
However, the exposition continues. This is a pretty glaring issue with this episode in particular. I’m a big proponent of using a ‘salt-and-pepper’ method of description while writing. And here, we have exposition that could’ve easily be handled by more efficient means than bashing us over the head with the exact fact we’re meant to figure out.
Some time later in the plot, Saru himself commits possibly the most heinous of these crimes. These people have known each other for a minimum of seven years. And what? They need to ‘As you know’ details about one another that would be best left for future plot material? There is some rather poor writing on display, here.
That said, the overall plot is solid, despite these shortcomings. It’s a very standard Star Trek plot structure: what should be routine and benign turns out not to be. The degrees of danger ramp up at a decent pace, and we’re soon into the meat of the plot.
What comes next is no surprise: Starfleet (spearheaded by the USS Shenzhou) come into contact with T’Kuvma‘s (Chris Obi) house of Klingons. T’Kuvma, a devout follower of the legendary Klingon Kahless intends to bring together the twenty-four houses of the Klingon Empire and unite them against the United Federation of Planets.
(I was quite enamoured of Burnham’s spacesuit, but when I saw the Klingon variant… oh dear. I want one of those — as long as it’s crow-shaped and comes in black.)
Needless to say, things kick off. But there’s no all-out battle, here. Rather, T’Kuvma is willing to wait out the confrontation in silence after he reveals his ship to the Shenzhou.
Eventually, things aboard the Shenzhou devolve into a messy situation when the Klingons ‘light their torch’. Burnham acts out of turn — almost on impulse — and a split forms at the top of the chain of command, allowing Klingon ships from the twenty-four major houses to warp in and join in the face-off.
The Vulcan Hello, while a safe Star Trek episode, is not without its problems.
I felt that the character moments could have been handled a little better. Despite what I said about that one terrible moment of exposition, Saru manages to convey his character with more efficiency than any of the humans. T’Kuvma is magnetic, even through all the prosthetics and make-up. And the young Klingon Voq (actor yet undisclosed) is an excellent example of slipping a character in by playing them off others. Everything else is handed to us.
And before I skip straight to the next episode, let me make a correction: that thing I said about the title “The Vulcan Hello” sounding dumb? Well, it’s actually not. The name-drop works quite well, actually.
REVIEW: BATTLE AT THE BINARY STARS
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
The Klingons engage in some quarrelling themselves, and after a short history of T’Kuvma (done rather well), all but one of them agree to work together. They allow Georgiou to hail them, and when her backup arrives, they open fire.
The rest of the episode is a pretty straightforward action sequence, interrupted only by some minor character moments and a little planning. The action is very pretty (unlike Star Trek in general) and the hand-to-hand sequences are nicely-choreographed. The plans that are made are quite basic, despite how the build-up to said plans treat them like they’ll be the best plans since sliced bread.
Is this an issue? That it feels more like the rebooted movie universe than an actual episode of Star Trek? I don’t think so. This is a new chapter in the franchise, and each of them have a right to play by a new set of rules.
I should propose, though, that if the series continues to go for high-action often, that it could do well with raising the stakes on other levels. The battle we see here, due to its conclusion, feels like a one-off. It’s not out of the ordinary to occasionally have battles in Star Trek, and this is just one of the many we’ve seen (albeit the prettiest one on TV).
It’s not a bad two-parter, and it’s a decent start to Discovery, but it’s nowhere close to an epic event. Then again: not many Star Trek series’ have had great starts. To be quite fair: I don’t like any of them. This one might just trump the others on that level.
It’s still early days, so it’s hard to gauge how this series will go in the future, but I had a good time. It’s an enjoyable hour-and-a-half and well worth a watch. I’d put it on par with the likes of Star Trek Beyond, even, if I was just judging by attention to detail and production value. And a lot of the aesthetics in the movie harkened back to images from the J.J. Abrams/James Wan compositions. On the whole, it’s a very lush, and very gorgeous production, especially everything about the Klingons.
And speaking of Klingons…
The Klingon redesign is something I quite like. Although I did think it’d be somewhat difficult to shake the images of certain Klingons from other Star Trek shows, it didn’t turn out to be an issue at all. I like this new take on the famous species and would be interested to see where they take them in the future.
I’m curious as to how the people behind the show go around their promise of explaining the vast differences in the Klingons between their (now) three major redesigns. But that’s a story for another day.
James Frain, I should touch upon. I think he did a pretty decent job as Sarek. No complaints on that front from me. The acting in general was alright. There isn’t really much to do, and people play it straight. Apart from some moments from Burnham, most of the emotion here comes from T’Kuvma’s voice, and his eyes, and Chris Obi knocks it out of the park with each gruelling line.
I wish the writing were a little tighter. There are some major let downs in the first episode in particular. On the other hand: certain lines really do stand out. A 3/10 on this front from me, overall.
And finally, an admission. I once brainstormed (you’ll find this is a habit of mine) a post-Nemesis Star Trek pitch. And my choice of captain seems to have the same path as they’ve employed for Burnham, just with an added twist. While the only similarity is that they start their main starship careers from the brig, I’m happy to see another renegade character intended for the bridge. And how nice is it that we get to see what put them in the brig as well? That’s about all I have to admit, really. It’s not like anything else was going to come of that pitch.Unless you’re listening, CBS. The core concept’s actually not bad!
So yeah, Star Trek: Discovery comes recommended by us at The Corvid Review. It’s a fun 80-odd minutes, and fits nicely between what TV viewers have been used to for so many years, and what the new rebooted movies are doing. That makes it a nice place to start for newer fans, if nothing else.