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September 25, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery Returns to TV Timeline With Bold Moves

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Written by: Rodney Brown
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It boldly goes where no one has gone before at times, but that may be both good and bad for the new show Star Trek: Discovery.

The bold moves include focusing on a main character that is not only not a ship captain, but a very complex, conflicted individual (Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green of The Walking Dead fame). Another bold move is that while the show is produced by CBS, only the first episode is available on broadcast or cable. To get the second episode and all going forward, you will need access to CBS’s own streaming service, inaccurately called CBS All Access.

Both episodes are available to watch right now, and below is my spoiler-free review. If you have seen any of the commercials or trailers, nothing I will reveal will be a surprise.

Despite its unfortunate contraction of STD, the show is beautiful to look at and the special effects are astounding for a TV show. It is as good looking as — and at times better than — the JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek movies. Discovery sets a new bar for TV sci-fi effects like the Battlestar Galactica reboot did. I wonder if CBS spent insane amounts of money on those effects, or if they found someone who could do them that well for lesser money, as BSG did.

The design is also outstanding, from the look of the bridge of Burnham’s first post as “Number One,” the USS Shenzhou, to the incredibly deep and consistent look of the Klingons and all of their technology and culture. Those Klingons are perhaps the best thing about the show, and it explores areas of Klingon history and culture only hinted at in the various TV series.

That history is squarely in the timeline from the TV shows, and movies based on the TV shows, not the Abrams reboot, which is an alternate universe now known as the “Kelvin timeline.” STD is set 10 years prior to when Kirk and Spock first meet on the USS Enterprise. That means that Spock is already serving on the Enterprise (the original series has him serving 11 years under Captain Christopher Pike before Kirk assumes command), and Burnham’s connection to Spock’s father Sarek implies that Spock could appear in STD at some point.

While that puts it nearly 100 years after the series Enterprise, the uniform designs are much more like that show than TOS or the Abrams reboots; blue slacks with blue jackets and colored piping and accents to mark service divisions within the ship. And while I have seen people complaining about the design of the USS Discovery, it is a super-nerdy easter egg and call back to one of the brilliant Ralph McQuarrie’s original designs for the USS Enterprise.

Doug Jones as the ever-cautious Lt. Saru.

Doug Jones as the ever-cautious Lt. Saru.

In addition to Martin-Green’s complex and troublesome Commander Burnham, Doug Jones is outstanding as the science officer Lt. Saru. He is a member of a race congenitally predisposed to being afraid. The director and cinematographer play up Jones’ almost inhuman height and slenderness to great effect.

If only the dialogue they give all these characters was as consistently interesting. There are exchanges between Burnham and Saru, or Burnham and Sarek, or Burnham and the captain of the Shenzhou, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) that are as stilted as anything from the early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That’s not to say it is all tough to take. The casual banter between Yeoh, Jones and Martin-Green is fun and mostly well done. And the bombastic political and religious speeches by the main Klingon character T’Kuvma are well written, even if they are delivered in such a halting manner you have to wonder if actor Christopher Obi just decided on his own that T’Kuvma had the Klingon equivalent of a stammer. Obi, by the way, is the wonderful Anubis in the Starz series American Gods.

The first episode has some serious pacing problems, with characters going into really inappropriate exposition dialogue at what should be white-knuckle tense moments. The second episode is mainly an action episode and the directing and pacing problems of the first episode are gone. Luckily, the character development continues, even in an action-focused episode, and there are plenty of surprising developments that will have huge impacts on the rest of the series.

The big question: Is it worth paying extra for yet another streaming service, particularly one that has only this one new content? That is of course subjective. But I thought about it, and I pay more for the Starz series American Gods than the $5.99 per month that CBS All Access charges for streaming with “limited” ads. By the way, you can pay $9.99 per month for no ads.

I enjoy the look, design, world-building and tone of Star Trek: Discovery enough to fork over my $5.99 for at least one month to get a few more episodes. After that, if Discovery continues to develop this time in the Star Trek future history as deeply and with as much complexity as the first two episodes, I’ll stick with it. If it becomes yet another Enterprise, wasting potential by not knowing what kind of show it wants to be, then I’ll wait until it winds up on some other streaming service I already pay for (if it ever does).

About the Author

Rodney Brown



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