(No spoilers for the show, btw.)
Cater to the diehard fans who have eagerly consumed all the Trek, all the time, for half a century. Rekindle the love of Trek in those fans for whom the latest movies or series were less than stellar. Introduce a whole new generation of viewers, with the expectations of today’s television production styles and storytelling, to the universe and ethos of the franchise.
There is no way Star Trek: Discovery could have lived up to all the expectations heaped upon it. The premiere of this series is a Kobayashi Maru.
Believe me, I am incredibly surprised to find myself in the role of Discovery apologist. I have been very sceptical of the show since it was first announced—but most of that has been because of the way CBS has seemed so half-hearted and haphazard in its production, rather than the actual show itself. And maybe some of it is because I am so, so thrilled to see Star Trek returning to TV—and so, so, scared it’s not going to be good.
Following the premiere (of which I only watched the first episode, because bed times), the question of whether or not this new series is “good” seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. One is certainly entitled to an opinion of the first episodes, and one can try to extrapolate from there to the rest of the series. Yet I don’t know if this is the most conversation fans can be having.
Remember that most Star Trek series have been uneven in their first seasons. Even DS9, which arguably has the most coherent storytelling, even in the early, less serialized seasons, and also perhaps one of the better series premieres, had some real stinkers at the start. TOS, where it all began, has a show about space sex trafficking in its first season! And TNG, without which we would never have the reignition of the television franchise, practically specialized in embarrassingly bad episodes for most of the first and second seasons.
Star Trek has never been unimpeachably “good” television. It’s much like Doctor Who in this regard, and indeed, like a lot of science fiction on TV. The reach of the writers and producers sometimes exceeds their budgets’ and effects’ grasps. What Star Trek has always been is ambitious and character-driven. And I definitely see this in Discovery. We’re tossed into a seven-year relationship between a captain and her first officer, and it feels right. The humour is there, as is the tension when they come to an impasse. I’m so disappointed Michelle Yeoh is only a special guest star, because Captain Georgiou is just awesome. I want her and Burnham as my main characters, but I know it’s not to be.
Lots of comments going around about the new makeup for the Klingons and the shifts in their culture and behaviour. Again, I’ve only seen the first episode. And I’m not here to defend everything. But a few points to consider: this is one hundred years before TOS, which was one hundred years before TNG. The Klingons of the TOS era are very different, culturally, from the Klingons of the TNG era. A century is plenty of time for dramatic cultural shift (just look at our culture in 1917 compared to now). Considering how messed up the Klingon Empire seemed to be at the end of Enterprise (presumably they are still picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the Augment Virus), I’m not surprised that at least a segment of Klingon society has become ultra-religious. It’s as if Star Trek is doing what Star Trek does best: use its aliens as mirrors for the issues and obsessions of our present day.
Lots of comments going around about how the technology level seems at odds with TOS. As with most things Trek, we could address this “in universe” or from a production point of view.
As far as continuity goes “in universe”, consider the following: nothing we have seen, capability-wise, really contradicts what the original Enterprise could do. Yes, because we have better special effects and bigger budgets in 2016, we can depict these events to a much higher fidelity than Desilu could in 1965. But the actual technology doesn’t seem any more advanced. The Shenzhou was fairly limited in its options to combat a radiation-scattering field. This is not your Enterprise-D level ship with the power of a planet behind it, ready to kick ass and take names. Similarly, look at the number of crew on that bridge. This is not the mostly-automated-I-just-have-to-push-a-button bridge we see in the 24th century. This is much closer to the push-button-to-tell-phaser-crews-to-fire, submarine-style capabilities of the 23rd century.
But we can debate in-universe explanations all we want, and I’m sure we will, for years and years and years. That is part of the fun of fandom! That being said, from a purely production standpoint, I don’t think anyone really wants to see a modern series portray the future as it was imagined in the 1960s just for the sake of continuity. It would get old, fast, and everyone who is tuning into Star Trek for the first time is going to wonder why people are flipping candy-coloured switches. That’s really why we see the tech presented the way it is—but far be it from me to try to shut down decades of fun fan debate and theories.
At the end of the day, we cannot judge Star Trek: Discovery on one or two messy episodes. What remains to be seen, at least for me, is whether or not Discovery captures the spirit of Trek in a way that neither the new movies nor, I have to admit, even Enterprise do. I can’t say that it has, yet, but I am going to try to keep an open mind and give it a chance for as long as I can.
For a franchise older than me, a franchise that in many respects practically raised me from a young sci-fi babby, I owe Star Trek this much.