*Major Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery to follow*
People often say that geeks fall into two camps: Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. It is a flawed, sometimes derogatory statement, but in my experience at least, there is some truth to it. I remember a new team member coming in at my work and he said to me one day that he was ‘more like me’ I asked what he meant, and was told more Star Wars than Star Trek.
To be fair, this wasn’t wrong, I had always considered myself a Trek fan but the adventures of the Jedi just appealed that little bit more. This was due to lightsabers and the battle of good vs evil but ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation aired way back in 1990 and a ten year old me was mesmerized by the theme song, the adventures of the Enterprise held a special place in my heart.
I consider some of the best episodes of TNG as some of the best TV I have ever watched. The likes of ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, ‘The best of both Worlds 1 & 2’ and ‘The Survivors’ hold that title, and the the series overall has always appealed to the science nerd in me, especially since I given the gift of the Star Trek Technical Manual for a birthday present one year. I can still tell you how a warp core works. Can’t fix a real world car, but I can do that.
So I was very excited when a new Trek show was announced. Titled Discovery and set before the timeline splitting reboot, it looked cool, though the first teaser made the USS Discovery look more like the original series Klingon Bird of Preys, which was confusing to say the least, but I was willing to shake it off.
The series started airing just before Christmas, and showed one a week, old school style, so no binge watching here. The first few episodes quickly established something I wasn’t expecting: this isn’t Star Trek. Sure, it has the federation, Klingon's, warp drive, NCC designations for the ships, but it fundamentally wasn’t what I knew.
That is because of one thing: War. Discovery starts with the start of the Klingon-Federation war and goes from there. There is lots of action, ship battles and firefights and with the always awesome Michelle Yeoh as Discovery’s captain plenty of ass kicking, but that was never was the series, indeed the franchise, was really about.
Star Trek made a coherent universe exactly because it wasn’t just about fighting. The United Federation of Planets isn’t a military organisation, it is primarily about science and exploration. The episodes of the various shows run this gamut, where one might indeed be about a battle against the Romulans or another race, two more will be about some crazy science experiment gone wrong or a required diplomatic mission to get a new race into the federation.
It was these episodes that breathed life into the alpha quadrant and its myriad races, making the whole thing make sense. Well as much sense as an alien who is so in-tune with warp mechanics he can travel through them. Let's be honest at this point, a lot of the tales spun by Star Trek shows are massively dumb, but there is a sense is a fun at the heart of it all that few shows to this day make work. Partly, this is because they take everything so seriously but also because the cast traditionally just set out to have a great time together and that does subtly come through on screen.
Discovery, on the other hand, is War Trek through and through. Everything the crew of NCC-1031 do is done to further the battle against the Klingon empire and hopefully win the war and it feels like every episode has at least one battle in it, be that a hand phaser shoot out or a full ship fight.
As the series goes on, however, it starts to redeem itself. As the thing that makes Discovery unique is revealed and the spore drive and Mycelial Network start to become a core plot device, the science aspect of the show steps out of the shadows. Calculations are done, technology is talked about and all the cool science stuff that made earlier shows so awesome comes out to play.
This coupled with characters that have a genuine arc, evolving and developing over the course of the series and Discovery actually becomes a really good show. You are meant to connect and empathize with the central character, Michael Burnham, a girl orphaned by the Klingon's and raised by Sarek, our old friend Mr Spook’s father.
However, it is my opinion that the characters around her are far more interesting. Michael is the main character, and therefore is always destined to win and regain her honour, which was lost at the start of the show. Ensign Tilly is one of the shows best characters, a character who starts out nervous, capable but always questioning her own worth and making apologies for everything she does.
By the final episode, however, Ensign Tilly has been enrolled into the command training program, having saved a commanding officer, proven more than capable in a fight and thrust into the role of Starship captain when Discovery is trapped in an alternate dimension. It’s cool to see someone like this in a big budget show, someone who goes from nervous noob to capable officer.
The alien that becomes acting captain, Saru, is a Kelpien, a race who can easily detect danger. He goes from a first officer who is maybe over cautious, to someone who fights back against every instinct, even genetic adaptations of his species, to become a capable and liked captain.
Because of these characters, and the way everything works out over the course of the series, Discovery actually did become a great show. Is it my favorite Star Trek show? Hell no, TNG will always take that crown, well that is unless season 2 is exceptional. It is just a little too much action for what fans would traditionally think of as a Star Trek show, being more like one of the movies, especially after the reboot, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Discovery isn’t your typical Trek, but that doesn’t automatically make it terrible. Some of the episodes are legitimately great, equaling the highlights of earlier shows. The makers took the franchise in a different direction, but that direction had focus and a point. It won’t go down in history as a work of deep reverie and thought provoking art, but it will keep you entertained.
I had a friend who fell off Discovery after three episodes, and I hope this urges her to go back to it, as well as those who pass it off as ‘Star Trek’. If you didn’t like earlier shows, then you might find this new incarnation more bearable. If you are a Trek fan, don’t dismiss this, it is better than you might think.