The re-launched Star Trek: Discovery contains scoops of every element that made the previous Trek television series and movies memorable. Now that may or may not be a good thing as not all those memories are fond ones yet this new series is deliberate in re-voicing the sounds of the past; quite literally when it comes to the pinging ambient sound on the bridge of the starship Shenzou which may or may not be destroyed at the end of the two-part premier. The Shenzou’s Captain Georgieu (Michelle Yeoh) too may be destroyed but – what? – oh. Should I have mentioned there will be spoilers here? There will be spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
Much like the first Star Trek movie (unimaginatively titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture), Star Trek: Discovery opens with the Klingons, those crusty-headed villains that regularly threatened the original cast until peace was made in the best of the movies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That film was scripted and directed by Nicholas Meyer (as was the fourth movie) and I find it no accident that Meyer is listed here as a Consulting Producer for his interests in diplomacy versus warfare are spread throughout, although I wish Meyer had written the dialogue.
The first half of the pilot suffers from some of the worst exposition heavy dialogue you will ever see on screen. Indeed it seems that words exist only to set up visual content which is the exact opposite dynamic as both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. But one must say that the visual effects here are almost of film quality. Still, when Sonequa Martin-Green’s lead character Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham greets her adoptive father, Sarek with a ‘Sarek, happy to see you’ the Vulcan responds with a massively predictable ‘Still you allow emotional considerations?’ CLUNK. As well, when Burnham demands to inspect what turns out to be a cloaked Klingon sensor array no one asks the reasonable question as to whether this mysterious, invisible thing might have caused the damage to the very station the Shenzou has been sent to investigate. CLUNK.
Another reversal is with Burnham herself. The beauty of the mixed-blooded Spock was that he was 98% Vulcan in demeanor and thus it came as a delightful surprise when he would smile, exclaim, or in any other way allow his humanity to leak out. Burnham? When she first arrives on the Shenzou she has all the iciness of Sarek; by the time we are in the present tense of the movie, she is as emotional and hell-bent to break rules as the worst (best?) of Kirk or McCoy.
Still, the story is worth sticking along with as once the nonsense of Captain Georgieu mentioning at the most unlikely of times, while fleeing a dust storm with communication cut off, that Burnham is ready for her own command (CLUNK) the plot starts to roll. There is a battle sequence worthy of Deep Space Nine (for my money the best of the Trek series), the examination of racism that has been a hallmark of many of the best Trek episodes in the form of a white-skinned Klingon, and a fascinating conundrum as to whether to attack or stand down. The words may not be much, but the plotting is excellent.
One question I cannot answer is, Can the series be enjoyed by a non-Trekkie? I honestly do not know. Can one really figure out what Vulcans, for instance, are all about based on Sarek’s appearance here? I doubt it. The Klingons’ motivations are clearly laid out however and besides, Star Trek in general is like Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Even if one has not seen any of them, they are so much part of popular culture that one gathers information by accidental osmosis.
So, will Star Trek: Discovery be a great addition to the Trek canon or be, um, another Enterprise? More likely the latter I’m afraid – the dialogue really, really is dreadful – yet I am willing to give it a further viewing or three. Live long and prosper.