Date Posted: 28/02/21
Star Trek Discovery takes place around a decade before the adventures of Kirk and the Enterprise seen in the Original Series. There are currently three seasons out on Netflix with a forth planned. Apparently it was originally conceived as a collection of stand-alone seasons in which one would take place on one ship, the following season would be on a different ship, and so on. That idea was ultimately dropped in favour of a new series to fit into the Star Trek canon which takes place on an experimental science ship called Discovery which has access to an experimental spore-drive which allows instantaneous travel to anywhere in the galaxy
Right, I have been working on this review for several weeks because there is a lot I want to talk about, so let’s not beat around the bush any further and crack straight on...
As you know I am a fan of (most things) Star Trek, and whilst no series will hold the same place in my hearts as The Next Generation, I was also a massive fan of Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I tried to get into Enterprise but almost immediately lost interest when the crew kept getting into scrapes because the crew's translator wasn't working, or they didn't have shields or whatever. A more basic idea of Star Trek just didn't really interest me as we watched the Vulcan’s being dicks, Hoshi struggling with translations, T'Pol being an ice queen one minute wanting to leave the ship or wanting to stay, a ship that was an Akira-Class vessel upside down, and a theme tune which was like nails on a chalkboard to listen to (which is petty I admit but it annoyed me so it is a point against the show).
The first two episodes of the first season of Discovery are effectively a prologue to the events that take place in the show. Essentially the premise of the first season is that a Starfleet ship named the USS Shenzhou under the command of Captain Phillippa Georgiou (Michelle Yoeoh) encounters a strange ship in an asteroid belt. The ship’s first officer Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) volunteers to do a space-halo jump thing to the ship to try and determine what it is. She makes it to the vessel and is attacked by a figure. She kills the attacker, and returns to her ship. It turns out that the one she killed was a caretaker (or something similar) for an ancient Klingon ship, and the Klingons are none too happy with the act of trespass on their ship. Georgiou attempts to make peace with the little known Klingon race whilst Burnham insists that the best thing they can do is open fire on the Klingon ship. Burnham was raised by Sarak, the legendary Vulcan ambassador, and knows through him that the only thing the Klingons respect is a show of strength. Burnham attempts to take command of her ship, but is relieved of duty. Other Federation ships arrive as more Klingon ships appear on the scene; the tensions escalate until a conflict breaks out. Numerous Starfleet officers are killed (including Georgiou) and ships are lost. Michael Burnham is court-martialled and sentenced to serve time in a penal colony whilst the Federation is forced into a full scale war with the Klingon Empire
Six months later Michael Burnham is being transferred to a different penal colony when her transport encounters the USS Discovery under the command of Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who offers her the opportunity to remain on board and help him win the war against the Klingons. Lorca’s First Officer is Saru (Doug Jones) who served on the Shenzhou under Captain Georgiou and a witness to Michael’s mutiny.
Burnham takes him up on his offer but must now work alongside officers that believe she is a mutineer who began the Klingon war. Some of those she meets she served with on her previous vessel and none of them are too happy to have her with them.
By Season Two, the Klingon War is over, and a mysterious Red Angel is appearing all over the galaxy. The USS Discovery, now under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, who takes over when the USS Enterprise is indisposed due to computer problems must track down the Red Angel to discover what its appearances mean. As they investigate the crew learn that the Angel has a connection to Michael’s foster-brother Spock who has disappeared after being institutionalised and is now wanted for murder. A more insidious threat is lurking in the darkness, one that Starfleet may not be able to beat alone...
In Season Three the Discovery is truly thrown into the great unknown where everything they worked so hard to defend has been lost to them. The crew must pull together to rebuild what has been destroyed and bring back the organisation they sacrificed everything to protect...
I have tried to be as spoiler free for the moment, however, there are going to be spoilers later on so I will drop a warning when I am going to be entering spoiler town.
These days shows that are created by Amazon Prime or Netflix have massive bugets behind them which can be used to create great sets, and special effects. Now since Voyager the use of CGI to create the ships has become the norm, and the Discovery is a beautifully created vessel. It is apparently based upon an old design for the Enterprise and fits into the timeline of the pre-Kirk era. It makes me wonder if this is what Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) had in mind when he first envisioned ships travelling the stars encountering new life and civilisations.
Jason Isaacs’ performance as Gabrielle Locke was a treat. He is unlike Captains like Sisko, and Picard. His mission is to win the war against the Klingons and will push his ship and crew to rise to that challenge. Isaacs is one of those actors that is great regardless of whatever he is in and he doesn’t disappoint here.
The second series in which Discover crosses paths with Pike’s Enterprise is also a particular highlight, not only because it brings in the character of Christopher Pike played by Anson Mount, but it also links the two seasons. The crew of the Enterprise wear the yellow, red, and blue uniforms of the Original Series era whilst everyone else wears the uniforms Discovery created. No explanation is give for why the Enterprise crew dress differently, perhaps as ther Flagship the crew dress differently. It was similar to the fan theories regarding why the crew of DS9 wore different uniforms to the crews of starships, the theory was that space station crews simply wear a different design of uniform to those assigned to ships. Honestly though the explanation as to why is not really needed, I don’t care why they wear different uniforms, and it was nice seeing the traditional ones standing shoulder to shoulder with the new.
The second season also gave us a new Spock. I am a big a fan of Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal as the half-human Vulcan, however, I did not dislike Zachary Quinto’s version from the Kelvin-timeline. The nature of a film means that we have less time to get to know this new interpretation of the character, still he did a decent enough job. I know how Star Trek fans can get when characters are recast but I thought Ethan Peck did an amazing job as Spock. His sheer presence in every scene he was in just conveyed the coldly logical and deeply intelligent mind behind the usual calm expression. I did enjoy his interactions with his foster-sister as the series explored the origins of a rift between the pair that Michael caused.
Naturally the issues between Spock and his foster-sister is given a chunk of screen time but I also enjoyed seeing Captain Pike and Spock interacting. Lest we forget the pilot of Star Trek saw Spock and Pike (played then by Nimoy and Jeffery Hunter respectively) investigating a planet. People forget that Pike and Spock served together before Kirk took command (presumably when Pike was wounded). Whilst I am not familiar with many Original Series episodes I do know that Pike returns confined to a wheelchair and Spock risks his career to help his former commander. That kind of loyalty doesn’t just happen, it takes time, and is based upon mutual respect. I understand that a new Star Trek series which stars this version of Pike and Spock in the works which I would be very interested in watching.
Really like Doug Jones’ portrayal of Saru, the man behind the layers of make-up in so many films. He was the paleman and the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, Abe Sapien, the Angel of Death, and the Chamberlain in Hellboy (the latter two appeared in Hellboy 2). He was the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer, he starred as a couple of the monsters in Doom, and he has starred in television shows like Buffy. The truth is until I looked up his filmography I truly realised just how much stuff he has appeared in. His voice is sometimes dubbed by another actor, David Hyde Pierce in the case of the first Hellboy and Laurence Fishburne in Silver Surfer. Here he is able to use his own voice and gives such life to the character of Saru. From his softer tone of voice, to the way Saru walks, to his command style, it all goes so seamlessly together to create an amazing character that isn’t just a man in makeup. He does get to evolve, quite literally, during the show but the ending of Season 3 left me with the concern that Jones may have bowed out of the show for now which would be a real shame.
The show fits into the canon of the previous series and has quite a good explanation for why the USS Discovery was never mentioned in the other seasons, or why its spore-drive was never attempted again.
There was a lot of stuff to like, however, there are also a few rather glaring issues with it...
Might as well drop this now...
Why the show was called Star Trek Discovery is a mystery to me when it really should have been called Star Trek Burnham. She is at the heart of literally everything in the series and hogs so much of the limelight that other characters barely get a look in. To illustrate my point I can confidently name every main character in all of the Star Trek's off the top of my head. I know you have no reason to believe that I am not cheating but trust me I am not, all of the names are from memory alone. So, starting with Star Trek: The Original Series we have...Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Bones McCoy. Star Trek The Next Generation...Captain Picard, Riker, Troi, Worf, Data, La Forge, Beverly Crusher as well as Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher. DS9...Captain Sisko, Major Kira, Miles O'Brian, Bashier, Quark, Odo, Jake Sisko, Jadzia Dax, Ezri Dax and Worf (again). Voyager...Captain Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Ensign Kim, Tuvok, Kes, Neelix, Seven of Nine, Torres and the EMH. I can even have a bash at naming Enterprise's command crew even though I have only seen a handful of episodes...Captain Archer, T'Pol, Reed, Tucker, Hoshi, Phlox, Mayweather (I think)...and I am pretty sure that is all of them. Now, do you know how many of the command crew in Discovery I can name aside from Burnham??? Saru, Tilley, Hugh, Stamets, Tyler...er...oh yeah Captain Pike and Phillippa Georgiou, and that's it. Oh no, sorry Booke from Season 3. The name of the Conn officer?? No idea. The name of the helmswoman? Don't know, she has an artificial eye, so there is that. Tactical officer?? Nope. The other bridge crew??? Not a clue. Do you know why I can name characters from every other Star Trek with the acceptation of Discovery?? It is because every single one of the characters in the other shows had episodes that centred around them. Hell, back when I first arrived on Earth and video cassettes were a thing I bought a box set of The Next Generation with two episodes that focussed on individual characters. This was not something that was unique to star trek either, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a series of DVDs which were the best of the Angel episodes, or the Xander ones, or Willow or Cordilia. Yes Buffy was the star of the show but other characters got screen time. When you have a show with strong characters you can centre episodes on them without pushing the main star to the sideline, yet in Discovery even though there are potentially interesting characters, everything, EVERYTHING in some way involves Michael Burnham. As a result there are no episodes which can focus on other because Burnham is always shoving them out of the way to step back into a front and centre position before the camera. Like I said I am concerned that Doug Jones may not be in Season 4 because of the way things were left at the end of Season 3 as the person that steps into the Captain’s Chair, a place they DO NOT belong, is Michael Burnham. I also would have put money on “the Burn” of Season 3 being short for Burnham, and I am not going to tell you if I was right or not.
I wouldn't mind if Michael Burnham was an interesting character in her own right and certainly the minds behind Discovery seem to think she is but I can't really see what makes her so special. In the context of the show she was orphaned at a young age during a klingon raid on her home, Sarak (father of Spock) took her in and raised her as a daughter. She joined Starfleet eventually becoming first officer to Phillipa Georgio. As mentioned above she attempted a mutiny triggered the events of the Federation/Klingon War costing hundreds of thousands of lives. Lorca had personal reasons for wanting her to join the Discovery’s crew. By Season 2 she has been reinstated to her former rank and is tasked with finding the mysterious Red Angel, a creature that keeps appearing around the galaxy. There is a massively contrived reason why the Red Angel is taking a special interest in her, and finally in Season 3 she straight up just doesn't follow orders anymore. Saru orders her not to do something and moments later she is on a ship heading off to do whatever the craps she likes, and the repercussions of this action are...diddly squat. It is almost comical to watch her casual disregard of her orders. She is actively rewarded for her insubordination over and over again. Now I get that Starfleet doesn't want officers that blindly follow orders. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E defied orders when they joined the attack on the Borg cube headed for Earth in Star Trek First Contact, but Picard had the backing of his entire crew. He didn't make the call for all of them. Burnham does. She makes everything about her, and the show even points this out as a character flaw of hers, but she doesn't do anything about it. She has no growth, no evolution. If she doesn't agree with the orders she is given then she disregards them. Truly good officers find a way to complete their mission within the bounds of their orders, or just shut up and follow orders because disobeying orders is a last resort not the first choice. She has no business being in a Starfleet uniform at all. Spock (her adopted brother) was a half-human half-Vulcan and he is able to follow orders and yet his human adopted sister is unable to do the same despite being instilled with the same logical upbringing as he was.
I like the rest of the characters, but we don't get enough time to really get to know anyone apart from Tilley, Saru, and Stamets. The only reason we get to know them is because Burnham spends a lot of time with them, so we get to see them through her eyes.
The crew go through a lot during the course of the three seasons, but the makers hammer home the point that they are not a crew, more of a family. Later season episodes almost always have someone crying in them, one member of the crew saying their goodbyes to the others as they push on alone, it gets boring. It’s like they have no self control. Exploring space is an inherently dangerous activity so losses are going to happen, but everyone seems to have a drawn out death scene that is designed to tug at the heartstrings but due to the lack of characterisation of anyone other than Burnham, you don't really care about any of these people. Crews form bonds with one another we've seen that in other Star Treks, and Sisko getting visibly upset when Major Kira is reassigned in an early-ish episode of DS9 got to me way more than anything in Discovery. Why??...because we had seen Kira and Sisko's relationship develop, going from hostility to mutual respect, and a strong bond forming between them because of it. They parted ways and both got choked up by the goodbye but weren't telling one another they loved each other before they separated. Crews move on, get reassigned, officers get promoted, others killed, and the crew shuffles around accordingly. Voyager was trapped 75,000 light years from home and formed a tight unit becoming a family of sorts but they didn't have sleepovers or whatever which is what the crew of Discovery seem to do.
Plus is the USS Discovery aware to some degree??
In Season Two the ship encounters a sphere that has roamed the galaxy for hundreds of thousands of years. It is about to be destroyed...for some reason...so the data is transferred to Discovery. After which the data actively protects itself, preventing the ship from being destroyed by a self-destruct or an attack from other vessels. Season Three also shows the sphere data trying to help the crew to adjust to their new environment by putting on a comedy show in the shuttle bay and taking over these robot things to help them retake the ship. The thing is that the ship doesn’t do enough to suggest it is a new life-form or is self-aware, and yet the data does actively protect itself. It seems to be a plot point that as of yet, hasn’t really gone anywhere
I’m not sure I follow the Section 31 story-line. As I understand it Section 31 is a secret society within the Federation that safeguards its citizens no matter what. But in Discovery Section 31 has starships and everyone knows who they are but by the time of DS9 no one has ever heard of Section 31. I do wonder if that does that work though. When I thought about it because of the events of Season Two Section 31 disappeared into the shadows, did not have ships anymore, and relied on more clandestine tactics. Effectively removing themselves from history in order to continue their work of protecting the Federation from the shadows?? If that was the intention then credit is due because that was well done, could fit into the canon and was interesting.
The more I think about it the more and more I am coming to realise that Star Trek Discovery is not Star Trek, it looks like it, and it sounds like it but it is not it. The show is too focussed on Burnham, and when it isn't focussing on her we have stories focussed on the Kingon War, the Mirror Universe, and galaxy spanning threats to the entirety of existence. The smaller stories which are about a starship crew exploring space is lost. DS9 had the Dominion War series but they earned it by building up to it. Voyager was always about getting the crew home but each episode was a self-contained story with the general theme of getting back to Earth. I have watched 3 seasons of Discovery and there is only one episode which felt to me like Star Trek. It concerns a time loop and some temporal shinanigans in which a guy is trying to find the secrets of the spore drive, and keeps killing Captain Lorca out of revenge, with only Stamets aware of the time loop. He learns key info about the characters in each loop to convince them of what is happening so they can all work together to save themselves. It was a really good episode and felt like classic Star Trek, but like I said it is the only episode which felt like the Star Trek I know and love.
Paradoxically despite my criticism I don't dislike the show, far from it. The problem is that Burnham keeps shouldering everyone else out of the way to hog the limelight. Leuitenant Tyler's story was interesting and engaging. How Stamets changes during the seasons turns him from an arrogant dick to a flawed man who is just as vulnerable as anyone else. His story arc in Season 2 with Hugh was emotionally engaging. Burnham shouldn't be rewarded for her actions. I really hope that Season 4 can get us away from Burnham and focus on being what Star Trek is all about namely: Boldly going where no one has gone before...
All in all I enjoyed Star Trek Discovery and I am interested to see where it goes from here, if Stamets is not the only one who can operate the spore drive, will other ships be able to use it in the future? What happened to the other species in the galaxy after the Burn? There are lots of ideas that I hope we get to see. I am hoping that Burnham is given less screen time so we can get to know the supporting cast, but whilst I think the former is possible, I doubt the latter is. The show still gets a Thumbs Up from me, although, it is a somewhat shaky Thumbs Up because I want to see less Burnham and more Discovery.
7/10 – I like the show but I don’t like how much it focussed on Michael Burnham, however, the fact that I can still enjoy the show even though the main character is annoying demonstrates just how good the rest of it must be to keep me coming back. I have my concerns for the future but I am also interested in seeing where it is going to go in Season 4.