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Review – Star Trek: Discovery – “A very strong beginning”

After a convoluted path to the small screen involving behind the scenes changes and being delayed a couple of times, Star Trek: Discovery has finally begun. CBS All Access had it in the US and I watched the first two episodes here in the UK on Netflix.

It is the first Star Trek TV show since Enterprise ended in 2005 and I can say that it was very good. Not great…not yet, but definitely enjoyable and has a lot of potential. This is most definitely Star Trek. It is a lot darker than some of the other shows. The optimism from Gene Roddenberry’s original show is not quite there at the moment. That is mainly due to the events we are privy to in the first two episodes, but it was all still a lot of fun.

Before I go any further I will let you know that I am a big Star Trek fan. I love all the TV shows and the films. I also like the recent films that set up the Kelvin timeline, so I have been looking forward to this new show. When the classic Star Trek fanfare kicked in during the opening credits a warm feeling of comfort ran through me.

Set before Star Trek: The Original Series but still set in the Prime timeline from the original show, the main focus is on Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) who was a human raised on Vulcan, and the ward of Sarek (James Frain, who seems to pop up in almost every TV show), Spock’s father. We get flashbacks of her growing up on Vulcan and learn the fact her parents were killed by Klingons. She serves under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) on the U.S.S. Shenzhou.

Due to a series of unfortunate events Starfleet is brought into conflict with the Klingons.

Martin-Green is excellent in the role and it is great to see a Star Trek character who is willing to take action as well as just talk. Although, it could be argued that if she had just followed orders and just done the fly past as ordered then there would have been no conflict with the Klingons. There is also a scene involving the Vulcan nerve pinch that I felt was something a Star Fleet Officer would not have done.

Let’s talk about the Klingons. Once again they have had a bit of redesign. No longer the rather human-looking race from the original series or the Worf type from Next Generation. These are fully alien looking creatures with the actors in full head prosthetics. Lots of ridges, bony growths and slightly elongated skulls. They feel truly alien and a little Orc-like. They look fantastic. We learn quite a bit about Klingon society and the fact they’ve kept themselves to themselves over the past 100 years. It is great seeing their side of things and their motivation for what happens in the show. In the past that hasn’t always been the case. We also have some Klingon flashbacks, which is a nice touch and I hope we get more of that. Anything that helps flesh out the alien race is most welcome. Because of all this, we find ourselves almost siding with the Klingon’s in places. The Federation could be seen as interfering busybodies.

There are many other alien species in the show. Most notably Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Bye Bye Man) as Science Officer Lt. Saru. As always, Jones does an amazing job, while being covered in prosthetics and makeup. There was a bit of the old Kirk, Spock and Bones type banter between Burnham, Saru and Georgio that was most welcome.

Thanks, Doug!

There is another alien on the Federation ship that has computer screens all over its head that I hope we see more of. Reminded me of Prince Robot IV from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ brilliant Saga comic – go check that out right now.

So the aliens look great and the same must be said for the starship and technology design. The bridge of the U.S.S. Shenzou is very cool and I loved the design of the main Klingon ship that is covered in coffins. The special effects are fantastic. From the opening alien planet, the spacewalk through an asteroid field and beyond it really sells you on being in the Star Trek Universe. My one tiny gripe on the set design is that I wish they would somehow address how these Federation ships are obviously way more advanced than the Enterprise from the original series. If it was set in the new Kelvin timeline then fair enough, but this is apparently the Prime timeline.

The main thrust of the story is good. It leads to tense moments and I can see it building throughout the series. However, the script itself is a little clunky in places. Star Trek has always had lots of technobabble, but there were a few occasions when it almost felt like being self-parody. There were also a few times when I just kept saying, “this is all your fault” when Michael Burnham was talking about what had happened or what needed to be done. Still, it was an interesting way to develop the character and different to many other Star Fleet officers we have seen in the past. She is definitely from Kirk’s act now, worry about it later school of thought.

On the whole, though it was all very well done, had lots of surprises and some great action. It didn’t have some of the more ponderous moments that sometimes cropped up in the previous Star Trek shows. It is a lot more dynamic and action-packed than you may have been expecting.

If you are a fan of Star Trek you should find it most satisfying. It is probably worth checking out if you are not really a fan of the other Trek shows as it does seem to be going a different path. The fact that the story progresses and events have consequences also sets it apart from many of the previous TV shows. There is no hitting the reset button at the end of each episode. I also get a feeling we will be seeing the Mirror universe at some point.

With The Expanse and now Star Trek: Discovery, we are getting some pretty cool space sci-fi on TV.

As for what happens in the first two episodes and how they end is a bold move and a very strong beginning. It is a more action-packed Star Trek than you may be used to, but it is most definitely Star Trek. There is a huge amount of potential for where the show goes next. With the cliffhanger they left us on at the second episode I cannot wait to discover where that will be.

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