Star Trek Discovery: 1:01 The Vulcan Hello, 1.02 Battle at the Binary Stars

Our latest new writer Nick Whitney reviews the opening two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. Was the wait worth it?

Like many others, I went into Star Trek: Discovery with a little trepidation. Dogged with rumours about ‘creative differences’ behind the scenes with the changing of show runner during development, there was also CBS‘s somewhat baffling decision to geo-lock the trailers for their new flagship show. And let’s not neglect to touch on the complete lack of press or preview screenings – which has become media shorthand for “this thing sucks” – leading a lot of people to believe CBS was switching straight to damage control mode over show they had little to no faith in. All of which is completely baffling seeing as Star Trek: Discovery is actually good.

That needs to be said right now before anything else; this is a good show, in spite of CBS‘s odd handling of it. Perhaps it has something to do with the politics of Star Trek: Discovery being the property they are betting their streaming service’s future on, despite the fact that Star Trek as a whole is on Netflix literally everywhere else in the world. Either way, I’m not going to talk on that point any further because this show deserves better.

Star Trek: Discovery has been made, to no one’s surprise, as a much more binge watch worthy show than previous Star Trek series, the first two episodes acting as a two-part backstory setting up the events of the series as a whole. What is weird about this is that episodes are still going to be released weekly, meaning that as of the end of episode two we haven’t even seen the Starship Discovery or met some of the major characters yet, something that would probably flow much simpler if the show was released in such a way that all episodes could be watched over a weekend.

At its heart, Star Trek has always been the crown jewel example of speculative fiction that explored mankind’s struggles to progress and grow and though I’m certain some Trek fans will not like Discovery’s choice to move away from the format and aesthetic of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation  and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Discovery is clearly trying to match JJ Abram’s movies with its production design and use of dutch angles and lens flares, I’m very glad to say its heart is still there. As someone’s who’s loved Star Trek since he was seven, I still believe in what Star Trek stands for and thankfully so does this show.

Star Trek: Discovery leans into that old school Trek message completely and with no ambiguity; in this two-parter we see a radical sect of Klingon’s led by a self styled Klingon messiah try to trigger a conflict with the Federation as a way of uniting his people behind a single cause. Not simply for the Glory of Qo’noS (TM) but because of the perceived threat from Starfleet and the Federation’s great lie, that they “Come in Peace”. Not that these Klingon’s believe the Federation to be hiding warlike intent behind those words, but because of the belief that very tenets at the heart of the Federation, that of peaceful co-existence, cooperation and interspecies mingling are an actual attack on his people. That’s right, the belief that multiculturalism is an act of violence against their pure Klingon race. Do you see how that might be relevant to today’s world?

Now whether or not this show was deliberately written in response to what has been happening in the wider world, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure the anti-social justice brigade will say it’s ruined Star Trek – people who managed to watch years of Star Trek whilst somehow missing the point. But Star Trek: Discovery serves the same role by simply being Star Trek; multiculturalism standing against isolationism, exploration over imperialist warmongering. This is a story that could have been told at any point in the franchise’s 51 year history. And it seems to be a story that will carry over the entire series, rather than the mission of the week format of previous series. The idea of pushing that central theme, the purpose for Starfleet’s existence as the actual driving plot of the show is to me, simple yet brilliant.

Sonequa Martin-Green is outstanding as the show’s main character, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham, a character who literally embodies the themes of the show as she’s a human, raised on Vulcan after her parents were killed – in a Klingon attack no less – who also to happens to have a traditionally masculine name. I was worried that Star Trek was going to do the whole Vulcan/Human child of two worlds thing again, as it’s kind of been done to death already, but thankfully they found a new spin to put on it.

Doug Jones – can I just say, I love Doug Jones – as what looks to be the show’s stand out alien crew member Saru. With a full Doug Jones prosthetic job instead of some rubber ears or extra nose/head ridges, is also brilliant, playing off Martin-Green’s Burnham wonderfully as ideologically duelling bridge officers. What is odd is I don’t know which characters from these two prologue episodes I’m going to see in the rest of the series but here’s hoping he’s one of them. Partially so they don’t waste that amazing makeup job but mostly because he’s brilliant in a way not totally unlike Abe Sapien. But it’s ok because if you’re going to do that why not get the actual Abe Sapien sort of fashion.

Michelle Yeoh is also great as Captain Philippa Georgiou, commander of Michael Burnham’s first ship the Shenzou, but I fear some of the casting for these early episodes may shoot them in the foot later on once the prologue is truly past and the series begins proper. I feel like I definitely need to see the third episode before I can comment on the cast any further.

Suffice it to say that when the Federation encounters Klingon’s for the first time in a century, it doesn’t go at all well, as the second episode’s title may have already suggested. By episode’s end we are given a good setup for where the show will be heading in a general sense, with Burnham now blamed for her part in drawing the Federation into a war. What’s next for the Klingon’s at the heart of the plot to reunite their Empire to stop the spread of the Federation and its ideals? Which crew members from the Shenzou, party to Burnham’s actions on the fateful day, will be on board the Discovery? Will the story time jump in any significant way? I shall be there eager to find out.


Updated: Sep 28, 2017

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