Time to visit the Beta Quadrant – let’s spin up that Spore drive.
It’s clear that the writers of this week’s Star Trek Discovery are revelling in being able put together an episode that is closer to traditional Star Trek than we’ve had in the entire run so far. The plot is right out of the old-school Trek handbook – a civilization made up of non-technologically advanced humans is discovered far away from Earth; it’s an idea that appeared numerous times through the run of almost all of the series and even was one of the core conceits of Star Trek Insurrection (albeit the Ba’ku weren’t strictly human).
This time the humans appear to have been settled on a planet in the Beta Quadrant for 200 years – long before warp flight was even discovered and 150 years of travel at warp from Earth. Responding to the appearance of another red beacon, the crew of the Discovery make use of the spore drive to jump across the galaxy and end up discovering this almost idyllic world – but one that doesn’t appear to be, at least at first, in peril. With no sign of the beacon on their arrival Captain Pike decides to visit the planet to find out who these humans are, and how they got there.
New Eden is the first episode we’ve seen, other than the Harry Mudd time loop story, Magic to Make The Sanest Man Go Mad, that works on a standalone level. It is tied to the wider narrative of the season but can be watched and enjoyed independently as well. It could be the perfect example of how to create an engaging tale that also serves to drive on a much larger mythology. Again we get to see a show based around an ensemble rather than one or two characters and this week Lt. Owosekun gets to step forward and play an active part in the story (Oyin Oladejo) for the first time. We’re liking this more adventurous and more inclusive Star Trek Discovery.
There are some interesting questions the episode poses too – religion and Star Trek have gone hand in hand, with Kirk going head-to-head with “God” in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the Bajoran religion being one of the central tenets of Deep Space Nine. Here we discover Pike’s father was a science teacher and comparative religion student, and it his experiences with this that give Pike leave to question the lines between faith and science. While the more sterile future of The Next Generation suggests a people who have disregarded religious beliefs in favour of hard scientific fact, at the time of Discovery there is clearly more weight put into faith and it’s interesting to see the series juggle the storyline of the ‘angel’ in this context.
Again, as with season opener this is another episode that is peppered with lovely moments – Captain Pike is a far more engaging commanding officer than Lorca ever was, and that may be one of the biggest problems that Season One of the show had. For the first time since the opening episodes we have a Captain who you can see a crew rallying around because they want to, not because the have to and it’ll be a real shame when he inevitably has to return to the Enterprise as we know full well he will. Once again, Mary Wiseman puts in another scene stealing performance as Tilly, and brings with her that levity that is really bringing the character alive now that all of the baggage around the war isn’t weighing the show down.
New Eden is as engaging as any Trek episode I’ve seen to date and we could be seeing the start of something special that will cater to both long term fans AND newcomers. If the quality can be held at this level all season we’re in for a real treat.
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