❉ We explore more strange new worlds and civilisations…
No Spoilers Review
As the latest episode of The Orville continues to offer a series which can be easily described as Star Trek With A Sense Of Humour, what can Star Trek: Discovery offer as an alternative? Well, it can offer Star Trek, for one thing. It can also offer more expensive visual effects thanThe Orville (although the appearance of a very unexpected and high-profile guest star in the latest episode of the Star Trek rival was genuinely impressive) and a plot which suggests there’s far more going on than The Orville can offer.
I suspect the comparisons with The Orville are going to be very important for the future ofStar Trek: Discovery. CBS have clearly spent a lot of money on the series, and although there are far, far too many names listed as producers (some executive, others co-), which indicates there are too many people involved for the show to develop organically on its own terms, the fact that so many people are involved shows also how important it is to CBS that they get it right. And they are doing. There’s a real sense with Discovery that they’re trying to do something very new with Star Trek, and I hope the series gets the chance to do it. It might actually have helped the series if all the episodes had been released at once, as binge watching may well be the best way to experience this.
As it is, Michael Burnham finds herself aboard the titular ship this week, and the ship and crew are pleasingly mysterious. Whilst this isn’t going to be a series about exploring strange new worlds and new civilisations, at least not immediately (there’s a war on that needs to be dealt with), the makers have left themselves a lot of room with which to play. There are a couple of wry one-liners this week too, and whilst this may still appear somewhat staid next to The Orville, it’s also far from dull. Depending on what secrets USS Discovery holds, this series may well be worth watching…
Very spoilery review
Despite not appearing in its own pilot (a baffling omission which – although allowing Michael Burnham to be developed far more rapidly and credibly than any Star Trek character seen thus far – makes some of the choices by the producers seem very off), the USS Discovery takes centre stage quite quickly. For one thing, the mysteries of the ship’s precise purpose are so unanswered that the show now has a lot of scope to explore for the rest of the season (the revelation that the main mystery of what’s going on is that stroppy science officer Lt. Stamets has developed a new form of transportation may be something of a disappointment – particularly when the episode seemed to be going full-on Event Horizon, at one point – as we know this is never going to work; one of the drawbacks of setting the series in a fixed continuity we already know) – with more than thirty different science projects taking place on this top secret vessel, the potential for storylines is quite clear. Mysterious things are happening aboard the Discovery, some of them perhaps borderline illegal (there’s a willingness to explore a darker version of Star Trek than Rodenberry would have every allowed, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how far they’re willing to go with this before the fans cry foul) and although in all honesty a war against the Klingons isn’t necessarily the most appealing for me to see, a research vessel at least isn’t going to find itself in the centre of it, at least not every week.
Michael Burnham continues to be the only character who’s developed in any depth. Captain Lorca appeared in only three scenes, barely giving Jason Isaacs much to bother with (there’s a hint that there’s more to him than meets the eye, but given the secrecy on board that might as well apply to everyone. That he seems to have manipulated events into forcing Burnham’s presence on board ship is interesting, although it’s possible that this will never be developed any further). We’re three episodes in and I barely know any of these characters. Burnham’s had a lot of screen time, but being raised by Vulcans she’s hardly the most expressive of characters (although Sonequa Martin-Green is finding new ways with every scene to show how pained she is by events, which is amusing to see), leaving only her new roommate (whose name I’ve already forgotten), grumpy Lt. Stamets, security officer Commander Landry and Saru from the first two episodes to offer any variation, and Saru aside none of them got that much to do – at one point a redshirt was killed off by…something – I have no idea what, and I’m hoping they come back to it because it made very little sense otherwise – and his death barely registered at all. Three episodes in to every other Star Trekseries and I knew who all the regulars were – here I have no idea. This is either a very bold move to introduce people gradually and let their stories play out naturally, or the series is shooting itself in the foot repeatedly.
I’m finding the series frustrating in the extreme, principally because I quite like a lot of what they’ve done but I find the rest of what they’ve done to be bizarrely handled – a pilot that was unnecessarily split into two episodes; a pilot that introduced only two regulars and ignored the eponymous ship; characters who barely feature; episodes which seem to make no sense on their own (I realise that the intention this week was to introduce USS Discovery and its mission, but what actually did happen on their sister ship? What made the monster appear? If Klingons had raided the ship, where were they from? How did the creature end up aboard the Discovery at the end? There are far too many questions left unexplained if this was a standalone episode, and if this wasn’t a standalone episode I can only repeat my earlier suggestion that the series would benefit from being released in one block, rather than weekly).
So, there you go: I’m not sure what to make of the series. I like some of the things we’ve seen, but others seem badly flawed, and with so little background at this point it’s hard to say if the flaws will disappear as the series address them itself, of if they really are fatal problems with the production. I’ll carry on watching in the hope that we find out, but I hope I’m not wasting my time. At this point, it could go either way.
Meanwhile, the crew of The Orville seem to be having exactly the sort of adventures you’d expect the crew of the Discovery to be having…
❉ Star Trek: Discovery is an American television series created for CBS All Access