Now that a huge number of people have seen the first 2 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery and have been commenting about them, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring and give my review of the episodes.
Overall, I wasn't that taken with the two episodes. Now I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Original Series (TOS) fan and the series that came closest to it in ethos for me was Star Trek: Enterprise (even though I didn't originally like it).
I loved the exploration aspect of TOS, with the Enterprise being out on the frontier discovering new life and new civilizations and the issues and dilemmas they posed for the erstwhile crew of the Enterprise.
The Next Generation didn't have much of that. They mostly tootled about in known space fending off the odd invasion or three or engaging in diplomatic or espionage missions.
Voyager had a great premise which was ultimately badly executed and Deep Space Nine was stuck in one place.
Star Trek: Enterprise brought that exploration aspect back to Star Trek, at least for me, despite its flaws.
So the prospect of Star Trek: Discovery being set in the TOS era was very appealing to me, given that it's my favourite era.
So here are 15 reasons Discovery didn't appeal to me:
- The series looks nothing like the TOS era so it seems to break with canon. Maybe there'll be an explanation for why the uniforms and ships are so different to those in The Cage (whose events take place around 3 years before Discovery). Fans of Discovery will argue that you can't get stuck in the past and have to move with the times but one of appeals of Star Trek was its consistent universe. Discovery seems to break from that.
The Enterprise Bridge in The Cage
- The look of the series. The series has a distinctly Kelvin timeline look to it which does not gel with how The Original Series looked. I surmise that CBS deliberately chose this look to appeal to newer Star Trek fans more familiar with those recent movies. However, I have a feeling this might backfire in the long run as it will alienate some of the older fans.
- Use of the Delta insignia. The Delta was originally a ship-specific insignia, identifying crew from the USS Enterprise. In Discovery, it's used all over the place. It shouldn't be on Shenzou uniforms. That's inconsistent and seems like a huge faux-pas for the "experts" hired by CBS to maintain canon and continuity.
- The hand phasers fire bolts of energy rather than beams of energy. Again this appears to break with canon. Though someone could argue that different hand phaser models fire different types of energy. However, both the Type I and Type II hand phasers (and the Phaser rifle) from TOS all fired a continuous beam.
- The opening titles are horrible. The music is fine but the titles look like they were put together after the budget ran out.
- I find the Klingons as boring as shit (apart from the TOS episodes). All that honor and houses and a-good-day-to-die crap got old real fast for me and I endured Klingon episodes in TNG and the Augments episodes in Enterprise. So a Klingon-centric story is a major turn off for me.
- The look of the Klingons. They've been redesigned yet again. And they all (from the 24 houses) have the same look. It would have been nice to see some TOS-style and TNG-style Klingons among them to at least suggest that the Augment virus had changed their appearance in various ways. The prosthetics seemed too rigid too making the actors apparently mumble their lines (thank goodness for the subtitles).
- The Klingon ships are too big. Klingon and Federation technology is supposedly roughly equal in development yet the Klingon ships here are way bigger than the Federation ships. Plus, they like attaching the coffins of fallen warriors to the hull of their ships, something that's never been mentioned before.
- The goddamned lens flares. Why the hell do we need lens flares? Especially when there are no point light sources in the shot? My guess is that these have been introduced because they'll be familiar to audiences of the recent Star Trek movies.
- The USS Shenzou flying into a planet's atmosphere, through a sandstorm no less. Starships are built to move in a vacuum, not in an atmosphere or under water (as in the case of Star Trek: Into Darkness).
- Michael Burnham as the adopted daughter of Sarek. Another hidden sibling pops out of Spock's family closet. Why did Sarek adopt her? Is the reason because she's related to Amanda (Sarek's human wife)? Why would any human want to put a child through the emotionless rigour of a Vulcan education? That practically amounts to child abuse!
- James Frain as Sarek. He needs a lot more practice at playing a Vulcan. It's hard for an actor because their livelihood is all about emoting. Frain is as bad as Gary Graham was at the beginning of Enterprise. However, Mark Lenard (the original Sarek) nailed it first time. So why do current actors have such difficulty in portraying Vulcans?
- Inconsistent holographic communications (Star Wars suffers from this too). Why is it that all holographic communications have to have waves and lines and interference running through them? Is it to remind an assumed-to-be-stupid audience that they're watching a hologram of a character rather than a real character? And this technology has never been seen in any other Star Trek series (maybe Starfleet abandoned it because they couldn't fix the annoying interference). The Doctor in Voyager was limited to the sick bay until he got his special armband. But at least he didn't have any wavy lines running through him!
- Saru and his sensing of death. His is a prey species that can detect a predator in some magicky, psychic way. However, his ability is so honed and sensitive that he can detect death coming from thousands of miles away. Must be hell on his planet to have that ability.
- This looks like yet another pew-pew, space battle, dystopian sci-fi series, just like all the others that have been and gone since Battlestar Galactica. The one thing that set Star Trek apart from all other sci-fi series was its unfettered optimism about the future, that Mankind would transcend its petty differences and rivalries and was on a mission to unite the galaxy for the good of all and not in a conquering, you-will-be-assimilated kind of way. So far, I don't see any of that optimism in Discovery.
What Did I Like?
The production values are very high and the CGI was top notch. I liked Michelle Yeoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou and, in fact, now that I think of it, I'd be more interested in a series about her and her ship than a series about Michael Burnham.
I wholeheartedly concur with what happens with Burnham at the end of Episode 2 but obviously that gets sidelined in Episode 3 as the series couldn't otherwise progress. She's a loose cannon and not someone I'd want on my crew! 🙂
How Has It Performed?
Early live viewing numbers look very good, in the 8-10 million range. DVR and international viewings (which were one day later) haven't been counted yet.
However, the first episode was on broadcast TV where everyone in the USA could watch it. Episode 2 was on CBS All Access behind its paywall. And international viewers needed a Netflix subscription to watch the first two episodes.
The viewing numbers for Episode 3 will be telling since it and all future episodes are behind the All Access or Netflix firewalls. I suspect that viewing figures will drop significantly for this reason. They'll drop to some extent too because some established fans don't like the series. Probably a barometer of how popular it will be is the number of times it's downloaded from pirate sites.
CBS have also made the decision to break the series in two, having a 2-month break between episodes 8 and 9. That's a sure-fire way to lose more viewers. It seems to be common in the USA (maybe because of Sweepstakes?) but isn't internationally where we get to see a series from start to finish without a break, unless some major sporting event, like Darts, intervenes (I'm serious!).
As I reread this review I realised that there's very little I liked about Discovery. Have I become just an old curmudgeon, intractable in my views about Star Trek canon? I hope the writing on Discovery will be good enough to explain some of the decisions that have been taken in relation to the series and its characters.
It just doesn't feel like Star Trek to me, more like your typical dystopian sci-fi show with the Star Trek monicker tacked onto it.
The lens flares are almost a killer blow for me. They completely take me out of the immersive experience of being in that world and just scream "here's another distraction for you". If they appear as frequently in subsequent episodes as they did in the first two, I can see them being so annoying that I simply stop watching to prevent me from bursting a blood vessel.
At the moment, The Orville is, for me, the better and more watchable series. I'm surprised at this because I'm not a fan of Seth McFarlane's work. But there's a love of Star Trek that shines through this production. That probably shouldn't be surprising given the Star Trek alumni who are behind the show in various positions.
The Orville does have the heart and soul of Star Trek as I recognise it. It is not dystopian. It's third episode was more serious in nature and examined a serious social issue just as Star Trek would have done in days gone by.
And, right now, The Orville is the show I'm looking forward to watching, not Discovery.
Hopefully, Discovery will get better and will slot into the existing Prime universe in a satisfactory fashion. So I will continue watching until I can stomach the lens flares no longer.
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