A brighter future awaits the Star Trek franchise in light of Discovery
With a devoted fan following capable of rivalling that of the Star Wars franchise, the Star Trek universe has inspired millions of fans around the world for over five decades. Gene Roddenberry’s fantastical vision of humanity exploring the stars on a mission of peace whilst upholding the moral values society hold dear captivated a generation and took the world by storm.
The adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his devoted multicultural crew stationed aboard the starship Enterprise was heralded as a breakthrough in television. Not only did Star Trek break barriers with the first ever televised interracial kiss, but it would be regarded as a series well ahead of its time and served as the inspiration for many of the technological luxuries we use today in our daily lives. Super computers, iPads and voice recognition were all utilised in the narratives of the show years before the likes of Apple, Microsoft and the like had taken their first steps on the industrial ladder.
It was a cultural phenomenon. One that has cultivated a fleet of tent pole television series’ as well as several immensely successful feature films that are still engaging the fans today. The most recent entry, Star Trek: Beyond was the third feature to explore the realm of a rebooted Captain Kirk timeline but with focus firmly locked on the big screen, the medium of television had slipped through the fingers of Starfleet Command like photons and force fields.
For years, the fans have awaited the franchises return to the small screen…and at long last their prayers have been answered.
Star Trek: Discovery
When it was announced that CBS had commissioned an all new Star Trek television series set to take place in the era before the adventures of the U.S.S Enterprise, the fans of the franchise reacted in a mixture of elation and scepticism. The last attempt, Star Trek: Voyager (discounting Enterprise due its lack of Star Trek title) had proven to be both a critical and commercial success but sadly, it could not replicate the same viewing figures of its popular predecessor Star Trek: The Next Generation. An abundance of exciting episodes and a series of encounters with the Borg, the franchises most iconic of villains were not enough to sustain it and the series was cancelled after seven action packed seasons.
For years, the future of the Star Trek universe seemed to be restricted to the big screen adventures of Kirk and his crew, but considering their successes at the global box office…a new series was commissioned to return the final frontier back to the medium that launched Gene Roddenberry’s iconic franchise. Star Trek: Discovery was born. A series guided by the expert hand of Star Trek veteran Nicholas Meyer. The director of both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was brought on board to herald in a new age of contemporary Star Trek and steer the series through the troubled waters of its infancy.
Unfortunately, the production suffered a catalogue of issues and was postponed for long periods in order to eradicate the glitches once and for all. The complications were well documented, and the series was believed to be doomed to suffer the same fate of so many of its predecessors. However, the series launch on Sunday 24th September swiftly addressed any concerns we had.
The Vulcan Hello
Expectations were moderate at best, but that did not prevent the inevitable tidal wave of expectation that comes with territory when it comes to the Star Trek universe. A sneak peek from the studio heads at CBS revealed both the series’ main theme and opening credit sequence which harnessed the essence of Star Trek: The Original Series and added a contemporary theme to keep the ambiance fresh.
The theme served to intensify our excitement levels and with the final frontier awaiting us, the series debuted with an enticing opening sequence that revealed the unmistakable figure of a fearsome Klingon warrior. But this Klingon warrior was quite different. Gone were the traditional Klingon warriors made famous in the movies and television series of yesteryear, replaced by the disappointing incarnations of the reboot series. It was, without a doubt an anti-climax. As a fan of the traditional Star Trek format, I had hoped for a more traditional embodiment for their return but, any discord on my part soon melted away when the Klingon commander spoke.
Within seconds of hearing the melodious ferocity of the Klingon tongue, I was transported back to the nostalgic days of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and echoes of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the mention of the Klingon warrior god Kahless. The show swiftly established that the Klingon Empire had been divided for some time and hurled into anarchy, and therefore communication with humanity had been shunned for well over one hundred years. Furthermore, the Klingon commander, an intense warrior named T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), declared that reunification was essential if the Empire was to overthrow the treacherous race of people that traversed the stars using the fallacious words…We Come in Peace!
It was a tantalising opening. One that swiftly established the labours humanity would have to endure if they wanted to survive the adventures of the first season…
It was then we were introduced to Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green), a human female with a Vulcan like persona…cold and calculated but full of heart of a passion for exploration. She was traversing a desolate desert planet with her Captain, a rugged human female of oriental descent named Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), a veteran starship commander tasked with command of the starship Shenzhou. The duo was introduced as opposites. Georgiou a shrewd initiative taking commander and Burnham a by the book and calculated explorer reliant on logic and tangible fact.
The Starfleet officers navigated the hostile terrain of the planet that was facing global annihilation from drought after a nearby star had superheated planetary temperatures beyond tolerable levels. With the hibernating population under threat, the duo breaks through the bedrock of an underground well to release the flow of water to the colony. With their mission a success, the duo returned to their starship which had deftly navigated its way through a sand storm to retrieve them.
And it’s there that the story really began…
The more things change in the Star Trek universe, the more they stay the same. The Starship Shenzhou is dispatched to the furthest reaches of federation space to investigate the failure a communications relay. It is there that an ancient Klingon artefact is discovered taking refuge amongst a highly radiated asteroid field. Desperate to investigate, Georgiou communes with Burnham and her science officer, an alien named Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones) to discuss a plan of action. In a pleasing moment of characterisation, we were introduced to a relationship between the trio that is reminiscent of the gratifying friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, a trio structure that abandons the “senior bridge crew” relationship of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.
The relationships played out in an almost parallel format, Georgiou (Kirk), Burnham (Spock) and Saru (McCoy) and is accompanied by the traditional repartee between the subordinates. For me, this is where the series made its statement. This Star Trek series was taking its narratives back to the source material and in utilising the components that served to set The Original Series apart from its contenders, set its stall out early to establish itself as a contemporary incarnation of the traditional material.
Cementing this nostalgic style was the ambience manifesting upon the bridge of the starship Shenzhou. The glitzy special effects, as expected were clean and impressive which made the sound effects being utilised even more gratifying. The communication terminal, the red alert claxon, the photon torpedo blasts, transporter dematerialisation and even the hailing frequency tone were reminiscent of either Star Trek: The Original Series or The Next Generation. The use of these nostalgic triggers resonated with many of the fans, myself included and only attracted my interest further until the off-putting and pointless lens flare, made famous in the J.J. Abrams reboot movies reared its ugly head.
As much as I approve of J.J. Abrams as a director, his use of lens flare leaves a lot to be desired and I have always found it to be an unpleasant style that erodes the quality of the finished product. And, seeing it used so readily in Star Trek: Discovery is unwelcome. But, this was a minor distraction from the quality of the episode, which unfolded with Burnham encountering a hostile Klingon warrior aboard the seemingly derelict artefact.
This would serve as the catalyst to war. The artefact was revealed to be a beacon that was designed to be illuminated which in turn would transmit a message to the opposing houses of the Klingon Empire compelling them to reunify in the face of a greater threat. The Federation. With the death of the Klingon warrior, T’Kuvma’s battlecruiser emerged from its cloaking technology to dwarf the smaller Shenzhou. Unfortunately, the reboot series returned to spoil the architecture of the mighty vessel which was more in line with the vessels of Star Trek: Into Darkness and not the classic designs of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In the space of a few minutes, many of the classical narratives used in Star Trek: The Original Series returned to the franchise. Burnham sported a federation space suit and explored the radiated asteroid field, hostilities with the Klingon Empire were resumed, Burnham committed mutiny and was confined to the brig and the Vulcan nerve pinch was employed. There were so many elements to the season premiere, and it concluded with a stand-off between the Shenzhou and a reunified fleet of Klingon battleships.
Star Trek: Discovery is and will continue to be an enticing project. Despite having several frustrations, the series looks to be headed in an exciting direction and including many of the nostalgic traits of The Original Series and The Next Generation is a masterstroke of brilliance by the showrunners. Nicholas Meyer, Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman have a proven track record for delivering quality Star Trek adventures…and Discovery appears to be no different. Blending the ambience of the reboot movies with the nostalgia of the original television series is a hard balance to master but Discovery appears to be doing this is stunning fashion.
The characters are exciting and their relationships deep and meaningful, reflective of the daily social intricacies of real life. Granted the circumstances are more fantastical being set against the backdrop of the final frontier but the core values and challenges they face are equally robust. The finale of Star Trek: The Motion Picture employed the quotation: “The human adventure is just beginning”…and this is excerpt is poignant when weighed against the stories set to unfold
Commander Burnham’s storyline will be the one to watch. With her parents murdered by a Klingon raiding party and her eventual adoption by Spock’s father Sarek, her arc will undoubtedly parallel the struggles faced by Spock in his earlier years aboard the Enterprise. After many years isolated from her human counterparts, her reintegration has been difficult but that serves to offer us a delightful storyline of redemption moving forward.
One way or another…exciting times await us beyond the final frontier and I, for one am looking forward to the adventure.
Until next time…
Live Long And Prosper…