The beloved science fiction franchise returns, boldly, to the small screen…
Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones, Chris Obi, James Frain
Series created by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)
Written by: Bryan Fuller & Akiva Goldsman (“The Vulcan Hello”) and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts (“Battle at the Binary Stars”) / Episodes directed by: David Samel (“The Vulcan Hello”) and Adam Kane (“Battle at the Binary Stars”)
What’s it about?
Investigating an object of unknown origin, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Shenzhou are thrown into a direct confrontation with old adversary, the Klingons.
51 years after the debut of its original series, Star Trek returns to the small screen after an absence of twelve years, following the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise – which left the air back in May 2005. Produced by CBS for their All Access streaming service and rolled out worldwide courtesy of Netflix, Star Trek: Discovery is a lavish and promising addition to the Star Trek universe that feels fresh yet comfortingly familiar for long term fans of the franchise. Created by Trek veterans Bryan Fuller (writer/co-producer on Star Trek: Voyager) and Alex Kurtzman (co-writer and co-producer of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness), the series takes place ten years prior to the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.
Serving as a prologue to the rest of the show’s fifteen-episode first season (the majority of the principal cast and the U.S.S. Discovery herself being absent until episode three), the two-part premiere gets things off to an engaging and intriguing start as we’re introduced to Discovery’s lead character, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) as she serves as First Officer on board the U.S.S. Shenzhou, commanded by Captain Phillipa Georgiou (martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh) who quickly find themselves thrust into a tense confrontation with a rogue Klingon faction that places the Federation on the precipice of war. Burnham’s back story is revealed via a series of flashbacks as we follow her from being orphaned as a child to being raised on Vulcan by ambassador-in-waiting and father of Spock, Sarek (Gotham’s James Frain) and her eventual assignment to the Shenzhou.
What’s clear from the outset is that the creators of Discovery have set about establishing something that manages to strike a delicate balance between producing a series that will not only appeal to fans but draw in a whole new generation of viewers. After 51 years and some 700+ hours of television, engineering a fresh take on an old favourite is no easy task, yet Discovery achieves this quite successfully. The first major departure is the decision to not have the series focus on the ship’s captain and proves a welcome one with Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) turning in a decent performance and demonstrating plenty of potential as a strong and capable lead. There’s also the heavily serialised nature of the story, whilst a construct employed in previous spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Enterprise it’s utilised to a more intricate degree here in accordance with co-creator Bryan Fuller’s intentions for the storyline to unfold episode by episode like the chapters of a novel.
Michelle Yeoh provides another strong female presence as Georgiou and there’s a wonderfully nuanced relationship between herself and Burnham (affectionately referred to as “Number One” in a nod to Majel Barrett’s character in original Trek pilot “The Cage”), the former bringing an almost maternal quality to her ‘role’ as mentor to the younger officer. Martin-Green also has some great interplay with Doug Jones’ Lt. Saru, the Kelpien science officer who has a fun sibling-like rivalry with Burnham. Much like he did in Hellboy and Falling Skies, Jones is once again a master at conveying subtle strokes of humanity through the prosthetics and alien characteristics. James Frain evokes the requisite measure of wise intellect and cold logic in the role of Sarek (originally portrayed so unforgettably by the late Mark Lenard) and similarly to Yeoh, there’s a paternal element to his dynamic with Martin-Green’s character.
The Klingon threat is spearheaded by T’Kuvma, with Chris Obi infusing the part with the right amount of that familiar warrior instinct, although the redesign of the Klingons themselves is likely to be the most controversial aspect of Discovery. They’re radically quite different and take some getting used to, yet the make-up and costume design is certainly impressive and gives the iconic race an appearance that’s more alien whilst retaining the overall Klingon ‘feel’ with an adherence to their principles of honour and glory in battle. What’s interesting here is that the Klingon Empire has fractured into numerous disparate ‘houses’ which T’Kuvma seeks to unite and lead, fanatically, into war against the Federation in the name of Kahless – the forefather of Klingon society itself. It’s handled in a manner that’s not quite as black-and-white as that sounds and there’s a definite sense that the writers are seeking to add dimension to the conflict by offering a deeper insight into the Klingon’s motivations.
Visually, CBS have spurred no expense with feature film quality effects, make-up and set design fully on display. Perhaps wisely, given the level of the production, the producers have leaned towards a look more reminiscent of the alternate universe established on the big screen by J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. As classic and iconic as the look of the original series is, a direct translation wouldn’t hold up to viewers in 2017 and it only increases the scope and cinematic quality of Discovery.
Star Trek is heralded for its ability to delve into the human condition and comment on the issues of the day and in this era of social and political concerns and the rising threat of terrorism and religious extremism, Discovery is no different and deftly weaves these themes throughout. This is what Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the original Star Trek always intended, coupled with rich characters and a vision of a hopeful, inclusive future for humanity – even in times of conflict – and there’s great potential for Star Trek: Discovery to continue that tradition.
The bottom line: Star Trek makes a confident return to television with a visually dazzling premiere, bolstered by a promising lead and the potential to explore real-world topics in an engaging and entertaining manner.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (as well as post-show discussion After Trek) can be seen weekly via subscription services Netflix (worldwide) and CBS All Access (U.S. only).
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