Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ (2009)

In 2009, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise made a bold return to the big screen…

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The cast of J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ (c. Paramount Pictures).

Year:  2009

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

What’s it about?

A young James Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time aboard the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise where they soon find themselves tasked with saving the universe from a vengeful out-of-time Romulan…

Retrospective/review

With the underwhelming box office and tepid critical reception of Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and the cancellation of television series Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 due to declining ratings a creative refresh of the Star Trek franchise was needed in order to rekindle fan interest and bring in a whole new audience that would help carry Gene Roddenberry’s creation into the future.

Whilst Star Trek would remain dormant on the small screen until the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, it’s theatrical voyages would recommence just four years after the conclusion of Enterprise.  Enlisting J.J. Abrams (together with his Bad Robot production company) to produce, direct and help craft the story – with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (co-creator and executive producer of Discovery) – Paramount Pictures commissioned Star Trek for the big screen.

Released in May of 2009, received to favourable reviews and a healthy worldwide box office of around $385 million (a fairly respectable figure at a time when $1 billion grossers were few and far between and comparable to Marvel’s Iron Man), Star Trek would prove to be a rollicking action adventure that, although favouring popcorn spectacle and Star Wars-style visual grandeur over the deeper philosophical explorations of previous iterations, excels in its characters and engaging story.  In order to be free from the burden of decades of continuity whilst still tying into the established universe, Star Trek would employ the popular time travel trope by bringing Leonard Nimoy’s (gifting the project with true Trek royalty) Spock back in time in an event that would create an alternate reality – now referred to as the Kelvin timeline – allowing a new series of Star Trek films to forge their own creative path.

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Eric Bana as Nero (c. Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek opens with the arrival of the Romulan ship Narada, thrust back in time after the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova, which Ambassador Spock and the Vulcan High Command pledged, and fail, to avert.  The Narada, under the command of the embittered Nero, is discovered by the U.S.S. Kelvin which is subsequently attacked and its captain killed – leaving Lt. George Kirk (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) in command.  The Kelvin’s crew, including Kirk’s wife (played by Jennifer Morrison) – about to give birth to their son, are evacuated as Kirk sacrifices his life to save others.  Jumping forward several years we meet a young trouble-making James Kirk and an equally troubled Spock, struggling to reconcile his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage.  Little do both know that destiny awaits (which for Kirk includes the captain’s chair of a certain starship), events drawing them together as the fate of both their worlds hang in the balance.

Finding new actors to inhabit the roles of the beloved original series crew was undoubtedly a daunting task and fortunately, the casting of Star Trek is exceptional.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect choices for the roles of Kirk and Spock, respectively, both actors bringing respectful and recognisable performances to classic characters whilst making it their own and their chemistry helps drive the core narrative.  Likewise, Karl Urban is a revelation as the cantankerous but loyal Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy – the final component in the celebrated Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika that was such an important part of the original series.  There are equally strong turns from Zoe Saldana as Communications Officer Uhura, John Cho as Helmsman Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as the incredibly eager Ensign Chekov and Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter in Star Trek’s original pilot episode, “The Cage” and by Anson Mount on Star Trek: Discovery) is also a highlight, particularly in his relationship with Pine’s Kirk as he inspires the bright but directionless young rebel by daring him to be better and enlist in Starfleet.  Playing the part of the villainous Nero is Eric Bana, who had previously starred in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  He’s not necessarily the most complex of antagonists but Bana gives it his all, delivering a decent measure of menace.

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A slick redesign for the U.S.S. Enterprise (c. Paramount Pictures).

The design of Star Trek is exemplary, from the Academy Award winning make-up, costumes and props (both nifty updates from the original series) to the lavish, brightly lit sets by Scott Chambliss and the sleek redesign of the Enterprise herself, providing viewers with a pleasing new look which respectfully adheres to the overall configuration conceived by Matt Jeffries.  Whilst there’s a comforting sense of the familiar, Star Trek also takes some creative risks – primarily the destruction of Vulcan by Nero and his cohorts in retribution for the failure to save Romulus from its own obliteration in the future.  It’s a shocking and dramatic sequence that establishes the highest of stakes to unite the Enterprise crew and allows for a more emotionally vulnerable depiction of Quinto’s Spock.

As director, J.J. Abrams (who made his feature film debut in 2006 with Mission: Impossible III) brings energy and enthusiasm to Star Trek, keeping the viewer invested whether it’s in his execution of action and visual splendour or the tight and attentive focus in the quieter, more intimate character moments.  A good film is always enhanced by a great musical score and composer Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is a memorable one, exciting, emotional and wonderfully intertwining cues from Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme with fresh themes to take the new big screen franchise forward.

Star Trek may have been divisive so far as the fanbase is concerned but there are those that enjoyed it for what it was, a polished and highly entertaining rejuvenation of an ageing franchise that opened up the universe to a whole new audience which is something that shouldn’t be undervalued.

Geek fact!

The story of Star Trek was fleshed out via tie-in comic books from IDW Publishing (and overseen by co-screenwriter Roberto Orci) with prequel titles Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek: Nero adding a lot of insightful detail and background to the narrative of the 2009 film.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ – “Broken Bow”

Sixteen years before ‘Discovery’, there was another ‘Star Trek’ prequel…

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The crew of first ‘Star Trek’ prequel ‘Enterprise’.

Starring:  Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, John Billinglsey, Anthony Montgomery, Linda Park, John Fleck, Vaughn Armstrong, Gary Graham, Tommy Lister Jr

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga / Episode directed by:  James L. Conway / 2001

What’s the episode about?

On a mission to return an injured Klingon to his homeworld, the starship Enterprise and her crew are thrust into conflict with an alien race known as the Suliban…

Retrospective

Airing back in September 2001, “Broken Bow” is the feature-length premiere of the fifth live-action Star Trek television series, Enterprise (sans the ‘Star Trek’ prefix, which would be added from the show’s third season).  Created by Rick Berman, the franchise’s head producer (and its guardian following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager writer/producer Brannon Braga, Enterprise is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series set over a century prior to the voyages of Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise and a decade before the formation of the galactic coalition known as the United Federation of Planets.

With “Broken Bow”, the story of Enterprise begins in 2151, almost a century after Earth’s first contact with the Vulcans (as seen in the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact) at a time when the human race has recovered from the devastation of World War III and set their sights on the stars.  With the assistance and guidance of the Vulcan High Command, Earth has begun developing newer and faster starships, the latest of which is the Enterprise NX-01 – the first Starfleet vessel to incorporate the revolutionary Warp 5 engine that will allow humans to head out into deep space on a mission of peaceful exploration and contact with alien races.

“Broken Bow” opens with the crash landing of a Klingon on Earth, being pursued by mysterious alien soldiers from a race called the Suliban.  Wounded during the pursuit, despite the objections of the Vulcan High Command, Starfleet decides to launch Enterprise on a mission to Qo’nos, the Klingon homeworld, and return the injured Klingon – named Klaang (Tommy Lister Jr) – to his people.  It’s not exactly plain sailing however and when the Suliban capture Klaang mid-voyage, the crew of Enterprise are thrust into danger as they set out to locate and rescue the Klingon from his captors.

“Broken Bow” unfolds at a steady pace, its earlier sections taking time to introduce the main characters and the general setting of Enterprise, notching things up once the NX-01 embarks on her maiden voyage.  As the plot progresses we learn that the Suliban aggressors are a cabal of genetically enhanced soldiers, receiving orders from a mysterious benefactor (James Horan), communicating with them from the future and are fighting a ‘Temporal Cold War’ in which various competing factions are attempting to manipulate the timeline in their favour.  Here, the Suliban are planning to incite a Klingon civil war, evidence of which Klaang has obtained and which the Suliban are desperate to recover.

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The wonderfully designed Enterprise NX-01, ready to launch into deep space…

With a desire to return to more character-driven stories, Berman and Braga ensured that they populated Enterprise with engaging characters.  Always their first choice for the lead, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is Captain Jonathan Archer, whose father, Henry, designed the Warp 5 engine.  Bakula brings a grounded, believable quality to the role and the flashbacks to Archer’s childhood are a neat addition that bring dimension to the character as we see how his relationship with his father drives his determination as an explorer and pioneer.  The rest of the principal cast comprises Jolene Blalock as Sub-Commander T’Pol, a Vulcan Science Officer posted to Enterprise at the insistence of the High Command, Connor Trinneer as spirited Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III, Dominic Keating as Armoury Officer – and dutiful Englishman – Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Anthony Montgomery as Helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather, a ‘space boomer’ born and raised on an Earth cargo ship and Communications Officer and gifted linguist Ensign Hoshi Sato.  Completing the crew’s complement are Archer’s pet Beagle, Porthos and the ‘Denobulan’ Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Phlox played with a wonderfully quirky charm by John Billingsley.  The central threat of the Suliban is headed up by the nefarious Silik, played John Fleck (no stranger to Star Trek, having previously guest starred in episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  Silik, the Suliban Cabal and the theme of the Temporal Cold War would be revisited throughout the four season run of Enterprise and would prove a compelling and intriguing storytelling component for the series.

Overall, the script for “Broken Bow” is decent, the direction (by experienced Trek director James L. Conway) solid and the cast and their respective characters are instantly likeable.  The Emmy Award winning visual effects are also excellent and hold up well today.  “Broken Bow” boasts numerous exciting action sequences, from the opening cornfield chase to the Suliban’s infiltration of Enterprise and the escape of Archer and his landing party from Rigel X through to the battle within the atmosphere of a gas giant and the climactic face-off between Archer and Silik onboard the Suliban’s ‘Helix’ base.

The show’s production design, by Herman Zimmerman (another Star Trek veteran, having worked on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well as several of the feature films) is another strong component, the interior of the NX-class Enterprise given a cramped, submarine-esque layout with a nifty combination of LCD screen technology and physical, switch based control systems that gives the show a slightly retro-futuristic look that acknowledges the advancement of modern technology whilst retaining its place within the Star Trek timeline.  Along with the costume design (the flight-suit style crew uniforms a highlight), props and the ever impressive make-up by Michael Westmore and his team, Enterprise remains as visually appealing as it was over fifteen years ago.

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The Suliban: another example of make-up maestro Michael Westmore’s talents.

Having Enterprise take place before the original Star Trek allows the series to present some fresh takes on the familiar.  The Vulcans of the 22nd Century are not quite as noble as they are in the other Star Trek series and tend to have a condescending attitude towards humans (believing they are not yet ready to join the interstellar community), adding an element of conflict to the show.  Similarly, humans are more fallible making the characters more relatable whilst still injecting them with the drive to learn and improve in accordance with Gene Roddenberry’s positive vision for humankind’s future.  Another notable departure concerns the iconic Star Trek technologies, most of which here are in their infancy or don’t yet exist – the universal translator can be unreliable, there are no shields, phasers are called ‘phase pistols’ and the transporter has only just been approved for bio-transport and reluctantly used by the crew as a last resort.

It’s known that Paramount were nervous about producing a Star Trek prequel series, perhaps fearing that audiences had become accustomed to and seemingly favoured the 24th Century setting of previous spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  In fact, the studio were even more hesitant about Berman and Braga’s initial concept for Enterprise, where they envisioned a predominantly Earth-based first season examining political and social concerns surrounding the construction and eventual launch of Enterprise and humanity’s first voyage into deep space.

“Broken Bow” is comfortably the strongest premiere of the Berman-era Star Trek series and although Enterprise would struggle with dwindling viewership and gradual loss of interest in the franchise at that point (which sparked the show’s edgier direction in season 3) it’s still an enjoyable, underappreciated chapter in the Star Trek story.

Geek fact!  “Broken Bow” features a cameo from James Cromwell as Warp Drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, reprising his role from Star Trek: First Contact.

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – Season One

How was Star Trek’s long awaited return to television?

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‘Star Trek’ goes boldly once more in CBS series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Warning!  Contains major spoilers for season one of Star Trek: Discovery

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh.

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

As war rages between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, disgraced officer Michael Burnham is assigned to the U.S.S. Discovery, enlisted by her Captain to aid him in ending the conflict by all means…

In review

Launched last September, Star Trek: Discovery saw Gene Roddenberry’s beloved science fiction franchise return to television screens for the first time since the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.  Received with trepidation from some fans but generating a generally positive critical response, season one of Star Trek: Discovery is arguably the strongest debut of a Star Trek series since 1966.

Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman (both of whom have previous history with the franchise) Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250’s – ten years prior to the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock et al and the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Original Series (and a century after previous prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise).  Given the advancement in real world technology, special effects in television and film and the tastes and preferences of audiences in 2017 there is naturally a certain degree of reimagining and modernisation in the look and feel of the series that, aided by a lavish budget afforded by it being produced for U.S. streaming service CBS All Access (and rolled out internationally via Netflix) provide Discovery with a feature film quality from the exemplary set, costume and make-up design to its stunning visual effects and beautiful cinematography this is a Star Trek series that truly blurs the line between television and film.

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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ boasts another solid ‘Star Trek’ cast.

Just as Star Trek: The Next Generation was a Star Trek for the 80’s and 90’s, Discovery is a Star Trek for the 2010’s where television dramas have become more complex and viewers more demanding.  Taking a long-form approach now common place for a TV series, the fifteen episode first season of Star Trek: Discovery forms one continuous story arc, commencing with the two-part premiere “The Vulcan Hello”/”Battle at the Binary Stars” which introduces Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), First Officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and whose crewmates include the Kelpien Science Officer Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones).  In a refreshing departure from previous Trek series this premiere serves as a prologue to Discovery, the majority of its recurring cast and the titular U.S.S. Discovery herself not making their debut until the show’s third episode, in which Burnham commits mutiny, that despite believing she is acting in the interests of Starfleet and the principles of the Federation, leads to war with classic Trek adversaries the Klingons (sporting a radical and controversial new look that takes some adjustment to but ultimately gives the race a more elaborately alien appearance).

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A controversial new look for the Klingons.

Thus, the main narrative core of this first season becomes one about redemption as Burnham (who we learn was orphaned in a Klingon attack and subsequently raised by Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek – played by Gotham’s James Frain) re-examines her values and strives to regain hope and her place in the universe.  This marks another departure from the other iterations of Star Trek in that the series is focused mainly on a character other than a Starfleet captain.

The premiere concludes with Burnham being stripped of her commission and sentenced to prison for her actions but in episode three (“Context is for Kings”) finds herself assigned as a ‘specialist’ to the U.S.S. Discovery, Starfleet’s most advanced vessel incorporating an experimental star-drive that allows the ship to tap into a universe-spanning, interdimensional ‘mycelial’ spore network and jump instantaneously to any given point in space.  The ship is captained by the mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), an uncompromising commander prepared to do all that is necessary to win the war, with Lt. Saru serving as his first officer and a crew including Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who becomes the spore-drive’s ‘navigator/operator’ and is also Star Trek’s first openly gay regular character, his partner Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), an awkward but optimistic Starfleet cadet whose burgeoning friendship with Burnham helps to define both characters.

What’s immediately clear is that Discovery is a somewhat darker take on Gene Roddenberry’s baby, but in a manner that simply allows the writers, in true Roddenberry fashion, to examine the human condition and discuss the social and political issues of the day, coupling it with compelling character drama…those optimistic ideals of Star Trek are still there and peppered throughout the series as it becomes more and more ‘Trek-like’.  There may be aspects that some fans will nitpick about, but Discovery has to be approached with an open mind and it’s commendable that the writers have managed to strike a decent balance between catering to hardcore Trekkies and engaging new viewers who may never have seen Star Trek before.

Star Trek: Discovery boasts a superb cast with well-defined characters who grow and develop in leaps and bounds during the course of the season.  Sonequa Martin-Green is the reliable lead and Burnham’s journey is an interesting one, a human raised as a Vulcan who we see slowly regain her human heritage and deal with the mistakes she has made.  Doug Jones is a huge highlight as Saru, proving once again how adept he is at conveying raw emotion through heavy prosthetics, Jason Isaacs is gripping as the devious, sometimes brutal Lorca, Anthony Rapp infuses Lt. Stamets with a pleasing dose of Bones-esque irascibility and Mary Wiseman projects Tilly with the right mix of nervous energy and general likeability.  Joining the crew in “Choose Your Pain“ is Security Chief Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) which is also one of two episodes to feature another original Star Trek character: intergalactic conman Harry Mudd, played with verve by The Office’s Rainn Wilson who returns in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad“, a rather excellent time-loop romp in the vein of TNG classic “Cause and Effect”.  Much like Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, there’s an initial element of conflict between the various characters but as the series begins to take shape the relationships gradually start to settle and by the season finale there’s that definite sense of family we’ve had with other Star Trek crews beginning to blossom.

It’s fair to say that Discovery’s Klingon arc isn’t always consistently prominent (although recurring guest star Mary Chieffo plays an important role as L’Rell) but the backdrop of war gives the writers the opportunity to tackle various moral and ethical issues and dropping more character-driven episodes into the mix – -including Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer’s superb Saru-centric episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum“ – helps the cast to really start hitting their groove.

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The incomparable Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru.

Following a mid-season break, Star Trek: Discovery’s six-episode ‘second chapter’ saw the U.S.S. Discovery transported to Star Trek’s Mirror Universe (first featured in fan-favourite TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror”), ruled by the evil Terran Empire.  It’s an arc that sees the series kick things up a notch and numerous threads come together, culminating in revelations concerning two of Discovery’s crew – not only do we learn that Lorca is in fact his Mirror Universe counterpart but also that Tyler is actually Voq, the albino-skinned Klingon from the series premiere, a sleeper agent surgically altered and conditioned to appear human.  These twists, whilst more anticipated than unexpected (the seeds quite clearly planted) lead to dramatic consequences – not in the least for Burnham who had begun a romantic relationship with Tyler.  Shazad Latif handles the ensuing struggle between Tyler’s two identities with aplomb and the shifting dynamic between Burnham and Tyler is beautifully played.

Similarly, Jason Isaacs is able to let loose with uninhibited villainy as Mirror Lorca – right through to his blazing demise.  The same can be said of Empress Georgiou, with a returning Michelle Yeoh in delightfully devilish form, whose uneasy alliance with Burnham becomes a key aspect of the final episodes of the season.

Both the Mirror Universe and Klingon War arcs are wrapped up pretty quickly in the final two episodes of season one, not quite the intense earth-shattering finale some viewers may have anticipated but leaves the viewer with hope as Burnham, her status as a Starfleet officer restored, gives an emotional and poignant address about the true virtues of Starfleet and the Federation as entities of peace, understanding and exploration.  Saving its biggest punch for last, the finale (titled “Will You Take My Hand?”) closes as Discovery, en route to Vulcan to pick up her new captain, encounters another Starfleet vessel…the U.S.S. Enterprise!  This certainly opens up a galaxy of possibilities for season two of Star Trek: Discovery, a series that has shown good potential in its first season and can surely only get better? As Picard once said, “the sky’s the limit…”.

The bottom line:  A promising start to the newest Star Trek series, season one of Star Trek: Discovery boasts a solid cast and decent writing, that, coupled with strong production values has much to offer fans and new viewers alike.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season one (as well as post-show companion series After Trek) are currently available to stream via Netflix (worldwide) and CBS All Access (U.S. only).

All images belong: CBS, used for illustrative purposes only.

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ S1 E03 “Context is for Kings”

Michael Burnham begins her journey of discovery…

This review contains spoilers.

Jason Isaacs as Discovery’s mysterious commanding officer, Captain Gabriel Lorca.

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts & Craig Sweeny (story by Bryan Fuller, Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts) / Episode directed by:  Akiva Goldsman

What’s it about?

Lost and without purpose, disgraced Starfleet Officer Michael Burnham finds herself aboard the U.S.S. Discovery – commanded by the mysterious Captain Lorca…

Episode review

After its two-part prologue, the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery feels like a proper beginning as we’re introduced to the titular U.S.S. Discovery (looking more impressive than it did in that infamous first teaser) and her crew, led by the mysterious Captain Gabriel Lorca – played by Harry Potter’s Jason Isaacs.

Picking up six months after being handed a life sentence for her mutinous actions aboard the Shenzhou, which led to the break out of war with the Klingons, we see a dejected Michael Burnham living without purpose and any hope for the future.  Rescued from an ill-fated prison transfer, Burnham finds herself aboard the U.S.S. Discovery, a Starfleet science vessel harbouring secrets and populated by a crew uncertain and resentful of Starfleet’s shift from a mission of peace and, well, discovery, to being the first line of defence in an interstellar war.

Sonequa Martin-Green provides another strong turn in the role of series lead as Burnham grapples with feelings of remorse and guilt, accentuated in some bittersweet exchanges with an old face:  former shipmate Lt. Saru (Doug Jones), now serving as Discovery’s First Officer and who remains puzzled by Burnham’s betrayal.  Luckily there’s some much needed levity facilitated by Mary Wiseman’s Cadet Tilly, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm with touches of self-doubt – and one or two neuroses – brings a breath of fresh air to proceedings and perhaps a friend for Burnham in an otherwise hostile situation.

Anthony Rapp also makes a memorable first impression as Lt. Paul Stamets, encapsulating the frustrations of a crew being conscripted for a purpose they weren’t meant for, Burnham becoming the focus of these misgivings.  As for the enigmatic Captain Lorca, Jason Isaacs is excellent in the role skilfully balancing the strength and conviction of leadership with a good dose of ambiguity to help paint a character we don’t yet know whether or not to trust, his secret project concerning strange energy producing spores only adding to the intrigue.

“Context for Kings” also throws in a measure of action and a dash of horror as Burnham, Tilly and Stamets join an away mission to a stricken sister ship whose crew (and a Klingon boarding party) have fallen victim to a blood thirsty alien creature.  It’s a little reminiscent of the third season Enterprise episode “Impulse” but an entertaining and tense addition to the story non-the-less, allowing Sonequa Martin-Green to further demonstrate her capabilities.

With the backdrop of war and the evident character conflict, Discovery continues to follow a darker path than the more optimistic iterations of Star Trek but that makes it no less appealing.  As the episode’s title suggests it’s all about context and the unfolding drama is affording great opportunities for character building.  There’s still some way to go as the writers and actors find their footing and hopefully the bleak situation the characters currently face will galvanise the crew and, as the show evolves, build the kind of relationships we’ve enjoyed in previous Star Trek series.

Lorca’s belief that Burnham has the ability to regain all she has lost points to a story of redemption and a re-discovery of those core values of the Federation that she still claims to hold dear.  The moral dilemmas laced into Star Trek: Discovery, coupled with the mysteries posed by and surrounding Discovery’s Commanding Officer – as well as the gentle unfolding of the narrative – infuses this newest Trek with intrigue and that ‘must watch’ quality that any good television series provides.

The bottom line:  Star Trek: Discovery continues to show promise as the introduction of the Discovery and her crew heightens the show’s appeal.

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).

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Series Premiere

The beloved science fiction franchise returns, boldly, to the small screen…

‘Star Trek’ makes a much awaited return to television in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

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.

Episodes review

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.

Sonequa Martin-Green makes for a promising lead in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

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.

The Klingons are given a new look for this new iteration of the long-running franchise.

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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