The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars introduce the familiar and the new. But where’s Discovery hiding?
When it was first announced that there was to be a brand new iteration in the Star Trek universe, my first worry was whether or not I would actually be able to watch Star Trek: Discovery in the UK at all. And if so, would it be weeks behind like we are with shows in DC’s Arrow-verse and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?
But the streaming gods smiled down, and Netflix provided every episode first thing on
Monday morning, just hours after the US broadcast. I had everything I needed – but would the series live up to expectations?
Now, I’m not here for a complete story recap. If you’re looking for a blow-by-blow account of each episode’s plot, then there are plenty of places that will do that better so please do seek them out. I’m here for reflections and thoughts on how Discovery appealed to me as a life-long Trek-lover, and how it connects for me to the wider Trekverse. And as the first two episodes were screened and available at the same time as an extended introduction, then that’s where we’ll start.
There’s one thing I knew. Star Trek: Discovery had to be right. No matter how much good will I had stored up, these first episodes had to capture the ethos of Star Trek, and have enough newness to hold the attention. A difficult balance. What does Starfleet look like in this era? What does the world of Star Trek feel like at this stage? What will I recognise from my knowledge of other series?
To my surprise, episode 1 – The Vulcan Hello – opens not with Vulcans, nor with Starfleet, but with Klingons. Slightly different-looking Klingons, but nevertheless the belligerent, aggressive and human-despising race, instantly recognisable. They dress differently – from previous iterations and from each other too – red, black, gold costumes. In fact the opening scene is entirely in Klingon, subtitled for those who haven’t got round to learning that particular language. It’s a bold move.
And then there’s just a tiny hint of the score from JJ Abrams Star Trek movie to remind us where we are supposed to be, before we get to meet our Starfleet connections. Except we’re still not on a Starfleet vessel. We’re on a dusty planet with Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) talking of non-interference with the indigenous inhabitants – good, the Prime Directive has already been established. Also, how great to see that two women, of differing ethnicities, are very clearly the senior officers of the starship. They perform their task on the planet and then through the dust cloud, with a recognisable Star Trek anthem, a starship approaches!
Roll opening credits.
Two notes. That’s all it takes to convince me that I’m in a familiar place. I’m just waiting for “Space. The final frontier.” Of course it doesn’t come, but that’s fine. I’ve seen and heard enough to be along for the ride.
We get a First Officer’s log instead of the usual Captain’s Log. This is intriguing. Other Star Trek series are told from the captain’s point of view, so we know this is going to be different. We’re going to be travelling with Michael instead of Philippa. Oh and, by the way, this isn’t Discovery either.
The extended episode then gives us a good handful of things designed to make us aware that the writers are confident. That we’re in safe hands. That they know all the history. There’s a young Burnham at the Vulcan science academy in the learning pods, recognisable from early
in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where Spock relearns his knowledge after regaining his katra. In fact, we also learn that Burnham is linked by katra to Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain) – yes! That Sarek! We even get a Vulcan neck pinch and a mind meld this early! And while all of these serve the purpose of being reassuring, part of me wonders if it isn’t just a little too needy, desperate for acceptance? That the writers want to convince us they know what they’re doing – to the extent that they over-do it? It’s a fine line.
The glimpses of Burnham’s childhood and youth are intriguing. She has connections of one kind or another to humans, Vulcans and Klingons. With this history, of course she is going to be the centre of whatever is about to happen, and is a fascinating character. Flawed and fascinating. Her ingenuity and use of logic to escape from the brig show the best combination of nature and nurture.
Now I’ll be honest. I found the Klingon throughout the first few episodes quite annoying. It felt very slow and even laboured. No doubt this was due to the actors having to deliver their lines through multiple layers of prosthetics, and fair play to them. But it was getting just a little
tiresome, mostly due to the pacing. It’s easy now to look back and see that these scenes were so much more important than I had realised. But first time through, I didn’t know (and couldn’t see) what we came to learn later on so I kept tuning out. It’ll be fun to see how differently I view the Klingon sections as I revisit each episode. Because this time around, I recognised Voq (Javid Iqbal credited). He does stand out because of his paleness in comparison with the rest, and his actions in these opening episodes clearly set the foundations for what is to come, even though that’s all still a mystery to us. I’d forgotten that Burnham smashes him over the head and gouges his eye during their fight!
We also get to meet some unfamiliar species too. Strangely, an extremely over-cautious bridge officer doesn’t seem to be very Starfleet, but this is what we get with the Kelpien Saru (Doug Jones). There are a number of other bridge officers who we see in passing and presume we will get to know as time goes on – including a number of android figures.
But by the end of these first two episodes, what struck me most was that, having started out with two clearly important female characters, one of them is dead and the other is sentenced for mutiny. This wasn’t the direction I was hoping this would go.
And we still haven’t met Discovery!