Review for Star Trek: Discovery: Season 1
Reasons not to watch Star Trek Discovery... 1) It’s not on TV. It’s a Star Trek TV show that’s not on TV. It’s on the Internet, where fan films go to die, or at least they did ten years ago. Of course the Internet is the Wild West, where no broadcast standards and rules apply, and creators can tell the stories they want to, rather than those constrained by having to be nice and clean, and friendly... but seriously, how many subscriptions do you expect me to buy? 2) It comes from Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Fuller; names associated with Abrams’ reboot movies, which turned an intelligent TV franchise into vapid summer blockbuster fodder. 3) It’s another prequel (we know what happened with the last one), apparently set in the ‘Prime’ universe 10 years before Star Trek, but at first glance so replete with canon violations and continuity flubs that it makes Enterprise look like a faithful adherent to canon. 4) They redesigned the Klingons! Again! They now actually look like polished turds. The actors don’t have to turn up, as you don’t even know that they’re there under all those tons of makeup. 5) Star Trek has been disposable rubbish for a long time now (since Star Trek Voyager), and I don’t expect improvement any time soon. 6) Trek fans tend to abbreviate the titles of the shows, TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT and so on. Discovery’s abbreviation is STD...
Reasons to watch Star Trek Discovery... 1) The Season 1 Blu-ray was on sale, and I could do a compare and contrast with the other space opera of that year side by side, when buying The Orville and this collection set me back less than £25. What have we learned from this thought experiment? If it has Star Trek written on it, and it’s cheap enough, I’ll watch it, even now, after close to 15 years of abject disappointment from the franchise.
Michael Burnham is first officer aboard the starship Shenzhou, who as a human girl was the ward of Sarek of Vulcan, raised in the Vulcan way. 10 years before Kirk commanded the Enterprise, the Shenzhou encounters the Klingons for the first time in over a hundred years. When the captain rejects Burnham’s logical advice, Burnham mutinies, instigates war with the Klingons, and is sentenced to life in prison for her transgressions. But then Captain Gabriel Lorca of the USS Discovery comes to her with an offer of redemption.
15 episodes of Star Trek Discovery are presented across 4 Blu-rays as follows. Episode specific extras are listed with the episodes, otherwise look at the Extras section further down. Each episode except the first also has a promo with it.
1. The Vulcan Hello
The USS Shenzhou under Captain Philippa Georgiou has been assigned to investigate a damaged communications relay at the edge of Federation space. When an anomalous energy fluctuation is detected in the accretion disc of a nearby binary star, first officer Michael Burnham volunteers to fly through the debris in a suitably equipped space suit to get a closer look. A closer look reveals a Klingon artefact, and she’s just woken the sleeping dragon. One man, T’Kuvma has risen to prominence in the Empire, and his goal is to unite the various houses under a single banner. All he needs is a common enemy to unite against, and Michael Burnham has just given him what he wants.
2. Battle at the Binary Stars
Burnham advised Georgiou to take the Vulcan approach at dealing with Klingons, strike first as a show of strength. That isn’t the Federation way, so when Burnham tried to take matters into her own hands, she was arrested and thrown in the brig for mutiny. Now, with the Klingon and Federation fleets pummelling each other, Burnham might be the only one to prevent the battle turning into a war.
* Extended Scene 1:26
3. Context is For Kings
Six months later, and Michael Burnham is on a shuttle as part of a prisoner transfer, when the shuttle experiences an emergency during the flight. Fortunately, the starship Discovery comes to its aid, rescuing the prisoners. Since Burnham has Starfleet training, she’s put to work by the Discovery’s eccentric Captain Gabriel Lorca until the shuttle can be repaired and the prisoners sent on their way. Burnham is assigned to an engineering section which is unlike any starship’s engineering room she has seen. It soon becomes clear that rescuing the shuttle may have been Lorca’s plan all along.
4. The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry
Restored to active service, crewman Burnham has a new assignment, trying to weaponise the lethal creature they had captured on the salvage mission to Discovery’s sister ship. But when a distress call from a dilithium mining colony comes in, it becomes more imperative to get Discovery’s experimental drive technology to work, and Burnham realises that the creature may be the key to make it happen.
* Extended Scene 2:12
5. Choose Your Pain
Captain Lorca’s shuttle has been captured by the Klingons, and he’s currently dwelling in a prison cell with a couple of other interesting human captives, in between torture sessions. First officer Saru is now in command of the Discovery, and tasked with a mission to rescue the captain. But the Discovery might not be going anywhere, if the creature at the heart of its revolutionary drive dies of the torment the drive inflicts upon it.
* Deleted/Extended Scenes 2:31
Sarek’s shuttle goes missing in a nebula during a peace mission to the Klingons. The mental link between Michael and her foster father involuntarily activates, indicating that he is still alive, but grievously injured. Captain Lorca commits the Discovery to a rescue mission, but to save Sarek will mean Michael coming to terms with her past,
7. Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad
Lorca and Tyler might have left Harry Mudd in that Klingon prison cell when they escaped, but now Mudd’s back with revenge on his mind. He intends to unlock the secrets of Discovery’s spore drive and sell it to the Klingons, and thanks to a time crystal, he’ll keep on trying until he gets it right. Thanks to his tardigrade DNA, Stamets is the only one who can see through Mudd’s machinations, but he’ll need help to stop him.
* Deleted Scene 1:13
8. Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
The tide of the war has turned. With the Klingon cloaking device proliferating through their fleet, any advantage the spore drive gave the Discovery has been negated. There is one chance for the Federation, a strange planet called Pahvo, where a naturally formed crystal transmitter puts out a strange signal to the universe. Artificially altering that signal might negate the effects of the Klingons’ cloaks, and it’s up to Burnham, Saru and Tyler to pull off that mission.
9. Into the Forest I Go
With Pahvo under threat from the Klingons, the Discovery is ordered back to Federation space, but Lorca sees the chance for a decisive victory in the war against the Klingons. It will require sacrifices though.
10. Despite Yourself
Having discovered the secret to the Klingon cloaking device, all that’s needed is to transmit the data to Starfleet. Before that can happen, the Spore Drive malfunctions, sending the Discovery into the mirror universe. With Stamets out of commission, the only clue they have to a way back lies in data recovered from a salvaged computer, the incident of another starship named Defiant which somehow arrived in the mirror universe, over a hundred years in the past, without a spore drive.
11. The Wolf Inside
Michael Burnham is facing her toughest challenge, masquerading as the Captain of the I.S.S. Shenzhou, forced to enact the brutalities of the Terran Empire. Her only support is that of Ash Tyler who is playing the part of her personal guard. But when they get a mission to destroy a nest of rebels, her curiosity is piqued when she learns that the leader of the alliance of aliens is a Klingon known as the Fire Wolf.
12. Vaulting Ambition
Summoned to the Palace Ship for an audience with the Emperor, Burnham is surprised to see a familiar face beneath the Imperial regalia. Her life is on the line trying to play the role given her, but it turns out that her lies aren’t the ones endangering her, and someone else has been lying to her, to all of them, right from the beginning.
* Feeding Frenzy featurette 6:42
13. What’s Past is Prologue
Lorca’s on the loose, enacting a coup to overthrow the Emperor and take over the Terran Empire, and he wants Michael Burnham at his right hand. But Burnham has discovered an existential threat aboard the Palace Ship, and in the face of dealing with it, the survival of the Discovery and its crew is a secondary concern. But it also might mean their only way back to their own reality.
* Extended/Deleted Scenes 2:26
14. The War Without, The War Within
The Discovery made it back, but nine months too late. The Klingons have almost won the war, and have made inroads into Federation territory, almost as far as Earth. It’s time for drastic measures, and their new guest from the Mirror Universe offers them one final hope for victory. The Discovery also needs a new Captain, and it gets one, in the form of Philippa Georgiou.
15. Will You Take My Hand?
With the Klingon fleet about to attack Earth, Discovery’s mission takes it to the Klingon homeworld. Burnham, Tyler, Georgiou and Tilly beam down to the Orion sector to find access to the planet’s subterranean network of volcanic tunnels. Burnham thinks they are on a strategic mapping mission, but Starfleet have given Georgiou another mission. Once again, Burnham will be forced to choose between her instincts as a Starfleet officer and her orders.
* Deleted Scene 2:38
TV drama appears to be going through another revolution. 20 years ago, the world was going from square to rectangular as TV shows started to be made in widescreen 16:9 as opposed to the old 4:3 ratio. Well, now that everyone has 16:9 TV screens, and with TV show budgets and production values going up, producers are looking to make their TV shows even more cinematic, wider than widescreen. After the most recent Doctor Who series, Star Trek Discovery is the second show I’ve seen with a 2.00:1 widescreen ratio, presented here in 1080p. That’s the ratio that the 70mm print of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was distributed at. It certainly looks fantastic, great special effects, a seamless blend of live action and CG, with cinematic production values. The image is clear and sharp on these discs, with strong, consistent colours, and there is no problem with compression and the like, the episodes getting a generous disc distribution. This reinvention takes a page out of the recent reboot movies when it comes to the look of the universe, although it does go its own way in a couple of aspects. My problems lie with a couple of the design choices, but that’s a matter of the story rather than production values. It also looks as if the opening credits were inspired by those for The Shannara Chronicles.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese with subtitles in these languages and Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. I was happy enough with the original language track, and while you might have to nudge the volume a tad, the dialogue is clear except when actors mumble, the action comes across well, with the surrounds put to great use, and the music really doing the show justice. One issue is with the Klingon dialogue, for which you get player forced subtitles, prefaced by [IN KLINGON] if you hadn’t realised. It’s a shame as in the extras, you can see those relevant clips with burnt in subs, using a much nicer font than the bog standard Blu-ray font.
You get 4 discs in a BD Amaray case, held either side of two centrally hinged panels. The inner sleeve has a contents listing. The case also comes with a sturdy o-card slipcover, with a front card panel held with Velcro, folding out to reveal a cast portrait. Incidentally, that cover reminds me of Donnie Darko for some reason...
The discs present their content with animated menus.
Disc 1 has the following featurettes.
Incidentally, it’s best to leave the featurettes for last, as they tend to have spoilers for the whole season.
Discovering Discovery: The Concepts and Casting of Star Trek Discovery lasts 16:40, with interviews with cast and crew on how the show came together.
Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Creating the Sound of Discovery focuses on the composer, and how the theme tune came about. This lasts 8:07.
Creature Comforts lasts 15:55 and looks at the makeup department and the new look Klingons.
Launch Promos offer trailers for the show running to 4:44.
Designing Discovery lasts 12:11 and looks at the various ships in the show.
Creating Space lasts 13:08 and looks at the effects used in the show.
Prop Me Up is self explanatory and lasts 12:54.
A Woman’s Journey lasts 11:14 and takes into account all of the strong female characters on the show.
Dress for Success is a 21:28 look at the costume department,
The Season 1 Promo lasts 1:01
Star Trek Discovery: The Voyage of Season 1 runs to 40:53, and is an overview making of, for the season, with plenty of soundbites from the cast and crew.
Star Trek Discovery Season 1 is an infuriating experience. I’ve long since sworn off being a Star Trek fan, but it’s not something that you forget, and no matter how long it’s been since you last enjoyed a season of Star Trek (Deep Space Nine – Season 7), you still approach each new iteration of the Star Trek mythos with a vague hope that they somehow recapture what made you a fan in the first place. Star Trek Discovery doesn’t do that at all for me. Let me put it this way, if you are a Star Trek fan of old. Do not watch the extra features in this collection, especially those where the producers are interviewed, as it soon becomes clear that they haven’t seen any Star Trek worth mentioning. They’ll wax lyrical about all the new ground that Discovery breaks, and you’ll be screaming at the TV screen names of episodes or series where Trek has already done that. My breaking point came with the claim that before Discovery, Trek had never done a series focusing on a war before. “The last four f***ing seasons of Deep Space Nine!” I was yelling at the screen. That’s when you have to let things go, lie down for a while in a darkened room, and try and regain perspective on the world.
As a Star Trek series, Discovery looks the part on the surface, but when you get deeper, it’s nothing of the sort. Just as I suspected given the producers of the show, Kurtzman and Fuller, it wants to be one of the more recent movies. It’s a lot of style, and very little substance, and while it says it’s set in the Prime universe, supposedly leading onto the adventures of Kirk and Spock in the 1960s TV series, it’s very clearly unconnected to that. It can be dumb in the way the Chris Pine movies are. Starships in this show have whopping great windows on the bridge for enemies to aim at, and it’s all about the blockbuster doomsday plot. The threat is the end of the Federation, which segues into the end of all life in the multiverse, epic challenges for our heroes to surmount. Star Trek used to be about the little stories; not everything had to be the end of the world. Discovery is also downbeat and dark in a way that makes Deep Space Nine look like an episode of Barney. This Star Trek wants to hold up a mirror to our society (Make the Empire Glorious Again), rather than depict a future better than our present, as something to aspire to; something which for me was fundamental to Trek.
All of this is nothing compared to the liberties the show takes with continuity. In other words, it throws continuity out altogether. Remember this show is supposed to lead into the original Star Trek series. In that show it was made clear that the last war Earth fought was 100 years previously with the Romulans; the implication being the Federation has never been at war. After a couple of border skirmishes, the closest they came to war was with the Klingons in Errand of Mercy before the Organians pulled the plug. Only now, ten years previously, there was an all out war with the Klingons which left the Federation one loss away from total annihilation. The Enterprise first encountered a cloaking device with the Romulans in Balance of Terror, except the Klingons had them ten years previously. Speaking of the Klingons, it’s not just the hideous make-up (can you imagine Worf looking like that, being a meaningful character for so long?), but what we learned about the culture has been torn up. Suddenly they venerate their dead, and they’ve got religion. That’s before I even go near the tech foibles like hologram communication and intra-ship beaming, let alone this Spore drive nonsense, which was obviously filed in the same Bermuda triangle as Transwarp drive, and warp 5 speed limits.
The only way to watch Discovery is to take a page out of one of its story arcs. Compartmentalise it and divorce from all other Star Trek, before and since. Take it as set, not in the Mirror Universe, but in another potential Trek timeline, a parallel reality, yet another universe, one where the future reflects our present, rather than presents any sense of optimism. Discovery has more in common with shows like The Expanse and nu-Battlestar than Trek of old, and that might be its strongest selling point, losing the heightened operatic feel and instead offering more realism in its characterisations. Having done all that, put myself through the mental contortions necessary to accept this show on its own terms rather than as part of an ongoing franchise. I quite enjoyed it. It was fun. Just like the new movies, it’s a great visual spectacle, the high stakes stories certainly grab the attention, and the action and the production values really do hit the spot.
One thing that the show does do right, one thing that all the other Star Trek before utterly failed at, is to depict a gay relationship in a matter of fact way. Star Trek is well behind the times on this. Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed it while Star Trek Voyager was still on, and it’s only taken them over twenty years to catch up with the rest of society, after trying tenuous sci-fi allegories to hint at the idea in episodes like The Outcast, and that throwaway scene in Star Trek Beyond, giving us a glimpse of Sulu and his husband. Of course Hugh Culber has to die in Star Trek Discovery, which is a bit of a sad trope, but it was nice while it lasted.
There are two distinct arcs in the show, the Klingon War arc, which itself sandwiches a Mirror Universe arc, neither of which are satisfying to me. I’ve already stated how little I think of this show’s Klingons. The make-up is hideous for one thing, and I just wasn’t feeling any of the performances of the actors. It’s like Kryten’s make-up in Red Dwarf. You have to be a champion gurner to get a performance through the latex, and it’s not happening here. They do take the crown as the champion novelty condom head though! I’m also not a fan of the Mirror Universe, although fans do love it. It gets more re-visits in series, and in spin-off comics and novels than any other aspect of the show. It’s always nice to play with the dark side for a while as a contrast, but you wouldn’t want to live there. It started off as an allegorical tale in the original series, and Enterprise would finally have some fun with the idea once they got around to fixing their continuity issues, but it got some serious play in Deep Space Nine, with the show revisiting the alternate reality at least once a season. But for them it was a dark comic relief, a chance to switch away from the regular war arcs. You can’t take a reality where career progression comes through assassination at all seriously. You’ll soon end up with an empty universe. Discovery tries to play it straight, and it doesn’t work all that well.
So where is the entertainment value in Star Trek Discovery if not in the story? The real enjoyment in the series comes from the interpersonal drama and conflict on the ship itself. It’s the character arcs of people like Burnham, Saru, Stamets, Tilly, Lorca and Tyler that hold the attention. It’s not all peace and prosperity in the Federation, and that’s reflected in the character dynamics. It also helps that Lorca’s ambiguous nature really make him an interesting character, far more so than his cohorts from his home who we meet later in the story. He’s adapted to the Federation life to pass for a local, yet maintains enough elements of his original life to give him an edge. He walks the tightrope of moral uncertainty which is really what Star Trek Discovery is about. There’s also a diversion in the middle of the series, a couple of episodes that try and homage the episodic nature of earlier series. There’s a touching story about Burnham and her adoptive father Sarek (seriously the continuity...), and a great, fun episode which sees this show’s reinvention of Harry Mudd into a darker, more dangerous rogue meeting a remake of TNG’s Cause and Effect.
So, I enjoyed Star Trek Discovery while hating it at the same time. My poor brain! If you’re a long standing Star Trek fan, be sure you know what you’re getting into; it’s a continuity mess that doesn’t feel like Star Trek, but looks enough like it to maybe fool you long enough into sticking it through to the end. You’ll have to reset your expectations to get the most out of it though. If Star Trek Discovery is your first port of call to the Trek universe, and you feel tempted to try an earlier iteration of the franchise, don’t bother. You’ll only be disappointed. And it’s not as good as the Orville. I’m interested enough to watch more, but I’m going to put it on the shelf with the Chris Pine movies, well away from Star Trek, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, and the first nine movies. They don’t belong together. I’ll tell you one thing for free though, if one of Discovery’s Klingons shows up in the forthcoming Star Trek Picard series, I’m going to throw a right royal wobbly!