Is anyone more dedicated to the cult of Star Trek than our man ANDREW JOHNSTONE? Probably, but we don’t care. Here he is to give his assessment of the first lap of the brand new TV series.
I could go on for hours about Star Trek and how much I love it. Except I won’t because I have already said most of what I want to say in numerous other reviews and essays up here on Witchdoctor. Let’s just say I have been watching it since the late 1960s and have seen all the five live action series’ at least three times all the way through. I have not seen the animated Star Trek because part of me thinks that because it is drawn and not live action it is a second rate production. This is an inexcusable prejudice and one I have to live with.
As for the movies, the only one I hold dear to my heart is First Contact (1996) because it exemplifies the qualities that attracted me to the franchise in the first place and have made me a loyal fan ever since: heroic self-sacrifice, noble idealism, hope, good conscience, grand adventure, socially progressive ideals and visionary perspectives.
Last week I wrote about Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek love letter The Orville and how much I enjoyed it, but it is only ever going to be a mild diversion because it is the real thing I want with its reflective questioning qualities, stories and characters. Yes, The Orville is a bit like having scrambled tofu when what you really want is chopped liver and onions.
It’s been twelve long years since the last televisual Star Trek was put to bed. Enterprise remains my all-time favourite series, the Xindi story arc my all-time favourite season and the opening theme my second favourite after the original series. Enterprise had some peculiar elements that worried some but that gave the series a unique tone. I was gutted when it finished.
Since the end of Enterprise there have been numerous false calls about the next instalment, including something set inside Star Fleet Academy, a kind of teenage Trek (Smallville in space – thank the gods that never came to fruition), then a rumour about it being set within the Department of Temporal Investigations, a body charged with policing the timeline. Now that has potential. There were others but like many, I ran out of hope until last year when network broadcaster CBS announced that a new Trek was in production
I have read nothing about it, preferring to keep it at arm’s length. I wanted to approach it with untrammelled excitement and a clean palate and so, without foreword, insight, expectation, speculation or rumour clouding my perspective, here it goes.
The opening theme is based around the central musical motif that framed the theme of the original series and for the first time ever the titles are graphic animations that explain to us one and all that this is going to be hardcore Trek, and not the soulless spectacle of the recent big screen adaptations.
Some of the visuals and sounds effects have been updated, warp space looks different, but there is a concerted effort to reference the original series. The bridge and transporter sound exactly as they did in the original Trek as do the doors and phasers. This all serves to reassure the fan that creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman know what’s required, and they do.
The cinematography is certainly the darkest and most stylized yet but every now and again a scene is lit and framed just as it would have been 50-plus years ago: another loving reference that help establish time, place and tone. Otherwise, Discovery kicks off with an origin story that explores the Federation’s early relationship with the Klingon empire.
Episodes One and Two are based around the Klingon xenophobe and nationalist T’ Kuvma. He has the Federation in his sights and sets a trap in order to start a holy war designed to strengthen the cause of the Klingon empire. I won’t say more except to say that the Klingon’s have never looked and felt as alien as they do here and the results make their brothers from Voyager, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine look like cuddly bears.
The first two episodes read like a pilot with character development and back-story to the fore. The bridge crew are charismatic and well thought out and Michele Yeoh triumphantly plays the all-important Captain. You might remember her as the villain in Season Five of British action series Strike Back. Here, she is all straight up and down Federation: cool headed, intelligent and a perfect fit for the big seat on the bridge of the Starship Shenzhou.
Her protégée and Number One Michael Burnham is precocious and somewhat annoying with it. A human raised by Vulcans she is unlike anything we have ever seen before in the franchise. An hour-and-a-half down I still don’t like her, though I admit some grudging respect for her daring-do. By the end of the second episode it is clear that she will be the central figure of the remaining 13 episodes in Season One.
By the end of Episode Two the course is firmly set and we are schooled into the general shape of the Federation universe as it stands in the 23rd century, 100 years after Enterprise and 10 years before Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty hit the road. The writing is solid, the plotting precise and the production detailed (CBS have spent a cool eight and a half million dollars per episode, and it shows).
It’s sharper, darker, bolder and faster than what has gone before so fans, hang onto your hats, TV Trek is back with a vengeance and it looks like Discovery is going to be one hell of a wild ride. I for one am thrilled and so far all my best expectations have been realised.
* The Internet and ‘TV on Demand’ has revolutionised the way we watch TV shows. No longer beholden to television networks and their programming whims and scheduling, we can watch back-to-back episodes of new and old shows to our heart’s content without those annoying advertisements interrupting the narrative flow. TV viewing has suddenly become more accessible, democratic and a hell of a lot more fun. ANDREW JOHNSTONE scours the available channels and finds the best of the best, so you don’t have to.