CBS All Access
Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
This is the story of Spock’s previously unhinted at adoptive sister Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery about 10 years before TOS.
It is a good show but is it good Star Trek? Does it fit in the universe of Star Trek? That is what you need to ask. If a person with no exposure to Star Trek were to marathon each series in order of creation when the viewed Discovery would they say it fit? I cannot believe this hypothetical person would. So no, it is not good Star Trek. It is more like okay fanfiction. And that is how I will look at in in this two-part review.
Aesthetically it fails to reference either TOS or even Enterprise which are nearest in the timeline to when this show is set. Star Trek: Enterprise (originally called just Enterprise) for all its flaws tried to draw its aesthetics from TOS and appear as a prototypical version of Starfleet. Discovery takes place a mere 10 years before TOS in the same universe yet visually looks like some weird muted version of the Kelvin timeline which itself has no resemblance to anything previously in Star Trek.
I am not looking for a one to one translation of what they did in TOS or any other series here. You cannot glue coffee lids to walls or use saltshakers as scanning devices and get away with it anymore. Audiences have been spoiled. Even Doctor Who which in its first incarnation had some seriously low production values at times could not do it.
Instead I am talking about color schemes. Use something similar to what was used on the series rather than have everyone zipping around stainless-steel corridors. Have the look of the technology look like TOS rather than better than TNG. I personally never agreed with the whole touchscreen thing. If you are in battle and take a hit and your screen gets cracked how useful is that console? Think about your smartphone in a similar way. Get some buttons in there. TOS used buttons and physical controls.
And why so much empty space? While antimatter in the Star Trek universe does give you loads of energy, it still does not mean you can or should have significant unused space. The docking bay comes to mind. It is exceedingly large in comparison to previous depictions. There is a lot of nothing going on there. Other shows and film universes do it, but they are not Star Trek. Previously they understood useless space was not logical. Here they have forgotten that.
The uniforms bother me too. Star Trek has at times had two different uniforms when shows were running concurrently but they were similar in general appearance. The uniforms on Discovery have more in common with those from Enterprise (set decades before) than it does with the show it is to immediately precede in context of the timeline. We have a look for the uniforms established in “The Cage” (later reused as a cadet uniform for Kirk’s academy nemesis Finnegan) but the uniforms seen here reference nothing seen in the original series. Again, one to one is not necessary and maybe not even advisable but close would be good.
Discovery uses a discarded TMP Enterprise design for the basis of the look of the featured vessel. Sometimes things go unused for a good reason. It makes the ship look more like a Klingon ship as they were previously depicted than it does something from Starfleet. One thing Star Trek does is give the ships of each civilization distinct characteristics in order to tell them apart. In TOS that was violated once but it was because of an issue with the availability of the Romulan model.
Star Trek has a look which helps set it apart from other universes. Certain aesthetics let you know immediately that you are watching an episode of a Star Trek show. This does not have them.
Certain eras of Star Trek have access to certain types of technology. I am not talking about being able to get a piece of alien technology to work in a one-off instance but rather what they use consistently and can reproduce.
What comes to mind first is the use of holographic communication. This was not a technology that was in common use or even use in general until the time of DS9. Specifically it was the time of the Dominion War. I do not mind tweaks here and there, but this is violating decades of pre-established information on the Star Trek universe. Even at the beginning of TNG, holodecks appeared to be relatively new and holograms of that caliber were seemingly novel.
Overall the hologram technology is light years (pun intended) ahead of anything seen in the original series. The Discovery Universe relies heavily on holograms. Everything from communication to training to displaying information uses holograms. Used appropriately holograms enhance the feel of the environment but here they have just become a lazy way to demonstrate the future. Some information might make sense to display in a three-dimensional fashion but not every tactical readout or space phone call needs a hologram. You really do not need to push holograms this hard to show you are in the future. A lot of the show takes place on a spaceship. A spaceship that can beam people to the surface of a planet. Do not be lazy.
There is a heavy use of cybernetics by Federation personnel in this show. The only example of cybernetics by a regular or semiregular character in Starfleet was Geordi LaForge and I am not sure why from a universe standpoint considering they could replicate body parts and the general state of Federation medicine. But that is a discussion for another time.
We have that weird Nebula rip-off Airiam (Sara Mitch) lingering around in the background. What even is her job? And then there is Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) with the replaced eye and the Seven of Nine style piece over her eye. Am I missing something or were they just trying to look cool here? This is incongruous with much of what was in that era. You can point out the episode “Spock’s Brain” but all that amounted to was a mobile life support unit to get the body to the brain.
Site to site transport on a ship is another sticking point for me. In the original series it was an extremely difficult procedure. This was clearly stated in an episode. Why it was so hard in that era I do not know but it was. Taking people apart on a molecular level and putting them back together correctly is easy but beaming within your own ship is super tough. It was not until TNG that it was much easier. Yet in Discovery they use it casually. They beam this, that and the other thing all over the ship with wild abandon. No concern about materializing in a bulkhead or anything like that.
Next week I wrap up my review in Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 in Part 2. See you then