Star Trek: Discovery Could Be The Best Star Trek Series Ever

Image: Netflix

We're five episodes into the latest instalment of the Star Trek television canon. Despite some weirdness about the Klingons appearance and the way they speak, I think Star Trek: Discovery has the potential to be the best Star Trek series put to air. Some, perhaps many, will disagree but after just five episodes, I've seen enough to make me think this could take the franchise into places Gene Roddenberry never went before.

If you haven't watched an episode of Discovery yet and plan to - be warned. There will be plenty of spoilers following.

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). While the original series was released before I was born and cancelled before I could walk, I watched every episode on re-runs and bought the digitally remastered set, watching it again a few times. I've recently rewatched all of Enterprise - it never really got going until seasons three and four.

Deep Space Nine and Voyager were both consistently better than TNG. TNG had some great episodes but its episodic nature meant there was plenty of filler between the really good bits. The ongoing narratives of DS9 and Voyager resulted in more consistent writing although the final episodes of DS9 were a little disappointing.

Many people look back at TOS through rose-coloured glasses but it was far from perfect. There are some great episodes ('Bread and Circuses' stood out to me), some terrible stunt doubles (the fight between Khan and Kirk in 'Space Seed' has stuntmen who bear almost no resemblance to the actors they are filling in for) and some controversy like American TV's first inter-racial kiss between Uhura and Kirk in 'The Naked Time' (which was reprised in 'The Naked Now' during Star Trek: The Next Generation between the android Data and Tasha Yar).

There are a number of recurring themes in all the different Star Trek series.

We see the transition from a military operation into a mission of exploration through Star Trek: Enterpise. There's the ongoing balancing act between logic and intuition (Spock/Kirk, Data/Picard, Tuvok/Janeway). And a decided lack of conflict and unflinching loyalty between crew members. Even the start of Voyager where two rival crews work have to work together is resolved into a happy family within a short time with most disputes sorted out in a convenient 42 minute episode.

That last one is what I think is really pissing people off when it comes to Discovery. The series starts with the threat of war, a civil uprising in the Klingon empire and a mutiny onboard the USS Shenzhou. It's that mutiny and its aftermath that sets the scene for the first season and we have a starship captain, in Captain Gabriel Lorca, who has a pretty dark view of things.

He intercepts a disgraced mutineer, the central character Michael Burnham, who is on a prison vessel and seconds her to his crew. Despite the name of the ship being Discovery, which harks to Roddenberry's "wagon train to the stars" pitch to Paramount and Desilu Productions in the 1960s, he is a ruthless military commander - we're told he even destroyed a ship with live crew on it rather than leave them to the "mercy" of the Klingons.

In contrast, Picard's crew risked everything to save him from The Borg. Kirk's crew marked themselves as mutineers when they stole the Enterprise to save Spock. Lorca seems to be a very "un-Star Trek" captain so far.

One of the things all the previous Star Trek series had in common was hope. Despite the many "human" failings (despite many of the characters not being homo sapiens) of Picard, Data, Kirk, Janeway, Spock, Archer and others, they were almost always driven to a higher purpose - peaceful exploration and learning about new civilisations.

Discovery, despite it's name, is a vessel of war. Its Spore Drive, fueled by the suffering of living creatures, is all about entering conflict zones, wreaking havoc and getting out before it can be detected.

One of the chief criticisms of the Spore Drive is that it is far more advanced than any technology we've seen in the rest of the Star Trek canon. But I suspect its use will be banned in forthcoming episodes, in much the same way Warp Drive was limited in later series of TNG when it was revealed travelling beyond Warp 5 was damaging sub-space.

Many of the critics of Discovery point to how it doesn't "fit" the existing Star Trek canon. Sure, we had a nice tip to some other characters in the Star Trek universe, when Saru tried to science his way to being a better captain by referencing the records of captains Archer and Pike. But the military nature of Starfleet and conflicts between crew members set it apart.

And that's why Discovery has the potential to be the best of the Star Trek series. It is the back story of how the Federation and Starfleet develop into what we see in the series set in later time periods.

Enterprise had the potential to do the same but the first two series were let down by some lack-lustre writing. But we saw the genesis of increasing warp speeds, the evolution of transporter technology and the first signs of the need for a Prime Directive - a rule that was constantly broken later!

Discovery enters the fray a couple of decades before Kirk and his crew take command of the NCC-1701. And Starfleet, the Federation and all the attendant rules and structures they bring either aren't there yet or are in their infancy. And that's what gives it such potential.

It may answer why there is such enmity between humans and Kilingons? Is it because humans never took the Vulcan Solution - to shoot first - seriously? Eventually, in Kirk's time, some diplomatic relations are established with Klingons but early encounters with the Klingon empire are still hostile (as we see in the series 1 episode "Errand of Mercy").

Star Trek has often championed diversity and Discovery looks to continue that tradition. Unlike JJ Abrams ham-fisted ret-con making Sulu gay in the Star Trek: Into Darkness, the relationship between Stamets and Colber seems natural and unforced. While it's not taboo-breaking like the kiss between Kirk and Uhura, it highlights the series' commitment to being broadly representative of all people.

The dropping of an F-bomb was silly move in my view. I get that people swear and that we can't expect people saying "fuck" to be sent to the penal colony on New Zealand for swearing but that just felt to me like the writers know they're on a streaming service and can get away with it. In over 50 years, Star Trek's writers have been able to use far more imaginative language. I hope it doesn't become a crutch for writers who have run out of more colourful adjectives.

Discovery is not without challenges. For starters, there's the short attention span of today's viewers. It seems to me that many series with promise are cancelled before they can really hit their stride. The relationship between Burnham, Saru, Stamets and Lorca needs time to develop. The set pieces between Saru and Burnham have been great. The contrast between Saru's caution, born of being the prey on his homeworld, and Burnham's impetiousness, perhaps even recklessness, make for great interactions.

Stamets is a great character - I suspect he'll be a fan favourite. For the first couple of episodes we saw him, he was painted as a brash scientist with little regard for the consequences of his work. But, in the most recent episode, we saw him laugh and we had glimpse into his personal life.

Lorca is the big unknown. We've already seen one captain killed, in episode 2 when Michelle Yeoh's Philippe Georgiou was taken out on a Klingon vessel. I doubt we'll see him killed but I expect the hard-headedness we've seen thus far tempered as we learn more about him. The dialog about killing his crew rather than letting them be captured is a loose thread that I'm sure we'll see pulled in future.

That act is very out of keeping with Star Trek's morality. I can only guess his hand was forced in some way and that he had an impossible choice about the lives of his crew and some other, greater ideal. I hope that is resolved as it's hard to like a captain that would rather kill a crew than go down with the ship.

When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek in the 1960s he envisioned it as a way of presenting hope. The crew was multicultural. Russians, Americans, Vulcans, women, Asians and other cultural bgroups worked together for one ideal - to make the universe a better place. It was a quest for a utopian future.

But that journey was never smooth. And Discovery suggests it was rougher than we imagined. That's why it could be the best Star Trek TV series yet. It is unbridled by Roddenberry's instructions that each episode should stand alone and that there ought not be any major conflict between crew members. It's those elements that will allow the writers, if they're given some time, to develop a series that can delve deeper into big issues and the history of the Star Trek future.

Star Trek: Discovery airs in Australia on Netflix with a new episode released each week.

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Comments

    (nerd mode) The first interracial kiss between Uhura and Kirk was in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren" (/ nerd mode)

    This article beautifully sums up how I feel about Discovery as well. I've genuinely enjoyed a new and different take on the Federation.

      I bow to your superior intellect.

      Yeah - careless mistake on my part. Sorry.

    I don't know, maybe it's because I grew up with the original series, but I find this show to be quite jarring compared to all the previous iterations. Visually, it feels too cluttered and that may just be because I'm used to the previous show's lack of visual clutter, JJ Abrams has a lot to answer for with the abundance of lens flares and explosions filling a space that should have more depth, but I guess the younger set prefer it. The storyline is also too far from the original canon for my tastes, I think there are too many jarring differences between the new movies, this show and the universe Roddenberry dreamt up. I love my SciFi and this is a lovely Scifi show, so I'll watch it gladly, but I'll treat it as something other than true Star Trek, that way it will make more sense to me. That's how I feel about it, but I'm old school, so..

      We are just old and the multiplexity of cinema videography is not for our eyes.But and a big but is-
      Its not as bad as transformer.
      Watch it with the awe and wonderment if a truly excited trek fan and you will be given the gift to watch and enjoy.

    Well written Anthony. I wonder if the cost of the spore drive will turn out to be very high, far more than what we have seen so far.

    Personally, I had trouble with the first two episodes, mostly with the speed of spoken Klingon, but since then I have really enjoyed it, and the spoken Klingon language has become far less jarring. I think when i watch the first two episodes again I will like them more.

      I'm rewatching them with my son who caught some of Ep 3 and was hooked. The first two eps are very solid - far better than "Encounter at Farpoint" IMHO.

    Lorca seems to be a very "un-Star Trek" captain so far.
    But he is a typical Starfleet captain, not a Hero Captain from the series, but a typical starfleet captain. How many "guest staring" Captains and Admirals are exactly like him? The hero captains are the exception, not the rule!

    War torn, believing his way is the right way, presented with a superior technology and using it for the benefit of their ship or Federation, breaking directives to achieve their goal... even our hero captains (and officers) would faulter only to make right in the climax 3rd act.

    To me it feels like they just took a dark and gritty sci fi script that has been sitting around for a while and added a few star trek references

      Clearly we are not watching the same show

    I've been having a running argument with a friend over Discovery for a week. Not over anything serious, just how the uniforms don't fit the timeline. We've been bored.

    Anyhow, I've said a few times to him that if you approach Discovery from a different direction, everything starts falling into place. Don't picture it as something roughly in the same timeline as TOS, but as a sequel to Enterprise.

    The visuals look to be a logical progression from how that looked, and the tech seems to be a logical improvement rate from that point as well. When Star Trek launched in 1966, they're never picturing a world of 3D printing, facetime, holograms, HUD's, etc, which thanks to being A Thing to us today are going to logically be a daily device some 250 years from now.

    So its going to visually look different to TOS, which drives a few other things along with it. No blocky sets, no small screen, and so on and so on. We're also in a time where the effects are fairly straightforward, compared to a pre-CGI era.

    On top of that, consider that Discovery is quite possibly a Section 31 starship. That explains away a lot of the questioning, whether its experimental drives you've never heard of, or the 300+ experiments the ship can do, or a semi-autonomous Captain able to put the only mutineer back into active service with barely an eyebrow raised. Or the black insignia that haven't been seen anywhere else in ST lore...

    To me, looking at it that way shuts down most of the issues. Consider it as where Enterprise logically goes in 100 years, along with the Special Ops nature of Section 31, and Discovery (and their sister ship) suddenly fall into place in a Starfleet world of the Star Trek era.

      Yep - rather than a prequel to a 1960s designed show, it's a sequel to a early 2000s series. That makes sense when it comes to the tech and visuals.

        I'd does nothing of the sort. If continuity was as selective as you want it to be sure you could do anything but STD is sure as hell not Star Trek..

      The Discovery Novel: Desperate Hours explains the uniforms and the look of the Enterprise vs the Shenzhou as being a human need to redesign everything, something that the Vulcans and Andorians find difficult to understand.

      The uniforms are explained that the Constitution class ships had a special "diplomatic" uniform, where as much of Star Fleet at this time was using a blue "utility" uniform more in the line of the utility, practical uniforms from enterprise

      I've been thinking about your Section 31 connection. I wonder if we'll hear about the fate of that unit. I suspect we'll learn Lorca was a former member pr somehow connected to them.

        Its just my own pet theory. It fills in a lot of gaps, and is also part of Starfleet that's never really been explored. It just wont surprise me to see that being a connection at some point.

        They've put a lot of thought into all these things, so there has to be a reason for those little differences. The main one being the black alerts and black insignia. That seems a very S31 thing to do.

    I have issues with the ethics of the show. So many easily made "bad" decisions, war crimes, ethically dubious calls, etc. No one seems vexed by any of those and that really doesn't sit well.

      That's a constant across Star Trek as well though. There have been many morally ambiguous decisions made, of varying degrees, which reflect the society of the day more than anything else.

      DS9 and Voyager did it more than once, and it happened in TOS as well - or is transporting a harmful species onto someones ship acceptable? People just want to brush over those decisions, and look to the ones where the 'right decision' gets made.

      Don't forget that in Discovery they ARE at war, which typically is when war crimes happen, and a lot of other bad decisions.

      I think it adds a layer to the show that's been missing from most other Star Trek shows. Roddenberry said that he was curious about the behind the scenes stuff in utopian society - who gets their hands dirty so the rest don't?

      Perhaps we're simply seeing a reflection of that with Discovery representing the dirtier side of Starfleet. Which is a better reflection of how the world works.

        I think it hurts more because Star Trek usually showed us the better us we could be ie breaking down race boundaries, etc. This one seems resigned to tell us that we are as good as we can be and we will still be doing morally questionable things in the future. That is probably my heart breaking when I see the loss of hope there.

    As im watching it feels like a star trek show.It certainly ticks all the boxes and familiarity comes to mind with the trek formula.
    Im happy with it. Its a great show.

    Reading the comments, I'm surprised that no one has pointed out the error in Caruana's timeline concerning the "kiss". The interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura did not occur in the "Naked Now" episode as stated, but happened during the season 3 episode "Plato's Stepchildren". Sorry, but if you're going to discuss matters of canon in Star Trek, I think it's important to be accurate!

      It was pointed out in the first comment. And I stand corrected.

    In all all 4 episodes I watched Michael's role and gender puzzeled the heck out of me..is this new ST series braving out of the closet?

    I'm glad I wasn't the only one who didn't like the use of the f-bomb. It was unnecessary and kind of jarring.
    Otherwise I'm mostly really enjoying the series.
    I like Lorca. He's intelligent and fiercely driven, and doesn't always follow protocol, but I get the impression he's also deeply compassionate and honorable. He is just the type of captain that's needed for this mission.
    I however dislike Saru. He's whiny, and I think lacks the strength of character required of a first officer.
    A first officer should not be fretting about the success of another officer (Michael). That's weak and insecure. I cannot imagine why a captain like Lorca would have chosen a first officer like Saru. It just doesn't make sense to me.

      I get the feeling Saru is a development character - a bit like Data in TNG. While he's less likeable than Data, I get a feeling his "prey" response will serve Discovery's crew in some important way during an upcoming battle but that he will learn to develop the ability to think more aggressively as time goes on.

      But there are moments I wish someone would give his a whack and tell him to stop whining!

    Overall I think it's a good series but I'm not happy with the Spore Drive.
    Star Trek to me has always looked to real science for inspiration and I can't see any science at all with that drive.
    I'd like to suggest that the writers use Quantum Entanglement as the basis of the drive as it's effects, if my reading of the science is correct, are instantaneous between any 2 points in the universe. Thus instantaneous travel anywhere is possible.
    Does anyone agree with me?

    I like the series but I wish they would dial back the nerd factor a little and have the Klingons transition to English during conversations. I'm getting tired of reading subtitles. I generally avoid movies with subtitles let alone a TV show.. I want to watch it not read it.

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