Captain’s log. Stardate 5234.1...
Star Trek: Discovery is in many ways a departure for the television series. I largely enjoyed the series, but also feel it could have been executed much better. My review of the newest member of Star Trek. This entry contains spoilers.
This first series of Discovery is largely about the tales of scientist Michael Burnham and tactician Gabriel Lorca. This review is of the first fourteen episodes of the series. I decided to put this entry up before seeing the last episode of the series.
The first scenes of the first episode are amazing. You see Burnham and Captain Philippa Georgiou explore an alien world, there on a mission. Throughout the series there is eye candy galore. It is typical Star Trek, and looks the part. As well it should, as this is an exceedingly expensive production.
Although the two get on well so far, it is not long in the story before friction occurs. Burnham, a human but raised on Vulcan, uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on her captain and takes over the ship. These types of sudden character transformations will be common throughout the rest of the first series.
Discovery is so far only available as a streaming show. This in itself is great. It means that for the first time everybody in the world can watch Star Trek outright, and also at the same time. Episodes can also be downloaded, meaning you can watch it at your leisure.
In North‑America the series airs only on CBS’ Access platform. Everywhere else it is on Netflix. And this is where the first problems with this series are evident. Access is a premium platform limited to 1080p at present.
Long term users of the service will remember that in many cases where HD remasters of old shows were available, CBS continued to only make the SD versions available.
Netflix are of course 4K ready. So they can air Star Trek: Discovery in fine detail for the rest of the world. Alas, this is not the case. It would appear that CBS are preventing Netflix from doing just that. Teasers of the show are available in 4K, but that is all you can get.
Science fiction in general benefits from 4K more than your average drama. But with the extraordinary visuals of Star Trek is really is a missed opportunity. CBS are perhaps hoping to strike a new deal again later on, which would net them more money in return for 4K releases.
Perhaps even a BD release is on the cards. Though in many cases a disc version would not make sense so long as the streaming deals are in place. You either subscribe and have all of the show, or nothing at all.
That is were another problem rears its head. CBS are relying heavily on their traditional drama model. In traditional television in the U.S. drama series start with a recap of what has happened in recent episodes. Discovery does the same thing. But for who? It is a streaming show, there is no way you miss an episode unless you specifically choose to do so.
Netflix helpfully now has a Skip Recap button, and a Skip Intro button for that matter. But it does show how CBS seem to be stuck in their old ways. This also includes advertisement breaks. Though CBS sell their service as ad‑free, it does in fact contain ads.
Discovery will in fact go black at where breaks for ads would be. It makes for choppy watching as far as I am concerned. It is as if CBS want to nibble at both sandwiches but never finish either. It is possible they want to eventually air Discovery on regular television, but as of yet this is not the case.
This type of format influences how the show is written and experienced. The writing has to be adjusted so that there is as much tension right up to the break. When the show comes back this tension is gone again. The viewers have made it passed the break, so less tension is needed. This process repeats for every break.
Of course in Europe we do not have the advertisement breaks, but the show is still written around them. The tension flow is all out of whack. You go from a high tension moment in a low‑tension moment in the space of a few seconds. In effect you have less drama overall per episode, due to the up‑and‑down ramping of the writing. This could all have been done better.
This iteration of Star Trek departs from the others in many good ways. One thing you will notice throughout the first series in this first anthology is how transformative the characters are. This is one of the things that makes me like this show.
Early on in the series Captain Georgiou is killed by Klingon. At the time this irritated me. A strong female lead gets killed in action so early in the series. It is a trope that is too common. But later on she is returned as an even more powerful emperor. Despite my spoiler warning, I still do not want to say how and what. It is one of the best moments of this first series.
Burnham and Lorca in particular go through drastic changes. As with any science fiction show there will be tropes, but they are played out well most of the time. I cannot believe she ate it! Across the whole series I did not pick up on the direction the story was heading in, at least not for the most part. This is a good thing, it meant I was in for lots of surprises.
The power balance at play between Discovery and their spore drive and the albino Klingon poses for a continuing interesting storyline. That said, it does sort of have to be wrapped up within this first anthology.
In Voyager (no major spoilers) their ship becomes stranded. The series takes place a long time after the events of Discovery, but they do not use a spore drive to come home. In fact, it is not even referenced in the show at all.
Had it been, it would likely have taken Voyager something on the order of 1 hour, 20 minutes, and 46 seconds. This is a very convenient length if they wanted to put out a real‑time movie of the journey home. Alas, it was not meant to be.
So logically speaking, Discovery, or at least its spore drive, must become either lost or damaged in one way or another, at one point throughout the series.
All in all, I am content how this first series turned out. But I will expect more from the next. Many mistakes were made along the way. I would suspect that a number of people will start watching this new series today, the day of the finale if I put this out as planned.
I think if the series is viewed at once, it will perhaps be a better progression, but this is hard to say for sure. I hope that next time there is better planning, and no mid‑series break. Generally speaking, a fifteen episode series is not long enough to justify that. I understand why it was done this time, but please, not again.
For a number of reasons it is hard to compare this iteration to previous ones. But I think I like it better than most, save for Voyager. Then again, it has been some time since seeing the others. These days I am more critical, and also likely a different person.
Since seeing the last Star Trek series I have sent and let stuff into space myself. My name is on a chip on the surface of Mars, a compact disc with my name has flown past Pluto, and my name was broadcast to Earth from the Moon’s orbit.
All this goes to say that space is less and less a fantasy. This does take away some of the mystery from the Star Trek shows. And I have my own holodeck experience. Discovery is set in 2256 (at the start) and it feels as though it could have happened much sooner.
Discovery is good, but all in all it is not necessarily living up to its exceedingly high production price. The look and feel, the acting, it is all there. But what is not the strongest is the storyline. And unfortunately, that is what it is about in the end.
I recommend you watch Discovery if you have Netflix already. But I would not subscribe specifically for it. It is a Netflix Original, so it is not going anywhere. Wait until the next series is out, and then watch it.