Monday 25 September 2017

Review: Discovery #1 and #2 - The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars

After waking up promptly at 8am to watch new Star Trek as soon as it arrived here on Netflix in the UK, I feel highly content with my Discovery breakfast.

We knew a lot of setup going into these first two episodes, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, but not a lot about the hows and whys of these new characters - And all credit to CBS, you played a blinder with misdirection in your promotional efforts; I anticipated some of what happened, but I certainly didn't a lot more! Continue below for my thoughts on this rebirth of Star Trek. Spoilers follow!

The Story of Burnham

Shall we start at the end? These two episodes appear to be destined to be quite distinct from the rest of the series, basically setting Burnham's fall up for some sort of future redemption in her time on the Discovery (a ship not so much as hinted at in these first two episodes).

I am curious if the use of flashbacks will continue throughout the series, given both the Shenzhou and the Klingon Sarcophagus ship sustained major damage by the end of the episodes, yet we know from fairly recent press tours these ambitious sets are still standing and being used as the series continues to shoot. Or perhaps they will be repurposed as other ships? We also know the Shenzhou and Discovery sets have performed double duty as each other.

While I fully expected her demise, I was still hoping that Captain Georgiou would persevere throughout the series - I'd already decided I love her character from the promotional material, and seeing her fully in action I only do so more now. The dynamic between Georgiou and her crew is beautifully balanced between a clear commanding presence and real sense of a collaborative partnership with all her crew, but most especially Burnham, who she has a strong parental connection with - This sense of fairness and wisdom only made Burnham's betrayal all the more powerful, and Georgiou's loss will surely linger over Burnham, repeating her orphaning at the hands of the Klingons.

Another relationship sure to linger is that of Burnham and Saru; their competition across the bridge of the Shenzhou was a highlight, and having that history between them seems set to a be a thread that will continue as both find their way to the Discovery. Given Saru's threat aversion, will her ever trust the mutinous Burnham again?

I wonder too how much the series will continue to lean on Sarek as Burnham's mentor (especially with the absence of Georgiou). The long range mind meld was a nice device; and pleasingly reflects the similar connection T'Pol and Trip shared in Enterprise; I'd not want to it be too heavily used though.

The Klingons 

Bloody hell; who'd have thought T'Kuvma wasn't going to survive the start of the series! The self proclaimed second coming of Kahless being killed leaves us with an even more interesting political situation with the Klingons; the houses have rallied around him (barring the House of Kor), only for him to leave Voq and T'Rell to pick up his mantle.

I hope T'Kuvma's point of view, seeing the Federation as a colonial threat, continues to be explored with his successors - If we see T'Kuvma's Klingon's as religious zealots seeking to unite their people behind their beliefs, it makes them and the Federation an interesting parallel to Islamic extremists and Western intervention.

We got hints at the promised variety of Klingons, and some of the costumes of the other houses are amazing; I hope we see a lot more! I was a little disappointed they didn't offer similarly diverse biology; I don't mind the new Klingon look, but I'd rather it was one look of many, instead of wiping the slate clean.

Production Design

On that note, there was an interesting mix of homage and reinvention across the board. Lots of familiar audio texture (bridge sounds, communicators, transporters, alarms) really made this feel like familiar Trek, even when some of the looks were a bit different.

I can totally buy a diverse range of designs in Starfleet, and the Klingon fleet, in fact I really appreciate the lack of homogeneity; even if you have to sort of squint to make it fit with what we've already seen of the era. I think all the Starfleet designs; ships, sets, costumes, and props, are gorgeous (and I really love the self acknowledged retro transporters). I'm interested to see if they give regular Klingon ship interiors a different look to the (impressive) cathedral like Sarcophagus ship.

Further Thoughts

  • Burnham's debate with the computer about rescuing her was fun, and a nice reversal of the Kirk classic of talking a computer to death.
  • The opening was a bit tedious wasn't it? Far too much exposition. But nearly forgivable for the impressive location work and stirring reveal of the ship.
  • Cloaking devices! Oh boy there's a can of worms to reopen! Ten years before Balance of Terror, and Starfleet was rightly shocked to see them. Then again Enterprise showed us several different versions a century before. It's an easy bit of canon to fudge if you're willing to imagine never ending cloak and detection arms races. Made for a killer (literally) battle tactic anyway!
  • The courtroom at the end was a little overly dramatically lit! Makes Starfleet look a little iffy, hiding in the shadows.
  • Favourite quote: Georgiou: "And you Mr Saru, are you equally happy not to be put at risk?". Saru: "Oh, on any occasion captain!"


Overall these opening episodes were completely engaging and technically impressive. The show lives off it's relationships, especially those connected to Burnham; and so far every single one of those is compelling and ripe for further exploration.

The series has opened big and bold; taken twists and turns aplenty, and left us with a big cliffhanger. We know Burnham will end up on the Discovery, my hope is that doesn't signify she settles, but that the rollercoaster of her life story continues. It's off to a promising start.

Star Trek: Discovery will continue weekly, and it will be distributed almost everywhere in the world on Netflix, except for the US where is will be available on CBS All Access, and Canada where it will be on Bell Media channels and services. To keep track of all the latest details from the new show, visit my Star Trek: Discovery guide page.

1 comment:

Fox said...

Discovery is definitely much better than I thought it was going to be, but that's mostly because my expectations were so low. Hopefully it can improve going forward. The only thing I really don't like, and don't expect to ever like, is the art direction. The new ship designs just... aren't very interesting. The Shenzhou is nice, but all of the other ships just look clumsily designed and poorly balanced to me. Especially the Discovery herself. Not cool.

And the Klingons... just awful. They're generic forehead aliens now, which is something I got sick of back in TNG. Not to mention the practical problems involved with trying to get the actors to speak clearly through those ridiculous plastic teeth. That was pretty nuts.

It looks like the actual Discovery episodes of Discovery will focus more on actual Trek themes, which leaves me hopeful. Though Mike has proven to be a pretty unlikable character so far, Saru was a treat, so I'm glad we'll be seeing more of him. I'm not sure Mike will ever be able to redeem herself after the extreme stupidity of her little betrayal here, but I suppose it's possible. With 13 episodes left to go, there's plenty of room for improvement.

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