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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Star Trek Discovery

Star Trek Discovery

So I thought I would put down my thoughts on the opening two episodes of Star Trek Discovery entitled "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars" which I've watched a couple of times on Netflix UK. 
I do have to lay some groundwork, I believe if you are going to produce content from an IP that has a pedigree, tradition and a fanbase covering five decades then you better well respect that IP. That of course doesn't preclude you doing some totally new but the framework that has been established should be maintained. This gets more complicated when you decide to do a prequel but even then we've seen that creative writing and plotting can explain elements of stories that initially seem out of place or contradictory. A good example of this from Enterprise is the Borg episode which initially has you scratching your head but linking wreckage on Earth from the vessel taken down by Enterprise in the movie First Contact which featured a temporal element it can be to coin a phrase "logically" explained away. However also from Enterprise the use of Romulans and Ferengi were more amateurish explained away and let's not get into portraying the Vulcans as war mongering back stabbing space fiends. Ok that may be a little over the top but their portrayal went against everything I viewed the Vulcans to be in that timeframe and that is something Discovery has to take heed of, or doesn't depending upon your point of view.

My first viewing of both episodes were simply for pure enjoyment, no note taking or analysis just sitting back and watching the first new and official Star Trek on the small screen for far too long. Initial impressions were pretty positive, the characters were intriguing and interaction seemed smooth (rare for what amounts to a pilot) and the two episodes back to back certainly helped keep things flowing. I was delighted to see a return to an instrumental even classical (Style) piece of music for the opening credits and the look of the show is certainly what you would expect from a well funded piece of scifi especially when compared to its TV counterparts and even the average theatrical release. If you are reading this then you've seen the episodes and I am not going to bother with the narrative (yet) only to say that the two episodes were laying the groundwork for the next batch of episodes and then later onto the second half of this first "season" and they did their job extremely well. This is the Klingon war that was often referred to in the original series which ultimately lead to Organia and the truce imposed on the two warring factions. The creators always said from the beginning (yeah way back when) this was a tale not yet told and they are delivering and only time will tell if it satisfies.

So then came the second viewing with notebook in hand:

The Kahless reference is spot on, the focus of everything Klingon had to be a pivotal aspect of a show about the Klingon/Federation war and the idea that elements of the Klingon Empire where feeling closed in and slowly herded into what they considered extinction as a people. This makes sense if they see the Federation expanding sometimes through treaty and other times after conflict so given the Klingon mindset seeing the Federation as a threat makes perfect sense. My immediate issue is that we saw plenty of Klingons in Enterprise a hundred or so years before and they were not shy. We can of course see the birth of the Federation (10 years post Enterprise) as shaking up the immediate galactic order which could have destabilised the Empire and put them on a back foot but hard to believe the two entities had little or no contact for a century. The Klingons themselves, an interesting look and you've got accept that alien designs change with budget/skill and it's not as if it hasn't happened before. However I think they should have referenced a number of the other designs given we've seen them in Prime continuity and with 24 "Houses" why not a few of them more recognisable? The use of subtitles was perfect though, a modern audience should have no issue with this choice given the intelligent creation of languages in shows like Game Of Thrones and if you've got a language then use it. The rallying cry referencing "We Come In Peace" was chilling but again made perfect sense, twisting a narrative to support a mindset, the Klingon T'Kuvma as not an idiot.
I really liked seeing the Federation willing to intervene with civilisations rated below first contact level, save a species by a simple act and then let them be. That said allowing the exploitation of resources within that star system is denying that very species they are saving those resources millenia down the line, the Federation needs to work on their regulations and foresight.
The introduction of Captain Georgiou and Commander Burnham worked well for the reasons above and the chemistry between the two rang true although the Delta in the sand was a little cringe worthy and I don't believe the USS Shenzhou would have had any difficulty tracking two humans on the planet or why they didn't take a shuttle, if you want to avoid alien interaction then bringing the ship a few hundred metres above the planet is not a good idea.

The bridge, well that looked pretty spectacular and again design aesthetics change with production capabilities, the key for me at least is that the technology on display doesn't eclipse what was the norm as presented in continuity. So in this case the Shenzhou can not be more powerful than corresponding ships in the original series and we see it's a mixed bag. The display/window is certainly far more advanced than a Constitution class heavy cruiser and given the Shenzhou is an "old" design that makes little sense as does the robot/android on the bridge. I will point out I am discussing only what we've seen so far, explanations may be forthcoming in future episodes but hey people have dumped shows in the first few eps for far less. I really like the look and character of Saru and as he and Burnham jostled for access to his station I had to grin and more so as the Captain obviously was well aware of their clash of characters and natures and was willing to play along with it. I did wonder where ergonomic design philosophy got to though, surely his station can be raised to prevent obvious long term back strain for him. So they detect an object in the mass of debris surrounding this gorgeous stellar formation, very surprised the ship itself didn't have optical sensors rather than rely on a telescope but hey adds depth I guess. I can also question the use of the first officer heading out alone to investigate the object, no AI equipped drones aboard that don't rely on direction from the crew or a mono-filament to remote control a drone I suppose but even then surely regs demand backup. I did however like the use of joysticks to maneuver the ship slightly, not sure that is practical but it seemed to fit and Burnham laughing as she gazed upon the wonder of the universe struck a chord. Was it just me that the "robot" sounded just like V'ger Ilia?

I loved the reference to the Black Fleet which is covered in novels and also referenced alongside Sto-vo-kor so this was canon cement (for me) and again the Klingon element (death cry, batleth etc) enriched the story immensely. Loved the Klingon space suit as well and again while TOS suits were pitiful no worries with the new Starfleet designs. I was a little suspect about the so called Klingon "Terror Raids" which made little sense, privateers/raiders certainly but the way the narrative was going it seemed they certainly did have contact with Klingons and the Federation were doing sod all to prevent such incursions. Of course Burnham is a product of one of these raids although I was a little confused, it seemed to be saying she was orphaned after one raid and Sarek took her under his wing but then later we see Sarek already fully committed to the child when she was found barely alive. That may be explained in much greater deal in episodes to come but hey classic red alert Klaxon, suddenly back in the Star Trek frame of mind. It was very amusing how Saru was so insistent on a more defensive strategy and his people's mindset was explained in more detail but there are still questions, did the race that bred his people die out or did the Federation "free" this sentient species, hopefully we'll find out and loved how those white spindly threads raised on his head when in direct danger.
Now we are back to the point where I get derailed as we see a Klingon ship decloak, yes years before the Romulans stunned the Federation with their cloaking technology this Klingon faction have similar technology. We saw in Enterprise that the Romulans (as we knew them to be) were experimenting with stealth technologies so maybe elements within these two empires were sharing tech if both viewed the Federation as a long term obstacle. I've read this cloaking tech will be explained within the show, here is hoping because otherwise this is the worse case of crapping on continuity because the writers can not come up with an idea that works within established canon. We also get holographic communications technology, you've got to be kidding me. This tech was being used in Deep Space Nine and even then it was bloody pointless, in this era with this technology level I have no idea why they thought they needed to introduce it. I'm not sure if this is worse but when Burnham contacts Sarek, he answers in a heartbeat and references the new star in the sky, this is GOT time manipulation to the extreme. 
Burnham asks Sarek for advice, ok makes sense but I really didn't like the idea that the Vulcans were blowing starships out of the sky if they were identified as Klingon. That said we know from Enterprise the Vulcans were big freaking dicks in this timeline prior to T'pau bringing the teachings of Surak back into the mainstream. Now I hated with a passion the disservice Enterprise did with the Vulcans but I've got to admit in this continuity it kinda makes sense although why Vulcans were probing Klingon territories is still beyond me. Burnham at this point is a woman on a mission and full of her own self importance, no question her attitude was unacceptable on the bridge of ship and well the neck pinch was rather surprising but good intentions/road to hell etc. They chose to ramp up her manic behaviour which bought the Captain time to regain control of the ship but real conflict between friends and comrades, not new to Trek as some have claimed but important I suspect to the series as whole. Then more Klingons turn up which kinda indicates the war would still have turned hot when they came across the wreckage of the vessel after being fired upon by Starfleet.

The second episode opens with a short recap then a flashback to the arrival of Burnham on the Shenzhou delivered by Sarek. Interesting she did not attend the Starfleet academy but maybe an early Starfleet and still young Federation were accepting personnel with far more varied backgrounds and years spent at the Vulcan Academy might allow entry to a suitable candidate. I also enjoyed the banter between the two women which quickly found it's footing in a tentative respect and also liked the reference to the Vulcan Expedition/Survey fleet a non-military arm dedicated to expanding knowledge and first contact. We jump back to the present and Burnham underlines the reasoning behind 24 Klingon ships indicating the 24 Houses of the Empire and we see T'Kuvma again with his rallying cry of "We Come In Peace", again he is strategic. I did wonder why the rest of the Klingons were so quickly taken under the spell, the desire to be led or belief in the legend of Kahless must still have been strong within the Houses. It's pointed out that one ship is hardly a threat but here we see the complex timing and manipulation of events as the Starfleet reinforcements arrive and suddenly an immediate threat is evident, the result is now inevitable.

Captain Georgiou makes contact and of course as expected she can't help but utter the line "we come in peace" which cements the point T'Kuvma was making despite it being a pretty shaky argument and the battle begins. Now this whole sequence looked gorgeous although the choice of sound effects seemed not quite right but the choreography was good and you got the visceral feeling as you should and often didn't in the VFX of previous Trek. Oh and as with tradition the consoles go Boom!
Burnham is currently in the brig which looks totally over the top and not only for a ship of this age, it looks totally out of place unless this was the Kelvan timeline and even then still nah doesn't work. We get an interesting scene with a concussed Ensign Connor and then boom the ship gets hit hard, we lose crew and a good portion of the ship is vaporized and force fields contain the exposed areas which include just one part of the brig, that was pretty pathetic. This scene unfolds as a unconscious Burnham communes with Sarek, initially I thought he implied she was speaking to a remnant of his Katra (left behind when he saved her after the attack at the Vulcan learning center) but no she is in contact across a thousand light years with his mind, this I actually accept more than the capabilities of the standard communication systems. Sarek pretty much states that the battle was never going to be avoided, the test, the goal now is to save as many people as possible and not just here and now, the path for Burnham reaches across the galaxy.
I was a little confused when a Klingon commander chose not to take the glory of a kill and allow the Shenzhou to drift towards its destruction but the plot required it and allowed the USS Europa to save them and then for the Admiral to address the Klingons. I don't think the destruction of the Europa and it's Admiral ensured a war but got to admit using a cloaked ship to ram the Starfleet vessel was inspired only taken down a notch by using a cloaked ship which shouldn't exist as far as we know. Total respect to the Admiral for taking out that huge cloaked ship with the self destruct after most of his crew escaped but the damage is done, Klingon ships warp away to spread the word, Khaless has returned/reborn under the banner of T'Kuvma the Unforgettable
Burnham escaped from her cell by logically out thinking the computer, gotta love that with it's spin on Kirk so often killing computers with his own brand of logic and we also see that the Captain has not given up and together they plan to strike back and board the Klingon ship and take T'Kuvma captive, in essence prove his "crusade" is flawed. 

This is a very entertaining sequence and I loved the close combat of the two women with their Klingon foes, not sure I quite buy that training/skill is equal to the sheer power of Klingon warriors (Were they slowed down Gorn like?) but damn I didn't like to see Georgiou run though with a blade and what the hell was Burnham doing switching to kill, emotion over ruling logic which while not really changing what was to come kinda proved Georgiou wrong when she thought she could bring out Burnham's more human side. Of course even with a kill setting that damn Klingon still has time for some last words and pass the torch (yeah sorry about that) to the young outsider Voq who now finds himself at the center of the war to come?
The episode wraps with Burnham at a court martial and sentenced to life imprisonment yet why the overly creepy low lighting, if this is the Federation/Starfleet judicial system the transparency element has long since been disposed of. Seriously guys, wrong choice for this final scene when you then write an excellent monologue for Sonequa to deliver.

So final thoughts, I didn't get that much out of the two episodes on second viewing which surprised me. Of course I was also looking more critically at the episodes which is always going to give you a different experience. Sonequa Martin-Green gave a solid performance and Michelle Yeoh was magnificent, supporting cast playing the crew of the Shenzhou were perfectly fine, shame most of them are dead but we will see Saru ( Doug Jones ) again and while I wished they had CGI'd his eyes I look forward to more of his interaction with Burnham.
I was very disappointed that with the fact that the first two episodes ran to what would be traditional US network running time, one of the benefits of original streamed content is that there are no time limits which means fewer cuts which often mean slower character building scenes get left in. The best of Netflix and Amazon in part are down to storytelling not being constrained by a one hour time slot with ads, hopefully this rather short premiere feature is an anomaly.

Will I watch another episode, of course I will but not on Netflix. I cancelled my Netflix because I am not paying £8 a month for a single show and After Trek was bloody awful and if you know me then you know even with Amazon Prime (For free next day delivery) I rarely use the streaming service, it's just not my sort of thing. One thing is certain from the initial numbers for Episode 1 on CBS is that 10 million or so viewers would not be enough to sustain an $8 million per episode series, the question remains if CBS All Access subscriptions are buoyed enough to justify the budget and globally if the huge cost to Netflix is returned with both ongoing views and new subscriptions.

 I do have high hopes for the series, production quality is excellent and the story will be switching gear next week with the war raging and the introduction of the Discovery and her captain. As with all television shows after they get over the first hurdle, time will tell if viewing figures/revenue climb or decline but for now we have Star Trek on television or what ever device you view it on :)

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