Review: Star Trek: Discovery 1×1-1×2 (US: CBS All Access; UK: Netflix)

You'll be pining for Star Trek: Enterprise by the end of it

Star Trek: Discovery

In the US: CBS All Access. New episodes Sundays
In the UK: Netflix. New episodes Mondays

One of the most controversial aspects of the recent Star Trek movie reboot was Admiral Pike’s statement that Starfleet is a humanitarian and peacekeeping ‘armada’. It wasn’t an organisation dedicated to discovery but to war, it seemed.

Which cut straight to the heart of what many fans though Star Trek should be. Was it a marvellously liberal show about war being bad and tolerance being good, or not? The official line is that Star Trek is a show all about peace and love – and discovery. ST:TNG – discovery in a spaceship. ST:DS9 – discovery by having everyone come to a space station… and then in a spaceship. Star Trek: Voyager – attempt to be edgy and full of conflict for three episodes before it’s discovery in a spaceship. Star Trek: Enterprise – discovery in a spaceship.

Star Trek: Discovery

Ironically, we now have Star Trek: Discovery, the first Star Trek show to be about full on warfare from the outset and which therefore has people questioning if it’s proper Star Trek.

Well, maybe in retrospect Gene Roddenberry decided that Star Trek was totally anti-war, but you only have to look closely at that original series for a few minutes before you notice that there’s a lot of mentions of war and of the Federation having fought wars in the past. How many Neutral Zones are there, for example, to stop various empires coming into conflict with the Federation again? Why exactly are people training hard in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan to fight Klingons as part of their academy training? Hell, Captain Kirk even says in Errand of Mercy “I’m a soldier, not a diplomat”, which should tell you something.

So, it’s fair to say that Star Trek: Discovery is as much Star Trek as any of its predecessors. It also wants you to know it, too. Set ’10 years’ before the USS Enterprise goes off on its five year mission, Discovery sees Sonequa Martin-Green playing a girl orphaned by Klingon raids as a kid and who’s brought up on Vulcan by Spock’s dad Sarek (James Frain). Subsequently, well versed in the art of logic, she ends up as first officer on Michelle Yeoh’s slightly clapped out old starship. Seven years later, they’re off investigating a damaged space-thingy on the edge of the Federation’s border with the Klingon Empire when you guessed it, the Klingons pop up for the first time in a century. Anyone reckon they’re interested in peace?

Queue the start of the next great Klingon War.

Stop talking

Would that it were so interesting as to be a proper war, mind. There is at least some shooting in the second episode, but what characterises the first two episodes is talking. So much talking. Talk. Talk. Talk. Are we going…? No, it’s more talk. How about…? No, more talk. Ah! Here are some Klingons! Surely… No, more talk.

Just. Stop. Talking.

20 minutes, perhaps more, of Federation and Klingon starships squaring off against each other, while everyone talks. Not even to each other, but to their crews. About whether they should talk.

You’ll be praying for someone to accidentally drop a mallet on the photon torpedo button so that something will happen, even if it is a catastrophic war in which billions die. At least the talking will stop.

Amazingly, despite having all that talking, even when there are ’24 great Klingon houses on screen’ at the same time, Martin-Green’s character is the only one who really gets any personality. Doug Jones – the go-to actor for whenever you want some weird, thin-looking, motion-captured beast or alien – gets to play a science officer from a species who were bred to be food and he’s moderately appealing, too, even if you learn more about his species than him, but by the end of the second episode, that’s your lot.

The show does have quite a large cast roster that includes Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman and Jason Isaacs, but if they were in the first two episodes, they were so thinly drawn, I couldn’t actually see them. Or maybe they were hiding under something. Talking.

Certainly, I finished watching the two episodes about an hour ago, and trying to remember anyone on the Federation side other than the main characters and one bloke who hit his head and one Klingon who’s the wrong colour is proving more and more difficult at an almost geometric rate. That’s how little personalities they all had. To be fair, they probably all were wearing red shirts and I just never noticed.

Served hot or cold?

However, I suspect the new characters are all still to show up when the action shifts to another vessel, the eponymous Discovery, in subsequent episodes.

Is that a clue? Is it really going to be about discovery after all? Well, the show’s blurb does describe Isaacs’ character as “a brilliant military tactician” so fingers crossed not. But the show’s blurb also officially describes Discovery as being the start of a Klingon Cold War and given that Rainn Wilson from The Office is showing up as Harry Mudd in later episodes, it also doesn’t look like a show that’s going to spend all its time at the front line.

Which demonstrates the issue with these first two episodes: they’re all about setting up the show’s plot, rather than persuading viewers they definitely want to watch this show. Going into episode three, we know who two or three characters are, we know the Klingons are going to be around… and that’s it, after an hour and a half of never-ending talking.

Star style

So the show’s plot heavy, character-light and spends far too much time name dropping Tellarites, Prime Directives, Katra and the like for the benefit of the fans watching. That said, it still has a few things going for it. It looks great, for sure, with movie-grade effects. Martin-Green does get some good scenes, including a very nice logical exchange with a computer that would have had even Captain Kirk, the epic talker of computers to death, sitting back in admiration.

It’s also got room to grow. Now we’ve had the plot laid down for us, the world it presents is ready to expand.

It’s got Jason Isaacs. Or will have.

And at least it’s not The Orville.

But it’s just it spent its first two episodes on talking, when it could have had a really good war. Star Trek or not, that’s a waste – and a theft of the viewer’s time.

I’ll watch the next episode to see what happens next and to see whether the show actually has some mojo hidden away. But when you feel yourself yawning and even pining for the excitement of the Star Trek: Enterprise pilot, you know a show hasn’t got off to a good start.

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