Review: Star Trek: Picard 1×1 (US: CBS All Access; UK: Amazon)

For owners of the Star Trek Technical Manual

Star Trek: Picard
Star Trek: Picard

In the US: Thursdays, CBS All Access
In the UK: Fridays, Amazon

What do you want in a revival show – new stories or old stories? It’s a question particularly relevant to science fiction TV, which often has legions of fans particularly keen on deciding what’s good and what’s bad according to a set of rules they’ve devised that normally involve the word ‘canon’.

We’ve seen it repeatedly with the likes of Doctor Who, which chose initially to be as mainstream as possible when it was revived in 2005, by avoiding mentioning anything much to do with the show’s past in case it was perceived as being too nerdy.

Jamie McShane, Patrick Stewart and Orla Brady in Star Trek: Picard

Let’s look that up

Star Trek: Picard, on the other hand, is going straight in with the nerd fodder. The show resurrects Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s most popular character, 14 years after he’s retired from Starfleet because he believes it’s become morally bankrupt – thanks to events that happened asa result of the movie that killed the franchise roughly 18 years ago, Star Trek: Nemesis.

Retired to his family’s French vineyard where he can speak bad French to his dog and have some migrant Romulans with Irish accents as live-in staff/egalitarian help-mates, Picard is nevertheless dreaming about Commander Data still. Or maybe it’s B4.

Then up pops a girl (Isa Briones) with superpowers (of a sort) who has been dreaming of Picard, but doesn’t know why (or even who he is), and whom various dark suited people with guns have been trying to abduct or kill – but doesn’t know why. And then it turns out that Data was painting pictures of her 30 years previously.

What’s going on? Will it be enough to lure Picard back into action? And how much of it will need hyperlinks to Wikipedia for normal people to understand what’s going on?

Patrick Stewart and Isa Briones in Star Trek: Picard

You don’t need to look it up, do you?

To a certain extent, the show’s writers and producers can be confident that you know what they’re talking about. A bit, anyway. You’ll have watched Star Trek: The Next Generation or one of the movies, so you’ll know the basic characters. And you’ll want to watch them. Particularly Picard and Data, but also Riker, Troi, Guinan and co, all of whom are scheduled to make an appearance in the series at some point.

But they’re gambling that as well as not caring about all those nerdy references to that movie you’d forgotten Tom Hardy was in, you won’t mind seeing the likes of Hugh and Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager based on that foundation. Although at least the writers are holding off until later episodes before blasting us with the full continuity references.

A bigger gamble, for that matter, is the rampant nerdiness of the show’s main plot, which is all about fractal cloning of positronic brains, by Dr Maddox, as well as possibly the use of Borg technology for something nefarious. You’ve really got to want to watch that. But that’s what the Picard in the title is for – there’s no way you’d be watching this otherwise.

Alison Pill and Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard

To boldly preach

In keeping with the arch liberalism of the original series, there’s an obvious political message in the Romulan plot that gives the show a chance to sledgehammer home a metaphor on tolerance in our own times.

However, thankfully, the show itself is more interested in its sci-fi and even some action scenes, which have taken a leaf out of the John Wick Big Book of Judo. Here it has help from both Briones and new franchise arrival Alison Pill (The Newsroom, Scott Pilgrim, Pillars of the Earth), who at least make it look like this is a show that isn’t about continuity references from another show made 30 years ago.

They’re also helped by the production values, which are first rate, and a script that if not exactly putting the pedal to the metal, does at least have something reasonably interesting happen every five minutes or so.

Warp factor two

Nevertheless, overall, this is a slow-moving show. Lovely Wife, who loves Star Trek: The Next Generation with all her heart and who was dying to watch this from the very first moment it was announced, proclaimed 10 minutes in: “This isn’t very good, is it?” It was I who had to caution patience, as it was clearly biding its time.

That’s not a good sign for the show’s producers, despite the show’s ratings success. If the fans are bored – and maybe a little saddened that it’s not as good as they’d hoped – chances are normal people are going to be bored, too.

But I suspect we’re all going to give it a chance, mainly because Patrick Stewart is Patrick Stewart and he’s playing Picard again, and Brent Spiner is Brent Spiner and he’s playing Data again. How can anyone resist that winning combo?

All the same, I do wish you didn’t need to be the kind of person who owns a copy of the Star Trek Technical Manual to really enjoy it.