The Trouble with Star Trek Discovery

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Update 13 March 2019: Certain people are using the discussion around Star Trek Discovery to promote bigoted ideas and openly attack actors and other people involved with the show. This is both horrific and embarrassing, especially considering the ideal Star Trek represents - inclusivity.

Attacking anyone online for a TV show is never acceptable. I’m extremely frustrated and even upset about the direction Star Trek Discovery is taking in regards to continuity, but it is absolutely not grounds for abusive and hurtful interactions on social media. Many people are enjoying Discovery, and they are entitled to share how much they are enjoying it without encountering hate. I do hope Star Trek can return to be more inline with what came before, but no one is entitled to have that happen.


I’m into Star Trek way too much. I still have a mountain of tapes, discs and books populating the majority of my shelf space, and my friends get irritated at my need to quote and reference the characters and plots in casual conversation.

The latest show, Star Trek Discovery, isn’t sitting well with me. It seems to be frequently ignoring and discarding various elements of the established fictional universe at will. It gives the impression that it is somehow embarrassed to be Star Trek, and of all that came before it.

So what is the new show doing that just doesn’t align well?

Characters

Sometimes it’s been put down to bad acting or writing, but the many characters in Star Trek behave differently. The way they interact with others, discuss topics, debate matters and even just how they carry themselves is a fair bit removed from what is the norm in the current day. These differences have been highlighted in some great time travel Star Trek stories: Voyager visited the 90’s in the two parter Future’s End, City on the Edge of Forever in the Original Series is a fan favourite episode, and Star Trek IV strongly focused on how much of a fish out of water a 23rd century crew would be in the current day.

st4. 23rd century astronauts being out of time.

Discovery does things differently. The characters seem more fitting in a contemporary sitcom or drama, rather than being futuristic astronauts on some kind of star trek. Tilly, Stamets or even the Vulcan-raised Michael Burnham would be right at home in a modern day Western city in terms of behaviour and mannerisms. The bickering and interactions fail to give any hint that they are separated from us by more than two centuries. If you extrapolate how different people are today compared to the early 1800’s, you’d expect huge changes - if anything, other Star Trek iterations haven’t pushed far enough in this aspect.

But this can be put down to conjecture. People are unique, and it could just be that these particular characters are a throwback to centuries gone. But there is more than that - the technology is also not lining up.

Technology

Full holographic simulations are used, despite them having been introduced as a new and exciting technology over 100 years later in The Next Generation. A holographic communication system is casually used without note, despite again being a new and exciting technology over 100 years later - and this technology is never seen or used during the hundreds of episodes, spanning multiple shows, set in the time between Discovery and its eventual debut in the fifth season of Deep Space Nine.

holo. The holo-communicator - first seen in the late 24th century.

An entire war with the Klingons occurs during the first season of Discovery, with the key technological advantage for the Klingons being that the their fleet of ships have cloaking technology - making them invisible and undetectable. The episode Balance of Terror from The Original Series shows an entire starship being able to cloak - and this is presented as something that the whole crew of the Enterprise are astounded by, and it is obvious they are unfamiliar with even the concept of cloaking. Did everyone on the flagship of the fleet just forget at some point before this encounter? Were they not informed? Why did the writers do this, rather than pursuing a storyline that actually fits? Personally, I think that it comes off as rather lazy and disrespectful of the show that started the franchise all those years ago.

The highly advanced Spore Drive used on Discovery might seem to violate continuity, but as of now it’s still an experimental system deployed on just one ship. The best case scenario I can think of for explaining its absence later in the timeline is that it’ll be gone and unusable before the Discovery is decommissioned or destroyed.

There are even little things that don’t fit, like site-to-site transport between two locations aboard a starship being employed casually - despite it then being a very high risk and unadvisable procedure a few years later.

Iconography

The model of the USS Enterprise used in filming the original series is now on display at the Smithsonian museum, yet Discovery has the gall to rewrite this iconic design.

enterprise. The original filming model of the Enterprise restored and on the display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

This is like taking the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters and making it look like a Toyota Prius in a sequel, or replacing the button and switch covered helm of the Millenium Falcon with nothing but backlit LCD touch screens. Discovery is not even saying that the designs evolved or were changed from the original setting - it’s actually replacing what you thought you saw of the original form. Few specific design elements from the established continuity are used in the show, yet it was a choice to set it smack bang in the middle of the 23rd century.

To compound matters, it’s not just one preceding show that doesn’t line up with what has been introduced in Discovery. Elements of the original Constitution-class design from The Original Series have appeared many times in the series - Relics, Trials and Tribble-ations, and the two parter In a Mirror, Darkly all connect back to this original iconography many decades after it first appeared. Even Klingon ships and designs have diverged from what was seen both before and after this point in canon. Rewrite canon, claim this to be Prime Universe, but do little to show it? Sure, no one would notice. Right?

MirroDarkly. A recreated Constitution-class bridge, as seen in the 2004 Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly".

These things - the characters, technology and iconography of the Star Trek franchise - are things I care about. Why doesn’t this new series care about these things? Star Trek has a massive and in-depth following. Some fans are comfortable compartmentalising - separating it from all the shows that came before it, and just ignoring these glaring issues that make it misaligned. My pedantic nature means that I can’t help but be reminded and frustrated every time an issue comes up. If this show doesn’t embrace and build upon what came before it, why even make it Star Trek?

Sorry, I guess? I wish Star Trek was back, and that I could be a huge evangeliser for it, but I really just cannot.

Agree or disagree? Hit me up on Twitter to let me know how right or wrong I really am - @aaronights.