Star Trek Discovery – Looking to the New Frontier

STDisclogosmIt’s been over ten years since Star Trek departed television, with first broadcast episodes across numerous shows having been a continuous fixture of schedules for eighteen years since The Next Generation debuted in late 1987 until that ignominious swan song. It was in November 2015 that the announcement was made of a new show created by Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller and Star Trek Into Darkness’ Alex Kurtzman, streaming from January 2017 principally via CBS All Access for domestic US audiences and Netlix for most of the rest of the world, now confirmed as Star Trek Discovery.

With only six months until broadcast, very little information has been released about the show, with no confirmation of the series format, the timeframe or the characters other than they will be wholly original on a new ship. This past weekend, a special effects demonstration reel was shown at San Diego Comic Con, the first hints of what is to come in the thirteen episodes of the first season with these “new crews, new villains, new heroes, new worlds,” but whose opening shot knowingly references another iconic science fiction story featuring a different Discovery, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

STDisc17With both the science fiction landscape and that of broadcast television have changed significantly and rapidly over the last few years, the Geek Chocolate team and their associates are already anticipating what Star Trek Discovery may bring while also aware of the successes and the significant failures of the past, and here share their thoughts, hopes and concerns.

Michael Flett – Bearing in mind that this is a demonstration reel rather than a trailer of any kind, it’s designed to give an impression rather than be a hard and fast guarantee of the finished product, so a lot may change between now and January next year, but even so what it tells us is fascinating.

STDisc18The detailing of the Discovery and the registry typeface tie it with the era of The Motion Picture though the registry itself, Naval Construction Contract 1031 would ostensibly place it before the Enterprise, NCC-1701, though of course it’s likely that the registry has deeper meaning; the Constitution class ships, of which there were originally twelve, could all be grouped under the 17s, whatever class of ship the Discovery is the 10s, so while the prefix is lower this particular vessel may be sometime after the original five year mission under James T Kirk.

Which takes me to my second point: the design itself is quite obviously Ralph McQuarrie’s proposed Enterprise from the abandoned Star Trek Phase II project, with the cradle within an asteroid also inspired by the same set of paintings. This genuinely qualifies for Spock’s definition of fascinating, as beyond interesting it is utterly unexpected but does indicate an era either immediately before/concurrent/after the original series, a theory supported by the presence of Nick Meyer as a consulting producer, the man who topped and tailed the five “red uniform” movies with The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country.

STDisc1Those who indulge in deep Trekking will also be aware that a couple of study models were made based on variations of these designs which actually made two appearances, inside Spacedock in The Search for Spock and in the background of Surplus Depot Z15 in Unification, so it can already be regarded as an “official” part of the history.

Of course, this means miniskirts, flares, beehives and chunky plastic phasers and console buttons; I suspect even if this is the proposed era they might play a little bit loose with that aspect rather than being slavishly tied to what flew in the sixties. Though it could be worse – it could be the seventies. Oh, my, as Uncle George would say; is the USS Discovery going to be known as the good ship Disco, Starfleet’s boogie flagship, boldly filling dancefloors with the hits of Donna Summer and Sylvester?

STDisc2It was our colleague Les who told me – very correctly – some time ago that it is the nature of science fiction go forward, to look to the future, and for that reason origin stories are hampered from the outset because they’re building to something which is already known, so there can be little sense of revelation or achievement unless it is created with an absolutely specific purpose in mind.

The horror of the show formerly known as Enterprise (“It doesn’t need the Star Trek billing, it will stand on its own, until the ratings tank and we panic and change our minds”) ably demonstrates the pitfalls of the prequel, coming from the tail end of the Berman era after he had flown Voyager onto the rocks and vetoed every single worthwhile idea the writing staff had, insisting that everything must conform to the rigid formula of beige, that the boat must never be rocked even as the waves of indifference crashed against the sides.

STDisc5As an example, consider not only the broken promises of the premise of Enterprise that they wouldn’t have all the established technology of the later Starfleet eras to see them through the tough times, except warp drive at the start of the pilot, transporters by the end, then phasers, photon torpedoes and holodecks by the sixth (that was when I stopped watching) but also the wretched saccharine dirge which opened the show each week.

It was Rick Berman who decreed to the composers of incidental music that it must never overshadow the action on screen, thus proving his fundamental lack of understanding of how dramatic narrative is constructed and perceived by the viewer and why accountants should never hold creative positions. Remember Kirk’s traditional fight music? Spock’s mystical theme on the bass guitar? The horn fanfare sting of The Doomsday Machine? Of course you do. Can you hum Janeway’s theme? Didn’t think so. You can probably just about recall the tone of Picard’s flute in The Inner Light, but not the melody, because it was barely there.

STDisc3Both Voyager and Enterprise should have known exactly what they needed to achieve each season to reach their end game; in an epic story, structure is everything and you can’t make it up as you go along yet that was precisely what they did and both shows haemorrhaged viewers as they meandered cluelessly. Voyager dropped from twenty three million US viewers for the pilot to around four million over seven seasons and Enterprise dropped faster and lower from over twelve million US viewers for the pilot to an average around three million for the fourth and final season before cancellation, the only modern Star Trek show to have suffered that fate. Berman blamed “franchise fatigue,” either unable to comprehend or refusing to admit the continually eroding quality of the work he was responsible for.

Created by Bryan Fuller and Alec Kurtzman, we have much greater hope for Discovery, though I’m actually disappointed that despite the presence of Kurtzman it’s the Prime rather than the Kelvin timeline as I love the last two movies (Beyond, not so much) and would like to see tie-ins and crossovers. By the way, remember Enterprise is also a tangent universe, as confirmed by Regeneration, the episode with the crashed Borg ship in the Arctic, the Borg Queen’s final victory having been condemning us to that show.

STDisc8But I digress: Bryan Fuller knows how to put a bold, original and interesting show together, not to mention a fine ensemble cast. Pushing Daisies was one of my favourite shows of the last decade, like nothing else on television, and although I’ve been too busy to catch any Hannibal it has been recommended by so many trusted friends it is on the long list should I ever get time off simply to indulge myself.

Driven by heavyweight drama and subscription channels from HBO to Netflix, where Discovery will be carried for most of the globe, the television format has changed in the last decade from disposable and drop-in to demanding viewers follow the plot and the characters and Bryan is an intelligent writer, producer and story editor who has been a part of that shift; this will be unlike any previous Star Trek, of that I have no doubt, more akin to Battlestar Galactica in terms of structure if not in tone.

STDisc4He also has genre credentials coming out his ears, a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine, dozens on Voyager, a handful of Heroes, the forthcoming American Gods and the brilliant pilot episode of High Moon, which, like his Munsters reboot Mockingbird Lane unfortunately didn’t progress further, not to mention the fact that he describes himself as “a rabid fan.”

I don’t imagine it’s going to be as big a leap as when Ron Moore jumped from Deep Space Nine to Galactica, but I not only have faith in Bryan I’m hugely excited by what he’s going to bring us. I’ve missed having exciting space based adventures every week for far too long.

STDisc7One thing Trek has always done terribly is relationships: when Worf was introduced to Deep Space Nine the previously funny, vital, capable and independent Jadzia Dax became redefined to the reductive “comic relief girlfriend,” and Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres always felt like they got together because the writers had other idea what to do with them, the revelation and declaration as they floated in spacesuits cringeworthy and downhill from there. I trust Bryan to do better, much better and he has already stated there will be better representation of “non-traditional relationships.” Suck it, DOMA!

I’m not bothered by the low quality of the graphics on this tease; it’s not supposed to be the final product, it’s a sneak preview, the way NASA release animatics of future missions to allow us to grasp the concept. It’s a demonstration, nothing more, and anyone who doubts the final product will be the absolute pinnacle of modern effects is just bitching for the sake of it. “Change is the essential product of all existence,” Spock once said, and this evolution is overdue.

STDisc9Stuart Hatton, Jr – I’m tremendously excited for Star Trek Discovery. I would have hoped for a continuation after Voyager so we could have had cameos from the original actors and know where their characters are at, but conversely I’m a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica and a series in that style would be good in Trek land.

Dario Persechino – In Star Trek Discovery I would like to see a show that gives us that glimpse of a brighter tomorrow to inspire us to reach for it. That’s what Star Trek always was to me. A shining beacon that humanity could be better than we are.

I recently watched Reunification: Twenty Five Years After, interviews with the Next Generation cast on the Blu-ray releases, and there were certain stories which kept coming up. The cast talked about being approached by doctors and scientists and astronauts telling them how watching Star Trek when growing up had inspired them to be better, to work harder, to reach for those professions which would change the world.

STDisc10Looking at modern television, I see shows which inspire people to try and be “famous” or “rich” without any qualifier. I see shows which glamorise the darker elements of our nature and pander to greed, or entertain without any more merit than that. Star Trek entertained, yes, but it also inspired. It set a high bar for the human race, and that meant people tried to clear that bar. Every generation needs a Star Trek show. In a dark world we need something to give us hope, a vision to live up to. I am really hoping that spirit of Star Trek will be in the new series.

The creators have a difficult task ahead of them. They need to sell a show to a new audience raised on binge watching and instant gratification, create a show true to the legacy, and do it in a short season of thirteen episodes. That can make for a much tighter show, but it can also limit the opportunities to ponder the big questions or issues of the day. I hope they find the right balance.

STDisc14I am concerned about the likely prequel nature of the show but I think they may have learned from Enterprise that some things should be left well alone, and other things you can revisit and play with. I am very thankful it is not another USS Enterprise they have tried to squeeze into the timeline, and a new ship with a new name gives a chance for new stories. Maybe if we do ever discover a time warp someone can go back and tell them that when they were coming up with the idea of Enterprise…

Every time I see a new Starfleet ship I get excited and seeing the USS Discovery pull out of space dock was no exception. A very old design and registry number…. I hope that means they have a big galaxy of places no one has boldly gone out to explore yet.

STDisc11Maggie Symon – Visually the clip looks fantastic from a computer rendering perspective, and the shot obviously has overtones of the launch of the ship from The Motion Picture. I don’t really have any hopes, fears or dreads about the series because I have heard next to nothing about it and I haven’t gone looking for anything. I got progressively more disenchanted with each successive spin-off, so I am not pinning any hopes on this one.

What it needs for me to get excited about it is not to rewrite canon to suit themselves, have good characters and actors with chemistry, not steal from the predecessors to justify their existence, stories that draw the viewer in but not huge conspiracies arcs, good science fiction in the original Star Trek vein; for example, Deep Space Nine just got too dark for me.

STDisc15I know that Trek has always mirrored the time it was made, but I don’t want to see something mirroring the world we have now, I want to escape it for an hour.

Adam Dworak – I am not a great Star Trek fan and from all Trek shows I truly love only one: Voyager. Voyager is everything Star Trek should be, an Oddyssean journey through space in search for home so I would like to see this formula somehow successfully repeated in Star Trek Discovery, especially with a ship with that name. I want Borg and maybe more background on them and their origins – definitely there is a connection between the Borg and humanity, they are drawn to each other and I would like to know why.

Star Trek Discovery boldly premieres January 2017




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