Between 1987 and 2005, Star Trek was a constant, ubiquitous presence on television whose presence drove a renaissance in fantastical programming; without Star Trek The Next Generation there would have been no precedent for first run syndication, no proven record that sufficient audience existed to generate the advertising revenue required to support such a costly and demanding enterprise, and so none of the shows which followed in its wake, least of all its own successors.
Yet over eighteen years of constant production there was a cost; what the studio termed “franchise fatigue,” shifting the blame to audiences for dropping ratings rather than product they were offering, was in fact a far more complex situation. While Deep Space Nine was a conscious shift in terms of setting, style, themes, narrative complexity and the sheer size of the ensemble cast, moving back to network required Voyager to be a step backwards in terms of dramatic format in an increasingly crowded marketplace which tolerated no weakness.
Created to fill a gap in the schedules following the conclusion of Voyager, Enterprise was a fumble from the beginning, a formulaic exercise in box-ticking whose lip-service adherence to continuity, internal and previously established, was thrown out the airlock along with any notions of originality, dramatic evolution or integrity, the philosophy of the show which had once challenged America’s stance on human rights and the Vietnam War running a major plotline which mirrored and endorsed military action as retribution.
Against all expectation the brand was revived in spectacular style by director J J Abrams in 2009, launching a new cinematic series with a broad, energetic multiplex appeal, those who complained that the reinvention lacked the undertone and subtlety of the more philosophical episodes of the show conveniently forgetting that for the most part the ten motion pictures released between 1979 and 2002 were already designed to appeal to a very different audience than watched the weekly adventures of those same characters.
It was in November 2015 that CBS announced that Star Trek was to return to television as part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of first broadcast taking place in 2016; that date came and went amidst rumours of production problems, little progress, no hard information and not even an announced cast with only distribution in place, CBS’s online digital platform All Access within the United States and Netflix elsewhere.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and denied information many fans began to chafe at the long wait, expecting the worst, refusing to be dissuaded by more measured commentary that in the production of a complicated and ambitious television show delay is preferable to rushing, indicating that the goal is to be the best regardless of how long it takes rather than hitting an arbitrarily determined airdate.
With a cast led by The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s Michelle Yeoh, The Strain‘s Doug Jones and True Blood‘s James Frain as Sarek, the only previously established character confirmed to have a presence in this prequel series set ten years before the five year mission of the USS Enterprise under the command of James T Kirk, the first trailer has finally been released and the team have expressed a broad variety of hopes and concerns.
Michael Flett – We’ve taken a long time to be here, and that was a lot more than I was expecting and my initial reaction is excitement coupled with a somewhat weary “how long do we have to wait to actually see this?”
Initially the leads will be two minority women which is excellent, and I know Michelle will be brilliant, she’s incapable of being otherwise. It’s just a shame that the hints seem to be that she may not be the focus for long as we know that Jason Isaacs will ultimately be the captain of the Discovery. Does this mean Burnham will transfer from the Shenzhou to the Discovery, leaving all the characters they’ve just established behind?
More likely this means the Shenzhou will be damaged, Captain Georgiou will be killed or otherwise incapacitated, and after major refit the ship will be renamed the Discovery and relaunched with Isaacs’ Captain Lorca in the centre seat with Burnham still serving as first officer. It will be interesting to have the first officer as the principal character on the show, and while I don’t know Sonequa Martin-Green at all I like what I see here; she looks striking and her character and performance is bold. I already sense a winner.
And I have no patience with people who say the first officer role on the show always plays second fiddle to the captain – are you kidding me? Have you ever even watched Star Trek? Check out the roster of first officers – Spock, Will Riker, Kira Nerys, all of them standout characters able to carry storylines unaided and who strengthen every scene they are in with their commanding officer. The only first officer who actually deserves that criticism is Chakotay, which leads me to suggest the problem is not the role of first officer, the problem was Chakotay.
The narrative seems to be very traditionally Trek which I wasn’t expecting although it is likely after such a long wait they want to play the safe card for the anxious and impatient section of the fan base who have been very vocal in their dismissal of the show and their foretelling of doom without a single frame of film released.
What is surprising to me is that the visuals are obviously influenced by Abrams, the lens flare, the bridge set, the lens flare, the appearance of the Klingons, the lens flare, the depiction of Sarek, the corridor, the lens flare, which seems to fly in the face of what was announced, that it would be a “prime” universe show, not tied to the cinematic relaunch.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fan base have rejected those films out of hand and wouldn’t entertain such, and there is also the simple practicality that the film rights to Trek are held by Paramount and the television rights by CBS. Could a deal have been struck to keep everyone happy? No doubt, but they chose not to, though that hasn’t stopped them paralleling the developments of the films without quoting them.
I actually thought this is a mistake and a way should have been found. Setting it in “prime” means, for better or worse, decades of continuity to be observed and countless incidents we know inside and out, whereas the new universe is almost unexplored and so carries no baggage, plus it would allow crossovers and has the advantage of the wider setting already having been established in three films.
It would also allow them to use the modern designs and production techniques and approach to drama that the films have used since 2009 without it jarring with what it is supposedly leading into; I understand that and don’t have a problem with it but others were already complaining. Were this to be truly “ten years before Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise,” it should look like something from the fifties, it should be Forbidden Planet, and obviously that would be impractical and laughable were it attempted, no better than Tom Paris down on the Holodeck playing Captain Proton.
The shows will always reflect the era they were made in and the budget they were allocated. We have to look on the original series and understand it was made out of plywood and brown paper and string and understand that while that was the only future the could afford to show it was not the future they represented. This is ten years before not that Trek but the vision of that Trek as conceived, the Platonic ideal of Star Trek.
It has fifteen episodes. It has global distribution and and a guaranteed audience for the first few episodes, and the modern way of absorbing television is at the convenience of the viewer, so whereas a networked show might have something clashing with it, these days there is no reason for it to maintain the majority of that audience unless it is truly dreadful, and we have no reason to expect that to be so.
It’s a shame Bryan Fuller had to jump ship, but like Ron Moore leaving Carnivàle for Battlestar Galactica, he was required elsewhere and American Gods is the gift we got from that, but hopefully he had set the course well enough for others to steer. We have Rod Roddenberry and Nick Meyer on board; Rod is the son of Gene and Majel, Trek is in his blood, and Nick directed The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, two of the strongest of the original run of films in terms of drama, character and self-reflection. I have absolute faith in him.
Cube‘s Vincenzo Natali is directing an episode and the budget is certainly showing on screen. They powers that be want this show to make an impact and for Star Trek to reclaim its place at the forefront of televised science fiction drama, and there is no reason it can’t. We are in good hands, people.
Set course for the final frontier; the human adventure is just beginning.
Les Anderson – The Blingons are back! It certainly looks like they’ve been throwing money at this and it appears visually sumptuous. Given that the production values are so high, it will stand and fall on the quality of the scripts and performances and we won’t be able to judge that until it’s transmitted. I am kind of pleased they have given it some visual continuity with new Trek. I think a full-on dayglo retro revival would have alienated a new audience. I am now looking forward to seeing this.
Dario Persechino – Hmmm…. Ok, this looks a little Enterprisey for my tastes. All shiny tech. Some J J Abrams lens flares too. My understanding was this is set in the original timeline universe, so why does it visually look closer to the Abrams universe than anything else? I think it visually gives mixed messages.
I know the movies look good and visual effects should always be up to date, but… they have holograms, Tony Stark style transparent screens, and floating med bays ten years before Kirk! While the new uniforms look stylish they are more in keeping with Enterprise than anything else which again, I would rather be forgotten. In ten years Starfleet are going to have some drastic wardrobe changes, and it would have been nice for this to be a midpoint between the two.
I really, really wanted some original series era stuff and the flip communicator isn’t enough. Would it kill them to tone down the fancy screens and have some cool retro tech? Big buttons, flip switches, a nice big plastic data disc?
What is going on with the Klingons? They look different again, and quite frankly awful. Not styled as either the original series, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine or like the Into Darkness Klingons. They look far more alien, with extended features, stretched back skin and seem to now dress like the Goa’uld from Stargate. Apparently the warrior race liked a lot of bling back then.
A lot can change over generations and splinter groups can come up – I’m really hoping they’re a genetic splinter group – but this just looks like it’s trying too hard to change something that did not need changing again.
The Klingons are a race beloved by fans, and the Into Darkness Klingons looked close enough to be related to the main timeline ones but also had some visual uniqueness that set them apart. It was done well as a good blend of old and new. This looks like change for the sake of being different and I am not a fan of that.
While having Sarek around makes sense I hope any references to Spock are subtle and in passing rather than a key feature.
“My people were biologically determined for one purpose alone, to sense the coming of death.” For that I read “I sense I am going to be used a lot as a plot device to add dramatic tension and be as useful as a Betazoid scanning a Romulan and saying ‘He’s hiding something.’”
All that said, Michelle Yeoh is always awesome, and James Frain has potential to do well as Sarek. The rest we’ll have to see more of on screen, but I like that. I’m looking forward to seeing a fresh cast of actors take to the Alpha quadrant. While I think they have missed a huge opportunity with the style choices to do something brilliantly retro it does at least look visually impressive…and the uniforms are pretty snazzy.
Every generation needs a Star Trek show. They have such potential to reach a wide audience and open people’s minds with new ideas, which is the basis for the best science fiction. Here’s hoping the Discovery does well and brings Star Trek to a new legion of Starfleet recruits.