Had Star Trek: Discovery not been created as part of the Star Trek franchise, it probably would have made an interesting new show that would have taken the place of recently departed dark Sci-Fi like Battlestar Galactica. But because it was Star Trek, and because it pre-dated TOS, the creators, writers and producers set themselves up for comparisons of production and style, as well as those of logic and canon. Star Trek, at its best, at least paid attention to its violations of science and reached for an explanation often grounded in theory. Discovery quickly and profoundly moves into fantasy science, much more akin to that found in Star Wars than in its Trek predecessors.
I have already written about my early impression of Star Trek: Discovery’s first episodes on PopMatters. As a long-time Trekkie, I thought I should summarize the five key things that went wrong with the show—five things that quickly turned anticipation into disappointment.
- The Klingons. We don’t need newer cooler Klingons. And we didn’t need an overly contrived war history. It is clear that the animosity between the fledgling Federation and the Klingons was going to be the focal point for Discovery. This is not how I ever imagined it going down, which could have been good, if it hadn’t been so bad.
- The Spore Drive. Warp drive is at least theoretically possible given enough energy, which we will likely never have, but it sort of works on a whiteboard. Spore drive is a new contrivance that makes no sense whatsoever, adds nothing but a tool for the plot (and some pain for the fictional giant space tardigrade and for Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets). Please get a credible science advisor so when you make things up, you make up plausible things.
- Discovery. Because the ship Discovery is tied to the spore drive, its design makes as little sense as drive itself. The spinning saucer section I’m sure really turned on the producers when they saw it, but Star Trek science credibility and cannon both lost with this new ship.
- Sarek. Spock remains one of the most iconic science fiction characters of all time. And for the most part, during his life, Leonard Nimoy protected the Spock character, with one fatal exception: Star Trek V. Somehow Spock rediscovered his long-lost rebel brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) trying to take over the known universe on his search for God. And now in Discovery we discover that Spock lived with an “adopted” human girl, one who embraced Vulcan philosophy. This would have been a great story in TOS to illustrate how two individuals arrived at Vulcan’s logical view of the universe from two very different perspectives. Unfortunately, it was never mentioned, ever, anywhere, in anyway. In TOS Spock clearly did not have siblings. His mother Amanda would at least have had a passing human thought of bringing the family together while Sarek and Spock went under the knife during an Orion raid on the Enterprise (Journey to Babel) but she only worried about the two people in the room, because there was no extended family to keep informed.
- The false flight to utopia. Gene Roddenberry did not introduce a utopia with Star Trek, he introduced a universe in which humanity continued to struggle with inclusiveness vs. xenophobia, with exploration vs. exploration, and war vs. peace—but centrally he portrayed humans as siding more often with their good angels than with their evil inclinations. We don’t need to see a humanity evolving these sensibilities because we are living that reality every day. What Roddenberry did so well was take us, if only a few minutes into the future rather than the professed centuries, and give us a hint at what might happen if we collectively strove for good and inclusion rather than divisiveness.
Star Trek: Discovery may well thrive among those who aren’t steeped in Trek lore. The acting is good. The sets serviceable, even if the uniforms aren’t (but uniforms change, just look to TNG for thankfully continuous learning costume department). But I think their commitment to the Klingon storyline and the spore drive will keep the series flying on the edge of credibility until it can discover a logical way to shift to a new uber plot.