Wednesday 21 February 2018

Star Trek: Discovery review - Netflix's new series deserves to live long and prosper

4 stars

Sonequa Martin Green in Star Trek Discovery
Sonequa Martin Green in Star Trek Discovery

Pat Stacey

**WARNING — THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

It's Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it. For one thing, Jim is nowhere to be seen. In terms of the timeline, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhuru and the rest of the original series’ beloved crew won’t be boldly going where no one has gone before for 10 years yet.

Star Trek: Discovery is a prequel. It’s not the first in the franchise’s universe. Enterprise, which stuttered to a largely unlamented end in 2005, was one. Technically, so were JJ Abrams’s big-screen reboots, which introduced us to the young Kirk and Spock as they were introduced to one another.

But on the evidence of the opening two episodes of Discovery, which dropped onto Netflix yesterday (a new episode will follow every Monday, a day after the American broadcast on streaming service CBS All Access), it could well turn out to be the best one.

A still from Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix
A still from Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix

As in George Lucas’s trilogy of awful Star Wars movies, there’s a great, big elephant in the room that needs to be cleared out of the way early on: the technology.

All transparent touchscreens and jet-powered spacesuits, it’s simply far too advanced for something that’s supposed to have existed a full decade before the clunky hardware of the original series. Pleasingly, though, the characters still use the flip-up communicators and gun-shaped phasers of old.

But this is a minor quibble — as opposed to a minor Tribble — that only the most anally-retentive Trekkie would carp about. The important thing is that Discovery is a sleek, immensely entertaining adventure that roars along like a well-oiled spaceship, pretty much from the off.

The success or failure of any Star Trek series always depends heavily on the lead star/character (hard to imagine now, but it took a while for audiences to warm to Patrick Stewart’s initially humourless Captain Jean Luc Picard).

The producers have struck gold with The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham, only the second Star Trek lead who isn’t a captain and the first female Starfleet officer with a man’s name.

Martin-Green is absolutely fantastic and the character brings a refreshing rebel streak to a franchise that’s occasionally been in danger of choking on its own self-righteous mythology.

Burnham is something of an outsider: a human raised as the ward of a Vulcan — none other than Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain) — and therefore, constantly torn between her human instincts and the Vulcan logic drilled into her since she was a little girl.

This lands her in a lot of trouble when her ship, the USS Shenzou, under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (the wonderful Michelle Yeoh), happens upon a gigantic, mysterious structure in an asteroid field.

Burnham zooms out to inspect it in one of those cool spacesuits I mentioned and ends up in a fight with a Klingon, who she kills.

The Klingons, that famously hostile, bad-tempered, war-loving race, haven’t raised their ugly heads in a hundred years, so nobody believes Burnham when she says they’re about to launch an attack and that the Shenzou needs to fire on them first if it’s to avoid being obliterated.

Desperate to avert disaster, Burnham knocks Georgiou out with a Vulcan pinch and tries to assume command of the ship, which only lands her in the brig, facing a charge of mutiny.

The Klingons do attack, of course, ultimately destroying the Shenzou. During a last-ditch mission to kidnap the Klingons’ leader and avert all-out war, Georgiou is killed. Burnham in turn kills her killer, but is court-martialed by her Starfleet superiors and sentenced to life in prison.

Needless to say, we know she won’t stay behind bars and is destined to serve on the USS Discovery.

As opening chapters go, it wasn’t without its hiccups. There was a lot of backstory to be put in place, which necessitated a few momentum-sapping flashbacks.

There was also far too much of the Klingons (who’ve been redesigned and now look more like the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings) bellowing on about honour. But when Discovery is acting, rather than standing around explaining, it’s terrific. 

Herald

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