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Three months to Star Trek: Discovery

Yesterday, the release dates for the series premiere of Star Trek: Discovery were announced; September 24th for the US and Canada, and September 25th for the UK. The number of episodes have increased to 15, with a mid-season break occurring between November and January following the first eight episodes. CBS All Access have also announced that there will be a companion after-show series called Talking Trek, which no-doubt follows in the footsteps of shows like Breaking Bad's Talking Bad or Doctor Who's Inside Look.

So with just three months until the USS Discovery launches, I thought I'd share my thoughts about what we've learned so far.

 

To boldly go...

Each new series of Star Trek has tried to do something different. Star Trek's previous outing with Star Trek: Enterprise was notable because it was a prequel, set 100 years before The Original Series. Discovery has received a fair amount of criticism for being yet another prequel, this time set only a mere decade before Kirk's original five-year mission. However, there are still some notable differences.

Star Trek: Discovery will follow the voyages of Starfleet on their missions to discover new worlds and new lifeforms, and one Starfleet officer who must learn that to truly understand all things alien, you must first understand yourself.

The series will feature a new ship, new characters, and new missions, while embracing the same ideology and hope for the future that inspired a generation of dreamers and doers.
— CBS

For the first time, the focus will be on the first officer instead of the ship's captain. We don't know how this will play out, exactly, but when we look back at previous shows in the franchise, we've seen the pressures placed on Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer. We've seen them make decisions and have seen instances when the crew has been forced to reluctantly follow their orders. In some cases, the decisions had reprecussions that those captains have had to live with. So seeing things from a first officer's perspective, to perhaps see more of Riker and Kira's personal criticisms of the orders they are following, could lead to some interesting dramatic narratives that we've otherwise been kept at arm's lengths from. We've already seen from the First Look Trailer that our new first officer disagrees with her Captain. 

There’s an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored. To do this series, we’re telling a much more serialized story, to dig deep into a very tantalizing storyline.
— Original showrunner, Bryan Fuller

The Original Series was set in 2265, which rules out a few different events that Fuller could have been referring to. We know it can't be the Earth-Romulan War as, according to the book Federation: The First 150 Years by David A. Goodman (which I highly recommend reading), that took place 100 years prior, between 2155–2160. The Earth-Romulan War would have been featured during either Star Trek: Enterprise had it not been cancelled, or would have been the primary plot in the unproduced movie Star Trek: The Beginning, which was cancelled in favour of the JJ Abrams helmed Star Trek in 2009.

I know that a lot of people are even assuming that it could be the Battle of Axanar and the Four Years War, which would add further fuel to the fire regarding the lawsuit that was brought upon the Axanar Productions fan film chronicling that era. But that war took place between 2247–2250, about five years before Discovery. That would, however, mean that tensions with the Klingons would be very high at the start of the show, as part of the Cold War leading up to the eventual Federation-Klingon War of 2267. So if anything, I think the show may very well indeed focus on the early days of that Cold War. 

 

The prequel conundrum

As I alluded to earlier, one of the strongest criticisms from fans tends to be "Why do we need another prequel? We've had Star Trek: Enterprise, we've had three movies set in the Kelvin Timeline, why not just set the next show 100 years after Star Trek: Voyager?"

Prequels definitely have their problems. They can be more restrictive and you risk affecting already established canon. Even Star Wars was criticized for its prequel trilogy. It's also harder to show more advanced technology in a prequel. By its very nature, we need to see technology that is less advanced than The Original Series, but more advanced than we have now. Given that The Original Series was a 1960s view of the future, and that some of the technology we've seen even in The Next Generation are actual technologies that exist today, that's a really tough position to be in. The footage we saw in the First Look Trailer looks more in-line with what we've seen from the recent JJ Abrams movies. The fan in me finds it a little jarring, but it's understandable. As a prequel it can't be 100% canon in its aesthetics without looking like a show that's still being produced in the 90s.

I felt that my friend Chris put it quite well; "As fans we are just going to have to accept any ‘prequel’ needs to be more advanced than the technology we have now and the downside is that, the prequel series will then look more advanced than the series’ it’s set before."

Setting the series in the 25th century would definitely be easier. But even with everything I've mentioned above, I can completely understand why it's not.

"I've never trusted Klingons."

By the 24th century, the Federation was becoming quite good at establishing peace throughout the Alpha and Beta quadrants of the galaxy. It was becoming a balanced area of space, and that's why Deep Space Nine introduced The Dominion War as a way to shake up the entire galaxy and throw it back into turmoil. They knew that if Star Trek was to continue, everything needed to be as unpredictable and dangerous as it was for Kirk. 

Even when they side-stepped into a war with the Klingons, it was obvious that it would be hard to sustain a Klingon war indefinitely, without coming up with a valid reason for not being able to eventually re-establish peace after all the progress that had been made since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

A prequel could indeed resolve all of those concerns. It gives us the unpredictability that we want and arguably brings the Klingons back as more of a threat. There is no peace, and there won't be for a long time to come.

But if there's one true way to gauge the interest of where the short-term future of Star Trek lies, it is the fan films. Whilst some of them have been set post-Voyager, the majority of them bookend The Original Series. The most successful and faithful production in my opinion is Star Trek: ContinuesStar Trek: Axanar was also highly anticipated by many fans prior to being shutdown by CBS.

Not everyone will agree with CBS's decision to make a prequel, but I feel that it would be wrong to suggest that "true fans" of Star Trek don't want one, when it is those fans that are either making or strongly supporting fan films set in those very eras.

 

Design

USS Discovery NCC-1031

Something important to note; we have yet to see any actual completed footage of the USS Discovery. Up until now, all footage we've seen in the trailer has featured the USS Shenzhou NCC-1227, which is interestingly the first starship design we've seen to feature the bridge on the underside of the saucer section. I personally don't understand that decision behind that, but who knows; maybe there's a valid explanation in the script?

As for the USS Discovery, I really like the name.  If anything, I feel that it would have been a better name for the [non-USS] Enterprise NX-01 featured in Star Trek: Enterprise.

Back in May 2016, CBS released a teaser that featured early CGI renders of the USS Discovery that were far from finished (shown in the left-picture below), which resulted in heavy backlash regarding the quality of the ship. The design has reportedly changed a lot since then, though still maintains a similar shape. The new ship is featured in a new poster being shared by Space.

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The design, whilst being unconventional, is infact already established canon to some degree.  The triangular look is based on initial USS Enterprise concept designs by Ken Adam and Ralph McQuarrie for the unproduced movie Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. Study models that were created for the movie ended up being used inside the Spacedock in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, used as a decommissioned ship at Surplus Depot Z15 in the TNG episode "Unification: Part I", and although not officially confirmed, is thought to have also appeared as one of the ships in the "starship graveyard" scene following the Battle of Wolf 359 in TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds: Part II".

I can't say I've ever been a fan of this design, but at the same time, it's not The Enterprise. It doesn't need to conform to the traditional design conventions of a Constitution or Galaxy class starship. It is just as unique a design as the USS Voyager or the USS Grissom were when they first appeared, and less of a departure than the USS Defiant ever was. And until we see proper footage of it in context, it's hard to properly critique it.

Costumes

All of my thoughts regarding the blue Starfleet uniforms and the new look for the Klingons goes back to what I said earlier about the show having to come up with a new design asthethic that doesn't make it look instantly dated the second it arrives on-screen.

Canononically, the crew should be wearing the same uniforms that Captain Pike wore in the unaired Star Trek pilot "The Cage", but the series would look absolutely terrible if that were the case. The blue does feel like a nod to Enterprise and to the early scenes from the 2009 movie when we see George Kirk on the USS Kelvin. As for division colours, the new series has opted to use gold, silver and bronze rather than the ones that we're used to. The gold and bronze look very similar, but this could even be a nod to The Cage which used gold and peach for the command and support divisions, which were relatively similar to each other in tone too.

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During that era, the insignia worn on Starfleet uniforms were unique to each ship, in the same way that NASA (and the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise) wear specific mission patches on their spacesuits. By the time The Motion Picture appeared, the delta insignia was synonimous with all of Starfleet. I can think of countless reasons why they took this approach from TMP onwards, and have no issue with them continuing to use the delta insignia on Discovery, especially as it's one of the most recognizable logos in all of science fiction. I also love that they've gone back to using departmental insignia on the delta, just like in The Original Series. That to me is a nice touch.

It feels like they've pulled ideas from all of Star Trek's history in order to make these new uniforms. Each part feels like a nod to something in a prior series which for some reason I actually quite like. And even though they appear to draw on previous designs, they are still very unique, which will no doubt be a great joy for cosplayers.

My main criticism is that they chose to use pips bolted on to the badge itself. In The Next Generation and later, pips were worn on the neck to signify an officer's rank. Prior to this, they predominantly used stripes on the cuffs. Whilst that might look silly with the new design, it appears as though it will be harder to identify a person's rank from a quick glance. 

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I think it's safe to say that the Klingon designs are the things that stood out most in the trailer, and for most people, not in a good way. But when you compare the Klingons in Deep Space Nine and Voyager to their earlier appearance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, very little had changed. Their armour was mostly the same but advances in makeup helped improve the forehead ridges. But those ridges didn't even exist in The Original Series. For the longest time, fans didn't mind the inconsistency, coming up with all sorts of excuses for their change in appearance (until we got a canon one in Star Trek: Enterprise), when the real reason was down to a 1960s TV budget and makeup effects being far more primitive at the time.

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The same is happening again. Makeup has advanced a lot more and audiences are more critical than ever. Klingons can't really get away with continuing to look like humans with prosthetic bumps glued to their heads anymore, they need to look alien. And from what we saw in the trailer; they do. The armour that they sport is also unlike anything we've seen before. Do I like it more than the Klingon armour that I've spent most of my life growing up with? Not at all, because as a society we generally don't like change. But what I do like about their physical appearance and costumes is that they look alien. They look unsettling. When we see the Klingons in the era that Discovery takes place, we don't want them to be the familiar, friendly faces we've been used to. We want them to make us feel uncomfortable because they'll be one of the biggest threats we will be facing. And in that regard, I think the new look works.

 

Production

Bryan Fuller was the original showrunner for Discovery. He had been a writer on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and for the latter worked his way into becoming the executive story editor and then co-producer by the final season. He had been pushing to bring Star Trek back on the air as a prequel series for some time. 

I told my agent and told the people of J.J. Abrams’ team I want to create another Star Trek series and have an idea that I’m kicking around. I would love to return to the spirit of the old series with the colors and attitude. I loved Voyager and Deep Space Nine, but they seem to have lost the ‘60s fun and I would love to take it back to its origin.
— Brian Fuller, iF Magazine interview, March 2009.

CBS seemed very happy with his work, but his work on the show American Gods wasn't leaving him with enough time to work as a showrunner on Discovery. He stepped down but will stay on as an executive producer alongside Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin.

Kurtzman was one of the producers and writers for both Star Trek [for which he and co-writer Robert Orci were nominated for a Saturn award for Best Writing] and Star Trek Into Darkness. Kadin has not had any prior history with Star Trek, but has a notable resume of shows, including Alias, Lost, Supernatural and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Other notable people involved in production are Rod Roddenberry (the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) and Nicholas Meyer, who directed and wrote the screenplays for both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as writing the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In other words; he helped make the best ones!

I think it’s going to be a different Star Trek. It will go in a different direction. And I think that is probably good. Because the thing that mainly troubles me about Star Trek is the fear of it being maybe re-treads of itself [....] And I think that Bryan [Fuller] – who is a very clever fellow – has ideas – some of which I’ve heard – that are innovative and different. Different is what got me interested.
— Nicholas Meyer

To me, that's a reassuring quote. There have been times when Star Trek definitely has re-treaded  itself, and so there would be an inherent danger of the new series copying what's been done before rather than moving forward with new stories. Therefore, "different" has piqued my interested too.

There have been several delays in production to the show, which should have started airing earlier this year.  There have been plenty of rumours and conjecture as to why and suggesting that the production was in trouble. The truth is, we don't know if it was in trouble. It may have been, but without evidence I'd rather not speculate too much on that point. However Alex Kurtzman has provided a more positive explanation to Collider, insisting that the delays will have a positive impact on what we end up seeing;

I’m really excited for everybody to see Trek,” he said. “We postponed our schedule because the truth is we did not want to put out something that was sub-par. And as the vision expanded it, we started feeling like we weren’t going to be able to deliver the scope and scale that was on the page. CBS was extremely supportive in saying, ‘Okay, you know what, this is cable, this is streaming. It’s not like we have to be out right away. Let’s do the best version of this.’ Trek is too important for all of us.
— Alex Kurtzman, Collider interview, June 2017

Regional releases

Those in the US will be able to catch the first episode on CBS, with episode two available the same night on their streaming service, CBS All Access, where the rest of the series will be available exclusively to subscribers.

Canadians will be able to watch the first episode simultaneously on their choice of CTV and Space, with episode two following immediately afterwards only on Space.

Those of you in the UK will get Discovery as part of your existing Netflix subscription, but it won't be available until the day after airing in the US and Canada. Brits are no stranger to having to wait longer for shows and movies to be released due to licensing agreements, but this will admittedly be frustrating, especially as it's being marketed worldwide as a show made exclusively for online streaming and is therefore harder to justify the delay.

 

Final thoughts

Star Trek has been around for 50 years. Regardless of mixed fan reactions to the trailer, this series is vital in ensuring that Star Trek can continue for another 50. Star Trek also works best when it's on television, so it's a relief to know that it will be back on the small screen once again.

I would also argue that given the world's current political climate and environmental concerns, we also desperately need Star Trek to be back on TV. Star Trek has always done a marvellous job in carrying out Gene Roddenberry's optimistic view of the future by embracing infinite diversity in infinite combinations in addition to being a shining example of great science-fiction by mirroring and challenging societies present-day prejudices, opinions, and events. 

Despite all the criticisms online, the show thankfully has a lot of talented people working on it, some of whom have deep ties with Star Trek's history and previous successes. Ultimately, it all comes down to the quality of the writing and the stories that they want to tell. So provided that that's the case and that the ensemble cast are good, if there's one thing I personally feel I can be sure of at this point, it's that Star Trek is in safe hands.

Some Zelda Master Edition Pre-orders cancelled