This was an article I wrote for TrekNews which focused on the fan reaction for the then to be broadcasted new Star Trek series, Star Trek Discovery. The angle I was coming from tended to be how the negative reaction to the little footage we had seen seemed to a little premature and how it wasn’t the first time this had happened before a new Trek show aired. I also wanted to reiterate that this was a modern version made for modern times and audiences and although it should contain all the elements that make Star Trek what it is, we should be judging it as a modern show.
Unfortunately this article did not make it onto the TrekNews website but I liked it enough to post, I hope you enjoy reading (remember this was written before Discovery aired)
“Space, the final frontier…” words first uttered over 50 years ago which at the time was nothing more than a way to introduce the premise of a sci-fi TV series; enticing words that seem to promise excitement and adventure for those watching. No one would have believed that Star Trek would explode into a franchise lasting decades, spawning 5 spin off shows, 13 feature films (yes including the Kelvin) and a fan base of millions all over the world. It has not been an easy journey by any means and the franchise could have halted on several occasions, especially when the first feature film, Star Trek The Motion Picture bombed at the box office, but it has endured and now, in the same month as Star Trek celebrates its 51st Anniversary, a new chapter is about to get underway.
Back in 1966, Star Trek had a troubled start to life, when creator Gene Roddenberry approached networks, there didn’t seem to be much interest in the new show from the man behind the short lived series, The Lieutenant, that was until Roddenberry took the idea to I love Lucy producer Oscar Katz and the duo eventually sold the idea to NBC who ordered a pilot. As many of you will most likely be aware it took two efforts for the series to be picked up after NBC passed on the first pilot, ‘The Cage’ but was sold on ‘Where no man has gone before’ (in which James T Kirk replaced Pike as captain) and the rest is history. It seems to be a strange tradition of sorts for a new Star Trek series to have a difficult route to the screen. The Next Generation had many problems when it first entered into production, several of which seemed to stem from Gene Roddenberry himself. Production problems and balances of power aside, one of the main issues facing TNG was from the fan base itself who were not happy that the beloved franchise was returning without the original series crew and Kirk at the helm, even before a second of footage of the new series had been screened fans had written it off.
Later this month a new Star Trek series is launched, set 10 years before James Kirk and co head off on their five year mission on the USS Enterprise. Star Trek Discovery see’s a new crew take flight amongst the stars and like its predecessors it has not been having an easy time of it during its production. First the man responsible for helping bring Trek back to TV, Bryan Fuller, leaves the show citing that he wanted to concentrate on American Gods but it is later revealed that he left due to creative differences and clashes with CBS top brass. The decision made by CBS to put the new series on their streaming site CBS Access in America and Netflix in other geographical areas did not go down well with fans who now have to pay a monthly subscription to watch Star Trek. As production has continued and with each new image or trailer released, it seems that Trek fans have become more irritated and sceptical about the show. Like The Next Generation before it, fans are concerned about a few aspects and directions the production team seem to be taking, but why is this? As a Trek fan myself I cannot wait to see another ship, boldly going in the universe I have grown up loving but is there justification for the backlash the series is receiving even though we have only seen what amounts to a few minutes of actual footage and a handful of publicity stills?
Let’s start with the common denominator when it comes to fan reactions to both The Next Generation and Discovery, The Original Series. When TNG was announced fans were incensed that it wouldn’t feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and continue their adventures on the small screen, even though at the time TNG was in production fans could still expect to see the original cast as they were busy making their fifth film. Discovery is set 10 years before TOS and again from what we know and have seen it is looks a very different animal to the series made in 1966 but why would this be a bad thing? Well that answer is simple, The Original Series is held in such high regard by the fan base and as it should be, it’s the benchmark to which all other series are judged against. It was the series that introduced us to that universe, its rules, its characters and Roddenberry’s clear vision of a unique future. It’s ground zero for anything that comes after it or before it. Fans of the Original Series hated the idea that the crew and even ship was changing for TNG and now 20 years after TNG aired fans are angry again because potentially that era of the Original Series is at risk of being changed or altered yet again, this is coming off the back of major changes within the Star Trek film universe with the introduction of JJ Abram’s Kelvin Timeline. The new films that did a great job at bringing in new fans to the franchise, also alienated a lot of long term Trekkies.
The ‘Look’ of Star Trek Discovery
If Star Trek Discovery was a trial, then the Kelvin Timeline trilogy of films would be exhibit A. Discovery seems to have more in common with those films then they do with the Original Series both in style and substance with the bridge of the new vessels looking like they have been pulled straight out of one of JJ Abram’s movies. The ‘iBridge’ designs, so christened by fans seem to be the look they are going for, which is so far removed from the gloriously colourful bridge we know and love and this is a core element of worry among fans who believe the new series will take more from the Kelvin films than that of the Original Series.
But let’s take a step back and think about this for a moment without looking at it through Trek tinted glasses. The constant problem that all TV and movies will have and will always have, is that they are made with the best use of the technologies they have at the time of production, the storytelling methods and within budget constraints. Depending the advancement of technology you can pretty much have a decent pop at guessing what decade a film or TV show was made in (look at Back to the Future and tell me it isn’t quintessential 80’s) and when you watch The Original Series you can more or less tell that it’s from the 60’s, even though the set designs and costumes still look great today, little things like the fabric used in the clothing or the moulded buttons on the control panels still give it away. If Star Trek was a brand new show, never before seen on TV and was being produced for the first time today, would it not look like Discovery? The same goes for the redesign of the Klingons in Discovery; all the production team are really guilty of is using better costume designs and prosthetic make up techniques to give us another take on the Federations greatest adversaries. And let’s be honest, if they can get away with playing around with any species within the Trek universe it’s the Klingons who have already had two distinct looks in Treks history.
It has also been stated by Star Trek Discovery Lead Motion Graphic Designer, Timothy Peel during FanExpo Canada that the colour scheme used initially in the show will not remain that way and will evolve as the series progresses into something akin to The Original Series.
“This is slightly blue-y. They are sort of restricting all the colour schemes and they will slowly advance and become more colourful as we get closer to The Original Series, and for other reasons I can’t repeat” – Timothy Peel
It is safe to assume then that this will also be true for the costumes of Discovery which although many fans seem to like (especially as they have a similarity to Star Trek Enterprise) was another bone of contention. This stems from how different they look to The Original Series given that its only ten years before Kirk. The USS Enterprise launched on Stardate: 2245 and the show is set roughly in 2254 a good 9 years before Discovery takes place. The only saving grace to this argument is that we have only ever seen one of the final missions of Christopher Pike as captain in ‘The Cage’ and Kirk’s era starting with ‘Where no man has gone before’, we have never seen the uniforms or the bridge of the Enterprise before those times so it’s possible that the ship and its crew could have been similar to that of Discovery under its first captain, Robert April. Like many fan’s my initial reactions to Discovery were a little bit negative due to my love of The Original Series but once I started to think about where it fits in and my belief in the production team when they state it is prime universe and fits in with cannon, I started to look at it logically and my excitement has only grown.
The Original Series, cameos and Easter eggs
With all the negativity surrounding the new series I think it’s needed for us to all focus on some of the positive aspects that would come out of a prequel series set only 10 years before The Original Series. Star Trek was the first, best shared universe on TV or Film, long before Marvel unleashed Iron Man onto the world creating an expanded universe that seems to have changed the face of motion pictures for either the better or worse (depending on your point of view), it was Trek that was setting the way for characters to crossovers in multiple series. For me, this is something that I am excited to see exploited in Star Trek Discovery and something that has already been addressed in some capacity by the inclusion of Sarek and Harry Mudd in Discovery. This can open the door to more cameo appearances or Easter eggs in Discovery as all the characters from the Original Series are around in some capacity. They could be at Starfleet Academy learning their trade or on board starships that could interact with the crew of the USS Discovery. As I mentioned before, the Enterprise is out their during the time the series is set and it could be under the stewardship of a character we have only ever seen once on Star Trek the Animated Series in Robert April. We don’t need to see the Enterprise but we could have our new crew have some kind of dealing with her captain or one of his officers, as don’t forget Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) first officer on the Discovery is a sibling to one Mr Spock who would be serving on the Enterprise.
It’s also worth mentioning that during this time James T Kirk is floating around as well serving his time and learning his trade as Lieutenant on board the USS Farragut. Could we see another young interpretation more akin to that of William Shatner’s Kirk as oppose to the one we saw in the Kelvin films as portrayed by Chris Pine? Would it be a welcome addition to see younger versions of The Original Series crew in some capacity during Discoveries run or would it just be unnecessary distraction and an attempt to appease fans? That is something that you would have to decide for yourself but for me personally I would welcome it.
Whatever your opinions or thoughts on Star Trek Discovery there is no escaping the fact that it is coming and yes you can say that it looks like it’s more action than classic trek storytelling, all CGI spectaculars with no substance and you can bemoan the fact that it has a more adult rating than previous Trek, but that is just modern TV and storytelling, as I stated earlier in my writing, networks are making TV shows with a style that is popular at the time. Perhaps we can all just sit back, give Discovery the benefit of the doubt and just enjoy the fact that Star Trek is once again on our TV screens where it belongs; Maybe, just maybe, we will fall in love with it just like we did with Star Trek The Next Generation.