Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Mary Wiseman, Antony Rapp and Michelle Yeoh.
Contains Minor Spoilers
It’s not been the best year for Sci-Fi on TV. Doctor Who’s run was distinctly average, Red Dwarf has only given us 1 good episode from 4 so far and then there’s Star Trek Discovery, whose opening episodes have majorly disappointed me.
I only got into Star Trek recently, thanks mainly to Netflix who put all 5 (The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) live action Star Trek shows on its roster last year. I watched Voyager’s entire run and loved it, and I’ve delved into one or two of Next Gen’s episodes (mainly the ones with the Borg or Q) and enjoyed them. So when Netflix debuted a brand new Star Trek series with modern effects and a cast featuring a couple of famous faces, I thought I’d give it a go. I wish I hadn’t.
It does look brilliant. We’re talking cinematic level quality here. Netflix clearly spent a lot of money on this. A big space battle in episode 2 is up there with the kind of fights we’ve got from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The direction isn’t bad either, and the action scenes in general are high quality. But now I start running out of positives. There are several things which will annoy existing Star Trek fans, such as the utterly pointless redesign of the Klingons and how much more advanced the technology looks than the previous star trek series (which considering this is a prequel to every series but Enterprise is a bit stupid). But these are minor issues compared to the big one. The series’ tone and characters completely suck. It tries to be very dark and gritty, which is never what Star Trek has been about. The whole Klingon-Federation war which drives the shows plotline doesn’t really work because of the shows prequel status (i.e. you know the humans and their allies won’t lose, so the stakes are limited to the survival of the main cast). Sure, the TV series and movies occasionally veer into very dark territory, but normally as a exception to the more usual fun and hopeful vibe they have. Discovery is so concerned with putting flawed characters in morally compromised, depressing situations that it completely forgets to have any fun. (I.e. they went the Batman vs. Superman route when they should have been going for a Rogue One kind of tone). The characters don’t help matters either.
Sonequa Martin-Green isn’t a bad actor, but most Star Trek series hinge a lot on their lead, and Human/Vulcan hybrid Michael Burnham just isn’t interesting enough as a character to merit being a series lead. She lacks the likeability and charm of a Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway, and to be honest, Vulcans are always pretty dull characters to focus on in Star Trek, so having a Vulcanized Human as the lead was probably never a good idea (Spock and Tuvok had their moments, but there’s not a lot of places you can take people who have such a limited emotional range).
The support cast aren’t much better. Jason Isaacs gets stuck in a pretty clichéd and thankless role as Captain Lorca, Doug Jones fails to give you any reason to care about Saru, and Antony Rapp’s engineer sucks the joy out of every scene he’s in. Mary Wiseman is the lone exception, as her perky, optimistic character offers much needed light relief. Unfortunately, she has no one similar to bounce off and this limits how well her character works. Michelle Yeoh is the best thing about the cast, but as a recurring guest star isn’t heavily enough involved to make much of a difference.
The Klingon sections also grow tiresome, mainly because the one Klingon with any screen presence is killed off early in the shows run, leaving a load of inadequate stand in villains to step in for the rest of the run. There’s no Worf or B’Elanna to give the Klingons a sympathetic face, and that makes the whole Federation-Klingon war a very one-sided affair.
After 4 episodes, I ran out of both enthusiasm and patience. Even though the individual episodes were relatively engaging, the overall plotline and cast weren’t. I’ve given up because I didn’t see any reason to persevere (normally I give a new show 5 episodes to prove itself, but this one showed so little potential I couldn’t be bothered). I started watching Deep Space Nine instead, and even though the first series of that show is a VERY mixed bag in terms of quality, the characters are engaging enough and the show delivered enough good episodes with the bad that I’ve stuck with it.
To sum up: if you have Netflix and want to try Star Trek, don’t bother with Discovery. Go watch Next Gen, DS9 or Voyager instead (or even the Original Series or Enterprise if your feeling brave). Discovery isn’t just bad Sci-fi, its bad Sci-Fi which barely qualifies as Star Trek. Honestly haven’t been this disappointed with Netflix before. The show may improve, but frankly, I’m not interested enough in its plot or characters to care.
Rating: 2 out of 5 (Lowest Series rating I’ve ever given).
Also: blandest Star Trek theme tune ever? Its just downright dull compared to the epic, mysterious or triumphant themes the other shows (and films) have.