Star Trek Discovery: First Thoughts

Okay, so this a teaser came out for the new Star Trek TV show coming to binge-friendly venues in 2017. All it is, really, is an effects sequence that sees the launch of the featured ship, the Discovery. What can we infer from these few seconds? How about you watch it, and we'll talk.

Okay, so what did we already know? We know the show will be 13 episodes, all dropping at the same time, telling a complete story and not stand-alone adventures. We know it doesn't share continuity with the new movies' Trek, but rather in the old timeline which spans a couple hundred years. We don't know WHEN in the timeline the show is set, but the rumor it would occur post-Undiscovered Country and pre-TNG has been denied by the showrunner. The rumor that this new Trek will be an anthology show à la Fargo or American Horror Story has NOT been denied, which would allow for the Discovery's story to be a tragic one. Like big successes such as Game of Thrones, I think they may be looking to thus make the show an unpredictable thrill ride where your favorite characters may get melted.

Placement on the timeline remains the big mystery. Just from the teaser, there are several competing elements that would put it in one category or the other.

First is the triangular design that, while not final according to the production team, is definitely based on that of the never-made Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, a 70s revival that would eventually become The Motion Picture. See?
Ugly-ass thing, and I'm not liking it better in modern CGI. Well, I sort of am. But whatever. So is this a hint that the show would take place between TOS and TMP?

Or would the ship number, NCC-1031 and thus commissioned BEFORE the Enterprise (NCC-1701, dontcha know) place it earlier than even Captain Pike's adventures? During the Daedalus-class era of exploration, perhaps? That bronze look certainly recalls the NX-01 Enterprise.

And then there's the feeling I can't shake, that between the triangular shape, red exhaust pipes, and exotic music, that this will be a Starfleet-Klingon combined crew. And when would THAT put the story? A secret mission early in the timeline? (With a secret base built in an asteroid.) Perhaps immediately after the Khitomer Accords despite the rumor's denial? Or sometime far even in TNG's future when the Empire has become part of the Federation, despite the retro designs? The latter is unlikely, but the former... And perhaps the music just means the Klingons (doesn't it sound Klingon to you?) are involved in the seasonal arc, but aren't in the crew. Food for thought.
Obviously, the name Discovery tells us something. This is an exploration ship, like the Enterprise was. 13-episode saga or not, it's going to find new worlds and new civilizations, etc. etc. The name HAS been referenced in continuity, but was never made important. TNG's "Conspiracy" names it as a ship transporting compromised personnel to or from a rendezvous. That's it. In the whole of the canon. But was that this Discovery? Doubtful with that low NCC number. The Discovery-D, maybe.

And the reason I'm surprised the name didn't come up more often or more prominently is rooted in a personal story. When I was in 5th grade, French-language public schools were basically Catholic. We didn't go to Bible School or whatever, the catechism was integrated into elementary school. No choice. And the sacraments were given and explained as part of that curriculum. 5th grade was the year we had Confirmation (when, at 10 years old, you're expected to confirm your baptism with your own voice, like you're in any better a position to choose your faith than when you were a baby), and that's a big deal. To accompany you on that journey, it's a special year in school and the classroom becomes a ship on which all the kids are sailing towards that common goal. Each 5th-grade class in the school was christened with a ship's name, right there on the door, and the teacher would break out various boat-related activities (I remember making a Viking longboat). At the start of the year, the kids choose the name. The teacher asked us all to bring ideas to class, and I, already a grade-A geek, drew up a huge list of ship names pulled from history, fiction and comics. Stares from the room, some chuckles, waves of disdain. And so we ended up calling the class the Discovery (la Découverte), as it was called the Enterprise the year before, and then the year after. I think she was just alternating those two names and guiding the kids to those choices every year. If the Discovery was so obvious to Mrs. Grandmaison, why not to Trek writers. (End Geeks Anonymous meeting.)

So truth be told, we can't tell a whole lot from the teaser, but I AM intrigued. I have hope that with the format, TV Trek will be modernized to appeal to today's sensibilities, while catering to old fans with continuity plug-ins. Hm, that sounds like Enterprise, doesn't it? I'm sort of more hoping for New Frontier, actually.


snell said...

Unless CBS changes there plans, all of the episodes will not be dropped at once, but weekly (which has binge-advocates complaining, for some reason).

Fuller has said that the show is not an anthology, but one single story arc over the 13 episodes (which raises pleasant comparisons with the final half-season of DS9 in my mind...perhaps less so with Enterprise season 3).

I too noted the "Klingonishness" of the design. Combine that with the surprisingly martial music (for a Star Trek show)and an apparently hidden docking station (no Utopia Planetia here), and I share your suspicion on Klingon involvement. One stupid-ass theory: a Thunderbolts-type tale, with a Klingon ship trying to impersonate Star Fleet for some reason...and having to act like they're really from the Federation makes them eventually actually become more Star-Fleet like. More proof why I'm not allowed to write Star Trek...

Siskoid said...

Lots of competing information, thanks for clearing some of it up.

By anthology (and my examples are of that ilk) I mean each season will focus on a different story and cast.

Your Thunderbolts idea sounds like a lot of fun, but is too much of a twist to actually be used for "season 1".

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Also, just released- that teaser 'thrown together in three weeks,' not the final starship design; apparently some legal issues with the McQuarrie design. (As someone who follows Star Wars Rebels and the new films... seriously, I'm surprised they haven't formed a McQuarrie *religion* yet. It feels like, 5 years from ow, there will be a feature film about a character he scribbled on a napkin, just so tha tno McQuarrie design ever goes unused in all of history. ;-) )

"Or would the ship number, NCC-1031 and thus commissioned BEFORE the Enterprise (NCC-1701, dontcha know) place it earlier than even Captain Pike's adventures? During the Daedalus-class era of exploration, perhaps? That bronze look certainly recalls the NX-01 Enterprise."
Ugh, I hope not. Enterprise flipped the bird at continuity often enough already. We hardly need a second anti-TOS to win mystifying mass appeal and cement continuity-contradicting impossibilities as fact. (That said, after Beyond, I feel like I could accept Enterprise as the past of the Kelvin Timeline- it's just irreconcilable with Prime, and it's weird to me how little that's recognized). Hopefully, this will take place in a timeline were the writer's lack of self-restraint and research don't screw anything up.

"And then there's the feeling I can't shake, that between the triangular shape, red exhaust pipes, and exotic music, that this will be a Starfleet-Klingon combined crew. And when would THAT put the story? A secret mission early in the timeline? (With a secret base built in an asteroid.)"
Well, THAT would be cool...

"it's going to find new worlds and new civilizations"
I'd like to hope- but a lack of episodic format, being 'all one story,' doesn't seem to leave a lot of room for that...

Generally, I'm pessimistic- 'modernized to appeal to today's TV sensibilities' sounds likely to me... but also sounds like the antithesis of Trek. I'm doubting this show is going to be 'for me,' especially when the creators talk about their excitement at being 'unbound by standards and practices.' That, plus the obnoxious 'premium format' 13-episode single-story garbage (they're called 'miniseries,' pretentious tv-producer gits, and I don't want that... I want a flippin' TV SHOW, 24-26 hours of television a year that tell me two-dozen different stories!)... well, last year I couldn't wait until January; by now, I'm up to the point of almost certainty that I'm not going to be following new Trek for the first time in my life. (But waiting for actual details on the setting and crew to see if, perhaps, they can overcome all my misgivings about the format and likely direction of the series).

...Wow, that was pessimistic. But it's been building for a long time. Sorry. Modern Trek's status is... not my happy place. :-)

Siskoid said...

I'm on record for liking most of Enterprise, so there's that.

What I really want to defend, however, is the 13-episode format, which I'm cool with. Premium channels, Netflix and of course the BBC have amply proven that shorter "seasons" do work and leave you begging for more. I now find 24 one-hour episodes per season really kind of tedious and overlong. They lose steam and I invariably stop watching around the mid point.

I think one of Voyager's big problems was that the look and feel of Trek had not been modernized since TNG's first season. Not really. So at one point, the last surviving Trek show looked and felt dated because a decade had passed and no adjustment had been made for incoming audiences. Enterprise thus felt jarring to some fans, but truth be told, it wasn't all that far from earlier productions stylistically. I'm not saying it banged out 4 perfect seasons (season 2 is a huge disappointment and the time travel stuff was annoying), but it was very much a victim of not reinventing itself enough and following by then tired formulas. The franchise had basically been going for 18 continuous years by then, 7 of those with TWO ongoing shows. I think the distance may have done the franchise some good.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"Premium channels, Netflix and of course the BBC have amply proven that shorter "seasons" do work and leave you begging for more. I now find 24 one-hour episodes per season really kind of tedious and overlong. They lose steam and I invariably stop watching around the mid point."

Well, I assume that's just a matter of preference. For my money, 24-episode seasons *give* you more, and since each story is new and different, there's no reason for any story to be better or worse, more skippable or less potential to be a classic, than the next. There are no 'wheel-spinning' episodes where the plot can't really develop or be resolved, and there is more variety- and fewer 'soap opera' twists to keep building the drama within a closed storyline (thus having to milk character twists and revelations for any needed drama).

Now, that said, I totally understand single-season ongoing-story seasons tedious as you describe; 24 episodes is WAY too long to stretch a single narrative storyline. Then again, I don't want one. I don't mind an ongoing story every now and then, but I much prefer the TNG model. Each story stands alone; there are no 'filler' episodes because there is no bigger picture to service; each story is free to stand or fall on its own. For me, I'd rather have 24 stories (even if some of them are bad) than 1... especially because, even in this format, there's no guarantee that 1 story isn't still going to be bad. (Agent Carter Season 2, for me, or Capaldi's 1st season). And then, you've gotten NO good storyline that year, only a few potential highlight moments from decent episodes. Whereas with a 24-episode season of standalones, if the story sucks- hey, new story next week. And I'd say in most good seasons of Trek (barring Season 1s, for instance), you still end up with more than 13 decent or great episodes.

Of course, I'm on record as hating Enterprise (well, really... hating nearly the characters, the theme song, the indifference and outright contempt for continuity, and the absurdly-glacical pace of the writing for the first two seasons; which probably sounds like 'everything,' but I didn't really hate the core concept, just the execution... in nearly every aspect. :-) ) and loving Voyager (not that I count it flawless, but I liked the characters and enjoyed the stories), so we're clearly coming at this from different angles to begin with.

Even so, I do understand that there will be the need to update some things stylistically; I don't expect another show exactly like TNG (even if that is honestly all I really want. :-) ). But this show looks to be changing so much that is at the core of Trek to me (especially weekly, episodic exploration, which is at the heart of Trek, I feel; a new world each week, as opposed to a series of episodes focused around the same scenario; unless it spans a ton of worlds, or is some phenomenon following the ship from world to world, there isn't a lot of room for exploring while tracing a single, ongoing storyline, which tend to be centralized to places or characters instead of allowing for weekly variety of new places and new characters) that it doesn't feel like the things I value about Trek can survive. (And I feel like the Kelvin Timeline is perfect evidence of the idea that Trek can be 'modernized' in style so much that it no longer resembles Trek to many fans).

Siskoid said...

The way they describe the new show "new aliens, new worlds, etc." makes it sound to me like a compromise, like most episodes of Deep Space Nine (which was to me the gold standard of Trek). I.e. each episode has its own story, but there's a bigger story going on in the background and sometimes foreground. Like today's Doctor Who, in fact.

Voyager (which I consider the turn standard of Trek) did that completely wrong, with a premise that invited an evolving larger story within an episodic format, and just kept pressing the reset button all the time. Voyager should have been Year of Hell all the way through (at a slower pace, obviously), but it acted like it was TNG and ignored what made it (or could have made it) special.

Enterprise Season 3 did the Voyager story correctly.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"The way they describe the new show "new aliens, new worlds, etc." makes it sound to me like a compromise, like most episodes of Deep Space Nine (which was to me the gold standard of Trek). I.e. each episode has its own story, but there's a bigger story going on in the background and sometimes foreground. Like today's Doctor Who, in fact."

Possibly. Talking about '13 chapters of a single story' sounds a lot more to me like 'The Final Chapter' (which I am watching through right now); not a lot of exploring, not a lot of variety. Good storylines, but not really much boldly-going, because they're focused on pulling through the threads in 3 or 4 existing locations and sticking with those locations/characters to do so.

Something like current Who (maybe; I could use a little more stand-alone-ness there, too) wouldn't be bad- but the comments of the creative team thus far make me picture something where that bigger story is in the foreground the entire time.

"Voyager should have been Year of Hell all the way through (at a slower pace, obviously), but it acted like it was TNG and ignored what made it (or could have made it) special."

Maybe all I was looking for was 'more TNG'; I didn't really need something different to set it apart. I didn't really want a bunch of inter-crew conflict; I got enough of that in DS9. I didn't really need a constantly-falling-apart or shorthanded ship; I feel like they tried that in the first season and realized that plot well ran dry pretty quickly. In short, while the format may have invited a larger story, I don't think it demanded it. To me, they tried it, found it an ill fit, and stuck with the storytelling that worked for them- and rightly so, because the ongoing elements would only have added a dour, miserable tone to the series that Star Trek isn't really meant to support. It flirts with darkness (In the Pale Moonlight), but when it dives in too headlong (I.e. Ross in Inter Arma, Silent Legis followed quickly by Starfleet Medical/Section 31 in When It Rains), the whole thing just feels sullied and broken. Sustained pessimism and conflict breaks the show- while the occasional dabble makes those starkly-different instances more impactful.

Regardless, the idea that Enterprise 'did Voyager correctly' means that there is some preconception, some imagined alternate TV show, that Voyager is being compared to. I mean, sure, you're not going to enjoy your hamburger if you sit there thinking "Man, I wish this was a slice of pizza"- but that's not how you're supposed to judge a hamburger. You're just supposed to ask whether it was a good burger. A good version of itself. And to me, Voyager absolutely was. No, it wasn't something else; that's okay. I didn't have anything else I wanted it to be. And what it was, I enjoyed- mostly because I liked almost everyone on the crew, which I couldn't say about DS9 (only Odo and Garak I can say I consistently liked) or Enterprise.

It wasn't the dark, BSG-esque story that the premise invited, perhaps- but I wouldn't have liked it if it took up that invitation. So for me, that absence was not a failure, but the thing that saved it- the thing that puts it above DS9 in my ranking (even if I can acknowledge a superior narrative/writing quality in DS9) because it was more of what I'd consider actually Star Trek- in tone and spirit and intent. And that's all I'm really looking for (and why I enjoyed Star Trek Beyond so much; because it was closer to that tone and spirit and intent than anything, to me, that we've gotten since Voyager ended.)

But obviously, we are looking for very different things from Trek. So the new series has plenty of opportunity to embody what it is that you enjoy. It just... doesn't seem to have as much chance of embodying the things that I'm looking for, which is probably why we have such different views on it.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

As an addendum- I've certainly seen the 'like Year of Hell' sentiment elsewhere (it seems to be the dominant criticism), but I'm not sure if it really would have been as appealing in practice as people think. Star Trek has always been a show about optimism, about high technology; about what the lack of want has freed people to become.

I feel like a constant scarcity and state of disrepair would have become less a plot and more a plot condition; each week would have been a struggle to overcome the limitations of failing technology above all else. And while that worked for a 2-parter, I think it would have become tiresome and frustrating (as much as 'Captain, we're low on fuel/food/something else' did in Season 1, which is why they dropped it); you don't want to watch Starfleet struggling each week because Starfleet technology you've known for 10 years just doesn't work right this week. It would become 'Sheesh- if the Enterprise was here, they'd just fire a photon torpedo and we'd be done this already; how pathetic is Voyager?' Or, even if you properly empathized, the simple eye-roll every time they resorted to 'Well, we COULD, captain, if the Heisenberg Stabilizer was online' would get tiresome.

Add to that constant struggle to overcome technology a constant, politicking power-play between Maquis and Starfleet, replete with inter-crew struggle and changing loyalties and the like, amidst the dark, burned-out, dystopian hellscape of a collapsing starship... well, I don't know about you, but that doesn't really sound like Star Trek anymore; it sounds like the exact things that Star Trek's unique settings specifically and intentionally precluded for the preceding 30 years. It also sounds a lot like BSG- which was too depressing and grim for me to enjoy. But I know that it was a lot of people's cup of tea, so I understand that there's an audience there. However, I would argue that it was not Trek; incompatible with its tone, values, and purpose... and that if Voyager had been these things, then so would it be.

Again, just my 2 cents; and since I've put in about a $1.75 worth of those so far (plus the fact that this is supposed to be about Discovery, not Enterprise or Voyager), I'll leave the last word to you.

Siskoid said...

That's just it. If we're going to hit the reset button every episode, that hope is cheap. It's easy being hopeful when nothing bad can really happen.

If tech breaking down is a gimmick, then what about the number of episodes that rely wayyyyy too much on technobabble to work? Voyager was guilty of a lot of that, and it created some terrible episodes along the way. It too frequently put technology ahead of character.

But mostly, and in stark contrast with DS9, there was no real character growth. The pristine ship I can take. Ensign Kim staying an ensign all the way through insults my intelligence. Voyager had maybe 3 or 4 teachers' pets, and the rest struggled to become much of anything. Chakotay probably got the worst of it. What a non-entity. At one point it was very much the Janeway-Seven of Nine show, and the rest had to either graft themselves to those characters or wait for their annual stand-alone episode, if any.

Deep Space Nine played the long game, presenting characters that could be irritating because they didn't get along, but by the end, had forged friendships, and changed, bettered themselves, gone through SOMETHING. Voyager played no game at all, and in the finale decided to pull unearned twists like Chakotay and Seven being together and Janeway being better than Picard at destroying the Borg forever, which just felt so forced.

You have every right to like it, but I just don't think it had anything new to say about the Trek universe. It was devoid of tension, didn't respect its own premise, let its cast down, and produced comparably few strong episodes (certainly not at any stretch like the three first series), and way too many that weren't just duds, but monumentally stupid. Reviewing them daily during the second year of this blog was a soul-sucking experience.

Nicholas Bergquist said...

Count me in as preferring shorter 13-episode story arcs. I have found I can actually sustain interest in shorter seasons like this, while the longer 24-episode arcs languish unattended.

Brendoon said...

A thing I found funny just this moment was the different VOICE I read comments about Trek in.
As opposed to the voices I imagine Star Wars comments being made in... even when it's the same people making the comments.
Do you guys get that too?

Siskoid said...

What voices do you hear in each case?

Brendoon said...

Well, like in this thread we all seem to "sound" cool and reasonable, as one does when discussing Star Trek. One assumes the air of a... grown up? ...a knowing sophisticate with a keen, calm intellect... accustomed to world peace and social unity and how to share the resources of the world so everyone can eat. That sort of thing.
THEN when discussing Star Wars I somehow imagine everybody talking like Adam Savage!
I apologise for this. But my internal Narrator doesn't always follow instructions.

Siskoid said...

What about Doctor Who discussions?

Brendoon said...

Hmmm..... I would say earnest, or frank? Insert no affectation at all. It's like discussing real life: hopeful job interviews, a new flavour of crisps or a favourite new beverage.

Of course, not ALL Whovians are like that. Some happen to be fan girls, some of which even do the fan girl thing whatever that is.

If we were all Nicholas Briggs I don't think it would hurt in any way.
But then of course, you being a Canadian and I a Kiwi the "No Affectation" thing couldn't apply.

De said...

Matt Decker's USS Constellation, as seen in "The Doomsday Machine", had a registry of NCC-1017.

Siskoid said...

In other words, it could be an early TOS-era ship still in service. Cage era or just before.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Or, to be fair, very much like the USS Franklin NX 326, predating the NX-01... ie 'the producers don't pay as much attention to registry number order as we do.' ;-) (The 326 is for Nimoy's birthday, it seems- but Ex Astra Scientia is filled with 'out of order' registry numbers, sometimes even adding a fifth digit yet still predating 4-digit ships when logic would dictate that it came at least 10,000 ships later.) ;-)

Siskoid said...

Well the Franklin can't have predated the Enterprise, since it is a more advanced starship design than the NX-01 was. Spoiler for ST Beyond here, but the MACO we saw would have served on Enterprise S3, then the Romulan Wars of the never-produced S5, and much later been awarded the Flanklin. It seems Starfleet ramped up production once the universe opened up to them, and I think I can believe that the same numbering system is used on all ships regardless of NCC or NX designation from Enterprise on. So you can have the Franklin be the 326th ship built, which might include early freighters etc., and certainly not the 326th EXPERIMENTAL (NX) ship.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

It did predate Enterprise, by about a decade, I believe they said- it was the first Warp 4 vessel. Apparently, the MACOs are being retconned as an older organization than Enterprise suggested. (Mind you, this could be the 'Kelvin Timeline version' of history, since temporal theory allows for post-Kirk time travel to pre-Kirk times to have affected this timeline retroactively in periods before the Narada arrived).

That said, the Franklin was apparently in service long enough to have served in the Romulan Wars and was lost after Enterprise- it was just serving *before* Enterprise, as per producers. The later registry number threw everyone off, which is why the producers clarified the timeline. (The registry number was made as a Nimoy homage without thought to orderly umbering- though again, that's happened in TOS (Constellation) and TNG (Yamato) as well) So, the MACO could have served aboard Enterprise and then become the Franklin's 2nd captain after, perhaps? Either way, the design is supposed to predate Enterprise (maybe she was in mothballs when the Xindi attacked, etc.?), but her captain and disappearance were from after the show; she just served (or at least existed, somewhere) all during the time period the show covered.


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