Star Trek: Discovery – The Vulcan Hello (S1E01) Review

Things haven’t been great between me and “Star Trek” for some time. Oh sure, we still go through the motions, remembering birthdays, anniversaries all the while secretly reminiscing about the good old days when we were inseparable, glued to the screen as Kirk, Picard, Sisko and even Janeaway roamed the universe.  The magic died around the time Trek stopped growing and moving forward and started navel-gazing into its own past. “Nemesis” was an insulting wilted bunch of gas station flowers to mark a significant milestone but it was “Enterprise” that killed the passion and offered instead a dull, lifeless routine until eventually, I ghosted the whole franchise. Oh sure, we’ve flirted since with a few movie dates but they’ve just hollow attempts to recapture the magic of the early days and I’ve usually come home, grabbed a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and binge-watched TOS, TNG and DS9. But wait, here “Star Trek” comes again, messing up my mind and filling up my senses, standing in front of this Trekker, asking me to love it again.

Investigating a damaged relay station near a binary star system on the edge of Federation space, the USS Shenzhou discovers an object being masked from their sensors. When First Officer Michael Burnham volunteers to investigate the object herself, she is attacked by and accidentally kills a Klingon. Before long, a Klingon warship decloaks and a stand-off ensues but when the Klingons activate a galactic beacon, the command crew of the Shenzou find themselves divided on how to respond.

From the start, there’s something about “Discovery” that feels instantly, authentically “Trek”, despite all the shiny new modern design and effects work. The bridge crew of the USS Shenzou is bristling with distinctive personalities, unlike the dreary “Star Trek: Enterprise” contingent, proving that the best Trek is diverse Trek, not just the petty ethnicities of Earth but beyond to the various races of the Federation. Nice to see that a descendant of Daft Punk has managed to rise up the ranks too.

Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) quickly establishes herself as one of Trek’s most intriguing characters. Curious, determined, righteous and reckless, she’s fascinating, as her adopted older brother might say.

The episode clips along at a fair old pace and the script manages to make the necessary introductory information dumps and exposition feel somewhat natural. We’re still in ‘pilot’ mode at this point, so it’s hard to judge the supporting cast fully as we’re not really sure who’s going to be along for the ride long term. Of course, I wouldn’t be a Trekker if I didn’t have one petty, technical gripe and so, for this episode, it’s this: why was a spacesuit the obvious choice to investigate the mysterious object in the asteroid field? Surely a shuttlecraft would have been just as effective and considerably safer?

A lot will be made, no doubt, of the design and technology on display given this is meant to be placed in the Prime universe a mere ten years before the events of “Star Trek: The Original Series”. I don’t even mind the ‘controversial’ adoption of the Enterprise’s insignia to represent all of Starfleet. Yes, there’s part of me that finds it a little bit of an irritation that nothing looks like it will evolve into the blinking lights and primary-coloured buttons and switches of The Original Series’ aesthetic in a decade but the pragmatist in me accepts that it simply wouldn’t be feasible to have a series steeped in that look be taken seriously nowadays. If Trek is to live longer and prosper, it needs to beam up a whole new generation of fans. It will never accomplish that with slavish recreations of past glories to satiate the dwindling population of change-averse die hards. Of course, the best way to do that would be to reject any more prequels and start moving into the future again but apparently, Nemesis broke everything. Thanks for nothing, Stuart Logan.

The Klingon redesign is an interesting one; familiar enough but also distinctively new enough, borrowing heavily from “Star Trek Into Darkness” and also quite liberally from the Remans in “Nemesis” (so maybe thanks for one thing, Stuart Logan). I did have a wry smile at a glimpse of what looked like pink blood when the Klingon is killed, a hint of Nicholas Meyer’s influence *ahem* bleeding through?

Superficial, cosmetic design discontinuities I can accommodate but I’m less comfortable with the story behind “The Vulcan Hello”. The idea of a Vulcan ship ever adopting a shoot first policy seems diametrically opposed to the teachings of Surak, especially as shown in “TOS: The Savage Curtain”. It’s one thing to make the ships shiny and cooler looker, it’s quite another to fundamentally rewrite the underlying philosophy of an entire species. Mind you, the Vulcans aren’t quite as scrupulously honest as we’ve always thought, with Sarek being the case in point: he’s surely only one more secret child away from appearing on Vulcan’s equivalent of “The Jerry Springer Show”.

I always thought one of “Star Trek: Enterprise”’s biggest mistakes was in trying to explain the disparity between the Original Series appearance of the Klingons and their movie to Next Generation looks. It’s fan-wanking unnecessariness of the first order and, if nothing else, underlines the perils of prequels made decades after the original. It’s a danger that “Discovery” will need to navigate skilfully to legitimately claim it’s boldly going where no Trek has gone before but given it ends its first episode on a full-blown mutiny cliff-hanger, there’s no doubting its ambition. For now, I’m encouraged, optimistic and my hailing frequencies are very much open.

8/10 

4 thoughts on “Star Trek: Discovery – The Vulcan Hello (S1E01) Review

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