Finally available on Netflix UK (although buried away in the ‘Trailers & More’ section of “Star Trek: Discovery”), Star Trek: Short Treks are intended, apparently, to give the franchise room to explore beyond the realms of its current single incarnation, something I’m sure they’ll get to even if the first crop seem to be staying pretty close to home.
“Runaway” brings an opportunity for one of Discovery Season 1’s most ill-served characters – Tilly – to shine, although it starts in disappointingly clichéd fashion as she’s lectured and belittled by her mother via holograph. Things pick up when Tilly pops to the mess hall during the quiet period between duty shifts to get herself a drink to cheer herself up although the mess hall computer is as critical as her mother of Tilly’s hyper-caffeinated beverage of choice.
I’ve always appreciated that amidst all the muddying of design and aesthetic continuity that plagues “Star Trek: Discovery”, the food dispensers in the mess hall have always owed much more to The Original Series’ hatch-in-the-wall than TNG’s more well-known replicators, although at least these ones can distribute more than primary-coloured plasticine.
The plot kicks into gear properly when it turns out that during a recent mission, one of Discovery’s shuttles picked up a stowaway. The problem I’ve often had with Tilly is that she’s conspicuously the ‘relatable’ character for the target audience to latch on to but often, she’s too relatable, teetering on the edge of being a caricature and her self-doubt-driven distancing from her crewmates felt forced and artificial and a disservice to the acting talents of Mary Wiseman.
“Runaway”, at last, provides Tilly with an opportunity to demonstrate the competence and capabilities you’d expect from a Starfleet officer as she deals with the Xahean stowaway named Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, or Po for short (Yadira Guevara-Prip). In helping Po come to terms with her own abilities and expectations, Tilly finds her own confidence to pursue her own ambitions.
It’s a neat little story with some wonderfully subtle wordbuilding. It does, however, throw up an interesting continuity point about the ability to recrystallize dilithium which, as we know from “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” wasn’t possible in the late 23rd century yet had apparently been perfected on Xahea during Discovery’s era. If the measure of success is that something leaves you wanting more, then “Runaway” is definitely a success. It feels very much like the cold open & first act of a traditionally structured Trek episode and there’s a faint sense of disappointment that the story (as yet) isn’t picked up and continued.
Still, a promising start to this series of shorts, although I hope that not all of them will end up feeling like they’ve been fashioned from abandoned or rejected episode drafts for Discovery.