Star Trek: Marmite?


So Star Trek: Discovery has finally been released into the wild, and we’ve all had a chance to watch the pilot and let it percolate a while. If you haven’t watched it, then go! Go watch it now! There’s only a few episodes out on Netflix at the moment and they’re making us wait a week between new episodes like peasants so there’s plenty of time. I’ll wait.

You back? Good, let’s keep going.

It’s been 12 years since a Star Trek show was last on TV, so naturally there was quite a bit of trepidation about its return to the small screen. After JJ Abrams rebooted the universe for his movies there was something  of a furore in the fandom, and when Discovery was announced there was a lot of worry that the new show would follow in its footsteps rather than honouring its classic roots. Would it be set in the Kelvin timeline of those movies? Would it just be a series of back-to-back explosions and lens flares with nary a boldly go to be seen? Would it feel like the Star Trek we know and love?

Well now it’s out and you can make up your minds for yourselves.

I think it’s too soon to tell for sure, but I do feel this is a very strong start to what could be a superb instalment in the Star Trek canon, especially after the freshly released third episode. We have a diverse cast of characters, some of whom most decidedly don’t get along, which is a nice departure from Roddenberry’s Box. We have optimistic humans and sceptical aliens. We have a tense encounter between the Federation and Klingons, who haven’t crossed paths for a hundred years by this point. We have a main character who’s fighting to marry their very human burning curiosity & desire to explore with the logical constraints of her Vulcan upbringing. We have a neurotic alien science science officer who serves as a sort of friendly foil. And we have a familiar character popping up to keep us grounded.

No, not her: this is Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin Green

Since the two-part pilot aired, I’ve seen only two responses to it: ‘I’m so glad Star Trek is back, this is so good!’ and ‘THIS IS AWFUL, WORST STAR TREK EVER’. I haven’t seen a single person say ‘eh, it’s ok’. Fans can be very passionate about the things they love, and few properties are as beloved as Star Trek.

The first of the two biggest indictments I’ve heard against it is that it doesn’t look or feel like Star Trek. It’s shinier, it’s bigger and there’s just something missing. The writing is a bit expository. The Klingons look weird and they speak like their mouths are full of gagh. The weird hologram communication is more Star Wars than Star Trek. The pacing isn’t right for Star Trek.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with most of that. In fact, I’d argue that if Discovery felt like a classic Trek show of yesteryear, it would be to the show’s detriment. This is because television has inevitably moved on since 2005, not just in terms of special effects thanks to the technology we now have at our disposal. The moment the Battlestar Galactica reboot aired, sci-fi television started to evolve into a sleeker, more sophisticated beast. That’s how we got the Games of Throneses and the Walking Deads of today. Production values have been increasing, and as audiences we’ve grown to have certain expectations of newer shows. A new show with the pacing of a Next Gen episode just wouldn’t work. We move faster today, so our media tends to move faster too.

Lt. Saru, played by Doug Jones, shown here Doug Jonesing it up.

The other big criticism I’ve seen levelled at is one that frankly I find completely baffling – the claim that it’s ‘Star Trek for SJWs‘ and too politically correct.  The source of the upset? The fact that the cast is the most diverse Trek cast yet. The lead character is a black woman, whose mentor is a Chinese woman, fighting against a fanatical force of xenophobia to spread Starfleet’s message of tolerance and peace. There’s also Anthony Rapp’s character, who will reportedly by the first openly gay character in a Trek show. There are more people of colour on screen at any one time than I’ve seen in any Star Trek, though most of them are in background roles. To some, this diversity is forced and has no place in the Trek universe.


My only response is: what? Have we been watching the same TV shows? This is a franchise that placed a black woman on the bridge in a position of power during the height of the Civil Rights movement. This is a franchise about humanity having come together to set aside our petty differences and squabbles with a new purpose to explore the stars and make peaceful contact with all alien species (that’s the aim, though obviously that doesn’t always happen or there’d be no show). This is a world that we’re specifically told has eradicated hunger, poverty and war amongst itself – but there’s no place for diversity or tolerance and white skin should be the most common skin colour on show? It’s not even the most common skin colour here and now! This is a franchise that gave us Far Beyond the Stars. This is what Star Trek has always been about.

Now that the third episode is out and has given us a peek at the direction the show is going (war! conflict! shady shenanigans!), I for one am firmly in the ‘love it’ camp. It’s not without problems (I’m looking you, gagh-mouths), but I’m looking forward to champing at the bit after every episode, waiting for the next one. I can’t wait to see how the war with the Klingons evolves into the cold war seen in Kirk’s time, and how much of that will be due to Michael Burnham’s attempts to make amends for starting it in the first place. I want to see if Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca has ties to Section 31 (I strongly suspect he does) and I need more Doug Jones pouring salt into his tea in my life.

I may hate Marmite, but I love Discovery so far.


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