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Star Trek Discovery review: For fans new and old, it’s a spectacular return to a beloved franchise

Star Trek Discovery review: There’s enough freshness to beam up a novice viewer, and enough nods to the previous series to keep the longtime fan engaged. It’s a lavish return to a beloved series.

tv Updated: Sep 27, 2017 09:46 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Star Trek Discovery,Star Trek Discovery Review,Star Trek
Does Star Trek: Discovery boldly go where no man has gone before? No. But it does step gingerly into areas very few women in this franchise have seen. And that’s worth something.

Star Trek: Discovery
Cast - Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs
Rating - 3/5

There is a moment in Star Trek: Discovery that arrives early in the first episode - and we’ve seen this very moment resurrected many times in several versions of the fabled science-fiction franchise. Two characters, friends, find themselves in a bit of a spot, and for salvation, they look to the heavens.

This is no time for prayer, they understand, rational even in the face of death, when others would have been brought to their knees. No all-seeing, all-powerful being is coming to their aid – this is Star Trek after all, a series in which the absence of religion is considered a badge of honour. In Star Trek, Deus ex machina arrives not in the form of a supernatural saviour, but something more tactile, something created not by nature, but by man.

Through thick walls of sand – our characters are trying to outrun a sandstorm on an alien planet, by the way – bursts out a starship, proudly emblazoned with a logo we all recognise. And as Captain Philippa Georgiou and her partner, Michael Burnham, gaze at the iconic Starfleet symbol with relief, a familiar tune begins playing – a tune which brings childhood memories flooding back, memories of adventures on strange new worlds, discussions about progress, and cries of ‘energise!’.

In these opening moments, Star Trek: Discovery, the franchise’s first new television series in about a decade, manages to harken back to specific little details everyone - noobs and pros alike - love about Star Trek. But for the remainder of the two episodes that were provided for preview, the ride is as bumpy as if it were undertaken in a damaged ship, commandeered by a turncoat captain, navigating an asteroid field on the outer fringes of Federation airspace.

Full disclosure: I am hardly a Trekkie – a fact made abundantly clear by my usage of the word, which is said to be deeply annoying to ‘real’ fans. They prefer Trekker, I hear, but who knows. I have however, seen the Original Series several times – in its entirety, no less – and like most people my age, I find the JJ Abrams films, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, to be near perfect summer blockbusters.

Discovery, like its protagonist, the character with whom we are expected to spend the next decade, straddles between two worlds. Michael Burnham isn’t a Captain, which introduces an exciting new dynamic to the series; famous, you’d agree, for its Captains. She – yes, Michael is a she (how Star Trek of them) – was raised as a Vulcan by Sarek, Spock’s father, and became the first human to attend the Vulcan Learning Centre and Vulcan Science Academy. Which makes her, like her adopted brother Spock, frighteningly clinical, yet a slave to her emotions.

Fans would be pleased to learn that Discovery has one foot firmly planted in the utopian universe imagined by Gene Roddenberry in the ‘60s, an era when dreaming was the only escape from a world on the brink of destruction. But in a clear attempt to please modern audiences – perhaps viewers who have never seen a minute of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner discussing the ethics of war over a multi-level chessboard – Discovery makes the conscious decision to lean heavily into Abrams’ movies too. Particularly the third one, 2016’s dazzling Star Trek Beyond, the Trekkiest of the Trek reboots, directed by Justin Lin.

Like those movies, Discovery’s special effects – remember, this is a network TV show after all, no matter how hard Netflix tries to convince you it’s an ‘Original Series’ – are remarkable. Once you get over the visual (and tonal) similarities to the Abrams films – it’s all very shiny, glistening with lens flares, and shot with that trademark Abrams swaying steadicam – you realise there’s more to it beneath the glossy exterior. It’s making an honest effort to introduce the half-a-century-old series to a new generation – and that’s a rather noble move.

Here’s a basic lowdown of the plot: The crew of the USS Shenzhou, led by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou, stumbles upon the wreckage of an alien ship. Upon closer investigation, Burnham learns that it is a trap set by the Klingons, age-old adversaries to the Federation. A new leader has emerged from their ranks, promising to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will unite all 24 Klingon houses against their enemies – which in this case, happens to be the Federation, caught like sitting ducks.

Fairly standard stuff.

The first two episodes tell a story that more-or-less has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s no coincidence that they chose to open with a two-parter. But what it also does is act as a preface of sorts to what’s likely to come next. We’ve been introduced to the crew, we know (roughly) what everyone’s purpose is. And we’ve even seen death.

The first season is expected to run for 15 episodes, separated into two parts, the first of which will end sometime in November. But here’s the million-dollar question: Is it enough to make you tune in next week? Short answer: Yes. There’s enough freshness to beam up a novice viewer, and enough nods to the previous series to keep the longtime fan engaged. And Sonequa Martin-Green - she plays Burnham - has all the makings of a fine star.

Does it boldly go where no man has gone before? No. But it does step gingerly into areas very few women in this franchise have seen. And that’s worth something.

Watch the Star Trek: Discovery trailer here

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Sep 26, 2017 08:34 IST