This year, Star Trek will return to television, for the first time since Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Now, at last, we have a real glimpse at what that return will look like.
Star Trek: Discovery, the seventh TV series in the franchise, is set 10 years before the events of the original series. It follows the crew of Discovery, and more specifically its First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green, the first black woman to lead a Trek show) on a voyage to th edge of Federation space. There, they will seek out strange new worlds, explore the mysteries of the cosmos and have what looks like a very serious run-in with the Klingons.
For many fans of the franchise, that the series exists is great news in itself. Star Trek: Discovery marks a return to the more intimate, character-based original format of Trek, at least in theory. If you’re sick of the big budget explosions and phaser fights of the J.J. Abrams era, that could be a very good thing.
Unfortunately, Discovery has become best known to fans over the past 18 months as the show that will never come out. When it was announced in 2015, it was supposed to arrive in January 2017. Then Discovery lost its showrunner (American Gods’ Bryan Fuller) and the delays just kept coming. First it was May, then it was a more nebulous “late 2017.” What started with hope for the future of Star Trek was beginning to feel like Trekkies’ White Whale. Throw in CBS’s decision to air the series on its All Access streaming service instead of in primetime and things get even messier.
But now we have actual proof of the show’s existence, with characters and plot clues and big finished effects shots. It’s hard to tell exactly where the series will go on the basis of a single teaser, but there are certainly plenty of elements borrowed from Trek’s past. The mysterious object in space is a time-honored tradition of the whole franchise, as is the testy relationship with the Klingon Empire. The first officer who probably should be a captain by now is a lift from the Picard-Riker dynamic in The Next Generation. The Vulcan Sarek (James Frain) intoning philosophically feels very much like Spock in the Abrams Trek films. And speaking of Abrams Trek, just look at all of those lens flares.
This isn’t to say that ther aren’t new things to appreciate as well. Discovery’s cast is extremely diverse, with an Asian woman (Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou), a black woman and a brand-new alien (Doug Jones) featuring as central players. There are also hints of a much deeper tie between Burnham (a human) and the Vulcans than we previously knew about and Jones’ alien species can apparently sense oncoming death. With luck, there’s also a chance to do something new with Klingons this time around. Like much of what Trek has been in the 21st century, the series is taking the familiar and twisting it just so.
Will this particular blend of old and new work? It’s just too early to tell. There’s a lot to like about the trailer, but it’s hard to ignore that sense of prequel fatigue creeping into the back of your mind, isn’t it? Why couldn’t we get a series set in a future beyond even what Deep Space Nine and Voyager showed us? Why couldn’t this be the next level of Trek? What is there to gain in going backwards to go forward yet again?
Hopefully we’ll find out. For the moment, though, it might be best to view Discovery with a healthy dose of suspicion.
Star Trek: Discovery arrives this fall.