SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The Orville; Doctor Who

Overall I was very impressed with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. While there are some aspects I question, overall it did feel like Star Trek, both modernized by the improved special effect available and the more serialized story telling common on television today.

I do question both whether the Vulcan salute would have been effective in this situation against the Klingons and whether someone, after serving for seven years on a Federation Starship, would disobey the captain in this manner. For now I will accept the premise that an implausible but possible event did occur and give the writers the opportunity to see where they take this. From various interviews (such as here) it does appear that they have given this matter, and sticking with established Star Trek canon, considerable consideration.

Michael Burnham does follow in a long Star Trek tradition of characters with identity issues, including Spock, Data, Seven of Nine, and the Emergency Medical Hologram. Captain Georgiou’s quick recovery from the Vulcan nerve pinch was important to the plot, but also has me wondering what we will see in the future in terms of both Burnham acting as a Vulcan and the limitations of a human doing so. The first two episodes seemed to summarize what could have been another seven year series about the Shenzou, with Burnham showing considerable growth from how she appeared in the flashback at the start of the second episode.

There was a tendency to use special effects because they could, sometimes benefiting the episode, and sometimes being unnecessary. I did question seeing Burnham flying to the Klingon ship in only in her spacesuit. On the other hand, there is no question that they should modernize the look of the bridge from the 1960’s instrument panels of the original show. Despite the modernization of the ship, they had the old style sound effects down perfect. The changing look of Klingons over time has been around since The Next Generation moved beyond the simplistic look from The Original Show and it is best not to question this.

The use of holograms for communication seemed an unnecessary change from the on screen communications we are accustomed to. It is important that this does fit within Star Trek canon, but there are also limits to the degree fans should demand this be true of every detail. Once something is shown on Discovery, by definition it does become canon. As holograms are based upon science already existing this could be explained as Star Fleet experimenting with this, abandoning it for a while, and then trying again in the Deep Space 9 era when it was seen again. (My theory to make this all consistent is that Star Fleet admirals had taken up working with their pants off between the years of Discovery and The Original Show and therefore demanded communications based upon above-the waist view screens as opposed to full body holograms.)

I also had my doubts about the communication between Burnham and Sarek, and unless this becomes important for future episodes, the story could have easily been written without utilizing this.

Despite such nitpicks, the show looks very promising. While I have some doubts about the details of the issue, it is typical Star Trek to raise the question of whether the Federation would shoot first even if more expedient. Even if less extreme, there is also a long history of Star Trek heroes breaking the rules. While some of the scenes with Klingon subtitles did get a little long, I am glad they are showing the Klingons as more than a one dimensional villain.

They did an excellent job both with production values and in keeping the story interesting, including ending each of the first episodes with a cliff hanger which should make viewers want to keep watching. If this was on Netflix instead of CBS All Access and the full season was available, I would have kept watching longer.

Despite small elements which some might argue violate canon, at least they did not destroy Vulcan as J.J. Abrams did with the flimsy excuse that it was s different timeline. Even if we might question Michael’s existence in Sarek’s family, it appears this series will be well tied into other aspects of canon related to Vulcans. This includes the addition of Sarek’s wife Amanda to the series, with Mia Kirshner cast for the role.

I have been rooting for The Orville to succeed, but have also recognized it problems. The show has received considerable criticism, with there being no need to repeat that once again. The show also does have its fans. For balance I’ll link to this reviewSeth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ Is The ‘Star Trek’ Show Fans Have Been Waiting For. Some excerpts follow:

By not having a budget (or requirements) for wall-to-wall spectacle, the hour-long Fox show is forced to focus on character, chemistry, sci-fi plotting and moral debates that have partially defined Gene Roddenberry’s property for generations. Yes, to a certain extent it’s fan fiction, but then so is so much of our current pop culture entertainment. But by being a network television show, it is forced to be the kind of Star Trek that fans claim the recent movies have neglected in favor of four-quadrant blockbuster thrills. The Orville is not a spoof, but rather a straight-faced Trek show with characters who are funny and can laugh at funny events…

Sans the pressure to be bigger, bolder, faster, and free from the budget and expectations that demand big-scale action sequences and “the world is in peril” plotting, The Orville uses its adventure of the week format to explore modern-day social issues and tackle current moral dilemmas in a sci-fi venue. I like its characters, and I like that they are good at what they do and seem to like each other. The show is refreshingly progressive in its politics, and optimistic to its core. It is a Star Trek show for folks who want something a bit old-school.

Again, I haven’t seen the third episode of Star Trek Discovery, and I frankly don’t wish to make it a competition. The best-case scenario is that the CBS show, with a superb lead in Sonequa Martin-Green, offers high-quality, big-scale Star Trek while Fox’s “homage” offers a more traditional Trek which emphasizes cast chemistry and social issues of the day. For those fans who were turned off by the jokey previews and commercials, I’d suggest giving The Orville another shot, starting perhaps with the second episode which begins to spotlight the supporting cast.

The irony is that, by ripping off rather than revamping and by being hamstrung by network television production values and thus putting an emphasis on character and social parable over sci-fi action, The Orville has a pretty good shot at becoming the kind of Star Trek that fans claim to want so badly. I’m hoping this variation indeed lives long and prospers.

The review is rather generous, but I do want to give The Orville the chance to correct its flaws. I do agree with Screen Rant that, No, The Orville Is Not Better Than Star Trek: Discovery. Of course it does not have to be a competition and we can enjoy each series for the different things it tries to accomplish.

While we are now getting two versions of one of the great science fiction franchises which started in the 1960’s, we have to wait until December to see more of Doctor Who. I still plan to try to post Doctor Who news regularly while we wait. This week Pearl Mackie has told Radio Times that the Christmas episode will be an emotional farewell for Peter Capaldi:

The final farewell of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the departure of well-loved companion Bill Potts, the groundbreaking introduction of the first ever female Doctor – the signs were always there.

But just in case you were in any doubt, Pearl Mackie can confirm that, yes, this is indeed going to be an emotional Doctor Who Christmas special…

“I’d say have a box of tissues close at hand,” Mackie tells RadioTimes.com. “As to be expected: it’s Peter’s last episode as the Doctor and my last episode as well.”

But is it? Given that Mackie’s character Bill had supposedly made her last appearance at the end of series ten – only to be handed a comeback in the special immediately afterwards – should we even trust that this is the last we’ll see of her?

“One of the wonderful things about Doctor Who is that the world of possibilities is endless,” teases Mackie, “so I guess, never say never…”

We can also hope to see the return of others beyond Bill. Radio Times also reports that Alex Kingston would like to see a reunion with Captain Jack:

Both time-travelling lotharios who love conning their way around the galaxy with a vortex manipulator, we can’t help but feel they’d do well in their own Doctor Who spin-off, or even just an episode where they finally meet – and now it turns out that River Song actor Alex Kingston feels the exact same way.

“I think it’d be great if she met with Captain Jack Harkness,” Kingston said at Edmonton Expo in Canada. “It’s funny because John and I, we talk about, we imagine, fantasise about all the possibilities.”

She also said, “Not necessarily a spin-off show, but it kind of would be great if even the Doctor happened upon a bar in the universe where River and Captain Jack happened to be sitting, having a drink or something. I think it’d be cool!”

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Mike Hatcher says:

    While I don't take science fiction very seriously, I have always been a fan of the original Star Trek series. One of the show anomalies that has always bugged me, with so many episodes having characters on the bridge constantly getting smacked around by one disturbance or another, why wouldn't they have more secure seating? Or at a bare minimum, seat belts.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The meta reason is that it is more dramatic to shoot scenes with people being thrown around. I did read somewhere before the show started that they were going to have seat belts on Discovery. If so, it would make even less sense for them to have them and then abandon them ten years later when the original show takes place.

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