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September 25, 2017

So I've gotten around to checking out the new Star Trek: Discovery. As a long-time Star Trek fan, I'm always open-minded about new additions to the canon and willing to give each of them a chance. TOS is what set the wheels in motion, and TNG brought Star Trek TV back from the dead. DS9 was an okay effort at the start, but weakened when it started running afoul of the franchise's core message. Voyager, despite having a great cast, was awful. And then Enterprise showed up and started messing with established canon, while also managing to be pretty terrible. It too had a solid cast, but they just couldn't save it.

Now we have Discovery, the newest addition to the TV lineup. And boy, is it bad. It seems like everything post-TNG is a race to the bottom and new shows are trying desperately to beat the previous iterations for the title of "Worst Star Trek Series." This may sound like "back in my day" crotchety complaining, but let me explain things.

As I said earlier, Enterprise was the beginning of playing fast and loose with the canon, shoehorning a previously unknown Starship Enterprise into the line and showing off advanced technology 100 years before the original series. Discovery doubles down on this trend, with super advanced computers and tech in every corner of the ship, while still taking place 10 years before Kirk's five year mission. LCARS computer sounds from TNG are all over the place, often used incorrectly no less - long before LCARS was ever created. TNG rank pips on the uniform insignia, nearly a century before rank pips were even a thing. (TOS displayed the rank on the uniform's shirt cuffs, which mostly carried into the first 6 movies.) Holographic communications all over the ship, which were first introduced as a new novelty during DS9. It's a mess.

Next we have what this series calls Klingons. I say that, because aside from a few pieces of trivia here and there - mentions of Kahless, cloaking technology, etc. - Discovery manages to get absolutely everything wrong about the Klingons. Apparently they're Ancient Egyptians now. From the clothing (a mere decade before Kor and Koloth, this is how Klingons supposedly looked?) to the culture (since when do Klingons mummify their dead and put them in sarcophagi for storage?), next to nothing about these Klingons resembles anything we already know about them. Even TNG made some effort to carry forward a handful of the legacy features of Klingons after drastically changing their look, and Roddenberry had said that TNG's Klingons looked like what TOS's Klingons would have looked like if they had the budget. Discovery has no excuse for these drastic changes.

There are other problems. Interstellar mind-melds. Arguments with computers about ethics. Lack of division colors in the uniforms. Transporter speed. Court Martial proceedings with unnecessary dramatic lighting. But the most important problem is that Star Trek has lost its heart. The original series and TNG were the best of Trek because they were shows about the characters. These days, that's secondary to flashy effects and big-budget action. People like to defend shows like Discovery and Enterprise by saying that the technology gap between them and TOS is no big deal and making a show with a TOS level of technology wouldn't work today. Not true. Not only could you easily fit era-appropriate tech into the '60s visual style of TOS, there's also the notion that if you have great stories, it doesn't matter if the technology looks dated. If you're using fancy effects to carry the show, it's going to fail. And that's one reason why Enterprise barely lasted 4 years on TV before being canceled.

Discovery can make all of the references to past shows that it wants, but at the end of the day, it just isn't Star Trek.


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