Saturday, 13 August 2016

Star Trek: Discovery

There's a new Star Trek series in the very beginnings of production. Due to be made available for streaming in January, Star Trek: Discovery will be, at least at first, a thirteen-part serial with distinct episodic beats, following a mission for the newly unveiled starship, the USS Discovery NCC-1031. The showrunner is Bryan Fuller, who previously wrote for both Voyager and Deep Space Nine, becoming regular script editor on Voyager's sixth season and co-producer on the seventh. He also created Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, worked on Heroes and was showrunner on Hannibal. Plus, he's making the new TV adaptation of American Gods, Neil Gaiman's mythology-inspired novel, which I am also very excited about.

Fuller has, this week, released various details of the series, which build on the brief description and promo video previously shown at San Diego ComicCon. We already know that the series was, in Fuller's words, going back to Star Trek's "60s roots," and that it revolve around the starship Discovery (a perfect name for a Trek series and starship, sharing its name with the fourth NASA space shuttle). There's some wonderful talent involved. As well as Fuller, we have Nicolas Meyer, who directed the classic Trek movies The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. Writers include Joe Menosky, who wrote Next Gen classics such as "Darmok" and "Conundrum," and several Voyager episodes including two of my absolute favourites, "Distant Origin" and "Living Witness." Other writers revealed are Aron Coleite, who worked on Heroes, and Kirsten Beyer, whose Voyager novels I am, if I'm honest, not very keen on, but who I think may actually work rather better with the TV format. The chief production designer is Mark Worthington, who has worked on American Horror Story.

Fuller has revealed that the series will have a core cast of about seven characters, with the lead character being a female officer who is not a captain. Most sources are suggesting she'll be a lieutenant commander. That's not to say that there won't be a captain in the cast - if it's set on a starship we should expect a commanding officer, and Lt. Commander seems too junior for that role - but I think it's an interesting new take to not focus on the captain. We don't know anything else about the lead at time of writing, except that they are looking at diverse casting. I, personally, am strongly in favour of this, believing that there needs to be a concerted effort to reflect diversity in drama, which sometimes means actively seeking to cast people from diverse backgrounds. Also, Star Trek has rarely been as diverse or inclusive as its fans like to think it is. For all the work it has done, its leads have always been predominantly white and its captains male. As soon as the news of a female lead broke, some fans began complaining that this has been done before with Voyager, as if a box labelled "woman star" had been ticked and could now be safely ignored.

Fuller has also said "absolutely we're having a gay character," which is way beyond time. Star Trek Beyond made a good effort in having Sulu in a same-sex relationship, but the franchise needs to provide much more visibility for sexually diverse characters. The future Star Trek has presented so far has been depressingly heteronormative, and while a great deal of that is due to American networks fear of showing non-hetero relationships, attitudes have moved on considerably, even since Enterprise.

Fuller has said that, "there's an incident and an event in Star Trek history, that's been talked about but never explored." He also specified that it the series "is set ten years before Kirk, and will bridge the gap between Enterprise and the original series."

Given his earlier suggestions that we look at the registration of the Discovery as a clue, most fans had already expected the series to be set in the early to mid-23rd century. "Ten years before Kirk" presumably means before the setting of the original series, which would place Discovery around 2255, but it may mean ten years before Kirk is in Starfleet, or even ten years before he is born, which would put it back to 2223. All of this well after Enterprise, which is set between 2151 and 2155. For now, it seems sensible to assume it's about 2255. Given that the NCC-1701 was launched in 2245, the NCC-1031 is probably not a new ship during this series. The promo video shows a starship clearly based on Ralph McQuarrie's Star Wars-esque production sketches for the unmade Star Trek feature, Planet of the Titans. Some fans are complaining very heavily about the quality of the CGI in the video, but it's very obviously a work-in-progress cobbled together for the SDCC crowd, and Fuller has confirmed that the design has developed significantly since it was rendered. Some fans are also suggesting the Discovery shows Klingon or Romulan influences, but this seems to be purely due to the angular hull which is unusual for Starfleet ships, and I would be very surprised if this was the case in the fiction, especially given the early 23rd century setting.

McQuarrie's 1970s Enterprise design

As for the event the Fuller alludes to, my first thought was the Battle of Axanar, which would fall into line with Paramount's massive crackdown on fanfilms in general and Star Trek: Axanar in particular. Fuller has since specified that the event he is referring to is not Axanar, the Kobayashi Maru or the Romulan War. A lot of fans keep piping up with the "fact" that the series will explore the Romulan War, in spite of this taking place a full century before the series is expected to be set. Although it is explicitly set in the Prime timeline, there's no reason some aspects can't reflect the new Kelvin-timeline films, considering that many of their elements date from before the timeline divide and should carry forward to the era of Discovery. Equally, though, there's no reason to be beholden to the new movies. They can become quite different animals. I'm perfectly happy to have another series set within the franchise's existing history. There's a whole galaxy to explore within there, after all, and I am firmly not of the camp that thinks Enterprise damaged the franchise by presenting conflicting information. Story is more important than canon, and while I like a good continuity debate as much as the next geek, it's part of the fun for fans and not something to actually be concerned about. It's not as if the original series was particularly consistent anyway.

One thing I'm pleased to hear is that the series will, in Fuller's words, "have slightly more graphic content." In context he seems to be indicating some more colourful language and aggression. This sounds rather like what we've had with the new movies, and frankly, I'm all for that. People get angry, they swear. It makes a world seem a great deal more real than the po-faced dialogue that previous series have often given us.

Other elements alluded to indicate that we may be seeing various crews, and perhaps some familiar faces, but not until the show has found its feet and played a season or two. This seems sensible. We are to expect multiple aliens, including both brand new species and new takes of familiar creatures, which sounds like a good balance. An image tweeted from pre-production shows part of a mask with antennae, which looks like it might belong to an Andorian. It sounds like we're going to get a solid mix of old and new here, which is exactly what I want from a new Trek series. I hope that it lives up to its title and has plenty of newly discovered, never-before-seen worlds and aliens, but I'm also glad that it will be fitting into the universe we know. Equally, the shorter, more serialised season format is a good indication that the franchise is moving forward with modern televisual style.

One thing I simply cannot abide is the overwhelming negativity from some fan quarters. Every piece of information is treated as more evidence that Discovery will fail. There's a female lead, so it will "be shit, like Voyager." It's a serial, so it will crap because "obviously, the writers don't understand how Star Trek works." It's set during the series' history so it'll "be shit like Enterprise." Fans complaining that it's not going further into the future, or that it's not set during the original series, or just after the original movies, often all in the same post. Continual hatred of a series that has yet to even begin filming, alongside hatred of series past, that makes me wonder why these people even watch Star Trek. Many of them claim that they won't be watching it, when it's clear that they will, because they need to know everything about it so they can complain about it.

I can see why some people are put out that the series will be on a pay-to-use streaming site (CBS in the US and Canada, Netflix elsewhere) rather than on broadcast television. But really, these systems aren't terribly expensive, and it won't be long at all before the series will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray. In any case, Netflix is, for my money, well worth getting anyway. And if you really can't spare those few dollarpounds, there are plenty of ways to get this stuff for free.

Personally, I can't bloody wait. 

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