By Shawn Trommeshauser
(Dreaming in Digital)
- Spoiler Alert
Ever since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005, there has been a distinctly Star Trek shaped hole in television. But in 2017, two shows have appeared to take audiences back into space. The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s Trek-Inspired show which airs on Fox, and CBS’s own Star Trek: Discovery, the official Trek series that the fans have waited over a decade for.
One show brings the heart and camaraderie of Star Trek back to television while the other only seems to bring the franchise’s name to get attention. I offer opinions based on specific events and elements from both shows which may or may not give away key elements and plot twists.
I wanted Discovery to be good. I honestly did! Star Trek: Discovery IS an interesting science fiction saga (with phenomenal special effects) and it is building a world that can tell some amazing stories. Unfortunately, it’s only shown the barest glimmer of the identity that Star Trek developed over the last fifty years.
I understand that Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman want to make their own mark on the series, but when they are put in charge of bringing back a beloved and long-standing series it’s important to remember WHY it’s loved and long-lasting. Change for the sake of change, while impressive looking for new viewers, can severely alienate the fanbase that already exists.
I’ve brought up several reasons why I was concerned with where Discovery was going in my previous post. But I was not prepared for the shift in tone that this series delivered. They wanted Battlestar Galactica’s feel with Starfleet logos in its place. For example, we have:
- Near constant bickering and arguments among Starfleet staff.
- Enslavement and torture of a potentially sentient life form by a member of a Starfleet crew.
- Klingons raping of prisoners of war.
- The main character repeatedly disobeying instructions but always getting away with it because of a ‘chosen one’ approach to the story.
- A Starfleet captain killing his entire crew.
- Beer pong.
None of these elements feel like they fit in with Star Trek, and there has been no attempt to acknowledge the time period this series is set in beyond a few passing references.
Visually the show looks much higher tech than the technology shown in the original series back in the 60’s, and that is a completely understandable upgrade as real-life technology has surpassed much of what science fiction looked like back then. But with very few exceptions, such as the hand phaser looking like an updated version of the original prop from “The Cage,” there’s almost nothing in the show that mimics the aesthetics of classic Trek and it’s props. A Klingon D-7 battlecruiser appears in one episode and is referenced by name, but it looks nothing like the classic ship everyone remembers from every Star Trek show from the 60’s through the 90’s.
And the Klingons … Oh, the Klingons ….
I remember seeing how the Klingon design had been modernized in the 2013 J.J. Abrams film Star Trek: Into Darkness and thinking that was one of the best redesigns in the newer Star Trek movies. It added to the alienness and intimidation of the Klingons while still being instantly recognizable as to who and what they were portraying.
Discovery’s Klingons aren’t an update, but a complete redesign from top to bottom. If the viewers hadn’t been told who they were supposed to be, no one would have realized these were supposed to be Klingons. The costumes, the makeup, the ships, and the weapons have all been completely redesigned and none of it is recognizable. This not how to bring change to a legendary alien race that is absolutely beloved by the fans.
Yes, the Klingon makeup has changed in the past, most noticeably in Star Trek The Motion Picture. This film was the first time we saw what became the standard aesthetics of the Klingons. Everything from the ridges on their heads to the alien lettering on their screens and equipment stayed consistent for nearly 40 years until Discovery changed everything.
Showrunner Alex Kurtzman tried to justify these changes:
“There have been lots of questions about that, there have been lots of questions about the look of the Klingons and the truth is that we wanted to shift everyone’s perspective about what the Klingons are because they’re so traditionally relegated to just being the bad guys, and that meant making visual changes, too, while hopefully maintaining and retaining the spirit of the original Klingons.”
“… when we conceived of the idea of the first season being about the war with the Klingons it was terribly important for all of us to make sure that we represented both sides of the war in a way that was understandable and relatable. And while the Klingons have been given specific treatment and various iterations in the past, we needed to know what it was like for them to go through this, too, and to humanize, for lack of a better word.”
“So, you’ll see lots of different Klingons, is the answer. And they were all built around the central premise of what the Klingons are but it is terribly important to us along with everything else to humanize them, to give a story to their experience, to give understanding to their culture, to give understanding to why they want what they want. If we didn’t do that and we made them a one-dimensional bad guy then we wouldn’t be Star Trek.”
A fellow Trek fan from New Zealand expressed her own displeasure at Kurtzman’s feeble defense of the redesigned Klingons.
From AiryAiryQuiteContary’s Tumbler page: (used here with permission):
“The Discovery Klingons have been presented relentlessly as savage, orc-like monsters, betrayers, cannibals and torturers, plus an implication of sexual coercion and perhaps rape in the latest episode. They have been dehumanised.”
She goes on to point out that the Klingons being “traditionally relegated to just being the bad guys” is complete rubbish by showing a gallery of heroic and noble Klingon characters including Worf and B’elanna Torres.
And I am in complete agreement with Airy when she says that this treatment of the Klingons…
The Klingons haven’t been ‘generic villains’ since the Original Series in the 1960’s and the other issues that Kurtzman brings up have already addressed in the 80’s. The Klingons have been firmly established as a culture with a rich heritage and mythology of their own full of heroes and villains. Michael Dorn’s Worf has been in more Star Trek episodes and movies combined than any other actor in history and has as big of an influence on Klingon culture and behavior as Leonard Nimoy had on the Vulcans. But I’m sure no one has ever suggested redesigning Vulcan culture or appearance to “humanize” them.
I do appreciate Discovery’s theme of multiculturalism and inclusiveness vs Nationalism and xenophobia as the basis of the Klingon War, but this message was very quickly buried under a mountain of lens flares, quick cuts and “edgy” characters. It has some neat ideas under the presentation, but this is no longer the Federation or Starfleet that I grew up wanting to live in, where humanity had finally moved on and matured. This incarnation of Starfleet isn’t aspiring to anything beyond a generic sci-fi military organization that happens to bring a few scientists along to make a good impression.
I honestly don’t know if I’ll be continuing to watch when the series resumes in January; episodes began streaming on CBC All-Access beginning Jan 7th.