star trek: discovery

‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ the flagship show that CBS controversially chose to launch exclusively on their streaming-only pay service, CBS All Access, got an early renewal for a second season from the network. It’s a move that should surprise no one, of course, as there was really no way that CBS would let the flagship show end after just one season, which would essentially be admitting defeat in their attempt to breathe life into the All Access program.

After a bumpy first season that left some fans excited for “new life” breathed into the franchise but turned others off through its many liberties with existing Trek canon, the question now becomes one of what we can expect to see in Season 2. The final scene of the show’s first season finale introduced fans to a slightly updated version of the original USS Enterprise – and the confirmation that the iconic vessel was indeed under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Now, as ‘Discovery’ is in production on its second season, fans are naturally wondering what the inside of the Enterprise will look like and if the crew will maintain their ‘Original Series’ primary-color uniforms that the new series has seemingly abandoned.  Essentially, viewers are wondering whether aesthetics will adhere to existing Trek canon or be bent to the more “modern” visual flair that ‘Discovery’ seems to crave.

New trailers for the impending second season show a bit of the interior of the classic Enterprise, as well as more of the ‘Enterprise”s crew members wearing the iconic TOS colors with the slightly-updated design.  The discrepancy between the two starships’ uniforms will almost assuredly be addressed in the season premiere episode coming to the airwaves in January 2019… but has the issue been addressed already elsewhere in ‘Discovery’ and Trek canon?

Indeed, this “intergalactic wardrobe malfunction” has been addressed in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ tie-in novels, in particular, ‘Desperate Hours’ by David Mack.  In the storyline of the book (which takes place a few years prior to the events shown in the first season of ‘Star Trek; Discovery’), ‘Discovery’ main character Michael Burnham actually meets and spends a significant amount of time with the Enterprise crew, including Captain Pike, “Number One” aka First Officer Una (as she is named in the novel), and Lieutenant Spock – Burnham’s half-brother, according to new ‘Discovery’ centric canon.  While the novel does spend some time trying to dive into the depth of the two characters’ relationship, we’ll focus on what Mack writes about the aesthetic differences.

First up is the big question of why the Enterprise as seen in The Original Series would look so vastly different from the starships featured in ‘Discovery.’  Both on the exterior and interior, marked changes have been made. In a scene where Spock actually comes aboard the USS Shenzhou (Burnham’s pre-Discovery posting as shown in the first few episodes of the new series), the Vulcan ruminates on the drastic differences between the two vessels:

“The doors closed, and the lift car shot into motion with hardly any sensation of movement.  Spock noted the profusion of display screens that ringed the top of the lift car, and the complexity of the interface screens placed at eye level.  He preferred the austerity of the Enterprise’s turbolifts, with their dearth of distractions and an optional control handle.


“It was clear to him that the two ships had been designed and constructed in different eras, according to very different aesthetic design standards.  Such drastic changes in a short span of time were not unusual among the humans of Earth, though it had proved a constant source of bemusement among their Vulcan and Andorian allies.”

I could buy this somewhat-plausible explanation – the example given is akin to a car made in 2018 compared directly to the visual design and features of a car made in the 1990s.  I said I could buy the explanation, but I’m not – throughout both the novel and the first season of ‘Discovery,’ the Enterprise is unequivocally identified as the newer, better starship, with the Shenzhou being the older model – so it’s like saying the ’90s car and its outdated technology is actually newer and more preferred in today’s society than a brand-new 2018 model.  Wrong!

Elsewhere in the novel, Mack also tries valiantly to explain why the uniforms from the two series look so different:

“[The] team from the Shenzhou wore dark blue Starfleet utility jumpsuit uniforms with black trim, while the Enterprise team sported pale gold or light blue jerseys over black trousers – a new uniform style that so far had been issued exclusively to the crews of Starfleet’s vaunted Constitution-class ships.”

Nice thought, but The Original Series clearly showed many starbases & outposts where Starfleet crews there were also sporting the primary-color look.  And speaking of incorrect uniform design: the logo insignias on the Starfleet uniforms of the Shenzhou and Discovery crew are all wrong for the year (approximately 2256) that this novel and the first season of the show take place in. At this time in the established Trek timeline, each ship was wearing its own insignia patch; the well-known A-shape “starburst” that all Starfleet officers are shown wearing in ‘Discovery’ belonged exclusively to the USS Enterprise.  Another hole in the theory, unfortunately.

Listen, I credit the powers-that-be for trying to sync ‘Discovery’ into the Trek timeline, I really do.  But the choice to insert the show into such an established area of Trek canon just feels like an overall poor choice for me, especially with their drive to put such a different visual spin on things.  After all, imagine if ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (set immediately before the events of the 1977 film ‘Star Wars) had decided to soup up the X-Wings and the characters’ outfits to look drastically different from what ‘Star Wars’ had given fans on-screen 40 years ago.  Think lots of folks would have been pretty upset with that?

I hate to end by directly comparing two of the great sci-fi franchises of the last 50 years, but the statement is an obvious one: ‘Star Wars’ created a brand-new story set into an already-established area of its own canon and got it right, aesthetically speaking – why couldn’t ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ do the same?