Spock, Chewbacca and The Prequel Paradox

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ brought us Han Solo’s origins as a young scoundrel. As I covered in my earlier review, it was kind of alright, if you overlook the odd bits about race and feminism.

But one thing that stood out was the scene where two Storm Troopers talk about Chewbacca eating people. Sure, technically it’s not cannibalism, but we don’t have a word for one sentient being eating another sentient being from a different species, so to satisfy all you bloody pedants out there, and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to call it “Shmannibalism”.

There’s also a scene where Chewie literally dismembers a person. He physically, actually pulls their arms from their body.

Chewbacca is a violent sociopath.

So, you watch ‘Solo’, and then you go and watch ‘A New Hope’ and you’re like… Oh. Han Solo kept the shmannibal as his co-pilot. His co-pilot eats people. And that comment he makes to C-3PO, about Chewie pulling people’s arms out of their sockets when he loses… that wasn’t a joke. Han was talking literally.

Wait, Han Solo’s ship’s computer is a former civil rights activist, who was literally stripped of her bodily autonomy and forced into servitude as the Millennium Falcon‘s satnav?

solo-a-star-wars-story-trailer-1
“This is my friend Chewie. It’s cool, he hasn’t eaten anybody in, like, three days.”

And suddenly, that lighthearted space adventure with laser swords and magic and starfighters duelling over an enormous space station – it all has a bit of a different tone. Because one of our heroes – our heroes – eats people, and violently dismembers them. He’s as violent and gruesome as Hannibal Lecter.

And also the most famous ship in the franchise is run on slave labour.

And this is the problem with prequels. Prequels change the way we see existing characters, such as:

A lot of the time, a known (and often popular) character from a franchise will appear in that franchise’s prequel, and a lot of the time it kinda works, either because the character is kept consistent with their original appearance, or because the prequel is divorced enough from the original that it doesn’t quite feel like “canon”. For example:

  • Obi Wan Kenobi feels like a consistent-enough character from ‘The Phantom Menace’ all the way through to ‘Return of the Jedi’.
  • Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’ is completely compatible with, even complimentary to, Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
  • ‘Prometheus’, as much as I like to whinge, doesn’t really affect your experience of ‘Alien’, because the films are so radically different in tone and structure.
  • The 2009 remake of ‘Star Trek’ was drastic enough of a reboot, stylistically and otherwise, that it very effectively walls itself off from the rest of the franchise in its own little continuity.

For me, the Ur-Example of recent times is that of Sarek in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ (because of course it is, it wouldn’t be a Crude Review if I didn’t whinge about DISCO).

sarek2
Sheer poise and sophistication.

Sarek, a famously logical, ethical Vulcan renowned for having spent his life as adiplomat and advocate of peace, is revealed, in the finale of DISCO’s first season, to have been an active participant in a plot to destroy a planet with billions of people on it, before being publicly revealed as a conspirator.

Which makes it weeeeeeiiiird when we then see him in ‘The Original Series’, the movies and ‘The Next Generation’ being revered as a diplomat, even sat next to the president during fraught negotiations with the Klingons, the same race he tried to commit genocide against. It puts a bizarre spin on everything, with this weird, horrible genocide plot now hanging over every scene that Sarek is in.

sarekklingon1
Ooh, awkward.

(By the way, destroying a planet in a surprise attack to “bring peace to the Galaxy” was exactly the plot of the original Star Wars, and, SPOILER ALERT, it wasn’t the good guys.

…It was Space-Fascists.)

Now, you may be thinking “But what about sequels? Don’t they have the same issues?” And to an extent, they may, when a familiar character is diminished or warped to fit the narrative of a commercially-driven sequel (*cough* Gimili *cough*). But the difference with sequels is that they, by definition, follow after what has come before.

sarekklingon4
Awkwaaaaard.

When we see Luke choke Gamorrean Guards in Jabba’s Palace, that doesn’t overwrite the innocent farmboy we first saw on Tatooine – it just shows a different path for the character. If they ever made an origin story for Luke Skywalker, and we found out that a couple of days before ‘A New Hope’ he ethnically cleansed a village of Jawas in the Dune Sea, then we’d have a situation where all of his boyish enthusiasm takes on a different tone.

Similarly, Darth Vader’s redemption in ‘Return of the Jedi’ doesn’t change the nature of his terrifying authoritarianism in ‘Hope’ and ‘Empire’. However, finding out that Vader’s initial fall to the Dark Side was because he was pretty lamely duped into it by the Emperor does diminish a lot of his power and agency in the Original Trilogy, and the drama between him and Obi Wan.


It doesn’t, though. None of these prequels actually ruined anyone’s childhood. Any rational adult can divorce their mental association between a crappy cash-in prequel and an old classic. When I watch the Original Star Wars Trilogy now, I broadly don’t even think about the Prequel Trilogy. When I watch ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the trash of the Hobbit trilogy doesn’t even enter my mind.

But, that brings us around to the self-defeating nature of these prequels. What do I mean by that?

Well, most media intended for mass consumption these days is motivated almost entirely by commercial concerns. Sure, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ genuinely feels like a passion project for just about everybody involved, but that’s a rare exception, and for every furious road there are five tired Melissa McCarthy vehicles rehashing a bunch of ideas that have already gone before. (I love Melissa McCarthy, by the way, I just wish we could see her doing something a little different for a change. Don’t even get me started on Will bloody Ferrell.)

Besides the bottom line, though, there’s always going to be a glimmer of artistry in almost any production. There will always be, you would hope, some desire by the cast and crew to entertain and intrigue their audience – to tell a story. At its very worst, you get the likes of ‘Transformers’ and ‘Into Darkness’, where commercialism completely dominates any creative imperative, but there would hopefully be a balance in most productions. The Marvel Universe films are all strong examples of commercially-driven movies that retain some artistic essence, if for no other reason than the fact they’re genuinely quite entertaining.

Let’s take another look at the Star Wars Prequels, this time focusing in on ‘The Phantom Menace’. As great a misstep as the plot contrivances may have been, Lucas was clearly intent on spinning some kind of politically intriguing tale set in the Star Wars universe. He failed. Badly. But there’s that little spark of the storyteller still shining through. You can at least see what Lucas was going for, no matter how wide he fell from the mark. He gets points for at least kind-of giving a shit, even if only for ‘The Phantom Menace’.

palpatine

Part of that artistic intent, with a prequel or a sequel, is to make this instalment a part of the larger series, or franchise or whatever. Put simply, most of the time the creators of these sorts of films want to add their creation to the existing canon, to contribute to a greater whole. The Prequel Trilogy was genuinely intended to be a canonical part of the Star Wars saga. ‘Enterprise’ really wanted to show us life before Starfleet. The Hobbit trilogy was designed to fit snugly into the Lord of the Rings movie-canon.

So then you create your new addition to the canon, where Darth Vader is a stupid whiny teenager or where Chewbacca actually eats people and then… it gets discounted. Because to maintain the image of Chewie as the lovable walking carpet, you have to keep the events of ‘Solo’ out of your head when you watch ‘A New Hope’. So now, ‘Solo’, which was meant to inform on the origins of the iconic Han Solo and Chewbacca duo… doesn’t. Because nobody* wants to think about it. Nobody* wants to see Darth Vader as a miserable Hayden Christensen, so they just… won’t.

And so, you hit the Prequel Paradox. You’ve pushed your own artistic creation out of the canon to which it was meant to contribute. It makes itself irrelevant in the minds of the fans*.

* By “nobody” and “fans” I am, of course, assuming that all audiences are identical to myself: angry fat men on the internet. In truth the majority of the audience likely don’t give a shit, and rightly so.

But how relevant do you even want it to be? How loyal do you need your new creation to be to the existing source material? Which leads into the ULTIMATE problem with prequels.


‘Rogue One’ was unique. For all of its flaws, at the very least it subverted our expectations. As we progress through the final act, we gradually come to realise that everybody is going to die. And it’s a great subversion. It’s the depressing, brutal ending that nobody really expected from a Star Wars movie.

rogueoneending

‘Solo’ gives us the opposite. We see Han and Chewie and Lando and the Falcon in all of these dangerous situations that we already know they will survive. The filmmakers do their best to use the supporting cast creatively, with double-crosses and casualties throughout. And tension doesn’t rely on not knowing what’s going to happen – you can still feel tense when re-watching a scene you’ve seen thirty times before. But from a story perspective, we already know that Han ends up with Chewie, and they both end up with the Falcon, and Lando lives through it all, and so we know that every scene in the movie will contrive to allow them to live.

The existing canon acts as a restraint on the narrative.

Now, let’s address the real reason I wanted to write this article.

Ethan Peck cast as Spock in Star Trek: Discovery

So, as I’ve previously covered, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ has a new Spock in town. We knew it was coming. From the first time we saw Sarek in the show, we knew Spock would be dragged into this mess.

ethanpeck
Mr Spock, if The Original Series had been written by Stephenie Meyer.

And I want to make clear, right out of the gate, that I don’t give a shit about Klingon creature designs or the revamp of the Enterprise or the uniforms or any of that crap. Klingons have changed their appearance and culture so many times that there is no consistent version of the Klingon Empire anymore. Hell, the Klingons in ‘Deep Space Nine’ aren’t even the same Klingons we see in ‘The Next Generation’. The “Refit” Enterprise made no logical sense except as a way to make a nicer model for the big screen. And we’ve seen so many bloody uniform variations that I really don’t give a shit anymore (and besides, shouldn’t Pike’s uniform feature a polar neck? Jus’ sayin’).

But I do give a crap about Spock. Specifically, I give a crap about what will be at stake in the adventure to save him. Because ‘Discovery’ is part of the canon, right? And we know, canonically, that he’s going to be back with Captain Pike before long, and not long after that he’s going to team up with Kirk and McCoy, and then he’s going to try and re-unify Romulus and Vulcan, and THEN he’s going to fly a jellyfish-ship into a black hole and then travel back to an alternate reality where his younger self will beat up Benedict Cumberbatch with a lump of metal.

So we already know that Spock will probably be fine. But that’s okay, because we knew that all the way through the Original Series, too.

But we also know that Pike’s going to be fine, and that they will end up back on the Enterprise, which will also be fine, so the story’s going to have to contrive that particular conclusion, too.

Christopher_Pike,_2267
Well, I guess he’ll be sort-of fine.

We also know that we’re probably not going to get too many huge shake-ups to the wider world of Star Trek, because we know everything will still be there in a few years’ time once we get to ‘The Original Series’.

So it already seems as though this huge universal theory of bullshit that Burnham’s really, really cringey voice-over alludes to in the awful trailer is probably not going to amount to much, long-term.

And despite all of that, they could probably still make a decent-ish story with enough tension about Captain Pike commandeering the Discovery to save Spock and unravel the mystery of the Red Bursts.

And that is the main issue I have. Because isn’t this show meant to be about the crew of Discovery?


Lets talk about Burnham.

burnham

Burnham has two main problems as a character:

  1. She has no motivations throughout the first season. She refuses Lorca’s offer of redemption, only to be forced into it, and then just wanders around, bored. There’s even a scene where she tells Tilly directly just how unengaged she is. And that never changes. Burnham never makes any decision to engage with events and drive her life forwards – things just happen, and she responds to them.
  2. She is introduced as Spock’s foster-sister.

So, the first one is just a general complaint that I wanted to get off my chest, but the second is what I want to talk about.

And no, it doesn’t matter that Spock never mentioned her. There was literally an entire film about Spock suddenly having a brother that he’d never spoken about before and that he has never mentioned since. Hell, Kirk had a brother that he mentions in a single episode, who again never features outside of that episode. Data had Lore, and then B4. Burnham can still be canonically Spock’s sister and it really doesn’t change much.

But, what does matter is that it becomes part of Burnham’s identity. Burnham is now Spock’s sister. She’s Sarek’s daughter. Everything that happens is now connected to those two existing characters inextricably, and it also means Burnham’s pretty much stuck in their respective shadows. She’s not her own character – she’s just a relative of these other (male) characters that the fans will recognise.

sarek1

And it’s also pointless. Burnham is an interesting character in her own right. An orphaned human raised by Vulcans – cool. A traitor to Starfleet who “starts a war” (but doesn’t really) – also cool. She doesn’t need to be connected to Sarek and Spock, and arguably she shouldn’t be, because it ties her fate into that of those other two characters whose futures are already set in stone by previous installments.

Particularly when the plot of the second season (or at least part of it) is going to be Burnham searching for Spock. Specifically, Burnham’s investment in the plot, based on the trailer, seems to be to find her foster brother, and it was Spock who took a leave of absence to investigate the mysterious phenomena across the Galaxy. If this turns out to be true, then notice that Burnham won’t be motivated by her own curiousity or desire for discovery – the actual drive and ambition is all Spock’s.

Not to mention that there was already a Star Trek story about searching for Spock, called ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.’ Hell, TNG had it’s own Spock-hunt, called ‘Reunification’ (parts 1 & 2). In fact, this isn’t even ‘Discovery’s first search for Spock – they did one in the first season, called ‘Lethe’, where Spock was played by Sarek, his father.

And let’s take a look at ‘Lethe’ for a second, because it’s exactly what I’m talking about – Burnham tries to track down the dying Sarek, and she learns about his inner conflicts through the medium of dream-karate (the most Vulcan metaphor I can possibly think of, I mean, of course the rational, highly cultured and scientific Vulcans would characterise everything in the form of physical combat). But what you’ll notice is that all of the revelation and self-discovery is Sarek’s, not Burnham’s. Sure, her relationship with her foster father develops, but it develops through Sarek’s character growth, rather than Burnham’s.

lethe

And the main reason this happens is because Sarek is the already-established character that the fans will recognise. If we imagine that James Frain was playing, I dunno, Sarevok (in this continuity Faerûn is in the Alpha Quadrant), some hitherto unknown Vulcan who fostered Burnham, then there might be less perceived need to make the story about him, and instead it might be Burnham who learns new things about herself as she struggles to save him.

This change would also have absolutely allowed the writers to have Sarevok participate in any kind of awful, genocidal atrocity, and therefore have him face more severe consequences for it, without violating the canon. Hell, they would have all the freedom they needed to flesh him out beyond the constraints set by Sarek in previous Treks.


All of this stems from the decision to make ‘Discovery’ a prequel, rather than a sequel. I should refer to this tweet, by on of the show’s writers, Ted Sullivan:

Writing for a franchise with as long and twisted a continuity as Star Trek is understandably daunting. Disney binned all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff when they bought that franchise specifically for this reason (and also because a lot of it is garbage and they probably didn’t want to pay out royalties every time they mentioned Mara Jade). Continuing a series without breaking continuity is really fucking difficult, and most of the old Trek writers didn’t even bother to do it themselves a lot of the time.

But that is multiplied tenfold when you do a prequel. With a sequel, you’re creating new canon, and you can move away from established universe norms through the actions of your characters. Want to ditch the Prime Directive? Have a scene where two crew members discuss it being abandoned for political reasons. Want to make the Klingons a race of peaceful scientists? Explain the cultural shift, using a montage, or flashbacks, or even just basic exposition.

You can’t do that with a prequel, because every change has to be carefully explained and later on corrected to remain within canon. How is it that a war with the Klingons took the Federation to the brink of collapse, but that war is never mentioned in all of the dealings with the Klingons just ten years later? How is it that the Federation handed the means to destroy the Klingon homeworld to a renegade and yet the Klingons don’t constantly bring that up every time Kirk starts preaching about peace and co-operation?

 

errandofmercy1
One of these two is the representative of an empire which uses weapons of mass destruction to coerce submission from its enemies. SPOILER ALERT IT’S NOT THE KLINGON.

And these things can be explained, there is no doubt about that, but you’re then forced to dedicate screen time to explaining them, rather than telling the story you actually want to tell. Sullivan accurately describes Trek canon as a set of “handcuffs,” but by writing a prequel, he’s really put himself in a straitjacket.

And all of this is at the expense of the show itself. This isn’t just me complaining about DISCO again*. As mentioned, I want the show to succeed – but I want it to succeed on its own merits, by telling original stories with interesting characters that bring something new to Trek, rather than just revisiting the same icons and cultural references like ‘Funkopops: The Series’.

* I mean, it’s mostly just me complaining about DISCO again.


Prequels can be fantastic. They can be a great way to learn more about a character or event in an established universe. ‘Rogue One’ succeeded because it took something we knew nothing about, the “daring raid” to seize the Death Star plans, and made a fun, clunky character piece out of it, with big spaceship battles and pointless cameos by R2-D2 and C-3PO. ‘Rogue One’ worked because of how little we knew about the subject at hand – a passing reference in the opening crawl of the first ever Star Wars film. And consequently, it could be its own entity, and tell the story it wanted to tell.

hanchewie1

‘Solo’ failed because of how much we knew about the subject at hand – specifically, two of the most famous sci-fi characters in modern times. And because we knew so much about where Han and Chewie were going, there was very little room to explore where they had come from. The film struggled to tell its own story, and where it deviated from what the fans knew, it ended up making itself obsolete (unless you’re a diehard Chewie-is-a-cannibal theorist).

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ failed for… well, for lots of reasons, but I think the main one was that it handcuffed itself to pre-ordained fates not just of its characters, but of its various nations and species and factions and technologies. They get a cool new mode of transportation, that we know won’t exist in the future. They go to war – a war whose consequences we know will be forgotten within a decade. Like with ‘Solo’, this isn’t just about narrative tension, it’s about having room to develop a story beyond rigid confines established by different writers half a century ago.

It’s about being able to tell the story that you want to tell, rather than the story that you are forced to tell.

If I were a writer stuck with the commercial decision to create a prequel to a much-loved, long-running franchised, I’d just get on with it and try to do my best, and I can only assume that’s exactly what all the writers of all the terrible prequels that have ever been made have done. Ultimately, when you have a job to do, you just do it.

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Script from the Pilot Episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Last night, the below script was accidentally uploaded by a CBS staffer to the Internet Movie Script Database. It was removed just a few minutes later once the mistake was realised, but fortunately, we here at CrudeReviews.net were able to download it in the short time it was live, and we decided to share it with you here.

Are you all super excited for the Alex Kurtzman-led return of Captain Jean Luc Picard, starring the legendary Patrick Stewart? We certainly all are! #PicardisBack #StarTrekRocks #WeLoveStarTrek #ProgressiveSciFi


STAR TREK: PICARD

SEASON 1, EPISODE 1
PROVISIONAL TITLE: “As the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
ALTERNATIVE TITLE: “Let Them Bleed”

WRITTEN BY ALEX KURTZMAN, AGE 44 AND 2/3rds

INT. PICARD’S READY ROOM
The camera pans across a table of Picard’s treasured memories. First we see his tin whistle, from that one where he lived the entire life of someone in a dying civilisation. Do you remember that one? It was really famous, everyone remembers that episode. The camera keeps panning, over to the ancient stone artefact, the Curly Rascal. Then a Polaroid photograph of Picard and Q, hanging out at the beach. Finally, four lights in a line. Do you remember that one? The one where he shouted “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”? Do you remember that? You remember that, don’t you?

The camera zooms out to show the whole ready room at a dutch angle. All the lights are blue, and everything’s dark. Behind his desk, PICARD sits in silence, grizzled, a rough scar down one side of his face, lifting a dumbbell in one arm. He stares at a screen in front of him, with the words “WAR REPORT” in large font at the top. There are red icons and lines on one half of the screen, and blue icons and lines on the other half of the screen.

The door chimes. Picard doesn’t look up.

PICARD
Enter.

In walks NUMBER ONE. She’s tall, of West Asian descent, and identified in all the show’s press releases as “Star Trek’s first Indian Muslim Lesbian!” She’s also half-Andorian, or something, with all of the personal drama that presumably entails.

NUMBER ONE
We’re almost ready to begin negotiations, Captain-Ambassador. As Starfleet’s top diplomat, it will be your job to bring peace to this sector. Before the entire Federation falls.

PICARD
Well, Number One, this war with [distant sound of dice rolling] THE ROMULANS and [sound of a dart thumping into a dartboard] THE JEM’HADAR, led by [sound of coin flip] THE BORG is taking its toll. The entire Alpha Quadrant could be wiped out soon if we don’t find a way to stop this dreadful war.

NUMBER ONE
Yes, wars are terrible. And thank you for so succinctly expositing the peril we currently face. It sounds like this awful, awful war could take nine, maybe even ten episodes to resolve.

PICARD
Agreed. Let’s get moving.

They walk out of the ready room together.

INT. THE SHUTTLE BAY
Picard, Number One and a Tactical Diplomacy Team enter the shuttle bay. They are all dressed in armoured space suits, carrying flashy new phaser rifles. They march past the shuttles straight to the rear door.

NUMBER ONE
Captain, aren’t we taking the shuttles?

PICARD
Not today, Number One. Today we need to be a little more direct. Ready?

The rear door opens, revealing a planet below them. The camera flies out of the door and pans back to an exterior shot of the ship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-XXX. A heavy metal remix of the ‘Next Generation’ theme plays. The Enterprise is a sleek, futuristic ship with nacelles and everything. She’s Starfleet’s newest consular ship, armed with fifty billion photon torpedoes and the newly-designed “Peacebringer” anti-planet array.

Inside the shuttle bay, an automated voice addresses the team.

COMPUTER
Ship in position. Diplomacy team ready to deploy.

PICARD
I love this part.
(he cocks his pump-action laser gun)
Let’s begin negotiations. Engage!

Picard, Number One and team run and leap out of the shuttle bay whilst Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ plays non-diegetically.

EXT. THE PLANET’S SURFACE, DAY
WEYOUN (Do you remember him???) and SOME ROMULAN stare in horror at a holographic tactical display.

SOME ROMULAN
Weyoun, it’s the Enterprise, she’s in orbit!

WEYOUN
The Enterprise? She’s an Ethics-class consular gunship! And she can only be captained by one person…

SOME ROMULAN
(gasping)
Picard! Quickly, we must hide the children!

WEYOUN
(to a Jem’Hadar soldier)
Get the troops ready and prepare our defenses for an orbital diplomatic assault!

EXT. THE SKY, DAY
Picard, Number One and the Tactical Diplomacy Team plummet through the air, the front of their spacesuits glowing red hot because that’s what happens when you enter a planet’s atmosphere, so this is still technically science-fiction.

Suddenly, powerful LASER BLASTS fire up at them from the surface! Arcs of deadly green energy bolts fill the air. Two of Picard’s diplomatic staff are vaporised as soon as they are hit.

NUMBER ONE
Captain, we can’t withstand this amount of firepower! We have to ab-

She screams, an energy bolt striking her and covering her in green, coruscating energy ribbons. Why she doesn’t get vaporised like the other two is unknown. She howls in agony as her body gets twisted and contorted by the energy, breaking her bones and searing her skin. This goes on for at least six minutes. Eventually, her eyes explode and then her entire body explodes inside her spacesuit, filling it with a goopy, bloody mess.

PICARD
Number One! Well, she died doing what she loved – convincing people on the internet that this was still a progressive show with new ideas. It’s just up to us men now, boys!

The assault team cheers, unfazed by their losses or the unyielding anti-air fire that still fills the sky. They continue their descent to the enemy position. One of them speaks up.

TEAM MEMBER
Say, captain, did we ever find out why the enemy wanted to go to war with us? It seems like the Romulans would be hesitant to ally with such a destructive force as the Jem’Hadar, and in any case, wouldn’t the cost of a war with the Federation and occupation of planets outweigh any strategic benefit in the long term?

He immediately gets hit with a laser blast and incinerated.

PICARD
Any other questions?

There are none.

EXT. MILITARY BARRACKS, DAY
A ROMULAN OFFICER leads twenty soldiers in combat training.

ROMULAN OFFICER
Remember, as you fight, be brutal, and only communicate in grunts and growls. We’re the baddies in this war, so we can’t do anything that will in any way humanise us or allow the audience to develop any sympathy for us.

ROMULAN SOLDIER
But I’m fighting for the security of my empire and for the freedom of my loved ones!

ROMULAN OFFICER
No you are not, maggot! You are a nameless grunt! You will throw yourself in the way of phaser blasts and if you are lucky, you may hit a Federation soldier, thereby increasing the level of peril!

ROMULAN SOLDIER
Sir yes sir!

Just then, Picard smashes into the soldier from above, his armoured space suit crushing the green-blooded Romulan into a cloud of red mist and gore. AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ blares over the soundtrack.

Picard taps a button on the side of his helmet, and the whole helmet folds back and into nothing, revealing Picard’s face and bald head.

PICARD
We’re here to negotiate terms.

He shoots the Romulan officer in the face. The rest of the squad land behind him, and begin shooting and/or stabbing the rest of the Romulans. Picard kneels over the fallen body of the Romulan officer.

PICARD
Alas, the cost of war. It is so terrible a thing that we ruin and slaughter when peace might otherwise prevail. Oh! How I long for the days of peaceful exploration, where we can uphold Starfleet’s true ideals of mercy and discov-

His voice is drowned out by the screams of the Romulans around him.

INT. A COMMAND CENTRE
Weyoun and Some Romulan are now in a dingy, poorly-lit command centre, filled with Jem’Hadar and Romulan soldiers.

WEYOUN
He’s made planet fall! We should send three brigades of our best troops to slow him down!

SOME ROMULAN
Don’t be insane! He’s the Federation’s top diplomat! We don’t stand a chance in a fight against him. Do you think he would let us live if we surrender?

WEYOUN
It doesn’t look like we have much choice.

Picard kicks down the door and strides in, rifle in hand. He shoots all of the other Romulans and Jem’Hadar before they have chance to react. Weyoun yelps, and drops to his knees, his hands clasped together.

WEYOUN
Captain-Ambassador Picard, please! We surrender! Unconditionally! Spare our lives, and we will work with you to bring this war to an end! We see now that we were at fault, and we want to learn from Starfleet’s ways of peace and equality, so that we can be better ourselves!

PICARD
Up yours, dickhead.

Picard punches Weyoun in the head, so hard that his head spins around completely, and we hear the sound of his neck snapping. Picard points his rifle at Some Romulan.

PICARD
There are now sixty Starfleet Abdul Hamid-class gunships in orbit of this planet. Surrender this sector, or we will be forced to wipe out every living organism and turn this world into a barren tomb.

Some Romulan nods nervously, then carefully shuffles to a console at one side of the room. He presses a button, and on the display a large, red icon appears: “SURRENDER SECTOR”. He pushes it. On the other side of the room, a display labelled “WAR MAP” turns from red to blue. Little Starfleet badge symbols replace all of the Romulan symbols.

Picard nods. He taps his commbadge.

PICARD
This is Picard. Diplomacy accomplished. One to beam up.

He is consumed by the sparkly transporter effect and disappears.

INT. THE BRIDGE OF THE ENTERPRISE
Picard strides onto the bridge in full dress uniform. He addresses the crew.

PICARD
Today, a great victory was won for peace. Through careful negotiation, we were able to end the war in this sector. Although we still have the rest of the Alpha Quadrant to pacify, today proves that we can restore order to the Galaxy by embodying Starfleet’s ideals of ethics, co-operation, discovery and science. This is what it means to be Starfleet, and we have shown that diplomacy, not violence, is always the way to resolve our differences.

The crew applaud, some with tears in their eyes. An Admiral gets up from their weapons station and hangs six medals around Picard’s neck. Inspiring music plays. The audience screams in joy about how Star Trek has returned to its moralistic roots.

Then, an alarm sounds. The OPS OFFICER gasps.

OPS OFFICER
Captain! There’s another ship on an intercept course! I’m not sure who it is, but I’m getting some data coming through now.

On his screen, in large font, are the words “COMMANDING OFFICER:” and below that, four empty spaces. Slowly, one by one, the empty spaces are filled with a letter each. “D”. Then “A”. Then “T”.

OPS OFFICER
Sir! It’s the Cheney!

PICARD
That’s… Commander Data’s ship!

That’s right, Commander Data! Do you remember him? The robot guy? He’s in this too! COMMANDER DATA! HE’S IN THIS SHOW AND YOU RECOGNISE HIM! TUNE IN NEXT WEEK AND YOU MIGHT SEE HIM! COMMANDER DATA! WATCH THE NEXT EPISODE, ASSHOLES!


Well, that looks exciting! We really like the bit where Picard shot all those people, that looks really good. And what about Number One? Could she be the new progressive face of Star Trek? Is this show leading the way for representation of minorities in sci-fi? Probably! The only thing that was really missing from this script was some kind of mystery plot or hidden identity, but who knows what crazy twists and turns they have in store for us in the other episodes? We can’t wait!

Star Trek: Discovery, Section 31, and the Death of Creativity

A cold, blustery day. Dark clouds turbulate overhead. Throughout the city, people look up the definition of “turbulate” and discover it’s being used incorrectly, but their lives continue unhindered.

Atop the city’s tallest building, at the very edge of the roof, stands a man. A writer. Lacking purpose or place in the world, he gazes down at the streets below and imagines his long descent and his messy, pavement-strewn end at the hands of gravity.

“Jon, don’t do it!” a woman’s voice calls. “I love you!”

“I know, Emily Blunt, and I’m so grateful to you for giving up your family and your life in Hollywood to come and live with me as a full-time ‘Roll for the Galaxy’ player,” he says, expositionally, “but it’s just not enough anymore. Besides, it’s weird that I never got past the point of calling you by your full name. You’d think that’d be step one, really.”

Hans Zimmer’s ‘Elysium’ from the ‘Gladiator’ Original Soundtrack can be heard non-diagetically. Jon stands, motionless, his arms outstretched, the cool breeze dancing across his open palms. It’s really dramatic and emotional.

Jon continues. “It’s just too much. All of it. Brexit. The #ihave hashtag. Trump. My literal emasculation. ‘Altered Carbon’s Saturn award. Matt Smith getting paid more than Claire Foy. My parents still being alive – the actuarial tables really fucked me over on that one.”

“But Jon!” Emily Blunt shouts, “it’s been confirmed! Season 2 of Discovery! They say Section 31 is going to be a major plot line!”

Jon sighs, closes his eyes, and steps backwards, away from the ledge. His arms drop. “Fine, then. I guess I’m still needed for a little while longer.”

Emily exhales deeply, her relief audible, her hand resting at her throat.

Jon wrings his hands to stop them from shaking. “Get me my keyboard and a shitload of codeine. It’s going to be another tough year.”


I loved ‘Deep Space Nine’. I really did. But Section 31 wasn’t half a mistake.

Within the series itself, it’s fine. Section 31 is a fringe group, maybe even just one man, the implication being that they operate well beneath Starfleet’s radar. And they only feature as part of Bashir’s arc – a direct reflection of his life lived undercover by necessity, and his desire for life of more overt subterfuge.

ourmanbashir
“Don’t worry about her, this is a James Bond holoprogram, she’s not a real person.” “You mean because she’s a holographic simulation?” “No, I mean because she’s a woman.”

Bashir idolises Garak’s life of secrets and deceit. He craves the excitement and the drama that it offers. That we learn that Bashir is something of his own secret agent, a product of genetic engineering that’s been illegal for centuries in the Federation, is a dark revelation. Bashir has spent his life undercover, hiding who he really is, unable to use the full extent of his abilities for fear of discovery. But this is a mundane deception, born out of necessity and survival rather than duty and intrigue.

Then one day, we meet Section 31. A shadowy, sinister organisation, allegedly part of Starfleet Intelligence, offering Bashir the chance to realise his full potential whilst living out his greatest fantasy. He refuses, because he finds their methods abominable. They melt back into the shadows, reappearing infrequently to do more dastardly deeds in the name of protecting the Federation.

There’s an implication that Starfleet Command is aware of Section 31 – maybe even some sort of agreement in place, especially in the latter stages of the Dominion War. Which to me, made sense. The Federation, on the brink of annihilation with an unrelenting enemy, starts making deals with the Devil himself. I mean, they’d brokered an alliance with the Romulan Empire, and they were just as culpable of state-ordered murder and oppression as anyone else.

The thing is, Section 31 were ambiguous, and nebulous, and unknown. This remained the case when they were revisited in ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ a few years later, acting as an independent organisation beyond Federation oversight.


A decade later, fucking Damon Lindelof shat out another of his movie scripts, this one called ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’. In it, we get a brief mention of Section 31, except this time they’re apparently part of the fucking infrastructure. They’re no longer some small, discrete fringe group. Now they’ve got a cavernous subterranean base beneath London, their head is a Starfleet Admiral, and they produce battleships on a whim.

Kelvin_Memorial_Archive

This is the worst interpretation of Section 31. This is why it was a mistake.

Y’see, the Federation really ought to represent a higher form of government, a better society than the one we have now. A post-scarcity Utopian state of freedom, discovery and responsibility. And I’m fine with the darker necessities of such a society being explored. I like seeing what happens when a society like that is taken to the very edge. For me, that’s what DS9 did so well – it took all of these fucking future-hippies in uniforms and pushed them to their very limit – and showed them (mostly) keeping it together and staying loyal to the cause.

Section 31 can’t be a legitimate part of that society. You can’t have a secret organisation of genocidal assassins in a culture based around peaceful exploration – not without completely compromising everything that such a bright view of the future stands for.

Obviously the Federation will still have its spies. Starfleet will have its own intelligence service. Enlightened liberty doesn’t mean reckless naivety. There will always be some call for espionage, even if only to counter the espionage attempts of your enemies.

But ‘Into Darkness’ legitimised 31 in a way that just annoys me. It brings them front and centre, makes them something bigger than what they should be. They ought to be a minor part of the Star Trek tableau, a part-time boogeyman brought on when you need to strain Starfleet’s purity a little. They shouldn’t be major players in galactic affairs – they should be off on the sidelines, at the corner of your eye, never quite in focus.


So, let’s talk about this dumb scene, that was cut from ‘Star Trek: Discovery’s finale. And for good reason:

Let’s get all the obvious stuff out the way:

  • Fuck off with your lapdance comments.
  • Seriously, Emperor Georgiou gets given a free pass by Starfleet down in the caverns, and the best she can come up with is wandering upstairs to the brothel and settling down as a small business owner?
  • That bloke claims Section 31 was able to find Georgiou “because they’re more resourceful than Starfleet.” Gee, you really must be, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to track down the only human on Qo’Nos, who happens to wander around in plain sight in a public business. It must have taken at least half a dozen Google searches. Maybe even some Google Maps to find the right place.
  • Section 31 is so secretive that nobody’s heard of them. Hence they have their own badges, and they decide to hire, as their next agent, a woman who looks exactly like one of Starfleet’s Top Five most decorated officers.

Starfleet_database,_decorated_captains (1)

  • Also, what is the point, exactly, in giving her a black badge? What, is she supposed to wear it? Does she use it to identify herself to other agents? Are there no better ways to keep track of an espionage network in the future than to flash a really, ridiculously distinctive emblem at each other?
  • Also, we already saw Section 31 on board the Discovery way back in ‘Context is for Kings’. Were they not Section 31? Is the black badge actually just a Starfleet Intelligence emblem? If so, why does Emperor Georgiou need one? Won’t Starfleet Intelligence notice pretty quickly if one of the most famous captains ever is suddenly wandering around dressed as one of their own?

Okay, it’s pretty fucking dumb. Then, there’s the below quote, from this interview with the Neo Nazi Trill bloke from that clip:

Like I can’t say anything about this Section 31, but I don’t even know anything! Like, I’m going into Season 2, and I know it’s a massive part of Season 2…

My chief concern with this is how ‘Discovery’ is going to handle a subject matter that really ought to be handled with subtlety and nuance. Let’s just say they haven’t earned my confidence quite yet.

The thing is, Section 31 just isn’t that interesting. They work for an episode, or two, when they drop in, and the audience’s response is “Wait, who are these arseholes all of a sudden?” and then they’re gone.

It’s a bit like the Mirror Universe. Except that, where the Mirror Universe becomes more ridiculous the more you explore it, Section 31 becomes more mundane: “Oh, cool, it’s a super-secret cadre of badass spies. Oh, neat, they’re questioning the compromise between principles and survival, how original. Oh, is it a CIA allegory? Some Cold War stuff in there too? Oh, well I sure hope this doesn’t get too predictable too quickly.”

It just seems like the standard go-to whenever you want to make your Trek dark and edgy. Which is basically what Section 31 is. Sloan himself is essentially an edgelord, a power fantasy of pubescent white boys with anger issues. He comes across as all suave and cool – and yet his final appearance in DS9 is, very deliberately, a deconstruction of his entire persona. He’s revealed to be a small, suspicious man – vindictive and insecure.

sloan1

Somehow, I suspect that we will see little new from a ‘Discovery’ sub-plot about Section 31. Obviously, they’ve not even finished writing the next season yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that, by the end of it, we will have seen the standard “but what are you willing to do to save paradise?” conundrum, rejected by the crew who will hold to their principles via some stupid plan that will send 31 scampering, and will inevitably make no sense on reflection.

It feels cheap to bring Section 31 back into the show, re-treading old concepts that we’ve already dealt with.

Especially when there’s a much bigger, much more interesting concept ripe for exploration, and which is spawned from the same origins as Section 31: namely, genetic manipulation.

Right now, in the modern world, we’re starting to hit upon a genetic revolution. Tools like CRISPR may be putting us on the cusp of exploring our own genetic destiny. And Star Trek happens to feature the Federation, a culture in which genetic modification, or eugenics, is strictly forbidden.

Khan_Noonien_Singh,_2285

This thread has even been alluded to in the first bloody season of ‘Discovery’ itself. Stamets genetically modifies himself with space bear DNA to allow him to interface with the bullshit drive. Admiral Cornwell chews Lorca out for allowing it. And in the final scene we even get Stamets explaining that Starfleet is ditching the spore drive because of the eugenic implications.

A series that focused on genetic manipulation of humans would be really interesting, and really relevant to stuff that’s just on our own horizon. It would make the show modern, provocative, even. Especially because of the moral issues around eugenics as a concept.

Eugenics is one of those things that unreasonably gets a bad rap because of its association with the Nazis, rather than very reasonably getting a bad rap because of all the other horrible aspects to it. After all, the Nazis were also fans of Volkswagen, and it’s not as though that association informs on VW’s moral standing.

I’m super, super disappointed that Section 31 is apparently the most creative, original story that ‘Discovery’ could pick for its second season, when so much other material is out there, waiting to be explored. A Section 31 storyline is going to be difficult to keep from feeling stale and redundant and old fashioned. And it’s not like this writing team has risen to such challenges in the past.

I simply can’t help but think that this is less about there being a natural vacuum for an original story which compliments Section 31, but rather another low-hanging fruit on the path to making Star Trek the dark, edgy show that nobody really wants it to be.

Star Trek: Frontier Academy – Part 3

This is part of a collaborative effort to produce a piece of Star Trek fiction that looks forward, rather than backward. Future installments will follow as they are written.

Link to Frontier Academy – Part 2


She could taste metal. The air was tangy, and prickly in her throat. She coughed. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the bright light of the sun above. Brighter, and maybe just a fraction more blue than on Earth. Maybe even a little purple. The gravity was a little lighter, too. Not by much, she just felt a bit… springier. She coughed again.

She was stood in a paved street, tall buildings on either side, people walking past her on either side. It felt very much like San Francisco, except she had left in the Autumn, and here it felt like a cool spring day.

The buildings were different, too. Even the most modern, experimental Earth architecture seemed old-fashioned compared to the smooth, organic lines of the structures around her. Tall spires and apartment towers seemed to have sprouted, plant-like, out of the ground, with all sorts of overhangs and curves that would have left them structurally unsound had they been built in the traditional fashion.

The sun was high overhead, and the pale sky had a green tinge – which made sense, Nav realised, a green sky scattering the green light and leaving only the red and blue spectrums to-

“When you are ready to proceed, we will ensure your safe arrival at your destination,” the old monk said from behind her. She turned to face him, breaking from her reverie. “I understand that it is only a short distance,” he qualified.

She smiled. “You don’t need to escort me,” she said, “though I am grateful for the offer.”

The monk raised an eyebrow. “I made a promise to your parents that we would. It would be remiss of me to renege on that promise.”

Nav thought for a moment. “Well, would you promise me that you won’t escort me?”

“As it pleases you,” he answered, bowing his head.

Nav bowed hers in turn. “I’m Nav, by the way. Or Nawisah, or whatever. Nawisah Dacres.”

“So I gathered. I am S’Prel. You are fortunate, Nawisah, to have parents so dedicated to your wellbeing.”

“Yeah,” Nav answered. “I should go,” she said, changing the topic. “I need to register. Thank you for talking to me.”

“I am grateful that we have met,” S’Prel said. He glanced back to the other Vulcans, who were standing silently, watching him. They weren’t impatient – they couldn’t be. But neither were they hiding the fact that they were waiting for him. “We, too, need to proceed to our destination. Remain in good health, Nawisah,” he said, raising his hand in the Vulcan salute, “and excel in all things.”

Nawisah gave the Starfleet salute. “Take care,” she said but her throat was tickling again, and she coughed, managing to splutter “and do a great day.” She winced at her abject failure to express even a simple sentiment. “Erm, goodbye, is what I meant.”

Having ended the conversation catastrophically, she turned on her heel and quickly walked off down the street. The Academy and the Vulcan enclave backed onto one another, but the Academy was huge, and their entrances were separated by half a kilometre. She was walking at a good pace, but not enough to tire her, and yet she could feel her breath getting short. She coughed, once again, but it didn’t help. Her lungs felt a little ragged, like her windpipe was made of crinkly paper.

She arrived at the Academy entrance panting as though she’d sprinted the two-hundred metres. She took a few moments to catch her breath before she went inside.

On the outside, the Academy building had the same organic look as the rest of the city – a tall spire, with sweeping curves along its height, and additional structure branching off, impossibly spindly and complex in shape. It was impressive from the ground, and must have been startlingly beautiful from above.

Inside, the foyer was tall and airy, light pouring in through elongated windows onto huge botanical installations, full of terrestrial and vulcanian flora, and some that were completely unfamiliar. Nav walked through the main doorway as confidently as she could given her compromised breathing.

As she got to the middle of foyer, the front desk clerk called her over by name. “Nawisah Dacres? You’re here to register?” Nav approached, and was handed a PADD. “That’s your map, enrolment papers, class schedule, your halls assignment…”

“I’m meant to-” she had to cough again, badly. He throat was already tender, and likely inflamed. “I’m supposed to meet-”

“Commander Akemji? Yes, she’s down to see you at fifteen-hundred.” The clerk put a small container on the counter top. “This is for your breathing.”

Nav opened the container, revealing a small plastic tube. “I thought-” she had to cough again, “- I thought the treatment was in a pill.”

The clerk shook her head. “The tablet provides long-term alleviation, the vaporiser is for immediate relief. You’ll need to take it for the next few days until the tablet takes effect.”

Nav took a deep drag on the vaporiser, or at least tried to. As she inhaled the cough caught her out and the medicine never made it down her throat. The clerk politely didn’t notice as Nav wheezed and gasped. She tried again and managed a clean dose.

“So this will fix it? My breathing, I mean?”

“You should feel normal most of the time, but you’ll still struggle under exertion.”

“Until the tablet kicks in?”

“Oh no,” the clerk said, “even the tablets will only have a limited effect.”

Nav’s heart sank. “Oh.” She looked at the vaporiser in her hands. “I thought, I had been told-”

“Nawisah?”

Nav turned to see a Commander striding towards her. “Commander Akemji?”

Akemji held out her hand. “Nice to meet you, cadet. Follow me to my office, and we can get started.”


Akemji sat down behind her desk with a thud. She was broad and heavy set, and incredibly expressive in her mannerisms.

“Right then, Cadet Dacres, let’s have a look at your record. You settling on okay?”

“I’ve only been on the surface for twenty minutes, so-”

“Top scores in Physics, O-chem,” Akemji seemed to switch focus without warning. “Bit shakey on Pure Math,” she said, looking up from the PADD at Nav.

Nav wasn’t sure if it was worth her continuing. “Oh, on my entrance exams, yeah, I struggled with matrices.”

Akemji kept reading. “Good on Mechanics, good on Statistics, Astrophys was through the roof! Bit of a stargazer?”

“It was my favourite in high school. Along with Warp Theory and Temporal.”

“Fantastic! You have the makings of a chief engineer!” Nav didn’t respond to that. “You were only a month in the Academy proper, but let’s have a quick look…” She scanned through Nav’s written record and her lecturers’ references. “Good, good, excellent… this must be a mistake, your flight instructor just wrote ‘Bloody awful’. Have you tampered with-”

“No, that’s accurate,” Nav confirmed. She sighed. “She said I was the worst pilot she’d ever seen. I crashed the simulator.”

Akemji scoffed. “That’s ridiculous! Everyone crashes a few times in the simulator, that’s how you learn!”

“No,” Nav said, “I mean I crashed the actual simulator itself. The holodeck froze and then shut down. The error log said it had encountered a fatal exception error trying to process my inputs into its physics model.”

Akemji stared at her across the desk in silence. A silence Nav eventually broke by explaining “I found it difficult adjusting the craft’s orientation to adjust for momentum and thrust.”

“That’s literally the definition of piloting a spacecraft,” Akemji said in the flat tones of a Vulcan.

“Yep,” Nav replied. “Hence the rating.”

The silence resumed for a few more moments. Nav shifted her weight in her seat and examined the far wall in detail.

After a few more moments, Akemji began reading again, before finally putting the PADD down. “Well, of course we’re thrilled to have you with us. Even if you hadn’t already been admitted to San Francisco I’m sure you would have been accepted here with no issues!” She leant forwards. “So, have you had any thoughts about your major?”

“Oh,” Nav said, surprised. “We don’t pick our Major until third year, do we?”

“No, the final choice is made then, but here we push our cadets to pick early, try a few classes, and see how they get on. You can pick and choose and see what fits!”

“Oh. I hadn’t- that is to say, it’s not something I expected to be thinking about.” She already knew her answer, however. “I would like to try the law classes, I think.”

“No pun intended!” Akemji cried, with a wink. Nav stared in shocked confusion. “To try the law classes. Y’know.” Nav processed this for a moment, then nodded and smiled. “But of course,” Akemji continued, “we can have a look at getting you enrolled on them. Bit of an odd choice for a fresher, but nothing wrong with that!”

Nav kept smiling.

“You’ll be living in the Constitution Wing. Off-worlders would normally be in the Miranda Wing but as we’re already part-way through the semester we just had to find a space. Constitution’s great, it’s got a lovely view of the athletics grounds and the best shared bathrooms on campus. Not en suite, sadly, but there’s no Kyrelans in your block so you ought to be alright. Oh!” she said, seeing Nav’s look of confusion. “Kyrelans shed their epidermis and outer mucus layer every three days. It gets… messy.” Her gaze drifted off to the side in silent recollection.

Nav’s throat had been easing progressively, and she realised she hadn’t needed to cough since she took the vaporiser. Nontheless, she cleared her throat. Akemji looked back at her. “I’ll have another cadet show you to your quarters, but for now, Cadet Dacres,” she said, standing and offering her hand, which Nav shook, “welcome to Academy Gamma.”


On to Part 4

Star Trek: Frontier Academy – Part 1

This is part of a collaborative effort to produce a piece of Star Trek fiction that looks forward, rather than backward. Future installments will follow as they are written.


Five years after the end of the Dominion War, Starfleet sent six ships into the Wormhole. They emerged into the Gamma Quadrant, travelling thousands of lightyears in a heartbeat, but that was only the beginning of their journey.

Their destination was a region of space far beyond even the Dominion’s reach: a group of star systems filled with habitable planets. This journey, under the speed of their own warp engines, took them years, and took them further from home than anyone had ever been before.

The colony ship U.S.S. Eleanor Dare reached orbit of the first and only stop on its journey: Zhenxun. Like Earth in many respects, and different in many more, this planet would be a new home, a new start for those aboard the Eleanor Dare.

Life was hard for a while. The comfort and convenience of life aboard a starship gave way to hard work, environmental challenges and a need for a new way of thinking. The task now was not of exploration or discovery, but of expansion and development.

Buildings were slowly assembled, power grids and generators connected together, and the colony of Maathai began to grow, quite literally. Without Federation building codes and regulations, Maathai’s architects experimented with organically grown structures of living metal and polymer. Strong, tall shelters emerged from bare rock, swaying with the wind and healing themselves when harmed.

After only a decade Maathai was a flourishing city, with thousands making the long journey across the Gamma Quadrant to settle there, as well as on the other planets around Zhenxun. It was the dawn of a new age – the Federation was now an intragalactic organisation, with frontiers across every spiral of the galaxy.

“Sixty years later, and here we are,” Johnson finished, “Maathai is now the jewel of the Gamma Quadrant. A centre for trade, production, and, yes, for learning.” He left an image of the city rotating on the holoprojector. “Still months from Earth and Vulcan and Andoria and Tellar, but still very much a part of the Federation.”

Aisha raised her hand. “Is it true they all have gills, sir?”

Johnson raised an eyebrow. “Gills? No, no I don’t believe any of them have gills. At least, not gills that they didn’t already start with. Yes, Aisha?”

“Why don’t we have organic ships and houses, like them?”

He shrugged. “We never needed them. Alpha Quadrant shipyards build good, strong ships the old fashioned way, and we get by just fine. Yes, Aisha?”

“How did the water turn into acid?”

“Well,” Johnson answered, running a hand through his hair, “the lakes and oceans aren’t actually acid, they just contain an unusual polymer-like secretion from much of the submarine life, and it causes irritation and blistering to most types of skin. In fact, it’s slightly alkali. Yes, Ai- Oh, Nawisah, you have a question?”

Nawisah lowered her arm. “How did the colonists prevent radical alteration to the environment into which they were settling? Wouldn’t their very presence produce unpredictable results and inhibit the natural evolution of indigenous species?”

Nawisah, as always, was keen to maintain her image. Her uniform was still smooth and its seams stiff. Her hair was tied back and her eyes were still buzzing from a caffeine rush.

Coffee was one of the few things she’d learned about during her month in San Francisco, and was a habit she’d brought with her through the wormhole and all the way here, to just a few hours out from Zhenxun. Her mother hated her drinking it, which was part of – hell, probably most of – the appeal. And now, she was glad of the extra alertness. She wanted to learn as much as possible about Maathai and Zhenxun, because she was determined not to be caught out by a hamlet full of mutants and deviants.

Aisha, the younger girl, looked at Nawisah with adoring eyes. Between Federation envoys, Vulcan missionaries, Bajoran pilgrims, Klingon hunters and Romulan “surveyors”, there wasn’t much room aboard the Nicholls for children, and whilst Nawisah hardly considered her a peer, she felt sorry for Aisha, stuck for months on a cramped starship with no other kids and no idea of what her future held in store for her.

Nawisah herself was a little uncertain of her own future. It was easy enough for her parents to tell her that the campus at Maathai was the equal of the real Academy, but when they had graduated from San Francisco Maathai didn’t even have a recruitment office. Nawisah wanted to wander the same halls that her heroes had wandered. She wanted to sit in the same lecture theatres that had hosted legends like Norah Satie and Tryla Scott and Admiral Saavik.

So, despite being separated by ten years, Nawisah and Aisha had been united by their frustrations, and now took turns torturing Lieutenant Johnson, the on-board anthropologist who was eagerly trying to prepare them for their new home. Aisha would bombard the young man with a barrage of simplistic questions, before Nawisah would precisely fire off an in-depth query of layered complexity, and they would watch his face twist as his brain struggled to change gears.

But, in the best traditions of Starfleet, he never ran out of patience. Or enthusiasm. And as much as Nawisah respected him for that, skewering him like this was one of the few enjoyable pastimes she and Aisha could share.

As Johnson stammered his way towards an answer, hitting buzzwords like “ecological footprint” and “sympathetic terraforming” along the way, he was saved by the chime of the ship’s comm system.

“Attention all decks, we are about to slow to impulse. Landing parties Alpha through Delta, please assemble in your designated transporter bays and prepare for disembarkation.”

Aisha rushed to the window, and Nawisah followed close behind her. They would be rendezvousing with the Tereshkova, a Margulis-class cruiser, built in the Gamma Quadrant and, therefore, built organically. Nawisah had seen diagrams of the organic ships, but had been told that they didn’t compare with the real thing.

Johnson struggled to see out the window from behind them as the Nicholls dropped out of warp. After a few moments, Nav spotted the other vessel and pointed it out to Aisha, who gasped with excitement.

The Tereshkova looked conventional from a distance. Decently proportioned saucer and engineering sections, nacelles in all the right places. But as she drew closer, her distinctions became more apparent. She was smooth, entirely smooth. There wasn’t a straight edge on her, and as far as Nav could tell there wasn’t a single joint or attachment point either. Every part of her structure just flowed into the other; there weren’t even any hull panels, just a featureless metallic skin, dotted with windows and the occasional sensor cluster.

But it was the colour that really made her stand out. She was pearlescent, every colour in the spectrum reflecting off her hull. She was like a mirage, or something out of a dream, and Nawisah’s mind was rushing to figure out what kind of engineering techniques had produced such a finish.

The call went out again for the first four landing parties to assemble. Nawisah was in the sixth group, so she had a little time yet. She and Aisha sat huddled together, staring out at an unfamiliar starscape and a ship as alien as it was beautiful.


On to Part 2

Star Trek: Quotidian – “Muses of our Fates”

What follows is the third part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

The first part, “An Unavoidable Encounter”, can be found here.

The second installment, “Dignified Relations”, can be found here.


Security Chief’s Log, stardate 43539.1,

I’m just a few minutes away from docking with the U.S.S. Quotidian, to start as her new Security Chief. I will admit that I have not yet quelled my doubts about accepting the position – I still haven’t been told why Captain Miller chose me for the role, despite lacking any prior experience in Security or Tactical and only being a Junior-grade Lieutenant who’s spent most of my time since the academy on Earth.

But I would be a fool to pass up an opportunity like this.


Lieutenant Tailor followed Lt. Commander Sarr into the captain’s ready-room. She had been told her tour of the ship could wait, and in any case she was excited to meet her new commanding officer.

Captain Miller was tall – very tall. She was stood by a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out at the stars, and cut an impressive figure. Tailor was reminded of paintings of historical naval officers, for Miller was all cheekbones and jawline and steely gaze.

“Lieutenant Tailor has arrived, captain,” Sarr said.

The captain moved over to Tailor and shook her hand. “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant. It’s a pleasure to have you join us.”

“The pleasure, and the privilege, is all mine, captain,” Tailor said. “It’s an honour to be here, and to be offered this opportunity.”

Miller seemed nonplussed. “You make it sound like you’re not going to accept, Lieutenant, which would make this a terrible waste of a journey.” She moved to behind her desk and took a seat. “Sit down, please,” she asked, gesturing to the seats in front of her desk.

Tailor and Sarr both sat, and Tailor answered the captain’s query. “It’s not that I won’t accept, captain, but I have to ask, why? Why me? I’m Starfleet’s Creative Arts attaché to the Globe Theatre Company, I haven’t been through any tactical training since I left the Academy three years ago.”

Miller clasped her hands in front of her. “It’s an unusual appointment, I’ll grant you, given your field. But I believe a starship can only function at its best with a crew drawn from many different professional backgrounds.” She glanced at her Second Officer. “For what it’s worth, Commander Sarr here agrees with you. I want you to change her mind.”

Tailor had already weighed Sarr up as being a frosty character at best. She was brusque nearly to the point of rudeness, a trait common with a lot of Bajorans who had escaped the Cardassian occupation. She didn’t respond to Miller’s comment, she just met her gaze with an incredibly neutral look on her face.

Tailor tried to ignore the muted tension in the room. “Captain, I’ll gladly try to change her mind, but how?”

Miller passed a PADD across the desk. “With this.”

Tailor took the PADD and scrolled through the text on it. She looked back to Miller in confusion. “Are these lines from a play?”

Miller smiled. “Not exactly.” She leaned back in her chair. “Tailor, are you aware of our current mission?”

“To transport industrial replicators to the Alesto system?”

“Correct,” Miller said. “And it takes us through a… problematic region of space. I need you to understand what’s on that PADD and act upon it when the time comes. We’ll be setting off in the next thirty minutes, and I want you on the bridge for the whole journey. Once we’ve completed the mission, I’ll let you decide for certain if you want to join the crew as Chief of Security. Until then, your orders are to do exactly as instructed.”

Tailor nodded slowly. “That’s very clear, captain, thank you. But it raises more questions than it answers.”

Miller stood up, straightened her uniform. “It does, I’m aware. Save them for now, and I’ll explain everything later. Until then, attend your post. Dismissed.”


Three hours into their journey, the helm officer announced that the Quotidian had just entered the Jereso Nebula, and Tailor noticed that the entire bridge seemed to… “tighten” with apprehension. All except the ship’s executive officer, the striking Commander Aufrecard, who remained silent, stationary and, apparently, two dimensional. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to Commander Aufregend, the Hero of the Kiken Cluster, whose classic good looks had graced many an Earth newsfeed following his daring rescue of the Atreidan Royal Family, and subsequent engagement to Princess Kel’Kerrax.

Captain Miller ordered the helm to maintain their course and speed. Tailor noted that Lieutenant Commander Sarr, sat at the Ops Station, seemed to operate as the ship’s actual executive officer, despite being listed as second mate on the crew manifest. Which made sense, Tailor thought, when she regarded Commander Aufrecard.

Without warning, the ship rocked, and Tailor could hear the warp engines shut down. Sarr called a red alert, and orders and reports began flying about the bridge, although everyone acted with practiced purpose, as though they had done this all before, or even rehearsed it.

The lights suddenly went out, even all the LCARS displays. Only the viewscreen remained active, its images of the swirling nebula clouds casting a dim, ghostly light over the bridge.

The crew remained silent. Captain Miller spoke clearly, “maintain your posts, everyone. And stand ready.”

A blinding point of light appeared between the viewscreen and the helm and ops stations. Out of it stepped a bizarre figure – a hugely muscled, bare-chested man, equal in height to Captain Miller, but twice as broad, with a rectangular jaw and with a gold chain hanging around his neck. Tailor rather thought he looked like an old plastic action figure, or one of the superheroes of old stories, proportioned in such extremes.

The light faded, and the systems displays came back on. Miller was pinching the bridge of her nose. The new figure was glancing around with a smirk on his face, legs akimbo, in a classic power pose. Miller addressed him directly. “Alfa, I see you have returned. I’ve told you before, we want nothing to do with the Omega Collective. Leave us in peace.”

Alfa tossed his head and laughed. “Captain Miller! I’m so glad you have returned to my little corner of the universe with your gentle and lovely demeanour! Have you reconsidered my offer, pray?”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “I would have, but I couldn’t find a more definite way of saying ‘never’ so my previous answer stands. I will not be joining you as your… spouse.”

“Such a shame! And there’s no way I could convince you?” He laughed again. “Maybe the beautiful Keela here might accept?” he suggested, staring at Commander Sarr. She stared back at him, grinding her teeth.

Miller stood up, straight-backed. “What is it, Alfa? I assume you didn’t hold us here just to make everyone feel uncomfortable?”

He turned. “Captain Miller, Alexandra, if I really were holding you, I’m sure you would feel differently. Alas, I am merely here to remind you of your place in this universe. Humanity has come far with its technological advancements, but it is we, the Omega Collective, and others like us, who wield true power over life and death. Your fate is in our hands, and it would be remiss of me to let you forget it. Mayhap I should arrange some kind of lesson for you all, maybe a game! Yes! We could have a game, in which I will teach you that now matter how ingenious you think you are, you still have a long way to go before becoming masters of the galaxy.”

“I have no time for games, Alfa. We know our place well enough, thank you. Now leave. Your presence here is a danger to the safety of this ship, one that I’ll not permit to continue.”

Tailor was watching the exchange with her mouth agape. She had read reports of Starfleet encounters with god-like beings, but experiencing one directly was a different matter.

Alfa responded with irritation. “It is not your place to permit or prohibit anything, frail human! The Collective are the true masters of this realm, and your decision to once again pass through our hallowed tournament fields of the Jereso Nebula force me to teach you that lesson again!”

Miller clenched her fists. She turned her head slightly towards Tailor, and repeated her earlier statement. “I already told you, Alfa, your presence here is a threat, and one that I will not permit to continue.”

Tailor blinked, recognising her cue. She stormed down the side of the bridge in protest. “Captain, this intruder must be dealt with!” She drew her phaser and pointed it at Alfa, doing her best to keep her hand from shaking.

Alfa looked furious. “You dare threaten me, child?” He reached out his hand, and Tailor sank to her knees, screaming. She dropped the phaser, pressing her hands to her head, crying out in agony. Her body convulsed and writhed, until she fell limp to the floor. The bridge crew looked on, stunned, at her limp body.

Alfa lowered his hand and looked around, triumphant. “Do you see the cost of insolence? The price of hubris? Ants cannot challenge Gods and live, Captain Miller!”

Doctor Wainwright rushed from a turbolift to Tailor’s side and checked her vitals. She looked up at the captain, aghast. “She’s dead, Alex.”

Miller’s eyes fell. “Why, Alfa? She was no threat to you. Why did she have to die?”

Alfa puffed out his chest. “She’s of no import, but her fate was necessary so that you may all learn an important lesson.” He surveyed the forlorn faces of the officers around him, then sighed. “It doesn’t look as though any of you are in a very playful mood today. We shall postpone our little game, I think you all understand now what needs to be understood.”

Miller squared her shoulders. “Get off my bridge, Alfa, and leave us alone.”

He bowed expressively. “As you wish, my love, as you wish. I shall leave you to your more primitive, simple existence.” He vanished with a flash, but his disembodied voice echoed through the bridge. “At least, until next time, Captain Miller.”

Miller sat down in her chair and gave the order to resume their course. Nobody else moved – Wainwright remained next to Tailor for the next half hour.

Once they were clear of the Jereso Nebula, Wainwright stood up, as did Miller, and they both helped Tailor to her feet. “Comfy, Tailor?” the captain asked.

Tailor stretched. “Not particularly.”

Miller smiled. “Beggars can’t be choosers. Thank you, doctor.”

Wainwright gave a reserved, Vulcan nod and left the bridge. Tailor looked around. “What now, captain?”

“Now? Now, we continue to Alesto, and deliver those replicators on time. Meanwhile, you and Commander Sarr can join me in my ready room, for debriefing.”

As she followed the captain, Tailor got a few approving nods from other officers. Despite not really knowing what had happened, she still felt proud, though she couldn’t exactly explain why.


Miller moved straight to the replicator. “Coffee?”

Sarr shook her head, but Tailor requested a herbal tea. Once they were all sat, Tailor couldn’t hold herself any longer. “Captain, with respect, what the hell was that back there”

Miller took a sip of her coffee before answering. “Two years ago, on another mission to this sector, that entity you just saw, Alfa, stopped us dead in our tracks and subjected us to a series of games and pantomimes under the guise of gaining my hand in marriage in return for letting us pass freely. There were deaths, or would have been, but fortunately we were able to devise a countermeasure.”

Sarr stepped in. “The phased inhibitor field neutralises his powers. We switch it on when he arrives and he can’t do anything to harm us.”

“Well, why not just leave it on and stop him from interfering at all?” Tailor asked.

“He’s a trouble-maker,” Miller answered. “You saw him back there, all about power and assertion. The inhibitor field stops him manifesting his powers in their current form – if he realises he can’t actually use them, he may try something different. He genuinely is quite powerful. The second time we encountered him we managed to talk our way out, but only just.”

Tailor nodded. “Hence the deception.”

“Hence you,” Miller said, gesturing towards Tailor.

“I know you have the inhibitor field, but it sounds to me like I really could have been killed,” Tailor said. “I mean, I’m a Starfleet officer first and an actor second, but even still.”

Miller shook her head. “We monitor the field and Alfa closely – if there was any doubt, I wouldn’t have given you the cue,” she said. “Regardless, you performed excellently, I was genuinely concerned for a moment that he really was getting to you.”

“Thank you, captain. So, what now? What do we do on our way back? I can’t die twice.”

Miller shrugged. “It’s possible he will ignore us on the way back, he has a… limited attention span. But just in case, can I assume that your theatrical training has prepared you for wearing a wig?”

Tailor’s eyes widened. “A wig? Don’t you think he’ll see through that? Isn’t he an all-powerful being?”

“He tends to see the world in terms of blonde, brunette, redhead,” Sarr said, in her subdued tone. “He’s a total shitwit.”

“Language, commander!” Miller warned.

“Apologies.” Sarr turned to Tailor. “I meant a total shitbird,” she clarified.

Tailor snorted, and Miller ignored them both. “So, Tailor, what do you say? Willing to stick with us for a while?”

Tailor pondered for a few moments, clasping her mug tightly in both hands, whilst Miller finished hers. Eventually, Tailor looked up. “Alright, captain, I will consider it, but I need to know something first.”

“What?”

“Well, your first officer is a cardboard cut-out. When I first arrived, I’m sure I saw a sophisticated and likely unique android in the corridor-”

“Robot.” Sarr interjected.

“Well, she looked like an android.”

“Robot,” Sarr repeated, “totally unremarkable.”

“Android, robot, whatever. I also just had to act my way out of an encounter with a space god which seems like a big deal but you treat as an annoyance, and then I come face to face with your chief medical officer who happens to be a renowned peddler of smut.”

“Erotic romance,” Sarr interjected, again.

Tailor turned to her. “I’m an actor, a playwright and a founding member of the Jupiter Literary Association; it’s smut.”

“What’s your question, lieutenant?” Miller asked.

Tailor put her mug down. “What the hell kind of ship is this, captain? With respect?”

Miller didn’t answer right away, but stood and moved to look out of her window. She took a breath. “This is an ordinary Starfleet ship, lieutenant, full of extraordinary people, all of whom have far too many vital things to do to be able to spend time getting into trouble. We don’t care about pushing boundaries; we care about getting where we need to be on time. We care about efficiency, and effectiveness, and safety, and we care about getting done the things that need to be done so we can spend time doing the things that we need to do.”

She turned around. “Did you know that there isn’t a single manual task on this ship that’s done more than once a week? Our chief engineer is an expert in automation – anything that’s repeatable, we do it with computers and machines. Everyone on this ship works for, probably, forty hours a month. That’s actual work, you understand, ticking boxes, filing reports, attending meetings. The rest of the time, they do what they want to do. Most of us love what we do anyway, so we just do more of it, just the more interesting bits. Others branch out – our stellar cartographer is currently apprenticing in hydroponics, for example. Others still just use the extra time for their hobbies, like Doctor Wainwright and her Vulcan smut.”

She moved round to the front of the desk and leaned back on it, facing Tailor. “So, here’s the deal. We don’t really need a chief of security, we have algorithms to sort out shift rotas and training sessions and targeting parameters. What we need is someone who can be convincing in different situations, who can put on a good show to help us get out of trouble when we need to. The rest of the time is yours. If you really want to be chief of security, then Keela and I will help you learn how, and by the end you’ll be the best tactical officer in the fleet. Or you can focus on something else. So long as you’re ready to step up and be creative when we need you to be creative, you get to use the conveniences of being aboard a starship to your own personal advantage.”

Captain Miller held out her hand. “Well?”

Tailor took another few moments. Then she took Miller’s hand and shook it firmly. “I think I would be a fool to pass up an opportunity like this, captain.”


Following a tour of the ship, Tailor was led back to her new quarters by Sarr. At the door, Sarr paused.

“The captain probably made this sound like a pleasure cruise,” she said. “And it is a great ship to be part of. But you need to realise, we may not chase frontiers or seek out new civilisations, but those industrial replicators we delivered today are going to form the backbone of Alesto’s future economy. We transport professors to technical conferences, and carry out customs inspections, and we never, ever save the galaxy. Starfleet’s mission is to bring the Federation to those who need its ideals, but our mission is to keep the Federation in the business of Paradise. And it’s really damn important.”

“I appreciate that,” Tailor said. “And I appreciate the chance you’ve given me. I won’t let you down.”

Sarr began walking away. “It’s not me you’ll be letting down,” she said.

Tailor stepped up to her door, which slid open, revealing a modest lodging. It was undecorated and spartan – she got the impression it was a blank canvas.

Just before she entered, Lieutenant Mendacia, the so-called robot, walked past her. Tailor nodded to her. “Good afternoon.”

Mendacia nodded back, her movements awkward and mechanical. She wasn’t aware that Tailor could spot a performance from the genuine article. “Good after-noon, lieu-tenant,” she replied in synthesised tones. “Whirr. Whirr. Whirr. Whirr.”

Star Trek: Quotidian – “Dignified Relations”

What follows is the first part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

However, I do want to point out that this story was originally written on the 1st December, 2016, and has only just been published here. I point this out because the first segment includes a minor plot with someone being held up due to overly thorough medical tests, which is also a plot in the ninth episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. So I just wanted to make it clear that I had the idea first, and am therefore presumably qualified to write for big-budget sci-fi shows. My job application is pending.

The first part, “An Unavoidable Encounter”, can be found here.

The third story, “Muses of our Fates”, can be found here.


Captain’s Log, stardate 42976.1.

Whilst on a routine sensor sweep we have picked up a strange energy burst coming from the Periculum system. Despite its surprising similarity to some forms of interstellar communication, our sensors indicate that it is nothing more than the gravity-lensed emissions of a distant neutron star. Consequently I have convened the senior staff to confirm, resolutely, that it is indeed the gravity-lensed emissions of a neutron star, and absolutely not any form of communication from some strange, new, potentially dangerous lifeform.


“Counsellor N’rz, where does that leave us?”

N’rz’s mottled green head faintly glowed in pulses as he thought carefully. “Captain, Starfleet regulations require us to investigate any unrecognised sign of life in the likelihood that first contact could be established. Given that we’ve calculated -”

“And can show our calculations,” Lieutenant Baker added.

“- and can show, indeed, that there is no likelihood of this even being a signal from an intelligent life form, and subsequently absolutely no feasible scenario in which we might make contact with a new species, we are not bound by regulation to take any action.”

Miller nodded. “Ideal.” She turned to the rest of the officers. “Okay, that’s been settled then. Thank you all for your insight, you’re dis-”

Commander Aufregend, first officer, a tall, lean human with swept-back blonde hair and chiseled features, strode into the room with purpose. “Captain! I’m sorry I’m late, Doctor Wainwright insisted on carrying out a full physical, said it was vital to confirm that I hadn’t been subjected to unsafe levels of neutrino radiation. She was incredibly thorough, I thought I would be in there for the whole day!”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, indeed, I… had thought that too. I will, ah, discuss it with Wainwright. We were just finishing up here, nothing with which to concern yourself.”

Aufregend looked around. “This looks like a staff meeting, is this… Wait, is this to do with the supposed neutron star emissions?”

“No, of course – well, yes, actually, but we’ve just confirmed, there’s barely a point-two -”

“Point-one,” Baker corrected.

Miller continued. “Yes, point-one percent chance of it being anything other than a Neutron star, whose emissions are being gravitationally… lensed… Commander, what are you doing?”

Aufregend had taken a PADD from Lieutenant Baker and was furiously tapping away on it, running complex calculations and algorithms. “Captain, this is incredible. Apologies, Lieutenant, I respect your position as head of Science, but your basic assumptions didn’t take into account the recursive feedback theorems of Doctor Enochlesi’s work on transphasic communication patterns…”

Miller’s eyes settled on Baker with the intensity of a proton beam. The Lieutenant kept his own eyes firmly pointed at some presumably fascinating distant star out of the window at the opposite end of the conference room.

Aufregend was still going. “… By running it through a fourth-order integration function, I’ve isolated a key repeating waveform. Captain, this is some sort of interplexing beacon! I’m afraid I can’t accurately identify its message, I would have to recalibrate the Universal Translator, but the origin point is barely three parsecs away! Would you like me to set a course?”

Miller stood, straightened her tunic and quickly shook her head at Commander Sarr, who was slowly releasing her phaser from its belt clip. The captain cleared her throat, then walked swiftly out of the conference room.


Captain’s Log, stardate 43125.8.

It has been three weeks since my former mentor, Admiral Taylor, urgently reassigned Commander Aufregend to the Muthir system, to help negotiate an historic peace treaty between twelve warring factions locked in a bitter conflict. The ship’s new executive officer is settling in well, however. In the meantime, we are about to start a new mission – conveying a Federation diplomat to an interstellar conference on replicator legislation.


The form of the ambassador materialised on the transporter pad, along with that of his aide. Both were Isilduns – tall, flat-chested, with lilac-tinted skin and prominent cheek protrusions.

As the whine of the transporter faded and the materialisation completed the captain stepped forward, pristinely turned out in her dress uniform. “Ambassador, I’m Captain Miller, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Quotidian. I’d like to welcome you aboard, and to express our pleasure to be escorting you to the conference on Naukarasaha.”

The ambassador bowed deeply. “Captain! I am Bitxia, of Isildu. This is my assistant, Laguntzaile. We are both honoured to have you as our escort. Is this your staff?” Bitxia gestured at the line of senior officers at the captain’s side.

Miller nodded, then introduced each officer in turn. “Ambassador, this is Commander Sarr from the planet Bajor, my head of operations.” Sarr lowered her head respectfully. “Chief Shmeh, head of engineering, from the Beij Cluster. Lieutenant Baker, science officer, from Earth -”

“Mars, captain.”

“Apologies Baker, of course, Mars. This is our chief medical officer Doctor Wainwright, of Vulcan.”

Bitxia regarded the vulcan carefully. “Forgive me, but ‘Wainwright’ doesn’t seem like much of a Vulcan name.”

“There is nothing to forgive, ambassador,” Wainwright explained in her careful elocution. “I was fostered by humans until early adolescence. It seemed important to them that I retain their name into adulthood.”

Bitxia nodded thoughtfully, and Miller continued. “This is Lieutenant Smith, my tactical officer. He’s too modest to admit it, but Smith has a tremendous dedication to duty, you’ve been killed, what, eight times protecting the ship?”

Smith was bashful. “Eight, captain, yes.”

The ambassador sounded astonished. “You have, ah, died. Eight times? Tell me, do you have any insight into the afterlife?”

“Not really, ambassador. I’m never there for very long.”

Miller gestured to the final member of her command crew. “And this is Counsellor N’rz, of the planet Causidicus.”

“Counsellor? Why would you need a counsellor as part of your staff, captain?” Bitxia’s face was stricken with confusion.

Miller cleared her throat. “Well, ambassador, Causidicans possess near-flawless recollection powers. On Earth, we would call it ‘eidetic memory’. It makes them incredibly effective legal consultants.”

“Legal… you mean he’s a legal counsellor?”

“Correct, ambassador,” N’rz said. “I advise the captain in all matters of Stafleet regulation, Federation law, interstellar law and foreign treaties.”

“Specifically,” Miller added, “N’rz allows me to ensure that at all times I am adhering very precisely to my responsibilities.”

“I… I see. I wouldn’t have thought that would often be, ah, be much of an issue.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised at the number of times I find myself unable to respond to dangerous situations due to some obscure law or regulation. Aboard this ship, we take legal matters very seriously, ambassador.” The senior staff were all nodding in agreement. “Now that you’ve met all of my officers – my first officer is currently on the bridge, apologies for his absence – I’d like to offer you a tour of the ship. Shmeh, maybe you could show the ambassador engineering first?”


Shmeh stood at the head of the MSD table with his engineering staff gathered around. Bitxia watched as a tardy junior lieutenant hurried into place. Shmeh began the meeting. “Alright, let’s get this started. Jones, general systems update.”

“News on the transporter, chief. We’ve identified a fault in the secondary heisenberg bypass circuit – it seems that a power surge in the buffer coupling could shut the materialisation array down altogether, completely preventing beaming.”

Shmeh looked thoughtful, stroking his bifurcated chin. “And the fix?”

Jones glanced sidelong at Bitxia before continuing. “We believe a phased molecular weld of the circuit’s quantum fixture should do it, but we’re following Spock’s Axiom, sir.”

“‘Spock’s Axiom’, chief?” Bitxia asked.

Shmeh’s cloudy yellow eyes turned to the ambassador. “Indeed. Starships are incredibly complex machines, with near-unfathomable interactions between seemingly unrelated systems. As such, in this engineering room we follow Spock’s Axiom: ‘Once we eliminate all other possibilities, whatever answer remains must be the truth.’ As such, we’ll systematically examine each system, run tests on them all one by one, and make sure they’re not the root cause of the problem. Then we can implement the fix and resolve the issue.”

Bitxia’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But that sounds like it could take an awfully long time, chief. Surely this molecular weld could be done now?”

Shmeh leaned back in horror. “Fix it now? Do you have any idea of how dangerous a notion that is? We could cause all manner of unforeseen complications.”

“But if you don’t apply the fix, your entire transporter system could shut down!” Bitxia pressed the point. “You’d be unable to beam anywhere!”

“Indeed, we could be left unable to beam down an away team into a hazardous environment,” Shmeh agreed, “or participate in a rescue operation at a catastrophic disaster site. Indeed, the transporters could fail at any given, and extremely untimely, moment, and we’d be left unable to beam aboard any kind of experimental technology or mysterious lifeform. But we can’t risk causing a destructive chain reaction by just applying molecular welds on a whim, ambassador. Modern-day engineering has much more in common with advanced applied science than with the iron mongers of a former age.” Shmeh addressed Jones again. “Lieutenant, in line with the Axiom, start with the material repurposing processor on deck twelve, and proceed from there. We’ll find the cause eventually.”

Bitxia remained nonplussed. “Chief Shmeh, how, in any capacity, might a transporter fault be related to a sewage processor?”

Shmeh stared at the ambassador. “Sadly, we’ve run out of time, and that concludes the tour of engineering. Ambassador, if you would follow Ensign Roberts here, he will guide you to sickbay for the next part of the tour.”

The ensign took Bitxia by the arm and began leading him out of main engineering. Bitxia turned his head to protest. “No, but, chief, I have additional questions!”

Shmeh turned to a status display, unfazed.


Bitxia sat in the CMO’s office opposite Doctor Wainwright, with her neatly trimmed short hair and loose blue labcoat. Wainwright was listing the ship’s inventory of advanced medical equipment, careful not to leave out even the smallest, most insignificant item. Bitxia’s posture was gradually relaxing as he moved closer towards unconsciousness. He noticed a small picture on the wall, what looked to be an illustrated book cover.

“Doctor, I’m sorry to break your flow, but what is that?”

Wainwright turned to look at the picture and raised an eyebrow. “That, ambassador, is the cover from my twelfth work of fiction, ‘Shadows of Vrentys’, one of the most widely read novels in modern Vulcan literature. I keep it as a reminder of my accomplishments as a writer.”

“Twelfth? How many books have you written?”

“Twenty-two novels in the last four years, all pieces of fiction in the style of ancient Vulcan epics, generally acting as analogies of various aspects of modern Vulcan society.”

“I thought you were raised by humans?”

“Correct, although only for the first few years of my life. As I grew, my emotional responses became increasingly problematic and it was decided that the best course of action was for me to be schooled on Vulcan, to learn the skills I would need to master my emotions.”

“And was it on Vulcan that you discovered your talent for writing?”

“Sadly, Ambassador, many conservative Vulcan literary critics would argue that I am indeed still yet to discover any talent for writing.”

It took Bitxia a moment to parse what he had just heard. “Doctor, did, did you just make a joke?”

Wainwright smiled. “I grew up around humans, ambassador, and consequently I possess an insight into humour that is rare amongst Vulcans.”

“Do you ever laugh? At jokes? At humourous scenarios?”

Wainwright pondered the question for a moment. “It is more closely related to an academic insight. Similarly to music or art, I am able to appreciate the structure and style of a well-crafted joke without being induced to an emotional reaction.”

Bitxia seemed to understand, but something else concerned him. “You said twenty-two novels, in four years? How do you find the time? Surely you must be busy as the ship’s surgeon?”

“In actuality, I find my occupation here relatively peaceable. We have the lowest medical incident rate of any vessel in Starfleet – this really is the safest ship in the fleet. As such, I have surplus time which I may devote to my writing.”

“And Captain Miller accepts this?”

“The captain actively encourages it. As long as her crew are healthy and well, she has little concern for ‘keeping me busy’. Indeed, she has allowed me to host several author talks aboard the Quotidian, inviting some of my readers to meet me in person. She’s very supportive in that regard.”

The main door to sickbay opened, and a metallic-skinned human figure strode in, wearing a blue Science uniform. “Doctor, I’ve finished my analysis of the cellular fluid samples, I’m confident that -” The silver-eyed figure looked at the ambassador and fell silent.

Bitxia was astonished. “Doctor, I had no idea you had an android aboard! I thought there was only one android in all of Starfleet! In the whole galaxy, in fact!”

Wainwright chose her words carefully. “Ambassador, this is Mendacia, our… robotic servant. She could be considered a rudimentary automaton.”

Mendacia stood rigidly straight. “Affirmative. Ambassador. I’m A. Primitive. Robot.” she said, in stilted, synthetic tones.

Bitxia studied the machine carefully. “She didn’t sound like that a second ago.”

Mendacia paused for a moment. “I Was Merely. Playing. A Recording. From Another. Crew. Member.”

“If she’s just a machine, why is she wearing a uniform?”

Wainwright maintained her Vulcan composure. “That could have been a decision made to aid interaction with other – I mean to say, ‘living’, crew members.”

“Affirmative.”

“And the rank pips?”

“I Must Return. To My Other Duties. Good. Bye. Ambassador.” Mendacia turned away stiffly and walked out of the room with an awkward, mechanical gait. “Whir. Whir. Whir.”

Bitxia’s mouth hung open. “Was she just saying ‘whir, whir, whir’?”

Wainwright remained silent.

“Doctor, you do realise the scientific and cultural significance of another sentient android, one that is a member of Starfleet, no less?”

“I am sure such a scenario would indeed be noteworthy to scientists across the Federation and beyond. But as I said, it is important to note that Mendacia is nothing but a mindless machine.”

“She was using contractions.”

“A well-programmed mindless machine, ambassador.”

Bitxia leant towards Wainwright and stared intently. “Doctor, as a Vulcan, you’re unable to lie to me, correct? And so if I ask you a direct question, you must answer with the truth, correct?”

Wainwright raised an eyebrow.

Bitxia continued. “Doctor, was that a sentient android?”

“Was what a sentient android?”

“The being that was just in this room!”

“Which being?”

“Mendacia!” Violet veins in the ambassador’s neck were beginning to pulse.

“What about Mendacia?”

“Is Mendacia an android?”

“Well, yes, of course, as a robot designed to resemble a human being, she exactly matches that definition.” Wainwright’s tone was as flat and calm as ever.

“And is she sentient?”

“Is who sentient?”

“Mendacia!”

“What about Mendacia?”

“Is she SENTIENT?” Bitxia roared. “IS MENDACIA SENTIENT? IT’S A SIMPLE QUESTION, DOCTOR!”

Wainwright leant back in her chair and steepled her fingers. “In actuality, ambassador, the question of sentience is rather a complex and difficult subject to -” She was interrupted by Bitxia crying out in frustration before leaping to his feet and storming out of the room.

“THIS ENTIRE SHIP IS INSANE!” he shouted as he stomped into the corridor.


“Captain Miller!” Bitxia announced as he entered the bridge. “I must demand an explanation for the actions of your staff!”

“Not now, ambassador,” Miller said from her seat in the centre of the bridge, “we’re currently a little busy.”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Smith called, “response from the Lenibus, Captain Hebetes says that they’re having issues with their main inversion coil, and will be unable to assist.”

“And there’re no other ships in range?”

“Confirmed, captain, it’s just us.”

Miller frowned. “Very well, duty calls. Set course for the Ligneolae Navem, maximum warp. Red Alert! Raise shields and prepare for combat.”

Bitxia was suddenly worried. “Captain, what’s going on?”

“Distress call, ambassador, large passenger liner under attack from Orion pirates. We’re the only vessel in range to respond. Engage!”

The Quotidian lept to warp speed, stars whipping by as streaks of white light. Lieutenant Baker was at the science station, monitoring the sensors. “Captain,” he said, “the Orion vessel appears to be Dreadnought configuration. They have use outgunned by, let’s see, approximately three-hundred-and-seventy percent.”

“Damn.” Miller bit dowm on the knuckle of her left index finger, pondering the situation. “This calls for extreme measures. Sarr, ready a probe.”

Bitxia gasped. “Captain! They have us completely outmatched! We have no chance of winning that fight! What good will a probe do us?”

Miller kept her eyes forward on the main viewer. “Ambassador, we are bound by our duty to protect the passengers aboard that transport. And it’s doubtful we can defeat the Orions, but there are, ah, always possibilities.”

“But you’re taking us to our deaths!”

“Ambassador, you are beginning to interfere with the operation of this vessel,” Miller stated flatly.

Commander Sarr turned steadily in her chair to face the ambassador, with a very Pointed Look. She mouthed something silently at him – the universal translator was no help, but they all seemed to be very short words. Bitxia was suddenly quiet.

“Sarr,” Miller said, “just ready a probe.”

“Aye captain.” Sarr sounded resolute and unaffected by the impending danger. “Are we implementing the Pandora Protocol?”

Miller turned to her second-in-command, a handsome officer with swept-back blonde hair, stood to her right with a straight back, broad shoulders, folded arms. “Objections, number one?”

The commander stared unwaveringly at the main viewer, silent and stern.

Miller nodded. “Outstanding. Bridge to engineering, we’ll be-”

“Captain,” Bitxia interjected, “your first officer, he’s… He’s two-dimensional.”

Miller looked again at the silent, unblinking form beside her. “That’s, ah, inaccurate, ambassador, he’s at least three or four millimetres thick.”

“But, he’s not even… he’s made of -”

Miller looked Bitxia straight in the eye. “Ambassador, Commander Aufrecard is an outstanding officer with a flawless record. His physical characteristics have no bearing on his ability to fulfil the role of executive officer.”

Bitxia looked at the unmoving commander, then at Miller, and back and forth between the two of them, before silently sitting down on the floor with his back against the wall.

Miller continued. “Bridge to engineering. Shmeh, Commander Sarr is preparing a probe for deployment. Please use Lieutenant Baker’s Periculum telemetry to set up Pandora Protocol two-six-three, and inform Sarr when it’s ready.”

Shmeh acknowledged. The red lights of the alert system continued to pulse whilst the warp engines thrummed in the background. Bitxia watched the crew frenziedly prepare for battle, immobilised in equal measure by anxiety over the coming conflict and by sheer confusion at all he had witnessed that day.

Lieutenant Smith addressed the captain again from his post at tactical. “Ten seconds to arrival. Shields and weapon systems ready, captain.”

Sarr finished a last few calculations on her console. “Probe ready, captain. Minimum safe distance, three hundred kilometres.”

“Understood,” Miller said. “Stand by for launch. All hands, prepare for combat!”

The ship dropped out of warp in front of the ugly bulk of an Orion cruiser. The pirate vessel’s crude, broad structure dwarfed the sleek curves of the Quotidian, but the Federation ship squared up to the beast nonetheless.

Bitxia watched with eyes as empty as the first officer’s as the Orion ship on the main viewer turned to face them. The bridge crew were busy giving instructions over the comms and coordinating their teams throughout the ship. Miller’s voice cut through the chatter. “Distance to target?”

Smith answered promptly. “Four-hundred-eighty kilometres, sir; they have locked weapons and are ignoring our hails. The Navem is at three-fifty kilometres from the target.”

“Damn,” Miller cursed again. “We’ll have to risk it. Launch probe, commander.”

“Probe away,” Sarr said, tapping a few buttons. The sound of the probe launching was a short, high-pitched whistle. On screen, the small projectile sped towards the pirates unerringly.

“The enemy ship is about to fire, captain,” Smith said.

Miller gripped her seat tightly. “All hands, brace for impact!”

The ship rocked violently as the Orion disruptors struck the deflectors. Sparks flew from a few consoles as the shield projectors overloaded. Commander Aufrecard fell forwards face-first onto the floor and lay there as motionless as ever. Bitxia carefully crept forwards and lifted the commander upright again, leaning him against the tactical console as he had been before.

Miller looked around as the rocking subsided. “Damage report!”

“Shields holding,” Sarr answered. “No damage sustained as yet.”

“Time to probe activation?”

“Six seconds, captain.” Sarr looked up at the main viewer, her lips moving silently as she counted down. “… Now!”

Nothing happened. For an age it seemed like nothing was happening. The Orion cruiser still pointed towards them, its guns just seconds away from another volley. Then, without warning, the pirate vessel fell away backwards, as though launching to warp. It disappeared into the distance with an orange flash, and was gone.

“Report?” Miller hesitantly asked.

Baker studied his scopes carefully. “They appear to be gone, captain, as exp-” He glanced at Bitxia. “Ah, as unexpected as that may be.”

Miller nodded. “Good. We will assume that they mistook our probe for a powerful new weapon and chose to turn tail and flee. Counsellor?”

N’rz was sat to her left, and seemed as collected and calm as all the other officers, in spite of the battle moments ago. “That is a perfectly sensible assumption, captain, and offers sufficient explanation for the enemy ship’s departure. No further investigation would be required of us in a matter such as this.”

Miller stood. “Very well. Damn good job, all of you. Sarr, dispatch repair crews to the Ligneolae Navem and offer them any other assistance they require, but the priority is to have them up to warp speed and well on their way within the hour.” Sarr began working straight away. “Miller to sickbay, Doctor Wainwright, there could be people hurt over there, can you spare anyone?”

“I can spare myself, captain,” Wainwright answered, “I’ll join the repair crews in the transporter room.”

The officers around the bridge worked at their consoles, busy but unhurried. Bitxia looked around at what now seemed like a very day-to-day scene of normality. For him, the terrifying combat less than a minute ago was still very fresh in his mind. He pushed himself to his feet, clenched his fists to steady the shake of his hands, and addressed the captain directly. “You, Captain Miller, I – I need you to tell me the truth. I’m a Federation ambassador, your Starfleet oath means you have to tell me the truth.”

“He’s incorrect, captain,” N’rz stated, “no such regulation exists.”

Bitxia was barely preventing his speech from stammering. “Y-You cannot lie to me about what just happened!”

“Incorrect again, captain, you can lie to him about any subject.”

Bitxia glared phaser beams at N’rz, who returned his gaze impassively. Miller regarded Bitxia for a moment, then turned to the science station. “Baker? Your analysis? For the benefit of the ambassador.”

Baker screwed his face up, as though considering the situation in some depth. “I suppose,” he began, tentatively, “it’s possible that there exists, in some interstitial area of subspace, some powerful faction or species, capable of pulling objects of varying characteristics – ships, for instance – into subspace itself. Possible, but highly improbable, of course.”

Bitxia stared at Baker in confusion and disbelief.

“But were that the case,” Baker continued,  “it stands to reason that such a species might, ah, pick up the ships of  realspace species, based on those ships emitting some specific signal or waveform. Perhaps inadvertently so, for instance when conducting an Alpha-Level subspace sensor sweep.” He stared calmly at Bitxia, as if ready for whatever challenge may be presented.

Bitxia’s stammer was now well out of control. “H- h- how…”

“How would such a species communicate with realspace?” Baker prompted. “Well, I dare say it would be unfamiliar to us. Probably some kind of transphasic communication. Maybe a repeating transphasic waveform, or even an interplexing beacon. Of course, such a phenomenon would hardly look like any form of message we would recognise – it would most likely resemble the emissions of a neutron star or some other stellar body, potentially focused around a powerful gravity well.”

“Wh- Why… Just, why?”

“Why pull ships into subspace? Impossible to answer without being subjected to the process itself. Of course, it would be an act of great carelessness to trigger such an event with a starship. It would be much more sensible to perform scans with an external device, such as a probe. That way, when any unusual event did occur, it would occur to the probe itself, and could be observed from a safe distance, and the relevant conclusions made from the observable data.” Baker looked at Miller. “This is all highly, highly unlikely, captain, extremely hypothetical. The far more realistic interpretation is that the Orion vessel simply departed the battle out of sheer fright.” He leant back in his chair, looking rather pleased with himself.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Miller said. “Naturally, ambassador, the discovery of an intelligent species based entirely in subspace would be the discovery of the century, and would of course warrant further investigation. Sadly, Baker’s hypothesis has as much grounding in reality as those novels of Wainwright’s, and as such we have no cause to investigate the matter further.” She looked around. “Can someone get me a coffee, please?”

Throughout this all, the executive officer had remained silent and stationary, staring without blinking directly ahead, handsome and confident. Bitxia looked at him now, and let his shoulders drop and his arms hang loose, the opposite in every way to the commander’s resolute, heroic posture. “I… I don’t understand any of this,” he admitted, his voice hollow.

Miller shrugged. “We couldn’t abandon three hundred souls to pirates and slavers. We couldn’t defeat the pirates in combat.” A yeoman moved to her side and offered her a cup of strong-smelling black coffee, which the captain accepted. She took a sip. “So, we… changed the conditions of the engagement. All it takes is a little original thinking.” She turned to the yeoman. “Could you get a cup for the ambassador as well, please?”


Aboard the shuttle to Starbase 362, the venue for the conference, Bitxia and his aide, Laguntzaile, sat in silence. Laguntzaile was intently reading from a PADD in his hand, fully enraptured by the text on the small screen. Bitxia just stared out the window at the stars beyond. His voice lacked texture, almost as though he was speaking from behind a closed door, as he asked his aide, “How was your time aboard the Quotidian?”

Laguntzaile barely dragged his eyes from the PADD. “Oh, fascinating! The battle was scary, of course, but I met several of the crew members, saw some of the amazing technology they have aboard. I always enjoy my time aboard Starfleet vessels. And yours, sir?”

It took Bitxia a few moments to respond in his empty voice. “I met a robot, Laguntzaile. I met a robot, and I met a Vulcan author, and I even learned about starship repair and maintenance.” He sighed. “My husband was talking about the lakehouse again, you know, before we left. I think he’s right, it’s getting time we settled down for the quiet life.”

Laguntzaile pondered. “I think you’ve earned it, sir. You’ve had a long career, you deserve a decent retirement.” Bitxia didn’t respond, but kept staring at the stars. Laguntzaile read for a few more moments before restarting the conversation. “That Vulcan author you mentioned, she gave me a copy of one of her books. It’s really rather fascinating! Very beautifully written. Though, the characters all spend a lot of time, ah, mating. In quite some detail. I feel that if they spent less time in bed and more time dealing with their problems, the book would be a lot shorter.” He looked at the ambassador. “Did you get a chance to read any of her work, sir?”

The shuttle cruised on towards the station. Behind it, the Quotidian turned about and headed out of the system. As she finished her turn her engines flared brightly, and she disappeared into the distance with a blinding white flash. In another system far away, the Ligneolae Navem pulled into dock to drop off its shaken passengers and begin its repairs.

No one ever heard from the Orion ship or its crew.

Star Trek: Quotidian – “The Unavoidable Encounter”

What follows is the first part of my Star Trek fan-fiction following the unadventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Quotidian. The stories speak for themselves, so I’ll offer no further introduction.

The second installment, “Dignified Relations”, can be found here.

The third story, “Muses of our Fates”, can be found here.


U.S.S. Quotidian, Captain’s Log, Stardate 41153.7

We are engaged in a routine survey mission, cataloguing instances of carbon-rich asteroids in the Cortix system. All operations are proceeding smoothly, with no incidents of any kind to report whatsoever.


“Captain, we’re receiving a text-based communication from the Lenibus. Seems to be quite a short message.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.” Captain Miller turned her chair to face her head of operations, Commander Sarr. “Ops, can you confirm the latest report that the Lenibus sent to headquaters?”

Sarr, which was an old Bajoran name meaning “clerk”, scanned through a list of entries on the console in front of her. “Five hours ago, captain. Just an update on position and status, nothing out of the ordinary reported.”

Miller looked around nervously. “A short message? Okay, read it out.”

The communications officer looked perplexed as he scanned the message. “It just says, ‘Bagsie Not It.’ Is that a code?”

“Bagsie not…” Miller stroked her chin, then lept out of her chair. “Damn! Science, quick, shut down the -”

The science console chirped in alarm. Lieutenant Baker, the science officer, rolled his eyes.

“- sensor alerts.” The captain sank back into her chair with all the gravity of a neutron star. “I take it the computer logged that already?” Baker nodded, and Miller’s head slumped. “Out with it, then.”

“First off captain, allow me to apologise for my sluggish reactions. Secondly, there seems to be a…” He sighed expressively. “There seems to be some kind of gravitic energy burst emanating from the nearby Admodum system, eight lightyears away.”

Miller brought up a navigational chart on her armrest display. “Are there any other ships in the sector?”

Sarr responded. “One, captain.”

Miller’s eyes narrowed. “It’s the Lenibus, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so, captain.”

Miller cursed the other ship’s captain. Then she stood up, straightened her back. “Bridge to engineering, this is the captain. Chief, we’ve encountered a spatial anomaly eight lightyears away.”

Chief Shmeh was on the other end of the line. “Shmeh here, sir. Eight lightyears, understood.” The line went quiet for a few moments. Miller scratched the back of her head idly, whilst Sarr and Baker exchanged hopeful glances. Suddenly, the sound of the ship’s reactors fell away to nothing, leaving the bridge eerily quiet. Shmeh’s voice rang out not long after. “Captain, we’ve just completely lost warp field integrity. The whole system just went dead. I am unable to ascertain how or why.”

Miller nodded her head. “How quickly can you restore warp engines, Shmeh?”

“Well, captain, as I don’t understand the cause of the problem, I can only recommend a level ten diagnostic on all power and propulsion systems before I attempt any repairs, or else risk making matters worse.”

“How long will that take?”

“At least ten hours, sir.” Shmeh paused for a moment. “To reach a minimum standard of safety. Captain.”

“In that case, we’d better make it a Level twenty diagnostic. And run it on all ship functions, just in case whatever issue this is starts affecting life support, navigation or even the holodecks.” Miller looked around and addressed the bridge in general. “You can’t be too careful.”

The other officers nodded their assent, then turned back to their stations. Sarr whispered her appreciation to the Prophets, but cursed in old Bajoran when she looked down at her console. “Captain Miller! The anomaly, it just started accelerating toward us, at warp speed! Estimated time to intercept, ninety-six seconds, captain!”

Miller thumped her armrest. “Damn it! Okay, think fast people – Baker, is it definitely headed for us? Is it possible that it just started moving in this direction randomly?”

Baker pressed his eyes to the sensor scope. “Negative, captain, it looks like it’s making a beeline straight for the Quotidian. It’s possible that it’s responding to our background subspace radio emissions. If we were to shut down all onboard power sources, except minimal life support, it’s possible it would be unable to detect us, as long as it doesn’t pass into visual range.”

“Understood. Commander Sarr, make it happen. Bridge to engineering – Shmeh, we need to shut down everything except life support, and even then we can run it on minimal, we’ll just breathe like yogis if we have to. If we’re lucky, whatever this thing is will pass us by and we can contin-”

The ship shook violently, rocked from side to side. Damage alerts flooded in from all decks. Sarr clung to her console. “Some kind of energy field, captain, pinning us in place! It’s beyond anything I’ve seen before, our scopes can barely measure it. Trying to compensate.”

The shaking subsided as the inertial dampeners took effect. Miller glanced around in alarm. “Tell me there’s a way out of-”

“MORTAL LIFE FORMS.” A booming voice filled every molecule of atmosphere within the ship. “I AM VIRRIDITTAR THE ELEVENTH, HIGH EMISSARY OF THE GLORIOUS STAR EMPIRE OF VIDUMET. I BRING WITH ME AN OFFER, AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUR ENTIRE RACE.”

Miller, slumped in the captain’s chair, tipped her head back and pinched the bridge of her nose, inhaling deeply. “On screen.”

The main viewer changed from a pleasingly soft gradient of greys to the external view, and the vibrant, garish form of an enormous ancient warrior floating in space, shimmering and blindingly bright, clad in nought but a face-concealing helmet and wielding a huge, kilometres-long spear.

“Based on these readings, I believe it’s a psychic projection, captain,” Baker volunteered, “an image created to aid communication. Although that doesn’t explain the loincloth.”

“MORTAL LIFE FORMS, WILL YOU ANSWER MY CALL?” the warrior boomed. “MY PEOPLE SEEK A DISCOURSE WITH YOUR SPECIES, TO SHARE OUR WONDROUS TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS. YOUR LEADER, YOUR SO-CALLED CAPTAIN, HAS BEEN CHOSEN AS YOUR AMBASSADOR. SHE MUST ADDRESS THE HIEROPHANTS OF VIDUMET, THE EXALTED HEIRS OF THE ROYAL BLOODLINE OF KARSIS, HOLDERS OF THE KEYS OF-”

VirridIttar continued for some time, listing the many titles of his leaders. Captain Miller didn’t move once throughout, but sat motionless, her head still tipped back. A junior lieutenant at the weapons station had his head in his hands, whilst Commander Sarr was forcefully tapping the side of her console with her fingertips and grinding her teeth.

“- THRICE-REMOVED, AND OVERSEERS OF THE SACRED BATHHOUSE. BUT BEFORE SHE IS PERMITTED TO KNEEL BEFORE THESE NOBLE GODS, SHE MUST FIRST PASS A SERIES OF DEADLY CHALLENGES, TO ENSURE THAT SHE IS WORTHY. ONCE YOU START THE TESTS, YOU MUST COMPLETE THEM. SHOULD YOU FAIL, YOUR LIFE, AND THE LIVES OF ALL THOSE ABOARD YOUR VESSEL, SHALL BE FORFEIT. THESE CHALLENGES SHALL PUT TO THE TEST YOUR COURAGE, YOUR RESOLVE, YOUR-”

Miller now had her hand on her forehead, slowly pushing her fingers back through her hair. Baker had started a conversation with the ensign sat behind him, asking about her dissertation at the academy. Sarr was now picking at a loose thread in the upholstery of her seat.

“- AND YOUR GASTRIC FORTITUDE. HOWEVER, THE MERCY OF THE HIEROPHANTS IS GREAT, AND THEY OFFER YOU NOW THIS CHANCE ESCAPE NEAR-CERTAIN FAILURE AND SUBSEQUENT ETERNAL TORMENT,” Miller perked up, eyes wide. “BY SACRIFICING ONE OF YOUR OWN LOYAL FOLLOWERS.” The iridescent hoplite fell silent, anticipation heavy in the air.

Miller held the warrior’s gaze. “Just one?” Then she began tapping words into a written message on her armrest display.

Virridittar’s voice boomed once again throughout the ship. “AH, YES, JUST ONE. BUT TO DO SO WOULD BE TO DENY YOURSELF ACCESS TO ALL THE UNIVERSE’S KNOWLEDGE, TO DENY YOURSELF ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGIES AND WEAPONS BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS. CURES TO EVERY DISEASE, PROTECTION FOR ALL, AN END TO SUFFERING, AND EVEN IMMORTALITY ITSELF. ALL OF THESE GIFTS YOU COULD SHARE WITH YOUR-”

Miller turned to the weapons station. “Lieutenant Smith?”

Smith looked up. “Was tired of living anyway, captain.”

Miller nodded. “Outstanding.” She drew her phaser, pointed it at Smith and vaporised him. As the glowing particulate remains of Smith faded away, she turned back to the viewscreen. “I believe we’re now free to go?”

It took a moment for Virridittar to respond. “I – EH, YOU, YOU JUST KILLED HIM.”

Miller nodded. “That gets me out of the tests, correct? And out of the audience with your leaders?”

“OF COURSE IT – THAT WAS THE TEST. YOU JUST – THE TEST WAS TO SEE IF YOU WERE WILLING TO RISK YOUR LIFE TO – YOU JUST KILLED HIM.” Virridittar’s form began to sparkle a little less, and began to slowly shrink down to a more moderate size. “YOU DIDN’T EVEN, LIKE, THINK ABOUT IT.”

The envoy’s form was becoming less martial, the helmet morphing into a more elegant circlet and revealing a beautiful, if somewhat aghast, alien face. “We were offering you UNLIMITED power, we offered you IMMORTALITY, and all you had to do… I mean, it’s normally hours of deliberation, then they decide to risk it for the good of… Or they try to decide who to sacrifice, then we reveal… But you… You just killed him.”

Virridittar’s humanoid form was now fading entirely, revealing a small and incredibly advanced alien vessel just a few hundred metres from the Quotidian’s bow. The voice was faint and getting quieter. “Just… just killed him. Unlimited power. Killed him.”

The Quotidian shuddered as the energy field surrounding it dissipated. Miller and her bridge officers watched as the alien ship turned away and began moving off, accelerating quickly. For a moment, it seemed as though there was one last, resonating sigh as the ship vanished into the distance.

Miller counted to ten. “Baker, is that thing turning back at all?”

“It’s already left our scopes, captain. No sign of it for five sectors.”

The captain let out a breath. “Bridge to transporter room; Smith, did they grab you?”

Smith sounded relaxed. “Got me right on time, captain. No damage done.”

Miller smiled. Smith was a consummate professional for such a young officer. “Okay, get yourself back to the bridge, via holodeck three, you earned it. Engineering, Chief Shmeh, switch the damn engines back on. Commander Sarr, make a note in the log – first contact with the… whatever they were called. Unable to establish communication, possible failure in the universal translator.”

“Aye, captain, I’ll have comms look into the issue as soon as possible, but it could take weeks.” She punched a few commands into her console. “Would you like me to plot a course for the next asteroid cluster?”

“I think we better had, we were making record time. After that, we can start logging the base rate of neutrino emission from the -”

The whine of the transporter filled the room as the anxious form of the first officer, Commander Aufregend, materialised next to Miller. He looked around wide-eyed, phaser in hand. “Captain! Are you okay? Is the ship safe? Do you need me to secure the area?”

“That won’t be necessary, number one, the, ah, spatial anomaly has departed.”

“Spatial anomaly? I heard the voice captain – immortality! Unlimited power! If you would like, I could take a shuttle and a science team! By recalibrating the navigational array we could track the molecular disturbance in the subspace field and follow it back to its source. Once we’ve determined its origin, we could -”

Miller waved her hands. “That won’t be necessary, Typhon, really, the situation has been resolved.”

“But – oh. So quickly? I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, but the door to my quarters jammed again. I tried to gain access to the jeffries tube like last time, but it was somehow filled with plasma. Luckily, I was able to reroute the comms circuit and hook up with one of the shuttles, managed to reprogram its remote access algorithm so I could use the on-board site-to-site transporter and get myself here. That makes the third time my door has jammed during a crisis, do you think it might be an issue with the EPS conduits? Maybe if we remodulate the ship’s internal -”

Baker tapped something on his console and a high-pitched alarm sounded. He cried out, “Commander, there’s a plasma fire on G-deck! In the entomology lab! We need someone to put it out before it engulfs the ship!”

Aufregend spun on his heels. “Plasma fire? Entomology? The insects!” He sprinted to the turbolift.

“Stop by engineering once you’ve dealt with it,” Miller called after him. “Ask Shmeh to fortify the security access on the shuttles, if you would.”

Aufregend disappeared behind the turbolift doors. “We need to try something different next time, he’s catching onto the door thing,” Sarr said, not looking up from her console.

“Agreed,” Miller said. “Maybe some kind of coolant leak in the adjoining corridor. Run up some scenarios, let me know how you get on. Anything else?”

The stand-in tactical officer cleared his throat. “We’re getting a distress call, captain, from the Lequ system.”

Miller sat firmly in her chair. “Are we the only ship in range?”

“No, captain.”

Miller smiled. “Fantastic.”

A Win For Diversity: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Brings Us Trek’s First Passive-Aggressive Bully of a Captain

I don’t know how to start this review. I don’t know whether to address the crypto-racial misogyny, or the tragically off-kilter characterisation of half the cast, or the abject lack of any sense or logic to key scenes, or… Or…

Look, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is hot fucking garbage. That’s my conclusion. Four episodes in, and it’s garbage. And don’t come at me with all of that bullshit about “but nobody liked the first seasons of TNG or DS9!” because this isn’t the ’80s. ‘Discovery’ isn’t a cobbled-together series made under a tight budget and with limited competition – it’s a well-funded, pre-planned narrative that stands among dozens of other well-crafted sci-fi shows with strong first seasons – and in any case, the very fact that previous Trek shows have started so badly ought to have served as a lesson to the makers of ‘Discovery’, not a free pass for their incompetence.

Forgiving ‘Discovery’ its mediocrity because of the performance of its predecessors is like forgiving the Trump administration’s corruption because of Nixon. Let’s put it another way: if only twelve months ago a major mobile phone company released a new handset with a battery that occasionally exploded, you’d expect them to have addressed that issue by the time they released the next one.

In short: the next person who defends ‘Discovery’ by reminding me about ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is going to get a hand-drawn erotic cartoon of Neelix mailed to them, special fucking delivery.

burnhamtardigrade
Fine, she’s pretty, I’ll give her that. She’s also very gradually redeeming herself with some solid technobabble and a bit of moral outrage, so there’s that.

Anyway, the latest episode, the elegantly titled ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry’ (I think they wanted to sound poetic) is full of so many issues that recalling and describing them all is going to cause me some mental anguish. So first off, let’s get the stuff that I liked out of the way:


Ways In Which It Did Not Totally Ruin My Evening

  • I liked Burnham’s very Trekky approach to the Large-igrade. Classic “let’s learn more” sciency stuff, all very lovely.
  • We get to see Georgiou again, and it’s actually pretty lovely. She gets a nice send-off – or would have, were it not for the whole “her being eaten” thing.
  • Saru is still a highlight, though is drifting worryingly close to being just another oblivious or enabling patsy.
  • The fungal engineer, Stavros, really leveled up for me in this episode. Admittedly, he reached Level 1 from Level 0, but that’s still an improvement.
  • Tilly has mother issues, because of course Tilly has mother issues.
  • We see a female admiral. She even gets a name. And less personality than a pair of googly eyes sellotaped to an IKEA lampshade.
  • It’s pretty.
  • The actors are competent.
  • That’s it.

Ways In Which It Ruined My Evening Entirely

Right, down to the nitty gritty. This is going to take a while.

Let’s start with the simple stuff.


They Can’t Even Build Their Fucking Ship Properly

Okay, the ship is the star of the show. Like it or not, the Discovery is what the show is named after, it’s where 90% of the show takes place, and it’s a pretty fucking important component of the narrative. Joss Whedon described the Serenity as “the tenth character”, and so much thought and consideration went into that ship’s layout, they actually built it as a full set (split over two levels) based on in-depth design documents.

Trek itself has a long-standing history of this. Indeed, the Discovery is herself based on old concept art of a new Enterprise for the unmade ‘Star Trek: Planet of the Titans’, the initial plans for an ‘Original Series’ movie prior to ‘The Motion Picture’ and V’ger.

And of course, most Trek ships have little design flaws and inconsistencies. Hell, there are enormous works of research and extrapolation dedicated just to figuring out big the fucking shuttles were. (And if you don’t immediately understand why someone would want to read the entirety of that last link, then well done! You’ve just figured out why I’m still single.)

Minor inconsistencies are one thing, but HOW THE FUCK does a show’s creative staff fuck up SO BADLY that they CAN’T EVEN BUILD A SINGLE FUCKING SET CONSISTENTLY. Not sure what I’m on about? Have a look at these crude screencaps:

interiorcollage.png

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Good question.

See the blue rectangle, just to the left-of-centre in the final panel? That’s an external window, looking out into space. Now, scroll back up to the top of the collage. Do you see what I’m seeing? That’s right, it’s a FUCKING CORRIDOR leading from the left to the right. Which is straight past that window.

So what, right? Because that window may well be looking out onto the ship’s hull, right? Because it’s not as though this room’s location WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED IN THE LAST MOMENTS OF THE PREVIOUS FUCKING EPISODE, RIGHT?

exteriorcollage.png

Oh. Oh dear.

For reference, here’s the layout of Lorca’s Evil Laboratory, which I put together with the most expensive and advanced architectural software:

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And, just in case that’s not clear enough, let me explain it verbally:

The creators of this show are idiots.

I know you’re thinking “this is just a tiny detail, Jon, why do you care?” But it’s not like these are two different sets. It’s not like they had to move between studios due to size constraints and overlooked something minor in the translation. This is THE SAME FUCKING SET. They walk from one room into the other, and yet NOBODY apparently spotted the fact that the layout of the second-most important location on the show made no fucking sense.

And the rest of the room is gorgeously detailed! I mean, I hate that it’s an EVIL LABORATORY full of ACTUAL SKULLS AND TORTURE DEVICES, but it’s clearly been lovingly put together by the set designers. Except for the placement of a massive window, through which many shots of the room are filmed, and which is situated in direct contradiction to the corridor literally three feet away.

Jesus wept.


Lorca Is A Basic Bully / Baddie And The Worst Captain Yet Seen On Star Trek

So, Captain Lorca. Captain Lorca. Captain. Loooorrrrcccaaaaaaa.

Captain Lorca.

Okay, Jason Isaacs is a handsome young man, let’s get that out of the way. He’s also a solid actor, and reasonably charismatic. Cool. Good.

Captain Lorca is a stupid, inconsiderate, bullying arsehole who berates his crew and relies on emotional blackmail to further his desire to wage a pointless war.

I could pretty much leave it there, but let’s carry on.

bridge
A picture of a man who has no idea of what to do with his hands.

The first thing we see of Lorca is him running a battle simulation with his crew. For some reason, he decided not to include his FIRST FUCKING OFFICER, Lt. Saru, because Saru looks all surprised when he walks onto the bridge. When the simulation is over, Lorca offers his bridge officers nothing but criticism, assuring them that the only chance they have of improving is due to the fact that this was literally the worst they could possibly have achieved. Okay, it’s war, fine, he needs to get these people up to standard so they don’t all die. Fine.

Then, he takes Burnham down into his EVIL LABORATORY which is FULL OF WEAPONS AND SKELETONS and introduces her to the Large-igrade. He tells her that he wants to know how it’s so good at killing Klingons and that she, as an anthropologist, is going to help him find out. Apparently, it isn’t obvious to him that this large, strong, fast and visibly armoured creature might be good at killing everything. Y’know, the way bears aren’t dangerous because they can run forty kilometers an hour and weigh up to 600 kilos, but rather because they harbour some cleverly hidden, biological secret that has eluded our understanding for millennia.

Hey, dickhead, IT’S BIG AND IT’S STRONG, do you really need Starfleet’s literal smartest human being to figure that out for you?

Anyway, he takes a break from berating his crew to eat fortune cookies and stare at a map in his ready room. Here, a holographic admiral delivers a message to him that Starfleet’s primary fuel production facility is under attack, and that there’s only six hours before it’s destroyed. And the nearest ship is eighty-four hours away at warp speed. Hey, good thing this isn’t a strategic location or anything, otherwise you might be inclined to keep a few more ships on standby in the vicinity.

So, Lorca lies to the Admiral about his ships’ capabilities, telling her sure, there’s no problem, leaping half-way across the galaxy with an experimental and knowingly unreliable form of propulsion will have zero, ZERO, unforeseen problems. This is because Lorca is the classic bully – horrendous to those less powerful than he is, obsequious to those with any amount of power over him.

At this point, he pushes his chief fungus engineer, Stavros, to activate the Event Horizon drive, fire up the gellar field and set course for the besieged refinery. Stavros (Davros?) counters that this is a stupid idea, as they literally have no idea of how to make their Bullshit Engine work reliably over that kind of distance, and they could all end up like the crew of the Glenn, i.e. as Walls’ Ice Cream’s next promotional variant of the Twister. Lorca counters back with the tried-and-tested “Well have you tried go fucking yourself, neeeerrrrd?” and walks off, triumphant.

In a surprise to literally no one except Lorca himself, the ship exits the Fungal Webway in the corona of a fucking star, and due to absolutely zero input from Lorca beyond a few cliches (“Collision is not an option! Get us the hell out of dodge! Beam me up, Scotty!”) manages to escape before the crew are all subjected to horrible fiery deaths. In the process, Santos gets his fucking face caved in, and really quite painfully at that:

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“Hey, heard you bumped your noggin, how’re you OH JESUS FUCK WHAT THE SHIT HAPPENED TO YOU.”

For this, he gets a nice bit of motivation by our illustrious leader, who walks into the brightly-lit sickbay (and yes, they mention his sight problems again this episode, and once again ignore them) and immediately starts haranguing the engineer for his inability to do something which was considered theoretically impossible mere months ago. Even the Glenn, which Lorca describes as Discovery‘s “more advanced” sister ship, was incapable of safely doing what they just attempted, and yet Lorca is happy to rip shreds out of the one man left alive in the galaxy who understands the theory for not being able to achieve, and I’ll repeat myself here, the impossible.

So, when Stannis tells Lorca that he didn’t sign on for military service and that he’s a scientist, not a soldier, Lorca tells him to fuck off. He actually just tells him to leave the ship. He doesn’t appeal to his conscience, he doesn’t bring up the desperation of the war, the millions of lives that might be lost. He just tells him to leave, and then makes a half-hearted attempt to appeal to the engineer’s ego by comparing him to past pioneers (and Elon Musk, in a desperate bid to appear current).

Lorca then – and I can’t believe this actually happens – but he then, in one piece of dialogue, goes from stroking Stavros’ ego to then belittling him for having one. Like, this is the actual quote, word-for-word, from the subtitles:

“How do you wanna be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert? A selfish little man, who put the survival of his own ego before the lives of others?”

Just, I don’t… Fuck! I mean, I could do a whole fucking article about nothing more than this one paragraph of dialogue, there’s so much wrong with it. Nevermind the inherent contradiction, just remember that Stavros’ chief objection to performing the long-range jump is to AVOID THE TORTUROUS DEATHS OF HIS SHIPMATES. He’s not objecting because there’s a risk he’ll look foolish, he’s objecting because there’s a risk he and the rest of the crew will be turned inside out, cooked alive or who the fuck knows what!

THIS, this fucking line right here, establishes everything wrong with Lorca. He doesn’t lead through encouragement or inspiration, he belittles and undermines. He doesn’t seek the best in people, he just makes them feel shitty until they feel too demoralised to object. And that’s what happens – Stavros doesn’t see the benefit of what they’re doing, he just walks out of sickbay because he hasn’t got a choice and he can’t be bothered arguing. This is the height of shitty characterisation, and highlights all the ways ‘Discovery’ is going wrong.

Okay, let’s move on, before I burst a blood vessel.

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“Maybe after this shitshow I’ll be able to get a gig in that ‘Firefly’ cover band.”

As Stavros storms out, Lorca decides to play the recording of the dying miners across the ship, without any announcement or anything. But it’s not as though the crew are unwilling to go save the colonists. It’s not like they all want to play it safe. In fact, most of them have nothing to do with the fungus engine whatsoever, but Lorca decides that playing them recordings of screaming, dying humans being bombed by Klingons is exactly the sort of thing to keep morale up and keep them focused on the task of not being mutilated by some kind of experimental engine malfunction.

Some bullshit sciency stuff happens with Burnham, Stavros and Tilly, they figure out how to make the improbability drive work using the Large-igrade (I’m going to keep calling it that until it catches on) and now, Lorca has a plan. I say “plan”, but that really dirties the word.

Lorca’s Big Idea is to jump into orbit of the besieged mining colony, squander any element of surprise, let his ship get beaten to within an inch of its life, and then jump out again after dropping some explosive barrels. That’s it. For some reason, he even refuses to fire on the attackers after annihilating three of them instantly, in case he accidentally gains anything approaching a tactical advantage, and instead puts all of his faith in an unreliable technology under the control of a wild animal which has already willingly murdered two of his crew.

Burnham has somehow convinced him that the Large-igrade isn’t just a big sack of pure hate, so maybe it won’t try to kill them all, but what if it’s just unreliable? What if, due to its lack of linguistic capability, it jumps them to the wrong place, or at the wrong time? What if it just dies, or the device stops working, or any one of a million things that can go wrong? Why take that risk three FUCKING times when he could instead jump in once, and put his faith in guns? The same guns which instantly destroy three Klingon Birds of Prey when the Discovery first jumps in?

Further, what would happen if he didn’t destroy all of the Klingon ships? He lets Discovery‘s shields drop to near-zero before he jumps out. So what happens if he jumps back in and there’s two Klingon ships left alive that just immediately start blasting his dick off? Could he really not come up with a better plan than this?

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“I tried taking notes, but every time you open your mouth all I hear is circus music.”

Y’know, if this was Saru, a science officer roped into a war he didn’t want, now trying his best to win battles without dying, I’d understand his agitation and his anxiety and his stupid tactics, but Lorca is CONSTANTLY GOING ON about the fact he’s a warrior. He studies war, he even reveals that his EVIL LABORATORY is actually a WAR LABORATORY where he studies WAR any time he’s not stood behind an empty table in his ready room eating fortune cookies.

I’m going to try to bring my criticism of Lorca to a close at this point, because there are eleven more episodes of this fucking show, and I feel like I’m already repeating myself frequently enough. But honest to goodness, he must be the worst series regular to enter a Trek show since… since fucking Neelix. There is nothing inspirational, aspirational, or even anything interesting about Lorca. He’s an arrogant, stupid bully and I am dreading having to spend the remainder of the series with him. If he was merely repugnant, I could at least love hating him, like Joffrey Baratheon. But Lorca’s worse – he’s also boring, and that I just can’t forgive.


Women of Colour Pay For Their Representation With Horrible, Violent Deaths

Okay, this is going to be controversial with some of you, but fuck it, let’s get stuck in.

I am really, really, really, really concerned about ‘Discovery’s treatment of non-white women. Of the four to whom we’ve been introduced, who have been named and had more than expository dialogue, two have been violently murdered, one of whom was literally eaten after her death, and the other two are convicted criminals.

In order, we meet Captain Georgiou, played by the Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, who really ought to have been the main character. She gets murdered in her second episode, to serve as character development for the show’s lead, Burnham. Georgious is stabbed, graphically, through the chest, and her bloody corpse is abandoned on the Klingon ship. We find out in this episode that the starving Klingons then ate her corpse. This, too, serves purely as character development for the Klingon leader, whose aide describes in detail him eating the flesh from her “smooth skull”, and how he smiled as he feasted.

Then we have the show’s lead, Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, a black American woman. She does some typical leading-character stuff, most of it stupid. She then gets imprisoned for mutiny. Now, she’s the lead character and “hero” of the show, so this isn’t too bad. But she is also granted redemption by a middle-aged white guy, which… yeah.

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Please, Georgiou, come back to us. We need you. We miss you.

Then we meet ‘Psycho’, played by Grace Lynn Kung, an Asian Canadian woman. Psycho is apparently a violent offender, and the only thing we really know for sure about her is that she’s a prisoner and convicted criminal. She gets a few lines before she gets put back on the space-bus and launched out of the story again.

Then we meet Commander Landry, played by Rekha Sharma, another Canadian woman, of North Indian descent. She’s aggressive, bigoted, impatient and violent, and that’s all fine, but she is also a complete fucking idiot and gets herself mauled by a violent water bear in her second episode. The last we see of her is as a mauled, lacerated corpse on a biobed, before her death is used as character development for… well, for the fucking water bear, as it happens. I mean, it could’ve been any random crewmember, but whatever.

So, look, it’s great that we’ve got a black woman as the lead character. It’s also great that we have two high-ranking officers played by women of colour (WoC) in a mainstream show. And it’s still a bit worrying that they have such a high propensity for getting fucked over and violently dispatched. Of the deaths of named characters, we have the following:

  • Danby Connor, who loses his shit in the brig before being blown into space.
  • Admiral Brett Anderson, who gets his ship rammed to death during the same battle.
  • T’Kuvma, the Klingon spiritual leader who gets shot by Burnham.
  • Captain Philippa Georgiou, Burnham’s mentor, who gets stabbed and eaten.
  • Kowski, the security guy who gets no lines but does get eaten by the Large-igrade.
  • Commander Landry, the security chief who gets mauled by the Large-igrade.

Okay, so there’s six deaths there, three of them white guys. And in fairness, whilst the WoC on that list make up half of the named WoC on the show, the white guys on that list also make up half of the (so far) named white guys on the show. So, cold hard numbers, it seems objectively balanced.

But… I still get an icky feeling. And I know, unequivocally, that there’s no conscious desire by the creators to do horrible things to the non-white women on their show. But put in the context of the historical representation that women of colour have had in films and television, and… it’s just a bit icky.

Look, I’m out of my depth here, I’ll admit, and there are many people vastly more capable of exploring this topic than me, so I’ll leave it here. All I can really add is that I’ll be keeping an eye on how this progresses. The helm officer of the Discovery is also a black woman, but so far she’s unnamed and has had only expository dialogue. If she gets a little more to do, then this might just be me having representational jitters. If she gets infested with space maggots or something equally grim, then the situation starts to look a little less… progressive.


Context Is For Kings, But Not For ‘Discovery’

This is somewhat related to my rant about Lorca, above, but there’s a real issue with the presentation of the massive war at the heart of the show’s narrative: the fact that it isn’t presented. At all.

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“There’s two things I hate: chairs, bright lights and cowardice. No, wait, there are three things I hate: chairs, bright lights, cowardice and common sense. Shit. There are FOUR things I hate…”

We are constantly reminded of the fact that the war exists. We know it’s there. And that is all we get. And this is unforgivable when it’s the motivation of the second-most important character on the show. Lorca is a warrior, he wages war, as he reminds us, every other line of dialogue. And desire to win the war is seemingly the factor behind all of his decisions.

So why do we know so little about it? When Lorca is briefed about the mining colony, he speaks with the admiral for a good couple of minutes. He even mentions that if they lose their main fuel production facility, they’ll lose the war. Well, no shit, that’s not particularly surprising. But that’s all the exposition we get. And I’ve already covered this in my previous review, but we don’t find out if Starfleet is being pushed back, or if they’re advancing into Klingon space, or even if it’s all just one big meat grinder being fought to a standstill in the middle.

And the key thing here is that I don’t care about the war. I’m not particularly interested in what’s happening all along the front lines – what does interest me is the effect it has on our characters. But with no context, it has no discernible effect.

Take Stavros. Stamos. Stanos? The engineer who looks like a budget Alan Tudyk. He doesn’t want to be a soldier. He and his research have been roped into this war effort against his wishes. That’s fine, that’s an acceptable bit of motivation for a character. But knowing more about the bigger picture would inform his character even more. Is he against it because it’s a pointless war with no endgame? Is he a pacifist, against violence despite the fact that his species faces annihilation? Does he feel bad about helping Starfleet out when it’s already got a decisive advantage over the Klingons?

What about Tilly, the fresh-faced cadet? How’s this affecting her? Is she worried about being killed before she ever graduates? Is she anxious about her career as a theoretical engineer being replaced with combat training and endless repair and maintenance of weapons systems?

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The most we’ve seen of the war to date. And this was before it even started.

Is Saru worried about the war reaching his home planet, filled with a fear-driven population? As a career scientist, is he concerned, as Stavros is, about the increased and permanent militarisation of Starfleet, which used to be an exploratory organisation?

None of these have to be in-depth discussions that take valuable time away from the literal cannibalisation of female role models. But just a few throwaway comments would really help build the world and set the tone. Even just setting the stakes for the ship and crew itself – if the Discovery is destroyed, is that a definitive loss for Starfleet? Is the fungus drive a last-ditch attempt that represents their best chance at victory? Or is this a side-project that could prove useful long-term, but for now is entirely incidental to the war effort?

It’s incredibly frustrating to have a show that ostensibly entirely character-driven, and yet does nothing to shape the world that the characters inhabit. ‘Battlestar’ (the modern version) set the premise up immediately. It was entirely character-based, but we knew from the off what the scenario was – that we were following the last fifty thousand humans in the universe, and that every loss of life was a permanent detriment to the species’ chances at survival.

We’re two episodes into the “war arc”, six months after the war first started, and yet we still know nothing about it. What are the demands on either side? The Klingons got duped into this war – what do they want out of it? Kol explains that as soon as the war is over, the Klingon houses will divide again – if so, what goal has united them? Do they just want to wipe out the Federation? Do they want to vassalise it? Have I simply been playing too much ‘Stellaris’? We still don’t know.

In the last episode, this absence of information could have been down to Burnham’s limited perspective, the fact that she, as a prisoner, would be naturally excluded from most conversations. But in this episode, we see things from multiple perspectives – Lorca being briefed by an Admiral, repeated interactions between Lorca and Stavros, and plenty of scenes with the Klingons. Still no insight into the galaxy-spanning conflict that’s allegedly at the heart of the story.

And again, this isn’t about telling the story of the war – it’s about framing our characters. It’s about giving them the context they need to come alive, rather than exist in a vacuum and just do stuff because the plot demands it. And yet the show’s creators insist on remaining evasive on the whole topic of the war. It’s all very peculiar.


The Klingons Take Two Steps Back

In the pilot episodes, we got exposed to some surface-level detail of the revised Klingon culture. We heard more about their religious beliefs, the division within their society (or at least the fact that it was, apparently divided) and they got some nice new costumes and foreheads.

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“WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS???” “Khaleesi, ah, you are wearing them.”

And it seems that’s as much as we’ll be getting. In the fourth episode, we get to see Klingons at their most desperate, starving to death aboard their crippled flagship. Their leader, the albino one, refuses to take the equipment they need from the Shenzhou, as it’s the ship that defeated them and led to his spiritual leader’s death.

Anyway, another Klingon leader shows up, which convinces the Albino to go and actually get the spare spark plugs they need from the Shenzhou. When he gets back, all of his crew have turned coat on him, joining with the other leader who had the foresight to bring them food.

That’s right, Klingons have the same view on loyalty as cats.

Which is fine, hunger is a perfectly acceptable motivation for switching sides. And, although it undermines to some extent the religious angle set up previously, it also does a lot to “humanise” the Klingons – we understand that they have a breaking point.

What I don’t understand is why the Albino is so unwilling to continue with T’Kuvma’s “spiritual path” or whatever. Given the trouble to which he went to start the war, I can only assume that taking part in that war, or at the very least not starving to death whilst it raged, was also a significant part of T’Kuvma’s intentions. Specifically, I’m confident that T’Kuvma would not have wished his ancestral ship, enshrined with those who had died for the cause, to rot away in empty space.

The Albino states that he won’t salvage the Shenzhou out of respect for T’Kuvma, which I can sort-of accept, but it just seems so at odds with everything you might expect them to actually believe in. As the Albino’s second-in-command points out, he was happy to eat the captain of the Shenzhou, just to survive. Surely taking part in the holy war that T’Kuvma started would be more respectful to his memory than allowing his war to fail for the sake of a spare alternator cap, or whatever it was that they needed.

And, indeed, the Albino says himself that he “swore to keep [T’Kuvma’s] fire lit… to resist assimilation.” I can sort-of see how using Federation technology to fix an heirloom vessel could be distasteful, but it’s not as though it’s a permanent modification – they can salvage the Shenzhou, make a single warp jump and then replace all the dirty Starfleet bits later. Religious and cultural zealotry is one thing, but this is like allowing a church to collapse because you won’t temporarily prop up a wall with a wooden beam taken from a mosque.

Like, obviously I’m not a Klingon, I don’t understand the intricacies of their society and the interactions between their traditions. The problem is I’m worried that the writers don’t, either, and they should because they’re the ones creating the Klingon culture.

The ambiguity is acceptable in a complex culture like this, but it warrants further exploration, which we don’t seem to get. That being said, there’s a promise of the Albino visiting “The Matriarchs” (groan) as he strives to regain his position as spiritual leader, which could be interesting, and I’m really hoping it’s not some weird, vaguely sexist abstraction that contains very little substance. If there’s some fucking prophesy, I’m picking up my shit and I’m leaving for good.

One final thing on these Klingon segments – they aren’t half boring. It took me ages to put my finger on it, but it wasn’t until a friend pointed out the issues. Here is a perfectly average screencap of a normal Klingon scene:

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I feel like all Klingon pornography features lines like “Now I come with humility.”

What you have here is a really nice, really expensive set, with some really cool, really expensive prostheses and makeup, with dialogue subtitled from carefully developed alien language – all of which is great. You also have a load of actors who, due to the expensive and extensive prostheses, and the gruff language which has to be subtitled, are incapable of fully practicing their craft.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’re all doing the best they can. But that isn’t very much, due to the physical limitations. To make matters worse, the Klingon arc is arguably the more theatrical of the two narratives, dealing as it does with ancient houses, divided empires and spiritual awakenings. And yet despite all of these themes, every Klingon scene ends up being a series of words on the screen whilst people in monster masks make guttural sounds at the camera.

In the first review I wrote of this series, I compared this new show to ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, as many of the themes are similar. And I’m going to do so again, because in ‘The Undiscovered Country’, during the iconic trial scene, we again get to see Klingons in their native environment, speaking in the Klingon language. Except, although the scene starts off in Klingon, it takes a moment to show us that it’s being translated for the benefit of the defendants, at which point it switches to English so that Christopher Plummer can get back to Acting, darling.

I suppose the difference is that the creators of ‘The Undiscovered Country’ gave the audience the benefit of the doubt. They assumed, correctly, that most people would be able to surmise that the Klingons were still speaking Klingon, and even if they didn’t, it hardly matters in the context of the show.

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He’s got blood streaked on his face, do you think he might be a baddie?

The creators of ‘Discovery’, on the other hand, are presumably wracked with anxiety over their audience forgetting that the people with big bulgy knobbly heads and weird-coloured skin and quadruple nostrils are aliens, should they for a moment communicate in anything but their correct, completely fictional language. Meanwhile, the actual audience is just left bored and feeling a bit sorry for all of the young actors whose careers will in no way be advanced by their participation in this calamity.


 

Other Fucking Annoying Stuff

  • “Who saved us?” asks the little girl, in the most terribly delivered line so far, contributing to nothing except my continued ill health.
  • Why would you create a type of parcel that beeps annoyingly until it’s opened? What if you just didn’t have time, but had to carry it with you? What if you wanted to wait for someone else, because you wanted to open it with them? Why create a passive aggressive piece of luggage? What the fuck is the point except to act as a prompt for a fictional character?
  • And the fucking telescope. It’s confirmed as the same one that was on the Shenzhou. So, did someone bring it with them when they all jumped on escape pods? They chose to get the telescope in case a mutineer decided they needed it for character development, but left the unencrypted crew manifests and the vital and likely confidential power generation technology? What else did they leave behind? What other weird and pointless stuff did they take with them? Or did someone see Georgiou’s will, realise they needed the telescope, and so went back to the derelict Shenzhou whilst still in the vicinity of Klingon ships, and again, left sensitive information behind? Like, in the same fucking room? Who the fuck wrote this garbage?
  • Commander Landry was a shithead for the duration of her presence on the show, but she also gets killed off pretty quickly, which would be good were it not for the representational issues already mentioned, which leaves me confused about my feelings, which leaves me even more angry.

Right, I’m actually done. I’ve written over five-and-a-half thousand words on a forty-minute slice of boiled shit that doesn’t warrant two minutes of attention. Also I’m tired. Tired of Trek being shit. Tired of the contempt that fills every frame of this show. Tired of the self-loathing seeping out of every facet of its existence.

Catch you next week.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Needs To Sort Its Shit Out

I want to pitch you a story idea. Don’t worry, it’ll only take a moment.


A veteran captain of an old ship finds herself at the edge of friendly territory, staring down the gunports of the mysterious vessel of a former enemy. Her young first officer betrays her, instigates mutiny and fires on the alien vessel. Reinforcements appear on both sides, and suddenly the captain is stuck in the middle of a cataclysmic battle. Now she has to fight – for survival, for peace, and for answers.


That’s the show we almost had. That we could’ve had. All of the elements were there, but Star Trek: Discovery instead swaps the perspectives and we get this:


A young officer finds herself and her captain staring down the gunports of the mysterious vessel of a race of aliens who murdered her parents. She speaks to her pacifist mentor, who tells her that pre-emptive bloodshed worked this one time, so she pleads with her captain to open fire without provocation. Her captain refuses, so the young officer assaults her captain, attempts to take over the ship and fire on the aliens herself. She fails, the aliens attack anyway and without reason, her captain ends up subsequently murdered and the young officer maintains throughout that she was “doing the right thing,” even as she gets convicted of FUCKING MUTINY in a court-room that actually manages to be more sinister than that of the evil alien race she so badly wants to murder.


Look, it’s a fucking mess. As I write this, ‘Discovery’ is only two episodes old, and all the usual caveats are being bandied around:

  • But it’s only the pilot episodes! All the other Trek shows had rubbish pilots!
  • But it’s a series-long narrative! Nothing ever gets resolved in the first episode!
  • But it’s Star Trek, back on TV! Give it a chance!

Like ‘Into Darkness’ before it, the more I think about ‘Discovery’s first two episodes, the angrier I get, so let’s start with the big issues and work our way down.


In A Real-World Age of Racial Tension, Star Trek Comes Down On The Side Of The Racists

This is the thing that really bothered me. A few years back, there was a great movie about an old soldier coming to terms with his inherent bigotry, having to help to broker peace with a violent, hostile faction that had caused him great personal loss.

It was called ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’.

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Evidence exists that Star Trek used to be good, though debate still rages among historians about when that was and how long it lasted.

In it, the protagonist, a character called ‘James Kirk’, is caught up in an assassination plot, where the leader of a race of hostile aliens called ‘Klingons’ is killed whilst trying to start peace negotiations. It was the Klingons who had previously murdered James’ son just a few years earlier.

James doesn’t trust the Klingons, and he never will. He’s never been able to forgive them, for the death of his son. And yet throughout it all he remains committed to the peace process. As an officer of ‘Starfleet’, an organisation dedicated to protection, peace and, most importantly, exploration, he never betrays his oath to preserve life and prevent war. In the space of about a hundred minutes of screen time, he comes face-to-face with his own deep-seated bigotry, but with the help of his friends his tolerance and his trust win through.

Basically, at the beginning of the film, James thinks the Klingons are up to no good, as do a lot of heavily prejudiced people around him. And it turns out that a few of the Klingons ARE up to no good – but so are many Starfleet officers. We find out that even the most bloody of adversaries are equally capable of evil – and equally capable of peaceful intentions.

Now, let’s look at ‘Star Trek: The Rediscovered Bigotry’:

The “protagonist”, a character called ‘Michael Burnham’, is a career officer in the same Starfleet as James. She was raised by a race of aliens called ‘Vulcans’ – vegetarian, meditative, spiritual pacifists. Specifically, she was raised and mentored by their chief diplomat, who, in James’ time, would help to broker peace between Starfleet and the Klingons. Michael’s parents were killed twenty years ago when she was a child, during a Klingon raid of her colony.

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The new contender, seeking to take from Jon Snow the Crown of Bad Decisions.

Michael doesn’t trust the Klingons. She knows that they only practice war and violence. And so, when she’s confronted with one of their ships, she talks to her meditative, pacifist diplomat foster-father and asks him what to do. He tells her that two centuries previously, the Vulcans brokered peace with the Klingons by pre-emptively attacking Klingon ships on sight, until the Klingons grew wary enough to sue for peace.

So, Michael implores her captain to pre-emptively destroy the Klingon vessel.

Michael is a human, which means that in the two centuries since the Vulcans and Klingons made peace, her own species went from the brink of nuclear annihilation to planetary unification, eradicated economic scarcity, formed a socialist technological utopia which spans hundreds of star systems, and is now one of the most influential species in the galaxy.

Knowing all of this, and having been through the Vulcan education system of unwavering rationality and logic, and being an established “xeno-anthropologist”, Michael concludes that Klingon culture could not possibly have changed in those two centuries, and that therefore whatever tactics worked back then must still be entirely applicable now. She reaches this conclusion strongly enough to betray her own captain, and friend, of seven years, and tries to commit mass murder, even knowing that a fleet of Klingon vessels is likely only moments from arriving.

Now, the problem here isn’t that Michael jumped to stupid conclusions, or took stupid actions, or acted entirely in contradiction to the anthropological background established for her character in the same fucking episodes. Well, okay, they are all problems, but no worse than the problems that plague many other TV shows. The problem is that Michael is proven right.

Because as she predicts, the Klingons attack. Without provocation, without reason. We see the Klingons as they make their decision to attack, and it all boils down to one religious weirdo and known outcast telling them that they, y’know, totally should attack, because, like, have you seen those Starfleet guys? They want to talk! To Klingons! Who does that? Villains, that’s who.

Which means that the Klingons are, apparently, exactly as bloodthirsty and aggressive as Michael believes. That’s the actual truth. We even see other Starfleet officers calling Michael out on her racist bullshit – and they are proven to be wrong.

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He seems like an interesting character, I sure can’t wait to see how he develops in future episodes. I can really see him becoming a Gul Dukat-esque enduring and long-standing villain.

In ‘The Undiscovered Country’, in roughly the same amount of screen time as ‘Discovery’s opening two episodes, we are shown that the Klingons are a functioning society – martial, certainly, even aggressive – yet still capable of pragmatism, and philosophy, and contemplation. They may turn to warfare more readily than the Vulcans, or even the Humans, but they, as a nation, don’t just commit to random acts of violence without reason. They do things with purpose.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of people really pleased with the “cultural development” that the Klingons received in ‘Discovery’, and in fairness, it is nice to see them get some fancy new costumes and a more cohesive aesthetic and for them to reveal a bit of their religious side. But all of that is surface detail – it doesn’t particularly inform their decision to just start a war because some bloke told them to.

And, not to get too on the nose about things, but I’m concerned about a Star Trek franchise that uses, as its main antagonists, a bunch of overly-religious, dark-skinned foreigners who commit “terror attacks”, as the show calls them.

Y’know, it wasn’t so long ago that ‘The Next Generation’ put a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise, specifically to point out that different species, races and cultures can all co-operate because they all share so much in common.

If ‘Discovery’ changes tack a little, or reveals more of the Klingon culture to explain their apparent total lack of hesitation when it comes to starting galaxy-wide wars, then I will feel a lot better about things. But if it doesn’t, this is going to feel like a huge step backwards in terms of cultural and racial sensitivity.

Oh, and we should probably mention the fact that the dark-skinned leader of the Klingons gets killed, and replaced with a white-skinned dude. And the fact that a Malaysian captain who is also a woman is killed off to be replaced with a middle-aged white dude. Get your shit together, Star Trek.


Two Full-Length Pilot Episodes Barely Manage To Set Up A Single Plot Point

Broadly speaking, you’ve got a few different formats for TV shows these days. You can go entirely episodic – such as the original ‘Star Trek’, and ‘The Next Generation’ after it. Each episode is an instalment in its own right, a self-contained story with little, if any, continuity between episodes and series. Or you can go for a more modern, entirely series-driven narrative, like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Orphan Black’, where story arcs are rarely concluded within a single episode and instead each week offers a segment of a continuing plotline.

If those are two ends of a spectrum, then you’ve also got everything in the middle, exemplified by the latter series of ‘Deep Space Nine’, and also ‘Babylon 5’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Arrested Development’, ‘iZombie’, and many others, where you get an over-arching series narrative, delivered in episodic “chunks” (and sometimes scattered in between non-arc episodes, as in ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Firefly’).

Whichever format a series falls into ends up defining the structure of each episode, and particularly the structure of its pilot episode. Pilot episodes, as the very first introduction to hopefully a long-running series, have two objectives – to lay out the premise of the show, and to get the audience back the following week. Now, the premise of the show includes its tone, its story, its settings, but also its characters and their relationships with one another.

A great example of a good pilot episode is that of ‘Firefly’, the episode itself titled ‘Serenity’ (confusingly, the same name as the follow-up movie after the show’s cancellation). This pilot is ninety minutes long, and introduces us to all of the most important elements of the show itself. It introduces all nine characters (as well as the tenth, the ship itself), it shows us their roles and responsibilities, it shows a good chunk of the universe they travel in, and the kind of stakes they’re up against. The use of energy-dense food as the plot-central cargo highlights the kind of survivalist tone that will dominate the rest of the series, through ‘War Stories’ and ‘Out of Gas’, whilst the criminal shenanigans set the mood for future heists in ‘The Train Job’, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Trash’. And finally the peculiar arrival of Simon and River Tam, and their significance to the antagonistic and oppressive Alliance, prepares the foundation for a longer-running, series-length mystery.

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In a far-away star system, with spaceships and hover sleds and holograms, mankind is yet to improve upon the lever-action shotgun when it comes to projectile weapons.

Like ‘Firely’, the (combined) pilot of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lasts around ninety minutes. But that’s where the similarities end, sadly. It introduces six main characters – two of whom will be dead by the pilot’s end, and one of the ones left alive speaks a total of about eight lines. The titular ship itself, the Discovery, doesn’t even make an appearance outside of the title credits. Two factions are introduced, but despite war breaking out between them they receive no exposition – we get no indication of their relative strength, or their advantages or disadvantages, or even their size. Is Starfleet an armada of thousands of ships in this time period? Are the Klingons a quadrant-spanning empire or do they only occupy a small corner of the galaxy? What exactly are the stakes in this conflict? What do the Klingons count as a victory?

Michael has allegedly been a crew member under Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) for seven years, along with Lieutenant Saru, but they still deliver basic exposition about themselves to one another as though they’ve just met. Of course, this is for the audience’s benefit, but it contradicts the stated facts about their relationships. We don’t meet anyone else from Starfleet – a small handful of crew members get a couple of functional, information-delivering lines (plus one particular bit of jarringly anachronistic ‘banter’) and we meet an annoying but broadly sensible admiral who lasts for two minutes before getting terminally pancaked.

A lot of people have been comparing ‘Discovery’s pilots to previous Trek pilots. This is a somewhat flawed approach – ‘Discovery’ isn’t competing with thirty-year-old sci-fi shows produced on low budgets, it’s competing with the mind-bogglingly huge catalog of contemporary and expensive shows on offer across multiple viewing platforms. But let’s compare it to old Trek anyway – just for fun, eh?

‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ was the second pilot for The Original Series. Like ‘Discovery’, it only introduced a handful of main characters, and like ‘Discovery’, two of them would be dead by the end. But it was also forty-five minutes long, and presented a self-contained story with a beginning, middle and end. At least three characters had arcs of their own, where they learned something new about themselves, and about the galaxy they inhabited. There never was an over-arcing plot to The Original Series, and so we don’t get much world-building. But this was also fifty-one years and two days before ‘Discovery’s release.

The Next Generation was introduced with ‘Encounter At Farpoint’, a two-part pilot, like Discovery’s, and about equivalent in length. In it, we meet ten main characters (and a couple more who would become much more significant later on (plus an old but familiar face)), and we see how they each deal with difficult and dangerous situations. We learn about their personal histories, their past and present relationships. We learn in near-excruciating detal about the ship on which the show would be set for the next seven years – we see its capabilities and a whole host of new technologies. And, again, we get a fully resolved story in that time, and arcs for many of the characters, and we even get a smidgen of world-building with the introduction of the Q Continuum. Now, ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is not necessarily an enjoyable piece of television, but it does its bit as a pilot episode.

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The only reason that chair hasn’t been gnawed upon is because technically it’s “furniture” and not “scenery”.

Half-way through Next Generation’s run, we got a spin-off show, ‘Deep Space Nine’. This show opens with ‘Emissary’ (not ‘The Emissary, that’s an episode of Next Gen, do keep up). ‘Emissary’ uses ninety minutes to present a large, ensemble cast and deliver their backstories, which would inform the development of their relationships, friendships and rivalries over seven seasons. We get to explore the station, meet its inhabitants, learn about its position and its importance. We’re introduced to the series’ long-running antagonists, the Cardassians, and their leader, Gul Dukat, as well as the spiritual-mystical-bullshit plot about The Wormhole Prophets that would keep resurfacing throughout the rest of the show. We learn about the Bajorans, some aspects of their culture and their religion, and their recent history of oppression by the Cardassians, and the political fallout that followed their emancipation. Oh, and alongside all of that world-building we also get a fully resolved story with multiple character arcs. And, like ‘Farpoint’, ‘Emissary’ isn’t DS9’s best installment – but again, it sets up the show that we’d end up loving.

‘Caretaker’ is a shakey start to a shakey show. Star Trek: Voyager was not my favourite part of the Star Trek franchise, but its pilot episode, again, did a solid job of introducing another seven-season-long piece of Trek history. It’s ninety minutes, again. We see the ship, we meet two different crews who later merge. We get a fully-resolved story. We also get some good groundwork on the show’s over-arcing premise – that they’re stranded, decades from home, with limited resources and little hope of seeing their families again. We learn about some of the first season’s recurring antagonists, the Kazon, and we get some world-building for the Delta Quadrant, the area of space in which the show is set.

After ‘Voyager’, there was ‘Enterprise’. I will be honest, I hated ‘Enterprise’, and providing a breakdown of its pilot would require me to watch it again, which I’m just not prepared to do. But I do remember a few details – ninety minutes long, ship, crew, long-running antagonists, fully-resolved story, etc. etc. Something about Klingons. Oh, and it did its best to introduce the era’s technology level – set many, many years before The Original Series, it was necessary to regress the technology somewhat, which I think it managed to do.

Anyway, the point is that it is possible to do a good pilot within ninety minutes. There is more than enough time to introduce a sizable cast, to start a long-running narrative, and to tell a story – and if you don’t believe me, I’ve presented my findings in the below table:

pilotstable

As you can see, the data speaks for itself.


Starfleet Is Apparently Now A Sinister Shadow Government

Okay, this probably seems minor to most of you but it really pissed me off. Why was Burnham’s court martial so fucking shady? We’ve seen Starfleet courtrooms before – they’re well-lit and full of people wearing pyjamas. They look like this:

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Or this:

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Or maybe this:

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And sometimes this:

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And this:

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Hopefully by now I’ve made myself clear.

And yet, because ‘Discovery’ is pretty much entirely style-over-substance, Burnham’s court martial is conducted in the dark, with three adjudicators who are all apparently from the race of aliens who can only be perceived as silhouettes. For, reference, here’s an image of a Klingon courtroom. You may have heard of the Klingons, they’re the fucking antagonists of the whole fucking show.

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And Michael Burnham doesn’t even get her own defense attorney, meaning trials in Starfleet are now less fair than trials in the Klingon Empire. Wasn’t Starfleet meant to represent the pinnacle of human social advancement? Isn’t the Federation dedicated entirely to the fair and just treatment of all of its citizens? Christ, ‘Starship Troopers’ was a dystopian satire with trials that lasted seconds and resulted in executions, and even in that universe you could see the judges’ faces.

Portraying Starfleet’s courtrooms in such a sinister fashion implies that Burnham was unfairly sentenced, but it’s worth bearing in mind that she did attack her captain, attempt mutiny and do everything she could to start interstellar fucking war. What’s the point that the director’s trying to make, exactly?

Starfleet and the Federation should be aspirational – they should represent a brighter, better path for humanity. Deep Space Nine’s “Section 31” was controversial among fans precisely because it was such a cynical element in what was always meant to be a shiny, optimistic vision of the future. Don’t get me wrong, I liked “Section 31”, and the idea that maintaining Utopia won’t always be easy, and that there will always be someone trying to corrupt paradise from within. But ‘Discovery’ presents that as the accepted norm.

Also, whilst I’m on the subject of minor things that normal people don’t care about, why does the science console on the Shenzhou (Captain Georgiou’s ship) display only two pieces of rudimentary information at a time? Every random screen in Star Trek was always covered in data, with navigational charts, crew rosters and details of diplomatic missions to Alderaan. But now, apparently the science console, y’know, the nexus of all the data collected by every sensor and scanner on the ship and which requires a seasoned officer with multiple degrees in various disciplines to use, presents two numbers at a time, in 3000-point font size. Seriously, fuck this show.


Okay, Fine, There Is Some Good Stuff If I’m Being Completely Honest And Unreasonably Generous

There are some moderately positive elements to Star Trek: Discovery. By which I mean there were occasional moments that didn’t leave me furious.

Burnham using ethical theory to convince the computer into releasing her from icy, vacuumy death in the brig was my favourite moment. It had a classic Star Trek feel, and brought back memories of Kirk talking super-machines to death on a regular basis. It’s a shame that Burnham wasted this good faith by being an unrepentant bigot and warmonger the rest of the time.

The cold open, in which Georgiou and Burnham traipse across a desert planet to save a primitive species from dying of thirst, was also great. It immediately confirmed Georgiou as a resourceful, charismatic leader, and was a nice reminder of the humanitarian exploration that used to be the focus of the franchise. Y’know, before Damon Lindelof turned up and made it all about torpedoes and violence.

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*wistful sigh*

Captain Georgiou in general was wonderful, and as mentioned at the start of this post, should really have been the main character. She seemed like a good old fashioned Starfleet officer – ethical, curious, determined and capable. Christ, do you remember being able to look up to the characters on Star Trek? When Picard would give a speech that actually convinced you of the virtue of morality? When Kirk was a thoughtful, sensitive soul and not a horny teenager who liked shouting? When starting a war represented the worst-case scenario, and not the desired outcome of the show’s main character? Crude Reviews remembers.

Lieutenant Saru was snarky and charming in a pathetic fashion. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with a species whose racial trait is “fucking terrified”, but it makes about a thousand times more sense than whatever the fuck the Ocampans were meant to be, so I’ll gladly see where it leads.

I appreciated the decision to have Georgiou and Burnham wear some actual fucking protective equipment when knowingly going into a fight. For too long, Trek characters have willingly thrown themselves into dangerous situations wearing, at the very best, a fairly thick whoollen tunic.


There Are Always Possibilities

Obviously, I’m unhappy about ‘Discovery’s opening gambit. “Unhappy” is the wrong word, actually – it makes me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with the shift towards “dark” and “gritty” Star Trek. It’s all very well trying to fit Star Trek into the modern trend of violent, depressing, series-long narratives, but there surely must still be some scope for a little bit of positivity?

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Commander Blue-Eyes Angry-Face, who apparently has reached skill level 100 in Smithing.

I’ll be sticking with ‘Discovery’. Despite the disappointments of its pilot episodes, it has left itself plenty of room to do some interesting stuff. The Dominion War was a chance for DS9 to explore humanity’s ability to cling to its values whilst fighting for its survival. ‘Discovery’ could do something similar, and that might be excellent.

That said, with confirmations that ‘Discovery’ will bring back both Harry ‘Sex Trafficker’ Mudd and the Mirror Universe, and with only a fifteen-episode season (including these two pilot episodes), I worry that the greater likelihood will be that the show becomes an endless series of callbacks to what has boldly gone before, interspersed with violence and violations of orders and some contrived excuse for another fucking holodeck episode.

What really, really worries me is that Burnham will never have that “Oh, shit!” moment. By the end of the pilot episodes, she remains convinced that she tried to do the right thing. There’s no “maybe I goofed” feeling coming from her – she seems to still think everyone around her is blind to the realities of the situation. And the show has proven her right: if she had been able to fire upon and destroy the Klingon ship when she tried to, she may have averted the subsequent battle. And that, for me, is a terrible lesson for Star Trek to try to teach. I always thought Star Trek was about finding alternatives to violence, about finding commonality and shared values, but it seems that now we’re on a darker path.

If I’m proven wrong, I will be glad.