It’s fair to say that Star Trek: Discovery has been divisive, with some viewers complaining that the modern update of Gene Rodenderry’s utopian franchise just doesn’t feel like the Star Trek they know and love. Meanwhile, others adore the series’ new take on the source material, bringing the values of Starfleet into a new age with more character-driven, serialised storytelling.
Personally, I’ve always been a little torn. While discussions about Discovery’s quality can sometimes get tangled up with unpleasant “culture war” discussions about the presence of social justice issues in popular culture (and how you can argue Star Trek shouldn’t represent social justice is beyond me), I do sometimes find myself longing that the wisecracking, emotional heroes of the USS Discovery could be a little bit more like the more grown-up crews of previous series.
However, as season three continues I’ve realised there’s an exception to this trend – Doug Jones’ Kelpian officer Saru, an alien from a prey species who as of the latest episodes has been elevated to captain of the Discovery. While other Discovery characters swerve between quips and overwrought emotional speeches, Saru is the epitome of calm and professionalism – the only character who is just getting on with his job really well! – and I find myself being drawn more and more to him as a result.
For years, part of the appeal of Star Trek (and particularly Patrick Stewart’s The Next Generation) was watching a crew of competent professionals do their jobs brilliantly, achieving their goals through teamwork, support and expertise.
Discovery is more emotional and prone to filtering its characters’ stories through season-long arcs that vary in quality – but Saru is a respite from that. In the second and third episodes of the new season the character’s diplomacy and firm moral code help reorient his crew as they find themselves in a new and hostile place in space and time, cutting through the corruption and danger of the situations they’re in by sticking to his code of ethics.
Basically, he just… acts like he’s in a Star Trek series. I didn’t notice it while it was gone, but that was the Star Trek I was missing. And now that Saru has command of the Discovery, I can only hope this is just the start of the series’ return to a more traditional and optimistic Star Trek story.
Star Trek: Discovery releases new episodes on Netflix UK on Fridays. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide