I always feel like I’m rooting for Star Trek Discovery to be better. Ever since it arrived all-phasers blazing in 2017 the modern spin-off of Gene Roddenberry’s enduring creation has slightly struggled with its identity, shifting gears more times than Commander Data’s positronic brain as it flits from storyline to storyline.
Discovery has great bones – a great cast, some good ideas and an appealing aesthetic – but throughout its TV history it feels like it can’t quite stick to anything. Various great ideas are teased and developed, but as soon as they’re realised the show loses interest, one eye already on the horizon looking for the next shiny thing.
Within its first two episodes, Discovery introduced and dispensed with an entire ship and crew, before settling into a new status quo (featuring Jason Isaac’s ruthless Captain Lorca) in what seemed like an attempt to look at the darker side of the Federation. Then, the crew were catapulted into a parallel dimension in an exciting twist – but this was barely a blip before they were back home, their old struggles gone as they saved Starfleet from the Klingons.
In season two, something resembling a traditional Star Trek series appeared to be forming as the crew travelled to different locations investigating “The Red Angel” – but the serialisation of the series got the plot bogged down in the mystery of Spock’s madness, the Sphere of knowledge and the rise of evil AI system Control, leaving the entire finished product slightly incoherent. (We tried to make sense of it all with our Star Trek Discovery season 2 recap.)
Now, the long-awaited third season poses an intriguing new set-up once again, full of storytelling possibilities – but I’m a little worried it can’t stick the landing. In these new episodes Discovery arrives in the far future, centuries later than any previous series on the Star Trek timeline and with no Federation to support them.
In other words it’s like Star Trek: Voyager, but with the ship stranded in time, not space. In theory, this could mean an exploration about what the ethics of Starfleet mean when there’s not actually the muscle to back them up (in this far future almost all Federation ships are missing or destroyed). In practice? It’s unclear how committed Discovery is to its new course.
The first four episodes (which were available for preview) certainly show some promise, especially the third (released on the 29th October) in which the crew are forced to prevent a clash over scarce resources in a formerly familiar political environment, now changed beyond recognition. The negotiation scenes almost touch on the fan-favourite heights of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s outer-space diplomacy, and arguably show off the purest distillation of Star Trek’s progressive ideals.
However, other episodes suggest that Discovery might not have entirely lost its hyperactive sensibility. The endless, difficult search for any Federation is solved… pretty quickly, when that could have been a season arc in itself. Likewise, promising storylines about the crew’s trauma and lead character Michael’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) disillusionment with her former life are subtly set up, then dismissed clumsily.
Meanwhile, an uninteresting mystery about the cause of the future’s calamity (What is The Burn, anyway?) looks set to become season three’s equivalent of the Red Angel or Control storylines – a largely unsatisfying, lore-heavy arc that doesn’t really connect to the characters or have anything to say.
Who knows – assuming they really are stuck in the future for good, maybe season three will be where Star Trek: Discovery finds its niche. After all, plenty of Star Treks past have taken a season or two to get going, and the new ground the series is treading is ripe for some exciting, illuminating stories.
Personally, I’m not quite sure that Discovery is able to stick to one idea long enough to do it justice. In the end, that could be this series’ final frontier.
The Star Trek Discovery season 3 release schedule will see new episodes out on Fridays on Netflix UK. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide