Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Discovery Canon Problem

For months now we have been waiting for news on Star Trek: Discovery. Last week, the first trailer was released, and Trekkies have been debating it incessantly on the World Wide Web ever since. One issue that had come up again and again is Discovery and its treatment of canon.Some have been very critical over the established canon that has come from five decades of television episodes and motion pictures. Some will claim, without having seen a single episode, that canon was being ignored and thrown aside by uncaring, non-Trek fan producers who are only looking at Star Trek:Discovery as a quick payday. The uniforms are too different, the Klingons don't look right, and the technology does not measure up to snuff. The shouts are deafening at times.

Now, I will be the first person to defend a fan's right to criticize Star Trek. We all have our "Shades of Grey" and "Spock's Brain" episodes, our "Wesley Crusher" characters that we love to hate, and the little inconsistencies that have found their way into Star Trek. We chuckle at oversights that make us do the face palm, and then go onto making as many memes that we can to mock Trek's beloved imperfections. I have also known fans who, on various principles, will not watch various incarnations of the show as a protest to things they did not like. Yet, with Discovery, some fans are surprised with the venom that is being used in dissecting this new show before a single episode has been shown. Well, I have news for everyone, old fans and new alike, about this reaction.

There's nothing new here.

Standard Picard face palm photo

Indeed, when the Next Generation was in pre-production, critics and fans alike were tearing apart the new series before anything was put to script, let alone film. Among the fan circles (no internet in homes in those days), some familiar complaints were being made. An android and a Klingon on the bridge? Never! A  bald captain? Haven't they treated baldness in the future? No Vulcans in the main cast? The outrage! Have you seen those uniforms? They got the colors wrong! You can't have the captain wear red! The ship looks wrong! Blah blah blah blah blah. And then, the show aired. Many of us were happy to have Trek back on TV, so we watched and allowed things to progress. Yes, the first season was rough. "Code of Honor" was the second episode, and it stunk up the airwaves. It even turned fans off of the show. Wesley became despised by some fans to the point where his character was booed at every convention. Yet it would be hard to argue that TNG not only continued the franchise, but surpassed the Original Series in terms of popularity and recognition. It became a ratings juggernaut and gave us two spin-off series and a prequel series. With each of those series there was serious doubts and fears from the fans, and each time the show found a core fan base of varying scopes. 

This photo brought about many complaints as well.

So now we have Discovery, and the complaints resurface. Again, I find it humorous that so many have declared this to not be Trek without having seen a single episode. Loudest of the complaints are with respect to canon and how it is being ignored. Well, again, nothing new here. This is not the first time that canon has been ignored, and to be fair, we do not know that canon is ignored in this new series yet. Let me address a few of the "canon" infringements and let you decide from there.

First, the Klingons. Yes, Star Trek has had a storied history with this race of warriors. In the Original Series, we had distinctly human-looking Klingons. Then the movies were made, and the number one enemy to the UFP had forehead ridges. Some fans were outraged. The ridges were carried forward in the subsequent series, and we fans turned the outrage into a bit of an in-joke. You see, we got the fact that Star Trek in the 60s had a limited budget, to the point where Klingons, who would appear in several episodes. were just darker skinned than many humans. With improvements in budgets and technology, the 70s and 80s allowed the powers that be to give a more alien appearance to the Klingons. The thoeries, albeit not too serious, as to why Klingons looked different between the two eras would be a hot topic at conventions and later in chat rooms. Again, we didn't take it too seriously. The arguments were mostly out of fun. Deep Space Nine took a stab at explaining it in a way that was humorous and acknowledged the debate for decades. Later, Enterprise provided a very good explanation, involving Augments and genetic manipulation. Let us not forget that even specific Klingons have changed over time. How many different heads did Worf have? Now, the Klingons look different again, and people are once again up in arms. This time, the discourse has an angrier tone, and I get it. If canon was being followed with precision, the Klingons would look like the ones from the Original Series. They don't. They look more like modern Klingons. The explanation given by Enterprise appears to have been ignored. So in this situation, I would say that the arguments towards ignoring canon have been validated. Other examples, however, have not.

Klingon or not? Who cares.

There is a smaller argument being made that at the time of Kirk there were no female Starfleet captains, and it looks like Discovery will be going against that. This piece of canon comes from the final Original Series episode "Turnabout Intruder", in which Dr. Janice Lester says to Kirk: "Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women!". Lester had wanted to be a captain, and some felt that her use of that line mirrored the society of the 1960s where women were not seen as being capable of being leaders of the military and corporations. I would argue that interpreting that one line of dialogue (given by a character whose mental instability was the core of the plot) as to show that the gender gap still existed in the 23rd century is one of the weakest arguments in this debate. For a show who continually stood for breaking social barriers, Star Trek would not be so shallow as to keep a woman out of the Captain's chair. Was not the first officer in "The Cage" a woman? If we examine the line of dialogue in question closely, there are far more plausible interpretations. For instance, since she said this to Kirk, a man whom she was in love with, could she not have been saying this to Kirk himself, and not to Starfleet? It is Kirk's world of being a starship captain that does not admit women, which would explain the large number of romantic flings Kirk has had over his three years as the captain. Dr. Lester was upset that Kirk chose career over her, not that Starfleet would only promote men to the rank of Captain. Canon has not been ignored here.

Captain on the bridge

Another complaint I hear is that the technology looks too advanced when compared to the Original Series. Well, that is because the two shows were made a half-century apart. Technology grew, allowing us to give more realistic props and sets. Why would we expect the show to give us the 1960s Enterprise bridge? I mean, from a nostalgia point of view it would be cool (look at the TNG episode of "Relics"), but that is not something to base an entire new series on. Face it, but if after the show is on and the only thing that is keeping you from enjoying Discovery is that the consoles look too new, then the problem is with you, not Discovery.

Hey, look! Buttons on the consoles!

When it comes to canon, Star Trek fans need to remember something: Trek has a history of ignoring canon in light of good story telling. History is rewritten to make the story work. The entire Trill species, as an example, contradicted itself. Trills were introduced to us as an alien species with bumpy foreheads that didn't want people to know about their being a joined species. When DS9 came around, the bumps were replaced with spots, and it looks as if either Sisko was the only Starfleet officer to know about the worm in Dax's abdomen, or it was just the crew of the flagship that hadn't gotten the Trill memo. Regardless of it, canon and history changed to allow a better story to be told. I think that many of these fans that are complaining about the disrespect to canon need to ask themselves is this: would you rather have canon overlooked in favour of good story telling, or would you rather get garbage and/or recycled stories just to stay true to your interpretation of canon? If you want the show to look like the 1960s, then watch the various fan films that do that. Do you want good Trek? Then learn to let some things go.

The real Star Trek canon

Ultimately, I think everyone should give it a chance first. I get the desire to voice your concerns. I have had them myself. I also understand when something that I grew up with and loved is not presented in a way that I thought was contrary to the reasons that I loved it. I also learned from those experiences that if I let it go, then my life is happier. We need to stop judging the people that are working hard to bring back Star Trek to the small screen (and the big screen, for that matter, but let's not go there just yet). One of my pet peeves is hearing that the people that work on Star Trek: Discovery have no real love for Star Trek. When I look at some of the names attached to it, like Bryan Fuller, Nicholas Meyer, and Eugene Roddenberry himself, I find it hard to believe that these individuals are just trying to destroy Star Trek. Seriously, you think that Eugene is trying to destroy his father's legacy? Nonsense. 

They've worked hard, let them have a chance

As fans, we need to stop thinking that we are the sole owners of Star Trek. Are we important partners? Yes. Are we a reason that Star Trek has remained relevant for half a century and more? Of course we are, but that does not mean that we are the only ones. We have to acknowledge that not everyone has the same idea for Gene's vision. Heck, if we had stuck with Gene's vision, we likely would have seen TNG end in a few seasons with nothing else to follow. Star Trek evolves because that is what good franchises must do. Those that become so rigorously married to canon are doomed to failure and disappointment. We need to stop acting like this belongs to us. It doesn't, at least not solely. There are other partners in this relationship that have a stake here. For any good relationship to work, there needs to be some give and take, and right now there is a small contingent of us that are just taking and giving nothing but negativity in return. We need to let Discovery happen, for better or for worse. Yes, it's a bit scary. Yes, it means that not everything will be the way we like it. I have my list of concerns, and if they are not met, I will be disappointed and likely not follow Discovery like the others. I may tune it out all together. Some have already made that choice. But to drag the rest of the fans down with you is illogical and goes against IDIC. We need to stop this idea that our own individual interpretation of Gene's vision about Star Trek is the only valid one. We need to stop forcing our belief as to what is Star Trek onto everyone around us. 

How I feel when people complain about Discovery

So let's wait and see. Stop the bitterness, open your minds and hearts to new possibilities. I think the truest essence of Star Trek is to not just seek out new worlds and new civilizations, but to open ourselves to new ideas and imaginations. Nobody is asking you to accept everything. You can enjoy what you enjoy and allow others to do the same. In the end, if all you can do is rage over and over that Star Trek is dead to you, and that your sole purpose in life is now dead and gone, then may I, in the words of William Shatner, humbly and sincerely advise you to "get a life".

Words of wisdom.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are singing from the same song book. I've been saying the same thing, just not as well as you just did. I'm used to the internet negativity, it's a given but I've never seen anything like the vitriol towards Discovery. It's had the opposite effect from what the negative neds intended. It's turned me off the boards and groups, not the show. I'm a big boy and I'll make up my own mind. It goes back to what your granny used to say- if you can't say anything nice- don't say anything. Sure, I've got my concerns too but what I've seen, there's plenty to be excited about. All the negative comments makes me just think of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. :)

  2. I take your points, and I can accept all of it, except the Klingons, they are just too different, it's like they didn't even use trekkers when they were writing, or they would have known just how wrong that was!

    1. Thanks for the comment Rezty. I sympathize with the Klingon situation. I get that for some fans there are things that they cannot get around. I have my own list which is likely different than yours, but that does not invalidate your concerns.

    2. its more fun to check out the little clues they put in to link one generations incarnation to the others, the sounds the bridge instruments make, the background story, subspace functions, the ships computer, engine speeds...all that is where the interest is for me, couldn't care less about whos shagging the captain...

  3. Honestly, I agree for a large part, but I also attribute a lot of the vitriol to the fact that CBS/Paramount have been very erratic about the show so far. When they first announced it, it was going to be out by the spring of 2017 with a pilot movie on the network by Christmas of 2016. All of the delays, personnel shake-ups, and slow-drizzled details about what the show was even going to be about instilled a lot of apprehension on the part of the fans. I honestly can't blame a lot of fans for going into this with a jaded attitude, especially after the mess JJ made of Into Darkness.

  4. I'll be the first to admit I have issues with Discovery. The first being the USS Shenzhou which looks like a ship more from the TNG era than TOS. It looks just a little too weird for my tastes. I've seen designs of the NCC-1701 on Deviantart.com that update the Connie but don't make it look like a Fast and Furious hotrod. Discovery uniforms did bother me a bit until I got thinking about how Starfleet seems to change styles and colors on a whim. Also, I do remember that TNG and DS9 had different uniforms.

    Lastly, I'll commit a bit of heresy here and suggest that time and technology might have to force a reboot of the Prime Timeline. Some of the special effects on TNG are quite frankly showing their age. My small concerns aside unless the producers really screw the pooch I'm looking forward to Discovery.

    1. " time and technology might have to force a reboot of the Prime Timeline." No, it just need a creative visual supervisor to work around it, once you reboot it, it is no longer what it was, and hence it is not Trek, just as the JJ crap-verse is not trek. Reboot is the easiest, cowardly-est (to create my own verbal melange), Non sequitur solution.