Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 3: Choose To Live

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

When we saw the first few episode titles for Discovery Season 4 a few weeks ago, I completely missed something huge. “Choose to live” is a Qowat Milat saying, a phrase used by Elnor in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 last year. That was an oversight on my part, and meant that my original analysis of the episode before the season premiered was way off-base. Oops!

Although Discovery Season 4 is now available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia, and in western Europe and a few other regions via Pluto TV, or to purchase via iTunes, Google, and Amazon, there are still too many Star Trek fans unable to watch the new season of the show. Fans in countries and regions that ViacomCBS believes don’t exist still have no (official) way to access the season, and with the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ also skipping over large swathes of Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, that’s very disappointing. In my own small way, I’ll continue to point this out and call on ViacomCBS to do more to fix this problem and bring Star Trek to every fan around the world.

Captain Burnham at the beginning of the episode.

Choose To Live feels like a mid-season episode. It advanced the season’s main gravitational anomaly storyline in a pretty minor way, but in its place gave several different characters episode-long storylines that may or may not connect to the season’s ongoing themes. There are some nitpicks that we’ll get into, particularly surrounding one of the main story elements, but overall Choose To Live was a solid episode with some deeply emotional moments and throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. With its three concurrent storylines, I even felt it was structurally similar to episodes of Lower Decks!

As someone who’s spent decades struggling with my own gender identity, it’s really only in recent times that I’ve felt comfortable to be open and “out” as non-binary. Thus it was Gray’s story that perhaps intrigued me the most on a personal, character-scale level as Season 4 approached. We were promised that Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira wouldn’t forget about Gray, and that his quest to be “seen” would succeed.

Gray watches his new synthetic body being constructed.

I’m absolutely thrilled to see Gray in a corporeal body for the first time. The scene with Gray customising his synthetic body in last week’s episode was absolutely the episode’s emotional high point, leaving me in tears, and I was hoping to see Choose To Live continue that trend. But something about Gray’s story this time felt… rushed. And although it was supported by amazingly emotional performances by Wilson Cruz, Ian Alexander, and in particular Blu del Barrio – who put in their best performance in Discovery so far – I actually felt that something was missing.

It was only when Adira beamed aboard the KSF Khi’eth in the Season 3 finale that Gray was able to be seen by anyone other than Adira. The end of that episode kicked off Gray’s quest to become corporeal again, fully confirming that Gray is indeed “real” and not a figment of Adira’s imagination. The first episode of Season 4 didn’t really feature any part of Gray’s quest, and we got one scene last week; a wonderful scene, but a single scene. And then this time, across several deeply emotional sequences, but in an episode that was packed with other storylines running at the same time, Gray’s quest has already come to an end.

Gray’s quest to be seen has concluded.

Gray’s invisibility had been an analogy for how many transgender people – and I would posit from my own experience, many non-binary people too – feel invisible, either ignored by the world or having to hide our true selves from it. Overcoming that, and finally feeling free to openly live one’s life is not a fast or easy process, and as much as I respect Discovery for putting together a story like this, the way it concluded so early in the season has left me feeling a little hollow.

Firstly, Stamets had no involvement at all – despite being a big part of Adira and Gray’s family. Stamets has had precisely one scene with Adira so far this season, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the premiere. It was great this week to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering lab for once; his being on Ni’Var was fun to see and another emotional story. But it was also noteworthy that he was absent not only from the scenes featuring Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber, but from their story as well.

Stamets was entirely absent from this story – even though it’s a huge moment for his family.

Here’s what I mean by that: Dr Culber didn’t mention Stamets. Adira didn’t mention Stamets. Gray didn’t mention Stamets. And Stamets didn’t mention any of them – not even a throwaway line about how he was nervous for Gray or upset to be missing such a big moment. He didn’t hesitate about going on the mission; his only moment of pause before going to Ni’Var was thinking about Book and how to spare him from reliving the trauma of Kwejian’s destruction.

Maybe all of this will play into some other storyline as the season runs along. I could foresee, for example, Dr Culber delivering a gentle rebuke to Stamets for getting so lost in his work that he didn’t even check in to see how things were going with Gray and Adira. But I could also see Discovery rushing right past all of this, setting the various characters on different paths and dropping them into different stories as the season rolls on.

Adira and Dr Culber waiting to see if the procedure will succeed.

I don’t want the show to turn something beautiful – Gray’s incorporation – into some kind of Stamets-Culber relationship drama. We had too much of that in Season 2 – and frankly, it did not work. But the show should try to acknowledge, somehow, what’s going on. Think about it this way: if you sat down to watch Choose To Live knowing nothing about Discovery, you wouldn’t know Stamets and Culber even knew one another, let alone are married. You wouldn’t realise that the connection between Adira and Stamets developed first; that Stamets had to tell Adira that he and Culber come as a “package deal.”

For a story about someone becoming whole again… an important person, part of their family, was missing. And combined with the fact that this storyline didn’t run as long or as deep as I might’ve expected it to, I’m left feeling a little empty at its conclusion. I’m absolutely thrilled by the prospect of Gray finally being able to interact with the rest of the crew, and to perhaps offer his services during future missions or playing a role in different stories. And when you pull Gray’s story back to his appearances in Season 3, we did get quite a lot of his invisibility. But I can’t shake the feeling that the entire thing has been shuffled out of the way a little too quickly so that Discovery can race ahead to other stories that it wants to tell.

Stamets’ absence from this story was noticeable.

In a similar way, we talked last week about how much of the work that Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery had been doing to restore the Federation seems to have happened off-screen. We caught a glimpse of it at the beginning of the season premiere, but then the anomaly story took over. Likewise with Gray – much of the actual work involved to get to this point seems to have taken place off-screen, in the months between the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere. I tried to argue last time that seeing the Federation being restored at a slower pace would have been absolutely worthwhile – and so it is with Gray. We saw the culmination of a longer process, but it would have been nice to see more of the process itself, partly because it’s interesting sci-fi and partly because it’s an analogy for something significant here in the real world.

Before we wrap up the Gray storyline, I want to again point out how outstanding Blu del Barrio was in Choose To Live. I’d enjoyed what del Barrio brought to Discovery in Season 3, but Choose To Live gave them an opportunity to show off a fantastic emotional range, and they absolutely nailed it in every single scene. I went on a rollercoaster with Adira – the anxiety and nervousness as the procedure began, fear and regret when Gray seemed lost, then relief and joy when Gray finally awoke. Blu del Barrio put in the best performance of the season so far, showed off their range as an actor, and made these sequences feel incredibly emotional. Despite my criticism of the somewhat rushed feel to the Gray storyline overall, Blu del Barrio’s performance elevated it and made it so much better than it otherwise would’ve been.

Blu del Barrio put in an outstanding performance this week.

Star Trek as a franchise is full of plot contrivances; story moments that don’t feel genuine because of some inconsistency or other. Some contrivances are bigger than others, though, and on Captain Burnham’s side of Choose To Live we ran into a whopper. I can believe, for the sake of the story, that J’Vini was unable to trust the Federation. After all, in the post-Burn galaxy, trust seems to have been difficult to come by, and Ni’Var isn’t a Federation member. But what feels so incredibly contrived in this storyline is that J’Vini was so unwilling to trust other members of the Qowat Milat that she was prepared to kill one of her own sisters.

If J’Vini was leading some rogue Qowat Milat splinter group, I guess we could argue that perhaps there’d been some kind of split within the order or something. But it was made crystal clear that J’Vini had hired mercenaries as part of her quest to defend the Abronians and their cryo-ship. It simply doesn’t make sense that J’Vini – a proud member of this ancient order – would trust mercenaries when she was unwilling to trust her own sisters, especially considering the stakes, and I find this particular aspect of the story to be incredibly contrived.

J’Vini’s story felt rather contrived.

The contrivance didn’t ruin this storyline, but it certainly detracted from it in retrospect. Looking past all of that, however, we got a genuinely fun adventure romp, one which took Captain Burnham away from the anomaly for a side-mission that, as things stand at least, feels disconnected from the overarching story of the season. In that sense, this part of Choose To Live feels a lot more like the episodic Star Trek stories of The Next Generation’s era. If you removed the Qowat Milat and Captain Burnham from this story, I could easily see it being one for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D to have tackled!

It was great to welcome back Sonja Sohn as Dr Gabrielle Burnham. I stand by what I said in Season 3, though: the choice to make Dr Burnham a Qowat Milat nun still feels odd! The connection between J’Vini and Dr Burnham was perhaps less developed than it could’ve been; aside from a couple of lines of dialogue, we didn’t really get to see much evidence of their supposed closeness. J’Vini was, according to Dr Burnham, the Qowat Milat nun who nursed her back to health after her arrival in the 32nd Century… but I didn’t really feel that connection; the story seemed to rush past it.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham returned for a Qowat Milat story.

Dr Burnham’s line about how context matters when considering J’Vini’s actions was an interesting one – and it’s a notion that Discovery has tackled before. Context is for Kings was the title of the third episode of Season 1, and that episode began the slow process of rehabilitating Michael Burnham as a character after her failed mutiny attempt. Dr Burnham compares her support for J’Vini to Michael’s support for Spock in Season 2 – and Michael really doesn’t have a leg to stand on in arguing the point!

Tilly was a welcome addition to this side of the story, too. She got a great moment with Saru, sharing her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and homesickness that she briefly talked about with Captain Burnham in the premiere and with Dr Culber last week. She got more of a chance to talk with Saru, and he tried to help both by giving her access to his plants, but most significantly by recommending her for the mission.

Tilly and Saru make for a great character duo.

Saru and Tilly make a wonderful pair – something Discovery’s writers found out at the beginning of Season 3. Because they’re such contrasting characters in terms of age, temperament, and even appearance, they don’t necessarily seem like a natural pairing. That may be why Seasons 1 and 2 didn’t feature a great deal of Saru and Tilly together. But their differences complement each other.

Saru has a great deal of faith in Tilly’s abilities – something he made clear in Season 3 when he named her as his temporary first officer. This confidence from someone senior, and someone she clearly respects, gives Tilly a boost of her own, and we saw that play out again this week. I think we can all relate to wanting to step out of our comfort zones – as Tilly does on the away mission – so her inclusion in this story was a great idea.

Tilly stepped far outside her comfort zone this week.

Tilly and Burnham also make for a great duo, and we got to see some of that on the away mission too. Ever since they came together early in Season 1, they’ve established a firm friendship and an intuitive way of working together. Tilly trusted Burnham even when she was told she’ll be “bait,” and I think that’s something significant. Tilly had often been seen as a kind of fearful or anxious character – so to put her faith in her commanding officer in such dangerous circumstances and execute a complicated plan was positive and uplifting to see.

We’ll have to cover this in more detail in this week’s theory post, but I think there’s more going on with the Tilly situation than meets the eye. Since the beginning of the season – and arguably toward the end of Season 3 as well – she’s had this unsettled, almost restless feeling that many people who’ve experienced anxiety can probably relate to. But whether that can be resolved through counselling and talking with friends like Saru is an open question at present. Saru gave Tilly the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone this week – but will she seek to permanently get outside of her comfort zone? And if so, what form might that take?

Tilly and Captain Burnham watch the Abronians colonise their new homeworld.

Captain Burnham took the initiative on this side of the story, figuring out what had happened to the Abronians and how to help them. As mentioned, I liked this story as it definitely had a Next Generation flair to it. The design of the Abronians as a non-humanoid race was also exceptionally neat, and I kind of wish we could’ve seen more of them – but perhaps we will! This is another point I’ll pick up in this week’s theory post, but I suspect that the Abronians have some kind of connection with the gravitational anomaly.

Did anyone else feel that Dr Burnham’s “this isn’t a moon” line had the faintest echo of Star Wars? I surely did! The revelation that the moon base was actually a giant starship was pretty neat, and its stone engines, carvings, and computer interfaces were well-designed and contributed to the feeling that Burnham and co. were inside a tomb or other ancient structure.

The Abronians’ moon-ship made great use of stone to feel ancient and otherworldly.

While we’re talking about designs, the beginning of the episode showed off a brand-new starship: the USS Credence. The Credence has a fantastic design, incorporating elements from several prior Starfleet vessels. I felt I could see callbacks to the Oberth-class and Constellation-class in particular through the alignment of the ship’s body and nacelles. It felt like a 24th or 25th Century ship in some ways – it wouldn’t have looked terribly out-of-place in the Dominion War or in the armada seen in the Picard Season 1 finale!

The ship’s internal design, however, is another matter. I freely admit that this feels like a nitpick, but when I sat down to watch Choose To Live, my sense of immersion was immediately knocked off-course by the fact that the USS Credence’s interior was a barely-disguised USS Discovery. Discovery has, on a couple of occasions, shown us some pretty poor set redresses. The Ba’ul prison cell in Season 2 was so obviously the transporter room set that it was painful – and here, in Choose To Live, we get a sequence supposedly taking place aboard the USS Credence that was clearly just the USS Discovery hallway set. I can’t even charitably call it a “redress” of the set, because basically nothing had changed. Would it have been difficult or expensive to create something at least slightly different to represent the dilithium chamber or cargo bay of the USS Credence? Doing so would have made this sequence so much more enjoyable.

The USS Credence.

Back on topic, and it was another somewhat contrived situation that J’Vini’s whole plan for stealing dilithium and murdering people was basically for the sake of stockpiling it “just in case.” That’s a somewhat timely message, perhaps, given the panic-buying and stockpiling we’ve seen during the pandemic! But it felt a little forced considering that her plan was basically to just sit aboard this cryo-ship and wait for the Abronians to awaken. Did she bother to investigate their computer system at all? It took Captain Burnham barely five minutes to figure out that the Abronians should’ve woken up already! Simply using logic and analysing the situation – even assuming J’Vini had zero computer skills – should have told her that they’d arrived at their destination and could be safely woken up.

However, setting the contrivances of the story aside, it was neat to see Captain Burnham and Tilly working so well together to solve the puzzle and help the Abronians awaken. Seeing them depart their moon-ship to colonise a new world was a powerful moment, and everyone involved – J’Vini, Dr Burnham, Captain Burnham, and Tilly – all played roles in ensuring it could happen. Saving an entire race from what could’ve been extinction is a huge victory, and Choose To Live played it well – even though it was taking place in the context of a smaller, character-focused story.

Captain Burnham helped save an entire race from the brink of extinction.

The way this story concluded was interesting, and I think it shows a pragmatic side to President Rillak that may come into play later in the season. She was willing to turn over J’Vini to the Ni’Var authorities because she believed that doing so was a gesture of friendship that may help sway Ni’Var into rejoining the Federation. Putting the big picture first – or the “needs of the many,” to use a Star Trek quote – was something Captain Burnham didn’t like to see in this instance, but it’s another example of President Rillak being on a different course from Burnham.

It seems clear that Ni’Var will indeed rejoin the Federation at some point this season, which will be great to see. So President Rillak’s politicking will probably pay off – but as Captain Burnham reminded her, it doesn’t come free, and the price in this instance was Federation justice being applied in J’Vini’s case. The hard-nosed political pragmatism of President Rillak makes her a very interesting character – not always playing fully on Burnham’s side, but thus far never as a direct antagonist either. She has her reasons for doing what she does, and she doesn’t care too much if Admiral Vance or Captain Burnham disagree with her. She’s confident in her authority and her decision-making – and I can’t wait to see how that plays out as the season progresses.

President Rillak is a fantastic, well-written character with genuine depth.

That brings us to Stamets and Book’s away mission to Ni’Var. As mentioned, it was great to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering bay; it seems like he spent most of Season 3 down there! And after last week, pairing up Book and Stamets again was a good idea. Discovery seems to have found a character pairing it likes in Book and Stamets!

What we saw with this Ni’Var story is the scientific method playing out. Stamets had a theory: that the anomaly is a “primordial wormhole.” He presented his theory to the Ni’Var scientists, who analysed it using their technology and meditative method. But it turned out to be wrong – something Stamets seemed to be fighting against, but arguably must’ve felt was a possibility. We’re still no closer to understanding the anomaly, but it’s another theory that Stamets can cross off his list.

The Ni’Var Science Institute debunked another of Stamets’ anomaly theories.

The interaction between Book and T’Rina was neat to see. Both Kwejian natives and Vulcans are, as T’Rina pointed out, emotional, empathic races. But they take completely opposite approaches to emotion: Kwejian natives draw on it, Vulcans try to suppress it. Book couldn’t learn Vulcan discipline as a way to overcome his grief, but by reliving his last moments on Kwejian he got a kind of cathartic emotional release.

It was painful to relive those memories with Book, and David Ajala put in a wonderfully complex performance. Book is feeling almost unimaginable grief – not just for his family, but for his whole race. Losing one’s home and family would be difficult and painful enough, but to be left as one of the few survivors of his people is something difficult to fathom. David Ajala brought those feelings to screen in an understandable way, and keeping the focus primarily on Book’s family – and his nephew in particular – gave focus to this deeply emotional story.

By reliving his memories, Book found some measure of peace.

Book is moving through the grieving process, and helped by his time on Ni’Var has now moved on, ever so slightly, from where we saw him last week. As Captain Burnham remarked at the end of the episode, he was able to do something – watch a holographic recording of Kwejian – that would’ve been too painful a few days earlier.

So that was Choose To Live. The main thrust of the season’s story was sidelined for the most part as Stamets saw another theory fall down. However, Captain Burnham got her own mission, one which felt like a throwback to past iterations of Star Trek in the best way possible. The return of Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat was fun, and we got some great character moments with Saru, Tilly, the Burnhams, Book, Stamets, Gray, Dr Culber, and Adira.

Gray and Adira at the episode’s climax.

My only real criticism of Gray’s storyline is that I had expected Discovery to make more of it. The outcome was pitch-perfect, and what I think we had all hoped to eventually see. But there’s a feeling I can’t shake that this story concluded too early in the season – too soon after the events of That Hope Is You, Part 2 had kicked it off. Much of the legwork of figuring out how to help Gray – and his own agency over helping himself – seems to have happened off-screen in between Seasons 3 and 4, just like the dilithium deliveries and Federation rebuilding work. That might be fine… but it depends what happens next, and whether the stories yet to come in Season 4 can compensate for not seeing those things play out.

In Season 3, what I loved most about Adira’s story was that their coming out moment to Stamets was so low-key. Being non-binary in the 32nd Century shouldn’t be a big deal, and that moment captured the kind of optimistic tone of Star Trek’s future absolutely perfectly. Gray’s incorporation was always going to be more complex because of the technobabble side of things, but that gave it the potential to perhaps take into account the false starts and complex emotions that transitioning and coming out can elicit. Some of that was present in Choose To Live, and the payoff to that story was deeply emotional. But I can’t shake the feeling that it happened very quickly, and at a very early stage in the season. Perhaps Gray will go on to play a significant role now he can interact with everyone else – and that will be fantastic to see. I’m optimistic about future storylines… but also a little underwhelmed that the story I’d been most excited for has already concluded after a mere three episodes.

Next week we’ll be watching All Is Possible – and I have no idea what it could be about! Perhaps a return to a story all about the anomaly is on the cards after it took a back seat this week. In any case, I hope you’ll stay tuned for my updated theory list between now and Thursday and another review after I’ve seen All Is Possible next week.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Did bad timing kill the Section 31 series?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.

The Section 31 series is currently stuck in that nebulous zone that industry insiders refer to as “development hell.” Despite having been officially announced almost three years ago and supposedly having scripts written, at time of writing it’s been a very long time indeed since we heard anything close to official about the series.

I last took a look at the Section 31 show’s prospects back at the end of April, and since it’s been a while I think we should briefly recap why I feel increasingly sure that the project isn’t going ahead.

After a deeply underwhelming reaction to the Section 31 show’s announcement in 2019, Discovery’s second season premiered – and fans immediately fell in love with Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One. Calls for Pike to be granted his own spin-off eventually led to the development of Strange New Worlds. After Strange New Worlds was officially announced, we began to hear rumblings about the Section 31 series potentially being reworked. For a show that had supposedly been ready to go and on the verge of beginning official production for more than a year, news in 2020 that scripts were being re-written did not sound good.

Has the Section 31 show been quietly cancelled?

Alex Kurtzman – the head of Star Trek for ViacomCBS – later dropped a significant bombshell: that there were no plans for any new Star Trek series to enter production until one of the current shows has concluded. With Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds all being worked on at that point, Kurtzman said that no other shows would enter production until at least one of those had finished its run. We later heard from the Section 31 show’s co-creators that they were “still having conversations” about the Section 31 series – which sounds an awful lot like industry speak for a project on life-support.

Back in April we heard from Michelle Yeoh – Empress Georgiou herself – on The Pod Directive, Star Trek’s official podcast. It’s important to keep in mind that The Pod Directive is an official production, not a fan-made one, because if Yeoh had been interviewed by literally any Trekkie in such a format, the question of the Section 31 show’s future would certainly have come up. It didn’t – and Yeoh could only speak in very vague terms about hoping to “one day” return to the role of Georgiou.

Michelle Yeoh appeared on Star Trek’s official podcast earlier this year.

Months later and we still haven’t heard anything about Section 31. Shazad Latif, who played Tyler in Discovery’s first two seasons, suggested that there had been unofficial chats about the show earlier this year – but again, that hardly sounds positive. At Star Trek Day back in September, Alex Kurtzman teased that a Starfleet Academy series may be in the very early stages of being worked on, which could mean that it’ll be the next project for the Star Trek franchise. In contrast, the Section 31 series wasn’t mentioned at Star Trek Day at all.

Let’s assume for now that the combination of no official announcements and a slow trickle of bad news does in fact mean that the Section 31 show isn’t going to happen. The question is why? What might’ve caused a rethink over at ViacomCBS and convinced the corporation to invest its time and money elsewhere?

Alex Kurtzman is in charge of the Star Trek franchise.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t as simple as saying “Captain Pike.” It’s true that the fan response to Pike (as well as to Spock and Number One) absolutely stole the Section 31 show’s thunder in 2019, but that can’t be the full story. It is very interesting to note, though, that the support for Captain Pike from Discovery fans and viewers seemed to catch ViacomCBS completely off-guard. Did they not realise, during production on Discovery Season 2, that they had something special on their hands with Anson Mount and Ethan Peck? If not, why not?

Perhaps it’s true that ViacomCBS was only willing to greenlight one Discovery spin-off in 2019, and if that’s the case it was patently obvious within a couple of episodes which character fans were clamouring to spend more time with – and which they weren’t. But in 2019 ViacomCBS was practically throwing its money around, working on Star Trek projects left, right, and centre. It doesn’t make sense to say that there was only enough money in the kitty for one spin-off – and if fans liked both Georgiou and Pike, why not go ahead with both projects?

Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike.

The build-up to Discovery Season 2 came in the wake of the surprise announcement of Star Trek: Picard. Many Trekkies were incredibly excited to revisit the 24th Century and see the next chapter of Picard’s life, and there was a great deal of buzz and excitement surrounding Picard Season 1. As I argued at the time, a Discovery spin-off in the 23rd Century almost felt like a regressive step in comparison; many fans were excited to see the Star Trek franchise’s overall timeline move forward again for the first time in eighteen years – Section 31, being set in the 23rd Century, felt like a backwards step.

The intention behind announcing the Section 31 series prior to Discovery Season 2 was twofold: partly to drive subscribers to what was then still called CBS All Access, reminding folks that a new season of Star Trek was coming, but also to reaffirm the corporation’s commitment to Star Trek as a brand and Discovery as a series in the wake of a somewhat controversial first season. As Season 1 was rolling on, there were an increasing number of anti-Star Trek social media groups popping up, and one commonly-heard refrain in 2017, 2018, and into 2019 was that Discovery was about to be cancelled. This story, by the way, still does the rounds in those same groups in 2021, despite the show now being into its fourth season!

The timing of the Section 31 show’s announcement was intended to provide a boost to CBS All Access.

There was a need for ViacomCBS to try to bring in more subscribers, and there was also a need to do something to demonstrate that the corporation still had faith in Discovery and the broader Star Trek franchise. Shutting down some of the anti-Trek hate wasn’t the main reason, but it may well have been a factor in the decision-making.

So in January 2019, as Discovery’s second season drew near, we got the announcement of the Section 31 series. But rather than the positive response ViacomCBS was hoping for, reaction to the news was muted at best – and disagreeable at worst.

I was one of many Trekkies left underwhelmed by the concept of the Section 31 series at that time. Michelle Yeoh is an outstanding performer, don’t misunderstand me for a moment. But her character of Empress Georgiou was someone who was fundamentally uninteresting – at least she was as of the end of Discovery Season 1. Remember that the Section 31 show was announced before a single Season 2 episode had aired, and long before Georgiou got some much-needed character development in Season 3.

Georgiou changed a lot over the course of Season 3 in particular.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Section 31 show had been announced last December – in the days following the broadcast of Terra Firma, Part 2. How much more excited and interested might fans have been then than they were in January 2019? I think we all know the answer to that question.

The Mirror Universe and its Terran inhabitants can be fun, and even though I freely admit that the Mirror Universe is far from my favourite Star Trek setting, I can appreciate what it brings to the table. But the Mirror Universe has only ever been the kind of over-the-top pantomime fun that I can enjoy for a single episode at a time. Terrans are basically all the same: violence-loving sociopaths. They make Prime Timeline Klingons look positively tame thanks to their gratuitous use of violence and torture, and there’s never been any demonstrable room for character depth or nuance.

The best Mirror Universe character, aside from Georgiou herself, was probably Mirror Spock way back in The Original Series. Deep Space Nine tried, to its credit, to tell some different Mirror Universe stories about enslaved Terrans and a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance – but the Alliance fell into many of the same thematic and storytelling traps as the Terran Empire had.

Aside from Georgiou, Mirror Spock is one of the few nuanced and interesting Mirror Universe characters.

In short, Mirror Universe characters are uninteresting at best. At worst, as we see far too often across different Star Trek shows (including Discovery) they’re pathetically ridiculous. A combination of poor scriptwriting and a one-dimensional setting encourages even great actors like Sonequa Martin-Green to ham it up and put in performances that wouldn’t be out of place in a primary school play. At the end of Discovery Season 1, there was nothing at all to indicate that Empress Georgiou wasn’t the same kind of bland, uninteresting Mirror Universe villain as characters like Intendant Kira or Mirror Kirk.

Unlike many other Terran characters, I never felt that the acting performance put in by Michelle Yeoh was over-the-top. Some Mirror Universe performances – such as Mirror Kirk in The Original Series and Mirror Burnham in Discovery – are so truly awful that I find them borderline unwatchable, as the Mirror Universe setting seems to trick even competent performers into forgetting how to act. Badly-written scripts and a setting that doesn’t lend itself to anything but pantomime don’t help, of course. But I felt, to Michelle Yeoh’s credit, that Georgiou managed to avoid falling victim to the worst tropes of the setting. Even so, that didn’t make the way the character was presented at the end of Discovery’s first season a net positive going into the announcement of the Section 31 series.

Some Mirror Universe performances are excruciating to watch…

In Discovery’s first season, we saw first-hand how Georgiou ruled the Terran Empire with an iron fist. She subjugated aliens – including Saru’s people, the Kelpiens – and ensured they were second-class citizens at best, slaves at worst. She killed indiscriminately and had no qualms whatsoever about destroying entire planets or exterminating entire sentient races. Some fans (and non-fans) derisively termed Georgiou “Space Hitler” as a result. And this was the point at which ViacomCBS announced a new series with this character as its lead.

I never liked the term “Space Hitler” to attack Georgiou… but I confess that I understand why some fans felt it was an appropriate descriptor in Season 1. It encapsulates Georgiou as a dictator, as a violent sociopath, as someone willing to inflict some truly evil actions upon the galaxy, and as someone who governs a state with a pro-human, anti-alien philosophy. It’s not an expression I would use; it’s offensive, crass, and deliberately provocative. It’s also a pretty crude analogy, but I get where it came from.

Georgiou committed many atrocities while ruling the Terran Empire.

Think for a moment about Georgiou’s actions in Season 1. In her first appearance, she insists that Burnham and the crew “bow to their emperor,” then proceeds to feed Kelpien meat to Burnham a couple of episodes later. After being dethroned as Emperor and brought to the Prime Universe by the crew of the USS Discovery, she teams up with Admiral Cornwell to destroy the entire Klingon homeworld. Why? Does she suddenly care about the Federation and want to see it preserved? No: she likes killing, she likes violence, and she saw an opportunity to commit genocide and just went for it.

We began to see indications in Season 2 that Georgiou had a softer side, particularly when it came to Michael Burnham. At one point in the episode The Red Angel (unfortunately the season’s worst) she wanted to cut short a dangerous assignment when Burnham’s life appeared to be in danger. But it wouldn’t be until Season 3 – and really not until midway through the season – that any significant softening of Georgiou’s hard Terran exterior would be readily apparent.

Georgiou was rather partial to roast Kelpien in Discovery’s first season.

Terra Firma went a long way to changing how I felt about Georgiou – as I’m sure it did for many other fans as well. We saw nuance in her characterisation for the first time – a sense that there was more to her than just violence and psychopathy for their own sakes. She expressed empathy for the first time, being unwilling or unable to carry out some of the violent actions that her role as Empress would have required of her. The changes she attempted to make to the way that the Terran Empire was governed ultimately led to her “death” within the Guardian of Forever’s portal – and proved to the Guardian that she was deserving of a second chance. I would argue that it was this episode that also demonstrated to us as the audience that Georgiou was deserving of a second look, too.

Georgiou needed Terra Firma to really come into her own as a character – especially a character that a new series was going to focus on. It wasn’t until we saw her returned to the Terran Empire – or the Guardian’s approximation of it, at any rate – that we could appreciate how living with the Federation had changed some of her opinions and attitudes. For example, Season 1 Georgiou would happily eat Kelpien. But by the time Terra Firma rolled around she’d come to value, in her own way, Saru as a person and even as a leader.

Georgiou had come a long way from eating Kelpien to arrive at this moment.

As the audience, we needed to see all of that before we could conceivably commit to a series starring this character. In hindsight it’s easy to say that the Section 31 series was a good idea, because I have to assume that the writers and producers already had some kind of an outline in mind for this story. At the very least they’d have known Georgiou’s destination; the culmination of her arc across Discovery’s first three seasons. But none of that was apparent to us as the audience at the end of Season 1.

Had Section 31 been announced not in January 2019 but December 2020, I think we’d have seen a far more positive and excited reaction to the new show. But ViacomCBS jumped the gun, trying to boost Discovery and CBS All Access without, perhaps, fully thinking through what the show’s actual prospects were or what the reaction from Trekkies might be. It wouldn’t be the last time that the corporation would mangle its handling of the Star Trek franchise, unfortunately.

Had the Section 31 show been announced at this point, not almost two years earlier, the fan reaction would likely have been very different.

ViacomCBS’ biggest failing when it came to Discovery’s second season is, I would argue, not realising how strongly fans would feel about Pike, and how much excitement there would be within the fandom for a Pike spin-off. If they’d realised that – and with hindsight it should’ve been obvious, especially considering these shows are almost always shown to audiences at test-screenings before they premiere – then perhaps the Section 31 announcement would’ve been held back, and Strange New Worlds could’ve been announced either during or shortly after Discovery’s second season.

Because of issues with Georgiou’s characterisation, prior to Season 2 was a bad time to announce the Section 31 series. The fact that the series is based around Section 31 – an organisation that fans have often indicated that we’d like to see more of – got completely buried by the announcement that Michelle Yeoh was going to headline it. Arguments over the character of Empress Georgiou and her suitability as the star of a new show drowned out any interest in the Section 31 organisation itself. And the otherwise muted, uninterested response from Trekkies and a wider television audience compounded that, driving the first nail into what appears to be the series’ coffin.

We may never learn what comes next for Georgiou.

Speaking personally, it wasn’t until we got to Terra Firma that I saw the merits of a Section 31 show with Georgiou at the helm. One of the first articles I wrote here on the website almost two years ago was about the Section 31 series – and how I was truly not interested in it at all. It took seeing Georgiou’s character arc play out, and the strong two-part episode Terra Firma in particular, before I was sold on the concept. But by then, it seems, it may well have been too late to revive the show’s declining prospects.

Star Trek’s past is littered with unresolved story elements – though most don’t involve major characters. It’s possible that Georgiou’s story will simply be left incomplete, her destination after entering the Guardian of Forever’s portal never to be shown nor explained on screen. That would be unfortunate, especially because the character we finally got to see by the latter part of Discovery’s third season is so much more nuanced and interesting to follow. Seeing Georgiou run Section 31 had finally begun to sound like a show that Trekkies were interested in… but it feels like it’s too late now. The franchise has simply moved on to other projects.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another year in review

This isn’t my end of year article summing up some of the highs and lows of 2021. It irks me no end to see people writing those pieces long before Christmas! If you’ve been a regular reader for a while, you might recall that the 30th of November is the website’s anniversary – it has been two years to the day since I published my first article at the end of November 2019. How time flies, eh?

Last year I commemorated the occasion by writing about the website’s first year in operation, and this time I wanted to do something similar. I’ve had two full years of talking about Star Trek and other entertainment subjects now, and it’s always helpful to step back and take a moment to reflect.

It’s been an interesting twelve months!

The biggest change for the website itself came just a few weeks ago. At the beginning of November I changed the name to Trekking with Dennis, ditching the old name and establishing a new identity for the website. This is something I’d been thinking about a lot for several months, and finally being able to pull the trigger and get it done has been incredibly cathartic.

The website’s name changed a few weeks ago.

There have been some immediate repercussions for the name change, though. Traffic to the website took a nose-dive in November, significantly down on where it had been for much of the rest of the year. I’m putting two and two together and assuming that the change in name, branding, and most importantly the website’s URL is responsible for the drop in readership. I’m optimistic that in the longer term, however, that decline will be reversed. Even if not, I don’t write here because it’s my job or because I’m chasing “internet points” and high numbers of clicks! This is my hobby, I do it for fun, and I’d still do it even if readership dropped to absolute zero!

Conversely, twice in the past year I’ve had articles go “viral” – or at least as close to viral as I’m ever likely to get!

The first article was one I’d written in early December, listing Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks). The list is fairly self-explanatory; I put together a handful of New Year-themed films and shows that could’ve made for entertaining New Year’s Eve viewing in lieu of the usual fireworks shows and parties – many of which are usually televised but which were cancelled in 2020. This list was responsible for a massive spike in views which began on the 30th of December, then ran all the way through the 31st and into the early hours of the 1st of January.

This post got a lot of attention around New Year, which was neat to see.

The second article began getting huge numbers of clicks in late May, then in June absolutely rocketed up to become the most-read post I’ve ever written. More people read that one article than read everything I wrote in all of 2020 combined. And I think it’s possible that many of them came away disappointed!

The article in question was titled Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – What’s the best ending? and it was an examination of the three-and-a-half endings to Mass Effect 3, looking at the pros and cons of each. However, I think that the title may have been unintentionally misleading, judging by the search engine traffic! I think folks may have come upon the article while looking for a guide to achieving the “best” outcome to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – namely the version of the “destroy” ending in which Shepard is implied to have survived. I talk about this in the article, but it isn’t what the focus of the piece was.

This article has become the most-read ever!

I didn’t expect that article to get so many hits when I wrote it. My Mass Effect commentary in general did quite well, though, and I think that’s because I managed to get out several pieces about the series around the time of Legendary Edition’s launch – which is when there was significant interest in the games. Being timely brings rewards, it seems!

This year I’ve made significant improvements to the images used across the website. Some of the images used even as recently as March or April now feel incredibly amateurish and low-quality in comparison. I’ve been doing more with paint.net – a freeware image editor that has become my go-to for any and all image work – and I’ve learned how to do things like add a shadow or outline to text. That has allowed me to make huge improvements to the header images/banners at the top of articles, giving them a more modern, professional look.

The website’s main banner – a core part of the site’s identity – has also been massively improved. Firstly, now that I have significantly more web storage I’ve felt more comfortable using higher-resolution images. Beginning earlier in the year the expanded storage allowed me to use larger, more detailed images for article and page headers, something I feel makes the website as a whole look a lot more modern and professional than it did even at the beginning of the year. The new banner was added earlier this month as part of the aforementioned change of name, but earlier in the year I tried out a variety of different banners with different sci-fi and fantasy-themed backgrounds.

The website’s main banner.

I’ve also added quite a few different “spoiler warning” images – most of which are based on the Star Trek franchise! Again, the quality of these has improved a lot as I’ve become more comfortable with my image editing software, and I think some of the recent spoiler warnings look pretty great! I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to spoilers, so I use spoiler warnings a lot at the beginning of articles and reviews.

Filling time over the past twelve months has led me to research and learn about shows, films, and games I’d never have heard of otherwise. I reviewed titles like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier after learning about them in the course of researching topics for the website. Trekking with Dennis has, to a certain extent anyway, broadened my experiences of media this year.

I’ve seen (and reviewed) several different films and television shows over the past twelve months.

I’ve also finally got around to playing a couple of games that had been on my ever-growing list: Control and Red Dead Redemption II. I’ve written up my first impressions of Red Dead Redemption II already, and in the days ahead I’ll hopefully be writing up my final thoughts as I’m close to finishing my playthrough of the game.

Speaking of playthroughs, I didn’t get around to doing another complete “Let’s Play” series of articles. Though I’ve had a number of ideas for games I could choose, I just haven’t committed to one nor kicked off a playthrough in the way I did with Jedi: Fallen Order last year. It’s still an idea that I’d like to revisit in future, so… watch this space, I guess.

I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption II – but I didn’t write up the whole experience.

During the website’s first year in operation, I’d post articles and columns somewhat haphazardly. Sometimes I’d post daily for a couple of weeks, and at other points I’d take almost an entire week off while writing nothing. Over the last twelve months, however, that has changed. Going back to November 2020 I’ve been posting at least every other day – so there hasn’t been a long gap in between posts in more than a year. Occasionally that schedule has felt challenging, but I’ve been proud of the fact that I haven’t had any significant posting gaps for an entire twelve-month period.

April saw my most intensive posting schedule to date, as I wrote a post every single day for an entire calendar month for the first time. It wasn’t exactly planned, but once I got about halfway into April and I noticed I hadn’t skipped a day, I made it my mission to complete the month! I can keep up that kind of schedule for a while, but not indefinitely. I need occasional breaks, and being able to write articles in advance and schedule them has meant I have actually been able to take breaks across the year without interrupting my posting streak.

In April I published an article every single day.

In December 2020 I joined Twitter. I did so at first because I was having a hard time keeping track of the various franchises and their social media pages, and as I’ve never had a personal Twitter account I couldn’t follow them that way. In February I made a very tentative first post, and across the year I’d sent out a handful of Tweets to promote newly-published reviews and other articles. But as I said last year, social media isn’t really my major focus.

This should absolutely be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but Twitter in particular is a very difficult platform for me to navigate. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but I have a particularly long-winded writing style! Condensing an argument, article, or even just a fan theory into 280 characters or fewer is difficult for me. I also find that, partly as a consequence of the abbreviated posts, the conversation on Twitter can lack nuance. It’s very hard to articulate a complex thought or position on the platform because such short posts don’t easily allow for shades of grey – you can either be on one side of a debate or the other. For someone who occasionally likes to straddle the fence and acknowledge the merits and demerits of both sides of a discussion, or just to explore different interpretations and points of view, Twitter isn’t the best place for me sometimes!

No, not that kind of Shades of Gray

That being said, I’ve recently stepped up my Twitter use. It’s been an interesting world to step into for the first time, and I’ve found it quite fun and occasionally exciting to be able to engage directly with brands and companies – or at least their social media teams. Toward the end of my time working with a large video games company, social media was just beginning to take off as a marketing tool. I had some involvement with social media campaigns in the late 2000s and early 2010s at companies I worked for or was freelancing for, so it’s been interesting in a way to be on the other side of the screen for the first time!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter I don’t just post links to articles and columns that I write here on the website. I do post other occasional Tweets, mostly about Star Trek and the other subjects I cover. I don’t get political, so don’t expect any of that, but if you want to follow me on Twitter you’re more than welcome to do so.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @TrekkingwDennis is my Twitter handle.

But Twitter wasn’t the only social media platform that I found myself involved with over the past twelve months. Beginning in July I planned to record audio versions of some of the articles here on the website, using YouTube and Spotify to host these audio files. I later expanded my audio offerings to include what might generously be called a “podcast.” However, I wasn’t very happy with the quality of both the audio recordings themselves, as I lack the technical know-how to make decent-sounding audio, and also, to be blunt, my own vocal performance. Upon re-listening to several audio versions of articles I sounded very wooden and stilted; the kind of performances I’d give 1/10 to if I were to rate them.

So after a sum total of four podcast episodes and about ten audio articles I scrapped the project – at least for the time being. It’s a fun idea, and a concept I’d certainly like to revisit one day, but between the audio quality, my own poor performance, and the rebranding of the website making all of the audio clips and YouTube videos out of date, I think it’s for the best that I shelve the project for now.

Audio recording isn’t my strong suit.

That being said, I did enjoy the podcasting format. Having the opportunity to talk about smaller news stories and topics that wouldn’t necessarily make for a good standalone article was fun, and it certainly broadened the range of things I discuss here on the website. Revisiting the podcast concept is something I might consider in 2022.

It was in June this year – Pride Month – that I first discussed my sexuality and gender identity. Those twin posts were among the most difficult I’ve written over the past twelve months, not because they were technically challenging but because of how personal they were. When I created the website two years ago I intended to remain wholly anonymous, with details of my personal life kept to a bare minimum. By this time last year I’d changed my mind and I’d decided I wanted to openly discuss my asexuality and my struggles with my gender identity – but it took months before I’d be able to finish writing those pieces and feel brave enough to publish them.

In June I finally felt able to discuss my sexuality and gender identity for the first time.

I now proudly display the asexual and non-binary pride flags in the upper-right corner of the website. These symbols are present no matter what page or post someone clicks on, even if the piece has nothing at all to do with asexuality or being non-binary.

Writing these pieces, though incredibly difficult at times, was deeply satisfying and cathartic. Only a few people in my offline life knew these things about me, so having a space where I could openly discuss things that I’d struggled with for decades was a truly incredible experience. It gave me the confidence to be more open in my offline life too. I don’t have a lot of friends or surviving close relatives, but I’ve been able to direct a couple of people to the website where they were able to read my words to gain more of an insight into my personal life. I’ve said before that I’m better at writing than I am at speaking – having these pieces to direct folks to is so much easier than having to explain out loud what it means to be asexual or non-binary.

It’s been a difficult process, but I finally feel comfortable referring to myself as non-binary.

I haven’t added as many articles to the Greatest Hits page this year as I did in the previous twelve months. I think that’s partly because I had some article/essay ideas in mind when I started the website and I slowly worked my way through them over the course of that first year. While I’ve had plenty to write about this year, I guess I’ve just written fewer of those long-form essays.

That being said, my essay on Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3 Burn storyline is one of the best things I’ve written all year, and I’m happy to show off that one! I’m also proud of my character study of The Next Generation’s Dr Pulaski, and my examination of Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi that I wrote back in December. I’m sure I’m forgetting or overlooking a few others as well, but those are three of the essays that come to mind when I think back over the past twelve months.

This is one of the best essays I’ve written in the last twelve months. Give it a read if you haven’t already!

So I think that’s enough self-congratulation for this year! As I look ahead to the next twelve months, I can’t really say that I have any major plans or changes in mind for the website or the kind of pieces I write here. I’d like to do another playthrough series at some point, and I’m certainly open to more creative projects in addition to my reviews, theories, discussion topics, list articles, and the rest. But watch this space, I suppose!

The website is very different now compared to twelve months ago. I like to think that, for the most part, these changes have been improvements – and certainly from a purely visual point of view I think the website has never looked better! As we move into the holiday season and 2022 I’m looking forward to keeping up with my regular posting schedule and writing about the subjects I’m most interested in: Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geeky entertainment.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months.

-Dennis
Tuesday, 30th November 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – weeks 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Now that all of the international broadcasting nonsense is out of the way, let’s get back into my weekly Discovery theory updates! We only missed one week, and there’s still a ton of speculating to be done about the story of Season 4, the gravitational anomaly, and what might become of some of our favourite characters.

If you’re new to my weekly theory updates for Discovery Season 4, here’s how the format works: after every episode I go back to my theory list. I cross off theories that have been debunked, celebrate any that appear to have been confirmed, update any that have seen progression, and add any new theories that the most recent episode has spawned. There will be some theories that, for whatever reason, the most recent episode didn’t advance in any way, so those will simply be restated to keep the list up-to-date and in one place!

I wrote up all of my pre-season theories into one list a couple of weeks ago, so this time we’ve already got two confirmations to take a look at before we jump into the main list.

Confirmed theory #1: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

Book in Discovery’s Spore Drive cube.

Finally! After the revelation in the Season 3 finale that Book – and potentially anyone else with similar empathic abilities – could control the Spore Drive, the last hurdle in the way of it being rolled out to other Starfleet ships had been surmounted. It finally feels like Discovery is on the cusp of finding another use for what had been one of the most controversial technologies introduced in the series.

In Kobayashi Maru this was almost treated as a throwaway line, so I wouldn’t blame you if you missed it, but President Rillak confirmed that a “next-generation” Spore Drive is being developed by Starfleet as part of the Federation’s plans to rebuild and expand. It wasn’t stated on screen, but I wonder if the USS Voyager-J might be fitted with a Spore Drive as part of its retrofit; the vessel was in spacedock, after all.

The USS Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

I’d been hoping that the series would go down this road for a while. Moving forward in time to the 32nd Century means there are no “canon purist” arguments in favour of abandoning the Spore Drive, keeping it a secret, or ensuring that only the USS Discovery could use it. And the events of the Season 3 finale seemed deliberately designed to create an easy way to expand the Spore Drive to more ships – perhaps even paving the way for future Star Trek productions in this era.

We don’t yet know what the implications will be of Kwejian’s destruction on Starfleet’s plans. It was implied in the Season 3 finale that anyone with empathic abilities could use the Spore Drive, not only Kwejian natives, so the loss of Kwejian and most of its population shouldn’t mean that the Spore Drive expansion has to be abandoned. It might be possible for Betazoids, Deltans, or even Vulcans to train to become Spore Drive navigators.

Confirmed theory #2: A new character joined the main cast.

A new name has been spotted in the opening credits!

Following the departures of Nhan and Georgiou, it felt like there was definitely scope to either promote a recurring character to the main cast or create at least one new one! We’ve met President Rillak, who seems like she’ll become a recurring character, but the one who’s been promoted to join the main cast is Blu del Barrio’s character of Adira.

Adira makes a great addition to Discovery’s main cast of characters, occupying a similar role to Tilly in Season 1 in particular. As Tilly has undergone significant character growth across the show’s first three seasons, there was scope to bring someone brand-new aboard the ship, and having that person be someone young and eager is a positive thing. Adira is not only involved in their own storyline with Gray and Dr Culber, but also as a scientist can work with Stamets, Tilly, Saru, and Captain Burnham. I think Adira has the potential to be a versatile character in whatever stories lie ahead.

My original version of this theory centred around the question of Captain Burnham’s first officer. Now that we know that role has gone to Saru, it seems as though the main and recurring characters for this season are set.

So those theories were confirmed. Now we’ll take a look at some new theories and a few updated theories.

Theory #1: President Rillak knows what the anomaly is… and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

This ties into a broader point that we’ll be considering from several angles: the possibility that the gravitational anomaly is not a natural phenomenon. If the anomaly is artificial in nature, the question of who is responsible for its creation crops up. It could be a weapon deployed by another faction, of course, but it could also be a Federation creation – perhaps a weapon designed to defend against the Borg, a rogue experiment to try and prevent a second Burn, or something else entirely.

If that’s the case, President Rillak almost certainly knows more about the anomaly than she’s willing to say right now. Perhaps she’s hoping that it won’t be what she fears it is, or perhaps she’s trying to cover her own back – Captain Burnham did go out of her way to describe her as a “politician,” after all.

Does President Rillak know more about the anomaly than she’s saying?

President Rillak is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

As the head of the Federation, President Rillak is committed to doing whatever it takes to preserve the organisation. The anomaly may have been part of those plans… somehow. If she isn’t responsible for its creation directly, she may still know what it is if a past Federation President signed off on its creation. She may be covering up that secret on behalf of the Federation.

Theory #2: Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the anomaly.

Captain Burnham.

Though we did see some moves away from Discovery’s laser-focus on Michael Burnham in Season 3, the show has put her front-and-centre in all of its main storylines so far. Season 2’s Red Angel storyline was connected to Burnham in a major way, and I wonder if Burnham might similarly have some kind of connection to the anomaly that she’s currently unaware of.

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the gravitational anomaly. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked.

This was the last we saw of the Red Angel suit back at the beginning of Season 3.

I’m not sure that this one is particularly likely, but as I said last year about a possible Burnham connection to the Burn, not only does Discovery kind of have a precedent for telling this kind of story, but there would also be something very dramatic about this revelation. In this case, Burnham would be indirectly and unknowingly responsible for creating something devastatingly damaging. How would she react to that, and how would Book react given what’s just happened to Kwejian?

If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #3: Gray’s transfer to a new body won’t be simple.

A holographic representation of Gray’s synthetic body.

I adored the scene with Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber in Anomaly. As someone who’s struggled to come to terms with my own gender identity and my gender expression, it was so deeply relatable to see Gray “customising” his new body. But also included in that scene was a line from Dr Culber about how the “Soong method” used to transfer consciousness into a synthetic form has a very low success rate.

I suspect that line was included as a kind of pre-emptive plot hole plug that will have nothing to do with Gray! If the Soong method was said to work every time, then it would be very difficult to kill off any Star Trek characters from the 25th Century onwards, because fans would rightly ask “why didn’t they transfer to a synth body?” So I suspect that’s why the line was included.

Admiral Picard had his consciousness transferred to a synthetic body in the finale of Picard Season 1.

However, it felt a little ominous for poor Gray. It was great to see that Adira, Dr Culber, and others had been working hard to help Gray become seen again after the events of Season 3, and I have no doubt that somehow we’ll see Gray in a physical body before the season is over. But we’re only two episodes in at time of writing – will it really happen so quickly, and so seemingly simply?

I’m not convinced of that yet! There are many things that could go wrong, delay the transfer, or prevent it entirely. And there are an unlimited number of technobabble explanations for finding a new way to give Gray a body! So let’s see what happens – but I wonder if this storyline might have a few twists and turns along the way.

Theory #4: Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the gravitational anomaly.

Book with Leto and Kyheem shortly before the destruction of Kwejian.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon. We don’t know what the gravitational anomaly is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: is there more to the gravitational anomaly than meets the eye? If the anomaly is just an extreme example of space weather, flitting through Federation space destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in its way, then probably everyone on Kwejian is dead. But if the anomaly harbours some kind of gateway, wormhole, portal, time vortex, or any of the other Star Trek-y technobabble phenomena that we’ve seen across the franchise’s history, then it’s possible that at least some of the folks on Kwejian found themselves transported to whatever realm lies inside of the anomaly.

Theory #5: The anomaly is a sentient life-form.

Could the anomaly be similar to V’Ger?

“It was only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek cliché, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien life-form are actually something innocuous. Perhaps the same is true of the gravitational anomaly: at its core is a life form, perhaps one not dissimilar to the Sphere seen in Season 2, and it’s on its own mission of exploration.

V’Ger from The Motion Picture is an interesting comparison. Like the gravitational anomaly, V’Ger was massive in size, capable of destroying space stations, fleets of ships, and even threatening to destroy entire planets. When Admiral Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise were able to figure out V’Ger, however, they found a life-form at its core, one which was just as curious to learn and grow as they were.

Theory #6: Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

At time of writing, a fifth season of Discovery hasn’t been officially confirmed. But if the show is to run for another season – or more – the question of Saru’s role comes up. It would be possible to work out a way to keep him on board as first officer for longer than one season, and in many ways I think that’s something fans would want to see. But at the same time, from an in-universe point of view, it kind of makes sense for Starfleet to use its experienced captains where possible.

Captain Saru.

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship.

If Saru did depart Discovery in a future episode or season, could that perhaps set the stage for Star Trek: Saru… or perhaps Star Trek: Voyager-J? That’s a very interesting possibility! One element of Season 3 that I felt didn’t really get as much attention as it might’ve was that Saru was the Star Trek franchise’s first non-human captain (in a leading role). There’s perhaps scope to follow him on another adventure sometime in the future.

Theory #7: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery approaching the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

We touched on this theory above when we considered the Federation’s possible complicity in the creation of the gravitational anomaly, but there are many other ways such a story could pan out. The anomaly’s unpredictable nature, as noted by Tilly and Saru at the end of Anomaly, could imply that there’s an intelligence at work, perhaps dictating the anomaly’s moves. This could be the anomaly itself as suggested above, but it could also be the case that the anomaly is being controlled or manipulated by something or someone externally.

If the anomaly turns out not to be a natural phenomenon, and is indeed deliberately targetting the Federation, who might the possible culprits be? And what would be the purpose behind attacking the Federation in this manner? If it’s the precursor to an invasion, perhaps later in the season we’ll see whoever is responsible making their next move.

Theory #7a: The Borg are responsible.

A Borg drone seen in The Next Generation.

We don’t know whether the Borg Collective still exists in the 32nd Century; it hasn’t even been mentioned since the USS Discovery’s arrival. However, out of all of the factions in Star Trek, few seem capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the gravitational anomaly. This wouldn’t be in line with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, as they prefer to assimilate rather than attack from afar. But a lot may have changed in the centuries since we last encountered them, meaning this could be the opening salvo of a Borg attack… or the last gasp of a dying Collective.

Theory #7b: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

This is all we really saw of the super-synths.

We still don’t know very much about the super-synths that Soji and Sutra attempted to contact in the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard. Other than claiming to offer support and help to synthetic life, what are their goals and motivations? Was their offer even genuine, or was it a trap? The mechanical tentacles glimpsed in Picard Season 1 looked terrifying! Moreover, we know that the super-synths have the technology to move stars – something only possible with an advanced understanding of gravity. Creating a stable 8-star octonary system is an incredible technological and gravitational feat, so they have precedent of a sort when it comes to working with gravity.

Theory #7c: The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

This one might seem to come completely out of the blue! In The Original Series, Captain Kirk met representatives of the Kelvan Empire, a faction originally from the Andromeda galaxy. Seeking a new home, a Kelvan scouting party had reached the Milky Way and were looking for worlds to conquer. Kirk would ultimately dispatch an unmanned starship offering to help the Kelvan Empire find new worlds to settle – but what if his offer was rejected? Given the vast distances involved, the timelines kind of line up for the Kelvan Empire to return to the Milky Way.

Theory #7d: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

A defeated faction in one of the Temporal Wars, the Sphere-Builders initially hoped to convert a large swathe of the Alpha Quadrant to match their native extradimensional realm, and constructed a number of large space stations known as Spheres to facilitate this transformation. Crewman Daniels would tell Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were defeated in the 26th Century, but could they have since rebuilt? The gravitational anomaly isn’t necessarily the same as what they were trying to do with the Spheres, but they’re one of the few factions in Star Trek that might be capable of creating a weapon on this scale.

So those theories were new or saw some advancement in the first two episodes of the season.

To keep these theory posts as uncomplicated as possible, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So below you’ll find all of my other Season 4 theories. These weren’t debunked or confirmed in the first two episodes, and indeed saw no real movement at all. They remain in play, though.

Theory #8: A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin draped with the Federation flag as seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Dr McCoy and Sulu playing dead in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Discovery has seen a number of characters leave the series – far more than any past Star Trek show, in fact – but the series’ death toll is still relatively low when compared to many other modern television shows.

There are also a couple of characters who feel in danger for different reasons. For a full breakdown of which characters I think might be on the proverbial chopping block, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #9: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

Yes, I’m officially bringing this theory back! This is one that I doggedly clung to for all of Season 3, and while it arguably kind of happened with the Guardian of Forever, that wasn’t really what I meant.

The show’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #10: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair in a promotional image for Season 4.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #11: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

This is another Season 3 theory that I’m choosing to bring back! The question of who Kovich is and what role he played in Starfleet and the Federation was left open at the end of Season 3, and we know that the character will return in some capacity. As someone who seemed to talk around the issue at hand and not reveal everything he knew, Kovich strikes me as potentially being a Section 31 operative – or even the head of the organisation.

We don’t know yet if the Section 31 series that was announced in 2019 will go ahead as planned. But if it does, there could potentially be a connection between Kovich and Georgiou that would tie the two shows together. Kovich is mysterious enough that his character could be taken in many different directions – but my money’s on Section 31.

Theory #12: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

Admiral Vance first told us of the ban on time travel.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #13: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

HMS Bounty travels through time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the gravitational anomaly. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #14: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calypso.

Despite a handful of moments in Season 3 which seemed to connect to Calypso, the story of the season overall ended up going in a very different direction. While we saw a couple of things that arguably did tie in to the Short Treks episode, major things like the USS Discovery undergoing a refit have actually moved the plot even further away.

It’s possible that Calypso will forever remain an outlier in Star Trek’s canon – an episode tied to a vision of Season 2 or Season 3 that was changed before it made it to screen. But earlier in Season 3 it felt like we were getting close to seeing how it could all be tied together – and I’m hopeful that Season 4 will find a way to do so.

Theory #15: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

The Federation is in a weakened state, and even if we see worlds like Ni’Var rejoin the organisation it’s still nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

The USS Discovery arriving at the Verubin Nebula in Season 3.

Season 4 has teased a scientific puzzle – the gravitational anomaly. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #16: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #17: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager was the first Federation starship to explore the Delta Quadrant.

It’s quite possible that Season 4 won’t revisit the Burn narrative in any detail. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered.

Theory #18: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The gravitational anomaly is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

So that’s it! Those are all of the theories I currently have in play.

Stay tuned for weekly updates to this list after new episodes air! I try very hard to publish my theory updates in between episodes so that nothing is out-of-date! Season 4 is off to an exciting start – and there are plenty of mysterious elements to get stuck into.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

It’s disappointing that Rangers of the New Republic has been axed

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian and the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

I’ve made no secret here on the website over the past couple of years that I’m not exactly thrilled with the direction of the Star Wars franchise. In the aftermath of the total narrative failure of The Rise of Skywalker, Lucasfilm has doubled down hard on overplaying the nostalgia card in practically all of its upcoming projects.

There’s some kind of series or miniseries focusing on R2D2 and C-3PO in development. There’s a prequel to Rogue One focusing on Cassian Andor. There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, which will bring back the classic character to look at his life in between the prequels and the original films. There’s The Book of Boba Fett, in which Boba Fett is inexplicably back from the dead. There’s Ahsoka, a spin-off from The Mandalorian focusing on a character from the animated shows.

Boba Fett is one of several minor characters returning to Star Wars.

All of these projects indicate to me that the higher-ups at Disney and Lucasfilm don’t really know how to handle the Star Wars franchise. They’re intent on looking backwards at Star Wars’ past, seeming to think that what the franchise was is all it can ever be in the future. The result is spin-offs from spin-offs, prequels to prequels, unimportant chapters being thrown under the microscope, and characters of decreasing importance thrust into the spotlight.

Though it was purported to be a spin-off from The Mandalorian, one of the few announced projects that seemed to have any semblance of originality was Rangers of the New Republic. The series was to have looked at the New Republic – the galactic government which was created by the Rebel Alliance following the events of Return of the Jedi – in far more detail than ever before. However, Rangers of the New Republic has now been cancelled.

Logo for Rangers of the New Republic.

The New Republic hasn’t been explored in much detail in Star Wars’ main canon, instead being relegated to a background role in both The Mandalorian and the sequel trilogy. In The Force Awakens, we see Starkiller Base deployed against the New Republic’s capital system, destroying its government institutions and much of its military. By the time of The Last Jedi, the First Order is said to be in control of much of the galaxy, and the New Republic isn’t mentioned thereafter.

The Mandalorian showed us a glimpse of the New Republic, including how it tries to police outlying star systems and enforce its laws – and how it’s relatively ineffective at doing so. There was potential to expand on this depiction, showing both the governmental side of the New Republic, hampered by legislative inefficiencies, as well as the actual Rangers themselves.

A New Republic pilot seen in The Mandalorian.

A lot of Star Wars projects currently in production look at morally ambiguous characters. The Mandalorian focuses on a bounty hunter – someone who primarily operates outside of the law, albeit that he has a heart of gold underneath his armour. The Book of Boba Fett will focus on another Mandalorian bounty hunter, and if it stays true to its premise will show us Star Wars’ seedy underworld in more detail.

Andor will follow Cassian Andor – a character whose moral ambiguity was on full display in Rogue One, and who will do anything to advance the Rebels’ cause. Ahsoka is going to follow the titular Ahsoka Tano, an ex-Jedi who appears to be off doing her own thing rather than helping Luke Skywalker and the Rebels. The only series following an out-and-out hero – or one of the unambiguously “good guys” – is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Cassian Andor will be the focus of a new Disney+ series.

Rangers of the New Republic had the potential to show us a different side of Star Wars – arguably one closer thematically to the original films, yet still distinct and independent of them. While other shows would look at the underworld of the galaxy, at criminals, or at spies who’ll do anything for their cause, Rangers of the New Republic could’ve been a breath of fresh air. The series could’ve presented an optimistic cast of characters who were genuinely trying to help the new government succeed.

Characters who are too pure and excessively virtuous can be boring, and that would’ve been a pitfall that Rangers of the New Republic would’ve needed to avoid. But had the show managed to walk that line, we might’ve seen something a bit different from Star Wars’ other current and upcoming offerings: a show that would’ve happily looked at the “good guys” as they tried to shore up the New Republic and tackled everything from criminals to ex-Imperial officers.

Emblem of the New Republic.

In part, the decision to cancel Rangers of the New Republic is probably tied to the situation with Cara Dune actress Gina Carano. Though it was never officially stated that the show would star Carano, many fans and commentators assumed that she would have a significant role to play, so following her dismissal from Lucasfilm in the aftermath of some very stupid social media posts, perhaps the show was always living on borrowed time.

We won’t get into the Gina Carano situation here. Suffice to say that anyone with any kind of profile needs to be incredibly careful what they say on social media, and she wasn’t. She upset a lot of people, doubled down on some of her controversial remarks, and that ended up costing her a potential recurring gig with Lucasfilm. She only has herself to blame.

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian Season 1.

I would argue, though, that Rangers of the New Republic didn’t need to be all about Cara Dune. We met a couple of New Republic characters in The Mandalorian, and they could’ve served as a gateway into the show, keeping it connected to The Mandalorian and potentially building up to a crossover event with one or more of the other shows that were in production at the same time.

There was potential in Rangers of the New Republic. Not only was it a series that could’ve been something different from the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett by looking at the post-Return of the Jedi government, but it was also a series that could’ve left familiar characters behind to strike out on its own. All of the other Star Wars projects currently in production have this kind of backwards-looking, nostalgia-heavy focus, and Rangers of the New Republic was one of the few offerings that had the potential to be something a little different. As Star Wars continues to double down on nostalgic throwbacks, I fear we’ll come to regret the cancellation of Rangers of the New Republic.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episodes 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ahhh… it feels so good to write these words! Star Trek: Discovery is finally available in Latin America, Western Europe, Australia, and a few other countries and territories via a patchwork of different streaming services, television channels, and other digital distribution methods. Significant numbers of Trekkies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere still can’t access Discovery Season 4 (by conventional methods, at least) but it feels like a victory for fan activism nevertheless. It’s my sincere hope that ViacomCBS will continue to try to bring Discovery Season 4 – and the rest of Star Trek – to regions and territories where it isn’t yet available, and I’ll keep bringing up the issue at every opportunity.

Following the positive news the other day that Discovery is going to be available to watch, I have taken the decision to resume my reviews and theories for the duration of the season. I felt it was necessary to criticise ViacomCBS, Paramount+, and the rest of the corporate side of Star Trek following their poor decision to withdraw the show, but equally I feel it’s important for all of us to support Star Trek if it is available. That means watching it on Pluto TV, purchasing episodes on platforms like iTunes/Amazon, or watching on Paramount+.

Pluto TV is the current home of Star Trek: Discovery here in the UK – and in much of the rest of western Europe.

This isn’t a one-way street, and when corporations make positive decisions – especially following a significant fan campaign – I think we need to go out of our way to support the franchises we love and show companies like ViacomCBS that listening to fan feedback pays off. It’s not good enough to criticise the company for their nonsense, but fail to acknowledge and respond positively when they reverse course or take good decisions.

The “victory” is bittersweet because I know that there are fans in other parts of the world who can’t watch Discovery. If I still lived in South Africa, for example, I’d be continuing my one-person Discovery review blackout! But because the show is now available here in the UK, I will be resuming my reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t support fans in other parts of the world, and I will continue to do what I can in my own small way here on the website to call on ViacomCBS to make Discovery and the rest of Star Trek available.

Having dedicated close to 10,000 words and a week of my time to Discovery Season 4 and the international distribution situation, I think that’s more than enough on that for now! So let’s get back on track with a double-header review of the first two episodes: Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly.

The first shot of the new season.

Kobayashi Maru kicked off with a neat CGI sequence showing the USS Discovery arriving from a Spore Drive jump, then Book’s ship departing the shuttlebay. The special effects work across both episodes was outstanding, and the animators and artists deserve a lot of credit – even more so when you consider that much of the work was done remotely due to the pandemic. In particular I’d point to shots of Book’s ship in flight, the USS Discovery’s Spore Drive jumps, and the anti-gravity sequences that we’ll look at in a moment.

The one criticism that I have of Kobayashi Maru is related to CGI, though. It isn’t what you think – none of the effects themselves were bad! But as a consequence of the somewhat rapid, occasionally chaotic way that the episode was cut together, edited, and paced, at a couple of crucial moments, CGI sequences were nowhere near as long as they needed to be to properly communicate what was happening. At both points where Book was looking at the impact of the gravitational anomaly, first on Kwejian’s moon from the console of his ship and later at Kwejian itself from the bridge of Discovery, the CGI shots of the anomaly and the remains of the planet were barely shown for a scant few seconds – not long enough, in my opinion at least, to have the impact they were intended to have.

This CGI shot of the remains of Kwejian was only visible for a few seconds.

In the first case I think we can excuse the pacing. Book blacked out as the anomaly hit, and the structure of the scene was enough to show that the proverbial “something bad” was happening, but also the short cut kept it mysterious enough that we didn’t see everything – and were left wanting to know more. But as Book stood on the bridge of Discovery, we caught a glimpse of Kwejian that began somewhat blurry and obscured by the ship’s viewscreen, then lingered for mere seconds before cutting back to Book and the crew to see their reactions. A few extra seconds, perhaps, might’ve helped this moment.

As it is, we know what happened to Kwejian. And since we’re already talking about the premiere’s biggest single moment, let’s jump into the “should Kwejian have been destroyed” conversation! In my view, the season premiere needed something big to sufficiently communicate the stakes. A character death could’ve accomplished this, but considering that the anomaly is being presented as this kind of galaxy-ending threat, the destruction of an entire planet – especially one we’re familiar with and from which a main character originates – succeeds in this objective.

Book’s immediate reaction to the loss of his homeworld.

Objections to the Kwejian storyline seem to stem from a much broader point of contention – that Discovery shouldn’t be running this kind of apocalyptic storyline for the third (or arguably fourth) season in a row. Taking a break from saving the galaxy would’ve allowed the show to tell different kinds of stories – stories that could be just as exciting and dramatic, but smaller in scope and more character-oriented. That’s not a bad argument, but it’s been apparent since we got the first teaser trailer for the season at First Contact Day in April that this was going to be the direction of travel. In the context of this kind of story, the destruction of Kwejian works; it succeeds as a story point.

Obviously this hurts Book, and represents a change for his character that’s at least as substantial as Saru’s Season 2 vahar’ai transformation. Two episodes in, we don’t really know what the outcome of this will be for Book. He could follow the path of Kelvin-timeline Spock, recommitting himself to his work. He could draw on the loss of Kwejian at a key moment later in the story, perhaps spurring him on as he knows he’s one of the last remaining Kwejian natives. Or he could fall deeper into a depression that lasts all season and from which he struggles to recover. One thing is certain, though: Book won’t be the same after the destruction of his home planet and the loss of his family.

Book being comforted by Burnham in Anomaly.

President Rillak manages to simultaneously embody the “bad admiral” character archetype from past iterations of the franchise (where Starfleet admirals would often be depicted as adversarial if not outright evil) while also feeling like a character with nuance and depth. It would’ve been easy for Rillak to fall into a fairly flat villain trope given that Kobayashi Maru deliberately pitted her against Captain Burnham right from the start. But her reasons for seeking an evaluation of Burnham, her level-headed rebuke and assessment of Burnham’s captaincy, and the impressive way she stepped in to disarm the situation aboard the space station all work in her favour.

However, I would be remiss not to point out that her noisy interventions on the bridge of a starship while it was engaged in a dangerous and highly time-sensitive assignment ended up causing a lot of problems. Had Captain Burnham not been delayed by those crucical seconds, the outcome of the mission could have been very different – and someone who lost their life might’ve survived. There is a time and place for someone in a position of authority to question or criticise, and in the heat of the moment is not that time.

President Rillak interrupted Captain Burnham at the wrong moment.

I’m glad that President Rillak has been brought on board, though. The only other authority figure we’ve met within Starfleet is Admiral Vance – and I can’t imagine him being so adversarial and harsh toward Captain Burnham. I was worried before the season premiered that storylines which could’ve been Vance’s will end up going to President Rillak, but I’m actually glad in this case that he gets to remain on friendly terms with Discovery’s captain, and that we don’t have to see him as an obstacle for her to overcome.

The “butterfly aliens” had a neat, unique design, and it played into the story of repairing their non-functional satellite network well. My only criticism of this sequence would be that it felt rushed. The intention was to show Captain Burnham and the crew working together, knowing each other’s strengths and using them to solve a puzzle. But Kobayashi Maru as a whole felt very rapidly-paced, and this sequence – which in past iterations of Star Trek might’ve been a whole episode – felt undeniably rushed, lasting only a few minutes. The episode wanted to get into the meat of the story, and the “butterfly aliens” and their satellites were elbowed out of the way in relatively short order to make that happen.

The butterfly aliens up close.

I get the sense that Book and Burnham’s mission to deliver dilithium to the “butterfly aliens” might be all that we get to see of the Federation being rebuilt this season. Some of this seems to have happened off-screen, and it feels like the rebuilding, expanding Federation is basically going to be a backdrop to the main event – the story of the gravitational anomaly.

Considering how big and devastating the Burn had been, I think I’d have liked to see more of this rebuilding work. It makes a good backdrop, don’t get me wrong, and it gives the crew something to fight for and defend as they step up their efforts to defend against the anomaly. But when you think back to how fractured and small the Federation felt in Season 3, particularly in the first half of the season, there’s a bit of a risk that we’re rushing past something meaningful; a story worth telling.

Fixing the satellites for the butterfly aliens was a short moment designed to be a microcosm of Captain Burnham’s and the USS Discovery’s work prior to the main anomaly storyline.

Frankly, I could have happily entertained the idea of an entire season’s worth of “rebuilding” stories. Seeing Captain Burnham and the crew traveling the length and breadth of the rump Federation, bringing help and hope to familiar and new races would have been really interesting to see. It would’ve allowed for a season-long story, but one comprised much more of individual elements – rebuilding work on one planet or in one system, then moving on to a different area to face a different challenge. It was nice to get a taste of this rebuilding work – which is presumably something Captain Burnham and the crew have been doing a lot of off-screen – but there was absolutely scope to do a lot more with this idea.

Though only on screen for a brief moment, it was wonderful to see Admiral Vance’s family. He’d mentioned them in Season 3, but it was implied that his work meant he couldn’t spend as much time with them as he wanted. To see him able to welcome them to Starfleet Academy and show them around was really touching.

Admiral Vance with his wife and daughter.

One moment in Kobayashi Maru had me tearing up – and I bet you can guess which one! As President Rillak introduced the assembled cadets and officers to Starfleet’s new Archer Space Dock, Archer’s Theme from the end credits of Star Trek: Enterprise was heard. The USS Voyager-J was docked, and for a brief moment I got very emotional! Star Trek has done this to me before: seeing the refit USS Enterprise for the first time in The Motion Picture, accompanied by another beautiful piece of music, is another sequence that turns on the water works! This scene was very similar, and was truly a beautiful homage to Enterprise. More than a millennium after his voyages of exploration, it’s incredibly sweet to see the Federation remembering Captain Archer.

As Kobayashi Maru drew to a close, pretty much everything we’d seen across the episode’s fifty-minute runtime had ceased to feel important. The revelation of Kwejian’s destruction overruled everything else, and the conflict between Captain Burnham and President Rillak felt petty in comparison. Tackling the anomaly would mean they’d have to pull together – any interpersonal conflict or rivalries now needed to be set aside. As I sat down to watch Anomaly, the direction of travel for the season felt set.

This moment, accompanied by a familiar musical sting, was beautiful

That doesn’t mean that Kobayashi Maru was some kind of waste. It told an exciting and engaging story in its own right, one which laid the groundwork for what’s to come in two key ways: firstly by showing off how far the Federation has come, giving Captain Burnham and the crew something to fight for, and secondly by introducing the gravitational anomaly and its devastating destructive power.

So that brings us to Anomaly.

Despite its subject matter, Anomaly ended up being a much more intimate, personal, and emotional episode than I initially expected. Several different characters got cathartic, emotional storylines that really showed off how well Discovery can do these smaller, personal moments even in the midst of a galactic-scale story.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Book and Stamets made an amazing, underrated pair in Anomaly, and their central conflict was handled incredibly well. In the run-up to the season I had asked what Book’s ability to control the Spore Drive could mean for Starfleet, and we got part of an answer to that in Kobayashi Maru, with President Rillak explaining that a “next-generation” Spore Drive was in development. But naturally, a proud person like Stamets would be impacted by the reveal too.

I liked the way this was handled. It wasn’t presented as mere jealousy – though perhaps Stamets’ ego did play a role in the conflict between himself and Book – but more a feeling of helplessness. Having to rely on other people, feeling unable to help and having to watch from the sidelines as Stamets did in the Season 3 finale, is never a nice feeling. As someone who’s disabled and who has to rely on help more often than I’d like, this is definitely something very relatable. Everyone wants to feel independent and in control of their life and their situation – Stamets lost that control, and having already lost his husband once before was already emotionally vulnerable to this kind of situation. He appears to have redirected some of those feelings onto Book, but he recognised that and tried to make amends.

Stamets and Book made a great pair.

David Ajala and Anthony Rapp played off one another beautifully in their scenes together, and it makes me want more Book and Stamets! They’re an unlikely team in so many ways, but it’s fantastic to see Discovery stepping out of its comfort zone and pairing up different character duos. This is something I hope to see more of as the season rumbles on.

One character pairing that came together beautifully at the beginning of Season 3 last year was Saru and Tilly, and seeing them reunited in Anomaly was fantastic. Saru is a calming influence on Tilly, who can be excitable and emotion-driven, and their contrasting personalities make for truly fun viewing. Tilly has come a long way since Season 1, but she still needs the occasional support of someone like Saru.

Tilly was glad to have Saru back!

Speaking of Saru, he’s now back aboard Discovery – albeit in a less-than-permanent capacity. What I liked about Saru’s reunion with Captain Burnham was the agency he was given over his role after returning to Starfleet. It would have been easy for the writers to have Burnham be the one to ask Saru to remain aboard the ship, but for Saru himself to make the offer to serve as first officer was an outstanding choice. I got genuinely emotional seeing Burnham accept his offer.

This might irritate the Discovery haters, but Captain Burnham and first officer Saru mirror Kirk and Spock in more ways than one; echoes of Star Trek’s first main character pairing are present. Burnham is younger, quicker to act, and more of a risk-taker. Saru is older, more experienced, and slower and more deliberate when considering his moves. He’s the perfect first officer to serve someone like Captain Burnham. She needs that kind of XO just like Kirk needed Spock – and while we’re talking about contrasting pairs, just like the calmer, level-headed Picard needed someone like Riker.

Captain Burnham arguably needs a first officer with the temperament of Saru.

I’m glad that Saru didn’t have to be demoted in order to take up his new role (like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture!) Starfleet ships have been depicted with two officers who both hold the rank of captain on several occasions; Kirk and Spock were both captains during the events of The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, for example. So I don’t think it presents any kind of in-universe problem to see Saru occupy the role of first officer.

It would’ve been potentially interesting to see a secondary character promoted to occupy that role. Nilsson, Rhys, Bryce, or even Linus were possible contenders, and it wasn’t really clear who served in that role before Saru came aboard – Discovery has been flying around for months, after all. But on the whole, I think the role suits Saru perfectly. I’d even go so far as to say it suits him better than the captain’s chair ever did. His style is well suited to being the person to present multiple options, to consider the possibilities, but to leave the decision-making to someone else. I just hope that his presence on the ship won’t end up causing Captain Burnham any problems; I don’t think the writers would go down that road, but you never can tell!

There were other prospective first officer candidates – such as Rhys, who appeared to have the conn for a time in Kobayashi Maru.

Speaking of Captain Burnham, we see two distinct aspects of her command style on display across the first two episodes of the season. In Kobayashi Maru, particularly during the fast-paced opening sequence, we see her at her most self-assured, confident not only in her own abilities but in those of the crew under her command. In Anomaly, we see her willing to listen to the advice of members of her crew – relying on Tilly, Adira, Bryce, and particularly Saru at several key moments across the episode.

Critics of Michael Burnham’s characterisation would be well-advised to watch her in Anomaly in particular. I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s “changed” in Anomaly compared to how she’s usually been portrayed, but some of the criticisms of Burnham in past seasons stem from a sense of selfishness or self-centeredness that arguably are more to do with the way Discovery as a whole is written than the way Burnham herself is. But in Anomaly we see firsthand how she’s relying on others – and from the production side of things, how Discovery is willing to allow other characters far more agency over the way the story unfolds.

Anomaly was a great episode for Captain Burnham.

Someone like Bryce is a relative “blank slate” – despite being a longstanding member of the bridge crew. We don’t know a lot about him, his background, or his hobbies, so in that sense making him the one to figure out a solution to the dangerous situation makes sense. It’s quite believable that Bryce might enjoy kite-surfing – far more so than if it was suddenly a hobby ascribed to Burnham, Saru, or Tilly for the first time. It’s a contrivance, for sure, but Star Trek’s history is littered with those – many of which are far more egregious!

David Ajala put in his best and most emotional performance of the series so far in Anomaly, communicating the incredible, almost unimaginable pain of someone who feels like he’s lost everything. Mixed in with loss is regret – Book had spent most of the last few years away from Kwejian, prior to the events of Season 3’s episode Sanctuary, and in light of the loss of the world and his family, regrets those lost years all the more.

Book lost almost everything and everyone he had cared about – and David Ajala’s performance captured that pitch-perfectly.

The standoff between Captain Burnham and Book was riveting to watch in Anomaly, as the latter insisted on helming a dangerous mission into the anomaly. It reminded me of The Next Generation Season 6 episode Lessons, where Captain Picard struggles with the similar conundrum of ordering someone he cares about to undertake a dangerous mission. Lessons is a fantastic episode, but I think in retrospect it’s limited by the fact that Nella Darren – Picard’s love interest – is a new, one-off character. Book and Burnham’s relationship has been well-established over the course of Season 3 and into Season 4, so the conundrum she faces as he insists on going on the mission is something we as the audience are far more invested in.

Star Trek has, on more than one occasion, depicted people at moments of severe depression, willing to end their lives or to give up. Book is in that position in Anomaly – not actively trying to die, but so uncaring about his life in the wake of everything that’s happened that he’s willing to take risks, put himself in harm’s way, and give up rather than fight to survive. But Anomaly showed Book that Burnham is in his corner, willing to fight when he isn’t, and pushing him to find the strength to try.

Burnham was there for Book when he needed her most.

Anomaly shows us, through a variety of different character pairings, how people can help one another through difficult circumstances. Whether it’s Tilly complimenting Adira for their hard work, Saru telling Burnham to be a partner, not a captain, Dr Culber talking to Gray through Adira as he works on his new synthetic body, or Stamets reaching out to Book, the theme of the episode is connection.

I loved the Picard reference in the scene with Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber. It was an interesting revelation that the “Soong process” for transferring minds was ultimately unsuccessful in most cases – I wonder what impact that will have on future Picard stories. The character it might impact most is Dr Soong himself, as he had planned to transfer his own consciousness into a synthetic body. But perhaps we should leave that speculation for another time! I think the intention here was to pre-emptively close a potential plot hole – by saying that the Soong process is basically unlikely to succeed, it gets around potential questions in future about why it wasn’t possible to save characters by transferring them into synthetic bodies when they’re near death. I’m not sure it was necessarily something that needed to be wrapped up in this fashion, but then again we Trekkies can be a pedantic bunch!

Dr Culber connected Gray’s story to Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

As someone who has struggled for a long time with my own gender identity, the scene with Gray “customising” his new body was very emotional. For a long time, I lacked the confidence to change anything about my appearance – especially when going out in public – to better match my own gender identity, so to see Gray talking about making cosmetic changes in order to be more comfortable in his own skin – literally – was a deeply emotional moment.

There’s power in representation, and even though Gray wasn’t the main focus of Anomaly, the main scene he had with Dr Culber and Adira was one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, in the entire episode for me.

Gray had the opportunity to customise his new body.

One of the big questions facing Season 4 at the moment is the nature of the gravitational anomaly. It always felt that the characters’ first guesses as to what it could be wouldn’t pan out, but I kind of liked the idea of a rogue black hole – or pair of black holes, in this case. Facing a purely natural phenomenon could be a story that brings with it all kinds of real-world parallels as we struggle with the climate emergency, for example.

However, it seems from the ending of Anomaly that Stamets, Tilly, and co. weren’t correct with their binary black hole theory, once again opening up the story to a completely unknowable next phase. Keeping the mystery going is good; had the anomaly been all figured out within a couple of episodes it might’ve been less exciting going into the rest of the season! It was interesting, though, to see Tilly in the closing moments of Anomaly presenting this as a defeat.

The nature of the anomaly is still uncertain.

Tilly seemed to be suggesting that the fact that the anomaly’s path remains unpredictable means that the mission to scan it was somehow unsuccessful, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to present this revelation. Scanning the anomaly up close yielded a treasure trove of information for the crew to scour, and was an absolutely necessary step in understanding the danger it poses. Maybe its path is still impossible to predict – for now. But that doesn’t make the mission a failure. And considering no lives were lost and the damage to the ship seems repairable, I guess I just don’t really get why the closing moments of Anomaly chose to present the results of the data in such a negative way. Obviously it’s bad news that the path of the anomaly is still unpredictable – but that’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t mean that the mission failed.

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats as artificial gravity failed was incredibly impactful; one of the most powerful visuals in the first two episodes. I can see why clips of that were chosen for the trailers! Star Trek rarely depicts artificial gravity failures – doing so has historically been prohibitively expensive. A couple of behind-the-scenes photos have shown the cast suspended in harnesses and on wires, and it seems clear that those sequences will have been difficult to film. It was worth the effort, though, and the finished effect is fantastic. Not only that, but I think it’s made substantially more impactful because artificial gravity failures are so uncommon in Star Trek.

Dr Culber and Captain Burnham float free as Discovery’s artificial gravity fails.

So that was Season 4’s opening pair of episodes. It took fans a lot of hard work to ensure the episodes would be available to more folks, so I hope everyone has found a way to tune in and watch via official channels – where such channels are available, of course. I think the season got off to a rocky start with all of the international mess, but the episodes themselves were fabulous, setting up a suitably engrossing mystery that feels very open right now. The story could go down any one of many different, utterly unpredictable routes – just like the anomaly itself!

Discovery is always at its best with moments of intimate characterisation, and there were many, many moments across both episodes that showed off the characters at their best – and gave the actors some fantastic material to work with. There were amazing performances from David Ajala, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ian Alexander, and Chelah Horsdal in particular, and I’m sure I’m leaving too many folks out. The visual effects are once again amazing, an improvement on Season 3 – something I didn’t think would’ve been possible.

As the credits rolled on Anomaly I was left wanting to know more – and not wanting to have to wait a week! That’s the mark of a good story in my book, leaving fans clamouring for more, wanting to figure out the show’s mysteries. I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, Choose To Live. Stay tuned for my weekly list of theories in the days ahead, and a review of Choose To Live next week!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Thoughts on a potential Mass Effect television series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers present for the Mass Effect trilogy.

Have you heard the latest rumour? Amazon is apparently very close to securing a deal to make a television series based on the Mass Effect video game franchise. I thought it could be fun to discuss this rumour – given that it seems to be close to being officially confirmed – as well as the merits of big-budget television shows in general.

Many film adaptations of video game properties have proven to be disappointing. There are a number of reasons why that’s the case, and it varies from project to project, but one thing absolutely worth considering is the fundamental, irreconcilable difference between how long the average film lasts and how long the average video game lasts.

1993’s Super Mario Bros. is an… interesting film.

Many video games – especially those with strong stories, like the Mass Effect series has – can require many, many hours of playtime. Despite what I said a moment ago, there really isn’t such a thing as an “average” video game length; it can vary from a couple of hours all the way to dozens or even more than a hundred. But most video games that have seen disappointing film adaptations in recent years have been these kinds of long, story-driven titles – and condensing a whole video game’s worth of story into a two-hour film is difficult to get right.

This is also the problem a lot of novel adaptations face, so much so that “the book was better than the film” has become an overused cliché! Even adaptations that have been widely praised overall – like the Harry Potter series, for instance – had to make significant story cuts to squeeze an entire book’s worth of plot into a standard cinematic runtime. Exceptions exist, of course, and the Lord of the Rings films from a few years ago are an example. But in that case, the extended editions of the films are widely considered to be superior to the shorter theatrical cuts, and the extended edition of the trilogy clocks in at well over eleven hours long.

The Lord of the Rings films are an exception to the rule!

What I’m trying to say is that a story like Mass Effect will be far better served by a television series adaptation than it would’ve been by a film adaptation. If it’s true that this is the route Amazon wants to go down, I’ll be very interested to see what will become of the project in the months and years ahead.

In the aftermath of big serialised shows like Lost and Game of Thrones, audiences have become used to story arcs that run across multiple seasons, something that would be a perfect fit for a long story like the one seen in the Mass Effect games. Even just the original story of Mass Effect 1 could itself be two seasons’ worth of television without feeling padded or bloated, so there’s potential in this project to really bring the Mass Effect galaxy to life.

Saren, the main villain of Mass Effect 1.

Amazon is still a relative newcomer to the television series game, but the company has already got an impressive track record. Shows like The Man in the High Castle and Jack Ryan were great, The Wheel of Time, which debuted just last week, is off to a fabulous start, and the company also picked up The Expanse following its cancellation, putting out two amazing seasons of the show so far. Amazon has also played host to Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks, giving Prime Video a solid lineup in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And we haven’t even mentioned the upcoming Lord of the Rings series!

Projects like The Lord of the Rings have demonstrated Amazon’s willingness to spend vast sums of money on their television shows, and if they do pursue a Mass Effect series, I would hope they’d be willing to invest there too. One of the great things about the Mass Effect galaxy is how “alien-feeling” some of its non-human races are. Races like the volus, hanar, and krogan were able to be created for the video game series because the animators weren’t limited by the need to use human actors – and recreating those races for the small screen will be a challenge.

Bringing a hanar to the screen in a live-action series will be a challenge!

I don’t like to speak ill of Star Trek, but in that respect I think Mass Effect actually gives the franchise a run for its money! Many alien races in Star Trek – and other live-action sci-fi shows and films too – are naturally limited by using human actors. There have been some very different-looking aliens, of course, but the majority of the main cast are humanoid, something that’s also true of Star Wars. Mass Effect shook that up with races like the krogan being part of the player’s crew from the very first game, and I’d be curious to see how well that would work in a live-action production.

The story of the Mass Effect trilogy, with Commander Shepard on a quest to save the galaxy from the Reapers, would be absolutely fascinating to see retold as a television show! It would definitely need multiple seasons to do justice to such a long story (my playthrough earlier in the year of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition clocked in at almost 80 hours) but I think it could be done exceptionally well.

I recently replayed the Mass Effect trilogy.

Some fans have expressed concern about retelling the story of the Mass Effect trilogy. Not only would doing so mean recasting characters that fans have come to know and love, but it would also mean setting in stone a number of key decisions which form the core of the games’ role-playing and branching storylines.

On the first point, I think that we’ve seen so many franchises recast key characters over the years that I’m not particularly worried. In Star Trek we’ve had characters like Spock go through three iterations at this point, and while many fans have a favourite portrayal, I don’t think anyone disagrees that all three versions of the character work as intended in their various stories. Just like many actors have played roles like Hamlet or Richard III over the years, there’s room for more than one actor to play Commander Shepard. Heck, the original Mass Effect games already have two Commander Shepards – a male and female version of the character!

There are already different Commander Shepards…

On the second point, the Mass Effect galaxy absolutely feels like a vast setting in which different stories could be told. The story of the Reaper War is exciting and I think would make for engrossing television, but equally a Mass Effect television show could tell an original story in the same setting. Amazon is doing precisely this with its Lord of the Rings adaptation – the new show won’t be a retelling of the books nor a remake of the films, but a prequel set millennia earlier.

There’s huge potential in a Mass Effect television series, and there are many different ways to jump into the setting and tell stories. It wouldn’t have to be a straight adaptation of the video games and Commander Shepard’s story, because there are so many other stories out there in the Mass Effect galaxy. But at the same time, why not? The Reaper War is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve seen in many years, and even though its rushed and imperfect final act did put a downer on things, that’s something that a television series could actually fix. An adaptation doesn’t have to be a like-for-like copy, so there’s scope to go back into the story and fix things that didn’t go to plan in the original games.

So watch this space! The rumour mill suggests that an announcement may be imminent, and while I don’t have “sources” of my own, I’m picking up this story from a number of different outlets – some of which are more reliable than others! For my two cents, I think a series like Mass Effect would work far better as a television series than a film, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If and when we get any major news be sure to check back as I may have more to say.

The Mass Effect series is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We won! Kind of…

After a difficult week for the entire Star Trek fan community, we finally got some good news. Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is going to be available outside of North America after all.

This isn’t “total victory,” as there are still too many countries and territories where the season won’t be available – particularly in Asia and Africa. The series is not returning to Netflix. But in regions where Paramount+ exists – Australia, Scandinavia, and Latin America – the decision to withhold the new season from fans has been reversed. This was the easy bit – that particular decision was so stupidly arbitrary that it didn’t make sense to begin with.

Here in the UK, as well as elsewhere in Western Europe, the new season will go to Pluto TV – described as a “free streaming television service.” I’ll have to look up Pluto TV and how it works as I’m not familiar with it at all. In the UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea and “additional select countries” (whatever that might mean) Season 4 episodes will be available to purchase digitally on “participating platforms.” Could that mean Amazon Video, among others? Watch this space, I guess.

Discovery Season 4 is coming to Pluto TV!

Reversing the Netflix decision was never going to happen, not after contracts had been torn up and significant sums of money had changed hands. But this is a victory for Star Trek fans – and for fans of any franchise, series, film, or video game across the entertainment industry. It demonstrates the power of fans coming together, and how these kinds of pressure campaigns and reactions can and do have an impact even on the biggest corporations.

At the end of the day, ViacomCBS saw the backlash as a problem and a threat to their current and future profits. That’s the power that we – all of us – have as consumers and as fans. Because we all pulled together and expressed our collective anger, outrage, and frustration, the corporation had no choice but to sit up and take notice. Especially when the value of their shares began to fall.

ViacomCBS shares tumbled following the Discovery announcement and the backlash from fans.

A couple of days ago on Twitter, some anonymous nobody told me to stop “crying” about the Discovery decision because it “wouldn’t change anything.” That person was wrong. On an individual level, none of us have the power to stand up to big corporations; that’s true. But en masse, when fans pull together we can do anything. Star Trek’s history is testament to that.

In 1967-68, a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by Star Trek superfan Bjo Trimble literally saved The Original Series from cancellation at the end of Season 2. The fact that the show got a third season at all was all down to Trekkies. And later, in the 1970s, pressure from fans to bring Star Trek back led to The Animated Series and later The Motion Picture – the film which kicked off Star Trek’s renaissance going into the 1980s.

Star Trek returned in 1979 thanks to the overwhelming support of the fan community.

Following the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, the fact that the franchise remained popular was a key factor in 2009’s reboot film getting the green light – something which ultimately led to Discovery, Picard, and the rest of modern Star Trek. At every stage of the franchise’s history, fan-led campaigns and the response from fans has been absolutely critical to keeping Star Trek going and reinvigorating the franchise. So it has proved again with Discovery Season 4.

This victory is imperfect. There are still too many Trekkies across the world who can’t access the series – and the rollout of Paramount+ is still plagued with the same problems it was yesterday. For fans in regions where Season 4 still won’t be arriving, this victory may not mean much at all. But it does give us hope for the future.

We still need to work hard to ensure Paramount+ and Star Trek are available to everyone.

ViacomCBS appeared to have forgotten about Star Trek’s international fans. But we reminded them that we’re still here, and that we still want to support the franchise and, albeit reluctantly in some cases, the corporation that owns and manages it. North American Trekkies were allies in that fight – as were many of the cast and crew of Discovery itself, applying pressure in public through their statements.

We can’t look at this as the end of the affair. Trekkies in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, and there are too many regions without a planned rollout of Paramount+. We mustn’t forget that, and we have to keep pressure on ViacomCBS to ensure that they deliver for every Trekkie, not just those in the wealthy west.

Here’s hoping everyone can watch Discovery Season 4 soon.

I feel optimistic today. Not only because Discovery Season 4 is coming here in 48 hours’ time, but because ViacomCBS recognised how badly they screwed up. Rather than doubling-down and continuing to ignore the response from fans, the corporation did something to mitigate the problem, no doubt at a significant financial cost. It won’t have been free to disrupt Pluto TV’s schedule with mere hours to spare, after all! I’d been worried about Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds in light of the Discovery Season 4 debacle, but perhaps ViacomCBS has now learned how bad of a decision it was to try to cleave the fanbase in two. Maybe that means those shows are safe – that we will be able to watch Picard Season 2 together in February, no matter where we live.

So it’s time to investigate the mysterious Pluto TV and see how that works! Apparently Discovery Season 4 is being broadcast there at a scheduled time – 9pm local time – so I guess it works like a television channel rather than a streaming service. I don’t mind that, and if it’s possible to purchase the season or individual episodes for on-demand streaming I don’t mind doing that too. Whatever hoops we have to jump through it’ll be worth it to watch Discovery together.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episodes 1-2 will be available to watch on Pluto TV in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland on Friday the 26th of November 2021. The episodes will also stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and will be available to purchase digitally in the UK and “additional select countries.” The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: The Next Generation re-watch – Season 7, Episode 17: Masks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly series over the next few months. In the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 disaster – the series has been withheld from fans outside of North America, if you somehow missed the news – I won’t be covering the show at all. Instead I’ll be writing up re-watches of some of my favourite episodes from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue. This week we’re visiting The Next Generation’s final season to look at the episode Masks.

First up, a brief introduction to this format. I’m not calling these articles “reviews.” It wouldn’t be fair to do so because I’ve seen Masks – and all of the other episodes we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks – more times than I care to remember! This won’t just be a recap of the plot of the episode – I will be giving my thoughts and analysis as we go. But it can’t really be an objective “review,” strictly speaking.

The episode’s title card (from the remastered version).

Masks was one of the last episodes produced for The Next Generation before production shifted to Star Trek: Generations. At this stage we’ve been with the crew of the Enterprise-D for almost seven years and we know them well – so we think we know what to expect. Season 7 tried to shake things up at various points – like in Genesis where the crew all de-evolved! And Masks is kind of in a similar vein. We’ll see the ship transformed, and Data in particular will take on several different personalities.

Masks is one of those episodes that sticks in my mind. The Enterprise-D and her crew found themselves in many wacky and unpredictable situations over the years, but there’s something about the Aztec-inspired aesthetic that really makes what’s going on in Masks feel ancient and otherworldly. It’s a story that feels at home in the Star Trek franchise; the kind of episode no other sci-fi series would even attempt.

Picard and Troi examine a D’Arsay obelisk.

The episode is also a great one for Data actor Brent Spiner, who gets a chance to show off his range as an actor. There’s always seemed to be a disconnect between the character of Data and the personality of the man who plays the role! Data is cool and logical, but Brent Spiner has an almost chaotic energy to him, full of life and with a great sense of humour. Masks isn’t the only episode of Star Trek to give him more to do – look at his roles as Lore and as various members of the Soong family for more examples – but it’s certainly an episode that gives Spiner many opportunities to shake up his regular role.

Data is such a wonderful character, and his series-long quest to become more human saw him attempt to mimic a variety of different behaviours. At the beginning of Masks we see him taking an art class, learning to sculpt and to use his imagination. Because of the largely episodic nature of The Next Generation, even in Season 7 Data is still chasing his ambition of becoming human in much the same way as he had been earlier in the show’s run. The character saw evolution across the series as a whole, but moments like these at the beginning of Masks could sometimes feel like a reset, reinforcing Data’s android nature and showing how he doesn’t fully understand some element or other of what it means to be human.

Data learning about imagination at the beginning of the episode.

I wouldn’t try to argue that Masks is an especially important episode, either for The Next Generation or Star Trek as a whole. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t groundbreaking or transformative for the franchise in the way certain stories can be – it doesn’t introduce new characters, factions, or themes that would carry over to future projects, for example, nor is it a transformative event in the lives of any of the main characters.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun episode with an interesting premise. In a way, what we have in Masks is an examination of computer viruses and the major cultural and technological differences that exist between cultures. After encountering the D’Arsay archive inside of what appears to be a comet, it transmits its information to the Enterprise-D, but that computer code plays havoc with the ship’s systems – and with Data. Though this computer virus analogy isn’t the episode’s message or primary focus, it’s not a coincidence that a story like Masks was created at this time.

There’s a timely message about rogue computer software buried in Masks.

In 1994, when the episode was initially broadcast, home computing was growing exponentially. Along with the rise of the PC came fears of computer viruses, and antivirus software was becoming a big business. Though Masks mainly considers cultural themes within the story itself, I’d argue very strongly that the premise – disruptive or even malicious software being beamed to the Enterprise-D – is a reaction to the way the home computer market was shaping up at the time.

Computer viruses continue to plague systems today, of course, but with improvements in antivirus software and better computer education, the fears most folks have of viruses has diminished. In that sense, this aspect of Masks feels like a step back in time a quarter of a century – which it is, of course! The idea of rogue computer code harming – or in this case transforming – one’s computer was certainly a relevant concern at the time, though, and although it’s one that the episode doesn’t feature prominently it’s still an interesting aspect.

Riker, Data, and Geordi tried to make sense of the mysterious symbols that began appearing on the Enterprise-D’s computer screens.

Masks also looks at how we deal with cultures very different from our own, and how we need to be careful when interpreting history. Captain Picard is at his best in episodes like Masks, getting the chance to show off one of his real passions – history. Picard is well-placed to jump into the story and find a use for his skills, and is supported at various points by Riker, Troi, and perhaps the most unusual choice – Worf. One of Worf’s lines about the sun and moon proves crucial to unlocking the mystery of the archive, and while Captain Picard definitely needed others around him in these scenes, I’m not sure I’d have chosen Worf!

The struggle that Picard and the others had of trying to interpret an unfamiliar culture is one that historians and anthropologists have long dealt with. And to me, Masks is an example of Star Trek doing what it has always done: using a sci-fi lens to examine a real-world subject. Usually the stakes aren’t so high, of course, but putting a kind of ticking clock and threat in the background gave the story an impetus it would’ve otherwise lacked; had Picard and the crew simply been trying to learn about the D’Arsay symbols and characters out of curiosity, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere.

Picard had to draw on his knowledge of history and anthropology to solve the mystery of the D’Arsay archive.

On the technical side of things, Masks was one of the first Star Trek episodes to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), using the new technology for the comet and D’Arsay archive. The remastered version, which is what you’ll find on blu-ray and streaming – didn’t preserve the original CGI model, recreating the archive from the ground up based on the original design. The DVD version, however, and other older copies (like VHS) do still have this piece of Star Trek’s history. You can also find images of the original CGI model online, of course.

A few times across The Next Generation, sped-up shots would be used to show Data working or moving faster than a human could. Out of everything present in Masks, this short sequence (which shows Data sculpting a treble clef in his art class) is perhaps the only part that feels dated in 2021. The rest of the episode’s effects hold up remarkably well, and the remastered CGI sequences look great even on a modern 4K display.

This shot of the Enterprise-D melting a comet with its phasers is pretty darn cool.

Many times across Star Trek’s long history there have been so-called “bottle shows.” These are episodes which primarily use existing sets and often don’t bring in many new characters or guest-stars, focusing on just the main cast. Though there was a set built for Masks – the temple, which would later be re-used in Deep Space Nine – the episode is mostly a bottle show, or perhaps a semi-bottle show! It focuses on a handful of characters, mostly re-uses existing Enterprise-D sets – with a few additions and changes to reflect the transformation the ship is undergoing – and feels like a very self-contained story in that respect.

Given Data’s prominent role, Brent Spiner is the star of Masks. And while we see elements of his portrayal of Lore in one of the personas that Data assumes, for the most part he makes each of the D’Arsay characters feel unique and distinctive. For an actor who spent most of The Next Generation’s run playing a very unemotional, unreactive character, I can quite understand why Brent Spiner would describe Masks as one of his biggest acting challenges on the show. I think he rises to the occasion and shows off a range that any actor would be proud of; making each persona feel separate despite only minor costuming changes is no mean feat, and he pulled it off very well. There was a risk, perhaps, that in order to differentiate each of the D’Arsay personas in such a short runtime each would have to be exaggerated to the point of pantomime caricature, but that didn’t happen in the final episode. That alone should be testament to Brent Spiner’s talents and hard work.

Data actor Brent Spiner had to take on several different personas in Masks.

There are a few lines from Masks that resonate with me from a mental health standpoint. Though the episode isn’t intended as an examination of mental illness, Data developing an android version of “multiple personalities,” as Troi puts it, does bring up some comparisons. When Data asks Geordi what it feels like to lose one’s mind is a line that very much struck a chord with me, not least because it’s a question I’ve asked myself (and doctors) in the past.

Data’s line as the episode draws to a close about feeling “empty” following the removal of the D’Arsay personalities likewise felt very relatable. It isn’t always easy to tell where the line is between one’s own personality and aspects of oneself that might be better characterised as manifestations of mental illness, and even the removal or lessening of a mental health symptom can, in some cases, bring with it a feeling of emptiness or of feeling incomplete. That’s definitely a second thing I find relatable – and I think it shows how stories which only touch on themes of mental health can still be impactful even if mental health isn’t the focus.

Data on Masaka’s throne.

The only real criticism I have of Masks is that its ending feels a little too quick – almost abrupt, really. After a slow buildup which sees the Enterprise-D progressively transformed to resemble the D’Arsay culture, Picard has a short conversation with Masaka, and then after a quick “woosh” everything is un-transformed and back to normal. A quick epilogue with Data and Picard in the ready-room closes the episode, and the final few minutes just feel a little rushed, especially considering the deliberately slow pacing of the rest of the episode.

Despite that, I enjoy Masks. It isn’t my all-time favourite episode of The Next Generation, but it’s one of those solid standalone stories that Star Trek does far fewer of since the move to serialised story arcs and shorter seasons. Masks shows off a different kind of science fiction with its slightly wacky concept of an archive transforming the ship into stone artefacts, but at the same time it’s a story that’s grounded in real-world parallels of history and anthropology. Brent Spiner puts in one of his finest performances, taking on a variety of personas that force him to step well outside of his normal bounds as Data.

So I hope this was a bit of fun. My objective at the moment is to remain connected to Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community but without providing any support or coverage of Discovery in light of the awful decision from ViacomCBS. Later this week I hope to look at an episode from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I already have dozens of other ideas for episode re-watches as we move through the holidays and into 2022.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is out now on blu-ray and DVD, and is available to stream on Netflix outside of the United States (at least for the time being). The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the shows on this list.

The person who coined the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” evidently never met the marketing team at ViacomCBS. The Star Trek: Discovery clusterfuck continues to damage the company, the Star Trek brand, Paramount+, and everything else it touches, with Discovery’s fourth season now being soiled, stinking of shit even for those fans in North America who’ve been able to sit down and watch it.

Whether you’re pirating Discovery Season 4 or not – and honestly, you’re 100% morally justified in doing so if you choose to – I thought that today we should consider some alternatives. Maybe you’ve decided not to pirate the series, or to wait and see how things go. Or maybe you’re still so darn mad at Discovery that watching it wouldn’t feel appropriate right now. So let’s take a brief look at ten television shows that you could watch instead. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum!

Oh, and if you’ve tuned in looking for my weekly Discovery Season 4 reviews or theories, I’ve made the reluctant decision to put those on hold for the time being due to what’s happened.

Number 1: The Wheel of Time

Promotional image for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time premieres today, so I can’t claim to have watched it for myself at time of writing! But Amazon has invested heavily in this fantasy epic, one which is based on a long-running series of novels by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It’s been a long time since I read any of the books (and I didn’t come close to finishing the set) but from what I remember, The Wheel of Time has a complex story full of magic, wonder, and nuanced characters.

Several big-budget fantasy shows were commissioned in the aftermath of the success of Game of Thrones, and initial reviews of The Wheel of Time sound promising. I’ve been looking forward to watching the show all year, and it’s finally here! The first three episodes are being made available at the same time as a kind of extended premiere, with the remainder of Season 1 following on a weekly basis. This could be a great replacement for Discovery between now and Christmas.

Number 2: Foundation

Jared Harris and Lou Llobel star in Foundation.

One of Apple TV+’s first big-budget shows, Foundation has been interesting to follow across its first season. Is it perfect? No, but for an adaptation of a very dense series of books that I would’ve considered borderline unfilmable, I think the series makes a creditable effort to bring the story to screen.

Foundation stars Jared Harris in a key role, and he’s an absolutely fantastic actor who brings a lot to the series. At time of writing there’s one episode left in Season 1, and a second season has already been confirmed for next year.

Number 3: The Expanse

Several of The Expanse’s main cast aboard the Rocinante.

The Expanse is one of the finest science fiction TV shows I’ve ever seen outside of the Star Trek franchise. Its world-building is absolutely fantastic, showing us a look at a near-future where Mars and parts of the asteroid belt have been colonised, but where faster-than-light travel and many other common sci-fi technologies don’t yet exist.

Originally debuting on the SyFy network, The Expanse was later picked up by Amazon following a fan campaign. There are five seasons already, with a sixth and final season scheduled to premiere next month – so you’ve got time to binge the show and get caught up!

Number 4: Firefly (and Serenity)

The main cast of Firefly.

The big caveat with Firefly has to be that the show was never given a chance to live up to its full potential, being cancelled after just one season. But the feature film Serenity brought the cast back and provided the story with closure (of a sort) so it’s absolutely worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

Firefly brought to screen a uniquely western-themed sci-fi universe that felt truly real and lived-in in a way few franchises manage to do. It’s positively criminal that one season and one film are all we ever got – but what a fantastic season it was!

Number 5: Fortitude

Several members of the Fortitude Season 1 cast.

We’re returning to Earth for this entry on the list! I thought I knew what to expect from Fortitude when I sat down to watch the show. It’s set in a small town in the Norwegian arctic, and I was expecting it to be a fairly standard crime drama. But the show took a series of turns, going from crime to mystery to thriller and even touching on horror and science fiction.

It’s hard to explain Fortitude without spoiling it – and I would say that some of its storylines go a bit wild toward the end. But if you get stuck into it, as I did, you’ll have an amazing time.

Number 6: Star Trek: Picard

Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his famous role last year.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re a Trekkie and you’ve already seen Picard Season 1. And I would absolutely understand if the Discovery debacle has soured you on Star Trek at the moment. But whether you missed Season 1 or just haven’t seen it since it was broadcast in early 2020, it’s a fine drama series worth going back to.

Remembrance, the season premiere, is one of the finest episodes of Star Trek – and one of the finest episodes of television in general – that I’ve ever seen. The season’s story builds slowly to a conclusion that was, unfortunately, more than a little rushed, but if you can look past the imperfections present at the story’s end, Picard Season 1 is a fun Star Trek adventure.

Number 7: The Mandalorian

Mandy the Mandalorian.

I have to confess that I’m not wild about The Mandalorian. It’s okay – and it contains some great action set-pieces and moments of drama. But my disappointment stems from the fact that the show’s promised “different look” at the Star Wars galaxy kind of fell by the wayside due to the inclusion of too many elements from the films.

Despite that, The Mandalorian has some great moments, and is well worth watching for any Star Wars fan. Two seasons have been put to screen thus far, though I’d argue that their short runtime and serialised story means you only really get one full season’s worth of content. Two spin-offs and a third season are coming next year, so if you’re not caught up on Star Wars yet, now could be a good moment!

Number 8: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The titular duo.

I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan, but this miniseries on Disney+ was less about superheroes and was more of an action-adventure romp with the titular characters. There were callbacks to a lot of previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even as someone who doesn’t follow the MCU religiously I found the series approachable.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tells a largely self-contained story, and it was one that aimed to be uplifting as well as entertaining. I published a review of the miniseries a few months ago, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here – but beware of spoilers!

Number 9: Chernobyl

“Not great, not terrible” would be a bad way to describe 2019’s Chernobyl.

Chernobyl was a sensation when it was first broadcast in 2019, and for good reason. The miniseries, which documents the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is one of the finest ever put to screen. This is a story you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with, but Chernobyl goes into detail, looking at the disaster from all angles.

I find it hard to say anything negative about Chernobyl at all; as both a work of drama and a serious historical piece it’s perfect. It even contains a great scene explaining the basics of how a nuclear reactor works!

Number 10: The Center Seat

Logo for The Center Seat.

The History Channel is currently a couple of episodes into its documentary all about the Star Trek franchise. There will be eight more episodes over the coming weeks, documenting the history of Star Trek from the production side going all the way back to Gene Roddenberry’s initial pitch for the series in the early 1960s.

I love a good documentary, and as the Star Trek franchise celebrates its fifty-fifth year, why not take a look back? As Trekkies we should aim to be knowledgeable about the production of the franchise we love, and The Center Seat aims to present its history in an easily understood form.

So that’s it. Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4.

I think a lot of Trekkies feel the way Book’s feeling right now.

Those are words that I never thought I’d have to write. Discovery’s fourth season had been my most-anticipated television show of 2021, and even now that we’re a couple of days out from the news that we wouldn’t be getting the series, the sense of disappointment and anger with the corporate morons in charge of ViacomCBS remains. But I hope, after a couple of days of outright negativity, this list has been a bit of a break.

Each of the shows above are absolutely fantastic in their own ways, and while it’s true that nothing can fully replace Star Trek: Discovery for a big fan of the series, hopefully you’ve found a few ideas to at least take your mind off things. Social media has been reflecting the outrage directed at ViacomCBS over the past couple of days, and while there’s nothing wrong at all with registering your disgust with the way that the corporation has behaved, please keep in mind that the actors, directors, and other behind-the-camera crew had nothing to do with this decision. In many ways, it harms them too because it’s tainted their hard work and left even North American Trekkies feeling upset and angry. Negativity and division within the Star Trek fandom is never a good thing. It’s such a shame ViacomCBS chose to inflict it upon us on this occasion.

All television series mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, network, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery won’t be available internationally.

The message above was posted on social media earlier this evening. What follows is my immediate response – a somewhat unstructured, angry response. For a more structured argument about ViacomCBS’ mishandling of the Star Trek brand internationally, check out this article.

I cannot believe what I just read. Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is not going to be made available on Netflix outside of the United States, and will only be available for international viewers sometime next year when Paramount+ arrives. I’m still digesting this truly awful news.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a go at ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and mismanages the Star Trek brand – for refusing to make Star Trek: Prodigy available internationally, despite that show being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon… a ViacomCBS-owned channel that’s available in more than 70 countries around the world.

This Discovery news comes after Prodigy has been denied to international fans. Lower Decks Season 1 was also denied a simultaneous broadcast internationally, arriving almost six months later. So I can’t be alone in asking what the fuck ViacomCBS thinks it’s playing at. Are they trying to encourage piracy? Do they just not care about Star Trek? Perhaps they want to do as much harm as possible to their own brand, and that of their mediocre second-tier streaming platform at the heart of these problems: Paramount+.

ViacomCBS is desperately but incompetently pushing Paramount+.

To make this announcement less than 48 hours before Discovery’s fourth season was due to premiere is beyond insulting. It’s the latest and most egregious “fuck you” in a long line going back a couple of years at least from a corporation that doesn’t give a damn about Star Trek’s sizeable international fanbase.

Not only is Season 4 not going to be available on Netflix, but Seasons 1-3 have been pulled – or will shortly be pulled – from the streaming service as well, gated off behind a paywall that doesn’t exist because Paramount+ isn’t available here in the UK (and elsewhere) yet. It is at least possible to get the first three seasons of the show on blu-ray, so fans who want to watch or re-watch earlier seasons will be able to do so that way. But Season 4 isn’t available… or at least it isn’t available via conventional methods.

Perhaps this is some kind of visual metaphor?

When corporations choose to become gatekeepers and refuse to share the content that they’ve produced with fans who are literally holding their wallets open screaming “take my money!” then piracy, by default, becomes the only option to access that content. Discovery actually will be available internationally, because this is the 21st Century and most folks have internet access. With a tiny amount of effort it’s going to be possible to pirate every episode of the show, allowing fans to enjoy Discovery while ensuring that ViacomCBS doesn’t see a single measly cent by way of profit. That isn’t the decision fans made, it’s the choice ViacomCBS made.

Star Trek became an international franchise at the behest of ViacomCBS and its corporate predecessors. They advocated this kind of corporate globalism because – like the greedy little Ferengi they are – they saw profit beyond America’s borders. There are Trekkies from Tierra del Fuego to St. Petersburg because globalism proved so attractive for ViacomCBS, but the corporation has once again proved beyond any doubt that it doesn’t give even the tiniest of fucks about anyone outside of North America.

Leaked photograph from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

So as I said a couple of weeks ago about Prodigy: it’s totally morally justifiable to pirate it. Go right ahead and pirate Prodigy, and pirate Discovery too. ViacomCBS has told us to keep our money and fuck off, so let’s make sure they don’t ever see another penny of it. What’s the point in continuing to support a corporation that leaves its international fans out in the cold because it can’t manage the incredibly basic task of broadcasting a television show?

Broadcasting and streaming is ViacomCBS’ entire business model – yet time and time again they fuck it up. Paramount+ is a mediocre platform at best that will never be the Netflix and Disney+ competitor that its corporate masters wish it to be. It arrived on the scene a decade too late, with too little original content, and its rollout even within the United States has been horribly mismanaged by a corporation that appears to be run by absolute morons. Paramount+ recently lost the rights to all of the Star Trek films for several months – despite ViacomCBS owning the rights to those films. And as we’re learning the hard way once again today, its international rollout has been pathetically slow.

Only for fans in North America.

It’s such a shame for all of the actors, directors, and behind-the-camera crew who clearly have put a lot of work into Discovery Season 4 that their work is going to be tainted by a truly selfish and shitty business decision. It isn’t their fault, yet their hard work is now soured in the minds of many of the show’s biggest fans because of incomprehensible corporate bullshit.

I’ve been disappointed with ViacomCBS for a while for their pathetic mishandling of the Star Trek brand, but this latest attack has come as a body blow. I’m angry – actually legitimately angry – with a cowardly corporation that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to operate in a 21st Century television and streaming market. Their mismanagement will continue to harm Star Trek – perhaps fatally so.

ViacomCBS is the company responsible for mismanaging Star Trek.

I can’t speak for every Trekkie, but a lot of Star Trek’s international fans are losing patience with this corporation. It’s long past time for ViacomCBS to get a grip and start managing the franchise properly – before too much harm is done. Star Trek is an amazing franchise that everyone should be able to watch together and share with one another no matter where they’re from – but disgusting and insulting corporate decisions continue to get in the way and actively harm Star Trek.

Lower Decks is so much less than it could and should be entirely because ViacomCBS fucked up its international broadcast. The same will be true of Prodigy – a decision compounded in that case by the utterly ridiculous broadcast schedule. Four episodes, then a two-month break? What fuckwit came up with that idea? And now Discovery.

Here’s a newsflash for the ViacomCBS board: fans aren’t going to wait for the mediocre Paramount+ to arrive. A lot of Trekkies will pirate the show, and a lot of viewers who had been looking forward to seeing it on Netflix just won’t bother; they’ll have forgotten all about it by next year. So let’s all sarcastically applaud ViacomCBS for hammering a nail into the coffin of Star Trek. I hope someone out there with a modicum of business acumen will be able to step in and save the day – but I’m not holding my breath.

The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Where are the Prodigy toys?

Sometimes it feels as though ViacomCBS doesn’t know how to manage a major international franchise like Star Trek. The amateurish rollout of Paramount+ internationally is a great example, as is the streaming service losing all of the Star Trek films for several months. I’ve covered these topics before, and without retreading too much old ground let’s just say that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to get a grip, otherwise fans – especially fans from outside of the United States – are going to run out of patience with the corporation, and the casual viewers who make up the majority of any television audience won’t even find out about the latest shows and films.

Today, though, I wanted to tackle a different way in which ViacomCBS is mismanaging the Star Trek brand: toys and merchandise.

Maybe it’s true that action figures for a show like Star Trek: Picard wouldn’t sell particularly well. That series primarily targetted an adult audience – fans of The Next Generation (or at least folks who remember that series) and who are primarily 35+. There was at least some attempt to sell Picard merchandise both before and during the show’s first season, though, with things like T-shirts and even “Château Picard” wine available via the official Star Trek shop.

Château Picard hoodie, anyone?

In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek gave even the venerable Star Wars a run for its money in the merchandising and toy departments. Not only were there action figures of practically every minor character to ever make an appearance on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, but there were video games, pinball machines, pretend-play toys, playsets, model kits, dress-up outfits, and much more besides. In the ’90s I managed to assemble a modest Star Trek collection of my own, primarily the Playmates line of action figures as well as a few model kits – I was a big model builder back then!

But since the franchise returned to the small screen in 2017, there hasn’t been any noticeable effort on the part of ViacomCBS to merchandise the Star Trek brand – meaning that the corporation is missing out on a significant additional revenue stream from its biggest brand, one that would supplement the income it makes from streaming the various shows and films. Just look at Star Wars: sales of merchandise long ago eclipsed the box office receipts for all of the films combined.

Star Wars has so much merchandise that Disney can literally make merchandise-themed Star Wars films and games.

As I said, it’s possible that not every Star Trek project would warrant the same level of merchandise and toys. But even then, ViacomCBS has been lacking. Look at the Eaglemoss collection of Star Trek starships as a prime example: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in January 2020, but it took until June 2021 – almost eighteen months later – to release a single model starship from the series.

A corporation the size of ViacomCBS shouldn’t need to be told that the prime time to cash in on a show is while it’s being broadcast. That’s merchandising 101. Waiting eighteen months is pathetic and ridiculous – and it isn’t the fault of collectibles company Eaglemoss. The fault lies with ViacomCBS for not securing these merchandising agreements sooner.

The same is true of Discovery, which only started getting significant merchandise well after Season 1 had come and gone. And even now we’ve passed the second season of Lower Decks, Star Trek’s official shop still carries precious little by way of products from the series.

It took ViacomCBS more than eighteen months to release this model of Picard’s La Sirena.

That brings us to Star Trek: Prodigy, which premiered a couple of weeks ago – for those viewers whom ViacomCBS deemed worthy of being permitted to watch the series. The rest of us outside of North America are still waiting to know if and when we’ll be allowed to watch it (lawfully). But that’s beside the point right now.

Prodigy is a show made for kids. It has more going on, things that adults will enjoy, but its main focus is on the younger audience – making it a prime candidate for selling toys, games, and other merchandise. So… where are all the Prodigy toys?

There are a mere ten Prodigy items for sale from the official Star Trek shop, most of which are the show’s basic logo slapped on mugs and T-shirts.

It’s no good launching a line of Prodigy toys next year. Kids who are streaming the show now want those toys now – and with the holidays approaching it’s literally the best time of the year to be in the toy business. I can understand why ViacomCBS might’ve felt a Soji action figure or an Admiral Picard doll wouldn’t sell like hot-cakes, but Prodigy should be absolutely perfect for all sorts of tie-in products.

Many cartoons and television shows made for kids are little more than twenty-minute toy advertisements. Whole franchises like Transformers and My Little Pony have been created as toys first, cartoons second, and they make a lot of money for their respective companies that way. I’m not suggesting Prodigy should go to that extreme, but even nowadays with kids spending more time with smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets there’s still room for toys and games.

Kids do still play with toys…

For a television show aimed at kids to be broadcast with no kid-friendly tie-in products strikes me as profoundly strange in the current commercial climate. And some folks might be thinking “hey, that’s actually a good thing!” because it means ViacomCBS isn’t doggedly chasing every last dollar. But to me it’s yet another indication of the truly amateurish way that the corporation is handling its biggest franchise.

One of the earliest memories that I have of Star Trek isn’t a television episode or film, it’s a product. My uncle – who boasts a fabulous collection of Star Trek merchandise – showed me a toy phaser from The Original Series that must’ve been made in the ’70s or possibly the early ’80s, which lit up and made a sound when the trigger was pushed. I don’t think seeing that toy was what pushed young me to become a Trekkie, but good quality toys that look like fun absolutely can be the way kids first get interested in a franchise like Star Trek.

I think this was the toy phaser I’m remembering…

Prodigy is full of fun, unique, and colourful designs that would make for amazing toys, dolls, playsets, and pretend-play scenarios. The series is aimed at children, and from the point of view of a longstanding Trekkie, I want it to be successful at converting at least some of those kids into fans of Star Trek as a whole. The entire reason for creating a show like this is to bring new, younger fans into the fandom – and to lay the groundwork for Star Trek’s continued success. As I’ve said before: if Star Trek remains the sole preserve of fans who loved the franchise in the ’60s and/or the ’80s and ’90s then it won’t survive – and it won’t deserve to survive. New fans are the lifeblood of any fandom.

So when I see ViacomCBS mishandling the brand and not taking full advantage of it I feel truly disappointed with a corporation that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Before Prodigy had aired a single episode there should’ve been the following basic tie-in products at a bare minimum: action figures and/or dolls of each of the main characters, at least one playset of the USS Protostar, dress-up costumes of the main characters – including a Starfleet uniform – and pretend-play toys of things like phasers and tricorders. These items should’ve been available worldwide at a reasonable price so that kids who like the show could remain engaged with Star Trek outside of the half-hour per week where they’re watching the episodes.

The USS Protostar from Prodigy.

Some of ViacomCBS’ other failures when it comes to Star Trek actually feel less significant than this massive missed opportunity. It isn’t just about making money on each product sold – and in the short term, while the show and Paramount+ build up their reputations, it’s even possible that the corporation would make a moderate loss. But the longer-term prospects of merchandising a show like Prodigy are significant. As kids who don’t watch the show see the toys at their friends’ houses they’ll ask what Star Trek is and maybe get into the series for themselves. With Star Trek toys on the shelves of every major supermarket and toy shop, people who weren’t aware of the franchise’s return will realise that Star Trek is back. This kind of word-of-mouth advertising pays for itself, and that’s something very difficult to pull off on social media (especially given the truly crap way ViacomCBS manages Star Trek on social media – but one battle at a time, eh?)

I’ve made no secret over the past couple of years that I have issues with the way ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand. And I don’t raise these points out of spite – I want them to manage Star Trek better because I care about Star Trek’s future success. Right now, decisions like these make it seem as though Star Trek is very much a lesser brand even in the minds of the people who are supposed to be running it. When you can turn up at any supermarket or toy shop and see dozens of Star Wars toys, yet nothing at all from Star Trek, it’s disappointing.

The premiere of Prodigy, a series aimed at kids, should have come with at least some toys and games to go along with the show. Making money from that kind of merchandising arrangement is one reason why, but another far more important reason is engagement – making sure that kids remain engaged with Prodigy, its world, and its characters when they aren’t watching the show is key to keeping them coming back. In 2021, practically every kids show has some kind of tie-in product – and it’s a damning indictment of the sloppy, amateurish way that ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand that Prodigy doesn’t.

Star Trek: Prodigy is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States. No international broadcast has been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Prodigy and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Xbox turns 20!

On the 15th of November 2001, the original Xbox launched in the United States. That makes today the 20th anniversary of the console and Microsoft’s gaming brand, so I thought we should mark the occasion with a look back! I haven’t yet had the chance to play on an Xbox Series S or X, but I’ve owned an original Xbox, an Xbox 360, and an Xbox One at different points over the past couple of decades so I like to think I’m qualified to comment on the brand!

It’s hard to remember now, especially for younger folks who’ve quite literally grown up with the games industry looking the way it does, but the Xbox was a massive risk for Microsoft in 2001. The games industry at the turn of the millennium felt settled – Nintendo and Sega were the “big boys” and PlayStation had been the new kid on the block, shaking things up as the world of gaming moved from 2D to 3D titles.

Xbox turns 20 today!

For practically all of the 1990s, it had been Japanese games companies – Sega, Nintendo, and Sony – that had dominated the video game hardware market. Challengers from the ’80s like Atari and Commodore represented American manufacturers, but they’d fallen away by the end of the decade leaving the worldwide video game hardware market the sole domain of the Japanese.

I remember reading more than one article in 2001 promising that the Xbox would be an expensive failure for Microsoft, arguing that “no one” was looking for a new console manufacturer at that time. It would be impossible to enter a market where things were already stable, and even with Microsoft’s money, challenging the mighty Sega, Nintendo, and PlayStation was just going to be a waste of time. How wrong is it possible to be, eh? We should all remember articles like those before making big predictions!

Bill Gates unveiled the Xbox and showed the console to the world for the first time in 2001.

The video games industry was far less settled in 2001 than anyone seemed to realise, of course. Sega’s Dreamcast would prove to be such a significant flop that the company ended up shutting down their hardware business altogether, and Nintendo’s GameCube – which also launched in November 2001 – would struggle to compete with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in terms of sales.

So the market was definitely more receptive to a new entrant than a lot of folks at the time were predicting! But that isn’t why the Xbox succeeded. It helped, of course, that the console was created at a time when Sega was getting out of the way and Nintendo had uncharacteristically faltered. But those external factors weren’t key to the success of the Xbox, and anyone who claims otherwise is doing the console a disservice.

The original Xbox logo.

The Xbox was a great machine. Microsoft had decades of experience in software and plenty of money to boot – they were one of the world’s richest companies even then. Bringing their considerable experience and financial resources to bear led to the creation of a truly world-class machine, one that massively outperformed two of its three competitors in terms of raw processing power and graphical fidelity.

All of those stats would have been meaningless, though, had the console not had a killer lineup of games – and Microsoft delivered there too. Though Microsoft had made some games of their own before 2001, like Age of Empires for example, they didn’t have as much game development experience as the likes of Nintendo and Sony. While development of the Xbox was ongoing, Microsoft worked with a number of third-party developers, signing exclusive contracts and having games built for their new machine from the ground up.

The Xbox was Microsoft’s first video game console.

We can’t talk about the Xbox without talking about its “killer app” – Halo: Combat Evolved. After GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 had proven that first-person shooters could work well on home consoles, Halo honed the console shooter genre to near-perfection. It was the must-have game of 2001 and 2002, one of the most talked-about and debated titles of the day. Nintendo and PlayStation simply didn’t have anything in reply, and Halo absolutely dominated the conversation going into 2002.

It wasn’t only the first-person shooter genre where Microsoft invested heavily. They contracted a studio called Bizarre Creations – who’d developed a racing game called Metropolis Street Racer for the Dreamcast – to work on an Xbox-exclusive racer: Project Gotham Racing. The game played differently to other racing games at the time – with an emphasis on “kudos” points rather than just winning the race. Project Gotham Racing didn’t quite succeed at eclipsing the likes of the Gran Turismo series on the PlayStation 2, but it was a fun romp nevertheless.

Halo: Combat Evolved was the console’s big launch title.

My personal experience with the original Xbox came in the wake of the Dreamcast’s demise. I’d invested in a Dreamcast as a replacement for my Nintendo 64, but when Sega announced in early 2001 – scarcely a year after its launch – that the Dreamcast would be discontinued and development would cease I knew I’d have to find a new machine again! The Dreamcast was a great console in its own way, but it felt iterative rather than transformative. When I was finally able to upgrade to an Xbox in early 2002 I was blown away by how modern-feeling the machine was.

The control pad – affectionately known as the “Duke” – was the first thing I noticed that was so much better. The addition of a second analogue stick made controlling all kinds of games so much easier and smoother, whether they were racers, shooters, or third-person adventure titles. The black and white buttons were a solid addition too, giving games more options than older control pads on other hardware. The Duke wasn’t wildly popular, though, due to its large size making it heavy and unwieldy for a lot of players. Within a matter of months, Xbox had released the S-controller as an alternative, and that design has stuck. The popular Xbox 360 control pad was based on the S-controller, and the design has remained more or less unchanged since.

The S-controller replaced the Duke – and its design has been honed and refined in the years since.

Some of my favourite gaming experiences of all time took place on the Xbox. I played my first true open-world games on the platform, with titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind showing off the console’s power through the size, scale, and density of their worlds – something completely unprecedented at the time. Knights of the Old Republic completely blew me away with its story, and at one point I can vividly remember sitting with the control pad in my hand, mouth open in shock at the way that game’s story unfolded. That’s a moment in gaming – and a moment as a Star Wars fan – that I will never forget!

The Dreamcast had shown me the first game that I felt was genuinely cinematic; a title that would’ve felt at home on the big screen: Shenmue. But that console still had its limitations, and relatively few Dreamcast titles came close to reaching the high bar set by Shenmue. The Xbox feels – at least to me – like the first modern video games console; the first machine to bring together all of the foundational elements of 21st Century gaming.

Knights of the Old Republic was a fantastic Xbox exclusive.

The launch of the Xbox marked a sea change in the video games industry. Sega was getting out of the market, and Microsoft jumped in. Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox would go on to be the two big powerhouses of gaming in the 2000s, settling their status as the decade wore on. It was also around this time that Nintendo stopped focusing on trying to compete with PlayStation and Xbox in terms of raw power and began looking at different ways to play – culminating in the launch of the Wii a few years later.

Twenty years ago the Xbox was seen as a risk. Now, as we look back on two decades of Microsoft’s gaming hardware, it’s patently obvious that it’s a risk that paid off – and then some! As we stumble into another new console generation, Xbox feels like a safe, solid bet. And the brand is, in many ways, just getting started. Xbox Game Pass offers fantastic value as a subscription service right now, and as Microsoft looks to harmonise their console and PC players in a single conjoined system, things are definitely changing for the better for Xbox as a brand. There have been some bumps in the road over the past couple of decades – the rocky launch of the Xbox One and the failure of Kinect being a couple of big ones – but overall, it’s been a success for Microsoft. I knew a lot of people in 2001 who would never have expected to see Xbox as one of the top two gaming platforms twenty years later.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, studio, and/or publisher. Xbox and all associated properties are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek theory: Q the saviour

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.

Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.

I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.

Q in his judge’s robe.

On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”

The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.

All Good Things saw Q present Picard with another puzzle to solve.

Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?

That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?

Q will soon be returning to Star Trek…

Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?

Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.

The Borg were responsible for the destruction of several Federation colonies in the 2360s.

Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.

Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.

Q was responsible for this encounter.

In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First ContactRegeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.

Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.

A Borg Cube hovering ominously over Earth. The Borg came very close to assimilating humanity’s homeworld.

The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.

This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.

Q appeared in Season 1 of Lower Decks.

And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.

In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.

Q has his reasons for “testing” Picard and humanity – even if he chooses not to explain himself.

Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.

All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.

Q looks annoyed with Picard in the trailer for Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.

Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.

Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.

Did Q save the Federation from assimilation?

What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.

Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.

So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!

The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 0

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Picard Season 1.

Discovery’s fourth season kicks off next week, and if you missed my coverage of the series last year you might not know that I like to write up my theories after each episode has aired. This year I want to get in early and put all of my major pre-season theories into one place… that way we can cross them off as they get debunked – or possibly even confirmed!

Last year I had a lot of fun combing over each episode and trying to speculate and theorise where the story might go. I came up with many theories that were wide of the mark – check out some of my worst ones by clicking or tapping here! – but I did also get some things right.

A Ferengi Starfleet officer glimpsed in the second Season 4 trailer.

It’s important to caveat any list of theories by saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything listed below will happen. Fan theories are a lot of fun for me, but they can also detract from a person’s enjoyment of media if they get too attached to a particular theory that ultimately doesn’t come to pass. If you find yourself in that position, I recommend taking a break from fan theories for a while.

So let’s have a bit of fun and kick off my Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 theories one week early! You might’ve seen some of these already – I’ve written up a few big pre-season theories over the past few months. Let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1: A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin draped with the Federation flag as seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage, and we know Captain Burnham and the crew will be facing a dangerous gravitational anomaly. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Dr McCoy and Sulu playing dead in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Discovery has seen a number of characters leave the series – far more than any past Star Trek show, in fact – but the series’ death toll is still relatively low when compared to many other modern television shows.

There are also a couple of characters whose roles aboard the ship feel in danger – not least of whom is poor ex-Captain Saru, who was rather unceremoniously shuffled out of his role in the Season 3 epilogue. For a full breakdown of which other characters may or may not be in danger, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

Yes, I’m officially bringing this theory back! This is one that I doggedly clung on to for all of Season 3, and while it arguably kind of happened with the Guardian of Forever, that wasn’t really what I meant.

The show’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #3: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair in a promotional image for Season 4.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the differences between these very different individual captains and the way they commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in the first Season 4 trailer.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing, Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #4: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

The Season 3 finale rushed past this point as it had a lot going on, but the revelation that Book – and potentially millions of other people with empathic abilities – can serve in the role of Spore Drive navigator is huge. The technology was previously limited by Stamets being the only one with the ability to interface with the mycelial network, but now that limitation has seemingly been removed.

In a galaxy where dilithium supplies are still low, having a powerful alternative method of propulsion is a godsend for Starfleet, and I would think it would be a priority to start recreating the technology and training up a whole corps of Spore Drive navigators.

Book was able to use the Spore Drive in Season 3 – potentially opening it up for more ships to use.

On the production side of things, this would finally find a proper use for what has been one of Discovery’s more controversial elements. Even after the discovery of the huge dilithium cache in the Verubin Nebula, the vitally-important fuel is still a limited resource. Developing an alternative way for Starfleet ships to get around should still be a priority for the organisation.

This could be a story with real-world parallels, too. Climate change is a very real and very dangerous threat out here in the real world, and finding new, cleaner ways of generating power and fuelling our vehicles is essential. Discovery could use its Spore Drive as an analogy for the development of electric vehicles or renewable energy generation, for example.

Theory #5: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

This is another Season 3 theory that I’m choosing to bring back! The question of who Kovich is and what role he played in Starfleet and the Federation was left open at the end of Season 3, and we know that the character will return in some capacity. As someone who seemed to talk around the issue at hand and not reveal everything he knew, Kovich strikes me as potentially being a Section 31 operative – or even the head of the organisation.

We don’t know yet if the Section 31 series that was announced in 2019 will go ahead as planned. But if it does, there could potentially be a connection between Kovich and Georgiou that would tie the two shows together. Kovich is mysterious enough that his character could be taken in many different directions – but my money’s on Section 31.

Theory #6: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

Admiral Vance first told us of the ban on time travel.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #7: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

HMS Bounty travels through time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak is someone we don’t know yet, but she could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the gravitational anomaly. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #8: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calpyso.

Despite a handful of moments in Season 3 which seemed to connect to Calypso, the story of the season overall ended up going in a very different direction. While we saw a couple of things that arguably did tie in to the Short Treks episode, major things like the USS Discovery undergoing a refit have actually moved the plot even further away.

It’s possible that Calypso will forever remain an outlier in Star Trek’s canon – an episode tied to a vision of Season 2 or Season 3 that was changed before it made it to screen. But earlier in Season 3 it felt like we were getting close to seeing how it could all be tied together – and I’m hopeful that Season 4 will find a way to do so.

Theory #9: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

The Federation is in a weakened state, and even if we see worlds like Ni’Var rejoin the organisation it’s still nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

The USS Discovery arriving at the Verubin Nebula in Season 3.

Season 4 has teased a scientific puzzle – the gravitational anomaly. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #10: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are involved with the gravitational anomaly.

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

Picard Season 1 introduced us to a faction I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” – for their similarity to that video game faction. This race of super-synths existed outside of the Milky Way galaxy and promised to come to the aid of any synthetics who were being persecuted by organics, and Soji and Sutra attempted to contact them in the Season 1 finale.

We don’t know much at all about the super-synths or what their goals or motivations might be. It has to be considered at least possible that the attempted contact by the Coppelius synths set in motion a chain of events that could lead to the super-synths attacking the Milky Way galaxy.

Theory #11: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery en route to the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

Based solely on what we’ve heard about the gravitational anomaly in the trailers and teasers, one thing strikes me as odd. The anomaly appears to be “targetting” the Federation. I put the word in inverted commas because it implies an intelligence at work – someone or something in control of the anomaly, directing it to attack the Federation. But what if that’s actually the case?

I mentioned the super-synths above as one possible culprit, but we could also consider factions like the Borg or the Dominion – they might have taken the opportunity of the Burn to perfect a weapon to destroy the remaining members of the Federation, perhaps as a precursor to invading and conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

A different depiction of the anomaly.

There are also factions like the Kelvan Empire from The Original Series – whose possible return to the Milky Way galaxy lines up in terms of timing. Enterprise’s Sphere Builders also come to mind: they attempted to use their own anomaly-generating devices to convert a region of space to resemble their native realm also as a precursor to invasion.

In short, are we certain that the gravitational anomaly will be nothing more than a natural phenomenon? I’m definitely not convinced of that right now! Past seasons of the show have seen twists and turns, taking stories in unexpected directions. Right now we assume that whatever this anomaly is it’s something natural – but that may not be the case.

Theory #12: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #13: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager was the first Federation starship to explore the Delta Quadrant.

It’s quite possible that Season 4 won’t revisit the Burn narrative in any detail. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered.

Theory #14: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The gravitational anomaly is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

Theory #15: At least one new character will join the main cast.

Lieutenant Detmer in Season 3.

One big question facing the series right now is who will take on the role of Captain Burnham’s first officer? Tilly was seen in the second trailer wearing the blue uniform of the science division, so it seems as though her tenure as the USS Discovery’s number one will be short-lived. So who will replace her? There are several secondary bridge officers like Rhys, Nilsson, and Bryce who are contenders, but it could also be someone like Lieutenant Willa – Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3.

A new character entirely could also join the crew, either directly as Burnham’s XO or to replace someone else who gets promoted to that role. With both Nhan and Georgiou departing in Season 3, and a potentially reduced role for Saru this time around, there’s definitely scope to bring a new major character aboard the ship.

Lieutenant Sahil was commissioned into Starfleet at the end of Season 3.

We could potentially see characters from Season 3 like Lieutenant Sahil or even Aurellio make a comeback. Sahil was the guardian of a Federation relay post who Captain Burnham met at the beginning of the season, and he was commissioned as an officer in the season finale. He would be a great choice in my opinion.

A wholly new character could also be concocted. We know that Federation President Rillak will be new for Season 4, but how significant a role she will have remains to be seen. I definitely feel that there’s scope for at least one new character – or perhaps the promotion of a secondary character to the regular cast.

So that’s it for now! Those are my official Season 4 theories written up and ready to go!

Grudge is also coming back!

The season premiere will arrive in less than a week from now, so stay tuned for a full review of the episode and an update to these theories! I wonder how many will be completely destroyed right off the bat?

I’ve been looking forward to Discovery’s fourth season all year, and it’s hard to believe it’s now only a few days away! I’m hoping to see a season of television that will be tense, exciting, and unpredictable. Despite my love of theory-crafting, I like being wrong just as much as I like being right – if not more! A story that goes in truly unexpected directions is a lot of fun, so I won’t be upset even if absolutely none of my theories come to pass.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 19th of November 2021 on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

New consoles one year later – was it worth it?

It’s been a whole year since the launch of the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5. The consoles debuted a week apart in early November 2020, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by taking a look back on what has to be considered a pretty rough year for both machines.

At time of writing, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are out of stock in the UK – and this has been the case for twelve months. Occasional deliveries of consoles to retailers are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered or are snapped up within minutes of going on sale – often by bots. Availability of the less-powerful Xbox Series S has been spotty, but generally better than its more powerful cousin, which is good news for gamers on a budget. However, availability overall has been poor.

Promotional image of the Xbox Series X.

These aren’t the first machines to launch without the supplies to meet worldwide demand, and it’s likely that they won’t be the last. But as I argued last year, this particular console launch feels far worse and more egregious than practically any other. It’s certainly true that other consoles in the past had supply issues. Getting a Nintendo Wii in the UK in 2006 and into 2007 was difficult, for example. But this feels far worse than that, and when compared to the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2013 it’s pretty damn bad.

As we keep hearing on the news, issues with “supply chains” abound across the world, and this was true a year ago as Microsoft and Sony prepared to launch their new consoles. Many components involved in the manufacture of the machines – from silicon to microprocessors – were feeling the pinch due to a number of factors. The pandemic had hit manufacturers in China and Taiwan hard earlier in 2020, but there were also additional pressures from a growing cryptocurrency mining craze that ate up vast numbers of graphics cards and other components. As a result of all of these factors and more, both the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 launched with far less availability than necessary.

Two PlayStation 5 editions – with and without a disc drive.

Ever since the transition from 2D to 3D, it’s taken game developers a while to truly get to grips with new hardware and release games that can fully take advantage of the computing power on offer. As a result, for at least a couple of years following the launch of a new console many games are in transition – looking slightly better, perhaps, than the prior generation, but still nowhere near as good as they could. With the diminishing returns on offer considering that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 titles could already look decent, many games released for the two new systems over the past year haven’t really felt new or innovative.

This generation, like the one before it really, will almost certainly go down as an iterative step rather than a transformational one. When consoles from the previous generation could knock out visually-stunning titles like Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Ghost of Tsushima, it really feels like there’s limited room for improvement! Put the average player in a room with the best-looking games of the last generation and some of the first titles from this generation and they’d struggle to tell the difference.

Last generation’s Red Dead Redemption II is a stunningly beautiful game with an expansive open world.

There’s a case to be made that Microsoft and Sony should’ve waited. Rather than letting down their audiences by having totally inadequate supplies, if they’d delayed their releases by a year and used that time to build up stock in anticipation of a bigger launch in 2021, we could be talking about the new consoles releasing this month. It’s still possible that they’d both sell out just like last year – but it’s also possible that the extra manufacturing time, without the pressure of fulfilling pre-orders from increasingly irate customers over the past twelve months, would have led to a better launch window for both consoles.

So I guess that’s where I come down on the issue. The consoles were launched callously by both companies without adequate levels of stock to meet the demand that they knew existed. The predictable outcome has been that scalpers and touts have been re-selling consoles all year long for close to double the recommended retail price, lining their own pockets in the process. It seems as though Sony and Microsoft don’t care about this in the slightest, and they’ve been content to leave the problem of bots and reselling to retailers. Some retailers have tried to put in place mechanisms to prevent bots from buying up every available machine, but as we’ve seen all year long these reactions have been more miss than hit.

A handful of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles being offered for sale via a popular auction website. Prices are easily approaching twice the recommended retail price for both machines.

In terms of games, both Microsoft and Sony – as well as practically all third-party developers – have pursued a year-long policy of making titles available on last-gen consoles as well as the two new machines. Only a handful of titles have been true exclusives, with PlayStation games like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal carrying their flag. Microsoft fans have to be content with basically no exclusives right now, with games like Forza Horizon 5 and the upcoming Halo Infinite also launching on PC and Xbox One.

Might there be some buyers’ remorse among PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players? I would think so – especially if they paid over the odds for their console to an eBay scalper. Neither machine feels like particularly good value even at their recommended retail price, let alone at the prices folks have actually had to pay to get their hands on them! The handful of exclusive games are backed up by “enhanced” versions of last-gen titles, but in many cases I’ve genuinely struggled to tell the difference between different consoles’ versions of the same title. The improvements on offer over the past year have come in terms of things like frame rate – jumping to 60fps from 30fps for certain titles – and then in comparatively minor areas like controller battery life. These things are hard sells.

The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller.

There have been some changes over the past year, though. Microsoft’s aggressive pursuit of the Game Pass model represents great value for players on a budget, opening up an entire library of titles for a relatively low monthly fee. Sony still hasn’t caught up and doesn’t have a functional Game Pass competitor yet. Both companies have also made big moves into supporting PC gaming – with games that were once PlayStation exclusives making their way to a new platform. In lieu of having enough PlayStation 5 consoles to sell, perhaps that’s something of a consolation prize for Sony!

Overall, I can’t even be generous enough to call the past year a “mixed bag.” There are far more negatives than positives as I see it, and unless both companies can get to grips with the supply and demand issue, this Christmas will be the second in a row where folks are either going to have to pay silly money for a new console or go without. That isn’t a good look, and the longer these problems drag on the worse it will get for the reputations of both Sony and Microsoft.

Last year I felt that it was wrong to launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X given the low levels of stock and the myriad other issues that a pandemic-riddled world was facing. The past twelve months have done nothing to change my mind or convince me I was wrong about that. Inadequate manufacturing capacity has kept both consoles out of too many players’ hands, and those who did succeed at getting a pre-order – or more likely who paid close to double the price to a scalper – have found a perishingly small number of exclusive games on a machine that doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over the last generation. The Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 have potential – but over the past twelve months, neither have come close to reaching it.

Xbox and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Microsoft. PlayStation and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery – first Season 4 episode titles revealed!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only ten days away! I haven’t seen as much buildup online and on social media from Star Trek and ViacomCBS as happened last year; I think the concurrent broadcast of Prodigy is taking up a lot of time and energy for the franchise’s social media team. Perhaps that’s a lesson for Star Trek to learn going forward – they need to find the right balance of promoting different shows with so many projects on the go simultaneously! As the season approaches, though, I hope to see a bigger and better marketing and promotional push.

Despite all of that, we did get some new information about Discovery Season 4 recently: the first four episode titles! On this occasion I thought it could be fun to take a look at all four and wildly speculate about what they could mean! We might be able to gleam something, after all!

There are also four new photos that have been shown off along with the episode titles – one from each of the first four episodes. So we’ll also look at each of those images in turn to see what might be going on, and to see how it might connect with the episode title!

The USS Discovery in the second Season 4 trailer.

Last season, Discovery was far more generous! We got episode titles for the entire season revealed in advance, as well as short synopses for the first few episodes. That info-dump gave us a lot to mull over as the season approached! However, at the end of Season 3, the final three episode titles were changed at the last minute. Su’Kal was originally going to be titled The Citadel – perhaps a reference to his holographic castle. There Is A Tide was originally going to be titled The Good of the People – which may be a reference to Osyraa and Admiral Vance’s negotiations. And finally That Hope Is You, Part 2 was originally titled Outside – seemingly because Su’Kal would finally get to see the world outside of his holographic realm for the first time.

So don’t consider all of these episode titles to be set in stone! Discovery has a bit of a track record when it comes to making changes on the fly, so it’s possible any of these titles could be changed between now and when they’re broadcast. But for now, let’s take a look at each of the first four episodes in turn and see what we can gleam.

Episode 4×01: Kobayashi Maru

The teaser image.

This is the title that jumped out at me the most – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that! Kobayashi Maru refers to the famous Starfleet Academy test for command cadets, and it’s a no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru test was first seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where we saw Saavik attempt the test. It has been referenced on a handful of occasions in the franchise since, and we got to see Kirk’s famous outside-the-box “solution” in 2009’s Star Trek.

So if Kobayashi Maru is bringing all of this to mind, what might that mean for Captain Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery? Presumably they’re about to encounter their own no-win scenario – but will this be related to the gravitational anomaly? The Kobayashi Maru test doesn’t involve space phenomena, but a battle against enemy starships – so I wonder if the season opener might see Captain Burnham and the crew engage in some kind of battle.

The aftermath of a Kobayashi Maru simulation!

The Kobayashi Maru test was famous for “killing” people – and was a test to see how command candidates handled the ideas of death and losing those under their command. The dark implication from this could be that a member of the crew will be killed; this would be a very bold way to kick off the season.

Fundamentally, the Kobayashi Maru test was designed to put cadets through their paces to see if they were cut out for the rigours of command. Kobayashi Maru will be the first episode of Discovery with Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair, so this could be her trial by fire, and we could learn more about her abilities and perhaps even her limitations as a captain.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair.

Based solely on the title of Episode 2, which we’ll look at momentarily, my suspicion is that Captain Burnham won’t encounter the gravitational anomaly in this episode – or if she does, it will come at the end, perhaps teeing up Episode 2 with a cliffhanger ending. If I’m right about that, something else might be happening to put her command abilities to the test – or to present her with a no-win situation.

Seasons 2 and 3 of Discovery opened strongly, with episodes that did a good job of establishing the main storylines that were to come. Remembrance, the Season 1 premiere of Star Trek: Picard, likewise did a great job in that regard. So I’m optimistic that Discovery Season 4 will open strongly – and based on the title of the premiere episode I’m genuinely interested to see what will happen!

A closer look at President Rillak in the teaser image.

The teaser image, shown above, shows a new character who we know to be Federation President Rillak being applauded by a group of people who are wearing what seems to be a new variant of the 32nd Century Starfleet uniform that debuted last season. She’s standing at a podium looking over her shoulder, perhaps to see some kind of presentation being shown behind her.

My first thought was that the assembled people could be Starfleet cadets – in which case the title Kobayashi Maru might simply refer to Academy cadets taking the actual test. Perhaps Captain Burnham, Saru, or someone else has been working with Starfleet Academy to bring in more officers as the Federation gets back on its feet. In the background of the image I spotted a Ferengi; there was a Ferengi captain seen in the second Season 4 trailer, so this could be the same character. If that character is a captain, perhaps the people in the image aren’t cadets.

Episode 4×02: Anomaly

The episode’s teaser image.

This one has a very simple title – but it’s a title that could open up so many different possibilities! This episode seems almost certain to introduce the gravitational anomaly that the trailers have shown off, so I think we can expect to learn what kind of threat it poses, as well as perhaps seeing Captain Burnham and the crew encounter it for the first time. My suspicion is that the USS Discovery will be the first Federation vessel to make contact with the gravitational anomaly, and will then return to Starfleet with the news, but we’ll see.

The title Anomaly could also have a secondary meaning, such as referring to the anomalous presence of Gray, or to someone acting in an out-of-character manner. Discovery has played with double-meaning episode titles more than once, so I won’t be shocked if there’s a second “anomaly” of some kind that rears its head in this episode!

The USS Discovery approaches the gravitational anomaly.

In the days ahead, before we hit the season premiere, I’ll be writing up all of my big pre-season theories. But if you want to check out my initial thoughts on the gravitational anomaly from when it first appeared in the first Season 4 trailer, you can do so by clicking or tapping here. A few of my ideas about the anomaly and its possible causes are still in play, and even though I think it’s more likely that Discovery will tell a wholly unique story rather than one which connects back to a past iteration of Star Trek, part of me hopes that we might see some kind of connection with the Borg, the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard, or something like that.

The teaser image for Anomaly shows a depressed-looking Book at the console on his ship, being comforted by Michael Burnham. Book has that “thousand-yard stare” that’s often associated with post-traumatic stress. His look could also be one of defeat or even resignation, but clearly something bad has happened.

A closer look at Book’s expression.

Michael Burnham being the one to offer comfort suggests that this is something that hurts Book more than it hurts her, otherwise the roles would either be reversed or we might see them drawing on one another for emotional support and comfort. Book has attachments to his homeworld of Kwejian, the tranceworms, and of course the beautiful cat Grudge. I certainly hope nothing bad has happened to the kitty! As I said in my rather morbid list of death predictions, though, Grudge is kind of the show’s mascot so I don’t expect she’d be in harm’s way.

That leaves Kwejian and the tranceworms as possible candidates; perhaps one or both has suffered due to the gravitational anomaly. Book could also have heard bad news from someone he knew from his time as a courier – perhaps some character we haven’t met yet has been harmed by the gravitational anomaly. It’s also possible that whatever’s happened to Book has nothing to do with the anomaly and that this will be a side-story for him and Burnham.

Grudge made an appearance in the second Season 4 trailer.

The brief glimpses we’ve seen of Book in the trailers didn’t show him sitting around looking sorry for himself, so whatever has happened to him is something he’ll be able to move past – somehow. But clearly at this moment he’s suffering, and it’s sweet to see Burnham being there for him. One of my hopes for the season is that their relationship will remain solid; Burnham has been on a bit of a ride with Ash Tyler, so giving her a settled relationship will be good for her character.

Book’s ship seems largely undamaged in the image, so if it had an encounter with the gravitational anomaly it seems to have survived! The little craft proved its worth in Season 3, saving the USS Discovery, taking Burnham on a side-mission, and later navigating the Verubin Nebula. It would be nice to see more missions involving Book’s ship in Season 4.

Episode 4×03: Choose to Live

Teaser image for Choose to Live.

Choose to Live is a pretty vague-sounding title that could lead to all kinds of different themes and storylines. Obviously Captain Burnham and everyone else involved in the mission to defend against the gravitational anomaly would “choose to live” as opposed to giving up and choosing to just lay down and die! But the phrase implies effort – that choosing to live and tackling the problems in front of them will be a significant challenge for the crew to overcome.

It’s possible that this episode could see some kind of “resurrection” storyline; that someone who was considered to be dead will make a comeback, or that someone will be revived from the brink of death. The second Season 4 trailer showed Michael Burnham in sickbay with a worried-looking Grudge and Book by her side, so perhaps an injury or ailment that she suffered will be part of this episode’s storyline.

Captain Burnham will end up in sickbay… somehow!

The teaser image shows Captain Burnham sitting at a desk across from two characters who I believe are Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina and Federation President Rillak. Admiral Vance is also present, standing to Burnham’s left looking stern. This could be an extension of the scene we saw in the second trailer, where President Rillak appeared to be disciplining Captain Burnham or at least giving her a verbal dressing-down.

The presence of the leader of Ni’Var may suggest that they’re involved in some way, or that Captain Burnham and the crew will be visiting Ni’Var somewhere around this episode. With Ni’Var seemingly on the cusp of rejoining the Federation, this could be a mission connected to that – perhaps some kind of final push to bring Ni’Var back into the fold. Or it could be that Captain Burnham has done something to upset Ni’Var, and that could be the reason why President Rillak seemed to be so upset with her in the trailer.

Federation President Rillak will be a brand-new character in Season 4.

The image places this scene at Federation HQ, and the inclusion of Admiral Vance and President Rillak suggests that this could be a mission briefing or debriefing. Burnham could be telling them about the gravitational anomaly and the damage it’s caused, or they could be telling her about it and ordering her to track it down and learn more about it. Ni’Var has a strong history with science, so perhaps T’Rina is there to offer Ni’Var’s help or even just information.

Captain Burnham looks serious in this image, but I wouldn’t say she looks horribly upset or offended as she might if she were on the receiving end of a three-person attack. This may simply be either the buildup to a mission or Captain Burnham returning to tell the senior figures of her findings.

Episode 4×04: All Is Possible

The episode’s teaser image.

This is another ambiguous title that could lend itself to many different kinds of story. In the context of the gravitational anomaly, this could perhaps be a reference to different possibilities at its event horizon, or how the anomaly itself changes or damages spacetime.

However, my inclination on seeing this title and its teaser image is to say that this might be an episode that sidesteps the main storyline of the season and puts its focus elsewhere. Adira is present in the teaser image alongside Tilly, and one additional storyline that we know will be part of Season 4 is Adira and Gray’s quest to allow Gray to become corporeal again.

Gray and Adira at the end of Season 3. Could this episode be about them?

All Is Possible may mean that there will be a breakthrough in Gray’s visibility – perhaps the scientifically-minded Tilly will be helping Adira with that very problem, and this episode will see some significant advancement. I’m not sure if we’ll see Gray’s visibility definitively settled this early in the season – it feels like a story that could easily rumble along in the background all the way to the season finale. But this episode could be a major step on that journey.

I don’t recognise the location where Tilly and Adira are shown in the image. There seem to be several other Starfleet officers present – all wearing the red uniforms of the command division – so this could be at Federation HQ. It could also be aboard the USS Discovery, but I think the lighting doesn’t look quite right for that; these lights are brighter than the dim lights typically seen aboard the ship. However, one thing I’d like to see this season is some kind of visual changes or upgrades to the USS Discovery internally. Last season saw the ship undergo a major refit – yet that doesn’t seem apparent from its interior! So maybe this is one new area of Discovery that we haven’t seen before.

A closer look at Tilly in the teaser image.

Behind Tilly and Adira we can see some kind of small vessel, but not one I recognise. It’s hard to tell from this angle and with people blocking parts of it, but it almost looks like a circular craft – a kind of flying saucer-type design! It could also be a shuttlecraft or even an escape pod, and it may be entirely unrelated to the plot and just there for set decoration!

Tilly’s smile in the image appears to be genuine, but I’m not convinced about Adira’s! They may be less impressed with whoever they’re listening to – a person who appears to be just out-of-frame. My guess is that they’re having to listen to someone senior – who probably doesn’t know too much about science or engineering – talking to them about a technical topic! Interestingly, Adira and Tilly appear to both hold the rank of lieutenant. Tilly’s promotion was definitely well-earned – but I wonder if Adira somehow skipped being an ensign!

So that’s it.

The new season will be here very soon!

Those are the first four episode titles and teaser images, along with my thoughts and guesses about what might be taking place. As always, I caveat this by letting you know that I have no “insider information” and all of this is pure speculation from a fan of Star Trek – and nothing more! It’s possible – or rather, incredibly likely – that all of this is utterly wrong. But regardless, it was fun to speculate as the new season approaches.

We got a tiny glimpse of the first part of Season 4 today, but I didn’t see anything in the images or episode titles that I felt was a major spoiler. What we got was just a little bit more to sink our teeth into while we wait for the season premiere in just ten days from now! When the season kicks off I hope you’ll join me here on Trekking with Dennis for reviews of each episode, fan theories, analysis, and much more!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Shatner in space

A few months ago I wrote an article about how space exploration has become boring. The title was deliberately provocative, and of course it goes without saying that I’m approaching the subject from the point of view of a layman. But the point I made stands – it’s been a very long time since any mission to space, and even longer since any crewed mission to space, was of anything more than minor interest.

Many space missions in recent years saw unmanned probes launched, satellites placed into orbit, and the only missions with crews aboard visited the International Space Station. The ISS is without doubt an amazing feat of technology and engineering – but after more than two decades of permanent inhabitation, it’s long since lost much of its interest from the point of view of the layman. Scientifically and technologically space continues to be very important, but for me – and many other folks as well – it’s no longer the inspirational, aspirational place it once was.

The International Space Station.

Partly that’s a consequence of the scaled-back nature of crewed missions, the budget cuts space agencies have faced since the end of the Cold War and its associated space race, and perhaps the difficulty, expense, and length of time required to undertake missions to places we’ve never been before. But regardless of the cause, missions to space in the real world have lost much of their lustre over the decades, and no longer feel as special or as interesting as they once did.

But William Shatner’s recent trek to space was different. Even an old cynic like me felt genuine awe and wonder at the idea that Shatner – Captain Kirk himself – was actually going into space. For decades, journeys to space were the exclusive purview of a tiny number of well-trained air force pilots and scientists. Just getting into the astronaut or cosmonaut programmes required either a career as a high-flying ace fighter pilot or a doctorate in a relevant scientific field. There have been attempts to put spaceflight within reach of more people – Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was set to be the first teacher to travel into space. But generally speaking, becoming an astronaut and travelling to space was out of reach for practically all of us.

William Shatner aboard Blue Origin’s NS-18 mission.

People like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have talked in vaguely-defined terms about future missions to space or to Mars that would bring along more civilians and regular folks, but those missions seemed like a long way off. Then came missions in the last couple of years taking paying passengers – but at such a high cost that space felt like a playground for the billionaires’ club and was still beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

William Shatner’s space flight has gone a long way to challenging all of those perceptions. There’s something truly inspirational about the idea of Captain Kirk actually going into space; just writing those words feels incredibly surreal. This character was at the head of a television show and a franchise that, for more than half a century, has done more than any other to inspire people to look to the stars and to look to a future where space travel will be something anyone can participate in. And here he was, actually making that dream a reality in the real world.

Shatner with his crewmates.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Star Trek as an inspirational franchise. Generations of people have watched the series and been inspired by its message, its morals, its optimism, and its technology. The franchise has a track record of bringing its technologies to life – everything from tablet computers, wireless communicators, video calling, and more were “predicted” by Star Trek before becoming a reality. And perhaps that’s what makes William Shatner’s space flight so inspiring – he made the dream of going to space come true as well. There’s hope that, if Captain Kirk can actually travel into space, as Star Trek depicted all those years ago, perhaps the rest of us can too.

Not to be impolite, but at the age of 90, William Shatner isn’t in the prime of his life in terms of his physical condition. He looks great for 90, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a bit of a belly, a few too many wrinkles, and the ever-present toupée! But I’m not here to criticise any of that – because it’s those things that make his journey to space even more astonishing and aspirational. Not only is Captain Kirk himself in space, but here’s someone who’s older than any previous space traveller, who isn’t in the best shape of his life, and yet still it was possible to undertake that incredible journey. By simply being who he is, Shatner has once again inspired millions of folks who might’ve felt space travel was beyond them. Perhaps they felt they were too old, or they have a health condition, or something else. But seeing William Shatner at age 90 boarding that rocket and floating around up in space demonstrates to all of us that such a journey might be possible after all.

William Shatner and his crewmates boarding their spacecraft.

To me, that’s the success of this latest mission to space. For the first time in a very long time, a crewed space mission managed to get me genuinely excited and emotional; I felt I was sharing that moment with William Shatner and the others aboard the rocket. His sense of awe and wonder was so genuine, and the way he spoke and conveyed how it felt was passionate and beautiful.

There are still issues with space travel. The fact that it costs such an insane amount of money is going to be a barrier for a lot of people. But that was true of many inventions from the motor car to the aeroplane, and now those methods of travel are available to many more people than they were when they were first invented.

The idea that Captain Kirk could actually go into space has captured the public imagination in a unique way.

It feels like we’re on the cusp of a new age of space exploration. No longer will space be the exclusive realm of government-funded agencies, gated off to all but a select few people who were privileged enough to be able to head down the perfect career path. Commercial spaceflight has the potential to open up space to untold millions of people – and not just for short fun jaunts either. Orbital hotels, moon colonies, the exploration of Mars, and so many more things all feel one step closer today than they did just a few short weeks ago. That isn’t William Shatner’s doing – Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other companies have been building up to this moment for years. But once again, William Shatner brought space to the fore and captured the public’s imagination in a way that only he could.

I have no time for the naysayers. Prince William, one of the last wriggling vestiges of a dying aristocratic elite, had the audacity to criticise Shatner’s spaceflight shortly after he returned to Earth, saying that we should focus our energies on fixing climate change, not racing to colonise new worlds. But why can’t we do both? And not only that, but there’s more to fighting climate change than getting to the precious “net zero” that seems to be the fetish of our current crop of leaders. Space can offer solutions – harvesting solar energy, for example, capturing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere, or even building solar shades to shield parts of the Arctic and Antarctic are among many hypothetical ways that missions in space could have a real-world impact. And for all of the criticisms I made earlier of space exploration and missions to the ISS feeling boring from the layman’s perspective, the scientific advances they provide have already made an impact here on Earth.

William Shatner looking down at Earth from space.

For the first time in a very long time, a real-life mission to space managed to capture my attention – and showed off to millions of people that the dream of space travel, embodied by television franchises like Star Trek, hasn’t died. There’s the real and genuine potential to repeat this feat, and as technology continues to improve and costs come down, maybe spaceflight will be within reach of the average person sooner than we might expect.

All William Shatner did was accept an invitation and take his seat. But that simple act, and the wonderful reaction he had to it, was life-changing – and not just for the man himself. Just as he did in the 1960s when he commanded the starship Enterprise, William Shatner has once again inspired people all over the world, showing us that it isn’t futile to look to the stars.

Some images used above courtesy of Blue Origin via YouTube. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What a Wicked-ly good idea for a film!

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Wicked.

It’s just been announced that the popular musical Wicked is getting a film adaptation – and I think that sounds like a brilliant idea! Wicked is exactly the kind of musical that should make for a wonderful work of cinema, and it’s amazing in a way that it’s only now, almost twenty years since it made its Broadway debut, that a film adaptation has been greenlit. You’d think it might’ve happened sooner!

I was very fortunate to see Wicked when it came to London’s West End (the name for the city’s theatre district) in 2006. Idina Menzel – better known in recent years for her role as Elsa in Frozen and Frozen II – played the lead role, and I feel incredibly lucky to have seen her perform live. There’s something about seeing a musical like Wicked on the stage that really elevates it and makes it incredibly memorable – I miss being able to go to the theatre far more than I miss the cinema sometimes.

Idina Menzel in 2007’s Enchanted. She played the role of Elphaba in Wicked on the stage.

We can’t talk about Wicked without at least acknowledging its popular progenitor: the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum’s series of children’s books about Oz had been popular in the early part of the 20th Century, but the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is still what most people bring to mind first when they think about the fantasy setting. The film is an icon of cinema, and is responsible not only for the continued popularity of the setting, but was also hugely influential in the creation of the 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – upon which the popular musical is loosely based.

If you’re interested in a novel about existentialism and that deals with adult themes like cruelty and the treatment of people who are perceived as “different,” then check out Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a difficult, dense, and occasionally harrowing read – one that’s very different in many ways from the musical that it inspired. But it’s a fascinating look at the concept of a genuine outsider – and takes the Wicked Witch (who its author names Elphaba, in honour of L. Frank Baum) to completely different thematic places. Far from being a one-dimensional cackling villain, she’s given nuance and understandable motivations for behaving the way she does.

Cover for the 25th anniversary edition of the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I came to the book after having seen the musical – I believe I bought my copy then and there in the theatre – and I was genuinely shocked at the complex themes and adult tone. Wicked is a beautiful musical, but many of the novel’s subtler themes are lost amidst the glitz, glamour, and greasepaint of the stage production.

Given today’s entertainment and media landscape, I feel all but certain that the film adaptation of Wicked will touch on these darker themes. An examination of what it means to be looked down on, mistreated, and pushed to breaking point are all themes which the novel encourages readers to consider, and while they may have felt too dark for a stage play in 2003, for a film in 2021 they feel pitch-perfect. Audiences have come to expect dark deconstructions of classics – and Wicked absolutely fits that mould.

Advertisement for Wicked outside the Apollo Victoria theatre in London circa 2006.
Photo Credit: Trekking with Dennis.

Wicked can also be seen to follow on from Disney productions like Maleficent and Cruella as a film that will make the villain its star. The Wicked Witch of the West is most famous for her villainous role in The Wizard of Oz, but Wicked puts her centre-stage and tells her story through a generally sympathetic – or at least understandable – presentation. It’s a deliberate twist on The Wizard of Oz, flipping the script to show heroes as villains, villains as heroes, and the grubby shades of grey in between both.

Nuance, shades of grey, and supposedly-realistic depictions of individuals are what has driven modern cinema – and modern entertainment in general. Audiences don’t want or expect to see “boring” heroes who are totally perfect and virtuous, nor villains who are purely evil for the sake of it. The ideas that there are two sides to a story, and that which side we root for is entirely dependent on who’s telling the story, are intrinsic to the source material of Wicked – and I’m sure that’s one of the most appealing things about the project to its writers, producers, and director.

Elphaba and Glinda from the London stage musical.
Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

The film adaptation will be a musical, so we can expect at least some of the stage production’s classic hits to reappear. Defying Gravity is the show’s standout song, and it closes the first act in the theatre. Encapsulating a sense of individualism, self-reliance, and of course defiance, the powerful ballad sees the Wicked Witch set her choice in stone and fully commit to her rebellion against the Wizard.

Seeing Defying Gravity performed live is something I’ll never forget, and perhaps some folks will say that no cinematic adaptation of that scene could ever live up to its stage equivalent. But I’m more than willing to give it a chance – today’s cinematic visual effects are improving in leaps and bounds, and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what a film with a big budget can make of that exceptional moment.

Defying Gravity performed in London.
Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

There can be a snobbishness to stage productions and the theatre, and perhaps this should be a longer discussion on another occasion. But as someone whose disability now precludes theatre visits, I get sick to the back teeth of hearing that a stage production is “irreplaceable” and that “one simply must see a production live” to get the best effect. The theatre has been beyond the reach of many people – physically and financially – for a long time, and there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with cinematic adaptations. If anything, Wicked will reach far more people in the weekend after its release as a film than the stage production has been able to in almost twenty years – and bringing such a powerful and beautiful production to more people and spreading art around should be celebrated, not denigrated.

But we’re drifting off-topic, and that discussion may be best saved for a longer article on another occasion.

There have been a number of attempts over the years to return cinema-goers to the Land of Oz. 1985’s Return to Oz was a financial flop – albeit one that has since picked up a bit of a cult following. I personally enjoyed what 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful brought to the table, and that film fared significantly better in financial terms – but wasn’t much of a hit with critics and reviewers. But no title since The Wizard of Oz can be said to have truly succeeded at bringing in audiences to the Land of Oz; Universal Pictures and director John M. Chu are clearly hoping to change that.

Mila Kunis and James Franco starred in Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013.

Wicked will have a lot of buzz around it simply because of the success of the musical. The stage production is one of the most successful musicals of all time, and aside from closures due to the pandemic has been running continuously since its 2003 inception. A lot of fans of the stage musical – myself included – will be very curious to see what the film adaptation will bring to the table.

The casting of pop music superstar Ariana Grande as Glinda and Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba has also raised a lot of interest. Grande’s name in particular will be a big draw, and while I’m not terribly familiar with her acting work there’s no denying she’s an incredible talent when it comes to singing.

Ariana Grande will star in Wicked.
Picture Credit: Ariana Grande via Instagram.

Wicked is one of those projects that you almost feel should have been made already! The source material – both the book and musical – are so great and so genuinely different that it seems like a no-brainer. Apparently the project has been kicked around for some time, languishing for a while in the dreaded “development hell” before being officially greenlit. But now that it’s official, I think it’s absolutely something to look forward to.

There have been some high-profile musical misses in recent years. 2019’s Cats adaptation shows just how badly wrong a film can go, and also proves that big names are no guarantee of success. Cats should be a warning to the producers of Wicked – and a warning to anyone involved in cinema in general, but that’s beside the point! As long as Wicked can avoid the numerous problems and pitfalls which befell Cats… actually scratch that, it’s too low of a bar. Let’s just say that I hope Wicked will be a success!

So that’s all, really. The film is in pre-production and we won’t see it any time soon. But it’s one to keep an eye on – I think it has a lot of potential.

The novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is the copyright of Gregory Maguire and/or HarperCollins. The musical Wicked – including its songs Defying Gravity et al. – is the copyright of Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman. The film adaptation of Wicked is the copyright of Universal Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Introducing… Trekking with Dennis!

Starting today, this website has a new name! There’s also a new URL to match, so be sure to update your bookmarks! From now on, you’ll be able to find me here: https://www.trekkingwithdennis.com/

Why the change of name and branding? That’s a great question, and I’d like to take a moment to address this.

When I began working on the project that would ultimately become this website in the autumn of 2019, the name was one of the last things I settled on. And almost from the beginning I wasn’t thrilled with the name that I chose. The original light-hearted intention was that the website’s content would be akin to reading something that your proverbial “Crazy Uncle” might’ve said; sharing rambling opinions on geeky entertainment topics.

Making the website’s name a bit of a joke was, in retrospect, a mistake. It wasn’t the worst name I could’ve chosen, but I’ve had regrets about it almost from the moment the website went live.

Then there are the two constituent parts of the old name. “Crazy” is a term that many people have used to describe me in the past. I have mental health issues, and I’ve been up front about that on a number of occasions. In a way, I kind of felt as though I was reclaiming the word from critics by using it here, but on reflection I’m not sure that’s the way it comes across. The word “crazy” has been used for a long time to malign and marginalise people with mental health issues, and I don’t want to contribute to that in any way.

While I had good intentions with the use of the word, I now consider its usage here over the past couple of years to have been a mistake. Rather than compounding that mistake by doubling down, I’m choosing to drop the word “crazy” from the website’s name entirely.

Then we have the word “uncle.” As I’ve been exploring my own gender identity over the past few years, I’ve accepted myself for who I am: I’m non-binary. Masculine words and terms have no place here, because I’m not male. As I’ve explored more of what it means to be non-binary and to not be male, I’ve become more confident with my own gender identity and my gender expression. Dropping a masculine-sounding noun just makes sense for me now. As we approach 2022, I want my website to better reflect the person I am and the person I’ve become over the last few years; keeping such a masculine title has felt wrong for some time and I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with it.

So from now on, your favourite(!) website will be known as Trekking with Dennis.

Obviously I chose the first part of this new name based on my love of the Star Trek franchise, not because I’ve suddenly become a long-distance hiker! Star Trek has been a huge part of the website and will continue to be a major focus as we move forward, but I will of course continue to talk about other topics as well. I’m not just a one-trick pony, after all! And if past precedent is anything to go by, some of the most popular articles and columns that I’ve written have been about subjects other than Star Trek!

The old URL – https://www.crazyuncledennis.com/ – will continue to work in the short term, simply redirecting you here, but by the end of 2022 at the very latest it will most likely be permanently shut down. So there’s time for everyone to update their bookmarks and for Google’s web-bots to find the new address and start their trawling!

Thank you for your support over the past couple of years. The website has grown to become so much bigger than I ever expected, and I’m having a great time writing about some of the franchises and subjects that I love and that I find the most interesting. I hope you’ll enjoy Trekking with Dennis as much as you enjoyed Crazy Uncle Dennis.

Here’s to moving forward!

Dennis

5th November 2021

Captain Proton? No thanks…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and Star Trek: Voyager.

There have been a number of interesting-sounding pitches and concepts over the years for potential Star Trek series and feature films, and we recently looked at the possibility of a Starfleet Academy series. That sounds like something with potential, and you can check out my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.

But not all Star Trek pitches are created equal, and another potential series has been touted in the last few months by former Star Trek: Voyager actor and director Robert Duncan McNeill. He recently confirmed on social media that he’s pitched a Captain Proton show to ViacomCBS, though details about what the potential project would entail are light. Having touched on this idea on a couple of occasions in other contexts, I wanted to give the pitch more of an airing and put my thoughts in order.

A Captain Proton show has been proposed.

You’ve probably already figured out from the title of this piece where I come down on a Captain Proton show: I’m not in favour of it and I can’t really see a way to bring it to screen successfully. I’d even go so far as to say that I highly doubt ViacomCBS will consider this pitch for very long, despite the known name attached to it, and though there are a few reasons why – which we’ll go into detail about – it boils down to one simple question for Trekkies. And here it is:

Out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of?

There are many characters, locations, starships, and themes that the franchise could return to one day. Off the top of my head here are five: a visit to the Enterprise era to see more of the Federation’s early years, the return of Benjamin Sisko from the realm of the Prophets, Neelix’s adventures at the Talaxian colony, Pavel Chekov’s days as an admiral or elder statesman, and John Harriman’s missions as captain of the Enterprise-B.

Maybe one day…

You can probably think of dozens more; characters and concepts that the Star Trek franchise could happily revisit. I would bet actual money that, for 99% of Trekkies, Captain Proton wouldn’t even enter the top fifty on their lists of things that they’d be interested in returning to. And I’m in that same boat. The ten Voyager episodes which either featured or made reference to Captain Proton were fun – but the concept is simply not strong enough nor memorable enough to carry an entire series on its own.

I like retro sci-fi – the likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and other older shows and films from long before Star Trek: The Original Series was even conceived are what Captain Proton paid homage to and gently parodied so well in Voyager. As one element of a larger series, a series with a much bigger picture and broader scope, Captain Proton worked. It slotted in well and gave the cast something different to do – and a chance to really ham it up and over-act.

Captain Proton was a pastiche of classic sci-fi films and serials like Flash Gordon.

But that’s the nicest thing I can say about the Captain Proton stories and sequences that we saw in Voyager. Out of that show’s 170 episodes, Captain Proton is far from being the most memorable aspect even among stories set on the holodeck; I’d go so far as to suggest that the Irish village featured in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk left more of a lasting impression. Those episodes certainly had far more depth than any Captain Proton story.

There’s a lot that we aren’t privy to when it comes to the recent Captain Proton pitch. Is it intended to be a 1930s-inspired black-and-white series, featuring the cardboard sets and overacting we’d expect from such a sci-fi serial? If the show wants to be purely about Captain Proton, either treating him as if he were real or showing us as the audience a kind of “show-within-a-show” look at Captain Proton through the eyes of a holodeck audience, then it has to be considered dead on arrival. A retro-inspired sci-fi aesthetic might be cool, but every other aspect of such a show would feel so terribly out-of-date that it would become a laughing stock.

A laughing stock indeed…

On the other hand, if the Captain Proton series is actually intended to be a look at Tom Paris as he writes new Captain Proton holo-novels years after the USS Voyager returned to Earth, then perhaps there’s a bit more meat there; more of an actual concept with the potential for characterisation and drama.

I’m still not sure that it would work, but at least the latter concept has a bit more going for it. Firstly, it could be developed as a tie-in or crossover with Star Trek: Picard – or any other show or film set in that era. With Seven of Nine now a regular member of the Picard cast, the potential for a reunion with Tom Paris and perhaps B’Elanna Torres as well would be of some interest. Paris and Seven didn’t have a lot to do together during Voyager’s run, but Seven clashed frequently with B’Elanna, especially during her first year or so aboard the ship. There’s potential, perhaps, to revisit that relationship and see how things have evolved over the years – we know from Picard Season 1 that Seven of Nine has changed and become far more human in that time.

Seven of Nine has returned in Star Trek: Picard.

But I think that’s about as far as a Captain Proton show could go, and I don’t think we necessarily need a standalone project in order to bring back characters like Tom and B’Elanna. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the best fit for Picard, but they could certainly make an appearance in a future episode or film. Tom Paris has already had a cameo in Lower Decks, and while that was a bit of a nothing-burger from my perspective, I’m not totally against the idea of the character making future appearances in Lower Decks or any other Star Trek project.

When Michael Dorn revealed he’d pitched a Captain Worf series a while ago, I felt that the character might not be strong and well-rounded enough to carry an entire series on his own. And unfortunately Tom Paris is in that same category. Paris was an excellent character, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed what he brought to Voyager. But he was frequently used as comic relief – making a joke to lighten the mood in a tense situation. The spotlight episodes he got showed off the altruistic side of his personality, his love of retro things, and his piloting skills. And we also got to see his relationship with B’Elanna develop over the show’s run.

B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris eventually got married.

Tom Paris is far from one-dimensional. But he’s also not the kind of character who could easily play the main role – and if the intention behind this pitch is to create a Tom Paris series I fear it would end up meeting the same fate as Joey, the short-lived spin-off from popular sitcom Friends.

Tom Paris has a satisfying character arc already. Voyager began with him at rock bottom – a prisoner and an abject failure. He failed as a Starfleet officer, then failed on his first mission as a member of the Maquis. Out of everyone on Captain Janeway’s crew, Paris had the least to lose and the most to gain after getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but even so he rose to the occasion to become a dependable and honourable member of the crew, quite literally guiding the ship home.