Should Discovery have always been set after Nemesis?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Prodigy.

In 2017, Star Trek returned to the small screen after a twelve-year break. Star Trek: Discovery picked up the baton for the long-running franchise, and thanks in part to a deal with Netflix, scored a decently high budget for its first season. Bryan Fuller, who had written and produced a number of episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, initially spearheaded the project, and it was on his stories and ideas that the show’s characters, story arcs, and settings were based – even though he stopped working on the show while it was still in early production.

Discovery proved controversial in some corners of the Star Trek fan community right from the start, and today I want to consider one of the reasons why that was the case. In addition, I want to ask a deceptively simple set of questions: should Star Trek: Discovery have left the 23rd Century alone? Would the show have been better-received by fans, and won more support, if it had been set after the events of Nemesis instead of a decade before The Original Series? Would fans have found things to pick on and argue about anyway? Was Discovery’s setting in its first two seasons a net positive, negative, or something mixed for the show? And did sending the ship and crew into the far future at the end of Season 2 come as a tacit admission from the producers and showrunners that Discovery should never have been set in the 23rd Century to begin with?

The first glimpse fans caught of the USS Discovery in a 2016 teaser.

Before we go any further, a few important caveats. This is a controversial topic; Discovery elicits strong opinions from fans on both sides of the debate. The fact that we’re considering, hypothetically, whether Discovery might’ve been a better show – or might’ve been received with less hostility by fans – had it employed a different setting doesn’t mean it’s a perfect idea that would’ve massively improved its first two seasons. Regular readers will know that I’m a Discovery fan not a hater; while there are areas where the show could improve, generally I like and support it and I’m glad to have it as part of the broader Star Trek franchise.

Secondly, these are just the subjective thoughts of one person. I’m not trying to claim that I’m right and that’s the end of the affair! Other folks can and will have different opinions – and that’s okay! There’s room enough within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussion and disagreement.

Finally, I’m not trying to attack Discovery, nor any of the creative team, actors, or those involved in its production. This is a thought experiment; a hypothetical question to consider what Discovery – and the wider Star Trek franchise – might have looked like if different decisions had been taken at a very early stage.

Behind the scenes during production on Discovery Season 1.

First of all, let’s consider some of the arguments and points of contention. By deliberately choosing a setting ten years before the events of The Original Series, Discovery ran into some issues with Star Trek’s internal canon. Some of these points matter far more than others, and I tend to take a somewhat nuanced approach to canon. I’m not a “purist,” claiming that the tiniest minutiae of canon must be “respected” at all costs – but at the same time, I believe that the world of Star Trek needs to be basically internally consistent. Internal consistency is the foundation of suspension of disbelief, and messing too much with established canon can, in some circumstances, be to the detriment of a story.

Is that what happened with Discovery, though?

We can set aside arguments about aesthetic elements like uniforms, starship designs, and even special effects. To me, none of those things are relevant, and all that’s necessary to overcome those hurdles is to say that, much like out here in the real world, things like design, fashion, etc. are always changing. Who’s to say that the look of the 2260s wouldn’t be radically different from the 2250s? Considering that there have been leaps and bounds in visual effects, CGI, and cinematography since The Original Series aired, it would be profoundly odd for Discovery to have tried to emulate that 1960s style.

I don’t think anyone seriously wanted or expected Discovery to use this particular look!

So I’m content to put visual style to one side. But there are other elements of canon that the show arguably stumbled over in its first two seasons. The biggest issue that I can see is the USS Discovery’s spore drive – a brand-new piece of technology that had never been seen or heard of in Star Trek before.

The spore drive effectively made warp drive obsolete, and considering that the show was set a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission – and more than a century before The Next Generation era – that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, the spore drive was a classified piece of kit, and across Season 1 we came to see some pretty serious drawbacks, but such a phenomenally useful technology isn’t something Starfleet would simply abandon – or so fans believed. Even if the spore drive had issues, it was such a game-changing piece of technology that persevering and working through those problems would almost certainly be worthwhile.

The USS Discovery in Season 1.

As Season 1 demonstrated, the spore drive’s military applications were incredible. The USS Discovery could jump around a Klingon vessel with ease, basically becoming invulnerable, and the spore drive could be used for rapid hit-and-run attacks, destroying enemy ships before they even had a chance to register what was happening. And for an exploration-focused organisation, the spore drive opened up the entire galaxy, allowing distant worlds to be visited at a moment’s notice. Planets that were decades away from Federation space by warp drive could be hopped to in an instant, and then the USS Discovery and her crew could be back home in time for tea! We saw this in Season 2, with planets like Terralysium able to be visited easily with a single spore jump – instead of the decades of warp travel that would have normally been required.

To the show’s credit, Discovery found uses for the spore drive in this period – but I confess that I found the spore drive to be a gimmick, one that had been clearly and pretty obviously designed to allow the ship to travel to the Mirror Universe in Season 1. In fact, it’s the Mirror Universe – and more specifically, the idea of having an impostor from that parallel world who was trying to blend in and find a way home – that I would argue led to many of the decisions in Discovery’s early production.

Having a Terran character was clearly important to Discovery’s creative team when building the story of Season 1.

Choosing a Mirror Universe character in Captain Lorca arguably determined when Discovery would need to be set. In order for Lorca to be a soldier of the Terran Empire, Discovery would have to be set in an era where the Terran Empire existed – and as Mirror Universe stories in Deep Space Nine categorically established that the Terran Empire had long since fallen by the 24th Century, in order to return to that setting, stepping back to the 23rd Century was required. If having a Terran impostor was one of the first narrative beats written for the season – and I believe it was – then many other elements of the show had to be built around that, including its 23rd Century setting.

As an aside, I would say that the Mirror Universe really isn’t worth all this fuss and bother! It’s a bit of fun for occasional, one-off stories in longer, more episodic seasons, but building an entire story around the Mirror Universe and Terran characters was probably Discovery’s first mistake. This is a setting that easily falls into overacting and pantomime, with one-dimensional villains who love murder, torture, and murderous torture all for their own sake. There’s very little room for manoeuvre in the Mirror Universe, and as we’ve seen in Discovery – and in past iterations of Star Trek too, to be fair – it can trick even competent actors into putting out incredibly over-the-top, hammy performances.

This is what we’d call “a case in point.”

But that’s my own personal lack of interest in the Mirror Universe showing through, I suppose!

When Star Trek: Picard’s second season premiered, I think it brought to the table something incredibly interesting that’s relevant to this conversation: the Confederation timeline. The Confederation wasn’t the Terran Empire, and its setting wasn’t the Mirror Universe, yet it borrowed a lot from that setting both thematically and stylistically. An authoritarian, fascist dystopia was on full display – and it was in the late 24th/early 25th Century, and managed to be there without treading on the toes of anything that had been previously set up in past iterations of the franchise.

Although the Confederation timeline story was a bit of a misfire in Picard, I think it stands as testament to what’s possible with a little creative thinking. Star Trek doesn’t have to keep going back to the same previously-established time periods and settings, and even in those that are superficially similar, new and different creations can be brought to the screen. Very few things in Discovery would have needed to change had the show’s first season adopted a setting inspired by the Mirror Universe instead of lifting it directly from The Original Series.

The Confederation timeline established in Picard Season 2 shows how a new Mirror Universe-inspired setting could work.

And that statement could apply to other elements of the show’s production as well. The idea of a protagonist who was human but raised by Vulcans is a fun and interesting one, a character type that was new to Star Trek – if we don’t count the PC game Hidden Evil, that is! What would have changed about Michael Burnham had her adoptive parents not been Sarek and Amanda but two new Vulcan characters?

Spock’s family is something that Star Trek has messed about with more than once! We could even argue that, as far back as Journey to Babel, it was nonsensical to suggest that Spock’s connection to Sarek would be something that Captain Kirk would have been unaware of. But setting that aside, the film The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned. Adding Michael Burnham to his family felt, to some fans at least, like yet another retcon; an addition that certainly came very close to treading on the toes of Star Trek’s past because of how closely it involved a very familiar character.

The decision to make Michael Burnham Spock’s adopted sister was criticised in some quarters.

It was clear that Discovery’s writers and creators wanted to tie the show to past iterations of Star Trek, but rather than coming across as respectful homage, some of these decisions felt nakedly commercial – it was as if CBS didn’t trust the Star Trek brand to stand on its own without myriad references and close connections to its earlier iterations. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans, and when Spock had already had a missing half-brother, giving him an adopted sister who he’d also never mentioned began to feel gratuitous.

And for a lot of folks, it came back to that same argument: what would change about this new character if her parents were inspired by Sarek and Spock’s family? The introduction of Spock in Season 2 definitely shook things up in that regard, but by then a lot of the damage had been done and some fans had already decided not to tune in.

Sarek and Amanda in Season 2.

Going all the way back to The Next Generation’s creation in 1987, Star Trek had struck out in bold new directions and tried to do things differently. Every Star Trek show prior to Discovery had cameo appearances, name-checks, and even character crossovers in some episodes, but by and large, the franchise’s different shows stood up by themselves. Would The Next Generation have been improved if the captain of the Enterprise-D had been Kirk’s grandson, for instance? I don’t think anyone would make that case – the show needed the freedom to do its own thing away from those familiar characters. And while Deep Space Nine’s premiere, Emissary, brought Captain Picard on board, thereafter the new series also struck out on its own – as did Voyager and Enterprise when they came along.

For some fans, Discovery crossed a line between finding a connection to what had come before and using it as a crutch, and where past iterations of the Star Trek franchise had been connected to one another through common themes, locales, and even characters, none had ever gone back to retroactively change so many different things as Discovery. Coming off the back of the three Kelvin timeline films – which were also controversial in some quarters because they had re-cast the characters from The Original Series – that felt like a bridge too far for some folks.

A promo photo for Season 1 showing most of the main cast.

Retcons can happen in any franchise, but it’s not unfair to say that some work better than others. Prequels almost always end up bringing more retcons to the table than sequels do, and when we’re talking about a universe that was over fifty years old and had more than 700 stories under its belt at the time Discovery premiered, for a lot of fans, those retcons to Star Trek’s past were too unpalatable.

The Star Trek franchise, much more so than Star Wars, has always felt like it was looking forwards and to the future rather than backwards at its own past. But by 2017, there hadn’t been any Star Trek stories that moved the overall timeline of the franchise forwards in fifteen years. Aside from a short sequence in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film (which told us of the destruction of Romulus), everything that the franchise had done since Nemesis and Voyager’s finale had been a prequel.

By 2017, everything Star Trek had done for fifteen years was a prequel or reboot.

After Enterprise had underperformed and the franchise faced cancellation, the Kelvin timeline came along and rebooted things. But both projects proved to be controversial in some quarters – fans were clearly less keen on a prequel show, as Enterprise’s viewing figures demonstrated. And while the Kelvin films were successful with general audiences at the cinema, there were many Trekkies who were unimpressed with the new action-oriented approach and the decision to recast fan-favourite characters.

Along came Discovery – and it incorporated many of the same issues. Here was another prequel, another Star Trek project that was stepping back in time and not taking the opportunity to pick up the story of the Star Trek universe that had come to an abrupt halt with Nemesis. And not only that, but it then emerged that the show’s protagonist would be a hitherto-unknown relative of one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters – a character whose history and family had already been messed with on more than one occasion.

Spock in The Original Series Season 1.

In 2016, I recall making the facetious point that Discovery seemed to be combining everything that Trekkies didn’t like: a plot point from The Final Frontier – which is widely regarded as one of the least-successful Star Trek films, a prequel setting like in Enterprise – which had demonstrably been the least-successful Star Trek series, and both an aesthetic and action focus that were borrowed from the Kelvin timeline films – films which weren’t popular with a lot of fans. That was a joke; some black humour as we looked ahead to the show and as news was trickling out. But I think that it encapsulates how many fans were feeling at the time.

More than anything, I wanted to see Star Trek move forwards again. Despite knowing a number of Trekkies who either hated or outright refused to watch the Kelvin timeline films, I felt that they were decent additions to the franchise. But if Star Trek was to return to both the small screen and the prime timeline, my preference in 2016-17 would have been for a new show to pick up the story in the years after Nemesis, not another prequel set before the events of The Original Series.

Cadet Tilly in a pre-release promotional image.

Discovery’s prequel setting quickly became a weight around its neck; a barrier that didn’t stop the excitement from building, but that certainly slowed it down. On the one hand, the show’s writers and creative team were constrained by more than 600 stories that were set after Discovery, and on the other, everything that they tried to do that was new or different was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism by fans. There was no way to win – either the show would have to tell less-interesting stories as a result of being cornered by canon, or it would be nitpicked to death by fans who felt it was overstepping its bounds and treading on the toes of stories that had already been told.

Had Discovery’s first season been set in the same time period as Star Trek: Picard later was – the late 24th Century or early 25th Century – a lot of those issues would have disappeared. The spore drive could be Starfleet’s new initiative, with its potential unlimited and the genuine possibility of this interesting piece of technology going on to become the Federation’s new way of getting around. We knew, even before a single minute of Discovery had aired, that the spore drive wouldn’t take off in the 23rd Century – because if it had, all of Star Trek wouldn’t be able to exist as depicted. A post-Nemesis setting would have completely negated that issue.

The spore drive was a controversial inclusion in Discovery’s first season.

Then there was the question of character. Michael Burnham could have been exactly the same person – a human raised by Vulcans with Vulcan instincts. But instead of being the second addition to Spock’s increasingly soap opera-like family, her adoptive parents could have been new characters who were inspired by characters from Star Trek’s past, or even Vulcan characters from the 24th Century that we’d met before if an overt connection was deemed necessary. The war with the Klingons could have broken out in much the same way as we saw on screen – all it would have taken is a brief word of explanation saying that the Klingon-Federation alliance of the late 24th Century had broken down in the intervening years.

Star Trek had an opportunity to advance its timeline, and to take into account events like the Romulan supernova. With relatively few changes to how the story of Season 1 played out, it could be the Romulans, not the Klingons, who went to war with Starfleet. Or it could have been that the Klingons wanted to reassert themselves in the aftermath of the Romulan catastrophe, perhaps seizing former Romulan territory as their empire collapsed. And the idea of having an impostor as the ship’s captain – someone from an alternate reality – could have also been made to fit without returning to the Mirror Universe.

Captain Lorca turned out to be from the Mirror Universe.

Discovery could, for example, have taken the idea of a more militaristic Starfleet that had been seen in the Kelvin timeline in Into Darkness as a starting point, and said that the Kelvin timeline would develop into the same kind of dystopian setting as the Mirror Universe. Captain Lorca could have originated from a late 24th Century Kelvin timeline, from a Federation that was much more authoritarian in nature. That would have tied together the two most recent parts of the Star Trek franchise while still leaving open the possibility of a fourth Kelvin film starring the reboot cast.

In short, there were plenty of ways that Bryan Fuller’s initial concepts and ideas could have been made to fit a post-Nemesis setting rather than a pre-The Original Series one. Some changes are bigger than others, and in hindsight we now know that we’d miss out on the recasting of Captain Pike and Spock that paved the way for Strange New Worlds… but at the time, without that foreknowledge, I really do believe that it would have been worth considering.

Star Trek: Discovery creator Bryan Fuller.
Image Credit: StarTrek.com

Season 2, which focused on the Control AI, could have also been a good fit for a late 24th/early 25th Century setting. In fact, I doubt I’d be the only one to suggest that the Control story might’ve been a better fit for that time period! This idea of essentially a rogue supercomputer is one that Star Trek has tackled before, with episodes like The Ultimate Computer and even some of the stories about Lore in The Next Generation. Control’s schemes could have absolutely worked in a post-Lore environment.

I’ve talked before about how the Control storyline in Season 2 felt like a potential Borg origin story – or at least a story with superficial Borg similarities. Because of Discovery’s place in the timeline, those references were only ever tiny little hints to us as the audience; no one within the show could say “hey, this looks an awful lot like Borg assimilation” because none of them knew who the Borg were at that point. But if the story had been set in that post-Nemesis era, the similarities between Control and the Borg could have been made more overt – even if a full “Starfleet accidentally created the Borg” story had been taken off the table.

Captain Leland was “assimilated” by the Control AI in Season 2.

At the end of the day, though, Discovery wasn’t only controversial because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, and while replacing its 23rd Century setting would have blunted some points of criticism, fans would have found others. Things like the redesign of the Klingons, the more action-heavy storyline, the show’s shorter serialised seasons and more would all remain, and a potential post-Nemesis setting would’ve probably thrown up a bunch of new things for people to pick on, too.

In hindsight, we now know that if Discovery had been set in the years after Nemesis, we’d have missed out on Strange New Worlds – a show that I’d argue is probably the high-water mark of modern Star Trek, at least at time of writing. That alone should make Discovery and its complicated relationship to canon and Star Trek’s internal timeline absolutely worthwhile!

Strange New Worlds is one of the best things about modern Star Trek – and it wouldn’t have happened without Discovery and its 23rd Century beginnings!

But on the other hand, who knows what we’re missing out on? Potential crossovers with The Next Generation and other 24th Century shows would have been on the table, and while Discovery’s third and fourth seasons have tried to pay lip-service to that era, by shooting so far forward in time, it’s once again ruled out any significant crossovers and link-ups.

In addition to obvious characters like Jean-Luc Picard or Kathryn Janeway, dozens or even hundreds of secondary characters and guest stars from that era could have been incorporated into Discovery to tie Star Trek’s newest adventure to what came before – with fan-favourite characters (and the actors who played them) potentially returning. Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy have all shown just how much of an appetite there is within the Star Trek fan community to bring back characters as diverse as Q and Captain Jellico, just to give two examples.

Edward Jellico recently returned in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy.

When making those very early decisions about Discovery, one of the fundamental mistakes executives at CBS (now Paramount) and the creative team made is failing to recognise Star Trek’s real “golden age.” The Original Series in the 1960s may have gotten things started – and it’s remembered fondly, don’t get me wrong – but for many fans, especially fans in their thirties and forties, it’s The Next Generation and the other shows of the 1990s that are best-remembered. Discovery jumped back in time to draw inspiration from and connect up with The Original Series… but I’m not sure that’s where the majority of the fan community was in 2017 – or is in 2023, either.

Whatever we may think of the arguments surrounding canon and the so-called integrity of Star Trek’s internal timelines, a more basic question is this: what setting and what era would most Trekkies choose for a new series? There are some fans, of course, who want to see more of Enterprise’s 22nd Century, some who want to see a far future that shoots past the 24th and 25th Centuries, and certainly there are fans for whom the 23rd Century has its own unique appeal. But many, many Trekkies who first came to the franchise during The Next Generation era – myself included – wanted and still want to see Star Trek pick up where it left off after Nemesis and Endgame. That was doubly true in 2017, when the franchise hadn’t touched that time period in fifteen years.

The USS Voyager in Endgame.

When it became apparent that Discovery was going to be yet another prequel – the third in a row – it meant that there was still no chance of the timeline advancing. It meant that the return of fan-favourites from Benjamin Sisko to B’Elanna Torres was completely off the table. And it meant no explanation of the Romulan supernova that had been glimpsed in 2009’s Star Trek. We subsequently got to see some of those things in Picard – but it wasn’t obvious in 2016-17 that that series was going to be made, and there was, in some quarters at least, a sense of disappointment that Star Trek was once again doing this kind of navel-gazing at its own history and backstory instead of moving forward. That planted the seeds of unhappiness for some Trekkies – a seed that would grow as more details were revealed about the series, its setting, its technologies, and its characters.

And I feel that this is really the key point. On their own, many of the criticisms levelled at Discovery in its first season were overblown nitpicks. The spore drive was never considered by the crew of the USS Voyager as a way to get home quicker. Spock didn’t have an adopted sister in that one episode of The Animated Series that aired in 1973. Did the Klingons and the Federation really fight a war in this era? And so on. But those criticisms found fertile ground in the disappointment that fans were already feeling – and the “snowball” started to roll.

I doubt many fans were that upset about Spock not mentioning Michael Burnham in The Animated Series

This “snowball effect” is something that I’ve talked about before here on the website. In brief, it refers to how a production can find itself subject to more and more points of criticism once a few big ones start to build up. The “snowball” starts rolling, picking up more and more nitpicks and amplifying them. Relatively minor things – like Discovery’s all-blue uniform designs, for example – end up being nitpicked to death in a way that they never would have been in a production that didn’t have those original, fundamental points of criticism to get the “snowball” rolling in the first place.

And that’s what happened with Discovery in 2016-17, in my opinion. Its place in the timeline became the initial source of disappointment for a fanbase that comprised more fans of The Next Generation era than higher-ups at CBS realised. Those fans would have preferred to see a series set after Endgame and Nemesis, and the disappointment they felt began to set the stage for many other points of criticism that, in a different production, would never have been mentioned.

Did the producers at CBS underestimate support in the Star Trek fan community for a post-Nemesis series?

There are, of course, some self-proclaimed “fans” of Star Trek for whom the race and gender of Discovery’s protagonist was the issue. Those people would never have been placated by changes in the show’s setting, and the hate, abuse, and toxicity spewed by that thankfully small section of the show’s audience would have remained regardless. I see no way to avoid that; just as there were viewers in the ’60s who objected to Uhura’s presence on the bridge of the Enterprise, there were some in 2017 who felt that women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and others shouldn’t be part of “their” entertainment products.

Such folks would often try to cage their attacks in the language of media criticism, using expressions like “bad writing” to criticise Discovery. I think we’re all able to tell the difference, though, and I don’t really see much point in addressing this part of the attacks on the show. It isn’t relevant to what we’re talking about today, as the minority of viewers who objected to Michael Burnham because she was a black woman in a leading role would have felt the same way regardless of when the show was set. The only thing that would have changed would have been the way in which those folks would have tried to cover their tracks when attacking Discovery.

Michael Burnham at the end of Season 1.

When Season 2 rolled around, it wasn’t apparent at first that Discovery’s creative team had taken on board much of the feedback and criticism that had been levelled at the show in its first season. In fact, they seemed to double- and even triple-down on making these overt connections to The Original Series by introducing Captain Pike and Spock.

I have to confess something at this point – something which, in light of how darn good Strange New Worlds was in its first season, I’m quite embarrassed about: I didn’t like the idea of Pike and Spock joining Discovery in 2018-19 when that news broke. I’d been a fan of The Cage since I first watched it, and there was something about Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Pike, and the differences between him and Captain Kirk in particular, that occupied a unique place in Star Trek’s history. Here was an “alternate timeline,” and just like hearing a different version of a familiar song, all the pieces were there, but they were different. Pike stood as this kind of “what-if” for the Star Trek franchise; what might have been if history had taken a different course.

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Cage

Furthermore, I found Bruce Greenwood’s take on the character in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness to have been one of the highlights of the Kelvin timeline. Recasting the character so soon after this portrayal wasn’t something that I was wild about either, and I felt that the whole thing rather smacked of desperation on the part of CBS/Paramount; an attempt to bring more eyes to a show that had proven controversial and that probably hadn’t brought in the numbers of subscribers and viewers that they and Netflix had hoped to see.

I was wrong about that, of course – so very, very wrong!

But I wasn’t alone in feeling that way; that Discovery was reaching for a crutch as its second season dawned. Fans who had been left unimpressed by the show in its first season – and particularly at its perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon – were not looking forward to seeing what would become of Captain Pike, a character who had a certain reverence from at least some in the fan community as Star Trek’s “first” captain, but more importantly of Spock – one of the most important foundational characters in the entire franchise.

Pike and Spock in Season 2.

Whether we agree or not that Discovery’s second season shook up Spock’s characterisation for the better – which is something I absolutely believe it did, by the way – something very interesting happened at the end of that season: Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century altogether. Opening a time-wormhole, Burnham led the ship and crew into the far future, and the show has remained in that time period ever since. By the time Season 5 arrives later this year, Discovery will have spent longer in the 32nd Century than it did in the 23rd.

Does that decision stand as an admission from Discovery’s creatives and producers that the 23rd Century was never a good fit for the show? Is it more a case of exasperatedly saying to fans and critics “you wanted us to be set in the future? Well here ya go!” Or is it simply a creative narrative decision that would have been taken regardless of how Seasons 1 and 2 had been received?

Burnham and the USS Discovery heading into the far future.

Let’s rule out that latter point immediately! If Discovery’s place in the timeline was uncontroversial and hadn’t been commented on and criticised from the moment it was announced, we’d have seen Discovery remain in the 23rd Century – I am as certain of that as I can be. The decision to take the series out of the 23rd Century was, at least in some way, a response to these criticisms and/or a way to pre-empt or shut down further such nitpicks.

We’ll have to talk about this in more detail one day, but there’s a phenomenon that I call the “prequel problem” that affects a lot of prequel stories. In short, at the back of our minds as viewers, we know that certain storylines have to end in particular ways; tension, drama, and stakes are all lower in certain prequels – whether we’re conscious of that fact at the time or not. This goes double for a show like Discovery where galactic-scale apocalyptic disasters are the bread-and-butter of its stories.

The Klingon war – especially toward the end of Season 1 – was presented as an existential threat to the Federation.

When it seemed as if Control was going to wipe out all life in the galaxy, we knew that it wasn’t possible. The details of how Pike, Burnham, and the crew were going to prevent it were still to be revealed, but because we’d seen the galaxy in the 24th Century, we knew at the back of our minds that there was no real danger. Likewise with Season 1’s Klingon war – we knew that the Federation wouldn’t be defeated, because we’d seen Captain Kirk’s five-year mission taking place a mere decade after the events depicted in the show. Those “prequel problems” took at least some of the tension out of Discovery’s main narratives – and in a show that wants to turn the tension up to eleven, that’s not ideal to say the least!

If Discovery was the kind of show that told stories that were smaller in scale, we could disregard this point altogether. But for the kind of series Discovery aimed to be, a setting that was constrained by stories set decades and centuries later was problematic – and it had been since day one.

Discovery has always wanted to tell stories with very high stakes; galactic-scale threats.

So let’s start to wrap things up.

The saving grace of Discovery’s 23rd Century beginning is, as I see it anyway, the existence of Strange New Worlds as a spin-off production. Bringing in Captain Pike and Spock proved to be an unexpected masterstroke, thanks in part to some inspired casting. Had Discovery always been set after Nemesis in the late 24th Century, we would never have seen Anson Mount and Ethan Peck take on those roles, and from there we’d never have gotten to see the masterpiece that was Strange New Worlds Season 1. That would have been a huge loss for Star Trek – and I feel that alone more than justifies Discovery’s first two seasons in the 23rd Century.

But it’s clear that being set in this time period caused the show a lot of issues, particularly because of the kind of storytelling it employed. Big, bold stories that focus on end-of-the-world type threats and a serialised framework in which only one or two main stories were told per season combined with a prequel setting to cause some major stumbling blocks. Some of these were bigger than others, and some minor points definitely saw their status overinflated by fans and viewers who were “snowballing” and picking on anything and everything to criticise a series that they already didn’t like. But some of those points of criticism were genuine, and the internal consistency of the Star Trek franchise and its timeline was challenged by some of the narrative decisions that Discovery took.

A promotional image of Discovery’s captain’s chair, from the show’s early marketing campaign.

With Strange New Worlds serving as a huge caveat, I still believe that if I’d been in charge of things in 2016-17, I wouldn’t have created a series set in the 23rd Century. It remains my view that at least a plurality of fans, if not an outright majority, would have preferred to have seen the overall timeline of Star Trek move forwards, and that creating a series set sometime after Endgame and Nemesis would have been the best call. There’s a lot of leeway if all we say is “after Nemesis,” and I’d have entertained pitches and ideas for both the late 24th Century as well as for decades or centuries in the future, far beyond The Next Generation era.

Bearing that in mind, I’d say that practically everything that Discovery did in those first two seasons could and would have worked in a post-Nemesis setting. Some story beats would have had to change to accommodate being set further forwards in time, such as Captain Lorca’s universe of origin. But even if the brief required the creative team to use elements that the Star Trek franchise had already created, I think it would have been possible to tell those same stories in a very similar way.

Captain Lorca and his Terran allies.

The big twist in Discovery’s first season was Captain Lorca’s true identity – but I’m not really convinced that this story beat was worth all the fuss. It was certainly fun and unexpected to find out that the character had crossed over from another universe, and that he was responsible for stranding the ship there as he tried to get home – but after Lorca’s true origin was revealed, his characterisation took a turn for the worse, and he ceased to be the complex, nuanced, hardball Starfleet captain in favour of being a rather one-dimensional villain caricature. So maybe all of this hassle wasn’t even worth it after all!

Season 2 introduced us to Pike and Spock, and set the stage for Strange New Worlds – something which, in hindsight, we know now we’d have missed out on if Discovery didn’t take place in this time period.

Spock and Captain Pike in Strange New Worlds Season 1.

Shooting forwards in time, well past the 24th and 25th Centuries, has allowed Discovery much more creative freedom, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the show’s best episodes have come in the last couple of years rather than in those first two seasons. Even in an established, long-running franchise, writers and creatives need to have the freedom to branch out, to add wholly new elements, and to tell stories that go to completely different thematic places. Some of that was possible in the 23rd Century – and we’ve seen Strange New Worlds succeed in that setting by taking on a more episodic approach – but for the kinds of large-scale, dramatic stories that Discovery wanted to tell, a setting unconstrained by having to fit in with 600+ episodes and films set after the events of the show has undoubtedly opened up a lot more possibilities.

So the question posed is a tough one. Discovery set the stage for Strange New Worlds, and that really is a huge point in favour of its initial 23rd Century setting. But Discovery also reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise for a post-Game of Thrones television landscape, one in which ongoing serialised stories with big, bold storylines was the order of the day. Without Discovery doing what it did in 2017, who knows whether the Star Trek franchise would have continued at all, and whether the likes of Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy would have been created as well.

Alex Kurtzman and the Discovery cast with William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols.
Image Credit: StarTrek.com

Just like the Kelvin films kept a torch burning for Star Trek and proved that there was life in a franchise that had burned out by 2005, perhaps what we should say about Discovery’s first two seasons is that they led to bigger and (mostly) better things, both for the show itself and for the franchise as a whole. Messing with that too much, or trying to create something “better,” may not have had the desired result!

But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight. In 2016-17, I wasn’t alone in wishing that Star Trek would move forward instead of creating yet another prequel. And it wasn’t possible to know at that time where Discovery might lead or what kind of spin-offs might be created in the years ahead. Although I did enjoy what the show did in its first two seasons overall, for much of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that these stories would still have worked – and in some ways at least, would have worked far better – if the show was set after Nemesis.

It would ultimately fall to Star Trek: Picard to move the timeline of the franchise forward again.

Furthermore, I feel that Discovery’s producers felt that way too, especially after Bryan Fuller left the project and after the show premiered to a rather divisive reaction in some quarters of the fan community. Some of the people in charge may have underestimated just how detail-oriented some Trekkies can be, and in an age of social media, online fan communities, and continuous discussion and debate, small nitpicks about the series and its relationship to past iterations of Star Trek became amplified, making some of these controversies grow larger.

Any time a franchise expands, it leaves some folks behind. There were always going to be Discovery-haters; folks who, for any one of a number of reasons, didn’t want to see Star Trek doing something new and different. But did the show itself provide ammunition to those critics and others by its 23rd Century setting? Absolutely. Leaving the 23rd Century behind was clearly the right decision, and in some ways we can argue that it came two seasons too late.

Discovery’s logo in Seasons 1 & 2.

So there we have it. In my view, Discovery could and perhaps should have been created as a post-Nemesis series instead of one set before The Original Series. With relatively few tweaks to the stories of its first couple of seasons, the same cast of characters, the same starship designs, the same technologies, and the same narrative beats could have all been present, and perhaps interesting new connections could have been found that would have tied the series into the events and even characters of The Next Generation era.

I hope this was an interesting thought experiment! I’ve been wanting to talk about Discovery’s creation and its early seasons for some time now. Because I only created this website in late 2019 I missed the opportunity to write up my thoughts on Discovery as it was being teased and as those first two seasons were broadcast, so this was an opportunity to step back and begin to rectify that! I hope you won’t interpret this as me “hating” on Discovery. Although I wasn’t wild about every decision taken or every character and storyline, I feel that we got two decent seasons of Star Trek, and a show that certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things. This hypothetical question is really just an opportunity to talk about the series some more and highlight some of what I feel were the key decisions taken during its creation.

I’m glad that Discovery remains a part of a very broad, varied franchise. But I think I’m also glad that the show’s producers took it out of the 23rd Century – not because I’m desperately angry about “the purity of canon” or other such things – but because its new era, free from any such constraints, has allowed for the creation of some genuinely different stories.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2022

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of these titles.

As we enter the final hours of 2022, it’s time to look back at the entertainment experiences that we’ve enjoyed – as well as a few that we didn’t enjoy all that much! I’ve cobbled together a few categories from the world of television, film, and video games, and today I’m going to hand out some highly-coveted Trekking with Dennis Awards to some of my favourites!

You’ll find a couple of titles from the tail end of 2021 on this list; I reckon anything released in December is fair game as those titles often get the short end of the stick when it comes to lists like these. Some outlets put together their “best of” lists way back at the start of December, which is far too early in my opinion! But we’re drifting off-topic already!

It’s time to hand out my End-of-Year Awards!

There are plenty of titles that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to this year – so for reasons that I hope are obvious they can’t be included. I’m only one person and I don’t have every minute of the day to devote to these pursuits, so the exclusion from this list of certain big titles shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of deliberate snub!

And as always, a caveat before we begin: all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. I may give an award to a production you vehemently hate, or talk negatively about something you enjoyed, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be a bit of fun. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks – but there’s no need to take any of it too seriously!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Television Miniseries/Limited Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Five Days At Memorial

Five Days At Memorial had the challenging task of dramatising a real-world event – and a gruelling one at that. I remember the harrowing news reports in 2005 showing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I could absolutely understand why some folks might feel it’s too soon to make a programme like this. But for my money, Five Days At Memorial did a good job at adapting the events at Memorial Hospital as delicately as possible, staying true to what happened while still making the story engrossing and understandable for viewers.

The fact that Five Days At Memorial shows what happened at Memorial Hospital from two very different angles felt a bit strange at first, but by doing so the series lends the events the challenging ambiguity that they continue to have. By refusing to come down on one side or another – to condemn as guilty or exonerate Dr Pou – Five Days At Memorial strikes the right balance. There was some choppy editing in some sequences that meant the miniseries didn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve, but other than that it was a very interesting look at a very difficult moment in the recent past.

🏆 Winner 🏆
1899

Netflix original 1899 is taking the crown in this category this year. The show goes on a wild and unpredictable ride, blending themes of mental health that resonated strongly with me with mystery and psychological horror. The multilingual series is, in my view, best enjoyed without being dubbed, as the different characters and the language barriers between them are key elements in the story at several crucial junctures.

I was first attracted to 1899 because of its setting – both in time, at the end of the 19th Century, and on a boat making a transatlantic voyage. But what I found when I got started was one of the most unique and different television productions that I’ve seen in a long time. 1899 may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it absolutely riveting all the way through.

Worst Television Series:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Obi-Wan Kenobi

After I’d enjoyed what The Book of Boba Fett brought to the table, I felt a pang of hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi might at least be passable. But it wasn’t to be, and the series was a horrible slog through the absolute worst kind of tacked-on story that used increasingly desperate nostalgia plays to try to recreate some of the magic that, frankly, Star Wars hasn’t had since the ’80s.

Say it with me, folks: it’s time for Star Wars to move on! The vast sandbox that is the Star Wars galaxy has trillions of inhabitants, millions of star systems, thousands of planets, and hundreds of factions and organisations – and tens of thousands of years of history that could explore any of them. For more than forty years, Star Wars has been laser-focused on the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of this wonderful setting, but it’s over. If Star Wars is to survive, something’s gotta change. Obi-Wan Kenobi proved that.

Best Television Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Halo

Halo wasn’t spectacular, but as the first real attempt to bring the long-running video game franchise into a new medium, it got a lot right. The story it told was a riff on the familiar story that fans will remember from the games, but there were important differences which not only kept the mystery going, but also gave genuine characterisation to the Master Chief.

In terms of cinematography, I liked the way that Halo incorporated some first-person sequences into its action-heavy moments. This could have easily felt like a gimmick, but the way it was done – and crucially, not overdone – made it feel like a throwback to the series’ source material while also mixing things up in the television space. Halo used a fairly standard format that would be familiar to anyone who’s seen a made-for-streaming television show in the past few years, with a slowly unfolding mystery, multiple storylines, and characters who grow and change over the course of the series. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, and I certainly get the argument that it wasn’t as action-packed as some fans might’ve wanted. But it was, all in all, a decent bit of sci-fi.

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power had a lot of work to do to impress me. It had to live up to the legacy of the trilogy of films from a few years ago. It had to show that it could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and other big-budget productions in the fantasy space. And, to be blunt, it had to justify its billion-dollar price tag.

Whether The Rings of Power managed to accomplish all of those goals in its first season is still arguably an open question. But it certainly laid the groundwork for what should be a television spectacular, and it was, on balance, probably the best show I’ve seen this year. When I was at a low ebb in the autumn and didn’t have the energy or headspace for watching many new things, The Rings of Power was the one show that I made time for. Sure, there were big battles and other CGI spectaculars, but there were also some genuinely wonderful performances that brought to life some incredible character-focused storytelling. I can’t wait for Season 2!

Best Web Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
How To Cake It

After a hiatus of more than a year, YouTube show How To Cake It made a welcome return this year. This time, there’s less of a focus on the kind of attention-grabbing, visually spectacular cakes that look like rocket ships or Princess Elsa or a completely different food, and I think that’s actually been a positive thing! Host Yolanda Gampp has branched out, doing much more of a variety when it comes to baking. Some highlights include flavoured cookies, baklava, and even popcorn.

As often happens when a web series takes an extended break, recent episodes of How To Cake It haven’t been doing the same numbers as the series used to get. But I hope that, as time goes by, it will pick up some of those wayward viewers – and perhaps bring on board a whole host of new ones, too. This new version of How To Cake It seems to be making more down-to-earth recipes that you or I might feel brave enough to attempt, rather than showing off impressive designs that only a master baker could create. For me at least, that’s a great thing, and I hope to see much more from Yolanda and the team in the new year.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Anti-Chef

If How To Cake It shows a master at work, Anti-Chef – as the name suggests – is the complete opposite! The show is a lot of fun, and Jamie, the host, isn’t shy about sharing his failures in the kitchen as he works his way through some very complicated recipes. Though he’s not a total newbie any more, many of the techniques in the recipes he challenges himself to try are very advanced, and the personal, relatable style makes me feel like I’m right there in the kitchen.

I love a good cooking show, and as much fun as it can be to see an experienced chef at work, it can be even more entertaining to see an inexperienced home cook tackling some of these recipes. Anti-Chef has given me a lot of laughs this year – but also some cooking tips and inspiration, too.

The Worst of Star Trek:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Most of Picard Season 2

I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to call out Picard Season 2, but I think it’s earned a place on this list. The first episode of Season 2 was absolutely fantastic, and if the rest of the season had been anywhere close to that level, we’d be talking about Picard as the best show of the year. But unfortunately things took a pretty sharp nose-dive after the second episode of the season, with Picard and his crew wandering aimlessly for much of the season in a present-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring or enjoyable in the least.

By the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the season finale, the damage had been done, and despite Farewell pulling out a decent ending, this disconnected, disjointed, overly-long story has to go down as one of Star Trek’s big misses – perhaps even one of the biggest missteps in the franchise’s history. There were individual elements in most episodes that I can honestly say that I enjoyed… but Picard Season 2 overall feels like a massive disappointment.

Star Trek’s Biggest Surprises:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Kobayashi
Star Trek: Prodigy

We ought to talk more about Prodigy here on the website – and I hope we will next year! But for now, the episode Kobayashi came out of nowhere in January to be one of the biggest surprises in the show’s first season. The Kobayashi Maru training programme famously tests would-be captains in a “no-win scenario,” and you wouldn’t think that premise would lead to such a genuinely heartwarming and wholesome episode – but as a longstanding fan, I really appreciated what Kobayashi brought to the table.

Without giving too much away, the Kobayashi Maru scenario plays out on the holodeck, and a cast of fan-favourite Star Trek characters all join in on the action. It’s a nostalgic treat – but it doesn’t overplay its hand, keeping a tight focus on the new characters introduced in Prodigy.

🏆 Winner 🏆
All Those Who Wander
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Strange New Worlds had an incredible first season, showing off a varied, episodic approach in which it wasn’t shy about trying out many different genres. All Those Who Wander draws inspiration from the likes of The Thing and Alien to create a tense, claustrophobic sense of horror aboard a crashed starship.

It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory – and of all the episodes in Season 1, All Those Who Wander has to be the most important to go into un-spoiled! Suffice to say that the episode takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone, but never crosses that line. It’s an intense experience, and one that shows just how incredible Star Trek can be when it throws itself into another genre.

The Best of Star Trek:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Coming Home
Star Trek: Discovery

Discovery’s fourth season plodded along, in places, and definitely teased us with mysterious factions and characters that ultimately turned out to be brand-new. But by the time the season finale rolled around, most of that was already settled. What we got was an incredibly emotional episode that saw Captain Burnham and the crew racing against time to reach an unknown, uncontacted alien race.

There were resolutions to disagreements between characters, several incredibly dramatic moments, and a storyline involving Admiral Vance at Federation HQ that showed off Starfleet and the Federation at their very best. Coming Home is, without a doubt, one of Discovery’s very best episodes.

🏆 Winner 🏆
A Quality of Mercy
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Captain Pike gets a visit from “the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” in A Quality of Mercy – and the episode is incredible. In Discovery Season 2, when it became apparent that Captain Pike knew in advance that he was going to suffer a debilitating accident, an obvious question would be “why didn’t he try to prevent it?” And A Quality of Mercy takes that idea and runs with it.

In addition to a very emotional story involving Captain Pike – one that I, as a disabled person, found incredibly relatable – there’s also a wonderful callback to an episode of The Original Series, and moments for all of the main characters to get a chance to shine. Ethan Peck puts in a spectacular performance as Spock, and there was even time at the very end of the episode for one final twist as the curtain fell on one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.

Best Animated Film:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Minions: The Rise of Gru

The Despicable Me franchise is usually good for some fun escapism, and so it proved again with The Rise of Gru. There isn’t anything completely groundbreaking here; you know how the titular Minions behave by now. But stepping back in time to a ’70s setting allowed for some fun jokes, and the over-the-top villains that Gru encountered were a ton of fun.

There was still heart and emotion in The Rise of Gru thanks to Gru’s relationship with the villainous Wild Knuckles, and that did enough to ground what was otherwise a pretty wacky adventure. There were plenty of references and callbacks to other franchises for nerds like us to enjoy, and on the whole, I had a good time with the film. I’m not in a desperate rush to re-watch it, but it was good fun for what it was.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Encanto

After several years in which Disney has focused on live-action adaptations and sequels, Encanto came along like a breath of fresh air! It’s one of the best Disney films of the current era without a doubt, with a deeply engrossing and frequently emotional story that has an uplifting message. And thanks to a wonderful soundtrack by the phenomenally talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, there are some incredible songs too!

A setting inspired by Colombia was also something different for a major Disney production, and the company has done well at diversifying the peoples and places it depicts in its major releases. But that would have been meaningless had Encanto not been such a wonderful, well-told story – and I’m so very pleased that it was.

Best Live-Action Film:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

With the caveat that I didn’t see that many films this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely up there as one of the better ones! I genuinely couldn’t believe that this film existed when I first heard of its premise – Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself and going on a wacky adventure. But you know what? I’m very glad that it does!

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could have ended up as a bargain-bin B-movie – or worse, it could’ve tried to take itself far too seriously. But instead it leans into a kind of self-deprecating humour as well as tropes of the action genre, coming across as light-hearted and just plain fun. Nicolas Cage is a good sport for taking part, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

🏆 Winner 🏆
All Quiet on the Western Front

Netflix’s reimagining of this classic German war film is absolutely brutal. If any film has ever come close to accurately depicting the true horrors of the First World War, this is it. The story follows a young conscript from Germany as he joins the army and is dispatched to the front line, and then jumps ahead to the closing days of the war.

Every version of All Quiet on the Western Front – and there have now been three adaptations of the original novel – have shown just how senseless and meaningless war can be, taking a very individualist, human look at warfare. This version hammers that home, and can be uncomfortable viewing. But it’s an incredibly powerful film – one that absolutely deserves to be in contention for some of the top awards.

The “I-didn’t-play-this-game-but-you-probably-should” Award:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Elden Ring

I wish I could say I was interested in Elden Ring… but I’m just not. The “difficult for the sake of it” style of gameplay that has come to be known as the “Souls-like” genre just isn’t my cup of tea, but by all accounts Elden Ring is one of the best examples of this type of game, and one of the best games of the year – if not the generation.

Taking the Dark Souls format into an expansive open-world setting, Elden Ring has won almost universal acclaim from critics and players alike, becoming one of the most talked-about releases of the year. For a single-player title in a gaming landscape increasingly dominated by the online multiplayer scene, I think that’s a fantastic thing, and even though Elden Ring isn’t for me, I still think it’s worth noting it as one of the most important releases of the year.

Best Browser Game:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Wordle

I wouldn’t usually dedicate much time to browser games on a list like this, but since I first played Wordle back in February or March, I don’t think I’ve missed a single day. The format is fun, with a single word each day to guess and only six chances to get it right. Wordle was snapped up by the New York Times and has since spawned dozens or perhaps even hundreds of clones – including variants that have multiple words to guess, and variants based on specific topics or franchises. There’s even a Star Trek-themed one!

Wordle blew up to become an internet phenomenon in 2022, and for a while it seemed like you couldn’t move for people showing off their Wordle results on social media. It’s become part of my daily routine – and my current streak is 77 wins in a row, going all the way back to the middle of October!

The “buggy piece of crap” Award:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC version)

The PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the worst I’ve come across in recent years. I’d thought that the days of amateurish PC ports were finally over, but PlayStation Studios, Naughty Dog, and Iron Galaxy Studios showed me that I was wrong about that. In short, Uncharted is incredibly poorly-optimised for PC, with a piss-poor frame rate and weird visual and texture bugs that were incredibly offputting. The screenshot above shows off one such glitch.

It’s such a shame because the Uncharted series has always been a blast. The Indiana Jones-inspired games still feel like something different in the action-adventure space, even with the likes of Tomb Raider being reimagined for a new generation. The stories present here are great – but if I have to spend as much time battling bugs as I do enemies, I’m going to have a bad time. Other PlayStation titles – like Spider-Man and God of War – don’t have these issues, so I don’t understand how Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection managed to launch on PC in such a bad state.

Best Expansion Pack/DLC:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

The Booster Course Pass has given Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a new lease on life – even if it’s not as transformative as a new entry in the series would’ve been. I was disappointed as the year went by and it became clear that there would be no Mario Kart 9, but the Booster Course Pass has definitely convinced me to dust off my Nintendo Switch and pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe again.

The “wave” approach to the DLC has been fun, too, keeping the game feeling fresher for longer when compared to dumping all 48 new racetracks at once. Don’t get me wrong, the longevity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still an issue, and I now have the additional concern that there will be fewer racetracks left to adapt whenever Mario Kart 9 eventually comes along. But in the short-term, the Booster Course Pass is proving to be great fun.

Game of the Year:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Stray

Stray is absolutely adorable: a game in which you get to play as a kitty cat! I was sold on that premise alone, but what I found when I got stuck in was a genuinely enjoyable, well-paced, well-structured indie title. Stray has great graphics, with the movement of the main cat character in particular being incredibly realistic. There’s some wonderful art design in both the environments and the robotic non-player characters, too.

Stray is further proof that there’s plenty of life in the narrative, linear, single-player space, and that not every game needs to be forced into the open-world mould. But at the same time, it’s something very different. Not only is the idea of playing as an animal unique, but the game’s slow pace and focus on peaceful interaction with the environment instead of combat and quick-time events all make for a relaxing, yet deeply engrossing experience.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Disney Dreamlight Valley

If you’d told me a few months ago that my favourite game of 2022 would be an early access Disney title, I wouldn’t have believed it! But I’ve sunk well over 150 hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley since its launch at the end of August, and I’ve been having an incredible time. The game basically took all of my criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fixed them, then threw in dozens of new features I didn’t even know I wanted – and some fun Disney-centric stories with a diverse cast of characters for good measure.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is so much fun and has so much to offer, even in this early access form, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s an interesting main quest, dozens of character-focused missions, the kind of home-building and design gameplay that players loved about titles like The Sims, and all of the fun of living another life in a fantasy land as you’d expect from an Animal Crossing game. There’s so much to love about Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I’m happy to crown it my favourite game of the year.

So that’s it!

At the first Academy Awards in 1929, Joseph Farnham receives his award from Douglas Fairbanks.
Image Credit: oscars.org

We’ve dished out awards to some of my favourite entertainment experiences of the year. The countdown is on to 2023 – there are just hours left until the sun will rise on a whole new year! Stay tuned in the days ahead because I plan to take a look at some of the things I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas. Is that the earliest you’ve seen someone mention Christmas 2023?

I hope that this was a bit of fun. There were plenty of enjoyable films, television shows, and video games this year – despite the delays that still hang over the entertainment industry. Though I wouldn’t say that 2022 is likely to go down in history as one of the best-ever years for entertainment, I think we still got a wide variety of experiences, many of which were enjoyable.

So I suppose all that’s left to say is this: Happy New Year! Whatever you plan to do, I hope you have a wonderful time!

See you next year!

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


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

The Halo TV Series

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Strange New Worlds Season 1

Star Trek: Discovery 4×13: Coming Home

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

Disney Dreamlight Valley

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 – my thoughts on the latest trailer

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and the trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 5. Minor spoilers are also present for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

At New York Comic-Con in October, we caught another glimpse of Star Trek: Discovery’s fifth season. The news earlier this week that filming has officially wrapped makes it seem like a great time to take a look at the teaser trailer and see what – if anything – we might be able to glean about the new story!

So to begin with, filming has just wrapped on Discovery Season 5 at time of writing. With Picard Season 3 and Strange New Worlds Season 2 both also well into post-production, there’s now no live-action Star Trek being worked on… at least, nothing has been officially announced. So that’s definitely something interesting – and while I’m expecting a Season 3 announcement for Strange New Worlds at literally any moment considering how well Season 1 was received, it’s definitely noteworthy that, at least in terms of live-action production, Star Trek seems to be entering a quiet period.

Sonequa Martin-Green on the set of Discovery Season 5.

At Star Trek Day back in September, we were treated to a set tour with Wilson Cruz, but I was a little surprised that the set tour and a single still photo were all that there was to show for Discovery at that point. I guess Paramount was saving this teaser trailer for Comic-Con, though, which came barely a month later. I’m glad we finally have something to get stuck into, even though I would guess that Discovery Season 5 may not hit our screens until after Picard and Strange New Worlds, potentially meaning it could be up to a year away.

Earlier in the year I wrote a piece about my “biggest wish” for Discovery’s fifth season. If you missed it, I can summarise it thusly: I don’t want Discovery to try to tell another “the galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!!!” type of story. We’ve had four of those across the show’s first four seasons, and I know I wasn’t the only one in the weeks leading up to Season 4 to say that it was already beginning to verge on the repetitive. Trying to cram another story into that same creaking framework would be too much… and I’m pleased to say that, based on both this teaser trailer and the official synopsis of Season 5, Discovery seems to be trying something different this time around.

Here’s to a different kind of story in Season 5!

The teaser trailer certainly contained a lot of action – explosions, fire, injuries, weapons, masked alien adversaries, and a fair amount of running away. But these disconnected moments seem – if the voiceover and selected clips can be believed, at any rate – to be in service to a new and different kind of story, possibly one about… treasure hunting!

I know that we don’t have a lot to go on in a teaser trailer that was less than a minute long, so I hope I’m not being misled or getting too excited based on a single line that could, I admit, be open to other interpretations. But I really think that the idea of a treasure hunt could be a good one for Discovery if that’s the route that the new season will go down. At the very least it represents a change from what the show has done before, and as I’ve said previously, Discovery doesn’t need to keep re-using the same “horrible galactic disaster” narrative in order to tell stories that are exciting.

I hope that this rather desolate location isn’t indicative of another galactic-scale threat or disaster.

As viewers, our investment in a story is not inexorably tied to a sense of scale. On the contrary, some of the best films and television shows of all time have told character-centric stories that were a million miles away from civilisation-ending disasters – and some of the worst and most boring works of entertainment have tried and failed to compensate for lacklustre storytelling by going too big on the scale of the threat.

Past iterations of the Star Trek franchise also used the “galaxy is in danger” story archetype very sparingly, when you think about it, and some of the most well-remembered films and episodes don’t focus on villains or disasters on anywhere near that scale. If Discovery really is willing to set aside this framework for Season 5 – a framework that I would argue it has pushed to the limit – I think that can only be to the show’s overall benefit. Based on this teaser I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get a main story that goes in a different direction. Fingers crossed, anyway!

President Rillak in the new trailer.

Some of the clips in the teaser tie into this theme of an “epic adventure across the galaxy,” to quote the official synopsis released by Paramount. We saw a slightly different look at Burnham on her speeder bike from the previously-released photo, and it seems as though Stamets will be joining her for that part of the quest! Stamets was relegated to a minor role in Season 4, missing out on key storylines, even those which involved Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber – so seeing him back in action will definitely feel good!

We also briefly saw two characters who may be competitors or adversaries as Captain Burnham and the crew race to solve this mystery. The characters’ names have been given as Moll and L’ak, and their official descriptions read somewhat like a 32nd Century Bonnie and Clyde! Their backgrounds as couriers could give them a connection to both Book and Burnham – the latter having spent roughly a year as a courier after arriving in the 32nd Century before the ship and the rest of the crew joined her. There’s scope for some drama there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both characters were known to Book, at least.

Promo photo of L’ak and Moll.

I can’t tell what planet L’ak hails from, though his design feels at least somewhat familiar. There’s something Kelpien about his look, but at the same time I don’t think he is a Kelpien. I can’t put my finger on why he looks so familiar, though! Perhaps some kind of connection to an established Star Trek race or character will become apparent once we meet him. Moll, on the other hand, is giving me flashbacks to Farscape’s Chiana – I think that’s just the hairstyle, though!

There were a few clips of ancient-looking statues and ruins that seem to connect with this theme of ancient mysteries and treasure-hunting. I’m reminded of episodes like Captain’s Holiday, The Chase, and Gambit from The Next Generation, and the archaeological sequences set in the ruins of the Bajoran city of B’hala in Deep Space Nine. Jean-Luc Picard studied archaeology, and set off to uncover more than one ancient mystery in his time! Perhaps the story of the season will play out in a similar fashion – and there could even be references to some of the individuals or events in some of those earlier archaeological stories. Discovery hasn’t been big on drawing these kinds of connections, but some smaller references have made it to screen, so it’s possible at least!

Captain Burnham exploring a ruin.

It seems that the enigmatic Dr Kovich will be back for Season 5 – and after an occasionally frustrating time with this character, I have to say I hope that we’ll learn a little more about him. I haven’t forgiven Discovery’s writers for Kovich’s line in Season 4 that he had “more important things” to do than join the mission to contact Unknown Species 10-C; the fact that that line wasn’t paid off in any way at all wasn’t great. Despite appearing in seven episodes across two seasons, Dr Kovich’s role within the hierarchy of Starfleet and the Federation is still unknown.

I like the idea of Dr Kovich being the one to set Captain Burnham on the right path to begin this quest, as I think he’s the kind of character who could conceivably know something about whatever this mystery is that needs to be unravelled. But I hope that we learn more about Kovich himself, including how he seems to know so much about some of the subjects that he’s an expert in. What rank does he have, for example? Is he, as I’ve suspected since Season 3, an operative of Section 31? Dr Kovich is in danger of become a bit of a joke; a character used only for exposition and whose ambiguous background grows to accommodate anything a story needs – teacher, administrator, psychiatrist… I think we need to pin down who he is and what his official role is!

Dr Kovich in the trailer.

One character who we barely glimpsed in the trailer is new series regular Captain Rayner. This Romulan or Vulcan (at least by appearance) is described as a “gruff, smart Starfleet Captain” who had a “track record of wartime success,” but struggles in peacetime. Rayner sounds like he’s being set up to be a kind of antagonist for Captain Burnham to butt heads with; perhaps a Starfleet officer who doesn’t appreciate her lax attitude to rules nor her style of command.

We had a similar setup, in some respects anyway, with President Rillak last season, and I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if she’d betray Burnham and the crew – or if she was involved in some way with the DMA. Since arriving in the 32nd Century, senior Starfleet and Federation personnel haven’t fallen into the Star Trek trope of being the “bad admiral,” so I wonder if there could be more to this Captain Rayner that his official description might suggest. It does raise an interesting question, though: what ship will Captain Rayner command? The USS Discovery already has two officers on board who hold the rank of captain: Burnham and Saru. Surely Rayner can’t also be assigned to the USS Discovery – but if he isn’t, how could we expect to see him as a series regular?

Captain Rayner.

Sticking with characters, let’s talk about Tilly. I talked about this after Star Trek Day, when Mary Wiseman appeared during the behind-the-scenes look at Season 5, but I hope that Tilly’s apparent return to the USS Discovery doesn’t undermine the emotional story she went through in Season 4 – a storyline that led to her leaving the ship for a role at Starfleet Academy.

We didn’t see a lot from Tilly in the trailer, but she was present for several clips, including aboard the USS Discovery. She could be “just visiting,” of course, or accompanying one or more of her cadets, but I’m not sure. I get the impression that something has changed for Tilly behind the scenes (yet again) and a reversal of a previously-established arc could be coming. As much as I love Tilly and want to see her continue on the show, her departure in Season 4 felt final… but moreover, it felt right for her character. Undoing that would not be my choice. I wonder if plans may have changed regarding the rumoured but still unannounced Starfleet Academy series – a series which could potentially have included Tilly. If last season’s All Is Possible (an episode that felt like a possible backdoor pilot) wasn’t as well-received as hoped, perhaps a rethink of that series and which characters it might include is underway. That’s something we’ll have to consider in more depth on another occasion!

Is Tilly back?

We saw members of the bridge crew at their posts and on an away mission in the teaser, and I’ll repeat what I said in the run-up to both Seasons 3 and 4: there’s still scope to do more with some of these characters. With the return of characters like T’Rina, Admiral Vance, and President Rillak, Discovery is definitely building up a good roster of secondary characters, so it would be neat to see at least one of the bridge crew given a storyline or sub-plot this season.

And that raises another question: will Season 5 retain Discovery’s heavy plot armour for all of the named characters? After so many disasters, conflicts, and dangerous assignments since the crew arrived in the 32nd Century, it’s a miracle that everyone has survived! As I wrote in the run-up to last season, audience expectations are changing in the aftermath of shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, so giving every character heavy plot armour to survive deadly situations doesn’t really work any more. As sad as it would be to lose anyone – even one of the secondary characters that we don’t know so well – I think it’s something Discovery’s writers ought to at least consider doing.

Burnham with Rhys and Owosekun.

One thing that I found interesting in the trailer is the puzzle box. The markings on the apparently wooden box were unfamiliar to me, but they look suitably “alien.” They could be Vulcan, perhaps, or Ferengi, or even from a planet like Risa. Whether the puzzle box will be an important macguffin in the story – or whether it was little more than a fun visual metaphor for the trailer – isn’t clear at this stage. Will it be an important artefact that the crew spend much of the season chasing down or trying to figure out?

The mysterious puzzle box…

But there is something more to say about the sequences in which the puzzle box is prominently featured. Look at the fingers that are moving the pieces into position. Do they look familiar at all? They absolutely could belong to an alien – like the new character of L’ak, for instance. But something about those fingers says “android” to me; they remind me a lot of how Data’s hands looked in The Next Generation. Could this mystery connect in some way to Data, Lore, or the Coppelius synths from Star Trek: Picard? Maybe that’s a complete overreach… but you never know!

…and a closer look at the fingers of whoever is using it.

It’s hard to know what else to say at this stage, really. Some of the clips in the trailer were very short, and without more context it’s hard to say more other than all of the characters from Season 4 seem to be returning. I’ll be curious to see more from President Rillak, who was a fun addition last time, and it’s my firm hope that Discovery will find a way to settle the relationship between Book and Burnham – their relationship drama was not one of the better aspects of Season 4. Book seems to be aboard the USS Discovery in the trailer, so there’s hope in that regard!

For a first look, the teaser trailer did a good job at getting me interested for Season 5. I like the idea of the show striking out and trying something genuinely new and different as it enters its fifth season – giving a bit of a refresh to a show that’s been running since 2017 and is quickly approaching its sixty-fifth episode is no small feat, and I’m rooting for Discovery to succeed.

Although there’s a lot of post-production work to be done, I’m hopeful that we’ll see Discovery Season 5 on our screens in 2023. If I had to guess, I’d say that the show could be targeting a broadcast next autumn, with Picard Season 3 and Strange New Worlds Season 2 going first. If we get any more big news or another trailer (which we surely will before the season arrives) I hope you’ll check back as I daresay I’ll have more to say. For now, I hope this was a fun look ahead to Season 5!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the platform is available, and are also available on Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building the “ultimate” Star Trek crew!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media where fans try to construct their “ultimate” Star Trek crews with characters from across the franchise, including one that popped up a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, this latest one – which was put out by the official Star Trek Twitter account – captured my imagination. So today I thought it could be fun to show off the characters that I’d pick to be in my “ultimate” Star Trek crew!

Let’s start by laying down some ground rules…

The social media post which inspired this article.
  • First of all, I don’t want to pick more than a couple of characters from a single series. If you’re just going to pick the entire crew of the Enterprise-D, what’s the point? We might as well just go and watch The Next Generation!
  • Secondly, the fact that characters come from different eras or timelines is entirely irrelevant. This is pure fantasy – though who knows, maybe one day Star Trek will do some kind of massive crossover event featuring characters from all over the place!
  • Third, characters have to occupy a role that we saw them fill on screen; i.e. Captain Picard can’t be a tactical officer, nor could Michael Burnham be assigned as the ship’s Chief Medical Officer!
  • Fourth, I want to include all of the major roles that we’ve seen main characters occupy on Star Trek – something that the Twitter post that inspired this piece didn’t do!
  • Finally (and most importantly), I want this to be taken light-heartedly and in the spirit of fun!

So let’s get started building the USS Trekking with Dennis!

Starship Class:
Excelsior

The USS Excelsior in The Search for Spock.

One thing that a lot of these lists miss is the ship that the crew will be serving aboard. As many Trekkies have pointed out over the years, a starship is akin to a member of the crew; not merely a setting but a living, breathing entity in its own right. Many starship designs have become iconic parts not just of the Star Trek franchise, but of sci-fi and popular culture in general, and many Star Trek starships are instantly recognisable even to folks who aren’t fans.

The Excelsior-class has been one of my favourites ever since I first saw it. It’s a beautiful design that took the classic look of the Constitution-class and updated it, becoming an iconic piece of ’80s sci-fi in the process. It’s clearly a Starfleet ship – the design retains the saucer, neck, body, and nacelles on pylons that continue to define Federation starships, but it mixed things up for a new era. Excelsior-class ships became workhorses for Starfleet, remaining in use for decades. Picard Season 2 recently debuted an updated design, showing that the ships were still being used at the dawn of the 25th Century!

Admiral/Mission Commander:
Jean-Luc Picard

Admiral Picard.

In overall control of our mission at Starfleet Command is Admiral Picard! He’s level-headed, diplomatic, and willing to try to negotiate even with the fiercest adversaries. He’s also a skilled tactician in his own right, and someone who I’d trust to plan operations that involve entire fleets of starships.

Admiral Picard was initially chosen by Starfleet to spearhead the Federation’s efforts to evacuate the Romulan homeworld. While that plan ultimately fell apart due to events beyond his control, the fact that he was the right man to take charge of such a massive assignment shouldn’t be in dispute. Admiral Picard – with support from his team – will be co-ordinating our mission back at headquarters!

Captain:
Benjamin Sisko

Sisko in Deep Space Nine Season 7.

Although the question of “absolute favourite captain” is an incredibly difficult one, if I were placed under duress Benjamin Sisko is probably the individual I’d name! A battle-hardened commander who transformed a minor, obscure posting into one of the most significant strategic locations in the entire Alpha Quadrant, Captain Sisko led the charge against the Dominion during one of the Federation’s darkest hours.

As a commanding officer, Sisko inspired his crew to follow him, but he was also well-versed in dealing with alien cultures and could be both a diplomat and a deal-maker. I also feel that Captain Sisko would work well with Admiral Picard; he would command the ship while Picard was in control of the overall mission, but could also offer advice and input as we saw him do for Admiral Ross during the Dominion War.

First Officer:
Jack Ransom

Commander Jack Ransom.

At the top we have two very serious people – so we need someone like Commander Ransom to balance things out! Although he can be laid-back and make jokes, when the chips are down we’ve seen Commander Ransom absolutely excel, putting the needs of his shipmates first and stepping up to tackle whatever the cosmos throws at him.

The role of a first officer in Star Trek has varied from show to show, with some taking on more away missions and others serving as advisors and confidantes. The best first officers are a mix of both, and Jack Ransom seems like someone his commanding officer can rely on to give honest, sound advice – and then lead a dangerous mission independently.

Helm:
Tom Paris

Promo photo of Tom Paris.

The role of helm officer has been part of Star Trek since The Original Series. But it wasn’t until Tom Paris took over at the helm of the USS Voyager that I felt there was someone in the driving seat who was a bona fide pilot. Paris truly loves piloting Voyager – and any other ship or shuttle that he can get his hands on, too. That’s an impression that I never really got from Sulu, Wesley Crusher, or really anyone else who had sat in the chair before him; they seemed to see the role as a job or duty, where Paris revels in his work.

Not only does Tom Paris enjoy what he does, but he guided the USS Voyager safely home across an impossible distance. Whether it was wormholes, slipstream drives, spatial catapults, the Borg transwarp network, or a warp 10 shuttle that accidentally mutated him into a salamander, Paris navigated them all – and found redemption for his past misdeeds in the process.

Chief Engineer:
Hemmer

It’s Hemmer Time!

As the first Aenar to be a major character, Hemmer had a lot of potential. The no-nonsense attitude he had stands in stark contrast to some other engineers we could think of, but when he was off-duty he was personable and friendly with his shipmates – and a guiding light to young cadets who found themselves under his wing. Hemmer’s love of science was cute, too, and he was able to take in his stride all kinds of different events that befell the USS Enterprise.

As Hemmer once told Uhura, he believed that his purpose was to fix what is broken – and he did that in more ways than one while serving as the Enterprise’s chief engineer. Hemmer helped the Enterprise survive major damage during battles against dangerous enemies, and he’s the person I’d want to rely on to keep my starship flying!

Chief Medical Officer:
Dr T’Ana

Dr T’Ana.

Dr T’Ana is unapologetically my favourite Lower Decks character. Her gruff and grumpy bedside manner conceals genuine medical skill, and we’ve seen her treat patients with all kinds of horrible sci-fi ailments without so much as batting an eyelid. Despite her acerbic attitude, though, Dr T’Ana manages to strike up friendships with her shipmates – and has proven herself to be someone they can rely on.

We’ve also seen how Dr T’Ana is unflappable and doesn’t crack when put under pressure – something that could be important depending on how badly our mission goes! She may not be the politest doctor in the fleet, but no matter what was wrong – disease, injury, or random sci-fi shenanigans – I’d trust Dr T’Ana to patch me up. Plus she’s a Caitian, something that I appreciate as a cat-fanatic!

Nurse/Sickbay Assistant:
Kes

Promo photo of Kes.

While Dr T’Ana can be grumpy and even abrasive, Kes has a wonderful bedside manner that has a way of putting patients at ease. Although she didn’t have much by way of formal medical training when she joined the crew of the USS Voyager, she soon grew into her role as the Doctor’s assistant in sickbay. I still think it’s a shame that Kes had to leave Voyager after the show’s third season, just as she was hitting her stride and learning more about her telepathic abilities.

Kes provides a sharp contrast to Dr T’Ana, and for that reason I think the dynamic in sickbay would be a lot of fun. But Kes has also demonstrated a willingness to learn and a keen medical intuition of her own, so if Dr T’Ana (and the rest of the medical staff) were busy or indisposed, Kes is more than capable of treating patients on her own.

Counsellor:
Dr Hugh Culber

Dr Culber in Discovery Season 4.

Although Dr Culber is the USS Discovery’s chief medical officer, in recent seasons we’ve also seen him take on the role of ship’s counsellor to a greater degree. Not all doctors would make for good counsellors, but Dr Culber has grown into the role, taking on the extra burden of caring for his shipmates’ mental health in addition to his duties in sickbay.

In The Next Generation, Counsellor Troi had a pretty big advantage when it came to reading her patients and understanding them! Dr Culber doesn’t have that same empathic ability, meaning he has to do things the old-fashioned way! But his advice has proven invaluable to Captain Burnham, Saru, and even Book. Dr Culber throws himself into his work, prioritising his patients ahead of himself on occasion.

Tactical:
Tuvok

Tuvok in Voyager’s first season.

Tactical has often overlapped with security on Star Trek, but if you think about it, they’re really two distinct roles that require different approaches. As fun as it might be to see Worf getting angry as the Enterprise races into battle, if my back’s against the wall and I’m facing defeat, I want the cool-headed, logical Tuvok aiming the phasers and firing the photon torpedoes.

Tuvok’s temperament makes him incredibly well-suited to a position at tactical – and not only in the heat of battle, either. As a strategist who has mastered the difficult Vulcan game of kal-toh – a strategy game he’s been playing for well over a century – Tuvok is also someone I’d trust to draw up plans for everything from small away missions to large battles.

Security Chief:
Odo

Constable Odo.

As above, we’re separating the roles of tactical officer and security chief. For the latter, there’s no one I can think of who’s better-suited to the role than Odo! Odo is Star Trek’s first real “policeman;” a dedicated officer of the law who was trusted by the Cardassians, Bajorans, and the Federation to be impartial when it comes to justice.

That impartiality – ensuring that no one is above the law – is exactly what our crew needs. Odo will maintain order, but he’ll do so fairly. He’ll also be able to strike up friendships with the crew while retaining that impartiality. Everyone aboard our ship – Starfleet, non-Starfleet, guests, diplomats, or anyone else we meet along the way – will know that Odo will treat them fairly. And I gotta be honest about this last point: having a changeling on the crew could come in handy in a lot of situations!

Communications:
Hoshi Sato

Ensign Hoshi Sato.

Hoshi Sato had not only mastered forty languages – including some very alien ones – in the days before universal translators existed, but she contributed in a major way to making the universal translator itself work in the way we’ve come to expect in Star Trek. Real-time, instant translation of previously-unheard alien languages wouldn’t have been possible without Hoshi’s work.

Hoshi Sato also showed an incredible aptitude for picking up languages very quickly – notably translating languages like Romulan and both Xindi-Insectoid and Xindi-Aquatic. If there was ever a problem with the universal translator – or our mission encountered an alien race whose language and form of communication was difficult to understand – Hoshi Sato is the linguist I’d want on our crew to handle things!

Science Officer:
Spock

Spock at his post in The Original Series Season 1.

Could it really be anyone else in this role? Although Spock would go on to be a captain, an ambassador, and a diplomat, it’s his role as the Enterprise’s science officer where he’s best-remembered and most iconic. Spock has a genuine interest in uncovering the secrets of space and the universe, and his raised eyebrow and proclamation that something is “fascinating” have become legendary parts of the Star Trek franchise!

Spock’s logical analysis of sensor readings helped out – and saved – the Enterprise on multiple occasions. Taking his time to analyse unknown phenomena, Spock would present his findings based on the available evidence, and was instrumental in missions as diverse as discovering new forms of life and shutting down ancient super-weapons. On a mission of exploration – or any mission that needs good, solid scanning and sensor work, I want Spock manning that post!

Operations:
Data

Data in Tin Man.

Although the role of operations or ops officer isn’t always well-defined in Star Trek, the role can involve things like power management, sensor control, deflector control, and oversight of the internal workings of the ship. We’ve seen senior officers like Data and junior officers like Harry Kim and Nog assigned to operations roles, and I’m choosing to bring Data along on this mission.

Data is an android, and he has super-human abilities and reflexes as a result. When it comes to things like systems maintenance and keeping the ship in good working order, someone like Data is ideally-suited to the role, and he’s also proven himself to be more than capable of overseeing departments and even entire crews. Data can also provide valuable insight into unfolding situations almost entirely free from bias, making him incredibly useful to have on the bridge as an advisor.

Transporter Chief:
Montgomery Scott

Scotty shortly before his first retirement.

Although Scotty is best-remembered as the Enterprise’s chief engineer, I’m assigning him the role of transporter chief this time. One of the most iconic (and misquoted) lines from The Original Series is “beam me up, Scotty,” so I think we’re on safe ground here! Scotty is nothing short of an engineering genius, and when things go wrong – as they often do with Starfleet transporters – he’s the man I’d want to fix things and keep them running smoothly.

Transporter chief is a role that can be overlooked, especially considering that transporting is a fairly quick process when everything runs smoothly. But everything doesn’t always run smoothly, and the right transporter chief with the right technical know-how can mean the difference between beaming up and having your molecules scattered across half a sector of space. Or worse!

Cadet:
Rok-Tahk

Rok-Tahk.

It’s not unusual for a starship to have several cadets assigned as they complete their courses at Starfleet Academy, so I’m picking Prodigy’s Rok-Tahk for that role (even though she isn’t formally a Starfleet cadet!) Across the first ten episodes of Prodigy, I felt we got to see some genuine character growth from Rok-Tahk that I hadn’t really expected, and I think she’ll continue to develop into a truly excellent Starfleet officer one day.

We’ve seen cadets like Uhura in Strange New Worlds and Tilly in Discovery moving between departments to try their hand at basically everything aboard a starship. Perhaps Rok-Tahk will do something similar during the course of our mission, giving her a range of new experiences, and potentially bringing a different point of view to all of the departments aboard our ship.

Bartender:
Guinan

Guinan in Picard Season 2.

Although Quark is a worthy contender to bring along, I think it’s not unfair to say he’s a bit of a troublemaker! Guinan can be relied upon to create a welcoming environment in her bar for when our crew need some time to relax, but she’s also far less likely to cause problems during our mission!

Guinan can draw upon the experiences of her centuries-long life to offer advice and support to all members of the crew, and we’ve seen moments where her words to Captain Picard ended up completely transforming the outcome of a story. As someone who not only tends the bar but also listens and occasionally has something of value to add, Guinan is the perfect complement to any Starfleet crew.

Non-Starfleet Crewmate:
Garak

In The Pale Moonlight was one of Garak’s best episodes.

Since The Next Generation premiered, most Star Trek crews have included at least one non-Starfleet or non-Federation crewmate. When I think back over these characters, few stand out more than Deep Space Nine’s Garak. Garak also brings a lot to the table for our crew! His previous life as a spy saw him develop a completely unique set of skills ranging from technical to combat and beyond – and in a pinch, he could be very useful.

However, Garak will need to be carefully monitored during our mission, as he can be rather slippery and self-serving. Although his service toward the end of the Dominion War saw him firmly allied with the crew of DS9 and the Federation, Garak has gone off-script on a number of occasions. He doesn’t always willingly share everything that he knows, so having someone else on board who knows how to handle him and how to get the best out of him could be important! But when a crisis looms, I think Garak can be counted on to find unconventional – and often un-Starfleet – ways to solve problems.

Villain:
The Borg

The first Borg drone seen in Star Trek.

There have been some wonderfully iconic villains in Star Trek, like Khan or Gul Dukat, and it can be hard to pick an absolute favourite. Purely in terms of the scale of the threat they pose, though, few Star Trek adversaries can compare to the Borg Collective. A vast army of billions or perhaps trillions of assimilated drones, a fleet of thousands of identical cube-shaped ships… the Borg are a faction that could wipe out the Federation in a matter of days without seriously overtaxing themselves.

We’ve seen Starfleet ingenuity and individuality overcome the Borg on a handful of occasions, but I’ve always wondered what it would look like if the Borg ever tried to invade en masse. Would a one-sided rout be inevitable… or will our cobbled-together crew find a way to save the day?

So that’s it!

Star Trek’s first crew.

Those are the characters that I’m choosing for my “ultimate” Star Trek crew.

There are no right answers to the question of which characters make for the “best” crew, and in addition to individual characteristics it’s worth considering how different characters would interact with one another and how well they’d work together. For my two cents, practically every Star Trek show has managed to get a good balance of characters and deployed them successfully. There are a handful of characters who didn’t really get enough time in the spotlight to truly shine, but even so, the franchise as a whole has done a fantastic job – and there are plenty of wonderful characters to choose from when making a list like this one!

I hope this was a bit of fun – and not something to take too seriously or get upset over! I was inspired a few weeks ago by that post from the official Star Trek social media team, and this is my (lengthy) response. It took a while to put this list together and really think about which characters I’d want to include – and which I’d have to exclude. For practically every position on the list above, there was at least one and often two other characters that I strongly considered including. I hope that the final list feels balanced between different shows and different eras, and was, if nothing else, a bit of fun to read!

Until next time!

The Star Trek franchise – including all characters, television series, and films mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What can we expect from Star Trek Day 2022?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including recent seasons of Picard, Discovery, Lower Decks, and Strange New Worlds.

The 8th of September is Star Trek Day! On that date in 1966, The Original Series premiered in the United States with the episode The Man Trap, kick-starting a franchise that’s still going strong fifty-six years later. Last year, Paramount organised a major broadcast to mark the occasion, hosted by Wil Wheaton (The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher and host of The Ready Room) and Mica Burton (daughter of Geordi La Forge actor LeVar Burton). It was a fun event – albeit one that probably went on a little too long – that celebrated all things Star Trek. With Star Trek Day coming back this year, I wanted to look ahead to the event and consider what we might see when it arrives in just under three weeks’ time.

My usual caveat for these sort of things applies: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that anything discussed below will definitely be included in this year’s Star Trek Day broadcast. This is speculation from a fan – and an opportunity to talk Trek – and nothing more! With that out of the way, let’s get started!

George Takei at last year’s Star Trek Day.

First of all, I think it’s worth talking about some of the big announcements we’ve seen over the past few months, because Paramount hasn’t been shy when it comes to making headlines for the Star Trek franchise. We’ve had major announcements about Picard Season 3, including who will be part of – and excluded from – the main cast, we’ve seen trailers, clips, and teasers for Lower Decks, which will be a couple of episodes into its third season by Star Trek day, we’ve had plenty of news about Strange New Worlds Season 2 – including the surprising return of a fan-favourite character… and much more besides. Events like last month’s Comic-Con saw big panels featuring main cast members and major announcements, like the Strange New Worlds crossover with Lower Decks.

In short, I’m not so sure that we should expect a glut of trailers and teaser clips and a plethora of massive announcements! Paramount could’ve saved things like the Picard Season 3 teaser and posters that were shown off at Comic-Con for Star Trek Day, but in a way it makes sense to use an event like that – where all eyes are on the world of entertainment – to make waves and show off Star Trek’s renaissance. Star Trek Day itself, at least based on what we saw last year, is more of a celebration for Trekkies and the Star Trek community.

Star Trek already dropped some big announcements at Comic-Con just last month.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything of substance, and the official press release for Star Trek Day promised announcements, reveals, and surprises! With Season 3 being Picard’s last, and principal photography already having been completed, I can’t help but wonder whether we might get an announcement of what could replace it in the lineup. When Picard disappears from the schedule next year, there will be a gap – and as Alex Kurtzman (head honcho of Star Trek for Paramount) has previously told us, there won’t be any new Star Trek until one of the current shows has ended its run. Well, something’s going to have to fill the Picard hole in late 2023 or 2024… so could the announcement of a new project be imminent?

I note that the official press release for Star Trek Day specifically mentioned that Michelle Hurd (Raffi) and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) will be present to talk about Picard. I know I’m not the only one who’s talked up the possibility of a “Seven and Raffi Show” as a spin-off from Picard, so it’s interesting that these two actors will be present together at Star Trek Day. Sure, they could just be there to talk about Picard Season 3… but maybe, just maybe, there’s more to it than that!

Seven of Nine and Raffi in Picard Season 2.

There are at least two unannounced Star Trek projects in the works at Paramount, again according to Alex Kurtzman. I don’t think we’d get two massive announcements like that at Star Trek Day, and if I had to put my money anywhere I’d say that a Picard spin-off or at least another show set in that same 25th Century era is the most likely. But you never know! There are rumours of a Khan-focused project and a Starfleet Academy series, the latter of which may (or may not) be a Discovery spin-off set in the 32nd Century with Mary Wiseman reprising her role as Lieutenant Tilly.

Does the untitled Section 31 series still count as having been “announced,” given that there’s been no official news for almost four years at this point? We could finally hear something about that project, too, I suppose. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

So there are a few different possibilities for a major announcement. A brand-new series would be a heck of a way to celebrate Star Trek Day, especially if the announcement came along with things like concept art or maybe even casting information.

Are we going to get an announcement about… Khaaaaaaaan?!

The other big project that’s currently up in the air is the untitled feature film Star Trek 2023. As we recently discussed, I seriously doubt whether the film will make its intended December 2023 release date given that most of the main Kelvin timeline cast don’t appear to be on board yet, but Star Trek Day could surprise us with some more information about the project.

So those are the potential projects that I think we could hear something about. As I said, my money would be on some kind of 25th Century Picard replacement if you forced me to make a bet… but there are definitely cases to be made to hear something about a Starfleet Academy series or perhaps a some kind of Khan project, too.

The new USS Stargazer.

This year’s Star Trek Day will be hosted by Tawny Newsome (Ensign Mariner on Lower Decks) and Paul F. Tompkins (Dr Migleemo on Lower Decks) who co-host The Pod Directive, Star Trek’s official podcast. I’m sure they’ll make a great presenting duo – though part of me feels a little sad that Wil Wheaton won’t be on hosting duties. His energy and passion for Star Trek really elevated last year’s event.

I’m curious to see what may be teased about Discovery Season 5. Filming is currently underway in Toronto, and a behind-the-scenes tour hosted by Wilson Cruz (Dr Culber) promises appearances by some of the cast members and a look at new sets. I’m not sure when Discovery’s fifth season will make its debut; it seems right now as if Picard and Strange New Worlds will be ready first, even though Discovery Season 4 wrapped up back in March, so we could see one or both of those arrive before Season 5 is ready. Still, it’ll be neat to catch a glimpse behind the curtain – and maybe there’ll even be a teaser of some kind!

Dr Culber in Discovery Season 4.

We’re edging closer to the first anniversary of Prodigy’s premiere, and we’ve been promised a second batch of ten episodes to round out that show’s first season before the end of this year. With a Prodigy panel on the agenda for Star Trek Day, I have to assume we’ll get some more details about those episodes – hopefully including a premiere date. If I had to guess, I’d say that the second half of Season 1 could directly follow on from Lower Decks, which could mean a premiere date in late October or early November.

Prodigy has not been particularly well-supported by Paramount, in my view, at least not so far. Splitting up its first batch of episodes into chunks of four and five respectively with a long gap in between is not a great way for a new series to gain traction – especially with its young target audience. There’s also a lack of toys and tie-in products, and while there are plans in place to address that, at time of writing none of those items are available for purchase. Paramount has a lot of work to do to really sell Prodigy – and I really hope they get on with it, because it’s a unique project within the Star Trek franchise and one that could turn a whole generation of kids into Trekkies if handled better.

We’ll hear something about Prodigy at Star Trek Day.

Either Lower Decks or Strange New Worlds stars could go into more detail about the upcoming crossover, and although it’s still early days we could get some kind of teaser for Strange New Worlds’ upcoming second season. I don’t expect to see any clips from the crossover at Star Trek Day – that’s just a hunch, of course, but something tells me it’ll be kept under wraps until much closer to the episode’s premiere. But we could learn more about Season 2, including whether any new cast members will be coming on board. There’s at least one and perhaps two spots open if the producers wanted to make additions, although I hope they don’t go overboard and try to cram in too many new characters – especially not characters from The Original Series.

Season 1 managed to strike a good balance between legacy and new characters, and I’d hope that would continue in Season 2. There must be a temptation to add characters like Scotty, for example, in engineering, but I hope that the show’s writers can resist – at least for now. There may be scope to bring in more legacy characters in later seasons, but for now I’d like to spend more time with some of the newbies who we’re just getting to know.

Behind-the-scenes with Captain Pike and the Enterprise bridge crew.

There’s also a decent chance, in my view, that we’ll hear about a Season 3 renewal for Strange New Worlds. Season 2 has already finished its main production phase, and with Discovery Season 5 well underway, it’s definitely time for those conversations to be happening behind-the-scenes. It seems utterly unfathomable to me that there won’t be a third season (and a fourth…) given how well Season 1 was received. Pre-production may be already happening, so it wouldn’t shock me at all to get a formal announcement at Star Trek Day.

In a similar vein there could be announcements for a fifth season of Lower Decks, a third for Prodigy, and perhaps even a sixth for Discovery – though the latter may be premature at this stage. As Discovery has been running since 2017 (and in production since 2016), it’s not an absolute certainty that we’ll get more after Season 5, but at the same time the 32nd Century feels like a really interesting setting to spend more time in, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be more to come from Captain Burnham and the crew.

Captain Burnham in Discovery Season 4.

So those are my main thoughts/predictions. I’m also looking forward to some of the other events that will be part of the live broadcast, including a tribute to Nichelle Nichols, as well as a couple of fan-focused events, some music, and even some stand-up comedy. Star Trek Day’s stated runtime is two hours, and that feels about right for something like this. As mentioned, last year’s event may have dragged just a little – at least for me – so it seems as though some lessons may have been learned from that. But as they say, live events have the potential to take unexpected turns, so I won’t be shocked if Star Trek Day ends up running a little over that time limit!

I guess that’s about all there is to say. I’m glad Paramount is doing this, and I’m glad the event will be free to stream on the official Star Trek website instead of being locked behind a Paramount+ paywall. It’s a nice way to celebrate all things Star Trek, and even if there are no massive announcements about brand-new shows or films, I still think it’ll be a fun time. There’ll be glimpses behind-the-scenes, chats with cast members, and hopefully a lot of positivity and excitement about the Star Trek franchise.

I’m looking forward to Star Trek Day, and when the event is over I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the broadcast, as well as perhaps take a longer look at any major trailers, teasers, or announcements. Stay tuned here on the website in the next few days because I have a list of a few potential upcoming Star Trek projects currently in the works – and who knows, we may hear about some of those at Star Trek Day!

Star Trek Day will be live-streamed on the official Star Trek website and social media channels on the 8th of September 2022 beginning at 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time/8:00pm British Summer Time. The Star Trek franchise – including all shows and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten Star Trek episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds Season 1

Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, the inclusion of particular episodes on this list may hint at certain themes, characters, storylines, etc. There are also spoilers below for the episodes and stories on this list.

I haven’t been able to talk about Strange New Worlds as much as I would’ve liked thanks to Paramount taking an “America First” approach to the series, the Star Trek franchise, and pretty much everything else on Paramount+. However, with Paramount+ having now arrived here in the UK, I hope to slowly begin to rectify that situation and make up for lost time. On this occasion, I’ve put together a list of ten episodes that I think make great background viewing for Strange New Worlds Season 1.

You can absolutely watch these Star Trek stories before diving into the show’s first season, but if – like me – you’ve already watched Strange New Worlds Season 1, there’s still value in going back to some of them to expand on what the new show’s first season delivered. Ordinarily I’d have written a list like this before the season aired, but having already seen Strange New Worlds that’s allowed me to adapt the list and include a couple of episodes that I would have never considered!

The long-awaited Captain Pike series is finally here!

Strange New Worlds was absolutely fantastic in its first season – and it has me lamenting the truncated ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek as I could’ve happily enjoyed at least ten more! If you missed it, I’ve already written up my spoiler-free thoughts on the show’s first season, and you can find that piece by clicking or tapping here. At the risk of repeating myself, Strange New Worlds hit ten for ten in its first season – ten outstanding episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I can’t recommend Strange New Worlds highly enough both to fans of Star Trek and to newcomers to the franchise. If you’re new, or if it’s been a while since you last saw some of these episodes, watching them will provide some additional background and backstory heading into Strange New Worlds – or will expand somewhat on some of the stories, factions, and characters if you’ve already watched Season 1. However, nothing below makes for essential or unmissable viewing; Strange New Worlds is a very accessible series that newcomers to Star Trek shouldn’t feel intimidated by!

Who could this be? Watch Strange New Worlds to find out!

As always, please keep in mind that all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person. I’ve chosen episodes that I generally enjoy and that I feel connect in significant ways to Strange New Worlds Season 1. If you don’t like my picks or I miss something you would’ve included, that’s okay! There’s always room in the Star Trek fan community for discussion and polite disagreement.

I’ve tried hard to avoid major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, but the inclusion of certain episodes here may hint at the inclusion of factions, aliens, characters, and storylines. If you don’t want to risk any of that, this is your last chance to nope out!

With all of that out of the way let’s take a look at the episodes I’ve chosen, which are listed below in no particular order.

Episode #1:
The Menagerie, Parts I-II
The Original Series Season 1

Captain Pike as he appeared in The Menagerie.

Technically speaking, The Menagerie was Captain Pike’s first Star Trek appearance. The episode incorporates most of the footage left over from The Original Series’ unsuccessful first pilot, The Cage, but uses a frame narrative to include Captain Kirk and Spock as they look back on the events of Captain Pike’s mission to the planet Talos IV.

After network NBC had spent a significant amount of money on The Cage, one of the conditions attached to The Original Series’ first season was that Gene Roddenberry and his team find a way to use the footage left over from the original pilot. It was either impossible or prohibitively expensive to bring back The Cage star and original Captain Pike actor Jeffrey Hunter for the role, and the recasting of the character is part of the reason for Pike’s severe disfigurement and disability.

What could Spock be doing in engineering?

We could do an entire article on the production history of The Cage and The Menagerie – and maybe one day we should! – but for now, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is Captain Pike’s ultimate destination. The Menagerie exists as a reminder of where Captain Pike’s arc will ultimately lead him, but it’s also an interesting episode in its own right.

The Original Series was beginning to find its feet by this point in its first season, and a two-parter like The Menagerie could’ve blown it off-course. However, the way The Cage was incorporated into the story made for a fascinating and somewhat mysterious presentation, and Spock’s characterisation and his dedication to his former captain in particular are noteworthy. It’s a fascinating episode that managed to be so much more than just a recycling of a failed pitch and that found a unique and innovative way to accomplish what could have been a difficult and annoying task.

Episode #2:
Trials and Tribble-ations
Deep Space Nine Season 5

Can you spot who might be out-of-place?

Trials and Tribble-ations was created for the Star Trek’s thirtieth anniversary in 1996, and it was a fun celebration of the franchise’s roots. The crew of the USS Defiant – led by Captain Sisko – find themselves displaced in time, arriving during the events of The Original Series episode The Trouble With Tribbles.

Sisko and his crew have to preserve the timeline – a nefarious villain is attempting to use a Bajoran Orb to alter the past to his advantage. What results is a genuinely fun romp, and seeing the two crews from two different eras coming together was quite something. I’ve always held Trials and Tribble-ations in high esteem ever since I first watched it!

Two legendary captains meet.

On the technical side of things, Trials and Tribble-ations was incredibly ambitious for its time. Using the same technology that had been used to place Tom Hanks alongside real-world historical figures for the film Forrest Gump – which had been released only a couple of years earlier – the creative team managed to seamlessly blend the Deep Space Nine characters into The Original Series. Some excellent work with costumes and sets – including a recreation of the original USS Enterprise’s bridge – really sold the illusion.

The only character from Trials and Tribble-ations to appear in Strange New Worlds is Spock, with the episode taking place after Pike’s tenure in the captain’s chair. But as a celebration of all things Star Trek, and one of the few stories to bring together the 23rd and 24th Centuries, it’s one you shouldn’t miss! There are also some interesting time travel and timeline-integrity angles to the story’s frame narrative that may just prove interesting to viewers who pay attention.

Episode #3:
Q & A
Short Treks Season 2

Who’s this promising young ensign?

Q & A steps back in time to before the events of Strange New Worlds and Discovery Season 2 to show us Spock’s arrival aboard the USS Enterprise while still an ensign. It’s a cute short story that shows off a younger Spock while also introducing us to Una – a.k.a. Number One. Una had far less screen time than Spock or Pike in Discovery’s second season, so Q & A was one of the first stories to feature her in a big way.

There are some great shots of the internal workings of the USS Enterprise’s turbolifts – something that a geek like me is always going to be interested in! In fact, Q & A must be one of the very few episodes, along with parts of The Next Generation’s fifth season episode Disaster, to make a turbolift its primary setting. That format could feel restrictive, but Q & A makes it shine through some excellent character work and occasionally hilarious writing.

One of the Enterprise’s many turboshafts.

Q & A was one of three episodes of Short Treks to bring back Pike, Spock, and Una – and these short stories began to expand upon their roles and set the stage for Strange New Worlds. They were also experimental; teases to fans that also served to see whether the much-requested “Captain Pike show” was a viable concept. Short Treks did some genuinely interesting things in its second season – which is why I’ve argued that the concept should absolutely be revived!

Captain Pike is less of a presence in Q & A than he would be in Ask Not, but that’s no bad thing. We got to spend more time with Una, and seeing her in her role as first officer – in part through the eyes of a young Spock, fresh out of Starfleet Academy – was fascinating!

Episode #4:
Unification, Parts I-II
The Next Generation Season 5

An older Ambassador Spock in the 24th Century.

We just talked about how interesting it was to see young Spock when he was first assigned to the Enterprise – so now let’s jump forward in time by more than a century to see a much older Spock in a completely different chapter of his life! The two-part episode Unification brought Spock into The Next Generation in a truly interesting story that built upon the Vulcan-Romulan connection that had been introduced in The Original Series.

I adore crossovers, and aside from a brief cameo in the premiere of The Next Generation, this was the first crossover involving main characters that the franchise had attempted. Its success laid the groundwork for the likes of Relics, Flashback, Defiant, Caretaker, These Are The Voyages, and many more.

Spock and Data.

Unification found a way to give Spock genuine development to reflect decades of his life that we hadn’t seen on screen. It was great to see him alongside not only Captain Picard but also Data – the two characters share many characteristics and filled similar roles in their respective series. The mystery at the heart of the episode and subsequent revelations about Spock’s work and the Romulans’ schemes made for a story that was tense, dramatic, and exciting.

Strange New Worlds isn’t all about Spock, but seeing what his life would be like decades after the events of the series is worthwhile. It puts into context not only the stories that unfold around Spock, but his own actions, behaviours, and thoughts. The Spock we meet in Unification is different from the Spock of Strange New Worlds – but not unrecognisable.

Bonus Episode #4½:
Unification III
Discovery Season 3

Cleveland Booker and Michael Burnham watch a recording of Spock.

The two-parter became a three-parter when Discovery added to the legacy of Unification in its third season. Taking Spock’s work with the Romulans as a starting point, Unification III shows us how subsequent generations of Romulans and Vulcans looked to Spock as an inspiration. His legacy is all over this story – and it would carry through into future episodes of Discovery in its third and fourth seasons.

Spock would go on to be an important part of Vulcan history, remembered fondly even centuries after his death for the process that he started. Seeing Michael Burnham react to that was sweet, and knowing that Spock has a legacy within the Star Trek timeline that extends far beyond his own lifespan is something incredibly meaningful.

Episode #5:
Arena
The Original Series Season 1

The Gorn captain.

An absoloute classic of The Original Series, Arena features Captain Kirk’s iconic battle against an unnamed Gorn captain – the first Gorn encountered in Star Trek. I might be in the minority here, but I absolutely adore the way the rubber-suited Gorn looks. There’s something menacing about its tyrannosaurus rex-like head, its silvery, almost insectoid eyes, and its sharp crocodilian teeth. But at the same time, there’s a light-hearted campiness to the way the Gorn comes across on screen thanks in part to the limitations of 1960s special effects – and perhaps also due to the bold pattern on his (or her?) costume!

There’s more to Arena than just the scuffle at Vasquez Rocks, though! There’s a more philosophical side to the story, one that shows how far humanity has come by the 23rd Century – and how far there is still to go to make progress. Despite the conflict, both Spock and Kirk demonstrate a willingness to try diplomacy and show mercy – something that impresses the highly-advanced Metrons.

The Enterprise crew watch helplessly as Captain Kirk battles against the Gorn.

The way in which Captain Kirk was able to outsmart and defeat the Gorn captain shows his ingenuity at its best – and presents a contrast between “brains” and “brawn” that made it clear how even a strong and physically imposing enemy can be defeated. There’s a great metaphor there for dealing with bullies!

Arena is one of those episodes that I believe every Trekkie – even those who aren’t fans of The Original Series – needs to see at least once. Despite the Gorn not becoming a recurring villain in The Original Series or even during The Next Generation era, the original design of these reptilian aliens has become iconic, and as a story that fully encapsulates the Star Trek franchise’s approach to science-fiction, Arena has it all.

Episode #6:
Damage
Enterprise Season 3

Enterprise has seen better days…

Damage comes quite late in the fully-serialised story of Enterprise’s third season, but it’s worth a watch regardless. At this point in the story, Captain Archer and his crew are running out of time to prevent the Xindi from launching a super-weapon against Earth, and Archer’s desperation to do anything to complete his mission forces him down a very dark moral path.

In essence, Captain Archer must choose between failure – which will almost certainly lead to the total annihilation of Earth itself – and his morality, leading to him basically turning to theft and piracy in order to survive in the harsh Delphic Expanse. It’s a fascinating story that features a brand-new alien race, but also one that’s an introspective character piece focusing on Archer’s decisions.

Captain Archer is forced to confront an impossible decision.

There are other story threads in play in Damage, including T’Pol’s exposure to Trellium-D – a compound toxic to Vulcans that caused her to begin to lose control over her emotions. The way in which Vulcans suppress their emotions in favour of logic is something that Enterprise explored in depth, and it’s a fascinating part of Vulcan culture that subsequent Star Trek projects have also touched upon.

Enterprise’s third season was a tense and exciting one overall – and Damage is one of the highlights for its strong character work and examination of how Starfleet’s enlightened morality can end up falling by the wayside when the going gets tough. Captain Archer is pained by the decision he makes – but that doesn’t stop him from making it.

Episode #7:
Through the Valley of Shadows
Discovery Season 2

Visiting the Klingon monastery on Boreth.

Although I’d encourage you to watch Discovery Season 2 in its entirety, I felt that Through the Valley of Shadows was really the only episode that had a significant impact on Strange New Worlds. It’s here where Captain Pike has to make a decision about his fate and his future that sets him on a particular path – one that will culminate in devastating disability.

Although Pike was willing, in the moment, to make the sacrifice in order to obtain the time crystal, the decision he made has a huge impact on him. With only a couple of episodes left in Season 2, Discovery didn’t have a lot of time to address how this would affect him – but Strange New Worlds certainly does, and this is really the starting point for Pike’s season-long arc.

Captain Pike comes face-to-face with his own future.

Discovery’s second season was a big improvement on its first, and I think it’s fair to say that bringing Captain Pike and Spock into the show in a big way was a masterstroke! Through the Valley of Shadows reframes Pike’s accident and disability in an entirely different way, and while there are sci-fi trappings of time-travel macguffins and talk of fate and destiny, what lies just under the surface is a story that I find incredibly relatable.

I’ve been Captain Pike at this moment. Sitting down with a doctor, hearing bad news about my health, knowing that things won’t get better but will get worse, that my ability to do basic things like walking will become increasingly difficult… these are all experiences that I’ve personally had and that I saw reflected in Captain Pike. Whether intentional or not, the decision to have him become aware of his future – and choose to embrace it for the greater good – kicked off a story about disability and declining health that really resonated with me. Its approach to this complex topic was sensitive, understandable, and darkly beautiful.

Episode #8:
Prime Factors
Voyager Season 1

Harry Kim and Eduana using a Sikarian spatial trajector.

Prime Factors flips Starfleet’s Prime Directive on its head. The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s most important standing order, and it states that “no starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” We’ve seen the Prime Directive – and the principles upon which it is based – play a huge role in episodes of practically every Star Trek series, with captains having to decide whether to interfere, how to interfere, and what the consequences may be.

Prime Factors takes the opposite approach, and asks how it would feel to our heroes if they were on the other side of this kind of policy. How would Starfleet react to being denied a request for help or trade because it conflicted with an alien society’s principles? The resultant episode was absolutely fascinating.

Tuvok and Captain Janeway.

At this relatively early point in Voyager’s run, the fact that Captain Janeway and her crew really are stranded on the far side of the galaxy with no way to get home is beginning to sink in. Prime Factors is one of several episodes that teased the crew with a potential way to complete part of that journey – before yanking it away again.

The episode is also an interesting one for Harry Kim, who we get to see at his most eager to get home, and for the relationship between Captain Janeway and Tuvok. Although Chakotay would really take over the role of “trusted advisor” as Voyager got settled, initially it was Tuvok who was being established as Captain Janeway’s closest confidante and most reliable friend.

Episode #9:
Balance of Terror
The Original Series Season 1

A Romulan warbird firing its plasma torpedo.

Balance of Terror is the episode that first introduced the iconic Romulans to Star Trek – as well as revealing their connection with the Vulcans that we talked about in Unification above. Inspired by war films – particularly naval war films and those set aboard submarines – from a generation earlier, there’s a really tense, claustrophobic feel to the conflict between the Enterprise and this new, terrifying threat.

Balance of Terror expertly sets up the background of Federation-Romulan relations and uses that to create tension and conflict on the bridge of the Enterprise when a surprising connection between the Romulans and Spock’s own Vulcan people is revealed. The episode also raises the stakes by giving the Romulans not one but two super-weapons: the devastating plasma torpedo and a cloaking device. This was the first on-screen appearance of a cloaking device in Star Trek.

Captain Kirk in Balance of Terror.

Of particular note here is Captain Kirk’s approach to the conflict. After discovering the Romulan vessel and its technology, Kirk decides to pursue it, hoping to intercept it before it can cross back into Romulan space. Was this uncompromising approach the right call?

Balance of Terror is a fascinating episode for its tone, for its approach to bigotry and prejudice in the enlightened future Star Trek presents, and for its introduction of a faction that would go on to play a major role in the Star Trek franchise. It’s another episode of The Original Series that I consider to be a must-watch for all Trekkies.

Episode #10:
Star Trek 2009
Kelvin Timeline film

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin Timeline.

Technically a film rather than an episode, 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline with a soft reboot of the franchise. It’s a textbook example of how to write a successful reboot, and after the Star Trek franchise had begun to fade and lose viewership toward the latter part of Enterprise’s run, the 2009 reboot came along and definitively proved that there was still plenty of life in it yet! We wouldn’t have Discovery, Strange New Worlds, and the rest of modern Star Trek without this film and its two sequels.

For our purposes today, though, 2009’s Star Trek shows us a different timeline with alternate versions of Captain Pike – who plays a prominent role in the story – as well as Spock and Uhura. Seeing these versions of the characters and noting their differences and similarities to their prime timeline counterparts could be worthwhile going into Strange New Worlds.

Spock, meet Spock!

Star Trek 2009 also chronicles the next chapter of Spock’s life after the events of Unification (which we took a look at above). Spock’s relationship with the Romulans and his plan to help them avert a catastrophe are what led to him being dragged into the alternate reality, and the meeting between the older and younger versions of the character is a powerful moment.

Seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others in their Starfleet Academy days was a concept that Gene Roddenberry had toyed with even as far back as The Original Series in the 1960s. 2009’s Star Trek took that concept and put a spin on it, updating the franchise for the 21st Century and introducing it to legions of new Trekkies. It’s a good film in its own right, and one whose legacy is the rejuvenated Star Trek franchise that we’re continuing to enjoy today.

So that’s it!

Promotional poster for Strange New Worlds.

Those are my picks for ten episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds to prepare for what the series will bring – or afterwards, if you prefer, to lend some context to some of the character arcs and storylines.

There are at least ten more episodes and films that I could’ve chosen; it wasn’t easy to whittle down the list to the ten picks above. Having already seen Strange New Worlds Season 1, I confess that I picked several different episodes that I might not have chosen otherwise. But that’s the benefit of hindsight!

As I said in my spoiler-free review of the first season, Strange New Worlds is utterly fantastic and well worth a watch for Trekkies and newcomers to the franchise alike. I can’t praise it highly enough – and I can’t wait for Season 2!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available. New episodes are being released weekly on Paramount+ in the United Kingdom. Further international distribution has not been announced at time of writing. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other episodes, films, and shows discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Six Star Trek “hot takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Seasons 1-2, Discovery Season 3, Strange New Worlds, the Kelvin timeline films, Deep Space Nine, and The Next Generation.

Today I thought we could have a bit of fun! There are many so-called “hot takes” about the Star Trek franchise flitting about online, and I thought it could be a change of pace to share a few of my own. These are – based on my limited engagement with the wider Star Trek fan community, at least – opinions that aren’t widely held or especially popular. I’ll do my best to explain why I feel the way I do about each of the six subjects we’re going to consider below.

More than ever, I ask you to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, not objective! I’m not saying that these opinions are factual and unquestionable; this is just my singular perspective on a handful of very complex topics. As with everything in media, there are going to be a range of views, and while I’ll try to justify my opinions below, I know that a lot of people can and do disagree. And that’s okay! There’s room in the Star Trek fan community for respectful disagreement about all manner of things.

With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Trek opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
Star Trek: Picard transformed Seven of Nine into an enjoyable character for the first time.

Seven of Nine in Picard Season 2.

Star Trek: Picard hasn’t been perfect across its first two seasons, but one thing that it absolutely got right is Seven of Nine’s characterisation. Seven was an unexpected character for the series to introduce – she’d never interacted with Jean-Luc Picard on screen before, and the pair hadn’t even the barest bones of a relationship to build on. In that sense, I was surprised (and maybe a little concerned) when it was made clear that she’d be featured in a big way in the first season.

Perhaps I should explain myself before we go any further. Seven of Nine was introduced midway through Voyager’s run in the two-part episode Scorpion. At first she seemed to be a character with a lot of potential, and I enjoyed what she brought to the table in early Season 4 episodes such as Scientific Method and The Raven. But Seven very quickly became repetitive. Week after week she’d learn some lesson in “how to be more human” from the Doctor or Captain Janeway, but she’d seem to forget all about it and revert to her semi-Borg self by the next episode. This was exacerbated by the fact that Voyager’s latter seasons seemed to include a lot of Seven-heavy episodes and stories, making her a prominent character.

Publicity photo of Seven of Nine during Voyager’s run.

That’s how episodic television works, and I get that. Most other Star Trek characters up to that point in the franchise’s history also “reset” in between episodes, and we could talk at length about how characters like Miles O’Brien could go through some horrible trauma one week only to be happily playing darts at Quark’s a few days later as if it never happened. But with Seven of Nine, a combination of her prominence and storylines that often revolved around learning and taking to heart some aspect of what it means to be human and exist outside of the Borg Collective meant that her week-to-week resets and lack of significant growth really began to grate. Toward the end of Season 7, Seven was given an arc of sorts that threw her into a relationship with Chakotay – but I’m hardly the only person who feels that didn’t work particularly well!

So by the time Voyager ended, I was burnt out on Seven of Nine. Out of all the main characters from Voyager, she was perhaps the one I was least interested to see picked up for a second bite of the cherry – but I was wrong about that. Where Seven had been static and repetitive in Voyager, Picard gave her that development I’d been longing to see, and it was incredibly cathartic! Even though Seven’s post-Voyager life hadn’t been smooth, it had been human, and seeing her experience genuine emotions like anger, betrayal, and later through her relationship with Raffi, love, was something I didn’t know I wanted. Having seen it now, though, there’s no way I’d want to lose this element of Picard.

Seven with Admiral Picard.

The death of Icheb, which was shown in one of Picard Season 1’s most gory sequences, became a key part of Seven’s character arc. His loss devastated her – and the idea that Seven of Nine could be devastated was already a colossal leap for her character. That it spurred her on to one of the most human of desires – revenge – is even more significant for her. And this growth continued across the rest of Season 1, with Seven coming face-to-face with the Borg and even becoming a leader (of sorts) for the liberated ex-Borg on the Artifact.

Even though Season 2 was a mixed bag (at best) with some lacklustre storylines, Seven of Nine shone once again. Her relationship with Raffi added a whole new dimension to her character, and after seeing her experiencing anger and negative emotions in Season 1, Season 2 gave her a chance at love. Season 2 also saw Seven revelling in a new experience, having hopped across to a new timeline and found herself in a body that had never been assimilated. That set her on an arc to accepting herself for who she is – including her Borg past.

Seven without her trademark Borg implants.

Seven’s journey has been beautiful to see, but also cathartic. To me, her journey in Picard feels like it’s righted a twenty-year wrong, finally giving Seven of Nine genuine development and an arc that stuck. While I’m sure fans can and will debate individual plot points (like Icheb’s death or Seven’s off-screen involvement with the Fenris Rangers), taken as a whole I’ve really enjoyed what Picard did with what had been one of my least-favourite characters of The Next Generation era.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more from Seven of Nine – and if you’d told me in 2000-2001 that I’d write those words I wouldn’t have believed you!

“Hot Take” #2:
I don’t like The Inner Light.

Picard/Kamin in The Inner Light.

Often held up as an example of The Next Generation at its best, I’ve never enjoyed The Inner Light. It’s an episode I usually skip over without a second thought when re-watching The Next Generation, but I put myself through the chore of viewing it recently; it’s part of what inspired me to put together this list!

The Inner Light steps away from the exciting adventures of the Enterprise-D to show us a pre-warp civilisation living on a random alien backwater planet, and while exploring strange new worlds is part of the gig, the way this episode in particular does that is just not interesting or enjoyable in the slightest. It’s certainly “different” – and I will concede that point. Star Trek has never been shy about experimenting, after all! But this particular experiment didn’t work, which is probably why we haven’t really seen another episode quite like it.

Picard with the Kataan probe.

I don’t like to say that something “doesn’t feel like Star Trek,” not least because that vague and unhelpful phrase has become associated with a subgroup of so-called fans who use it to attack everything the franchise has done since 2009. But to me, The Inner Light feels about as far away from what I want and hope to see from an episode of Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

By spending practically its entire runtime in the past, with Picard taking on the role of an alien blacksmith in a pre-warp society, The Inner Light abandons not only the entire crew of the Enterprise-D, but also many of the fundamental adventurous elements that are what makes Star Trek, well… feel like Star Trek. Its deliberately slow pace doubles-down on this sensation, and The Inner Light seems to drag as a result, coming across as boring.

Picard/Kamin playing the flute.

I’m not particularly bothered by the way the Kataan probe operates – that seems technobabbley enough to get a pass. But after Picard has been hit by the probe and the majority of the episode is then spent on Kataan with Kamin and his family… I’m just not interested. Sir Patrick Stewart is a great actor, and what happened to the Kataan people is both tragic and a timely reminder of our own burgeoning environmental catastrophe (something that we haven’t even tried to fix more than a quarter of a century later). But despite all of the elements being in place, the story just doesn’t grab me like I feel it should. At the end of the day, I can’t find a way to give a shit about Kataan, nor about Kamin or anyone else.

There are many episodes of Star Trek with races and characters who only appear once, and yet very few of them manage to evoke that same “I just don’t care” reaction. Just within Season 5 of The Next Generation we have characters like Hugh the Borg and Nicholas Locarno, or aliens like the Children of Tama and the Ux-Mal, all of which manage to hook me in and get me invested in their storylines. I’d generally consider The Next Generation’s fifth season to be one of its best, with many of my favourite episodes. But The Inner Light isn’t one of them.

Picard/Kamin overlooking the village of Ressik.

There are points to The Inner Light that did work. The Ressikan flute theme, for example, is a beautiful piece of music, and Picard’s flute-playing ability (which he learned during the events of The Inner Light) would become a minor recurring element for his character going forward, notably appearing in episodes like Lessons. And the underlying premise of a probe that transmits a message in this way could have worked; it feels quite Star Trek-y in and of itself.

But for me, The Inner Light just isn’t fun to watch. It’s boring, uninspiring, and I can’t find a way to get invested in the story of Kataan and its people – despite good performances from Sir Patrick Stewart and the other actors present.

“Hot Take” #3:
Modern Trek needs to pick a single era (and timeline) and stick to it.

Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham in the 32nd Century.

Star Trek, perhaps more so than any other major entertainment franchise, is convoluted. As Trekkies, we love that! The fact that modern Star Trek can explore different timelines, different eras, and broadcast different shows that are entirely separate from one another makes for a diverse and interesting presentation. It also means that we can simultaneously step back in time to before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission while also seeing what came next for Captain Picard twenty-five years after the events of Nemesis.

But try to look at Star Trek from the point of view of a newcomer. Every single one of the five shows currently in production is set in a different time period and location, and just figuring out where to start with Star Trek – or where to go next for someone who’s enjoyed watching one of the new shows – is the subject of essays, articles, and lists. It’s beginning to remind me of Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe – a combination of games, books, comics, and so on that had become so convoluted and dense after decades in production that it felt offputting.

Cadet Elnor in the 25th Century.

In order for Star Trek to successfully convert viewers of one of its new iterations into fans of the franchise, it needs to simplify its current output. A fan of Strange New Worlds might think that their next port of call should be Picard or Lower Decks – but they’d be completely lost because those shows are set more than a century later.

The lack of a single, unified setting also prevents crossover stories – and these aren’t just fun fan-service for Trekkies like us! Crossovers link up separate Star Trek outings, bringing fans of one show into close contact with another. Just as The Next Generation did with Deep Space Nine (and DS9 did with Voyager), modern Star Trek should make the effort to link up its current shows. There are links between Discovery and Strange New Worlds – but any crossover potential has evaporated due to Discovery shooting forward into the far future.

Beckett Mariner and Jennifer the Andorian in the late 24th Century.

This also applies to alternate realities, most significantly the Kelvin timeline which is supposedly being brought back for a fourth film. The Kelvin films served a purpose in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but as I’ve argued in the past, is it really a good idea to bring back that setting – as well as its presentation of characters who have recently been recast for Strange New Worlds – with everything else that Star Trek has going on?

In 2009, it was possible for new fans to jump from the Kelvin films to other iterations of Star Trek and keep up with what’s going on. But we’ve had more than 100 new episodes of Star Trek since then across several different eras, some including recast versions of characters who appeared in the Kelvin timeline films. I’m not so sure that a new Kelvin timeline film serves its intended purpose any more.

Captain Pike in the 23rd Century.

I wouldn’t want to see any of the shows currently in production shut down before their time. We’ve only just got started with Strange New Worlds, for instance, and I’m hopeful that that series will run for at least five seasons (to complete Captain Pike’s five-year mission!) But as the current crop of shows wind down, the producers at Paramount need to consider their next moves very carefully. Where should Star Trek go from here, and where should its focus be?

Discovery’s 32nd Century is certainly a contender, and setting the stage for new adventures years after the stories we know provides a soft reboot for the franchise while also opening up new storytelling possibilities. But it would also be great to see Star Trek return to the late 24th or early 25th Centuries of the Picard era, picking up story threads from The Next Generation era – Star Trek’s real “golden age” in the 1990s. Setting all (or almost all) of its films, shows, miniseries, and one-shot stories in a single, unified timeline has many advantages, and would be to the franchise’s overall benefit.

Stay tuned, because I have a longer article about this in the pipeline!

“Hot Take” #4:
Far Beyond The Stars is an unenjoyable episode, albeit one with a very important message.

Benny Russell in Far Beyond The Stars.

This is my way of saying that “I don’t like Far Beyond The Stars” while still giving credit to the moral story at its core. Star Trek has always been a franchise that’s brought moral fables to screen, and Far Beyond The Stars does this in a very intense – and almost brutal – way, shining a light on America’s racist past and present.

But as I’ve already discussed with The Inner Light above, the way in which this story is presented doesn’t really work for me. I find Benny Russell’s story sympathetic… but because what’s happening is so far removed from the events of Deep Space Nine, it’s difficult to turn that investment over the course of a single episode into anything substantial. The “it was all a dream or a vision” explanation also hammers this home; whatever was happening to Captain Sisko was taking place outside of the real world – perhaps inside his head, perhaps as a vision from the Prophets – and thus it doesn’t feel like it matters – in the context of the show – in the same way as other, similar stories.

Julius and Benny.

Far Beyond The Stars is comparable to The Inner Light insofar as it steps out of the Star Trek franchise’s fictional future. In this case, the story returns to our real world a few short years in the past. While there are occasional flashes of Star Trek’s signature optimism, the darker tone of the story combines with its real-world setting to feel different; separate from not only the events of Star Trek, but its entire universe.

“But that’s the whole point!” fans of Far Beyond The Stars are itching to tell me. And I agree! Far Beyond The Stars knows what it’s trying to be and knows the kind of story it wants to tell and goes for it, 100%. I’d even say that it achieves what it set out to. But that doesn’t make it a fun watch, an entertaining story, or an episode I’m keen to revisit. As with The Inner Light, I almost always skip over Far Beyond The Stars when I’m watching Deep Space Nine.

The unnamed preacher.

Perhaps if I were an American, more of Far Beyond The Stars’ real-world elements would hit closer to home. But when I first saw the episode in the late ’90s here in the UK, I confess that at least parts of it went way over my head. That’s perhaps my own bias showing – but the whole point of this exercise is to discuss parts of the Star Trek franchise beginning with my own biases and opinions!

Having re-watched Far Beyond The Stars after spending time living in both the United States and South Africa – two societies which continue to wrangle with legacies of structural and systemic racial discrimination – I definitely felt its hard-hitting message a lot more. In fact, Far Beyond The Stars could be a great episode to use as a starting point for a broader conversation about race and structural racism. But having a moral message – especially a very on-the-nose one – doesn’t always make for the most interesting or enjoyable story.

Sisko sees himself reflected as Benny Russell at the end of the episode.

I don’t find Far Beyond The Stars to be “uncomfortable” to watch. The racial aspects of its story have purpose, and even with the progress that America has made since the turn of the millennium, many of the racial issues that Far Beyond The Stars highlights are just as relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago. But I guess what I’d say about the episode is that it doesn’t deliver what I personally find interesting and enjoyable about an episode of Star Trek.

Taken as a one-off, I can put up with Far Beyond The Stars. It didn’t become a major recurring thing in Deep Space Nine, and while Captain Sisko would recall the events on more than one occasion, it didn’t come to dominate the latter part of Deep Space Nine’s run in any way. So in that sense, I’m content to set Far Beyond The Stars to one side, acknowledging what it brought to the table in terms of allegory and morality while being content to rewatch it infrequently.

“Hot Take” #5:
Canon matters – up to a point.

The original USS Enterprise.

There seems to be a black-and-white, either/or debate in the Star Trek fan community when it comes to the franchise’s internal canon. Some folks are adamant that the tiniest minutia of canon must be “respected” at all costs, criticising things like the redesign of uniforms or even the recasting of characters because it doesn’t fit precisely with what came before. Then there are others who say that “it’s all just a story,” and that canon can be entirely ignored if a new writer has an idea for a story. I don’t fall into either camp!

Canon matters because internal consistency matters. Internal consistency is – for me, at least – an absolutely essential part of the pathway to suspension of disbelief. If I’m to believe that transporters and warp cores exist, the way they work and the way they’re presented on screen has to be basically consistent from one Star Trek story to the next.

The USS Discovery at warp.

The same applies to characters. If a character has a background as an assassin and that’s a central part of their characterisation in one story, the next episode can’t arbitrarily change that and make them into a marine biologist because the plot demands it. Characters need to feel like real people, and the world they inhabit needs to operate by its established rules.

Luckily for Star Trek’s writers, there is a lot of flexibility in those rules! Most of the specifics of how individual pieces of technology work have never been delved into in any detail, and there’s a lot we don’t know about even the most basic of things within the Star Trek universe. So new writers find themselves with considerable leeway if they want to make a change or do something differently for the sake of a story.

A combadge from an alternate timeline.

But there is a limit to that – or at least there ought to be. And the Star Trek franchise has tripped up by introducing new elements that seem to tread on the toes of what has already been established, even if they don’t technically overwrite anything. Spock’s family is a case in point. The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned, and then Discovery came along and gave him an adopted sister as well. Neither of these additions overwrote what we know of Spock’s family history… but they definitely came close.

On the other side of things, I’m quite okay with Star Trek making changes and updates to its visual style. The redesign of the USS Enterprise that debuted in Discovery and has been expanded upon for Strange New Worlds is a great example of one way that the franchise has modernised its look without really “damaging” established canon. All that’s required to get around the apparent visual changes – for anyone who feels it’s necessary – is to say that the Enterprise must’ve undergone some kind of retrofit in between Pike’s command and Kirk’s.

Sarek and Michael Burnham in Discovery’s premiere.

Where canon matters to me is in terms of characterisation and story. If we’ve established, for example, that the Vulcans and Romulans are related to one another, then future stories must remain consistent with that; there can be no “Romulan origin story” that tries to say that they evolved separately, for example. Likewise for characters. We all love a good character arc – but if a character’s personality and background are established, changing those fundamentals in an arbitrary manner should be off the table.

So to the canon purists, my message is going to be “loosen up a little!” And to the canon ignorers, what I’d say is “internal consistency matters.”

“Hot Take” #6:
The Kelvin films got a lot right – and could be textbook examples of how to reboot a franchise.

Spock, Kirk, and Dr McCoy in Star Trek Beyond.

Even today, more than a decade after 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline, I still have Trekkie friends who have refused to watch them. Other fans who showed up at the cinema were unimpressed with what they saw, and the Kelvin films can feel like a controversial part of the Star Trek franchise sometimes. For my two cents, though, although the Kelvin films were imperfect and certainly different to what had come before, they managed to get a lot of things right. I’d even say that Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness could be used as textbook case studies in how to reboot a franchise successfully!

Modern Star Trek – from Discovery to Picard and beyond – would simply not exist without the Kelvin films. When Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, it really did feel as though the Star Trek franchise itself had died and wouldn’t be returning. Even as someone who hadn’t been a regular viewer of Enterprise, that still stung! But if there had been doubts over the Star Trek brand and its ability to reach out to new audiences and bring in huge numbers of viewers, 2009’s Star Trek shattered them.

Transwarp beaming.

Into Darkness eclipsed even the massively high numbers of its predecessor and remains the cinematic franchise’s high-water mark in terms of audience figures and profitability, so it’s not exactly shocking to learn that Paramount hopes to return to the Kelvin cast for a fourth outing next year! These films took what had been a complicated franchise with a reputation for being geeky and nerdy and skimmed off a lot of the fluff. What resulted was a trio of decent sci-fi action films that may just have saved the franchise’s reputation.

The Kelvin films also gave Star Trek a visual overhaul, modernising the franchise’s aesthetic and visual style while still retaining all of the core elements that longstanding fans expected. Transporters were still there – but they looked sleeker and prettier. Warp drive was still present – but a new visual effect was created. Many of these aesthetic elements have remained part of the franchise ever since, appearing in the various productions that we’ve seen since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017.

The USS Enterprise.

By establishing an alternate reality, the Kelvin films found scope to take familiar characters to very different places. We got to see how Kirk and Spock met for the first time at Starfleet Academy – a premise that Gene Roddenberry had considered all the way back during The Original Series’ run – but with a twist. Star Trek reintroduced us to classic characters, but put its own spin on them, providing a satisfactory in-universe explanation for why so many things were different.

But at the same time, the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock from the prime timeline anchored the Kelvin films, providing a link to what had come before. This reboot wasn’t about erasing anything; it was an expansion of Star Trek into a new timeline, one that had basically unlimited potential to tell some very different stories. The trio of films took advantage of that, and while I would argue that there’s no pressing need to revisit the Kelvin timeline right now, I absolutely do appreciate what they did for Star Trek.

Two Spocks.

As a reboot, the Kelvin films succeeded in their ambition. They reinvented Star Trek just enough for mainstream audiences to discover the franchise – many for the first time. Some of those folks stuck around and have become big Trekkies all off the back of what the Kelvin films did. They updated Star Trek without overwriting anything, and they set the stage for further expansion and growth. By every measure, the Kelvin films were successful.

That isn’t to say they’re my favourite part of the franchise! But as a fan who wants Star Trek to stick around and continue to be successful, projects like the Kelvin films are essential.

So that’s it!

Were those takes as hot as a supernova?

I hope that this was a bit of fun rather than anything to get too seriously upset about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about the episodes, films, characters, and storylines that Star Trek creates, and whether I’m thrilled about something, hated it, or have mixed feelings, I will always try to explain myself and provide reasons for why I feel the way that I do. But at the end of the day, all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person!

We’re very lucky to have so much Star Trek content coming our way in the next few years. It seems like the franchise will make it to its sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new films and episodes still being produced, and there can’t be many entertainment franchises that could make such a claim to longevity!

There are definitely points on the list above that I could expand upon, and I’m sure I could think of a few more “hot takes” if I tried! So stay tuned for more Star Trek content to come here on the website as we move into the summer season.

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

My biggest wish for Star Trek: Discovery Season 5

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

With Picard Season 2 ongoing, Strange New Worlds Season 1 hot on its heels, and Prodigy and Lower Decks still to come this year, it might seem premature to be thinking about Discovery Season 5 already! But as I was writing up the final part of my Season 4 theory list, it got me thinking. Season 4 wasn’t bad, all things considered. It had some storylines that disappointed or underwhelmed, but there are some genuinely outstanding episodes in the mix as well – and it ended on a very emotional and exciting high note.

It’s never too early to look ahead, and before production gets fully underway on Discovery’s next outing, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions about where the show could go from here, and what I’d like to see next. That’s what this article will be about – but stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Season 4 and some of its story elements in the weeks and months ahead.

The USS Mitchell in the Season 4 finale.

For me, the single biggest wish I have for Discovery Season 5 is that it steps away from the “apocalyptic, galaxy-ending threat” story archetype that has been used in different ways across all four seasons of the show so far. We’ve gone through the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, the Burn and the Emerald Chain in Season 3, and finally the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. It’s time to give Captain Burnham and the crew a break, and for the series to try using a genuinely different formula instead of slapping a new coat of paint on the old one.

Just because a story is smaller in scale doesn’t make it any less emotional, exciting, tense, or dramatic, and I think that’s a lesson some of Discovery’s writers and producers could do with taking to heart. How we as the audience respond to a work of fiction is guided not by how massive the monster is or how big the explosions are going to be, but by how the characters we’re rooting for react. Their emotions become our emotions, their investment in the world around them becomes our investment, and so on. A story about a group of people working in an office, friends going on a road trip, or star-crossed lovers from rival families aren’t smaller, less exciting, and worse because they don’t have the backdrop of a world-ending disaster spurring them on. And conversely, some of the worst and least-exciting films and TV shows I’ve ever seen went over-the-top with the size and scale of the disaster the characters were facing.

The Burn was the driving force for much of Season 3.

Past iterations of Star Trek used these kinds of apocalyptic stories pretty sparingly, when you look back on it. It’s only Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc, which lasted for three seasons, that comes close to being as long and drawn-out an affair, and even within the framework of the Dominion War, DS9 found ways to tell very different and fun one-off stories. Things like the Borg incursions that Captain Picard and his crew had to deal with were either two-parters or one-off films, and they work well in that format.

Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D still found other ways to be entertaining, and many of The Next Generation’s standalone episodes have gone on to be considered iconic, even those that had a far smaller focus than blockbuster outings like The Best of Both Worlds. This doesn’t mean ditching the season-long story arcs or returning to an episodic format, because I think Discovery has done some interesting and neat things with its serialised stories. But it does mean choosing season-long storylines and narrative arcs that are different in a fundamental way to what the show has tried already.

The DMA was the big threat in Season 4.

Practically any format can become bland and unexciting when overused, no matter how much fun it might’ve been in its original incarnation or at its best moments. It’s a challenge to keep any television series feeling fresh as it enters its fifth season and races toward its sixty-fifth episode, and there are many examples of shows that ran out of steam somewhere along the way. Heck, I have an entire list of television shows that either ran too long or wore out their concepts, and I can think of many more that I could’ve included.

Even Star Trek has hit the wall in the past, running out of energy and failing to keep audiences engaged. By the time Enterprise was willing to try new things in its third and fourth seasons, for example, the franchise was already in such a steep decline that cancellation was inevitable. To Paramount’s credit, lessons have been learned from what happened in 2005 in terms of the way the franchise as a whole operates. Different series are telling stories in their own ways, appealing to broader audiences, and Star Trek as a whole feels varied and diverse. But Discovery on its own doesn’t… and it’s right on the verge of becoming repetitive.

The USS Discovery in Season 4.

I was far from the only commentator to make the point prior to Season 4 that another “galactic threat” storyline felt samey, coming off the back of three similar narrative frameworks, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that re-using that format a fifth time will be a bridge too far. Making use of the newly-established 32nd Century in different ways, and telling a story that may be smaller in scale but that’s just as impactful, emotional, and entertaining, will be the key challenges that I’d like the writers to tackle in Season 5.

The theme of rebuilding in the aftermath of a disaster was something we only saw Season 4 tackle in the briefest and barest of ways right at the beginning of the season, but this could be a concept that the show puts to much better use next time around. Discovery could follow Captain Burnham as she and the crew jump to different worlds, delivering dilithium, solving problems, flying the flag for the Federation… and most importantly, bringing hope to a galaxy that’s been through a lot.

The flag of the Federation…

This is what I’d hoped Season 4 would do, to be honest. The idea of restoring the Federation from the incredibly weakened state it was in when we encountered it is far too important and interesting to be relegated to something that happens off-screen, and I felt even before Season 4 had aired a single episode that this concept offered so much scope for emotional, exciting, and varied storytelling. Discovery could hop to different planets, combining the inclusion of new and visually different alien races (like Season 4’s “butterfly” aliens) with the reintroduction of classic races.

Catching up with some of the factions we remember from past iterations of Star Trek is also something I’ve been wanting Discovery to do for two seasons now. We’ve caught glimpses of races like the Ferengi and Andorians, and heard others mentioned in dialogue and log recordings, but we haven’t actually spent a lot of time with practically any of them. Finding out what became of fan-favourites not only in the years after the Burn, but in the centuries before that event took place, is something that I think a lot of Trekkies would be interested in.

We caught glimpses of familiar races… but Discovery didn’t find time to explore most of them in any detail.

If the 32nd Century is going to be a major setting for the franchise going forward, this kind of world-building is important. Just like how The Next Generation laid the groundwork for Deep Space Nine through its introduction of the Cardassians and Bajorans, so too could Discovery introduce us to planets, races, and technologies that future spin-offs and Star Trek projects could expand upon.

Part of that world-building can be done in a serialised story that looks at how the Federation can be rebuilt in the aftermath of the disasters it has already faced; introducing another new disaster to avert or recover from is simply not needed at this point. From the point of view of the characters, throwing them into another extreme situation would also be problematic, and would take the storytelling close to soap-opera levels.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer.

Discovery has, to its credit, attempted to show how some of the events that its characters have gone through have impacted their mental health. Some of these stories have been underdeveloped – Detmer’s in Season 3 and Dr Culber’s in Season 4 being the most egregious examples. But even with this kind of attempted mental health focus, there’s a limit on what we could expect characters to go through and still be alright when they come out the other end.

To be fair, that’s a line that the Star Trek franchise has crossed in the past with characters like Miles O’Brien, for example, who seemed to survive a lot of traumatic events only to be back to normal the next week! But as shows like Picard have demonstrated with characters like Seven of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard himself, it can be incredibly cathartic to revisit some of these characters and give them meaningful, lasting development. But we’re drifting off-topic!

Captain Burnham in Season 4.

Star Trek’s galaxy is vast, and as we saw in Season 4 with the inclusion of races like the Abronians and Unknown Species 10-C, even in the 32nd Century there’s still a heck of a lot that Starfleet doesn’t know about it. There’s scope for Captain Burnham and the crew to get back to exploring for its own sake, as well as using their Spore Drive to reach parts of the galaxy that it would be difficult for the Federation to do otherwise. There’s the potential for the crew to bring hope to far-flung Federation outposts after the Burn, the Emerald Chain, and the DMA have had such a devastating impact… and it’s worthwhile telling stories like that.

Even if Season 5 doesn’t do much of that rebuilding or exploring, I’m still hopeful that whatever stories it chooses to tell won’t feel repetitive and won’t recycle the same basic story framework that we’ve seen throughout the show’s entire run to date. Discovery could do so much to expand our understanding of the Star Trek galaxy; even more so in a 32nd Century setting that is wholly unconstrained by prior canon. Shooting this far forwards in time was a great way for the show’s writers and producers to give themselves new opportunities to play in the vast sandbox that we call the Star Trek galaxy – so now would be a great time to take advantage of that.

As I look ahead to Season 5, I feel hopeful and optimistic. Season 4 had some problems, but generally it was an improvement over Season 3 and it ended in truly spectacular fashion. There’s potential for what comes next to build on that, and if the series can avoid retreading too much old ground, Season 5 could be Discovery’s best outing yet.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ where the platform is available and via a patchwork of video-on-demand and pay-to-view streaming platforms in the rest of the world. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – Season 4 finale

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 2, VoyagerEnterprise, and The Next Generation.

Discovery’s fourth season concluded just over a month ago, but for some reason I’d forgotten to wrap up my theory list! I blame the oversight on the excitement of Picard’s second season overlapping Discovery for the final few episodes… and, perhaps, the issues surrounding Strange New Worlds’ international broadcast. Regardless, we’re here now! So let’s get on with it, shall we?

In my review, I said that Coming Home was probably the high point of the season, and while the episode wasn’t perfect, it was a great way to bring an occasionally frustrating season to a close! Some of the complaints and criticisms that I made were more to do with Season 4 as a whole rather than Coming Home itself, and while we’ll touch on some of those points today, please stay tuned because I hope to write up my full thoughts on the entirety of Season 4 in the weeks ahead.

Coming Home was an explosive end to the season.

The theory list had grown quite long across Season 4, peaking in week 11 where I had 36 different theories in play – with varying levels of plausibility! By the time we got to the season finale that number had dipped somewhat, and there were 23 theories on the list going into Coming Home. I’ll be recapping each of them on this occasion, as well as three production-side theories that were also in play.

Keep an eye out for several of them to return in the run-up to Season 5, because a few theories that weren’t outright debunked (or even touched on at all for much of Season 4) still feel plausible and interesting to me!

For now, let’s start with the sole theory that was confirmed in the season finale. We’ll then look at the debunkings, the production-side theories, and the few that remain on the table going into Season 5.

Confirmed theory:
Book and Burnham got back together.

Burnham and Book embrace near the end of the episode.

This theory was one that I was desperately hoping would make it to screen! In short, the “Burnham relationship drama” angle that Season 4 pursued from shortly after the halfway point was one of the weakest narrative elements, one which felt gratuitous and overdone. I understand where it came from, and how it aimed to show how grief was leading Book down a dark path. But after everything Captain Burnham went through with Ash Tyler, seeing her settled and happy with Book was fantastic – and I greatly disliked how Discovery ripped that away.

The relationship drama storyline also trod on the toes of other potentially interesting stories. Discovery has always been the Michael Burnham show, and expecting that to change in Season 4 was unrealistic, perhaps. But even so, episodes like All In and Rubicon sidelined other stories and other characters to allow more time to be spent on Book and Burnham and the way they were feeling. For me, it was just too much – and one consequence of that was that some potentially-interesting story arcs, like Dr Culber’s mental health struggles, didn’t get as much development as they deserved.

When Book and Burnham reconciled at the end of Coming Home it really felt great – and I hope that their relationship will remain rock-solid for the remainder of the series’ run!

So that theory was confirmed.

Next, let’s run through the theories that were debunked as of the end of Coming Home.

Debunked theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is responsible for the galaxy’s dilithium supply running out.

Dilithium aboard the USS Discovery in Season 3.

This is the first of several theories that were connected to the events of Season 3. For whatever reason, though, Discovery’s focus shifted far away from the Burn in Season 4, with only a few mentions of the phenomenon and its consequences. The state of the galaxy in the aftermath of the Burn served as a backdrop to the events of the season, but in many ways the story could’ve unfolded in exactly the same way if the Burn had never happened or if we’d never come to know about it!

In short, I speculated that Unknown Species 10-C may have been mining the galaxy for dilithium in a similar way to how they used the DMA to mine for boronite. If so, perhaps they could have been behind the still-unexplained loss of dilithium supplies in the years leading up to the Burn. As it is, there was no connection – or at least, no connection was apparent as of the end of the season.

Debunked theory #2:
The Guardian of Forever will make an appearance.

The Guardian of Forever in The Animated Series.

The Guardian of Forever potentially opened up a completely different story trajectory for Burnham – and for Book and Tarka in particular. The events of Terra Firma in Season 3 seem to confirm that the Guardian can be a portal not only to travel through time but also to cross between universes. With Tarka hoping to cross over to a different parallel universe, the Guardian of Forever seemed like a plausible way for him to do so – potentially allowing everyone to get what they wanted.

As it is, Tarka’s story ended in an unspectacular fashion, and unfortunately I consider his storyline to be a bit of a waste. A fun, exciting, and nuanced character was set up earlier in the season, only to turn into a fairly flaccid and one-dimensional villain as the story reached its end. The Guardian of Forever was never mentioned, and Tarka presumably died when Book’s ship exploded.

Debunked theory #3:
Unknown Species 10-C is connected to a faction from Star Trek’s past.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

I clung on to my shrinking list of Unknown Species 10-C candidates for the longest time, but I was finally forced to give up on the idea of the mysterious race turning out to be someone familiar a couple of weeks before the season finale! However, even if Unknown Species 10-C were new to Star Trek, I theorised – with very little to back it up, I should say – that there could be some kind of connection to another faction from the franchise’s past.

It couldn’t be the Federation, nor almost any organic race, but it seemed possible to me that there could be a connection to someone like the Borg. If Unknown Species 10-C had been the victim of an attack by someone like the Borg, that could’ve explained their desire to hide away from the rest of the galaxy.

As it is, no connection was forthcoming. I fully expect Unknown Species 10-C to be a minor part of Season 5 (at best), so I doubt we’ll learn much more about them any time soon.

Debunked theory #4:
A major character will be killed.

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

Before the season began I took a look at the main characters and speculated about who may or may not be on the chopping block! As television storytelling has changed and evolved, particularly in the wake of shows with “disposable” casts like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, audience expectations have changed as well. I suggested several times throughout the season that Discovery giving its main characters some pretty heavy plot armour in the face of incredibly challenging missions and dangerous circumstances wasn’t a great look – and I kept this theory in play right up until the season’s final moments.

The fake-out over Book’s death wasn’t a problem, and I don’t want to single it out for criticism just because it was the final example of this phenomenon; I felt it worked well in Coming Home. But looking back at the season overall, there were multiple opportunities to kill off characters in meaningful and impactful ways, but Discovery’s writers chose not to. Even minor characters like Dr Pollard and Commander Bryce seem to have survived the season, and while Tarka was killed, as a villain his death doesn’t count in the same way.

A well-timed character death can do so much for a story, and I feel like Discovery dropped the ball on this one during Season 4.

Debunked theory #5:
Admiral Vance’s holo-message about Earth and Ni’Var was fake or has been tampered with.

Admiral Vance in Coming Home.

Although Coming Home absolutely stuck the landing and made the sequences at Federation HQ feel incredibly tense and emotional, I didn’t like the whole “Earth is in danger” story cliché that had been introduced in The Galactic Barrier. That trope isn’t just one that’s overused in stories like these, but it’s one that can fall flat and fail in its effort to ramp up the drama, tension, and excitement.

In short, we know in a story about Earth being in danger that Captain Burnham is going to find a way to save the day. If it were literally any other planet – Ni’Var, Qo’noS, Bajor, or wherever – there’d be a real sense of danger that Discovery could’ve repeated the shock of Kwejian’s destruction at the beginning of the season and blown up another planet! But because it was Earth, that never felt like a realistic prospect, and that potentially robbed the story of much of its drama.

I had speculated that someone might’ve faked the message about Earth being in danger, partly because I was hoping it wasn’t true and partly because I was wondering if there might be more going on at Federation HQ. But it turned out that the message was accurate, leading to the scenes at Federation HQ in Coming Home.

Debunked theories #6 & 7:
Unknown Species 10-C built the Galactic Barrier, and
Someone else built the Galactic Barrier to keep Unknown Species 10-C out.

The USS Discovery at the Galactic Barrier.

As we headed into the season finale, the Galactic Barrier was definitely fading out of sight, and as a result this theory was already feeling less likely. However, after much had been made of the Barrier earlier in the season, with an entire episode dedicated to crossing it, I wondered if we might learn more about this unusual phenomenon!

The Galactic Barrier had been introduced right at the beginning of The Original Series and had been mentioned on several occasions throughout Star Trek’s history. It served an interesting storytelling purpose, but we didn’t really learn much about it – including how it works or why it exists! There was scope to tie the Barrier’s existence to Unknown Species 10-C; their incredible engineering skills suggested that they could be responsible for its construction. Alternatively, I theorised that someone else might’ve constructed it in the past to prevent Unknown Species 10-C from attacking. Neither theory panned out, and it seems very unlikely we’ll revisit the Galactic Barrier next season, so I don’t expect this one to be picked up any time soon.

It would be interesting to learn more about the Galactic Barrier and where it came from, though.

Debunked theory #8:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Geordi and Scotty in Relics.

I’ve been sticking to my guns on this theory since well before Season 3, and a couple of years ago I even proposed a shortlist of characters who could still be alive in the 32nd Century. Thanks to technobabble, though, practically anyone from Star Trek could be included if the writers wanted to bring them on board.

There was also the possibility of Captain Burnham unearthing a hologram, recording, or log left behind by a long-gone character who might be familiar to us as the audience. While this would be less of a “crossover” in the same way, it could still be exceptionally fun.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this season. I haven’t given up, though, so you can expect to see this one on my Season 5 theory list!

Debunked theory #9:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the hyperfield.

Book with Leto and Kyheem in the season premiere.

One of my first thoughts about the DMA, long before it had a name and before the season had even aired, was that it could be related somehow to the Nexus from Star Trek: Generations. Then later, when we learned that the DMA had wormhole and transporter capabilities, sending material back to its point of origin, it seemed possible that maybe not everyone on Kwejian was as dead as we first assumed.

Just like Captain Picard was able to encounter Captain Kirk inside the Nexus, I wondered if Book might reach the hyperfield only to discover that Leto, Kyheem, and others from Kwejian had survived the destruction of their planet. It didn’t happen in the end, and in a way that’s a good thing because it would’ve undermined the powerful moment Book had when he spoke to Unknown Species 10-C and took them to task for their destruction.

Debunked theory #10:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Craft and Zora dancing in Calypso.

Is Calypso destined to remain forever out of reach? After Seasons 3 and 4 both seemed to move toward a potential tie-in with the Short Treks outlier, once again the story came to an end with no connection in sight. While things like Zora’s development definitely tie in with the events of Calypso, other things, like the retrofit the ship went through in Season 3, have actually moved us away from the events of that short episode.

This is a tough one. I strongly suspect that Calypso was created at a time when Season 2 had a different ending – perhaps even as a kind of “epilogue” in the event of the whole series being cancelled. Its story of the ship being abandoned for a thousand years and an AI developing sentience from the ship’s computer feel quite far-removed from the stories told in Seasons 3 and 4, and realistically, unless a multi-episode arc can be written to bring Discovery and Calypso together, it may be destined to remain unresolved.

Debunked theory #11:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

Abronian stasis pods.

It’s a bit of a surprise to me that the Abronians – a race rescued from cryo-sleep by Captain Burnham, Tilly, and Dr Gabrielle Burnham in the episode Choose To Live – didn’t return later in the season. There were several different ways that they could’ve been included, even if they didn’t tie in with the main Unknown Species 10-C story.

Discovery doesn’t usually like to do wholly standalone side-stories like this, so all season long I was half-expecting to see the Abronians make a reappearance! Perhaps we’d learn that their homeworld had been destroyed by the DMA, or maybe they could’ve arrived to assist the Federation in an hour of need. Their massive planetoid-sized ship could’ve been incredibly useful during the evacuation of Earth and Ni’Var, for instance.

Debunked theory #12:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

If Tarka had been unable to find the DMA’s power source inside the hyperfield, I wondered if he’d resort to building his own DMA. We saw as far back as The Examples that he understood the basic principles involved and had been able to build a scale model. I speculated that maybe he would go on to build his own version.

This theory originally began when Tarka was on my list of suspects for creating the original DMA. That didn’t pan out, of course, but even going into the season finale it still seemed possible that he might try to build his own version of it.

Debunked theory #13:
Kayalise is the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin timeline.

In the weeks ahead I’d like to take a look at Ruon Tarka’s story in a bit more detail, as I feel that it started very strongly but went off the rails toward the end. For now, suffice to say that it’s disappointing that we didn’t learn more about Kayalise – the alternate universe that Tarka hoped to travel to.

I speculated that Kayalise could be the Kelvin timeline – it’s one of the only other parallel universes that we know of in Star Trek, it stands to reason that the Burn didn’t happen there, and Discovery had already dropped a Kelvin-timeline reference in Season 3. It could’ve been interesting to follow Tarka across the divide between universes… but it didn’t happen.

Debunked theory #14:
Oros is alive – and we’ll see him soon!

Oros.

Oros was a fun and interesting character, and it’s such a shame we only got to see him for a few flashback sequences in a single episode. There was scope to follow more of his story, and if Tarka’s storyline had ended in a more satisfying manner, a meet-up could’ve been on the cards.

I speculated that Tarka would successfully use his interdimensional transporter, or that a compromise could be found to allow him passage to Kayalise, and that he’d be able to reunite with his long-lost friend.

Overall, Oros’ inclusion in the story was an odd one. I feel that we were teased unnecessarily by the show keeping his name hidden for several episodes, and that encouraged speculation that this character might’ve been someone we’re already familiar with. For the heavily-teased character to make a single appearance and then never return was strange – and a bit of a let-down.

Debunked theory #15:
The interdimensional transporter works!

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter.

Though it was left somewhat ambiguous as Book’s ship met an explosive end, it seems pretty clear to me that the interdimensional transporter won’t be making a return to Star Trek anytime soon! Tarka held onto hope for the longest time that not only would his own model work, but that Oros’ original interdimensional transporter had as well.

There was scope, had the season ended in a different way, for the interdimensional transporter to be useful for Captain Burnham, too. If Unknown Species 10-C were native to a different dimension, for example, that could’ve been a way to tie the two halves of the story together. In a season that was all about diplomacy, compromise, and finding a middle ground, Captain Burnham could’ve traded with Tarka for the technology, and that’s just one example.

As it is, it seems like we’ll never know whether the interdimensional transporter even worked at all.

Debunked theory #16:
Michael Burnham won’t remain in command of the USS Discovery.

Captain Burnham with the President of United Earth at the end of Coming Home.

In short, I speculated that Discovery’s trend of having a different captain for every season might continue, and that the season could end with Captain Burnham either leaving Starfleet to be with Book, or accepting a new role within the organisation. To be clear, because I know there’s a lot of debate any time Captain Burnham is mentioned: I wasn’t in favour of this theory necessarily. I just thought it was a possibility, and a potentially interesting one at that!

In the end, the season drew to a close with Captain Burnham still in command, ready to tackle the next mission as the Federation continues to rebuild. And that was a great way for things to end!

So those theories were debunked!

There are a handful of theories that were connected to events in Season 3 that I also kept on the list this time, and none of those were really touched on at all. In addition, there are a couple of theories that I introduced in Season 4 that I still consider plausible for future seasons or stories. We’ll take a look at those briefly now.

Theory #1:
Saru will assume command of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

The captaincy of the USS Voyager-J – seemingly the Federation’s new flagship – was discussed as the season drew to a close. President Rillak, who had determined Captain Burnham to be unsuitable for the role in the season premiere, changed her mind after the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield.

I had suggested that Saru embodies many of the qualities that President Rillak was looking for in a captain for the Voyager-J, and that he might assume command of the ship at the end of the season. There’s also the question of how Saru, who holds the rank of captain, will fit in with the command structure aboard the USS Discovery going forward; his presence as Captain Burnham’s XO this season was implied to be temporary.

Whether Saru has a major role to play in Season 5 or not, I’m keeping this one on the list at least for now.

Theory #2:
Who is Dr Kovich, and what is his role within the Federation hierarchy?

Dr Kovich.

I’m beginning to feel that Dr Kovich is seen by the show’s writers as a bit of a joke; a character who we’ve been teased with, but whose interesting-sounding lines and suggestions never go anywhere. The most egregious example of this has to be his line in The Galactic Barrier, where he spoke of having “more important things” to do than accompany the USS Discovery. What were those important things? The show never bothered to tell us.

Going all the way back to his first appearance in Season 3, Dr Kovich has been intriguing. Is he a Section 31 operative? The Federation Vice-President? Admiral Vance’s boss? We don’t know, and while Dr Kovich has occupied several different roles this season – counsellor, Starfleet Academy instructor, diplomat, etc. – we still don’t know who he is or what he’s all about.

I’d like to hope we’ll learn more about him in Season 5!

Theories #3 & 4:
We’ll learn more about the ban on time travel, and
Has the Federation violated the ban on time travel?

La Sirena prepares to use the sun to travel back in time in Star Trek: Picard.

The ban on time travel was introduced in Season 3, and there were narrative reasons for its inclusion. However, as I’ve said ever since we first learned about it: such a ban would be incredibly difficult to implement and enforce. I’d love to know more about how it works, how it’s enforced, and who’s responsible for preventing basically anyone with a starship from doing something like the “slingshot method.”

I also think it’s possible that the Federation itself (or perhaps an organisation like Section 31) has chosen to ignore the ban when it suited them, and again I’d be curious to learn if someone like President Rillak or Dr Kovich had greenlit some kind of time travel escapade.

Theory #5:
The USS Discovery will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the heart of the Verubin Nebula.

The Verubin Nebula is the galaxy’s only major source of dilithium (at least, as of the end of Season 3). With the Federation in control of this incredibly valuable resource, it stands to reason that other, more aggressive powers might seek to take it from them. Even if the Federation is willing to share its bounty with everyone, factions such as the Borg Collective, the Dominion, or the Klingon Empire may not be satisfied and may want to control the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

I speculated prior to Season 4 that the USS Discovery may be called into action to defend the Verubin Nebula from such an attack – and even though it didn’t happen this time, it’s still a possibility for Season 5!

Theory #6:
Some areas of the galaxy, such as the Delta Quadrant, avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Stamets with a map of the galaxy.

The Burn was mentioned in Season 4, but never came to the fore in a major way. We still don’t know how far its impact reached, and what effects the Burn had on far-flung parts of the galaxy far away from the Verubin Nebula.

I speculated that some regions of the galaxy may have avoided the worst of the Burn, and maybe some areas didn’t even feel it at all. It could be very interesting to learn that a faction such as the Borg – who were mentioned in Discovery for the first time near the end of Season 4 – were unaffected. They might’ve been able to spend the last hundred years building up their forces for a major invasion!

Check out a full write-up of this theory by clicking or tapping here.

So those theories may return!

Finally, we had three production-side theories on the list as the season finale approached, and I’d like to take a look at those before we wrap things up.

Production-side theory #1:
The season will end on a cliffhanger.

This one is officially debunked! As the finale got closer and closer with seemingly a lot of different narrative threads still in play, I wondered if the season might’ve ended on a cliffhanger, with the story to be resumed in Season 5. It didn’t happen, though, and while not every storyline was brought to the perfect ending from my point of view, all of the main narrative threads were tied up by the time the credits rolled.

Star Trek has a history of season-ending cliffhangers, so this didn’t feel too far-fetched! Still, it will be nice to have a clean slate going into Season 5.

Production-side theory #2:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure.

This is still officially unconfirmed at time of writing. We don’t yet know whether Mary Wiseman will be returning in Season 5, and if she does return, whether she’ll be doing so as a main cast member or just making a cameo or guest appearance.

It was nice to have Tilly back for the scenes at Federation HQ in Coming Home, and I’m glad we got to spend a little more time with her. However, to me her decision in All Is Possible felt permanent, and taking up a new role at Starfleet Academy feels like a good fit for her. Undoing that development, and unravelling that interesting and fitting character arc, wouldn’t be my preference.

There’s also the possibility that the rumoured Starfleet Academy series could bring back Tilly in a major role. Either way, we’ll have to wait and see!

Production-side theory #3:
There will be a crossover of some kind with Picard Season 2.

Admiral Picard.

As you’ll know by now if you’ve watched both shows, no crossover between Picard and Discovery was forthcoming. This theory arose because Picard Season 2 and Discovery Season 4 overlapped one another by three weeks – something that I genuinely cannot explain. Paramount Global consistently makes these random, illogical decisions, and while it was fun to speculate about what a Picard-Discovery crossover could look like… now that the dust has settled I genuinely do not understand why it had to happen this way. Is it something to do with the fiscal year?

Given that Paramount+ remains unavailable in most of the world, and that Strange New Worlds’ premiere is now imminent, the scheduling makes even less sense. Delaying Picard’s second season by a measly three weeks would’ve bought a little more time for Paramount+ to be ready. Three weeks may not have made all the difference, but combine it with a short delay to Strange New Worlds and maybe it would’ve been possible for more Trekkies to watch the new series together.

I’m not disappointed that a crossover didn’t happen – though that could’ve been a lot of fun. But I am disappointed in Paramount and the inept way they’re handling the Star Trek franchise.

So that’s it!

A happy ending!

Thank you for sticking with me through Star Trek: Discovery Season 4. As the season wore on I did get some things right with my theories, even if some of my bigger ones – like the identity of Unknown Species 10-C – were wide of the mark.

Discovery Season 4 began in a truly awful corporate mess, with Paramount paying money out of its own pocket to try to take the show away from fans outside of the United States. Even in regions where Paramount+ was available, they originally planned to deny viewers access to Discovery Season 4. While I’m glad that the corporation recognised the backlash from fans and backtracked on those plans, it’s something I haven’t forgotten. With Strange New Worlds now in the same position, it’s clear to me that Paramount Global has learned nothing.

Federation HQ in orbit of Earth; the final shot of the season.

In the weeks ahead I’ll definitely write up a longer retrospective of the season. For now, suffice to say that it was a mixed bag, with some decent episodes and some that dragged. The main storyline – that of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C – seemed to take a long time to reach its conclusion, feeling padded in places. However, the season finale brought things to a close in a very emotional, entertaining, and enjoyable way. Whatever I may have thought about parts of the ride, the destination in this case was worth the wait.

One final note. I write up these theories for fun! I like Star Trek and I like writing, so writing about Star Trek is an enjoyable endeavour for me. For some folks, though, fan theories can become problematic. It’s always worth trying to keep in mind that any fan theory, no matter how enjoyable and plausible it may seem, isn’t worth getting upset over. Most of the theories I come up with never make it to screen, and usually what unfolds on screen is better! If I ever found that theorising and speculating about Star Trek (or any other franchise) was beginning to harm my enjoyment, I’d stop – and I’d encourage anyone in that position to do the same.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is available on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe. 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 Paramount Global. 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, Episode 13: Coming Home

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

I cried a lot while watching Coming Home. It was an incredibly emotional episode, one that hit all of the notes that it was aiming for and brought the season to a close in style. We can say definitively that Season 4 ended on a high, having saved the best for last. In fact, Coming Home might just be the best episode of the entire season!

From almost the first minute, the emotional punches started coming – and they didn’t let up until the epilogue. Captain Burnham and the entire crew went on a rollercoaster ride as they battled to stop Tarka, to get Unknown Species 10-C to listen, and to save Earth and Ni’Var from destruction. The episode was well-paced, with plenty of energy to keep things exciting but without ever feeling rushed. And there were some wonderful visual effects and animation work as we finally got an unobscured look at Unknown Species 10-C.

A group of Unknown Species 10-C.

I had a wonderful time with Coming Home, and thinking about Season 4 as a whole, the finale is one of the strongest offerings. That contrasts with Season 3, where the end of the Burn’s story felt like a non-sequitur, if not an outright letdown. In that respect, it’s nice to see that Discovery has grown, adapted, and perhaps even taken on board some of the feedback received about the Burn and Season 3 in general. The creative team can be pleased, I think, that they did a better job this time around.

All that being said, there are some issues that are raised by Coming Home. The episode itself was great, and even some of the storylines that I’d been less invested in were paid off in emotional style. But thinking about the episode as the concluding chapter of a thirteen-episode season, I do have some complaints about absences, about characters who weren’t well-used, and about specific storylines that didn’t get the kind of payoff I’d been hoping for. While these points don’t detract from a wonderful and emotional episode in Coming Home, they do count against Season 4 as a whole.

Dr Hirai was a character with potential who felt sadly underused this season.

In the weeks ahead I’d like to do a retrospective of the season, and when I do I’ll go into more detail about some of these complaints. But with Coming Home being the season finale, I’d be remiss not to mention them here. This was the last chance for Discovery to do something significant with some of these narrative points – especially when considering that Season 5 will almost certainly go in a different direction.

Ruon Tarka’s abrupt turnaround from an understandable and even sympathetic character to a bold-faced villain was not handled particularly well, and while Coming Home went some way toward reversing that and bringing back some of the nuance that had made him such an interesting character in the first place, it came too late. Tarka’s story – much like Tarka himself in his final moments – ran out of road, and ended in an unspectacular and unsatisfying fashion, with no real payoff to his quest to reach Oros and Kayalise.

Tarka met his end in an unsatisfying way.

The scenes between Tarka and Book were beautifully constructed, and the raw emotion that both David Ajala and Shawn Doyle brought to screen is undeniable. The performances were fantastic, and Coming Home found enough time to show off these moments despite having plenty of other narrative beats to get through.

Despite that, however, the damage to Tarka’s characterisation had already been done. The complex and nuanced character that we met in The Examples, half a season ago, had been developed slowly over several episodes. His desire to use the power source at the heart of the DMA was explained through a series of flashbacks that introduced us to his long-lost friend Oros… and it feels like none of that really went anywhere. There were the ongoing themes of grief and loss that have been running since Season 3, and I guess we could argue that Tarka represents a different kind of reaction to those things than other characters. But even then, this side of the story doesn’t feel particularly strong.

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter shortly before his death.

It was nice to see that, in his final moments, Tarka seemed to come around to Book’s way of thinking. As he stood on the wrecked bridge of Book’s ship, awaiting the inevitable, he’d taken several steps back toward being the complex character that we believed him to be in his earlier appearances, and I do appreciate that. It wasn’t that there wasn’t time to pay off Tarka’s well-established story. It’s just that Discovery chose not to.

This was a story that, at the end of the day, didn’t need Tarka. It didn’t need a villain to be outsmarted and killed in the final act; all the pieces were in place for a story of first contact with Unknown Species 10-C that was tense, interesting, and engaging without him. There was more than enough drama and excitement in that premise to make Tarka’s addition unnecessary; fluff to pad out a season-long story that I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling had been padded out far more than it should’ve been.

Tarka was ultimately the villain of the season… but he didn’t need to be.

Season 4 could have been structured differently, with the Tarka and Unknown Species 10-C stories going in different directions. If one story had concluded around the time of the mid-season break, the second half of the season could’ve followed another related but separate story… and when both sides of the story were overstretched by running for as many episodes as they did, perhaps that would’ve been preferable.

But that’s less about Coming Home than it is about the structure of the season as a whole! Despite my waning interest in the Book and Tarka story, Coming Home pulled out a complex and emotional ending for both characters. It wasn’t the way I would’ve necessarily hoped for nor chosen, but once the decision had been made to kill off Tarka in this way and to have the fake-out over Book’s death, Discovery executed it about as well as possible.

Tarka and Book caught in an explosion.

Going into the finale there were genuine concerns for Book and Reno’s survival. While a fifth season has been confirmed, neither character was guaranteed to appear in it, and there was a real possibility that one or both could’ve died as Tarka tried to execute an increasingly desperate (and, sadly, an increasingly nonsensical) plan. When it came to the moment of Book’s apparent death, it thus felt like he was really gone; there was no part of me saying “this is all just a fake-out.” And again, this was one of many emotional punches that Coming Home set up and delivered perfectly.

Book’s survival was also kept hidden by the story – we weren’t immediately shown him alive with Unknown Species 10-C – which kept things going as other storylines played out. As a fake-out, I think it worked pretty well. It made Book’s return in a pillar of light feel genuinely wonderful, and took Captain Burnham on a rollercoaster that allowed Sonequa Martin-Green to really show off her emotional range. Both as a story point and on the technical side of things, it worked well for Coming Home.

Book was saved by Unknown Species 10-C.

But, as I’ve found myself saying numerous times as the season has worn on, it means that Discovery has yet again given all of its characters some pretty serious plot armour. In an individual episode we can forgive that a near-death situation resulted in survival, or that an apparently-dead character like Book was safe all along. But when we consider the season overall, no one aside from Tarka was actually killed. Despite the incredibly dangerous situations that the crew found themselves in, and despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them by Unknown Species 10-C, the DMA, Tarka, and everything else they went through, they all survived.

Television storytelling has moved on since Star Trek’s early days – something that the very nature of Discovery is itself testament to. To run an entire season this way – with another “galaxy-ending” calamity for the crew to deal with, which they all survive – risks diminishing the threat felt in future stories. If we as the audience can feel confident that everyone will be fine, no matter what else is happening or how badly the ship seems to be blowing up, that robs the show of a significant portion of the excitement, tension, and drama that its storylines have done an otherwise good job at creating. Book’s fake-out “death” isn’t the problem in and of itself; it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue – the obvious lack of willingness on the part of Discovery’s writers to allow even the most minor of tertiary characters to be killed off. In 2022 that’s out-of-date, and it’s a storytelling mistake that will have to be addressed in future.

Book survived… and so did everyone else.

The whole “Earth is in danger” angle is a trope that I wish hadn’t been brought into the story this season. It’s such a played-out cliché, and it’s one which, as I noted a couple of episodes ago when it was introduced, risks making the end of the story feel formulaic. It was obvious two episodes back that Discovery wasn’t going to allow the destruction of Earth and Ni’Var in the final act of Season 4, so unfortunately I went into Coming Home with that expectation firmly embedded in my mind.

That doesn’t mean that the route to saving Earth was easy, and on the Federation HQ side of the story with Tilly and Admiral Vance there were some absolutely wonderful moments. The swooping arrival of the USS Mitchell – named for Discovery actor Kenneth Mitchell – hit all of the right notes for me, echoing moments like the Enterprise-E’s dramatic entrance during the Battle of Sector 001 in First Contact. In fact, all of the evacuation sequences worked well, and after her departure earlier in the season it was nice to welcome back Tilly – however briefly.

The USS Mitchell arrived to save the day!

I’d have liked to have seen something earlier in the season to perhaps set up some kind of dynamic between Vance and Tilly, and that would really be my only criticism. The two didn’t feel like they had natural chemistry; I was acutely aware of the difference in status between the head of Starfleet and a character who, until a few episodes ago, was a lowly ensign. The two performers did well to sell it, but had we seen Tilly offered her role at Starfleet Academy by Vance, not Kovich, back in All Is Possible, I think we would’ve had some kind of baseline for their relationship. This would’ve let us see how far they’d come to be able to sit together and share a drink as they awaited what seemed to be the inevitable.

That said, I liked the evacuation sequences. In fact, this part of Coming Home might actually be my favourite – surpassing the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C, and definitely beating out the conclusion to Tarka’s story. There’s something about a doomed, heroic “last stand” that always gets me no matter how it’s played, and for Vance and Tilly, they knew that they didn’t have any control over the DMA situation. They had to do their jobs knowing there was nothing they could do to prevent what was happening – they were relying entirely on Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery.

Admiral Vance led the evacuation efforts.

That setup led to a real unexpected highlight. I maintain it would still have worked were it not Earth in the firing line, but setting aside that particular narrative gripe, the scenes at Federation Headquarters were pitch-perfect. Seeing Federation HQ warp in to offer to help, even though Earth was not a member of the Federation, really epitomises what the Federation is all about. That is the spirit of Star Trek, in many ways: offering to help while asking nothing in return. The DMA placed Earth in danger, and Starfleet rode in to help without even having to think twice.

Admiral Vance and Tilly both came to embody that Federation spirit in these sequences, and they gave it their all to get as many people to safety as they possibly could. Choosing to remain behind to cover the escape of the final ships was just the perfect end for both of them – and something I could absolutely see both of them being willing to do. As they sat down, knowing they’d given their all, and shared a drink, I was absolutely blown away by this unexpected and wonderful addition to Coming Home.

Tilly and Admiral Vance sharing a drink.

We also got to spend a little more time with some of Tilly’s cadets from All Is Possible. After those characters fell somewhat flat in that story, it seems like at least some of them have grown into their roles as Starfleet cadets, which was nice to see. It wasn’t a huge part of this side of the story, but it was a neat way to include something that had been established earlier in the season.

There was, unfortunately, a gaping hole on this side of the story. It wasn’t really apparent until Coming Home was drawing to a close, and it didn’t detract from the way any of these incredibly emotional moments felt as they unfolded. But in retrospect I have to ask: where was Dr Kovich? Is he just a gag character now, someone whose lines tease stories that sound interesting but go nowhere? Because that’s what it feels like. After Dr Kovich’s line in The Galactic Barrier that he had “more important things” to do than make first contact with the species who built the DMA, I was hoping that Discovery would pay that off somehow… but it didn’t happen.

What happened to Dr Kovich?

We’ll deal more with the Dr Kovich situation when I take a look back at the season as a whole, but suffice to say that his absence from this part of the story was noticeable, and several threads that seemed to tease that he was working on something interesting with Lieutenant Commander Bryce ultimately just went nowhere. This isn’t a situation like the Picard Season 1 finale, either, where the meandering story of the season ran out of road and didn’t have enough time to pay off its stories… this was a conscious choice on the part of Discovery’s writers. They teased us with Dr Kovich all season long, feeding us little crumbs of information that seemed to set up something about his character… and then just dropped it, perhaps with a snide laugh behind their hands, in the finale.

As the episode wrapped up, it seemed as though Discovery had one last surprise up its sleeve. As the President of United Earth was about to arrive, I wondered if we might be about to see Dr Kovich when the doors wooshed open – if not, perhaps a character from a past iteration of the series. When it was revealed to be a new character I wasn’t disappointed; it seemed as if the point the series was making with the buildup to her reveal was that the President of the Federation, the President of United Earth, and the Captain of Discovery are all women, which I thought was a neat way to go.

I had no idea who this was at first!

But there was more to it that, as a non-American, I missed at first! The President of United Earth was played by Stacey Abrams, an American politician and writer who’s been quite politically active on the left wing of US politics. This casting choice is interesting – and perhaps a little provocative! There will be people on the conservative side of things who will feel upset, and Discovery knew this well in advance of casting this character. Doing so was a way for the series to really emphasise its progressive principles, which have been front-and-centre just as they’ve always been in Star Trek.

Star Trek is no stranger to cameos and stunt castings, before anyone jumps in to say that this one is somehow different because of who it is. The King of Jordan had a cameo in Voyager once upon a time, and there have been real-life astronauts, scientists, and other celebrities who’ve all joined in for guest-starring roles. Considering that Stacey Abrams is, as far as I’m aware anyway, a newbie to acting, I think she did a wonderful job!

The President and the President shake hands.

I adored this scene with the President of United Earth. Set aside the casting for a moment, because the content of the scene made a huge impact on me. Coming Home had already been a hugely emotional story, so seeing Earth rejoin the Federation after two seasons outside it was pitch-perfect. Stacey Abrams and Sonequa Martin-Green excelled in their moments together, and what resulted was an optimistic and emotional high to bring the episode – and the season – to a conclusion.

There are some interesting real-world parallels that the casting of someone like Stacey Abrams arguably hammers home. After the United States had pursued a nativist, isolationist policy for four years, the country is stepping away from that. United Earth rejoining the Federation could be viewed as symbolic of America’s return to the world stage. From a British perspective, it could be seen as a hope for the UK one day rejoining the European Union after the Brexit referendum. Star Trek has always used its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues, and those are just a couple of possible ways we can interpret this emotional and uplifting end to the season.

Captain Burnham and the President of United Earth.

We’ve come all this way but we still haven’t talked about Unknown Species 10-C! The visual effects used to create one of the most “alien” races ever seen on screen in Star Trek were excellent, though I would caveat that by saying that the meeting place being a carbon copy of the ruin visited in Rosetta detracted a little from the way things looked. Recycling sets has been something that the Star Trek franchise has always done, but this moment was the crux of a season-long story, and I think more could’ve been done to give Unknown Species 10-C’s new home a new look, even if it was just in a minor way through changes and tweaks. It’s been a millennium since they lived on the planet seen in Rosetta, so if for no other reason than the passage of time we might’ve expected it to look slightly different.

That being said, I liked Unknown Species 10-C both in appearance and in concept. Star Trek has a long history of showing us alien races that look only slightly different to humans – and in some cases are completely identical! That’s never been a problem for me; I think it’s part of the suspension of disbelief that one has to have when stepping into the Star Trek galaxy. However, the rise of modern CGI and animation, combined with new technologies like Discovery’s AR wall, mean that some very different aliens can be created and can be blended with real actors. This blend was seamless in Coming Home – as it has been, with only a few exceptions, all season long.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

The story of bridging a communication divide is honestly one that I could’ve spent longer on. Much of the legwork had been done in Species Ten-C last week, so we got less of the minutiae that a “learning to understand one another” story can provide. But what we did get was interesting, and we got to see how Unknown Species 10-C didn’t mean to do anything wrong – their scans didn’t indicate that there were sentient life-forms in the areas that the DMA hit.

In that sense, we have a comparable situation to the Burn in Season 3. Unknown Species 10-C weren’t some horrible invading alien for Starfleet to heroically defeat; what happened was a genuine accident, one that they regret. That may not be enough for someone like Book, who lost his home, his family, and his entire race… but it’s a different ending, one that many other sci-fi franchises wouldn’t have even considered. Discovery pulled it off, and while the story leading up to it was imperfect and padded, it worked.

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C conveys their regret to the assembled crew and delegates.

However, Discovery has now run four seasons with some variation of the “major galactic threat” storyline, and I think that framework needs a break. Not every story has to be about the entire galaxy, Earth, and the whole Federation being in danger – there can be just as much drama, tension, excitement, and emotion from stories that are smaller in scale. Just because a story doesn’t threaten life as we know it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, and how we as the audience respond to a story begins with the way the characters we’re invested in respond to it. So consider this a plea to all of Discovery’s writers and producers: try something different in Season 5!

I enjoyed the performance from Chelah Horsdal as President Rillak. For practically the whole season I couldn’t tell if we were going to get a “bad Admiral” type of character turn; President Rillak certainly seemed to have a Machiavellian edge that could have made for a wonderfully complex antagonist. In Coming Home, though, we got to see the culmination of her diplomatic efforts and her leadership of the Federation, both through the way the DMA threat came to an end and through Earth rejoining the organisation – something that had been one of her major objectives.

President Rillak speaking with Unknown Species 10-C.

For what feels like the first time this season, Stamets had more than just a couple of lines. It was a shame that he couldn’t be present at the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C; I’d have rather seen him there with Dr Culber and Adira to stand alongside Captain Burnham than some of the secondary bridge characters, really. But it was still nice to see Stamets and his family coming together at the climax of the story, and how Dr Culber forfeited his own chance to go on the away mission to be with them.

Stamets and Culber formed Discovery’s emotional core in the first season and the third, with a disappointing foray into a relationship squabble in the second. But aside from a few smaller scenes, neither character really seemed to have all that much to do in Season 4. With Gray’s story brought to a conclusion early on, in the episode Choose To Live, the family dynamic changed, but Stamets missed practically all of that. In fact, his only scene with Gray all season that I can recall was when Gray left to return to Trill. In short, I was glad to welcome back Stamets in Coming Home, and thrilled to see him bonding again with Culber and Adira… but the reason why it felt so great is because I’m aware of how absent moments like that had been all season long.

Adira, Dr Culber, and Stamets.

I was not a big fan of the Burnham-versus-Book relationship drama angle that began in But To Connect earlier in the season. It didn’t work for me, and I felt that the focus on Burnham and Book’s emotions, particularly in episodes like All In and Rubicon, came at the expense of other characters and other story developments. It was cathartic, then, to see the two finally reconcile in Coming Home, and I’m glad that the season didn’t end with their relationship left in question.

Because of the timing of Book’s fake-out “death,” it could have ended there and still felt satisfactory; Captain Burnham would’ve known that Book loved her, and his actions in his final moments would’ve been trying to stop Tarka and prevent an escalation of the damage he’d already done. That could’ve worked – but I’m glad that Book lives to fight another day and that they got to have a proper sit-down together and a proper reunion on Unknown Species 10-C’s planet. After a storyline that shook things up too much for my taste, a proper resolution that has hopefully set the stage for a rock-solid relationship between them in Season 5 was the least bad outcome.

Captain Burnham and Book embrace.

I enjoyed the speeches both Captain Burnham and Book gave to Unknown Species 10-C, and it was great that they were able to find a way to connect with a species that could have been “too different” to bridge the divide. Book’s speech after his resurrection was remarkable, and the emotion packed into each and every word resonated. David Ajala has done a great job all season long conveying Book’s grief and sense of loss, and he brought everything to bear in this scene as he came face-to-face with the race who killed his family and destroyed his home. It was heart-wrenching to watch.

Captain Burnham’s speech was likewise packed with emotion, particularly as she was still reeling from the shock of Book’s apparent death. This was definitely one of Sonequa Martin-Green’s best moments of the season, as Captain Burnham finally made contact with the enigmatic race. She had to convince them that they needed to stand down – and with just moments remaining, she was able to do so.

Captain Burnham spoke to Unknown Species 10-C.

General Ndoye, who had been responsible for Tarka’s escape during the events of the previous episode, stepped up and admitted what she had done. She presented a strength of character that I wasn’t expecting given how she’d been roped into Tarka and Book’s conspiracy. The idea that the first contact mission was progressing but was sabotaged by people who were unwilling to wait was an angle that was potentially interesting – but it didn’t need to go to such extremes, perhaps.

Still, I liked General Ndoye. Phumzile Sitole played the character with a kind of hard-nosed pragmatism, and although General Ndoye was in the wrong from Captain Burnham’s point of view, it’s only because we as the audience could see what was happening that we realised that. Ndoye acted in what she believed to be Earth’s best interests based on the information she had available – she was never a villain nor an antagonist, and she remained in that complex space even while Tarka was being transformed into an out-and-out villain last week.

General Ndoye.

A few scattered thoughts before we wrap things up:

  • Coming Home contained the first mention of the Borg in Discovery… could that be setting up something to come in Season 5, or perhaps some kind of tie-in with Picard? I can’t help but wonder! Seeing Captain Burnham go toe-to-toe with the Borg would be delicious!
  • Dr Hirai felt sidelined once again, contributing relatively little to the story. This character feels like a waste of potential – someone interesting whose role on the mission made sense, but who was underused and who underwhelmed in the few appearances he made.
  • The destruction of Book’s ship feels like it could be symbolic… but I’m struggling to find the intended symbolism considering that Discovery will presumably bring him back in Season 5, and the show didn’t exactly go through a soft reboot at the end of the season.
  • Unknown Species 10-C definitely gave me a “sea monster” vibe.
  • It was so sweet that Saru and T’Rina finally got together!
A happy ending for T’Rina and Saru!
  • Shutting down the hyperfield, which Unknown Species 10-C had been running for a millennium, seemed a bit quick right at the end.
  • It would’ve been interesting to see Captain Burnham having to lead Discovery on a Voyager-esque mission back to Earth… but Unknown Species 10-C’s wormhole tech meant it never felt like a realistic prospect.
  • I will always love seeing Admiral Vance with his family!
  • The use of Grudge’s collar to escape the forcefield was a clever inclusion that felt like classic Star Trek technobabble.
  • I hope we’ll see Unknown Species 10-C again and they won’t just be forgotten about in future 32nd Century stories.
  • Will Federation HQ now remain permanently in orbit of Earth? Or will other planets want to have Federation facilities, given that Earth has been absent for more than a century? It could be interesting to explore such a conflict in Season 5.
Federation HQ in orbit over Earth.

There’s a lot more to say, quite honestly… but I feel this is already running long. It’s taken me a long time – longer than usual – to get my thoughts in order, and I find that a lot of what I want to say in a more critical way is more about the story or structure of the season as a whole rather than about Coming Home specifically. It was a great episode in its own right, it capped off the season in a beautiful, emotional way, and left me with a real sense of optimism as Discovery prepares for a fifth season. But despite a solid ending, Season 4 as a whole is much more of a mixed bag, and I’d like to talk about that more on another occasion.

Coming Home was the emotional high point of an occasionally frustrating season, but it’s an episode that means we can say that things ended on a positive note. I’m genuinely excited for Season 5 and to see where the show goes next… but I hope it’s not going to be another “the galaxy is in danger” storyline! After the Klingon war, Control, the Burn, and the DMA, we’ve had enough of those.

It took me a while to get this review together, partly because of how much of an emotional experience Coming Home was… and partly because I’m feeling a little burnt out after three weeks of two Star Trek episodes meaning I was writing two big reviews! I really wish Paramount Global would sort out its scheduling…

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. 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 Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 12

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 2, Voyager, Enterprise, and The Next Generation.

Species Ten-C was a good episode, and while there’s still a lot of story to get through if the season is going to wrap up everything by next week, we’re well on the way to stopping the DMA and saving Earth. This week saw the first major theory cull of the season, with a whopping nine debunked theories. As the season approaches its end, this was to be expected!

We’ve got a lot to get through this time as we whittle down the theory list going into the season finale, so let’s get started by looking at the theories that have been debunked.

Debunked theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

We’d been moving away from this theory for weeks, and it had been looking increasingly unlikely as Captain Burnham and the crew approached their base of operations. As I said when I first considered the theory, it always felt like there was a good chance that Discovery would go down this route; it happened in Season 2 with Control and the Red Angel, and in Season 3 with the Burn. Tarka’s friend Oros also being a new character was a strong indication that Discovery wants to do its own thing, adding to the lore of Star Trek and expanding the franchise instead of returning to elements and factions from the past.

Still, it was fun to consider the different factions that might’ve been involved! There were some genuinely plausible candidates for creating something on the scale of the DMA – the Borg, the Kelvan Empire, and Enterprise’s Sphere-Builders, to name just three – and I had fun putting together my long list earlier in the season. Thinking about where some of these factions could be by the 32nd Century was also interesting.

At the end of the day, I’m not surprised that Discovery went in this direction. What I would say, though, is that now Unknown Species 10-C has been created, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore them in Season 5. The story took a long and winding route to reach this point, and it would be a shame if all we ever see of Unknown Species 10-C comes in two episodes at the end of the current season.

Debunked theory #2:
Unknown Species 10-C is extinct.

A bone of Unknown Species 10-C.

This theory would have scrapped the “figuring out how to communicate” angle that was a big part of this week’s episode, and would have replaced it with Captain Burnham and the crew perhaps having to discover how to use some very alien technology to shut down the DMA. When we learned more about Unknown Species 10-C, like their planet having suffered a catastrophe, I felt it was plausible that they were no longer around, with the DMA being a kind of Doomsday Machine-inspired device. There could have been interesting allegories for things like climate change and pollution from such a storyline.

Ultimately, of course, Discovery showed us that Unknown Species 10-C is alive and well, living their best life on three planets inside of their hyperfield. As the season enters its final act, I hope we get to learn much more about this unique civilisation.

Debunked theory #3:
The bones from Rosetta don’t belong to Unknown Species 10-C.

The away team.

I speculated that the huge bones that the away team found in Rosetta may not actually be from Unknown Species 10-C themselves, and could be from domesticated animals or other creatures that lived on their homeworld. This would have potentially allowed for Unknown Species 10-C to surprise us with their appearance, possibly even being humanoid!

It didn’t turn out that way, though, and although the Unknown Species 10-C representative in Species Ten-C was partially obscured when they made contact with the USS Discovery, they seemed to be the right size and shape for the bones from Rosetta. Also, they used the pheromones that the away team discovered.

Debunked theory #4:
The hyperfield will be empty or abandoned.

The USS Discovery at the hyperfield.

This theory could have been connected to the one above, with Unknown Species 10-C being extinct. Or it could have stood on its own, with the hyperfield perhaps serving as a portal or wormhole to a different galaxy or even another dimension. Figuring out where Unknown Species 10-C had gone could have been part of such a story, and maybe Captain Burnham and the crew would have had to leap into the unknown in order to stop the DMA.

As it turned out, the hyperfield had three whole planets inside of it! There were presumably huge numbers of Unknown Species 10-C doing their thing, living their lives and making the hyperfield a thoroughly inhabited place!

Debunked theories #5-8:
Someone else made the DMA.

The DMA on Discovery’s viewscreen.

As of last week, I still had the Red Angel suits from Season 2, Oros, Dr Kovich, and President Rillak on my list of possible culprits, either being directly implicated with the DMA or at least being connected to it in some way. I think we can now strike all of them from the list!

Unknown Species 10-C have clearly never met a human, nor anyone else from within the Milky Way galaxy, as we saw from their inquisitiveness and their initial inability to recognise that the strange creatures they’d encountered were even sentient. If they’d discovered a Red Angel suit or met someone like President Rillak or Oros, Discovery’s initial first contact wouldn’t have unfolded in that way.

Finally, with Tarka now being set up as the villain of the season’s final act, there’s no way to add someone like Dr Kovich or President Rillak into the mix as well. Rillak, despite her Machiavellian qualities, now seems to be firmly established on this side of the story. I think there’s scope to spend more time with her, and perhaps even set up an antagonistic role for her in future, but it now seems certain that it won’t happen this season.

Debunked theory #9:
Captain Burnham will use the interdimensional transporter.

Burnham using a transporter in Season 1.

It’s still possible that Tarka will get his interdimensional transporter working – even if doing so comes at the expense of hurting Unknown Species 10-C. However, this theory was set up on the premise that Unknown Species 10-C may be from another dimension themselves, and that using Tarka’s device could be the only way to reach them. That is clearly not the case, so I think we can strike it from the list.

I’d like to see the Tarka-Oros storyline about their interdimensional transporter paid off before the season ends… somehow. It would feel a little hollow if all it turns out to be is a macguffin, something to motivate Tarka to pursue this increasingly unhinged plot to steal Unknown Species 10-C’s power-generating tech. But with only one episode remaining, there’s very little time left to do anything meaningful with this side of the story!

So those theories were debunked!

There are several other theories that are hanging by the thinnest of threads, but I’m going to leave them in place for now. Even if they don’t pan out this season, there’s still scope for some of them to be incorporated into Season 5.

We have a number of theories that are still firmly in play, though, so let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is connected to a faction from Star Trek’s past.

The super-synths from Picard Season 1.

Although Unknown Species 10-C turned out to be brand-new to the franchise, there’s still scope for them to have some kind of connection with a faction from Star Trek’s past. Most organic factions are probably ruled out thanks to the way Unknown Species 10-C reacted; they’ve clearly never encountered humans, Kelpiens, or Vulcans before! But they could have met someone like the Borg, for example, or the super-synths from Picard Season 1.

This theory is definitely running out of road with only one episode remaining, and if the season finale has to deal with Tarka and the DMA, perhaps we won’t actually get to learn very much at all about Unknown Species 10-C. However, I think a connection remains a possibility – even if it’s a shrinking one!

Theory #2:
Unknown Species 10-C is responsible for the galaxy’s dilithium supply running out.

The KSF Khi’eth was one of many Federation ships scouting for dilithium as supplies dwindled.

It seems as though Unknown Species 10-C may not have been aware that the Milky Way is inhabited by sentient beings. If that’s the case, and they’ve somehow managed to be entirely unaware of everyone from the Andorians and Borg to the Xindi and Yridians, it’s possible that they’ve been exploiting the galaxy for resources for a very long time. Season 3 didn’t explain why dilithium was suddenly in short supply, so it could turn out that Unknown Species 10-C stripped away much of the galaxy’s supply in the years before the Burn.

Unknown Species 10-C could have even used a similar mining tool to the DMA to extract dilithium, sending it back to their hyperfield through wormholes. Again, time seems to be running out to explore this idea in much detail – but it would be a fun and interesting way to link the two 32nd Century seasons together!

Theory #3:
Book and Burnham will reconcile and get back together.

Burnham and Book earlier in the season.

Book is in serious danger right now! Trapped aboard his ship with Tarka in control, it’s possible that he won’t survive the season. However, if he does survive I’d very much like to see him and Burnham get back together. The whole “relationship drama” angle was not Season 4’s best narrative choice, and there were other ways to get the main story arcs to this point without disrupting Book and Burnham’s relationship.

However, as of Species Ten-C, Book appears to have moved much closer to Burnham’s position of making peaceful first contact. Partly, it has to be said, this is out of necessity: Tarka’s plan would seemingly destroy the hyperfield, the USS Discovery, Unknown Species 10-C, and would still leave Earth and Ni’Var in danger. But even before the consequences of Tarka’s plan became apparent, Book had moved back in this direction. In Rubicon, we saw how he was willing to pause his plan and wait for diplomacy, so there’s scope for him to fully come back into the fold and reconcile with Burnham.

Though I don’t believe female characters in any way need to have a male character in their life, after Burnham had been on a rollercoaster with Ash Tyler in Season 2, giving her a settled relationship worked very well. It was a shame Discovery went down this road in the first place, but all the pieces seem to be in place for a satisfactory conclusion.

Theory #4:
Oros is alive – and we’ll see him soon!

Oros.

The revelation that Tarka’s plan will actually end up killing everyone is a bit of a damp squib; an unnecessary twist that took the character from complex and understandable to out-and-out villain. However, because of the nuanced and interesting characterisation over the preceding few episodes, part of me is still rooting for some kind of reunion between Tarka and the long-lost Oros.

Perhaps Discovery will surprise us by showing Tarka’s plan succeed – he could activate his interdimensional transporter and disappear, leaving Captain Burnham to pick up the pieces. Or maybe a series that has talked big on middle grounds, compromises, and diplomacy will see Captain Burnham or President Rillak reach out to Tarka, offering him a different pathway to success.

Discovery teased us unnecessarily by keeping Oros’ identity a secret before showing us the character in quite a bit of depth. It would be a shame if Oros only exists in flashbacks; less a character than a narrative device to give Tarka’s quest a motivating factor.

Theory #5:
The interdimensional transporter works!

Oros and Tarka with the original interdimensional transporter.

Connected to the theory above, if Tarka is to succeed in his goal of reaching Kayalise then his interdimensional transporter needs to work! He’s convinced that it does, and that the one Oros built at the prison camp also worked. If the two are to have any hope of reuniting, this crucial (and power-hungry) piece of technology is essential.

In narrative terms, the interdimensional transporter is a macguffin right now. But it has huge potential – perhaps opening up future Discovery or 32nd Century stories involving visits to parallel universes. This could even be the way that the outlying story of Calypso is brought into the fold. In short, there are many good reasons to demonstrate its success!

Theory #6:
The Guardian of Forever will make an appearance.

The Guardian of Forever in Season 3.

Earlier in the season I’d been speculating that Captain Burnham could turn to the Guardian of Forever for help with the DMA. That didn’t happen (she seems to have entirely forgotten about the Guardian’s existence) but there is still a way to bring the Guardian back into the story in a way that makes sense.

In short, Season 3 saw the Guardian send Georgiou to an alternate reality, so it stands to reason it could do the same for Tarka. The Guardian of Forever is one of the few ways that could allow everyone to get what they want: the DMA could be moved away from Earth and inhabited worlds, Unknown Species 10-C could continue to mine boronite, and Tarka could use the Guardian to travel to Kayalise. There’s also a remote possibility that the Guardian could be used to send the USS Discovery back in time as part of a tie-in with Calypso, but at this late stage in the season I don’t think we’ll get that.

Theory #7:
A major character will be killed off.

A Federation funeral service.

This would’ve made more sense earlier in the season, with the death of a major character potentially setting up the danger of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, but even at this late stage it could still be impactful. Right now, Tarka has to be top of the list for not surviving the finale. Somehow, Captain Burnham will have to stop him, and one reliable way to do that would be for him to be killed! This happened in Season 1 with Lorca, in Season 2 with Control, and in Season 3 with Osyraa, so Discovery has precedent for killing its villains.

However, there are other possibilities. Lieutenant Commander Bryce is very high on the list following his emotional goodbye with Saru a couple of episodes ago, and had warranted his own entry on the theory list for the past couple of weeks! Then we have Book and Reno, who are trapped with Tarka aboard Book’s ship. One or both of them could be killed, either accidentally or intentionally, during Tarka’s quest to reach Kayalise.

Lieutenant Commander Bryce.

The departures of Gray and Tilly have the potential to shake up the cast as Discovery prepares for its fifth season, but both characters have just left the ship to do other things; they could return at any time and their friends know that they’re safe. A character death – if well-timed and pulled off with the right weight and emotion – can be incredibly impactful, not only to the characters they leave behind, but to us as the audience as well.

At points this season, I’ve felt that Discovery has given even its minor characters some pretty heavy plot armour. And if the aim was to communicate the stakes involved with the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, a character death this late in the game would miss the mark. But there’s still time for a dramatic twist of this kind!

In ranked order of how likely I think they are to die in the season finale, we have the following characters: Tarka, Bryce, Reno, Tilly, and Booker.

So those theories saw movement this week.

We still have a number of theories left in play, with quite a few seeming increasingly unlikely to be included this season. However, it’s possible for the season to end with a cliffhanger, or for the final act of the season finale to set up something big for Season 5 that could include any of these story elements. I’ll recap the remaining theories here.

Theory #8:
We’ll learn more about who Dr Kovich is and what position he has within the Federation.

The enigmatic Dr Kovich.

I have four theories about Dr Kovich that came to the fore in The Galactic Barrier. In that episode, Dr Kovich claimed to have “more important things” to do than accompany the USS Discovery to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield. This prompted a lot of speculation – but with the last two episodes having ignored him altogether, this could be one of those Discovery lines that sounds exciting and interesting… but ultimately has no payoff of any kind.

Regardless, here are my Kovich theories summarised:

Theory #8-A:
Dr Kovich works for Section 31.

Sloan, a 24th Century Section 31 leader.

Section 31 is the off-the-books, black ops division of Starfleet Intelligence. They run morally questionable operations and even attempted to commit genocide against the Founders of the Dominion in Deep Space Nine. I originally pegged Dr Kovich as a Section 31 leader back in Season 3 for his treatment of Georgiou. He also seems to have a very wide range of skills and a lot of power: appointing Starfleet Academy instructors, having access to classified intelligence, and acting as a therapist or psychiatrist are all things we’ve seen him do.

Theory #8-B:
Dr Kovich is Vice President of the Federation.

If there’s a President then there must be a Vice President!

We got confirmation a couple of episodes ago that President Rillak has an unnamed Vice President. This character was only mentioned briefly and their name wasn’t revealed, so it’s possible they’ll never be shown on screen and won’t matter to the story. However, it seems at least plausible that Dr Kovich is the Vice President; it could account for his powerful role within the Federation hierarchy and give him a reason to remain behind.

Theory #8-C:
Dr Kovich is a Q (or similar alien).

Q.

This would be a complete twist, but I wonder if the reason for Dr Kovich’s enigmatic nature is that he’s a member of the Q Continuum.  It could be revealed that Dr Kovich is from an alien race and has been observing the Federation while trying to offer limited help and guidance – not dissimilar to how Q operated. This could explain why he seems to offer fairly limited help, at times, or sets up other characters to make breakthroughs with a little prompting.

Theory #8-D:
Dr Kovich is preparing a weapon of last resort to strike Unknown Species 10-C.

The Burn as shown in Season 3.

One reason why Dr Kovich may have remained at Federation HQ (regardless of what his job title is) could be to prepare a backup plan in case the USS Discovery’s mission fails. This could take the form of some kind of “weapon of last resort” which could be far more powerful than Tarka’s isolytic weapon. It could also make use of time travel, or even be a weaponised form of the Burn.

Theory #9:
Admiral Vance’s holo-message about Earth and Ni’Var was fake or has been tampered with.

Captain Burnham listening to Admiral Vance’s message.

As I said in my review, this is the one part of The Galactic Barrier that I wasn’t wild about. Earth being in trouble is a cliché, and one which really makes the ending of the season feel like an inevitability – with Earth, Titan, Ni’Var, and the rest of the Sol and Vulcan systems in danger, it’s unfathomable that the DMA won’t be stopped in time. But I digress!

If there are other plans afoot at Federation HQ then it’s plausible to think that someone either faked or tampered with Admiral Vance’s holo-message, meaning that the information Captain Burnham and the crew received wasn’t correct. It could lead to an attempt at a dramatic finale, with Captain Burnham thinking she’s too late to have saved Earth… only to discover that Earth is fine because it was never in danger to begin with!

Theory #10:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise-E travelled through time in First Contact.

As mentioned above, there may be plans afoot within the Federation and Starfleet to strike Unknown Species 10-C, and a weaponised form of time travel could be a last-resort weapon that the Federation – and other galactic races – might consider using. If so, perhaps the ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 will be explained in more detail or expanded upon.

The ban made storytelling sense; it was a way to avoid questions about how the 32nd Century was so different to the far future glimpsed in past iterations of Star Trek, it prevented an easy fix to Georgiou’s health condition, and it prevented any of the main cast returning to the 23rd Century. But it also raised some issues for nitpicking Trekkies like us! The biggest one was how something like this could possibly be enforced; it isn’t possible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology, and even if every single race in the galaxy agreed to the ban in theory, it seems like it would need an incredible level of oversight to enforce it. Finding out more about how the ban works is as much a hope as a theory in some respects, but I think it’s something Discovery should at least attempt to do!

Theory #11:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel (or is about to).

Book, Burnham, and Sahil with the flag of the Federation in Season 3.

As above, it may be possible that the Federation is about to make a move using time travel to attack Unknown Species 10-C. If so, we may be about to learn that it isn’t the first time that they have failed to abide by the rules set out in the ban on time travel.

It doesn’t seem likely that the DMA is directly related to time travel, as I had previously suggested. But if time travel is about to come into play, we could learn more about the ban and the Federation’s relationship to it.

Theory #12:
Unknown Species 10-C built the Galactic Barrier.

The USS Enterprise approaching the galactic barrier.

Given their technological capabilities, it doesn’t seem impossible that Unknown Species 10-C constructed the Galactic Barrier – perhaps as a way to shield themselves from the races of the Milky Way, or perhaps to keep anyone from exploring too far and discovering their location. There are many reasons why a technologically advanced race might want to build something on this scale – and we could even learn that the harvested boronite is being used to fuel the Galactic Barrier itself.

One possible explanation for why Unknown Species 10-C might want to build something like the Galactic Barrier is to keep the Milky Way’s inhabitants in… but it could also be a shield designed to keep someone else out. That raises a very frightening question: what could be so powerful that a barrier is needed around the entire galaxy? And what could be so dangerous that being locked inside a galaxy with the Borg would be preferable?

With Unknown Species 10-C seemingly being very secretive, I think the idea of them building it to shield themselves is more likely… but there are definitely a lot of ways this theory could go!

Theory #13:
Someone else built the Galactic Barrier to keep Unknown Species 10-C out.

The Galactic Barrier.

If the Galactic Barrier is an artificial construct, perhaps it was created by another race or faction as a shield against Unknown Species 10-C. It could be the case that Unknown Species 10-C has used DMA technology against the Milky Way in the distant past, and some other race or faction constructed the Galactic Barrier to keep them out. If Unknown Species 10-C are belligerent and interested in conquest, it might take something on a galactic scale to keep the Milky Way safe. A race like the Q could be responsible if that’s the case.

Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be right! And it’s a distinct possibility that the Galactic Barrier element of the story was just a convenient macguffin to blind Starfleet to Unknown Species 10-C and prevent easy travel to their region of space, dragging out the story and prolonging attempts at communication so other narrative threads could play out.

If that’s the case, we may learn nothing about the Galactic Barrier in the season finale! However, I still think it’s interesting to consider the possibilities, and it could be fun to finally get some more detail on this lesser-known but significant aspect of the Star Trek galaxy.

Theory #14:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

There are many ways to bring back a character from a past iteration of the franchise and incorporate them into the story of Season 4 – and there would be many potential benefits to doing so! I had initially proposed a version of this theory in the run-up to Season 3 that centred on the Doctor from Voyager – but with some creative technobabble, practically anyone could be included, despite the leap forward in time.

Choose To Live showed us the Abronians in cryo-sleep, and Stormy Weather saw the crew of Discovery use the transporter buffer to survive – just like Scotty had done in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could these be hints at something to come?

It would also be possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs or a holographic recording of a long-dead character – and while this would be less of a “crossover,” it could still be a ton of fun and great fan-service!

Theory #15:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the hyperfield.

Leto in Book’s dreams.

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 almost eighty years earlier. Now that we know a little more about how the DMA operates, it seems at least faintly possible that, just like Captain Kirk, the inhabitants of Kwejian may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. But the wormhole technology that we know the DMA uses seems to be capable of sending some of what it harvests or mines back to Unknown Species 10-C’s base of operations. Maybe that means that some of the people from Kwejian were transported there instead of being killed. Now that Book is inside the hyperfield, could a reunion of some kind be possible?

Theory #16:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of the USS Discovery.

Lorca was Discovery’s captain in Season 1.

It’s possible that Captain Burnham will have to go to extreme lengths to stop the DMA and/or Tarka, and while I doubt very much that she’ll be killed off, something major could happen in the season finale that sets the stage for her departure from the series.

The developing situation between Captain Burnham and Book could end up with her choosing to resign her commission or taking a new job within Starfleet. Her role as captain of Discovery forced her to choose her responsibility to the Federation over her relationship, and after she was almost forced to kill Book, it would be understandable if Captain Burnham never wanted to be put in that position ever again!

Pike commanded the ship in Season 2.

It wouldn’t be the first time Captain Burnham has been unsure of her place in Starfleet and what role she wants to have. We saw this in Season 3 as part of the background that set up her eventual ascent to the captaincy, and while it seems unlikely that it will come back into play in a big way, the situation with Book could be a catalyst for Captain Burnham wanting to have a simpler life either outside of Starfleet or, at the very least, out of the captain’s chair.

This would also continue a trend that Discovery has had across all four seasons thus far: the rotating captaincy of the ship. Each season has seen a new captain in command, and with Season 5 in the offing, it’s got to be at least possible that this trend will continue. I’m not really in favour of this, but it’s certainly interesting to consider. Because Captain Burnham has been the show’s protagonist since Season 1, it seems unlikely, and the overall arc of Discovery between Season 1 and Season 3 can be read as her redemption and ascent to the captaincy. But the show’s revolving door of captains may continue, and her conflict with Book and the difficult emotional situation it put her in could be the trigger to make this happen.

Theory #17:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru in command… of a shuttle!

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer in the episode Anomaly. 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?

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. This could also set the stage for his departure from the show, or possibly even for a new show following his adventures aboard his new ship.

Theory #18:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

Zora’s status as a member of the crew was confirmed in But To Connect, and this followed her developing emotions and sentience earlier in the season. Zora is now much closer to her presentation in Calypso, potentially bringing the story of the Short Treks episode one step closer.

With just one episode remaining and a lot of other storylines to get through, this one feels less and less likely – but it could be an interesting cliffhanger ending if the ship had to be sent back in time!

Theory #19:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Adira and Stamets with a map of the Milky Way galaxy.

In But To Connect, President Rillak told us that the diplomatic summit she convened would bring together races from “all four” quadrants. Assuming she was referring to the familiar Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Quadrants that make up the Milky Way galaxy, this would count as our first mention of the Delta Quadrant in the 32nd Century. I didn’t spot any familiar Delta Quadrant races (or their emblems) amongst the assembled delegates, however!

I had previously speculated that the Burn may not have affected the entire galaxy equally, and that regions farthest away from the Verubin Nebula may have survived without much damage. I still think that this is a possibility – though whether Discovery will revisit the Burn in any depth, or visit the Delta Quadrant at all, remains unclear.

To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #20:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

This one is definitely hanging by a thread right now, at least in terms of Season 4! The story continues to unfold in a very different direction, largely ignoring the main story beats from Season 3. But the dilithium shortage has been mentioned more than once, and as things stand right now, the Federation is in control of the galaxy’s only significant dilithium supply. The Verubin Nebula is almost certainly going to be a target for somebody – even if Unknown Species 10-C don’t care about it.

It begins to stretch credulity to think that all of the belligerent factions and races present in the galaxy would become aware of the Federation controlling this impossibly valuable resource and wouldn’t want to take it for themselves. And while it may not happen now until after the DMA storyline has run its course, I think sooner or later someone is going to want to steal the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium. Maybe it will be at the end of Season 4, maybe it will be in Season 5… who knows?

Theory #21:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka and Stamets Saru with their DMA model.

In The Examples, we saw Tarka – aided by Stamets – building a scale model of the DMA. Now that his plan to destroy it and seize its controller has failed, perhaps he’ll attempt to recreate the device using the knowledge he acquired. If so, he could inadvertently create a new DMA. Or, through time travel shenanigans, Tarka could turn out to be the creator of the original DMA!

If Tarka isn’t able to find a power source for his interdimensional transporter on the far side of the Galactic Barrier, he may feel he has no choice but to try and recreate the DMA’s original power source.

Theory #22:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4. Time is ticking away… but it’s still possible!

Theory #22-A:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

After arriving at the Abronians’ cryo-ship, Captain Burnham found a stone carving that seemed to depict the destruction of the Abronians’ homeworld. This carving was only shown on screen briefly, but it seemed to show the planet being damaged or destroyed in a large explosion. Burnham credited the planet’s destruction to a “supernova,” and the story then raced ahead.

We’re running out of time with this one – and it could be that Captain Burnham’s initial observation was correct. But this would be one way to connect this side-story to the season’s main narrative arc.

Theory #22-B:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the other side of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

One thing struck me as odd about the Abronians: the Federation was entirely unaware of them, despite the Abronian cryo-ship being relatively close to Federation space – such that Captain Burnham could reach it using Book’s ship in a short span of time. It’s possible that the Abronians had been asleep for millennia, unnoticed by the Federation and the wider galaxy for all that time. But it’s also at least possible that their cryo-ship is a newcomer to the area.

Having seen the destruction present on Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-homeworld, maybe the Abronians fell victim to the same devastating event if their original planet was in the same region of extragalactic space.

Theory #22-C:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation.

A deceased Abronian.

One of the themes of Discovery since Season 3 has been connection, including building connections between the Federation and other races and organisations. The Abronians were awoken from cryo-sleep thanks to the interventions of Captain Burnham and Tilly – at least in part – and they may seek to repay the Federation, or Captain Burnham personally, for that help.

We saw this play out last season with Ni’Var; in the season finale Ni’Var ships raced to the Federation’s aid as the Emerald Chain attacked. Perhaps the Abronians will likewise step up to help when the Federation needs allies.

Theory #22-D:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

The cryo-ship used by the Abronians was huge, and appeared to have the mass of a planetoid or small moon. With Earth and Ni’Var now under threat and an evacuation necessary, perhaps the Federation will ask the Abronians to borrow their moon-ship. This could even be what Dr Kovich was planning to do and why he couldn’t join Discovery on the mission through the Galactic Barrier.

The moon-ship was fully operational thanks to the new dilithium that J’Vini “procured,” so it could be commandeered by Starfleet for the purposes of an evacuation. That would be one way to pay off what is, at the moment, a side-story.

Theory #23:
Kayalise is the Kelvin universe.

The titular USS Kelvin.

Oros didn’t make clear, in the flashback sequences we saw, exactly what Kayalise would be like. He only believed that it would be better than the prime universe, and talked about it in mythological, almost religious terms. That could mean something significant, or it could simply be Oros being poetic!

Tarka had previously suggested that the universe he hopes to escape to is one where the Burn didn’t happen and the Emerald Chain never rose to power. Because of the unique circumstances of the Burn, it seems at least possible that it didn’t occur in the Kelvin timeline – the one established by 2009’s Star Trek. We’ve already had at least one Kelvin reference in Discovery’s 32nd Century, confirming that the universe was known to exist and was reachable. With a fourth Kelvin film in early production, it’s possible that Kayalise is actually the Kelvin universe!

So that’s the main theory list!

We now have three production-side theories in play, so we’ll look at those too before we wrap things up.

Production-side theory #1:
There will be some kind of crossover with Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

Picard Season 2 is running alongside Discovery.

This theory has arisen in large part because of the very odd scheduling of Picard Season 2 and Discovery Season 4, which will run alongside each other for three episodes. I wonder if that’s because some kind of crossover is on the agenda. With time travel playing a significant role in the story of Picard Season 2, it seems at least plausible to think that some kind of connection is possible!

This could be a complete over-reach, and the ultimate “explanation” for the weird scheduling may turn out to be nothing more than the random illogical spasms of the ineptly-managed Paramount+ and parent company Paramount Global. That would not surprise me in the slightest! But I really do find the scheduling odd.

Admiral Picard.

The shorter seasons of today’s Star Trek shows means that there really isn’t any need for such a pile-up this spring. Discovery has thirteen episodes, Picard and Strange New Worlds have ten apiece – and even with Lower Decks and Prodigy still to come, there are more than enough weeks in 2022 for the entire Star Trek franchise to be evenly spread out. Why have four out of ten weeks with two episodes from two different shows, then a gap of several weeks later in the year where no new Star Trek is broadcast? It makes no sense – especially not on a streaming platform.

Finally, with the constipated international rollout of Paramount+ showing no signs of speeding up, it’s looking increasingly likely that Strange New Worlds will be broadcast in the United States weeks or months ahead of its international premiere. If both Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds were delayed by as little as 5 or 6 weeks, this might be able to be avoided – assuming the rollout of Paramount+ “by the end of Q2” happens as planned.

In short, it’s all very strange – but one possible explanation for the weird scheduling could be that there’s a crossover event planned sometime in the next three weeks!

Production-side theory #2:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4, and we glimpsed her in the trailer for the second half of the season as well. But that doesn’t mean she will return as a main character on the show going forward, and her departure in All Is Possible felt permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may come back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #3:
Season 4 will end on a cliffhanger!

Star Trek has a long, well-established tradition of season-ending cliffhangers! There have been some truly shocking ones in the past, including The Best of Both Worlds in The Next GenerationDeep Space Nine’Call To ArmsEquinox in Voyager… and many more! With the story of Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA slowly being unpicked, it could be the case that we’ll get a clean resolution – like we did at the end of Season 3. But it’s also possible, in my opinion, that Season 4 will end in similar fashion to Season 2 – on a major cliffhanger!

That could be because the Unknown Species 10-C story didn’t conclude, or a war with the mysterious faction is about to break out. But the Season 4 finale could also set up the beginnings of Season 5’s story, just like how the final moments of Season 1 saw Captain Pike’s Enterprise link up with the USS Discovery.

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery and Book’s ship in Species Ten-C.

We still have a long list of theories as we head into the season finale. Obviously most of them won’t pan out – there isn’t time in a single episode to pay off even half of those still on the list! But they all seem possible or plausible to me, and with a fifth season of Discovery having been confirmed, maybe we’ll see some of them return in 2023 when I start putting together my Season 5 theories!

I always like to end these theory lists by saying that I do this just for fun. I enjoy writing, I enjoy Star Trek, and spending more time in this world is an escape and an enjoyable distraction. But for some folks, fan theories can be frustrating or unenjoyable, especially if they get very attached to a plausible-sounding theory that ultimately doesn’t pan out. I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything suggested above can, will, or must be part of Discovery Season 4. I fully expect many of these theories to be debunked and for the season to go in wildly unpredictable directions!

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 Paramount Global. 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, Episode 12: Species Ten-C

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Species Ten-C wasn’t just a good episode in its own right, with plenty of excitement and tension that showed how Star Trek can do a heck of a lot without resorting to violence and battles, but it was one that made the episode immediately preceding it significantly better in retrospect. I wrote last week that the one saving grace to an otherwise frustrating experience in Rosetta could be if the hydrocarbons discovered by Captain Burnham and the away team were put to good use – and that happened in a big way this time.

On the other side of the story, I finally felt what I believe the writers have been aiming for for weeks with the Book and Tarka storyline: that Captain Burnham was right, diplomatic initiatives should be given a chance, and that Book has fallen victim to Tarka’s manipulations. While this has the unfortunate effect of relegating Tarka from a complex character with an equally understandable motivation into the out-and-out villain of the season’s final couple of episodes, it clarifies what had been until now a very fuzzy and occasionally frustrating story.

The Book and Tarka storyline was expanded upon in a big way this week.

If I were to be critical of Species Ten-C, what I’d say is that it probably took too long for the season to reach this point. Several advances in the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C storyline were sprinkled in at or near the end of unrelated or tangentially-related episodes, with the Federation often running into problems or delays that took too long to surmount, and the result of that is that it took a long time to arrive at the hyperfield.

The story of finding a way to bridge the communication divide could have been a longer one, and it was handled in a genuinely interesting way – but with only half an episode dedicated to it here and just one final episode of the season remaining, it’s an interesting concept that may not be explored in as much detail as it could have been.

Species Ten-C saw the crew making first contact.

This story of learning how to communicate with someone far more alien than usual, and doing so while under threat thanks to the DMA, is not one that required a B-plot villain. While Tarka was interesting in his earlier appearances and his motivations were laid out in a clearly understandable way, the narrative just doesn’t require this additional element in order to be exciting.

Discovery has a tendency, as I’ve pointed out on a number of previous occasions, to try to inject double the tension and three times the drama when it just isn’t necessary, and if I were to make one comment about the series as a whole it’s that the writers need to have more confidence in their stories. Dropping the Tarka angle, or reworking it to make him less of an antagonist in this final chapter, would allow the main story of learning to communicate with Unknown Species 10-C to stand on its own – and as it’s already sufficiently tense, interesting, and engaging, Tarka’s villainy just isn’t necessary.

Tarka in Species Ten-C.

Not for the first time, Discovery has set up a character who feels well-rounded and complex, with motivations that seem understandable, only to turn them into a pretty standard villain later on. I wouldn’t have even called Tarka “morally ambiguous;” his weapon plan made a lot of sense when it was first proposed, and I even suggested that a show which has had themes of seeking a “middle ground” could have figured out a way to keep Tarka on board, building his weapon as a back-up plan while attempting to make first contact. But as with Captain Lorca in Season 1, much of Tarka’s nuance now feels lost; brushed aside because the writers determined that the season needs a villain.

There were other ways to formulate this story that either skipped over Tarka altogether or that kept him in that complex space. We may yet learn that his interdimensional transporter will be important, in which case he may have served a narrative function, but if the ending of the story is going to be Tarka’s defeat or death, with a reunion with Oros not being able to happen, then I think I’ll have to go back and re-evaluate his role in the season overall. This story already had the complexities of Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA; I’m not sure it needed a second antagonist, especially not one who seems to have come at the expense of an interesting and complex character.

Tarka with Oros earlier in the season.

We’ve also got to talk about the new character of Dr Hirai. In short, he needs to do something truly outstanding and unique next week – otherwise his inclusion in the season will have proven to be a complete and utter waste of a great actor. I like the concept of the character; a linguistics and communications expert seems perfect for this kind of mission. But in his two earlier appearances this season he did nothing whatsoever, and his accomplishments this week were relatively minor. It didn’t feel like bringing Dr Hirai along was in any way important to the success of the mission, with Captain Burnham, Zora, Saru, and even characters like Detmer, Nilsson and the very minor Lieutenant Christopher all contributing at least as much – if not more – to the story as he did.

He was ultimately sidelined by President Rillak, who chose Saru and Burnham over him for their linguistics and first contact expertise, confirming his relegation to a bit-part role at best. In light of what happened last week with Rosetta, I’m willing to wait and see if Dr Hirai will yet make a significant contribution – but with only one episode left in which to do so, he needs to do something big pretty quickly or we’ll unfortunately have to consider his inclusion in the story a bit of a let-down.

Dr Hirai doesn’t have long left to make an impact on the story.

There is one concept underlying the way Unknown Species 10-C reacted to Discovery’s arrival – and the conversation it prompted between Captain Burnham and the others – that I didn’t like. As humans, we’re able to recognise signs of intelligence in other species, even though we’re far more advanced and intelligent than they are. We can recognise the complex social structures present in ant colonies, for example, or how crows and some great apes are learning to use tools. Even though these creatures are far lower on the intelligence scale than we are, we’re able to determine quite easily that animals – even small and lowly ones – can exhibit signs of complex understanding and intelligence.

With that in mind, the idea that Unknown Species 10-C would see a starship arriving at warp speed, using a warp core and a spore drive, built from clearly artificial alloys, and somehow not understand that the creatures aboard it are sentient makes no sense. This species is supposedly much farther advanced than even the 32nd Century Federation, and even though they exist outside of the galaxy they must have the ability to scan and detect the existence of other sentient species, even if they choose not to interact with them. It’s conceivable that they might be selfish and not care about any other species besides themselves – but the idea that they would be unaware or incapable of determining intelligence in this situation is one that I can’t buy as a believable story point.

The USS Discovery approaches the hyperfield.

It seemed at first as though Species Ten-C was going to centre on this aspect of first contact, and I was certainly a little disappointed at first. But thankfully this didn’t last too long, with Unknown Species 10-C eventually getting the message and realising that the life-forms aboard the warp-capable starship are actually intelligent. Took them long enough!

I know that probably sounds like a nitpick – and it is, in a way. It’s just that, despite all of the talk of Unknown Species 10-C being very alien and having a very different culture, some things should be universally obvious – like if someone is capable of building a starship that can travel faster than the speed of light, use metal alloys that don’t exist in nature, and fly right up to your base to initiate contact, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that they possess some degree of intelligence. That should apply no matter who you are! And as pointed out above, humans are capable of recognising the signs of intelligence in the natural world. As a narrative beat, I get that it was in there to make the initial meeting feel very tense, but it’s kind of illogical if you think about it!

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C.

We didn’t get a clear look at Unknown Species 10-C, as their representative was partially obscured by a cloud of swirling gas. Nevertheless, the visual effects on this side of the story were mostly high-quality, and Unknown Species 10-C themselves at least seem like they’ll be visually interesting if we ever get a better look at them. I actually got a slight “Mass Effect Leviathan” vibe from what we glimpsed of Unknown Species 10-C. The design of the hyperfield was likewise interesting; it appeared much more solid than I had been expecting based on the holographic projections seen in previous episodes. Seeing it go from solid-metallic looking to swirling like fluid was also a very cool visual effect that Discovery executed well.

The only visual that I felt was a bit of a miss was Unknown Species 10-C’s shuttle pod/diplomatic chamber. When it arrived in Discovery’s shuttlebay it looked rather bland and low-quality, like a video game where a texture hasn’t loaded properly. It was clearly designed to look similar to the hyperfield, but I guess trying to blend that with a real set and real actors was difficult. It didn’t look awful, but it was noticeably lower quality when compared to the rest of the visual effects and animation work present in Species Ten-C.

This visual effect felt rather weak.

The idea of Unknown Species 10-C recreating part of Discovery as an environment for the crew works as a story point – I can quite understand why they’d choose to do something like that. But I confess that I rolled my eyes a little when I saw Captain Burnham and the others stepping onto the bridge set. It was understandable in the context of the story, but it didn’t make for a particularly impressive or interesting sequence when shown on screen. In fact, it almost makes Species Ten-C feel like a “bottle” episode – a Star Trek trope going all the way back to The Original Series where episodes would be set entirely aboard the ship.

As mentioned above when discussing Dr Hirai, President Rillak chose to bring both Captain Burnham and Saru when boarding Unknown Species 10-C’s diplomatic shuttle. And aside from totally sidelining Dr Hirai, this also left the command structure of Discovery and the rest of the mission uncertain. Rhys had the ship’s conn, as we’d see on the bridge near the episode’s climax, but who was in charge of the remaining delegates and the rest of the diplomatic mission? And how far did Rhys’ authority extend? Would he, for example, have been authorised to fire upon Unknown Species 10-C if time began to run out for Earth? Taking both the captain and first officer on this mission – when other experts were available – is a bit of an odd choice, and while of course as the audience we want to see our familiar characters leading the charge, it again makes the addition of some of these other delegates and experts feel like a bit of a waste.

The interior of Unknown Species 10-C’s pod.

A longer episode – or a story which had arrived at the hyperfield earlier in the season – could have spent longer on the whole first contact thing, and I really think that would have been worth doing. I’m actually getting a bit of a familiar feeling the more I think about Species Ten-C: it reminds me of the finale of Picard Season 1 in the sense that the season dawdled a lot to get to this point, and it feels like there’s a lot of important story points left to get through with very little time remaining. As a result, some aren’t being given as much attention or screen time as they probably should receive. We aren’t at the same level as Et in Arcadia Ego – at least, not yet. But suffice to say that Season 4 as a whole has left its final episode with a lot of work to do to wrap up all of the major stories in a satisfying way.

There were a few very close-up shots of characters’ faces that made the cinematography in Species Ten-C feel a bit odd. Close-ups can work and can be dramatic, but their use here felt rather gratuitous, with the episode both beginning and ending with them in a way that made it feel like the director was throwing everything at the wall in an attempt to make things seem even more dramatic. As I’ve said on several occasions this season when discussing certain narrative choices, Discovery is already a series that brings plenty of drama to the table – trying to take it from a ten to an eleven can sometimes fall flat, and a few of these extreme close-ups definitely strayed very close to the line.