Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 1
New trio of heroes10
Action & adventure10
Big but (slightly) silly sci-fi ideas8
Ian Winterton | On 16, Oct 2020
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Star Trek: Discovery? Read our review of the last episode here. New episodes arrive on Fridays within 24 hours of their US broadcast.
Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but very much worth the wait, Season 3 of Star TrekL Discovery follows on directly from the nail-biting and game-changing finale to Season 2. For reasons far too complicated to go into now, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the crew of the Discovery faked their own deaths and blasted through a wormhole 930 years into the future to save a rogue AI from destroying the universe. Only Michael, flying solo in the red angel mech-suit, arrives alone on a planet that’s all blue oceans and volcanic basalt (note to everyone in film and TV: Iceland is officially over-used as a location now) and can’t find any sign of the Discovery.
She’s forced to team up with intergalactic smuggler Cleveland “Book” Booker (the least 32nd century-sounding name ever), who, after they’ve beaten crap out of one another, lets her on board his ship. Played by the hugely charismatic – and, as we see when he whips his shirt off, incredibly buff – Londoner David Ajala, he’s the best addition to the Star Trek universe since Anson Mount took over the role of Captain Pike. Likeable, but mysterious – and later revealed to be far more than just a Han Solo-style loveable rogue – he owns a huge cat (“She has a thyroid condition”) named Grudge “because she’s heavy and she’s all mine”.
We get a few Easter Eggs here as Book, discussing his damaged ship, mentions a dilithium recrystalizer (a reference to tech development on Xahea last season) and “quantum slipstream”, technology we first heard of back in Star Trek: Voyager episode Hope and Fear 22 years ago. But the biggest shocks to Trek canon come when Michael learns that the Federation collapsed just over a century before, in the wake of a cataclysm known as “the Burn” that saw, somehow, every piece of dilithium go “boom”. The only people Book has seen wearing a Federation badge like Michael’s are “true believers” – of which more later.
Opting to sell some of her 23rd-century possessions – now worth a fortune as antiques – to help Book fix his ship, Michael and Book head to a trading post called, imaginatively, Mercantile. Finding the place run by grumpy Andorians and Orions, Michael briefly marvels at the advanced tech – most notably the portable transporters – before Book betrays her (for some reason) and she’s captured by the authorities.
A rather silly interrogation scene is the only dip in quality during an otherwise first-rate episode, and Michael running around with a stupid grin following an overdose of truth serum gets tired pretty quickly. It’s all a bit unnecessary, too, as within minutes Michael and Book are united once again, involved in a breakneck chase involving brilliantly lethal disintegrator rays and location hopping teleportation.
The upshot is the death of all the bad guys – so I guess there’s no point learning any of their names – and the revelation that Book, the big hippy, is actually an animal rights activist. Following the demise of the Federation, no one was around to enforce the endangered species laws, and so Book and his comrades – as we see during a brief sojourn on Sanctuary 4, which looks like the answer to the question: “What if New England in Fall was a planet?”
But Michael can’t rest – she’s still got the Discovery to locate. “I think I know someone who can help you with that,” says Book, before whisking her off to the ruins of an old Federation base. There, a man we saw in the opening scene repeating the same day over and over, is revealed to be Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain), one of the “true believers” Book mentioned. The moment he rises from his desk to say “Welcome to Star Fleet” truly packs an emotional punch, not least because Martin-Green – on top form, as ever – reacts so powerfully: bottom lip trembling, Michael still retains her stuffed-shirt professionalism.
So, this trio of characters – Michael, Book and Aditya – seem to be the core of Season 3. When – or even if – the Discovery will make an appearance is unknowable. As they say, according to temporal law, the ship could appear tomorrow or in a thousand years (although a good guess would be midway through the season at the absolute latest), so for now it looks like Michael’s mission is to restore the glory that once was the Federation. As for what caused “the Burn”, surely some mighty villain is yet to be revealed.
A fantastic opener, then, with the same mix of (slightly OTT) big sci-fi ideas and grounded, well-written characters that’s made Discovery the best iteration of Trek since The Next Generation. The team behind Picard, take note – this is how you do it.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.