It’s a pretty good time if you’re a Star Trek fan, I would say. And that’s not really something you could have said for quite a long time. Star Trek: Voyager had some very good bits, but in general it’s not hugely fondly looked back on by a number of Trek fans. And following that, I didn’t even last more than a few episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, and it seems to be thought even less of by those who did watch it. And the new JJ Abrams movie series has been pretty good, but for many people, including myself, didn’t really capture the essence of Star Trek that was prevalent in the Original Series, The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine.

But, right now we have just had three shows aired which strongly capture the essence of Star Trek. But none of them are quite what you would expect. I’ll start with the least obvious.

Black Mirror: USS Callister

What a great series Black Mirror is. I’ve followed Charlie Brooker’s work for years and I’m so pleased that Black Mirror has worked out so well for him. It’s an amazing collective piece of work. But who would have thought that Season 4 would have started with a Star Trek episode. I will mention very minor plot spoilers here by the way, but only the sort of thing you would see in a trailer.

We start by watching what looks like a very cheesy rip-off of the original Kirk era of Star Trek. Called Space Fleet in this universe. We soon realise that this is just the fantasy world of a programmer at a near-futuristic VR company. This quickly develops into revealing that it is not just some fun VR programme he runs in his spare time, but rather something much more dark, where he lets his inhibitions and shyness from the real world, transform into ruthlessness and sadism in this virtual world, with very serious consequences.

It’s not really a homage or lampoon of the original Star Trek series, but rather takes a twisted look at what a dark version of that series would have been if Kirk had been a very different captain. Still great fun for Star Trek fans and a great premise all round. I bet they had fun filming that one.

The Orville

This is an interesting one. On paper this could be deemed highly questionable and doomed to failure. But it’s actually brilliant. I love it. It’s the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, obviously most famously known for being the creator of Family Guy, the very clever and funny cartoon that many might complain is full of toilet humour and digs at celebrities. Seth MacFarlane has many detractors but I think his output has been fantastic and I’m a big fan of his talents. I also know he’s a big space and Star Trek fan. He commissioned and produced the new series of Cosmos, where Neil deGrasse Tyson took on the mantle from Carl Sagan. And I heard somewhere that his main reason for doing Family Guy was so that he could make enough money for him to do a Star Trek style show. Well, that time has now come.

Many people, who haven’t watched it, are saying it’s just a spoof or parody of Star Trek. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, given some of the sketches within Family Guy and American Dad, but this isn’t the case. He doesn’t directly make jokes about Klingons, or snogging aliens, or red shirts dying too easily, or anything like that. It’s not taking a dig at Star Trek tropes. It is instead paying homage to the genre, albeit with a lot of humour interjected. But it’s not a comedy. It’s perhaps a ‘dramedy’. It tackles some very pretty big subjects and pretty serious situations. It really is like a funny Star Trek series. It slots right in there and totally lives up to the Star Trek legacy that it is homaging. A lot of the actors are ex-Star Trek, and several of the directors too, including Commander Ryker himself, Jonathan Frakes directing one episode. MacFarlane also brings in some of his celebrity friends that he has worked with before as guest stars, including Rob Lowe, Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron. The cast is all great, the script is very good and I was very impressed with the visual effects too. But the main thing that I noticed was that the editing and score is absolutely perfect. It totally gets the right tone, which could go horribly wrong if the editing and score were bad. It’s very well produced.

Episode 3 is where you realise that this show is not just some parody comedy, and that it is something more. I really loved Episodes 6, 7 and 8 in particular. But I really did not enjoy Episode 9. That was the rotten apple in the bunch. Don’t watch that one as your first episode. The writing and editing are not as good, but also Seth Macfarlane tries to do too much comedic acting in that episode and it’s not his forte. But all the rest are great. Episode 7 actually feels like it’s an episode of Black Mirror. It really is the sort of dystopian future, based on technology, that Black Mirror would tackle. And it’s set on an Earth-like planet too, so it’s able to address issues affecting Earth right now, much like the original Star Trek series did.

The Orville in general really scratched my Next Generation itch. It has a very Next Gen sort of vibe about it. I can’t wait for season 2.

Star Trek: Discovery

Next up is the only actual official Star Trek show in this bunch. I did not know what to expect at all from this show when it launched. To be honest I didn’t hold out too much hope. I thought the Star Trek writers might be lacking imagination about where to go with new stories. My first reaction to watching the first episode was confusion about when it is set. In the timeline it is set just 10 years before The Original Series, but the uniforms and the aesthetics of the spaceships and technologies seem very different. It’s kind of hard to get your head around it being only 10 years before TOS. It even looks more advanced than TNG. But I praise for them not worrying too much about visual continuity and instead going for something that just looks cool.

In a nutshell, the writers and producers (there are LOADS of producers and executive producers and co-executive producers in the title sequence) have been pretty bold with this show. They’ve broken away from Star Trek tropes. In a big way. I don’t want to spoil things but the first two episodes are very different from the rest of the series. There isn’t one fixed crew that stays the same throughout the series. The focus of the show isn’t the captain. And there are several twists along the way. This series shakes things up. And for me, it totally worked.

Part of the reason it worked is because of Sonequa Martin-Green. I’m not totally sure I liked her in The Walking Dead but it might just have been her character. But in this I think she’s perfect. It’s a role that has to be underplayed and I think she does it extremely well. And the rest of the crew/cast are extremely good too. There are characters who bring humour, characters who challenge things, characters who look cool. And although the Klingons are very different from what we know, I like them too.

The other risky decision about this new show is that is being aired exclusively on CBS’ new paid network CBS All Access. This has meant that many viewers in the US had chosen not to pay for it and wait until it’s possibly aired on syndicated networks in the future. Luckily for us in the UK it has actually been picked up by Netflix UK.

Interestingly Jonathan Frakes also directed an episode of this, as well as The Orville.

At the point of writing this I’ve just watched Episode 12 and I can’t wait for the next episode to come out.

I wanted to put all these three shows in the one post because I’m almost not sure which of them is the most ‘Star Trek’. Black Mirror is almost looking at a dystopian, alternative version of ‘uber-trekkies’, The Orville perfectly homages TNG, and Discovery takes Star Trek into brave new territory. I personally think it’s a great time to be a Star Trek fan. Qapla’