Defending Discovery‘s Design Differences
“We are always in a fight for the future.” – Captain Pike, “Light and Shadows”
Ever since Star Trek: Discovery started back in 2017, the show has been the subject of complaints and criticisms from some fans. This has been a long-running tradition within the Star Trek franchise. Since the advent of Star Trek: The Next Generation, each Star Trek show has faced its share of detractors. I’ve written this as the first in a series of articles that will address some of the most cited complaints pertaining specifically to Star Trek: Discovery.
Of course, everyone is free to like whatever they choose, within certain parameters. Star Trek teaches us the concept of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), and that certainly extends to constructive criticism. So, this series of articles isn’t intended as a way of saying anyone’s observations about the show are wrong. It’s just that a lot of those complaints about the show are interesting to counter. On that note, let’s examine what the criticisms actually are.
Identifying the Complaints
“Our futures look different.” – Michael Burnham, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”
Many of the criticisms aimed at Discovery have been aesthetic. They range from:
1. The technology of the Starfleet ships seeming more advanced than the 23rd-century setting of the first two seasons would suggest.
2. Starfleet’s EV suits and holographic displays looking too advanced.
3. Too much emotion – especially crying – being portrayed by the actors for them to be taken seriously as Starfleet officers.
4. The Klingons’ appearance being too different than in previously produced Trek.
There are behind-the-scenes reasons and head-canon explanations to help account for these issues, so now I’ll do my best to summarize them.
Explaining the Aesthetic Changes
“It’s not random at all. It’s actually an impossibly sophisticated repository of… like, a slice of the galaxy’s history. It’s like this delicious slice of galaxy pie.” – Tilly, “The Sound of Thunder”
At the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, Alex Kurtzman explained why, from a behind-the-scenes perspective, Star Trek: Discovery looks so different from the 23rd century as portrayed in the original Star Trek series:
“Obviously, [Discovery] looks more modern than The Original Series, because we are in a modern world now and if we made the show look that way, people would not feel that it was worth the money. That being said, every prop [and] every costume design is filtered through what existed at the time. And do we create the new version of it, do we augment the original design in very subtle ways, or do we just leave it alone? And when I say every prop and design choice, I mean every prop and design choice. So, I think you’ll see a lot of tips of the hat to devices from The Original Series and the timeline. But yes, obviously we wanted to create a more modern experience, and that necessitated certain adjustments.” 
Apart from flashbacks and flash forwards, most of the first two seasons of Discovery (released in 2017-2019) take place in 2256-2258, after “The Cage” (filmed in 1964), which is set in 2254. This is several years before “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (filmed in 1965), which is set in 2265.
It’s important to recognize that, like the advent of the Kelvin Timeline, the aesthetic differences between this first couple of seasons of Discovery and other portrayals of the 23rd century do not eliminate or negate those other depictions. On the contrary, Discovery deliberately features the earliest of those portrayals, reusing footage from “The Cage” for a recap at the start of the Season 2 episode “If Memory Serves”. The production staff of Discovery needn’t have done that; for the recap, they could have simply reshot sequences from “The Cage” using new sets and actors recast in the same parts from that episode.
Final (Frontier) Thoughts
“What difference does it make? Would you please just move forward, and let me do the same?!” – Culber, “If Memory Serves”
How well Star Trek: Discovery fits into Star Trek canon is subjective (the Red Angel arc in Season 2 serves to remind us of just how open to interpretation and debate appearance can actually be). Also, the ways in which fashion will change over time are unpredictable. In the end, it’s more important to respect IDIC than to argue about design approaches. That said, I am interested in learning what you think about all this. Let us know in the comments below.
Next time, I’ll take a closer look at how some of the tech of the series fits into Star Trek continuity, as the Starfleet ships in Discovery come under the spotlight.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.