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28 September 2017updated 03 Aug 2021 7:06am

Star Trek: Discovery shows promise. ’ach qatlh bID ’oH neH Klingon?

And the English dialogue is, if anything, worse. 

By Jonn Elledge

rut, ‘AY’ bravest laH je rav Dogh. roD mu’mey chong tu’, ‘ej SoH qaStaHvIS Segh Star Trek: Discovery, wa’DIch cha’-episode-baS DaH lupoQ Netflix UK.

But it’s also a good description of that show, the first scene of which is conducted entirely in Klingon. Indeed, though I haven’t timed it, I’d guess that not far short of a third of its entire run time so far is in that most mucus-logged of made-up languages. Given that the point Star Trek stopped being huge coincided almost exactly with the point it disappeared up its own mythology’s arse, this feels like a strange choice to me, but I guess that’s why they don’t pay me the big bucks.

It has at least helped prevent copyright theft. One friend in the US who got sick of trying to make the official CBS All Access player do its job told me that he’d downloaded an illegal copy, only to find that the subtitles for the Klingon sections were in Russian. That forced him to watch the traditional, legal way, adverts, long periods of buffering and all.

‘ej maHvaD ghu’vam yuDHa’ vIHtaHbogh ghu’vam: qIm vagh tup Qap je subtitles, qar ghojwI’pu’lI’ vIHtaHbogh DujlIj Klingons’ Da’elDI’ bImejnIS. chu’ ghewmey jIH, mo’ DeSDu’ wa’ lang, naQ cha’ tup staring DeSDu’ Twitter ngejtaH ‘e’ nuq tlher-nach SuvwI’ qawlu’ vIghaj vay’ qech jIH lop jImejbej mojpu’ jatlh Doch.

In some ways, all this is a shame, as the plot is actually quite promising. Most iterations of Trek have been entirely episodic: whatever happens to the characters or their ship in their 45 minutes on screen, it won’t affect their mood next week in the slightest. And so long as you’re not the sort of nerd who obsesses about how many pips these people have on their collars, you can watch the episodes in pretty much any order.

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That made sense in the age when US TV was made for syndication, when most people would watch the episodes in an essentially random order, but it’s not so great in a world when people are used to ongoing plots and developing characters. So Star Trek: Discovery diverges from that format. I’ve no idea where it’s going, but it’s already clear by the end of episode two that what we’ve seen will affect the characters we’re going there with.

That’s the good stuff. The bad includes the fact that much of the dialogue spoken in English is, if anything, worse than the Klingon. As a journalist who primarily writes about transport and housing policy but occasionally dabbles in TV criticism, one thing I found uniquely irritating was the way characters kept explaining their backstory to each other. It reminded me of that John Finnemore sketch about a Radio 4 play, called “saying the plot out loud”.

Then there’s the fact that we keep flashing back to the protagonist’s childhood, as a human raised by famous Vulcan Sarek, which we’re clearly meant to understand as the key to understanding her character. All the way through those sequences I kept thinking of the lesson my childhood English teacher imparted to me, so many years ago: “Good drama should show, not tell.” (It’s strange she had such an impact on me. We came from such different cultures.)

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‘ej vaj pa’ fucking Klingon. laH buS ‘Iv jawbe’ maHvaD vagh tup Qap vIHtaHbogh politics tlhIngan, HeghDI’ mojpu’ qach ‘oH fucking Klingon?

There are good things. The cast is diverse, probably more than any previous Trek series (although since it’s not entirely clear who the regular cast will be yet, it’s hard to be certain). The refrain of “Remain Klingon” – the idea that the aliens hate Starfleet because, when they say they come in peace, they actually mean it – is a neat piece of retconning, and one which feels like it might say something about our world, rather than the made up one on screen. It’s got enough good stuff to keep me watching.

Nonetheless, it feels a bit too obsessed with Star Trek for its own sake, rather than as a vehicle for telling stories with broader resonance. The fact it’s a prequel series, set before Kirk and Spock flew off into the void, makes me suspect that problem is likely to persist. I sort of wish they’d gone for a different bit of the future, just to give themselves a blank state.

The worst thing, though, the absolute worst thing, is the names. The lead character is called Burnham, which is obviously a huge problem if you pay even the slightest attention to British politics. There’s another character called “Brett Anderson”. And the name of the series as a whole has the acronym STD.

jupwI’. tu’lu’ pagh quvHa’ghach neH Google lo’.

Klingon sections courtesy of Bing Translate. The New Statesman takes no responsibility for any grammatical errors which occur in the Klingon sections above, or the offence that they might cause.