As I’ve been watching Star Trek: Discovery (which is bloody fantastic by the way) I keep seeing frustrating discussions spawned on the internet. Some seem to dislike Discovery due to the focus on female characters - those people are simply sexist. Not much I can say about that. Some seem to think that the show is good because they focus on female characters - I’m not sure why that would make it more compelling but there seem to be people who think this is far more interesting and to each their own I suppose. But what I want to discuss transcends gender or race - it’s the writing.
Women have always been a part of Star Trek, from Uhura in the 60’s through Councilor Troy and Dr. Crusher through Jadzia Dax. But the writing has been fairly inconsistent. In any given series of Star Trek there are good episodes and bad episodes. There are good characters and bad characters. I find that the parallels between Discovery and Voyager stand out to me. Voyager was one of the worst written series for Star Trek. Discovery is far and away the best. From a character perspective the parallels between Janeway and Burnham are amazing. There were similarely gender-based arguments with Voyager with many thinking that the problems with that series were the gender of the captain. This is foolish of course as it wouldn’t matter which gender that captain was if they were as poorly written. Think of Picard from Next Generation - we know he is French (with an english accent) that his family is vintners that his nephew passed away too young that he explores space because of duty and ambition that he was wreckless as a youth which affected his course. Now think of Janeway - we know she likes coffee. Seriously that’s about it. I’ve watched the entire series and that’s the takeaway. Now on to Burnham - we know she watched her parents demise that she was raised on Vulcan that she feels duty and logic at her very core and that in honor of her adoptive family she tries as hard as Spock to bury her emotional center. It’s the writing that really sets Discovery on a pedestal. The characters are three dimensional and you can understand and appreciate their values and motivations. When T’Kuvma falls you care, even though he’s been set up as a traditional Klingon villain, you feel for the characters who are devastated by his passing. When the twist hits in season one it caught me completely off guard because the writing was so well done I legitimately didn’t see it coming!
This kinda segues into another discussion that Discovery makes pretty obvious in terms of serialization versus episodic storytelling. An easy example is the first series of the Doctor Who revival. In one episode Rose practically begs the Doctor to bring along Mickey as the two are in a relationship and missing each other. In the very next episode she seems frustrated that he’s there. This can easily happen when each episode is penned by a different writer to suit their needs. When you look at Discovery being penned as a complete series it greatly helps with consistency and even enhances things like Tyler’s character arc! If the series were more episodic it would be harder to portray Tyler’s identity issues as a viewer could quite reasonably assume it’s inconsistent writing and not deliberate. Now I’m not advocating all story telling be moved to serials, episodic structure can be very fun when you just want to spend time with characters, but for larger and more intricate stories serials are still amazing. It’s kinda funny to think about but story telling has kinda taken a cycle on us. If you go way back (even before my time) to radio serials they were mostly serialized for time constraints. When TV shortened time slots to 23 and 44 minutes (plus advertising of course) episodic stories became a better way to fill the time slots. So here in the present the best part of life is we can have the best of both worlds - if you like Serialized stories we’ve got Discovery, American Gods, and several other great series. If you prefer episodic we’ve got The Orville, Doctor Who, and many more. And there’s the hybrids like the Arrow-verse which has season long story arcs intertwined with an episodic structure. Life is good.