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Discovering Trek: Short Treks: Runaway

This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery: Short Treks, the short episodes that are set to bridge the gap between now and the launch of Discovery Season 2, now slated to begin January 2019. First up is “Runaway.”

So, let’s dust off our posable Michael Burnham Action Figures and see whether Short Treks will meaningfully tide us over until the return of the real deal.

This blog contains spoilers so if you haven’t watched “Runaway” yet – What are you? A green-blooded hobgoblin? This review will contain spoilers, so look away now, this is your last chance! Ready, the review is below, so let’s go.

Damn it man! I’m the son of Gregory Peck not a science-fiction icon, oh wait!!

First thing to mention is that UK viewers may struggle to watch this episode legally, which is a shame and perhaps a commercial misstep by CBS. The viewing figures from the UK are said to be strong as Netflix subscriptions seem to be a more palatable offer. I am also guessing that lots of people had subscriptions already and it didn’t involve paying for a brand-new service, as it does for our American friends, being asked to shell out for CBS Access. Not making the shorts available as part of the Netflix deal risks alienating fans even further and suggests that the shorts are little more than an add-on and are not integral to the story. But this is all to do with rights, marketing and ownership – it doesn’t detract from the fact that Discovery is a very well written show, so I strongly urge you to give it a chance anyway you can.

Excitingly the first ever Short Treks is about everyone’s favourite Ensign, Tilly, AKA Captain Killy. There was a view that Season One lacked the strong character moments of previous Treks, I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment, but this short fifteen minutes certainly looks to address this complaint. This is all about Tilly and about Po, from the planet Xahea, who is instantly likeable and left me wanting to see more of her.

“‘Tilly look at your desk, you are clearly over-caffeinated”

Tilly has an over-bearing mother, reminiscent of Lwaxana Troi, and it would appear she has to live up to a more successful step-sister. Her mother pours doubt over whether she is ready for the command programme, which we see her studying for whilst talking to her mother via hologram. A little canonical side note here, the communications in Discovery and in the JJ Abrams’ movie doesn’t seem to fit in with what we have previously seen in this era, characters can call other characters up from increasingly mind-boggling distances, now we have these holo-calls. And I did wonder at the end how Tilly was able to transport Po from deep space back to her home planet, unless they happened to be in the neighbourhood.

“It’s my best friend so shush”

Disco’s burgeoning humour comes into play and I hope these short episodes are used to explore the lighter side. A hard cut to Tilly ordering a quadruple espresso and the computer telling her this order is ill-advised is a stand-out moment, and Mary Wiseman proves herself a very talented comic. And it is this humour combined with her wide-eyed compassion that makes her one of the stars of the show.

Unable to study and alone with her coffee in the mess room she encounters an alien stowaway who can cloak herself. This visitor makes fascinating sounds, that reminded me of The Predator, and she turns out to be an alien who can shoot spikes from her back. She’s 17 years old, called Po, and a Xahean. After the food-fight to end all food-fights, Tilly activates the universal translator. “Keep your human digits off me.” But after this inauspicious start they bond over ice-cream.

The Xaheans have just achieved warp capability and Po asks for Tilly’s help, then Tilly’s crewmates turn up, Po cloaks and Tilly blames the mess on “hormonal space rabbits.”

Back in Tilly’s room we discover Po’s parents and brother are dead and that her planet’s natural resource is dilithium and there is a diplomatic warrant out for her capture … because she has invented something very useful for the whole of the Federation and its enemies. Here we get a nice nod to real-world ecological woes as Po meditates on the greed of man in wanting to plunder its own resources.

As Tilly and Po bond over parental expectations, it is revealed that the young woman from Xahea is due to be crowned queen of her planet and she ran away as she didn’t feel ready, mirroring Tilly’s struggle over whether she will make a good commander. At the end of the episode each character has helped each other take one small step in their new lives.

Po leaves ready for her coronation but not before leaving Tilly a gift of a Dilithium crystal. The episode closes, and it is good to be back on-board Discovery.

Hailing Frequencies Open

In casually introducing to Trek lore the planet Xahea and more significantly the inventor of the dilithium incubator, that can stabilise and contain dilithium crystals, those familiar with Trek canon will immediately realise that these short episodes are not going to shy away from making huge entries into Trek history. This creates a lovely back story for how the Federation can really start making advancements in their ability to explore strange new worlds.

It is not clear when this episode occurs, whether this is before or after they have encountered the Enterprise, but the command training programme implies it might be somewhere after the events of the series one finale. The sense of the crew having spare time is a good experience for Discovery and we get to experience the vastness of the universe and the possible boredom that comes when travelling such huge distances. In many ways the Spore Drive was a deus ex machina. It could always get the Discovery wherever it needed to be in a matter of seconds, and therefore we never got much waiting around or thinking time. Is the introduction of dilithium a hint that we are going back to travelling the old-fashioned warp way?

Is it just me or are CBS missing a merchandising trick by not offering Short Treks as a safari-like holiday experience with Jonathan Frakes and John De Lancie as tour guides?

You may have noticed that this very blog seems to have re-located to the mirror universe. Well actually it is somewhere on the Lower Decks, sipping cocktails at a speak-easy in a Jeffrey’s Tube, and apart from its location Discovering Trek is business as usual.

I want to hear your thoughts and views. How are you feeling about Short Treks? Are you an angry Brit who cannot get access and wants access now? Or are you still a hold out on the CBS Access front? Maybe you just watch the show with childlike awe and want to tell me what was fab about it? Either way if you want to delve deep into Discovery, join me in the Claytemple Star Trek forum where the chat boldly continues. Also be sure to check out Glenn and Valerie’s excellent pod discussion on this episode.

John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.

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