Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru – Review

The latest season of Star Trek: Discovery has seen efforts to develop the character of Saru, making him a warmer and more personable individual than we saw in the opening run. From an exploration of his background in the Short Treks episode ‘The Brightest Star’, to his return home to Kaminar and the loss of his threat ganglia, we’ve seen not only a transformation, but also an attempt at rehabilitation in terms of how we view Saru. No longer just the single-minded, officious ‘company man’ who we were first introduced to, but now a more rounded individual.

IDW’s Captain Saru one-shot goes some way towards helping with that process, showing Saru having to temporarily take to the big chair in a tale set during the last episode of Season 1, ‘Will You Take My Hand?’. There’s enough of a gap in events during that story for Captain Saru to fit in comfortably, without rocking the boat in terms of continuity, and helps to build the backstory showing how the crew have managed to become the more cohesive and less fractured unit we’ve seen this year.

A significant part of that comes with the reconciliation between Saru and Michael Burnham, with the enmity between them (from Saru’s side, at least) running pretty much all the way through the first season of Discovery. It seems that forgiveness is something which Burnham has needed to earn from Saru, as very early on he still held her personally responsible for the death of Captain Georgiou back on the USS Shenzhou. Oh, and the tiny matter of triggering a major conflict between the Federation and the Klingons that nearly destroyed everything they knew. So, the small stuff, then.

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However, it seems that being taken into a Mirror Universe filled with dark, twisted versions of everyone and everything you know goes a long way towards building bridges, and by the season’s close, we’ve started to see Saru and Burnham return to the sort of relationship they had back aboard the Shenzhou. Captain Saru slots neatly into the interregnum, before Pike gets assigned as ship’s Captain, and sees the Discovery undergoing repairs, giving the crew a chance for much-needed shore leave. Saru and Burnham are hanging out in Paris, and clearly enjoying each other’s company, showing some of the closeness we see in evidence throughout Season 2 (a little too cloyingly at times).

As we all know, however, adventure is always around the corner in Star Trek, and Saru is recalled by Admiral Cornwell, in order to head a rescue mission: the USS Dorothy Garrod is no longer in contact with Starfleet, and the Discovery – being the closest ship to the last known location of the Dorothy Garrod – is sent into action, despite not being restored to full working order, and having just a skeleton crew in place. The stakes are raised on a personal level, as Ensign Sylvia Tilly was actually on the vessel at the time, as she’s visiting her father.

It turns out the whole situation has been set up as an ambush, as a group of Orions has taken control of the Dorothy Garrod, with the intention of using it as bait, to lure in another Federation ship, which they can capture in order to strip down or sell off in its entirety. With Saru in acting command, and well aware that Admiral Cornwell sees this as a chance to test his suitability for his own captaincy, he’s up against it and apparently has no option but to surrender the Discovery in order to ensure the safety of the crew aboard both vessels.

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However, everyone’s favourite Kelpian has a trick or two up his sleeve here, and writers Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson give us a Saru going full Die Hard – he secretes himself away on the Discovery, and takes out the Orion invaders, using his detailed knowledge of the ship to his advantage. It’s certainly a more gung-ho Saru than we were used to seeing during the first season, but it seems that needs must when your command is in danger, and even if it stretches credulity slightly, it’s certainly tremendous fun to see Saru taking the lead, and being an action man, rather than timid and cautious.

The one thing here which seems slightly jarring is that the writers go to all the trouble of establishing Tilly has a family connection on the Dorothy Garrod, then fail to do anything with it. We’ve already seen her mother turn up in Short Treks ‘Runaway’, so it would have been nice to have sight of her father too. Mentioning he’s on the ship, and then not featuring him at all seems an odd choice. It’s a case of the writers not following the notion of Chekhov’s Gun (which incidentally isn’t a Phaser – you’re thinking about totally the wrong Russian), and makes you wonder why they went to all that trouble (even following continuity established in the spin-off novels), yet it being all for naught.

All in all, Captain Saru is a fun diversion, filling a gap we didn’t know was there, or didn’t realise needed filling. It goes some way towards explaining the shift in the dynamic between various members of the Discovery’s bridge crew by the time that  Season 2 rolls around. If nothing else, it gives us the opportunity to see Saru as a leading man, something the show seemed to be moving towards before his chance at being the Captain was usurped by Pike’s sudden appearance. Anything which can make Saru seem more likeable is always welcome, and it feels like more of these one-shots – focusing on other characters – would be a worthwhile enterprise.

Kirsten Beyer, Mike Johnson and Angel Hernandez’s Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru is available now from IDW Publishing.

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