Why Jason Isaacs is the best starship captain ever

As Captain Gabriel Lorca Jason Isaacs is the most exciting, least predictable, leader in the Star Trek franchise's long history


The newest Star Trek series, Discovery, is a very different sort of television programme to its forebears.

While the original series, and all of its successors to date, have centred on a core bridge crew with the captain very much at the forefront, Discovery’s Captain Lorca, played by British-Jewish actor Jason Isaacs, is a remote and somewhat mysterious figure who is rarely at the centre of the action.

He’s neither straightforwardly, impulsively, heroic like William Shatner’s James T Kirk nor is he measured and almost irksomely correct like The Next Generation’s Jean-Luc Picard.

With his willingness to do the wrong thing for the right reasons he’s got more in common with Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager but while the darkness of Voyager was tempered with weekly examples of tiresome buffoonery and bathos from ship’s cook Neelix, Discovery is a far less cosy prospect.

And, while convicted mutineer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the principal character, it’s Lorca who dictates the show’s tone.

Driven, mainly by earlier failures, to make the technology test-bed starship Discovery into a super-weapon, he pushes himself and his crew to the limit in a way that Kirk, Picard or even Deep Space 9 space-station commander Benjamin Sisko never would.

He refuses to have an eye injury treated because he regards it as a souvenir of the loss of his previous command. He encourages his chief engineer to risk his life and his sanity to keep the ship flying. He – deliberately?- precipitates the capture and possible execution of a Starfleet officer who threatens to endanger his mission. He is, in Isaacs’s own words, "probably more f-d up” than any of the previously seen Star Trek captains.

And that’s what makes him so compelling to watch. While all the Star Trek captains to date have been predictable: almost infuriatingly committed to doing the "right" thing, Lorca’s single-minded obsession with turning the Discovery into the ultimate weapon against the Klingons makes him the most interesting, the most dangerous Federation officer in the franchise’s 51-year history.

The ninth episode of Star Trek: Discovery launched on Netflix in the UK and CBS All Access in the US this morning. All nine episodes are currently available to view and the second half of season one begins on January 7 2018

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