There’s been a flurry of activity around the newest Star Trek series, Star Trek Discovery, as of late. It started at San Diego Comic Con, where showrunner Bryan Fuller released the first footage of the new ship, then picked up speed at his panel where he spoke about his hopes for the show. Finally, at a Television Critics Association event on August 10th, Fuller revealed multiple details about the new series to a very hungry audience.
Fuller not only worked on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Star Trek:Voyager, he’s also a huge fan of the franchise, who seems really connected to the original ideals that inspired the show. As he told Collider, “I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be a Star Trek writer, so to be able to craft a new iteration of the show with new characters and a whole new adventure and whole new way of telling stories that you haven’t been able to tell on Star Trek is honorable and it’s a dream come true.” For us, as longtime fans, these words are music to our ears; the show couldn’t be in better hands.
Every word he’s spoken about it has since been repeated, quoted, and analyzed, as fans and entertainment writers squeezed out every last detail they could. Why should we be any different? Here are 15 Things We Know Right Now About Star Trek Discovery.
15. When It Takes Place
Ever since the new series was announced, the biggest question from the fans was about when it’s going to take place, which will affect everything from the tone of the show to the possibility of guest stars. We finally have our answer!
Discovery will bridge the gap between Enterprise and the original series, taking place about ten years before Kirk and crew are serving on the U.S.S. Enterprise. That means, more or less, that it takes place in the same world, as we know that the Federation and Starfleet were well established before he took command, as well as his own history at the Academy. So this won’t be sharing a time period with Enterprise, where people are still wary of transporters, and still forming the Federation. While all the discoveries made by Kirk’s Enterprise haven’t happened yet, we shouldn’t be that far removed from the basic structure of Starfleet, the goals and ideals of the Federation, and the technology we’re familiar with.
And unlike Enterprise, we will have already come together as a planet out there among other planets. The thing that drew audiences to Star Trek in the first place, so evident in the original series and less so in Enterprise, was optimism and hope. (Enterprise found its way there too.) According to Fuller, that’s the true appeal of the franchise. “… it’s the promise of a better world. Not only is it wonderful high-concept science-fiction storytelling, but it is the promise that we’re going to get our sh*t together as a species, fix our planet, and move out to the galaxy as a team. I think that’s the most exciting… that’s the most promising thing that “Star Trek” offers, is a vision of the future where we do all get along.”
We also know it’s taking place in the Prime universe, which means any of the events that happened in the big screen movies produced by J.J. Abrams are nonexistent. To quote the Guardian in the classic episode “City on the Edge of Forever”: “All is as it was before.”
14. Spock’s Mom Might Show Up
This is the only not-quite-entirely-confirmed item on our list. Fuller admitted that he’s tempted to find a way to work Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson, into the Discovery storyline. The timeline helps, and what longtime fan wouldn’t be even a little bit curious about the character? As we all know, Spock’s only half-Vulcan. His father, Sarek, defied Vulcan convention and married Amanda because “it seemed the logical thing to do.” They seemed like a good match; they certainly did a nice job raising Spock, although he suffered more than his fair share of indignities due to being the only one of his kind.
It would be fascinating (as Spock would say) to see what her early life on Vulcan was like, or what the circumstances were that led her to fall in love with Sarek.
“I love that character,” Fuller said. “I loved Winona Ryder’s portrayal of her [in the 2009 movie] and it’s a great character. It would be fun in some iteration of this show to incorporate her and her storyline. She’s not a central part of the show but we love that character.”
13. Despite The Timeline, Technology Is Still Getting An Upgrade
Original series technology is a funny thing. Watch the show now, and much of the tech seems already outdated, but when you put some perspective on it, the truth is revealed: it inspired much of the real technology that we have today. They had tricorders, but they were chunky black boxes on straps, whereas now we have what’s essentially a tricorder and a communicator and a universal translator in our pockets every day. But we can forgive a little clunkiness. Without Trek, the flip phone would never have been invented, and Siri seemed a lot less revolutionary to all of us who had watched the show. Google’s version of Siri was initially code-named “Majel” during development, for reasons any Trek fan can figure out instantly.
As Fuller pointed out during TCA, the show may take place before the original series, but unlike it, it’s being produced in 2016. The effects have to be updated, and the style of the technology has to be part of that; we can’t have our own day-to-day tech looking smoother and sleeker than what’s being used in the 23rd century. Just watch any one episode and see how the bridge blinks and beeps non-stop; it’s a wonder anyone could concentrate with all that racket.
And obviously our visual effects abilities have changed a lot too. “Since we are doing this series in 2016,” Fuller said, “and all of the other series have been produced [at a time that] isn’t as sophisticated as we are now with what we can do production-wise, we’re going to be reestablishing an entire look for the series — not only for the series, but for what we wanted to accomplish with Star Trek beyond this series.”
Enterprise did the same thing, of course. It was set before the original series, but gave its technology an upgrade, with the computers looking more like they did on subsequent series than the original. They did the same with make-up, too, making their Klingons look like the modern, Worf-like ones with pronounced forehead ridges.
12. The Stories Will Be Serialized… And Episodic
A few months ago, a rumor started circulating that Star Trek Discovery would be an anthology series. Turns out that’s not the case. What it will be, instead, is a serialized storyline that spreads out over the entire 13-episode first season, like a novel. Within that will be multiple self-contained stories that wrap themselves up within individual episodes, but still contribute to the larger story.
The fan community is always torn on this one. There are people who think Deep Space 9 hit greatness around season five, when the Dominion War really started kicking in and the story started getting a lot more serialized with an arc stretching across from one episode to the next. Some people, though, much prefer the “adventure of the week” set-up.
It looks like Fuller is finding a way to take the best of each. “One of the things that’s exciting for me is that we are telling a Star Trek story in a modern way. We’re telling a 13-chapter story in this first season. It’s nice to be able to dig deep into things that would have been breezed past if we were doing episodic and had to contain a story within an episode.”
11. Familiar Faces Will Be Seen, But Not Until Season Two
There’s a bit of a tradition when launching a new Star Trek series to put a someone we already know in the very first episode. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) was in the first episode of TNG. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) appeared in the Deep Space 9 premiere. Voyager had Quark (Armin Shimmerman), and Enterprise got a visit from Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell, who’d played him in First Contact). But Fuller says that he wants to spend the first season establishing a new universe and a new crew, and give audiences a chance to get to know all the characters who are being introduced for the first time. But he said that once that’s established, the second season is a great time to start adding in some familiar faces.
As for what makes sense in the timeline, we have a few ideas:
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). She’s 700 years old, so she was definitely around. And Goldberg still looks pretty much the same! We know Fuller is already thinking about this, based on his use of the #BringBackGuinan on Twitter.
Q (John de Lancie). This works in the storyline, but they’d have to create a story around why he looks older now. Seems like something he’d toy with, though, just for the hell of it.
Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood). He’s definitely around then, since he was Spock’s first captain before Kirk came along. He could do it without meddling with the Prime vs. Kelvin timeline, he just has to be Pike before his terrible accident.
Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner), great-grandfather of Dr. Noonien Soong, Data’s creator. Spiner’s 67 now, so that could still work.
Anyone from Enterprise, really.
10. It Won’t Be On Broadcast TV After The First Episode
Okay, the big question all the Americans are going to be asking is, “WHY DID WE GET SCREWED?” Netflix subscribers all over the world will be watching Star Trek Discovery on a platform they’ve already paid for. Canadians are being rewarded for their loyalty—hello, stamps and coins—with a spot on Space Channel, which comes with most cable packages. But here in the United States, even for us TV junkies who already have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and cable, there’s going to be an extra charge.
The first episode will be two hours long and premiere on CBS proper, but after that, we have to use their video on demand service for the rest. And it ain’t free. So we’ll be paying for All Access, and we’ll be happy about it, even with the dismaying news that after we pay we’re still going to have to sit through about 12 minutes of commercials per hour. Remember, one of the goals of the original series was to sell color TV sets; that’s why everything was so bright. So if this is CBS’ gambit to get a massive leap in the number of their VOD subscribers, well played. Experts are already predicting that the premiere on CBS will hook in about 15 million viewers. And you know what? If someone asked me if a brand new, Fuller-produced Star Trek series was worth six dollars a month, I have only one answer: hell yeah.
9. Who’s Working On It
At the beginning of the year, Fuller started assembling a team, and the good news started trickling out about who was going to be on it. The ones we know about so far include:
Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and writer as well on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This is the man who made the first great Star Trek movie, still the best of them all. He’s a co-executive producer and writer.
Alex Kurtzman, a producer on the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboots, and already on tap for the next one. Co-executive producer.
Heather Kadin, who worked with Kurtzman and Star Trek reboots writer/producer Roberto Orci on Alias and Fringe. Co-executive producer.
Joe Menosky, a writer and producer on Next Generation, Deep Space 9¸ and Voyager. Among his credits are the story for Voyager’s “Unimatrix Zero,” and the teleplay for TNG’s oft-quoted “Darmok.” We can almost forgive him for “Masks” thanks to that one! Writer.
Kirsten Beyer, who has written eight Star Trek: Voyager novels since 2009. Writer.
Trevor Roth and Rod Roddenberry, both of Roddenberry Entertainment. Roddenberry’s credentials are obvious, and Roth is the COO of Roddenberry Entertainment. Co-executive producers.
“It’s wonderful to be working with Nicholas Meyer, who I’ve admired for a long time.” Fuller said. “I pinch myself from time to time just being in the room and having the conversations that we’re having.”
8. The Ship
The ship matters.
At this year’s Comic Con San Diego, Fuller brought a teaser with him because he wanted something to show the fans, and when the complaints flooded in, he reassured them that it was far from the final design.
What we do know is that the look of the Discovery was based on Ralph McQuarrie’s designs for the Enterprise for Planet of the Titans, a movie that made it to the development stage in the 1970s before it was nixed. McQuarrie is probably most famous for designing Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO for Star Wars, and for being the first one to suggest that Vader use a breathing apparatus. He also designed the alien ships for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. and worked on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Clearly he’s a good source for inspiration.
We also know the serial number: NCC-1031, which definitely puts it before the Enterprise in terms of construction and deployment. But they’re still relying on some staples we’ve come to expect from Starfleet ships: there will be a saucer section, and there will be nacelles.
And although we don’t know the plot of the first episode yet, Fuller has said that the opening scene of the series is “not set on Earth, and not on a planet,” which makes it a pretty good bet that it’s happening on a starship, and probably THIS starship.
“There will be robots.” Direct quote.
What’s interesting across Star Trek’s history is how few robots there have actually been. Initially, it seems like a good way to differentiate themselves from that other kind of sci-fi that was popular the 1970s; they didn’t want to look like Lost in Space. But at some point you have to wonder if the Enterprise crew would have used them for some of the more mundane tasks that needed doing aboard a starship, like cleaning or maintenance. There’s not even a Roomba!
The robots we have seen brought along plenty of baggage. There’s Nomad, who came aboard Kirk’s Enterprise and only then told them its mission was to destroy that which is not perfect. It wiped out Uhura’s entire memory, killed Scotty and then brought him back to life, and ended up destroying itself when Kirk pointed out that it, too, was imperfect.
Next Generation gave us the Exocomps, small machines who suddenly displayed an instinct for self-preservation. Although their sentience was not 100% established by the end of the episode, it was considered a possibility, especially after one of them sacrificed itself for the others. There were also nanites and nanoprobes, both microscopic devices, used by Starfleet as well as the Borg for a variety of purposes.
6. There Will Be Seven Cast Members
Fuller understands the legacy of Star Trek, and is assembling his cast accordingly. “Star Trek started with wonderful expression of diversity in its cast: a Russian, a black woman, an Asian, a Vulcan… we’re continuing that tradition and our lead of the show is going to be subject of that same level of who is the best actor and what can we say about diversity in every role we’ll have on the show,” he said. He consulted with astronaut Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, who spoke to him about the impact of seeing Nichelle Nichols in the original series. “I see myself in space,” she told him. Inclusivity is a key factor as Fuller builds his crew.
As for who will play those roles, there’s been no definite casting news so far, but we’ve had hints. At the TCA panel, Fuller was asked if he’d consider Lee Pace, who starred in Fuller’s ABC series Pushing Daisies, and he agreed that he would be a nice addition to the cast. He also exchanged a series of tweets with Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh on Silicon Valley. When Nanjiani tweeted, “Thrilled that someone as smart, talented and thoughtful as Bryan Fuller is going to be in charge of Star Trek for a while. I can’t wait,” he got a great response from Fuller: “THANKS, KUMAIL! NOW COME PUT ON A STARFLEET UNIFORM!”
5. It Will Show An Event In Federation History We’ve Never Seen Before
One of the most tantalizing tidbits from Fuller at TCA was that Star Trek Discovery will dig into an incident that’s part of Federation history, something that was referenced on the original series, but never actually seen. Fuller insists that it will make fans happy; as a fan himself, it’s something he’s always wanted to see.
The guessing started immediately, and Fuller shot down the first few just as quickly. It won’t be the Romulan War, which resulted in the Earth/Andorian/Vulcan/Tellarite alliance forged during Enterprise’s run. It won’t be the Battle of Axanar, which was fought and won by Garth of Izar, a former Starfleet Captain whose exploits were required reading when Kirk was at Starfleet Academy, and inspired fan films and then some much-discussed fan film guidelines from CBS/Paramount. It won’t be the incident with the Kobiyashi Maru that inspired the test all aspiring Starfleet captains have to take, that a young James Kirk rigged so he could be the first cadet in history to pass the test. And it won’t be Section 31, Starfleet’s Black Ops division, although rumors indicate we may see some of that in there.
4. There Will Be Sex And Profanity
Fans may complain about having to pay for All Access, but it does come with some advantages. Discovery will not be subject to traditional broadcast guidelines. Censorship was a huge issue for the original series; they couldn’t be too sexy, there were issues with putting women in command, there were race issues, there were language issues. All Access removes that problem from the equation.
Fuller says they’re not looking to do anything over-the-top, but not being on a broadcast network will allow for some more natural responses to events. “We discuss every day about language …” he said at TCA. “Is it appropriate to have a bridge blow up and have somebody say, ‘Oh, s—t?’”
And yes, there will be sex, which is hardly new to Trek. The shows often tried to convey that the future will bring a less uptight attitude about it; even in the first season of Next Generation, there was lots of talk of sex, along with that famous scene with Tasha Yar and the “fully functional” Data, who had been “programmed in multiple techniques.” A universe that would build an android with such capabilities has long since shed its inhibitions about such a basic biological need.
3. One Of The Main Characters Will Be Gay
When Bryan Fuller was working on Voyager, viewers pounced on a rumor that one of the characters, probably Seven of Nine, was going to be gay. The hate mail flowed in. Fuller, who’s gay, saved it in his garage, with a promise to himself that if he ever got his own Star Trek show, he would be sure to include a gay character in the cast. That day has come.
He says that there will be at least one openly gay character on the show. The idea was first pitched by co-executive producer Alex Kurtzman, but it was already on his list, and it’s definitely going to happen.
While we haven’t had a gay character before, Trek has always found ways to slip in inclusive moments here and there, doing what they could despite the restrictions of broadcast standards, which have obviously become a lot less restrictive in the past few years. Jadzia Dax had a relationship with a woman, under the auspices of having had a romantic history with her in one of her symbiant’s other—male—lives. Riker fell in love with a member of an androgynous species who was a rebel because she allowed herself to embrace her female characteristics. She was reconditioned to reject them, but not after giving an impassioned speech to her people about why they should not be allowed to judge who she chooses to love. And while this wasn’t about gay people, in the movie Star Trek Nemesis, at Troi and Riker’s wedding, Data begins a toast with “Ladies and Gentlemen and invited transgendered species…”
And the big news this year, in Star Trek Beyond, is that Sulu is gay, and Demora, the daughter we’ve seen before, lives with his husband on the Yorktown space station.
It’s about time a Trek series had a regular character who’s gay. Here’s hoping this character will get to have as many romances as everybody else, breaking the TV stereotype of the gay character who gets to comment on everybody else but always fails in love themselves. Let’s be clear: this isn’t about pandering or politics, this is about reflecting the reality and the diversity of our world, both in the present and the future.
2. There Will Be Lots Of Aliens
Of course there will be aliens; it’s Star Trek! But Fuller wants to make sure that this time around we see a lot more of them in Starfleet itself. He says we will see more aliens in the fleet than in any of the previous shows or movies. “We wanted to paint a picture of Starfleet that’s indicative of encountering people who are much more different than we are.”
We’ll see some that are brand new, some that are familiar, and others that are “re-imaginings” of ones we’ve already seen, the way Klingons now have long hair and forehead ridges, and Andorians became more aggressive and had antennae that moved. My money’s already on seeing Andorians, based on a tweet from Fuller of an early make-up test.
1. There Will Be A Female Lead
It’s time, isn’t it? We’re not dissing the excellent female characters we’ve seen on Star Trek over the years, but there was something special about Voyager because of Captain Janeway. She wasn’t the first woman we saw in charge of a starship, but she was the first female captain to star in a series, and for many viewers, just seeing her there was inspiring.
To spice things up, Discovery’s female lead will not have the rank of Captain; she’s going to be a Lieutenant Commander, “with caveats.”
“We’ve seen six series from the captain’s point of view,” Fuller said. “To see a character from a different perspective on the starship… it gave us richer context.” Anyone who remembers the TNG episode “Lower Decks” will agree. Fuller had spoken to Mae Jemison about this too. “It was interesting to send her outlines and start talking about the character and get her perspective on what it’s like for a woman in the sciences now when we still have a lot of issues with women and race, and how that’s going to be 250 years in the future when the world gets its s— together and equality is a thing that’s more accepted.”
Fuller says that Discovery will take our female lead on a journey that will teach her to get along with others in the galaxy, and that there will also be a male lead. Two stars? Trek shows have managed it before. Kirk and Spock, Picard and Data, Janeway and Seven of Nine… it’s going to be a fun ride.