Star Trek may be one of the longest running science fiction franchises out there, with its fantastic tales of starships exploring the far reaches of the galaxy having engaged movie and television viewers since 1966, but it’s been off our TV screens for a long while now – twelve years, to be precise. That will soon change, as this September sees the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, an ambitious new show set within the universe of the Federation – yes, the actual one, not the parallel universe from those lens flaring, CGI-heavy movies.
But despite being set in the same universe as the classic adventures of the Voyager and the various incarnations of the Enterprise, Discovery will be a very new take on Star Trek, with some big differences between it and the series that have come before. Some of these changes are inevitable, given the major shifts in how TV is made that have occurred since Enterprise finished its run in 2005. Other changes are more surprising and concern the characters and alien races we’ll meet.
So whether you’re a Trek purist and need to prepare yourself for any shocks, or a more easygoing viewer excited to see this new take on the franchise, here are fifteen of the things that will not be the same when the Discovery takes flight...
15 A Lead Character Who’s Not Captain
While each the Star Trek series we’ve had in the past have given us several iconic characters, it’s always been the captains who’ve had first billing, and who the shows focused on more than any other. That’s set to change.
Step forward, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham, played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green. At the start of the series, she's has spent seven years as First Officer of the USS Shenzhou and is later transferred to the same role on the Discovery. Though 100% human, Burnham was raised on Vulcan, attended the Vulcan Science Academy, and has a close relationship with Sarek, Spock’s father (played here by James Frain).
This shift in perspective should offer a very different view of life on board a Federation starship, as Discovery promises to explore the character of Burnham and her struggles as First Officer in great depth. It also means that the captain doesn’t have to be as purely heroic a character as all the previous series leads, which could lead to some interesting tensions.
14 A Serial Storyline
With all the previous Trek series, you could pick an episode at random to watch and not need to worry all that much about knowing the story so far. Even when the later shows started developing the Trek universe through continuing story arcs, they still remained very episodic, with weekly adventures telling a complete and mostly self-contained story.
TV has changed a lot since the last time a Star Trek series aired, though. With it being increasingly easy to binge a box set or a season of something on Netflix, many more series are going the route of telling one longer and more complex story across the length of the show, like a novel brought to the screen (or novel series, in the case of Game of Thrones, perhaps the best current example of this).
This is the route that Star Trek: Discovery will be going down. Don’t expect any monsters or alien civilizations of the week; instead, the first season will tell an epic story revolving around a major event in Trek history – one that’s in fact been referenced before. We don’t know what this is, but we know it’ll involve a major decision Burnham makes which leads to her position aboard the Discovery and a possibly hostile relationship between the Federation and the Klingons.
13 It Follows Two Starships!
The older Star Trek series had a pretty solid format going – the cast would comprise the crew of a Federation starship, and it’s that ship and its missions that would be followed one episode after the other. The most it ever departed from that formula was when Deep Space Nine was a station, not a ship.
But despite its title, Lt. Burnham in fact begins the story of Discovery as a crew member of the USS Shenzhou, under the command of Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou. At some point in the story, however, Burnham transfers to a newer ship; she says goodbye to Georgiou and hello to Jason Isaacs’ Gabriel Lorca, the captain of the Discovery.
We don’t know at what point in the series this occurs, but given that the supporting characters who’ve been revealed include crew members of both the Shenzhou and the Discovery, it looks like both ships will be fleshed out. The Shenzhou won’t necessarily be there just for the beginning of Burnham’s story; it looks like it’ll play an important role through the series.
12 Redesigned Klingons
The Klingons are an important part of the Star Trek mythology, and with Discovery being set in the time period where the Federation and the Klingons aren’t exactly friends, it was inevitable that they’d show up.
But the reveal of these Klingons disappointed many fans, for the iconic race have undergone something of a redesign. They’ve had a makeup overhaul, with darker skin tones and extra ridges going down the back of the head instead of hair. They’ve also got new costumes, with a very spiky and perhaps medieval-inspired look.
This isn’t the first time the Klingons have been redesigned, to be fair – let's not forget the much more human-like look they had just for The Original Series, later retconned to be the result of a virus which mutated a portion of the Klingon population. There may be an in-universe explanation this time, too; concept art of a ‘sarcophagus ship’ and a Klingon crypt appearing in the trailer has been interpreted to mean that these beings will be a much older group of Klingons brought out of stasis.
11 More Main Character Deaths
Characters in previous Star Trek series may have got themselves into a lot of dangerous scrapes, but they tended to emerge unscathed. Main character deaths were rare, and the two most notable exceptions – Tasha Yar in The Next Generation and Dax in Deep Space Nine – came because the actresses involved wanted to quit the show, not for purely storytelling reasons.
The rules of TV drama have changed since then, however, largely due to shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, which are notorious for making you grow to like characters before brutally killing them off. Discovery will be taking this approach, so none of the Federation crew we spend time with will be safe. Co-showrunner Aaron Herberts explained to EW: “Death isn’t treated gratuitously on this show. It’s not for shock value. But when it happens we want to make sure that people really feel it.”
Though it may result in traumatic viewing, this should add an extra edge of drama to Discovery. Since we’re now used to TV series taking a more nasty and realistic approach to death, having everyone as safe as they were in the older Trek shows probably wouldn’t cut it today.
10 Lots Of Celebrity Cameos
When it came to casting guest roles, all the previous Star Trek series pulled from the massive pool of jobbing actors looking for work in Los Angeles, but they weren’t the kind of shows that anyone really famous would have time for. Since then, however, the Trek franchise has built up a reputation, and being a fan of sci-fi has become seen as much more mainstream and cool than it used to be. For this reason, many famous faces aren’t afraid to say that they grew up watching Star Trek and that they’d love to appear in the franchise.
The show’s producers may well give these celebs what they want. Series producer Alex Kurtzmann said: “So many actors are fans. We literally got a list of them that were like, ‘Here are people who said they want to be on Star Trek’. It was awesome… To just be in an episode or come in or out.”
We don’t know exactly which actors will be granted their wishes, but one who’s expressed an interest is Andrew Lincoln, who’s said he’d love to play an alien. A Walking Dead reunion with Sonequa Martin-Green may well be in the cards.
9 A High Budget, Cinematic Look
While the Star Trek series that have come before all told great stories, the production of those stories was often, let’s face it, a bit cheap. The Original Series may be mocked for its silly Gorn costume and the like, but even in the later incarnations, whole species were often concocted by putting a line on an actor’s forehead and calling them an alien.
A lot more money is put into high-end TV drama these days, however, with shows like Game of Thrones looking as gorgeous as blockbuster movies. Star Trek: Discovery, thankfully, will be going down this route; with budgets of $6 - 7 million per episode, they’re able to afford some proper alien makeup, and the cinematography and effects will be on par with something you’d go to the movie theater to see.
This is a very welcome change, as it will shut up all the naysayers who reckon that Star Trek’s too dated to work today. Based on the trailers we’ve seen, Discovery is going to be a seriously cool-looking production; we just hope the quality of the story matches up to that of the visuals.
8 A New Period In Trek History
The Trek series we’ve seen before have jumped around in time a bit, with The Original Series set in the mid-23rd century; Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine taking place all around the same time in the 24th; and Enterprise taking us back to the 22nd.
But in a universe as far-reaching and spanning as wide a time period as Star Trek’s, there are always more areas to be explored, more gaps in the Federation’s history to be filled in. Discovery is set in one such period, about a decade before the events of The Original Series, as the Federation are expanding out into space.
So while the Federation as we see it in Discovery might be very similar to that of The Original Series, there will be some big differences as well -- such as in their relationship with the Klingons -- and there’s a lot of story potential in seeing those changes play out. Discovery will, to an extent, bridge the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series.
7 New Starship Design
The most iconic image in all of Star Trek must be the shape of the Enterprise, as seen soaring through space in the famous title sequence. Variations on this design were used in The Next Generation and Enterprise, while the Voyager became an icon in its own right.
For the USS Discovery, as revealed in a teaser at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the CBS team has gone with a new design, albeit one which takes in influences from the classic look of the Enterprise. It’s also heavily inspired by concept art that Ralph McQuarrie painted for a Trek movie back in the ‘70s.
In terms of the interiors of the Discovery and the Shenzhou, it looks like they’ll be a higher tech (and higher budget) take on the look of the classic Enterprise, though one thing has changed dramatically – the transporter. The transporter room of the Shenzhou features two giant circular pieces of machinery behind where the crew to be transported stand; let’s hope it doesn’t malfunction as often as the Enterprise’s did.
6 More Graphic Action And Bad Language
The Star Trek shows were definitively family-friendly TV, with tame and unbloody action and the crew never uttering a word that your grandmother wouldn’t approve of. Yes, even when Wesley Crusher was being an obnoxious little runt, Picard somehow resisted telling him to f--- off.
Discovery, however, will not be constrained by broadcast standards, being a premium show made for a streaming service, and so former showrunner Bryan Fuller expressed his desire to make it a little more adult: “It will probably be slightly more graphic content. We discuss language every day. Is it appropriate for somebody to see a bridge blow up and say ‘Oh s—’? I imagine we’re going to shoot scenes a couple of ways and see what feels more authentic in the editing room.”
We wouldn’t want Star Trek to be overly sweary or gory; that would prevent Discovery from connecting with and inspiring a young audience as previous Trek series did. However, we do agree that it would be difficult to run a constantly malfunctioning and under-attack starship without using a few bad words here and there.
5 A Crew That's More Diverse Than Ever
Star Trek’s always pushed boundaries when it comes to diversity. In the character of Lieutenant Uhura, The Original Series had a black woman on the bridge as a key part of the crew, and it even featured one of the first interracial kisses on television.
But Discovery intends to push this diversity even further. Not only does it have a black female lead character, but in Captain Georgiou, it has a female captain of Asian descent, with Michelle Yeoh even using her native Malaysian accent. What’s more, one of the crew members we’ll get to know, Anthony Rapp’s science officer Stamets, is openly gay, the first Trek regular to be conceived as such.
It’s great to see Discovery progressing Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian society where everyone can live together in equality, and it will undoubtedly inspire young people of various persuasions when they see people like themselves represented on the screen. Whatever race, gender, sexuality, or species, everyone is welcome aboard the Discovery. Except Klingons - they've got another century to go for that.
4 The Roddenberry Rule Is No More
Another part of Roddenberry’s utopian vision was that everyone would get along, so he made a rule that no Trek stories would feature interpersonal conflict between Federation officers. Though they may have stretched this at times (a character being possessed was a handy way around it), the previous Trek series generally stuck to the 'Roddenberry rule', with the central crews always functioning well as a team.
Discovery, however, will relax the rule, as Aaron Harberts explained: "We’re trying to do stories that are complicated, with characters with strong points of view and strong passions. People have to make mistakes — mistakes are still going to be made in the future. We’re still going to argue in the future.”
It makes a lot of sense; a society in which everyone gets along may be nice to live in, but it's boring when it comes to telling character-led drama. We suspect there may be major disagreements between Burnham and at least one of the two captains she serves under, which should make for an interesting tension across the series.
3 New Look Federation Uniforms
The uniforms of the original Star Trek crew are almost as iconic as the Enterprise itself, most notably the bright yellow, red, and blue jumpers. This color scheme returned, albeit as part of a somewhat smarter design, in The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, with an entirely different blue jumpsuit look used in Enterprise.
With Discovery set just a decade before The Original Series, you might expect the uniforms to bear strong similarities with the ones worn by Kirk and co. However, the primary colors are gone – except for the blue! The crew of the Discovery and Shenzhou wear a new design of two-piece uniform, all in blue. There is some variation in the color of the badges and patterned sections – gold for command, silver for science, and bronze for ops, it seems. We’ve also seen a variant on the uniform, with body armor over the chest, used for potentially dangerous away missions.
Though the design of these uniforms does bridge the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series, we can’t help but find the look a smidge on the tacky side. Plus, what’s wrong with yellow and red?
2 No Time Travel Stories
There are a surprising amount of Star Trek episodes that see characters go forward or backward in time in some way or another – from Kirk and Spock going through a portal to 1930s New York to the survivors of a destroyed Voyager trying to warn their past selves.
It looks like we won’t be getting any such episodes in Discovery, though, at least not in the first season. Asked about this early on in the scripting process, Bryan Fuller explained that none of the episodes that had been plotted out featured time travel, and that he was “not anticipating an over-reliance on time travel to tell this season's stories."
Though that could have changed since Fuller was replaced, it still seems likely that we won’t be getting any journeys through time in this season. After all, the time travel episodes tended to err on the sillier side of Star Trek, and might not fit tonally with the more serious and character conflict-based stories that Discovery looks to be telling.
1 Streaming Service Release
One of the most significant differences has nothing to do with the content of the show itself. All the previous Trek series aired in the traditional manner of a weekly slot on a TV channel, but the viewing landscape of the small screen has changed a lot since then.
Despite existing streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime having expressed interest in buying the new Trek, CBS instead opted to launch Discovery on CBS All Access, as the first show specifically made for this new streaming service. It’ll still be sticking to a weekly schedule; the first two episodes will premiere on September 24th, with a CBS broadcast just for those two episodes, and then All Access will get a new episode every Sunday for the following six weeks. After some time off, the seven episodes that make up the second chunk of Season One will begin airing to the same schedule in January 2018.
That’s if you’re in the US, anyway. Canadian viewers can catch it on CTV and Space, as well as streaming service CraveTV, while Netflix has bought the show for most other territories.
Are you excited for this new adventure into space, or angry that so much has changed? Does Star Trek: Discovery have a legitimate shot at being the franchise's best outing yet? Let us know in the comments!