In November 2015, CBS announced its plans to create Star Trek: Discovery, the first television installment in the Star Trek franchise since the end of Enterprise in 2005. Originally created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek was created to depict an ideal future in which the human experience is defined by diversity, respect between culture, and peaceful exploration. The franchise now consists of several TV shows and movies, and most recently has enjoyed renewed success and popular interest with J.J. Abrams’ film revival, which so far includes Star Trek (2009), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2012), and Star Trek Beyond (2016). These films, set in an alternate universe from the original shows known as the Kelvin timeline, feature some major thematic and stylistic differences from the television shows. With Discovery, there is now the opportunity to revisit the television format and its potential for carrying on creator Gene Roddenberry’s original vision for Star Trek.
Over the course of its production, Discovery has attracted a talented group of writers and actors. The original showrunner was Bryan Fuller, known for creating short-lived but wildly-popular shows such as ABC’s Pushing Daisies and NBC’s Hannibal. Fuller got his start in television writing for the Trek shows Deep Space Nine and Voyager. However, he left Discovery about a year into production due to scheduling conflicts with his new Starz show American Gods. After his departure, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts (both associates of Fuller and alumni of Pushing Daisies) took over as co-showrunners. Other notable members of the writing staff include Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Alex Kurtzman (writer and producer of the first two Kelvin timeline films), Ted Sullivan, and Kirsten Beyer.
The cast is one of the most high-profile in Star Trek history, a franchise which has often used lesser-known actors in the past. The show’s main character, Commander Michael Burnham, will be played by Sonequa Martin-Green of The Walking Dead. Michelle Yeoh (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies) plays Captain Philippa Georgiou of the U.S.S. Shenzhou. James Frain (True Blood, Orphan Black, Gotham) will take over the role of Spock’s father, Vulcan ambassador Sarek, who was originally played by Mark Lenard. Rainn Wilson will play another familiar character, the con-man Harry Mudd from the original Star Trek series.
What else do we know about Discovery so far? The show will be a departure from previous Star Trek shows in both narrative format and visual style. Rather than having stories which are entirely resolved within one or two episodes, as previous series have tended to favor doing (with some notable exceptions, such as Deep Space Nine’s extended Dominion War arc), Discovery will allow for more story arcs that extend over a number of episodes. The action will take place not on one ship, but two, dividing screen time between the U.S.S. Shenzhou and the U.S.S. Discovery. Finally, the show notably focuses on Burnham, the first officer, rather than the captain as the main protagonist.
In terms of visual style, the first trailer suggests a far more high-tech and modern set design than any other Star Trek show to date. Iconic parts of the ship such as the bridge and the transporter room have gotten a new look featuring cool colors and lots of shiny technology. The designs of iconic characters, most notably the Klingons, have also been changed, sparking some controversy and discomfort among Trek fans – though, changing the look of alien races is certainly not something that is unique to Discovery and has been done multiple times throughout the history of the franchise with races such as the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Trill. The Starfleet officers have been outfitted with new dark blue uniforms rather than the iconic gold, blue, and red of the original series. There also seems to be a larger amount of CGI than has been seen in any other Star Trek series to date, allowing for some stunning shots of outer space.
But the most important thing for a Star Trek series is how it handles big social issues. Changes in the show’s visual style may take some getting used to, but Trek fans have done it often enough; each new series changed its look as improvements in set design and special effects became technologically (and financially) possible. The most important thing about Discovery is that it promises to carry on the original spirit in which Gene Roddenberry conceived the show. What we’ve seen of the new series already suggests greater racial diversity and gender equality than previous series, with two women of color notably in main roles. That’s a promising start for the next installment of Star Trek, a show that has always been about “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” (to use a Vulcan phrase). We hope the show’s story continues to place an emphasis on diversity and use its stories to confront social issues. To see Discovery carry on that tradition in new, interesting, and innovative ways would be the most rewarding thing that could come out of a new Star Trek series.
Star Trek: Discovery. The return of the famed franchise will premiere 25th September on Netflix everywhere except the U.S. and Canada where it will be available on CBS All Access, and Bell Media respectively, following a broadcast premiere on the CBS Television Network.