Producer Bryan Fuller has opened up a lot lately about the setting and characters of “Star Trek: Discovery,” debuting in January. Although we trust Fuller to cultivate lots of new life and new civilizations — to say nothing of going where no “Trek” has gone before — it will still have to navigate among some old-school elements.
So far, we know that the show’s star will be a lieutenant commander known (initially) only as “Number One.” She’s the first officer of the USS Discovery, a starship reminiscent of unused 1970s Enterprise makeovers from Ralph “Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica” McQuarrie. The serialized show will be set in the Prime Timeline, a/k/a “Most Of The Past Fifty Years,” so it can draw on the classic look of the Original Series and work in some nods to the various spinoffs. It will also have at least one LGBTQ character, and “there will be robots.”
While Fuller has said that “Discovery” is set ten years before the Original Series, it’s not clear to me whether that means around the time of the Enterprise‘s 2254 visit to Talos IV in “The Cage” — eleven years before James T. Kirk’s five-year mission started in 2265 — or about ten years before “The Cage.” Admittedly, I base the latter on Fuller’s description of the new uniforms as “completely different” from those in the contemporaneous “Cage.” Previous “Treks” didn’t offer much insight into this period, but we know enough to be curious — and isn’t that a big part of “Star Trek’s” appeal?
Accordingly, here (in no particular order) are eleven elements from classic “Trek” that “Discovery” might revisit.
11. THE CONSTITUTION CLASS
Setting “Discovery” so close to the Original Series means there’s a 190,000 metric-ton elephant in the room, and it’s brought to us by the letter “E.” The Enterprise was launched in 2245 from the San Francisco orbital shipyards, so regardless of “Discovery’s” timeframe, it should exist. Her first captain was Robert April, who commanded the starship on one five-year mission, and perhaps part of a second, before being succeeded by Christopher Pike. Either way, there’s some room for “Discovery” to check in with the famous starship.
Still, perhaps it’s better if “Discovery” visits another Constitution-class vessel. After all, Pike’s profile has been raised considerably thanks to Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal in the first two Kelvin-timeline movies; and the Enterprise might still have a certain Vulcan science officer aboard whose profile is higher still. (“Discovery” could also visit the Farragut, as long as it doesn’t mind casting Chris Pine as her navigator.) Thus, I suggest rendezvousing with sister ship USS Yorktown, since that’s what Gene Roddenberry originally wanted to call “Trek’s” signature spaceship.
10. THE LONELIEST NUMBER
Along the same lines, this entry isn’t so much “what I want to see” as “what I’d like to get out of the way.” Pike’s first officer in “The Cage” was a female lieutenant commander named “Number One,” so while it’s possible that “Discovery’s” star will be that Number One, it’s not likely; and I daresay it’s not advisable. Since setting “Discovery” in 2255 would place it after “The Cage,” I doubt the show wants to dwell on why Pike’s Number One left the Enterprise for the Discovery. Moreover, despite the raison d’etre for this here list, I doubt Fuller wants his lead to be a pre-established “Trek” character — especially one who’s well-known to fans. “Star Trek: Enterprise” changed its Vulcan star from the pre-existing T’Pau (“Amok Time’s” matriarch) to the newly-created T’Pol to avoid such comparisons, although T’Pau was in a few of the later episodes.
Accordingly, I like the idea of “Discovery’s” Number One being her own person, whose nickname is part of a lineage which includes Pike’s first officer as well as Picard’s. That’s what Roddenberry intended, and it’s only an accident of history — namely, NBC’s rejection of the character — that so much mystery has built up around Pike’s Number One.
9. ENTERPRISING OLD FOLKS
Speaking of T’Pol, “Discovery” takes place a mere hundred years after the end of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” and for a Vulcan that’s only slightly longer than your average NBA playoff. A hundred-years-older Sarek appeared on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and as noted above, “Enterprise” depicted T’Pau about 110 years before “Amok Time.” Therefore, at the very least I’d expect to see the NX-01’s former first officer on “Discovery,” perhaps alongside some of her younger human shipmates like security chief Malcolm Reed (inventor of the “Reed Alert,” of course) or helmsman Travis Mayweather. If Denobulans and/or Andorians are as long-lived as Vulcans, we could also see Doctor Phlox or Shran.
Unfortunately, “Enterprise” lore tells us that Jonathan Archer died in 2245, exactly one day after attending the launch of NCC-1701; and there’s also some indication that Hoshi Sato and her family didn’t survive the famines on Tarsus IV.
8. AMANDA GRAYSON
Spock’s human mother (played by Jane Wyatt in “Journey to Babel” and “Star Trek IV” and Winona Ryder in “Star Trek ’09”) is one of the few pre-existing “Trek” characters Fuller has mentioned in connection with “Discovery.” He “loves” Amanda (and Ryder’s portrayal of her) and would like to “incorporate her and her storyline” at some point. Since “Discovery” will take place while Spock is estranged from his father Sarek, he probably won’t see too much of his mom either; which allows Amanda to interact more freely with the Discovery crew. It’s easy to see the character’s appeal: she’s a teacher from Earth who married the Vulcan ambassador and raised a truly exceptional son. Spock might have had to straddle the demands of two cultures, but Amanda literally brought him into the world, and hers is a journey worth examining.
7. NEW COLONIZATIONS
While the aforementioned Tarsus colony became infamous for the actions of Kodos the Executioner, it also reminds us that during the mid-23rd Century the Federation was expanding pretty rapidly. As a result, the Enterprise was always checking up on human colonies, whether they were populated by miners — for example, Janus VI’s pergium prospectors or Mudd’s love-starved customers — or more utopian-minded folks like the Omicron Ceti III expedition.
Roddenberry pitched “Star Trek” as an outer-space Western partly because Westerns were an easy-to-understand genre, and partly because that pioneer spirit transferred pretty easily to an optimistic future. Originally Starfleet and the Federation had to walk a fine line between exporting its own values and being somewhat mindful of what was already out there. In fact, “Star Trek’s” expansionist message resonates in a different way today. In the 21st century we’re trying to take care of immigrants and refugees, but 200-plus years from now we’ll be the ones landing on unfamiliar shores.
6. OMNIPOTENT ALIENS
What’s already out there isn’t always easy to understand. The Original Series introduced viewers to a number of species who had advanced far beyond being mere humanoids. The Organians, the Melkot, Apollo, the Excalbians and the Metrons each tested the Enterprise crew in various ways. While “The Next Generation” basically turned all of this work over to Q, in “Discovery’s” galaxy they’re all still waiting to be encountered.
For example, “Charlie X” told the story of an 18-year-old whose spaceship crashed on planet Thasus in 2249. 3-year-old Charlie was then raised by the non-corporeal Thasians. Sure he got tremendous reality-warping powers, but the Thasians weren’t exactly big on social graces, and when he got too dangerous for the Enterprise the Thasians simply came and got him — leaving behind only Charlie’s haunting, unheeded plea to stay. The Original Series was full of open-minded wonder and a spirit of boundless cooperation, but it didn’t have any illusions about the disturbing potential of space exploration.
5. ANIMATED ALLUSIONS
When “Star Trek” returned to TV in 1973-74 as an animated series, it was able to depict more unusual alien life, including a couple of new crewmembers. Lieutenant Arex was an Edo helmsman with three arms and three legs, and Lieutenant M’Ress was a Caitian communications officer who looked like a humanoid cat. The animated series also brought in a new race of alien adversaries, the Kzinti (based on a series of Larry Niven novels), and showed the Orions as more than just green-skinned female dancers. Later “Treks” relied famously on prosthetics for most of its aliens.
Arex and M’Ress were popular enough that when DC relaunched its “Star Trek” comic book in 1989, writer Peter David wanted M’Ress as part of the crew, but Paramount wouldn’t allow it and the character had to be redrawn. Cat-women who could well have been Caitians got intimate with Kirk in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” so “Discovery” might show them in live-action in the Prime Timeline.
4. ROMULAN SPIES
The Original Series introduced the Romulans in its ninth episode (which was the fifteenth to air).”Balance of Terror” established that a century prior, Earth and the Romulans had fought a war without an Earthling ever seeing what a Romulan looked like — and then, of course, it established that they looked pretty much like Vulcans. “Star Trek: Enterprise” tackled the Romulans (and their pale cousins the Remans) in a Season Four arc, but it had to preserve that anonymity; and if “Discovery” wants to use Romulans it will have to do the same.
To be sure, “Discovery” probably won’t have “Enterprise’s” condescending Vulcans (who by the way might also have been explained as undercover Romulans); and it definitely shouldn’t try to top “BOT’s” powerful anti-bigotry message. Still, it would be nice to see some covert Romulan activity, because in “Discovery’s” time they’re about ten years away from unveiling a cloaking device and a deadly plasma weapon.
3. THE SEEDY SIDE OF THE GALAXY
By way of gross comparison, “Star Trek’s” heroes fly around in spotless starships and take time to straighten their uniforms; while “Star Wars” is famous for having a “used universe” full of morally-ambiguous folk who may or may not have shot first. However, “Trek” has its share of shady characters, particularly in the 23rd Century. Naturally, this includes Harry Mudd and the Tribble-dealing Cyrano Jones, and whomever else might have been trying to cut a deal on a Federation deep-space station. I’m also curious about those fat cats leering at the Orion dancer in Pike’s vision in “The Cage.”
Speaking of which, not only were the Orions dealing in slaves as far back as Captain Archer’s time, they seem to have had a pretty healthy organized-crime community. In the original script of “City on the Edge of Forever,” Gene Roddenberry nixed Harlan Ellison’s subplot of a drug-dealing Enterprise crewman; but “Deep Space Nine” demonstrated that you can show a lot of bad behavior without necessarily involving Starfleet officers.
Judging by this tweet, Fuller isn’t opposed to revisiting (or pre-visiting) Q’s nemesis and Jean-Luc Picard’s ageless bartender. In the 19th Century she was on Earth hiding from her father, and by the 22nd Century she had adopted another name (at least according to Q). While El-Aurians are famous as a race of “listeners,” Guinan is also tuned into how the universe should be, which is helpful if you’re ever caught in a particularly dark timeline. The El-Aurian homeworld was also destroyed by the Borg, so Guinan’s a refugee who knows just how bad the galaxy can get.
On a more meta level, Whoopi Goldberg is an Original Series fan inspired by Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura; and she got to advise the crew of “The Next Generation’s” Enterprise. If “Discovery’s” Number One is going to be finding her place in the universe, she could do worse than to let Guinan listen to her problems.
1. “THE TIME BARRIER’S BEEN BROKEN!”
Beyond this being yet another “Cage” reference, Fuller has said there won’t be much (if any) time travel in “Discovery.” Regardless, if he wants to depict an event referenced in the Original Series about which fans have been fairly curious, this cryptic line from “Star Trek’s” pilot episode certainly qualifies.
It comes when an Enterprise landing party encounters survivors from SS Columbia, a starship which crashed on planet Talos IV some 18 years earlier. Apparently wanting to convey just how fast the current crop of ships can go, one crewman explains excitedly about the “time barrier” breakthrough. It’s a detail clearly meant to compare “Star Trek’s” future to the recent past, and specifically to Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947 (appropriately enough, some seventeen years before “The Cage” was filmed). However, over the years it’s turned into the “Trek” equivalent of making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. It’s good exposition, convincingly delivered, but what does it mean?
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