When it was announced in 2015 that CBS was developing a new Star Trek series, the news was met with some trepidation and speculation, but most die-hard fans were overjoyed at the prospect of a brand new series from their favorite universe: Star Trek: Discovery. Casual fans, meanwhile, groused a bit that the series would premiere on the broadcast network, but that subsequent episodes would be available only through its online subscription service CBS All Access.
But, based on initial responses, it looks like the tease may just work to get fans to open their wallets.
Discovery is set 10 years before Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest took off in the original Star Trek series. It’s a dark time for the Federation and Starfleet, which are engaged in a brutal cold war with the Klingons. The show centers on First Officer Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green) as she navigates her way through Starfleet, serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who helms the USS Shenzhou. Jason Isaacs of the Harry Potter film franchise stars as Gabriel Lorca, captain of the USS Discovery, another starship working to maintain peace.
Here are 10 things the Star Trek: Discovery cast and producers have said will definitely get fans excited about the new series.
It’s always a good sign when the cast members are crazy excited about the prospect of a new Star Trek series. Seriously, who doesn’t want want to shoot a phaser?
“I don’t know of any other television franchise that has this kind of longevity and history and belovedness, including with me,” star Doug Jones, who plays the third-in-command Lieutenant Saru on the USS Shenzhou, told Rotten Tomatoes. “I was born in 1960, so I was 6 years old when the first original series was airing on network television for the first time. That’s part of my life. That’s part of my childhood. It becomes a part of your DNA, especially when you’re an actor who takes on a lot of otherworldly creatures and alien characters and animal creatures and demons and zombies and all those things that I’ve worn and portrayed over the years.”
Rainn Wilson, who plays a younger version of one of the franchise’s more beloved side characters, Harry Mudd, gushed to reporters during San Diego Comic-Con that he, too, grew up watching the original series.
“At age 5 or 6, I started watching it on re-runs after school,” he said. “I built models of the Enterprise and had books. I memorized everything about the Enterprise, where everything was in the ship.
“So then I got to, in my episode, without giving anything away, I get to use the transporter room” he continued. “I got to be transported. And I got to use a phaser. And I got to sit in the captain’s chair for a little bit… To relive those iconic Gene Roddenberry creations as an adult fan was just one of the greatest life experiences.”
Jones, famous for his acting with special effects and makeup, once again dons prosthetics as Lt. Saru, a member of the alien race of Kelpiens.
“I was invited to sit in the captain’s chair early on in the episode, because I rank third in command on the bridge, on the starship Shenzou,” Jones said. “So when First Officer Michael Burnham and our Captain Philippa Georgiou, played by the lovely Michelle Yeoh, when they would have a conference off in the captain’s ready room, I would be the next one to sit in the chair. And that happened early on, and I wasn’t expecting it, I was like, ‘I get to put my ass in that?!’ [waves his hands around] It’s a small ass, not a big one.”
The original Star Trek series broke all kinds of new ground in the 1960s, including featuring the first female black principal actor, Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura. This is not lost on Discovery star Martin-Green, who became emotional talking about filling those shoes.
“I certainly stand on Nichelle’s [Nichols] shoulders,” Martin-Green said. “I think all of us stand on the shoulders of innovation that has been the Star Trek canon up to now. All the progression and — this is really a story of universality and coming together and understanding that you really are one with all life. I don’t know if I can put it into words. I feel if I try, I’ll cry. But just the honor — [she tears up]. It is such a privilege to be part of a story that I truly believe will bring people together.”
More of Burnham’s backstory has been revealed, including that she was the first human to attend the Vulcan Learning Center as a child and then the Vulcan Science Academy as a young woman. She also has a close relationship with Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain), who has taken her under his wing. So, in essence, Burnham most assuredly knows the young Spock. Let’s hope maybe they have tween Spock on the show.
While it’s possible we’ll see a very young Spock, we’ll definitely get to meet new versions of well-known characters such as Sarek and Harry Mudd. And while the actors playing them will pay homage to the iconic characters, they’ll also bring something new to the roles.
“There was a scene in which I was with a large group of Vulcans,” Frain recalled, “who were dressed – the costume designers for the Vulcans in this are phenomenal – they were all dressed to the nines. Incredibly stylish, it was like being in the best club ever. It was a moment of full Vulcan-ness that felt fantastic.
“It feels like an honor and a responsibility,” he added. “It’s a challenge, but we deliver a version of what the writers are doing with this character. All the storylines [are] so interesting and complex and revealing. It’s just a joy to work.”
Wilson is equally excited to portray a different version of the trickster Mudd, who was played by Roger C. Carmel in the original 1960s Star Trek series.
“Let’s remember, this particular universe is a very dark time for the Federation and for Starfleet with this war happening,” Wilson noted. “So, I don’t think it’s appropriate in the universe to have this jolly, wackadoodle episodes that were often in the original series and in The Next Generation.
“One of the wonderful things about Star Trek is that you could have episodes that were almost like comedies,” Wilson said. “This Harry Mudd is a kind of re-imagined and re-invention. He’s a bit more dastardly than the original, but that character made such an impression on me. It’s a dream come true to try and bring him to life with as much drama and comedy as possible.”
Star Anthony Rapp, who plays USS Discovery science officer Lt. Stamets, told Rotten Tomatoes that he got “profound goosebumps” when he heard the new theme song from composer Jeff Russo.
“I’m a bit of a musician,” the Broadway veteran, who starred in the Original Broadway Cast of Rent, said (downplaying his credits a bit). “To me, it’s very interesting musical ideas that are expressed in the theme itself. Those first two notes are the original series notes, but the chimes after that [are not]. It’s a similar feeling, but Jeff took those first two notes and then he turned a corner with them — so it’s familiar and yet new.
“I think it’s really evocative and beautiful,” he continued. “It feels very modern, and it also feels very classic.”
And there’s more: Rapp also teased the new opening credit sequence.
“It is truly beautiful, and doesn’t look like anything that I’ve seen before,” he said. “It certainly is something new for Trek opening sequences. I’m very excited for that to be shared with the world.”
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman promised everything we have come to love about the Star Trek franchise will be there, plus more.
“I think first and foremost, the defining factor of Gene Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future and the idea that he envisioned a world that all species, all races come together not only to make our world better, but to make every world better,” Kurtzman said. “That being said, we live in very troubled times. Every day we look at the news, and it’s hard to see what we see. I think now more than ever, Trek is needed as a reminder of what we can be, the best of who we can be.”
Isaacs shared a philosophical take on the effort: “We’re offering a vision of the future… where people have found solutions to divisions between people at a time when the outside world seems to be getting more divisive and rolling back a bunch of things we take for granted. So, for me, the gadgets are fun and the sets are great, and I’m sure all the whiz-bang stuff you wish for, but what counts is what we’re putting out there, what we’re showing the next generation what we could become as a planet instead of what we might become, and that’s what I love about it.”
Having just come from The Walking Dead, Martin-Green said she was thrilled to be joining another universe “so rich and dynamic.”
“It’s a different backdrop, for sure,” she said, “but I think the complexities of the story and dynamics of the relationships are the same. One of my favorites that we explore on the show is acculturation and how when that happens, it doesn’t have to mean assimilation. And that’s really one of the pillars of Star Trek which teaches we don’t have to let go of who we are in order to learn who you are… it honors the legacy but also carries it to the next level.”
That’s right: Jonathan Frakes, best known as Commander William T. Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation, is stepping in to direct a few of the Star Trek: Discovery episodes.
Isaacs hailed the former Trek star as a “fantastic director and still an actor” and said how much fun they had working with Frakes: “He makes the set his stand-up comedy club. At the end of a take, he’d go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Star Trek: Discovery players!’ It’s a joy to have him around, and he is full of completely unrepeatable stories about [his time in the Star Trek universe]. What was that story about the first convention he went to? They had the dolls of the characters — there was Picard for $20 and Geordi for $15. And in the end, he said, ‘Free Riker with every doll!’”
The Discovery star added, “As much as he’s very up tempo and funny, he’s also very finely tuned to the nuances of what the actors are doing. As a director, he really knows what he’s doing, he really understands it.”
Fans will certainly want to know how this Star Trek will stand out in its look and feel. Because it’s set 10 years before the original series, Discovery will most likely have similar gadgets and technology, but producer Kurtzman confirmed that Discovery will incorporate all the amazing CGI techniques we have available today.
“The line between TV and film these days is blurry. The show has to look like a movie, really, especially again if we are asking people to pay for it,” he said. “It has to define itself and distinguish itself. It takes a good year to launch a show correctly when you factor in set builds, special effects, but if you rush those things, you are compromising quality. So we hope to be innovating as much as possible. Certainly, we are pushing the boundaries for television in terms of creating CG environments. You’ll see a sequence in the first episode that takes place entirely in space with [Martin-Green].”
Rapp said his character gets to explore all kinds of wacky new science thanks to his specialty in the study of fungi in space.
“I can’t spoil why, but I’m a scientist with a weird field of study, which is astromycology,” he said. “That has some interesting complications in science. There are some new things explored because of space and mushrooms and stuff. Believe it or not, it’s true.”
“Boldly” pushing the envelope is what the Star Trek franchise has always done the best – and Discovery will be no different.
For example, while Sulu was established as a gay man in Star Trek Beyond, Rapp explained his Lt. Stamets is “the first real gay character on Star Trek having a relationship. Wilson Cruz will be playing my partner on the show.”
Martin-Green added, “It’s also so seamless, which makes it organic and authentic. It’s the celebration of its normalcy in the story. In that way, the story becomes a form of activism just by… seeing these people deal with each other and learn from each other. To be changed by each other. I just think it will do what we hope it will do – to take the conversion and enlighten.”
Kurtzman also addressed gender equality in the show. When Burnham and Georgiou are talking, they aren’t going to be talking about men. They will be dealing with “real problems in the middle of a war.”
The producer asked, “Do you know the Bechdel test? For those of you who don’t know, how many times have you seen a TV show or a movie in which two women come together and are talking about a guy? They hardly ever talk about guys when women are together on this show,” he revealed. “Not because we’re trying to make a statement or not make a statement, but that’s just not the focus of what we are doing. I think Roddenberry’s greatest contribution to race relations is that he never addressed it. It just was. And that’s exactly what we are planning on doing.”
When asked if there will be Tribbles — those adorable but ultimately annoying fur-balls from the original series who extensively procreate — in Star Trek: Discovery, Kurtzman answered with a firm “Yes!”
That’s it. We’re totally all in.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres September 24 at 8:30 p.m. on CBS; the series then launches on CBS All Access with new episodes available on-demand weekly on Sundays exclusively for CBS All Access subscribers in the United States. The 15-episode season will be released in two chapters: The first eight episodes will run from Sunday, Sept. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 5. The season will then resume with the second chapter in January 2018.