Star Trek Discovery, the newest generation of sci-fi storytelling from the Star Trek franchise, has just debuted this week on both sides of the Pond. The series’ story arc contains two new starships, a ‘Cold Ear’ between the Klingons and the Federation and a new main character, Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham. Many aspects of the show are new; Starfleet uniforms, ship design and new aliens, but there are also familiar characters, such as Harry Mudd and Sarek. The show is reported to still embrace the same ideology of traditional Trek philosophy, the hope of a universally cooperative future and the merits of scientific exploration.
So where does the new show fit in to the already established canon of the Star Trek universe and timeline?
We know, from press releases, that Discovery takes place in the Prime timeline (not the Kelvin timeline of the most recently released feature films). It is set ten years before the events of The Original Series in which Kirk, Spock and their crew are exploring deep space on the Enterprise’s five year mission. The current stardate for Discovery is 2255, that is 94 years after Enterprise took place, 109 years before The Next Generation, 114 years before Deep Space Nine and 116 years before Janeway and her crew got stranded in the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy in Voyager.
There are gaps in the timeline of events in Star Trek and it seems that the show’s creators, Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, for CBS, were interested in exploring how Starfleet developed to become the varied and formidable force in space that it goes on to be in the later series’. The show is also reported to explore the inner workings of a starship, with scenes taking place not just on the bridge, but in quarters and the lower decks, possibly leading to a more well rounded view of a crew in action in deep space. Rather than airing individual episodic stories each week, Discovery promises to explore one complete story arc over the entire run of fifteen episodes.
By creating a prequel show rather than a sequel, however, CBS has laid the series open for some continuity problems. There are stylistic differences between Discovery and The Original Series that are hard to reconcile. The uniforms, ship and bridge design are a similar to the ships and costumes of the recent re-booted feature films in the Kelvin, rather than the Prime timeline. Although Discovery has the same utilitarian and mechanical look of the Enterprise NX-01, it bears little resemblance to the design of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, which technically would be in commission and operation at the same time as Discovery in 2255 under the command of Captain Robert April and then Captain Christopher Pike.
Captain Pike commanded the Enterprise for a decade and during that time his science officer was the familiar Mr Spock. So it is conceivable that Commander Burnham, the adopted daughter of Sarek (Spock’s father), would be serving in Starfleet at the same time as Spock himself. As we know from Trek canon, Spock never mentioned an adopted sister and it was only until much later in the feature films that it was revealed that he had a half-brother named Sybok.
The introduction of Sarek into Discovery also poses some potential problems. Audiences know from The Original Series that Sarek and Spock are estranged for eighteen years due to Spock’s decision to enter Starfleet, but it appears, in trailers for Discovery, Sarek is in regular communication with Burnham. Does that mean he is also in communication with Spock at this time? It is implied that Burnham and Spock may have even grown up together. Could this mean that in Discovery the character of Spock will be referred to or even make an appearance? This seems like a continuity conundrum the writers will have to address. There was however, a large, at times fractious Vulcan presence in the earlier Enterprise series and this possibly could lead smoothly into Sarek’s advisory relationship with Burnham in Discovery.
Another aspect of the show that has puzzled Star Trek fans is the change in the appearance of the main protagonists of the show: the Klingons. The Klingon Empire, a warrior alien race, were first introduced in The Original Series episode ‘Errand of Mercy’ in 1967. Dressed in tunics with gold sashes and painted a dubious shade of brown, they looked almost the same as humans. It was not until the first few Star Trek movies were released that audiences began to see Klingons with ridges on their foreheads.
The Klingons portrayed in Star Trek Discovery appear to be a much more ornate race of aliens than shown in previous series. Their appearance is more alien-like than Mr Worf from The Next Generation and their facial ridges much more pronounced. There could be several reasons for this, not least that the Klingon Empire was exactly that, an empire in space, and it makes sense that different races of aliens or Klingons may have all coexisted in the same society.
Star Trek Discovery‘s ‘Cold War’ with the Klingons does fit nicely with the escalating tensions between Starfleet and the Klingons in The Original Series. Audiences know that a war between the Klingons and the Federation erupted in 2267 and ended abruptly after only four days of fighting. An uneasy truce with multiple conflicts continued to take place until the signing of the Khitomer Accords in 2293 in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Trailers for Discovery imply that the series could explore the very first sparks of this ongoing conflict and possibly an earlier, unexplored war.
The end of Enterprise saw the crew of the Enetrprise NX-01 returning to earth for the signing of the Federation Charter, the document that founded the United Federation of Planets in 2161. By 2373, the Federation had a membership of more than 150 planets and thousands of colonies spread across 8,000,000 cubic light years of the Milky Way. Each successive Star Trek series brought more alien races and planets into the Federation. Audiences will have to wait and see as to what role Discovery will play in development of this Utopian interstellar federal republic.
The Federation encompasses the key philosophical ideas behind Star Trek itself; the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and the sharing of knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation, scientific development, and space exploration. Here’s hoping Discovery will be the next chapter in telling how the Federation strove to achieve these Utopian ideals.
Star Trek: Discovery is now airing on Netflix in the UK, with new episodes every Monday. Are you enjoying the show so far? Let us know!