Hey, did you hear there’s a new Star Trek show starting September 24? Anticipation is mighty high here at io9—but for everyone who hasn’t been cataloguing every bit of info that CBS has revealed about Star Trek: Discovery on the long road to its debut, we’ve assembled this handy guide to get you up to speed.
Timeline and setting
Discovery, the sixth live-action Star Trek series, was initially announced as taking place in the prime timeline, the same universe as the other TV shows and their related films—but not the recent J.J. Abrams directed and/or produced movies. Since it takes place 10 years prior to the events of The Original Series, it’s more relevant to that show than Enterprise, which took place a century prior. That also means we’ll be seeing some retro-future takes on the classic show’s signature tech flourishes, including a variant on the phaser (though the badges and the flip communicators look fairly familiar).
The Starfleet uniforms, however, are closer in look to Enterprise’s blue jumpsuits, rather than the classic colorful costumes of original Trek. (For once, though, away teams will get body armor, an idea that clearly fell out of fashion by the time Captain Kirk and company were boldly going beyond.) As the title implies, most of the action will center on the USS Discovery, though it won’t start there; instead, it seems we’ll first meet the main character when she’s serving aboard the USS Shenzou.
Lt. Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green)
Discovery’s protagonist is unique in the Star Trek pantheon for a variety of reasons. One is that—unlike Kirk, Picard, Siko, Janeway, and Archer—Burnham is not (yet) a captain. Another is that she was raised on Vulcan after her birth parents (both human) were killed by Klingons. Her adoptive parents just happen to be Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda Grayson, and her unusual upbringing means she’s the first human to have attended both the Vulcan Learning Center and the Vulcan Science Academy. (This is the first we’ve ever heard that Spock had a sister, though one of Discovery’s producers insists there will eventually be an explanation for that.) Based on ominous hints we’ve seen in the trailers, an early episode will explain the incident that causes then-First Officer Burnham to leave the Shenzou, where she’s serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and end up on the Discovery, to be Number One under Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs).
Sarek (James Frain)
We learned way back in January that Spock’s father was joining the show—as a younger version, quite obviously, of the character we first met on The Original Series. But it wasn’t until July’s San Diego Comic-Con that his specific connection to Burnham became known. In the first Discovery trailer, Sarek appears in a Vulcan flashback, as well as in hologram form to Burnham to counsel her about leadership. Sarek has a long history in Trek, first appearing with a strained relationship with his half-human, Starfleet son and eventually dying on The Next Generation, after sharing a number of intense scenes with Picard.
Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh)
As mentioned above, she’s the top commander on the USS Shenzou. In the trailer, we learn that Burnham and Georgiou have been working together for awhile, and Georgiou has become confident that it’s time for her protégé to get her own command. That is, until something (maybe an alien object?) makes something (maybe very bad?) happen to Georgiou. We aren’t certain of her fate yet, but you might not want to get terribly attached to this particular character.
Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs)
He’s the captain of the Discovery—but he’s not the star of the show, and that’s not the only thing that makes Lorca different from previous Star Trek captains. According to Isaacs, the character is “probably more fucked up” than most Starfleet officers, which means he’s been through some exceptionally crazy shit during his time in space. That’s a quality that could create an interesting dynamic between Lorca and Burnham; in the second trailer, he seems stern when speaking with her: “You helped start a war. Don’t you want to help me end it?”
Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones)
The alien science officer aboard the Discovery, Saru’s the guy who delivers the trailer’s most chilling line: “My people were biologically determined for one purpose alone: to sense the coming of death. I sense it coming now.” He’s a Kelpien, a race that’s new to both Starfleet and the Star Trek series overall; their ability to sense death evolved on a home planet where they were hunted as prey. He stands almost seven feet tall on his hooved feet. At SDCC, it was mentioned that Saru and Burnham have a “brother/sister relationship;” Jones has also said that Saru is a character equivalent to the Spock or Data of this series. That’s a telling description, since Trek loves to have a character with an alien point of view and, specifically, one who can comment on human characteristics.
Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp)
He’s another science officer aboard Discovery, an astromycologist (translation: this dude knows a lot about space fungus). A far more exciting fact about Lt. Stamets is that he’s Star Trek’s first openly gay character (on TV at least; in the movies, Sulu has a male partner). As it happens, Discovery also has Star Trek’s second openly gay TV character as well, in the form of Lt. Stamets’ partner: ship’s doctor Dr. Hugh Culber (played by Wilson Cruz).
Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman)
She is an eager young Starfleet cadet assigned to Discovery, specializing in engineering and reporting to Lt. Stamets. After she becomes Burnham’s roommate, they form what Wiseman describes as “an unlikely friendship.”
Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson)
This character—full name: Harcourt Fenton Mudd—is a con man, smuggler, and delightful sleaze who first appeared on The Original Series and has since become a cult favorite, largely thanks to Roger C. Carmel’s over-the-top performance. You can get a quick glimpse of Wilson’s take on Mudd as a younger man (“Are you mad?” “I’m MUDD!”) in the second Discovery trailer.
T’Kuvma (Chris Obi)
He’s a Klingon leader seeking to unite the 24 great Klingon houses—no easy task, especially since (as the second trailer reminds us) “the Klingon Empire has been in disarray for generations.” Klingons are the primary antagonists on Discovery, but the show will portray them as honorable warriors with—as you can see on T’Kuvma here—some really fantastic battle ensembles, not to mention new ships, at least one highly elaborate coffin, subtitles (when they’re speaking Klingon), and a biological reason for those distinctive forehead ridges.
Story and conflict
As mentioned above, Discovery will find the Federation at war with the Klingons. The show will run 15 episodes and we know a teeny bit about the first four installments. Episode one is titled “The Vulcan Hello,” and the description is nearly exactly what the two trailers have already revealed:
While patrolling Federation space, the USS Shenzhou encounters an object of unknown origin, putting First Officer Michael Burnham to her greatest test yet.
Subsequent known episode titles include “Battle at the Binary Stars,” “Context Is for Kings,” and “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” though we don’t have plot descriptions for those yet. Based on hints from showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg, however, the season will also focus on how the characters work through their differences together.
Based on what the showrunners have said, he war with the Klingons will be in some way a comment on current political events, much like The Original Series reflected then-contemporary Cold War tensions. And Burnham will have to cope with whatever happened on the Shenzou, growing into the kind of leader that Sarek encourages her to be. She may also find herself caught between Vulcan and human cultures, much like her adoptive brother Spock was.