I think it’s fair to say that Star Trek fans are looking towards the imminent release (24 September!) of Star Trek: Discovery (which I’ll refer to from now on as ST:D and try hard not to giggle every time I do) with both excitement and trepidation. After all, it’s been over a decade since the franchise last graced the small screen and the television landscape has changed tremendously in that time. Just what will a modern Star Trek series look like? We already know there are some changes.
All this and more was something the producers and showrunners addressed during their recent 2017 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour panel for the show. First up producer Akiva Goldsman discussed the heavily-serialised nature of the series, comparing how ST:D (damn it) would differ from the original series (TOS), which had many stand-alone episodes, and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9), the most serialised Star Trek series to date:
“You will find this to be far more than serialized than DS9 even in its last two seasons. So this is by far, let me amend it, the most serialized version of Star Trek that has ever existed, and as such, it’s longform character storytelling. Without conflict, there is no longform character storytelling. Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of conflict in TOS and there’s a lot of, sort of, aspirations towards the ideals of the Federation, and then we sort of made the prime directive just to break it, apparently.
So part of what we’ve tried to do is speak to how those philosophical precepts came to be. So it is entirely the outcome role of the show to arrive at the principles, the utopian principles that I think are endemic to Star Trek and at the same time not to suggest that doing that is simple or easy. But you can’t simply be accepting and tolerant without working for it, and so this show is about that struggle. You’ll tell us whether we succeeded, but the outcome is always to earn the philosophy rather than present it as a fait accompli.
Part of what you have in standalone is the reset. Perfect example, ‘City on the Edge of Forever,’ Jim Kirk has to watch Edith Keeler die. That is heartbreaking to him. The next episode, he’s fine. In serialized storytelling, you carry the weight of loss, you carry the weight of growth, you have character arc that spans 15 episodes but also you can’t ignore what’s come before. You have to carry it with you from episode to episode.”
Goldsman also revealed the major source for this conflict and loss, and subsequent growth – the show will tackle the Federation-Klingon War. But if you’ve read novels set in that time period be prepared to discard them, as the show will have its own take on the conflict:
“So we are in a section of canon that has been referred to a lot. There is a lot of speculation about it. We are considering the novels not to be canon, but we are aware of them. And, we are going to cross paths with components that Trek fans are familiar with, but it is its own standalone story with its own characters and its own unique vision of Trek.
There’s a period where our contact with the Klingons is nebulous. We are trying to view the idea of the creation of the Neutral Zone as something that was sufficiently inexact that we can now fill in how we got there. Our story of the Klingon War is our season one.”
The recent reveal of the new Klingon look is something that certainly got tongues wagging, as it’s a significant departure from what we’re used to seeing from the warlike race. Showrunner Aaron Harberts revealed this was all part of initial showrunner Bryan Fuller’s original vision for the show, saying:
“One of the things he really, really wanted to do was shake up the design of the Klingons. One of the first things that he ever pitched to us when we were deciding whether or not to come on the show was his aesthetic for the Klingons and how important it was that they be aesthete, that they not be the thugs of the universe, that they be sexy and vital and different from what had come before.”
Producer Heather Kadin added that “the Klingons are different from each other as well. Some have white skin, some have dark skin.” Harberts continued, discussing how in-depth creature designers Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick went when developing Fuller’s ideas further:
“They drilled down in such a deep way to redundant pieces of anatomy, to the different plates on the head. We were in discussions that got so deep into biology and into sculpture. From the time that Neville brought in the 3D printout into the writers’ room of the Klingon, that design really hasn’t changed. The Klingon ship, the flagship of the Klingons, which you’ll see in some of the stills, that design, again, very important to Bryan, very hands-on, worked with Mark Worthington [production designer] for months and months to get it right. We think that it’s unique, and we saw no reason to change his vision for those Klingons.”
That’s something I’m quite happy to see. Something that’s always bugged me, even when reading sci-fi novels, is that alien cultures are often presented in a monolithic manner in comparison to the obvious messy diversity of humanity that we all know and love.
We’ve also spoken before about how the series’ lead, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, is the catalyst for much of the change we’re about to see in the new series. She was also recently revealed to be Spock’s sister. Harberts gave a few more details on how that influences her, and how she influences the events in the series in turn:
“We don’t necessarily call her the half-sister. We tend to refer to her as more Sarek’s ward or Sarek’s almost foster/adopted daughter. And the relationship between Michael and Sarek plays a huge part, not only in her backstory, but in where she was raised and what she brings to every ship she serves on. Her time on Vulcan causes her to make several choices in our first episode, choices that will really have aftershocks throughout the entire series. Much in the way that they did with Spock and Sarek in the films and on the show, we are able to tell father-daughter stories, and we are able to really drill down on particularly what’s interesting about a Vulcan raising a human child, and how that affects her and how she’s grown up with that.”
It seems we’re getting a decidedly more adult-orientated Star Trek show than what we’re used to seeing when it comes to its themes and characters, but even with the greater freedom afford the show by being on a streaming service (CBS All Access in the US, and Netflix worldwide) the showrunners are not going too far down the road with regards to language and nudity. Harberts again:
“Every writer’s impulse when you get to work on the streaming shows with no parameters is to go crazy. But then you look at things like: How does nudity play on Trek? Eh, it feels weird. How does a lot of [profanity] on Trek? Not so great. Are there moments where it merits it that we’re trying to push here and there? I would say we’re trying to push more by having the type of complicated messed-up characters who aren’t necessarily embraced on broadcast.
I’m not saying we’re not doing some violent things or doing a tiny bit of language. But what’s important to the creative team is the legacy of the show — which is passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son, from brother to brother. We want to make sure we’re not creating a show that fans can’t share with their families. You have to honor what the franchise is. I would say we’re not going much beyond hard PG-13.”
I like this approach too because it seems like they’re using the freedom a streaming platform provides responsibly. It’s natural for the odd swear word to slip out when characters are under stress or surprised, and it makes sense for the odd risqué moment with so many people in close quarters. Star Trek characters swearing like pirates and gratuitous nudity would just feel completely wrong.
I said last time I’m starting to feel the hype, and nothing they’ve said has changed my mind. I’m honestly looking forward to watching the show. How about you?
PS. Even better, no one has mentioned anything about having those stupid holodecks in the show.
Last Updated: August 3, 2017