A Discovery Premiere Primer
Discovery unfolds about a decade before the time in which Kirk and Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series did their thing aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. So, we’re talking roughly the 2250’s. That puts the show in the Prime timeline, during which everything from Enterprise, The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, as well as the TOS and TNG features occurred.
Discovery will follow characters aboard two ships, the U.S.S. Shenzhou, captained by Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and the U.S.S. Discovery, led by Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) – a human raised since childhood as the ward of the Vulcan, Sarek -- is the series’ protagonist, a real first for Trek, as the tale will be told through the eyes of someone who is not the captain. Add into the mix, the Klingons, who serve as the antagonists, but will not necessarily be demonized.
“We will be discovering the Federation and Starfleet in a time of war, and how the Federation has to look at itself and make some decisions about how it needs to behave and act,” showrunner Aaron Harberts told StarTrek.com. “You're going to find a character in Michael Burnham, who was basically ready to be promoted to the Captain's chair and makes some choices that change her life, and for that reason, what she thought she was going to get, who she thought she was, all of her time with Sarek training to be a captain… is now sort of a far-off vision, and she's going to be discovering who she really is. We're going to be discovering the Klingons from a point of view I don't think we've done before.
“Mainly, when you cut away to Klingons (in previous Treks), they're screaming "Qapla!" and firing torpedoes,” Harberts continued. “(And on Discovery) you're going to find a race of people who have their own philosophy, know it's a philosophy of isolationism and it's a philosophy of wanting to maintain their own unity in the face of their own... The Klingons have never been more fractured at this time, and they want to unite. They want to focus on themselves rather than focus on anything else outside that. We'll discover that, too. We'll discover how a war breaks out sort of by watching it happen on both sides.”
Viewers will meet a wide variety of Starfleet characters over the course of Discovery’s 15 first-season episodes. Here’s a quick look at several of the Starfleet figures:
Michael Burnham is First Officer on the U.S.S. Shenzhou. Through her Vulcan upbringing, she has cultivated a razor-sharp logic and intellect. Discussing the character with StarTrek.com, Sonequa Martin-Green said, “You are entering this world through the eyes of a first officer who has this aspiration to be greater, and to be more, and to be captain, of course. And so, you get to see me on that journey, but you get to see all of the pitfalls, and you get to see the turmoil, and you get to see the failures. You get to see the mistakes. You get to see the triumphs. I think that it is an incredible.”
Captain Philippa Georgiou of the U.S.S. Shenzhou is a strong, seasoned leader. Unpretentious and charismatic, you'd follow her anywhere. “Georgiou, she is a war veteran,” Michelle Yeoh told StarTrek.com. “She has seen the horrors of war. But she is a very compassionate person. As I look into her, she, by heart, is an explorer. She loved the universe. She loved the ability and possibility of seeing new stars, new novae being born. She's always awed by that. That's what I love about this character. She's not cynical. She's not jaded by all the things. She firmly believes in the hope and the goodness of humanity.”
Captain Gabriel Lorca, The captain of the U.S.S. Discover is a formitable leader with a decisive charisma that hides many secrets. "This is a very interesting, messed-up guy with a bunch of things going on inside," Jason Isaacs confirmed to StarTrek.com. "And it's not apparent when you first meet him. He's got all kinds of agendas that are involved. You just look for meat and potatoes, something to act. If I thought, 'Oh, do I want to be Bill Shatner or Patrick Stewart?'... I would have run crying and hidden in a cupboard.
Lt. Saru, a Starfleet Science Officer and Lieutenant Commander on the U.S.S. Shenzhou, is Kelpien, an alien prey species that have biologically fostered the ability to sense threats. “Lt. Saru is a species of alien you've never seen in any Trek canon before,” Doug Jones explained to StarTrek.com. “That's the exciting part, that I get to help develop him. I would’ve been terrified to take on a species that had already been established because the fans are watching every move, jot, and thing you do. It's also daunting because I want to get this right, so that he becomes one of those characters that can be beloved and appreciated and can be emulated in later incarnations down the road through someone else.”
Cadet Sylvia Tilly, A Starfleet Academy cadet in her final year of study, Tilly is assigned to the U.S.S. Discovery and becomes roommates with Michael Burnham. "I get to live so close to my own experience,” Wiseman said, referring to the fact that she, like Tilly is a rookie. "That makes it really easy. Some crazy sci-fi thing happens and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God! That’s so cool!’ And that ‘s how it feels. Plus, I have really warm, wonderful, capable people around me, which makes that even better.”
Sarek, a formidable Vulcan, is a beloved character who has appeared often throughout the Star Trek franchise. He is also, of course, Spock’s father. “It seems really interesting, the whole Vulcan ideal, where (Vulcans) basically come to the conclusion that emotion, all emotion, is a problem,” James Frain noted to StarTrek.com. ““And that is just so alien to us. Ultimately, is it really achievable? And who is this guy who is like a U.N. Ambassador who marries a human being? I mean, how did that happen? Who is this guy? That's what I feel like I'm doing every day when I come to work.”
The Klingons, as noted earlier, really get their due in Discovery. There’s an effort to unite the two dozen long-divided Klingon houses, and rapprochement doesn’t come easy, even with a common enemy.
"The show is often told from both points of view,” writer-producer-director Akiva Goldsman said at San Diego Comic-Con, referring to the Klingons and Federation. “It is certainly about the Federation but there are significant sections of the narrative that are purely from the Klingon point of view – and in Klingon. It's a real piece of the show. It will allow the audience to participate in who is right and who is wrong."
"It's been super-fun to take a species that feels well-established,” writer Kirsten Beyer noted at Comic-Con, “and to imagine what a certain period in their history may have produced. It has given us all kind of new ways to talk about and experience Klingons."
L’Rell is a Klingon and the battle deck commander of T'Kuvma's Klingon ship. Speaking about the character during an interview with StarTrek.com, actress Mary Chieffo enthused that, “This exploration of ‘the other’ is exciting, and I think we really are going to get a great window into both sides. I'm speaking to this because it really did strike me that how the Federation perceives me, L'Rell, is very different from how, say, Kol perceives me within the Klingon world. Who I am, to him, is very different. That’s something we haven’t seen.”
Kol is a Klingon warrior from the House of Kor. “He’s… the leader,” Kenneth Mitchell revealed to StarTrek.com. “You first meet him in holograph form, and he's an alpha Klingon amongst the house leaders, amongst the 24 house leaders. He has these disagreements and conflicts with T'Kuvma and his house, and it launches that relationship throughout the rest of the season. Kol is on a bit of a path to power, and he also wants to protect his people, not only amongst the Klingon houses, but also amongst the Federation.
In a cool, bold move, the Klingons speak Klingon. As such, viewers at home will mostly hear Klingon and see their dialogue translated into English. “I love it,” Mary Chieffo said, detailing how the Klingon actors pull it off on set. “I've reached the point now where I can read and write it pretty well. I’m still not fluent, because the syntax is opposite of anything I know, but it's a really ultimately liberating process. Often in film and TV, it’s, “OK, we're going to show up on the day, and we're just going to find it and capture that lightning in a bottle." We can’t do that because we have to memorize the meaning of each word and the structure of each sentence, and make sure you really understand it logically, so that you can then inhabit it emotionally. I spend a lot of time with our dialect coach, Rea. We have these two-hour sessions where we go through and she helps me refine the sounds.”
U.S.S. Discovery NCC-1031: Traverses the galaxy under the command of Gabriel Lorca, a man who rarely settles into his captain’s chair, as he prefers to be in the heart of the action at all times. The ship boasts a viewscreen, but holographic projections are the preferred method of communicating. StarTrek.com was on the set recently and reported that the bridge is sleek and colorful, and more modern-looking to the eye than the TOS or Enterprise bridges. That said, there were actual buttons and knobs on the assorted consoles. Conversely, the transparent screens at the crew stations are uber-high-tech. “We’re trying to bring things up just a little bit so that we were living in our present-day language or what the future's going to be bringing us,” Harberts explained, “but also continuing to sort of stay nestled in those 10 years before The Original Series.”
U.S.S. Shenzhou NCC-1227: A Walker Class ship captained by Philippa Georgiou. “The Shenzhou feels almost more like a battle ship, even though it's a Starfleet vessel and intended for exploration, diplomacy,” showrunner Aaron Harberts told a group of journalists visiting the show’s sets in August. “There's an intensity when you step onto this bridge. Not to say that Discovery isn't (intense, too), but the angles, the sharp lines, the ceiling kind of comes down to a much... The headroom there is a lot narrower. I would say it's almost more Hunt for Red October inside that bridge. It feels a little more cramped."
Klingon Sarcophagus Ship: According to writer Ted Sullivan, per an interview with SFX Magazine, it “is a 200-year-old ship. In the past, Klingons have not really cared about their dead – they’re not like marines. But these Klingons are. The outside of the ship is covered in thousands of coffins. Some are 300 years old, some are just two days old. Downstairs is the death room, where they prepare their dead; then the coffins get raised up and put on the outside.”