SPOILER WARNING: If you wish to preserve any surprises, please be aware that this article reveals surprises and spoilers from all the various Star Trek TV shows, books, and movies in addition to spoilers from Star Trek: Discovery.
With each sequel or prequel version of Star Trek, there are unfamiliar characters, costumes, technologies, and starships to become accustomed to as the new crew’s adventures begin. To help connect the new version to what has come before, it is customary for there to be some obeisance, or show of respect, to the previous incarnations. For example, Star Trek: The Next Generation included a cameo by DeForest Kelley as Admiral Leonard McCoy during its premiere. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine recreated the Borg invasion and featured Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard as an important link to established canon. The U.S.S. Voyager detours to Deep Space Nine during its premiere episode, and Zefram Cochrane makes an archival appearance to help send the NX-01 on its way during Star Trek: Enterprise’s “Broken Bow."
Discovery, being set approximately 10 years before Star Trek: The Original Series, has featured numerous references to previous versions of Star Trek, as it takes its place amongst the official canon. This is a list of some of the most-fascinating references, although by no measure a definitive or exhaustive list. The list is presented in “award” style for various categories. Do you have any favorites not mentioned? Would you have listed a different winner for a particular category? Please share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below or on the Startrek.com Facebook page.
MOST-OBSCURE REFERENCE: Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius
Episode: “Vaulting Ambition”
“Vaulting Ambition” writer Jordon Nardino tweeted that the name “Iaponius is Latin for Japanese. This (in my fever dream) is a title Hoshi Sato adopted when she named herself Empress, to honor her homeland. "So is Georgiou descended from Hoshi!?" Well...” The two “In a Mirror, Darkly” episodes from Enterprise reveal Hoshi Sato’s diabolical plan to become Empress. Although obscure, the naming reference to Empress Sato with Emperor Georgiou is a nice nod to the Enterprise episodes that the Discovery Mirror Universe is dependent upon for inspiration.
Both Captain Georgiou and Captain Gabriel Lorca have sanctuaries of a sort. For Georgiou, it is her office which is adorned with some fun references to previous Trek adventures. On her shelves are books, whose titles are each names of TOS episodes. Interestingly, one of the volumes is “Mirror Mirror,” which will play a significant role in the latter part of Discovery’s inaugural season. Another item is her bottle of Chateau Picard 2249, a direct reference to the vineyards of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s family seen in “Family” and “All Good Things.” Georgiou’s prized telescope also – at least symbolically – connects to the telescopes featured in episodes from Enterprise (“Two Days and Two Nights”), TNG (“The Inner Light” and the film First Contact), and Star Trek: Voyager (“Future’s End” and “Blink of an Eye”).
Lorca has both his office (where a tribble is known to reside, likely munching on fortune cookies) and his lab. The lab is a veritable feast of Trek Easter Eggs, from a Gorn skeleton (“Arena”) to a dissected Tribble to Cardassian voles (most famously seen in DS9’s “Ferengi Love Songs”). In fact, what may be a big hint to eventual revelation that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, his lab’s inclusion of voles is a reference to the vole being dissected by Mirror Phlox during “In a Mirror, Darkly.”
REFERENCE THAT REVEALS THE MOST ABOUT A CHARACTER: Alice in Wonderland
Episodes: “Context is for Kings,” “Lethe”
By establishing Michael Burnham’s affinity for Alice in Wonderland, Discovery establishes a familial connection between her and Spock, Sarek, and especially Amanda Grayson. During the Animated Series episode “Once Upon a Planet,” it is revealed that Spock’s mother had a fondness for Lewis Carroll. The original Star Trek referenced Alice in Wonderland directly during “Shore Leave,” when McCoy spies the characters from that world as simulations, and Kirk welcomes Gillian Taylor on board the Klingon ship during Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with a reference to Alice. Burnham uses Alice literature as a calming device while being chased in Jefferies Tubes in “Context is for Kings,” and the book plays an important role in “Lethe.”
MOST-EXTENSIVE PLANETARY CALLBACKS: Lorca’s Tour of the Galaxy
Episode: “Context is for Kings”
During the third episode of Discovery, fans were introduced to the U.S.S. Discovery and some of the ship’s unique and mysterious technology. Lorca introduces Burnham to the spore drive, giving her a tour of the galaxy via the mycelium network. Burnham’s travels take her to some of the very same places her adopted brother Spock visited during the original series and some other locations familiar to fans. Burnham visits Amerind from “The Paradise Syndrome” at the location of the Preserver’s obelisk, Starbase 11 from “Court Martial,” Janus VI from “The Devil in the Dark,” along with the moons of Andoria and Romulus.
MOST-REFERENCED SINGLE STAR TREK ADVENTURE: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Episodes: “The Vulcan Hello,” “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” “Into the Forest I Go,” “What’s Past Is Prologue,” “The War Without, The War Within”
It appears that the most-referenced single adventure amongst all the previous Treks is The Wrath of Khan. The Gamma Hydra star system (itself originally mentioned in “The Deadly Years”) which was featured during the Kobyashi Maru test of The Wrath of Khan, is again mentioned during “The Vulcan Hello” episode. The no-win scenario that is the theme of Khan is also a theme of “What’s Past is Prologue” and directly referenced in Saru’s now-famous speech. Ash Tyler and Burnham bond while discussing the needs of the many in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” When Stamets risks making too many connections to the mycelium network in the episode “Into the Forest I Go,” Discovery itself makes a connection to Khan. While Hugh Culber worries about Stamets’ fate, he presses his hand against the glass. The scene is directly reminiscent of Kirk and Spock’s moment near the radiation chamber during Khan (and, inverted, in Star Trek Into Darkness). While this may be a bit interpretive, Stamets’ use of terraforming during “The War Without, The War Within” harkens back to Carol Marcus’ Genesis Project.
MOST-LITERARY REFERNCE: The Black Fleet
Episode: “The Vulcan Hello”
The Klingon belief in The Black Fleet, or the afterlife fleet where the honored dead serve, was first introduced by John M. Ford in his 1984 Star Trek book The Final Reflection. It was made canon by its reference in the DS9 episode “Soldiers of the Empire” and again by its inclusion in the episode “The Vulcan Hello” when T’Kuvma speaks of it. It is always fun for fans of the books when there are on-screen nods to the printed adventures.
MOST-NAME-DROPPING REFERENCE: The Best Captains
Episodes: “The War Without, the War Within,” “Choose Your Pain”
The penultimate episode of the first season, “The War Without, the War Within” features a direct spoken reference to the adventures of Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the NX-01 as being the last Starfleet representatives to go to Qo’noS. Even more Starfleet captains are referenced visually in the episode “Choose Your Pain.” As Saru faces his first real command challenge, he asks the computer for help via a list of role models. The captains listed by the computer as possessing quality leadership traits are Jonathan Archer, Robert April (“Counter-Clock Incident”), Georgiou, Matthew Decker (“The Doomsday Machine”), and Christopher Pike (“The Cage”). Of course, each of these captains play important roles in the history of Trek. As a fun aside, Cadet Decker, likely a reference to Matt Decker’s son Will from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, serves aboard the Discovery (“Into the Forest I Go”).
MOST-SURPRISING REFERENCE: The U.S.S. Enterprise
Episode: “Will You Take My Hand?”
The season finale saved the most-direct and surprising reference to The Original Series for its last frames…with Burnham speaking the name Enterprise. After devising a plan to bring peace, Michael and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery make their way to Vulcan to meet their new Captain, when they are diverted by a distress call. The glorious reveal of the U.S.S. Enterprise leaves many questions unanswered until next season. What is wrong with the Enterprise? Will fans get to see any of the characters? The episode features other nice references to TOS, including a guest appearance by Clint Howard, who played Balok in the “The Corbomite Maneuver,” Grady in DS9’s “Past Tense, Part II” and Muk in Enterprise’s “Acquisition.” There is also TOS music – the full original theme -- playing during the credits.
OUR PERSONAL FAVORITE: Wee Bairns
The character of Montgomery Scott, played by the much-missed James Doohan, has received some nice attention from Discovery. Firstly, Lorca uses a Scottish accent while pretending to be an engineer during “Despite Yourself.” However, our favorite reference is Lorca’s whisky of choice, a bottle of Wee Bairns brand, a direct reference to both DS9’s use of the same brand (“The Assignment” and “In the Cards”) and, of course, to Scotty who used the phrase on TOS (“The Trouble with Tribbles” and “The Paradise Syndrome”).
So, what is your favorite Discovery obeisance?
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.