As Star trek warps back to the small screen, Ian Ber­ri­man vis­its the set of Dis­cov­ery and talks to the showrun­ners

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As mis­sion state­ments go, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the one de­claimed by Wil­liam shat­ner over the stir­ring strains of Alexan­der Courage’s Star

Trek theme: “to ex­plore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civil­i­sa­tions…” But what’s the mis­sion state­ment of the mak­ers of Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery, the new tV se­ries set 10 years be­fore Kirk’s time?

Asked what le­gend he might hang above the door to the writ­ers’ room, Aaron Har­berts (who stepped up to co-showrun­ner level af­ter pro­ducer Bryan Fuller – who laid the ground­work for the se­ries – moved onto

Amer­i­can Gods full time) barely pauses be­fore declar­ing: “the jour­ney can be ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal.” sounds like some­thing from a mo­ti­va­tional poster or a for­tune cookie, but the phrase makes sense when Har­berts’s co-showrun­ner gretchen Berg un­packs it.

“the show is so per­fectly ti­tled,” Berg ex­plains. “While it’s about trav­el­ling across the uni­verse, you don’t have to travel far to learn more about other peo­ple, or your­self. We can tell as much story about a re­la­tion­ship be­tween two peo­ple who hap­pen to share quar­ters as we can about go­ing to new planets.” Like En­ter­prise, Voy­ager and DS9 be­fore it,

Dis­cov­ery takes its name from its main lo­ca­tion. But this time the ti­tle has a deeper res­o­nance.

“one thing that sets it apart from a lot of other it­er­a­tions is that of­ten when you meet the char­ac­ters they come to you quite fully formed,” Har­berts re­flects. “With many of our char­ac­ters, we’re catch­ing them not quite know­ing where they be­long and how they feel about cer­tain things. Dis­cov­ery is apt be­cause we have peo­ple dis­cov­er­ing who they are.”

Cap­tained by Ja­son isaacs’s gabriel Lorca, the Uss Dis­cov­ery is just one of two Fed­er­a­tion ves­sels that are the fo­cus of the show – the other be­ing the Uss shen­zhou, com­manded by michelle Yeoh’s Philippa geor­giou. the pre­cise na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ships is a fiercely guarded se­cret (“i could tell you, but then i’d be fired – or pos­si­bly killed,” says a stub­bornly stonewalling isaacs). What is clear is that our point-of-view char­ac­ter, michael Burn­ham (sonequa martin-green), be­gins as first of­fi­cer on the shen­zhou, then moves to the Dis­cov­ery. it also seems rea­son­able not to

as­sume that ev­ery crew mem­ber will make it to the end of this 15-episode first run, since the show cen­tres on a Fed­er­a­tion at war. “Dis­cov­ery is the lat­est and great­est ship to roll off the assem­bly line,” Har­berts ex­plains. “it’s a re­pur­posed sci­ence ves­sel, whose crew’s been turned to­wards us­ing their abil­i­ties to turn the tide of the war with the Klin­gons, which is reach­ing fever pitch. But it also serves as a metaphor for michael Burn­ham and her jour­ney, with the shen­zhou be­ing an older ship and the Dis­cov­ery rep­re­sent­ing starfleet’s fu­ture.”

Just as the two ships be­long to dif­fer­ent classes, the two cap­tains have dif­fer­ent com­mand styles.

“A large theme is du­al­ity,” Har­berts says, “and th­ese cap­tains rep­re­sent two ends of the spec­trum. geor­giou is an op­ti­mistic, hope­ful cap­tain who

em­braces starfleet’s ideals. Lorca rep­re­sents a cap­tain in a starfleet that’s at war, and has to make cer­tain de­ci­sions based on situational ethics. He’s darker, more prag­matic. so they’re play­ing tug of war with michael Burn­ham in terms of which cap­tain is go­ing to shape her.” Hail­ing from a place which, 400 years ago, was in the south­ern UsA, Lorca has a flavour of the south, as star Ja­son isaacs ex­plains. “Hav­ing spent a lot of time with sol­diers, it made sense to me. When i trained for Black Hawk Down i spent time with marine guys, and the south pro­vides a lot of Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary. Lorca’s an in­ter­est­ing and com­pli­cated man with all kinds of… not ex­actly hid­den agen­das, but nu­anced re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple that aren’t ap­par­ent from the be­gin­ning. And he’s not with­out his sharp edges. He’s a great mil­i­tary leader, but not nec­es­sar­ily the great­est man­ager...” And the way he tells it, Lorca’s re­la­tion­ship with Burn­ham is an in­trigu­ingly enig­matic one.

“i hope the au­di­ence will be think­ing, ‘What’s go­ing on there?’” the ac­tor says, “Be­cause not ev­ery­thing is on the sur­face – there’s more go­ing on than it seems…”


on a July day in toronto, SFX sees the sites of that “tug of war” over Burn­ham’s iden­tity when we visit Pinewood stu­dios and tour the sets. our first re­ac­tion to the shen­zhou is open­mouthed awe. Be­cause its bridge is on the un­der­side of the saucer sec­tion, it’s raised up high to al­low cam­era an­gles look­ing up into it from space. gaz­ing down, it’s quite a drop.

"The two cap­tains are play­ing tug of war over Michael Burn­ham"

"Bryan Fuller didn't want Klin­gons just to be thugs of the uni­verse"

on the bridge of the Dis­cov­ery – whose crew, we’re told, shorten it to “the Disco”, as mil­i­tary per­son­nel are wont to do – SFX grabs the op­por­tu­nity to try out the Cap­tain’s chair, half ex­pect­ing a red alert siren to start screech­ing. though dis­tinct in de­sign, both bridges feel of a piece with what’s gone be­fore – there’s a fa­mil­iar curve to Dis­cov­ery’s bridge sta­tions that screams “en­ter­prise-D”.

Wan­der­ing the cor­ri­dors of the Dis­cov­ery, you feel you could eas­ily get lost in them. in the vast trans­porter room, we twist di­als and flick sat­is­fy­ingly low-fi switches on a con­trol panel, and peek into cham­bers on ei­ther side lined with space­suits. We check out Lorca’s weaponry col­lec­tion – guns, sa­mu­rai swords, and a Klin­gon bat’leth (pre­sum­ably a me­mento of bat­tle) – and squint at geor­giou’s framed cer­tifi­cate from the Raal in­sti­tute For in­ter­species stud­ies. A mess area nods to the past with a print of the Uss t’Plana-Hath – a name­sake of the Vul­can craft that made first con­tact with hu­man­ity. And in a cor­ner of the en­gine room, we dis­cover a dis­play of weird, colour­ful fungi be­long­ing to Anthony Rapp’s sci­ence of­fi­cer, Lieu­tenant stamets (Trek’s first char­ac­ter specif­i­cally de­vised as gay – a long-over­due mile­stone.)

there are fur­ther mys­ter­ies here be­yond the ba­sic re­la­tion­ship of the two ships. on the shen­zhou’s bridge, we find the cap­tain’s chair en­cir­cled by a cur­tain of plas­tic sheet­ing, the dais it stands on cov­ered with brown pa­per and tape. And in geor­giou’s quar­ters, the shelves have been emp­tied of props in ad­vance of episode 10 (helmed by Next Gen’s Will Riker, Jonathan Frakes). Why re­move per­sonal ef­fects, and why pa­per over that dais? Four days later, isaacs tweets about film­ing some “par­tic­u­larly weird, fab­u­lous shit”…

Per­haps it’ll be an­other fan-pleas­ing touch to set along­side the in­clu­sion of char­ac­ters from

The Orig­i­nal Se­ries: in­ter­ga­lac­tic con­man Harry

mudd (Rainn Wil­son), and spock’s dad, sarek (James Frain) – who, it’s been re­vealed, is Burn­ham’s adop­tive fa­ther. this rev­e­la­tion prompted howls of dis­ap­proval from some, who ques­tioned how we’d never heard of spock’s sib­ling be­fore. it’s a re­ac­tion that raises a ques­tion. Af­ter 51 years, Trek’s con­ti­nu­ity is vast. How do you nav­i­gate a path through its dense thick­ets with­out lim­it­ing cre­ativ­ity? Where do you draw the line? “there are def­i­nite bound­aries in terms of where our show is set,” Har­berts says, “it has re­quired all our writ­ers to make sure we’re not un­do­ing any­thing that’s go­ing to come af­ter. We find the spa­ces in-be­tween, the grey ar­eas where we can play and have fun.” “We take it very se­ri­ously,” Berg con­tin­ues. “our writ­ing staff are hard­core fans, who’ve been go­ing to con­ven­tions since the ’70s and ’80s. of­ten we’ll come up with stuff and de­cide it’s some­thing we don’t wanna touch be­cause it’s too im­por­tant in canon – we don’t wanna be con­tro­ver­sial for con­tro­versy’s sake. But there are cer­tain things you can ex­am­ine a lit­tle closer and maybe kick the tyres of…” one set of tyres be­ing the knob­bly-browed fel­las on the other side of this war.

“With the Klin­gons,” Har­berts says, “Bryan Fuller’s vi­sion was that they not just be the thugs of the uni­verse. the ap­proach was to di­men­sion­alise them: to ex­am­ine what’s mo­ti­vat­ing, and make sure their sto­ries felt as emo­tion­ally res­o­nant as starfleet sto­ries.”


that drive to make the Klin­gons more than a one-di­men­sional “other” is very much in tune with some of the themes which, in time­honoured Trek tra­di­tion, the show ad­dresses.

“Do you abuse a crea­ture if it can help you win a bat­tle?” says Har­berts, reel­ing off some of the is­sues tack­led. “How strong is na­ture vs nur­ture? How not tend­ing to nat­u­ral re­sources can end in ev­ery­one’e demise. De­bates be­tween iso­la­tion­ism and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. things we grap­ple with to­day are be­ing ex­plored.”

With Dis­cov­ery com­bin­ing Trek’s clas­sic blend of ac­tion and phi­los­o­phy with the se­ri­alised sto­ry­telling we’ve grown used to from the likes of Game Of Thrones, along with a greater em­pha­sis on evolv­ing char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, it cer­tainly sounds like the jour­ney – both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal – is go­ing to take us where no fan has gone be­fore.

Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery launches on Net­flix on 25 Septem­ber in the UK.

Mary Wise­man plays cadet Sylvia Tilly.

The Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery cast say a big hello.

Michelle Yeoh is the cap­tain of the USS Shen­zhou. Cap­tain Geor­giou be­comes a men­tor and mother fig­ure to Michael Burn­ham.

Doug Jones is the Dis­cov­ery’s Kelpien sci­ence of­fi­cer Saru.

Does the Dis­cov­ery’s cap­tain have an agenda of his own? The ex­te­rior of the USS Dis­cov­ery. We know that stern gaze... Spock’s fa­ther Sarek re­turns.

Klin­gons will be more lay­ered this time round.

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