Star Trek: The Age of Discovery
It may only have been a little over a minute long and revealed to us only a ship design (very angular) and a name, the U.S.S Discovery, but the comic-con teaser for the new CBS Star Trek series could tell us a lot, lot more.
It’s all in the registry number: NCC-1031. The Enterprise is NCC-1701, and the much later Voyager NCC-74656. While it’s never been 100% confirmed, the implication across the Trek series to date is that the ships are numbered in a rough order, implying the new series will be set before the Original series, but after the last television series, Enterprise.
On a quick note, what a great name for the new ship. If Trek is built on the mythos of seeking out strange new worlds, new life and new civilisations, then what better name (other than Enterprise) than Discovery? The name means exactly that.
But, if we do assume the show is a prequel series, what are the implications?
At first reaction the time setting makes business sense: the J.J Abrams reboot films have re-engaged interest in the franchise, and although Discovery is set in a different universe it’s roughly in the same time period so it won’t feel too alien to those new fans who follow Star Trek from big to little screen.
From a narrative point of view, the placing of Discovery is more of a mixed bag. There is a gap of around eighty to ninety years between the end of Enterprise and the start of the Original series, a huge sandbox between Archer and Kirk ripe for the new series to explore. It works when judged from the perspective of where Enterprise left off: with the forming of the Federation. It makes sense that the (relatively) newly formed Federation would build a new fleet of ships and say, “Okay, then. Go on. Explore. Discover.”
But there are some drawbacks to the setting. Firstly, with using any pre-established alien races, there is a lot of canon to navigate. As an example it’s established in the Original series episode Balance of Terror that humans and Romulans have never physically seen each other, a canon that Enterprise stuck to, so they would have to be heard and not seen or not featured at all. The Borg appeared in Enterprise through smoke and mirrors, but the same trick surely can’t be played twice. The Kingons can be as predictably antagonistic as ever, but most other species have to be in a certain ‘place’ for the continuity of the Original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Yoyager to fit; which could hamstring the writing team. Hopefully we will get the Gorn back though. Done right this time, please.
Even if they create a new ‘big-bad’ alien races for the new crew to lock wits (and phasers) against, they have the issue of making them a credible enough threat for the series to work, but not so much of a threat that it isn’t strange that they are never seen or even mentioned again less than a hundred years later. Enterprise had this issue with the Xindi – incidentally, before cancellation that very issue was going to be addressed with an arc explaining the ultimate downfall of the Xindi civilisation. That could be an interesting thread for Discovery to pick up.
Worse, it feels like a wasted opportunity as far as showing us a technological vision of the future. The original series was very much based around a sixties impression of what future tech would look like. When the time came to revamp Star Trek in the eighties with The Next Generation; the creators and producers looked at the advancements made in technology and society in the twenty year interim to help them project ahead and imagine how the future would look, and then set the show decades after the Original series to explain the leap in technology.. With Deep Space Nine and Voyager being spin-offs of Next Gen, and Enterprise being a prequel, the most advanced technology we’ve seen in the Trek universe is based on thirty-year old ideas of what future technology will enable us to do, will even look like. I can’t be the only one disappointed we’re not seeing another near-hundred year leap into Trek’s imagined future and seeing what advancements and wonders are predicted based on today’s understandings of science and engineering?
And finally, there are the potential guest stars. DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and Leonard Nimoy all guest-starred in the Next Generation and there are countless characters from the TNG/DS9 era fans would have liked to see return in a future set show. Having some Enterprise characters return would be nice, but would hardly have the same.
While the (probable) timeline has good and bad aspects, the new creative team have no doubt thought about all the pros and cons of setting the new series where they have, and I trust the new creating team implicitly. Unlike Abrams, Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman are long term Trek fans, and with Nicholas Meyer also on board, the man who saved the franchise with The Wrath of Khan (as well as writing The Voyage Home and writing/directing The Undiscovered Country), I feel like the future of TV Trek is in very safe hands. Even if the new series follows the film’s focus on action, long form television allows for strong characterisation; and shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have combined spectacle with character.
The name discovery implies a certain type of show, and while I don’t want to get drawn into discussing the potential format and tone of the new series (except to say that Fuller implies a 13-episode arc for the first season), too many episodes of Voyager and Enterprise were Star Trek by numbers; with none of the wonder and adventure of the Original series, the dramatic power of The Next Generation, or the mature morally ambiguous storytelling of Deep Space Nine. Discovery implies seeking out strange new worlds, stretching mankind out into an uncertain universe but with that sense of eagerness and adventure that infused the Original series. I that means occasional episodes of giant green hands snatching starships out of the sky, then so be it.