Well, nobody can ever accuse Bryan Fuller of being a liar. The Star Trek Discovery showrunner did say last week that he was going to “spoiler it up” during the Star Trek panel of the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour this week, and he completely delivered last night. EW and Deadline have a breakdown of all the news, and while some of it was just confirmation of previous reports – like the fact that this new series would take a more cohesive, tighter serialized approach than past efforts and play out like a “novel over 13 episodes” – there was some major new info dropped.
The biggest reveal was that for the first time, a Star Trek TV series would be led by a female person of colour. What’s more, Fuller revealed that also for the first time in the franchise’s history, this new lead character would not in fact be a Starfleet captain, but rather a “lieutenant commander with caveats”.
“We’ve seen six series from the captain’s point of view; to see a character from a different perspective on the starship — one who has a different dynamic relationships with a captain, with subordinates, it gave us richer context.”
Fuller has not yet cast this still-unnamed lead character, but to get a feel for how she would be portrayed, the writer/producer spoke to Mae Jamison, the first black woman in space.
“It was interesting to send her outlines and start talking about the character and get her perspective on what it’s like for a woman in the sciences now when we still have a lot of issues with women and race, and how that’s going to be 250 years in the future when the world gets its s— together and equality is a thing that’s more accepted.”
Speaking of equality, Fuller reaffirmed previous reports that Star Trek Discovery would have gay characters, saying that “as a gay man working on Voyager, he had a file full of hate mail when there was a rumor a character on his show was going to be gay. So he was determined if he ever did his own Star Trek show, he would have a gay character”.
“Absolutely we’re having a gay character… We’ve come a long way since then. I feel like actually gay rights have come a lot further in that time than race issues and women’s issues.”
Besides for just persons of colour and different sexualities, Discovery‘s diversity would also be extending to its non-human cast (and yes, that includes robots).
“Star Trek started with a wonderful expression of diversity in its cast… our lead of the show is going to be subject of that same level of who’s the best actor and also what can we say about diversity on the show. We haven’t cast her yet, so we don’t know what level of diversity she will be, but that’s forefront in our minds. We’ll probably have a few more aliens than you typically have on the show. We wanted to paint a picture of Starfleet where we’re going to have new exciting aliens and also new imagining of existing aliens.”
One of those aliens will apparently be a character named Saru (I’m guessing he/she has nothing to do with South African rugby). No further details was given about that specific character, but Fuller revealed that the show would have seven main characters in total and that the show’s opening scene would not be on Earth.
Now while all of those details are good, I’m sure the foremost question most fans have about Discovery is exactly when it takes place. Fuller confirmed previous rumours that this new series is in fact set in the “Prime Universe” and not part of the timeline kicked off in the JJ Abrams movie reboots, and also that it will be set about a decade before Captain Kirk and his crew in the original TV series kicked off their five-year mission.
“That allows us to bridge the gap between ‘Enterprise’ and the original series and redefine the visual style of the universe. We’re much closer to Kirk’s mission so we get to play with the iconography of those ships and those uniforms.”
The choice of that era is not just about the retro duds though, as it appears that Discovery‘s story will be kicked by one specific major event.
“There’s an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored. To do this series, we’re telling a much more serialized story, to dig deep into a very tantalizing storyline. And we have a character who’s on a journey, and in order to understand something that is alien, she first has to understand herself.”
Fuller elaborated slightly, saying that this inciting event is something that’s “only been referenced, never seen” in the original series. He wouldn’t give away exactly what it was, but did rule out a few candidates saying that it was “not the Romulan War (“close,” he says) or Section 31 (but that could play a role) or Kirk wrestling with the Kobayashi Maru test”. As I pointed out before, although I really enjoy Star Trek, I’ve always been more of a Star Wars guy, so my knowledge of Trek history is not good enough to pinpoint any other possibilities. You guys have any ideas?
Whatever it is, with it being that close to the start of the original series, how likely is it that Discovery would perhaps be running into some of those classic characters and places?
“There’s so much about the history that once we get through this first season and establish our own Star Trek universe with the crew that’s going to be reimagining a lot of Star Trek elements, we’ll be looking in the second season to open up to more familiar characters and how they can feed into the [show]. First and foremost, I think we really want to convince you and establish the greatness of the [new] characters that are going to be introduced.”
He is seriously considering including one particular classic character though: Spock’s human mother, Amanda Grayson, who was played by Winona Ryder in JJ Abrams’ 2009 movie reboot.
“That character could factor in, but there’s much to be told about that.”
But even if more old characters, locations or alien races show up, don’t expect them all to be exactly the way you remember them, and you can thank progress in TV production for that.
“We’re producing the show in 2016. We have to update the style of the effects, the style of the sets, the style of the makeup.”
“We can redefine the visual style. We get to play with all of the iconography of those ships and that universe. Since we are doing this series in 2016, and all of the other series have been produced [at a time that] isn’t as sophisticated as we are now with what we can do production-wise, we’re going to be reestablishing an entire look for the series — not only for the series, but for what we wanted to accomplish with Star Trek beyond this series.”
One of the things that will be changing is actually the most recent thing about this series: The USS Discovery itself. Fuller revealed that the design of the titular starship shown in the series’ reveal trailer would be changed, and would be inspired by the Ralph McQuarrie illustrations from an abandoned 1970’s Star Trek movie Planet of the Titans.
“Saucer section, the cells, and the design that we leaked early on has changed considerably. But it’s still very much inspired by those [Ralph McQuarrie] illustrations.”
Star Trek Discovery’s premiere will be debuting on US TV network CBS, but then the rest of the series will be air in the US and Canada on the network’s online streaming service CBS All Access (it will be shown to the rest of the world exclusively on Netflix). With the show thus not having to conform to normal network television censorship, will Discovery be taking things further than previous entries in the franchise, as far as mature content goes? What about alien sex?
“Well there’s a reason we call it S.T.D.,” he said, mocking the show’s initials. “We’re going to have a broader spectrum to explore those issues, but it’s still Star Trek. It will probably be slightly more graphic content. We discuss language every day. Is it appropriate for somebody to see a bridge blow up and say ‘Oh s—.’ I imagine we’re going to shoot scenes a couple of ways and see what feels more authentic in the editing room.”
Fuller, who cut his teeth in the business writing for Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine long before he became famous for shows like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal (and the upcoming American Gods) was also asked about what draws him to Star Trek instead of its biggest rival Star Wars.
“Star Trek is us and where we’re going. That sense of hope is something that can’t be undervalued, particularly where we are today.”
Star Trek Discovery is set to debut in January 2017.