I like Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since I first watched The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and watching that series kicked off a lifelong love of the franchise that continues to this day. Over a span of three decades I’ve watched every single film and episode – practically all of them several times over – and in addition I’ve spent a lot of money on plenty of merchandise, ranging from action figures and coffee table books to artwork and stationery. My house is decorated with Star Trek posters and action figures in display cases, and if you ever stop by for a coffee you’ll almost certainly drink it out of a Star Trek mug. But Star Trek, it seems, doesn’t reciprocate.
At the very least, the suits in charge of the franchise at ViacomCBS do not care one iota about any Star Trek fan outside of North America – as evidenced by the fact that, for the second year in a row, a brand-new Star Trek series is not going to be made available to fans across the world.
Star Trek: Prodigy premieres in a couple of days’ time, and just as happened with Lower Decks in August 2020, the series is going to be kept away from fans outside of North America. This decision re-emphasises ViacomCBS’ disgusting attitude to the franchise’s non-American fans, but in one significant way it’s an even worse and more egregious insult than the Lower Decks debacle was.
Why do I say that? Because Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are ViacomCBS subsidiaries. Nickelodeon, as I’m sure you know, is a children’s television channel that is broadcast across the world – in more than 70 countries from New Zealand to Ukraine and South Africa to Pakistan. In order to make Prodigy available to a worldwide audience, all ViacomCBS would have needed to do was put the series on Nickelodeon – something incredibly easy to do as Nickelodeon is a channel it already owns and operates. It wouldn’t have even cost the corporation any money, as there would have been no expensive rights agreements or broadcast licenses to negotiate.
The decision not to broadcast the show on Nickelodeon can only be taken one way: it’s an insult. ViacomCBS is once again throwing up a middle finger to Star Trek’s international fanbase – a sizeable fanbase that must at the very least equal the number of Trekkies in the United States.
At first I thought I was okay with it. Prodigy is a show for kids, after all, and most kids won’t care. But the more I thought about it the more I kept returning to the argument I made in the run-up to Lower Decks’ premiere last year: that this is not an acceptable way for ViacomCBS to behave.
Star Trek became a global brand at the behest of ViacomCBS and its predecessors. The corporation adores globalism because it wants to make more and more profit – like a greedy Ferengi – from people who don’t live in the United States. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that doesn’t stop at international borders, and for seemingly no reason at all ViacomCBS is abdicating its responsibility to Trekkies.
I get it – ViacomCBS wants people to sign up for its mediocre second-tier streaming platform: Paramount+. The future is digital, and the corporation wants Paramount+ to be a success as more people around the world stop tuning in to broadcast television. But if that’s the case, ViacomCBS needs to make Paramount+ available internationally – the platform’s international rollout has been painfully slow and incredibly patchy, with films and shows the corporation owns not being available on the platform even after Paramount+ arrives in some regions.
ViacomCBS is trying to tie Star Trek to Paramount+, using the franchise to hook Trekkies in and convince us to subscribe. There’s a profit motive here – but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility they have to fans of their programmes and franchises. Star Trek only exists and was only able to be revived in 2017 because of its international fanbase – a deal with Netflix reportedly paid for almost the entire cost of Discovery’s first season. Yet time and again, ViacomCBS is content to ignore its international fans and leave us in the cold.
This isn’t just about one series – or two series now, counting Lower Decks last year. The Star Trek franchise is constantly prioritising fans in North America over us out here in the rest of the world. Trailers and clips for upcoming shows or even marketing material will be quite literally gated off on social media, with fans outside North America being told that “this content is not available in your location.” Star Trek’s official shop offers a paltry range of products internationally when compared to its North American offerings, and ViacomCBS is quite happy to ignore any and all questions on the subject of international availability.
Look at any recent social media post promoting Prodigy and you’ll see a slew of messages and comments from fans overseas. Most are polite, simply enquiring about if and when the series will be made available in their neck of the woods. And Star Trek’s social media team ignores every last one of them – just as they did last year when fans were clamouring for information about Lower Decks.
There has been no official word from ViacomCBS or the Star Trek social media teams about Prodigy’s international debut – and there won’t be. They simply do not care enough to even give a non-answer like “coming soon.” Instead, fans are left to shout into the void, bang our heads against a wall of silence, and whatever other metaphor you can think of for trying to get information from an uncaring corporation.
Last year there was an excuse – a piss-poor one, but an excuse nevertheless: the pandemic. Disruption to production and broadcast schedules – especially post-production work on Discovery Season 3 – meant that last-minute changes were necessary. Lower Decks was bumped up to be broadcast ahead of Discovery, and there wasn’t time to sort out the international rights. That excuse is bullshit, of course, because as I said last year it’s still up to ViacomCBS to broadcast or delay the series, meaning they could have waited to ensure fans everywhere could watch it together. But this year even that paltry excuse no longer applies.
There are two reasons why: Prodigy’s production hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic to anywhere near the same extent, and as already discussed, ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon and has the option to broadcast the series on a channel that they own in 70+ countries around the world.
I want ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed and continue to be produced. But if the corporation is so callous and uncaring when it comes to fans like me, what am I supposed to do? It’s a toxic relationship right now; a one-way relationship with no reciprocity. Prodigy is supposed to be a series that will bring in new fans to Star Trek – but it’s also supposed to be a show with a lot to offer to Star Trek’s existing fans. For “business reasons,” though, only certain fans that ViacomCBS deems important enough or worthy will be permitted the privilege of watching the series.
In 2021, with the global interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS pushed to create, segregating a series or film geographically is indefensible. A delay of a day or two between regional broadcasts might be acceptable – though there’s no technical reason why, given the technologies involved. But to broadcast a new show in one location and not even give lip service to when it might be available anywhere else? It’s wrong – and more than that, it’s stupid and self-defeating from a business perspective.
ViacomCBS wants as many people as possible to tune in to Star Trek. They want as many kids as possible to watch Prodigy, and I would assume they’re planning to sell merchandise based on the show as well – though the lack of any obvious Prodigy merchandise so far is yet another indication of the moronic and amateurish way the corporation is handling its biggest brand. But if the goal is to get fans excited and talking about the show, hyping it up in the run-up to its premiere and generating the kind of online buzz that makes television shows a success, cutting off at least half the fanbase is the dumbest and most idiotic thing the corporation could possibly do.
From Game of Thrones to Squid Game, online chatter is what drives people to check out a new television series. People who love something and who are passionate about it tell their friends and their social media followers, and that engagement drives people to the show – and the platform that hosts it. By deliberately and intentionally preventing many Trekkies from accessing Prodigy, ViacomCBS has killed a lot of the hype and excitement that the show could have generated.
The corporation has evidently learned nothing from the muted and lacklustre response to Lower Decks last year – a response that, sadly, has seen the show fail to hit the heights it could have in terms of viewership. Even when Lower Decks did arrive internationally and even when its second season did get the simultaneous broadcast it needed, a lot of damage had already been done, and the opportunity to make the series bigger than it ultimately became was missed.
Lower Decks and Prodigy are the two most unique and different offerings that the Star Trek franchise has arguably ever produced. Out of everything the franchise has on the horizon, it’s these two shows more than any others that had the potential to bring in hordes of new fans and to take the Star Trek franchise as a whole to the next level in terms of audience numbers and the scale of the fanbase. These opportunities have been pissed away by a corporation that clearly has no idea how to run an international franchise.
When a corporation deliberately and wilfully treats a large section of its fanbase with such blatant disrespect, what can we do?
Since ViacomCBS clearly doesn’t care about anyone outside of North America, it seems to me that there’s no point in continuing to engage with the corporation or support it. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them? And why should any non-American Trekkie consider spending a single penny on any ViacomCBS product in future? It seems like it’s only a matter of time until the next Star Trek show or film isn’t made available to us either.
If ViacomCBS chooses not to make Star Trek available to fans, we might as well pirate it. They clearly place no value on the money we could pay them or the passion we could have when talking about upcoming shows and films, so why bother? We might as well pirate all of Star Trek – and everything else ViacomCBS does, too. If they’ve chosen not to make Prodigy available internationally, and won’t even have the basic decency to answer repeated questions from fans, piracy is the default option – quite literally the only way to watch the series. It didn’t have to be, but this is a choice ViacomCBS willingly made.
When a corporation chooses to place no value on its biggest and most passionate fans, and takes increasingly stupid business decisions that almost seem intended to harm their franchise, they’ve made their decision. The lack of a response to these basic questions from fans about Prodigy’s availability or about the Paramount+ rollout is in itself an answer. And that answer is: “go fuck yourself, we don’t give a shit about you.”
In most jurisdictions around the world, piracy – defined above as the sharing of copyrighted material over the internet – is not legal. This essay was an examination of the moral and ethical implications of piracy only, and was categorically not an endorsement or encouragement to download any individual film or television series, nor should anything written above be interpreted in that manner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.
A bit of a morbid one this time… but it is nearly Halloween!
In the last decade or so, a number of television shows have pioneered what I call the “disposable cast” – where even main characters and fan-favourites can’t be assured of safety or survival as a series continues. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made this a big part of their identities, and the idea that any major character could be in danger can – when done right – add to the tension and drama. Not knowing if your favourite character will make it to the end of the episode or escape a dangerous situation can really increase the weight of a story.
Discovery has technically seen more main cast members depart than any previous Star Trek series! Captains Lorca and Pike, Spock, Georgiou, Tyler, and Nhan were all main cast members at one point before departing the series. But with the exception of Lorca, none of these characters were killed off, and in a television landscape that increasingly favours big, dramatic character deaths, the Star Trek franchise as a whole still hasn’t really caught up.
In Season 3 we saw the recurring character of Ryn killed off. He’d been a friend and ally to Booker and Burnham and his death was both a shock – due to the way it was carried out – and a tragedy for the crew. As with Airiam in Season 2, though, Ryn wasn’t a character we’d got to know particularly well before his death, and when Season 3 could have stepped up and actually killed off a main character or a character who’d been present on the show since the beginning, the writers and producers chose not to do so.
Star Trek has always had an optimistic tone, embodied in some ways by Captain Kirk’s assertion that he “doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.” The desire to save everyone every time is drilled into every Starfleet officer – particularly captains. In that sense I can certainly entertain the argument that a character death feels like a loss or a defeat in a way that is somehow “un-Star Trek.”
At the same time, I fundamentally disagree with Captain Kirk. Life is full of no-win scenarios, and one of the skills any captain or commander needs to have is knowing how to make a difficult choice; how to choose the least-bad option when no good outcomes are possible. Sometimes that means sacrificing a life to save others, and this is something that the Star Trek franchise has touched on in the past.
Though I don’t want to see any specific character killed off in Discovery’s imminent fourth season, a well-timed character death could go a long way to raising the stakes and making the story much more impactful. The gravitational anomaly would seem all the more deadly if it claimed the life of a familiar face, or the climax of the story could see Captain Burnham having to make an impossible choice.
So this time we’re going to take a look at Discovery’s main and recurring characters – and try to assess who may or may not survive the season!
The usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not claiming to know what will happen. All of this is guesswork and speculation from a fan of Star Trek, nothing more. It’s also entirely subjective, so if you disagree or hate my ideas that’s okay!
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I’m going to put the characters into a list, then give my assessment of how likely they are to be killed off during Season 4.
Character #1: Captain Michael Burnham Status: Almost Certainly Safe 💖
Discovery has been the Michael Burnham show since its premiere episode, and that is unlikely to change! The first three seasons saw Burnham’s rise to the captaincy of the USS Discovery, and having only just got there it would be a really unexpected and subversive twist to kill her off. As the show’s main protagonist she feels safer than most – and even series that pioneered the “disposable cast” like those mentioned above have tended to save their most significant characters from harm.
The only possible argument we could consider to counter that is the uniqueness of the USS Discovery’s captain’s chair. Three seasons of the show have each been led by a different captain – Lorca, Pike, and Saru. One of Discovery’s most interesting features has been these individual season-long captaincies and the very different styles each captain had. It’s possible – though I wouldn’t call it “likely” by any stretch – that the show might choose to bring in another new captain for Season 5, continuing this trend. If that’s the case, perhaps Captain Burnham isn’t quite as safe as it seems! However, I consider that a very unlikely scenario.
Character #2: Saru Status: In Danger ☠️
What role does ex-Captain Saru have aboard a ship that has moved on without him? That’s a fundamental question that the series will have to address, because it’s quite odd for a Starfleet vessel to be racing across the galaxy with two captains on board. The situation could, perhaps, even lead to some awkwardness for Captain Burnham!
Some fans felt that Saru might’ve left Discovery after the Season 3 epilogue told us that he was returning to Kaminar to spend time helping Su’Kal. Fortunately that didn’t happen – not least because the short epilogue would have been a very disrespectful way for Saru to be shuffled off the show altogether! But the fact that Discovery has found a new captain means Saru doesn’t really have a role any more, at least not as things currently stand. Characters who feel surplus to requirements are often the most in danger – and Saru doesn’t really have a clear role right now.
Character #3: Paul Stamets Status: In Danger ☠️
Until recently, Stamets felt safer than almost any other character on Discovery! His unique ability to navigate the mycelial network meant that without him, one of Discovery’s unique selling points – the Spore Drive – wouldn’t work. For story reasons that could be a problem and certainly a limitation, so Stamets felt safe. But the revelation at the end of Season 3 that Booker – and any other empathic character, in theory – can interact with the Spore Drive in the same way as Stamets means his unique usefulness is at an end.
So the question is this: was Stamets’ unique ability stripped away from him for a reason? Could Season 3 have been setting up a situation in the near future where the crew will have to survive without him? Or was it just a natural progression in the story of the Emerald Chain’s takeover of Discovery? Actually I guess that was three questions! But the point stands: Stamets is not the only one who can use the Spore Drive any more, and thus no longer feels anywhere near as safe as he did last season.
Character #4: Dr Hugh Culber Status: Safe 💖
Dr Culber has already been killed off once – and he didn’t stay dead! There was also a minor backlash in some quarters to the killing off of one of Star Trek’s first major gay characters. Sometimes LGBT+ characters can feel more “expendable” in films and on television than their non-LGBT+ counterparts; a trope that we could definitely do without!
LGBT+ issues aside, I feel that Dr Culber’s “back from the dead” storyline in Season 2 means he’s a safe bet to survive Season 4. It would be a stupidly complicated storyline to kill him off for the second time, and I think for production-side reasons the writers and producers are less willing to kill off Dr Culber than almost anyone else.
Character #5: Sylvia Tilly Status: Probably Safe 💖
I’m calling Tilly safe because it just doesn’t seem as though the writers and producers want to get rid of her yet. Tilly has been the one character other than Michael Burnham to have seen significant growth across all three seasons of the show, overcoming her anxieties to step up and even take command of the ship. The way she led a team of officers in the final couple of episodes of Season 3 came to embody that transformation – and her arc, while imperfectly executed, was nevertheless powerful to see.
As Tilly is still young and only a junior officer, there’s plenty of room to continue that growth. I don’t think she’s going to be Captain Burnham’s first officer in Season 4, but it could well be that her arc across Season 4 and perhaps into Season 5 is readying her to take on that role again. Regardless, I don’t expect to see her killed off in Season 4.
Character #6: Cleveland Booker Status: Safe 💖
Unless Discovery plans to introduce a new main character, Book is the show’s main guide to the 32nd Century. Not only does he serve in that role for Captain Burnham and the crew of the ship, but he’s also a great character to show us as the audience the perspective of a 32nd Century native. He has a major role in that regard, and unless he can be replaced with a like-for-like character I can’t see the show dispensing with him.
Booker also has a relationship with Captain Burnham to consider, and while we can expect some bumps in the road with that perhaps, I think killing him off at this stage would be too much for Burnham after everything else she’s been through. I’d like to see Book help to anchor Burnham and keep her grounded as she handles the burden of command – serving as a confidante and her closest ally. Book’s story is also incomplete, and we’ve been promised a closer look at his background in the future. For all of those reasons and more, I think he’s pretty safe!
Character #7: Admiral Charles Vance Status: In Danger ☠️
I felt Vance was in danger toward the end of Season 3 as well, and that he could’ve fallen victim to the Emerald Chain when they attacked Federation HQ. That didn’t happen – fortunately – but Admiral Vance definitely feels in danger as we approach Season 4. As one of the most significant secondary characters in Season 3, Vance’s death would carry more weight than a lot of other secondary characters’ would, which is one reason I felt he might’ve been in danger last time around.
Two things struck me from the Season 4 trailers: the almost total absence of Vance and the arrival of Federation President Rillak. Rillak, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to occupy a similar role to Vance’s in Season 3, serving as a “big boss” for Captain Burnham and the crew to ultimately be answerable to. That was the job Vance had as head of Starfleet in Season 3, but if Burnham is now reporting directly to President Rillak… what is there for Vance to do? Combine that with his absence from the two trailers and I wonder what might’ve become of the head of Starfleet.
Character #8: President Rillak Status: In Danger ☠️
President Rillak’s status is difficult to gauge because she’s brand-new! We’ve only seen her in action very briefly in the trailers for Season 4, so what role she might ultimately play is unclear at best. However, there are a few reasons to think that she could be in danger.
Firstly, any new character should automatically be assumed to be in danger! It’s easier to kill off a brand-new character than an established fan-favourite, and doing so could be a relatively easy way to communicate the stakes in any story. Secondly is Rillak’s role: President of the Federation. The death of someone in such a powerful position is always going to have a significant effect, even if we as the audience didn’t know her particularly well. Thirdly, the main scene we’ve seen so far featuring President Rillak showed her facing off against Captain Burnham in at least a semi-antagonistic way. Killing off a character who’s either a villain or a hurdle to our heroes is a trope as old as time!
Characters #9 and #10: Adira Tal and Gray Tal Status: Safe 💖
One storyline in Season 4 is going to focus on Gray’s quest to be “seen” – to become corporeal again somehow. Discovery certainly won’t kill off Adira and Gray without bringing this story to its conclusion, as it’s an incredibly powerful analogy for the status of trans and non-binary people – as well as being an exciting and interesting story in its own right.
Gray is tied to Adira, and thus it isn’t possible to kill them off without also killing off Gray. I think that makes both of them safe, though there is a lingering question as to what exactly Gray is. Star Trek doesn’t do ghosts, so Gray has to be explained scientifically somehow! Regardless, both characters feel assuredly safe.
Character #11: Dr Tracy Pollard Status: In Danger ☠️
After three seasons we don’t really know Dr Pollard very well. She’s often been seen in sickbay, and has patched up many of our heroes when they were injured, but aside from being a competent doctor we don’t really know very much about her. She appeared a few times in Season 3, but was never front-and-centre even in sequences in sickbay.
Dr Pollard is one of those secondary characters who has been in the background for the show’s entire run. Killing her off would be an easy option for Discovery in many ways; an attempt to get the impact of the death of a familar face without having to kill off anyone major. Be on the lookout for an Airiam-style spotlight on Dr Pollard – if she suddenly becomes the focus of a major storyline, she could be on her way to the chopping block!
Character #12: Kovich Status: Safe… for now! 💖
Until we know who Kovich is and what his role is in the hierarchy of the Federation, I can’t imagine Discovery would kill him off. There’s too much mystery surrounding this character, and to leave that unresolved would be fundamentally frustrating at a narrative level. My personal theory is that Kovich is the head of Section 31, or perhaps Starfleet Intelligence, but none of that has been confirmed on screen yet.
Famed director David Cronenberg plays the character, and I think for both Star Trek and Cronenberg it’s been a great partnership. Kovich thus feels safer than most, but it’s still possible that after we learn more about him and what his role has been that he could be killed off in future; he may not be permanently safe!
Character #13: Jett Reno Status: In Danger ☠️
Tig Notaro, who plays Jett Reno, has said that the character won’t appear as frequently in Season 4 as originally intended. This is due to the impact of the pandemic on the show’s production. That doesn’t mean that Reno is necessarily in any danger, but it is worth noting.
Reno is famously sarcastic and deadpan, so her line in the second Season 4 trailer that she’s “lived a good life” could simply be her usual wit. However, it could also be some dark foreshadowing – and perhaps Season 4 could see Reno meet her end.
Character #14: Dr Gabrielle Burnham Status: In Danger ☠️
It seems as though Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat will have a significant role to play in Season 4 – at least based on what we saw in the second trailer. One thing came to mind when I saw other members of the Qowat Milat fighting and training, though: could they be seeking revenge for the death of one of their own? If so, perhaps Dr Burnham is the one who’s died.
This could be connected to the gravitational anomaly or it could be its own independent storyline. Regardless, Dr Burnham’s death would have a huge impact on Michael Burnham, and could be a major source of emotion and drama for her as the season rolls on. Coping with bereavement and learning to move forward while grieving are themes Star Trek has touched on in the past.
Character #15: T’Rina Status: Probably Safe 💖
The President of Ni’Var, who we met in Season 3, would be an odd choice to kill off. It’s arguable that, if she does indeed lead Ni’Var back to Federation membership as the trailers have hinted, her story is complete and thus she may not have much more to do. But when considering character deaths, one factor is how their loss will impact others in the story.
Saru is the only main character with whom T’Rina has any significant relationship, and thus her death wouldn’t be as impactful for Captain Burnham and the rest of the crew even when compared to the new character of President Rillak. T’Rina being killed would still have the effect of communicating the stakes involved and the dangers of the anomaly, but it would matter far less from an emotional point of view. Thus I think there are probably better candidates when it comes to characters being killed off.
Character #16: Lieutenant Willa Status: In Danger ☠️
Lieutenant Willa was Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp in Season 3, and also briefly spent time aboard Discovery. She helped the crew acclimatise to the 32nd Century, and brought them up to speed on some of the new technologies that had been installed on the ship after arriving at Federation HQ. Though a good deal of Willa’s story and interactions with the crew happened off-screen, it’s fair to say she’s well-known to most of them and on friendly terms.
Willa’s death would thus have a significant impact on practically everyone aboard Discovery – especially if she had transferred aboard the ship or spent more time with Captain Burnham and the crew earlier in Season 4. Her death would also affect Admiral Vance – or she could even be a secondary casualty if Vance himself were killed. As a familiar face and someone known to the crew, Willa could be killed off to communicate the stakes involved in the story.
Character #17: Grudge Status: She better be safe! Or else… 🐱
Discovery can kill off a lot of characters… but the show better leave Grudge alone! Jokes aside, one of the best moments in the Season 3 finale was the way Book stood up to the villainous Zareh when he threatened to hurt Grudge. As a cat owner I love Grudge and I’m very protective of her… so if Discovery tried to get away with killing her off I might actually cry.
On a serious note, I think Grudge is probably safe. She gives Book’s character an extra dimension; a dependent for him to care for and look after. Plus she serves as a kind of mascot for the series. I can’t see Grudge being killed off in Season 4 – no matter how bad things get for Captain Burnham and Book!
Characters #18-23: The Secondary Bridge Crew Status: In Danger ☠️
I’m lumping six characters together for this final entry because I found myself saying basically the same thing about all of them! Included in this group are the following: Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce, Nilsson, and Linus. Most of them had an outing with Tilly at the end of Season 3 in which they were all in serious danger – most notably Owosekun. They all survived that encounter, but I’m not convinced they’ll all make it to the end of Season 4.
Detmer and Owosekun are the two characters we know best thanks to their development in Season 2 and particularly in Season 3. But any of these six could get the Airiam treatment and have a moment in the spotlight followed by a quick death. If Discovery wanted to show us the stakes and communicate the dangers involved without killing off a major character, any of these secondary characters could find themselves on the chopping block.
So that’s it. Those are my pre-season feelings about the safety of each of Discovery’s main characters!
Season 4 is only three weeks away now, so we won’t have to wait too long to find out which of our favourite characters will survive the gravitational anomaly – and all of the other dangers out there in the 32nd Century! As I said at the beginning, I’m not advocating for any specific character to be killed off. I like everyone, even the secondary characters, and I wouldn’t necessarily want any of them to die.
At the same time, Season 3 felt like it had a little too perfect of an outcome for some characters, especially in the finale. Sometimes, when facing an impossibly dangerous situation, loss of life is inevitable. Making it so that characters continually survive the impossible quickly gets boring, and there was definitely a sense in the Season 3 finale that “plot armour” was protecting more than one character.
A well-timed and well-executed character death can be shocking, impactful, and emotional. When establishing the danger involved in a situation, seeing a character we know meet their end can raise the stakes dramatically for the remainder of the story, and the sense that anyone – even important named characters – could be in danger is part of what has made television storytelling since 2010 so entertaining and dramatic. Discovery doesn’t need to go down this road – but doing so could lead to some outstanding storylines and deeply emotional moments.
I’m looking forward to Season 4 now! Hopefully the show can build on the successes of Season 3 and continue the process of establishing the 32nd Century as a setting in its own right – while also telling a new and different story about the gravitational anomaly. It will also be great to see Captain Burnham in command of the ship in her own right for the first time. Let’s fly!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, Enterprise, and Picard.
Discovery’s fourth season is now less than a month away, so it’s time to look ahead. This time, though, I’m not going to be indulging in theory-crafting or even speculation… what we’re going to go through today are some of my wishes for the season. I did something similar last year in the run-up to Season 3, and if you want to see how my wishlist turned out you can find a follow-up piece I wrote after the season had aired by clicking or tapping here.
Season 3 did a reasonably good job at establishing the USS Discovery’s place in the 32nd Century, and though I have criticisms of several aspects of the Burn storyline, it was brought to a fairly conclusive end by the season finale. That should mean that the stage is set for a new story this time around, and on this occasion I’d like to lay out some of my personal preferences for Season 4 and how I’d like to see things unfold.
The obvious caveat applies: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will be included in Season 4. This is merely a wishlist from a fan of Star Trek… nothing more. Everything I’m about to say is also entirely subjective! If I don’t include a point you want to see, or something I talk about sounds like something you’d hate, that’s okay. The Star Trek fandom is expansive enough for fans with all kinds of different points of view; we don’t need to fight, especially not about hypotheticals!
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into my Discovery Season 4 wishlist.
Number 1: A proper role for ex-Captain Saru that makes sense.
One of the things I didn’t like about the short Season 3 epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2 was that Saru was unceremoniously shuffled off Discovery. In order to make way for Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, Captain Saru had to leave his position on the ship, and a way was found to make this plausible by giving him a deeply emotional connection to Su’Kal.
As a story point, I actually don’t fault any of that. Saru had been feeling alone and isolated with no other Kelpiens around in the 32nd Century, and his desire to help Su’Kal led to them forming a close bond. I can quite believe that he’d want to take a leave of absence to visit Kaminar and to spend more time with Su’Kal, helping him integrate into society as best he can after so long on his own.
But unfortunately the rushed epilogue didn’t do justice to this story point, and quite frankly treated Saru with disrespect. Not since Dr Pulaski was dropped at the beginning of Season 3 of The Next Generation has a main character been handled so poorly, and I would have wanted – and expected – to see much more of a send-off for Saru. Not only had he been Discovery’s captain for all of Season 3, but he was a character we’d spent a lot of time with across Seasons 1 and 2 as well.
Season 4 will bring back Saru; he isn’t leaving the series as some folks had predicted, and I’m glad for that! But his role in Season 4 is unclear at best, and the biggest question I have is this: why does the USS Discovery need two captains on board?
In The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Spock would serve on the same ship despite both holding the rank of captain, so it isn’t entirely without precedent in Starfleet for this situation to arise. In that case, though, Kirk had been demoted from the rank of Admiral, and in The Undiscovered Country in particular both officers held different positions: Kirk was in command of the Enterprise, Spock was in command of the overall mission to negotiate with the Klingons.
In short, I think the premiere of Season 4 (or whichever episode brings Saru back to the ship) needs to at least pay lip service to this point. Perhaps Saru could be given a title like “captain of the science department” in the same way as Scotty was “captain of engineering.” I wouldn’t want to see him demoted to the rank of commander – like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture! Presumably Captain Burnham has some degree of leeway when it comes to building her crew, so perhaps she’ll ask Saru to serve in a temporary role. Regardless, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore this point.
Number 2: Go into more detail about the ban on time travel.
The ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 was evidently intended to be a way for Discovery to avoid questions about how the Burn was able to happen, why Georgiou couldn’t simply return to her own time, and why the time-traveling Federation of the 29th and 30th Centuries that we’ve glimpsed in past Star Trek productions had ceased to exist. But the ban has created some storytelling issues in and of itself, and I would like Season 4 to at least try to address some of these.
Firstly, who enforces the ban? Admiral Vance seemed to imply that everyone in the galaxy – from the Emerald Chain to the Federation – simply goes along with it, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the Temporal War was certainly a bad thing. But as the war and its effects fade into memory, are we seriously supposed to believe that someone like Osyraa wouldn’t jump at the chance to use time travel to give herself and her faction an advantage? That’s to say nothing of factions like the Borg – are they signed up to the ban on time travel too?
Even if the answer is “all pieces of time travel technology were destroyed,” that doesn’t really hold water either. It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology – as I said on several occasions during Season 3’s run! Even if everything were destroyed – something which seems like it would be impossible for every faction to prove – what’s to stop someone recreating it? The Emerald Chain had scientists like Aurellio at their disposal, and once the basic principles were understood it seems like rebuilding the technology would be a task within reach of anyone with the means and inclination.
Time travel was considered something so mundane in the 29th and 30th Centuries that its basic principles were taught in school across the Federation. Even if we discount early depictions of time travel (like the slingshot method seen in The Original Series), the fact that time travel is possible has been known to the Federation since the 22nd or 23rd Centuries at least, and even if we’re generous and say that time travel technology wasn’t “officially” invented until much later, the technology still existed for centuries prior to being banned.
In today’s world, nuclear weapons are a comparable technology. If there were a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, would we trust the likes of China or Russia to abide by it? Could we guarantee that every nuclear weapon was destroyed by our own governments, or might some covert hawkish faction seek to keep control of at least some of them as a contingency? In short, a ban on nuclear weapons is a noble ambition – but even in the aftermath of a nuclear war I can’t see it being workable. Even if such a ban were put in place, the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea prove that, with enough determination, anyone can recreate complex technology from scratch.
Perhaps there’s some kind of time travel arbiter that monitors the whole galaxy, and intervenes to prevent time travel from occurring. That would be one explanation. But it’s also possible that whatever this gravitational anomaly is is connected to time travel or the Temporal War – meaning Captain Burnham and the crew could be about to dive headfirst into a time travel story!
Number 3: Standalone episodes and smaller storylines to offset the main season-long arc.
Discovery used this formula to great effect in Season 3, which came after Seasons 1 and 2 had both leaned very heavily into serialised storytelling. I very much hope that Season 4 will continue in the same vein, because having smaller stories, character arcs, and fully standalone episodes added so much depth to the series.
We already know of one potential side-story: Adira and Gray, and in particular Gray’s quest to become corporeal again. That story has a lot of potential, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about Season 4. Hopefully there can be more side-stories like this, looking at other characters and taking some of our heroes to different and unexpected places.
Strange New Worlds has promised a return to a more episodic style of storytelling. I don’t expect that Discovery will go all-in on episodic television in the same way, not least because we already know that they have the mystery of the gravitational anomaly to solve. But I hope that, along the way, we get some detours and unconnected stories that take Captain Burnham and the ship to different places – literally and thematically.
This would be a great way for the series to show off characters who didn’t get as much to do last season, or who we haven’t spent much time with at all. Season 3 brought us an interesting story involving helm officer Keyla Detmer, and while that story wasn’t perfect it was great to spend time with a secondary character in far more detail than Discovery had ever done before. Which brings us to my next point…
Number 4: Make use of the show’s full cast – including secondary and recurring characters.
As mentioned, Season 3 began this process. We got to spend more time away from Michael Burnham than Discovery had dared do in Seasons 1 or 2, and some of the episodes which placed Saru, Booker, and even Georgiou at their centre worked exceptionally well. I’d love Discovery to continue down this road, perhaps spending time with characters like Stamets – he didn’t get as much to do in Season 3 as some of the others.
With Georgiou departing for an unknown destination last year, there’s potentially space for another main cast member. We could see someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson promoted – or a character like Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3, join the crew. In some ways I’d like to see a new character, perhaps a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. Booker provides the crew with the viewpoint of a 32nd Century native, but he also has a different role as an outsider who isn’t a member of Starfleet. Bringing a new officer who’s native to this era aboard the ship could be an excellent move, one which could provide a lot of storytelling potential.
At the same time, giving more characters moments in the spotlight and their own arcs is something worth doing. We learned more about people like Owosekun, Detmer, and even Tilly in Season 3 than we ever had before, and continuing this trend by ensuring more characters get some degree of exploration is absolutely something I’d want to see.
In a season that will run for 13 episodes there’s obviously a limit; a ceiling on the number of characters and storylines that the series can fit. With that understood it obviously won’t be possible for everyone to get a fully-rounded character arc, their own storyline, and a spotlight episode putting them front-and-centre! But choosing some characters to give that amount of attention to is still important, and even those characters who don’t get a full story or their own episode this time can still have more to do than sit at their station and say “yes ma’am!”
Number 5: Bring back Nhan!
Saru wasn’t the only character who left the USS Discovery and whose story feels incomplete. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to Discovery’s main cast at the beginning of Season 3 only to be shuffled off the show after only a few episodes. Nhan – the first Barzan main character in Star Trek’s history – was left behind to be the guardian of the USS Tikhov following a disaster that claimed the lives of the ship’s crew.
The Tikhov’s mission was an interesting one – it serves as a seed vault for the Federation, storing samples of plants from across the Federation and beyond. From the point of view of Nhan potentially reuniting with Burnham and the crew, though, the Tikhov was rotated between Federation member worlds, with representatives from each taking responsibility for the ship for a set period of time. Nhan seemed to suggest that she saw her mission as keeping the ship safe until the end of the Barzans’ tenure, after which it’s safe to assume the ship would be delivered to a new commander.
It wasn’t stated on screen how long each planet’s turn to look after the ship lasts, but that’s actually a good thing! It could be that each member world has to care for the ship for a year or two, or that it was almost the end of Barzan II’s tenure as guardians of the Tikhov – either of which could mean Nhan is almost done and could return to duty.
It was a shame that Nhan was dropped, and I don’t know if there were production-side reasons for the decision. It feels rather arbitrary, and while Nhan wouldn’t necessarily have had a huge role to play in the latter part of Season 3 she was a fun character and someone the show could and should bring back. The USS Discovery doesn’t have a permanent security or tactical officer – at least not among the main characters. Nhan could fill that role going forward, and it seems as if the ship could use a dedicated security officer based on all the scrapes that they get into!
Nhan was also a character who provided a contrast to Michael Burnham. Where Burnham could go on emotional rollercoaster rides, Nhan was mostly stoic. And where Burnham had a loose interpretation of the rules and regulations, Nhan appeared steadfast in her dedication to Starfleet’s way of doing things.
As a character from an under-explored race, Nhan could do for the Barzans what Saru has done for the Kelpiens – showing us their history and culture in more detail. The Barzans only appeared a couple of times in Star Trek prior to Discovery, but there’s a chance for a connection with The Next Generation or to explain how they came to join the Federation – and perhaps why they chose to remain a Federation member even after the withdrawal of Earth and Ni’Var. Which brings us to the next point…
Number 6: Give us a broader look at the state of the galaxy in the 32nd Century.
Season 3 focused primarily on two factions: the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain. Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian also appeared, though the first two are ex-Federation members. We know that the Burn decimated “the galaxy” and saw many Federation members quit the organisation, but that was 125 years ago – a lot can have happened since.
Admiral Vance told us that 38 member worlds remained in the Federation – with Earth and Ni’Var being two of the most prominent members to leave. But if the Federation had over 350 member worlds at its peak, more than 80% have quit the organisation – or been conquered, destroyed, or had some other fate befall them. Barzan II appears to remain a Federation member, as does Kaminar. It’s possible based on the Season 4 trailer that Ni’Var will rejoin the organisation – but what of the others? Who’s left in the Federation? Who quit? Who joined after the 24th Century that we might recall from past iterations of Star Trek?
Prior to the Burn, did the development of warp or transwarp speeds allow the Federation to travel further and settle other parts of the galaxy, perhaps? Could races like the Ocampa and Talaxians have joined the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, for example?
In short, the 32nd Century is a vast sandbox for the producers and writers to play in! So far we’ve only seen a tiny little corner of that sandbox – so I hope Season 4 can broaden the view and show us a bigger picture of the state of the galaxy and its factions.
Number 7: More Admiral Vance!
In Season 3, Admiral Vance embodied the very best of Starfleet’s values. Even though he was dealt a very bad hand in the aftermath of the Burn, he remained loyal not only to the Federation and Starfleet, but to the ideals the organisations have always stood for. Even when negotiating with Osyraa – a powerful adversary – Vance refused to compromise on his convictions.
The arrival of Rillak – a new character who will serve as the Federation’s president – could mean that Admiral Vance is sidelined. If Burnham is reporting directly to the President it seems like she’ll be going over Vance’s head, or at least around him. I guess I’m just concerned that Discovery doesn’t really have space for two “big boss” characters, and that Vance may lose out to Rillak in terms of stories and screen time.
It’s possible that Rillak is being set up in a deliberately antagonistic way, and that the decision was taken to keep Vance as a more sympathetic character. I didn’t really like Rillak’s interaction with Captain Burnham in the recent Season 4 trailer, but at the same time what she had to say wasn’t too far removed from what Vance had to say at a couple of points in Season 3. He could take a tougher line with Burnham and Saru when he needed to without coming across as one of Star Trek’s typical “evil admirals!”
Actor Oded Fehr brings Vance to life and gives him a real gravitas, and there’s scope to learn more about who Vance is and what makes him tick. Vance told us he has a wife and child; perhaps we could meet them and see how he is when he’s off-duty in a more casual setting.
When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were plotting their attack on Federation HQ in Season 3 I was genuinely worried for Admiral Vance! The Emerald Chain attack didn’t kill him off – fortunately – so he lives to fight another day! I know we’ll see him in some capacity in Season 4, but I hope he gets more to do than just chair a few meetings.
Number 8: Kill off a main character.
Speaking of characters who felt at risk, Season 3 only saw the character of Ryn killed off. Ryn was a fun character for sure, and his death was very sad, but at several key moments where Discovery could have been a little bolder at swinging the proverbial axe, main characters appeared to be safe thanks to their plot armour.
The character I felt most embodied this side of Season 3 was Owosekun. In the season finale it seemed as though she was about to make the ultimate sacrifice – setting off a bomb in a low-oxygen environment – but the Sphere Data-powered DOT robots saved her life at the last minute. There were other characters in that group, including Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys, who likewise could’ve been killed off in the season finale.
I’m not arguing for any one specific character to be immediately killed off, and as I like all of the main characters for their own unique reasons any death would be a tragedy! But some stories work better or feel more impactful when the heroes lose a friend, and the Season 3 finale would have undeniably had a lot more emotional weight if someone hadn’t made it to the end.
So Season 4, here’s your challenge: kill off a main character! Let’s not repeat what happened to Nhan and Georgiou, being shuffled off the ship to some other destination. And let’s not set up a story where everyone is in danger only to have them all miraculously saved at the end. Instead let’s actually kill off a major character at the right point in the story. Doing so would raise the stakes dramatically and hammer home that whatever threat Captain Burnham and the crew are facing is genuinely deadly.
Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.
This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this idea! But as Lower Decks has shown on several occasions, bringing back a character from Star Trek’s past can be a lot of fun – and emotional for longstanding Trekkies. Last season I suggested Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him from the Season 4 episode Living Witness – as a potential character crossover, as the chances of him being alive in the 32nd Century seemed higher than most!
Given Star Trek’s technobabble, however, an excuse could be found to bring back practically anyone. Characters from Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, or even Picard could all appear in some form – through stasis or cryogenic suspension, in synthetic bodies, as holograms, trapped in transporter beams, frozen solid under the surface of an ice planet… and so on! With a little creativity, Discovery Season 4 could find a way to bring back pretty much anybody, and doing so would be absolutely wonderful.
Aside from Voyager’s Doctor, I could suggest Enterprise’s Temporal Agent Daniels, Picard’s Soji or Deep Space Nine’s Dax symbiont as contenders for characters who could potentially have survived to the 32nd Century through “natural” means. Soji, as a character in a series running alongside Discovery, would be a fascinating choice – but at the same time I could understand if the producers don’t want to go down that route for fear of affecting or restricting future Picard stories.
If I were to fantasise I might suggest a character like Riker or Chekov. Even if they were only seen as holograms or in a recorded message I think including a “classic” character like that would mean so much to fans. We saw something comparable to this in Season 3’s Unification III, where a hologram of Spock was briefly shown. But to bring back actors like Jonathan Frakes or Walter Koenig to record even just a short message that Captain Burnham could discover would be amazing.
Number 10: Make some kind of reference to anything from Lower Decks!
Lower Decks has now got two seasons under its belt, and although there were some teething problems at first caused by the lack of an international broadcast during Season 1, the show has definitely hit its stride. It would be absolutely amazing for Discovery Season 4 to so much as name-drop an event, character, or location from Lower Decks, even if it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on the plot.
This isn’t just about fan service, either. At present, Star Trek’s shows are all split up, occupying different places and completely different time-frames. There will be a connection between Discovery and Strange New Worlds when the latter premieres next year, but there’s no chance for a significant crossover. Name-drops and references are the next best thing, and a way for the Star Trek franchise to remain connected.
Having wholly standalone shows doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s certainly true that Lower Decks and Discovery are very different in terms of style, tone, and subject matter – but as two parts of a larger franchise it doesn’t hurt to find ways to connect them. For fans it’s a nice “Easter egg,” but for casual viewers these kinds of connections can be the deciding factor in choosing to check out another show!
As Star Trek fans, we need as many people engaged with as much of Star Trek as possible – it’s the only way the franchise will survive into the future. Having different shows that appeal to different audiences is a great idea in many ways; it casts a broad net and should, in theory, bring in many more viewers and subscribers. But the next step is converting fans of one series to fans of the franchise as a whole – and if there are connections between the shows, even small ones, that’ll encourage at least some viewers to try other Star Trek shows. So if Discovery Season 4 could acknowledge Lower Decks in some way, I think that would be fantastic.
Number 11: Continue the theme of rebuilding – but at a reasonable pace.
Season 3 introduced us to the galaxy a century after the Burn. This event devastated the Federation and known space, and clearly saw a major power shift with factions like the Emerald Chain gaining strength. The Burn as a storyline may be resolved, but the galaxy can’t simply be “reset” to how it used to be. An event so devastating will take a long time to recover from. Ni’Var rejoining the Federation is a great first step, but I hope Season 4 doesn’t try to rush these things.
With the gravitational anomaly seeming to be the main focus of Season 4’s story, rebuilding the Federation may take a back seat. However, I’d like to see at least some progress in this area, as it could be one of the major sources of hope and optimism in the story of the post-Burn galaxy. With the dilithium cache from the Verubin Nebula under their control, the Federation is finally in a position to rebuild what has been lost over the past century or more – and from a narrative point of view, bringing wayward planets and races together is a story worth telling.
At the same time, the story needs to acknowledge the severity of the Burn and strike the right balance when it comes to optimistically putting the pieces back together. Trying to rush this – or worse, trying to pretend that it all happened off-screen – would lead to a truly unsatisfying and unrealistic narrative.
Season 4 can’t simply pretend that the Burn is over and done with and completely move on to new stories. Even though the Burn was clearly intended as the main story of a single season, its massive implications and effects can’t be confined to Season 3 of Discovery. Any other Star Trek stories set in the 32nd Century – and beyond – will need to acknowledge the lingering effects of the Burn, and something as significant as rebuilding the Federation and bringing hope back to worlds that had lost it can’t simply be done off-screen so Captain Burnham and the crew can race away to their next big adventure.
So that’s it. A few of my hopes and wishes for the imminent fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.
I don’t think I’d have chosen to go for another “galaxy-ending” apocalyptic threat if I’d been in charge of planning the story of Discovery Season 4. After the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, and the Burn, the collapsed Federation, and the Emerald Chain in Season 3 I would have liked to have seen Captain Burnham and the crew catch a break! Not every season has to be about the imminent destruction of the universe; stories which are smaller in scale can be just as dramatic and just as impactful when done right.
Regardless, this is the direction Discovery seems intent on going, and I’m interested to see what the gravitational anomaly is all about. I’m hopeful that Season 4 can deliver some fun, exciting, dramatic, and interesting Star Trek stories with Captain Burnham in command, and I’m very much looking forward to the new season. Even if none of my wishes are meant to be, Season 4 will undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021. An international broadcast will follow on Netflix on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Search for Spock, The Next Generation Season 3, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Star Trek 2009.
Over on Disney+, Marvel has recently put out a series of animated short films with a very interesting premise. These shorts asked what might’ve happened in the Marvel universe if circumstances had changed, characters had taken different actions, or things had ended differently.
Alternate history has always been a subject that fascinated me! So with that in mind, we’re going to consider a few “what ifs” from the Star Trek franchise – from an in-universe point of view, naturally! There are more than 800 Star Trek stories at time of writing, meaning that there are literally hundreds of potential scenarios where a different decision or different outcome could have radically changed the Star Trek galaxy.
As always, please keep in mind that all of this is one person’s subjective opinion! I’m indulging in fan-fiction and pure speculation based on my own thoughts about how some of these scenarios might’ve unfolded. If you hate all of my ideas, or something you like wasn’t included, that’s okay! Within the Star Trek fandom there’s enough room for different opinions.
With that out of the way, let’s consider some Star Trek “what ifs!”
Number 1: What if… Captain Picard couldn’t be saved after being assimilated?
This isn’t going to go the way you might be expecting! In this scenario, the events of The Best of Both Worlds play out as we saw on screen: Picard is captured, the Borg defeat the Federation at Wolf-359, Riker and the Enterprise race to confront them over Earth, and Captain Picard is able to communicate to Data how to defeat them. The Borg cube explodes, and the Federation lives to fight another day! But unfortunately Captain Picard then dies – severing his connection to the Collective and/or removing his Borg implants was too much for his body and mind to take, and he doesn’t survive beyond the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.
As Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise-D mourn the loss of Captain Picard, Captain Edward Jellico is assigned to the ship as his replacement, and many of the events later in The Next Generation proceed unaltered. As Q would tell Picard in the episode Tapestry, even without him in command the Enterprise-D and Starfleet would be fine.
The Federation, armed with new knowledge of the Borg, developed new ships like the Defiant-class and Sovereign-class, and were even able to defend against a second Borg incursion a few years later – albeit at great cost. But the loss of Captain Picard would have a huge impact later, in the year 2379. A coup on Romulus brings a human clone to power – Shinzon. Shinzon’s plot to destroy the Federation was only stopped because of his personal connection to Picard, a connection that fascinated him and that he hoped could save his life.
Without that obstacle in the way, Shinzon sees no reason to wait or to play nice with the Federation before implementing his plan. He takes his flagship, the Reman warbird Scimitar, and heads straight for Earth before the Federation even has time to respond diplomatically to the change in government on Romulus. Under cloak, the Scimitar deploys its thalaron radiation weapon – massacring all life on planet Earth and crippling the Federation government and Starfleet command.
With war now assured between the Romulans and Federation, Romulan commanders who had been sceptical of Shinzon rally to the cause. All-out war breaks out between the Romulan Empire and the residual Federation, but without a government or command structure to provide a coordinated response, and seriously demoralised from the attack on Earth, things don’t go well for Starfleet. The Scimitar proves to be an unstoppable force all on its own, and its thalaron radiation weapon is able to devastate multiple other planets: Betazed, Andoria, Alpha Centauri, Mars, and others. The Federation is forced to sue for peace on very unfavourable terms.
However, Shinzon wouldn’t live to see the Romulan victory. Without the original Picard, there was no way to save his life from the DNA degradation that he was suffering from, and shortly after the Federation’s defeat Shinzon dies. His Reman viceroy would succeed him as the new leader of the Romulan Empire, an empire which now incorporated large swathes of what had once been Federation space. Whether the Romulans could hold all of this territory, and whether their empire would accept a Reman leader, are now open questions…
Number 2: What if… Spock wasn’t resurrected on the Genesis Planet?
This scenario sees the events of The Wrath of Khan unfold exactly as we saw on screen. Khan stages an attack on the Enterprise, steals the Genesis device, and is defeated at the Battle in the Mutara Nebula. Spock sacrifices his life repairing the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to outrun the blast of the Genesis device. But in our alternate world, Captain Kirk doesn’t give Spock a Starfleet funeral. Instead Spock’s remains are returned to Vulcan, in line with his and his family’s wishes. There is no chance for a resurrection because Spock never came into contact with the Genesis Planet.
Spock would indeed prove instrumental in several key events later in his life that now can’t happen. But we’re going to focus on the Kelvin timeline today. Spock’s actions in the Kelvin timeline saved Earth from Nero’s attack – but without his presence there’s no one to stop the crazed Romulan commander.
Assuming that Nero arrived in the Kelvin timeline thanks to Red Matter (presumably deployed by someone else from the Federation as part of a plan to save Romulus), he has no reason to wait for Spock before enacting his revenge plan. After destroying the USS Kelvin (killing the infant Kirk in the process), Nero races to Vulcan and destroys the planet in the year 2233 – decades earlier than he would during the events of Star Trek 2009. Before the Federation even has time to realise what’s happening, and with Vulcan still collapsing, Nero heads to Earth and deploys his weapon for the second time – destroying the planet.
Nero then moves on quickly, targeting Tellar Prime and other Federation member worlds and colonies. The devastating losses mean it takes Starfleet a while to reorganise, but eventually the remaining fleet comes together to make a last stand over Andoria – the last remaining Federation member world. The battle against Nero’s powerful flagship is long and incredibly difficult, but Starfleet eventually prevails through sheer numerical advantage – despite suffering huge losses.
Nero’s defeat wouldn’t mark the end of the rump Federation’s problems, though. With many planets and colonies destroyed, more than half the fleet lost, and millions of people turned into refugees, the Federation is an easy target. First the Klingons come, seizing planets and systems near their borders. Then the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Romulans also join in, picking off star systems that the Federation could no longer manage to defend. Federation space shrinks to a small area in the vicinity of Andoria.
The Andorians were not happy with the large numbers of refugees who sought them out, though. Plans were put in place to resettle humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and others on new colony worlds, even though doing so would leave them vulnerable. After being kicked out by the Andorians, the remaining Federation members maintained their alliance more out of fear and necessity than anything else. How long these small populations can survive in a hostile galaxy is unknown…
Number 3: What if… the USS Voyager went the other way?
The events of Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, play out much the same as they did on screen in this scenario. But after that, things take a very different turn – literally! The Maquis raider Val Jean, under Chakotay’s command, is transported to the Delta Quadrant by an entity known as the Caretaker. The USS Voyager is likewise transported by the Caretaker’s Array, and after the death of the Caretaker and a short battle with the Kazon, Captain Janeway orders the destruction of the Array. Voyager must find a way home.
Instead of taking the most direct route to Earth, Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager consider an alternative idea – heading for the Gamma Quadrant, and the far side of the Bajoran Wormhole. From there it would only be a short journey back to Earth! The crew debate the ideas for a while, and there isn’t a clear consensus. No starship has ever undertaken such a long journey before, so there really aren’t ground rules for route planning when it comes to long-distance interstellar travel.
Using the map above (which is non-canon) as a guide, the crew quickly figure out that both a direct route home via the Delta and Beta Quadrants or an indirect route via the Gamma Quadrant and Bajoran Wormhole are roughly the same length and would take roughly the same amount of time.
The two crews can’t agree at first. Chakotay and the Maquis, keen to avoid going anywhere near Cardassian space and fearing being turned over to Cardassian authorities upon their return, firmly advocate for the Delta Quadrant route. Neelix claims to be familiar with space in both directions and along both routes, but ultimately the decision falls to Captain Janeway.
Somewhat ironically when considering her actions in Endgame, Janeway chooses the Gamma Quadrant route. Why? She’s fearful of the Borg, naturally. Whatever dangers and obstacles may await Voyager in the Gamma Quadrant, she tells her crew, Starfleet has known for years that the Borg’s home territory is the Delta Quadrant. Taking that path seems positively suicidal in comparison, so Voyager will instead head for the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole.
Voyager’s superior technology makes battling the Kazon sects in the area around the Caretaker’s Array relatively easy, but they have to be careful to avoid space claimed by the Haakonian Order – the conquerors of Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. After they leave their starting region, though, the truth is that we simply don’t know very much at all in canon about this area of space. Would Voyager find a faster way home through some technological means or natural phenomenon? Or would the ship and crew have to undertake a slow, decades-long journey to reach the wormhole? Would they even survive at all, or instead fall victim to some villainous faction or dangerous anomaly present in this unexplored region?
Number 4: What if… the USS Discovery didn’t go into the far future?
I already have a theory discussing in detail why I think the USS Discovery didn’t need to go into the far future based on the outcome of the battle in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and you can find that one by clicking or tapping here. For the sake of this scenario, though, all we’re going to say is that somehow Captain Pike, Burnham, and Saru figured out a way to defeat the Control AI without sending the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century.
Obviously some changes wouldn’t appear until the 32nd Century. Without the USS Discovery and Michael Burnham, no one is able to discover the source of the Burn or the huge cache of dilithium in the Verubin nebula. Without the USS Discovery and its Spore Drive to fight over, the Emerald Chain doesn’t stage a bold attack on Starfleet HQ. Su’Kal would almost certainly die alone when the KSF Khi’eth is destroyed – whether that event would trigger a second Burn is unclear.
But more substantial changes could have taken place in the Star Trek galaxy centuries earlier. With the Spore Drive still in existence in the 23rd Century, it stands to reason that Starfleet would have continued to explore the technology – it works, after all, so if a new way of navigating the mycelial network could be discovered, the Spore Drive would be an absolute game-changer for the Federation.
At some point, Starfleet scientists would hit upon the idea of using empaths to connect to the mycelial network in place of augmenting human DNA. After promising test flights using Betazoid and even Vulcan navigators, in the late 23rd Century Starfleet is able to begin a wider rollout of the Spore Drive. At first a handful of ships are kitted out as rapid-response vessels, able to jump across Federation space at a moment’s notice to assist with emergency situations.
The Spore Drive would soon attract the attention of other factions, however. Unwilling to allow the Federation a massive tactical advantage, particularly in the aftermath of the Federation-Klingon war, the Klingon Empire begins development on their own Spore Drive programme. The Romulans follow suit, and by the early part of the 24th Century the Spore Drive has become a mainstay of interstellar travel in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
No longer limited by geography or travel time, Starfleet is able to jump to interesting-looking phenomena across the galaxy with ease, initiating dozens of first contacts decades ahead of schedule. On one unfortunate occasion, however, a Spore Drive ship jumps to the Delta Quadrant… right into the heart of Borg space. The Borg quickly assimilate the vessel, taking the Spore Drive technology for themselves and putting a target on the Federation’s back. Due to the distances involved, Starfleet remains unaware of what happened, merely recording the USS Discovery-C as “missing in action…”
Number 5: What if… Benjamin Sisko wasn’t the Emissary of the Prophets?
Ignore for a moment the revelation from Image in the Sand about Benjamin Sisko’s Prophet-induced conception! For this scenario, we’re considering that there were two occupants of the Runabout which first discovered the Bajoran Wormhole: Sisko and Jadzia Dax. Though the Prophets would choose Sisko as their Emissary, they could just as easily have chosen Dax instead.
Jadzia Dax returns from the wormhole having been anointed by the Prophets as their Emissary, and receives much respect and adoration from the Bajorans. Meanwhile, Sisko makes good on his threat and quits Starfleet, returning to Earth. Jadzia is promoted to the rank of commander and given “temporary” command of DS9, due in no small part to the way the Bajorans feel about her.
First contact with the Dominion occurs, and shortly afterwards the Dominion and Cardassians form an alliance – the work of Dukat, formerly the commander of Bajoran occupying forces on Bajor. The Dominion Cold War begins. Behind the scenes, Dukat is researching the Pah-wraiths, the ancient noncorporeal enemies of the Prophets. In disguise he travels to Deep Space Nine with a lone Pah-wraith, and in the course of unleashing the entity into the wormhole, kills Jadzia.
With no Emissary on the outside to come to their aid, the Prophets are fighting a losing battle against the Pah-wraiths while the Dominion War rages. The loss of Dax, though distressing to the crew of DS9 and her husband Worf, doesn’t appear to matter to the Federation war effort… not at first. In fact, the wormhole’s closure appears to provide the Federation alliance a reprieve, as the threat of Dominion reinforcements is reduced.
However, without the Orb of the Emissary re-opening the wormhole and expelling the Pah-wraiths, things go badly for the Prophets. When Dukat is able to implement the next phase of his plan and release the rest of the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves, there’s no one to stop him. The Pah-wraiths seize control of the wormhole, and as a thank you to Dukat they destroy the Federation minefield, allowing a massive fleet of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. The Dominion conquer DS9 and Bajor with ease.
With no way to stop Dominion reinforcements pouring in through the wormhole, the Federation alliance moves into attrition mode, trying to hold the existing front line for as long as possible against repeated Dominion attacks. Though the Pah-wraiths don’t actively take part in the fighting, their involvement allowed Dukat and the Dominion to swing the balance of the war back in their favour. By controlling Deep Space Nine and the wormhole, the Cardassian-Dominion alliance has the Quadrant’s most significant asset. It seems like only a matter of time until the Federation will have to sue for peace, if the Dominion would even accept…
So that’s it! Five Star Trek “what ifs!”
I can already think of more, so watch this space. I might return to this concept in future. I hope this was a bit of fun, and a chance to consider some alternative outcomes to some of the events we’ve seen across Star Trek’s history. I tried to pick a few different ideas from different productions – otherwise this could’ve been “five Captain Picard what ifs!”
As always, this was really just an excuse to spend a little more time in the Star Trek galaxy. It’s totally fine if you disagree with any of the storylines I’ve suggested today, or if you think this whole concept was a silly idea! None of this will ever make it to screen, and it was more of a thought experiment and creative writing project than anything else. I had fun putting this together – and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
What If…? and the logo for the series are the copyright of Marvel and The Walt Disney Company. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.
While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”
I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!
Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.
Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.
It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.
As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.
It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.
Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.
In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.
In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.
The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.
We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.
Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.
This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.
Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.
It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.
So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.
I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!
Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.
Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!
To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.
Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
As many folks had predicted, 2021’s New York Comic-Con saw a brand-new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s impending fourth season make its debut! The trailer was certainly jam-packed with action and plenty of teases, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the “gravitational anomaly” that seems to be at the core of the main storyline. Though there will almost certainly be smaller sub-plots and one-off stories like last season, the trailer mostly focused on Captain Burnham and the crew’s attempts to tackle the unknown anomaly.
First of all, none of the theories that I posited a few months ago about the nature of the gravitational anomaly now seem to be anywhere close to plausible! I had a feeling that this would be the case; that Discovery would once again create something wholly new rather than rely on a phenomenon we’d seen in a past iteration of the franchise.
Captain Burnham was heard in the trailer telling her crew that the anomaly was unlike anything the galaxy had ever seen, and that once they “enter” it, they will be literally going “where no one has gone before.” I appreciated the callback to the line heard over the opening titles of The Original Series and The Next Generation – it’s a line which encapsulates Star Trek’s spirit of exploration with a side of adventure, and to me the use of that phrase represents Discovery staking its claim to be the successor of those exploration-focused shows.
Between what Burnham and Stamets had to say about the newness and unknown nature of the anomaly, we can seemingly rule out any connection to things like the Nexus, a graviton ellipse, and Tyken’s rift – as well as anything else we’ve seen before in Star Trek. That isn’t to say there categorically will not be any connection to other Star Trek stories, but that the anomaly itself will be something altogether new.
As mentioned, we got a couple of glimpses of what seems to be the anomaly itself. The first time we saw it it seemed to resemble a black hole within a black hole within a black hole… a kind of recursive black hole phenomenon. Discovery’s second season showed off a great recreation of a black hole (that was actually a Talosian illusion) and while the anomaly seen at the beginning of the trailer was different, especially in terms of colour, the design is comparable.
The second time we saw the anomaly in the trailer it looked very different, as though a “rip” or “tear” in the fabric of the universe, surrounded by glowing light but appearing as a dark smear. Unlike the black hole-inspired visual effect seen near the beginning of the trailer, this second look at the anomaly didn’t feature the same light-bending effect, nor was anything inside the anomaly visible.
Of the two depictions that seem to be of the anomaly – assuming that they are, in fact, both supposed to represent the phenomenon – the first black hole-esque look is, from purely an aesthetic standpoint, my favourite. It was more memorable and different, and the way the anomaly bent light around it seems more in line with its stated gravitational effects. The “dark smear” was fine – but it wasn’t particularly visually exciting, and could have represented any one of dozens of anomalies seen in past iterations of Star Trek.
There were some short sequences that could be taking place on the other side of the anomaly, depending on how we view things. There seemed to be glimpses of characters fighting with swords, a large explosion, a forest that looked a lot like Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a child in a forest that could all be taking place after the USS Discovery enters the anomaly. We’ve seen parallel universes and different dimensions in Star Trek on a number of occasions, and I wonder if this anomaly could be the gateway to a different dimension once again.
But that’s enough story speculation for now! We won’t know more about the gravitational anomaly until the season kicks off in just over a month’s time, so let’s take a look at some of the other imagery from the trailer to see what else we can discover.
Firstly, it looks as though Ni’Var – the new name for Vulcan since the reunification of Romulans and Vulcans – will indeed rejoin the Federation. A brief scene showed the Federation president – a character identified during the Comic-Con panel as a part-Cardassian, part-Bajoran, part-human character named Rillak – presenting the leader of Ni’Var with a folded Federation flag. This was something teased during the epilogue of Season 3, with Saru’s diplomatic initiatives seeming to bear fruit.
Speaking of Saru, after being unceremoniously shuffled out of the captain’s chair in that same epilogue sequence to make way for Michael Burnham, he was back in uniform in the new trailer. The first trailer only showed us a glimpse of Saru out of uniform, and there was confusion over the position he could have both aboard the ship and within the new story after taking a leave of absence and returning to Kaminar.
Saru’s role still isn’t clear – he seems to retain the rank of captain but hasn’t been restored to the captaincy of Discovery. He was also depicted wearing a different badge on his uniform alongside his combadge – I wonder if this might indicate a diplomatic role of some kind. Regardless, it’s great to see Saru back on the ship, and presumably he’ll be part of the crew. What role he will play in the ship’s command structure as an ex-captain is still not clear, though.
I couldn’t identify every single alien race seen in the trailer, but there were quite a few! At Federation HQ we saw an Orion woman not wearing a Starfleet uniform; she could be a representative of the Emerald Chain – or whatever remains of it. There seemed to be Tellarite crew members aboard Discovery, as at least one was present during an away mission. Also featured prominently at Federation HQ was a Ferengi Starfleet captain.
I liked the Ferengi design; it felt familiar enough to be obvious, while at the same time taking advantage of improvements in prosthetic makeup that have been made since the Ferengi debuted. There was more detail in this Ferengi’s face and ears than we ever saw in the likes of Quark and others. That isn’t to say the older makeup and prosthetics were bad, just that there have been advancements in the thirty-five years since the Ferengi were originally created! After Season 3 teased us with glimpses of Cardassians, Andorians, and Lurians who ultimately played no role in the story, I’m not getting my hopes up that this new Ferengi character will play a major part in the story of the season – but you never know!
The existence of President Rillak seems to conclusively rule out the idea that the mysterious Kovich is in charge of the Federation. This had been a rumour or theory that some fans seemed to be quite attached to last time, but I was convinced for much of Season 3 that Kovich is in fact the head of Section 31 – or perhaps Starfleet security. We saw Kovich very briefly in the trailer, and previous statements from David Cronenberg – the famed director who plays the character – had already confirmed that he will be back in some capacity in Season 4.
Tilly appears to have been promoted to lieutenant, at least based on the emblem she’s wearing on her collar in the trailer. Whether that will happen off-screen isn’t clear, but it would be kind of neat after her arc in Season 3 to see her rewarded with a promotion. Tilly was originally Burnham’s choice for first officer, but with Saru back perhaps he’ll fill that role? Either way, it seems that Tilly will be returning to the sciences division and not wearing the red uniform of the command division – something that was ham-fistedly digitally edited in the Season 3 finale!
Dr Gabrielle Burnham and the Qowat Milat are making a return as well, as we saw them involved in a couple of different scenes during the trailer. It wasn’t clear whether the scenes we saw were all taken from the same episode or not, so the Qowat Milat could be in more than one episode. It was great that Discovery found a way to connect with events from Picard Season 1 in this way, and I wonder if we’ll get any other callbacks to the events of Discovery’s sister show. Due to the pandemic and its associated disruptions, Picard Season 2 won’t arrive until after Discovery Season 4 – though the original plan was surely for things to be the other way around!
We got brief looks at Dr Culber, Adira, and Gray. Gray will supposedly be made visible this season after finally being seen by Dr Culber in the Season 3 finale. The short scenes featuring Adira and Gray in the trailer weren’t clear as to Gray’s visibility, and when Adira interacted with Tilly, Gray wasn’t present. But at the Comic-Con panel, Wilson Cruz teased that Gray will indeed become visible and that he may have a connection to the season’s main story in some way!
One of the most interesting shots from the teaser showed Michael Burnham pulling back a shroud over a reptilian-looking alien. This alien seems to be dead, but interestingly seemed to be noticeably larger than the humanoids we’re used to seeing in Star Trek. That could be a consequence of how this one scene was framed, but the idea of aliens – perhaps from inside the anomaly – being “more alien” in appearance is an interesting one in theory. I don’t believe we’ve seen this species before, though the dead alien’s reptilian-inspired look has superficial similarities to a few past Star Trek races.
There was a shot on a snowy planet that I was also taken by. I wonder if this might be a return to the Guardian of Forever’s new homeworld – the one seen in the two-part Season 3 episode Terra Firma. That’s just a gut feeling and it could be somewhere else entirely, but it would be interesting if Discovery didn’t just abandon the Guardian of Forever. If the crew are on a quest to understand a completely alien and unknown phenomenon, the Guardian could be a good place to start. Maybe it has encountered the anomaly before, or at least is aware of it and knows something about it?
Book and Grudge were back – thank goodness! David Ajala was such a wonderful addition to the cast, providing the Starfleet crew of Discovery with an outsider’s perspective while serving as a guide of sorts to the 32nd Century. And Grudge is beautiful, of course! Book’s ship also made a return. We caught a glimpse of Book in the Spore Cube – his telepathy allows him to serve as Discovery’s navigator alongside Stamets. This could be an interesting source of conflict; how will Stamets feel about someone else muscling in on his job? But at the same time the ability of Book to navigate the mycelial network opens up the Spore Drive’s potential. With multiple navigators available – perhaps millions of potential navigators if any Kweijian or anyone who’s telepathic can take on the role – the Spore Drive could finally be rolled out to other Starfleet vessels.
Whether that will actually happen in Season 4 or not is still an open question, but I think finding a way for the Spore Drive to be more than just a gimmick to be used occasionally by Discovery is a good direction for the series to take. With the show now set in the far future of the 32nd Century, it wouldn’t tread on anyone’s toes in terms of canon – and it would be a great way for Starfleet to mitigate the dilithium shortage and future-proof their fleet. I might write this one up as a full theory, so watch this space!
The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats by the anomaly’s gravitational effects is stunning. We’re not really used to seeing artificial gravity failures in Star Trek. Aside from The Undiscovered Country, I can’t really call to mind a time where the failure of a starship’s artificial gravity was a significant story element. Even when ships are badly battered and at the point of destruction, artificial gravity usually continues to function! If Discovery uses this effect sparingly I think it could be very impactful in Season 4.
We saw several members of the cast – and a number of unidentified characters – involved in hand-to-hand violence. Some of this looked utterly barbaric, not at all the kind of thing we’d expect from Starfleet officers. At one point the Qowat Milat even seemed to be engaging a Starfleet officer. I wonder if this is all connected to the anomaly – perhaps things on the other side are more violent, like they are in the Mirror Universe, for example? Or perhaps the anomaly has different effects on people, driving some to become violent? Either way, there seemed to be a lot of that on show in the trailer, and some sort of explanation is required!
Though present, Admiral Vance didn’t have much to say in the trailer. I’m glad he’s coming back, though, as he was a great character in Season 3 as someone who embodied the values of Starfleet. We saw several scenes set at Federation HQ, which was of course Admiral Vance’s home base in Season 3. HQ seemed to look at least a little busier in the trailer than it had in Season 3; this could be a visual representation of the growth of the Federation as it begins to bring back wayward members and expand its fleet. The inclusion of President Rillak may mean Admiral Vance has less to do; both characters seem to occupy a similar role as superiors to Captain Burnham.
Speaking of Captain Burnham and President Rillak, a scene appeared to show Discovery’s captain receiving a stern telling-off from the Federation president. My suspicion is that this is something that happens early in the season prior to the discovery of the anomaly. That’s definitely just a gut feeling, but something about this conversation seemed to suggest the stakes weren’t quite so high. Perhaps Burnham did something in an early mission to earn the president’s ire, but the grave threat of the anomaly will force them to work together despite their differences of opinion and leadership styles.
This sequence, out of everything we saw in the trailer, was my least-favourite. It felt like forced drama for the sake of forced drama, and the use of the word “bravery” when giving an officer a dressing-down was incredibly clumsy dialogue. It was a way to communicate to us as the audience that Burnham is brave and that she’s some kind of maverick who doesn’t always conform or do what authority figures tell her – but it just felt a little too forced. We know Burnham doesn’t always play by the rules having seen the way she operates over three seasons, and having a brand-new character dropped in to reinforce that point may not be the best use of the show’s time. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen the full sequence in context, but in the trailer I didn’t like the way it came across.
So I think that’s all I have to say for now. Stay tuned because there are a couple of nascent theory ideas that I have based on the trailer, so it’s possible they could get the full write-up treatment in the days ahead. Discovery Season 4 is offering another “natural disaster” storyline after the Burn in Season 3, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I confess to being genuinely curious to learn more about this anomaly. What is it? What danger does it really pose? Could it be a weapon rather than a natural occurrence? There are many, many questions running through my mind!
Whatever the ultimate cause of the anomaly, Season 4 looks like it’s on a good track. The trailer was action-packed and exciting, with ample interpersonal drama and an awful lot to unpack. I’ve tried to hit the main points here, but I’d encourage you to check out what other fans and publications have to say as they break down the trailer, as I’m sure there are points I missed or overlooked.
I’m really looking forward to Discovery Season 4 now, and with barely a month left there’s not long to wait. When the new season arrives I’ll be writing reviews of each episode and probably indulging in a spot of theory-crafting, just as I did during Season 3 last year. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere a day later. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.
This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.
Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.
Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.
In the few “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.
In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.
The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.
It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.
Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.
Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.
If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.
Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.
Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.
Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.
As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.
When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.
If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.
I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.
As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.
No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.
Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.
Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one which connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!
Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.
Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.
But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.
Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.
Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.
So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.
Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.
So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.
Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.
Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.
Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.
I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.
But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?
Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.
So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.
Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, and Star Trek: The Original Series.
Though we still haven’t seen a trailer for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, which is on the schedule for next year, last week’s Star Trek Day broadcast finally introduced us to members of the crew of the USS Enterprise who will be joining Captain Pike. Along with Pike, Spock, and Number One, who are returning to their roles from Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, we briefly met six other characters.
We’ll look at each of these characters in turn to see what we can gleam and if we can figure out anything about the direction of any of Strange New Worlds’ plotlines, but first I wanted to cover an omission. Ever since Strange New Worlds was announced last year, fans had been speculating about who may or may not join Captain Pike on the Enterprise, but one character I felt had a strong chance of making an appearance was Cadet Sidhu.
Cadet Sidhu was introduced in the Short Treks episode Ask Not in 2019, and played a major role in that story alongside Captain Pike. Though Ask Not was primarily a vehicle for Anson Mount to reprise his much-loved role, almost any story aboard the Enterprise could’ve been invented for that purpose. To tell a story that focused on Cadet Sidhu and her being assigned to the USS Enterprise felt like a deliberate character introduction, and even though Strange New Worlds hadn’t been announced at that point, the series was clearly something that Star Trek was building up to.
I felt that Ask Not was a strong story, and that Sidhu actor Amrit Kaur put in a solid performance. It was a little surprising to see that she wasn’t part of the main cast at Star Trek Day, and while it’s still possible the character could return in some form, the inclusion of Cadet Uhura – whose role we’ll come to in a moment – seems like it’s potentially occupying a very similar space to the role that Sidhu might’ve played. Although the two characters are in different departments – Sidhu in engineering, Uhura in communications – in terms of narrative structure and character roles it seems unlikely that Strange New Worlds would have space to do justice to the stories of two cadets. If Sidhu is included, then, it seems certain that her role will be much less prominent than I’d have initially expected.
Now that we’ve covered one non-appearance, let’s look at who will definitely be part of Season 1! The character about whom we know the least right now is Erica Ortegas, played by Melissa Navia. This lieutenant appears to occupy a role on the bridge, perhaps in either the helm or navigation positions in front of Captain Pike. Wearing a red shirt, however, could mean she has a role as a security officer, tactical officer, or engineer either in addition to or instead of a permanent role on the bridge.
Lieutenant Ortegas does not appear to be connected to any known Star Trek characters, either from The Original Series era or any other Star Trek production, so that speculation is really the extent of what we know! We can assume that she’s of Spanish, Latin American, or Hispanic-American origin simply based on her name and casting, which would make her the first major character in the franchise to be from one of those backgrounds.
Interestingly, the name “Ortegas” is not new to Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s original pitch for Star Trek, prior to commencing work on The Cage, included a character named José Ortegas who would occupy the role of the ship’s navigator. By the time The Cage entered production, however, this character had been changed. José Tyler (whose first name wasn’t mentioned on screen) replaced Ortegas. This subtle nod to Star Trek’s origin is incredibly sweet, and if we can infer anything at all from this connection, it could mean that Lieutenant Ortegas will indeed occupy the role of navigator on the bridge.
Up next is the other character who appears to have no connection that we’re aware of to anyone else in Star Trek: Hemmer, played by Bruce Horak. Horak was not part of the announcement of the cast of Strange New Worlds earlier in the year, so his inclusion was a bit of a surprise for more than one reason! Most interestingly, though, Hemmer appears to be an Aenar – an Andorian race first encountered in Enterprise.
Most Aenar were known to be blind, and actor Bruce Horak is himself legally blind. This aspect of Hemmer’s character wasn’t discussed at all during Star Trek Day, which was a little odd considering it’s a significant step for the franchise. The character of Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation was also blind, but in his case a visor allowed him to see. Hemmer will potentially be the first blind character on Star Trek whose sight hasn’t been restored through technological means. What that means for his role aboard the ship isn’t clear, though.
Hemmer was wearing the red shirt of the security or engineering departments, and the very brief clip of him appeared to show him in a different area of the ship. Perhaps we can infer from that that he isn’t a bridge officer and may work in engineering. The Aenar in Enterprise were known to have extensive telepathic abilities, which could give Hemmer an edge when it comes to things like diplomacy or even a medical field. Hemmer is already a fascinating character, and I love the nod to Enterprise. His inclusion is a positive one for the visually-impaired, and for folks with disabilities of all kinds. Not only that, but it was done in a very “Star Trek” way – casting a character who is a member of a blind race of aliens doesn’t tread on the toes of things like Geordi’s visor and the prospect of offering a cure for blindness in Star Trek’s optimistic future.
Now we’re coming to characters who may be a little more familiar. La’an Noonien-Singh, played by Christina Chong, shares a family name with Khan Noonien Singh (albeit with a hyphen, though that could be a mistake). It seems incredibly unlikely to me that that’s a coincidence, so the question it raises is to what extent is La’an connected to Khan? At this point in the timeline, Khan is still in stasis aboard the SS Botany Bay. He wouldn’t be encountered by the Enterprise and awakened until after Captain Kirk assumed command of the ship, so La’an seemingly can’t be a direct relation.
It’s possible that she’s a distant descendant, then. Though Khan was genetically augmented, the practice was banned after the Eugenics Wars and thus it seems unlikely that La’an could be an augment herself. However, genetic traits found in Khan may still be present after several generations and she may have increased strength or mental faculties as a result.
One storyline that could be interesting for a character like La’an is how she might want to move away from her family history. Assuming that she does have a family connection with Khan, the choice to either embrace or reject his legacy could be something we see the character struggle with at points. Some people struggle with a family name and family legacy, and this can be a source of drama in fiction. Though Kylo Ren’s story went completely off the rails in the Star Wars franchise, it began with lofty ambitions of depicting a man struggling with different parts of his family history. Perhaps we’ll see something similar with La’an Noonien-Singh.
Other than that implied connection with Khan, all we can say about La’an is that she’s also wearing the red uniform of either the security or engineering divisions. Either could be a good fit if there’s any kind of genetic legacy from Khan and his augments – a security officer with enhanced strength and endurance would have an advantage, and an engineer whose brain works faster than everyone else would likewise be an incredibly useful asset to any engineering team.
Those three characters are brand-new to Star Trek – even though there are connections to the rest of the franchise. Strange New Worlds also re-introduced us to three other characters who are returning! These three all appeared in The Original Series. We’ll begin with Dr M’Benga, who appeared in just two episodes. When Dr McCoy was absent, Dr M’Benga appeared to be in charge, so he could’ve been the deputy chief medical officer by the time of The Original Series.
Though never confirmed on screen, the character’s first name was intended to be Joseph, and Dr M’Benga would’ve been born in Uganda in Africa. By the time of Geordi La Forge’s birth around a century later, an organisation called the African Confederation was known to exist, so it’s possible that Dr M’Benga may have originated from there as well. The actor taking on the role, Babs Olusanmokun, was born in Nigeria, so it’s possible that Dr M’Benga’s origin could be changed to give him a west African ancestry.
The Original Series clarified one thing about Dr M’Benga – he was somewhat of an expert on Vulcan physiology having spent some time on Vulcan. It’s possible that we could see him strike up a friendship with Spock based on that, or prove useful if Spock requires medical attention. Given Dr M’Benga’s status by the time of The Original Series I’m not convinced that he’ll be the chief medical officer – if so, why would he seemingly have taken a demotion to serve under Dr McCoy a decade later?
Dr Boyce, who we met in The Cage, appeared to be a friend and confidante of Captain Pike as well as the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. It’s possible this character may yet return in some form, and that Dr M’Benga is again a deputy. Or perhaps Dr Boyce has taken a leave of absence leaving Dr M’Benga in charge temporarily. Of the returning characters from The Original Series, Dr M’Benga offers the creative team behind Strange New Worlds the most freedom. We saw him on only a couple of occasions, so his character is still largely unwritten.
Staying in sickbay, we come to Nurse Chapel. Along with Una (Number One), Nurse Christine Chapel was played by Majel Barrett during The Original Series and was a mainstay in sickbay alongside Dr McCoy. Jess Bush is taking on the role for Strange New Worlds, and presumably will share a number of scenes with Dr M’Benga. The two characters knew one another by the time of The Original Series, and even worked together to treat Spock in the episode A Private Little War.
Despite appearing in twenty-five episodes of The Original Series, as well as in The Animated Series and two films, I’d argue that Nurse Chapel is still quite an underdeveloped character open for Strange New Worlds to explore in more depth. Many of her appearances in The Original Series were as an assistant to Dr McCoy, and learning more about her as a person away from her medical duties could be something the new show does.
There’s also the romantic feelings that Nurse Chapel developed toward Spock. Does she have a crush on him at this early stage? If not, perhaps the series will show how that came to be. Though I’m sure her characterisation won’t just be about that – the trope of female characters having nothing to think about but men is a tired one that needs to be retired – it could be one element among many that we see. Chapel was engaged to a man named Roger Korby by Season 1 of The Original Series, and this relationship could also be explored.
As a character that we’re at least a little familiar with, Strange New Worlds will have to tread somewhat carefully with Nurse Chapel. Though there is scope, as mentioned, to dive deeper into her characterisation and learn more about her, there are some constraints based on what we know of her from The Original Series that the show will have to respect.
Finally we come to the character that got many fans incredibly excited. Strange New Worlds was even trending on Twitter for a time following the reveal that Cadet Nyota Uhura will be a member of the crew. With the exception of Spock and, to a degree, Captain Pike, Uhura is the character fans are most familiar with, as she appeared in sixty-nine episodes of The Original Series, all but three episodes of The Animated Series, and all six films starring Star Trek’s original cast. She also appeared in the alternate reality Kelvin timeline films.
As such, there’s less scope to reshape or change Uhura’s character than there is for any of the others. However, as Discovery did with Spock in Season 2, there’s a lot of potential to show where Uhura came from and how she came to grow into the person we came to know and love during The Original Series. She can’t be too fundamentally different, but she can certainly start in a different place and slowly become the person we’re more familiar with. This was Spock’s journey, in some respects, in Discovery.
We know from both her original depiction and her Kelvin timeline depiction that Uhura has a knack for alien languages. Perhaps her unique skillset is what landed her a role on the Enterprise to begin with, as it seems unlikely that a cadet would ordinarily be a regular on the bridge! In that sense we could see her akin to Hoshi Sato from Enterprise – still finding her feet on the ship, but confident in her particular field.
A young cadet or newly-graduated officer is a character archetype that Star Trek shows have used in the past to great effect. Wesley Crusher, Harry Kim, and Sylvia Tilly come to mind first and foremost, but I’d also point to Dr Bashir in his first appearances, as well as Pavel Chekov, D’Vana Tendi, and the aforementioned Hoshi Sato as great examples. These kinds of characters present a strong contrast with the more experienced members of the crew, and can offer different perspectives as a result. Not only that, but any character who’s new aboard the ship makes for a great introduction and point-of-view character for us as the audience. It’s possible that Uhura will fill this role at the beginning of Strange New Worlds.
Before we wrap things up we can also talk about Una Chin-Riley, also known as Number One. She’s Captain Pike’s first officer, and though we spent a little time with her in Discovery Season 2 and Short Treks, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about her. Her depiction in The Cage was as a rather unemotional, straight-laced person. In particular the Short Treks episode Q&A showed us that there is a fun side to her – and this is something we could definitely see more of. Number One seems like someone with a very professional attitude, and perhaps a very clear line between friends and co-workers. Captain Pike and Spock may have bridged that line – but who else will?
Rebecca Romijn, who plays the character, told us that Una is “way more complex” than we might expect, which is tantalising to say the least! She also said that Strange New Worlds will take the opportunity to “flesh out” the character in more detail, which sounds fantastic. Though the original portrayal – and to an extent what we’ve seen in Discovery – does act as a constraint on where the character could go, I think there’s still plenty of scope to explore who Number One is.
The uniforms have been redesigned for Strange New Worlds, with most characters sporting a V-neck variant without the high collar or much of the piping and stitching seen in Season 2 of Discovery. Number One appears to have her own unique variant with a zip collar and black undershirt, and more black or dark patches on the sides of the torso. It’s not clear why she gets a special uniform – or indeed if this is what she’ll wear most often. But it’s interesting, and makes her stand out from the rest of the crew.
Of course we also have Captain Pike and Spock returning as well – but I daresay you know at least a little about both of them already! We didn’t really learn too much more about either of them at Star Trek Day, though there was talk of Captain Pike potentially inviting members of his senior staff to his quarters and cooking meals for them. That seems like a neat addition to his character. In Discovery Season 2 we came to see Captain Pike as the embodiment of Starfleet’s values and the epitome of what it means to be a leader. I daresay that side of his characterisation will remain.
When it comes to Pike, one element of his story that I’m most interested in is how he’s going to handle the knowledge of his impending accident and disability. He chose that future for himself in Discovery Season 2, and now it’s locked-in. As someone who’s disabled and suffers from a complex set of health issues, I’ve been in the position of knowing something is wrong and only going to get worse. I’ve heard bad news from a doctor, knowing there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome. Seeing how Pike will respond to being in a comparable situation has to be one of the things I’m most anticipating when it comes to his role in Strange New Worlds.
However, I’m also looking forward to spending time with Pike himself outside of that. There’s more to him than just one storyline, and we could see him, for example, attempt to make contact with Vina on Talos IV again, or furthering his friendships with Spock and Number One. I’m curious to see him interact with some of the other members of the crew, particularly those we remember from The Original Series era.
Finally we have Spock. As the character we know best, and as someone who’s been a major part of Star Trek for practically its entire history, there’s far less scope to radically change Spock. Additions can be made to his character – as we saw with Michael Burnham in Discovery – but at a fundamental level, who he is as a person is set in stone.
We may see Spock’s human and Vulcan sides in conflict in Strange New Worlds as he tries to bury his emotions. At Star Trek Day, producer Akiva Goldsman made reference to The Cage and how Spock was depicted there. How “smiley Spock” became the character we know, perhaps influenced by the loss of Michael Burnham, could be one element of his character that the new show will explore.
I think it’s more important for Spock to stay true to his past characterisation than it is for any of the others. Spock has appeared in The Original Series and its films, The Next Generation, and the Kelvin timeline films, and was a major character much of the time. There is still scope to explore unknown aspects of his character – and we could see, for example, how or why he came to have a falling-out with Sarek – but generally speaking this is the character that Strange New Worlds has to be the most careful with.
Production has now finished on Season 1 of Strange New Worlds. Though I fully expect a second season is already being worked on behind closed doors, there’s been no official announcement as of yet. If the show follows a similar pattern to Discovery and Picard, it might not be until the first season is about to premiere that we’ll learn a second is going to happen. Regardless, I think it’s a safe bet right now that, after all the effort and work that’s gone into Season 1, Strange New Worlds won’t just run for a single season!
Promising a return to a more episodic format, and bringing back Captain Pike and Spock after their excellent roles in Season 2 of Discovery, Strange New Worlds was already high up on the list of shows I’m most excited for. But I have to say, after seeing the casting announcements (and, perhaps, because Picard Season 2 has dropped down a little) it’s now officially right at the top! 2022 can’t come soon enough, to be honest!
Each of the new characters look genuinely exciting and interesting, and the series seems to be doing a good job at walking the line between staying true to Star Trek’s past and carving out its own niche. That isn’t always going to be easy, and the producers have certainly taken on a challenge by bringing back fan-favourites like Uhura. But everything I’ve seen and heard fills me with confidence that Strange New Worlds is going to be utterly fantastic. I cannot wait to see the show when it premieres next year.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States (and other regions where the platform is available) in 2022. Further international distribution has not yet been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for Short Treks.
This week’s episode perhaps wasn’t the funniest of the season – though there were some good jokes and moments of humour – but you know what? It was by far the most character-driven and emotional episode we’ve seen probably since Season 1’s Crisis Point. The two main character pairings each got to talk out emotional issues that had been lingering since the end of Season 1, and perhaps my only criticism would be that this episode would’ve worked better slightly earlier in the season!
For the first time in at least a couple of weeks, I felt that Lower Decks wasn’t trying to cram too much into a single episode. There was time for Boimler and Mariner to have their story, Rutherford and Tendi to have theirs, and the bridge crew to also be involved in a way that ultimately connected to both other storylines and didn’t feel forced or rushed.
Having blitzed through the Rutherford memory loss story at the beginning of the season and effectively “reset” him to where he had been in Season 1, this week’s Rutherford and Tendi team-up – in which he comes to terms with his memory loss and realises he doesn’t need to compete against his former self – would have worked better had it come earlier in the season. There was still a considerable emotional payoff in what was, as mentioned, an episode brimming with emotion, but had we seen more of Rutherford struggling with his lost memories in any of the first four episodes, this week’s conclusion would’ve felt more natural and more earned.
Considering that An Embarrassment of Dooplers had to set up Rutherford’s struggles, elaborate on them, and reach a satisfying conclusion in what was a B-plot, I have to give the episode plenty of credit. Rutherford and Tendi’s story was compact, but it revolved around a single item – their starship model kit – and placing this simple macguffin in the story kept it laser-focused. Had the writers tried to bring in too many different ways that Rutherford’s memory loss was affecting him, the story could’ve become unwieldy and lost its emotional core. In this case less was more – and the episode delivered.
As someone who used to build scale models (yes, I was that weird nerdy kid you’d see in model shops and toyshops) I adore that the writers brought in this element to Rutherford and Tendi’s friendship. It seems like the perfect hobby for the pair of them, as they both adore the ship and seemingly everything else about serving in Starfleet. I can absolutely buy into the idea that they’d want to spend their downtime working on a starship model.
I also absolutely love Tendi’s explanation for why the model was unfinishable. The idea that they would use the model as an excuse to not hang out or to prevent people from bothering them while they shared their time off together is simultaneously something I can relate to (as someone who is neurodivergent and has a very low tolerance for interacting with people) and, in a narrative context, a very cute romantic gesture. For all of my talk last week about “shipping” Boimler and Rutherford – which I still think would be adorable, by the way – the idea that either Tendi or Rutherford came up with this way of keeping people away so that they could enjoy time together without any distractions is incredibly sweet. It’s a kind of nerdy sweet, which is even better!
Star Trek has always proudly shown off alien races that seem to be illogical or with traits that make very little sense. The Yridians always spring to mind during such conversations; would an entire race really be involved in information trading? How did they ever develop as a species if all of them are information dealers? The Bynars are another example: half-cyborgs who can only work in pairs. And don’t even get me started on the Q Continuum or Trelane (maybe Trelane is a Q?!), so when the Dooplers with their ability to self-duplicate were introduced in this episode, I barely batted an eyelid.
For some folks, though, I can predict that the Dooplers’ silliness might be a point of attack. There’s something kind of Rick and Morty-esque about this new race of aliens, and for some on the anti-Trek side of things perhaps they might latch onto that to criticise Lower Decks. But as I said above, there are myriad aliens and stories from past iterations of Star Trek that are equally silly or unbelievable – remember that episode of The Animated Series where the Enterprise ended up in a parallel universe where magic is real? Where do you think shows like Rick and Morty got their ideas from, anyway? Star Trek has always had aliens like the Dooplers – and if you want to get scientific about it, cell division (mitosis) is a thing, and a form of reproduction for many organisms. Perhaps the Dooplers simply reproduce in this asexual form – no, not that kind of asexual!
Captain Freeman had her hands full with the exponentially-reproducing Dooplers, though! I was reminded more than a little of the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward, in which tribbles quickly overrun the USS Cabot. That was a very funny episode – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. I don’t think I really spoiled it too badly there, so definitely track down a copy!
There’s a fine line between a trope and a stereotype, though, and the exaggerated Jewish-American accent used for the Dooplers, combined with their social awkwardness and ease of embarrassment, felt like it strayed very close at times. It was a little uncomfortable for that reason, kind of like watching the depiction of recurring Family Guy character Mort Goldman (and other Jewish-American stereotypes that that series seems to love for some reason). Maybe you can accuse me of being overly-sensitive, saying it was just a joke, etc. But it wasn’t a comfortable portrayal for me, it was one which leaned into stereotyping in a way that Star Trek should really be above.
The Dooplers themselves were one-dimensional. There isn’t much more to say; complaints of falling into stereotyping aside, the Doopler ambassador was a character who basically had one trait: he was prone to embarrassment. That embarrassment was something Captain Freeman and her senior staff had been trying to avoid for the entire mission – until an ill-timed rant about how awkward the mission was led to the duplication process starting anyway. The whole “he was behind you and overheard you say things about him” trope was put to good use here!
Captain Freeman ultimately had the same motivation as Ensign Mariner in this episode, but mother and daughter approached their shared goal in fundamentally different ways. They also both experienced rejection, yet at the end found comfort in spending time together. Though the Mariner-Freeman family aspect wasn’t the main focus of the story, this smaller element didn’t pass by unnoticed. We got to see Mariner and Freeman wanting the same thing – to attend the fancy Starfleet party – and we got to see them go about it in very different ways, highlighting that they have both similarities as mother and daughter, but still some pretty significant differences.
The main thrust of the story focused on Mariner and Boimler, and this was their first major outing as a duo since the season began. Again, as with the Rutherford and Tendi story, I might’ve moved this episode to an earlier point in the season, as some of their emotional moments felt like they could’ve arisen upon Boimler’s return to the ship – not several weeks later. But despite that, we got a story that was both funny and emotional.
After arriving on the starbase, Mariner decides that they need to speak to a shady character to get information about the fancy Starfleet party – as its location was supposedly a secret. The payoff to this joke, of course, was that the party was being held in what seemed to be the main ballroom on the station, and all the running away from security was ultimately unnecessary! This aspect of the story was the comedic part, as Mariner and Boimler raced away in a dune buggy/kart to escape security.
The sequence that took Mariner and Boimler in their kart through a variety of different shops and locations on the station was pretty funny, and reminded me of something you might see in a romantic comedy film – and I mean that in a good way! The sense that they were on an out-of-control ride, complete with some pretty slapstick humour, was a much-needed lighthearted sequence in an episode that was quite heavy on emotion later on. The parade of different shops was also reminiscent of the promenade, which was a major location in Deep Space Nine.
After taking his promotion and transferring to the USS Titan in the Season 1 finale, one thing we saw was that Boimler was ignoring messages from Mariner. Though he almost certainly was doing so due to his anxiety (answering the phone can be very difficult for people with anxieties, especially if the expected conversation is something negative), she felt abandoned by him. Just last week we learned that Mariner has experienced this rejection and abandonment before – in that case, her defence mechanism became telling elaborate stories about herself and crafting rumours that would lead to a sense of dark mystery. She chooses to avoid many people because of her fear of being rejected as they move on and move up the career ladder. She’d considered Boimler to be different, so his “betrayal” hit her very hard.
Finally getting all of these emotions out and laying them on the table was cathartic. Not only that, but it continued Mariner’s wonderful character arc going back to Season 1, as her characterisation as someone who is lonely and struggles to maintain friendships despite her “cool” persona was again laid bare. The only part I found a tad unbelievable was Boimler’s response, telling Mariner that he “didn’t know [she] had emotions.” He’d been her friend long enough to know that she can be emotional, and just last week he saw firsthand how much his friendship meant to her when she was so dejected that he’d believe the silly rumour she started. But that aside, this moment was beautiful and well-executed.
Boimler choosing to ditch the fancy party packed with Admirals and Captains to be with her was a wrench for him and a sacrifice, but it was one that worked perfectly for the story. Just like Mariner has grown over the past dozen episodes, so too has Boimler. Friendship matters to him, and Mariner matters to him in this moment – more so than just some fancy party. He could’ve schmoozed with senior officers and perhaps tried to score another promotion, but it seems that he was willing to give up on that – at least for now – to be with her. It was an incredibly sweet moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this time. Both main character pairs got cathartic, emotional stories that reinforced their friendships, and we even got a moment between Mariner and the Captain to round things off. For the first time in three weeks, Lower Decks managed to get the balance right in terms of the number of characters and stories it tried to include. Every character felt necessary to the episode’s plotlines, no story felt rushed, and the slower pace of the closing moments worked exceptionally well. There was still time for humour and to make jokes, but the success of An Embarrassment of Dooplers was its emotional edge.
It was sweet to see Mariner and Boimler enjoying one another’s company as friends, and likewise with Tendi and Rutherford. Each pair dealt with issues left over from Season 1 in a way that worked, and though I would argue the episode could’ve been bumped up the schedule so it came earlier in the season, overall I had a fun time this week. There were some neat references to past iterations of Star Trek, too – obviously the Kirk and Spock callback in the bar was cute, as well as something that firmly established the extent of Boimler and Mariner’s relationship. By comparing them to Kirk and Spock I’d argue the episode went out of its way to stamp out any ideas of a romantic bond between them, despite the semi-romantic nature of its storyline. There was also a callback to Okona – a character from The Next Generation who appears to have started a new career as a DJ. We’d heard a while back that Okona actor Billy Campbell was making a return to Star Trek – supposedly in Prodigy – but his voice wasn’t heard in this episode despite Okona’s appearance.
Overall, a great episode that was thoroughly enjoyable. An Embarrassment of Dooplers slowed down just long enough to allow its four main characters to shine. Oh, and hearing Dr T’Ana swear four times in a single sentence will never not be funny!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including the following upcoming series: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and Prodigy Season 1.
Yesterday was Star Trek Day! And in case you missed it, ViacomCBS held a live event that was streamed online and via Paramount+ showcasing and celebrating all things Star Trek! We’ll break down the big news in a moment, but first I wanted to give you my thoughts on the event as a whole.
This was the first big in-person event that many of the folks involved had been able to attend since 2019, and there was talk of the pandemic and its enforced disruption on the various shows that have been in production over the last couple of years. There was also a lot of positivity from presenters and interviewees not only about Star Trek – which was to be expected, naturally – but also about being back together and simply being able to hold a major event of this nature. The positivity of hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton was infectious, and the event was much better for the role the duo played in hosting the panels and introducing guests.
That isn’t to say that Star Trek Day was entirely without problems, though. To be blunt, the event dragged on a bit too long (it ran to over three hours) and several of the panels and interviews were the worse for being conducted live instead of the pre-recorded, edited, and curated segments and panels we’ve had to get used to in the coronavirus era. Several of the guests seemed unprepared for what should’ve been obvious questions, and there were too many awkward silences and pauses while people gathered their thoughts and responded to the hosts. Such is the nature of live broadcasting – and it sounds rather misanthropic to criticise it!
During what I assume was an intermission on the main stage we were treated(!) to a separate pair of presenters on the red carpet reading out twitter messages and posts from the audience. This was perhaps the segment that dragged the most; one of the presenters even admitted to not being a regular Star Trek viewer (she hadn’t seen Discovery at all) so unfortunately this part of the show was less interesting as the pair were a little less knowledgeable about the franchise. If it had been made clear that this section of the broadcast was going to last as long as it did I might’ve taken a break as well!
Overall, though, despite running a bit too long and the ending feeling a little rushed (something we’ll talk about later), Star Trek Day was a success. It didn’t only look forward to upcoming projects like Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2, but it looked back at every past Star Trek series, inviting members of the casts of those shows to talk about what made them – and the franchise – so great.
As a true celebration of all things Star Trek, the broadcast has to be considered a success. And although a pre-recorded event could’ve been edited and streamlined to cut to the more interesting parts and to give interviewees a chance to gather their thoughts, it was nice to see many of the folks we know and love from Star Trek back together and able to spend time in person with one another. Hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton did a great job at making us as the audience feel included, as if we were there at Star Trek Day right along with them. For those few hours – even through awkward moments and segments that seemed to run a little too long – it felt like being a member of the Star Trek family. As someone with few friends, I appreciated that immensely. For those few hours last night – and yes, even though Star Trek Day didn’t start until 1:30am UK time I did stay up to watch it – I felt like I, too, was an honorary member of the Star Trek family, and that’s a feeling I would never have been able to get anywhere else.
Now then! Let’s talk about the various panels, trailers, and interviews. Over the coming days I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the announcements and trailers in more detail (as well as perhaps crafting a few of my patented and often-wrong theories), but for now I want to try to include an overview of everything that was included in Star Trek Day.
We’ll come to the biggest announcements and trailers at the end, but first I wanted to talk for a moment about the music. Star Trek Day had a live orchestra on its main stage, and we were treated to live renditions of Star Trek theme music past and present – as well as a medley that kicked off the event. I was listening to Star Trek Day on my headphones, and the music sounded beautiful. Composer Jeff Ruso (who composed the theme music to Discovery and Picard) picked up the conductor’s baton, and the medley he arranged was really an outstanding celebration of all things Star Trek.
Star Trek Day both began and ended with music, as Isa Briones (Star Trek: Picard’s Soji) sang her rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1926 song Blue Skies to close out the broadcast.
There were five “legacy moments” spread throughout Star Trek Day, and these celebrations of past Star Trek series were genuinely moving. Actors George Takei, LeVar Burton, Cirroc Lofton, Garrett Wang, and Anthony Montgomery spoke about their respective series with enthusiasm and emotion. Cirroc Lofton paid tribute to his on-screen dad Avery Brooks, talking about how Deep Space Nine showed a single dad balancing his work and family commitments. He also spoke about Deep Space Nine’s legacy as the first Star Trek show to step away from a starship and take a different look at the Star Trek galaxy.
The themes of diversity and inclusion were omnipresent in these legacy moments, and all five actors spoke about how Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry have promoted diversity since the very beginning. George Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek, how sci-fi had previously been something often seen as just for kids, and how putting a very diverse cast of characters together was groundbreaking in the 1960s. It’s always amazing to hear George Takei speak, and even fifty-five years later he still has a grace and eloquence when speaking on these topics. As someone who has himself been at the forefront of campaigning for diversity and equality, he does so with a gravitas that few can match.
Garrett Wang spoke about how Voyager could be a “refuge” for fans; a place to go where everyone could feel included and like they were part of the family. The way the show combined two crews was, I would argue, one of its weaker elements, but Wang looked at it through a different lens, and I can see the point about how Voyager put those folks in a difficult situation and brought them together to work in common cause. He also spoke in very flattering terms about Captain Janeway and Kate Mulgrew – who is returning to Star Trek very soon.
Anthony Montgomery was incredibly positive about Enterprise, and how the series embodied the pioneering spirit of exploration. I loved his line about how Enterprise, although it was a prequel recorded later than many other shows, laid the groundwork and filled in much of Star Trek’s previously unvisited stories and unexplained lore. Above all, he said, Enterprise was a “fun” show – and it’s hard to disagree! The orchestra concluded this speech with Archer’s Theme – the music heard over the end credits for Enterprise – which is a beautiful piece of music. If I were to remaster Enterprise I’d drop Faith of the Heart (which is a nice enough song, don’t get me wrong) and replace it on the opening titles with Archer’s Theme. The orchestra played it perfectly.
LeVar Burton talked about The Next Generation, and how Star Trek was reinvigorated for a new era. The Next Generation was the first spin-off, and it came at a time when spin-offs didn’t really exist in the sci-fi or drama spaces, so it was an unknown and a risk. Burton also spoke about The Next Generation’s sense of family, and how Star Trek can be a unifying force in the world.
Far from being mere padding, the five legacy moments saw stars of Star Trek’s past pay tribute to the franchise and the shows they were part of. There were consistent themes running through all five speeches, particularly the theme of inclusion. Star Trek has always been a franchise that strives to include people who are “different” – people like myself. For many fans, that’s one of the things that makes Star Trek so great. To see some of the biggest stars acknowledge and celebrate that aspect of Star Trek was wonderful, emotional, and rather cathartic.
Each of the five actors spoke with love, positivity, and enthusiasm for the franchise that made them household names. Anthony Montgomery’s incredibly positive attitude in particular shone through – he was beaming the whole time and seemed genuinely thrilled to have been invited to speak and to celebrate Enterprise.
If Star Trek Day aimed to celebrate all things Star Trek, then the legacy moments went a long way to making that ambition a reality on the night. The speeches were pitch-perfect, as were the orchestral renditions of all five Star Trek themes, and I had an unexpectedly good time with these moments. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the programme listed on the website; I didn’t really have any expectations of what the legacy moments would include. They surprised me by being one of the most enjoyable, down-to-earth parts of a hugely entertaining evening.
Let’s talk about news and announcements. That’s what you’re here for, right?! That was certainly what I was most interested in and excited for when I sat down to watch the Star Trek Day broadcast – though, as mentioned, I was taken aback by some of the other elements present that I wouldn’t have expected!
First, a non-announcement! Wil Wheaton interviewed the head of production on Star Trek, Alex Kurtzman, early on in the evening. Kurtzman didn’t have anything to say about the Section 31 series, nor about the upcoming Star Trek film due for release in 2023. However, he mentioned something that I found really interesting: a Starfleet Academy series or project. This isn’t anything close to an official announcement, of course, and he and Wil Wheaton talked about it in abstract terms. But a Starfleet Academy series has been something Star Trek has considered in the past; Gene Roddenberry was quite keen on a Starfleet Academy spin-off prior to developing The Next Generation. Watch this space, because it’s at least possible that a project centred around Starfleet Academy will get off the ground under Kurtzman’s leadership.
There were no brand-new shows or films formally announced at Star Trek Day. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting such an announcement, and Kurtzman’s earlier statement that no new show will be worked on until the current crop have run their course would seem to exclude it, there are multiple pitches and projects that have been rumoured or talked about over the last few years. The Section 31 series was absent again, as mentioned, and that’s more bad news for a series that feels like it isn’t going to happen. There were also no mentions of the likes of Ceti Alpha V, Captain Proton, or Captain Worf – just some of the heavily-speculated or rumoured pitches believed to be floating around over at ViacomCBS.
We did get release dates or release windows for several upcoming seasons, though! After Lower Decks Season 2 draws to a close in mid-October there’ll be a couple of weeks with no Star Trek, but then Prodigy will be available (in the United States at least) from the 28th of October. Shortly thereafter, Discovery Season 4 will kick off – it will premiere on the 18th of November in the United States and on the 19th internationally. Finally, Picard Season 2 is scheduled to arrive on our screens in February next year – presumably shortly after the season finale of Discovery.
All of this is great news! There was no release date for Strange New Worlds, but I think we can assume it will follow within a few weeks at most of Picard Season 2, which would put it perhaps in May or June 2022 at the very latest. But there will be a whole lot of Star Trek on our screens this autumn and winter, well into the first half of next year. Wil Wheaton said it best: with so many new Star Trek projects in production, we’re living through a new golden age of Star Trek right now!
I was a little surprised when the Discovery panel ended without revealing a new trailer or teaser for Season 4. Michelle Paradise, Wilson Cruz, Blu del Barrio, and Ian Alexander talked about how the show is fostering a sense of family in the 32nd Century – and that we will see Gray get a “corporeal” body in Season 4 somehow, which is great! But I have to say I’d been expecting a new trailer; the show is only a couple of months away after all. Perhaps we’ll get that nearer to the time. There wasn’t any mention of Season 5 either, but it’s possible that announcement will come as the marketing campaign for Season 4 ramps up.
Wilson Cruz seems like such a positive person in every interview I’ve ever seen him participate in, and he brought a lot of positive energy to the stage in Star Trek Day as well. There was talk of the Stamets-Culber relationship being revisited in Season 4, which is great – Stamets and Culber really form the emotional core of the show. He also spoke about how Dr Culber is embracing new roles in Season 4 – the role of counsellor to others aboard the ship as well as a parental role for Adira and Gray.
Gray’s storyline has the potential to be one of the most powerful in Discovery as the show moves into its fourth season. Being trans or gender-nonconforming can make one feel invisible – something I can speak to myself – and this is literally shown on screen by Gray’s invisibility. The powerful story of discovering how to be seen, and to do so with the help, encouragement, and support of one’s closest friends and family has the potential to be an exceptionally powerful story, one which I can already feel resonating with me. Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander spoke very positively about their on- and off-screen relationships, and they seem like they work exceptionally well together as a duo. I can’t wait to see what Season 4 will bring for them both.
I’ve already got a Prodigy theory! The show’s co-creators talked about how Prodigy Season 1 begins with the kids on a never-before-seen planet described as being “far removed and mysterious.” It sounds like we aren’t seeing a planet that the USS Voyager visited in the Delta Quadrant – something backed up by scenes seemingly set on that world in the trailer – and the USS Protostar appears to have crashed “inside” the planet. Did it crash during the final leg of Voyager’s journey home through the Borg transwarp network? Or perhaps during one of Voyager’s other flights – the space catapult from The Voyager Conspiracy or Kes’ telepathic launch in The Gift, for example. More to come on this, so stay tuned!
So we got a release date for Prodigy in the United States, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions now it seems as though Prodigy isn’t going to be broadcast anywhere that doesn’t already have Paramount+. Considering that the series is a collaborative project between Star Trek and Nickelodeon (itself a ViacomCBS subsidiary), it should surely have been possible to secure an international broadcast on the Nickelodeon channel – a satellite/cable channel here in the UK and in many other countries. It’s a disappointment that, once again, ViacomCBS does not care about its international fans. It’s not as egregious a failing as it was with Lower Decks, because as a kids’ show Prodigy’s primary audience won’t really notice the delay. But for Trekkies around the world, to see Prodigy teased then find out we have no way to watch it is disappointing, and there’s no way around that.
Despite that, the Prodigy panel was interesting. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices Murf – the cute blob-alien – seems like he’s a real Trekkie and spoke about the franchise with passion. It was so much fun to see him perform Murf’s voice live, as well! Brett Gray, who will take on the role of young leader Dal, seemed overjoyed to have joined a franchise – and a family – with such a legacy, and I liked the way he spoke about how the young crew of the USS Protostar will grow as the season progresses.
The show’s co-creators – brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman – spoke about how Prodigy won’t be a series that talks down to children, but rather aims to be a series with plenty to offer for adults as well. The best kids’ shows manage this – and the Hagemans have received critical acclaim and awards for their work on Trollhunters and Ninjago, so there’s a lot of room for optimism. They both seemed to have a good grasp of the legacy and role Star Trek plays and has played for young people, and I think the show is in safe hands.
The Prodigy trailer was action-packed and exciting! We got a glimpse of the villainous character played by John Noble – and heard his distinctive voice – as well as got a much closer look at the USS Protostar than we had before. Perhaps the most exciting moment, though, was seeing the Janeway hologram for the first time! Janeway’s role in the show seems like it will be that of a mentor; the kids will make their own calls and decisions, but Janeway will be on hand to offer advice – at least that’s my take at this stage.
There were some funny moments in the trailer, too, which will surely produce a lot of giggles from Prodigy’s young audience. “Just hit all the buttons” until the phasers fire was a great laugh line, and the ship losing artificial gravity was likewise hilarious. There was also a crash-landing that reminded me very much of a scene in the Voyager episode Timeless. I’m really looking forward to Prodigy and to spending time with the young crew of the USS Protostar.
The Lower Decks panel was perhaps the funniest of the night. It was also the one where the interviewees felt the most comfortable and did their best at participating and answering questions; there were none of the awkward silences or long pauses that made me cringe during other panels. Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, and creator Mike McMahan initially took to the stage before being joined in truly spectacular fashion by Ransom voice actor Jerry O’Connell. The cast members clearly get on very well together, and this came across as the four talked with host Mica Burton about the first four episodes of the season as well as what’s to come in the remaining six episodes.
Wells and Cordero talked about how they see their characters of Tendi and Rutherford becoming friends and bonding over “nerd” things – geeking out together over things like new tricorders, engineering, or how best to do their work was a hallmark for both in Season 1. I’m not so sure how I feel about Mike McMahan saying that the rest of the season plans to go “even bigger” with some of its stories. Lower Decks can be overly ambitious, at times, with the number of characters and story threads it tries to cram into a twenty- or twenty-five-minute episode, and this can be to the detriment of some or all of the stories it wants to tell.
However, McMahan spoke about the episode Crisis Point from Season 1 as a kind of baseline for how big and bold the show wants to go in the second half of Season 2. That episode was one of the best, not just for its wacky over-the-top action, but for its quieter character moments. If the rest of Season 2 keeps in mind the successful elements from episodes like Crisis Point, then I think we’re in for a good time!
The mid-season trailer was interesting! Here are just some of the things I spotted: the Pakleds are returning, Rutherford seems to get a “Wrath of Khan-inspired” moment in a radiation chamber, Tendi was transformed into a monster that seemed reminiscent of those in Genesis from Season 7 of The Next Generation, Boimler and Mariner are involved in a shuttle crash, Mariner rejoins Captain Freeman on the bridge, there was a scene in which Boimler easily defeated some Borg that I assume must be a dream or holodeck programme, a Crystalline Entity was seen, the creepy bartender with the New England accent was back, and Boimler and Mariner shared a joke about the utility of phaser rifles. I’m sure there was more – but those were the key things I spotted! The rest of Season 2 will hopefully continue to hit the highs of the past few weeks – and there’s another episode coming out very soon here in the UK that I can’t wait to watch!
It was very sweet for Star Trek Day to take time to discuss Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, coming in the centenary year of his birth. His son Rod, and former Star Trek stars LeVar Burton, George Takei, and Gates McFadden joined Wil Wheaton to talk about Gene Roddenberry, and this was one of the most touching moments in the entire event. There were some laughs as George Takei told us about his first meeting with Gene Roddenberry and how he came to land the role of Sulu – including how both he and Gene mispronounced each others’ names! Gates McFadden seemed to have been talked into joining the cast of The Next Generation by Roddenberry, having initially wanted to return to the stage and join a play. Rod Roddenberry’s reminiscence of the design process for the Enterprise-D was hilarious – apparently his mother thought the ship looked like “a pregnant duck!”
LeVar Burton, who had been a Star Trek fan prior to joining The Next Generation, spoke about how he was overwhelmed at first when meeting “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” and how a small role on a made-for-television film introduced him to producer Bob Justman, who later arranged for him to meet with Gene Roddenberry during pre-production on The Next Generation. All of these anecdotes went a long way to humanising Gene Roddenberry the man – we can often get lost in the legacy and philosophy he left behind, and how Star Trek and the world he created has influenced and impacted us, but this was a rare opportunity to hear small, personal stories about the man himself. I greatly appreciated that.
George Takei got one of the biggest applause lines of the evening when he spoke about the importance of Star Trek’s fans, in particular Bjo Trimble, on popularising The Original Series and getting a nationwide fan community started. Decades before the internet came along to make fandoms and fan communities a part of many peoples’ lives, Star Trek was already developing its very own devoted fan community thanks to people like Bjo Trimble, and for George Takei to take time to acknowledge the role fans have played in Star Trek’s ongoing success was wonderful to hear.
As I’ve said before, The Motion Picture was the culmination of this fan-led journey for Star Trek, but the film also laid the groundwork for much of what we’d come to know as Star Trek in the eighties and nineties. Many sets and design elements were in continuous use in some form from The Motion Picture’s premiere in 1979 right the way through to the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, and much of the aesthetic and feel of Star Trek is owed to what The Motion Picture pioneered. George Takei acknowledged that, and that was a pretty cool moment. The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films, and a 4K remaster was briefly shown off as well – the 4K blu-ray set of the first four Star Trek films is out now, so Star Trek Day took a moment to plug it!
The panel that seemed to get the most online attention was, I felt, one of the worst and most cringeworthy to watch! The Strange New Worlds panel was followed up by a pre-recorded video that introduced new members of its main cast, who joined Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn. Among the newly-revealed characters were an Aenar (an Andorian race introduced in Enterprise) a possible descendant or relation of iconic villain Khan, and three characters from The Original Series who are returning to Star Trek: Dr M’Benga, who appeared in a couple of episodes, Nurse Chapel, and the one who got the most attention: Cadet Nyota Uhura!
Uhura blew up online after the announcement, and it’s fair to say that I was not expecting this! There was scope, I felt, for Strange New Worlds to bring back classic characters, but the choices they made seem to be pitch-perfect. I’m especially excited to see more from Dr M’Benga – he was a minor character who feels ripe for a deeper look. The same could also be said of Captain Pike and Number One!
As I predicted a few months ago, the uniforms for Strange New Worlds have been slightly redesigned from their Discovery style. I was never wild about the asymmetrical collars; they worked okay on Discovery’s all-blue uniforms but looked perhaps a little clumsy on the recoloured uniforms worn by Pike and the Enterprise crew. So to see the teaser show off a redesigned style that keeps the bold primary colours but ditches the Discovery style was pretty great! As with any new uniform I think we need time to see them in action and get used to them, but there’s already a lot to like. In addition to the V-neck style worn by Pike and Spock, we saw a white medical variant worn by Nurse Chapel, another medical variant with a broad crew collar worn by Dr M’Benga, and a zipper style worn by Number One. Starfleet uniforms – like any aesthetic or design element – are of course subject to personal taste, but from what we’ve seen so far I like the Strange New Worlds uniforms.
The Strange New Worlds live panel was not the best, though. Anson Mount, who is usually so full of life and happy to talk about all things Trek, sat in silence for large parts of it, deferring to the rest of the panel to answer questions. He may have been trying to avoid jumping in too fast or dominating proceedings, but it led to several very awkward silences that weren’t fun to watch. I got the sense that perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.
The producers – Akiva Goldsman, who has previously worked on Picard, and Henry Alonso Myers – gave us a few tidbits of information about the series. I was very pleased to hear so much positive talk about returning Star Trek to a more episodic format. Goldsman, who had been instrumental in crafting Picard’s serialised story during Season 1, seems quite happy to return to episodic television. There are a lot of advantages in a show like Strange New Worlds – i.e. one about exploration – to using a more episodic format. Episodic television can still see wonderful character growth – I’d point to Ensign Mariner in Lower Decksas a recent Star Trek example – so it was great to see how positively the cast and crew talked about that aspect of Strange New Worlds.
The producers and cast seemed very keen to embrace the legacy of The Original Series in more ways than one. Without looking to overwrite anything, they want to bring their own take on classic characters, and I think that’s great. Spock benefitted greatly from the expanded look we got at him in Discovery’s second season, and there’s no reason to think characters like Nurse Chapel or Cadet Uhura won’t likewise get significant character development that plays into the characters we know and love from their roles in The Original Series.
In terms of aesthetic, Strange New Worlds is trying to walk a line between embracing the 1960s style of The Original Series and also updating the show to a more modern look. There was talk about the design of sets, in particular Captain Pike’s quarters, and how the designers had been keen to return to the 1960s for inspiration. Likewise hair and nail styles were mentioned by Rebecca Romijn for Number One – a ’60s-inspired, “retro” look seems to be on the cards for the character, but not to such an extent that it becomes distracting. Walking that line is a challenge – but one I’m glad to see the show tackling!
We didn’t get a full trailer for Strange New Worlds, and the character introductions were cut in such a way as to minimise what we could see of the USS Enterprise. However, we did get a decent look at the transporter room set, which looks really cool, and when we met Dr M’Benga we got a glimpse of what I assume to be sickbay – and it looks like the colour scheme from The Original Series is still present in some form. We also got to see the logo and typeface for Strange New Worlds.
So an underwhelming panel in some respects led to one of the biggest reveals of the night! Uhura, Chapel, and Dr M’Benga make welcome returns to Star Trek, that’s for sure. And there’s a particular genius to choosing these three characters in particular: they’re all ripe for more development and exploration. Uhura was a mainstay on The Original Series, but compared with the likes of Kirk and Spock there’s still plenty of room to explore her characterisation, background, and learn more about who she is in a way that will inform the original character and portrayal. Likewise for Nurse Chapel and Dr M’Benga – in many ways these two characters are near-blank slates for the new writers and producers to mould into their own creations.
I’m more excited today for Strange New Worlds than I was 24 hours ago, and that’s really saying something! I loved how Mount and the producers spoke about how his portrayal of Pike and Pike’s leadership style led them to redesign parts of his quarters so he could accommodate more of his crew around the table. Cooking was a big part of Captain Sisko’s character in Deep Space Nine, and I picked up at least a hint of that in some of the things said about Pike.
The panel also discussed how the USS Enterprise is a “star of the show” in many respects, and how episodic storytelling will allow the series to return to Star Trek’s roots in terms of producing entertaining stories with morals. As I’ve said before, Star Trek has always used its sci-fi lens to shine a light on real-world issues, and to learn that Strange New Worlds is embracing that is fantastic news.
Spock’s characterisation was mentioned by Ethan Peck and the producers, and there was talk of how we’d see different facets of his personality. The Cage was mentioned as showing us “smiley Spock,” and I liked how the producers have a keen knowledge of how Spock and other Vulcans perceive and experience emotions – Spock is an emotional person, even if he suppresses those emotions much of the time. An exploration of that aspect of his character – informed by his experiences in Discovery Season 2, perhaps – will be truly interesting to see play out.
Finally we come to Star Trek: Picard. This was the final event of the evening, and unfortunately the way it was teed up felt incredibly rushed. Jeri Ryan – who will reprise her role as Seven of Nine in Season 2 – raced onto the stage to introduce the new trailer, and it just seemed very obvious that the people running the event were acutely aware of time constraints and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. There was no Picard panel, no appearance from Sir Patrick Stewart (even by video-link or in a pre-recorded message), and though the trailer was very interesting the way Picard Season 2 was handled felt rushed right at the end of Star Trek Day – ironic, perhaps, considering the rushed way Season 1 also ended!
We’ll get to the trailer in a moment, but it was great to see that Picard Season 3 has been officially confirmed. We knew this was coming – Season 3 is already in production, and filming has already begun. But to get an official confirmation was good, and it drew a huge cheer from the audience. There’s clearly a big appetite for more Picard!
Onward, then, to the trailer. This is one that I’ll have to return to for a more detailed breakdown in the days ahead, but for now here are my summarised thoughts.
A return to the 21st Century is not what I would have chosen. Time travel isn’t my favourite Star Trek storyline, and in particular time travel stories which return to the modern day can feel awfully dated very quickly. Look, for example, at Voyager’s two-parter Future’s End, or Star Trek IV as examples of that. Star Trek feels like the future – one of the reasons I love it so much – and when it comes back to the modern day I think it risks losing something significant. It’s possible that only a small part of the story will be set in the modern day, but even so I wasn’t exactly wild about this story element, unfortunately.
We knew from the earlier trailer that there has been some kind of change or damage to the timeline. It now seems as though Q may be more directly involved, as Picard blamed him for breaking the timeline. Whatever the change was, it seems to be centred in our own 21st Century (though it could be anywhere from 2020-2040, I guess) and resulted not in the creation of the Federation but a “totalitarian state” by the 24th Century. I don’t believe that this is the Mirror Universe that we’re familiar with, but rather a change to the Prime Timeline itself – perhaps caused by Q, but earlier comments seemed to suggest that Q wasn’t to blame, so watch this space.
In voiceover we heard Laris questioning Picard’s motivation for wanting to join Starfleet or leave Earth, something we’d seen him talk about in episodes like Family and again in Generations. She seemed to question whether he’s “running” from something in his past – could it be some darker impulse or perhaps a family secret that’s connected in some way to the creation of the totalitarian state? Could it be, as I suggested recenly, tied into World War III?
One of the things I was most curious about was the role of the Borg Queen, whose return had been signalled a few days ago via a casting announcement. It seems as though Picard has access to the incarcerated remains of a Borg Queen – somehow – and that she may be vital to allowing the crew of La Sirena to travel through time. Rather than the Borg themselves playing a role in the story, then, this may be a battle involving Picard and Seven – victims of assimilation – and a captured, damaged Borg Queen.
There’s a lot more to break down from the Picard trailer, and in the days ahead I’ll put together my thoughts in more detail – as well as perhaps fleshing out a theory or two. For now, I think what I want to say is that I have mixed feelings. The big drawback I can see is the modern-day setting for part of the show. I hope I’m proven wrong, but to me Star Trek has never been at its best with these kinds of stories, and I’m concerned that it’ll stray from being a Star Trek show into something… else.
On the other hand, there are many positives. The return of Laris, who seems to have an expanded role compared to where she was in Season 1. Q’s mysterious time-bending role, too. Is he the villain of the piece, or is his latest “trial” something that he believes will help Picard and humanity? What role will he play – ally, adversary, or something in between? The “totalitarian state” definitely channelled some elements of the Mirror Universe, but also seems to have put its own spin on this concept, taking it to different thematic places. I’d be curious to see what role the Picard of this timeline has in the government of the totalitarian state.
So that’s all I have to say for now. In the days ahead I’ll take a closer look at the Picard trailer, as well as talk about other things we learned at Star Trek Day.
Although it was a late night and a long broadcast, I had a good time with Star Trek Day overall. There were some moments that didn’t work well, some unprepared interviewees and some segments that dragged on too long, but on the whole it was a fun and incredibly positive celebration of Star Trek. I came to the broadcast hoping to see more from upcoming shows, but I was blown away just as much by the celebration of Star Trek’s past as I was by the look ahead.
The hosts, presenters, and most of the speakers and guests showed off their passion and love for Star Trek in a very positive way. There was a lot of talk about returning the franchise to its roots, celebrating the legacy of Gene Roddenberry and his original vision for Star Trek and what made it so appealing to people of all ages across multiple generations. As we look ahead to Star Trek’s future in 2021, 2022, and beyond, taking these moments to look back at what got Star Trek to where it is today was fantastic, and well worth taking the time to see. Above all, Star Trek Day shone with passion and positivity, and that’s just what the franchise needed as it marked its fifty-fifth birthday. Here’s to the next fifty-five years of Star Trek!
Star Trek Day was broadcast online and on Paramount+ on the 8th of September 2021 (9th of September 2021 in the UK). At time of writing the event can be re-watched on the official Star Trek website; panels and trailers are supposed to be available via Star Trek and Paramount+ official YouTube channels. Clips may also be available via official social media pages and channels. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for upcoming Star Trek productions, including: Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Just a short one today! Star Trek Day is coming up in a couple of days’ time, and we’re promised news and discussion of all things Trek straight from the horse’s mouth! Why is September the 8th designated as “Star Trek Day?” Good question, and here’s the answer: it was on that day in 1966 that The Man Trap premiered, kicking off Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1 and laying the groundwork for a franchise that’s still going strong today.
As an aside, last year I wrote a piece looking at the villainous creature at the heart of The Man Trap’s story, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here. Worth a read at this time of year – if I do say so myself!
As much as Star Trek Day is an opportunity to look back at the franchise’s fifty-five years of history, this digital event hosted by Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton is also an excuse to look ahead to some of the Star Trek projects that are coming up over the next few months and years. There will undoubtedly be some news – and keep your fingers crossed because it’s even possible that we could get a big, unexpected announcement!
I’ve got a few ideas for what might be coming our way when Star Trek Day kicks off. Please keep in mind, as always, that I don’t have any “sources” nor any “insider information.” This is just a little educated guesswork – and a reminder, in case you’d forgotten, that Star Trek Day is imminent! All of the panels will be available to watch online on the official Star Trek website, so be sure to check in on the 8th to see what they have to say. Or just come back here a day or so later because I daresay I’ll summarise what I consider to be the most important points!
Let’s jump into the list!
Number 1: Official confirmation of Star Trek: Picard Season 3.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as we’ve already heard from a number of reliable sources that Season 3 was in development alongside Season 2, and the two seasons are being filmed back-to-back. In fact, it seems as though some Season 3 scenes may have already been filmed – but that’s not confirmed at this stage.
What’s also unconfirmed, at least from ViacomCBS and Star Trek officially, is the existence of Season 3 at all. Though in the past we’ve seen the company wait until a season is almost being broadcast to confirm that the next one is in development, on this occasion it would make sense to announce Picard Season 3 way ahead of time. It’s already an open secret, so why not? It seems like a great way to drum up even more excitement!
Number 2: A trailer for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Since Strange New Worlds introduced us to five members of its main cast in mid-March, there really hasn’t been a lot of news about the series. We heard last month that production was drawing down on Season 1, only to later learn that some scenes outside of Toronto (where the show is based) were still being worked on. If it’s true that the season is finished, though, the time could be right for a trailer!
Along with Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds has to be the series that I’m most curious about. Not only will it be fantastic to welcome back Anson Mount as Captain Pike, but the semi-episodic format that has been suggested feels like it could really be the best of both worlds – a return to Star Trek’s past without entirely stepping away from the modern feel of recent productions.
There is a Strange New Worlds panel that will be taking place during Star Trek Day, and a trailer would be a great way to wrap it up!
Number 3: A premiere date for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4.
At time of writing, all we know about Discovery’s impending fourth season is that it’s due before the end of the year. Maybe that’ll change and we’ll see the show fall back to early 2022, or maybe Discovery is still on track for a broadcast kicking off in mid-October after Lower Decks Season 2 has concluded. (That was what happened last year.)
Either way, I think Star Trek Day would be a great opportunity for ViacomCBS to drop the date of the new season’s premiere with a lot of attention on the franchise.
Number 4: A teaser trailer for Star Trek: Picard Season 2 featuring the Borg.
Soon we’re going to talk and theorise about the Borg in Picard Season 2. If you missed this, there’s been a casting announcement for the upcoming second season that caught me off-guard: the Borg Queen is returning! Not only that, but she may appear in as many as six of the season’s ten episodes, indicating that the Borg may play a significant role in the story.
It’s been more than eighteen years since the last Star Trek story featuring the Borg: Enterprise’s second-season episode Regeneration. After such a long time it’ll be fantastic to bring the faction back into play in a big way – assuming that’s even the plan! For all we know the Borg Queen may play an altogether different role in flashbacks or in an alternate timeline!
Regardless, following this casting announcement I’d think ViacomCBS would want to tease something about the Borg – without giving away too many potential spoilers.
Number 5: A second trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4.
We got our first look at Season 4 of Discovery back in April, where a trailer showed Captain Burnham and the crew facing down a “gravitational anomaly” – whatever that could be! With the season coming up before the end of the year – all being well, that is – it would be a good time for a second trailer to get fans excited.
It can be hard to get the balance right when it comes to producing a trailer for a brand-new season, especially when a series has a mystery at its core like Discovery does. Show too little and it’ll be hard for fans and prospective viewers to get excited, but show too much and you risk spoiling major plotlines. Cutting the perfect trailer under such circumstances is a real skill!
Number 6: A release date for Star Trek: Prodigy.
As I mentioned in a recent episode of the DenPod (my unscripted podcast), I’ve all but given up on Prodigy getting an international broadcast when it premieres this autumn – at least outside of countries and territories where Paramount+ already exists. Though the series has been co-developed alongside Nickelodeon, it seems as though ViacomCBS is intent on keeping the show exclusively on its streaming service, so it seems unlikely to arrive here in the UK until Paramount+ does some time next year.
For everyone who’s lucky enough to live somewhere with Paramount+ already, though, keep an eye out for a release date for Prodigy. Earlier in the year the series was officially announced for “Fall 2021” – and the beginning of September basically marks the start of autumn, as I recently noted! So we could see Prodigy literally any time from now until the end of November, and I think the Prodigy panel at Star Trek Day would be a great place to announce the specific date.
Number 7: A big, surprising announcement!
What could it be? Is the untitled Section 31 series finally on the verge of entering production? Has ViacomCBS backed down after years of being pestered by Michael Dorn and decided to greenlight a Captain Worf series after all? What about the live-action series that Alex Kurtzman had previously said was in development – could we finally learn more about that?
Though I don’t think we should get too excited about this one, there’s always the possibility for a surprise announcement of some kind. One thing we know for certain is that more Star Trek is in development – so it’s not impossible to think we could see something announced this week.
So that’s it!
Star Trek Day will be upon us before you know it, so stay tuned here on the website for coverage and analysis of any major announcements, as well as for a review/roundup of the event itself. I’m looking forward to Star Trek Day very much; it’ll be a great excuse to geek out for hours on end!
I hope this list of predictions has got you suitably excited for the main event!
Star Trek Day panels will be available to watch on Paramount+ and on the official Star Trek website on the 8th of September 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties and titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
The Star Trek franchise has an aesthetic all its own, and a big part of that is the way starships are designed. Many Trekkies have said over the years that a ship is like an extra member of the cast; a vital part of any Star Trek series or film. While there have been some visual misses, of course, for the most part Star Trek’s ships have been fantastic to look at.
Aesthetics are always going to be a matter of personal taste, and there are many factors at play in considering what makes for a “good-looking” starship. Because the ships and most of their technologies are wholly fictional, designers and artists have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to designing a new starship. Technobabble can always be employed to explain away inconsistencies – like how the USS Defiant’s warp nacelles work, for example.
Over more than half a century, Star Trek has featured many different designs of starship. Many of these, even the newest ones, take inspiration from the original USS Enterprise, which was designed by Matt Jeffries (with some input from others, including Gene Roddenberry) for The Cage in 1964. The basic saucer section, drive section, plus two nacelles on pylons style has been present in most Federation ships – and, in some form, all of the “hero” ships – ever since.
On this list I’m going to pull out ten of my favourite designs of both Federation and non-Federation starships. The list is by no means exhaustive, and it may be a topic I revisit in future as I can already think of several more I could have easily included! As indicated, this whole thing is entirely subjective. So without further ado, let’s jump into the list – which is in no particular order.
Number 1: The Klingon Bird-of-Prey
The Bird-of-Prey is absolutely iconic as a Klingon vessel, at least on par with the D-7 battlecruiser from The Original Series. The vessel debuted in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, before going on to appear in four more films, all of the 24th Century shows, and even recently in Lower Decks. Few non-Starfleet ships are as iconic or recognisable, and even many non-fans would easily identify the design.
In cinema, the Bird-of-Prey has had starring roles in five films, making it one of the most well-known enemy or villainous ships. Iconic adversaries like General Chang and Dr Soran used Klingon Birds-of-Prey in their nefarious schemes. But as Klingon-Federation relations improved in The Next Generation, we began to see the iconic vessel as an ally; a workhorse of the Klingon fleet. By the time of the Dominion War in Deep Space Nine we were rooting for the Klingon-Federation alliance, and some of the ships most often seen on the front lines were these wonderful Klingon ships.
Based loosely on the earlier Romulan Bird-of-Prey, the winged design captures the warrior philosophy of the Klingons perfectly. The small ship is incredibly powerful, armed to the teeth with disruptor cannons and photon torpedoes. The way the wings change position for combat or while at warp is clever, too, and the green colour scheme makes the craft stand out when compared to Federation ships.
Number 2: The Excelsior Class
Another starship that would be a workhorse for decades, the Excelsior is a really neat, futuristic design. It manages to look smarter and newer than the Constitution class that it would eventually replace, yet at the same time is clearly manufactured by the same organisation. It retains the saucer, drive section, and nacelles on pylons of older Federation ships, but switches up the design too. The ship is flatter, with a shorter “neck,” and has nacelle pylons that are shorter and have a ninety-degree bend instead of coming out of the drive section on a diagonal.
The Excelsior class also debuted in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – the film succeeded at introducing us to two of the most iconic designs in the franchise! Though we’ve never seen a show or film set entirely aboard an Excelsior class starship, Excelsiors have been featured in five films and all three of the 24th Century shows.
By the 24th Century the Excelsior class was still in use, and while it had taken a back seat to the likes of the Galaxy class and other newer ships, many Excelsior class vessels were still in service in a variety of roles. Some would even see action in the Dominion War, meaning that the Excelsior class was still being deployed almost a century after its inception. That must be one solid ship!
Number 3: The Runabout
I adore the Runabouts that debuted in Deep Space Nine. They remind me of camper vans (or RVs) in terms of size and design, incorporating most of the mod-cons a 24th Century Starfleet officer might expect – just in a much more compact vessel. If I could pick any starship for myself (and the cats) to have for cruising around the galaxy, I’d definitely pick a Runabout.
When Deep Space Nine was being developed, there was a sense that setting a series on a static space station might be too far removed from Star Trek’s past, and thus there was a need to give Commander Sisko and the crew something to keep them mobile. From an in-universe perspective, too, the station needed to have some way for the crew to leave in an emergency – or just to make routine visits to nearby planets. Hence the Runabout was born – larger than a shuttlecraft but smaller than any starship we’d seen before.
These cute mini-starships each have their own name and registration, but from what’s shown on screen they seem to be assigned to bases and starships as auxiliary craft rather than being fully-independent vessels in their own right. Despite that, Runabouts are depicted as highly capable, versatile vessels. Early exploration missions into the Gamma Quadrant often utilised Runabouts based at DS9, and the ships were more than capable of surveying planets and charting star systems.
Number 4: The Constitution Class (original configuration)
The original Constitution class has to make any Trekkie’s list of great starship designs, right? Though it may feel dated in some respects, this is the source from which basically all of the other designs on this list were created. Federation starships are pretty much all designed with the Constitution in mind – the saucer, drive section, and nacelles design is emblematic of Starfleet, and thus of Star Trek. Even non-Federation ships are designed to stand in opposition to the Constitution (and the ships derived from it) so it’s undeniably the most significant and important starship design in the franchise.
The original design was simple, mid-60s futurism at its finest. The saucer is a design that had been synonymous with spaceships for decades thanks to myths of UFOs and flying saucers, so the decision to incorporate that kind of design was genius. The ship’s engines with their glowing tips became inseparable from warp speed and faster-than-light travel. And of course the deflector dish was reminiscent of satellite dishes – a new technology at the time.
Most importantly, this is where Star Trek began. The Constitution class USS Enterprise kicked off the franchise and became one of the most iconic sights in all of science fiction. Even today it’s instantly recognisable, even to folks who don’t watch Star Trek or know anything about the franchise.
Number 5: The Constitution Class (refit configuration)
As much as I love the original Constitution class, I think I like the refit even more. The refit Constitution class is the subject of one of my favourite sequences in all of Star Trek – where Admiral Kirk and Scotty approach the newly-refitted Enterprise when it’s still in drydock in The Motion Picture. That sequence is so beautiful (and with an amazing musical score to boot), showing off the starship in all its glory.
If the original configuration of the Constitution class had design features emblematic of its 1960s space race origins, the refit is much more “up-to-date,” replacing the satellite dish-style deflector with a glowing light, toning down the grey colour, and generally adding more lights and more features that make it an icon of the ’80s. In fact, I’d argue that many ’80s and ’80s-inspired sci-fi ships can trace some part of their design back to the refit Constitution class.
At the same time, though, the refit doesn’t completely abandon what made the original starship so iconic. The saucer section, drive section, nacelles, and pylons are all still present. The domed bridge is still there at the top of the ship, and even though a lot as been changed, it’s still clear that this is supposed to be an updated design, not a wholly new one.
Number 6: The Galor Class Warship
The Cardassians – and their Galor class warships – debuted in The Wounded, a fourth-season episode of The Next Generation which, in many ways, began to lay the groundwork for Deep Space Nine. And it was in the latter show that the Galor class would be seen most often; a vehicle for the villainous Cardassians.
Its design is, in some respects, a blend of Starfleet and non-Federation ships. The semi-circular “mini saucer” that juts out at the front, as well as the deflector array it sits atop, kind of resemble Starfleet designs, but the wings and elongated “tail” – as well as the yellow colour scheme – make it clear that this is definitely not a Federation starship!
The Galor class would be seen as the mainstay of the Cardassian fleet, serving in combat roles before and during the Dominion War. Some engagements during the Dominion War would see dozens – perhaps hundreds – of Galor class vessels deployed alongside their Dominion and Breen allies, and they could look incredibly intimidating en masse. Seeing Galor class ships open fire on the Breen and Dominion indicated that the Cardassians had switched sides during the war’s closing hours, and that sequence is absolutely outstanding; one of the best space battles in the entire franchise.
Number 7: The USS Pasteur
Unlike the ships mentioned above, the USS Pasteur was only seen in one episode – All Good Things, the season finale of The Next Generation. Despite its limited screen time, however, I like the design. Its spherical “saucer” section is distinctive, and gives it a look all its own. The spherical design was based on an unused concept Matt Jeffries had for the original USS Enterprise during early development on The Original Series, which is a cool little fact!
As I’ve said before, I really like the concept of a hospital ship in Star Trek. I’d be quite happy to see a “Star Trek-meets-ER” series one day, and such a series would surely make use of a ship like the USS Pasteur. Modern navies have hospital ships, so it stands to reason that Starfleet would too, and the USS Pasteur was our first up-close look at such a support vessel.
A Pasteur-type ship was seen in Season 1 of Lower Decks (albeit in a flashback) so the design isn’t dead. Perhaps one day we’ll see more of these ships and get to know a little more about them. Regardless, I love the design.
Number 8: The Borg Cube
Few adversaries in Star Trek are as genuinely frightening as the Borg – for reasons that I discussed in my essay on the faction. An intimidating villain needs an intimidating starship, and the Borg cube delivers. There’s something frighteningly mechanical about a plain cube. There are no engines, no obvious bridge or command centre… everything about the vessel from all sides looks the same.
The Borg’s hive mind sees them operate as one entity, and their ships are part of that. The “philosophy” of the Borg – for want of a better term – is perfectly expressed in the design of their most commonly-seen starship. Every part of the ship is the same, just as every Borg drone is the same.
When we first see a Borg cube in Q Who, the sheer scale of the ship is impressive, too. The Borg vessel dwarfs the Enterprise-D, and then its powerful weapons and tractor beam overcome the Galaxy class ship’s defences with ease. Even though we’ve seen Borg cubes defeated in subsequent stories, remembering that a single vessel was able to destroy 39 Federation ships and almost succeed at assimilating Earth reminds us that these ships are incredibly powerful. Even by the time of First Contact, defeating a single Borg cube was a tall order for Starfleet.
Number 9: La Sirena
Captained by Chris Rios and chartered by Admiral Picard, La Sirena made its debut in Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Everything I said about the Runabout feeling like a fun-sized ship could also apply to La Sirena, but the visual style makes it distinctive. La Sirena is basically a Runabout mixed with a hot rod!
The red and white colour scheme suits the ship perfectly, and there are even echoes of Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon in La Sirena’s design and concept. It’s the perfect vessel for Picard; small enough to be run by a skeleton crew (plus holograms!) but large enough not to feel cramped. It’s definitely not Starfleet, but there are Federation design elements present throughout.
Star Trek hasn’t really had many opportunities to showcase civilian starships, so La Sirena represents a look at a completely different side of the Star Trek galaxy, one we haven’t seen before. Though the franchise keeps these things deliberately vague, there must be a great deal of interstellar traffic, including transporting passengers and cargo. People like Captain Rios – and also others like Kassidy Yates – show us a glimpse of that world.
Number 10: The Sovereign Class
Perhaps it’s because Nemesis was the furthest forward the Star Trek timeline had got for almost twenty years, but to me the Soverign class has always seemed like one of Star Trek’s most modern and futuristic starships. The design represents a complete overhaul from the previous Galaxy class, flattening the “neck” of the ship again so the elongated saucer is almost contiguous with the drive section.
It’s a shame that the Sovereign class Enterprise-E only had the opportunity to make three appearances, as I would have dearly liked to see more of it in action. In some ways it has more of a militarised feel than the Galaxy, especially in terms of its interior, and perhaps we can say that’s a response to Starfleet taking on board threats from the Borg and Dominion during the design process.
The most iconic Sovereign class moment for me is the Enterprise-E’s arrival at the Battle of Sector 001. Swooping in to take on the Borg cube when the Starfleet armada was falling apart – accompanied by another beautiful piece of music – is one of the best moments in First Contact!
So that’s it! Ten great Star Trek starship designs.
There were many other ships I could’ve picked for this list, so stay tuned for “part two” in future! The Star Trek franchise has some great starships, and by keeping a relatively consistent aesthetic – generally speaking – has carved out a niche within sci-fi. Star Trek’s starships are almost always distinctive, and seldom feel like they could easily be part of some other film or franchise.
Everybody has their own favourites, though! There are some starships that we see often, either because they’re a “hero” ship or because they’re a frequently-used secondary design, and some of these have become iconic and emblematic of the whole Star Trek franchise. Other ships only make a handful of appearances, yet still manage to leave a lasting impression.
The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 & 2. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
With only one real caveat, I had a good time with We’ll Always Have Tom Paris this week. The episode’s title was a play on We’ll Always Have Paris – a first season episode of The Next Generation, itself a quotation from the film Casablanca. There were three storylines this week, all of which worked pretty well.
Having mentioned a caveat, let’s get that out of the way first. Tom Paris’ role was very minor; I think he only had four or five lines. As happened with Q last season, I just felt that more could’ve been made of the return of a major character from Star Trek’s past. As it is, there was nothing “Tom Paris” about this character’s appearance. The story wouldn’t have been changed in the slightest had the character been named Engelbert Humperdinck or Crazy Uncle Dennis, and that kind of very minor cameo, in which a character takes on a role totally disconnected from anything they’ve done in the past, can feel a bit wasteful. If we compare Paris’ appearance to Riker’s in the previous episode, for example, there’s a huge difference in terms of what the characters brought to the story and how well their appearances landed. In addition I’d add that the design of Tom Paris likewise felt very generic, and it was only because of the voice that he was even recognisable.
It feels as though Paris had been jammed into an unrelated script simply to give the episode a punny title, and I guess after his return was teased in the second trailer earlier in the year, I’d been hoping for something more. Small cameo appearances can work, and Lower Decks has succeeded in the past by giving folks from Star Trek’s past a mere line or two. But because Tom Paris didn’t seem to be doing anything we’d associate with his character (touring the bridge and being a motivating voice in Boimler’s imagination) it just felt a bit too bland. All in all, this cameo turned out to be a bit of a non-event.
The rest of the episode was pretty good, though, and the Tom Paris stuff did serve as the foundation for an interesting Boimler story, so it wasn’t a total misfire!
As the characters themselves noted in one particularly meta scene, we haven’t really had Mariner and Tendi teamed up for an adventure of their own before. They did have some time together in last season’s Crisis Point, but there was a lot going on in that particular episode so they weren’t really the focus. It was neat to see them paired up on this occasion, and it was particularly interesting to see them realise how little they really knew about one another despite having served together for a year.
This episode is perhaps my favourite Tendi story so far. As I’ve mentioned more than once, Tendi felt rudderless as a character across the first season, and unlike the other three main characters never really found a niche on the series. We’ll Always Have Tom Paris has done more to solidify her character than all of her other appearances to date, and we’ve come away from the episode knowing more about her as an individual. There were elements of her past portrayals: her desire to be liked – as she went along with Mariner’s “let’s go and have fun” agenda – that we’d seen in Moist Vessel, her difficult relationship with her Orion heritage that we’d seen in Crisis Point, and her role as an assistant in Sickbay that we’d seen best in Much Ado About Boimler. All of those elements have now come together to give us a solid idea of who Tendi is, and I think we’re now in a place where we can say that her character feels settled.
Lower Decks has previously paired up Boimler with Mariner and Rutherford with Tendi on several occasions, as well as putting Boimler with Tendi for one story and giving Mariner a handful of moments with Rutherford. It would be great to continue this theme of different character pairings, and now that we’ve had a “girls trip” perhaps the next thing to do is to put Boimler and Rutherford together!
We’ve all been in Tendi’s shoes at one point or another: having broken something and being desperate to fix it. The feeling of having messed something up, regret mixed with anxiety about what might happen, is something very relatable. As Tendi and Mariner broke Dr T’Ana’s family heirloom, I think it gave their storyline a youthful edge as well. Though it could equally be seen as a work-related screw-up, I think most of us can vividly remember being a child and breaking or damaging something and not wanting the grown-ups to find out!
That sense of desperately trying to fix something or cover it up escalated as Mariner and Tendi visited a few different locations during their “girls’ trip.” Qualor II had been mentioned in The Next Generation, but a closer look at its surface in this episode gave the world a distinct vibe of Freecloud – the planet Picard took his new crew to in search of Bruce Maddox in Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Their next destination, Starbase Earhart, likewise had a Picard connection, as it was the site of his first assignment after graduating from Starfleet Academy. Finally, they visited an Orion pirate den that was reminiscent of an Orion-run scrapyard seen in Discovery Season 3 just last year.
Each of these locations was distinctive, and it’s great that animation allows us to see such a variety of different worlds and locales in the course of a single episode. This is one advantage that animation can have over live-action! Each location also served a purpose for the duo, as they got progressively more desperate to fix Dr T’Ana’s heirloom.
There was a danger that this storyline would’ve come across making Mariner out to be “the bad guy” again, since it was a direct result of her nosiness and pressuring Tendi to open the box that the heirloom got damaged in the first place. But I think the rest of the story, and Mariner’s willingness to help put things right, made up for that. I didn’t come away from the episode feeling that Mariner had been horrible to Tendi; curiosity is normal, after all.
The way the story was ultimately resolved was fun, too. Firstly, the shuttle bouncing off the Cerritos’ shields, and the damage report being “none” was one of the funniest moments in the season so far. Mariner’s line about how “there was a bee!” was also incredibly funny, as was Dr T’Ana tending to Tendi’s scraped knee. The whole sequence was hilarious. But beyond that, Dr T’Ana not caring at all about the heirloom and just wanting to play in the box was amazingly funny – as anyone who has a pet cat can attest!
Lower Decks has gone out of its way on several occasions to play up the cat-like tendencies of Dr T’Ana, and every time I find myself laughing out loud. As I’ve said before, Dr T’Ana is one of my favourite secondary characters on the show, and moments like this are exactly why. She’s proven to be an excellent comedic character.
Mariner and Tendi learned a lot about each other over the course of their adventure, including challenging some of their preconceptions about one another. Though I never got the sense that they weren’t on friendly terms, their relationship should be stronger than ever from this point onwards, and any future Mariner-Tendi story can use this episode as a foundation to build upon. All of that is positive for the series.
Now we come to the biggest surprise of the episode – and of the season so far – the return of Shaxs! The Bajoran security chief’s death was a poignant moment in the Season 1 finale, as he was killed in action saving Rutherford’s life. As a moment of pure shock value, seeing him back aboard the Cerritos was a complete success, and I wonder if we’ll get to learn more about his journey back from the grave. Whatever it was certainly seemed to have an effect on Rutherford!
We got to see Rutherford out of his comfort zone this week, and it was great to see him outside his usual role as he chased down Shaxs and tried to figure out what might’ve happened. As I said last time, Rutherford’s memory loss storyline that had been set up in the Season 1 finale ended up going nowhere – and this week he even said that he had some of his memories back (somehow) – so giving him a storyline involving the return of Shaxs set him up to do something a little different.
Though we didn’t spend a great deal of time with him last year, Shaxs was a fun character and I was sad when he lost his life. His return is certainly welcome, but I hope that Lower Decks plans to do more with the “back from the dead” storyline than just explaining something to Rutherford off screen. Mariner and others mentioned a number of ways Shaxs could have returned, and in Rutherford’s mind we saw a few more – all of which referenced events in past iterations of Star Trek. But as Trekkies, I think we have a natural curiosity about these things. All we really need is some kind of technobabble explanation and that would suffice – so I hope we get it before the season ends!
Shaxs’ relationship with Rutherford is sweet, and the almost fatherly way he talks to his “baby bear” is something that the show can absolutely do more with. We haven’t really seen Shaxs interact with the other three ensigns yet, but Rutherford spent a short amount of time on his security team early in Season 1, and ever since they’ve been on good terms. It would also be great to see more of the teased relationship between Shaxs and Dr T’Ana – maybe that’s something that’ll come in a future episode too!
At first I thought that Boimler’s storyline – in which the Cerritos’ computer, replicator, and doors didn’t recognise him – was going to connect in some way to last week’s “transporter clone” storyline. After all, it wasn’t 100% clear which was the original Boimler and which was the clone! That didn’t happen, and by the end of the episode he’d got his security clearance set up and was back to normal again.
Seeing him crawling through the Jeffries tubes was neat, but as mentioned the stuff with Tom Paris – which connected to Boimler’s story – felt like a bit of a dud. It was all in-character for Boimler, though, whose anxieties and neuroses have been well-established in previous episodes and stories.
After being unsure of Boimler’s ultimate fate following his promotion and transfer, it was nice to see him back aboard the Cerritos with his friends – even if he didn’t get much of an opportunity to interact with them this time. I’m sure we’ll get more of that in future, though.
So I think that’s about all I have to say on this occasion. This was the first truly outstanding Tendi episode; the first in which she was the real star. Mariner played a great supporting role, and we got to see their friendship really come to the fore. Tendi’s characterisation feels a lot more settled than it had in the past, which is great.
The return of Shaxs was unexpected, but it was accompanied by about a dozen callbacks to similar “back from the dead” storylines in past iterations of Star Trek, which was fun. I’m glad to have Shaxs back – and I wonder if his return is going to either have a lasting impact on Rutherford or perhaps become the subject of a new storyline later in the season. Maybe Shaxs being killed off every few episodes then returning without explanation will become a running joke!
In an episode with his name literally in the title, I felt that Tom Paris’ role wasn’t all it could’ve been. Further, the design of his animated character was incredibly bland; a rare miss in Lower Decks’ usually-good animated style. He did play a role in Boimler’s story, but as cameo appearances go his certainly wasn’t one of the best.
Despite that, I had fun this week. There were plenty of jokes and laugh-out-loud moments, and it was nice to see the four main characters reunited at last. In fact, this might’ve been the funniest episode of the season so far.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Voyager, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Today we’re continuing our series of theory articles about the Burn, and we’re returning to the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witnessfor yet another idea! As one of the very few episodes of Star Trek prior to Discovery’s third season to be set in or near the 32nd Century, Living Witness has been the source of several theories and concepts already. On this occasion we’re going to consider what the episode’s far future setting and its ending could mean for Discovery, and what implications there may be if the Delta Quadrant either partially or wholly escaped the worst effects of the Burn.
Let’s start by considering what we know from Discovery itself regarding the Burn and its possible extent. Cleveland Booker introduced us to the idea of the Burn in the first episode of the season, and used the term “the galaxy” when describing its range and scale; this may be hyperbole or exaggeration to a degree, though, as Booker’s knowledge of the wider galaxy was limited – he hadn’t even been to Earth.
Next, Admiral Vance told us that the Federation peaked in the pre-Burn years with a membership of over 350 worlds. While there are certainly enough planets in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants for the Federation to have been contained there, this expansion of the Federation is significant. The Federation was also large enough and spread out enough that Vance’s Starfleet was unable to travel to or even remain in contact with every member world. Vance was familiar with worlds in or near the Gamma Quadrant, as he noted the location of the Guardian of Forever’s new planet was in that region of space, so the Federation has clearly mapped large portions of the Milky Way by the 32nd Century.
Next we have the Burn itself. Originally assumed to have taken place everywhere simultaneously, Michael Burnham was able to prove that the Burn in fact radiated outwards from its point of origin, with ships in different sectors being destroyed milliseconds apart. However, 32nd Century Starfleet didn’t have enough information to have figured this out, instead assuming that the Burn happened all at once. This could mean that the Federation wasn’t as widespread as we might think.
Now we come to Living Witness. The bulk of the episode takes place in the 31st Century, and thus could well have been set in the years before the Burn (all dates in relation to Living Witness are guesstimates based on rounded figures). However, the episode’s ending clearly and demonstrably takes place decades – or perhaps even centuries – later. The final act of the episode sees a museum guide telling Kyrian and Vaskan citizens about the Doctor – a backup copy of whom was left behind by the USS Voyager – and this sequence takes place at the very least decades after the rest of the episode, and certainly after the Burn.
Obviously we have to acknowledge that, for production-side reasons, the two stories aren’t related. We wouldn’t have expected anyone at the end of Living Witness to talk about the Burn because the story concept did not exist at the time. But Star Trek has shown a willingness on multiple occasions to incorporate events depicted in one story into later episodes and films, and perhaps that will happen on this occasion.
In short, here’s how the theory goes: the end of Living Witness shows the Kyrians and Vaskans in the 32nd or perhaps even 33rd Century talking about the Doctor. There was no mention of the Burn, nor of any disaster affecting their Delta Quadrant homeworld, and the fact that the Doctor was able to commandeer a starship in the late 31st or early 32nd Century to undertake his voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant at least implies that there was enough dilithium in that region of the Delta Quadrant for such a voyage to be plausible.
There are other implications from the ending of Living Witness that are worth considering. The Kyrians and Vaskans don’t seem to have had further contact with the Federation since the departure of the Doctor. This could mean that travel to and from the Delta Quadrant is still difficult and/or time-consuming in this era. The fact that the museum guide was not aware of whether the Doctor made it back safely suggests that there hasn’t been any contact between their homeworld and the Federation. We could think of reasons why this might be the case, including random chance, but with more than 700 years between Voyager’s journey and the Burn, there should’ve been ample time for the Federation to revisit planets Voyager encountered if they wanted to.
So is it possible that the Burn had a limited range? Was it truly a galactic-scale event, or did its effects weaken the further out its shockwave went? I think the fact that Burnham found a millisecond difference in between starships being destroyed could hint at this, because the shockwave did radiate outwards from its point of origin. Whether we’re talking about gamma rays or ripples on a body of water, we see the effects weaken the further away from the source we get, so perhaps the same is true of the Burn.
There may have been a transitional zone in which some starships were destroyed but some were merely damaged, and then a zone were the effects of the Burn were noticeable but not catastrophic. Finally the Burn’s shockwave would reach a point where it was imperceptible to all but the most finely-tuned sensors before fizzling out altogether. The episode Su’Kal showed us an example of this, in a way, when Su’Kal’s emotional outburst “almost” caused another Burn – but didn’t. Perhaps this is what some star systems in faraway parts of the galaxy experienced.
We don’t know where the Verubin Nebula is in relation to the Federation or the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. But it could be located near one edge of the galaxy, far away from the Delta Quadrant. If so, and if the pre-Burn Federation didn’t routinely travel to and from the Delta Quadrant, things start to line up for this theory!
So let’s consider the possible implications, assuming this theory is correct. Obviously we know that the Kyrians and Vaskans seem to have escaped the Burn relatively unscathed, so perhaps other Delta Quadrant factions did as well. This could include races like the Kazon, though they seem unlikely to be a significant threat to the Federation based on how far behind they were in technological terms. It could also bode well for potential Federation allies like the Talaxians and Ocampa – if one or both had joined the Federation, perhaps they’re thriving on the far side of the galaxy even after the Burn decimated the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
But there’s one Delta Quadrant faction that we should be more wary of than any other: the Borg!
Discovery Season 3 didn’t make any mention of the Borg whatsoever, so we don’t know if they still exist in this era, if they’ve been defeated, if they’re still present in the galaxy, etc. But assuming that they’re still around and that their power base remains in the Delta Quadrant, the Borg’s survival could be catastrophically bad news for the Federation.
Even if the Federation had managed to find a way to keep the Borg at bay in the years prior to the Burn, the Borg may have just been given a 120-year head-start on developing new technologies and building up their forces while the Federation fractured and looked inwards to its own day-to-day survival. With much of their transwarp network intact and with their ships and drones protected from the worst effects of the Burn, the Borg may have been waiting and observing the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They may even have been slowly making inroads, assimilating planets and star systems beyond the range of the Federation’s limited sensors. Perhaps the reason some Federation members dropped out of contact was not because of issues with long-range communications… but because they’d been attacked.
The trailers for Season 4 appear to show the Federation under attack by a “gravitational anomaly.” As I pointed out, this anomaly could be argued to behave in an unnatural way if it seems to be targeting the Federation, its planets, and its starships. Perhaps the gravitational anomaly is a weapon, one designed to be the precursor to an invasion. If so, one of the primary candidates for developing such a powerful weapon has to be the Borg.
As the rest of the galaxy struggles to recover, maybe Starfleet will learn that the Delta Quadrant largely escaped the Burn. The century-long absence of strong borders and interstellar long-range communications could have allowed any faction from that region of space (including the Borg) to seize the opportunity to pursue an aggressive, expansionist policy. The shape of the galaxy could’ve changed far more in the wake of the Burn than we might think, and a return to “business as usual” may not be possible if whole sectors have changed hands – or been assimilated!
As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s also possible that the backup copy of the Doctor is still alive in this era. We’ve heard nothing from the production side of Star Trek to suggest he might be included as a character in Season 4, but I’d be curious to see if he’ll be mentioned in some way even if he doesn’t appear on screen. If the Living Witness copy of the Doctor has survived and returned to the Alpha Quadrant, that would be the strongest hint yet that at least part of the Delta Quadrant may have escaped the worst effects of the Burn.
Though Star Trek hardly needs an excuse, this could also be a great opportunity to bring the Borg into play in a big way. Discovery flirted with a Borg origin story in Season 2 – at least in my opinion – but we haven’t seen a proper Borg episode or story since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration.
If we work on the assumption that everything seen on screen in past Star Trek episodes is canon, and that the events in Living Witness and Discovery both take place in the Prime Timeline, I think we have a solid basis to construct a theory! Did some or all of the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn? And if so, what are the implications for the Star Trek galaxy in the late 32nd Century and beyond? We simply don’t know yet!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and internationally. Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK (other international streaming may vary). The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Voyager, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Kayshon, His Eyes Open was a great episode. It’s only the second episode of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to look back in a few weeks and say it was the best – or one of the best – offerings in all of Season 2. Both of its storylines worked exceptionally well, even though they were wholly separate. There were plenty of jokes, humorous situations, and comic moments, there was great interplay between different characters, including some new characters we didn’t know, and the episode resolved the Boimler situation in a way that was completely unexpected.
The episode opened with a scene that was simultaneously funny and interesting – and which set up the character conflict between Mariner and Jet. Though the comic situation with Mariner and Jet turning up the sonic shower was funny, it was also interesting to see the inside of a sonic shower. This is a technology that has been mentioned on dozens of occasions in Star Trek – going all the way back as far as The Motion Picture – but this is perhaps our best look at a sonic shower so far. It was also our first look at communal sonic showers (at least as far as I can recall) and it was interesting to note that junior officers and “lower deckers” are expected to use these kinds of facilities. This communal shower is something we would almost certainly find aboard ships like the USS Defiant – though past iterations of the franchise seem to imply that ships like the Enterprise-D and USS Voyager have individual sonic showers in their crew quarters. I couldn’t tell if Mariner and Jet were turning up the heat or the frequency of the sonic waves, though!
I neglected to mention this last time, but there has been a significant change to the show’s title sequence. The battle that the USS Cerritos retreats from now features Klingon and Pakled ships alongside Borg and Romulans. It isn’t clear who’s fighting who – the Pakleds and the Romulans seem to be firing at each other, with the Borg firing at everyone! A very confused battle, that’s for sure. The Pakled ships use the same design as the craft the Cerritos and Titan battled in the Season 1 finale.
After the title sequence we jump into the main thrust of the plot featuring Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi. On this side of the story there was only one part that I felt was a bit of a flop: Captain Freeman’s command evaluation. It didn’t really do anything for her character, and seemed to be present as a minor storyline only to provide an excuse for Freeman not checking in with the away team. However, I feel that the episode could’ve proceeded just fine without this unnecessary explanation, and reallocating the minute or two this took up to either the Boimler or Mariner-led stories would’ve been fine too. It’s nice to spend time with the senior staff as well as the ensigns, but on this occasion it was such a minor point that it could’ve been skipped and the episode would’ve been no worse for it.
The Cerritos being assigned to catalogue a collection of artefacts was a fantastic way for the episode to drop in a huge number of references to past iterations of Star Trek. Most of these played no role whatsoever in the story, but it was so much fun to try to spot all of the things in this collection. There were some contemporary references too – a vehicle that resembled the Curiosity or Perseverance rovers currently on Mars, as well as what looked like a fidget spinner (remember those?)
The titular Kayshon is, as the trailers had already established, a Tamarian. First encountered in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Darmok, the Tamarians were a race that the Federation had previously found it difficult to communicate with due to their peculiar language. Tamarians spoke entirely through metaphors, and without crucial context it was impossible for the universal translator to communicate meaning – even though it could translate many words in a literal sense. However, it seems that by the early 2380s (when Lower Decks is set) that limitation has been largely overcome!
One great thing about Lower Decks is how the show looks at the aftermath of some past Star Trek stories. In Season 1 we had the return of Landru, as the crew of the Cerritos returned to Beta III decades after Captain Kirk’s mission there. In this case, we get a much more positive portrayal of Starfleet and their actions. In the aftermath of the events depicted in Darmok, the Federation and the Tamarians evidently found ways to work together to overcome the language barrier, allowing at least one Tamarian to serve in Starfleet.
Kayshon himself didn’t get a lot of screen time, as he was turned into a puppet by the collector’s automated defence system. This was pretty random, but it was necessary to keep him out of the way in order for the Mariner-versus-Jet storyline to play out. I’m not sure if Kayshon is set to be a recurring character or not, but if so it would be nice to learn more about the Tamarians.
I won’t go over every item I spotted in the collection, but there were definitely some fun ones. There were multiple references to The Next Generation in particular, with items from episodes like The Pegasus, The Battle, and The Royale. Khan’s amulet/pendant was also displayed prominently, as were crates of Château Picard wine – a reference to the Picard family vineyard most recently seen in Star Trek: Picard.
Kahless’ “fornication helmet” was one of the most random, funny items in the whole collection, and became a minor plot point later in the episode. Dissecting a joke ruins it, of course, but this one is multi-layered for Trekkies and it works so well. Past iterations of the franchise have established that Klingon “love-making” is particularly aggressive and physically taxing, so the idea that some ancient Klingons might’ve worn helmets doesn’t come from nowhere. Gosh this is awkward to write about – I’m asexual, so any discussion of such topics is difficult!
The main thrust of the plot on this side of the episode was Mariner and Jet’s inability to work together. Both wanted to take the lead and assume command after Kayshon became incapacitated, but they have opposite styles of leadership that simply do not gel. Both characters want to be assertive, yet both realise that in doing so – and in competing with one another – they made mistakes that led to the situation becoming worse.
Some of this was a little on-the-nose; we didn’t need to hear the two characters say everything out loud to understand what was going on. But in a twenty-minute animated episode that was pressed for time, perhaps such things are to be expected! Regardless, none of the exposition from Jet or Mariner as they called each other out, and came to realise their mistakes, detracted from the story. It was still a solid character piece for them both.
Mariner in particular is our protagonist and our heroine, so naturally we’re more invested in her than we are in Jet. Mariner’s lines at this point in the story, recognising her own mistakes and perhaps more importantly, recognising why she had made those mistakes, feels right in line with her growth across Season 1. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Mariner’s Season 1 character arc has been one of the best things about Lower Decks, and I stand by that. The way she was able to recognise her own error here, and then throw the decision-making to Rutherford and Tendi, was great to see. Mariner appears to have solidified the better parts of that character arc from last time, and any fears I might’ve had of a regression or resetting of her character have proven to be unfounded.
Tendi and Rutherford are able to put their heads together and figure out an escape plan that neither Mariner nor Jet were able to, and while the situation aboard the collector’s ship was left unresolved (they abandoned ship with the defence system still online) the character story between Jet and Mariner worked exceptionally well.
Before we get into Boimler’s story I want to just look briefly at Rutherford and Tendi. Last time, their B-plot was very rushed and unfortunately didn’t work all that well. This time they were secondary players in a Mariner-centric story, which is fine. But I stand by what I said during a recent episode of the DenPod (my unscripted podcast) – Rutherford’s implant/memory loss storyline has been a waste of a good concept.
For whatever reason, Lower Decks appears to have shelved Rutherford’s memory loss, which was one of the final reveals at the end of Season 1. By the end of the last episode he was basically back to normal, his friendships with Mariner and Tendi having been re-established off-screen. There was an opportunity to play the memory loss thing straight, or to take a comedic look at it. There was also an opportunity to change up Rutherford altogether, perhaps by giving him different cybernetic implants that could do different things – or at least look a little different. As it is, the memory loss story that was set up at the end of Season 1 just didn’t go anywhere. It may yet play a role in a future episode, but if so it will be limited in scope to a single story rather than being a part of Rutherford’s character across the season. I’m left wondering why Lower Decks bothered to tee up something and then not follow it through.
Aboard the USS Titan, Boimler is doing his best. We saw him seemingly struggling in the trailers for Season 2, as well as at the tail end of last episode, but despite the way it may have looked, he does seem to be settling in as well as someone with his anxieties and neuroses possibly could. There has always been a little of Reg Barclay in the way Boimler is portrayed, and we definitely saw elements of that with him on this occasion, particularly the oblivious way he wrote down everything Riker was saying in the conference room.
Speaking of Riker, it was great to welcome Jonathan Frakes back to the role once more. We’d known he was coming back, of course, but having an entire Titan-focused storyline was great. It was a bit of a shame not to have Troi alongside him, but perhaps there wouldn’t have been enough time to give both of them enough to do to make it worthwhile.
The three members of the Titan’s senior staff that Boimler teamed up with for the away mission felt pretty bland at first, but when they were cornered by the Pakleds in the mine they came into their own. Boimler stood up for himself, telling them that he didn’t join Starfleet to fight and get killed, and seeing him say that they each shared their own reasons for joining up as well. Though we’re unlikely to see any of these characters again, I liked that this moment gave each of them a bit more personality – as well as showing off Boimler’s love of Starfleet once again.
The episode didn’t entirely conclude the Pakled threat, though. I wonder if we’ll find out more about their mysterious benefactor, the one Riker believed is orchestrating their attacks on Federation targets. This could be something that runs in the background all season, or it could be explored in-depth in another episode. In a way I’d like to see the Pakled situation resolved, though in light of Boimler’s hilarious line at the end of the episode about “serialised” stories and characters – a reference to the way other modern Star Trek series tell their stories – perhaps it won’t happen!
The away mission to the mine was a fun jaunt, and I think we really got to see Boimler at his best. He can be timid and anxious much of the time, but when pushed into a corner Boimler is willing to stand up for himself and for Starfleet, and we saw him do so here. Not only that, but his in-depth knowledge of past Starfleet missions allowed him to step up and save the away team.
One of the most interesting things going into Season 2 was the question of Boimler’s status on the Titan. I had a few theories about how and why he might get bumped back to the Cerritos, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted the direction Lower Decks would go in this regard! The Next Generation Season 6 episode Second Chances introduced Thomas Riker – a transporter-created clone of William Riker. Thomas would later be captured by the Cardassians after defecting to the Maquis, and his fate after that is unknown. To recreate that storyline for Boimler was so unexpected, but it worked wonderfully.
We can certainly nitpick it and argue that demoting one of the Boimlers after he’d saved the lives of the away team is unfair, but this was Lower Decks pushing him back to the Cerritos to allow the rest of the season to pan out, so I think we can overlook that. The transporter duplicate situation was such a random occurrence, yet it was one which harkened back to Star Trek’s past – and I love it. It worked brilliantly, being utterly unpredictable and allowing Boimler to return to the Cerritos with his head held high. He didn’t fail, he wasn’t booted off the ship, and he didn’t need to ask for a demotion after feeling overwhelmed. Circumstances simply got in the way, and I think for Boimler as a character, and for his self-esteem in particular, those are good things.
The second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, gave me “evil twin” vibes. He certainly seems a lot more confident and outgoing than “our” Boimler, and I can’t help but wonder if Lower Decks is setting up a future villain. Will a future episode revolve around a Boimler-versus-Boimler battle? We’ll have to wait and see!
Speaking of creating villains, Jet seemed very angry at being spurned by Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford at the episode’s end. There was a moment where his face was in the centre of the frame as he walked away where I was thinking that we’d just witnessed the creation of another villain. I won’t be surprised to see him come back in a much more antagonistic role later in the season, so watch this space.
So that was Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Definitely the high point of the season so far, and one of the best episodes that the series has yet produced. There were a lot of references to Star Trek’s past, several of which played significant roles in the story. The two principle characters featured – Mariner and Boimler – stayed true to their growth and arcs from Season 1, making them both feel like fully-rounded protagonists.
The animation, as always, was fantastic. Lower Decks has a great visual style, and seeing the different colour palettes used for the Cerritos and Titan makes for a wonderful contrast between different 24th Century aesthetics. The Cerritos is very much in the style of the Enterprise-D, whereas the Titan has a distinctive Enterprise-E/Sovereign class feel throughout. The contrast works incredibly well, and having two stories set on the two different ships really played this up on this occasion.
Several of the secondary or guest characters worked really well this week too. Obviously Jet played off exceptionally against Mariner, but also we had Boimler’s away team colleagues who, despite seeming pretty one-dimensional at first, soon came into their own.
Overall, I had a great time with this week’s episode. It’s set a high bar for the rest of Season 2, and I hope that the series can continue to rise to the occasion!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Today marks what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, so it’s a good opportunity to pause and look back at the life and legacy of the man who created Star Trek – and changed science fiction forever.
Of course it’s true that we wouldn’t have Star Trek without Gene Roddenberry. But it’s very likely that Star Wars wouldn’t exist either, at least not in any form we’d recognise, and without either of those pioneers, countless other sci-fi and fantasy films and television shows would likely have never made it to the screen. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy extends far beyond the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk, and the franchise he created that’s still going strong in its fifty-fifth year; he quite literally transformed science fiction and started the process of making it mainstream.
I never had the opportunity to meet Gene Roddenberry. In fact, by the time I settled in to regularly watch Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 1990s, he’d already passed away. But his creation had a huge influence on my early life and adolescence, even though I only knew the man himself as merely one name among many in the end credits. Many people have spoken about the inspirational side of Star Trek, how the franchise depicts an idealistic future free from many of the problems and challenges our society has to deal with today. For me, that was – and remains – the appeal of Star Trek.
Whole generations of people have grown up watching and loving Star Trek since Gene Roddenberry passed away. The fact that the franchise he created is still inspiring people to look to the stars – and to look to make changes for the better in the world today – a hundred years after he was born, and almost three decades since his death, is a phenomenal legacy for any one person to have. Untold numbers of people have been inspired by Star Trek to become scientists, doctors, engineers, astronauts, and even politicians, taking Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy and idealism for the future to every corner of our society. Star Trek may still be on the air, but Gene Roddenberry’s legacy has long since moved beyond the screen and into the real world.
As someone who never met Gene Roddenberry and only started watching Star Trek after he was already gone, I can’t comment on the man himself. I didn’t know him on a personal level, and I regret never having the opportunity to talk with him about the future and how our society and civilisation might evolve. But I can speak to how I perceive his legacy and how he affected the world, and though it might sound like a cliché, there are very few people who have had such a positive impact – both on my own life and in the wider world.
Star Trek was always double-layered for Gene Roddenberry. There was the cool sci-fi stuff; the spaceships, phasers, transporters, and the like. He brought those to life using the best available television technologies and special effects, some of which would be adopted by other productions and become mainstays of the sci-fi genre. But there was also social commentary and a desire to show audiences that the way the world is today isn’t the way it always has to be.
At a time when racial segregation was still ongoing in the United States, and when the battle for civil rights and racial equality was still being fought, Gene Roddenberry put black and white characters together on an equal footing. At a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War, Gene Roddenberry put a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise. And at a time when neurodivergent people were looked down on and mistreated, Gene Roddenberry created characters like Spock and Data, who present very differently to their peers but were nevertheless welcomed and accepted.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Starfleet and the Federation was a space where everyone could feel welcome. Discrimination and hate didn’t exist in the 23rd or 24th Centuries as he saw it, and the way Star Trek depicted this vision of the future has been a force for good in the world.
On the practical side of things too, Gene Roddenberry’s legacy lives on. George Lucas has said on many occasions that Star Wars – arguably the biggest space-based entertainment property in the world – would not have come to exist without Star Trek and the trail it blazed. Countless other sci-fi and space-fantasy films, television shows, and even video games all owe a great deal to Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. Though he didn’t invent the genre, Roddenberry expanded it in a big way. By creating one of the first connected fandoms, complete with meet-ups and conventions in which he and the show’s stars would happily participate, Roddenberry pioneered the concept of a fan community decades before the internet came along.
Later today, on what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, a new episode of Star Trek will premiere. What would he have made of Lower Decks, the franchise’s first foray into comedy? Some folks who haven’t liked the direction that the franchise has taken in recent years might say he’d have disliked the concept, but actually Roddenberry had plans for a Star Trek comedy himself. Perhaps the most famous concept would’ve focused on Lwaxana Troi as a spin-off from The Next Generation, but he had many other ideas for Star Trek projects – including comedies – going all the way back to the 1970s.
A number of people involved in the production of Star Trek have noted how Gene Roddenberry was acutely aware of how audience expectations changed over time. One of the main reasons why his television project Star Trek: Phase II was reworked into The Motion Picture was because he’d seen the success of Star Wars in 1977 and how well audiences had responded to it. Though he may not have liked every single creative decision taken by the franchise over the years, he would at the very least understand that audiences have changed and that Star Trek has to change too. Whether he’d approve of every joke and character in Lower Decks or Discovery is thus a moot point; I think Gene Roddenberry would have understood and been supportive of the concept and of taking Star Trek to new places.
So that’s about all I have to say today, really. Though I never met him, Gene Roddenberry has had an ongoing influence on my life. As a Trekkie, I revel in the world that he created, the characters he brought to life, and the wonderfully optimistic vision of a future free from the kind of social ills that plague the world today. I believe, as he did, that the human race is capable of getting to that point. He encouraged all of us to reach for the stars – and to strive to build a better world. That legacy continues to this day – and I hope it will always be there.
The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Some behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of TrekCore. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.
In the second part of this short series about the Burn we’re going to consider the possible impact of time travel. Last time, in case you missed it, we looked at how transporters and transwarp beaming could – potentially – have provided Starfleet and the Federation with a way to relieve the pressure of dwindling dilithium reserves in the years before the Burn. I also have a column looking at how well the Burn worked as a storyline, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.
As Season 3 began – and for much of its run – I speculated about the possible involvement of time travel either as part of the explanation for the Burn or as a way for Discovery to reset or even undo the catastrophic event at the storyline’s resolution. Here’s the short version of why: the Federation had access to time travel technology for hundreds of years, and by the 29th and 30th Centuries Starfleet routinely explored the timeline and even tried to patrol it and prevent any nefarious interference. Though there was a “temporal prime directive” in effect which prevented travellers from the future from changing the past, the precise way in which this worked is not clear.
Time travel has not been depicted consistently within Star Trek, and we do have to acknowledge that. Stories featuring the cast of The Original Series – including the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – seem to depict time travel as something that basically anyone with a warp-capable starship could accomplish (via the method of slingshotting around a star). However, by the time we get to stories set in the 24th Century, time travel appears to require specialist equipment and devices – which, at various points, the Federation may or may not have been in possession of.
Even if we’re incredibly conservative with how we interpret time travel stories within Star Trek, it still seems highly likely that by the 25th Century or thereabouts, Starfleet had the technology to routinely and safely travel through time – which is more than 600 years before the Burn. Much of what we know about Starfleet’s time travel missions suggests that their primary interests would be in travelling backwards through time to get a first-hand look at historical events, as well as to prevent factions like the Sphere Builders or the Borg from changing the past to suit their own goals and purposes. But there’s nothing to say that Starfleet wasn’t at least peeking ahead at the future timeline.
I’d argue that not doing so would be a major risk and even a dereliction of duty. With Starfleet involved in a Temporal Cold War and/or the Temporal Wars, other factions were almost certainly using time travel technology to jump forwards and backwards through time to try to score an advantage. Heck, Discovery’s second season finale is an example of this: Captain Pike, Saru, Burnham, and the crew decide that sending the USS Discovery forward in time – removing it from the 23rd Century – was the safest way to keep this vital ship and its important data out of the hands of their enemy. If 23rd Century Starfleet was doing that, I see nothing to suggest that 29th and 30th Century Starfleet wasn’t doing that too.
We can’t argue that travelling forwards in time is any more difficult than travelling backwards. Again, Discovery Season 2 is a case in point. The Red Angel project in the mid-23rd Century created two time travel suits that were capable of moving forwards in time, and at various points in Star Trek’s broader canon we’ve seen ships like the USS Defiant and the Enterprise-E manage to successfully return to the 24th Century after jaunts to the past.
Everything we know about time travel in Star Trek tells us that the Federation had the capability to travel forwards in time, and a combination of their role in the temporal conflicts of the 29th and 30th Centuries as well as their previously-established desire to protect and preserve the “true” timeline gives them the motivation – and moral requirement – to do so as well.
So why didn’t anyone warn the Federation about the Burn?
The answer, at least according to Discovery Season 3, is the ban on time travel. But I’m not convinced that this works as a satisfying and believable reason on its own. Even if Starfleet were willing to abide by the ban on time travel and the temporal prime directive, would everyone have felt that way? If a Starfleet timeship encountered the post-Burn galaxy, would they not have felt an obligation to warn their colleagues in their native era?
Even if Starfleet had been willing to sacrifice countless lives and leave the galaxy in a horrible state to uphold certain ideals and principles, the Burn is bigger than just the Federation. Other factions in the Temporal Wars, had they become aware of the Burn, would likely have tried to warn their colleagues of what was to come. Even organisations within the Federation, like Section 31, seem like they’d have been unwilling to abide by a ban on time travel, let alone refuse to share knowledge of an impending disaster.
We don’t know for certain that this didn’t happen. Section 31 may not exist by this time, and if they do still exist they may indeed have tried to warn the Federation about the Burn. Other factions with access to time travel technology may have also warned their past selves too. Heck, this could be a plot point in Season 4; perhaps one faction was better-prepared than everyone else and is now ready to conquer the galaxy.
However, there is a significant counter-point that we need to consider: until Saru, Burnham, and Dr Culber travelled to the Verubin Nebula and met Su’Kal, no one knew what caused the Burn. Even if Starfleet had been warned centuries ahead of time, without the crucial knowledge of what the Burn was, who caused it, and so on, simply knowing that it was going to happen would not have been enough to prevent it. And perhaps that’s the key here. Even if Starfleet had travelled forward in time, in this exact version of the timeline, all they would’ve seen is a galaxy devastated by an event that no one knew anything about.
As I said last time, the way the Burn occurred was a combination of unlikely, unpredictable circumstances centred around a single, relatively obscure starship and one Kelpien child. When looking at a galaxy-wide event that appeared to happen everywhere simultaneously, even the most dedicated timeship crew would’ve struggled to put the pieces together. Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery were able to do so only with the Federation’s help; and it seems highly unlikely that Admiral Vance would’ve agreed to help the crew of a 29th or 30th Century timeship in the way he agreed to help Saru and Burnham. Remember what Vance said when he debriefed Burnham and Saru: their mere presence in the 32nd Century was “by definition, a crime.”
Thus we can argue that Admiral Vance would have been unwilling to help a Federation timeship prevent the Burn, and would not have shared the vital information relating to SB-19 which ultimately allowed Burnham to pinpoint its source.
Likewise, if Section 31, the Emerald Chain, or some other faction operating in the 32nd Century wanted to travel back in time to prevent the Burn, the same issue of not knowing how, why, and where it happened arises. Without this information, realistically it seems impossible for the Burn to have been avoided. Only after Burnham’s investigation, culminating in the discovery of the KSF Khi’eth and Su’Kal, could anyone realistically use time travel to prevent the Burn or warn their counterparts in the past. And from our point of view as the audience, we’ve only just arrived at that chapter of the story!
When the Burn was first teased in the trailers for Discovery’s third season in 2019 and 2020, I wondered what role – if any – time travel might’ve played in the story. There were possible hints at a time travel-related cause for the Burn, perhaps even connected to one of the Red Angel suits from Season 2. There was also the Temporal Cold War from Enterprise. However, as a story point one thing about connecting time travel to the Burn seemed like it would be impossible to resolve as the season rolled on.
In short, if the Burn had been revealed to have been caused by the nefarious actions of a time traveller – or as the result of a time travel/Red Angel suit accident – then logically, from Starfleet’s perspective, the only solution to the Burn would be to undo it; to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. In the first couple of episodes of the season, as we found our feet, perhaps such a storyline could’ve worked. But as we got to know people like Booker, Admiral Vance, the leaders of Earth, Ni’Var, Trill, and many others across the 32nd Century, removing most of them from existence by resetting the timeline would have felt completely wrong.
Undoing the Burn would’ve completely changed the 31st and 32nd Centuries, with knock-on effects for all of those characters – and countless more. Even if the crew of Discovery were immune to such changes, the consequences for everyone else would be vast. As I mentioned when discussing Admiral Janeway’s decision to take a similar action in the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, wiping untold numbers of people from existence altogether seems like the worst possible use of time travel – a war crime. The Temporal Accords that Admiral Vance mentioned and which the Federation strives to protect seem specifically designed to prevent anyone from doing this kind of thing.
So we get into the weeds of philosophy with this one! The Burn happened, and until we learned exactly how and why toward the end of the season, it was possible that time travel could’ve played a role in it. But even if it had, and the Burn was entirely the fault of the misuse or weaponisation of time travel, more than 120 years had passed since. In those 120 years, billions of people lived out complete lifetimes. They made friends, had relationships, had children, and above all they shaped the galaxy in the 31st and 32nd Centuries. Some nebulous, unprovable concept of how it might’ve been “different” and thus better was already a moot point by the year 3188, because going back in time and changing the past would remove untold billions of people from existence, and utterly change the lives of everyone else.
There’s also no guarantee that preventing the Burn would’ve made the galaxy in 3188 a better place. The Burn destroyed countless starships, but if it hadn’t the galaxy’s dilithium shortage would’ve continued and even accelerated, potentially leaving whole fleets of ships – and possibly planetary power grids – with no fuel at all. Though we get into pure speculation at this point, perhaps the Burn destroyed an invasion fleet that the Borg, the Dominion, or some other villainous group had put together, and if it hadn’t occurred the Federation would’ve been conquered.
This is the fundamental problem with making changes to the timeline and with time travel in general – it isn’t possible to predict every consequence! Star Trek even has a story all about that: the Voyager two-part episode Year of Hell, in which the villainous Annorax is in control of a time travel-based weapon, but after inadvertently removing his wife from existence becomes obsessed with making changes to the timeline left, right, and centre to undo his mistake.
In short, whether the Federation, Section 31, or some other faction were involved, they wouldn’t be able to predict what consequences would befall the galaxy if the Burn never happened. It isn’t possible to take into account every individual and thus every variable – as the story of Su’Kal kind of demonstrates. One Kelpien child on one crashed starship caused all of this damage and devastation. Who’s to say that undoing that event wouldn’t have led to something worse, some other catastrophe caused by a different individual?
As a contemporary analogy, imagine going back in time and preventing the rise of Napoleon and thus the Napoleonic wars. Or going back in time to prevent the eruption of Krakatoa. Those events caused widespread death and misery, and our morality says that we should try to minimise suffering and death wherever we can. But could you reasonably predict the consequences? If Napoleon didn’t rise to power in France, would someone else – someone worse – have done so? If Krakatoa didn’t erupt in 1883, would the pressure building up under the crust be released somewhere else at a different time – perhaps somewhere more highly-populated? These are just two examples, yet each one brings with it huge potential ramifications.
To conclude, time travel seemingly presents a way for the Burn to have been avoided – if we don’t dig too deeply. But scratch the surface and it becomes apparent that there are serious barriers. Starfleet’s steadfast commitment to its principles wouldn’t have allowed Admiral Vance – or anyone else in his role – to share information with time travellers from the past. Even if someone from the past had travelled to the 32nd Century, without the very specific information on the KSF Khi’eth that Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery assembled, warning Starfleet that the Burn was coming would have made little difference. Perhaps some ships could’ve been saved if the Federation were forewarned of the exact timing of the event, but that’s about all. With the destruction of the Red Angel suits, it appears that no time travel technology exists in the 32nd Century, preventing anyone – Section 31, the Emerald Chain, etc. – going back in time to prevent the Burn. Even if someone wanted to, the lack of information would once again be a hurdle even if we ignore the huge moral implications – and the implications for Discovery as a series effectively wiping out an entire season’s worth of story!
I can understand why the writers of Discovery Season 3 brought in all of the stuff about the Temporal Accords and the ban on time travel. I wish it had been elaborated on – and I also wish that Star Trek had been more consistent in its depiction of time travel on the whole, because there are definitely holes we can pick in the concept quite easily. As things sit, it feels like the writers basically said “time travel was banned, so get over it” and then moved on to the rest of the story. If you don’t look too hard, that’s okay. But we’re Trekkies – we like to dive deeply into all things Star Trek!
The ban on time travel is just one part of why Starfleet couldn’t really have used the technology to avoid the Burn, though. And the Burn’s ultimate origin as something accidental connected to a child who wasn’t even born before the KSF Khi’eth entered the Verubin Nebula provides a reasonable explanation. Without knowing the Burn’s origin, all Starfleet could’ve done was shut down as many ships as possible and try to rebuild after the Burn – and that would likely not have been good enough for worlds like Ni’Var. The Federation would still have fractured and the rest of the galaxy would still be in a mess.
As for going back in time and undoing the Burn now that Starfleet knows its origin, that seems off the table. Maybe a faction like Section 31 would contemplate it, but even then I think there are solid reasons to hesitate. The morality of wiping out an entire timeline and most of the people in it is the biggest consideration, but purely on a practical level there’s no guarantee that undoing the Burn wouldn’t lead to something else – something worse. For us as viewers, the Burn is something new. But from the point of view of characters like Admiral Vance and Kovich, this is an historical event more than a century in the past; it occurred before practically everyone alive in the Federation in 3188 was even born. Undoing it would be like one of us wanting to undo something that happened in the 19th Century. Can we think of valid, sympathetic reasons to want to undo certain historical events? Of course. But can we also understand why changing the past can have catastrophic unforeseen consequences? Absolutely. And that, in a nutshell, is why I think the Burn couldn’t and wouldn’t have been avoided via time travel.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek Into Darkness, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
This article is going to be the first in a short series about the Burn – one of the main elements of Discovery’s third season. We’re going to consider different ways that the Federation – and the wider Star Trek galaxy – could have avoided the Burn, a catastrophic event that caused untold damage to factions and citizens across known space and beyond.
In order for the Burn to have occurred at all, a very specific set of circumstances needed to align in just the right way (or should that be just the wrong way?) One of these was the dilithium shortage that Admiral Vance elaborated on after Saru, Burnham, and the crew of the USS Discovery arrived at Federation HQ. In short, for a long time prior to the Burn there had been a shortage of dilithium across the galaxy. This shortage was so severe that the Federation began looking at alternative options for faster-than-light travel. One of the ideas they considered was something called SB-19 – a Ni’Var project that seemed to involve some kind of starship-sized “gateways” to get from place to place.
We’re going to leave those ideas behind for now and focus on one aspect of Star Trek that has been present since the beginning: the transporter. In short, would it have been possible for transporter technology to provide an alternative to some or all of Starfleet’s faster-than-light travel?
On the surface it may seem that the two things aren’t related. Transporters are mainly shown on screen as a method of sending people from starships to planets, and vice versa. Faster-than-light starship travel is in a completely different ballpark, right?
Not so fast! What is the main purpose of warp drive in the Federation? Starfleet uses it for exploration and military purposes, of course, so as viewers that’s what we associate warp drive with – setting course for an unknown destination and racing away to explore it. But the Federation is much larger than just Starfleet, and there must be an awful lot of civilian and cargo traffic that uses warp drive in the same way we use a car, bus, train, or aircraft – it’s a means to an end; a way to get from place to place.
2009’s Star Trek introduced something that I think is vital to this consideration: transwarp beaming. On first viewing I felt the film wasn’t clear about how and when transwarp beaming was invented, so for the sake of clarity here’s what seems to have happened: after arriving in the 24th Century following decades in suspended animation – events depicted in The Next Generation sixth season episode Relics – Montgomery Scott eventually went back to work with Starfleet. Sometime prior to 2387, Scotty perfected the formula for transwarp beaming, and Spock provided this equation to Scotty’s younger self on the planet Delta Vega after arriving in the alternate reality.
In Star Trek Into Darkness we see how much more powerful transwarp beaming can be than a regular transporter. As with most of Star Trek’s technologies, transporters have always been somewhat vague and mouldable to the needs of a particular story, but Into Darkness actually gave us a pretty solid idea about the range that transwarp beaming has: it’s possible to transport from Earth to the Klingon home planet of Qo’noS.
Into Darkness doesn’t give an exact distance to Qo’noS, but in Enterprise’s pilot episode it was far enough away from Earth that no human had ever encountered a Klingon despite humanity being a spacefaring species for decades. The travel time from Earth to Qo’noS at warp 4.5 was around four days in that same episode.
Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki, suggests that the distance between Earth and Qo’noS could be somewhere between 90-110 light-years, so for a rough guide for the sake of this argument we’re going to say that transwarp beaming has a range of at least 100 light-years. This technology was known to Spock in 2387, so it definitely existed in the Prime Timeline in the late 24th Century. Even if 100 light-years is the absolute maximum distance for transwarp beaming, it’s still a far faster method of travel than anything else known to the Federation. In Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (the ninth episode of Star Trek: Picard), Admiral Picard tells Dr Jurati that the use of a Borg transwarp corridor allowed La Sirena to travel “25 light-years in fifteen minutes.” Picard says this with a tone of surprise, as if such speed is something that the Federation, even in the year 2399, is unaccustomed to.
Transwarp beaming, then, is even faster than the Borg’s transwarp network. Though the Borg’s spatial trajector (a technology they appear to have assimilated from the Sikarians) may give it a run for its money! Regardless, transwarp beaming is arguably the fastest method of long-range travel ever seen in Star Trek. It allowed “John Harrison” to travel around 100 light-years in a heartbeat, something that even Borg starships couldn’t do a century later.
So how does all of this connect to the Burn? Based on what we saw on screen, it doesn’t! That’s the short answer. For whatever reason, Starfleet appears not to have pursued transwarp beaming in the 29th and 30th Centuries. But this is a fan theory, so we’re running with it anyway!
Despite what’s usually shown on screen, transporters don’t just move people. In fact, living beings are arguably one of the hardest and most complex things for a transporter to manage. Early episodes of Enterprise explained that the first transporters were only supposed to move cargo, and we’ve seen industrial-sized cargo transporters on other ships, including the Enterprise-D. These transporters were often larger, capable of beaming large objects, groups of people, and other things.
Do you see where this is going yet? Much of the reason for interstellar travel within the Federation was to move objects and people from place to place. Going into space in a starship and travelling at warp speed was the best method that the Federation had of doing so – until transwarp beaming came along. Transwarp beaming, even if it had an absolute maximum range of 100 light-years that could never under any circumstances be surpassed, was still a viable option for a significant portion of the Federation’s interstellar travel needs.
Nothing we know of in Star Trek should have prevented the further development and honing of transwarp beaming. Even if no one did anything with the transwarp beaming concept before the 29th or 30th Centuries, when dilithium supplies began to run short Starfleet could easily have started to work again on a concept they’d sidelined. The formulae and information about transwarp beaming seem unlikely to have been lost in that time. Industrial-sized transwarp beaming hubs could have been built, capable of sending vast amounts of goods and whole crowds of people from one planet to another. Not only that, but transwarp beaming hubs in space could even have been constructed, forming a network that would’ve allowed Starfleet to send its vessels from system to system without expending valuable fuel.
It is possible based on what we saw on screen that some version of transwarp beaming was part of the aforementioned SB-19 project. But that has never been confirmed, and considering that transwarp beaming was known to work reliably in the late 24th Century (or the 23rd Century in the alternate reality) it seems unlikely that SB-19 would have struggled to make the concept work hundreds of years later. This was already proven, working technology within Star Trek’s Prime Timeline.
Had Starfleet invested in transwarp beaming on a large scale, it’s possible that the range of the technology could have been extended, its power consumption reduced, and a vast interplanetary network of transwarp beaming stations created that would have relieved at least some of the pressure on dilithium-powered starships. With that pressure reduced and the desperation on the Federation’s part to source new dilithium lessening as a result, the chances of the KSF Khi’eth crashing in the Verubin Nebula, setting in motion the unlikely chain of events that led to the Burn, seems greatly diminished.
In short, using transporters in this way could have avoided the Burn entirely.
Now let’s consider the biggest counter-argument to this idea: how power generation works in Star Trek.
It stands to reason that a transporter takes up a lot of power. In Discovery’s premiere episode, a particular design of transporter in use on the USS Shenzhou was considered outdated by Michael Burnham specifically because of its high power consumption. It logically follows that the larger the mass of the objects being transported, the more power is required. It also stands to reason that transporting over longer distances would likewise require a larger expenditure of power. This might even jump exponentially.
Relatively few Star Trek stories have been set on planets, so we don’t know very much about how planetary power generation works. But assuming that, in order to power the technologies and mod-cons of the 24th Century, planets require comparable levels of power per person to a starship, it’s possible that planetary power grids (such as the one on Earth that was sabotaged by Admiral Leyton in the Deep Space Nine episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost) use a similar matter-antimatter reaction in order to generate enough power for the needs of the population. And what does a matter-antimatter reaction need to be safe and stable? Dilithium crystals.
Transporters based on starships would also have this limitation – as everything on board a starship seems to be powered by a controlled matter-antimatter reaction. Perhaps, then, transporters have the same basic limitation as warp drive: a reliance on dilithium for power. This counter-argument could be used to explain why transporters and transwarp beaming weren’t able to be used as a viable replacement for even a small amount of Starfleet’s interstellar traffic in the years prior to the Burn.
I still think this is an interesting idea, though! Star Trek has thrown a lot of technobabble concepts our way over the years, so it’s inevitable that almost any new storyline can bring with it questions like “why didn’t they try to do X?” or “why didn’t someone think of using Y?” That’s just the nature of this kind of franchise.
On this occasion we’ve jumped headfirst into a theory based on a few lines of dialogue and interpretations of things shown on screen in unconnected parts of Star Trek’s broader canon. I didn’t do that to imply that there’s somehow an egregious “plot hole” in the way Discovery’s third season explained the dilithium shortage or the Burn; really this has just been an excuse to spend a bit more time in the Star Trek galaxy. This isn’t something to take too seriously – no fan theory is – and as already mentioned I can think of at least one solid counter-argument to the idea of Starfleet setting up a kind of transwarp beaming network to ease its reliance on warp drive.
I hope this theory was a bit of fun, though! Stay tuned for more in this short series about the Burn, because transporters and transwarp beaming aren’t the only ways that Starfleet could’ve potentially avoided the disaster and its consequences. And if you want to see my breakdown and analysis on how well the Burn did (and didn’t) work as a narrative in Discovery Season 3, take a look at this article.
Until next time!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2,
Here we go again! After more than seven months with no new Star Trek, Lower Decks has returned to brighten our days once more!
Despite problems caused by the lack of an international broadcast limiting fans’ access to the show, the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks was outstanding. The series broke new ground for the Star Trek franchise, being its first foray into the realm of animated comedy, yet at the same time felt familiar. Many of the jokes relied on references to past iterations of Star Trek, and as a whole Season 1 of Lower Decks felt like a love letter to the franchise and its fans.
Star Trek: Lower Decks has found an international home on Amazon Prime Video, and beginning with Season 2 fans all over the world are able to watch together, which is great news. I hadn’t realised until recently how much I’d missed my weekly appointment with Lower Decks, and it was wonderful to be able to step back into its fun take on Star Trek.
Having been excited to see trailers and teasers for the new season earlier in the year, as Strange Energies approached I felt that the marketing department at ViacomCBS went overboard with showing us clips from the episode. I wanted to avoid the dreaded “Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – where a production gives away all of its good jokes and clever moments in marketing material ahead of time – so in the final few days leading up to the episode’s arrival I actually tuned out of all of these clips. I wanted to go into Strange Energies in as unspoiled a manner as possible.
The episode was solid, but perhaps not the best Lower Decks has had to offer. There were some clever jokes, fun references, and an A- and B-plot just like most of Season 1. The A-plot looked at the relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman as they dealt with the titular strange energies that effected Commander Ransom. The B-plot focused on Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship in the wake of his memory loss at the end of Season 1.
Both of these storylines had some great elements and some that weren’t so good. When it came to Tendi’s desire to keep Rutherford as her friend, the whole thing just felt rushed. Within seconds of the two characters appearing on screen, Tendi had jumped down the rabbit hole of obscure technobabble medical conditions, and their story then raced through several sequences before coming to an obvious conclusion. The only time either character had a second to breathe was in the episode’s final moments.
Tendi has been a character that I felt failed to really find a niche in Season 1, despite Lower Decks putting her in several different situations. The one constant in her characterisation had been her friendship with Rutherford, so this storyline did have a solid foundation to build on. Perhaps if more time had been dedicated to it it could’ve worked better; such is the peril of making an animated series with episodes that barely reach the twenty-minute mark.
As for Rutherford, though the memory loss was mentioned, it really served as little more than background for the unfolding story. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Rutherford coming to terms with his lost memories and re-forging the friendships he had in Season 1, not just with Tendi but also with Mariner, Boimler, and characters like Billups in Engineering. This story with Tendi worrying about the future of their friendship could still have worked in that context, but could’ve perhaps come in episode 2 or 3 of the season, after we’d seen a little more of Rutherford rebuilding after losing all of those memories. In that sense, one of the last big moments in the Season 1 finale felt like it was underused at the beginning of Season 2. There’s still scope for some Rutherford memory loss moments, I suppose, but they’ll come after this story has already effectively reset him to the way he was last year.
When the episode’s A-plot focused on the relationships between Mariner, Freeman, and Ransom I was concerned that we were going to see Mariner undo all of the growth and development that made her arc in Season 1 so powerful and interesting to watch. I was glad that it didn’t happen; the story built on that character arc and took the characters to different places without trying to undo what had come before.
It makes sense for characters as different as Freeman and Mariner to find it difficult to work together at times. And it makes sense for Ransom, as the ship’s first officer, to see Mariner’s newfound status and special treatment as an issue, so all of the building blocks that went into this side of the story worked as intended. Just as it took an extreme and unusual event in the Season 1 finale for Mariner and Freeman to overcome those differences and work together, it took another such event this time for them to realise that they didn’t enjoy their new dynamic as much as they pretended to. There’s almost a mirror feel to these characters’ stories in this episode and the Season 1 finale from that point of view; they form a duology.
Once a secret is revealed, though, there’s no way to cover it up again. And the show realised this; it isn’t possible to reset Mariner to the insubordinate angsty teenager that she was at the beginning of Season 1 because the nature of her relationship to Captain Freeman is now a known quantity, and we’ve already seen her growth in that regard. So Lower Decks charted a new path for Mariner, one which will hopefully allow her to do things on her own, keep some of her rebelliousness, but at the same time not completely regress or revert back to the way she was and undo that wonderful Season 1 character arc.
Mariner undergoing a character regression was one of my fears for Season 2, and I’m glad that – so far, at least – Lower Decks has managed to avoid that temptation. A show can still be episodic if it has character arcs and genuine character growth, and what I’m hoping Season 2 will deliver, at least in regards to Mariner, is the best of both worlds from that point of view.
It was an interesting choice to begin Season 2 with an episode that essentially sidelined Boimler. He got a few seconds of screen time right at the very end, but that was all. After all of the speculation about a possible demotion or a return to the Cerritos, for it not to have happened in the first episode was a bold decision – one which worked well.
Had Boimler been included in Strange Energies in any meaningful way (such as by returning to the Cerritos), realistically one of the other storylines would have had to be cut entirely in order to make his promotion-demotion story work. As it is there’s already a concern that undoing Boimler’s promotion so soon after granting it could be a problem, so keeping him out of the first episode and just teasing that things aren’t going well for him on the Titan was clever – it seems like it’s setting up a pathway for him to perhaps lose or voluntarily give up that role in a future episode.
Though I do have some theories that I posited before the season kicked off, I’m still not sure how Lower Decks will square that circle. Since we’ve been talking about Mariner and her Season 1 character arc, I want to repeat that I hope Mariner doesn’t intentionally sabotage Boimler’s new role and promotion. She seemed mad at him in the opening act of Strange Energies, but also said she couldn’t really blame him for leaving as the episode reached its conclusion. So there’s hope, from my perspective, that whatever reunites Boimler with the rest of the group won’t be all down to Mariner!
I’m curious to see if we’ll get a full Boimler episode next week – or at any point this season – showing him under Riker’s command aboard the Titan. If so, perhaps the conflict the Titan was engaged in with the Pakleds at the end of Strange Energies may have set that up. It was great to have Riker back, though, even just for a brief moment.
Ransom becoming a god-like entity was perhaps the weakest part of the episode, even though it served as the catalyst for a solid Mariner-Freeman storyline and managed to include some decent and clever jokes. Perhaps it felt too over-the-top, as if Lower Decks had turned the silliness up to 11 mere moments after the season debuted. Or perhaps there was just something about the way Ransom turned 180° from his usual laid-back self into a ship-eating monster that just felt forced or didn’t stick the landing.
Plus the whole “kicking him in the balls” ending was pretty silly and childish, even by Lower Decks’ standards. I usually enjoy even the lowest-brow humour that the show has to offer (the line “he’s got wood” was one of the funniest for me in all of Season 1, for example) but something about this being the ultimate resolution to Ransom’s newfound godhood just seemed… cheap? It was definitely exceptionally silly.
It was funny to see how casually Mariner, Dr T’Ana, and others treated what was happening to Ransom, as if these “strange energies” are something everyone in Starfleet has encountered or heard of at some point. And the callback to Where No Man Has Gone Before – Star Trek’s second pilot – was definitely appreciated, as was the way Dr T’Ana became convinced that squishing Ransom with a boulder was the only solution to the problem. Lower Decks has been packed full of these references and callbacks since it kicked off last year, and I was glad to see more of the same this time around.
The Cerritos is continuing its mission of second contact, and this week we met a new race – the Apergosians. Their design was okay, but nothing groundbreaking – though they really just served a role in the story instead of supposedly becoming a race we’re going to spend a lot of time with, so I guess that’s okay. Not every alien has to be unique and distinctive! Their leader, who was pretty much the only Apergosian to get a speaking role, was very picky and almost neurotic, and I wondered if Lower Decks was going to do some kind of story about autism or Asperger’s syndrome – perhaps the name of the alien race also contributed to that. As it happened the story went in another direction, which was probably for the best.
Dr T’Ana was great comic relief in Strange Energies, and she’s one of my favourite secondary characters on the show. The moment where Ransom used his new powers to turn her hypospray into an ice cream cone was already hilarious, but then the fact that she just shrugged and started eating it almost made me spit out my drink. I had to pause the episode and recover my composure! Her boulder obsession was also pretty funny; having become attached to the idea that this was the only way, she just went off in search of a boulder disregarding what Mariner and Freeman did. And seeing her driving a forklift was funny too.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about Strange Energies. It wasn’t the best Lower Decks has had to offer, dragged down a little by the Ransom storyline. Its B-plot also didn’t really accomplish very much and felt rushed. But there were some funny moments, good jokes, and satisfying interplay between two pairs of characters. The fact that Strange Energies has started to chart a path for Mariner that doesn’t revert her to her early Season 1 portrayal while still keeping her relationship with the captain and chain of command strained will hopefully lay the groundwork for more fun antics as the season rolls on.
A solid if unspectacular start to Season 2, then. All things considered I’m satisfied with that!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 3, Picard Season 1, The Next Generation, and The Animated Series.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is now less than a week away, and as the buildup to its premiere continues I thought it could be fun to step back to last year’s episodes and pull out ten of my favourite moments – and other things!
There was a lot to enjoy in Season 1 last year. The show succeeded at taking the regular goings-on in Starfleet and making them funny, while at the same time it managed to avoid the pitfall of coming across as mean-spirited and laughing at Star Trek. A sense of humour is a very subjective thing, and it’s certainly true that Lower Decks’ comedic style won’t be to everyone’s taste. But for my money, by and large the jokes and humour worked – and underlying all of that was a truly solid and engaging Star Trek show.
When Lower Decks’ first season ended last October I wrote that I was going to miss my weekly viewing appointment, and though Discovery’s third season came along and offered up a different kind of fun, as we’ve got to see more teasers, trailers, and discussion about the upcoming season, I’ve come to realise again just how much I missed Lower Decks in the months it’s been off the air. Though the Star Trek franchise has always had a sense of humour – something I said many times in the run-up to Lower Decks’ first season in response to critics of the concept – this show was the first to put comedy front-and-centre. It also took us back to the 24th Century and The Next Generation era in a big way, which is something I adored.
The Next Generation had been my first contact with the Star Trek franchise in the early 1990s, and I have a fondness for the shows of that era as a result. Lower Decks leaned into that in a big way in its first season, and I hope to see more of the same when Season 2 arrives in just a few days’ time!
So let’s take a look at ten of my favourite things from Season 1. The list below is in no particular order.
Number 1: Ensign Mariner’s character arc.
In the first episode of Lower Decks, and again at the beginning of the second, I didn’t like the way Mariner was presented. Coming across as arrogant and selfish, I felt that the writers were trying to set her up as Star Trek’s answer to Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez. Such a character could work in the Star Trek galaxy, don’t get me wrong, but not as an ensign – and probably not even as a senior officer. Mariner’s “I don’t care about anything” attitude was epitomised in a scene at the beginning of the episode Envoys, where she kidnapped a sentient alien lifeform and forced it to grant her “wishes” – seemingly just for the hell of it. To me, that seemed about as un-Starfleet as it was possible to get.
Beginning in the second half of Envoys, though, we started to see a turnaround in Mariner. Perhaps her friendship with the hapless Boimler was part of it, but over the course of the season we began to see less of the “teen angst” side of Mariner’s rebelliousness. She still had a streak of rebellion in her character, but some of the edginess was blunted – something which was a colossal improvement.
In the episode Much Ado About Boimler, the USS Cerritos is visited by an Academy colleague of Mariner’s – who has already reached the rank of captain. Captain Ramsey’s intervention went a long way toward causing Mariner to have a re-think, as she saw how her friend had matured and moved on from their past childish behaviour.
The episode Crisis Point was where Mariner made her real breakthrough, though. After setting herself up as an extreme anti-Starfleet villain on the holodeck, Mariner saw her friends abandon her, and in a fight against a holographic version of herself, all of that teenage rebellion stuff came to a head. Mariner came to realise that she does care about Starfleet and her mother – Captain Freeman – even if she doesn’t always express that care in ways that line up with Starfleet regulations.
In a way, there are echoes of Michael Burnham (Discovery’s protagonist) in Mariner. Both characters started off with portrayals that I found to be negative and even difficult to watch, yet both characters have grown over the course of subsequent episodes. By the time we got to No Small Parts, the Season 1 finale, Mariner was able to take charge of a difficult situation, using her talents to help her friends and shipmates.
That season-long arc made Mariner’s actions in the finale feel genuine and earned, just like Michael Burnham’s recent promotion felt earned after all of her hard work. By the time we reached the point where the ship was in peril, turning to Mariner to play a big role in saving the day felt great. As a result, a character who I felt could’ve been one of the weaker elements of Lower Decks turned out to be one of its strongest. All I can say now is that I hope the version of Mariner we meet in Season 2 is closer to the one from Crisis Point and No Small Parts than Second Contact!
Number 2: The return to an episodic format.
Lower Decks was the first Star Trek show really since the first couple of seasons of Enterprise to use a wholly episodic format. Serialised storytelling has become the norm in television in recent years, thanks to shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, but the Star Trek franchise had primarily been episodic – at least prior to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc.
This didn’t mean that the show reset itself after every episode, nor that past events were ignored. As mentioned above, Ensign Mariner had a satisfying season-long character arc that saw her grow, something which wouldn’t have been possible if the series kept rebooting after every outing. But Lower Decks saw the ensigns take on different challenges and stories each week, and while there were callbacks and references to things that happened in earlier episodes, the show revelled in its ability to do different things.