Organized to celebrate the half-century anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s enduring science fiction franchise, the Star Trek: Mission New York convention — held in Manhattan’s cavernous Javits Center, where New York Comic Con will return for its 10th edition in October — also offered a small glimpse at Trek’s future. In January 2017, CBS All Access will be the exclusive portal to the first ongoing Star Trek series in over a decade, Star Trek: Discovery, overseen by geek icon Bryan Fuller.
The Wonderfalls creator couldn’t attend Mission New York to discuss the series, but he sent two well-regarded emissaries in his stead: Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — the film that many consider to be the finest of Trek’s big-screen offerings — and Kirsten Beyer, the author overseeing a popular line of novels based on the series Star Trek: Voyager, one of two Trek series that lifelong Trekkie Fuller worked on early in his career. Both Beyer and Meyer are part of Discovery’s producing staff, as well as its writers’ room, and teased the assembled fans with some of what TV show-starved Trek fans can look forward to seeing in January. Here are some of the highlights of the panel.
First, a Word From Their Sponsor
Before the panelists took the stage, Mission New York presented an exclusive video recorded by Fuller and Discovery’s executive producer, Alex Kurtzman, who was part of the team behind the rebooted feature film series starring Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. This three-minute clip didn’t feature any footage from the yet-to-be-filmed series, but Fuller did reveal the reason behind the show’s title, Discovery, which also happens to be the name of the starship at the center of the action. “One of the biggest responsibilities is christening the ship,” Fuller explained, outlining a three-pronged reason for the starship’s moniker. Besides being a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (although, for the sake of the crew, we hope this particular ship doesn’t have a HAL 9000 aboard), Discovery is also a reference to NASA’s Discovery Program and the spirit of discovery that Star Trek has always promoted.
“[Discovery is] an opportunity to reinvent, re-explore and reintroduce alien races you may be familiar with, but also introduce brand new aliens, planets and ships you haven’t seen before,” Fuller continued. “And we’ll be seeing these new aliens and planets from a different perspective; where past Trek shows have all revolved around a starship captain, Discovery will feature a supporting crew member as the point of view character. “We’ll be looking at life aboard a starship from a whole different dynamic.”
Study Up on Your Current Events
Star Trek has always tried to address contemporary issues via futuristic parables, most notably in the last feature film that Meyer helmed: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That 1991 feature was released in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the reverberations of that globe-changing event is felt in the movie’s story about the imminent collapse of the Klingon Empire and the Enterprise’s mission to be part of an impending peace deal. “Star Trek VI is an important movie to Bryan, and an influence on Discovery,” Meyer said. “There’s no shortage of contemporary events, whether we’re talking ISIS or Donald Trump. How do demagogues arise and what do you do when you’re dealing with an enemy who isn’t interested in negotiation? Our series would do a disservice if it doesn’t address those questions. Otherwise, it looks like we’re pulling our punches.” Speaking directly to rumors of whether a Muslim crew member will be part of the Discovery crew along with the gay character who has been previously reported, Beyer diplomatically said, “The spirit of inclusion is not just related to sexual orientation.”
Discovery Won’t Just Be a TV Show
Beyer used the stage offered by Mission New York to announce that a Star Trek: Discovery novel and comic book series will roll out along with the series in early 2017. And she’ll be overseeing both projects, in addition to her duties as a writer-producer on the show. Beyer revealed that longtime Star Trek author David Mack will pen the Discovery tie-in novel, to be published by Simon & Schuster, while writer Mike Johnson will be involved with the IDW-published comic series. “We’re creating these in real time [with the show],” she said. “They’re going to support the story in a way we don’t normally have the chance to do.”
As previously announced, Discovery will unfold in Trek’s “prime universe” — as opposed to the “Kelvin timeline” followed by the new movie series — 10 years prior to the launch of the original series. “It was about finding a space in the chronology to maneuver and create stuff,” Meyer says of the decision to pick that particular 10-year gap. “Bryan didn’t want to use the same characters from other series, and a 10-year pre-Kirk thing seemed perfect.” That setting also allows them to employ and expand upon established Trek technology that once seemed fanciful but is now commonplace. The notion of a portable communicator, for example, seems less futuristic in an age when everyone’s carrying an iPhone. “We want to remain faithful to [the technology] we know, but there’s stuff we can do now that goes so far beyond what they did,” Beyer remarked. “Star Trek was part of creating or inspiring some of the [devices] we enjoy now, and we want to do that as well.”
Set Your Phasers to “Calm Down”
In response to a fan’s impassioned plea to “Tell me you’re not going to screw this up,” Meyer had a bit of a William Shatner-esque “Get a Life” moment … but in a nice way. “With all due respect, fans do not know what is best for them,” he said to some applause, but also scattered boos. “With [Wrath of Khan], they told me, ‘You can’t kill Spock!’ And I said, ‘It’s not a question of whether you kill him, it’s a question of whether you kill him well.’ If it proceeds organically from the story, people don’t question it. All I’m suggesting is that if you go into impossible-to-realize expectations then we’re bound to fail. So I’m saying, get loose.” And, as Beyer pointed out, it’s not as if the crew behind Discovery is out to sully Star Trek’s name. “Everyone working on the show wants what you want.”
Star Trek: Discovery premieres on CBS and CBS All Access in January 2017