The arrival of Star Trek: Discovery has been met with cautious optimism, with viewers and critics alike praising the series’ more serialised storytelling, thorny plot and strong central performance from Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham.
But if we’re honest, more important to our nerdy little minds than any of that was the raft of subtle callbacks, easter eggs and references to Star Trek’s 50-year history.
Here are just some of our favourites.
1. The Prime Directive
While we don’t hear Starfleet’s famed non-interference policy mentioned in so many words, a precursor for the frequent series plot point is mentioned by Burnham as “General Order 1,” i.e. “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.”
2. Number One
USS Shenzou First Officer Burnham is called this nickname by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou, and it is of special significance to Star Trek fans. First off, it is the same nickname given to Jonathan Frakes’ First Office William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation by Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).
More importantly, it also calls back to the female First Officer known only as Number One (above) played by Majel Barrett in the very first Star Trek pilot The Cage, before her character was cut from the approved show (only Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was carried over from the pilot).
Barrett later played Nurse Chapel in the Original Series and the mother of Deanna Troi in The Next Generation, and her voice was used for all computer dialogue for years to come. In the meantime, TV has FINALLY come round to having a female First Officer…
3. Listen closely….
And you’ll notice all sorts of audio callbacks to older Star Trek series, including the echoing sound of the ship’s instruments, the whistling hailing noise and the same red alert effect as many of the older programmes.
4. Vulcan nerve pinch/mind-meld
Spock’s signature knockout move from The Original Series makes a reappearance via Vulcan-raised Burnham, who uses the nerve pinch to knock out her superior officer (though not for very long – perhaps its ineffectiveness due to the well-known difficulty of non-Vulcans mastering the technique).
And it’s not the only one of Spock’s old tricks to get an outing, with the Vulcan mind meld (a method of sharing consciousness and reading minds practised by the species) used on a young Burnham in flashback by Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain). Sarek also mentions his katra at one point, the living essence of the Vulcan mind.
Speaking of Sarek, he’s a bit of an easter egg himself, with Spock’s dad playing a notable role in episodes of The Original Series and The Next Generation, where he was played by Mark Lenard. Good to see him back, even if it is weird that he never told Spock he had a foster sister…
6. Live Long and Prosper
Sarek is also the first to whip out the traditional Vulcan (and Star Trek) saying near the start of episode two, complete with the iconic split-fingers hand gesture. To be honest we’re surprised they even managed to hold out that long.
7. A few notable ships
We listened closely during the arrival of the Federation ships to the Binary Star battle, and we noted a few familiar names relevant to Starfleet history (though as Discovery is a prequel, they’re almost certainly not the same ships).
The USS Edison previously cropped up in a Star Trek e-book and video game Star Trek: Armada II, while the USS Yeager played a small role in TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where it served during the Dominion Wars (and was actually just an altered model of the USS Voyager from Star Trek: Voyager).
Meanwhile the USS Earhart (presumably named after aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart) is from Star Trek novel Tunnel Through the Stars, and the USS Europa turned up in some The Next Generation spin-off novels. More generally, quite a few are named after real-life naval vessels.
Sadly, though, there was no sign of the original Starship Enterprise joining the fun, despite it being in action (under Captain Kirk’s predecessor Christopher Pike) around this time. Guess they didn’t want to make it TOO much fun for us…
8. The Vulcan Learning Centre
One flashback shows us young Michael struggling to be educated at the high-tech Vulcan Learning Centre, an institution with individual viewscreen classrooms that played a part in the rebooted 2009 Star Trek film.
9. Kahless and the Klingon afterlife
Star Trek: Discovery delves a little deeper into the society of the Klingons this time around, but a few parts of their previous depictions remain, most notably the concept of their afterlife Sto-vo-kor, where the honoured dead go if they perish in battle (basically like the Norse Valhalla).
Legendary Klingon hero Kahless is also namedropped: Kahless founded the Klingon Empire, appears in the original Star Trek series and is referenced many, many times throughout Trek history (and was actually cloned in The Next Generation). Like other Klingons in previous series, T’Kuvma is at one point suggested to be a reborn form of Kahless.
10. Returning aliens
While we only really see the Klingons on screen in Discovery, a few other classic Star Trek aliens were referenced in the opening episodes, with the snouted, tiny Tellarites (founding members of the Federation) and blue-skinned antennae-sporting Andorians (who played a big role in Star trek: Enterprise) named as enemies of the Klingons in the past.
11. Donatu V
Klingon bigwig T’Kuvma mentions Donatu V at one point, a planet that was previously mentioned (in the Original Series’ The Trouble with Tribbles, fact fans) as somewhere the Federation and the Klingons had an encounter during their cold war.
Speaking of classic episodes with an influence on Discovery, we’d be remiss if we didn’t pull out the Original Series’ Balance of Terror, which Discovery’s original showrunner Bryan Fuller (who also helped write the opening episodes) previously cited as a big influence.
The plot of that episode sees the Enterprise investigate the destruction of some Federation outposts on the edge of their territory, only to be ambushed by a cloaked Romulan vessel and have to walk a fine line to avoid all-out war. Discovery’s opening episode, meanwhile, sees the Shenzou investigate a damaged Federation array only to come across a hidden Klingon vessel – though the end results there were slightly more violent…
You’d be forgiven for not spotting this (we certainly didn’t originally), but if you look closely at the books in Captain Georgiou’s quarters they’re almost all named after Original Series episodes. Very neat.
And as we previously noted from our visit on set, Georgiou also has a taste for wine from a very special vineyard – Chateau du Picard, the home of future Star Trek Captain (and The Next Generation lead) Jean-Luc Picard.
Fingers crossed we’ll see lots more of these fun hidden references in the weeks and months to come.
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