Most fans know that at the back of every Starfleet ship’s bridge, you’ll find a ‘dedication plaque’ listing its name and its home shipyards. (Above is the Enterprise’s from Star Trek: First Contact.)
While other journalists were pushing the ‘fire torpedo’ button on the captain’s chair, we made a beeline for the unassuming piece of brass. According to Discovery’s plaque, it’s listed as a Discovery class, registry NCC 1031, built at Tranquility Base. (That’s on the Moon.)
Discovery is an appropriately optimistic name for a Starfleet vessel, and the USS Discovery shares a name with the Space Shuttle Discovery – once NASA’s most dependable work horse. However, there are dark overtones that suit the hard edged new series. The famous HMS Discovery accompanied Captain James Cook on his last voyage. Infamously, the trip ended in Cook’s death after an ill-fated attempt to kidnap the ruling chief of Hawaii. (More on this later.)
In the fictional world, Tranquility Base was also the home of the USS Defiant – not the star of Deep Space Nine, but the older ship that got pulled into the evil ‘Mirror’ universe (where Spock has a goatee) and showed up in the Enterprise episode ‘In a Mirror Darkly’.
Also featured on the plaque were a few hidden details that might give away some spoilers, so we’re not going to include them here. If you’re interested, our advice is to be ready with the pause button and a magnifying glass.
The Captain’s Standing Desk
Captain Gabriel Lorca’s chair is lovely: slimline and commanding like Kirk’s original, but with more buttons. Yet Jason Isaacs is seemingly determined never to sit on it. Keen to present a ‘man of action’ image, he explained he tends to stride about the bridge, giving directors something to photograph in long talky scenes.
This restlessness extends to his Ready Room, where instead of the traditional conference table for senior staff, he has a small standing desk.
Yes, a standing desk. Just like that berk in your office who won’t stop talking about posture and lumbar support.
Speaking of the ready room, one of its best features is a massive animated map showing the current state of the war between the Federation and the Klingons. (Remember, Discovery is set 10 years before the original series.) According to Executive Producer Aaron Harberts, this will be updated every episode. Even better, it was absolutely stuffed with Easter Eggs for the hardcore Trekker. Here are some of the planets we noticed, but our list is by no means exhaustive.
The setting for Star Trek: Insurrection, surrounded by the dangerous ‘Briar Patch’ region of space (also noted on the map).
Deep Space K-7 and Sherman’s Planet
Both situated in disputed territory on the Klingon border. K-7 is best known as the location for fan favourite episodes The Trouble with Tribbles in the original series, and its sequel Trials and Tribble-ations in Deep Space Nine.
Named for Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), the captain in Star Trek: Enterprise. (Enterprise was also a prequel, set long before the time period shown in Discovery.) Intriguingly, Archer’s Planet was shown as inside Klingon territory on the map.
A neutral planet on the Klingon/Federation border, where the finale of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country took place. Fans will know that this was where the ‘Khitomer Accords’ were eventually signed, bringing an end to the Klingon/Federation war that still rages in Discovery. Khitomer was also Worf’s home as a baby, before Romulans massacred the colony, eventually leading to him becoming the first Klingon to join Starfleet.
More Romulan fun. ‘D’Deridex’ is the official name of their hulking green battleships in The Next Generation. We’re pretty sure this was the label for a planet, not a ship, possibly suggesting where the battlecruisers got their name in the first place. (We’re only including this one because we love Romulans.)
As established in The Next Generation, this planet in the Romulan Neutral Zone was the former homeworld of an ancient race of aliens called the Iconians, who possessed ‘gateways’ that let them travel anywhere in the universe. The map labelled a large area around the planet with ‘Iconians 20,000 years ago’, suggesting that archaeology continues even in times of war.
By far the most ‘sci-fi’ thing on the bridge were two large, freestanding, completely transparent screens.When you watch the show you might think they are a special effect, but they are real and every bit as impressive in person. (You can see one behind Lorca.)
Harberts revealed they are prototype televisions leant to the show, and we spotted an instruction manual lying around. If you want one in your living room, be prepared to shell out for a ‘LookThru OLED Display’ from Planar. The older LCD model costs $20,000.
‘A New Way to Fly’, Fungi and the Captain’s Menagerie
After the Discovery’s bridge we visited engineering, but there was no sign of the warp core you usually see in the engine room. Harberts said it was hidden behind ‘blast doors’ at the end of the room. Instead, he hinted the Discovery will focus on a new technology: a “new way to fly”, as Lorca calls it in the trailer above.
This appears to be the central mystery driving at least the beginning of the series. It’s somehow related to mysterious ‘canisters’ attached to the wall of engineering, and something called a ‘Reaction Cube’. The cube was a big perspex box, with…well, we don’t want to say too much about what’s inside.
Also, Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) was said to work a lot down here. Stamets’ defining trait is he’s an ‘astromycologist’ – a specialist in space fungus – to the extent the character is named after a real life mycologist called Paul Stamets.
[Side note: During our interviews several of the cast mentioned they were now freaked out by fungus, and couldn’t eat mushrooms anymore.]
So, mushrooms, canisters and a big box. We have no idea what any of this means, but Harberts invited us to speculate. We can’t help connecting the Reaction Cube to another set – the Brig. Captain Lorca has a mysterious past (there’s that word again) and is “a student of war”. As part of his studies, he apparently keeps a “menagerie” in the ship’s prison.
The combination of a shady captain, a new propulsion system and possible experimentation on aliens reminds us of the Voyager episode Equinox.
With Discovery set just 10 years before the original series, many classic props like phasers make a welcome return. At first glance, the communicators look almost identical to Kirk’s ‘flip phone’ original, but slimmed down for modern smartphone tastes.
Impressively, the modern versions actually work, with animated screens and even the ability to make phone calls. Prop buyer Sang Maier explained that the first batch of communicators had phones built into them, allowing the cast to literally hail each other. The later iterations simplified things by sticking an iPod Nano into them for sound effects.
It’s a shame the iPod Nano was discontinued earlier this year.
Quick! Cosplayers! To eBay!
Where are the toilets?
A quick note on the less…advanced features on-board. We got a tour round the quarters of Science Officers Stamets and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) – a groundbreaking couple for Star Trek. The bedroom was comfortable, although wall-to-wall gunmetal grey isn’t exactly ‘homey’.
However Harberts noted that (in keeping with Starfleet tradition) there is no space-toilet anywhere in the quarters. Maybe they use the transporter?
Another thing that stood out: the Federation ‘Delta’ symbol is on everything – from bed spreads to glassware. See the tiny yellow and silver dots on everyone’s sides? Every single one of them is an insignia. The future is branding.
The transparent screens are impressive, but there was a sense that Discovery is trying to avoid people staring at screens the entire time. One example is Lorca’s standing desk, and another is the main view screen. In a typical episode of TNG, you might expect long Skype chats between Picard and the Cardassians or whatever aliens were causing problems that week. Now, Harberts says they’ll use a ‘Hologram communication’, so people look like they’re standing in the same room.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine tried a similar trick for a couple of episodes (above), but gave up when the viewer struggled to differentiate who was really ‘there’ and who was a hologram. It remains to be seen if Discovery’s crew have better luck…
Klingon vs Predator
…but at least they have it better than the Klingons, who don’t even get a window. Among the props shown off was a full-face, virtual reality helmet that lets the pilot of a Klingon ship see outside. Everyone else is stuck looking at their instruments.
Personal displays have been seen in Star Trek before, but not on Klingon ships. The Jem’Hadar in Deep Space Nine used a similar system, although it looked more like a Bluetooth phone headset than a version of The Predator.
In general the Klingons and their technology look much more ‘organic’, for want of a better word – lots of exoskeletons and natural tones. Even old favourites like the Bat’leth (the big curved sword) or d’k tahg (their daggers) have got grungier. Maier explained they are supposed to be made of sharpened stone rather than metal, and there’s a whole new range of horrifying weaponry. One blood-encrusted implement had so many blades it looked like a rusty porcupine. Nasty.
Klingon women have bigger brains
The upgrades extend to the Klingons themselves. Notoriously, Klingons come in both bumpy and smooth headed varieties, depending on whether you’re watching the original series or anything made after the first motion picture.
The version in Discovery have a “feline quality” to their movements, according to Mary Chieffo, who plays Commander L’Rell. More noticeable is the fact they are now bald, with pronounced development at the back of their skulls. This is to suggest their evolutionary history as apex predators – the new bumps are sensory organs, like a cat’s whiskers.
Intriguingly, the female Klingons have bigger head bumps. “Because they have bigger brains,” Chieffo noted.
Back to the other side of the war, and the Discovery is not the only new Federation ship. The Shenzou, captained by Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), plays a prominent role as Michael Burnham’s first posting. Like the Discovery it’s named after a real spacecraft, but it’s a very different sort of ship than we’ve seen before. For one the bridge is not at the ‘top’ of the ship – instead it clings on to the underside of the saucer section. Harbets pointed out that this is a vulnerable position during a time of war. Instead of a view screen, large blast shields slide into place to protect the crew during battle.
In truth we didn’t get to see this set in person, but it sounds like something halfway between an orchestra pit and the revamped Battlestar Galactica.
Forget Lorca and his standing desk, we want to hang out in Georgiou’s ready room. Yeoh’s character shares her Malaysian heritage and accent, and her ready room includes several traditional wayang kulit shadow puppets. She also keeps another vintage treasure close at hand – a bottle of Chateau Picard, from Jean Luc’s family vinery.
Star Trek: Discovery is released on Netflix UK on 25 September