If you thought Star Trek: Discovery would dial back the classic Star Trek references and Easter Eggs after the two-part premiere, think again: this week’s story Context is for Kings was stuffed with even more sneaky callbacks than the episodes before it.
1. The title
Dialogue towards the end of the story is the real source for episode three’s title Context is for Kings: “Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings,” USS Discovery captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) tells Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).
HOWEVER, it also has a certain similarity to the title of Original Series episode The Conscience of the King, which saw William Shatner’s Captain Kirk discover a mass murderer hiding in an acting troupe.
It’s probably just a coincidence, but hey – we love that verbal symmetry.
For the second time this series the blue-antennaed Andorians get a shout-out, via one of Burnham’s fellow prisoners commenting that they’re “cold in all the wrong places.” Given that Andorians come from an icy moon, this may be an apt description.
3. Vulcan martial arts
The fighting art mentioned (and used) by Burnham in the episode is called suus mahna, and was previously demonstrated by Vulcan character T’Pol in Star Trek: Enterprise episode Marauders.
4. The Zee-Magnees Prize
This prestigious science award is referred to in this week’s episode, and it’s not its first appearance in Star Trek. It was previously mentioned by Doctor Richard Daystrom in Original Series episode The Ultimate Computer and Doctor Ira Graves in The Next Generation’s The Schizoid Man.
5. Section 31
Certain members of the USS Discovery’s crew are seen to be wearing black Starfleet badges in episode three, leading some fans to speculate whether they could be part of Starfleet’s notorious black-suited Section 31.
Introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and also seen in Star Trek: Enterprise and 2013 movie Star Trek: Into Darkness, Section 31 is an “officially non-existent autonomous intelligence and defense organisation,” and basically spends its time ruthlessly bending the rules and doing dark stuff outside the usual purview of Starfleet to get the job done.
Let’s face it, this doesn’t sound too far away from the USS Discovery’s secretive, off-the-books mission statement – and given that Discovery’s serial number is NCC-1031, it could be that at the very least the producers are nodding at another similarly dark part of Trek lore.
6. The Gorn
Perhaps one of the original Star Trek series’ most well-known episodes is Arena, where Captain Kirk is stranded on a desolate world by a higher power and forced to do battle with a reptilian alien called The Gorn.
Kirk and The Gorn’s slow, poorly-choreographed battle has become something of a hallmark for the early low-budget days of Star Trek – but new captain Gabriel Lorca seems to have had more luck against a Gorn of his own in Discovery, keeping a skeleton of one of the species on his ship despite the fact that the original episode suggested Starfleet had never come across them before.
Still, it’s not too big a continuity error – maybe he only found the bones somewhere and was fascinated by a humanoid/reptilian body structure.
7. Memory cards
At one point in this week’s episode, Burnham is handed a yellow square data card in order to crunch some code – a clear callback to the small plastic cards used to store and assess data in The Original Series.
8. Alice in Wonderland
At one point in the episode Burnham makes a point of reciting lines from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as she evades a terrifying monster stalking the corridors of the wrecked USS Glenn.
“The rabbit hole went straight on, like a tunnel in some way, and then dipped straight down,” she says as she climbs through the air vents.
“So suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself, but instead found herself falling down a very deep well.”
Alice and Wonderland has featured a few times in Star Trek series before (most notably in The Original Series’ Shore Leave), and has a particular significance to one classic character….
9. Spock and Amanda
Yes, this week’s episode gave us what many fans had been waiting for – the first acknowledgement of Burnham’s foster brother Spock (she was adopted by his parents Sarek and Amanda after her own parents died), via the above references to Alice in Wonderland.
“My foster mother on Vulcan used to read it to me and her son,” Burnham says of the classic children’s book. “She and I were the only humans in the house.”
Of course, it’s still a bit of a mystery why Spock never mentioned his foster sister in The Original Series or the subsequent films (though the series’ makers have assured viewers all will be revealed), but at least now Discovery has referenced their relationship in some way.
Spock’s human mother Amanda, meanwhile, will have a larger role to play in Discovery going forward, as she is set to appear (played by Mia Kirshner) later in the series. She appeared in the Original Series and the fourth Star Trek movie played by Jane Wyatt, and was portrayed by various other actors for flashbacks and other appearances.
And in a particularly admirable bit of deep-cut Star Trek trivia, it turns out this isn’t even the first time Amanda’s love of Alice in Wonderland has been mentioned on a Star Trek TV show. Spock previously referred to it in Star Trek: The Animated Series, the 1970s continuation of the original series crew’s adventures, in an episode called Once Upon a Planet.
10. Jefferies tube
Less of an Easter Egg, this, and more of a classic Trek trope. During this week’s episode Burnham spends a bit of time crawling through the maintenance ducts of the USS Glenn, and fans were delighted to see the return of the series’ so-called ‘Jefferies Tubes’, named after the original series’ art director Matt Jefferies.
In time, this inside joke became the canonical description for the starship ducts, and was used frequently in the dialogue of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
11. The year 2155
During an argument with Captain Lorca, Burnham references the real-life Geneva Protocols of 1928, and also mentions another such treaty from 2155 – and this choice of date is almost certainly no coincidence.
As depicted in Star Trek: Enterprise episodes Demons and Terra Prime, this was the year that various species first discussed forming a Coalition of Planets that would become the Federation, while a human isolationist group tried to force all alien life out of the Sol system.
Presumably, these new restrictions on biological weapons came as a part of those discussions.
12. Preserver Obelisk
During Michael’s mushroom-fuelled journey across the cosmos (yes, this is a strange storyline) we see her flash to several different planets, some of which can be identified from former episodes.
Clearest of all is a world with a Preservers Obelisk very like the one seen in Original Series episode The Paradise Syndrome. In that storyline, Kirk and his crew discover such a monument and eventually puzzle out its function as an asteroid deflector shield, intended to protect primitive species from early destruction.
The Preservers themselves were a highly-advanced race who went around the universe rescuing cultures in danger of extinction and placing them on other worlds where they could flourish, as part of an in-universe explanation for the improbably high number of humanoid alien species in the Star Trek universe.
13. Starbase 11
In the same sequences viewers get a glimpse of what looks like Starbase 11, a Federation starbase that played a crucial role in Original Series episodes The Menagerie, Part 1 and Court Martial (notably serving as the site of an attempted court martial against Captain Kirk).
14. Janus VI mining facility
Another Original Series callback in the sequence shows a settlement that bears a striking resemblance to the Janus VI mining colony from 1967’s The Devil in the Dark, an episode that saw the Federation’s mineral extraction operations disturb the eggs of a creature called the Horta.
15. Moons of Andoria
Apparently not shown on screen but mentioned by Lorca as a possible place to travel to using the spores, this is yet another callback to the Andorian race (see above), in this case to the satellites of their home world.
The home of the warlike Romulans, at this point still not encountered face-to-face by the Federation, also gets a callout. Notably, classic Romulan episode The Balance of Terror has been cited as an influence on Discovery’s previous two episodes.
And last but not least, perhaps the biggest piece of fan service in the episode comes from Captain Lorca’s unusual pet – a Tribble, one of the cute, fast-breeding alien creatures first introduced in fan-favourite Original Series episode The Trouble with Tribbles and memorably returned to in Deep Space Nine’s Trials and Tribble-ations (among other episodes).
While not dangerous on their own (they actually have a tranquilising effect on humans), the Tribbles’ fast rate of reproduction means they can rapidly multiply and devastate entire ecosystems, with the entire species born pregnant and able to reproduce asexually. If it had enough food, a single Tribble like Lorca’s could spawn offspring numbering over one million in under four days, so presumably he has his sterilised in some way – unless he hasn’t, in which case Discovery could be about to get very very cuddly very soon.
As for why Lorca’s keeping such a pet in the middle of a war, well, it could be that he’s just a big softy. Alternatively, it could have something to do with the Tribble species’ innately violent reaction to Klingons, which was depicted several times in various Star Trek series and resulted in the Klingons wiping out the Tribble homeworld in the late 23rd century (though Tribbles still lived on as a species off-world). Just imagine if you could weaponise that deadly fluffiness.
Star Trek: Discovery releases new episodes on Netflix UK on Mondays