While you’ve been racing to catch up with the goings on in the Upside Down, a whole new televisual frontier was being boldly gone to. Star Trek: Discovery, dripped onto Netflix at an old-school weekly rate, heralds the return of every dedicated sci-fi nerd’s favourite franchise to TV screens for the first time since 2005, acting as an extended prequel to the original.
Here, our mutinous Starfleet Vulcan/ human science specialist heroine Michael Burnham, played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green, is recruited to the brand new starship Discovery, which has developed a magic new form of interstaller transport that can instantly whisk it anywhere in the universe, making it a key weapon in the war between Klingons and the Federation. With the first nine-episode run on Netflix ending on November 12, the remaining six chunks of season one due early in 2018 and with season two already confirmed, here’s what NME learnt when Martin-Green, executive producer Aaron Harberts and cast members Jason Isaacs (Captain Gabriel Lorca) and Shazad Latif (Lieutenant Ash Tyler) beamed down to a London hotel this week.
*Reading ahead? Watch out for spoilers*
Season one is has a big bang finale with heart
With the Federation-Klingon war in full swing as of episode eight, the series actors hint at an escalation in hostilities, but not to the detriment of the more personal stories. “Everything comes to a head,” Latif revealed, “everything’s on this collision course and everything’s gonna start getting crazy. In the next few episodes you’ll start to learn a lot more about us.”
“One of the great joys of telling a single story over fifteen hours is that you can be much richer and deeper in terms of the characters and their relationships, their inconsistencies and their foibles,” Isaacs continued. “There are consequences to their actions and decisions and they change, whereas all previous iterations of Star Trek reboot to zero at the end of the hour, so you can never really reflect the richness of what being a human being is. And it’s musical, it’s mostly singing and dancing from now on.”
Season two will be a whole new ‘novel’
Although the writers haven’t worked out what sort of novel it will be yet. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the response we’ve been getting and the feedback from the fans,” Harberts said. “We’ve just wrapped episode 15, we’re still editing, so the news of getting season two is reason to celebrate, we’re thrilled and excited to get to do what we call a new ‘novel’. We need a moment to clear our heads to figure out what we need to do for season two. What is the next theme, what’s the next journey, who are the next characters, what’s the next issue that we have to tackle? It’s going to take a while to hatch season two because we had the backdrop of war this year, we had the backdrop of conflict, or two civilisations who see things differently – and yet sort of see things similarly – fighting it out. We talked about fear, a fear of the other, how fear of assimilation or of races you don’t know and understand can blow up. Fear is our biggest issue right now and we really did tackle it this year. But what is the next thing? One of the things that people are craving out of Star Trek and we’ll see more of in the second season is the exploration and discovery, the hallmarks that really bring people to Trek. That’s exciting for us to tackle in season two.
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“Our entire spine of novel number one was the war between the Klingons and the Federation and it provided us a fantastic springboard to talk about issues that are happening now – division, fear, conflict, hatred and, most importantly, peace and how to achieve peace. It won’t be our spine for next season so we’ll be going to new planets – it’s time to open it up.”
“Star Trek was always about taking powerful themes to make entertainment that makes you look at your own daily life,” said Isaacs, “presenting some optimistic vision of the future in what’s frankly a very pessimistic context in the world today. I’m sure that will stay consistent… “I originally wanted to say no. Jim Kirk was so firmly burnt into my DNA from a child I thought why would you ever revisit that? Then they told me this story and I thought ‘they’re doing something completely different’. It’s clearly the Star Trek universe but it’s a story of our times and for our times and it has something to say about the world we live in.”
It’s not just for the signed-up Trekkies
“What I’m hearing from fans we meet is two things,” Harberts continued. “‘I’m a lifelong Star Trek fan and I love this new version of the show, it feels fresh’, and I’m also hearing people, often related to those lifelong fans, saying ‘I never liked Star Trek but I love this version of Star Trek’. We set out to bring new people in. Sometimes it can feel like a rarefied club that new people can’t join unless they’ve watched 700 episodes, so the goal was to make sure we were embracing new fans but also making sure the old fans felt like the Star Trek they loved was back on television.”
Stardate 2255 is all about diversity
“The whole thing about Star Trek is we’re telling a story set in the future where gender and race in the human race isn’t a talking point any longer, we’ve solved those issues,” Harberts explained. “I want everyone to see themselves in our characters – I want to make sure that our transgender audience sees some of the struggles that they’ve had, I want everyone watching the human experience and self-discovery unfold. It’s important to us to tell stories for transgender characters that are epic.”
“The very existence of the diversity on this show automatically puts it into a positive light,” Martin-Green added. “We talk about how we’ve reached a future in the Star Trek world where these things aren’t plaguing us anymore, where we’ve got to a place of equality, where racism, sexism, homophobia and that separatist thinking that’s at the foundation of at least America right now is not an issue anymore. Of course there’s always going to be inter-personal conflict and inter-species conflict and there always will be, because we aren’t in a perfect world – it is not a deliberate utopia. We are seeking it for sure but having someone who is half Pakistani and having some one of Asian descent as the female captain of the USS Shenzhou, seeing someone Asian in that tactical officer chair – being able to see these people from all of these ethnicities and walks of life in positions of authority _ is the most positive thing ever.”
“I’ve found the whole thing very entertaining,” Isaacs said, “getting to engage with Star Trek fans and the crazy white supremacists who pretend to be Star Trek fans going, ‘How dare you have black people on the ship’ and I go ‘I’m not sure you’ve ever seen Star Trek before’.”
Franchises are fun
“I thank God for the transition because I certainly didn’t expect it,” Martin-Green said of leaping from The Walking Dead into Star Trek. “It was quite a big franchise I was a part of and to be a part of the biggest franchise now is tremendous, I’m quite honoured and humbled by it. I had a peripheral understanding of Star Trek growing up, it used to be on the television but I never sat down and watched it. But I knew what it was and what it meant and when I got the job I vowed to myself that I’d see every single thing that there is. I got somewhere, I still have further to go.”
Kirk? Probably not. Tribbles? Maybe.
Although Discovery happens ten years before the original Star Trek and Spock has already been referenced in the show, producers don’t yet plan to run all the way into it, introducing Kirk, Bones, Scotty and the gang by season ten. They do, however, relish the idea of playing around with peripheral characters. “I don’t want too much crossover personally because I want to make sure the fans get something fresh and new, but we do have ideas percolating in terms of a few more familiar characters,” Harberts said. “Harry Mudd was fun to do because we were able to tell his origin story and Stella, his love, so whenever we can do things like that, that allow us to see a different view of a character that some of the fans have seen before, we’ll try to do it, but whether or not there’ll be a complete overlap, I don’t think that’s what we’re gunning for at the moment.”
No-on gets ‘double-buttocked’
“I re-watched some of the original series with my kids and I’m stunned by what William Shatner managed to pull off,” Isaacs said. “He managed to make this sometimes banal, sometimes silly and camp dialogue sound epic. The acting was sensational, superlative, but by god they did some ridiculous fight choreography. There was one point at which William Shatner jumped up in the air and double-buttocked somebody in the face. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of those fights and getting them right.”
The costumes are a nightmare
“I don’t eat,” Isaacs admitted. “Once it’s on, you’re being squeezed like a tube of toothpaste, you feel like a balloon animal wearing the thing and if you had a tomato pip you’d look pregnant. But we’re unbelievably lucky [not to have make-up]. You come in at six-thirty in the morning feeling sorry for yourself and then you watch Doug [Jones, playing Kelpian first officer Saru] waddle on, he’s there before I’ve gone to sleep. All those Klingons, they had to build these wooden slats and they all lay on them because they can’t sit down normally. They had a nutritionist to create sand and kale shakes for them because they couldn’t eat past those teeth.”
They’re proud of Anthony Rapp
Latif revealed that the cast have been congratulating co-star Anthony Rapp on the “brave and courageous act” of coming forward with accusations of sexual harassment towards Kevin Spacey. “It’s risky,” added Isaacs. “This word ‘brave’ we hear bandied around a lot, it’s always true, but he was the very first person to tell this story and he knew what he was doing, and he was out there on his own for quite a while convinced that there’d be other stories to come that needed to be told. But there was a while when there was silence, tumbleweed. He’s been proved absolutely right and heroic for having told the story and we’re all incredibly proud of him. People have abused influence and economic leverage forever but hopefully this will be the beginning of a discussion and we’ll be rigid about putting mechanisms in place to try to stop it happening as much as possible and try to empower people to whom it happens and make them feel less stigmatised when they come forward.”