With the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery almost upon us, some fans have lingering questions about the show’s place in the Star Trek timeline. The established canon can be complicated, with six existing shows covering 200 years of history and a new alternate reality to keep track of. So, here’s everything you need to know about where Discovery fits into the Star Trek universe.
Where Does Star Trek: Discovery Fit in the Timeline?
According to producers, Discovery takes place in the year 2256 which is 10 years before the original series. This places it roughly 100 years after Star Trek: Enterprise, two years after the original Star Trek pilot at the height of Christopher Pike’s tenure as captain, and almost 110 years before Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Which Reality Is It?
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie rebooted the franchise, revisiting classic characters from the original ’60s show. To preserve the existing canon, the movie used time travel to create an alternate reality. The timeline splits in 2233, the year of James T. Kirk’s birth, so the 2009 film and its sequels take place in the new “Kelvin” universe. Meanwhile, the original shows and movies exist in the “Prime” timeline. The one exception to this is Enterprise, which exists in both chronologies because it occurs prior to the 2233 split.
At San Diego Comic-Con this year, the show’s producers confirmed that the show would, in fact, take place during the Prime timeline.
Yes it is in the Prime timeline. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
— Anthony Rapp (@albinokid) September 15, 2017
Since then, people affiliated with the show have reassured fans several times. Answering a question from a fan, actor Anthony Rapp, who will play science officer Lt. Paul Stamets in Discovery, posted an emphatic confirmation on Twitter. So if you’re not a fan of the Kelvin timeline, take heart — everything you see in Discovery is set in the original reality.
Will Discovery Respect Existing Star Trek Canon?
One complaint from vocal fans is that the show’s aesthetics are quite different from previously established Star Trek canon. Given Discovery takes place two years after the Original Series’ pilot episode and nine years before the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, we would expect the show to be visually consistent. For example, here are the Starfleet uniforms used in those two episodes, contrasted with what we’ve seen from Discovery:
Producers promise that the show’s aesthetic will evolve over time to eventually match the tone of the original series. However, will this also mean that the uniforms will quickly evolve as well?
Another sticking point with fans is the radical redesign of the Klingons. Star Trek has seen many iterations of the iconic warrior race, but none resemble the various character designs in the new show. These Klingons are all totally hairless, a departure from the beards and thick manes of established canon. They are also more colorful than ever before. Previous Klingons have had skin tones matching those of their human actors. Here, leader T’Kuvma fits that description, but his subordinates Kol and L’Rell appear purple or gray, and the mysterious Voq seems to be an albino.
These Klingons also sport a unique aesthetic, favouring spiky and ornamental uniforms over the sparse utilitarian tunics and sashes of their original series cousins.
When the show publicised a “Klingon sarcophagus ship” set, it flew in the face of the known lore of the people. Suddenly, the show suggests that Klingons care about the treatment of their dead despite previously establishing that they view a dead body as “an empty shell” and have no use for burial rites.
Producers explain these discrepancies away by saying these Klingons are an isolationist cult dedicated to racial purity and a traditionalist lifestyle. This, they claim, explains their strange appearance, as well as their different beliefs and design choices.
Perhaps the biggest controversy concerns Sonequa Martin-Green‘s character, Michael Burnham. A key part of Burnham’s backstory is that she was orphaned as a child and raised on Vulcan. Specifically, Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda, raised her. This effectively makes her Spock’s foster sister, despite no other canon material ever mentioning her before. The news that the show would retcon a major detail of Spock’s family confused and upset many fans.
When examining Spock’s family, some commentators have pointed out that if Spock waited 20 years to tell his friends that he had a brother, it’s possible he might never mention a sister. Discovery may even explore a family rift that might also relate to Spock’s reluctance to talk about his sister.
Explaining the Differences Away
The producers have explanations ready for every apparent canon inconsistency. In each case, they have indicated that all will become clear in the end. They have, for example, insisted that there is a good reason why Sarek had to be Michael’s adopted father.
Star Trek author, David Mack, even took to Twitter to rebuke nitpickers, promising that everything in the show “fits” with canon, with apparent discrepancies “addressed/resolved”.
What Anthony said. Yes, Discovery is in the Prime timeline. It fits w/canon. Apparent "discrepancies" will be addressed/resolved. It works.
— David Mack (@DavidAlanMack) September 15, 2017
Mack’s credentials as a Trek scribe are impressive — he helped write a few episodes of Deep Space Nine and has authored over 30 Star Trek novels. Fans would be wise to take him at his word.
Star Trek: Discovery debuts on September 24, 2017, on CBS in the United States, with subsequent episodes streaming weekly on CBS All Access. In Canada, the pilot will premiere on CTV and Space in English and Z in French and will stream weekly on Crave. It will debut on Netflix in other countries on September 25.