Everything the Discovery Can Tell Us About the New Star Trek Show

CBS merely announced the name of the upcoming Star Trek TV series, and gave us the briefest glimpse of its titular ship, the Discovery. What could it possibly reveal about the show? Well, if you’re a Star Trek nerd like we are, it can tell you a lot—including when in the timeline the series might take place.

The Discovery is pretty obviously based on Ralph McQuarrie’s design of the Enterprise for the never-made Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. Here’s the Discovery:

Screenshot by author
Screenshot by author

And here’s McQuarrie’s design:

Image via Memory Alpha
Image via Memory Alpha

Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Bryan Fuller was asked how much the Discovery was influenced by this design, and his answer was that it was “to a point that we can’t legally comment on it until we figure out some things.” So maybe the design of the ship will change between now and when the show actually comes out—in fact, executive producer Heather Kadin has said that this design isn’t final.

But, assuming the ship stays the fundamentally the same, there are some interesting details to note. First is that there were actual models produced based on McQuarrie’s designs. And, even though Planet of the Titans was never made, the models have shown up in Star Trek.


According to Memory Alpha, the Star Trek canon wiki, one of the models turns up in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, docked near the Enterprise. Another one made an appearance in the Next Generation episode “Unification I.” Both of them are supposedly also in the rubble of the Borg attack at Wolf 359 in “Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”

That does make is possible that this flatter, more angular design was prevalent in Starfleet during the time of the movies, and that maybe the ships seen in The Next Generation were older ships. Another option is that the design is a class of ships that was made during that period. Either way, this might support the rumor that the show will be set in the period after the Undiscovered Country and before The Next Generation.


(UPDATE: A rumor that Bryan Fuller has denied.)

Illustration for article titled Everything the iDiscovery/i Can Tell Us About the New iStar Trek /iShow

This is further backed up by the fact that the Discovery is registered as NCC-1031. There’s no canonical reasoning behind the numbers, but the Enterprise is NCC-1701, the Defiant from Deep Space 9 is NX-74205 (“NX” denoting experimental or prototype ships), and Voyager from Voyager was NCC-74656. All the later ships have five numbers. The Discovery, with four like the Enterprise and without a letter like the later Enterprises, might be older. Assuming that Starfleet does the logical thing and numbers its ships in production order, the Discovery might even be older than the Enterprise.

As for the ship name, there was a starship Discovery in operation during The Next Generation. It had a tiny, tiny mention in the first season episode “Conspiracy.” It shows up in Starfleet’s files, where an order regarding the Discovery’s rendezvous and personnel transfers with other ships is read by Data.


Since Star Trek: Discovery does take place in the prime universe, that means it shares continuity with that episode. It’s likely not the same ship, but if this show is set before The Next Generation, it’s nice to know that it still has a namesake in the 24th century.

Katharine is the Associate Director of Policy and Activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the former managing editor of io9. She writes about technology policy and pop culture.

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Ghost in the Machine

If we’re going to do completely wild speculation here goes mine. (Note: I don’t necessarily believe this theory; it’s just the one I’m throwing out there.)

The back half of the ship as shown in that shot from below has a Klingon aesthetic to it. Suppose the Discovery is a joint Federation-Klingon design (presumably post-Undiscovered Country if they’re working together). It’s a Starfleet vessel with a Starfleet Captain but many of the crew are Klingon military officers (they would certainly insist on a Klingon First Officer). Think of those episodes of TNG where Riker is a First Officer on a Klingon ship and Worf’s brother is Picard’s First Officer but on a larger scale. Thus you have the built-in tension of the Klingon First Officer butting heads with the Starfleet Captain (and similar tensions with the rest of the crew) even though Discovery is meant as a symbol of cooperation after the decades of hostility between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.