NYCC 2017: 'Star Trek: Discovery' Cast and Showrunners Talk About the Science Behind the Show

Sunday, 08 October 2017 - 8:31PM
Sunday, 08 October 2017 - 8:31PM
NYCC 2017: 'Star Trek: Discovery' Cast and Showrunners Talk About the Science Behind the Show
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Image credit: CBS
Fittingly, New York Comic-Con's Star Trek Discovery panel was introduced and moderated by Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, the first black woman in space. As she stepped up to the podium, the huge crowd at Madison Square Garden broke into applause. The conversation during the panel ranged from the science behind the show to the characters of Michael Burnham and Captain Lorca, but here are the highlights!

Moderator: Dr. Mae Jemison
Executive Producers:
  • Aaron Harberts
  • Gretch J. Berg
  • Alex Kurtzman
  • Heather Kadin
  • Akiva Goldsman
  • Wilson Cruz
  • Anthony Rapp
  • Mary Wiseman
  • Shazad Latif
  • Jason Isaacs
  • Mary Chieffo
  • Doug Jpmes
  • Sonequa Martin-Green
When talking about the character of Michael Burnham, the showrunners said they were excited about the lead character not being a captain, and noted that "Trek has worked best when it's fresh and new." They also wanted to "[pull] the rug out from under the audience" and surprise fans by showing that Discovery was not the show they thought it was. 

Martin-Green had her own thoughts about Burnham and her Vulcan upbringing: "She's been working hard to control her emotions all her life...she's had to suppress her emotional reactions so much to fit in the world around her...She's not at home in Vulcan or [on the] Shenzhou. Georgiou represents her humanity, [and tells Michael] "you can feel these things, we accept everyone here."

When asked about how his Captain Lorca differs from previous Star Trek captains, Isaacs said "I would have run in the opposite direction" if he had been asked to play a captain that was similar to those portrayed in the past. He brings up the fact that the show takes place before the Prime Directive is strongly established, and that this is war-time, meaning that Lorca is a reflection of his times. 

For Isaacs, there's "not even an echo of the old captains" in Lorca—in Lorca's mind, his crew is a "bunch of idiots" and "happy clappy hippies" that are incapable of saving Earth. During an exclusive clip aired during the panel, the crew of the Discovery is shown failing a combat situation and becoming (in Lorca's words) the only Starfleet ship ever to be lost in combat. He then takes Michael into a hidden room where he keeps the "deadliest weapons in the galaxy" and tells her that her new assignment is to weaponize an alien creature that can shrug off Klingon weapons.

The Science Behind the Sci-Fi

When the conversation turned to the science behind the show, the showrunners brought up the fact that astromycology has been a major inspiration for the first season, including Paul Stamets' TED talk on how mushrooms can save the world. They pointed to the engine of the ship when demonstrating that biology and the life sciences have taken center stage in this show, and mentioned that they had contentious round-table conversations with scientists about the science behind things like the transporter: for physicists, the prospect of teleporting people around seemed technically possible, but for life scientists and neuroscientists, the question of whether the human soul can be separated from the body caused a lot of heated arguments.

The concept of a 'warp bubble' that would allow the ship to travel at high speed also came up in discussion—the phenomenon would potentially circumvent the problem of faster-than-light travel, but we may not be able to generate the kinds of energy necessary to pull it off in the real world yet. 

When asked whether this iteration of Star Trek is darker than previous series, one of the showrunners fired back by giving a flat "no." Instead, he said that with the serialized narrative of the show, they can take the same emotions that previous series worked with and stretch them out over the course of a season. He brought up the episode The City on the Edge of Forever, and said that it would realistically take Kirk a full season to recover from the events of it, rather than bouncing back for an unrelated adventure the next week. In Discovery, they wanted to create a redemption story, which meant that they needed to start the show at a lower point and work their way up.

In one of the more poignant moments of the panel, Sonequa Martin-Green recalled walking next to Nichelle Nichols at the red carpet premiere of Star Trek Discovery and having her lean over and whisper "enjoy this moment, it's yours now."

You can watch Star Trek Discovery on CBS All Access now.
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