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What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery

What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery
The newest Starfleet ship, the USS Discovery. Photograph courtesy of and copyright CBS Television Studio

In 1966, Captain Kirk and Spock boldly went where no man had gone before. Fifty years later, a new fleet has arrived. Star Trek: Discovery, a prequel to other Trek series, premieres on September 24 on Space in Canada (and on Netflix and CBS’s streaming platform All Access elsewhere). We visited the show’s set, right here in Toronto, and chatted with the cast and crew to see where the Discovery is headed. Here are four things we learned.

What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery
Reporters visit the set of Star Trek: Discovery. Photograph by Ben Mark Holzberg, copyright CBS Interactive
The starships are docked at Cherry Beach

1City hall has appeared on Star Trek before, but Discovery is the first series to be filmed in Toronto. The impressive USS Shenzhou and Discovery and the Klingon fleet all live inside various sound stages in the Port Lands. The Shenzhou, an older vessel with its bridge on the underside, is a titanic set, with the entire front side of the ship recreated in bulbous glory. The bridge of the Discovery, a huge maw in person, exists in a limbo—old enough to look like a predecessor to the Enterprise, but new enough to seem futuristic—with an odd blend of LCD monitors and custom-made hologram glass outfitted with analogue knobs and switches. “I didn’t know it was going to be that grand when I walked on set,” said Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead), one of the stars of Discovery. “It was like filming a movie every week.”

Discovery’s captain’s chair is a beast. Michelle Yeoh, playing Captain Georgiou, says the chair is daunting, and that cast and crew keep trying to sit in it behind her back. Jason Isaacs, best known as Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter, plays Captain Lorca; he avoids the chair altogether. “There have been many iconic buttocks that sat in it before, so I decided to stand and conduct the war in front of a screen instead.” Yeoh is also a big fan of the transporter room, which she compares to a swanky, retro cocktail bar.

What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery
Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou, Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham. Photograph by Dalia Naber, copyright CBS Interactive
Discovery is a hybrid of classic Trek and modern TV

2Discovery marks a lot of firsts: it’s the first Trek series to stream, the first to be filmed in Canada and the first to focus on a character who’s not a captain. Michael Burnham, played by Martin-Green, is a human raised on Vulcan by Sarek, Spock’s father, who serves as the first officer to Captain Georgiou at the dawn of a war between Starfleet and the Klingons.

The showrunner, Aaron Harberts, took the helm late last year. “Star Trek is bigger than any one of us,” says Harberts. “The legacy of the show is intimidating. So many hours of the show and films. We knew that the touchstones were always hope, optimism, teamwork, family, using science to achieve goals. When you distill it down to that it gets a lot less terrifying.”

Discovery is influenced by prestige television like Game of Thrones, replacing the standalone storylines of previous series with a single plot arc. On set and during interviews, the cast was mum about plot details, but the gist is Starfleet’s conflict with the Klingons, and the Klingons’ attempts to unify their houses. One of the lead characters is a astromycologist played by Anthony Rapp, so we presume there’s also probably something integral to do with space fungus.

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What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery
Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru, Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou. Photograph by Jan Thijs, copyright CBS Interactive
Even Star Trek can’t ignore Trump

3The original Star Trek emerged from the shadows of the Cold War and the momentum of the civil rights movement. The political climate of 2017 is a black hole, and Starfleet isn’t immune from its pull. Klingon politics, according to Harberts, are motivated by undercurrents of isolationism, nationalism and racial purity, mirroring political movements in the western world. A mysterious and integral new character, Voq, is a Klingon who self-identifies as a messiah, with a motto of “Remain Klingon.”

Martin-Green and Yeoh, like their on-screen characters, are optimistic about the show’s power to inspire humanity. But Isaacs doesn’t believe Star Trek is a PSA. “Many people feel powerful and hopeless,” he says. “None of that will be solved by a TV show. At the very least, we can hold up a vision where races and sexualities might be able to work together.”

What you need to know about the new Toronto-shot Star Trek series, Discovery
Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca. Photograph by Jan Thijs, copyright CBS Interactive
They’re ready for the Trekkies

4Harry Potter. The Walking Dead. Hellboy. Collectively, the cast of Discovery have starred in franchises that required them to navigate intensely loyal fan groups. But these factions pale in comparison to Trekkies—which means the show will be subject to both praise and scorn.

Some of the cast are Trekkies themselves. Wilson Cruz, who plays the Discovery’s medical officer Hugh Culber, geeked out when Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander Riker on Next Generation, guest-directed an episode of Discovery. Jason Isaacs says he can recap all three seasons of the original Star Trek; it was the only show his family watched together as he grew up. He’s also the first of the new cast to get into an argument with the fanbase, after the the New York Daily News reported that Isaacs was excited to “piss off fans.” He clarifies that quote means that he doesn’t want to cater only to hardcore Trekkies, but welcome new fans. “The community is nothing but welcoming…in the flesh,” says Isaacs. “But I love a Twitter feud.”

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