Star Trek: Discovery Series 03 Overview


Introduction

The third season of the American television series Star Trek: Discovery follows the crew of the USS Discovery as they travel to the future, over 900 years after the events of the original Star Trek series.

The season is being produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment, with Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise serving as showrunners.

Outline

Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Michael Burnham, along with the returning Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, and Wilson Cruz. They are joined by David Ajala and Rachael Ancheril. The season was ordered in February 2019, with Paradise promoted to co-showrunner alongside series co-creator Kurtzman. They ended the second season with the Discovery travelling to the future, beyond existing Star Trek continuity. This allowed them to explore a new time period for the franchise. Filming took place from July 2019 to February 2020, in Toronto, Canada, and on location in Iceland. Post-production took place remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 13-episode season premiered on the streaming service CBS All Access on 15 October 2020, to positive reviews. It concluded on 07 January 2021. A fourth season was officially announced in October 2020.

Cast

  • Main:
    • Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham.
    • Doug Jones as Saru.
    • Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets.
    • Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly.
    • David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker.
    • Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber.
    • Rachael Ancheril as Nhan.
  • Recurring:
    • Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou.
    • Tig Notaro as Jett Reno.
    • Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal.
    • Ian Alexander as Gray Tal.
    • Oded Fehr as Charles Vance.
    • Noah Averbach-Katz as Ryn.
    • Janet Kidder as Osyraa.
  • Notable guests:
    • Annabelle Wallis as the voice of Zora.
    • Sonja Sohn as Gabrielle Burnham.
    • Hannah Cheesman as Airiam.
    • Paul Guilfoyle as the Guardian of Forever.
    • Rekha Sharma as Ellen Landry.
    • Kenneth Mitchell as Aurellio.

Production

Development

On 27 February 2019, CBS All Access renewed Star Trek: Discovery for a third season, shortly after the second season premiere, citing the positive fan response to that premiere as well as increased subscribers. After joining the series as a writer during the second season, Michelle Paradise was promoted to co-showrunner for the third season alongside series co-creator Alex Kurtzman. Kurtzman explained that Paradise had become essential to his process during the second season, becoming a partner for him while he oversaw multiple Star Trek series in addition to showrunning Discovery. By the end of the second season he felt that Paradise was already running Discovery with him, so it was an easy transition to her becoming official co-showrunner during the third season. In October, Kurtzman said the season would have 13 episodes, and this was unlikely to be extended as happened in previous seasons. After joining the Star Trek franchise as science advisors, astrophysicist Erin Macdonald and biologist Mohamed Noor primarily consulted on this season. Frequent Star Trek linguist Marc Okrand also consulted on the season, helping to develop the alien languages heard in the season such as Kelpien.

Executive producer Heather Kadin said in January 2020 that the season would be ready by May 2020, but would be scheduled for release around the other All Access Star Trek series. By late March, post-production work for the season, including editing, visual effects, and scoring, was taking place remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, Paradise said the crew was “working nonstop” to complete post-production, but it was taking longer than previous seasons due to the pandemic. The series’ editors, mixers, and colour graders carried out work on the season from their houses with Kurtzman and Paradise supervising via Zoom. Okrand coached the actors via Skype on speaking alien languages for additional dialogue recording. In July, the season was set to premiere on 15 October 2020, after the season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Kurtzman explained that because post-production took longer than usual due to the pandemic, the season’s debut was delayed until after Lower Decks had been released. Late in post-production, the producers decided to add a quote from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry about connections to the end of the season finale. Paradise said it “felt appropriate to have something from him” due to the season’s themes of connection as well as the effects of the pandemic at the same time the season was being released.

Writing

The series’ writers began work on the season at the end of February 2019, at Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout offices in Santa Monica. The writers room for the season included Jenny Lumet, Anne Cofell Saunders, Ken Lin, Alan McElroy, Kirsten Beyer, Brandon Schultz, Erika Lippoldt, Bo Yeon Kim, Chris Silvestri, Anthony Maranville, Sean Cochran, and Kalinda Vazquez. After working in the writers room for the series Snowfall, author Walter Mosley was hired by Kurtzman for a similar role on the third season of Discovery. After working on the series for three weeks, Mosley was notified by CBS of a complaint made against him by another member of the writers room for Mosley’s use of the word “nigger” while telling a story. CBS told Mosley this was usually a fireable offence, but said no further action would be taken and asked that he not use the word again outside of a script. Mosley chose to leave the series, quitting without informing Kurtzman and Paradise. He explained his decision in an op-ed for The New York Times in September 2019, and CBS responded by saying “we are committed to supporting a workplace where employees feel free to express concerns”. Mosley did not identify Discovery as the series he was working on in the op-ed, but this was confirmed by CBS in their response. Paradise revealed at the end of January 2020 that the season finale script had been completed.

The second season ended with the USS Discovery traveling over 900 years into the future, freeing the series from the continuity of previous Star Trek series and allowing it to explore a new time period for the franchise. Kurtzman compared this decision to that of the film Star Trek (2009) – on which he worked as a writer – starting a new timeline to avoid established continuity. He added that it would allow the series to have “an entirely new energy for season three with a whole new set of problems”. He referred to this setting as essentially an entirely new universe, with references to previous Star Trek series being “a very distant memory” . Kurtzman confirmed that Control, the AI antagonist of the second season, was officially neutralized and the third season would focus on “much bigger problems”. Series’ star Sonequa Martin-Green described the new setting as a “blank slate”. In October, Paradise confirmed that the Federation would still exist in this future, but would be going through “a bit of a rough patch”, while Kurtzman said the USS Discovery will still be the only ship to use a spore drive which will make it a target for others interested in the technology. In October 2020, Kurtzman revealed that the season takes place following a cataclysmic event, the Burn, that separated people and changed the way that they communicate. He noted that this is “exactly what we are going through right now” with the COVID-19 pandemic, though the season was written and filmed before the pandemic began. This plays into the season’s main theme of the importance of connections.

The writers knew that series protagonist, Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, would become captain of Discovery eventually, and decided that they wanted that to happen at the end of the third season. They wanted to give her the best arc possible during the season by taking the character far away from that end goal. The first episode of the season focuses on Burnham, alone on an unknown planet in the future until she meets new character Cleveland “Book” Booker. The second episode follows the rest of the Discovery crew, who are reunited with Burnham in the third episode which is one year after the events of the first episode for Burnham. Once they are reunited, Martin-Green said the season would focus on “simple” questions for the crew, such as “Where are we? What are we going to do? Who are we going to be? What does this future look like?” Burnham declines to become captain in the third episode, deferring to Saru who was the acting captain at the end of the second season. Burnham spends the first half of the season questioning her place on Discovery and reconciling her role on the ship with her year spent with Book. She recommits to Starfleet in “Unification III”, and the rest of the season builds to her becoming captain. Saru’s storyline focuses on his connection to other Kelpien’s and his home planet of Kaminar, and he ends the season with Su’Kal on Kaminar. Paradise said this was not necessarily a way to bring Saru’s story “full circle”, and was more a way to show his natural progression from his brief interactions with other Kelpiens in the previous seasons.

Kurtzman said the season would not directly tie-in with the first season of Star Trek: Picard, but would acknowledge “a lot of things that were planted in previous shows”. It references the Temporal Wars from Star Trek: Enterprise which take place during the 31st Century, the latest point in the franchise’s timeline before this season. It also reveals that a temporal agent crossed over from the alternative reality created during the events of the film Star Trek (2009), which is the first reference to the film franchise’s alternate timeline made by a Star Trek series. The episode “Unification III” serves as an informal sequel to the two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification“, which saw Burnham’s brother Spock beginning the process to try unify the Vulcan and Romulan people; in “Unification III”, the Discovery visits the planet Vulcan, since renamed Ni’Var, which is home to both Vulcans and Romulans due to Spock’s efforts. The episode also includes the Qowat Milat, a sect of Romulan warrior nuns that were introduced in Picard. Executive producer Heather Kadin said before the season’s release that the Star Trek: Short Treks short “Calypso” was set around the same time as the season, and there was a chance that Aldis Hodge could reprise his role from the short, but Paradise later said that “Calypso” is actually set many years after the season. Instead, the season foreshadows “Calypso” by showing the Sphere data from the second season beginning to integrate with Discovery to become the advanced version that is known as Zora in the short.

In January 2019, Kurtzman said a planned spin-off series to star Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou was not expected until after the third season of Discovery was completed. Executive producer Heather Kadin said Yeoh’s presence in the third season could lead to a direct tie-in with the spin-off. The spin-off’s showrunners, Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, are also writers on Discovery, and they developed Georgiou’s character arc in the third season with “a lot of care”. The two-part episode “Terra Firma” writes Georgiou out of the series. The writers wanted a “timey-wimey solution” for sending Georgiou to her new destination, and chose the Guardian of Forever from the original series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Discovery introduces a new personification of the Guardian named “Carl”, named for and inspired by astronomer and author Carl Sagan. “Terra Firma” was later given as an example of the season’s more episodic approach, with each episode of the season having a central character or villain or otherwise standalone story, with “breadcrumbs” through each episode about the season-long mystery of what caused the Burn. Other examples include “People of Earth”, in which Earth is treated like a “planet-of-the-week”, and the focus on Vulcan culture in “Unification III”. Paradise said this approach allowed some characters to be explored that usually would not be.

Casting

The season stars the returning Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham, Doug Jones as Saru, Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets, Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly, and Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber. They are joined by David Ajala, who was announced as new series regular Cleveland “Book” Booker in July 2019. Book helps introduce the season’s new setting, and is also a new love interest for Burnham that the writers hoped would bring out new sides to her character and allow her to have a relationship that feels “fun and light” in contrast to her tumultuous relationship with Ash Tyler in the previous seasons. Rachael Ancheril is also credited as starring for her appearances in the season, reprising her recurring guest role as Nhan from the second season. She is written out of the series in the season’s fifth episode. Inside the holographic simulation that the characters enter in “Su’Kal”, their appearance is changed to look like different species. Burnham appears as a Trill, Culber as a Bajoran, and Saru as a human. Jones usually wears prosthetics to portray the Kelpien character, so this was the first time that he appeared as himself in the series. Despite this, he spent a similar time in the make-up and hair department for these scenes due to the wig that he wears in the episodes, because he felt having hair would help make human Saru more “off-putting” but his own head is shaved for the series to help with his usual prosthetics.

Kurtzman confirmed in January 2019 that Michelle Yeoh would appear in the third season as Philippa Georgiou ahead of her spin-off series. Annabelle Wallis reprises her role from “Calypso” as the voice of Zora, the advanced version of Discovery, while Sonja Sohn reprises her role as Burnham’s mother Gabrielle from the second season in “Unification III”. That episode also features archive footage of Burnham’s brother Spock, including footage of Ethan Peck from the second season and Leonard Nimoy from The Next Generation’s “Unification” episodes. In “Terra Firma”, several actors portray Mirror Universe versions of their characters, including Hannah Cheesman and Rekha Sharma as their characters from earlier seasons, Airiam and Ellen Landry, respectively. “Terra Firma” also guest stars Paul Guilfoyle as “Carl”, the Guardian of Forever. An archival recording of Bart LaRue, the original voice of the Guardian from “The City on the Edge of Forever“, is also used. Kenneth Mitchell, who guest starred as several Klingon characters during the first two seasons, appears as a new human character, scientist Aurellio. The character uses a hover chair due to a genetic condition, a storyline that was written specifically to accommodate Mitchell’s ALS diagnosis in August 2018, for which he began using a wheel chair in October 2019.

Kurtzman said the third season would expand on the crew of the Discovery outside the main cast after fans responded positively to those characters in the second season. Tig Notaro reprises her role as engineer Jett Reno. Other returning crewmembers include Emily Coutts as Keyla Detmer, Patrick Kwok-Choon as Gen Rhys, Oyin Oladejo as Joann Owosekun, Ronnie Rowe Jr. as R.A. Bryce, Sara Mitich as Nilsson, Raven Dauda as Tracy Pollard, and David Benjamin Tomlinson as Linus the Saurian, with Julianne Grossman as the voice of Discovery’s computer. New cast members include Adil Hussain as Aditya Sahil; Jake Weber as Zareh; Oded Fehr as Admiral Charles Vance; David Cronenberg as Kovich; Mary Wiseman’s husband Noah Averbach-Katz as Ryn; Janet Kidder as Osyraa; and Bill Irwin as Su’Kal. Kurtzman originally asked Jones to portray Su’Kal, but the actor chose not to due to the work required to portray two characters. When Kurtzman suggested Irwin, Jones agreed he could “pull it off”. Hannah Spear and Robert Verlaque, who previously portrayed Saru’s sister and father, respectively appear as Su’Kal’s mother Dr. Issa and a Kelpien elder. Fabio Tassone voices Book’s ship computer, and Book’s pet cat Grudge is portrayed by two Maine Coons, Leeu and Durban. They are 40 inches (1.0 m) long and weigh 18 pounds (8.2 kg). Paradise said they wanted a “really big, fluffy, substantial beast of a cat”, and having two on set allowed the crew to choose which to use depending on their behaviour.

Casting had begun by June 2019 for the new role of Adira, a non-binary character described as “incredibly intelligent and self-confident” with the potential to become a recurring guest throughout the season. Despite the character being portrayed as 16 years old in the season, an actor 18 years or older was being looked for. In September 2020, non-binary newcomer Blu del Barrio was revealed to be portraying Adira, while transgender actor Ian Alexander was announced as cast in the role of Gray, a Trill character. Both characters were noted to be the first explicitly non-binary and transgender characters within the Star Trek franchise, respectively. The writers knew early on in development on the season that they wanted to include non-binary and transgender representation in the season to explore new perspectives and stories for Star Trek. They used Trill mythology for this storyline due to that species being considered an allegory for LGBTQ people by many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The writers worked with Barrio, Alexander, and GLAAD when developing the characters due to there being no non-binary or transgender writers working on the series. Adira is introduced using the pronouns she/her, as Barrio had not come-out as non-binary to their family when they began work on the series and wanted Adira’s story to reflect their own experience. Once Barrio came-out to their family, ahead of the announcement of their casting in the series, Adira’s coming-out was written into the series and they/them pronouns were used.

Design

The series’ opening title sequence was updated for the season by Prologue, to feature red dilithium crystals, Burnham’s new braided hair, DOT-7 robots, Book’s ship, the new 32nd Century Starfleet badges, and the wormhole that brought Discovery to the future. The season also features a “streamlined” new logo to reflect its new setting. Kurtzman felt this was especially important since the series’ initial logo reflects the Klingon storyline of the first season, which the series had moved on from. The opening title sequence for “Terra Firma, Part 2” is inverted from the standard sequence and shown in negative to reflect the episode’s Mirror Universe setting. Kurtzman said there was a temptation to “say that anything is possible and the laws of physics don’t apply anymore” when designing future technology, but it was still important to have the story drive the technology and to make it feel grounded. This meant creating evolved versions of existing Star Trek technology to ground the season in the designs of the franchise.

Filming

The season began filming in July 2019, with six days on location in Iceland, before moving to Pinewood Toronto Studios in Toronto, Canada on July 18. Iceland was chosen because the producers wanted to introduce the future of Star Trek with a place that looks different to the previous seasons, and because Kurtzman had always wanted to film there. Originally, producing director Olatunde Osunsanmi was set to direct the first episode of the season with Jonathan Frakes directing the second. However, both episodes required location filming in Iceland. Osunsanmi ultimately directed both episodes, including all of the Iceland shoot for each. Frakes then directed the third episode in Toronto. Frakes noted that the style of the series was still “shoot to thrill”, but this was toned down for the third season compared to the previous two. In December, filming took place at the disused Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, Canada, to portray part of the holographic environment that Su’Kal lives in. For Saru’s Kelpien singing, Jones pre-recorded his lines and lip-synced them on set. Filming on the season officially wrapped in Toronto on 24 February 2020, 10 days before lockdowns began due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visual Effects

Star Trek: Discovery was the first visual effects-heavy series to go through post-production during the pandemic. Kurtzman and Paradise reviewed visual effects shots remotely several times a week with visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman. Visual effects for each episode on Discovery typically take eight-to-ten months to complete, and this took longer for the third season during the pandemic. Since the production was unable to carry out additional photography to film pickup shots with the actors during lockdown, visual effects were used to fill these requirements. Fully computer-generated shots were created for these, featuring digital doubles of the actors based on existing scans. The actors filmed motion-capture performances from the houses that were then used to drive the performances of the digital doubles.

Music

By the end of January 2020, composer Jeff Russo had written some pre-recorded music for the season for use in the scene where Gray plays the cello for Adira. The music that Russo composed for the scene is heard throughout the season. Russo had not yet seen any of the completed episodes when he composed the cello music. He said his approach to the season’s music would not be affected by the time-jump between seasons since it was still the same series. He did feel that the season would make less references to the original Star Trek music composed by Alexander Courage, and would instead make more references to the music of the first two seasons of Discovery. He specifically highlighted his music for the Mirror Universe from the first season, which he brings back for Georgiou’s storyline in the third season. Courage’s theme does get played over the end credits of the season finale, which Paradise said was a way of “honouring what gave birth to all of this”.

In April, Russo was “full speed ahead” composing music for the first five episodes of the season, working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His intention was to record the scores with an orchestra later, once it was safe to do. A month later, Russo had begun remotely recording individual musicians from their homes. Recording engineer Michael Perfitt combined the different recordings to make them sound like the musicians were recorded together at a scoring stage, and Russo felt the final result would not be of a lower quality compared to his scores for the previous seasons. He said the season would feature new motifs for new characters and locations, but would still sound like Discovery.

Marketing

The series was promoted at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 in a “Star Trek Universe” panel alongside other series from the franchise. The panel featured Kurtzman, Paradise, Martin-Green, and introduced Ajala. Comic-Con also had an “immersive transporter experience” that allowed fans of the series to “step aboard the USS Discovery and travel to strange and distant lands”. The cast and executive producers promoted the series at further “Star Trek Universe” panels at New York Comic Con and PaleyFest New York in October, with a trailer for the season revealed at the New York Comic Con panel. Several commentators questioned whether Starfleet still existed in the universe based on dialogue in the trailer. In late February 2020, key art for the season was released on Twitter by a purported CBS account. The images were shortly taken down due to a copyright claim from CBS, with the original account believed to be a fake. A short teaser featuring Martin-Green and using the same visual style as the leaked art was released following the season finale of Star Trek: Picard.

The series’ cast and executive producers promoted Discovery in a virtual “Star Trek Universe” panel for the 2020 Comic-Con@Home convention, where the cast of the second season’s finale participated in a table read of the first act of that episode before teasing the third season of the series. The live stream of the event was interrupted for around 20 minutes when CBS’s content protection system blocked it as a copyright infringement. The season’s premiere date was announced shortly after the event, and was accompanied by a brief teaser depicting Burnham planting the Federation flag on a new planet. This was shortly followed by a new trailer celebrating “23 weeks of New Trek” and featuring footage from both the third season of Discovery and the first season of Lower Decks; the 23 weeks include both series, with Lower Decks premiering on August 6 and running for 10 weeks, followed the next week by the premiere of Discovery which then runs for 13 weeks. On 08 September, CBS All Access streamed a free 24-hour event to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the Original Series premiere. The event included a marathon of episodes from across the Star Trek franchise, with a break during the day for a series of panels about different Star Trek series. These included a panel for Discovery featuring Martin-Green, Ajala, Kurtzman, and Paradise during which they revealed a full trailer for the season. The trailer revealed that the season was about bringing hope back to the Federation in an uncertain future, and introduced the series’ new logo. It was accompanied by the official release of the season’s key art poster. Another virtual “Star Trek Universe” panel was held for the 2020 New York Comic Con a week before the season’s premiere. The cast and crew discussed the season and revealed the opening scene of the season premiere.

In November 2020, ViacomCBS announced that it would donate all proceeds from a new line of merchandise to GLAAD to “support GLAAD’s culture changing work to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people”. The “Star Trek: Discovery GLAAD Collection” features several Star Trek- and GLAAD-themed items.

Release

The season premiered on CBS All Access in the United States on 15 October 2020, and was released weekly for 13 episodes until 07 January 2021. Bell Media broadcasts the series in Canada on the specialty channels CTV Sci-Fi Channel (English) and Z (French) on the same day as the US, before streaming episodes on Crave. Netflix has streaming rights for the series in another 188 countries, and releases each episode of the series for streaming within 24 hours of its US debut.

Star Trek Discovery Series 03

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Olatunde Osunsanmi, Jonathan Frakes, Hanelle M. Culpepper, Maja Vrvilo, Douglas Aarniokoski, Jon Dudkowski, Omar Madha, Chloe Domont, and Norma Bailey.
  • Writer(s): Michelle Paradise, Kenneth Lin, Anne Cofell Saunders, Alan McElroy, Bo Yon Kim, Erika Lippoldt, Kalinda Vazquez, Brandon Schultz, Kirsten Beyer, Sean Cochran, James Duff, Chris Silvestri, Anthony Maranville, Jenny Lumet, and Alex Kurtzman.
  • Release Date: 15 October 2020 to 07 January 2021.
  • Running Time: 50 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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