If there’s one recurring complaint and point of discussion about CBS All Access and Netflix’s “Star Trek: Discovery” it’s that of canon.
Showrunner Alex Kurtzman often suffers the judgement of the fanbase for the fact that the show, despite being set a decade before the events of the original 1960s series, has a very different visual look and style whilst also it plays about with some long-established elements of Trek canon.
Speaking to EW this week ahead of the show’s return, Kurtzman was asked about the issue of canon again and this time offered a lengthy but considered response about how to deal with straddling the line between trying to tell a story and being faithful to the most obscure of plot points:
“We really do spend a lot of time talking a lot about canon and there are people in the writers’ room specifically to tell us where we’re stepping on the line of violation. I did actually note at one point when I was asked about the graphic novels and comics that after 50-plus years it’s literally impossible to stay entirely consistent with canon because there have been very dry years in ‘Star Trek’ and very full years and so many different writers have attempted to fill in the gaps in the dry years of what happened to beloved characters in the absence of a show driving those answers, they end up inventing things and we end up being faced with whether to call that canon. But it’s always a conversation.
The best version of the story needs to be the driver. But what’s the best version of a story is an entirely subjective thing. That’s why we have so many different voices in the writers room with so many different points of view. You want to write a nuanced story to get as many different voices as possible to represent how they feel about different ideas. A big part of my process is listening to the other writers.
With Trek, you want to go out and beta-test ideas. But as soon as you do that you’ll get 50 per cent of people telling you they love it and 50 per cent saying you should be strung up and killed. At a certain point you need to follow your own internal compass, but you don’t want to do it in a vacuum — that’s very dangerous — so we hire people to express what they think Star Trek means, and where we’re violating canon and what we can invent within the grey area.
So, yes, we want to stay true to canon, but we’re also doing a lot of new invention that has nothing to do with canon. There’s a lot of conversation online like, ‘Why don’t you start with new things? Why do you have to look back?’ And the answer is, ‘We can do both.’ We have to do both. Star Trek has always done both. Of course, Discovery’s first and foremost duty is to telling a new story with its new characters, and that should override any particular demand that it has to fit into what’s already come in over 50 years of books, comics, TV shows, and movies.
While it plays with fire by trying to tie itself up in the lives of original Trek figures like Captain Pike and Spock, as long as it can find a good story to tell in that space, it doesn’t matter than the bridge of the Discovery looks a lot less like a 1960s studio set than what we know a Constitution-Class Starship’s bridge did in the original Star Trek. There’s going to be a compromise for the sake of making something that works in a modern TV show, even if it’s not truly canonically accurate.”
Indeed some of the best elements of ‘Discovery’ going by reviews has been the way it plays with ideas and themes of the franchise, subverting them at times and exploring them deeply at others.
The second season of “Star Trek: Discovery” kicks off January 17th on CBS All Access in the United States, and will go live weekly on Netflix around almost all the rest of the world starting January 18th.