Akiva Goldsman is no stranger to the minefield of fan franchises. Akiva Goldsman and I bonded when I interviewed him for Underground and shared my love for his maligned adaptation of Winter’s Tale. He survived the original Batman sequels and most recently headed up a writers room for Transformers: The Last Knight. He came aboard Star Trek: Discovery when Bryan Fuller left to focus on American Gods.
Star Trek: Discovery is set 10 years before The Original Series and tells a continuing serialized story involving the war between The Federation and Klingons. Goldsman spoke with /Film at the CBS party for the Television Critics Association.
Even though it’s serialized, does each episode of Star Trek: Discovery have a beginning, middle and end?
Certainly they have beginnings, middles and ends. They are more or less interdependent. I think serialized storytelling has its own set of rules, some of which are actually served by “Previously on…” I wouldn’t really drop into the middle, I don’t think. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed to be additive and it’s designed to be satisfying on a weekly basis, but it should become more and more satisfying and at the same time somewhat more oblique as it gets deeper into the season.
Will there be a “previously on Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS All Access?
Does the winter break come at an organic time that was already a good halfway point?
Yes, well, we built this season knowing that it was going to fall in two chunks. So we built a story that has a nice hole in the middle.
Is it a full 60 minutes without commercials?
Do any go over?
We’re not done yet. Not so far.
Does Discovery take us back to a time when the Klingons were the classic Star Trek villain?
They’re the antagonist. I think a lot of care has been taken by [producers] Gretchen [J. Berg], Aaron [Harberts] and the rest of us to not make them the villain. I think that part of Fuller’s original imagining of the show was to be able to see different points of view, which I think is very consistent with Star Trek. From the Klingon point of view, the Federation imperialists are villains.
Were there big conversations about what the Starfleet uniforms would look like?
There were and there are ongoing conversations about the transition from the Enterprise uniform to the TOS uniform. If you think about the uniforms in Enterprise, that previous iteration of the show and then the ones we see in TOS, this is a bridging uniform.
Do you imagine the technology will also connect in a way that Discovery could end with “Oh, we have these new phasers?”
I don’t know. I think if you look at our props, they’re pretty TOS right now. I think we sort of caught up to that. We are sort of loving slaves to the designs for the most part that came before.
How much of Harry Mudd’s origin do we get on Discovery?
More than you got in the original series.
Do you want to keep him somewhat mysterious?
I think Mudd is a raconteur. I think Mudd is a charlatan and I think Mudd is a charmer and I think Mudd is a maneuverer. Those qualities require that he maintain somewhat mysterious.
How many episodes do you have Rainn WIlson for?
I’d rather you watch the show.
More than one?
I’d rather you watch the show.
What are some of the great Star Trek philosophies that parallel our world that Discovery can get into?
Well, I think what is always important to explore in Star Trek, what is really Star Trek’s great gift to the imagination of the children who watched it – certainly I was one – is inclusion, the acceptance of diverse cultures, diverse races, diverse sexual preferences. I think that’s really important to us. The notion of cultural fidelity, the prime directive, what is or isn’t interference. I think that’s really important to Trek and also how do human individual relationships balance with overarching philosophical precepts? How do those two things either dovetail or conflict with each other?
Is the Prime Directive a lot more complicated at this stage, before the five year mission?
It is in fact. General Order 1 exists. Its interpretation is something we certainly attend to.
There was a story that came out that Jason Isaacs couldn’t say the word God on the bridge. Is that still in the rules?
That’s not accurate. Part of Star Trek’s inclusion is all sorts of gods and every belief system. I think what that was a reflection of was a debate in the writers room about whether the Judaeo Christian God was canon that then sort of got spun out into a rule which is of course not the canon. Certainly, it’s a pretty spiritual group. All Gods welcome.
Does he end up saying the line?
I actually have no idea, but I will make sure he does before the season is over.
Star Trek V referred to God, but it turned out to be a charlatan.
Correct and by the way, you could make an argument that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is actually a God story, that V’Ger actually absorbs Persis Khambatta.
Are there a lot more eyes on Star Trek now than when it was a syndicated series?
I have no idea. I’ve given up knowing who watches what. In my life, television and movies have reversed. They’ve inverted. TV used to be for everyone and movies were niche. Now, movies are for everyone and TV can be very specialized. I think there are eyes that will like what we’re doing. If there are more or less, I don’t know.
I know Michelle Yeoh is an accomplished actor, but people will want to know if she has a fight scene or does her character know martial arts because she’s playing her?
You’ll have to watch.
Did any of your experience developing Underground inform Star Trek: Discovery?
What I love about both Underground and Star Trek: Discovery is they are not value neutral shows. They have a point of view about the correctness of insight, self-awareness and the vital necessity of cultural diversity in storytelling and in life.
Since Aaron and Gretchen represent Bryan, were there any ideas you had that they fought against to preserve Bryan’s remaining influence?
Not that I’m aware of. It’s a very collaborative group. Bryan had really developed much of the season arc, so we kind of followed along.
They’re developing a new I Am Legend reboot. Would that be any different than another adaptation of Richard Matheson’s book?
They would be me and it’s very early days, so I don’t really have an answer.
Are you still involved with the Transformers world?
Star Trek: Discovery premieres Sunday, September 24 on CBS and CBS All Access, with remaining episodes exclusive to All Access.
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