Star Trek has always had a thing for boldly going where no one has gone before. Star Trek: Discovery season 3 looks set to go so far beyond the final frontier, however, that simply exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life is going to feel rather dull by comparison.
That’s because the show’s season 2 finale shook things up in an unprecedented way. After malevolent Federation-created AI Control ran amok, the USS Discovery was forced to travel through a wormhole to the future in order to save the universe. That means that the next time we meet Lt Commander Michael Burnham, Commander Saru and the rest of the crew will be 930 years in the future, exploring a universe they don’t recognise and with no immediate allies to call on for help. In other words, for the first time since Star Trek: The Next Generation beamed onto TV screens in 1987, Star Trek: Discovery season 3 will be exploring an entirely new region of the Star Trek timeline – totally unbound by the restrictions of existing canon.
While that means that fan favourite characters like Captain Christopher Pike, Lieutenant Spock and Ash Tyler have been left behind in Discovery’s (original) present, the timeshift amounts to an exciting reboot. In fact, rather than simply riffing on past glories, this bold move should help keep Star Trek relevant as we head into the third decade of the 21st century.
We’ve raided the Starfleet databanks for every bit of information we could find on the upcoming episodes, to tell you all you need to know about the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date, cast, trailer and plot. Coordinates are set for the 32nd century – energise!
- Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date: 2020, date TBC (CBS All Access in the US, Netflix in the UK)
- Star Trek: Discovery season 3 directors: Jonathan Frakes, more TBC
- Star Trek: Discovery season 3 writers: Alex Kurtzman, Michelle Paradise (showrunners), more TBC
- Star Trek: Discovery season 3 cast: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, Michelle Yeoh, David Ajala, Emily Coutts, Oyin Oladejo, Patrick Kwok-Choon, Ronnie Rowe, Sara Mitich, Tig Notaro
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date
So far, the only stardate CBS all access has given us is 2020. If that sounds frustratingly vague, the application of a bit of Spock-style logic may help in establishing a more accurate phaser lock on the actual Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date.
Star Trek: Discovery is no longer alone in the TV universe, as the show’s being followed to the small screen by Next Generation follow-up Star Trek: Picard, animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks, and covert intelligence agency drama Star Trek: Section 31. “The intention is to have something Star Trek on the air all the time, but not necessarily on top of each other,” Trek overlord Alex Kurtzman confirmed in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in April 2019.
So with Lower Decks and Section 31 less advanced in the production cycle (Section 31 star Michelle Yeoh told Newsweek that the spin-off will shoot after Discovery), it would be sensible to assume that Star Trek: Discovery season 3 will be the first to follow Star Trek: Picard out of spacedock. Picard is due to debut on January 23, 2020 in the US (January 24 in the UK), so if CBS is serious about wanting a constant Trek fix on the air, Discovery will land as close to the finale of Picard’s 10-episode first season as possible. That would place the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date somewhere around April 2020.
That would also be consistent with the release schedule on Discovery’s previous seasons: season 1 launched in September 2017, followed by season 2 in January 2019, which amounted to a 16-month gap. An April 2020 Star Trek: Discovery season 3 release date would be 15 months after season 2 landed, so the timing is certainly within acceptable parameters.
Do not grieve if that feels too long to wait, however – as Spock would tell you, it is not logical. After the success of the Short Treks that accompanied Discovery’s second season, CBS All Access announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 that six more of the standalone shorts to support Star Trek: Discovery season 3.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer
930 years from home. Their fight begins. #StarTrekDiscovery returns with a new season in 2020. #StarTrekNYCC pic.twitter.com/gaRLZbWCp7October 5, 2019
The first Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer beamed into New York Comic Con on Saturday, October 5, 2019. While it doesn’t reveal much about the latest season, it does offer up a few clues about what to expect – and how different life for Burnham, Saru and the rest of the crew is going to be now they’ve been transported 930 years into the future.
The key question the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer poses is whether the United Federation of Planets remains a functioning organisation this far into the Trek universe’s future. When new character Cleveland Booker says to Michael Burnham, ”You believe in ghosts,” he’s referring to the Starfleet badge on her uniform – we reckon that’s a strong hint that Starfleet itself has become a relic over the previous millennium.
Further evidence to support this theory comes shortly after, when an unnamed official from the future unveils what looks like the flag of the Federation. “I watched this office every day believing that my hope was not in vain,” he says. “That hope is you, Commander Burnham.”
Our guess would be that the Federation has fallen into disrepair by the time Star Trek: Discovery season 3 begins – we see a group of Andorians, long-time members of the Federation, who have apparently gone rogue – and that part of the USS Discovery’s mission will be to pull the organisation back together. They may also need to work out what caused everything to fall apart in the first place. As Burnham puts it: “I’ve spent a year searching for that domino that tipped over and started all of this.”
The Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer also suggests the new episodes will cover an extended period of time. Why? Not only does Burnham refer to spending a year looking for that elusive domino, but we also see her hair change length – and going on the amount of growth, we’re talking years rather than weeks in between each of these scenes. We also get to see some intriguing new planets, including scenes shot in Iceland.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 cast
Sending the USS Discovery 930 years into the future has had a major effect on the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 cast, with the new storyline making it impossible for a large chunk of the show’s stars to return. With Section 31 head Ash Tyler, Klingon High Council leader L’Rell, Captain Christopher Pike, Lieutenant Spock, Number One, Sarek, Amanda Grayson, and even occasional thorn-in-the-side Harry Mudd all left behind in the 23rd century, actors Shazad Latif, Mary Chieffo, Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Rebecca Romijn, James Frain, Mia Kirshner, and Rainn Wilson, respectively, will be surplus to requirements on the main show this year.
We haven’t seen the last of all of them, however, thanks to the aforementioned Short Treks. For example, “Q&A” (already available on CBS All Access) focuses on Ensign Spock’s first day on the Enterprise, and also features Rebecca Romijn’s Number One and Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike, while Mount also shows up as Pike in “The Trouble with Edward” (an episode that also features Tribbles). It’s reasonable to assume we’ll be seeing more familiar faces as more Short Treks are released. And there may be another route back for human/Klingon hybrid Ash Tyler – now he’s the head of covert organisation Section 31, don’t be surprised if he becomes a series regular on the Star Trek: Section 31 spin-off.
Meanwhile, the rest of the core cast will be back for Star Trek: Discovery season 3, so we’ll be seeing plenty more from Lt Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Commander Saru (Doug Jones), Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Dr Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).
We also know that a rogue element will be on board the USS Discovery, as the Mirror Universe’s morally flexible Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) came along for the ride to the future. It’s unlikely she’ll be a mere passenger, so we’d expect her to try to shape the 32nd century in her own image. We suspect she’ll also be looking for a way back to Discovery’s present, as in the real world Yeoh has long been attached to the Section 31 spin-off – seeing there was only around a year between her joining the organisation in Star Trek: Discovery season 1 and subsequently jetting off to the future in season 2, the writers surely have to find a way to create more narrative space to play in.
With Discovery now centuries away from home and other Federation vessels, there’s likely to be more screentime/character development for the supporting bridge crew Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), Commander Nhan (Rachael Ancheril), Lieutenant Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), Lieutenant Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), Lieutenant R.A. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe) and Lieutenant Nilsson (Sara Mitich). We’ll also be very disappointed if we don’t see more from the USS Discovery’s sardonic engineer Jett Reno (Tig Notaro). Perhaps some of them will also get to front their own episodes as the late Lt Commander Airiam did in season two – though hopefully with less tragic results…
“We've really just scratched the surface [with the crew],” said Kurtzman in the Hollywood Reporter interview back in April 2019. “Our bridge crew is so capable. Every single person is so wonderful and really rose to the occasion this year. What we discovered is we and the fans delight in stories being told about them. We're going to be using all of them much, much more. Especially because this crew has forfeited their lives for each other. They've jumped 950 [sic] years into the future for each other. If we didn't service them, we'd be doing something very wrong.
“They're more a family than they've ever been,” he continued. “They were very, very close in season two. But now all they have is each other. Their families are 950 [sic] years in the past. It will be very interesting to see the consequences of the choice they made. Saru said, ‘We all signed up for this, and we knew what we were doing. We love each other, respect each other and need each other enough to know we're going to make this decision as a group, as a family.’ But it doesn't mean that it won't come with emotional consequences. That's something we'll explore in season three.”
The Star Trek: Discovery season 3 cast won’t be limited to the old guard, either, as David Ajala (who has prior experience of outer space, thanks to his stint on George R.R. Martin adaptation Nightflyers) is set to come aboard as Cleveland “Book” Booker, a resident of the 32nd century.
The official description says: “Smart and capable, Book has a natural charisma and devil-may-care attitude that tends to get him into trouble as often as it gets him out,” while Ajala himself said at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con that, “Book is going to be a character that breaks the rules a little bit.” Will he be a Neelix-style guide (and part-time chef) to Discovery’s voyages through unknown space, or a more interesting, more ambiguous and potentially dangerous addition to the cast? Given Star Trek: Discovery’s past form, the smart money would be on the latter.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 plot
Alex Kurtzman’s already confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter that Control, the rogue A.I. that was season 2’s Big Bad, is now “officially neutralised – but there will be much bigger problems when they get to the other side of that wormhole.”
Exactly what the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 plot has in store for Burnham, Saru and the rest of the crew in the 32nd century, however, remains something of an undiscovered country. Indeed, there are echoes of Star Trek: Voyager in a set-up that dumps a Federation crew in an unknown region/time period, and leaves them to fend for themselves with no obvious allies to rely on – we can only hope that Discovery has the courage to push the Trek storytelling envelope, rather than simply reverting to franchise clichés as Voyager did.
But transporting the show 930 years into the future is such a bold move that it can’t help but take the show in new directions – indeed, it has the potential to shake things up even more than the quest-themed season 2 did after the war footing of Star Trek: Discovery season 3. “The beauty of the promise of what we did at the end of last season is that, if we don’t deliver something completely surprising and unexpected, we will have failed,” Kurtzman said at New York Comic Con in October 2019.
The time jump also frees the writers to escape the shackles of the increasingly crowded Star Trek canon, which was becoming more and more challenging to navigate the closer the show got to the events of Kirk and Spock’s famous five-year mission in the original series. In fact, it’s such a genius move that even fan-bothering head-scratchers like the fact neither Spock’s adopted sister or the Discovery’s spore drive had ever been mentioned previously in Star Trek now make perfect sense.
So now the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 plot is free to explore the 32nd century, an entirely new sector of the franchise timeline. “We've only seen glimpses of anything in the future in Star Trek canon,” Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham) told Syfy Wire. "So automatically, that tells you this is new territory, that we are going boldly where no one has gone before. It has to be new. It has to be a world we've never seen before, a world that has to be established. It's the perfect way to define us, because we are new yet familiar. So, when you have us in this world, we are still who we are, coming from 2256. That's never going to change. You have all of that history and canon context. But now you have us in this brand-new world. It's almost poetic."
(One of the “glimpses” she’s referring to maybe “Calypso”, an episode in the first run of Short Treks, that showed a 1000-year-old Discovery becoming self-aware as it took a soldier from the future on board – and formed an unlikely friendship. At first glance, it just looked like a random character study, but in the context of Discovery’s journey to the future, now feels much more relevant.)
Unfortunately for a crew exploring an unfamiliar universe, they will arrive in the 32nd century without a captain, as Christopher Pike stayed behind on the Enterprise when the Discovery travelled through the wormhole. We can expect the team resolving the command issue to be part of the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 plot, however, as Kurtzman explained to the Hollywood Reporter: “We will definitely be exploring who inherits that chair,” he said. “Obviously, there's a very loaded look between Saru and Burnham. They're both qualified in very different ways, and that's something we'll explore.”
Yet for all the newness, it looks like the new season will still cling on to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s idealised vision of the future – arguably a massive departure from the Klingon War-induced doom and gloom of Star Trek: Discovery season 1.
“Every conversation about how we create Star Trek is filtered through Roddenberry's essential vision of optimism,” Kurtzman said at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, “which can never really change because it is the spirit and soul of Trek for all of us. It's more important than ever. So there will be lots and lots of huge changes in season three – there will be things you recognise, there will be things you don't recognise... Part of the fun of it is that we get to honour canon but shake it up hugely."
Jonathan Frakes, the man formerly known as Will Riker in The Next Generation, echoes that sentiment, and he should know. Not only did he know Roddenberry, he’s a regular Trek director (he directed big screen TNG outings First Contact and Insurrection), and has signed up to take the helm for two episodes in Star Trek: Discovery season 3.
“I can tell you this much about season three of Discovery: it is in fact much more optimistic,” Frakes told FanExpo Canada (via Convention Junkies). “After Gene died, some of the writers decided that Deep Space Nine should maybe take a different tone, which, I think, it did to certain degrees of success... And the optimism that Gene infused in all of his shows and all of us may not be as obvious as it once was but it’s certainly the driving force of his vision and the franchise, and Kurtzman and all the people who run our shows are very conscious that that canon is important to all of you and all of us. But I'm here to share that Discovery certainly is taking a more optimistic, traditional Star Trek approach in next season."
So in other words we can expect to see the crew of the USS Discovery encountering threats they’ve never seen before – but dealing with them with the sort of optimistic spirit of adventure and optimism that’s traditionally been the calling card of the Star Trek franchise. We can’t wait.
Confused by the timeline? Then read all about the Star Trek timeline here.