How Discovery Fits Into the Star Trek Timeline

Sep 22, 2017

It's been 12 long years since Star Trek graced the small screen. But beginning Sept. 24, a new series will "boldly go" first to CBS and then to the network's streaming service, CBS All Access. Star Trek: Discovery is about Michael Burnham, a human orphan taken in by Vulcans who grows up to be a Starfleet Officer.

But how does Discovery fit into the larger Star Trek timeline? The CBS series will serve as a prequel to the original Star Trek, set 10 years before the adventures of Kirk and Spock. The writers have said that Discovery will maintain continuity with the old series, and events from Discovery will explain plot points in the original Trek.

For Trek nerds out there, this means Discovery takes place in the "prime" timeline, which is where each of the television series and the original films live. In 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted the series with the film Star Trek, creating a new timeline for the already confusing Trek universe. In the film, a bad guy travels back in time and destroys the USS Kelvin, killing Captain Kirk's father, George Kirk, in the process. All three of J.J. Abrams' movies take place in this alternate timeline called the "Kelvin Timeline," after the annihilated ship.

Though Discovery has a distinctly different look than the original Star Trek series — the uniforms have changed as have the look of the Klingons — the writers say all the discrepancies between Discovery and the original show will be explained. To familiarize yourself with the Trek universe, here are the two timelines:

Prime Timeline

Cast Portrait From 'Star Trek: Enterprise' CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Star Trek: Enterprise (2151-2161)

Airdate: 2001-2005

Plot: Set 100 years before the Enterprise's mission in the original Star Trek, this series traces the adventures of the first Warp 4 capable Starfleet ship, also called Enterprise. Scott Bakula starred as the human captain Jonathan Archer, and Jolene Blalock as the Vulcan officer T'Pol.

Yeoh and Martin-Green kick off the new Star Trek with an action-packed episode on Sept. 24 Jan Thijs—CBS 

Star Trek Discovery (2255)

Airdate: 2017-

Plot: Sonequa Martin-Green plays officer Michael Burnham, a human who was raised by Spock's parents, Amanda and Sarek. Burnham has suppressed her human tendencies in order to assimilate into the hyper-logical Vulcan society but tries to reconnect with her emotional side when she serves Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and then Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs).

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek. CBS—Getty Images 

Star Trek (2265-2269)

Airdate: 1966-1969

Plot: The original Star Trek series created by Gene Roddenberry featured Captain James Kirk (William Shatner), First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan), Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) and the other Starfleet members on a mission of exploration and self-improvement. One of the most diverse shows on television at the time, Star Trek ran for three seasons and inspired future space sagas like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.

CBS's "Star Trek: The Animated Series" CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Star Trek: The Animated Series (2269-2270)

Airdate: 1973-1974

Plot: After the original series went off the air, Roddenberry created an animated series that continued the stories of Star Trek and reunited much of the same cast to do voice work for cartoon versions of their characters.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Original Star Trek movies (2273-2293)

Airdate: 1979-1991

Plot: Roddenberry leveraged the massive success of the syndicated series into a number of feature films starring Shatner and Nimoy. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Finale Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country continued established storylines.

Star Trek: The Next Generation CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Star Trek: The Next Generation (2364-2370)

Airdate: 1987-1994

Plot: Set 100 years after the events of the original Star Trek, this series followed Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew (Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis, among them) on the fifth iteration of the Enterprise, USS Enterprise-D.

Next Generation Movies (2293-2379)

Airdate: 1994-2002

Plot: In Star Trek: Generations (1994), Captain Picard teams up with the once-presumed-dead Captain Kirk. The story unites the casts from the two Star Trek series at the time, effectively passing the baton from Shatner to Stewart. The Next Generation cast went on to star in three more movies, sans the original cast: Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek Nemesis.

Star Trek:Deep Space Nine CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2369-2375)

Airdate: 1993-1999

Plot: Set on a space station rather than a starship, Deep Space Nine focuses on the adventures of the people charged with guarding the opening to a wormhole at the end of the galaxy. Deep Space Nine was helmed by Trek's first black captain, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). It was also the first Trek series created without Roddenberry, who gave the concept his approval before he passed away in 1991.

Cast of Star trek Voyager, first season, from left: Neelix (Ethan Phillips), Chakotay (Robert Beltran), Harry S.L. Kim (Garrett Wang), Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), Kes (Jennifer Lien), Thomas Eugene Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), Tuvok (Tim Russ), "The Doctor" (Robert Picardo), B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), 1995. CBS—Getty Images 

Star Trek: Voyager (2371-2378)

Airdate: 1995-2001

Plot: After the ship Voyager gets stranded in the Delta Quadrant (the far side of the Milky Way galaxy) while searching for a renegade ship, they must make the 75-year journey home. Voyager was fronted by Trek's first female captain, Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew).

Kelvin Timeline


Star Trek (2233-2258)

Release date: 2009

Plot: A bad guy named Nero (Eric Bana), angry that his planet is destroyed in the future, travels back in time and kills Kirk's father (in 2233). He then hangs out for a long time to destroy Vulcan (in 2258) in front of old Spock who has also traveled back in time (and is played by Leonard Nimoy) because Spock failed to save the baddie's home planet. Current-day Kirk (Chris Pine) encounters old Spock who explains all the confusing time-jump mechanics to him. Together, current-day Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) become begrudging friends and save the universe.

Star Trek: Into Darkness CBS Photo Archive—CBS via Getty Images 

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Airdate: 2013

Plot: The second J.J. Abrams film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a villain that the marketing team really tried to convince people was not genetically-engineered superhuman Khan. (He was Khan.) Kirk leads a mission to capture Khan after her murders a bunch of Starfleet officers.

Zachary Quinto, left, and Karl Urban appear in a scene from "Star Trek Beyond." Kimberley French—Paramount Pictures/AP 

Star Trek Beyond

Airdate: 2016

Plot: Justin Lin took over for the third reboot film and threw in some motorcycles because he has a thing for fast vehicles. In this one, a baddie named Krall (Idris Elba) kidnaps part of Kirk's crew in hopes that Kirk will exchange a powerful McGuffin for their safety.

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