Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Voyager, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Today we’re continuing our series of theory articles about the Burn, and we’re returning to the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witnessfor yet another idea! As one of the very few episodes of Star Trek prior to Discovery’s third season to be set in or near the 32nd Century, Living Witness has been the source of several theories and concepts already. On this occasion we’re going to consider what the episode’s far future setting and its ending could mean for Discovery, and what implications there may be if the Delta Quadrant either partially or wholly escaped the worst effects of the Burn.
Let’s start by considering what we know from Discovery itself regarding the Burn and its possible extent. Cleveland Booker introduced us to the idea of the Burn in the first episode of the season, and used the term “the galaxy” when describing its range and scale; this may be hyperbole or exaggeration to a degree, though, as Booker’s knowledge of the wider galaxy was limited – he hadn’t even been to Earth.
Next, Admiral Vance told us that the Federation peaked in the pre-Burn years with a membership of over 350 worlds. While there are certainly enough planets in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants for the Federation to have been contained there, this expansion of the Federation is significant. The Federation was also large enough and spread out enough that Vance’s Starfleet was unable to travel to or even remain in contact with every member world. Vance was familiar with worlds in or near the Gamma Quadrant, as he noted the location of the Guardian of Forever’s new planet was in that region of space, so the Federation has clearly mapped large portions of the Milky Way by the 32nd Century.
Next we have the Burn itself. Originally assumed to have taken place everywhere simultaneously, Michael Burnham was able to prove that the Burn in fact radiated outwards from its point of origin, with ships in different sectors being destroyed milliseconds apart. However, 32nd Century Starfleet didn’t have enough information to have figured this out, instead assuming that the Burn happened all at once. This could mean that the Federation wasn’t as widespread as we might think.
Now we come to Living Witness. The bulk of the episode takes place in the 31st Century, and thus could well have been set in the years before the Burn (all dates in relation to Living Witness are guesstimates based on rounded figures). However, the episode’s ending clearly and demonstrably takes place decades – or perhaps even centuries – later. The final act of the episode sees a museum guide telling Kyrian and Vaskan citizens about the Doctor – a backup copy of whom was left behind by the USS Voyager – and this sequence takes place at the very least decades after the rest of the episode, and certainly after the Burn.
Obviously we have to acknowledge that, for production-side reasons, the two stories aren’t related. We wouldn’t have expected anyone at the end of Living Witness to talk about the Burn because the story concept did not exist at the time. But Star Trek has shown a willingness on multiple occasions to incorporate events depicted in one story into later episodes and films, and perhaps that will happen on this occasion.
In short, here’s how the theory goes: the end of Living Witness shows the Kyrians and Vaskans in the 32nd or perhaps even 33rd Century talking about the Doctor. There was no mention of the Burn, nor of any disaster affecting their Delta Quadrant homeworld, and the fact that the Doctor was able to commandeer a starship in the late 31st or early 32nd Century to undertake his voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant at least implies that there was enough dilithium in that region of the Delta Quadrant for such a voyage to be plausible.
There are other implications from the ending of Living Witness that are worth considering. The Kyrians and Vaskans don’t seem to have had further contact with the Federation since the departure of the Doctor. This could mean that travel to and from the Delta Quadrant is still difficult and/or time-consuming in this era. The fact that the museum guide was not aware of whether the Doctor made it back safely suggests that there hasn’t been any contact between their homeworld and the Federation. We could think of reasons why this might be the case, including random chance, but with more than 700 years between Voyager’s journey and the Burn, there should’ve been ample time for the Federation to revisit planets Voyager encountered if they wanted to.
So is it possible that the Burn had a limited range? Was it truly a galactic-scale event, or did its effects weaken the further out its shockwave went? I think the fact that Burnham found a millisecond difference in between starships being destroyed could hint at this, because the shockwave did radiate outwards from its point of origin. Whether we’re talking about gamma rays or ripples on a body of water, we see the effects weaken the further away from the source we get, so perhaps the same is true of the Burn.
There may have been a transitional zone in which some starships were destroyed but some were merely damaged, and then a zone were the effects of the Burn were noticeable but not catastrophic. Finally the Burn’s shockwave would reach a point where it was imperceptible to all but the most finely-tuned sensors before fizzling out altogether. The episode Su’Kal showed us an example of this, in a way, when Su’Kal’s emotional outburst “almost” caused another Burn – but didn’t. Perhaps this is what some star systems in faraway parts of the galaxy experienced.
We don’t know where the Verubin Nebula is in relation to the Federation or the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. But it could be located near one edge of the galaxy, far away from the Delta Quadrant. If so, and if the pre-Burn Federation didn’t routinely travel to and from the Delta Quadrant, things start to line up for this theory!
So let’s consider the possible implications, assuming this theory is correct. Obviously we know that the Kyrians and Vaskans seem to have escaped the Burn relatively unscathed, so perhaps other Delta Quadrant factions did as well. This could include races like the Kazon, though they seem unlikely to be a significant threat to the Federation based on how far behind they were in technological terms. It could also bode well for potential Federation allies like the Talaxians and Ocampa – if one or both had joined the Federation, perhaps they’re thriving on the far side of the galaxy even after the Burn decimated the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
But there’s one Delta Quadrant faction that we should be more wary of than any other: the Borg!
Discovery Season 3 didn’t make any mention of the Borg whatsoever, so we don’t know if they still exist in this era, if they’ve been defeated, if they’re still present in the galaxy, etc. But assuming that they’re still around and that their power base remains in the Delta Quadrant, the Borg’s survival could be catastrophically bad news for the Federation.
Even if the Federation had managed to find a way to keep the Borg at bay in the years prior to the Burn, the Borg may have just been given a 120-year head-start on developing new technologies and building up their forces while the Federation fractured and looked inwards to its own day-to-day survival. With much of their transwarp network intact and with their ships and drones protected from the worst effects of the Burn, the Borg may have been waiting and observing the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They may even have been slowly making inroads, assimilating planets and star systems beyond the range of the Federation’s limited sensors. Perhaps the reason some Federation members dropped out of contact was not because of issues with long-range communications… but because they’d been attacked.
The trailers for Season 4 appear to show the Federation under attack by a “gravitational anomaly.” As I pointed out, this anomaly could be argued to behave in an unnatural way if it seems to be targeting the Federation, its planets, and its starships. Perhaps the gravitational anomaly is a weapon, one designed to be the precursor to an invasion. If so, one of the primary candidates for developing such a powerful weapon has to be the Borg.
As the rest of the galaxy struggles to recover, maybe Starfleet will learn that the Delta Quadrant largely escaped the Burn. The century-long absence of strong borders and interstellar long-range communications could have allowed any faction from that region of space (including the Borg) to seize the opportunity to pursue an aggressive, expansionist policy. The shape of the galaxy could’ve changed far more in the wake of the Burn than we might think, and a return to “business as usual” may not be possible if whole sectors have changed hands – or been assimilated!
As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s also possible that the backup copy of the Doctor is still alive in this era. We’ve heard nothing from the production side of Star Trek to suggest he might be included as a character in Season 4, but I’d be curious to see if he’ll be mentioned in some way even if he doesn’t appear on screen. If the Living Witness copy of the Doctor has survived and returned to the Alpha Quadrant, that would be the strongest hint yet that at least part of the Delta Quadrant may have escaped the worst effects of the Burn.
Though Star Trek hardly needs an excuse, this could also be a great opportunity to bring the Borg into play in a big way. Discovery flirted with a Borg origin story in Season 2 – at least in my opinion – but we haven’t seen a proper Borg episode or story since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration.
If we work on the assumption that everything seen on screen in past Star Trek episodes is canon, and that the events in Living Witness and Discovery both take place in the Prime Timeline, I think we have a solid basis to construct a theory! Did some or all of the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn? And if so, what are the implications for the Star Trek galaxy in the late 32nd Century and beyond? We simply don’t know yet!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and internationally. Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK (other international streaming may vary). The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Voyager, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
During Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, I wrote a weekly series of theories, speculating about what may be going on with the show’s various storylines. I had some successes in my theories and predictions, but there were more than a few misses as well! Now that the season is in the rear-view mirror, I thought it could be fun to go back to some of my theories and see how wrong I was!
All of these theories seemed plausible at the time – for one reason or another – yet ultimately proved to be way off base. One thing I appreciate about Discovery – and a lot of other shows and films too, both within the Star Trek franchise and outside of it – is that sense of unpredictability. Nothing in Discovery Season 3 was mundane or felt like it had been blatantly telegraphed ahead of time, and the fact that the narrative took twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting was, on the whole, great! There were a couple of storylines I personally didn’t think were fantastic or handled very well, but on the whole, Discovery’s third season was an enjoyable ride.
Some of the theories I had were pure speculation based on nothing more than guesswork and intuition, and others seemed truly reasonable and plausible. While the season was ongoing I tended to just write up any theories I had, no matter how wild or out of left-field they seemed to be! Whether that was good or not… well the jury is out! The theory lists I published were well-read, so I assume at least some folks found something of interest!
I like to caveat these kinds of articles by saying that no fan theory, no matter how plausible or rational it may seem to be, is worth getting too attached to or upset about. The internet has been great for fan communities, allowing us to come together to discuss our favourite franchises and engage in a lot of theory-crafting. But there is a darker side to all of this, and some fans find themselves getting too attached to a particular theory to the point where their enjoyment of the actual narrative is diminished if that theory doesn’t pan out. Please try to keep in mind that I don’t have any “insider information,” and I’ve never tried to claim that a particular theory is somehow guaranteed to come true. I like writing, I like Star Trek, and writing about Star Trek is a fun activity for me – that’s why I do this, and if I ever felt that theorising about Discovery or other shows was harming my enjoyment, I would stop. And I encourage you to take a step back if you find yourself falling into that particular trap.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at ten of my least successful Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theories!
Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.
When we met Book in That Hope Is You at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t at all clear who he was. However, there were inhuman elements to Book, such as his ability to heal, to use a holographic interface seemingly attached to his body, and glowing, almost electronic-looking areas on parts of his skin. With Book’s origin somewhat of a mystery, I wondered if he might turn out to be a synth – and specifically, a synth from the planet Coppelius (or one of their descendants).
We met the Coppelius synths in Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and I was hopeful as Discovery’s third season got underway that there’d be a serious attempt to connect the two shows – as this was something Picard wholly failed to do in its debut season. I’ve said numerous times that Star Trek needs to do more to bind different parts of the franchise together, and after Picard basically ignored Discovery, I was hoping for some kind of connection to manifest in Season 3. Booker being a synth could have been one way to do that.
So really, it’s not unfair to say that this theory was concocted more for production-side reasons than anything we saw on screen. Book’s abilities as we saw them in That Hope Is You (and subsequently in episodes like The Sanctuary, There Is A Tide, and That Hope Is You, Part 2) were clearly more organic and telepathic than anything artificial or technological in origin – except for his holographic computer interface. So perhaps this was always a bit of a stretch!
Booker turned out to be a Kwejian native – though what exactly that means is unclear. Given Book’s human appearance, it’s possible that the people of Kwejian are descendants or offshoots of humanity, or perhaps, given their telepathic nature, they’re somehow related to the Betazoids. In the season finale, Book promised Burnham he’d tell her more about his background, and how he came to use the name Cleveland Booker, so perhaps we’ll learn more about Book’s people in Season 4. He was a wonderful addition to the season, even if I was way off base with my theory about his possible origin!
Number 2: The Burn is connected to Michael Burnham – and/or the Red Angel suit.
The Burn’s origin was not definitively revealed and confirmed until the season finale, so for practically the entire season I was talking about some form of this theory! There seemed to be a few possible clues that Discovery gave us – which ultimately turned out to be red herrings as the Burn was unconnected to any of them – about the ultimate answer to the Burn, and several of them could have been interpreted to mean that Burnham was, in some way, connected to the event that shares part of her name.
The main reason I considered this theory plausible, though, was because Discovery has always been a series that put Burnham front-and-centre in all of its main storylines. Having a connection to the biggest story of the season thus seemed possible. When the event’s name was revealed, the fact that it shared part of her name seemed to lend credence to that idea – at least it did considering I’d already started down that rabbit hole!
That Hope Is You saw Burnham arrive in the future immediately following the events of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale. She took off her Red Angel suit and set it to self-destruct, but as we never saw the self-destruction for ourselves on screen, it was a bit of a mystery as to what became of the suit. In a future where time travel technology had been prohibited, the Red Angel suit may have been one of the last extant ways to travel through time, and would be incredibly valuable to factions like the Emerald Chain, so I reasoned that perhaps someone had intercepted the suit, and either intentionally or unintentionally caused the Burn.
I’m glad this one didn’t pan out, because it was nice to give Burnham a break! In the end, Burnham wasn’t strongly involved in the resolution to the Burn’s storyline, with that task being given to Saru, Dr Culber, Adira, and of course Su’Kal. After Burnham had just saved the galaxy by defeating the Control AI, there would have been an interesting ethical and philosophical dilemma for her if she had learned that her actions and/or the Red Angel suit had been responsible for the Burn – but it would’ve been hard to pull off and arguably too similar to the guilt she felt at the outbreak of the Federation-Klingon War in Season 1. So overall, it was an interesting theory well worth considering, but I’m glad it wasn’t true!
Number 3: The USS Discovery could arrive in the future before Burnham.
Time travel stories are complicated. Once the link between cause and effect is broken, almost anything becomes possible. Even though Burnham and the Red Angel suit were leading the way into the future, the mechanics of the time wormhole were not explained, and it was at least plausible to think that the USS Discovery might’ve arrived first.
I first posited this theory after the season premiere, and it seemed plausible for practically all of Far From Home too. One thing that could’ve happened, had this theory been correct, would be that Burnham would’ve been out of her element for a lot longer than just one episode. In That Hope Is You, we saw her completely awed by everything she saw, experiencing a completely new world for the first time. And that premise meant that we were seeing Burnham in a whole new way, not in control of the situation and having to rely on others instead of trying to shoulder all of the burden all of the time. Had the USS Discovery found her after the ship and crew had spent a year in the future instead of the other way around, Burnham could’ve been our point-of-view character for learning what was new and different, instead of reverting to type.
With both Red Angel suits gone, I doubt we’ll see the time-wormholes they could generate ever return either. But it would be interesting to get to know a little more about how that technology worked – would it even have been possible for the USS Discovery to arrive earlier than Burnham? Burnham arrived on the planet Hima, and Discovery arrived near a planet called the Colony, so considering the wormhole had two different exit points it seems possible to me anyway!
Because of the one-year time skip, we didn’t get to see much of Burnham’s exploits with Book in the 32nd Century prior to Discovery’s arrival. It would have been interesting to see either Burnham or the crew trying to learn more about their new home and the origins of the Burn, because in some ways it could be argued that we as the audience arrived with the first part of a story already complete. I kind of want to see that part for myself – and maybe we will in flashbacks in future seasons!
Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.
One of my hopes going into Season 3 was that Discovery would finally spend some time with other members of the crew, and I was pleased that it happened. After two full seasons I felt that we hadn’t really got to know anything about people like Owosekun, Rhys, and Detmer, despite their being permanent fixtures on the bridge. Though not all of the less-prominent officers got big storylines this season, one who did was Detmer.
In the episode Far From Home, Detmer was thrown from her seat following the ship’s crash-landing. Concussed, she was sent to sickbay where, after a once-over, she was patched up and returned to work. However, there were hints – at least, what I considered to be hints – that all was not well with Discovery’s helm officer, and I wondered if her first significant storyline might in fact be the setup to her death. There just seemed to be so much foreshadowing!
Ultimately, however, Detmer’s storyline took a different path. I appreciate what it was trying to be – an examination of post-traumatic stress that ended with a positive and uplifting message showing Detmer “getting over it,” for want of a better expression – but because it wasn’t properly fleshed-out after Far From Home, with Detmer only given a handful of very brief scenes before her big turnaround in The Sanctuary, I just felt it was underdeveloped and didn’t quite hit the notes it wanted to. So despite a potentially interesting premise, the execution let this storyline down somewhat.
Especially after the way she was acting in Far From Home, I can’t have been the only one to predict an untimely end for Detmer! I heard several other theories that I considered to be very “out there,” such as Detmer’s implant being possessed by Control in the same manner as Ariam had been in Season 2, but I firmly believed the setup was foreshadowing her death due to injury rather than something of that nature. It’s probably good that it didn’t happen, as it leaves her a slightly more rounded character if the show wants to do more with her in future. However, there were several officers in the final trio of episodes who could’ve been killed off after the ship was captured by the Emerald Chain, including Detmer, and it feels somewhat like Discovery was playing it safe by not doing so. Aside from Ryn, no major hero characters lost their lives in Season 3, and while character deaths aren’t something I desperately want in a show like this, they can certainly raise the stakes.
Number 5: The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (or rather, a backup copy of him) will make an appearance.
This was my most popular pre-season theory! I stuck with it practically the whole time, and branched out to include a handful of other characters from past iterations of Star Trek who could, in theory, still be alive by the 32nd Century. By the standards of my modest website, an absolutely huge number of you read this theory – and it continues to be popular even today, despite the season having concluded months ago. So I wasn’t the only one half-guessing, half-hoping that the Doctor might be included in Discovery!
The reason why I considered the Doctor to be one of the most plausible characters who could make an appearance is because of an episode from Voyager’s fourth season: Living Witness. In that episode, a backup copy of the Doctor was activated sometime in the 30th or 31st Centuries after being discovered among museum artefacts, and while the story was interesting in its own right and a critique of how things we consider to be “historical facts” can shift over time, what really interested me was its timeframe and its ending.
At the end of Living Witness, in a scene set even farther into the future, it was revealed that, after living with the Kyrians and Vaskans in the Delta Quadrant for decades, the Doctor eventually took a small ship and set out to try to reach Earth. If he had survived and completed his journey, he could’ve reached Earth in the years prior to the arrival of Burnham and Discovery. The timelines lined up for a possible crossover.
However, it wasn’t to be! Though we did see the return of the Guardian of Forever, which had originally appeared in The Original Series, no major characters from any other Star Trek show made an appearance. Perhaps the producers and writers felt that, with Seven of Nine carrying the torch for Voyager with her appearances in Season 1 of Picard, including a second main character from Voyager in a new show would’ve been too much, or at least that the timing was wrong. Regardless, I think it would’ve been amazing to see, and despite this theory failing to pan out in Season 3, it’s one I may very well bring back in time for Season 4!
Number 6: There will be a resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.
Poor Calypso. I’m beginning to feel that the Short Treks episode is doomed to be a permanent outlier in the Star Trek canon, evidently connected to a version of Season 2 that never made it to screen. Broadcast in the months before Discovery’s second season, Calypso introduced us to Craft, a soldier from the far future fighting a war against the “V’draysh.” We also got to meet Zora, an AI who was the sole inhabitant of a long-abandoned USS Discovery.
Here’s where things get confusing. Season 3 saw some moves toward Calypso, including the apparent creation of Zora from a merger of the Sphere data with Discovery’s computer. The voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role, although the name “Zora” wasn’t mentioned. We also heard the villainous Zareh use the term “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation – seemingly confirming that Calypso must be set in roughly this same era.
However, we also saw some big moves away from Calypso as well. The most significant one is that the USS Discovery has undergone a refit. While this isn’t readily apparent from the ship’s interior – something I really hope changes in Season 4 – it was very apparent from the exterior of the ship. Calypso showed off a pre-refit Discovery, which means that resolving the story of this short episode feels further away than ever.
As I mentioned in the intro, it seems clear that Calypso was originally written with a different version of Season 2 in mind – perhaps even to serve as a kind of epilogue in the event that Season 2 would be Discovery’s last. Even going into Such Sweet Sorrow – the two-part finale of Season 2 – the possibility of hiding the ship in a nebula, as depicted in Calypso, existed, and with a few changes and tweaks to the season finale, Calypso would have been a natural epilogue to that story. That’s what I think happened on the production side of things, anyway. With the storyline of Season 2 up in the air, a somewhat ambiguous short episode was created to serve as a potential epilogue if the show was cancelled. Discovery wasn’t cancelled, though, and now the writers have to find a way to square this particularly tricky circle. Or they might just try to ignore it!
Number 7: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of propulsion.
When it became apparent that warp drive in the 32nd Century was very difficult due to the lack of dilithium and the aftereffects of the Burn, I thought the writers and producers of Discovery had played a masterstroke by finally finding a way for the show’s most controversial piece of technology to play a major role.
The Spore Drive, which was introduced in Season 1, received a mixed reaction from fans. Some insisted that it “violates canon” by allowing a 23rd Century starship to effectively travel anywhere in the galaxy, and others wondered why the technology had never been mentioned in settings where it would have logically been useful – such as to the crew of the USS Voyager, stranded tens of thousands of light-years from home! Though I would suggest that many of the fans who felt this way about the Spore Drive also had other gripes with Discovery, by pushing forward in time there was an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive in a way that wouldn’t undermine anything in Star Trek’s established canon.
The dilithium shortage the galaxy is experiencing, made a hundred times worse by the Burn, seemed to offer an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive. And at first, Starfleet did seem to be keen on making use of it. However, despite Discovery’s extensive retrofit, the Spore Drive remained aboard the ship and Starfleet seems to have made no attempt to copy it or roll it out to any of their other vessels. The huge planet-sized cache of dilithium in the Verubin Nebula has also solved – at least in the short-term – the galaxy’s fuel problem, so there’s less of a need from Starfleet’s perspective to invest in recreating the Spore Drive, despite its seemingly unlimited potential.
Perhaps this will be picked up in Season 4, especially with Book’s ability to use the Spore Drive getting around the last hurdle in the way of a broader rollout. There was potential, I felt, for the dilithium shortage and Burn storylines to parallel real world climate change and how we’re slowly running out of oil, but the Verubin Nebula’s dilithium planet kind of squashed any real-world analogy! Again, though, this is something that could potentially return in Season 4.
Number 8: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.
The Short Treks episode The Brightest Star was broadcast in between Seasons 1 and 2, and introduced us to Saru’s sister Siranna. She returned in Season 2, in the episodes The Sound of Thunder and Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. In Season 3, the same actress who played Siranna also appeared as Dr Issa – the commander of the crashed Kelpien ship in the Verubin Nebula and the mother of Su’Kal.
Because of this production-side coincidence, as well as Saru’s incredibly strong reaction to seeing Dr Issa in holographic form, I speculated that Dr Issa could be a descendant of Siranna, and thus a great-great-niece to Saru. That familial tie could have explained why Saru found himself so emotionally compromised during the final few episodes of the season, and why he risked everything to help Su’Kal.
However, it seems that this was little more than casting coincidence! Perhaps it was easier for the producers to work with someone who was already familiar with the Kelpiens – and Kelpien prosthetic makeup – instead of casting a new actress for the role. Or perhaps it was deliberate – presenting Saru with someone superficially similar to Siranna to push him emotionally. Regardless, this theory didn’t pan out.
It could have been interesting to see Saru coming face-to-face with a distant relative, and it could’ve added to the Su’Kal storyline. However, in the time allotted to Saru’s exploits in the Verubin Nebula, it would have been difficult to add this additional emotional element and have it properly developed, so perhaps it’s for the best!
Number 9: The holographic “monster” is either Dr Issa or the real Su’Kal.
The episode Su’Kal pushed hard for a creepy “haunted castle” aesthetic when depicting Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a big part of that was the holographic “monster.” The monster seemed like a very odd inclusion in a holo-programme designed for a young child, and even though an attempt was made to excuse it by saying it was an old Kelpien legend, I wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t something else going on.
Additionally, the monster didn’t behave or appear like any of the other decaying holograms. After decades of continuous use, Su’Kal’s holographic world was falling apart. Many of the holograms were flickering or fading, and they were quite basic in what they could say or do. In contrast, the monster moved with a natural, organic fluidity, and didn’t flicker or appear in any way artificial – even as the holographic world disintegrated around it.
The Verubin Nebula’s radiation was said to be fatal, but in horror and sci-fi radiation is often seen to cause mutations. Given the monster’s vaguely Kelpien appearance and dishevelled, decrepit, morbid look, I wondered if it was actually the real Su’Kal – or Dr Issa – having mutated and decayed after decades in the hostile nebula. The final piece of evidence I added to this little pile was the strange way that the monster interacted with Burnham in the episode Su’Kal – it seemed curious about her, perceiving her in a way I thought was almost human.
Despite all of that, however, the monster turned out to be exactly what the crew believed it to be: just another part of the holo-programme. This theory was quite “out there,” as it would’ve been a big twist on what we as the audience were expecting. There were hints that I felt could have built up the monster to be something more, but ultimately these turned out to be red herrings!
Number 10: Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.
Over the course of the first two-thirds or so of Season 3, there seemed to be breadcrumbs that at least hinted at the possibility that Burnham and Discovery had crossed over to a parallel universe or alternate timeline. The biggest one was the initial absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, but there was also the strange piece of music that seemed to be connected to the Burn, the fact that the time-wormhole didn’t take Burnham and the ship to their intended destination of Terralysium, and a couple of hints from Voyager (as mentioned above) and Enterprise that could have been interpreted to mean the Burn never happened in the timeline depicted in those older shows.
There was also the possibility that the Burn was caused by the interference of time travellers. The resolution to that storyline could have been for Burnham and Discovery to go back in time and prevent the Burn from ever happening – restoring the “true” timeline and undoing the Burn. Both of these theories seemed plausible for much of the season.
I’m glad, though, that neither theory came to pass! “It’s a parallel universe” is almost akin to “it was all a dream” in terms of being a pretty lazy excuse for storylines in sci-fi, and the idea of undoing the Burn, while interesting in theory, would have effectively wiped out all of the good deeds Saru, Burnham, and the crew did across Season 3, like helping the peoples of Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian. So it was to the show’s overall benefit to stick firmly to the prime timeline.
Doing so is actually rather bold. Discovery took Star Trek to some very different thematic places in Season 3, largely thanks to the Burn and its lingering effects, and I could understand the temptation to brush all of that aside. We still got some parallel universe action in the two-part episode Terra Firma, which revisited the Mirror Universe. With the Burn now in the rear-view mirror and Discovery moving on to new adventures, perhaps it will be possible for Star Trek to establish the 32nd Century as a major new setting, allowing Discovery Season 3 to be the springboard for a host of new shows and films.
So that’s it. Ten of my worst Discovery Season 3 theories!
Though we can debate some of the story points across Season 3 – and I still haven’t written my big piece about the Burn yet – overall I think Season 3 did a good job of establishing the show in its new setting. The Burn presented a tantalising mystery to solve, and for the first time in the series, it felt as though more members of the crew had significant roles to play in the season’s main storylines.
So I hope this look back was a bit of fun! Stay tuned, because as and when we get news about Season 4 I’ll be taking a look here on the website, and when the season premieres later this year I’ll be reviewing every episode… and probably coming up with a few more theories!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now in its entirety on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
It seems increasingly likely that Jodie Whittaker is in her final season as the titular Doctor in the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who. The upcoming season will be the show’s thirteenth since it was recreated in 2005. The first few years of the show’s return were great – Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and even Matt Smith did very well in the role, but even by the end of Smith’s tenure the show’s decline had set in. Peter Capaldi, who took over the role after the 2013 Christmas special, endured a torrid time as the Doctor, with three seasons of stories that varied from underwhelming to just plain crap.
Jodie Whittaker, as the first woman to take over the role, came into the series at a time when it appeared to be in terminal decline. And although her arrival coincided with Doctor Who trying to put itself through a soft reboot, the decline continued. After thirteen seasons and more than fifteen years, the revived series has simply run its course. Practically every show has a natural lifespan, and though how long a series can run and remain exciting will vary, it seems clear that Doctor Who is long past that point.
There were issues regarding Whittaker’s arrival in the role, not least the so-called “gender bending” of what has always been a male character, and some have argued that it may be a factor in why her tenure as the Doctor hasn’t been so well-received. But I would argue that, despite the strong feelings on both sides of that argument, it’s almost incidental. The way the character is written and the lack of good ideas for new and interesting stories has been much more of a hindrance to Doctor Who than its main character’s gender.
As an aside, I don’t buy the argument that fans somehow “don’t want women characters.” Look at the response to characters like Captain Janeway in Star Trek or Ahsoka in Star Wars – fans respond incredibly positively to strong women in sci-fi – but they have to be well-written characters first and foremost. If they aren’t, or if there are other issues with the stories they’re part of, fans won’t be interested – just as they aren’t interested in boring male characters or male characters involved in crap stories.
Peter Capaldi is exactly how I would picture the Doctor if someone described the character to me. Compared to his two predecessors, David Tennant and Matt Smith, Capaldi had the gravitas required to truly embody the ancient time-travelling alien. But the storylines he got during his tenure were, as mentioned, uninteresting at best. As a result, viewership dropped, interest dropped, and while some fans may have been somewhat interested in what was billed as a second revival of the series when Jodie Whittaker took over, that interest soon dropped away when the underlying issues with Doctor Who were seen to remain.
Modern Doctor Who has suffered from an overuse of three key villains: the Weeping Angels, the Cybermen, and the Daleks. All three were fantastic in their initial appearances from 2005-2010, but by the turn of the last decade there was a sense that they were played out. Having seen the Doctor outsmart and defeat the Daleks in particular at least once a season for twelve seasons, they need a break.
But the sad thing is that, when the writers in recent seasons have tried to step away from familiar adversaries, the new creations made for the series have just felt incredibly bland. Generic opponents invented for the Doctor and his or her companions have been so completely boring that I honestly couldn’t tell you the names or attributes of any off the top of my head. I’d have to go away and look up who the Doctor and co. have taken on in recent seasons, such is the boring, generic, bland nature of the factions and races created for this once-great sci-fi series.
When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, it was brought back by a team of people who had loved the original show and wanted to see it succeed again. I don’t want to question the dedication and commitment of the writers and producers behind recent seasons, but it doesn’t feel that they’re as interested in Doctor Who as Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, and even Steven Moffat had been in the first years after the show returned.
If making a big change to the Doctor when Whittaker was introduced didn’t reinvigorate the series, replacing her in the title role won’t help. Doctor Who needs a root-and-branch overhaul, but even then it’s hard to see where to take the series. Its iconic villains have become boring, cardboard cut-out opposition, and since the introduction of the Weeping Angels all the way back in 2007, no new villain has been anything other than a bland, generic sci-fi alien.
Realistically what Doctor Who needs is for the main series to go back on hiatus. The world-building in Doctor Who – at least in earlier seasons – was fantastic, and offers the opportunity to branch out into spin-offs that perhaps could look at the Time War or other key events in the series’ canon. But the main show needs a break. Maybe in another fifteen or twenty years, when another new team of writers have some genuinely good ideas, it can come back. But simply recasting the Doctor yet again won’t cut it.
Doctor Who Season 13 is due out later this year on the BBC. Doctor Who is the copyright of BBC Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Star Trek: Voyager, and other iterations of the franchise.
Star Trek: Discovery’s premiere brought back Sarek, Spock’s father who had been first introduced in The Original Series. Season 2 saw Spock himself as well as Captain Pike and Number One make appearances, so Discovery is a series that has no qualms about reintroducing legacy characters. But its 23rd Century, pre-The Original Series setting precluded the use of most of Star Trek’s characters, as the bulk of the franchise’s 780+ episodes and films take place later in the timeline.
Discovery’s move forward in time should also mean that no legacy characters could have significant roles. After all, who could possibly still be alive more than eight centuries after the events of Star Trek: Picard? I can think of one character, but not in the way you might expect!
As a hologram who doesn’t age, we could definitely argue that The Doctor – played by Robert Picardo for all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager – might have survived this long. But that isn’t the angle I’m taking.
The 23rd episode of Season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager, Living Witness, takes place in the 31st Century. After the USS Voyager had an encounter with a species called the Kyrians in the 24th Century, some pieces of technology were left behind, including a backup copy of The Doctor. Reawakened in the 31st Century, he stayed with the Kyrians for a number of years, righting the wrongs in their historical records about Voyager and its crew.
The episode is interesting in itself, and well worth a watch, but from our point of view today what I want to consider is the episode’s ending. After living with the Kyrians for years – perhaps decades – The Doctor took one of their ships and left the planet, hoping to retrace Voyager’s path and return to the Alpha Quadrant.
We know from later seasons of Voyager that it only took them another three years or so after leaving Kyrian space to make it home – though that did involve the use of the Borg transwarp network, among other helping hands – so the journey is definitely achievable. The Doctor, unlike us mere humans, doesn’t need food or any other supplies personally, so as long as his ship was functional, even if it took him decades he would have been able to make it back to Federation space – and if it took him several decades, the timeline starts to line up for a crossover with Discovery.
One thing that I’m cautiously interested in when it comes to Discovery’s third season is the potential to learn more about what happened to some of the characters we knew in other Star Trek shows. Perhaps we won’t learn the specifics of what happened to individuals, but we may learn broad strokes about what happened to their planets and cultures, and we could infer from that what may have happened to them. The series looks – if we take its trailer at face value – as if part of the story will be about restoring a declining or defeated Federation. Characters who originated in an era where the Federation was strong and just would be well-suited to that task, and they may find an unlikely ally in this version of The Doctor.
On the production side of things, Star Trek has recently had great success bringing back Brent Spiner as Data and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. Spiner’s role as Data is a great comparison, because both Data and The Doctor are artificial, and thus not susceptible to ageing. Brent Spiner had said as early as the mid-2000s that he felt he’d “aged out” of the role of Data, yet the makeup and visual effects used in Star Trek: Picard worked very well. Obviously if you try to compare the way he looked earlier this year to the way he looked in 1987’s Encounter at Farpoint there’s a difference, but it’s not immersion-breaking. All this is to say that there’s no reason why Robert Picardo couldn’t reprise his role too.
Digital de-ageing effects have been used more and more often in recent years, even on television, and while the technology isn’t cheap, it shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive either. So that option would be viable for the team behind Star Trek as well.
But the big question is what kind of role The Doctor could play in a 32nd Century Discovery story.
If I were writing it, the way I’d see him involved would be working alongside Burnham, Saru, and the crew of Discovery to restore the Federation. They’re looking at things from a 23rd Century viewpoint, but The Doctor could fill in more than a century’s worth of gaps in their knowledge. The Federation in the 24th Century is very similar to how it was in the 23rd in terms of morals and outlook, so I could absolutely see them working in common cause.
Rebuilding or reinvigorating the Federation is a noble task, and while I’ve documented my misgivings about Star Trek taking on a kind of post-apocalyptic setting previously, one way I think it could be made to work is if at the end of the season the Federation was back up and running. The Doctor could be invaluable to Discovery’s crew in accomplishing such a task, and with Data now permanently gone from the Star Trek universe, there aren’t many others who could still be around in this era.
Perhaps after Season 2, which brought back several legacy characters for major roles, Discovery wants to stand on its own two feet again. Indeed, part of the reason for shifting the show’s timeline so far into the future is specifically because the producers and showrunners wanted to get away from the constraints of the 23rd Century – and the fan criticisms that came as a result of using that setting. So perhaps bringing back a legacy character in Season 3 isn’t on the agenda.
But The Doctor could still appear in Season 4 – and reports suggest that pre-production is underway on Discovery’s next adventure. While I think that The Doctor could be a good fit for a “rebuilding” type of storyline for the reasons already mentioned, if Season 4 takes the show in a different direction, perhaps that would be something more suited to his medical expertise, such as curing a disease. For all we know at this stage, a disease could be involved in damaging the Federation in this time period!
If not The Doctor, there are a few other characters who could – in theory – still be active in the 32nd Century. Let’s look at them briefly:
Number 1: Soji
Spoiler warning for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, but Soji is synthetic; an android. At the end of the season, Picard was told that his new synthetic body wouldn’t keep him alive for centuries, but there’s no reason Soji should have the same limitation. In many ways, Soji would make for a better crossover character than almost anyone else, as she’s a main character in an ongoing series. The crossover would thus be between two Star Trek shows that are currently in production, providing a link between them.
We could also add into the mix the other synths from Coppelius, including Sutra (aka Evil Soji) and even Dr Soong, if he was successful in creating himself a new synthetic body (and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have been).
Number 2: Lore
Lore was said to have been disassembled after his final appearance in The Next Generation, but we learned nothing of his fate after that. I speculated during Star Trek: Picard’s first season that Dr Maddox may have had access to Lore’s components while working on Soji and the other synths, but this was never confirmed on screen. It’s at least possible that Lore survived in disassembled form until the 32nd Century.
However, with Star Trek having gone out of its way to write Data out of the franchise, and to give Brent Spiner a new character in Dr Soong, I think any re-emergence of Lore is highly unlikely.
Number 3: Benjamin Sisko
I’ve mentioned Captain Sisko so often in relation to characters who could re-appear that you may think he’s become an obsession of mine! However, his story as of the end of Deep Space Nine was deliberately written in such a way that he could come back at literally any point in the Star Trek timeline. After being saved by the Bajoran Prophets, Sisko went to stay with them for a while – and they exist outside of linear time, meaning he could essentially travel to any point in time, including the 32nd Century.
Avery Brooks, who played Sisko, hasn’t always seemed willing to reprise the role, and recently declined to appear in the documentary What We Left Behind. However, there’s no reason why the character couldn’t be recast for future appearances.
Number 4: The Dax symbiont
While still arguably unlikely, this seems perhaps the least-unlikely of all the characters we’ve looked at so far. The trailer for Discovery’s third season showed Trill characters as well as what looked like a scene set on the Trill homeworld. We know, thanks to Deep Space Nine, that Trill symbionts can live for centuries; how many centuries exactly has never been stated as far as I’m aware. That leaves an opening for Discovery to bring back Dax – as well as an excuse to recast the character.
With centuries of knowledge, Dax could be a huge help to the crew of Discovery for the same reasons we’ve already talked about. Rebuilding the Federation will be a huge task, and it will take people who knew how it worked to help out.
So that’s it. A handful of other characters to go along with The Doctor who could – but probably won’t – appear in Star Trek: Discovery’s 32nd Century setting. As the show gets nearer to being broadcast (mid-October, in case you missed that announcement) my optimism is growing. Season 2 was decent, and despite my misgivings about taking the series away from its setting and into the far future, I think it has potential to tell interesting stories. I’m cautiously optimistic!
It seems unlikely that The Doctor, or any of the other characters mentioned, will make an appearance, but from an in-universe perspective it’s not entirely impossible. We’ve seen with Star Trek: Picard that bringing back legacy characters and referencing events that took place in a past episode or story are both things that the people in charge of Star Trek are willing to consider, so it’s at least possible to think we could see someone from the past reappear in Discovery.
Most of all, this was a bit of fun. We got to look back at Living Witness, which was a unique entry in Star Trek: Voyager, as well as speculate on the fates of The Doctor and some other well-known characters from past and present iterations of Star Trek. I’ll take any excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy!
Star Trek: Voyager is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be available to stream beginning on the 15th of October 2020. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS.