What to Know Before You Watch Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery
(Image credit: Jan Thijs/CBS)

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Jan Thijs/CBS

Star Trek: Discovery is the first new Star Trek show in 12 years, and premiered Sept. 24. (Check out our guide on how to stream Star Trek: Discovery.) This is the seventh TV installment in the venerable sci-fi franchise, which goes back more than 50 years.

So what's new? Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) will join a proud tradition of thoughtful, diplomatic starship officers — who also know how to throw a punch or fire a phaser when things get heated. Whether you're a Federation admiral or a Starfleet cadet, pour yourself a cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot) and learn about the shows that came before Discovery.

Star Trek (1966-1969)


Sci-fi fans got their first glimpse of the 23rd century in Star Trek, which premiered in 1966. The show follows the adventures of James T. Kirk (William Shatner), captain of the USS Enterprise. Over the course of three years (cut short from an intended "five-year mission"), the crew explores the galaxy, encountering strange, new life-forms and trying to maintain a fragile peace between the beneficent United Federation of Planets and the belligerent Klingon Empire. .

The allegorical stories and fantastical technologies were ahead of their time, but the unbreakable friendship between Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) kept early fans hooked.

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)


The original Enterprise didn't get to complete its five-year mission in live action, but Star Trek: The Animated Series was a budget-friendly alternative to the expensive prime-time drama. These half-hour, kid-friendly episodes were pretty much just shortened, Saturday morning Star Trek adventures, featuring the cast and scriptwriters from the original series..

Up until recently, the series wasn't easy to find, making it the most-often overlooked installment in the Trek franchise. Thanks to a recent re-release on DVD and online streaming services, however, fans can now rediscover classics like How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth — and stinkers like The Terratin Incident.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)


Star Trek: The Next Generation's title had a double meaning. Not only did the show focus on the next generation of stellar explorers, but it also introduced the next generation of fans to Star Trek. Eighty years after the events of the original series, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) of the USS Enterprise-D inhabits a much more stable galaxy, which means that the threats lurking at its perimeter are even stranger and more morally complex than before..

After the series' rocky first few seasons, fans grew to love The Next Generation for its ambitious storylines and charming cast, especially the curious android Mr. Data (Brent Spiner).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)


Up until 1993, Star Trek had always been about exploration. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine changed that by setting the action on a space station. Capt. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) oversees Deep Space Nine, a former Cardassian outpost that guards a strategically important wormhole..

Although all of the previous series had some continuity between episodes, Deep Space Nine was Star Trek's first big experiment with serialized storytelling, with character and story arcs that spanned multiple seasons. Fans remember Deep Space Nine primarily for the Dominion War, the first full-scale military conflict in a Trek TV show, which included plenty of gritty combat stories.

Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)


Although it's one of the more uneven series overall, Star Trek: Voyager gave fans their first female captain, Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of the USS Voyager. Stranded 70,000 light-years from home in the remote Delta Quadrant, Janeway must find a way to bring her crew home, in spite of limited personnel and supplies..

While the show's storyline didn't really hit its stride until about Season 4, fans immediately fell in love with Janeway, as well as other unusual characters, like the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) and the reformed Borg survivor Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).

Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)


Star Trek: Enterprise winds the clock back to the 22nd century and tells the story of humanity's tentative first steps into the stars. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) takes command of the experimental starship Enterprise NX-01 and leads his small crew on Starfleet's first mission to explore the galaxy..

The show's prequel nature limited the amount of big surprises it could share, but fans enjoyed seeing humans encounter species like Klingons, Ferengi and even the Borg for the first time. This series peaked in Season 3, with a season-long arc about the Enterprise, located deep behind enemy lines, in conflict with a mysterious race called the Xindi.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017-Present)

Jan Thijs/CBS

The first new Star Trek show in 12 years, Star Trek: Discovery takes place between the events of Enterprise and the original series. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the executive officer aboard the USS Discovery, a Starfleet ship that runs afoul of a Klingon warlord called T'Kuvma (Chris Obi)..

The show will explore how relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire soured before Capt. Kirk's adventures, although fans will have to watch the show themselves for further plot details. Discovery's all-star cast also includes Jason Isaacs as Capt. Lorca of the Discovery and Michelle Yeoh as Capt. Georgiou of the Federation ship Shenzhou.

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Marshall Honorof
Tom's Guide senior editor

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.