A surprise announcement was made at yesterday’s Course Heading: Star Trek convention held in Nuneaton, UK, where Star Trek actor and writer Simon Pegg made a surprise appearance alongside current franchise runner Alex Kurtzman to announce the next Star Trek television project: ‘Ambassador’.
Hijacking the main stage immediately after the afternoon panel discussion, Pegg excitedly described the new show at this early conceptual stage:
PEGG: “It’s so brilliant to be here in front of all of you, really, and to have this amazing opportunity to talk about the new show, ‘Ambassador’. I think you’re all going to love it, I know some of you will be dubious at first, but as it comes together I think you’ll be really, really pleasantly surprised.
Pegg went into further details about the show’s setting and its main character:
PEGG: “It’s called ‘Ambassador’, and we’ll be going back in time a little, to the Enterprise C, that’s where we’re taking the name from, for the Ambassador-class ship. I honestly love ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, it’s one of my favourite episodes, and for me it’s the perfect jumping-off point for a new show.
“The reality of creating new material for a historical franchise like Star Trek is that, commercially, we really have to deliver something recognisable and familiar to the fans, you just can’t escape that if you want to compete against so many other brilliant, original shows. What’s perfect about this setting is that it allows us to lift something familiar but that’s not really been explored before, and run with it, do our own thing with it without breaking canon.”
Alex Kurtzman was alongside Pegg for the announcement, but passed very few comments. Asked on his involvement with the project, he responded:
KURTZMAN [laughing]: “No, no, I’m not in on this one, this is all Simon’s baby, I’m just writing the cheques.”
PEGG [to Kurtzman]: “Keep them coming! [laughs] Honestly, though, this is actually going to be a scaled-back production. It’s easy to over-spend with these sorts of shows, and focus on big actiony set pieces, but we actually want to scale it back, keep it more narrative-driven.
“From a business perspective, the studio wants a more modest, more affordable show, but for me, that just means we focus more on dialogue and story and character development. We really want to get to know the characters, see them at work and at play, y’know, see them tackling issues and problem-solving with each other, proper back-and-forth between them.
“It keeps the pressure of Alex’s chequebook, and gives the fans more of what they want, more of that classic Trek problem-solving, especially around negotiation and diplomacy – ‘Ambassador’ means more than just the ship, y’know?”
On the subject of characters, Pegg described some of the show, but specified that many details are yet to be confirmed, and may roles have been outlined but not yet filled. He did, however, identify the show’s star:
PEGG: “I’ve literally, just yesterday had confirmed from her agent that Jessica Chastain’s agreed to come on board as Captain Garrett. This is amazing, Jessica’s a proper A-List talent, she’s amazing, and she’d done so many amazing roles already. Honestly I couldn’t believe it when I was told we might be getting her, and when I heard I was floored.
“Rachel Garrett’s only on screen for a bit but she’s this amazing character, with this cool, steady authority but, like, real grit, real tenacity and courage, Jessica’s perfect for that.
“She was amazing in ‘The Martian’, where Matt Damon’s stranded on an alien world, and incredible in ‘Interstellar’, where Matt Damon’s stranded on an alien world. [laughs] I don’t think we’re getting Matt Damon in though, are we, Alex?”
KURTZMAN [laughing]: “No, I don’t think so! You kidding? We just blew our budget on Jessica!”
PEGG: “Maybe we’ll get him in for an episode… maybe he’ll guest as another captain, this time he’ll rescue her from a planet for a change. [laughs] Maybe that’ll convince him, a chance to turn the tables.”
Pegg went further to discuss this new version of Garrett in the show:
PEGG: “We’re setting it a few years before Narendra, before the Romulan attack, which means we know where their story ends up, but that’s actually kind of liberating, in a way. It means we don’t have to work in “will they live, will they die?” action scenes all the time, because we know what happens to them, so instead, we’re going to go back to episodic stories. Each episode will be its own story, and we get to focus the tension on the current problem.
“So, y’know, one of our early stories, we’re setting it on this war-torn planet where a Federation ship has crashed, and it’s up to Garrett and the Enterprise to force a ceasefire so they can rescue the survivors. It’s not, like, end-of-the-universe stuff, it’s a bit more simple, but it means we can set the stakes at a more basic level: do they rescue the survivors? Do they help create peace? How do they negotiate between these two factions, what sort of compromises are they willing to make? Is one side more righteous than the other?
“Part of that is developing Garrett’s backstory. This’ll be a reboot of sorts, because we’ll be really fleshing her out as a character, because we know so little about her. So she’ll have a background as a lawyer, in fact, still Starfleet, but she trained as a lawyer for the JAG office. But early in her career she gets forced into duty aboard a starship, and starts rising through the ranks from there.
“So she’s bringing this very measured, very analytical approach to command, to how she does things, very controlled and reasoned. I think it’s going to be really interesting, because she’s not, like, a romantic hero like Kirk, or a statesman like Picard, she’s more of an advocate, very driven, very quick to point out holes in other peoples’ arguments and spot gaps in reasoning – y’know, precise but witty, and sharp. She still sees herself as a lawyer as much as an officer, so she’s always looking at the evidence, she builds a case, builds an airtight argument so she always knows that what she’s doing is justified.”
Other casting decisions were announced, including Garrett’s first officer, along with a few other crew members and a high-ranking Starfleet admiral:
KURTZMAN: “We’re so excited to have Jessica on board to play Geralt -”
PEGG: “Garrett. Rachel Garrett.”
KURTZMAN: “Sure, yeah, Garret, right. So, we’ve got Jessica Chastain with us, which is amazing, but we’ve also got a few other big names. You want to tell them, Simon?”
PEGG: “Don’t mind if I do, thank you Alex. So, we’ve cast Grace Park as a new character, Commander Valerii. Grace was absolutely amazing as Boomer in ‘Battlestar’, so it’s great to get her back into sci-fi for ‘Ambassador’. She’s Garrett’s first officer, and she’s going to be much more old-school Starfleet, really headstrong, very motivated and heroic. We think it’ll be great, she’ll be this ambitious young officer butting heads with her captain. Garrett will be looking at the measured approach, building the case, whilst Valerii will be pushing to just charge in, do the right thing but leap before looking. It’ll make for a lot of friction, a lot of debate.”
PEGG: “And then we’ve got Archie Panjabi in as the tactical officer Lieutenant Sharma. Archie’s got this fierce energy to her, this intensity that’s really compelling, and we really want to make the most of that. And we’ve got Nesta Cooper, she’s fresh out of ‘Travelers’, we’ve got her as the science officer, she’s wonderful, really is. And then to round off the main crew we’ve got Malcolm Barrett as the ship’s doctor, the chief medical officer. Malcolm’s another wonderful actor, he’s got a great range on him, but we really want to tap into that, that slightly insecure, fairly nerdy sort of performance that he did so well in ‘Better Off Ted’ and ‘Timeless’.”
PEGG: “Finally, we have, and this is amazing, but we’re finalising talks with Viola Davis to guest-star in a few episodes as an Admiral, as Garrett’s commanding officer. We all love Viola’s sheer, raw talent, and she’ll be an absolutely fantastic element of the show, as the contact point with Starfleet and the Federation. We’re just in the final stages of negotiation, so I don’t want to jinx it too much, but yeah, that’s the real joy for me, is getting to work with incredible skilled performers like her.”
Pegg rounded off the announcement with a few mundane details – the show is scheduled for release on CBS All Access in two years’ time, giving the new Picard show and the ‘Lower Decks’ animated show time to bed in and develop their own audiences.
Crowd reactions were positive, with plenty of cheering and applause. No time was given for questions and answers, but Pegg did offer an impromptu “FAQ” section at the very end:
PEGG: “Okay, I know this is a lot to take in, and I’ve been – ooh – I’ve been going on for a bit now, but just to get some stuff out the way:
“Yes, we’re going to be keeping those classic red woollen tunics. They’re gorgeous we all love them, and – look, I know it’s not era-appropriate, but we’re going to bring back the woollen turtleneck. It’s so iconic, and honestly, I always thought it just looked weird without it.
“And yeah, I hate to say it, but we’re updating the sets and the computers. It’s such a hard decision to make, but we need the show to appeal to new audiences as well as old, and part of that is making it look like a modern show. We’re going to try and keep the technology the same, and the ship’s going to be identical, we’re working really hard to really authentically reproduce the original design with CGI. But yeah, the computers, the consoles, the screens, they’re all going to be a little snazzier than they were. Just the realities of commercial TV, it has to look good in the trailers.
“And finally, no, there won’t be any cameos, I’m afraid. I won’t even be in it – no Scotty in this one! We really want this to be its own show, we’re using the Enterprise C and ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ as a jumping-off point, but we don’t want to be tying ourselves down with links to existing characters. I dunno, maybe we’ll see a young Nechayev as an ensign or something, or Admiral Satie in her heyday, that could be good fun for an episode, but in general, no, we want this to stand on the strength of its stories.”
With that, the announcement drew to a close, with just a few passing remarks from Pegg and Kurtzman before departing:
PEGG: “Thanks all, it’s been wonderful to speak to you all today, and to share our news with you! It means so much that you’re all here. Y’know, we live in such an amazing time, both for Star Trek, and for the world, really, and we want to reflect that positivity and celebrate it with this new show.”
KURTZMAN: “We do, we really do. Which is why I’m so happy to hand the franchise over to these other amazing creative people like Simon, to take it forward into a bright future. This is a job that he was made for, and I’m glad to have him with us.”
PEGG: “Absolutely, and thank you, Alex. I mean, can you imagine if I wasn’t here? If you had to run this all by yourself?”
KURTZMAN: “I know! [laughs] Who knows what that would be like? Knowing me, there’d be a lot of fight scenes!”
PEGG: “Yeah, lots of fight scenes! You love them! You’d probably be bringing Spock back, but with, like, long hair and a beard, and have him running around and smiling at everyone.”
KURTZMAN [laughing]: “I might, I might! I mean, I’d probably never have come up with anything like ‘Ambassador’, I’d probably be doing, I dunno, a dark nasty spy show, like Section 31 or something.”
PEGG: “Yeah! Something awful like that, about a bunch of black ops spies led by, I dunno, some kind of fascist as the hero or something. Can you imagine?”
KURTZMAN: “Nah, I’d never… well, maybe. But that sort of thing just wouldn’t fly these days. Not since Hillary won by a landslide, and after Trump’s imprisonment for treason, people don’t want that nasty stuff anymore, they want optimistic, thoughtful stories that reflect the real world.”
PEGG: “Yeah, exactly. Y’know, I’m British, and I was so glad when the Brexit referendum failed 82-18. Waking up that morning and seeing that Remain had won by such a margin, and I thought ‘Wow, can you imagine if you lived in a world where your own country was sabotaging its entire future due to a bunch of privileged politicians and businessmen, and the only thing you had to look forward to was some kind of pessimistic, miserable take on Star Trek about war and religion and evil robots?”
KURTZMAN: “It’d be so grim, Simon, so grim. Every day I’m grateful, grateful to have amazing Star Wars spin-offs like that Boba Fett movie directed by the guy who did ‘Dredd’, and not some pointless and un-asked-for Han Solo origin story. Grateful to see anti-monopoly laws being so effective at preventing Disney from absorbing every single popular creative copyright in existence.”
PEGG: “Right! And, y’know, and speaking of that, we’ve seen all those sensible copyright laws come into effect, protecting content creators all across the internet and taking power away from these monolithic corporations. I think it’s really all down to the sweeping electoral reform we’ve seen across the globe, replacing first-past-the-post systems with true proportional representation that allows every vote to count and restores public faith in democracy.”
KURTZMAN: “That’s one of my favourite things about this reality! That, and also the time we took all the anti-vaxxers and put them in a big rocket and fired that rocket into the sun, before vaccinating everyone in the world who can be safely vaccinated and eradicating preventable diseases once and for all.”
PEGG: “That was such a good day. Such a good day. I mean, can you imagine a world without all of these incredible developments? Where we didn’t even have a progressive take on Star Trek? Where minority representation was just used as a marketing tool by corporations to push their product rather than being seriously utilised as a means of democratising the entertainment industry and stripping away prejudice and inequality? Where you ended up with completely abstinent, loveless gay couples, or non-white female lead actors who needed close ties to existing white male characters out of fear of alienating the core audience base?”
KURTZMAN: “Yeah, I mean, it’s so great being able to see you write strong, charismatic black female protagonists who stand on their own merits, and don’t need tying into the existing lore or given fate-of-the-universe backstories to justify their inclusion in the franchise. And it’s great that, although the realities of commercial TV come with certain attachments, they don’t serve as handcuffs on your creativity, and that you’re still able to exercise creative freedom to write compelling narratives that don’t have to pander to the drooling masses who need a six-minute punch-up in every episode to be entertained.”
PEGG: “Yeah, that sure would suck.”