When exactly Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the Star Trek timeline seems to be a point of some confusion and contention for those looking forward to the series. Here, we’re going to straighten out exactly when Discovery is said to take place, and in what universe.
Despite the more modern and higher-budget look of Star Trek: Discovery, the show’s creators have said that this series takes place in the prime timeline, the same timeline as every other Star Trek television series, and not in the Kelvin timeline, the timeline of the reboot film series that launched in 2009.
Some fans believe the producers are lying about this, or at least obscuring the truth, and that Discovery will either take place in or quickly move into its own unique timeline so that the writers won’t have to worry about messing with established canon.
However, the producers have stressed multiple times that they hired writers partly based on their ability to police canon. Until proven otherwise, we’re going to take the Discovery team at their word and assume that the show will take place in the prime timeline.
As for when Star Trek: Discovery takes place, the show is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, taking place approximately a decade before the events of Kirk’s five-year mission.
That means Star Trek: Discovery takes place sometime in the 2250s of Star Trek’s future history timeline, roughly 150 years before the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation and 100 years after Captain Archer’s journey in Star Trek: Enterprise (and around the same time that the first Star Trek reboot movie takes place in the Kelvin timeline). Creator Bryan Fuller at one point stated that it would specifically take place in the year 2255, but it is unclear if that date remains firm following Fuller’s departure.
To further establish the state of the Star Trek universe at the time that Star Trek: Discovery takes place, let’s look at the three major powers in the galaxy during that era: the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans.
At the time that Star Trek: Discovery takes place, the Federation of Planets will be less than a century old. For being such a relatively young galactic power, the Federation is surprisingly capable of holding its own against its rivals.
At this point, the Federation consists of several non-human member races. The most powerful of them would be those that first came together as part of the Coalition of Planets 100 years earlier, including the Vulcans, the Andorians, and the Tellarites.
The Federation would have by this point also encountered less friendly species, including the Klingons and the Romulans, though the events of the Temporal Cold War and the Earth-Romulan war would be well behind them.
Earth established itself as a major player a century earlier, thanks largely to Captain Archer and the original Enterprise. Star Trek: Discovery sees Earth and its allies in the Federation beginning to truly change the landscape of the galaxy.
At the time of Star Trek: Discovery, the Klingon Empire will have been around for hundreds of years, making it an ancient establishment compared to the young Federation of Planets.
Relationships with the Klingon Empire during the time of Star Trek: Discovery could best be described as tense, and not just for the Federation. The Klingons don't really get along well with any of their galactic neighbors, including the Romulans and others, although a comment made by Captain Georgiou in the Discovery trailer indicates that the Federation hasn't had direct contact with the Klingons in some time.
Tensions exist within the Klingon Empire as well. Previous Star Trek series have shown that there are frequent conflicts between the family houses that exist within the Empire. The previews for Star Trek: Discovery hinted that inner strife may have pushed the Empire to the brink of collapse.
During this era, the Klingon Empire would also still be feeling the effects of the Augment Virus, an artificially created virus that morphs Klingon physiology to appear more human. A particular promo for Star Trek: Discovery suggests the T'Kuvma, the leader of the Klingon house that the Federation encounters in Discovery, may be using the effects of the virus as a rallying cry to the other Klingon houses to unify under his leadership.
The Romulans were a major and frequent antagonist in the Star Trek: The Next Generation era, but they occupied a very different role at the time of Star Trek: Discovery.
During the 2250s, the Romulans are still regrouping after their surprising defeat during the Earth-Romulan war, which established the neutral zone barrier between Romulan and Federation space.
However, in the 2260s, during the era of Star Trek: The Original Series, the Romulans begin launching attacks on Federation outposts, meaning that at this point they are probably developing cloaking technology and gearing up for war.
One important thing to remember is that no one in the Federation had any idea what a Romulan actually looked like since the Earth-Romulan war took place before ship-to-ship visual communication technology was developed. That also means that no one knows about the Romulans' shared history with the Vulcans.
However, it is still possible that the Romulans are hatching plots from the shadows, just as they did during the Babel Incident that played out on Star Trek: Enterprise. Some fans even theorized that they may be manipulating the Federation and Klingons into conflict with each other.