Has there ever been a better time to be a Star Trek fan? While The Next Generation spawned spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager in the 1990s – as well as prequel series Enterprise – there were never more than two shows on TV at once. Fast forward to 2021, however, and CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount Plus) is doubling down on the Final Frontier.
The espionage-focused Star Trek: Section 31 is lined up to become the latest incarnation of the rapidly expanding 55-year-old franchise. Like the upcoming Pike/Spock show Strange New Worlds, it’ll be a Star Trek: Discovery spin-off, focused on her Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor – Emperor Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Perhaps fittingly for a show that’s boldly going into the inner sanctum of a shady intelligence agency, Section 31 plot specifics are being kept tightly under wraps – not even the title is officially confirmed. But as Discovery, TNG follow-up Picard and animated comedy Lower Decks do their best to expand the Trek universe in brand-new directions, this upcoming black ops show promises to do something different again.
Here’s all the essential intel on Star Trek's upcoming Section 31 spin-off.
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Star Trek: Section 31 release date: when will we see it?
While Star Trek: Discovery season 4 is already in production, and cameras are expected to start rolling on Picard season 2 and Strange New Worlds season 1 soon, Section 31’s status is more of a mystery. In December 2020, Michelle Yeoh told TV Insider that, “I know the EPs [executive producers] and writers and my team are still working very hard because we have a lot more stories to tell. I hope it will be very soon.”
That means Star Trek: Section 31 release date is still a long way down the line. In fact, we’d expect to see new seasons of Discovery, Picard and Strange New Worlds before it beams onto your TV, so our most optimistic guess is mid-to-late 2022.
Expect to see the show on CBS All Access (set to be rebranded as Paramount Plus from March 4) in the US. With other Trek shows spread across Netflix and Amazon Prime Video internationally, it’s still unknown where Section 31 will materialize in other star systems and territories.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A Star Trek: Discovery spin-off featuring Philippa Georgiou, former Emperor of the Terran Empire, that doesn't technically have a title yet. It's informally referred to as Section 31, however.
- Where can I watch it? Like all of the Star Trek shows, it’ll almost definitely be available on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount Plus) in the US. Broadcasters in other territories are TBC.
- When can I watch it? With production yet to get underway, that’s still classified.
What is Section 31?
Section 31 is an undercover intelligence organisation in the Star Trek universe. Although the United Federation of Planets traditionally portrays itself as a benign, utopian society, there are darker forces operating behind the scenes. Formed under ‘Article 14, Section 31’ of the Starfleet charter, Section 31 was permitted to carry use “extraordinary measures” in the name of protecting the Federation’s lofty ideals. In other words, morally dubious behaviour comes as standard.
Section 31 made its first screen appearance in Deep Space Nine season 6 episode ‘Inquisition’, when Agent Luther Sloan arrived on the station, suspecting one of the crew of being a Dominion spy.
It’s since been revealed that Section 31 had been in operation for years, all the way back to the early days of Starfleet. In the pre-Kirk and Spock Star Trek: Enterprise, security officer Lt Malcolm Tucker turned out to be a Section 31 agent, while it was Section 31 who recruited John Harrison (aka Khan) to help beef up Starfleet’s defenses in the Kelvin-timeline set Star Trek into Darkness.
The agency was also a major antagonist in Star Trek: Discovery season 2, when they investigated Spock’s escape from a psychiatric hospital, and accused him of murdering three doctors. In fact, Section 31 was so persistent that Discovery had to go rogue from Starfleet to protect Spock.
It turned out that Section 31 was operating under directions from Control, the Federation’s Skynet-like AI that would ultimately prove a threat to all life in the galaxy – until Discovery carried the vital ‘Sphere Data’ into the future.
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Star Trek: Section 31 cast: who will star in the Discovery spin-off?
The new show will be built around Philippa Georgiou (played by Tomorrow Never Dies/Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh), the former Emperor of the Terran Empire who crossed universes to join the Discovery crew – and became the most memorable, most quotable character on board.
“The truth is that for Section 31 the idea of doing that show, it was Michelle Yeoh’s,” Star Trek overseer Alex Kurtzman said in a 2020 Variety Screening Room Q&A (via TrekMovie). “She deserves all the credit for that. She actually came to me about it before we even aired the first season of Discovery. She loved playing the character and she said, ‘I know that there are a lot of young women who grew up like I did and did not see somebody like me on screen and I want to be that person.’ And I said, ‘That sounds amazing! Let’s do it.
“But we didn’t know if people were going to like Discovery, so I said, ‘Let’s see how it works, and if we can get there let’s get there.’ She killed it. She did amazing work on the show. And then in season 2, we really started digging into the mythology of Section 31, which had been dealt with on other shows. And we started seeing a way to do it. And so we got there.”
Yeoh’s played two versions of Philippa Georgiou in Discovery. The first was the respected captain of Starfleet’s USS Shenzhou, Michael Burnham’s mentor who died at the ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’ that kickstarted a Federation/Klingon war.
We met her doppelganger when Discovery’s spore drive accidentally carried the ship into the Mirror Universe we’d previously visited in the original Star Trek, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. Here Georgiou was the Emperor of the totalitarian Terran Empire, an organization where any sign of weakness is punishable by death.
After the Discovery crew took down her flagship, the ISS Charon, Georgiou offered to sacrifice herself to aid Burnham’s escape – the pair share a bond across universes – but Burnham opted to take her back to the ship.
Once she was resident in the Prime Universe, Section 31 wanted to capitalize on Georgiou’s moral flexibility and unique set of skills, so recruited her to their ranks. This brought her back into Discovery’s orbit, but she ultimately turned on her Section 31 masters when Control took, well, control. She was on board Discovery when it travelled to the distant future of the 32nd century.
This left many Trek fans wondering how Georgiou could possibly appear in the Star Trek: Section 31 spin-off, but luckily the Discovery showrunners had a plan. As Georgiou’s body started to be torn apart, phasing in and out of reality, Starfleet intelligence guy Kovich explained that the fact her molecules had crossed universes and travelled centuries through time had made her body inherently unstable. Unlikely salvation came in the form of Original Series portal/plot device the Guardian of Forever (from classic episode ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’), who offered her a chance to travel closer to the time she came from…
Beyond Yeoh, casting is TBC, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see a return for Shazad Latif as Ash Tyler. The Klingon/human hybrid was in charge of Section 31 when Discovery blasted off to the future – he’s also one of the few people aware of the ship’s true fate – so it’s logical that he’d be Georgiou’s first point of contact. Assuming, of course, the Guardian of Forever sent her back to her original time…
Star Trek: Section 31 plot: what will the new show be about?
That’s the big question, because aside from the fact it’ll feature Georgiou and involve Section 31, the new show is something of an open book.
It seems most likely, however, that the Guardian of Forever sent her back to a time just after she left. With Section 31 decimated by all those issues with Control, rebuilding will almost certainly be at the top of the agenda – and who better to help Tyler than Georgiou?
“I hope in the short time she was [in the future], being the amazing engineer and smart cookie she is, she would’ve learned a lot about that time period that she would be able to take with her,” Yeoh told TV Insider. “Can you imagine what she could bring back to the past? Without changing the future, of course. Developments that could make a huge difference, and if it was Section 31, that’s what Section 31 is all about, isn’t it?”
In fact, her resumé is going to be attractive to any HR department. Not only does she have experience of the future and managing an interstellar empire, her time on board Discovery has softened some of her more psychotic edges.
“She’s definitely had a change of heart,” Yeoh explained in an interview with Bustle. “She had an awakening in the sense that she realized yes, you could rule with fear and tyranny, but only for a short period. This was what she learned from being in the Prime Universe. It’s about compassion, about hope. It’s about when people have nothing to lose, then they don’t care anymore. And when you don’t care, you don’t have a future.”
There may also be some rebuilding to do in the Mirror Universe, so don’t rule out the prospect of Georgiou finding a way back to her original home. Indeed, after Kovich revealed that the Terran Empire had collapsed long before the 32nd century, she may see this as an opportunity to reshape it in her own image.
“The Terran empire disappeared 500 years ago,” Yeoh said in TV Insider. “There were no more crossings, we were never heard from again, and the only thing you can come away with that is that we destroyed ourselves. I think she realized that when she went back to Michael Burnham and she said, ‘How many more times are people going to revolt against us? If we don’t give the people some kind of peace and harmony, we are just going to kill ourselves.’ She learned that just by killing, that was not the answer or the way to rule moving forward.”