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Star Trek: Section 31 – what we know about the in-development spin-off

Star Trek: Discovery
Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor – and now star of Star Trek: Section 31. (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

Star Trek: Section 31 will be fronted by her Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor… But you know her best as Philippa Georgiou.

Currently in development, the latest series in Paramount Plus’s rapidly expanding fleet of Trek TV shows promises to give the brilliant Michelle Yeoh top billing as Georgiou. Having established herself as one of the standout players as Star Trek: Discovery mapped out the new frontier of the 32nd century, the former totalitarian ruler of the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire will be back in more familiar territory in this spin-off. She’ll be returning to the ranks of Section 31, the morally questionable intelligence agency that operates in the shadows of the Federation.

With Star Trek: Section 31 still waiting for a greenlight (and an official title), plot specifics are currently under wraps, but there’s still plenty of information out there about a series destined to become the 12th Star Trek TV show. 

Here’s everything you need to know about The Further Adventures of Philippa Georgiou, aka Star Trek: Section 31 – on a need-to-know basis, obviously…

Star Trek: Section 31 release date: when will the show get an official stardate?

While Star Trek: Discovery season 4, Picard season 2 and Strange New Worlds are already in production, Section 31’s exact status is more of a mystery – who knows, maybe that’s appropriate for an organization that deals primarily in secrets.

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.”

A Star Trek: Section 31 release date may not be quite as soon as she hoped, however.

When asked by Hollywood Reporter in April 2021 whether Section 31 was still on the Federation agenda, Akiva Goldsman (a co-showrunner on Picard and Strange New Worlds) said, “I don't know. I believe so.” He added that, "Alex has a plan,” referring to Alex Kurtzman, the executive producer charged with overseeing the TV branch of the Trek franchise.

Meanwhile, Shazad Latif – who played Ash Tyler in the first two seasons of Discovery, and is likely to be one of the stars of Star Trek: Section 31 – has said that, “It’s just been slight yeses, slight questions, but I've no idea. I think it's down to people's schedules.”

Hardly words that suggest production on the new show is imminent.

In fact, we may be talking years rather than months. That’s because Section 31 is part of streaming service Paramount Plus’s grand, overarching strategy for the TV future of the franchise – and the new show is effectively waiting for an empty slot to appear on the roster.

“We’re very careful about curating the pacing – the number of shows at any given time – and what those shows are, so that we make sure that it’s always exciting when there’s a new show coming out,” Paramount Plus programming boss Julie McNamara told Variety in February. She added that the service is looking to debut “a new Trek [show] a quarter”, and that “conversations” about Section 31 are still happening.

This suggests that Paramount Plus won’t be looking to expand on the current Trek slate of Discovery, Picard, animated comedy Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds and upcoming kids’ cartoon Star Trek: Prodigy until one of the existing shows runs its course. It therefore seems likely the Star Trek: Section 31 release date is still a long way down the line – our most optimistic guess is mid-to-late 2022, though it could be as far away as 2023 or beyond.

That said, McNamara did hint that nobody at Paramount is expecting Star Trek: Picard to go on forever: “Perhaps an older lead is only committed to a certain number of seasons and therefore we move on from that,” she teased. If Picard runs its course in, say, three seasons, the turbolift doors would open for Section 31 much sooner.

Expect to watch Star Trek: Section 31 on Paramount Plus in the US. With other Trek shows spread across Netflix and Amazon Prime Video internationally, it’s still unknown where the new show 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 Paramount Plus (formerly CBS All Access) 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 alternative ‘Kelvin’ timeline of 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 the USS Discovery had to go rogue from Starfleet to protect Spock from their clutches.

It later 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.

Star Trek: Discovery

Saru and Georgiou became unlikely allies in Star Trek: Discovery.  (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

Star Trek: Section 31 cast: who will star in the Discovery spin-off?

Star Trek: Discovery

The original Prime Universe Philippa Georgiou in command of the USS Shenzhou. (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

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 ship.

“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 her ship.

Once the Mirror Georgiou was resident in the Prime Universe, Section 31 wanted to capitalize on her 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 remained 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 in the future, phasing in and out of reality, future-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?

Star Trek Discovery

Set phasers to Star Trek: Section 31. (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

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.

We do know it'll be different to any Trek we've seen before. “We’re aiming to have our shows feel unique and different from each other,” Kurtzman told Variety. “We want to give everybody a reason to watch each show.”

He also added that, while there'll be an “interconnectedness” between each Trek series, you won't have to watch everything to keep up as you do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Our goal is not to make it so insular that if you haven't seen the show you're lost when you watch another show.”

It seems most likely the Guardian of Forever sent Georgiou back to a time just after she and the Discovery crew travelled to the 32nd century. 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 23rd century 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.”