Details On Michael Burnham’s Backstory Revealed in SFX Mag ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Cover Story

TrekMovie has been given an exclusive first look at the October issue of SFX Magazine which features a cover story on Star Trek: Discovery. The feature has interviews with some of the stars of the upcoming CBS All Access series, and among the reveals are some new insights into the main character Michael Burnham played by Sonequa Martin-Green.

First contact is Burnham’s specialty

Speaking to SFX, Sonequa Martin-Green (Burnham) described her character in more depth:

I’m a xenoanthropologist, I also had another field of study while at the Vulcan Science Academy. I’m the only human to have gone to the Vulcan Learning Centre and the Vulcan Science Academy and excelled at that. As a xenoanthropologist, I’m also essentially and inherently a first contact specialist as well.

Burnham has a good reason not to like the Klingons

James Frain (Sarek) revealed more about how his relationship with Burnham comes about:

…we see Sarek as a younger man, and we discover that he has been made responsible for Michael’s upbringing – her parents were killed while being hosted at the Vulcan Academy when there was a Klingon attack. So we feel responsible for her, take her in, and I raise her in my family as a Vulcan.

SFX Discovery issue on sale next week

There’s more from Sonequa Martin-Green, James Frain, Anthony Rapp, and Doug Jones in the October SFX issue. You can pick up the new issue of SFX in the UK on August 16th. It will also be available digitally the same day, and on newstands in the US later in the month. You will be able to buy it at the SFX backorder page.

SFX October issue with Star Trek: Discovery cover story

Star Trek: Discovery premieres on September 24th on CBS with all subsequent episodes on CBS All Access in the US.  In Canada Star Trek: Discovery will premiere  on Bell Media’s CTV and the Space Channel on the same night. Netflix will launch Star Trek: Discovery on Monday, September 25 to countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Keep up with all the Discovery news at

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The “other cover guy” needs some serious character development.
As I understand it they sense death approaching?
How is this trait learned and then passed down genetically if they die all the time?

Nice cover. Cool makeup.

We know more about Saru than just the death sensing thing, more tidbits about him came out around Comic-Con

He’s an ungulate. A hooved horse-man. He can gallup when running from death.

Well first, the trait is probably not cultural and doesn’t have to learned. It is more likely genetic, and it would arrive like any other result of evolutionary pressure – individuals who are better at it or have a stronger version of the trait survive better, reproduce more, and thus the population of Kelpians contains more of them. But then again maybe you were joking. ☺

I saw in another article awhile back it has to do with being a prey species on his home world.

It would make sense if he can sense the threat of death, not death itself, and then avoid it. Like everyone else.

There was a lot of discussion when his “ability” was revealed. I take it that he has good instincts and maybe a heightened awareness of his surroundings. Basically, he is more aware of possible dangers than other people around him.

Yep! Doug Jones has implied in interviews that his ability to sense death is less of a “telepathic” thing. (For lack of a better description.) It’s apparently more of him analyzing the situation, and given his past as prey, he is better able to “calculate” the chances for survival. Which makes sense to me from an evolutionary standpoint.

So he’s got spidey-sense. or perhaps horsey-sense.

Yes, I think a death-sniffer is probably not a character I care about. They’ll probably write that feature out and pretend it never happened. On another note, it looks like the whole bottom of his face is messed up and uneven. Make up issues?

The more I look at him, the more I see a rubber mask. I’m very curious to see how his face moves / how he talks in the actual series, because the trailer wasn’t convincing either… especially in HD.

Very curious about that too. Presumably that sense helps the species survive – they sense death coming and evade it? – could be a form of mental telepathy or even the ability to sense the future.

I’m a big fan of Doug Jones, but his mugshot here worryingly reminds me of ‘igor’ from Young Frankenstein! –

I like the fact that Saru could almost be a reimagining of sorts ( in a week-by-week-SFX-and-makeup friendly* ) of Lt. Arex.

*Two arms and to legs instead of three; live action instead of fully cgi.

Burnham sounds more intriguing the more that I hear about her.

Yes. They seem to have a lot of experts on the crew, like a xenoanthropologist and a xenomycologist. Let’s hope they know what to do with these characters and how to make use of their skills. Unlike TNG where they didn’t really know what to do with Troi’s expertise. Also, I really hope that they make some effort to have these people act like the specialists they are supposed to be.

That must be the unspecified incident in 2220s that caused “almost seventy years of unremitting hostilities”, right?

I always thought it was some sort of border dispute or petty squabble. But, if it was a Klingon attack on one of the core worlds of Federation, how come there is NOT an all-out war still going on in 2250s? Did Federation lose, yet Klingons somehow spared it? Did Klingons lose, yet Federation somehow failed to dismantle the Empire and enforce the democracy? Was it a truce?

This should be interesting. ;)

That was my line of thinking as well after reading the Vulcan Academy was attacked. I was under the impression that the academy in question was located on Vulcan. I suppose there could be a “satellite” campus located on another world. Still the idea that the Klignons could attack a well known institution, potentially deep inside of, Federation controlled territory and there still not be an all out conflict between the two powers is troubling. Surely there would have been some sort of retaliatory action by the Federation in order to let the Klignon empire know that violating their territory was unacceptable.

A terrorist attack doesnt always lead to all out war. If anyone was willing to be measured in their response, it would be the Vulcans.

You are right but it would still lead to some kind of response even if it was just a diplomatic one. Although, I am not certain how much one can negotiate with an individual or a group that decided killing a bunch of Federation citizens at the Vulcan Academy was the right way to go. After all the academy isn’t a “military institution.” It’s a “civilian” one. I would imagine as a result that those people could offer little in the way of defense. One would think it make people even angrier that the attack occurred. At least at a military institution the people are trained to fight.

So she was there when the Klingon War was initiated, hmmm. I’d be more interested in the article if they were wearing recognizable Star Trek Starfleet uniforms not these generic Space Tracksuits- I just can’t look at them- the jackets are bearable- but its the pants with the continuation of the Deltas & the stripe down the side that just look so bad- if it didn’t say Star Trek who would know? It’s like the JJ Movies where they wore other uniforms half the time, you don’t recognize it as Star Trek. it sounds superficial but at least with promotion, it matters.

I get what you’re saying but it’s infinitely more realistic to have a wide range of uniforms to suit the mission/environment, as seen in ENT.

As opposed to TNG, where half the time they go to bed in their duty threads

Do you realize how stupid your comment sounds? You can’t be interested in an article because of the picture. LOL. Wow. Yeah, it DOES sound incredibly superficial. Is this how you deal with other things too?

The only real issue I have with the uniform from a visual perspective is the side bars extending onto the pants; strikes me as inspired by TMP, with a one-piece style design. But it needs the flat break at the waist, and I think that they need a belt. Should have learned from TNG, where they added the belt in Season 3.

But the TWOK uni’s were a vast departure from every uniform to that point, so I can’t really complain simply because it looks different. We’ll get used to it.

To be honest my favorite uniforms ever is the flight suit in Beyond. If they do more JJ movies, I would love to see them adapt that as the regular duty uniform.

All that matters in promotion is that they look cool.

I’m not sold yet on Saru as an alien and as a character. Never mind the whole sensing death thing, I just think his makeup is very…well, it’s alien, but is it iconic? Will it be popular and beloved like our other resident aliens? Spock was the ultimate alien because he was just a logical guy with cool ears; super iconic and reproducible. But Saru, who’s gonna roleplay as him? He’s a rubber-faced ugly character, not as cool as Spock or as coy and lovable as Data. Maybe I’m just being speciesist. I’m sure he’ll be great, I’m just personally concerned because on that mag cover it looks like half his face is lopsided.

Why does a different species have to conform to the facial uniformity of humanoids? It’s a different species ergo let it be different.

People dress up as all kinds of aliens, not just the simple ones. Fans have already started making their own versions of the Discovery uniforms. I’m sure we will also start to see recreations of the alien designs once the series starts and people get a better look at them.

A xenoanthropologist sounds like the kind of expert needed on a Federation science ship. Having Burnham as a first contact specialist is great on paper, but then looking at her actions in the trailers and her willingness to open fire on the Klingons it makes you wonder if her decision was driven by personal vendetta rather than sound reasoning.

On a side note happy to see that SFX magazine is still in business. Back in the 90s SFX, Dreamwatch & Starburst were my main sources for all news concerning science fiction movies and TV shows.

Given the new background info that her parents were killed in a Klingon attack I’m pretty sure they will show Burnham being conflicted when it comes to Klingons. Emotions can sometimes overwrite rational thinking in even the most brilliant people. It doesn’t have to lessen her character if she isn’t perfect as long as we see her trying to overcome her demons.

Michael’s backstory seems a wee bit cliched, but hey I’ll go with it.

I’m fully on board with Discovery, but boy that cover makes the series look more of a spoof than the real McCoy. I still don’t like how Galaxy Quest/Guardians of the Galaxy those uniforms look. For a quasi-scientific/exploratory/military organisation, shouldn’t they be more functional or utilitarian? (And, yes, I am fully aware of how ‘showy’ naval uniforms of the 18th-19th Centuries – a period on which Trek is largely based – could be). I always preferred the TOS movie-era and Dominion War/First Contact-era uniforms.

I suppose I mean those uniforms would not look out of place on The Orville.

It could be worse, men could be wearing skirts…

Curious. I think the uniforms recall the series ENTERPRISE. Did you feel ENTERPRISE was a spoof? Just curious. I liked the Dominion War/First Contact-era uniforms too, but thought TOS movie uniforms were too obviously culled from the Horatio Hornblower book series and a little too military-oriented. I just never liked them.

Ever see the Klingon makeup from TNG not lit properly? Yeah it looks like a rubber forehead with an obvious paint job as shading and pigment… some of you have got to calm down. Doug’s makeup is shown on a magazine cover and not at all lit like it is on set. It’s going to lose some effect this way.

ORVILLE rules!!!
Nope, everything must tie to Spock and Sarek. EVERYTHING. Did you know Kirk’s grandfather used to mow Sarek’s lawn? And that’s where he met Kirk’s grandmother- she was the college roommate of Tuvok’s mother’s friend who lived next door to Sarek, and she had visions of a wormhole that would appear near a former cardassian space station soon to be occupied by the federation. So then Scotty accidently pops in via a time-travel mix-up, and unwittingly gives Kirk’s grandmother-to-be his favorite bottle of romulan ale, which is the one that shows up in the original Trek movies down the road. Also, Odo is there posing as a park bench.

Too early to say if Orville rules,
At least definitively.

James Frain seems to be saying the Klingons attacked Vulcan sometime in the early 23rd century. Yikes. An attack that far into Federation territory without cloaking technology means those are some pretty bold Klingons. Hunters, even, going long distances to stalk their prey. Should be interesting to see them at their most ferocious against the Federation.

Terrible cover. Then again, SFX died after its second editor left.