Interview: Doug Jones On ‘Space Command,’ And Saru’s Legacy After ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Series Finale

Doug Jones and Saru from Star Trek: Discovery

This has been a big month for actor Doug Jones. Tomorrow, the series finale of Star Trek: Discovery arrives, coming just a few weeks after the long-awaited debut of Space Command: Redemption, a crowdfunded sci-fi project he shot a decade ago. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to Doug about playing the android Dor Neven on Space Command, as well as the final season for Saru and Discovery.

Starting off with Space Command, and for you going back a decade, at that time you were coming off the Hellboy movies and heading into the Falling Skies series and eventually Shape of Water, so what drew you to this somewhat offbeat crowdfunded sci-fi project with Marc Scott Zicree?

I met Marc at the Saturn Awards, back… a long time ago [laughs]. He complimented the long Victorian coat that I had on the red carpet. After the show, he came to me and presented me with Space Command and Dor Neven, who was an android, which I had never played before. It would be my real face with a metal helmet on and that interested me because anything where my face shows I’m more interested in, now. I read the script and it was like Shakespeare in space. It was really beautifully written with some poetic dialogue so I was interested indeed, so I just took a chance. I had been in things with big production value before like you were saying, but when this came I really liked how it was written and it had a cast of good actors I could play with, including Robert Picardo, who I was opposite for most of my scenes. So it was a kind of a win-win.

Playing an android, did you draw any inspiration from other characters, maybe even from Star Trek?

I tried not to, I didn’t want to be copying anybody else’s performance. Because he was such an advanced android, called a “synth,” short for synthetic, so I didn’t I didn’t want to go to Anthony Daniels route like C-3PO. He had more humanity to him and as the story of Space Command lays out, I am a synth, but I grow my own heart and soul and intention that were never programmed into me. So with that extra bit of humanity, I played him a bit more fluidly than a robotic machine.

You were paired up with Picardo; he, too, played an AI character that grew a heart. I don’t suppose that was an on-set discussion for you guys?

Oh, sure, yeah. Robert, we are such delightful friends now. And yes, that discussion does come up. As the hologram Doctor on Voyager, he became so human to all of us watching him, didn’t he? So yeah, we totally understand each other.

I know he is also a jokester, so I assume he helped keep it light on set.

Yeah, we were doing heavy material on camera, so off-camera we were laughing an awful lot. He is such a jokester and a Vaudevillian prankster. I loved working with him, that lightened the mood, totally. But we did an incredible amount of material in a very short amount of time. Everything you saw of me in Space Command: Redemption was shot in just three days, pages and pages of poetic dialog.

There is something very spiritual about Dor and there was a lot of discussion about faith with Picardo’s character. Was this exploration of faith, which I know is important to you, part of what drew you to Space Command?

Yeah, of course, always exploring what else is what else is out there besides this earthly experience. So the fact that Dor Neven is on a journey to find his humanity, what comes with that would be some spirituality, yes.

Doug Jones with Robert Picardo in Space Command

That’s a good place to switch to Discovery and season 5, which is asking big questions as well. Do you feel that this is a more spiritual season?  

Oh, sure. When you’re dealing with creation, and how did it happen, absolutely. [laughs] It’s a journey to find out where we come from and who we came from. I think that’s a question so many of us humans on Earth have when our TV is not on. What else is out there? This is quite a complex world that was created and so how did that all happen and come about? I find that season 5 is exploring that in a bit more detail.

And you feel that the season landed that plane in the end, without getting into spoilers for the finale?

I think so. The question of the riddle we are trying to solve this season, I believe we will end up with an answer. What we do with it, that’s the question you will have to watch and see.

Looking back at season 5 and the series as a whole, are you satisfied with how things ended for Saru or do you wish there was something else you had a chance to explore with the character?

No. In earlier seasons when I was asked what would I like to see for Saru, I always brought up romance. I always wanted to see a relationship for Saru. And then when T’Rina came along in season 3 I was like, “Okay, I hope that turns into something,”  because that works for me. And Tara Rosling, who plays T’Rina, she thought the same thing. So, in season 5 we are engaged to be married. I’m not going to give away the end of the series but yeah, that relationship is the most satisfying thing to me. When it comes to the science fiction part of it that is exciting and fun, but for me personally, romance will always win me over, every time.

This may be a hard question to answer, but what do you see as your and Saru’s legacy in the franchise?

Oh, golly. Yeah, it is difficult for me to over-talk myself. I approached Saru with all the humility in the world. I feel very, very fortunate to have been able to play him. The writers have been very wonderful to me and to the character. I was told at the beginning of the series, that I would be the Spock of this show. Not a Vulcan of course, but in that sort of position within the cast and the crew of the Discovery. I would be the funny-looking one on the bridge, but with more emotion than Spock, of course, but also a calming influence, very intelligent influence, a mentorship-type of influence with the younger Discovery crew members. So I think I would like to leave that legacy.

And what I’ve already seen in the fandom out there is a relatability to Saru, coming from his anxieties and fears and what he was living in as a Kelpien on his home planet Kaminar with the Ba’ul being a predator species that was controlling the Kelpiens. So the liberation of Saru that he realized when he was on the ship by himself away from the Ba’ul’s rule. He went through Vahar’ai and figured out, I am going to live past this with no fear now, that was just my adolescence. I think that was liberating for a lot of people who deal with anxiety and fear in their real lives. To watch Saru certainly has been for me, because I have lived through my own anxiety over the years. Fear of the unknown, I have dealt with it my whole life. Saru has gone through a lot of personal growth and change. And the world around him hasn’t changed so much, but his reaction to it has. I think that’s a lesson that we can all take away. And I hope that’s the legacy I want to leave, it’s that our attitude and our reaction to our surroundings, we have control of that. We don’t have control of what comes at us, but we do [in] how we respond to it.

When we spoke earlier this year at the Saturn Awards you said would be happy to appear in the new Starfleet Academy series. So Professor Saru? What would be his subject?

Well, remember the series started with Saru as a science officer on the starship Shenzhou. So I think it would be in the sciences somewhere. He speaks 94 languages, if I remember the number right. And there is also his problem-solving and diplomacy, getting through conflict with a diplomatic and peaceful resolve. So, science, language, problem-solving, and diplomacy. Those are his strong suits.

Doug Jones as Saru in “Lagrange Point”

More from Doug coming up

Check back later in the week here on TrekMovie and on the All Access Star Trek podcast on Friday, after the Discovery season finale. We have more from Doug Jones talking about the season 5 finale episode, and the additional “epilogue” shot later to turn it into a series finale.

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You can watch “Space Command: Redemption” now for free on the ad-supported streaming service Tubi. You can also rent or buy it at Amazon and Google Play. There is also a DVD and Blu-ray release with special features and director’s commentary available at the official site

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuted with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery also premiered on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season is available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuted on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.

Note: The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

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We were so lucky to have Doug Jones for these 5 seasons. He’s a terrific actor and seems like a good guy all around. Saru has been my favorite character in Discovery since day one.

I agree completely. He’s a fabulous actor and also seems like a good human being, which not all fabulous actors are. Star Trek is lucky to have such a person bring to life the best of the new Discovery characters.

Not necessarily my favourite character but I love Doug’s performance and he had a great chracter arc. I don’t think I have a favourite character. They were mostly great.. Jet Reno is my favourite side character. Too bad she wasn’t around that much.

the legacy is that the horrible writers ruined his character after he lost his ganglia. It was strongly implied (by Ba’ul and by Saru’s behavior in that episode) that he would be more volatile and aggressive in the long-term. Instead he was reduced to one of the blandest main characters in franchise history. And don’t get me started on Michael’s unearned arc that saw her jettison most of her Vulcaness in season 3. I love both actors, though.

I appreciated Michael changing after a year on her own/with Book. It was good to see her so liberated. I actually thought she was suddenly too buttoned up again the second she got back in that uniform.