With Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard getting criticized by some fans for not feeling true to the spirit of the original Star Trek, there’s been a lot of anticipation for the franchise’s latest offering, Strange New Worlds. With a solid link to Discovery, it seems possible that the new show may be one that can finally bring new and old fans together. But does it succeed?
The show immediately gives off retro vibes, showing an alien first contact followed by a snippet from 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still; a rough-looking Captain Pike (Anson Mount) declares it a “classic.” There are Original Series communicators and uniforms, but this is no nostalgia trip. The scale of the show is clearly far beyond TOS and perhaps even the movie sequels, with shots of Pike riding through the Montana wilderness driving home that this show is its own beast. His journey here seems symbolic of the five-year mission to come.
Pike’s ride is interrupted by the arrival of Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes), whose casting has already caused some controversy amongst the usual suspects. April tasks Pike with finding the missing USS Archer and recovering Number One, played by Rebecca Romijn. The plot is simple and all that’s needed for this introductory episode. These opening minutes give the cop back his badge, so to speak, and lead into the meat of the episode.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the theme song. On the first play, it comes across as awful. It’s not Enterprise bad, but it sounds like two competing themes have been mashed clumsily together. However, it also grows of you with each successive listen. While it may not reach the heights of the classic 1990s themes, it’ll still never not be special to hear, “Space, the final frontier….”
Back to the action, we also catch up with Spock (Ethan Pick), who finds himself newly engaged. Vulcan looks terrific, with the candlelight and flames contrasting nicely with what we saw a few minutes earlier in Montana. It’s also interesting that Spock looks to be in a more passionate and romantic relationship than Pike is in.
The episode does well to dispense with the crew roundup quickly, putting events of Discovery to bed with a few lines and getting Pike and Spock onto the Enterprise. More info-dumps reveal that Kirk is involved with the series (a joke that gets paid off at the end), and we’re introduced to Christina Chong as La’an Noonien-Singh. With the Eugenics War also being referenced in the Picard season 2 finale, this storyline has returned to Star Trek in a big way.
After another quick introduction for our new Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), the USS Enterprise is out of space dock with a third of the episode gone.
“The future’s what we make it”
Pike flashes back/forward to the knowledge of his own death, which will undoubtedly be a big deal if they reach that point. How well Strange New Worlds will handle an individual knowing his terrible fate remains to be seen.
The episode’s structure is classic Star Trek, with a problem arising, a solution suggested, and an eventual away mission to a planet. The premiere episode, at least, lives up to its billing as a return to the traditional style of the franchise. Here, the planet is occupied by two warring factions that could have featured on any TOS or TNG episode. It’s also good to see the return of lighter moments, with Spock’s quip about his pants, the chase through the Enterprise, and Samuel Kirk.
We also get a return of the Captain Kirk ethos. Pike is willing to bend the rules and, at one point, openly defies Starfleet’s protocols to do what’s right. While many fans are perturbed to know the actual Kirk (not Samuel) will be appearing in Strange New Worlds, it could be interesting to see Pike take the young Kirk on as a kind of student, teaching him many of the traits he becomes famous for.
Pike’s big speech toward the end of the episode is genuinely moving and harkens back to the original utopian ideals of Star Trek. In the 1960s, with the world on the brink of nuclear conflict, Gene Roddenberry felt it essential to show that another future might be possible, a future based on international cooperation and tolerance. This scene makes the episode; it’s a message of hope just as our planet again needs a more positive vision of the future.
Strange New Worlds succeeds in presenting classic Star Trek storytelling for a modern audience. However, it’s not The Original Series revived, nor should it be. Telling a simple story, “Strange New Worlds” gets quickly to the point, introduces us to the concepts and arcs we need to know, and never bogs us down with too many references to Discovery. It’s distinctly Star Trek for modern television, balancing serious emotional drama with lighter moments, all while looking gorgeous.
Finally, Star Trek feels like an adventure to the stars again. Hit it!