Star Trek returns to episodic television, with an established crew and a contemporary sensibility. Is it the breakthrough for which Trekkers have been waiting?
Title: “Strange New Worlds”
Cast and Crew
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet
Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike
Rebecca Romijn as Commander Una Chin-Riley aka “Number One”
Ethan Peck as Lt. Spock
Melissa Navia as Lt. Erica Ortegas
Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga
Christina Chong as La’an Noonien-Singh
Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Nyota Uhura
Rong Fu as Lt. Jenna Mitchell
Jess Bush as Christine Chapel
Bruce Horak as Hemmer
Peter Bou-Ghannam as Palion Leader
Joseph Daly as Eldreth Aide #1
André Dae Kim as Chief Kyle
Joel Lacoursiere as Guard
Gia Sandhu as T’Pring
Melanie Scrofano as Batel
Adrian Holmes as Admiral Robert April
Dan Jeannotte as Lt. Kirk but not THAT Lt. Kirk
After the events of Discovery‘s second season, Pike returns to the helm of the Enterprise to locate Number One, who has disappeared while exploring an earth-like planet whose inhabitants might be ready for first contact.
Some of the best series in recent TV have featured serialized, arc-heavy storytelling. In the spacefaring genre, The Expanse boldly embraced the form and created a space series with no equal. But his kind of serial storytelling has never really suited Trek, and Starfleet’s season-long arcs tend to meander and drag. This episode suffered a bit from those elements (they’re setting up character arcs, clearly), but the return to episode-a-week feels right for Star Trek, and they’ve assembled an extraordinary group of actors who already demonstrate the chemistry necessary to make this project work.
For a series that wants to recapture the essence of classic Trek, they spent an awful lot of time frontloading character backstory that needn’t have all occurred in this episode. And while Trek has always addressed contemporary social issues, they didn’t require quite so large a sledgehammer to make their point in this episode– especially given that Picard has devoted bits of its season to the same point.
I understand that the characters will be reinterpreted by the new actors and changes will be made to reflect current sensibilities. These adjustments generally work. Why, however, is Jess Bush’s character called “Christine Chapel”? She’s a fun character, but she neither looks nor acts remotely like the one we will meet in TOS.
Originality: 1/6 The U.S.S. Enterprise is a starship in a fairly utopian future. The crew explores strange new worlds and seeks out new life and new civilizations each week. Some of the episodes will explore scientific concepts while many others will comment on contemporary issues.
Yeah… Expect the continuity mark to drag the overall score down a bit most weeks.
Acting: 6/6 Anson Mount gives an extraordinary performance as Christopher Pike, enough like Jeffrey Hunter to plausibly be the same character but with more than enough of his own spin to make the this captain compelling and surprising. He and “Number One” are separated for most of this episode, but we’ve already seen in Discovery‘s second season just how convincingly they play off each other. The other performers introduce a range of characters who will play their parts throughout the series.
We didn’t particularly need to see T’Pring in this episode, but Canadian actress Gia Sandhu captures Arlene Martel’s original with unsettling accuracy.
Story: 4/6 The story features a little too much frontloading, tied itself a little too closely to events depicted elsewhere, and features a few too many excesses, but I’m hopeful about the direction this Trek is taking.
Production: 6/6 They do an excellent job maintaining the basic look of old Trek while updating the design with a contemporary visual punch. The planet was a little underwhelming, but not-so-strange new worlds and forehead aliens are expected tropes in Trek.
Much of the filming takes place in Mississauga, Ontario, which amounts to a Canadian joke. More than a few people have commented on the municipality’s resemblance to the set of an SF series.
Effects: 6/6 The number of effects amount to visual swagger. I’ll be happy with this cast and some strong stories. They don’t need to dazzle me with flash every fifteen seconds.
Emotional Response: 5/6 I enjoyed this episode. Yes, the show’s broader reality varies from what we saw in classic Trek. I do not mean the stylistic adjustments for a twenty-first century audience. Rather, the tech that we see and the degree to which the Federation has progressed feel a little too sophisticated. However, Strange New Worlds has to reflect decades of continuity and changed premises. Overall, I remain optimistic.
This version of Trek appears as though it will.
Overall: 5/6 It’s not perfect, but the show never was. This is Star Trek, and the Trekkiest we’ve seen in some time.
Gratuitous Comment: Some people might find the Vulcan sex-display gratuitous. They would be right. However, I found it preferable to Enterprise‘s decon gel scene or Star Trek Into Darkness‘s underwear shot.
In total, “Strange New Worlds” receives 33/42