Paramount+’s latest addition to the Star Trek universe delivers a thoughtful and thrilling sci-fi adventure.
Note: Paramount+ made the first episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds available for review.
In 2005, a rapidly dwindling fanbase said their goodbyes to the Star Trek programming that ran for the better part of two decades, beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation and continuing through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and finally, Star Trek: Enterprise. What understandably started with a general level of excitement from Star Trek fans in 1987 ended with apathy and disinterest, a product of too much Trek (in hindsight, more perception than reality), an emphasis on quality over quantity (hundreds of hours of mediocre storytelling offset increasingly rare brilliance), and literal and figurative exhaustion due to a shortage of new ideas and endless repetition of old ones. At the time, the cancellation of Enterprise and the end of a nearly twenty-year run seemed like not just a good decision, but a necessary one for fans and the keepers of the franchise alike.
Nostalgia, though, can be a funny thing. Even a deeply flawed series like Star Trek: Enterprise, once the object of ridicule and even contempt among fans, becomes ripe for reevaluation and, in some cases, finds both value and entertainment. Still, though, fans had to wait until a pre-merger CBS, eager to launch a streaming service of its own, turned to one of its most potentially lucrative intellectual properties in its portfolio, initially green-lighting Star Trek: Discovery, a short-form serialization, before deciding to build on that success in quick succession with Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, and now coming full circle to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Created as both a spin-off of Discovery and a prequel of sorts to the original series (TOS), Strange New Worlds centers on the pre-Kirk crew of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise (1701), including Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), and Pike’s second-in-command, Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck). Pike, Chin-Riley, and Spock mirror TOS’ “holy trinity” of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, while also bringing fresh, new iterations of several TOS characters, specifically Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush). The series also introduces several new characters, including La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), chief pilot Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), and Hemmer (Bruce Horak), the engineering chief and a sightless member of an Andorian subspecies first introduced on Star Trek: Enterprise.
The mix of legacy characters in new skins and new characters turned out to be a brilliant choice by Strange New Worlds’ brain trust and co-creators, Akiva Goldman, Alex Kurtzman, and Jenny Lumet. After introducing “new” incarnations of Pike, Spock, and Number One on Discovery, spinning them off into their own standalone show may not have required a lot of thinking or consideration, but mapping out their adventures, their individual arcs, and the stories they’d find themselves in week after week certainly did. Key to bringing those elements together into a coherent, compelling premise was another creative decision—embracing old-school episodic storytelling and minimizing the season-long serialization that tends to alienate casual Star Trek fans the longer a series runs.
The first five episodes perfectly balance the reintroduction of Pike, Spock, and Number One with new character like Uhura, La’an, Ortegas, and Hemmer. Strange New Worlds combines not entirely unwelcome crisis-of-the-week plotting with character spotlights. The first episode, appropriately titled “Strange New Worlds,” focuses initially on Captain Pike as he grapples with the (fore-) knowledge of the life-threatening injuries he’ll suffer in an act of self-sacrifice a decade later (“The Cage”). Burdened by his awareness of the future that awaits him, Pike only stirs from his Montana retreat when he learns that a close and personal friend (and fellow officer) has found themselves in a predicament only Pike and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise can resolve.
Even as Pike seeks a way to reconcile himself to his future, choosing action over inaction, Strange New Worlds elevates Uhura to the foreground in “Children of the Comet.” New to Starfleet, excitable, and unsure of herself, Uhura has to push aside her self doubts to find a solution to the crisis-of-the-week. The third episode, “Ghosts of Illyria,” switches the focus again, revealing one or two of Number One’s closely held secrets as she navigates an increasingly dire situation aboard the Enterprise while Pike and Spock attempt to survive a hazardous storm on an abandoned alien colony. La’an’s tragic backstory moves into the foreground in “Memento Mori,” an episode at least partly inspired by TOS’ “Balance of Terror,” before concluding with “Spock Amok,” a lightly comic, Spock-centric episode that helps to offset the previous episodes’ heavier, darker elements. The archaic word “hi-jinks” gets several call-outs, each one more humorous than the last.
Based on the uniformly strong, five-episode sample provided by Paramount+, the episodic future of Strange New Worlds looks incredibly bright. With the second season already well into production and a premiere set for early next year, Star Trek fans can look forward to boldly going back to the future.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream via Paramount+ in the United States and North America.