Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a joyous, effervescent series, starring a mix of new and old crew members (though even the old are new) on one of television’s oldest starships. It returns live-action Trek to an adventure-of-the week format after the more serialized Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. But like Discovery, it does a fantastic job reinventing Star Trek’s modern myth for today’s audience. Combining the adventurous spirit of Those Old Scientists, emotionally nuanced storytelling and up-to-date perspectives on race, gender and sexuality, the result is a truly delightful experience.
The Show (Light Spoilers Only)
At first glance, it’s easy to assume Strange New Worlds is simply a fan-service throwback to Star Trek’s original series of the 1960s (TOS). The show picks up the original Captain and first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Christopher Pike (here played by a magnetic, profoundly caring Anson Mount) and the mysterious Number One (played here by a formidable and wry Rebecca Romijn), as well as science officer Spock (portrayed by a thoughtful, layered Ethan Peck). These three first appeared in those roles in Star Trek: Discovery’s excellent second season and are joined in their new series by three more returning characters from later in TOS: Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), whom we meet as a self-assured yet searching cadet on her first tour of duty; nurse Christine Chapel, played by Jess Bush, who pulls off an incredible balance between badass and vulnerability; and Babs Olusanmokun as the weary yet warm Dr. M’Benga.
But here’s the thing: None of these characters is a simple cut-and-paste from the 1960s.
The Captain Christopher Pike of “The Cage,” the original pilot episode of TOS, was a gruff, sexist fellow who lounged about his quarters like a woman in a 19th-century play on her fainting couch, fantasizing to the ship’s doctor about quitting the tough responsibilities of starship captaining and cracking jokes (?) about trafficking in green alien women. Mount’s Pike is basically the platonic ideal of management: listening to his people, cooking for them, encouraging them to be their best selves but giving them every opportunity the job allows to make their own choices.
Spock still behaves like the character played by Leonard Nimoy (or Zachary Quinto if you’re nasty), but a running subplot radically reimagines his relationship with T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), a character previously seen in just one episode of TOS. In that series, the characters were betrothed as children per the custom of their planet, Vulcan, and there was nothing to suggest Spock and T’Pring had any real interaction or connection in the intervening years. Here, canon be damned, Strange New Worlds presents them as an actual couple navigating the complexities of a long-distance relationship, and it works marvelously. Peck and Sandhu add magnificent layers to these established characters under the famous Vulcan cloak of restrained emotion and logic. One of the first things we see in Strange New Worlds’ first episode is a dinner date and the night after, and the show pulls off the amazingly difficult feat of making these scenes playful, intimate and even steamy while still believably Vulcan. Seriously, you will not believe how sexy this show makes Vulcans and not in the way that Vulcans have always been obviously sexy, as Isaac Asimov famously pointed out back in 1967.
Down the line, every returning character feels fresh. They are not who they were back then. They are who we need them to be today, and their lives are further enriched by their interactions with the three new series-regular characters. Chief Engineer Hemmer is a blind Aenar, a subspecies of the Andorians from TOS, portrayed by visually impaired actor Bruce Horak with a biting wit matched only by his pacifist heart. Security chief La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) is a descendent of one of Trek’s most infamous villains, Khan Noonien Singh (yes, that KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!). While that familial connection is a great story hook, her arc in this first season focuses instead on a powerful portrayal of a survivor living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Last and anything but least is snarky pilot Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia, a Robin Hood of scene-stealing). Only it turns out Ortegas may not be a new character after all, just a never-before-seen character, as recent news suggests creator Gene Roddenberry’s original character outline for a “Jose Ortegas” never made it to the original pilot of TOS.
Strange New Worlds takes the same story-over-canon approach to recurring foes, breaking and remaking the Gorn, one of Trek’s most wonderful man-in-a-rubber-suit monsters. A 1960s costuming department could only dream of using such modern puppetry and CGI toward the series’ visual achievements. But moreover, the Gorn’s previous introduction found the Enterprise crew pausing to consider an enemy’s reason for a seemingly unprovoked, brutal attack. Strange New Worlds presents the Gorn as an implacable, monstrous evil. Star Trek has always examined the issues and conflicts of our current world through a fantasy of the future, and the sad truth is that some attackers cannot be reasoned with. Sometimes, you have to punch fascists.
Despite what some folks on the internet may say, Strange New Worlds doesn’t succeed by bringing back classic Trek. It succeeds because it acknowledges we don’t write human (or alien) beings the same way today as we did in the 1960s or even the 1990s. It embraces that and delivers versions of these beloved characters, the monsters they face and the Enterprise they guide that we can love even more today.
As with every recent Trek home release, the first season of Strange New Worlds includes a delightful gag reel, a commentary track for the premiere episode and deleted scenes to be found in the individual episode menu on each disc. Don’t miss a particularly extensive set of deleted / alternate scenes for “All Those Who Wander,” the penultimate episode.
There are also three behind-the-scenes features:
Pike’s Peek: A 17-minute compilation of Mount’s video diaries, starting in precautionary quarantine — with a guest appearance by his doggos! — and continuing through the filming of the first season.
World Building: An 11-minute feature on the augmented reality wall technology used to create alien-world visual effects on set in real time. Gotta say: The wall is very cool, but given the number of home releases with a dedicated featurette on this, we’re starting to wonder if production companies get a discount on the tech if they agree to do a little advertising for it. That said, having seen a lot of these, this one shows some angles previous ones have not and discusses the limitations in a little more detail, giving an even better sense of how the technology works.
Exploring New Worlds: A 53-minute deep dive into the making of the show, from its conception and the appearances of Pike, Spock and Number One on Discovery through each episode of this season. Some great insights and personal history from the showrunners, writers and actors, including hints of character backstory that aren’t obvious in the text.
Authors’ Bio: Rachael and John Derrick both grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation but have very different opinions on Data. Under the name John Clifford, John wrote and directed a one-act play, The Dream in Question, as well as several short plays for sci-fi conventions. He grew a Riker beard during lockdown and Rachael insisted he keep it. Rachael worked in journalism and international education before becoming a therapist, a choice that had almost nothing to do with her infatuation with Deanna Troi. They live with their son and two cats in Indianapolis. Their first novel, Bounceback, about an adult woman reliving her teenage life with brand new superpowers, is available now on Amazon.