Warp Factor Trek

The Star Trek Fan Website

In a few days, Paramount+ will debut the latest Star Trek TV series – Strange New Worlds. Following their appearance in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, these are the voyages of Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One. Will the upcoming show essentially be Discovery Season 2.5? Is Paramount hoping for it to be a prequel? Will it be The Original Series Season 0.5? Let’s consider.

Re-envisioning the Future

Many times, the makers of Star Trek have spoken about trying to recapture the success of The Original Series. Any franchise or series that runs long enough must expand and find new ground and new stories, let alone new worlds.

Surely you can’t simultaneously go backwards, doing things as they were done in the 1960s, while moving with the times in terms of production values. Can you?! It’s tempting to try to capture that iconic primary-coloured setup that so many people remember, while also achieving visual artistry that would have been impossible, or at least prohibitively expensive, for those past creatives.

TOS main characters Uhura and Spock beam up for Strange New Worlds (Paramount)

So, is this an attempt to do “TOS, if it was being made now”? Honestly, it probably is, and it’s not the first such attempt. Star Trek: Enterprise was clearly that, and – by setting its first couple of seasons before TOS – Discovery arguably was too. It’s a risky endeavour, as Enterprise found out, ending as the first Star Trek series of the Berman era to not reach a seventh season.

Backtracking Technology

One of the obvious reasons for any modern attempt to recapture the magic of The Original Series is a visible one. Sets and effects have progressed far beyond what they were in the 1960s. Real-life technology has also advanced beyond what’s depicted in The Original Series. It’s inevitable that any show set in our future will have to take all that into account.

A console in the Enterprise sickbay from Strange New Worlds (Paramount)

Like it or not, the days of large flick-switches and suchlike are gone. Most of the technology that Star Trek established – with the obvious exceptions of warp drive and transporters – has been invented and, in some cases, superseded.

Communicators? Flip-top mobile phones. PADDs with styluses, in place of clipboards and pens? Apple iPads and other tablets, which have already passed the related technology from TNG, Voyager, etc. Even replicators have a 21st century equivalent, in the form of 3D printers.

Viewer Resistance

Una and Lieutenant Ortegas, endeavouring to navigate through potential viewer criticism (Paramount)

The notion of “TOS but made today,” though tempting, comes with an inevitable threat of resistance from viewers who grew up on The Original Series or, by extension, the TOS movies. Trying to recapture the magic of The Original Series – or even TNG – is by nature something that must be of the time in which it is made, as those originals were. Though it may sound counter-intuitive, a successful modern TOS needs to accept that there is decades’ worth of existing lore, and then just do its own thing anyway, with new stories.

There are two forms of resistance to any such attempt. One is the technological advancements beyond the previous future vision. The other is that some viewers are so invested in the original look, sound, and cast, that they can’t open their minds to new versions. This is quite a recent phenomenon, dating to the 1950s onward, with the advent of TV. Theatre-goers of Shakespeare’s day or the 19th century would never have imagined a definitive version of a character or production.

Spock and Pike, demonstrating the show’s new aesthetic (Paramount)

Discovery proved that it’s inevitable for a percentage of viewers to complain about the modern look of things. With Strange New Worlds, we can certainly expect this on a level matching the criticism about Discovery’s redesigned Klingons. Discovery spawned online complaints from audiences who don’t seem to get Star Trek’s mandate – namely, about diversity of characters – and we can definitely expect that will continue too.

A far larger percentage of the audience would have rejected any attempt to make the show’s appearance identical to the period depicted in TOS. After all, why would technology of the 23rd century be behind the technology of the 21st?

Succeeding Discovery

Starships Discovery and Enterprise (Paramount)

Strange New Worlds is a visual descendant of Discovery. This is clear from the graphics displayed on the main viewer; the angles and shapes of the corridors and room furnishings; the quality of light both aboard ship and in space; the colour palette; the props style; the costume materials… But it’s more than just that.

In Strange New Worlds, the characterizations of Captain Pike, Number One and Spock proceed from their Discovery Season 2 appearances. They are creations of Discovery’s Season 2 writers’ room. This isn’t a bad thing, as these creations are very much in the mould of The Original Series, but with modern dramatic sensibilities. They are, in fact, TOS characters reimagined for today.

Strange New Worlds‘ Pike, in deep contemplation (Paramount)

Think about Pike, for example. The Strange New Worlds version isn’t the Christopher Pike of “The Cage”, or the strict teacher/mentor figure from the JJ-verse movies. He’s a Christopher Pike who knows what fate awaits him, thanks to the time crystals on Boreth in Discovery’s second season. Yet he’s still the epitome of a TOS/Roddenberry Starfleet captain.

Character Play

The producers have stated that arcs will only be with individual characters, and all the episodes will be individual stories. This is a substantial change from Discovery, and a challenge that failed in Enterprise. That was hamstrung by the post-Voyager determination to avoid ongoing character development. Today’s writers tend to underestimate that character expansion needs to rank above a “Big Bad” story arc.

The show’s diverse variety of main characters (Paramount)

A whole new series brings a requirement for more than merely three familiar characters. With this third iteration of TOS, after the 1960s version and the JJ-verse reboot movies, it should be easier to accept that (some of) these characters are the same ones we saw in TOS and afterwards. Discovery established this well, with “previously on Star Trek” clips from “The Cage”, which included Jeffrey Hunter and Leonard Nimoy. It’s likely that some viewers will have new favourite versions of the familiar characters.

We’re going to be presented with a mix of reimagined characters whom we know from TOS, and brand new ones. While meeting new characters like Chief Engineer Hemmer and Lieutenant Ortegas, we will also see the early adventures of Nurse Chapel, Cadet Uhura, and Dr. M’Benga. If Strange New Worlds can successfully reimagine those legacy characters, then we are all in for a treat.

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