Strange New Worlds‘ “Strange New Worlds” in Review
No, that’s not a typo or cut-and-paste error; the premiere episode of the latest Star Trek series shares its title with the series.
After a teaser narrating the expectations of first contact with aliens, we realise the people detecting a ship are the aliens, and there is a Federation ship in the skies… We are then reintroduced to Christopher Pike, who is now bearded and living in snowy Bear Creek, Montana.
This opening episode, like the premieres of all the other shows in the franchise, has to straddle the two requirements of following on from where any returning characters left off, enough to be accessible for those who did and did not see the previous stuff, and of creating new characters and setups that fit. With this particular show’s first episode, however, the pressures for both are greater because they have to fit in with multiple levels to cover, since not only were these iterations of Pike, Number One, and Spock all seen in Discovery Season 2, but they were all seen in TOS as well, and there will be other characters introduced who all need to feel part of the same show and the same crew. It’s a tricky balancing act.
Thankfully, this premiere manages to pull it off, albeit at a certain expense of story quality – as the story isn’t the focus here, but crewing the ship and show is. So, here a semi-retired Captain Pike is ordered back into the Enterprise’s centre seat by Admiral Robert April (in his first live-action appearance) to search for Number One, who has gone missing.
“Space, the final frontier…” It has been far, far too long since a brand new Trek episode started with those words beginning that famous monologue – albeit here in the slightly modernised form of “Where no-one has gone before,” as per TNG, rather than the original’s “no man.” We have the opening narration, the theme by Jeff Russo echoing the original, an NCC-1701 USS Enterprise… We’re only (still, and irritatingly) missing on-screen episode titles for the full effect.
As with their appearances in Discovery, Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn continue to suit their respective roles of Pike and Una, and while Ethan Peck is no Nimoy, he makes a better Spock than Quinto did. After the opening titles sequence, we’re also introduced to T’Pring, who gets engaged to Spock, placing this seven years before “Amok Time”.
Pike is shuttled to the Enterprise. The ship needs a crew, however, and – after Pike is beamed aboard the vessel by Lieutenant Kyle (who is now Asian and seems to be the whiz-kid of the crew) – he and Spock are soon joined by most of the other members of the show’s main cast. On the bridge, Pike meets Security Chief and Acting First Officer La’an Noonien-Singh(!), pilot Lieutenant Ortegas, and Communications Officer Cadet Uhura. The ship launches from spacedock, embarking on its mission to rescue Una, although Pike is still severely troubled by the foreknowledge of his future accident.
It turns out Una has gone missing on a pre-warp modern-day-like planet which is on the verge of war and has reverse-engineered a warp signature to use as a bomb…
On a whistle-stop tour of various departments and people – and getting the idea that they all have personal issues and background secrets that will form this series’ arcs – Pike, Spock, and La’an visit sickbay. There, they are individually greeted by Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel, both of whom are of course familiar to fans of TOS. Babs Olusanmokun is immediately immensely likeable as M’Benga, and Jess Bush as Chapel is probably the most different from all the TOS incarnations in the show, by way of having snark, smarts, and a personality.
Pike, Spock, and La’an are disguised as the planet’s humanoid inhabitants by means of Chapel’s DNA manipulation. Once they are beamed by Lieutenant Kyle down to the planet’s surface, a mix of tension and Spock-related comedy ensues. However, the biggest obstacle is when Spock’s disguise wears off and gets fixed through DNA transporter magic. That’s probably the weakest point of the entire episode, but it’s just one moment, and the pace is carried on despite this being basically a Prime Directive episode as well as a first contact episode. That still feels good, as meeting new life is what the franchise started off as being about.
The particular situation Number One is put into is a result of Discovery’s second season finale. Pike’s eventual judgement over how the Prime Directive applies here is evocative of what James T. Kirk would have done, and gives us the series’ – and the Federation’s – mission statement. It’s not innovative – not least because it has fifty-six years of tropes to back it up – but, damn, does it feel like proper Star Trek! What’s more, the Gorn are mentioned, as are the Eugenics War and World War III.
During a short stay at Starbase 1 (in orbit of Jupiter), Lieutenant Samuel Kirk (brother of James) and Aenar Chief Engineer Hemmer join the crew before the Enterprise boldly goes back out in search of new life and new civilisations.
In short, this is a good premiere. Adrian Holmes is great as Admiral Robert April, whereas Christina Chong is a little less dimensional so far, as La’an, while Melissa Navia barely gets a line yet as Lieutenant Ortegas, and poor Bruce Horak as Hemmer has none. Despite these faults, it’s s the best pilot episode since Voyager‘s “Caretaker”, and it should settle everyone in nicely for a great new series.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.