Mild spoilers follow for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Episode 1.
“You don’t want me in command of that ship.”
That’s not a sentiment you hear too often on Star Trek, where the main characters are almost preternaturally given to taking charge. But as Strange New Worlds debuts, Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike just doesn’t know if he has it in him anymore.
His journey back to command begins in this first episode of the latest Star Trek series, which is a high-end and thrilling callback to the glory days of the Star Trek of yesteryear when adventure-of-the-week stories were the norm, aliens and their foibles were way more like humans than we cared to admit (foreheads notwithstanding), and a little good humor went a long way to cushioning the frankly lofty ideals of the crew of the USS Enterprise.
Trekkies of course know why Pike is down on his luck in this premiere. Spoilers for a half-century-old episode of TV, but back on The Original Series we learned that Pike was fated to be gravely injured in an accident at some future point, and thus forced to spend his remaining days as a broken man in a life-sustaining machine. When the character returned to the screen in 2019 for Star Trek: Discovery, Mount’s incarnation of Pike got an unfortunate glimpse of his most unfortunate future. Which is why he’s moping around in the mountains with his best pandemic look, beard and all, when we first meet him here.
Of course, it was that stint on Discovery — Mount and his Strange New Worlds co-stars Ethan Peck (Spock) and Rebecca Romijn (Number One) all appeared in Season 2 — that revitalized the Pike character (who, after all, had only made a handful of appearances in the decades prior). Fans loved him and his pals, and demanded the three get their own show, and these days fans often get what they want. (Of course, legend has it that fan letter-writing campaigns saved the original Star Trek from cancellation… for a time anyway. There is precedent here.)
And so we now have this show, which depicts the early adventures of the USS Enterprise before Captain Kirk takes over, but while a good portion of his eventual crew are already onboard. In addition to the core trio of Pike, Spock, and Number One, we also have Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura (who’s just a young cadet here), Jess Bush as Nurse Christine Chapel (apparently a civilian who has not yet joined Starfleet), and Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M'Benga (a character seen once or twice back on the original show). There are also new faces like Christina Chong as security chief La'an Noonien-Singh, Melissa Navia as helmsperson Erica Ortegas, and Bruce Horak as the blind alien chief engineer Hemmer.
The main thrust of the episode involves the crew of the Enterprise being recalled from leave early in order to go looking for one of their own — Romijn’s Number One was on a mission that went awry on a planet not unlike Earth of the 21st century. Parallel Earths was a concept Trek creator Gene Roddenberry used on TOS, and this episode leans into that idea (without just out-and-out going “Roman Earth” or “Nazi Earth” like the old show tended to). The planet that Pike and company find, and the situation they find themselves in the middle of there, feel like classic Trek, with a good dose of cautionary storytelling thrown in along the way.
Inevitably, some fans may bristle at Strange New Worlds’ brushes with continuity. For example, Spock’s time on Vulcan with a certain character here seemingly collides with the events of one of the most famous Original Series episodes. And yet, presumably it can be weaved into the fabric of that earlier episode without actually breaking canon. Whether or not the tightrope act regarding this particular subplot is worth the effort remains to be seen.
The Enterprise could seemingly be powered by Anson Mount’s charisma alone.
Speaking of which, stories like Spock’s here, or Pike’s struggles with the foreknowledge of his future, will seemingly continue throughout the show. (The first five episodes have been made available to press as of this writing.) So whereas the Discoveries and Picards of the world are focused on season-long Big Bad main arcs, Strange New Worlds is focusing on new stories each week, but also telling its characters’ stories over the long haul. Those are the season-long arcs, and man, does it really work in the first five.
Mount and Peck certainly have some good stuff to chew on in this premiere episode (the Enterprise could seemingly be powered by Mount’s charisma alone, and Peck’s unique take on a Spock who is 10 years out from being Spock is addictive). But franchise newcomer Christina Chong’s La'an Noonien-Singh also gets to shine in the debut. Let’s face it: The idea behind the character sounded pretty dumb when she was announced. A descendant of Khan Noonien-Singh, as in The Wrath of Khan, working on the Enterprise? But Chong is great here, hinting at her genetically tangled past and also showing the guys a thing or two when they’re planet-side on their away mission.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Images
But as with the Spock plot this week, and perhaps with any franchise that has been running since Lyndon B. Johnson was president, maybe we just need to make a choice as fans: Do you go with the new storytelling or instead focus on how things connect or don’t, as the case may be, to the stories told decades ago? In the case of Strange New Worlds, I recommend the former, because if the first five episodes are any indication, this is just really good Star Trek.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- “Spock… are you naked?”
- How perfect is it that Pike has a habit of watching The Day the Earth Stood Still, the classic sci-fi film about humanity’s first contact with alien life? That the good captain apparently has an OLED TV in the future, rather than some fancy holo-projector or the like, we’ll chalk up to his horse-riding, mountain-cabin livin’ lifestyle.
- The admiral played by Adrian Holmes who sends Pike to look for Number One is Robert April, former captain of the Enterprise who Pike served under as his Number One (as confirmed in Discovery).
- Lots of Easter eggs abound. First contact with the Gorn? Shuttlecraft Stamets? Transporter Chief Kyle? Others that are too spoilery to discuss here?!
- So Nurse Chapel was at the forefront of the old “change your DNA so you look like an alien” tech, eh? It never really got used on the old show much, but TNG loved that stuff.
- Man, this Enterprise is roomy!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ premiere takes a classic approach to the franchise, not just in terms of its setting or characters, but also in its storytelling. Standalone tales are the mission statement, presumably on strange new worlds where, you know, new life and new civilizations can be found. But the characters’ ongoing arcs will be the thread that holds the season together, with the already established (and terrific) Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn leading a group of promising new faces. Funny, inspiring, and kind of amazing, Strange New Worlds is, so far, the best new Trek in years.