It may be titled Strange New Worlds but there’s something refreshingly familiar about the 11th TV series to bear the Star Trek name. While the four previous shows in the current generation have each set out to take the franchise in new directions, this debut episode suggests the latest iteration is getting back to the mission statement Gene Roddenberry laid out in the 1960s: the USS Enterprise on a long-term mission to explore the cosmos. In other words, the personnel and hardware may have changed, but this is the most Star Trek the venerable old franchise has felt in decades.
This pilot episode – also, confusingly, titled ‘Strange New Worlds’ – picks up in the wake of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, where the Disco crew travelled forward to the 32nd century to save the universe from megalomaniac AI CONTROL. While those particular exploits remain classified to most of Starfleet, the people left behind still bear the scars: Spock (Ethan Peck) is grieving the loss of his sister, Michael Burnham, while Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) has gone off the grid in Montana as he struggles to come to terms with a premonition of his horrible disfigurement and incapacitation in a radiation leak. It’s not long before they’re back in action, however, after an unusual First Contact scenario involving first officer Una/Number One summons them back to the Enterprise bridge...
If you’re streaming a Star Trek show on Paramount Plus, chances are it’s not your first trip around the Alpha Quadrant, and Strange New Worlds goes heavy on the nostalgia. As in JJ Abrams’ alternative universe Star Trek movies, the primary-coloured uniforms are a clever update of Kirk and Spock’s classic outfits, while original series prop and set designs get a loving 21st century makeover. The opening credits, meanwhile, are effectively a love letter to the Enterprise – one of the screen’s most elegant spaceships – and they’re beautifully soundtracked by a Jeff Russo’s clever riff on Alexander Courage’s classic original theme. There are also numerous subtler nods to past Treks, from mentions of original series aliens the Gorn, to a prominent role for Pike’s in-canon predecessor in the Enterprise hotseat.
Crucially, Strange New Worlds also remembers that the original series’ popularity owed as much to the chemistry between Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew as it did to its frequently groundbreaking sci-fi. This new cohort is a promising bunch, and they instantly establish the sort of easy chemistry you’d expect in a group of highly trained co-workers – if the Enterprise was an office, it’s somewhere you’d want to work.
Of the new faces, Christina Chong’s La’an Noonien-Singh is the standout, a coldly efficient newcomer to the Enterprise unafraid to act first, ask questions later. She also gets a beginnings of a backstory which – as has been confirmed in interviews – will ultimately link her to her famous namesake, Khan.
Meanwhile, medics M’Benga and Chapel (Babs Olusanmokun and Jess Bush) – both rebooted from the original series – do enough to suggest Sickbay will be a fun place to hang out, Lt Ortegas (Melissa Navia) brings wisecracking heart to the helm, and the rebooted Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is full of wide-eyed wonder as the Enterprise’s latest cadet prodigy.
But, as you’d expect, it’s the characters previously established in Discovery who take centre stage – with possible the exception of Rebecca Romijn, who’s more McGuffin than fully fledged character first time out. Spock’s entrance, in particular, holds massive relevance for a classic original series episode – we won’t say which one – while Pike gets to unpick the ramifications of that vision of his horrible accident
Anson Mount had already done enough in his season on Discovery to establish his Pike as one of Star Trek’s great captains, his charismatic portrayal a total reinvention of the wooden original model played by Jeffrey Hunter in Trek pilot episode ‘The Cage’. Here he expertly treads a fine line between the introspection and second-guessing that would inevitably come if you knew exactly how and when you’re going to die, and being a first-rate Starfleet captain. While not quite as gung-ho as his successor on the Enterprise, Captain James T Kirk, is – often unfairly – perceived to be, he’s also prepared to bend steadfast Federation rules to get the best results.
While the episode’s plot explores the sort of standalone first contact/prime directive themes The Next Generation could do in its sleep, it does have some fun subverting the expectations that come from Starfleet’s role as galactic peacekeepers. If some of the allegory is a little too on the nose at times – the fact Pike’s watching classic sci-fi movie The Day the Earth Stood Still at the beginning of the episode is no coincidence – current world events make its anti-war sentiments feel even more relevant than they would have when it was written.
Trek purists will undoubtedly quibble the fact that some of the gadgetry is inconsistent with the pre-original series setting, the crew frequently making use of tech that, in the Star Trek timeline, shouldn’t become commonplace until The Next Generation era. But otherwise this is an extremely promising start for the latest branch of the ever-expanding Trek universe. Strange New Worlds may be boldly going where its predecessors have gone before, but it’s doing so in style.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is out now in the US. A UK airdate is TBC. For more, check out our guide to the Star Trek timeline.