Warning: This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1, episode 9 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
The unprecedented success of Star Wars led to an explosion of sci-fi movies, as Hollywood studios moved to capture their own piece of the zeitgeist. Among the highest profile were Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but aside from the outer space settings, their 1979 release dates and the fact both spawned now-legendary sequels, they couldn’t have been more different.
Where Ridley Scott’s horror classic was built around a dingy, lived-in future and visceral scares, its more idealistic Trek counterpart revelled in long, sweeping shots of starships, and 2001: A Space Odyssey-style existentialism. And although Alien was a genre-defining smash, the first Trek movie was a box-office disappointment, cruelly derided as "The Motion-less Picture" by some critics.
Now, some 43 years later, the two franchises have collided. 'All Those Who Wander' is an unashamed – but entertaining – mash-up of Star Trek and Alien. There’s even some bonus Predator action thrown in for good measure.
The Enterprise’s totally immersive Alien experience begins when the crew takes a detour from a routine mission, to investigate the disappearance of a Federation starship. Before long, however, it’s clear that sticking around to eat Captain Pike’s delicious waffles and pancakes would have been the much more sensible option.
The first shot of the USS Peregrine, marooned on a hostile alien world, is a spectacular statement of intent, a shot-for-shot recreation of that famous derelict spaceship on the surface of LV-426. Then, as Pike and his away team (a very Starfleet mix of familiar faces and doomed newbies) investigate what happened to the 99 souls on board the Peregrine, they’re plunged into a fight for survival against lethal monsters whose babies are born out of a host organism’s chest, and have very, very sharp teeth. Sound familiar?
The Enterprise crew even discover a warning message just a little too late, and encounter a young girl who’s managed to stay in one piece, despite the cold-blooded reptilian killers running through the Jefferies tubes. That the writer’s room resisted the urge to script the line, "They mostly come when it’s warm… mostly" is a remarkable display of collective restraint.
Plenty of movies and TV shows have tried to capture the Alien and Aliens vibe, and ‘All Those Who Wander’ has a better stab than most. Yes, the gore is toned down to accommodate Trek’s more family-friendly ethos, but the episode is also a reminder that deserted starships can become convincing haunted houses if you turn out the lights – especially when you shoot the action from disconcerting low angles.
Although the episode has to roll out some Trek clichés to up the peril factor – an ion storm blocking communication with the Enterprise, an enemy invisible to bio-filters – the returning Gorn make for a credible threat, even in the form of squabbling juveniles. (Question: if Gorn kids can wipe out an entire starship crew, how did Kirk hold his own against an adult in classic original series episode ‘Arena’?) That said, their intelligence in the hunt and infra-red-style night vision is such a blatant nod to Predator that you are left wondering how the episode made it past Disney’s lawyers.
Ultimately, however, it’s the brilliant Enterprise crew that separates ‘All Those Who Wander’ from most other Alien wannabes. Over the course of the season, we’ve got to know Pike, Spock, M’Benga, La’an, Chapel, Uhura and Hemmer, so we care about their fate rather more than we would a bunch of strangers – Cadet Chia and the newly promoted Lt Duke must have realised their time was up as soon as they set foot on Valeo Beta V.
Despite the highly stressful scenario unfolding on the planet, it’s also an excuse for some fun gallows humour – even in the worst situations, this crew rolls out the funny – and some quality character development. Uhura, who’s now completed her rotation on the Enterprise, needs to make a decision on whether her future lies with Starfleet (the answer is never in doubt), while Spock does his best to handle powerful emotions he’s spent a lifetime trying to suppress – he even does a passable imitation of the Incredible Hulk.
The episode saves its most powerful moment, however, for Hemmer. The Aenar chief engineer (wonderfully played by Bruce Horak) hasn’t had much screentime over the course of Strange New Worlds, but he’s managed to become one of the standouts in a consistently excellent cast – indeed, he’s one of the few characters who made it out of the otherwise risible ‘The Elysian Kingdom’ with his reputation intact. To see him make a noble sacrifice after being infected with Gorn eggs is a genuinely heartbreaking moment, and one of Star Trek’s boldest moves since Lt Tasha Yar was killed in action in the first season of The Next Generation.
Where Discovery has spent its last two seasons contriving excuses to bring its heroes back from encounters with certain death, Strange New Worlds shows that space travel can be seriously bad for your health – even if your name appears in the opening credits. (In hindsight, Horak’s agent should probably have insisted Hemmer wear any colour but red.)
There’s no doubt there’ll be ongoing repercussions from the Enterprise’s latest encounter with the Gorn – even if their return so soon after the outstanding ‘Memento Mori’ suggests they could become as overused as the Borg eventually were in Voyager.
Chapel’s efforts to counsel Spock after his emotional outbursts only serve to increase the sexual tension between the characters – it’s becoming increasingly implausible that they won’t get together at some point – while La’an’s request for a leave of absence to help lost kid Oriana find her family will leave a major (but hopefully temporary) hole on the bridge.
And do spare a thought for the late Chia and Duke, seemingly forgotten after series regular Hemmer steals the limelight at their collective funeral. Their roles may have been fleeting, but they were Starfleet officers too…
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is currently airing now on Paramount Plus. For more, check out our guide to the Star Trek timeline.