Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Growing up, Star Trek was a show I never missed, first in prime time, then in reruns, then movies and more TV shows. Eventually I drifted away, for numerous reasons — Doctor Who is more fun, Star Trek is too military, and there are far more options for decent sci-fi now than in 1966. And the quality of Star Trek has faltered over recent decades, with several tedious movies about madmen in outer space.

CBS is now making new Star Trek shows, but not for CBS, which annoys me. It's best as a TV show, but hiding new Star Treks on some obscure pay-cable channel? Bite me, was my response to this next generation of the show. I ain't paying, and ain't even watching.

Recently, though, an old friend told me I should check out one of the new shows, called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He was as much into Star Trek as me when we were young, and as disappointed in the recent crap under the Star Trek brand.

On his recommendation, I've watched the show's first episode, cleverly titled "Strange New Worlds." The first few minutes impressed me so much, I un-tilted my recliner to sit straight up — something I almost never do.

Even before the opening credits, there's a goosebump-inducing first-contact, not of Earthers discovering aliens, but aliens discovering the Enterprise. There's also a brief clip from one of my favorite sci-fi films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, wherein a space alien explains that film's concept of an interplanetary siblinghood of intelligent life — which is not much different from Star Trek's Federation of Planets.

Strange New Worlds is set some few years before the original series, and the script snuggles this show's backstory into the first pilot episode of that first series.

That first episode, from almost 60 years ago, featured a mostly different crew than Kirk and McCoy and Scotty et al, with Captain Christopher Pike instead of James T Kirk. The original Pike had a female first officer he called "Number One," and a junior officer named Spock, with kooky ears. Pike also carried some dark doubts inside him, and so does this new Pike.

Hard-core Trekkers will see all these connections and more, and smile at moments as tiny as Uhura touching her earpiece with a very familiar motion. Newbies will miss those subtleties, but so what? The story works well either way. 

Spock is played by Ethan Peck, someone I'd never heard of, who's the grandson of Gregory Peck. It's the best performance as Spock since Leonard Nimoy. 

Christina Chong has a key supporting role. Her name probably means nothing to most people, and I didn't know her name either, but I knew her face the moment she came on-screen. She had a small but important role in an episode of Doctor Who more than ten years ago, which made a lasting impression on me, and she's more impressive here. She's a standout.

There are several standouts. It's an ensemble show, and every character alludes to a complex and mysterious backstory. Can the show deliver on all the character depth it promises? Guess we'll see, but I like the promise.

The show, or at least this first episode, has so many strong women they outnumber the strong men. As a fan of strong women, I love that, and all in all, I liked "Strange New Worlds."

I've only seen an hour of this show, and it's in its third season now. Probably they've screwed it up — it's television; screwing things up is what TV does.

And it has some problems, certainly. The camera swoops around way too much, the graphics are too gaudy, and some of the set design is so flashy it's simply silly. The music is disappointing, with a theme song that's merely a muted, dulled version of the original theme. Pike's rather glib disregard for Star Fleet's non-interference rule, in the show's very first episode, effectively renders the Prime Directive not so prime, but anyone who's watched Star Trek already knows that. The plot relies too heavily on Pike making a few pat speeches, and the story should've been longer — movie-length instead of episode-length.

As a stand-alone piece, though, this debut is the first Star Trek in a long time that seems to understand what Star Trek should be. It's light years better than the 2009 movie by J J Abrams. The debut of Strange New Worlds makes me think, maybe Star Trek has a future.



  1. I don't even have cable, so this is likely a dumb question, but I excel at those. If ST-SNW is on a pay channel, how did you watch it? Yes, I'm short of neurons. what of it?


    1. CBS magnanimously put the entire first season of the show on YouTube for free streaming, with commercials of course.

      It was very limited time offer, apparently. This morning, the public link my friend gave me no longer works.

      Thus the options now are ① pay ② borrow a DVD from the library, or ③ piracy.

  2. Can't beat free from the library, man.


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