Warning: Spoilers for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” season 1, episode 1
It’s been nearly two years to the day since the world learned that the next live-action, “Star Trek” spin-off would see Anson Mount returning as captain of the USS Enterprise and the patience of the show’s fan has finally been rewarded with the new series “Strange New Worlds” on Paramount Plus.
During that season, in the episode “Through the Valley of the Shadows” (S02, E12), Pike visited the planet Boreth and as we learn, the planet is notable for two things: a monastery established by the Followers of Kahless and a rare ore that can cause temporal consciousness displacement. Pike had to consent to “know his purpose” and effectively be exposed to a part of his future in order to be granted permission to take a time crystal. (You can see how to catch up on that episode and the entire Trek franchise in our Star Trek streaming guide.)
We see that in approximately 10 years, Pike is aboard a training vessel — an old class J starship — when a baffle plate ruptured and exposed many helpless trainees and cadets to deadly delta-particle radiation. Pike drags many cadets from the danger but, in the process, is hopelessly crippled by the rays. Thus faced with a meaningless existence, he eventually returns to Talos IV with Spock’s assistance. And as we’ll see, this has been a cause of some distress for Pike ever since that very powerful vision.
The premiere episode, also entitled “Strange New Worlds,” is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of Easter eggs and all the technology, as you’d imagine, has been updated visually. It looks stunning and hopefully we won’t have to suffer through too many just-for-the-sake-of-it visual effects, although the functional capability of the Enterprise’s transporters has been upgraded somewhat as the show leans a little towards the J.J. Abrams’ interpretation of Star Trek.
In fact, the overall look and feel of this new show is very much a mix of “The Original Series” and the 2009 movie, even down to a Chekov “I can doo zat”-style frantic sprint through the corridors of the ship in this episode, only this time its Nurse Chapel chasing a humanoid from the planet Kiley 279.
The casting looks promising with lots of new faces to old characters that hopefully we will become deeply invested in them over the next 10 weeks. There’s a lot of room to expand the history for all of the main cast and the seeds are sewn almost straightaway, beginning with Pike himself as we see him riding his horse through some stunning snowy scenery before arriving at an equally stunning wooden winter lodge, complete with “The Day The Earth Stood Still” on TV as he makes eggs à la Kirk (from “Star Trek: Generations”) for his partner that we only know so far as Capt. Batel (Melanie Scrofano).
The updated short-range shuttles look gorgeous as Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes), the first captain of the USS Enterprise, instructs Pike that his first officer, Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) has gone missing. This marks the first time Adm. April has been fleshed out, so to speak, adding to the richness that is slowly building with all of these characters, old and new.
The same is true for Dr. M’Benga, a character that appeared only very briefly in “The Original Series” and was played by Booker Bradshaw then and Babs Olusanmokun now. This is also true for Nurse Christine Chapel and while Majel Barrett, who played her, appeared in a substantial number of “The Original Series” episodes, we suspect Jess Bush, who plays her now, will have chance to bring even more depth to the character.
Then there’s Mr. Spock and Ethan Peck has truly made that role his own. And as a super-special treat, we even get an insight into Vulcan courting rituals as we find him moments away from consummating his engagement to his longtime partner T’Pring (Gia Sandhu). It’s a brilliant, dynamic scene with beautifully written dialogue. However, when Number One is in trouble, even a night of no-holds-barred hanky-panky with a view of the Voroth Sea from the clouded shores of Raal has to get put on the back burner.
Along the way to planet Kiley 279 we are introduced to other new members of the bridge crew, including Security Chief
Roc Ingersol La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), Lt. Jenna Mitchell (Rong Fu) and of course, Nyota Uhura, played in this incarnation by Celia Rose Gooding.
Meanwhile, Pike is still having some difficulty dealing with his post-traumatic stress as a result of the experience on Boreth and while this is understandable given this is his first time back in the center seat since the USS Discovery sped off to the future, it seems to be presented to us … then virtually resolved in a very short space of time. This could easily have been carried over a number of episodes. That said, it’s still early days, so it still might.
The crew of the Enterprise finds Chin-Riley’s starship, the USS Archer (great to see) adrift in high orbit. It seems this planet does not have any satellites in orbit whatsoever and surface scans are consistent with pre-warp society, yet … there is a warp signature on the surface. Following some brilliant deductions by both
Camina Drummer Noonien-Singh and Spock, we learn that it’s not from a warp drive, but rather a warp bomb, which brings us to probably the only real criticism in this episode and while it’s only teeny-tiny, you’d have thought the writers would’ve found a more plausible explanation for this small-but-significant piece of plot.
Nerd Note: Apparently, through ground-based telescopes only, the beings on this world observed all the hullaballoo with Control that took place nine years ago. Number One calls it “zero point” — the point in space where Discovery opened up a wormhole to the future and it’s only one light year from this planet. That’s further than the distance from Earth to Pluto. And as Number One explains, “Their various telescopes were just good enough to see us. They collected enough data to reverse engineer a matter/antimatter reactor.” Really …?
The basic plot captures the spirit of any number of “The Original Series” episodes by incorporating disguise, infiltration, capture and escape, then it’s back to the Enterprise for tea and medals. There’s a predictable, but nonetheless extremely enjoyable moral message from Pike to the people of Kiley 279 to draw this first episode to a close and a new crewmember arrives, Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte), brother of James Tiberius Kirk … but we’ll go into more detail about that next week.
From the opening credits — which are exceptional, along with a theme that masterfully adapts that of “The Original Series” — this episode sends tingles of hope down your spine. There are tons of Easter eggs, ranging from Fairly Obvious to Second Time Around to something approaching Jörg Hillebrand-level. The updated USS Enterprise sets are phenomenal and the production team are making excellent use of their AR wall. Upon first viewing, this feels like it could’ve been a two-parter, but much of that is probably because we’re just not used to having an episodic format.
A lot of the very best of “Star Trek” was crammed into the first episode — but it’s the first episode, so as the series premiere of a brand new “Star Trek” show, we say bravo. This new approach should keep every episode feeling like it has much to give. This could very easily become the best “Trek” on TV.
The first episode of “Strange New Worlds” is now available to watch on Paramount Plus as is the entire second season of “Star Trek: Picard.” Season 4 of “Star Trek: Discovery” is also available on the Paramount streaming service in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.
Paramount has confirmed that its streaming platform will launch in the UK and Ireland on June 22, available both as a standalone service and as part of the Sky Cinema subscription for the UK cable provider.