First entering production in 1964, Star Trek was a bold new television show depicting the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise and its command crew, Captain Christopher Pike, his first officer referred to only as “Number One” and his half Vulcanian science officer Spock. The pilot episode titled The Cage written by series creator Gene Roddenberry and directed by Robert Butler, it was presented to the network executives who were intrigued by the premise but famously rejected it as “too cerebral,” a criticism that perhaps only reflected that it was ahead of its time.
Fifty-eight years later, that pilot episode has finally led to a full series set aboard the Enterprise in the years before the five year voyage of Captain Kirk, the ten episodes of the first season of Strange New Worlds created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, inspired by that original unbroadcast story and following directly from the second season of Star Trek Discovery which reintroduced the characters of Pike, Una “Number One” Chin-Riley and Spock as played by Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck though the events of The Cage still cast a shadow upon Pike.
The opening episode directed by Goldsman who also scripted from a story developed with his co-creators, of all the current Star Trek series in production, more than there have ever been at any previous time, Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks and Prodigy, to say nothing of the fourth “Kelvin Universe” feature film in development, Strange New Worlds is the closest to Roddenberry’s original vision of the show, optimistic, adventurous, exciting and entertaining while also holding fast to an clear ethical code.
“First contact is just a dream until one day it isn’t,” Chin-Riley enters into her log, seconded to the USS Archer as it approaches Kiley 279, aware that to many civilisations the possibility of travel to the stars is the stuff of “children’s stories and science fiction,” but Starfleet having detected a warp signature on the planet the indications are that they may be ready for that first contact, following the protocol that a civilisation which has developed warp technology is ready to be made aware of the existing interstellar community and invited to join and participate.
On Earth, Chris Pike has retreated to Bear Creek, Montana; a man of the frontier, he is as comfortable in the wilderness on his snowbound ranch with his horses as on the bridge of a starship. A man of considered but decisive action, he has suffered a blow, given a glimpse of a future he would rather not know, a clock ticking away on his life as a captain, but duty has a way of calling and it is insistent when it wears the stripes of an admiral: the Archer and all aboard are missing, and the Enterprise is being sent to investigate.
A known quantity reimagined for the expectations of those watching in high definition on the largest screen possible, the Enterprise is familiar yet surprising, more complex than when depicted under the command of Pike’s successor James T Kirk, more powerful and more manoeuvrable, yet as instantly recognisable as the familiar primary colour uniforms, gold for command, blue for science and medical and red for security and support services.
The vast detail of the operational sets of the bridge, engineering and sickbay a contrast to the subdued but comfortable living and communal areas, they are populated by characters familiar in new guises, communications officer and expert linguist Cadet Nyota Uhura ready for the final frontier, Doctor M’Benga and Nurse Christine Chapel (Celia Rose Gooding, Babs Olusanmokun and Jess Bush), joined by the new faces of security officer La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak), beaming aboard in the final scene for duty in the following episodes.
Jeff Russo’s theme placing the iconic Alexander Courage fanfare in a glorious new setting, the main titles evoke the idea of exploration, of the wonder and diversity of the universe, of new horizons and, of course, the strange new worlds which will be discovered and visited by the most famous ship in the fleet, a safe haven in the cold black vastness of the void.
Mount, Romijn and Peck carrying the advantage of having already played the parts, albeit as guests in another show, they are immediately comfortable in the roles, but more importantly the characters are comfortable on the ship, Pike friendly with the crewmates he already knows and welcoming to those newly assigned, wanting them to succeed and offering support but accepting that they may have their own way of doing things and crucially open minded when a fellow officer makes a recommendation which contravenes standard procedure.
The central dilemma of Strange New Worlds both moral and technological, it is a situation previously never encountered in a first contact situation which becomes representative of what Star Trek does best, drawing parallels with contemporary experience while extending a hand of friendship to those whose future depends on understanding that there is another way forward beyond that which seems unavoidable, that not all lessons must be learned the hard way, the inspirational closing montage affirming the relevance of turning from the well-trodden path of aggression to go where no one has gone before.
Looking forward while being respectfully aware of the past, in his mountain cabin Pike is seen watching the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise who later guided Star Trek The Motion Picture through its difficult production, the scene depicting Klaatu telling his ethnically diverse audience of “an organisation for the mutual protection of all planets,” the vision of Starfleet encapsulated and celebrated centuries before it would ultimately be put into practice.
With many divided in their opinions on the myriad forms Star Trek has taken in the 21st century, each of the contemporary show having fans and detractors, some reasonable, others allowing emotion to blind them to flaws and qualities deserving admiration, with a broad and easy appeal tied to that core premise Strange New Worlds may ease those rifts and turn out to be the most popular of them all, and based on the evidence so far and with a second season in production before the first even premiered it would seem that the future is in good hands.
Star Trek Strange New Worlds is currently running on Paramount+ and will be extending across further territories in late June