And so to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW), the latest new series in what will surely come to be seen as a golden era for Trek on TV. While the most recent series of Picard and Disco were something of a disappointment, all Trek fans were looking forward to this, the one set on the Enterprise-before-Kirk, with Captain Pike in charge.
There was always a danger of this show being hamstrung by canon, so overburdened by Trek Lore that it would topple under the weight of it and let us all down. So far, however, so good. We’re up to episode 6 on Paramount+ in the UK, SNW has been far from a disappointment, and far from being squashed under the weight of all the storylines that come after, it’s having fun with them.
Along the way, several beloved characters are getting a new interpretation and a new lease of life. Christ knows, it’s a million times better than the recent rebooted films, which are unspeakable.
Central to this is Anson Mount as Captain Pike, a character previously seen in the original pilot episode (The Cage), which was subsequently re-edited as The Menagerie, the classic era episode that recycled old footage and placed the horribly burned Pike into a Davros-style dalek unit. So we know how Pike’s supposed to end up, and so does the current incarnation: part of his story is that he’s living with the knowledge of how he (thinks he) dies.
You can always spot the two original pilot episodes of Star Trek because everybody is wearing those odd kind of woolly polo neck uniforms. I hope that one day these will make an appearance as the last uniforms worn in SNW. The original actor playing Pike may have been a bit wooden, so the formica Shatner was brought in to replace.
Now, I don’t know Anson Mount from a hole in a ground, but he is so great as Pike, already one of the great Star Fleet captains. His sweep of hair, his wry humour, his human warmth, all make him believable as a leader of people. Yes, this is the man who would so inspire Spock that even he would risk everything to kidnap him and take him to the planet of the aliens with the giant brains. Pike is now surrounded by a crew who are so much the better for being cast in the era of Peak TV: decent actors who know they’re part of something that has stayed the course and lasted over 50 years.
Ethan Peck as Spock was excellent in Disco and continues to be so here. And this is a Spock who is not lost under a morass of muddled thinking about logic vs. emotion. And (thank Christ) without (so far) a McCoy screaming at him for not losing his shit. McCoy was always the worst character and it’s one of Star Trek’s tragedies that he became one of the Seven.
As a sidenote, watching episodes of ToS between releases of SNW, you’re struck by the sequence of randoms who filled various bridge and command roles before the producers settled on who was important. Janice Rand is the most hilarious of these: a pointless character put there for Kirk to flirt with, and then replaced with a series of walk-on beauties, presumably to provide Shatner with some variety and/or to allow various others to get their backs scratched. One other character who was fairly wooden and underused in ToS was Christine Chapel, problematically played by Majel Barrett (an actor who was given a few too many chances by her exec producer husband). In SNW she’s played by Jess Bush, and is finally the character she deserves to be: spunky, fun, resourceful, and not constantly mooning over some man.
As to the storylines, they generally shine. The format is episodic, meaning that we’re not chasing after some Big Bad, even though there is continuity of character. And SNW also takes a leaf out of ToS’s book by playing with classic science fiction story tropes: the submarine episode; the body swap episode; the first-contact episode; the unspeakable crimes done in the name of civilisation episode. And so on.
Fingers crossed, it’s good and will continue to be so. Comments that it is “woke” Star Trek come from people who have clearly never watched Star Trek, which was always one of the more woke shows on television. Watch and enjoy. Just don’t mention the Discovery.