Review by C.J. Bunce
Fans of Captain Pike’s “old is new again” Enterprise from the second season of Star Trek: Discovery got their wish Thursday as Anson Mount’s captain, new Number One actor Rebecca Romijn and new Science Officer Spock actor Ethan Peck stepped into roles long familiar to the Star Trek fan base. The title is apt: Strange New Worlds, taking a line from William Shatner’s original introductory dialogue for Captain James T. Kirk from the very beginning of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, is handed off once again, in a series opener drawn from the pilot for the first episode of Star Trek filmed way back in 1964, and that darned old Prime Directive.
A little bit on the sappy side as we catch up with a tired, COVID-haired captain on leave, Mount is maneuvering Jeffrey Hunter’s character we saw briefly in the 1960s show and the popular character he became thanks to the first two Kelvin Timeline (aka JJ Abrams universe) movies played by Bruce Greenwood. Mount looks like he’ll have no problem making the role his own. Mount’s stage presence, gravitas, and voice like Superman actor Henry Cavill, is believable as a pragmatic captain and someone who knows when he needs to break the rules–and isn’t that the modus vivendi of every Starfleet captain?
Surprisingly Rebecca Romijn (who, as the actor with the most genre TV and movie street cred, gets the series “and” credit), doesn’t get showcased so much in the first episode, despite being the centerpiece of the plot. Few characters are beloved as those played by Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barrett (that’s the computer voice you heard in the first six Star Trek series, plus Nurse Chapel, and Number One, long before her return as Lwaxana Troi years later). But we all can agree we’d love to know more about the Number One she first created and Romijn is fantastic in every role she takes on. Fans get to see a split personality of sorts as Barrett’s Nurse Chapel steps back into this era of the Enterprise, played with a lot of energy in her first appearance by platinum blonde Australian actor Jess Bush.
The biggest surprise of Star Trek: Discovery wasn’t the re-introduction of Spock (Star Trek loves to tap the past for new projects). But some of the best character development of both seasons came when (Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck’s grandson) Ethan Peck stepped into the role and had several personal encounters with Sonequa Martin-Green’s troubled heroine. For many fans of Star Trek, Spock is Star Trek, and even if Peck doesn’t look like the late beloved actor Leonard Nimoy, and he’s not as recognizable as big-screen reboot actor Zachary Quinto, his voice and delivery makes for a great new Spock.
But the standout of the first episode is Christina Chong as interim XO La’an Noonien Singh. Her name should conjure the franchise’s biggest villain, Ricardo Montalban (or Benedict Cumberbatch’s) Khan Noonien Singh, and her scary backstory points to some kind of darkness ahead. As the new security chief, she also looks like a direct copy of The Orville’s security chief, Halston Sage’s Lt. Alara Kitan. But how is this Singh related to Khan?
Lots of fun by way of Easter eggs can be found around literally every corner:
- it’s not the captain but Spock who has his shirt off in his first scene, appearing with Gia Sandhu as T’Pring, Spock’s wife from the original series
- Admiral Robert April, originally voiced by Scotty himself, James Doohan, in the animated series, is now played by Adrian Holmes
- Celia Rose Gooding is the latest actor to assume Uhura’s earpiece and chair
- André Dae Kim plays transport chief Kyle, the man who will one day serve as the last Commander of the Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Rong Fu plays Lt. Jenna Mitchell, and that last name should recall Gary Lockwood’s Lt. Gary Mitchell from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”–is she a sister, daughter, or other relative?
- Babs Olusanmokun steps into Booker Bradshaw’s original series role as Dr. M’Benga
- Samuel Kirk, played by Dan Jeonnotte, is the older brother of franchise hero James T. Kirk, who was seen played by William Shatner himself in the original series
- the tricorders and communicators carry forward Wah Chang’s original series designs with modifications
- although the uniform fabrics are a clear extension of the last Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond (compare Mount’s gold Starfleet tunic to Chris Pine’s) like Sanja Milkovic Hayes’ updated costume designs for that movie, Bernadette Croft’s new looks echo a mix of original series, Phase II, and even The Next Generation (e.g., skant) designs
- although this highly advanced tech ship Enterprise itself, including its cinematography (e.g., those lens flares!) scream Kelvin timeline, we’re supposed to keep convincing ourselves this is the same world as the plywood sets of the 1960s
What are we holding out hopes for this season? Early appearances of M’Ress and Arex from the animated series. A peek at Montgomery Scott, who served 20 years in Starfleet before serving under Kirk, or a young Hikaru Sulu. Will we see Pike’s crew members from the past, like John Hoyt’s character Dr. Phillip Boyce? Peter Duryea’s Helmsman Tyler? A transport chief and geologist based on Pike’s earlier appearance? We’d love to see more of Wynonna Earp herself, actor Melanie Scrofano, who has a brief appearance as Pike’s girlfriend, Captain Batel.
Taking place a decade before the original Star Trek series and intended to be more episodic and optimistic like the original series, Strange New Worlds is written and produced by several creators behind Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. The writing, sets, costumes, props, and cinematography of Star Trek: Discovery were all very close to those of the Enterprise of the JJ Abrams’ last three Star Trek theatrical releases, so until we see an announcement for the next film, at least there will be something by way of the small screen for Star Trek fans. And this first episode sure looks and feels like the next Abrams movie.
Like the 1960s series, this one isn’t afraid to jump right in with big drama–a World War III episode ripped from the headlines–and it addresses its biggest problem head on: how can we have any stakes for all these characters when we know they are going to be around the next 10 years, and we specifically know Pike’s own dark fate? Look for the answers each week on Strange New Worlds, with new episodes arriving Thursdays on Paramount+.