Wednesday 1 June 2022

Warp factor fun in Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has exclusively beamed onto Paramount+ with Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One and Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock reprising their fan-favourite roles from Star Trek: Discovery's second season, which seems like a lifetime ago in the new normal.

Paramount+'s protracted launch (outside the US) means UK fans (myself included) are unable to see Star Trek: Strange New Worlds until 22nd June. ViacomCBS isn't unique in this. The Mandalorian dropped onto Disney+ months before the streaming service was available elsewhere.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, boldly goes.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Let us never forget: Akiva Goldsman wrote Batman & Robin, a film so silly and clunkily scripted that it destroyed a multi-million dollar movie series, costing Warner Bros. untold riches in box office and merchandising that could have been earned from more potential ‘90s bat-movies (he blames the audience).

So if you’re ever at the end of your tether, make a booboo at work, upset your significant other or eat the profiteroles in the fridge that were supposed to be for your house guests Friday night, just remember if Goldsman can bounce back from his fiasco to steer shows like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

"I'm a deep, deep, deep, deep old comic book fan," Goldsman told Collider back in 2020 when the series was announced. That gee-whiz, kinetic storytelling sensibility shows in Strange New Worlds, where he is credited as co-creator, co-executive producer and writer of the pilot and other episodes.

Like 2001’s Star Trek: Enterprise, this new streaming series takes us back to a time just before the original series, although unlike Enterprise it lacks a MOR rock song intro. Instead, Strange New Worlds' opening music is like an off-note version of the Star Trek tune we grew up with. Those who would prefer something unique need not apply. The rest of the show similarly celebrates what makes Trek enjoyable: a charismatic captain (Anson Mount), a likeable crew, interplanetary moral dilemmas, teleporting and tolerance.

Judging by the pilot, the show most resembles Star Trek: The Next Generation, using archetypes and broad-stroke situations to debate the value and danger of progress and advanced technology. It also successfully captures the feel of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies, although this show eases off the fake lens flares.

Science definitely serves the story; although Strange New Worlds is set a decade before Captain Kirk’s televised mission, genetic tech is developed enough to change an Away Party’s appearance to help them blend in with an alien civilization, causing tension when Spock’s (Ethan Peck) gene shot wears off.

Part of the charm of the original stories was that the science behind the fiction was relatively simple – we were watching the crew of a glorified space submarine, following military rules, with specific tools and weapons at their disposal. Hopefully, Goldsman and his team won’t resort to more unlikely pseudoscience in their efforts to create a sense of wonder. Yes, I’m looking at you, Star Trek: Voyager.

Likewise, La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong)’s outburst seems out of place on a starship and it’s a surprise that such a hothead is serving in a critical position. Khan’t she control her temper? It makes for a good bit of conflict, though.

Beyond its fancy effects, Strange New Worlds' success hinges on the allure of its cast. Mount holds the show together, with Captain Pike the focus and fulcrum on and off the Enterprise. He struggles to cope with a portent of his own death, a possible meditation on the reminder of mortality the global pandemic has brought us all (a similar plot point runs through Amazon’s weird western series Outer Range). How’s that for a universal theme?

It’s fun to connect the dots with the beloved original series and see how Pike fares before the events of The Menagerie, or the JJ Abrams movies, or whatever mirror universe version of Gene Rodenberry’s creation we’re watching.

It’s also a joy to see a young Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) and other Strange Old Favourite characters get larger roles in a show that might not be bold but has the capacity to further explore age-old themes of effecting and policing other cultures, and how the way we choose to treat others makes us so wonderfully, illogically human.

Have you seen Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Are you subscribing to Paramount+? Let me know in the comments below.

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