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STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS 1×01 “Strange New Worlds” Review

Neil reviews the first episode of Paramount+’s STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS, the service comes to the UK on June 22, 2022.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (CBS/Paramount+)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the US. The service comes to the UK on June 22, 2022.

Synopsis

Series premiere. When one of Pike’s officers goes missing while on a secret mission for Starfleet, Pike has to come out of self-imposed exile. He must navigate how to rescue his officer, while struggling with what to do with the vision of the future he’s been given.

Review

With Paramount+ about to begin its global rollout, fans in the UK are finally about to get their first taste of the 8th live-action Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. The 3rd live-action series as part of Alex Kurtzman’s revitalisation of the brand and the 5th overall if you include animated series Lower Decks and Prodigy.

Kurtzman’s brand of Trek has been hailed by many as Trek’s second coming. Whilst others have lambasted its attempts to re-contextualise Gene Roddenberry’s view of a harmonious and inclusive future. Discovery is too woke, they say. They also say Picard is too nostalgic. But with Strange New Worlds a new balance is about to be created.

Under the watchful eye of executive producers and co-showrunners Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman, Strange New Worlds has one foot firmly in the past with the other looking to the future. In this pilot episode, also aptly titled “Strange New Worlds”, we are quickly able to see how the show is much more heavily inspired by its predecessors.

With a teleplay by Goldsman, who also directs, and based on a story conceived alongside Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, the U.S.S. Enterprise sets sail in incredibly capable hands. From the outset it is made clear that the exceptional ensemble cast is really at the centre of the mission. Where Discovery often falters is in evoking the sense of companionship and journey that fans witness in Trek’s heyday. Whilst glimpses of it are buried in the recently completed fourth season, Strange New Worlds goes above-and-beyond to set the precedent early.

Another complaint often lobbied at contemporary Trek – though certainly not by me – is the heavily serialised nature of its storytelling. Again, Strange New Worlds bucks this trend by looking to the past for a way forwards. “Strange New Worlds” (the episode) features a wholly self-contained story with a strongly defined three-act structure. There’s no looming galactic threat or big bad to be introduced. Instead the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise has only a rescue mission to execute and it does so in cinematic style.

There are plenty of hangovers from the crew’s time on Discovery. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has the ever-present knowledge of his own death to handle. Whilst Spock (Ethan Peck) has to wrestle with his half-human emotions towards the loss of his sister, Disco’s Michael Burnham. The episode picks up on a very specific three months, ten days, four hours and five minutes after the season 2 finale of Discovery with the U.S.S. Enterprise still in spacedock under repairs. In act one, “Strange New Worlds” is about getting the band back together, introducing the new players and rounding up familiar faces.

It’s buried within the cast that Strange New Worlds (the show) finds it serialised elements. Goldman’s teleplay is rich with context and nuance when it comes to the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew. Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) are a prime example of a friendship and connection which goes far beyond working together in sickbay. Christina Chong’s La’an Noonien-Singh comes packaged with a loaded surname and a tragic backstory and despite only a small amount of screen time, Celia Rose Gooding’s Nyota Uhura is easily a standout.

The tendency with Trek, particularly on ship-based series, is to front-load by throwing the entire crew in to their first mission. Strange New Worlds subverts this by doubling-down on the urgency of the mission. With Una (Rebecca Romjin) in danger, Pike is left without his usual Number One and the U.S.S. Enterprise is also forced to leave spacedock without a full crew. This allows the series to introduce a number of larger characters, including Bruce Horak’s Hemmer, next week.

Of course one of the most important characters in Star Trek is the ship itself. Here the U.S.S. Enterprise feels closer to its TOS counterpart than in J.J. Abrams movies. But it’s also sufficiently overhauled using modern set-building sensibilities. Gone are chunky buttons and blocks. In their place are more interactive screens and readouts. It feels suitably dialled up from the older U.S.S. Discovery but not as advanced as ships from future decades.

The series’ stunning set design is also enhanced by the use of AR wall technology. Though implemented during the fourth season of Discovery, here it’s used to add some serious opulence to the screen. Environments are immersive and stunningly deep. The engine room of the Enterprise has also never been so grandiose. Whilst some fans might feel short changed by the alterations to several familiar sets, it feels true to the mission statement to bring an epic scale to the small screen.

Strange New Worlds also stays true to Trek‘s mission statement of social commentary. Whilst its story of near-nuclear disaster is a little on the nose, the episode suitably explores human nature through the people of Kiley. Their culture feels very like our own and their path to disaster mirrors that of 21st century Earth, as pointed out by Pike when he breaks General Order One.

Whilst is remains to be seen how the rest of the season plays out this is certainly a hugely optimistic start for the series.

Verdict

Strange New Worlds begins a bold new chapter in the Star Trek franchise. Echoes of TOS and TNG sit alongside the sensibilities of modern-Trek to create something new and truly exciting.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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