In January 1968, an 9¼-year-old little boy wrote a letter to NBC in New York telling them that cancelling STAR TREK after its second season would be a mistake as “it’s the best show on TV”. The executives must have been deeply moved by that letter because they did, in fact, bring the show back for the third season before axing it for good in 1969. I was that little boy and although NBC later reported that they received 115,892 letters like mine between December 1967 and March 1968, for many years I thought I single-handedly saved the show from an early demise.
Over the years my love of the original STAR TREK series never waned. I own a boxed DVD set of every episode and I can quote all the lines from each one. I’ve also seen all the films. (STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN is by far my favourite.) Somehow, though, that love never carried over to the other ST series. Yes, I’ve watched more than a few episodes of TNG but not even one episode of any of the other five live-action and two animated ST series. That has all changed with the latest franchise entry – STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS.
Spun off from ST: DISCOVERY, which just wrapped up its fourth season, SNW brings audiences back to the same USS Enterprise that was later commanded by James T. Kirk. Here, though, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) is in charge, as he was in the first pilot for ST: TOS. The future Captain Kirk is nowhere to be seen, although he will be in the show’s second season. Joining Pike on this mission to seek out new life and new civilizations is a number of familiar faces – First Officer Una Chin-Riley aka “Number One” (Rebecca Romijn), Science Officer Spock (Ethan Peck), Medical Officer Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) and cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) – and a few new ones including Helmsman Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Security Chief La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). If the security chief’s surname sounds familiar, it’s because she’s related to ST bad guy Khan Noonien Singh, the character immortalized by Ricardo Montalbán in ST: TOS and STII. Though I don’t know, I suspect she has the same outsized strength.
And that’s one of the good things about this series. The characters are all richly drawn and they compel the audience to want to learn more about them. At the very start of the first episode, we’re given a brief glimpse into some of them. We’re told that Pike has seen the future and he believes that he will die a horrible death in ten years’ time, and we meet Spock’s fiancée, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu). (These are not spoilers!) Noonien-Singh also reveals that she is the only one of her family to have survived an alien attack. No doubt, all these storylines will be explored further in future episodes.
SNW also has a delightful combination of new and retro. TV productions are obviously more sophisticated than they were 55-odd years ago, and today’s directors can do what their predecessors could only dream of back then. While SNW has sets that don’t look like they are made from cardboard, it does have some nice touches from the earlier days, like wire mesh flip-top communicators and Uhura’s earphone that she uses to monitor communications outside the ship. The best thing about SNW though, is that it has the same wonderous mix of discovery, possibility and optimism – the same things that an 9¼-year-old fan loved about STAR TREK back in 1968 though he didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to articulate it.
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS began streaming on Paramount+ on May 5, 2022, with new episodes landing on the service every Thursday. One episode in and I’m hooked.
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