Review for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Season One
Amazon Prime is a pain, especially if you have an Amazon account and have no intention of getting Prime. You wind up with Free Trial buttons all over the place, and it seems they change their mind every few months whether they are opt in or opt out. I’ve been stung twice placing an order at Amazon, and then having to quickly find a way to cancel the Prime before the subscription fees get drained. Either way, I wind up with a month of free Amazon Prime TV. The first time coincided with the release of Good Omens, and then, being of a sci-fi bent, I took in three seasons of The Expanse as well. Then after three years, Amazon thought I’d fall for the free Prime trick again, and I did, begrudgingly accepting another month of free TV. After watching the final season of The Expanse, I still had a few weeks left, which is when I noticed that Amazon Prime has some of the newest Star Trek series (apparently TV is dead for CBS now, and they only stream it), and what Amazon didn’t have could be seen through a trial subscription of CBS’ streaming service in conjunction with Prime.
I have long fallen out of love with Star Trek, but when it’s for the price of an existing broadband contract and a few more pennies on my electricity bill, I’m willing to be fooled twice. I love the original series, The Next Generation was great, and Deep Space Nine is still a favourite. But Voyager was rubbish, and Enterprise failed even harder to live up to its promise. It’s been almost 20 years since I loved Star Trek (there were a couple of Enterprise episodes just prior to its cancellation that impressed me). When it comes to the recent “television” revivals, to be honest I didn’t have much hope for Discovery, having tried the first season on Blu-ray when it was on sale, and three more seasons of that show merely cemented my low opinion of it with a couple of caveats. The characters were awful, and having them repeatedly saving the universe on a season by season basis quickly grows old, and bears no resemblance to the Star Trek that I grew up with.
Then there is Picard, which catches up to the Next Generation story thirty years down the line. The so-called perfect Federation of TNG appears to have never existed, with flawed and dark characters. Yet the show wants to be a rehash of TNG’s best bits. Its combination denigration and nostalgia doesn’t sit well with me, and while there are moments that do work, as whole it doesn’t. Season 2 felt like a cross between The Voyage Home and First Contact movies, while what few clips I have seen of Season 3, where the gang is back together, looks like yet another remake of The Wrath of Khan. Given how I feel about Voyager, I was never going to click on Prodigy, but then I watched two shows that changed my mind about Star Trek’s new imaginings. I didn’t have much hope given what I recall about the 1970s Animated Series from Filmation, but when I saw Lower Decks, it was like a revelation... But that’s a matter for another review. Yes, I went and bought new Star Trek... and I did it again, for this second show, Strange New Worlds, which I actually got into just as that free subscription to Prime ran out, and I was actually compelled to buy another week of streaming.
Those caveats with Star Trek Discovery apply to its second season. When Season 1 ended, the USS Enterprise suddenly showed up. It turns out that Michael Burnham’s brother Spock (she was adopted by Sarek) had gone missing, and now Captain Pike was taking command of the Discovery to find his science officer, and defeat the timey-wimey threat to the universe that was the second season’s maguffin. The Discovery cast aside, this prequel TOS story, and the re-imagined characters of Pike, Spock, and Number One had such a positive impact that the Strange New Worlds series was commissioned off the back of the season.
Strange New Worlds Season 1 begins around a year after the events of Discovery Season 2, with Spock having to come to terms with the loss of his sister, and Pike having to come to terms with the doom-laden vision of his own future that the time-wimey vision showed him, with the incident so classified that no-one can talk to anyone else about it. Pike is at home in Montana, contemplating resigning from the service when an imperative mission arises that recalls him to the barely refit Enterprise to rescue another missing crew member. Ten episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are presented across three Blu-ray discs from Paramount. Episode specific extras are listed with the episodes.
1. Strange New Worlds
Something has gone wrong with a first contact with the planet Kiley, and Starfleet crewmembers are missing, including Pike’s Number One, Una Chin-Riley. The retrofit is yet to be completed, but Pike is ordered to take the Enterprise to Kiley and find out what’s happening. First Contact with a world is usually initiated when warp drive technology is detected, but the people of Kiley aren’t looking to the stars.
Audio commentary with Anson Mount (Pike) and producer/director Akiva Goldsman
2. Children of the Comet
When a comet threatens a primitive world, it seems an obvious solution to divert its course. But the comet has a structure inside it, and can protect itself. And while a landing party investigates, a technologically advanced ship of religious zealots appears, threatening dire consequences to anyone who desecrates the comet and prevents destiny from coming to pass.
Deleted Scene (0:22)
3. Ghosts of Illyria
The Illyrian race isn’t welcome in the Federation where the genetic modification they practice is illegal. It seems those concerns are justified when investigating an abandoned Illyrian colony. Captain Pike and Spock are stranded on the surface when an ion storm hits, while a contagion from the colony spreads on the ship. It’s a disease that leaves its victims craving light, harsh light that will reveal secrets on board.
Deleted Scenes (2:11)
4. Memento Mori
Delivering an atmospheric processor to a colony seems like a simple enough mission, but when the Enterprise gets there, the crew finds the colony destroyed. Security chief La’an Noonien-Singh realises that the mysterious Gorn are behind the attack, but her warning comes too late before the Enterprise is ambushed. Now the crippled ship has to play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Gorn to survive.
5. Spock Amok
The Enterprise is back at Starbase 1 for repair, and the crew gets some much needed R&R. For Spock, that would be the ideal time to spend with his betrothed, T’Pring, but once again, duty gets in the way when a diplomatic mission gets pushed up. To repair his relationship, Spock takes Nurse Chapel’s advice to try and understand T’Pring’s point of view. Vulcans have a mind meld for that, but this one goes wrong...
6. Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach
Returning to the Majalan system after 10 years brings instant familiarity for Pike, when he winds up rescuing the same woman, Alora from a shuttle for the second time. This time she’s travelling with a father and son, when they come under attack from an alien ship. The boy is a holy child for the Majalans, and it falls to the Enterprise to make sure he gets to his destination safely
Deleted Scenes (5:00)
7. The Serene Squall
The Enterprise is on a mercy mission on the behest of Dr Aspen, a civilian consultant, to help three colony ships stranded at the edge of Federation space. It’s a dangerous region, notorious for pirate activity. But when the ship falls into a pirate trap, Spock’s relationship with T’Pring will be tested.
8. The Elysian Kingdom
The Enterprise has been surveying a nebula, which has given Dr M’Benga the time to research more into the terminal disease afflicting his daughter. When the ship tries to leave after completing its mission, the engines stall, and suddenly everything changes. Now, M’Benga is the king from the fairy tale that he has been reading his daughter, and the crew have become the other characters.
Deleted Scene (0:20)
9. All Those Who Wander
One starship into two priority missions doesn’t go, so Pike takes a couple of shuttles and a team down to an icy planet, following up a distress call from the U.S.S. Peregrine, while Number One takes the Enterprise to a space station. Out of contact, the landing party runs into trouble when they find scenes of carnage around the crashed starship. And while they try to investigate, the landing party is being stalked.
Deleted Scenes (10:55)
10. A Quality of Mercy
Captain Pike is reconsidering escaping his dire destiny, when his future self appears, hale and hearty, but with a warning of what will happen if Pike escapes his fate. To illustrate his point, Admiral Pike sends his younger self seven years into the future, where a cloaked Romulan ship is testing the resolve of the Federation by attacking its outposts on the Neutral Zone, and the Enterprise is all that stands against galactic war.
We’ve got to that point now where television series get UHD releases. This Star Trek Strange New Worlds Blu-ray release is probably tame by comparison, but I certainly had no complaints with the release. The 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer is clear and sharp with excellent detail, making the most of the futuristic imagery and special effects. Contrast is excellent, and there is no visible compression or aliasing. It seems we’ve gone full circle with visual effects. Back before green screen and the like, films used rear projection to put actors in unreal situations, and they could see the worlds they were interacting with on a giant screen. The 21st century tech equivalent is the AR wall, many HD panels interconnected to immerse the actors in a future world, made all the more realistic by real time processing to allow for dynamic camera movements around the stage. You can learn about this in the extra features, but it makes for great sci-fi visuals.
Strange New Worlds offers the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 Surround French, with subtitles in these languages. I was satisfied with the audio, nice and immersive, with plenty of impressive spot effects, and impactful action sequences. There are some wonderful tie-ins with the original series, not least the transporters having a similar sound-effect to the transporters in The Cage pilot episode. I also love the way that the original series music is reworked and made new, not least the show’s triumphant and soaring theme tune, with recognisable elements from the original series theme, but brand new as well. But I have to admit to being grateful for subtitles. Sometimes you can attribute incomprehensible dialogue to modern sound mixes optimised for surround systems, but played back through tinny flat panel speakers, but sometimes it’s just mumbly actors. It’s the latter for this show, although it doesn’t happen too often.
You get three discs in a BD Amaray style case, with two either side of a centrally hinged panel. The inner sleeve has episode synopses and an extras listing, and the whole thing is wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The discs boot to animated menus. The episode specific extras are listed above with the episodes, the rest of the extras are as follows.
Disc 1 autoplays with trailers for Discovery S4, Reacher S1, and the Halo TV Series.
Star Trek The Original Series Episode “Balance of Terror” (50:24)
Pike’s Peek (17:26)
World Building (11:56)
Exploring New Worlds (53:28)
Gag Reel (2:47)
The original series episode only has the reworked CGI effects. For the OG experience, you’ll need the series Blu-ray with the multi-angle presentation. There’s also a shooting video diary, a look at the AR Wall, and a more in-depth look at the episodes and characters.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best Trek I have seen in many a year, the Star Trek I have been chasing since the end of Deep Space Nine. That’s a lot of disappointment over the last twenty odd years, but they’ve finally created something that feels fresh and brand new, while at the same time pushing all those nostalgia buttons that need pushing. On top of that, Strange New Worlds is perhaps the first Star Trek series since the original, almost sixty years ago, to enthusiastically embrace whimsy. The original series could have an Alice in Wonderland episode one week, and then something serious like The City on the Edge of Forever the next, and even then, in the darker stories, they could take time for utter levity and keep it natural. Shows like The Next Generation and beyond tried the same on occasion, but it never really worked for them. But Strange New Worlds pulls it off with vigour, and I feel like I’m watching the Star Trek I fell in love with, all over again.
The thing is that audiences have changed. When we watch a drama we want a degree of continuity and character development that simply wasn’t there back in the sixties. Strange New Worlds manages to find a blend that works really well. There are story elements that do progress through the season, and character development really is paramount in a way that never happened in the original series. Pike is a man with a burden at the start of the season, and as the episodes unfold, he’s working through his issues until that final episode. But then Strange New Worlds still manages to be episodic, with a new story each week, playing with different genres and styles. There really is something for everyone here, from the aforementioned whimsy to heartfelt drama, to horror as well. In that respect it is like the original series... albeit with theatrical quality special effects.
The benefit of the streaming model becomes clear here. We get just ten, really well formed episodes, ten stories that are all rewarding and entertaining. Can you imagine the filler and padding there would be if they had tried to make 26 episodes to populate the old broadcast seasons? Also, there’s no imperative to fit a time slot exactly. The stories take as long as they need, although aside from the hour-long final episode, they all hover around 52 minutes. Surprisingly though, a couple of the deleted scenes do fill certain plot holes, which does beg the question as to why they were cut.
There is something about the classic era of Star Trek that has always deserved more attention than just the Original Series. We got multiple iterations in the 24th Century, and a prequel series, but any hope that I had that Discovery would pick up the original series mantle was dashed when I actually watched it. In some ways, it’s like Strange New Worlds is from a wholly different franchise, despite it spinning off Disco Season 2. As I said, it embraces whimsy, but the touches that it has with the original series, in terms of costumes and set designs really do set it apart. Visiting the character of Pike, a few years before Kirk took the captain’s chair is an inspired choice. The original series pilot had Jeffrey Hunter as Pike, but that story was dark, and gave us a captain who was working through a depression, not the easiest hero to identify with. Then there is the Kelvin-verse movies version of Pike, who is really just a plot motivator to get Kirk to where he needs to be. The character was basically a blank slate in Discovery Season 2, and while he’s similarly in a dark place when Strange New Worlds begins, he’s got that Discovery back-story to build on, and the character is a lot more likable than Jeffrey Hunter’s take.
Similarly, Number One, played by Majel Barrett in the pilot, gets a name in the series, Una Chin Riley, and is a much more rounded character compared to the stoic first officer we originally saw. The biggest difference here is Spock, who has more in common with the Spock of the two Star Trek pilots, The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before than the Vulcan as he would come to be in subsequent episodes. This is a Spock still trying to figure out who he is (the Spock who can still occasionally smile), and we get some interesting back story filled in, most notably his relationship with his fiancé T’Pring in brighter days, long before it fell apart in Amok Time. Nurse Chapel is a whole lot sassier in this version of the story, while Dr M’Benga who had one appearance in TOS, is developed a lot more here as the ship’s CMO.
Also of interest is the presence of Uhura, here on the ship as a cadet on her first training mission. Uhura is a big part of the Star Trek lore, but compared to Scott, Chekov, and even Sulu, she had hardly any back story in the original series and subsequent spin-offs. Strange New Worlds rectifies that, exploring the character and really fleshing her out. There are new characters to the story as well, with Ortegas an irreverent and optimistic helmsman (who also gets to show off her fencing skills), and the chief engineer Hemmer, who turns out to be something of a mentor to Uhura.
There is this great cast of characters, and the stories are really well written and brought to life. This is the point where the critics start nitpicking... And I do have a few niggles with the show. One, or rather two of them, are the Kirk brothers. The first episode introduces George Samuel Kirk (his corpse, William Shatner with moustache cameo’d in the original series episode Operation Annihilate), but he has a bigger, and more lively role in Strange New Worlds. And he beams aboard the Enterprise looking exactly like Guy from Galaxy Quest, and I can’t shake that image no matter how hard I try. And for the final episode we get to meet James Kirk in an alternate reality version of Balance of Terror, and I just don’t see the charisma that William Shatner and Chris Pine brought to the character. This Kirk is more like the proverbial ‘walking stack of books’ described by Gary Mitchell, a chancer maybe, but not too likeable. This might be more problematic given that James Kirk as a character will have more of a presence in Season 2 of Strange New Worlds, but then again, this was an alternate reality episode.
Another nit to pick is the Gorn. Okay, the Gorn that we met in TOS: Arena was a challenge when it came to suspending disbelief, the kind of proverbial rubber suit monster that would be more often seen in The A-Team. The species needed a re-invention beyond that which it got in Star Trek: Enterprise, but Strange New Worlds gives it the kind of Ridley Scott’s Alien lifecycle that makes for a couple of great horror styled episodes, but in my opinion does the race a disservice when it comes to the kind of Star Trek storytelling that we’re used to; aliens with voices that our heroes try to find some kind of common ground with. The Gorn here are just boogiemen of the week. The episodes are of high quality, and entertaining to be sure. I just don’t see how the Gorn can be developed beyond that though.
I had got tired of having my heart sink with every subsequent Star Trek series or movie once Deep Space Nine had stopped airing. At first I was actively forcing myself to like them, pretending to myself that they were still good, given that I was shelling out money for the videos back then. Then I stopped spending money but kept on hoping that they’d find the mojo again. With Strange New Worlds, they finally have. They’re making Star Trek that I want to watch, and after 25 years, it’s been long overdue. At the time of writing, they have confirmed a third season of Strange New Worlds before the second has even been aired. My joy is confined only by the fact that I am going to have to buy Discovery Season 2, aren’t I? I need to, to have the ‘beginning’ of Pike, Spock, and Number One’s stories.