The following contains spoilers for the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiere, S1E1, “Strange New Worlds” (Teleplay by Akiva Goldsman, with a story by Akiva Goldsman & Jenny Lumet, and directed by Akiva Goldsman)
Much has been made about how Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a departure from both of the other current live-action Star Trek series (Discovery and Picard), and this is true. From the very first shots of the premiere episode—also titled “Strange New Worlds”—it is clear that the series is reaching for a lighter, more hopeful, tone. The storytelling for each episode is more self-contained and the entire thing seems to have a brightness that the other shows, no matter how good some of us think they still are, have no interest in exploring.
It isn’t different in a key way though, Strange New Worlds is still committed to having an extremely diverse and representative cast. Sure, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is a straight, cis, white male—he is also fantastic in the role, but we will get to that in a moment—but the characters surrounding him are quite diverse and fascinating. The series, as holds true of all of modern Trek, remains committed to Rodenberry’s “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” ideals. Most importantly though, these characters just seem full of life. This applies to both the characters returning from Star Trek: The Original Series and also to the new characters created specifically for Strange New Worlds.
The central characters are pulled directly from the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”. In that show, having both an alien and a female first officer proved to be too much for NBC executives and the show could not keep both. So we got to know and love Leonard Nimoy’s Spock but Majel Barett’s Number One was cut from the series (almost) entirely. Both characters are back for Strange New Worlds and seem poised to make a real impact on the series. Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) both made their debuts—along with Pike— during Season 2 of Discovery and the excitement of actually being able to see that threesome in action is what led directly to the spin-off being developed.
Spock is possibly the most iconic character in the entire franchise, with both Nimoy’s and Zachary Quinto’s portrayals having a huge amount of impact on the series and the culture. Peck has been a different type of Spock and the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiere leans even more heavily into that. Spock here is even less coldly logical than ever, as we first see him involved in some pretty intense romantic scenes with T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), including her proposal to him and their interrupted attempt to “celebrate” that engagement.
Fans of the original series know that this engagement does not turn out well for them, but in the moment their chemistry is pretty delightful. Spock though is still guided most of all by logic and duty and, despite the super romantic scenes, definitely does not really understand romance or emotion in a standard way. Peck plays the character with a coy sensibility that underlies the core principles of the character but really sets him apart from playing an imitation of the Nimoy original. Throughout the episode, anytime he is on screen, it is obvious that this Spock is deeply considering every thought and action he takes.
Number One is not in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiere very much—her role is definitely to serve as the plot instigator for the episode—but it is definitely a delight to see Rebecca Romijn in the role and she should have a much larger role going forward. Similarly, Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is introduced in S1E1 but only gets a few lines and chances to show her skills. Of course, she is revealed to still be a cadet who is on the bridge of the Enterprise due solely to her status as a prodigy, so she should also get a lot more to do going forward. At least that’s my hope for the character—unlike the Uhura portrayed by Nichelle Nichols in the Original Series, who, despite her rightful status as an icon, was always underserved and underused.
The Nurse Chapel of Star Trek:TOS—also played by Majel Barett—was also always underserved when she showed up, though Barett’s inimitable sass (later to serve her so well as Lwaxana Troi) made the character stand out anyway. But, the new Nurse Chapel, played by Jess Bush, immediately made an impression here. Bush basically stole the entire episode with her funny, sexy, fast-paced performance. The sass of the original is still there, along with what seems to be her burgeoning crush on Spock, but Bush and the writers really seem to have a vision for the character that hopefully will turn her into a true standout, much the way Tilly (Mary Wiseman) was a standout of Star Trek: Discovery.
Other than the introduction of new security chief La’an Noonien-Sing (Christina Chong), the new characters did not get much attention in Episode 1, but they have already shown enough distinction and winning characteristics to be compelling. Strange New Worlds is not going to be tied down by a season-long plot—at least that is what we were told, and I hope it remains true—so it would be fantastic if the series can devote that extra time and energy to giving the main cast real, developed character arcs and distinctions, along with full episodes devoted to individual characters. (Give me an episode where Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel go to a medical conference and get into shenanigans with a young up-and-comer named Leonard McCoy, please!)
That just leaves one character to discuss, Captain Christopher Pike. Pike showed up as the replacement Captain for Season 2 of Discovery and has been absolutely fantastic in the part ever since. Before that season ended, Pike wound up learning about the horrific injuries that will befall him in the future, effectively seeing his “death”. That has left the inherently optimistic and charismatic man in a state of mind that is rife with self-doubt and anxiety and makes him a greatly compelling central character. The two sides of Pike, the ever-optimistic leader and the broken man awaiting his fate, are really strongly presented.
As he says when discussing this with Spock, “It’s nearly a decade away. Is that soon? It suddenly feels soon.” That is the nature of this version of Pike and Anson Mount is incredibly compelling as he grapples with it. It seems that these deeper character-based dilemmas and arcs will be the priority of this series, as opposed to having the stories be plot-driven.
The plot of the Strange New Worlds premiere was classic, standard, Star Trek fare. Number 1 and her team attempted to make first contact with an alien civilization and things went wrong. Every beat was basically pulled from a Star Trek template: the Captain gets called back into action, the away team has to go undercover, there are shenanigans on the ship, and in the end, the Captain saves the day with a good old fashioned heartfelt speech. None of that was an issue; in fact, it was the great appeal of the show.
By simplifying the plot, making it stand alone, and not overthinking the mechanics, Strange New Worlds is able to renew the heart of what makes Star Trek so appealing at its best. The characters are key and the creators actually seem dedicated to giving the audience time with them rather than shunting them aside in favor of universe-spanning consequences. All of which makes this series all the more impactful and makes it feel like something new, despite being so deeply tied to the franchise’s past.