STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS
The Enterprise Incidents
UK/US Paramount+, streaming now Showrunners Akiva Goldsman, Henry
Cast Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Rebecca Romijn, Christina Chong, Babs Olusanmokun, Jess Bush
Strange New Worlds is the best first season of live-action Star Trek since the original run in 1965. A bold claim, but all of the previous spin-offs have taken a while – usually three years – to find their feet. Strange New Worlds arrives with a remarkable sense of its own identity. Like the show’s lead, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), it has a swagger and a reassuring charm that immediately lets you know that you’re in safe hands.
Pike is having a hard time following the end of Discovery’s second season (you can tell he’s depressed because he’s grown a big beard). Thanks to a vision of the future, he knows that in a few years he will save the lives of four Starfleet cadets, but at a terrible personal cost. Still, he’s a man of duty and when Starfleet calls him back to active service, he gets out the clippers and returns to the Enterprise bridge alongside Spock (Ethan Peck), Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and a cast of new characters.
Despite spinning off from two previous shows, Strange New Worlds is refreshingly light on backstory and almost entirely episodic in nature. Character arcs continue and a couple of Big Bads are set up (one of whom will draw incredulous chuckles from long-term fans), but these are all self-contained stories of the type that used to be Trek’s bread and butter. There’s a planet with a dark secret, a tense starship duel, an unashamed Aliens rip-off and an old-fashioned ethical dilemma. There’s even – in the one lousy instalment – a fairy-tale-comes-tolife yarn that feels like a riff on TNG’S Holodeck episodes.
But while the stories have a retro feel, the series’ nuanced characterisation allows it to sit happily alongside more contemporary shows. Pike is as swashbuckling as Kirk and as thoughtful as Picard, but with a quiet melancholy. Peck grows more impressive by the week, referencing Leonard Nimoy’s performance while adding a touch of youthful vulnerability. Christina Chong and Babs Olusanmokun give more grounded performances as La’an and Dr M’benga than we’re used to on modern Trek, and the show is pleasingly free of endless heart-to-hearts.
It’s hard to join the dots between Jess Bush’s sparky, funny Nurse Chapel and the distant performance given by Majel Barrett. And a few characters are a little underwritten. Still, this is only season one and it’s great. Imagine what it’s going to be like when we get to year three...
Dr M’benga appeared in two ’60s episodes ("A Private Little War” and “That Which Survives"), played by Booker Bradshaw.