Created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Original Air Dates: May 5th 2022 – July 7th 2022
One cannot help but get a buzz when the line ‘Space; the final frontier’ is delivered while accompanied to the opening bars of Alexander Courage’s iconic theme music. It’s something that never stops having the ability of getting you fired up for the next fifty minutes.
Of course, we’re a far cry from a credit sequence depicting a whooshing Enterprise going by the camera as was the case in the 1960s. Now, Jeff Russo’s rousing rendition of Courage’s iconic theme is set to a characteristically cinematic depiction of a beautifully rendered CGI Enterprise travelling the galaxy through a never-ending environment of planets and space backgrounds.
Following on from both Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, both of which are very much Star Trek productions designed for the modern age of streaming and serialisation, the impetus of the latest branch of the Star Trek television tree appears to be a deliberate attempt to harken back to the days when the drive of a new episode of television was literally to deliver a new story with very few connections to the one before.
While the characters that populate this pre-Kirk era of the Enterprise do develop from one episode to the next with their own set of stories that reverberate throughout the season (Pike dealing with the revelation of his own destiny ten years into the future; Spock’s relationship woes; Nurse Chapel’s feelings for Spock; Uhura dealing with being the newest crew member), the format of the show is very much one that takes Trek back to its roots of a new planet, a new story and a new adventure each week for the crew.
It works magnificently.
For those who prefer a side order of prolonged serialisation with their sci-fi, and certainly Discovery very much plays in that storytelling pool, Strange New Worlds and its emphasis on moving away from the sustained story telling threads of that show towards something more jaunty and structurally old fashioned might prove off-putting for some, but very welcome for others.
This is a series designed to appeal to the nostalgia glands of the mind, memories of watching reruns of The Original Series when each week brought a new set of adventures and concerns for the crew. It says a lot about how much sci-fi television has changed over the last thirty to forty years that we’ve moved away from that type of storytelling, and where even series such as the spin-offs that were born from The Original Series itself settled into grooves that asked audiences to pay attention and come back week in and week out for new developments in the one-story arc.
While there is some ongoing angst here (Chapel’s unrequited feelings for Spock, Pike contemplating his mortality), it never gets too much in the way of the fun, but it also never forgets to ground some episodes into darker territory too.
While on the one hand this does grasp the positive outlook that Gene Roddenberry was keen on having his universe be synonymous with, an episode like Lift Us Where the Suffering Cannot Reach does show a willingness to take the potential for good and positive and plunge it into something darker and horrifying as evident by its eventual final twist.
Being a series with stand-alone tales means that not every episode is a home run; The Elysian Kingdom is a full-hearted attempt at a comedic tale involving the cast playing Shakespearian dress-up and subverting their characters, but not all the humour lands and it’s only in the last act when it turns into a drama does it really make impact.
The body swap of Spock Amok is much better mainly because it doesn’t involve too much mugging for camera, and it gains much of its comedy from having Spock and his fiancé T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) swap bodies with each other which might be one of the oldest sci-fi comedy tropes in the episodic television book but when done well is very effective and this was no exception.
Best of all is how gorgeous the series looks. As Star Wars devotes itself more and more to using The Volume to produce its television output (pleasingly the forthcoming Andor appears to be forgoing that approach), there is something about the colourful lighting and magnificent production design here that lends a glorious air to Strange New Worlds.
Some fans may find it a regression of sorts, but it utilises its nostalgic tone well and uses it as a way to make Trek an enticing prospect for some who may have fallen away the franchise at some point in the past. It might be somewhat pandering, but with its fantastic cast and engaging writing, it might actually prove a gateway for making Star Trek a big deal again.