“Space…the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before!”
Since the relaunch of Star Trek on television via the Paramount+ streaming service, I must admit to being a little underwhelmed. It’s truly bad when Alex Kurtzman makes me pine for the days of Rick Berman. There have been some pretty good moments in the various new Trek shows. Picard has shown promise and has improved with a third season that looks very exciting. Lower Decks is just too campy for my taste, and Discovery has so many ups and downs I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. So along comes Strange New Worlds, and this is the Star Trek I’ve been waiting for these last decades.
This is a series that has been teased for over 50 years. It all started before Star Trek: The Original Series and a pilot that was rejected. That first Star Trek featured Jefferey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike of the USS Enterprise. His first officer was a woman known only as Number One and played by Majel Barrett. Then there was a funny-looking alien named Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. The network rejected the pilot but did something rarely done in television. Gene Roddenberry was given a second shot to do another pilot for the show. Among the notes he received was that a woman couldn’t be the executive officer, and he was to get rid of the guy with the ears. Roddenberry would later explain that he kept Mr. Spock and married the executive officer. Of course, Majel Barrett would show up often in Trek as Nurse Chapel, the voice of the Next Generation computer, and the irritating mother of Deanna Troi. But that rejected pilot had cost money, and we don’t waste money, so the footage was reused in the only 2-part Original Trek episode, The Menagerie. Spock would hijack the Enterprise to take his badly burned former captain to a planet where he could live the rest of his life without suffering the damage he incurred. Along the route there’s a court martial where Spock tells us the story of the first encounter with the aliens he hopes to reunite with Captain Pike. His testimony is delivered through the first pilot’s footage. We are introduced to Captain Christopher Pike, and that’s where his story began and ended.
Flash forward to Star Trek: Discovery, and we are teased once more. Captain Pike and his Enterprise crew end up joining the crew of Discovery for several episodes starting with the second season and ending with Discovery’s jump to the far future. From the moment I first saw that crew, I wanted to see so much more of them, and not as second fiddle to Discovery. I wasn’t the only one who saw the great potential of the series, and it’s finally here. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is now out on Blu-ray, and for the most part it’s the best Trek in 20 years.
Captain Christopher Pike is played by Anson Mount. I’ve loved this guy since I saw him star in Hell On Wheels, where he was often paired with another Star Trek legend, Colm Meany, who played Chief Miles O’Brien on both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Mount is pretty much perfect for the part. He has the kind of charisma that the character demands, and he actually bears a slight resemblance to the late Jefferey Hunter. Spock is played by Ethan Peck, who doesn’t quite nail it as well as Zachery Quinto has on the reboot films, but he’s pretty comfortable in the role, and it doesn’t take too long to accept him as the character. There are two roles here that were both originally played by Majel Barrett. She played the original Number One, who is now played by Rebecca Romijn, who is perhaps best known for her run as the blue-bodied Mystique from the X-Men films. In this series she has a secret that could cost her and Pike their careers. As last season came to a close, she was arrested for being a member of a race that uses genetic augmentation. Deep Space Nine fans know this is what got Dr. Bashir in trouble on that show. The beginning of the season will see Pike finding her a good civil rights lawyer, and we’ll witness the trial of Una Chin-Riley (Number One). The second Barrett role is the introduction of Nurse Christine Chapel, played by Jess Bush here. She’s one of three characters brought over from the original series that were not in the rejected pilot. Chapel is a young and flirty nurse who is more self-confident than the mousy woman we know from the original show. She works closely with Dr. M’Benga, who is played by Babs Olusanmokun. He appeared only as a recurring character in the first show and was the medical expert on Vulcans. He is the Chief Medical Officer here but must get a demotion somewhere, because he works under Dr. “Bones” McCoy later. We discover that the two worked side by side on the battle front of the Klingon War. There are a couple of episodes that handle that head on, and we learn that both suffer PTSD from those years. The biggest character brought over is Cadet Uhura, who was played by the iconic Nichelle Nichols and here is played by Celia Rose Gooding. She is no longer on rotation and now has found her calling, no pun intended, as a communications and language expert. The character has evolved quite a bit since last year. We see far more confidence now. We get a security officer with an infamous family tree. She’s La’an Noonien Singh, played by Christina Chong. As her name suggests, she’s descended from Khan himself. She’s a tough character who feels she has to prove herself more than others. She gets to live down her infamous name in one of the better episodes of the season. Finally, the navigation is done by Erica Ortega, played by Melissa Navia. She’s cocky and has the piloting skills to back it up. Newly added this season is Taxi veteran Carol Kane as the new Chief Engineer. She’s Pelia, and she’s an alien thousands of years old who has lived on Earth throughout most of human history. It’s a rather odd choice that somehow works here. In the final episode we meet the new version of Scotty, played by Martin Quinn.
The season begins with a lot of Star Trek staple subjects and plot devices. While Pike goes off to get that lawyer, Spock is left in charge of the ship. They’re in space dock, so what could go wrong? Do you really have to ask? So many red shirts. So little time. They get a distress call from La’an, who is on a planet where someone is trying to restart that Klingon War. Spock is denied permission to answer the call, and every Trek fan knows what’s going to happen next. Yes, that old “steal the ship” staple. The next episode deals with Number One’s trial, and these trials are another very common Trek staple. Who can forget Kirk on trial for killing one of his crew who is still alive and aiming for revenge? Or that nugget where Scotty is on trial for murdering young women, and it’s really the ghost of Jack the Ripper who done it. In Next Generation, Data goes to court to gain the right of self-determination. Plenty of court dates on the Star Trek docket.
Next is another staple. La’an gets a surprise visitor in her quarters. He’s talking about murder and a plot and hands her a device. When she goes to the bridge everything has changed. Kirk is already the captain, and when she tells him her story they both get sent to 21st century Earth to stop this crazy plot. But this is a Kirk who will no longer exist if they are successful, and the two characters get close, which leads to some interesting moments when she meets the Kirk of her timeline. Spock spends some time as a full human when there’s a shuttle accident. Aliens attempt to heal him and decide to solve that conflict between human and Vulcan. Chapel is the only other person on the ship, so they assume human is his true form. Finding ways to bring out Spock’s emotions. Hardly places no one has gone before.
There are two huge chances the show takes this season. Those Old Scientists is a crossover episode with the animated series Lower Decks. It starts in animation, where that crew encounter a portal that history tells them Pike’s crew first discovered. Both Mariner (Newsome) and Boimler (Quaid) talk about their fantasies of meeting that crew. Boimer gets sucked into the portal and ends up there with the live-action Pike crew. The episode shifts to live-action with Boimer and later Mariner played by the actors who voice them on their own show. It’s a pretty wacky episode and played almost entirely for laughs. It’s directed by Jonathan Frakes.
The second big gamble is Subspace Rhapsody. The crew encounter a subspace anomaly that causes them to break out in song. Buffy did it better, and while there are some obvious high moments and a couple of good songs, it really doesn’t work for me. Anyone remember Cop Rock? ‘Nuff said.
The season ends with a truly huge cliffhanger, and we’ll have to wait for a while to get to see how it ends. It features the Gorn, which should make me happy. Arena is my favorite original series episode, and as campy and bad as the creature suit might have been, there was something really cool about it. Now they are CG monsters that are closer to Giger’s alien designs than Arena. There are even obvious shot-for-shot recreations of moments from the first Alien movie. They just don’t look cool at all. I can’t put my finger on it, but sometimes that old school campy stuff was better. Don’t believe me? Just ask any Dr. Who fan wearing a really long scarf if those cardboard and shaky sets didn’t have a charm that the new big productions don’t seem to have captured. Again: ’nuff said.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is delivered with impressive averages of between 60 and 70 mbps. I am so thankful we were given this version to review. This is the best any Star Trek episode has ever looked, and that includes movies. Black levels are incredibly inky and deep. The HDR delivers wonderful contrast, and seeing those pinpoints of starlight against such a deep black field of space is breathtaking at times. Colors pop. The gold, red, and blue of the old-style uniforms are vibrant here. Even the white of Chapel’s uniform truly stands out here. Detail is so good you can see the glue lines on some Klingon heads. The f/x just jump out at you, and seeing the ship in such detail and sharpness is a pretty special experience. This is the only way to fly through space.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track isn’t Atmos, and yeah, I’d love to see an upgrade, but this holds up just fine. It delivers on the important stuff. Dialog comes through just fine, and everything is well-placed. The surrounds give you some added range with background sounds like ship’s engines and wind on an ice-cold planet. The music here is also a notch above the other current shows, and the expanded surrounds allow for you to appreciate it. The subs aren’t going to thrill you much. It’s still going to be that step above streaming.
There are some deleted scenes on select episodes.
Producing Props: (10:46) We get a closer look at several props from the season, almost all dealing with the Vulcan stuff from Spock’s human episode, including using his actual fake ears as the fake ears the character has made to “pass” as Vulcan.
The Costumes Closet: (13:21) If you’re into the show’s threads, this one’s for you.
The Gorn: (15:37) This is an interesting feature if you’re a fan of the new and not-improved Gorn.
Singing In Space: (22:14) The cast and crew talk about their experience here, and we get a song-by-song look at the tunes from the episode.
Exploring New Worlds: (46:30) This feature takes you episode by episode with tons of behind-the-scenes stuff and plenty of insight from the cast and crew.
The Steelbook also gives you box-sized character magnets so you can customize your tin. This is a really cool idea.
This show remains the best Star Trek out there today. It isn’t bogged down with large story arcs or trying to check off boxes of stuff not related to the stories. Here’s what Kurtzman and all of the other folks associated with the franchise have to learn. If you stick to the show that Gene Roddenberry pretty much laid out for you, “The thing practically flies itself.”