“Strange New Worlds”
I really do not like prequels. Anyone that has followed my film writing over the past decade or two will no doubt be aware of this, but it bears repeating. Nothing of dramatic worth comes from a prequel. If a story is supposed to relate the most important moment in a character’s life, then at best a prequel is going to relate the second-most important. More often than not, they simply act as a mechanism to deliver trivia. There is no drama in a prequel, just pointless overly-familiar busy work.
It is a problem that largely scuttled Star Trek: Discovery for me in its first two years – along with many other issues – and it is already a problem I can see scuttling new spin-off series Strange New Worlds. It is a particularly annoying series because it almost gets things right: the Star Trek formula can be stretched and re-developed in all manner of directions, but at its heart it is a franchise about humans flying starships from planet to planet to have loosely allegorical adventures. The further from that format the series shifts, and the less effective it becomes at being Star Trek. All CBS Studios need to make the perfect Star Trek for the 2020s is a ship, a contemporary and varied crew, and interesting stories to tell. Based on its premiere episode, Strange New Worlds gets one out of three right – and even then, it is a prequel: we know the USS Enterprise is going to be fine right up to its destruction in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
The series cast are the reason this spin-off exists, with fan enthusiasm for Anson Mount’s Captain Pike, Ethan Peck’s Mr Spock, and Rebecca Romijn’s “Number One” over in Star Trek: Discovery prompting CBS to launch their own series about a pre-Jim Kirk Enterprise. It is a waste of terrific actors. There is nothing in Pike that couldn’t be as easily expressed in an original character. The same goes for Number One. As for Spock, this is the second re-casting of Leonard Nimoy’s pop culture icon. Each iteration drags the character further away from the beloved icon, with little to show for it. Over in the J.J. Abrams-produced Star Trek movies, Zachary Quinto managed to pull together a remarkable echo of Nimoy’s character. Peck sadly does not come close. In another role he would not be so hamstrung.
Other series regulars include Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura and Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel – two more actors saddled under the shadow of pre-existing performances – as well as Christina Chong as security chief La’an Noonien Singh. This is, for the uninitiated, a reference to popular Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh, famously played by Ricardo Montalban in both the original series and Star Trek II. There is no real indication where La’an’s heritage figures into the new show, but I am confidently betting ‘nowhere good’.
There is a fairly rudimentary storyline about a first contact mission gone wrong, but it is wrapped up before it has any chance for any interesting angles to be explored. Technical elements of the episode are strong, with a nice aesthetic and some attractive updates on all of the 23rd century technology. Despite these, and other merits, it is hard to be too excited by Strange New Worlds. I find myself dwelling on the sort of series everybody involved could be making instead.