After stretching, and occasionally shattering, the remit of what Star Trek could and should be in recent years, the upcoming fifth series of this new era of the franchise is apparently set to return to its episodic and optimistic roots. Strange New Worlds will feature the adventures of Captain Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise less than a decade before the events of The Original Series, spinning off from their appearance in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery. While I have no qualms with attempting to break new ground and iterate the 54-year-old franchise, it does feel somewhat refreshing to have a classically Star Trek series on the horizon, with a reportedly lighter tone and adventures-of-the-week. With the series having spawned from Discovery, and to avoid becoming a frothy and redundant throwback like The Orville, Strange New Worlds will have to adapt the well-worn Star Trek formula and introduce serialised arcs and characterisation to fit in with the modern television landscape, but will hopefully also feel much more like it’s nineties counterparts than its mediocre modern contemporaries. Everything spoken about the developing show by its creators, while having to be taken with a Kurtzman-sized grain of salt, has gotten me excited about the potential of the series and what I hope to see within.
One issue the show will have to face from its very first episode to the eventual series finale is its very nature as a prequel. Less so in terms of story but rather with the characters it features. We know how Pike’s tale comes to an end, and even he’s privy to that information now, with Discovery twisting an horrific accident into a noble sacrifice. With his fate known and accepted, what story is left to tell? But it’s Spock who poses the biggest challenge. He’s one of the most iconic characters in the franchise and he’s been explored across countless hours of television and film. Jumping back to his days in Starfleet before TOS could potentially be a major problem because he can’t develop. He’s the cold emotionless Vulcan who doesn’t understand humanity and we know he remains that way until he serves with Kirk and Bones, who gradually become his friends. To maintain that development in TOS, Spock has to stay firmly planted as a stagnant character and not be able to grow, which doesn’t exactly make for the best television.
To combat this, Strange New Worlds has to do something that Discovery, and even TOS, failed to do: embrace the ensemble. While Pike and Spock can still be prominent characters, much of the series will have to revolve around other crew members. Thankfully, Rebecca Romijn’s Number One is a fairly blank slate and so hopefully will be greatly developed in the series. Beyond her, I’d love to see Dr Boyce again after his appearance in the original Star Trek pilot ‘The Cage’. He shares some DNA with his successor McCoy but he can be taken in a slightly different direction to make him unique. Boyce’s worldly cynicism is one of my favourite parts of ‘The Cage’ and he carries a portable martini kit around with him, ready to counsel Pike with tough love. And, of course, the series will need to introduce a variety of new characters, no doubt with greater diversity than Pike’s Enterprise of the 1960’s. I hope for a classic chief engineer role on the ship after that position has been bizarrely absent from Discovery, and maybe Thira Sidhu, the engineer from the Short Trek ‘Ask Not’ will be a regular character.
I’m excited by the apparent mix of serialised and episodic storytelling in Strange New Worlds. Star Trek has dabbled in this before with some success, whether it be Deep Space Nine or Enterprise, but this is the time to truly embrace the structure, and I hope the weekly adventures mean lower stakes than recent Star Trek tales. I’ve been rewatching the second season of Discovery and was really impressed with its second episode ‘New Eden’. I hope this episode is used as a template for Strange New Worlds in terms of how it tells its story. It very much plays into wider arcs of the series, with the Red Angel storyline and a B-plot about Tilly being invaded by a rogue fungus, but also tells its own compact story completely within a single episode. It’s a fun embrace of classic Star Trek, with Pike and two crew beaming down to a planet to investigate a signal and getting caught up in a local feud, with all the debates about the Prime Directive that usually brings. It’s not just the plotting from this episode that I hope the series continues, but the themes too.
‘New Eden’ is very much about science vs faith, as are several episodes of Discovery ‘s second season until it buckles under its own convoluted storytelling in its second half. I hope to see this underlying theme return, especially with Pike leading Strange New Worlds. While not explicitly religious, Pike is a man of faith and a certain kind of spirituality, making him open to interpreting some signs as evidence for higher powers. I think this is a fascinating and so far unexplored characteristic for a Star Trek captain. The only thing that comes close is Sisko’s conflict with his place as Emissary of the Prophets in DS9. While Pike doesn’t need to act like a devout Christian in every episode, I’d like to see his faith continually explored and applied to a variety of classic Star Trek story formats. One of my favourite aspects of The X-Files is the inherent but fascinating contradiction of Scully searching for scientific answers to her cases while also being a Christian. Pike could be Star Trek’s answer to Scully. Oh, and on a more basic level, Pike reveals in an episode of Discovery that he hates spiders and that immediately just makes me want to see him go up against some giant alien spiders.
After two seasons of 2250’s set action, Star Trek: Discovery has jumped almost a millennium into the future to finally escape the continuity and canon issues that have plagued the series endlessly. So, what does CBS do immediately after solving this problem? Commission another prequel series of course! Strange New Worlds is going to have to combat the same problems that hurt Discovery. Hopefully the writers have learnt from past mistakes and avoid any huge plot points that don’t fit in with what we know of the era, and use legacy characters and locations sparingly. The primary thing they should do is just keep the show simple, from the stories to the visual effects. Every aspect of Discovery is so overdesigned and that just doesn’t gel with the minimalist feel of TOS. I’m haunted by the memory of the Short Trek ‘Ask Not’ where Pike has a hood over his head but it’s the most pointlessly futuristic hood imaginable, folding away like a transformer. While the aesthetic of TOS should be modernised and updated, the level of technology they now have in this era dwarfs anything seen in any previous Star Trek show, even those set centuries later.
Strange New Worlds isn’t the only Discovery spin-off in the works. A Section 31 series following Emperor-turned-agent Georgiou is in development and while I’m sure the urge to do a crossover with the shows is strong, I think that would be a bad idea, at least initially. Not only because I dislike everything I’ve been hearing about this Section 31 series but also because each of the show’s respective first seasons need to immediately capture their unique tones and structure. They should be totally opposite series to one another. Strange New Worlds is the bright and optimistic episodic series, and Section 31 is the dark and dour serialised show, no doubt injected with Georgiou’s terrible sense of humour from Discovery. While these completely different shows would make for a potentially fascinating clash of Star Trek ideals in a potential crossover, I hope that happens in later seasons. Initially the shows need to focus on carving out their own unique part of the Star Trek universe. And I’m also saying this because I don’t want any of the problems I foresee myself having with Section 31 to invade Strange New Worlds. Keep them apart until they are both working successfully as their own shows before even considering a crossover.
I want Star Trek to feel like a cohesive universe of stories and at the moment the different shows don’t feel as connected as they should. My second favourite series, after Deep Space Nine, is Enterprise and because that earlier prequel series was the last to be produced in the ‘Berman-era’ of the franchise, it feels isolated. I don’t want Strange New Worlds to act only as a prequel to The Original Series but as a sequel to Enterprise as well. To properly canonise the events of that series. While there are several long living characters who could potentially appear, such as T’Pol and Phlox, I’ll happily just take a few references from time to time.
Hell, Strange New Worlds is in the perfect position to reference events, locations, characters and races from all over Star Trek, and not try to only drain TOS of all its nostalgia. Canon isn’t just a straight line. It’d be fascinating to bring races from the shows set in the 24th century into the 23rd. We don’t know when first contact occurred between Starfleet and the Cardassians so let’s see that. How about the intriguing Sheliak or Breen? Strange New Worlds needs to expand its references so that it doesn’t fall into the same continuity-bending trap Discovery fell into of bringing in TOS elements before they logically should appear. There’s a whole established galaxy our there for Strange New Worlds to explore, as well as, of course, strange new worlds that we have never been seen before.
Strange New Worlds is set to bring about a return of Star Trek’s, and Starfleet’s, original mission statement with a revival of the franchise’s classic format, but still needs to reflect an evolution of the series in this very different modern landscape. Exactly where the show finds its balancing point, if indeed it does, is unknown but I’m hoping that Strange New Worlds can offer the best of both worlds; a combination of Star Trek both new and old. What are your hopes for Strange New Worlds? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.