Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the Spacefaring Sci-Fi Adventure We’ve Needed

The ideal image of humanity in the future.

by J.R. Waugh
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Star Trek has always enjoyed an esteemed presence even in the realm of contemporary science fiction for a simple reason: it is timeless and relentlessly relevant. The series has evolved in the 56 years since its inception, with numerous shows connecting to the original series, fleshing out interstellar conflict, and racial tensions, yet with a progressive mentality for each one. But one of the strongest shows to date bearing the Star Trek flag came out earlier this year, Strange New Worlds, and it’s what the world needs and deserves as a combination of thrilling yet uplifting entertainment.

What is So Special About Star Trek: Strange New Worlds?

Strange New Worlds channels the spirit of Star Trek: The Original Series along with the gravitas of its greatest films. Strange New Worlds also has the look and feel to match the production value perceived in the J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek film, which is a wonderful sight to behold as a weekly episodic streaming series.

Strange New Worlds feels distinctively like Star Trek and is the breath of fresh air in an increasingly bleak cultural landscape. Strange New Worlds is culturally relevant, with the memorable and competent portrayal of new as well as classic characters, and it continues the series’ decades-long tradition of cultural and ethnic representation. Finally, it is perhaps the most ideal representation of a Starfleet Captain to this day. These qualities make the show feel certainly like any other Star Trek, but it’s in how they’re executed that the show elevates itself to a new standard.

Strange New Worlds Proves How Relevant and Essential Star Trek Is

While it feels at times as though the series attempts to be too topical, that’s exactly how Star Trek was conceived. It pushed boundaries in its earliest days, and served as an affirmation of our potential as humans to spread our best qualities, while not hiding the potential for our worst instincts to show themselves. Strange New Worlds sees its characters acknowledging the possibility of conflict around every corner, but taking every possible approach to stop it without a shot being fired. This might seem like a drag to some, but it increases tension, with viewers knowing the lethal potential if things go wrong.

The series explores genetic recoding for sophisticated disguises, the deadly actions by classic enemies like the Gorn, and war between factions in this direct prequel to the original. It feels intense, with real stakes, and walking away from each episode you can potentially feel uplifted, and spirits restored. It doesn’t hurt that the series is also just plain fun.

The Characters Embody the Soul of the Franchise While Pushing it Forward

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Image: Paramount

Anson Mount is a boon in the Star Trek franchise. His exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least for now, was a blessing in disguise as it meant we would get more of his take on Chris Pike. Mount’s portrayal is a breath of fresh air, but it’s hardly the only standout in the show. Ethan Peck is marvelous as Spock, his deep voice churning out wisdom around every turn, yet he’s still learning in real time, showing personal growth while dealing with prodigious recruit Uhura.

Una Chin-Riley (portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, commonly called Number One) is an Illyrian, whose culture uses genetic modification. This is despite Starfleet having strict regulations against such practices, due to the damages of the Eugenics Wars, placing her at odds with an organization to which she has pledged loyalty. This perceived bigotry is noted by Chief Medical Officer Joseph M’Benga as the byproduct of humanity going out into space, replacing their previous earthbound prejudices with those against other races, projecting their problems and histories. He sees this, and understands her frustrations, remarking on how she stays dedicated despite her secrets.

But one of the greatest strengths of the series is how it deploys representation of real-world cultures and communities in organic ways. Uhura, whose history was previously more ambiguous, is an open book in many ways for Strange New Worlds. She is a new cadet, fascinated with languages, and when noted by Pike for knowing an impressive 12 languages, she smiles and corrects him, stating “37” instead, reflecting on her Kenyan background. Uhura goes on to say that to be understood, it’s best to speak in the listener’s tongue.

While the fact is inaccurate about how many languages there are in Kenya (there are far more than 22) the viewers remarked on the thoughtful aspect of this version of Uhura, and how it increases the visibility of Kenya’s multilingualism in the real world.

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Image: Paramount

But one of the coolest characters to feature in the show is Hemmer, Strange New Worlds’ chief engineer serving on the Enterprise. Hemmer is played by Bruce Horak, Star Trek’s first legally blind regular cast member. His character is entertaining, immediately chewing up the scenery when Uhura makes a faux pas assumption about his senses, ultimately ending with the two becoming friends. While Hemmer’s presence is unfortunately limited to just the first season, this won’t be the last we see of Bruce Hoark on Strange New Worlds. But as for other characters with limited time on the Enterprise, there’s one other standout.

Captain Christopher Pike is the Best Starfleet Captain in a Long Time

Captain Pike is not a new character by any means, being previously portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter, Sean Kenney, and Bruce Greenwood. What helps this Pike stand out from the rest, aside from his greater screentime, is how he conducts himself on a personal level as well as with his crew. Pike had previously appeared on Star Trek: Discovery along with Ethan Peck’s Spock, and their portrayal was so well-received that fans gathered 30,000 signatures on change.org to get them a spinoff back in 2019. So Anson Mount’s performance as the character was unsurprising and giving him a proper series didn’t disappoint.

The strength of Pike’s leadership as a Captain is complicated in that he’s not a rigid, insensitive tyrant barking orders to his subordinates. He bonds with his crewmates, having a Captain’s quarters outfitted with a kitchen and bar to host dinners and get to know his team. He has qualities that make him similar to previous Starfleet Captains, yet he stands out in just how he conducts himself.

Captain Pike has emotional intelligence, empathy, and sensitivity for other peoples’ suffering. Pike encounters disturbing visions of his death, and while he is traumatized by his glimpse into the void, he decides to march right past it. Pike even commits to learning the names of those he is destined to save instead, invested in making whatever’s left of his future count. Pike has an appreciation and understanding of Earth’s history, relating them to instances of discord or strife on alien worlds, and knows how to use his strengths to his favor in these situations, which makes him different in several ways.

Pike doesn’t solve his problems with his fists as Kirk did. Despite disturbing premonitions and visions, he keeps his sights forward instead of falling prey to obsession as Picard has in the past. In diplomatic talks, Pike doesn’t put his team at risk with his hubris as Janeway has. Pike has not committed war crimes as Sisko has, and he’s a trustworthy, proven leader who doesn’t take foolish risks as Archer has.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about an otherwise garden-variety straight white man helming the Enterprise? Anson Mount brings true, non-toxic masculinity to the role, shucking the previous chauvinism of the character in favor of this thoughtful, poised Starfleet officer, carrying his flaws and anxieties, yet forging onward, promoting openness, honesty, diplomacy, and peace.

Pike is old-fashioned, using traditional expressions and idioms people sometimes don’t understand, but in a folksy manner, and not condescendingly. He, unlike some previous iterations of Pike, allows women on his bridge without calling them “honorary men” to justify it. He’s been the most ideal male lead for quite some time on television, and it doesn’t hurt that he also has the best hair.

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Image: Paramount

Strange New Worlds is a special series that remains powerfully relevant to any number of people who watch it. It’s too soon to tell just how long it’ll remain on streaming, but it’s left a distinct impression on the Star Trek fandom, and the viewers hope it doesn’t disappear anytime soon.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds dazzled audiences with its first season on May 5, 2022, on Paramount Plus, and Crave in Canada. It will receive a new season in 2023. May the show live long and prosper.

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