Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 30, 2023)
As most Star Trek fans know, the pilot for The Original Series (TOS) focused on an Enterprise crew led by Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter). When the network passed, Gene Roddenberry eventually got the funding to create an unprecedented second pilot, one that focused on Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).
One carryover actor/character connected the two: Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). “TOS” incorporated the first pilot – titled “The Cage” - into an episode called “The Menagerie”, and it managed to link the Pike era to that of his successor.
With 2022’s Strange New Worlds, we finally get a Trek series that formally focuses on Captain Pike and the roles from “The Cage”. This three-Blu-ray set includes all 10 of Season One’s episodes, with plot synopses from IMDB.
Strange New Worlds: “Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) comes out of self-imposed exile to rescue an officer gone missing during a secret mission.”
Though “TOS” offered only fleeting glances of Pike, 2013’s theatrical film Into Darkness provided a minor expansion of the character. However, because the 2009-2016 series of films went with an alternate timeline vs. “TOS”, that means its Pike differs from the 1960s version.
While not 100 percent clear to me so far, Worlds appears to feature a Pike who connects to “TOS”, not to the 21st century movies. Which works for me, as I like the idea of a series that acts as an immediate prequel to “TOS”.
The big question becomes how well Worlds will explore these domains. Based on the pilot, my answer comes back… I don’t know.
On one hand, this show offers an intriguing glimpse of the pre-Kirk Enterprise, one with plenty of room to build on the mythology. I find myself interested to see how it develops.
On the other hand, I fear that Worlds will end up with too much “fan service”, a concern stoked by its more overt connections to “TOS”. Worlds introduces Lt. Uhura – here Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) – as well as other “TOS” characters who didn’t appear in the initial Pike-based “TOS” pilot.
Heck, we get an allusion to Kirk as part of Pike’s Enterprise crew! Granted, “The Cage” didn’t spell out the ins/outs of the ship’s personnel in detail, so of course Uhura, Kirk and others could have been part of that staff, but I admit I’d prefer that Worlds left Spock as the only “TOS” member to straddle the Pike and Kirk eras.
Throughout the episode, Pike also sees visions of his future – the incapacitated/barely alive future we see in “The Menagerie”, that “TOS” show that reused “Cage” footage. Perhaps this foreshadowing will pay off eventually, but right now it feels clumsy.
Anyway, how these domains develop remains to be seen. As for this initial episode, it offers a reasonable introduction to the characters and themes, if not a great one. It works well enough to at least make me curious to see where things go.
Children of the Comet: “An ancient alien relic thwarts the Enterprise crew from re-routing a comet on track to strike an inhabited planet.”
Cadet Uhura goes on her first “away mission” here, and that puts her at the forefront of the episode. While this doesn’t really damage “Comet”, I admit I wish the series had gotten its bearings more firmly before it focused on a secondary character. The second episode simply feels too soon to go down that path.
Otherwise, “Comet” offers a mixed bag. Parts of its show some fun TOS spunk, but others feel more contrived.
Ghosts of Illyria: “Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) must confront a secret she's been hiding when a contagion ravages the ship, incapacitating the rest of the crew.”
Shades of TOS’s “The Naked Time”! While not a clone of that Season One show, “Ghosts” does clearly echo it.
Even with those similarities, “Ghosts” manages to become its own episode. We get a pretty decent program here, one with enough intrigue to keep us engaged.
Memento Mori: “Pike must find unconventional Starfleet methods to deal with a malevolent force that attacks the Enterprise.”
Whatever criticisms I may maintain of Strange New Worlds, I do like that it focuses on tales that begin/resolve in one episode. It feels like so many series these days “serialize” and spread stories across entire seasons, so I appreciate a return to the classic TOS structure of “one and done” pieces.
Not that Worlds ignores any form of development, mainly in terms of the characters. We do find expansions of their roles from episode to episode, and this leads to some persistent themes such as Pike’s premonition.
That becomes part of “Mori”, as it connects to Lt. La'an Noonien-Singh’s (Christina Chong) past. Add an intriguing alteration of TOS species “the Gorn” and expect a pretty solid show.
Spock Amok: “A personal visit causes a comedy of errors during Spock (Ethan Peck) and Pike's crucial negotiations with an unusual alien species.”
Given its title, one might expect this episode to hearken back to “Amok Time” from Season Two of TOS - and it does, mainly because it involves Spock’s “love life” and his fiancée T’Pring (Gia Sandhu). It also offers reminders of TOS’s “Shore Leave”, as it features a story that relates to the crew’s free time and also goes for a light comedic vibe.
Arguably the biggest influence here comes from Freaky Friday, though, as Spock and T’Pring switch bodies. That feels like a whole lot of influences - and probably too many - but the episode musters good entertainment.
Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach: “A threat to an idyllic planet reunites Captain Pike with the lost love of his life. To protect her and a scientific holy child (Ian Ho) from a conspiracy, Pike offers his help and is forced to face unresolved feelings of his past.”
Whereas Captain Kirk wooed babes left and right, Captain Pike hasn’t followed that path. That makes the appearance of former romantic partner Alora (Lindy Booth) intriguing.
In theory, at least, as their connection proves less than stimulating. The rest of “Lift” works a little better, but the episode’s overall impact feels somewhat limp.
The Serene Squall: “While on a dangerous humanitarian mission, the crew of the Enterprise stumbles into a harrowing game of leverage with the quadrant's deadliest space pirate.”
That last element offers some spark, as it brings a villain with more roguish personality than usual. Not everything about “Squall” sizzles but the episode comes with enough action and intrigue to make it worthwhile.
The Elysian Kingdom: “The USS Enterprise becomes stuck in a nebula that's home to an alien consciousness which traps the crew in a fairy tale.”
“Kingdom” isn’t a holodeck episode, but it feels like one. This makes it much more comedic than normal and also much less engaging – for me, at least, as I never liked this kind of diversion.
Even with an emotional ending, “Kingdom” doesn’t connect with me – and it also feels like a too convenient way to get rid of Dr. M’Benga’s (Babs Olusanmokun) sick daughter from the show.
All Those Who Wander: “Enterprise crew comes face-to-face with their demons - and scary monsters too - when their landing party's stranded on a barren planet with a ravenous enemy.”
As that synopsis implies, “Wander” opts for a more horror-oriented vibe – and pays clear homage to the Alien franchise, right down to a kid who looks like Newt. This “homage” feels a little too blatant but it still leads to a pretty solid show, even if the death of a main castmember feels premature and gratuitous.
A Quality of Mercy: “Just as Captain Pike thinks he's figured out how to escape his fate, he's visited by his future self, who shows him the consequences of his actions.”
S1 concludes with a tense episode that also formally introduces a certain James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley). Since Kirk’s brother Samuel (Dan Jeannotte) has been a series regular, this seemed inevitable, as does the show’s introduction of the Romulans.
While it needed to happen eventually, the involvement of James Kirk feels a bit gimmicky. Still, the episode overcomes that issue to finish the year on a positive note.