*Warning: contains minor spoilers for Strange New Worlds episodes 1-3.
The USS Enterprise is back with Kirk's forebear, Captain Christopher Pike, and his own five-year mission to seek out Strange New Worlds.
August 2nd, 2005 is a date many hardcore Trekkers have lodged in their collective consciousness. The season and series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise marked the end of a show that wasn't particularly well-received nor watched, with even fans of its run bemoaning the parachuting in of two Next Generation characters to essentially watch the last episode with us. It was the end of a remarkable run with at least one Trek series being on the air every single year since 1987. With Picard and crew signing off the big screen in the rather abysmal Star Trek: Nemesis a couple of years earlier, Starfleet was dead in the water.
Except there's always a way to beat the Kobayashi-Maru, and in 2009 we got the prequel/alternate Kelvin timeline/reboot Star Trek that's equally loved and loathed by the swathes of fans. A big hit spawning two sequels, the USS Enterprise warped away once more in 2016 with Star Trek Beyond (far, far better than some would have you believe) before the Federation returned to its televisual roots in the prequel series Star Trek: Discovery the following year. Once again, Trek fans behaved as expected and either loved or loathed it but the series has lived long and prospered despite retconning huge chunks of Trek lore and then trying desperately to write itself out of them, with season five due next year. The main complaint was that it didn't “feel like Star Trek”, a glib comment that nevertheless holds sway amongst some older fans. Two animated series, Lower Decks and Prodigy, mined easter eggs as though they were dilithium deposits and are far better received than perhaps they would be; the fast-paced and frenetic plotting appeals to newbie Trekkers, whilst those obscure references allow the die-hard fans to pat themselves on the back for knowing what they actually mean. It's a smart and deft move. But it's a long way from Captain Kirk.
So the news that another TV show was due (and another prequel at that), didn't perhaps bring the excitement it should have. Captain Christopher Pike, the second commander of NCC-1701 USS Enterprise appeared in the first pilot episode The Cage back in 1965. Unaired but used as fodder for the two-part bottle episode The Menagerie, Pike is a very different captain to James T. Kirk. Dropping in for extended cameos in Discovery. We now have a ten-episode run called Strange New Worlds (SNW) that launches with Paramount+, another streaming service to demand your funds. But does it feel like Trek?
On the basis of these first three episodes, the answer is very much affirmative. SNW looks great, we're back to episodic storytelling and the new/old Enterprise and crew have been thoughtfully brought up to date. We even have Pike intoning the classic “These are the voyages…” speech over the titles and a soundtrack that sounds extremely familiar. But homage counts for nothing. The Original Series (TOS) is so beloved for both its intelligent storytelling and the relationships between the crew members, notably the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate. Thankfully that is also back. Episode one has Pike manning a rescue party to a planet that has developed warp as a weapon; episode two, Children of the Comet, has the crew attempting to divert an asteroid and finds them confronting deep questions regarding faith and cultural sympathy.
Episode three brings us Ghosts of Illyria and has the crew contaminated by a contagion with Pike and Spock stranded on a planet below. All three are strong, character-led, intelligent entries that look, sound, and yes, feel like Star Trek — Children of the Comet being the particular standout. It is exactly what fans have been clamouring for. Future episodes promise a classic cat and mouse hunt, a lighter entry involving body-swapping, and a morality tale revolving around children.
Haters gonna hate of course. The response to SNW has been overwhelmingly positive but there are still hordes of the online disaffected out there, bemoaning the fact the Enterprise, the uniforms, and the style of the show looks so different from the 1966-69 run. True, the bridge looks a little like a 1990s nightclub, Pike has a roaring fire in his quarters for some reason and the ship is somewhat different from the original. As for having a character related to the formidable Khan Noonien-Singh as bridge crew, we'll see where that goes. But to update a show over fifty years old, make it a prequel, and still have all the elements that made the original work takes some mighty engineering and SNW pulls it off with aplomb.
For this reviewer, this is easily the best small screen ‘Trek since The Next Generation, and light years ahead of the first episodes of that series. The Enterprise has hit the stars at full warp straight out of the gate, and season two is already being filmed. May it boldly go.