Star Trek: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Episode 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Episode 1 Review

Matthew Kresal goes back to basics.
In 1964, Star Trek's pilot episode helped launch one of science fiction's most enduring franchises. Except the pilot, known as The Cage, didn't feature Captain James T. Kirk or many of the characters and elements that would become iconic in the years ahead. Instead, the starship Enterprise was under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Though viewers would get to see versions of The Cage via the eventual two-part story The Menagerie before later TV airings and home video releases, it's been an era of Trek that's existed in a hinterland of the odd on-screen reference and contradictory spin-off media. At least until now, as the new series Strange New Worlds gives Pike's era its due.

As Trek fans may know, this version of Pike, Una (aka Number One), Spock, and the Enterprise crew made their first appearance in Star Trek: Discovery's second season a few years ago. If, like this reviewer, you weren't enamored with Discovery and haven't watched more than a few clips, don't be put off. Strange New Worlds' opening installment (which shares the series title) is still a good jumping on point with only a handful of things from Pike and crew's time on Discovery coming into play. Each features quickly enough to be gotten across before moving on with the story Akiva Goldsman's teleplay (from a story by Goldsman with series co-creators Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet) wants to tell.

And what a story that is for this opening hour. One of the promises for this series has been that it would be a return to the standalone storytelling and exploration/adventure storytelling that drove Trek's original sixties incarnation. This opening episode delivers on that, telling a story of first contact and consequences that wouldn't have been entirely out of place in the Original Series heyday. The sense of adventure and danger mixed with hope and optimism is present throughout, giving this a classic Trek vibe felt in almost every scene.

The callbacks to Trek's history make themselves felt in other ways. The choice of characters occupying the series, from Babs Olusanmokun's Doctor M'Benga and Jess Bush as Christine Chapel to Celia Rose Gooding's Cadet Uhura, all speak to that, as do the brief appearances of others such as Adrian Holmes as Robert April. The Enterprise herself looks splendid, bringing the iconic sixties designs into the 21st-century while avoiding the perhaps overly glassy feel of the 2009 reboot film and its sequels. Even the music from the title theme from Jeff Russo to the episode underscoring by Nami Melumad captures that feeling, bringing forward a sense of the past with a modern sensibility.

Of course, if the series merely pastiched sixties Trek, the novelty would wear off fast. Even in this first episode, Strange New Worlds introduces several character arcs, particularly for Anson Mount's Pike, dealing with the aftermath of events from the character's appearance on Discovery. The mix of beats for a large cast with a Trek plot works well here, with Goldsman directing and co-writing. From here, though, the series will attempt to do character arcs within standalone episodes, avoiding the serialized storytelling of Discovery or Picard (the latter's second season finale having streamed the same day as Strange New Worlds' debut). Whether it succeeds or not will be seen in the weeks ahead, but, for now, Strange New Worlds has found a nice balance between the two.

It's safe to say that Modern Trek hasn't been for everyone. Then again, what era of Trek has been? For those off-put by the serialized storytelling and grittier feel of Discovery and Picard or the lighter tone of Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds offers something else. A back-to-basics approach, sure, but one that pushes it forward with a modern sensibility mixed with nostalgia for the franchise's earliest days. Not to mention a chance to see Trek's original pilot episode finally deliver on the series it offered more than a half-century ago.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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