Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Ghosts Of Illyria, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Ghosts Of Illyria, Review

Matthew Kresal is down with the sickness.
One of the promises of Strange New Worlds has been a return to the style storytelling employeed in Star Trek's original 1960s series. Standalone adventures rather than the arc-driven nature of recent Trek series, albeit with a 21st-century eye for character development and production values. That was something very much on display in its debut outing, but also in its latest episode, Ghosts of Illyria.

Unsurprisingly given Strange New Worlds' mission statement, there are definite TOS vibes here as an apparent virus sweeps through the ship. Indeed, the medical mystery brought on board the Enterprise by the landing party made this reviewer immediately think of The Naked Time, one of that series's earliest episodes (and later on inspired an ill-regarded early episode of The Next Generation). Thankfully, this one is more to the former than the latter, presenting a definite SF take on the idea of a virus loose in a confined space. Indeed, it's likely going to be a plot-line all too familiar after the last two years. It's what the episode, particularly writers Akela Cooper and Bill Wolkoff, do with it that puts a new spin on it. Especially given that the outbreak and its consequences also explores Federation attitudes toward bio-engineering and the idea that bigotry might not be as much a thing of the past as our 23rd-century characters might like to believe.

The episode's strength is something also owed to the decision to focus on the characters viewers have met over the previous episodes. That focus is, in particular, on Rebecca Romjin's Una AKA Number One. With Pike and Spock unable to transport back to the Enterprise (another TOS trope), it makes sense for the second in command to take command. Ghosts of Illyria allows Romjin to be center stage in a way she hadn't been in either of the previous episodes, though it becomes clear early on that there's more to Number One and her role in this situation than meets the eye. Longtime fans of the Pike-era Enterprise in other media will spot a certain idea (if slightly modified, ironically given one of the episode's themes) receiving a canonical blessing here, which Romijin handles deftly. As Children of the Comet was for Uhura, Ghosts of Illyria is for Una, and all the better for it.

Nor is Number One the only one expanded upon here. La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) have character moments here. In the case of La'an, addressing the elephant in the room of her name and connection to one of Trek's best-known villains with what that legacy has meant in a Federation that has banned genetic modification plays a role in the episode. M'Benga, too, has a legacy of a very different kind, one that seems likely to resurface in a future episode, which makes its appearance all the more intriguing here.

Like with previous episodes there remains a sense that Strange New Worlds is teaching an old dog new tricks. The mixture of TOS storytelling with a 21st-century sensibility for character development has been one of those hallmarks, even in these first couple of episodes. And if Ghost of Illyria is any indication, that seems set to continue, deftly handling both.

Long may it continue and prosper.

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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