You may have noticed I am a bit of a Star Trek fan. Apparently, Star Trek has been a ‘silent’ franchise (as I read in an article on a Dutch news site). Which is weird to me, because it has been present in my life as loud as it can be. Lots of things happened in my life because of Star Trek. With Strange New Worlds, the latest ‘spinoff’, and Discovery a new audience is falling for Trek and that is something I celebrate. I am not a gatekeeper: let me tell you why watching Strange New Worlds could be fun, even if you’re not a fan … yet.
Back in the 70’s my grandfather watched a lot of tv, while he was ‘babysitting’ me. I think that is where I got my fascination with films and series from – and my anachronistic love for westerns. (Watch out: that too may be making a comeback in 2 or 3 years!) . I’m pretty sure that was my introduction to Star Trek (the 1966 series), quite possibly on a German tv channel. But I really got into it in the 80’s, when I started reading more science fiction and fantasy. There was absolutely nothing scifi on Dutch tv, with the exception, somehow, of Battlestar Galactica. Then I caught a glimpse of a tv series on BBC2, on Wednesdays, and that’s how I got properly hooked on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).
On BBC I then watched The Original Series (TOS), while waiting for the new season of TNG. Then I watched Deep Space Nine (DS9), which became my favourite Star Trek series. And Voyager (VOY). And then … silence. That was it for Star Trek, I thought. I was happy to rewatch every season of every series until the day I die. I had not even touched the Animated Series (TAS).
But then in 2001, they went and gave us Enterprise (ENT): a series about the first Starship Enterprise, before the Federation was a thing. Prequels don’t always work so well and Enterprise was not well received – initially. Not by me either, despite the captain being played by Scott Bakula. I came around: I now like it, and I know where it went wrong. Star Trek was more resilient than we thought. I also learned around that time that I was not the only Trekkie and that some famous writer was also a Star Trek fan. I learned that I did not agree with every single Trekkie and that the fanbase is ridiculously diverse.
Little did I know that while I was watching this, some boy on the other side of the North Sea was watching the same episodes at the same time.
Keeping in mind that Trekkies overal did not seem to like prequels, how come Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is doing fine? The fanbase seems to be changing and growing. Star Trek had always been about exploring who we are as humans, while also leaving room to accept everyone for who they are. These are modern themes. There was backlash and gatekeeping when Star Trek: Discovery (DISCO) came out and upset the more conservative fans. That series also started in the past of ST history and gave us the original captain of the Enterprise, from the very first pilot of Star Trek. And that guy hit most fans hard: Pike had the right tone, convinced some fans that there actually was continuity between the series and well: we wanted more of him.
Exploring strange new worlds
So on the one hand we had yet another series about the TNG captain, Star Trek: Picard. Now an older man with retirement, but still engaged enough with the present and the future to go out into the universe one last time. And then Christopher Pike walks on the Starship Discovery. Picard was clearly about looking back and finishing things. But Pike was about knowing your fate and still giving everything you got. It really is a nice juxtaposition, if you think about it.
Strange New Worlds (SNW?) was created mainly because the character of Captain Pike was so strong in DISCO that I was sad to see him go. People started suggesting he could have his own series, with the Enterprise. How nice and full-circle would that be: the captain from the original pilot and his story? Never mind it would be a prequel, we loved him. And this is how we ended up with the latest (number 10: I count TAS and Lower Decks too) Star Trek series.
A great series to start with
Strange New Worlds is a great series to start with, even if you have never watched any tv show or film from the franchise. First of all: I dare you to dislike Christopher Pike (Anson Mount). But even better is that this is a very tight episodic series. Each episode contains a full story, with the main characters you love and usually an event on a planet or another spaceship. It eases you in to the Star Trek universe with all its technology and customs. It’s a lot brighter and spacious than Kirk’s (TOS) Enterprise, but I look past that. It fits what we are used to. And it would be weird if we saw the same cardboard walls as in the original series.
And it is still about the stories. How do you react to a civilization that is different than what you’re used to? How do humans and aliens work together? Can you resolve issues without resorting to violence? Every questions can lead you back to the world we live in and how we live together. That is what good science fiction (and fantasy) does: looking at the world from a different viewpoint. That often leaves me with more hope for us that looking at the world as it is.