DirectorVarious, created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, and Jenny Lumet
Release Date(s)2022 (June 13, 2023 – a limited edition 4K Steelbook was also released on May 16, 2023)
Studio(s)Secret Hideout/Roddenberry Entertainment/CBS Studios (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
A spin-off of Discovery, set roughly six years before the original Star Trek, the Paramount+ original series Strange New Worlds is a more traditional entry in the Trek television franchise in that it hews closely to the classic formula. Strange New Worlds follows the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), his first officer Number One (Rebecca Romijn), science officer Lieutenant Spock (Ethan Peck), and the crew of the Starship Enterprise on their mission to explore deep space. And though its weekly stories are not technically serialized, its characters do have personal story arcs that develop over multiple episodes and play out over full seasons.
Season One opens in the aftermath of Discovery’s time jump into the far future. The entire incident has been classified, and Enterprise’s crew has been ordered never to speak of it. But as the ship undergoes repairs and refitting, and most of its crew enjoys well-earned shore leave, Pike is haunted by the vision he’s been given of his own tragic future. Meanwhile, Spock is on Vulcan with his betrothed, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), engaged in courtship rituals. But they’re all recalled by Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) when a Starfleet first contact mission, led by Number One, suddenly goes missing. So Enterprise’s crew—including its new security officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), chief medical officer Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak), helmsman Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), and freshly-minted cadet and linguistics specialist Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding)—must warp into action to save their friend.
That Strange New Worlds exists at all is an interesting story. Series co-creator Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, I, Robot) was recruited by Alex Kurtzman—co-writer of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, and the current overseer of the Trek franchise for CBS—to help produce the troubled first season of Discovery. But when he arrived there, expecting to find a show about Pike, Spock, and Number One, he was disappointed to discover something else. So he immediately lobbied to bring those characters into Discovery as guest stars, and eventually to give them their own series—a task made easier by the highly-positive fan response to Mount, Peck, and Romijn. CBS officially ordered Strange New Worlds in 2020, originally for CBS All Access (which became Paramount+ a year later) and the reaction of fans to its first season—much unlike their reaction to Discovery, and the first two seasons of Picard—has generally been very positive.
But those positive reactions have not been universal, especially among legacy Trek fans, and there are valid reasons for this. For one thing, though it presumes to fit into the “Prime” timeline, this series feels nothing it in terms of its visual style, production design, and relationship to the established canon. Frankly, Strange New Worlds seems a closer match to the Kelvin-verse. Whenever it has an opportunity to either honor the details of canon or retcon them, it tends to choose the latter (though at least it does so far less often than Discovery). A case in point is the way the series twists the Gorn into, essentially, the Xenomorphs from Alien. Another would be Spock and T’Pring openly kissing in public on their homeworld, breaking a major Vulcan cultural taboo. Now, I’m sure the showrunners would argue that these are just minor details, but the details have always mattered in Star Trek—attention to detail is what makes its verisimilitude so authentic and rewarding. And if you want longtime fans to buy in, you must at least show that you understand and respect those details (this is part of the reason Picard: Season Three was such a hit). To quote a friend here: “Star Trek is a period piece about fictional future that actually occurred, so its history should be immutable.” And in a world where it’s incredibly easy to check the Internet—or even better, to consult the best canon experts available in the form of Trek production veterans like Michael and Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, Dan Curry, Rick Sternbach, Andrew Probert, Herman Zimmerman, etc—playing loose with canon is a choice, not an accident.
Another issue is that the writing on Strange New Worlds is frequently on the nose, uses terminology loosely and inaccurately (“five by five,” “damn the ramparts,” “comm” instead of “conn”), and its dialogue is often glib, making its characters seem arrogant, unprofessional, or annoyingly contemporary. The writers also lean far too often on technology as a magic storytelling shortcut. An example:
M’Benga: “Kyle, can you pinpoint a location and beam down and apply an eye salve?”
Transporter Chief: “Uh, are you kidding? No, transporters don’t do that.”
Ortegas: “Chief, it’s Ortegas—find a way to make them do that!”
Then there’s the show’s heavy reliance on virtual volume technology (here called the “ARwall”). It certainly works to create dazzling alien environments, but it’s also a crutch that turns Enterprise’s engine room into a cavernous cathedral of glowing conduits, instead of a functional, believable workspace. (Hint: There’s a reason Jeffries Tubes are a long-standing and effective part of this franchise.) This has been an ongoing issue with the Disney+ series The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan as well—these virtual environments don’t always read as realistic, especially for exteriors.
All of that said, there is still much to like about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. For one thing, it does certainly feel more like the classic Trek fans know and love. The cast is terrific almost across the board. Mount, Romijn, and Peck (who’s definitely inherited some of his grandfather’s onscreen gravitas) are certainly standouts. Adding Babs Olusanmokun (from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune) was a coup—he’s absolutely fantastic and believable as M’Benga. And Holmes makes a fine Robert April. Even newcomers Chong, Bush, Horak, Navia, and Gooding are beginning to shine in their respective roles (though I certainly wish the writers would swap a bit of Ortegas’ braggadociousness for simple demonstrations of competence).
Strange New Worlds is visually glossy, but that actually works in a soft-focus/1960s homage kind of way. If the series’ creatives sometimes think they’re breaking new ground when they’re actually trodding well-worth paths, they are at least ambitious and not afraid to toss their caps over the wall. And while I’ve never been much a fan of Goldsman’s science fiction work, perhaps the best thing I can say is that—after seeing his interviews in the special features and listening to his audio commentary—I genuinely believe that he loves Star Trek. His instincts about a Pike series were right on the money. And I truly want him—and Strange New Worlds as a whole—to succeed.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K) using Arri Alexa LF cameras with Cooke/i SF 1.8x anamorphic lenses. It’s also the first Trek series to use a full 4K post-production workflow and be finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate (at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio). What’s more, for its release on Ultra HD (and its streaming presentation on Paramount+), the series has been graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are options on these discs). The resulting video quality is superb, with tremendous detail, effortless texturing, lush and accurate color, and gorgeous contrasts. Shadows are deep, yet retain pleasing detail, and the highlights are luminous. What’s more, the video bitrates are consistently high—it’s hard to imagine this show looking better.
Primary audio is included here in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, which is a little bit of a surprise given that the series appears on Paramount+ with object-based Dolby Atmos mixes. But the sonic experience is still lossless and very good indeed. The soundstage is big and wide, with active surrounds, smooth and natural moment, and highly-immersive staging. Bass is ample—occasionally even aggressive—while the dialogue is clean and clear at all times, and the score is tonally rich and engrossing. Additional audio options include German and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, German, and French.
CBS’ Ultra HD release is a three-disc set that includes the episodes in 4K only (a Blu-ray version is available separately) and there is no Digital code. You do at least get some good special features. Here’s a disc by disc breakdown of this set’s content:
- 1x01 – Strange New Worlds (4K – 52:51)
- Audio Commentary with Anson Mount and Akiva Goldsman
- 1x02 – Children of the Comet (4K – 52:20)
- Deleted Scene (HD – :22)
- 1x03 – Ghosts of Illyria (4K – 45:47)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 2:11)
- 1x04 – Memento Mori (4K – 53:53)
- 1x05 – Spock Amok (4K – 51:52)
- 1x06 – Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach (4K – 50:28)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 5:00)
- 1x07 – The Serene Squall (4K – 49:38)
- 1x08 – The Elysian Kingdom (4K – 53:16)
- Deleted Scene (HD – :20)
- 1x09 – All Those Who Wander (4K – 52:43)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 10:55)
- 1x10 – A Quality of Mercy (4K – 62:38)
- Star Trek: The Original Series – Balance of Terror (HD – 50:24)
- Pike’s Peek (HD – 17:26)
- World Building (HD – 11:56)
- Exploring New Worlds (HD – 53:58)
- Gag Reel (HD – 2:47)
The special features here are actually pretty solid. There are a number of interesting deleted scenes, though nothing that probably wasn’t better left on the cutting room floor. Pike’s Peek is a video diary shot by Mount, first while in COVID quarantine and then while hanging out and working with his fellow actors and crew members. World Building is a solid look behind-the-scenes at the show’s use of the ARwall. But the most interesting of the video-based features is Exploring New Worlds, which really starts from square one and details how the series came to be—where the idea originated, how the characters were developed, how the cast interprets them, how everyone feels about the developments of the first season, etc. (There are significant spoilers though, so save this for after you finish watching the episodes.) There’s also a cute Gag Reel, and in a nice touch the set includes the HD-remastered Star Trek: The Original Series episode Balance of Terror, which of course is the basis for the season finale, A Quality of Mercy. But perhaps most revealing is the commentary with Mount and Goldsman on the pilot episode. While it features the usual production details and stories, Mount’s enthusiasm for his character, Goldsman’s for this material, are readily apparent.
In the end, if Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a bit of a “three steps forward, and two back” experience for longtime fans of this franchise, it does feel more like genuine Trek than any of the previous Paramount+ series to date (with the sole exception of Picard: Season Three). While it’s still too loose with its interpretation of canon, these actors—and most of these characters—are compelling enough to keep drawing me back. And if showrunners Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers took just a little more care to accurately honor this franchise’s past, rather than constantly reinterpreting it, Strange New Worlds could become something quite special. Having already seen the first six episodes of Season Two, I’m content for now to think of this series as existing in its own “pocket” universe and do my best to enjoy it. And that, at least, is progress. In the meantime, CBS’ 4K Ultra HD release is certainly the ultimate way for fans to experience it at home. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt