Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writes a love-letter to the original series
As the Star Trek prequel finally warps its way to the UK, we catch up with the crew of yesterday's Enterprise.
It’s been almost 60 years since the Starship Enterprise’s maiden voyage – yet this Wednesday (at least in the UK) it sets sail once more in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, with a crew of new and old faces populating Paramount Plus' sequel/reboot (which spins off from fellow modern Trek series Star Trek: Discovery).
For Anson Mount, who plays returning character Christopher Pike, it was a big “responsibility” to sit down in the Captain’s chair. “It's surreal. It's the longest the job has remained surreal to me. I am daily reminded of the responsibility that this is more than just a show to a lot of people.”
Joined by the rest of the cast in an exclusive talk with RadioTimes.com, Mount explains that it was important this new series pay homage to the original. “There's an optimism, and a sense of fun from the original series that we really wanted to inject into this.”
And this was a conscious shift. Unlike the Star Trek universe’s other recent programmes, Discovery and Picard, Mount notes that Strange New Worlds has an episodic “planet of the week” format which makes it closer in tone to the original series.
“It gives us the freedom to not only have different stories each week, but different ways to get there. So each episode can be its own standalone, not just story, but its own kind of thing,” says Mount.
Ethan Peck, who will be returning as his younger version of Leonard Nimoy's Spock, adds: “You can really kind of jump in at any point in our season and enjoy an episode. There's serialised emotion within the characters but otherwise, each episode has its own world and its own conflict to be solved.”
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Similarly, for actor Babs Olusanmokun (aka Dr. Mbenga), the show is a “marriage” between old and new. “We've got really out-of-this-world special effects that go along with those '60s aesthetics, but it’s the chance to tell a different story.”
With the story taking place in-between the original unaired pilot (The Cage) in 1966 and Captain Kirk’s (William Shatner) better-known time on the ship, the series contains plenty of iconic references and returning characters. Olusanmokun’s character Dr. Mbenga was a sporadic replacement for Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley) in the original series and Jess Bush’s Nurse Christine Chapel was a regular part of the med-bay. For the actors, playing such legacy characters was an “exciting challenge” as they were keen to fill in the gaps and flesh out the lesser-known characters in a new way.
Yet for Ethan Peck, who first played Spock in season 2 of Star Trek Discovery, there was plenty of pressure involved in bringing the character back to life. “I felt just an overwhelming sense of responsibility when I was cast in this role. I think I cried tears of both joy and of terror,” he says.
“I was quite fearful to make mistakes; to do something that Spock wouldn't have done. But over time I’ve found more freedom and experimentation in the character. Because these are years of his life we've never seen before and who knows what he was like?”
Joining him in this trepidation was Celia Rose Gooding, who debuts in Strange New Worlds taking on the role of the beloved Nyota Uhura, originally played by Nichelle Nichols. “Nichelle's Uhura was so incredibly iconic,” says Gooding, “so of course I felt the pressure of stepping into an iconic legacy. I have to build the person who Nichelle eventually grows into.”
She adds: “But then I had like a wash of clarity that the hard part's already done for me, I know her future. I know what her goals and dreams and wishes and wants will be in the future, I just have to do all the stuff that leads up to that. And so the puzzle is already built for me.”
Other members of the cast, like Rebecca Romijn, had more of a blank slate to work with. Her character Number One only appeared in the original unaired pilot played by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (who would, confusingly, go on to play Jess Bush’s character Nurse Chapel).
“She only got about 14 minutes of screen time,” says Romijn. “We don't really know who she is as a character, we didn't ever learn her real name, which is Una Chin-Riley.” Because of this, Romijn says she had a lot of “artistic liberty” with the character but still felt connected with her roots: “I felt like it was my duty to take care of this character and hopefully I get it right.”
When Romijn first saw the Enterprise set used in Discovery, she had an inkling that she would have another chance to play the character. “The first time we walked onto the bridge set, Anson and Ethan and I looked at each other and it was like we were reading each other's minds: we thought, ‘There's just no way they built this set for this one episode.’”
And she was not alone in her excitement. When Strange New Worlds itself began filming, Christina Chong (La'an Noonien-Singh) reveals that she was in “severe shock” on her first day, while Celia Rose-Gooding was consumed with worry about reaching the right buttons.
“My first thought was, ‘How do I fly this thing?’” laughs Melissa Navia, who plays pilot Erica Ortegas. “I was straight up Googling ‘How do you fly a Starship?’ because nothing had prepared me and I still haven't gotten over it.”
As the only new characters in the principal cast, Chong and Navia had to seamlessly fit their roles around the legacy characters - no easy task. Navia notes that Ortegas essentially becomes Captain Pike’s “right hand person” and so has to “understand the responsibility that comes with being a Starfleet officer". She believes that her character embodies the “space cowboy” side of Star Trek and will connect with the fandom in a new way.
Both actors also believe that the diversity they represent resonates well with the core themes of the original series. “Equality, diversity, all of those core important issues that Star Trek has been at the forefront of in entertainment," Chong told us. "It's amazing that we get to embody that and so I just feel very lucky to be a Star Trek fan."
So as the Enterprise kicks into warp speed, it seems that the Strange New Worlds cast are more than up to the task of carrying on the show’s legacy. As a fan himself, Babs Olusanmokun knows that responsibility better than most.
"We are a group of very dedicated actors who have respect for the material and have respect for the legacy of this material," he told us.
"We do not want to fail so we will not – we have no choice and we want to bring as much joy to the fans and the rest of the world as possible.”
Sounds like just the crew to boldly go into new horizons.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams on Paramount Plus in the UK from Wednesday 22nd June. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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