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Star Trek Episodes To Watch Before Strange New Worlds

May 2022 sees the debut of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds," the latest new series in the sprawling sci-fi franchise. Series co-creator Akiva Goldsman has pitched "Strange New Worlds" as taking "Star Trek" back to basics as an episodic series, in which the crew of the USS Enterprise journeys through space to solve a "problem of the week," in contrast to its serialized sister shows "Discovery" and "Picard." Rather than being a remake of the classic 1960s series, however, "Strange New Worlds" is set years before the tenure of Captain James T. Kirk, during the command of his immediate predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike, and features a mix of new and classic characters.

While "Strange New Worlds" should be friendly to uninitiated viewers, its roots are as deep as the franchise itself. Its origins go all the way back to the original, rejected "Star Trek" pilot from 1965, which first introduced Captain Pike, Mr. Spock, and the mysterious Number One. This trio — now portrayed by Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn — was featured on the second season of "Star Trek: Discovery" and on "Short Treks" in 2019. Vocal fan support led to the development of their own spin-off.

Of course, some of the characters on "Strange New Worlds" also feature prominently on the original "Star Trek," and while those stories are set after the events of "Strange New Worlds," a few of them still offer valuable insight and may hint at what's in store on the new series.

Q&A (Short Treks)

In 2019, CBS All Access (Now Paramount+) released "Short Treks," a companion series that bookended the second season of "Star Trek: Discovery" and teased the debut of "Star Trek: Picard." While originally conceived as a way to keep fans excited during the long wait between seasons of "Discovery," "Short Treks" also provided a testing ground for a potential spin-off. After Pike, Spock, and Number One excited fans with their appearances in Season 2 of "Discovery," the second wave of "Short Treks" included three episodes set in their corner of the "Star Trek" universe, stoking interest in what would eventually become "Strange New Worlds."

One such episode, "Q&A," follows a young Ensign Spock as he reports for duty aboard the USS Enterprise for the very first time. En route to the bridge, Spock and first officer Number One end up stuck in a stalled turbolift with nothing to do but to get to know each other. It's a silly, light fifteen-minute misadventure that serves as an introduction to the modern incarnation of each character. "Q&A" is our first extended look at Number One as a character, who has remained an enigma to fans since her first appearance in the original "Star Trek" pilot. As for young Spock, "Q&A" offers a brief window into a rarely-represented moment in his life, during which he's still determining how much of his human side he wants to present to his Starfleet colleagues. Actors Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck teased during a panel discussion on Star Trek Day that both Number One's mysterious backstory and Spock's emotional life will be explored on "Strange New Worlds."

The Cage / The Menagerie (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"The Cage" is the first episode of "Star Trek" ever produced, the original hour-long pilot that was pitched to NBC in 1965. It stars Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, commander of the Starship Enterprise, Majel Barrett as first officer Number One, and Leonard Nimoy as science officer Spock. The pilot, which sees Pike captured by an alien force and trapped inside illusions generated from his own imagination, was rejected by NBC, but they were interested enough in the premise of "Star Trek" to commission a second effort. Jeffrey Hunter declined to return for another pilot, leading to the conception of a new lead character, James T. Kirk, who would be portrayed by William Shatner. The other two leads — the stoic Number One and pointy-eared alien Spock — were effectively rolled into one character, and Spock became the logical, emotionally-repressed figure we know today.

Despite its initial failure, "The Cage" remains a part of the "Star Trek" canon, having been folded into the timeline of "The Original Series" via the two-part episode "The Menagerie." In "The Menagerie," Spock hijacks the Enterprise in an effort to save his former captain, Pike (now played by Sean Kenney), from a fate worse than death. These events from a frame story which essentially allows Kirk to sit down and watch "The Cage" himself.

Since "The Menagerie" incorporates most of the footage from "The Cage," it makes more sense to watch either one or the other, rather than both. If you want to watch only events that take place before "Strange New Worlds," watch "The Cage." To see both the beginning and the end of Pike's journey, watch "The Menagerie."

Brother (Star Trek: Discovery)

"Star Trek: Discovery" is led by Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham, a Starfleet officer who was raised alongside Spock as the foster daughter of Vulcan Ambassador Sarek and his human wife, Amanda Grayson. The series is set in the 2250s, during which time Spock is a Lieutenant aboard the USS Enterprise under Captain Pike's command. Burnham and Spock have been estranged for years, but their lives become intertwined once again during the show's second season. Here, Pike is placed in temporary command of Burnham's ship, the USS Discovery, to investigate a mystery of cosmic import. Pike remains onboard for the duration of the season as he, Burnham, and the rest of the Discovery crew draw closer to the truth of the strange entity they dub "the Red Angel." This mission eventually forces Burnham and Spock to confront their troubled past. The arc stretches across the entire 14-episode season, but this list includes a few highlights for those who simply want to cram for "Strange New Worlds."

"Brother" is Christopher Pike's first appearance on "Star Trek" television since 1967, and represents the beginning of actor Anson Mount's time with the character. Pike is a warm, nurturing figure, exactly the kind of leader that Discovery's crew needs to recover from the traumatic betrayal of previous captain Gabriel Lorca. He's also a far more centered and amicable version of the character than is seen in "The Cage," which is set three years earlier. Mount's version of Pike makes such an instant impression that it's no wonder fans demanded more from him after "Discovery."

Light and Shadows (Star Trek: Discovery)

During the "Red Angel" arc on "Star Trek: Discovery," Michael Burnham learns that her foster brother, Spock, has taken a leave of absence from Starfleet and is hospitalized after a severe mental breakdown. Shady intelligence agency Section 31 claims that Spock has since broken out of his facility, committing a string of murders on his way out the door, but neither Burnham nor Captain Pike are willing to accept that story. They endeavor to find Spock before the authorities do.

Their search finally bears fruit in "Light and Shadows," which features Ethan Peck's debut as Spock. Spock himself spends the episode in a confused, disordered state. Nevertheless, the story centers around his difficult childhood as a half-human growing up on Vulcan, as seen through the eyes of his parents and his foster sister.

Meanwhile, Captain Pike embarks on a mission to investigate a strange rift in space alongside Section 31 operative Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), with whom he's been butting heads throughout the season. Specialist Tyler is one of the only characters from the show's main cast who might conceivably make an appearance on "Strange New Worlds." Shazad Latif was expected to co-star on another "Star Trek" spin-off alongside Michelle Yeoh, but that series is currently sitting on Paramount's back burner. A guest starring role on "Strange New Worlds" now seems more likely, especially considering Latif will be busy starring as Captain Nemo on the Disney+ series "Nautilus."

If Memory Serves (Star Trek: Discovery)

"If Memory Serves" opens with a "previously on..." montage, but rather than referring back to the previous episode of "Discovery," "Light and Shadows," the sequence recaps the events of the original "Star Trek" pilot, "The Cage." "If Memory Serves" is, in fact, a sequel to both, as Michael Burnham takes her ailing brother Spock to the forbidden planet Talos IV in search of a way to restore his shattered mind. Spock has been to Talos once before, during "The Cage," and believes that the planet's telepathic residents may hold the key not only to his own survival, but to that of all of sentient life.

And indeed, they do, but their help comes at a price — they wish to entertain themselves by revisiting the traumatic events that tore the foster siblings apart as children. Their telepathic recollections offer a glimpse of a younger Spock who seems far more human, and of the childhood trauma that pushed him back towards Vulcan stoicism. As a result of Spock's return to Talos, Captain Pike receives a visit from a ghost from his past: Vina (Melissa George), who Pike met years earlier in "The Cage." The episode offers some closure for their story, which, from our perspective, began 50 years earlier.

Spock continues to appear on "Discovery" for the remainder of the season, all while the crew pursues the truth of the time-traveling "Red Angel" — but if you just want the essentials for "Strange New Worlds," you can skip ahead a few episodes to "Through the Valley of Shadows."

Through the Valley of Shadows (Star Trek: Discovery)

"Through the Valley of Shadows" begins the home stretch of "Discovery" Season 2. The identity of the Red Angel has been revealed, as well as a looming galactic-level threat. The Discovery crew has a plan to save all life as we know it, but they'll need a rare Time Crystal. Time Crystals can only found in one place: The Klingon monastery world of Boreth. Captain Pike sets out to retrieve one, but it comes at a terrible price — a glimpse at his own grim future.

Fans have known how Christopher Pike's story ends since 1967, which could potentially make future stories centered around the character somewhat anti-climactic. "Through the Valley of Shadows" plays with this dramatic irony, allowing Pike to have not only knowledge of his own fate but also a degree of agency in it. Actor Anson Mount confirmed during a panel on Star Trek Day that Pike's foreknowledge of his destiny will play into his characterization on "Strange New Worlds."

Alongside this story, Michael Burnham and the rest of the Discovery crew have a direct confrontation with the season's big villain, building directly into the two-part season finale, "Such Sweet Sorrow." The finale gives fans the chance to see the redesigned USS Enterprise in action, and offers some closure for Spock and Burnham's relationship, but it's best enjoyed if you've seen the entire season. If you've been cherry-picking "Discovery" episodes off of this guide and have been enjoying yourself, we'd encourage you to loop back to the beginning of the season and watch through to the finale.

The Naked Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)

In addition to Pike, Spock, and Number One, "Strange New Worlds" is bringing back three more familiar names from the original Enterprise crew. Among them is Nurse Christine Chapel, who, like Number One, was portrayed by Majel Barrett in "The Original Series." (She'll be played by Jess Bush on "Strange New Worlds.") Chapel is a guest character in the original "Trek," appearing in only 25 episodes, but still receives more development than ranking officer Lt. Uhura. (Uhura will also be a regular character on "Strange New Worlds," played by Celia Rose Gooding. There are, regrettably, no "Uhura episodes" of "The Original Series" to highlight on this list.)

In "The Naked Time," the crew of the Enterprise becomes struck by a strange ailment whose symptoms resemble drunkenness. Some of them are fun drunks — this is the episode in which Lt. Sulu runs around the ship swinging a sword — but some are getting very into their feelings, including Nurse Chapel and the usually stone-faced Mr. Spock. Chapel confesses her love for Spock, and Spock grapples with his own inability to express affection. "The Original Series" occasionally refers back to Chapel's unrequited love, but "Strange New Worlds" presents an opportunity to explore its origins, as well as to develop her character beyond her romantic interests. (In the meantime, if you want more on Chapel's love life, see the first season episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?")

Space Seed (Star Trek: The Original Series)

Among the new characters who will make their debut in the regular cast of "Strange New Worlds" is Christina Chong as La'an Noonien-Singh. That surname immediately raises eyebrows among "Star Trek" fans, as it's shared by the franchise's most iconic villain, Khan Noonien Singh. (The hyphen is new.) Khan is a genetically-engineered superhuman who, in the fictional history of the "Star Trek" universe, conquered a quarter of the Earth in the mid-1990s. When Khan's empire fell, he and his fellow superhumans — later called Augments — escaped the planet in a sleeper ship. They were found centuries later by Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise in the episode "Space Seed." Khan reappears in the acclaimed feature film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (and in "Star Trek Into Darkness," which takes place in a different timeline from "The Original Series" and "Strange New Worlds").

An appearance by Khan himself on "Strange New Worlds" would be impossible, but "Space Seed" could nevertheless offer some background as to La'an's heritage. She may well be his descendant, which could imply some inherited super-intelligence or super-strength. But, just as likely, her last name might carry a stigma, as would any lingering benefits of the Augments' illegal eugenic experimentation.

For more on the history of the Augments, you might also check out their three-part arc on "Star Trek: Enterprise" ("Borderland," "Cold Station 12," and "The Augments"), which is set about a century before "Strange New Worlds."

This Side of Paradise (Star Trek: The Original Series)

In the episode "This Side of Paradise," Spock is reunited with, Leila Kalomi, an old friend who he'd met six years earlier on Earth. Back then, Leila professed her love for Spock, but Spock insisted that he was incapable of loving her back. Now, on Leila's new colony world, Spock is struck by a strange alien spore that makes him blissfully happy and unashamed of his feelings, allowing him to reciprocate Leila's affection. As more of the Enterprise crew falls under the spores' influence, it falls to Captain Kirk — the biggest buzzkill in Starfleet history — to sober them up.

In a 2021 Star Trek Day panel, Spock actor Ethan Peck promised that "Strange New Worlds" would deal with "Spock's feelings of love and attraction." Since "This Side of Paradise" takes place in the year 2267, that means Spock and Leila meet for the first time around 2261. "Strange New Worlds" is expected to pick up shortly after the "Discovery" second season finale, which left off in 2258. If we've done our math right, we might be seeing Leila Kalomi again, for the first time, on "Strange New Worlds."

Journey to Babel (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"Star Trek: The Original Series" featured references to Spock's heritage as the son of a Vulcan father and a human mother as early as "The Corbomite Maneuver." A few pieces of trivia about Spock's past were sprinkled in throughout the first season of "The Original Series," but it wasn't until Season 2 that viewers got a more direct look at where Spock comes from. In the second season premiere, "Amok Time," the show takes its first trip to Vulcan and introduces us to some Vulcan rituals — and the famous "Live Long and Prosper" salute.

Two months later, Spock's personal history was fleshed out significantly in the episode "Journey to Babel." This is the first appearance of Spock's parents: Sarek, a full-blooded Vulcan who sees Spock as a disappointment for joining Starfleet, and Amanda, who regrets the torment that her son suffered as a half-Human growing up among Vulcans. So much of what became Spock's origin story in the 2009 film reboot and on "Discovery" is born in this episode, written by one of the unsung heroes of "Star Trek," Dorothy C. Fontana. "Journey to Babel" is the most essential Spock story of "The Original Series," shaping the character in all subsequent appearances.

Sarek and Amanda have since appeared as recurring characters on "Discovery," and could potentially show up on "Strange New Worlds" — though Sarek and Spock are canonically not on speaking terms for the duration of Pike's command of the Enterprise.

A Private Little War (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"A Private Little War" is one of the most bizarre episodes of the original "Star Trek." The main thrust of the story is pretty typical "Trek" fare — the Enterprise faces a moral dilemma when they discover that the Klingons are arming one side of a conflict on a planet that's still at a Stone Age level of development. It's meant as an analogy to the bloody proxy wars being fought between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a particularly poignant statement in 1968. Alongside this politically-charged story, we get a subplot in which Kirk gets bitten by a gorilla with venomous fangs and falls under the chemical and sexual thrall of a local tribal leader.

Meanwhile, something equally silly is going on aboard the Enterprise — which just so happens to feature Dr. M'Benga (Booker Bradshaw), a medical officer who has presumably been aboard the ship from the beginning but has never been seen or mentioned before. "A Private Little War" establishes that, unlike Dr. McCoy, M'Benga has a great deal of knowledge and experience with Vulcan medicine, having interned on the planet Vulcan as a young man. Spock is recovering from a near-fatal injury in Sickbay, a recovery that requires that Dr. M'Benga slap Spock repeatedly across the face.

Dr. M'Benga will be a regular character on "Strange New Worlds," played by Babs Olusanmokun, and while it's probably not essential to watch the few scenes from "A Private Little War" (or his second and final appearance in "That Which Survives"), it may provide a hint at what we can expect from him in the new series.