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The Untold Truth Of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Debuting in May 2022, "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" was first announced as the third new series in the franchise after its triumphant return to TV five years earlier with "Star Trek: Discovery." Starring Anson Mount as original Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike, he's joined by Ethan Peck as Mr. Spock and Rebecca Romijn as Number One, along with a cast of mostly lesser-known actors.

Debuting to critical acclaim and love from the "Star Trek" audience, the series harkens back to the best of the franchise, with the Enterprise boldly going where no one has gone before. Taking place about a decade before "Star Trek: The Original Series," the cast of characters includes many who are familiar to Trekkies. In addition, the series contains the iconic starship and a 21st century update on the 1960s futuristic retro aesthetic of "Star Trek: TOS." 

Even though only 10 episodes have been officially confirmed as produced so far, performers on the series have been open about their enthusiasm and provided plenty of behind-the-scenes details already. So raise your shields, set phasers to stun, and set course for the untold truth of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds."

It happened by accident

You might think that the success of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" would be owed to a grand strategic plan carefully developed and executed by studio executives and creative higher-ups. As it turns out, that's not the case. According to series producer Akiva Goldsman, the creation of "Strange New Worlds" is largely owed to an accident and his own confusion. In an interview with The Wrap ahead of the series premiere, Goldsman recalled an anecdote from 2017 when he was brought into the fold to work on "Star Trek: Discovery," the first new "Star Trek" series in more than a decade at that time, during its formative phase. 

"Alex [Kurtzman, executive producer] called me and said he needed a little help [with 'Discovery']," said Goldsman. Knowing little about what the other producers had in mind for "Discovery," before agreeing, Goldsman turned to the internet for more information. "On the internet there were these endless rumors that the show was going to be about Captain Pike and Number One. I'm an old diehard 'Star Trek' fan, so I thought that was the greatest thing I ever heard."

To Goldman's surprise — and disappointment — "Discovery" isn't about Pike or the Enterprise at all. It's an entirely different starship with an all-new crew. From then on, Goldsman made it his mission to create the show he thought he'd been brought in to produce in the first place. 

Discovery was a proving ground for Strange New Worlds

Resolute, Goldsman set out to bring a "Star Trek" series starring Captain Pike and Number One to life, and he did so in a slow and subtle fashion as a producer on the newly launched "Star Trek: Discovery." From almost the moment he arrived on the series, Goldsman began pushing for what would become "Strange New Worlds."

"That's how the Enterprise ended up at the end of 'Discovery's' second season and how Pike and Spock turned up on that show," said Goldsman. "It was because all I'd been doing was trying to drive us back to the idea of this show. That's the show I always wanted to see." But did audiences want it? Goldsman didn't have to wait long to find out. "Discovery" proved a smash success with critics and was a major draw for the streaming service then called CBS All Access. According to CBS, "Discovery" set records and immediately informed the studio that the public was hungry for "Trek." 

For the second season of "Discovery," Anson Mount ("Hell on Wheels") was cast as Captain Pike, Rebecca Romijn ("X-Men") joined as Number One, and newcomer Ethan Peck took the iconic role of Mr. Spock. The trio proved to be a highlight of the season and fans began clamoring for a spinoff.

It addressed fan concerns

While "Star Trek: Discovery" proved popular, many self-described diehard Trekkies had issues with the series. Some said they were surprised by the grittier tonal shift — complete with adult language and graphic sex scenes. Others complained about its visually darker aesthetic and its season-long story arcs that veered wildly from the long-running "alien-of-the-week" format of "Trek" past. These grievances among the self-proclaimed fandom were apparently not lost on producers Kurtzman and Goldsman, who wanted to make fans who felt alienated by "Discovery" happy with something more along the lines of what they were hoping for.

Turning back to the original "Star Trek" series, they fashioned "Strange New Worlds" in the style of classic "Trek" with episodic stories, a brighter look and feel, a more upbeat tone, and an ensemble cast. "We're going to try to harken back to some classical 'Trek' values, to be optimistic, and to be more episodic," Goldsman told Variety (via TrekMovie) just after the series was announced. He described its tone as closer to the franchise's traditions, saying "it's all about coming together and using the ways that we're different from one another for the advantage of people as a whole."

Kurtzman echoed the sentiment in an interview with Deadline. "We are going to do stand-alone episodes. There will be two-parters. There will be larger plot arcs. But it really is back to the model of alien-of-the-week, planet-of-the-week, challenge-on-the-ship-of-the-week."

The longest time from pilot to season order ever

As every Trekkie knows, the setting of "Strange New Worlds" has been seen before. Set aboard the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, it shares its premise with the original "Star Trek" pilot filmed all the way back in the mid-1960s. Titled "The Cage," the episode saw Spock and Number One round out Pike's bridge crew in an adventure that took them to the mysterious planet of Talos IV. 

Famously rejected by the studio, the series was completely retooled with a different cast except for Leonard Nimoy, the only regular to return. The second pilot, with William Shatner as James T. Kirk, was eventually picked up and began airing in 1966. Footage from the unaired pilot was eventually used to create the two-part episode "The Menagerie," but fans never got to see the series as it was originally envisioned.

"Strange New Worlds" is a modern-day interpretation of creator Gene Roddenberry's first concept, arriving nearly 60 years after he wrote "The Cage." As producer Henry Alonso Meyers described it in an interview with SyFy, it's essentially the longest pilot-to-series pickup in television history. With Pike, Number One, and Spock aboard the Enterprise once again, filled out with several characters seen or mentioned in "Star Trek: The Original Series," it's a rare case of audiences finally getting a chance to see what might have been.

A functional and immersive Enterprise set

Back in the 1960s, "Star Trek" was filmed on a studio backlot and built using set production techniques of the day. The high-tech viewscreens, control stations, and monitors were created with materials like paintings and comparatively primitive post-production VFX. But fast forward six decades and technology has come a long way, allowing "Strange New Worlds" to depict the Enterprise as a fully functional starship using state-of-the-art in-camera effects that give the performers an unprecedented level of immersion. 

At the "Star Trek: Mission Chicago" convention in April of 2022, Henry Alonso Meyers described just how incredible the Enterprise set really is. "The craziest thing about that set is, we built a working starship ... Every screen operates. Every screen you can touch works. It's really stunning." The fact that the bridge set's monitors are all functional screens has helped the actors, especially Melissa Navia. Charged with portraying Enterprise pilot Lieutenant Erica Ortegas, Navia took her job so seriously that she worked with the production team to develop the imagery on the screens so she would, in some respects, literally know how to fly the ship. "It was important to know ... how am I going to impulse? How am I going to warp?" she told TrekCore.

Strange new and old-school SFX

The physical sets aren't the only impressive part of "Strange New Worlds." Along with its sister series "Star Trek: Discovery," the Captain Pike-led show has brought "Star Trek" SFX into the 21st century with a mix of traditional practical effects and the latest CGI techniques. Producers on the series have built several extended sets using the AR wall technology used famously by the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian." Several sets used for shooting early episodes of "Strange New Worlds" use AR walls that negate any need for green screens. With this technology, actors need no longer use their imaginations to envision the worlds they're pretending to inhabit.

In fact, some have noted the striking resemblance between the real world's AR wall tech and the fictional "Star Trek" holodecks. Meanwhile, "Strange New Worlds" is also making use of advancements in practical effects. To create an alien adversary in the episode "Children of the Comet," designers fashioned a prosthetic motor-controlled mask. "It's actually an actor [Thom Marriott] in there," said Goldsman in the "Ready Room" post-episode video series. "We wanted someone ... who had a really great voice, but everything, the eyes, everything above that is all controlled by two or three puppeteers."

It draws heavily from non-canon sources

Set just a handful of years before Kirk's adventures aboard the Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Original Series," "Strange New Worlds" takes clear guidance from old episodes and canonical lore. In addition to including characters we've seen before — like Pike, Spock, and Number One — the series' deeper mythology pulls from more than just the classic "Star Trek: The Original Series" that launched the franchise. Much of what we see is also informed by non-canon sources like expanded universe novels, old comic book stories, and even "Star Trek: The Animated Series."

The show's third episode "Ghosts of Illyria" shines a spotlight on Number One, whose real name is revealed in the series premiere as Una Chin-Riley. Her name and her past haven't been discussed prior to "Ghosts of Illyria," and much of the ostensibly new info is pulled from the 1989 novel "Vulcan's Glory" by "Star Trek: TOS" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" writer D.C. Fontana. Both Una's name and her origins as an Illyrian take their cue from that story, which expands on a character who had previously only been seen in the scrapped pilot. 

Una's not the only old "Star Trek" character getting a second life on "Strange New Worlds." Until recently, Admiral Robert April only existed in an episode of "Star Trek: The Animated Series" and in offhand mentions uttered by characters in "Discovery." Played by Adrian Holmes, April finally makes his first canonical in-person appearance in "Strange New Worlds."

Celia Rose Gooding gets help from her linguist sister

In "Strange New Worlds," a young version of Nyota Uhura is played by Celia Rose Gooding. At this point, Uhura is just a cadet assigned to the Enterprise as bridge communications officer on her first mission. For Gooding, a lifetime "Star Trek" fan, it's the role of a lifetime. At just 22 years of age, Gooding's earliest experience with the character came from the J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" movies, the first of which premiered in 2009.

"Zoe Saldaña was my first Uhura. And I loved that performance so much," Gooding told Inverse in a 2022 interview. "My mother is a Trekkie and dragged me and my sister to midnight screenings of the new 'Star Trek' movies." Her family's support of her newfound "Trek"-oriented career adventure didn't stop after she landed the part once played by Saldaña. In a May 2022 interview with the New York Times, Gooding's mother — Broadway star LaChanze — discussed how her younger daughter, Zaya LaChanze Gooding, helped her eldest daughter prepare for her role as the Enterprise's resident linguistics expert. 

According to their mother, Zaya LaChanze Gooding — a linguistics major in college — often counsels her sister on the finer points of her imaginary Starfleet profession. "She calls her sister, and she advises her on certain things," LaChanze said proudly. "How cool is that?"

It features two characters originated by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry

Set before the original "Star Trek" series and based on the 1964 rejected pilot "The Cage," "Strange New Worlds" features several characters from the franchise's past. Interestingly, the series includes two different characters once played by the same actor. 

First introduced in "The Cage," Captain Pike's first officer Number One was played by Majel Barrett, who eventually became Majel Barrett-Roddenberry when she married "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry. After the pilot was retooled without the character of Number One, Barrett secured a role as the voice of the ship's computer. As a disembodied computer voice, Barrett appears in every "Star Trek" spinoff and the first J.J. Abrams film, sticking with the part until her death in 2008.

Barrett also returned to "Star Trek: The Original Series" in a different role, as Roddenberry cast her to play Nurse Christine Chapel. Noted for her poorly concealed crush on Spock, Nurse Christine recurs throughout "Star Trek: TOS" and appears in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." In "Strange New Worlds," Nurse Chapel is played by Australian actress Jess Bush, and is a series regular alongside Number One.

Anson Mount is searching for real aliens

When he was cast to play Captain Christopher Pike ahead of Season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery," actor Anson Mount was best known for his role as Cullen Bohannon, the gunslinging outlaw turned railroad man, at the center of the AMC Western series "Hell on Wheels." But once he joined his "Hell on Wheels" co-star Colm Meaney among the ranks of actors to take part in the "Star Trek" franchise, Mount began seeking out new life and new civilizations in a not-necessarily fictional capacity.  

In November 2020, before filming on the new series had begun, the actor announced his new membership on the board of directors for METI, a non-profit organization dedicated to the search for life beyond the stars (via TrekMovie). In a statement, Mount spoke of his excitement for the organization and raising awareness for their important mission.

"It is a distinct privilege to be asked to join the outstanding scientists, artists, and innovators that make up the METI team," said Mount. "I look forward to helping this organization expand its footprint in our cultural landscape and educate the general public about our endeavors to connect with extraterrestrial intelligence through scientific methods as we continue to grapple with the implications of this work. As a Starfleet Captain, it brings me unbridled joy to be able to say that I am actually sending out a hail."

Hemmer is played by an actor with impaired vision

The aliens of the "Star Trek" universe have typically been more widely represented among the crews of various Star Fleet vessels as special effects tech makes them easier to create. Spock is the lone non-human representative on "Star Trek: The Original Series," but later spinoffs include the likes of Klingon Security Chief Lieutenant Worf, the changeling Constable Odo, Ferengi bartender Quark, Vulcans Tuvok and T'Pel, and the Kelpien Saru. The resident non-human on "Strange New Worlds" is chief engineer Hemmer, member of the Andorian subspecies Aenar. As shown on "Star Trek: Enterprise," the Aenar are blind. Hemmer is played by Bruce Horak, who lost most of his eyesight when he was a baby. Horak spoke about what it means to him to play Hemmer on the series.

"It means everything. It really does," said Horak in an interview with The Beat. "The Roddenberry universe where everyone is welcome and everyone has a place is just one to which I aspire. There's something about being able to tap into my own lived experience as someone with a disability who has fought against the ideas of impairment and the barriers, sometimes internal, sometimes external preconceptions of what I can and can't do in abilities and things like that."

Ethan Peck studied Leonard Nimoy for the role of Spock

Donning the legendary pointy ears for the first time, Ethan Peck brought Spock back to TV for nine episodes of "Star Trek: Discovery" in 2019 and was met with an emphatic seal of approval from the family of Leonard Nimoy. "They were just so warm, and curious," Peck told TrekMovie in 2018. "[They] were just very kind of calm, and interested, and I was like, 'Do you have any advice?' And they were like, 'Just watch the original series' and they basically told me to be curious, which was the best advice I could have gotten."

A highlight of the sophomore season of "Discovery," Peck plays a different kind of Spock — a younger, rawer version of the character, who is suffering from mental illness in the story. But when it came time to move into his own series on "Strange New Worlds," Peck went back to do more research in order to become a version of the character closer to Nimoy's definitive portrayal.

"Constantly I'm revisiting ... Leonard Nimoy's voice in my head when I'm doing a lot of these scenes," said Peck in another TrekMovie interview in 2022. Though he has promised never to directly imitate Nimoy, it's clear Peck is committed to making his interpretation of the character consistent in tone and spirit with the original.

The second season began filming before the first season premiere

With a de facto pilot essentially filmed nearly sixty years earlier and a trial balloon floated in the second season of "Discovery," it's no surprise that an entire season of "Strange New Worlds" was ordered right at the outset. After all, most streaming originals are ordered in the same manner, as was "Star Trek: Discovery." But the studio must have been happy with the episodes as they were being shot, because even before the first season began airing, a second was already in production.

In fact, Paramount+ announced the addition of a new cast member for Season 2 of "Strange New Worlds" that stunned many fans upon its release. Actor Paul Wesley ("The Vampire Diaries") has secured the highly coveted role of James T. Kirk for the next season, playing a younger version of the future Enterprise captain. Whether Wesley will play Kirk as a junior officer serving aboard the Enterprise, as a lieutenant on the USS Farragut as canon suggests, or in command of another starship remains to be seen.

It was inspired by The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine

Given that "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is set in the same period as Captain Kirk and includes several well-known classic characters and takes place aboard the same Enterprise, it makes sense to assume the original "Star Trek" is the series' biggest inspiration. While producers have acknowledged that the 1966 series clearly serves as a starting point, they've also acknowledged other influences from the franchise's past.

Producer Henry Alonso Myers called out two other "Star Trek" spinoffs when talking to TrekMovie in May of 2022, and how they helped inform the ensemble nature of the series. "I would straight up say the thing that we borrow from 'Next Generation' and 'Deep Space Nine' and shows of that era is how they would iris in on different characters for each episode." Both of those series tend to give more time to a wider group of characters, as opposed to the original "Star Trek" that stuck mostly to stories about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. 

But it went beyond that with Akiva Goldsman who, while speaking to IGN, mentioned that "Deep Space Nine" episodes "Little Green Men" and "Trials and Tribble-ations" informed comedic episodes of "Strange New Worlds." It's clear that when developing "Strange New Worlds," the creative minds behind the series have been studying the most successful aspects of "Trek" past. So far it seems to be paying off.