“Star Trek” is boldly going back to its roots.
CBS revealed Friday that it had given a series order to “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” a new show that will take place on the starship Enterprise in the years prior to James T. Kirk coming aboard as captain. The new show is set, like other recent “Star Trek” spinoffs, to stream on CBS All Access. But it will, according to co-creator and executive producer Akiva Goldsman, hew more closely to the original Kirk-era “Star Trek” in structure and tone than those other recent additions to the franchise have.
“We’re going to try to harken back to some classical ‘Trek’ values, to be optimistic, and to be more episodic,” Goldsman tell Variety. “Obviously, we will take advantage of the serialized nature of character and story building. But I think our plots will be more closed-ended than you’ve seen in either ‘Discovery’ or ‘Picard.’”
“Discovery,” the first of the All Access series, broke with past “Star Trek” iterations by being the first to tell a highly serialized story. “Picard,” which premiered this year, followed suit, and presented a more skeptical view of the future than its humanist predecessors did.
The original “Star Trek,” in keeping with TV conventions of the late ’60s, told stories so self-contained that events that seemed to traumatize characters in one episode would never be mentioned again in subsequent ones. By the ’90s and early 2000s, a new wave of shows including “The Next Generation,” “Voyager” and especially “Deep Space Nine” introduced elements of serialized storytelling to a structure that was still essentially episodic.
“I imagine it to be closer to the original series than even ‘DS9,’” Goldsman says of “Strange New Worlds.” “We can really tell closed-ended stories. We can find ourselves in episodes that are tonally of a piece.” Of the type of episode that “Strange New Worlds” might attempt that “Discovery” or “Picard” might not, Goldsman says, “It’s hard to do a shore-leave episode in the middle of a long, serialized arc.”
But episodes won’t be quite so contained as, say, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the classic original-series installment in which William Shatner’s Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock meet Edith Keeler, a brilliant social worker played by Joan Collins whom history has fated to die young.
“I think one thing that we always struggled with [as fans] was that Kirk is heartbroken at the loss of Edith Keeler in ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ and has to be just fine the next week,” Goldsman says. “I think what we would want to do is keep the characters having moved through and recognizing the experiences they’ve had in previous episodes, but to be able to tell contained, episodic stories.
“Strange New Worlds” spins off from Season 2 of “Discovery,” which saw the titular starship roll up on the Enterprise and its pre-Kirk crew. For the new series, Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck will reprise their performances as Capt. Pike, Number One and Mister Spock — played in the original series by Jeffrey Hunter, Majel Barrett and Nimoy, respectively.
When he first landed the part of Spock for “Discovery” Season 2, Peck met with the family of the late Nimoy, who originated the role. But the Spock he played on “Discovery” was different from the logic-driven half-alien Nimoy made iconic. Peck played a younger Spock at a time in the character’s life when he had come to question himself and his identity. Peck anticipates that the Spock of “Strange New Worlds” will have matured since his “Discovery” days.
“It’ll be a whole new challenge for me as an actor portraying Spock because you’ve had this transformation,” Peck tells Variety. “I can’t wait to see what we explore.”
A new show about Pike, Spock and Number One had been rumored almost since the new incarnations of the characters first appeared on “Discovery.” Peck, since the end of “Discovery,” has become a regular at “Star Trek” conventions, where he’s sought to stoke fan support for the idea.
“Last year, I basically told myself I was gonna do as many conventions as possible to connect to the fan base and campaign for a spinoff show for Anson and Rebecca and I,” he says. “We all got along so well, and we all loved the content so much and the message of ‘Star Trek.’” He notes that on Thursday night, prior to the announcement, he and Mount “had a Zoom drink” to celebrate — Mount a whiskey, Peck a Peroni. Romijn wasn’t available to join for the first round, so the three plan to get together virtually this weekend.
Both Goldsman and Peck are mum on story details. (When asked if “Strange New World” viewers will get to see Spock during pon farr, Peck — without needing it explained to him that pon farr is a period of extreme sexual desire that Vulcans experience once every seven years — laughs and says, “I really have no idea, but I would think it’s a strong possibility.”) And Goldsman says he has “no idea” when production might begin, thanks to the industry-wide shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But Peck is excited to bring a new version of the franchise’s progressive, inclusive ethos to television.
“I believe so much in what we’re doing,” he says. “I don’t think that there’s ever been a better time for ‘Star Trek,’ because of its ideology. 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.”
As for the future of the “Star Trek,” CBS continues to move ahead with multiple new series under the guidance of franchise godfather Alex Kurtzman, also an exec producer on “Strange New Worlds.” Paramount has struggled in recent years to mount new “Star Trek” features — though “Fargo” and “Legion” creator Noah Hawley is still reported to be at work on a new film. Asked whether, now that Paramount and CBS have been reunited via merger under the ViacomCBS umbrella, the TV and film sides of “Star Trek” might be similarly reconciled, Goldsman says, “It’s deeply above my pay grade. But boy, you know, I think it would be extraordinary.”