TrekMovie had a chance to speak exclusively with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds co-showrunner Henry Alons Myers about Thursday’s series premiere and what comes next, covering issues ranging from Vulcan mating to new transporter tricks and more.
Being this is for TrekMovie.com, the questions are going to get a bit nerdy.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had thought I’m probably like a medium-level Star Trek nerd, and there are people who know a lot more than me. So I have a humble view of my own nerd-dom. And then I find myself correcting people like, “Oh, no, that’s not that’s not a Romulan ship. No, that’s not a this, that’s not a that.” I’ve sort of had this realization, “Oh, maybe I am a deep nerd and didn’t realize.” [laughs]
We like our writers and showrunners to be deep nerds, like Mike McMahan [Lower Decks], Terry Matalas [Picard], and Aaron Waltke [Prodigy].
I know Terry and Mike. I talk to Mike all the time and I talk to Terry all the time too. I am a big Lower Decks fan and we, Mike and I, bandy jokes around. All of us Star Trek showrunners know each other. I talked to Terry a lot, but I haven’t recently because he’s been buried in season three of Picard. There’s a lot of work.
Let’s start with the aptly named series premiere of Strange New Worlds. With so much talk about how this is a return to classic Star Trek, it still felt like a very modern show, especially with how you treat the characters. Is this your core difference from classic Trek?
One hundred percent. 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. Everyone’s in every episode, just about, but some focus on other people more. Like “Data’s Day” is one of our favorite episodes to talk about in the writers’ room. I loved how you have this great ensemble; like us, you want to use them. So it allows you to see different sides of the Enterprise and tell different stories and tell different experiences of it.
It was very important to me to do a Uhura episode really quickly on the heels of the pilot. The pilot is very much about Pike, and Uhura’s experience is exactly the opposite. She’s a cadet right now. Her experience on the Enterprise is the experience of being new to the Enterprise. She’s in a way like the audience. So that’s a big goal of ours, I would say.
It feels like you reveal more about these characters in the first five episodes than we learned about most characters in a season of Trek of that era. So are you trying to go beyond even Next Gen and DS9 with this kind of exploration and backstory?
Maybe. What we’re trying to do is like when you saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the movie theaters, as I did. If you saw The Original Series and then The Motion Picture, you were like, “Oh, they’re doing it bigger!” That’s a little bit what our mission is here. We’re doing a contemporary show with contemporary effects. Our designs are all built on the framework of the ‘60s stuff. But what if Gene Roddenberry did it now? He’d have a lot more money. He would probably want the costumes to look… you know they were using interesting, cool materials back then. It’s like a lot of mid-century modern stuff. Some of it looks timeless. Some of it looks cheap. But there are really cool elements in the design. We wanted to borrow that and suggest this is kind of what came before that.
We wanted to make it bigger. We want the effects to be bigger. We wanted our sense of the world to be bigger. We’re using this AR wall technology to create some of the worlds that we go to. It looks very different from going to a soundstage. No slight on the soundstage or the ‘60s or the time. If you look at Star Trek for its time, it was so expensive for a television show. But for our show, it’s just a different animal doing a show for a streaming service. We’re trying to make it look bigger and different. And that also includes approaching it with a contemporary sense of character. There’s a sophistication that today’s television audiences have that I think is different from the television audiences of the ‘60s. And we want it to look and feel like a show made today, but inspired by those shows of the past that we love.
Regarding contemporary things, the pilot had a very contemporary issue focus. Does the show have a point of view, and is it sending a message that you’re going to be tackling very contemporary issues head-on?
It is my opinion that Star Trek has always been a show that dealt with social issues and didn’t shy away from them. It goes right into the middle of them. I don’t think anyone does science fiction because they don’t want to talk about what’s happening in the present. Inevitably when you tell a story about the future, you’re making choices that suggest something about the present. That’s one of the things we love about Trek. We want that to be part of the show.
So, when does the second US Civil War start?
You have moved the Eugenics Wars into the 21st century, acknowledging they didn’t happen in the real ‘90s.
This is the hard thing about trying to be true to canon. Like the DS9 episode “Past Tense.” It’s weirdly prescient. It’s amazing how much they kind of get right. But yes, the Eugenics Wars were supposed to happen in the 1990s and most people’s experience was that is not what happened. You don’t want to get mad at reality for not comporting with Star Trek, but we sort of push things forward. A little bit of what we do in that is to suggest that… The message of the series pilot is we’re looking at a society where Pike essentially gives them a big choice at the end. You can choose to come together as a society and unify or you can choose conflict. And the conflict will inevitably lead to death.
All we’re doing in that is trying to tie in a little bit how that idea speaks as much to our society today as any other society. And maybe, for those who care deeply about the chronology of what Star Trek said in the past, the things that we are living now will lead to the stuff that we say happens. Which is as much as we can do, because we can’t control what happens in real life. [laughs] And as we go on, we are going to keep running into these dates.
Well, the Vulcans are going to show up in 40 years, so that one is fixed. So it might not be long until this Civil War starts.
[laughs] You know, I’m hoping Star Trek has it wrong about that. I really am. I will say that in a weird way, that’s kind of the purpose of this show. We’re trying to do a hopeful show. I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen. But I think one of the central notions of The Original Series was that in addition to having challenges, space holds hope for us. Exploration holds hope. That is something we wanted to carry into our series.
Another surprise is T’Pring and how much of her and Spock we actually see. What does this mean about exploring Spock and exploring what we know about Vulcan lore, including pon farr?
I’ve watched “Amok Time” many, many times. I’ve parsed the individual shots from certain sequences. And I have asked myself, “You know, if I squint…” I understand how I’m supposed to read that expression. But that expression is actually not necessarily telling me anything. And I could read it another way. So we tried as much as possible to make our T’Pring stuff comport with stuff that is to come. But we also want to tell a story about Spock now. Putting T’Pring in the pilot, frankly, gave us a chance to understand her as a character. I love writing for T’Pring. She’s super fun, and thoughtful, and interesting. We explore T’Pring a little more in the series, and part of that is about exploring Spock. And part of that is about deepening what we understand her to be. And part of that is about trying to delve into the Chapel relationship.
And if I’m not mistaken, D.C. Fontana scoffed at the notion that Vulcans only mated during pon farr. I also think one of the things that’s really fun about working with Spock now is like Spock in the ‘60s was an alien. He was the character who was different, and was “the other” on the show. Spock now is someone we know and understand in a deep way. Weirdly, for someone who is not outwardly emotional, he is a character who we can emotionally identify with. And I think it would be a mistake not to.
Do you want this show to be family-friendly and a show that can be watched with kids in the room?
Yeah. We’re trying to make a show for everybody. I will say that there are a few episodes that have some dark themes and some adult stuff. I have two sons, and I wanted to do a Trek show they could watch, although they watch all kinds of crazy stuff now because that’s what is on television. But I didn’t want that to be a barrier to entry.
Picard does a good job of being a show for adults. One of the things that I love is when I was working on the first season, I did a big rewatch of all of Deep Space Nine with my kids, which was a delight. And it held up very well. And one of the things I really enjoyed was how it dealt with the big adult themes, but you can watch it with anybody. It’s an eight or nine o’clock show, in the parlance of old-school television. We have a couple of episodes where I would say it’s like a nine o’clock show. Maybe there’s one that’s like a 10 o’clock show, But we’re trying to make a show that everyone can watch.
You had some fun with Trek technology, especially the transporter. After over 800 episodes of Trek, is it a challenge to come up with new ways to use these familiar elements, and especially deal with how no one has done this or that before?
We talk about that. But there’s no reason to believe that an infinitely configurable piece of machinery like a transporter can’t be used in a creative way that we haven’t thought of previously. We don’t want to deny where how it’s been used in the past. We just want to try to be a little inventive about it. There are times when we’re going to do that. That’s part of making a new show but it’s not a comment on the shows of the past. It’s more like us saying, “What if we tried this? Does it make any sense?”
There’s a moment in one of the early episodes where Spock reveals a defibrillator mode on the tricorder. It makes sense that it has it, perhaps we just have never seen one used like that on screen before. It’s hard when you’re doing a legacy property. Writers try to come up with a story and create tension and problems that help box them in. But you don’t want to box in future generations. So we sort of take it seriously, but not always literally.
You must always be running into developing stories you like but then run into something like “Oh, this is just like an episode of TNG,” or Voyager or whatever. Do you stop there or look how to…
No. We actually start by thinking about what are the genres that we want to try. Because we really are trying in every episode to really stretch the breadth of what we can do in Trek. So a lot of what we do is say, “What about this genre, what about that genre… What kind of movie are we trying to make?” And then we go see Trek did it with this and Trek did it with that. And we think about those ones and we look at those episodes and use them as sort of models and springboards and inspiration. And then we talk about how can push the boundaries of that. How can we try something bigger?
Trek has done funny episodes before. Trek has done scary episodes. Trek has done thrilling episodes. We’re trying to do what they did. But we’re trying to make it Star Trek: The Motion Picture, you know what I mean? We’re trying to make the bigger, contemporary version of it that pushes the boundaries of those things. We’re inspired by the Trek of the past, we’re not worried about copying it. We try hard not to. We like the Trek of the past. There are a million Prime Directive episodes. That doesn’t mean you can’t do another one. And this is the place where making it about the characters is what makes it specific. Because it’s about our people, now. That makes it specific. That’s the wonderful thing about doing a genre show. There are only so many different genre show ideas. Recycling them is okay, but making them about your characters and making it about now is what makes it specific and different. And that’s how we come at it.
More SNW interviews to come
We still have more gold carpet interviews from the New York premiere of Strange New Worlds with the cast and creatives. Check out our earlier interview with Henry Alonso Myers. Plus see our interviews with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, cast members Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijin, and Christina Chong.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada. In New Zealand, it is available on TVNZ, and in India on Voot Select. Strange New Worlds will arrive via Paramount+ in select countries in Europe when the service launches later this year, starting with the UK and Ireland in June.