Warning: Our Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1, episode 5 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
One of the big reasons Star Trek has stuck around for over half a century is its ability to shapeshift. Just like fellow TV old-timer Doctor Who, Trek can be a different show every week, without ever having to fundamentally alter its DNA.
After the non-stop tension of previous outing ‘Memento Mori’, Strange New Worlds makes its biggest gear shift yet with the lightweight but fun ‘Spock Amok’. It’s totally in keeping with Trek tradition – from the original series through to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, comedic episodes were always strategically built into every season, albeit with mixed results. Thanks to its story-of-the-week structure, however, Strange New Worlds lends itself to tonal U-turns much more than its more serialized stablemates, Discovery and Picard, and – as it has with pretty much every obstacle it’s encountered this season – passes the test with flying colors.
The Enterprise going through some post-Gorn repairs at Starbase 1 not only gives the crew an excuse to indulge in a few days of shore leave, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to get to know them a bit better. This ship-bound “bottle”-like episode is also a perfectly timed opportunity to recoup some of the visual effects budget splurged on last week’s spectacular deep space battles.
‘Spock Amok’ opens with what is – for a few minutes at least – the weirdest moment of Strange New Worlds so far. In a metaphor-heavy exploration of Spock’s dual heritage – or, depending on your point of view, a celebration of Superman 3 – Spock’s human and Vulcan sides split into two separate beings to slug it out in front of their fiancée, T’Pring. While there’s never any doubt it’s just a dream, it’s also a fun callback to classic original series episode ‘Amok Time’, aka the one where an out-of-control Spock fights Kirk to the death – the score even features a welcome reprise of TOS’s memorable battle theme. Things get even weirder, however, when Spock wakes from his nightmare, and T’Pring pays a visit to the Enterprise – who’d have guessed that ‘Spock Amok’ would be Star Trek’s homage to bodyswap comedies like Freaky Friday and Vice Versa?
The Vulcans’ ability to – in the words of Dr M’Benga – “bridge the gap between medicine and… something else” makes them a handy plot device. Sometimes – as in La’an’s memory-jogging mind-meld last week – deploying those psychic abilities can feel contrived. But in an episode as carefree as this one, the exchange of “katras” is a canon-friendly reason to turn Spock and T’Pring’s relationship dramas into a highly comedic situation. Sometimes, as Spock so eloquently puts it, “hijinks are the logical course of action”.
Both Ethan Peck (as Spock) and Gia Sandhu (as T’Pring) make the most of the situation, whether playing their usual characters or impersonating their opposite number. Many actors who’ve played Vulcans have made the mistake of portraying them as emotion-free, forgetting that the logical species are actually suppressing their feelings 24/7. But, just as Leonard Nimoy did for decades, Peck and Sandhu allow the humanity (Vulcanity?) to shine through, and their straight-faced declarations of affection feel like a sci-fi take on Brief Encounter’s stiff-upper lips. Swapping bodies is also a brilliant – if intensive – way understand your significant other that little bit better.
In the tradition of all the great farces, Spock and T’Pring’s Freaky Friday moment comes at the worst possible time. Although Pike has his feet up in spacedock – you can tell he’s taking it easy, because he’s wearing an update of Kirk’s casual green tunic – the captain is Admiral Robert April’s first port of call for negotiations with a species whose strategically important territory cuts through Klingon and Romulan space. Pike’s decision to send T’Pring (in Spock’s body) to further the talks was always likely to prove problematic, but – as he usually does – the captain still finds a way to chat everybody out of trouble. (He also deserves extra credit for calmly taking the Vulcans’ unlikely “soul sharing” exploits in his stride: “Get out of town. You guys did a body swap?!”)
While the Vulcan contingent are busy avoiding hijinks, Number One and La’an are actively seeking them out. After learning they’ve been nicknamed “where fun goes to die”, the by-the-book duo’s chance discovery of “Enterprise Bingo” – a game of challenges and dares popular among the junior crew – sends them on a mission to prove that, yes, actually they do still know how to enjoy themselves. Whether they’re testing how chewing gum flavour responds to transporter travel, or shooting each other with phasers in a corridor, their quest is a neat – if frivolous – addition to the episode. Their against-regulations walk across the Enterprise hull to autograph “the scorch” – the oldest, unreplaced segment of its cladding – is also an unexpectedly lovely moment.
As entertaining as the episode is, however, we should spare a thought for Christine Chapel. Brushing off a date to deliver a pep talk to a lovelorn Mr Spock makes it clear where her true affections lie, but – as anyone who’s watched the original series will know – she may have a very long wait before she gets anywhere with “the right guy”.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is currently airing now in the US on Paramount Plus. The streaming service launches in the UK on June 22. For more, check out our guide to the Star Trek timeline.
4 out of 5
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1, episode 5 review: “The show’s biggest gear shift yet”
The stakes couldn’t be lower, it has little impact on the show’s continuity, and it’s debatable whether you’d miss it if it didn’t exist. Nonetheless, ‘Spock Amok’ is fun, funny and one of Star Trek’s most entertaining voyages into the realms of the silly. Anyone fancy a game of Enterprise bingo?