'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Forgotten Connections To 'The Twilight Zone'
The first season finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was a doozy; Captain Pike is visited by his future self, gets a vision of the future thanks to a Klingon time crystal, and even meets James T. Kirk – who thankfully is played by a flesh-and-blood actor and not some kind of nightmare-inducing deepfaked William Shatner.
The events that play out are essentially an alternate history take on the classic Star Trek episode “Balance of Terror,” which first introduced us to the Romulans – one of which was the same actor who would go on to play Spock’s dad, presumably because living rooms in the 1960s were too full of cigarette smoke for anyone to notice continuity errors.
The episode also seems to be tipping its hat to another classic 1960s sci-fi TV show: Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Most obviously, the episode is named “A Quality of Mercy” which was also the name of a Twilight Zone episode. The two stories share much in common; both are about military commanders who are at odds over whether or not to attack their enemy, and both involve time travel.
And each show is ultimately about the perils of xenophobia; in Strange New Worlds, Pike reaches out to the Romulans to find common ground. In The Twilight Zone, a ruthless American officer in the last days of World War II is magically thrust into the past, where he finds himself fighting alongside the Japanese army. If that wasn’t enough of a connection for you, Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, co-starred in the episode.
This all serves as a reminder of how indebted Star Trek is to The Twilight Zone, and the path it had carved out for sci-fi TV at the time. Star Trek utilized talent that had previously worked on The Twilight Zone, not just Nimoy, but also George Takei, James Doohan and William Shatner, who starred in two Twilight Zone episodes – the most famous being “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” about a man who encounters the worst thing you can see on an airplane other than the JetBlue logo.
Incidentally, that episode was written by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the classic Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within” in which Captain Kirk turns into a drunken rapist thanks to a transporter malfunction, proving once again that it’s a terrible, terrible invention.
And a lot of early Star Trek episodes were clearly influenced by Twilight Zone stories (really how many TV shows at the time had episodes about minors with crazy god-like powers?). Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry even ended up giving a eulogy at Serling’s memorial service (even though Serling wasn’t exactly a die hard Trekkie).
What’s great about Strange New Worlds is that it isn’t limited to just dolling out fan service for devotees of the original series, it’s also willing to look at the franchise in a larger context, and pay homage to a foundational series, without which, Star Trek may never have existed – which is the bleakest alternate history of all.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter!