Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a new and contemporary spin on the original Star Trek that spawned a multigenerational franchise, starring Anson Mount as Captain Pike and his diverse crew of the starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701). Taking place in the 23rd century, they explore new worlds throughout the galaxy in the decade before Star Trek: The Original Series, making new discoveries and advancements on behalf of the Federation. Strange New Worlds is a carefully crafted love letter to fans that not only understands the original source material but builds upon it.
Featuring beloved characters like Uhura (played by Ceclia Rose Gooding), the show also recasts the classic character of Dr. M’Benga (originally portrayed by Booker Bradshaw) from The Original Series, which fans didn’t know much about. As Enterprise’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joseph M’Benga (played to perfection by Babs Olusanmokun) not only cares for others but is harboring a dark secret and painful secret that almost jeopardizes the safety of the entire crew.
In Episode 3 “Ghosts of Illyria,” the Enterprise crew becomes infected with a mysterious contagion that draws the infected to light, eventually incapacitating everyone on the ship. The main source of the problem is M’Benga’s medical transporter hasn’t been updated because the doctor is keeping something in the pattern buffer. His daughter.
A year ago, Rukiya was diagnosed with cygnokemia, a “brutal disease” and given a 12-week prognosis. However, in the pattern buffer, she doesn’t age, and her disease can’t progress (a callback to TNG). He’s hoping to find the cure he needs somewhere, but he knows he can’t endanger the crew for one life.
Dr. M’Benga’s dilemma and arc is further explored in episode 9’s “The Elysian Kingdom,” when an alien god-like consciousness connects with Rukiya’s loneliness and turns everyone into characters from her favorite children’s book. As an unaffected Dr. Menga and the crew must act out the story with an unexpected plot twist. What starts off as a fun viewing quickly becomes a heartbreaking tale as he has to face the reality of his daughter’s condition while learning to let go of trying to control it.
The Koalition spoke to actor Babs Olusanmokun about many nuances to Dr. M’Benga, the emotional weight of Dr. M’Benga, the fun nature of “The Elysian Kingdom,” magic vs science, how Star Trek: Strange New Worlds set itself apart and more.
One of the many themes in Strange New Worlds is magic vs science. Is science actually magical and why do children see the world as magical? As highlighted in “The Elysian Kingdom,” the crew is trapped in a fairytale filled in a world of princesses, princesses and queens. Modern technology is not understood and is referred to as magic, but Dr. M’Benga is a man of science. But could seeing the world through his daughter’s curiosity and wonderment change his perception?
“I think he absolutely believes science can be magical. I think there is magic and science. That was kind of brought up by Rukiya who was the big theme of changing the ending [of the story]. Not everything can be based on facts, and this is how he has to go through this experience. I think what he knows with episode 8 and the end of “The Elysian Kingdom” episode is perhaps he’s held on for too long. Perhaps [Rukiya] is in a better place and maybe this is a version of that. She’s in a better place, she’s not gone. [She] sort of [comes] back immediately older, she has lived, she is living.”
Even though Dr. M’Benga decided to let Rukiya go, he will still carry the “weight of that. Just like how people around us grieve for loved ones still carry that no matter what, no matter how long ago. They’re always living within us one way or another and I believe that’s what The Elysian Kingdom’s end is expressing in a beautiful way. It was quite a special moment to film and capture on camera but working on it and filming it was a joy, a heartbreaking joy.”
For Dr. M’Benga, the needs of one outweighed the needs of the many. Even though his actions to save his daughter were selfish and could have endangered the lives of the crew, Dr. M’Benga did not get into trouble for this incident. Una, who is harboring her own secret, will protect his secret, making their friendship stronger.
“We are all selfish in our own ways, but when it comes to the terminal illness of a child, that is something that very very very few people will ever understand. The decisions he made were, of course, in the service of his child and he knew [it] when he was ready at the end of episode three to [turn] himself in. Una sort of saved him but he [realized and said], ‘What have I done? I shouldn’t be here. [Una] took it upon herself to say, ‘This is just between us.'”
“I think he feels the weight of [his actions] but I think he’s a man that has been through quite a bit and you will discover [more] in season two. This is one person and one moment where he was ready to give up everything to save his child.”
As for season two, Babs teases a different side to the doctor who originally kept a low profile. “I don’t know [if] that weight is completely off of him, but he will engage more with his with his shipmates and. Season two we’ll see quite different side of him. Let’s put it like that. I don’t want to say more than that. This story is ongoing, so we are discovering and crafting it as we go forth.
To learn more about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Dr. M’Benga’s mindset and what it was like filming, check out our full interview in the video above.