Who will fill the empty position on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Melissa Navia as Ortegas of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+
Melissa Navia as Ortegas of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ /

Warning: This post contains spoilers from the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “All Those Who Wander.” 

Ruling out any science fictional plot twists (which, as I’ve said before, one should never rule out where Star Trek is concerned) “All Those Who Wander” marks the dramatic end of Hemmer (Bruce Horak), the U.S.S. Enterprise chief engineer in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

I’m still grieving the undeniably powerful but, to my mind, premature decision to write the character off the show. Hemmer was a character as finely tuned as he kept his warp engines. He was by turns gruff, witty, and deeply wise. And, apart from half-Vulcan science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), the Aenar engineer was the only extraterrestrial among the series regulars.

I don’t expect Strange New Worlds to address the Enterprise’s sudden need for a new chief engineer in this week’s episode as it’s the first season finale. And it’s possible the show could try moving forward without a regularly recurring chief engineer, as the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation tried.

But more likely, Strange New Worlds season two will introduce a new chief engineer. The only question is, who will fill the position? Will the new Enterprise chief engineer be a character we know from season one, or from the larger Trek mythos, or a new character altogether?

Several characters could become the new Enterprise chief engineer on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

If, as some fans have speculated, Strange New Worlds will ultimately morph into a full-fledged reboot of the original Star Trek series, season two might be the right moment to introduce a younger Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer played in TOS by the talented James Doohan.

We’ve already seen Scotty sucessfully recast in Star Trek. Simon Pegg plays a pitch-perfect Scotty in the Kelvin timeline movies.

And, in the unofficial web series Star Trek Continues, James Doohan’s own son Chris takes up the role his father originated.

What’s more, some precedent already exists for Scotty’s presence on the Enterprise before TOS. In the 1989 novel Vulcan’s Glory, Scotty joins the crew during Christopher Pike’s tenure as captain, although Scotty is a junior engineer at the time. He works under—and, when running his illicit moonshine still in the engine room, tries to avoid—the supervision of Chief Engineer Caitlin Barry.

As licensed Star Trek fiction, Vulcan’s Glory isn’t “canonical,” but it was written by no less a Trek mover and shaker than D.C. Fontana. Either a young Scotty or Caitlin Barry—a woman chief engineer in Star Trek a decade before B’Elanna Torres on Star Trek: Voyager—might be deemed a good fit for Strange New Worlds and a fitting tribute to Dorothy Fontana.

Another non-canonical but previously established candidate for the job would be Moves-With-Burning-Grace, a human of Masai descent who was Captain Pike’s chief engineer in Marvel Comics’ too-short-lived Star Trek: Early Voyages series (February 1997-June 1998).

Grace didn’t spend too much time in the comic’s spotlight, but creators Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton established both his near-religious reverence for speed and his skill in physical combat. Both character traits would make for fun and exciting moments in the show. And Grace has made sporadic appearances in other licensed fiction per the Memory Beta wiki, so bringing this character from the page to the screen might be a logical move.

Captain Pike might also promote a new Enterprise chief engineer from within. Were he to do so, I’d vote for transferring Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) from the helm to the engine room—not so we’d see less of her, but so we might see more! Navia plays Ortegas as exceptionally skilled and wonderfully witty, but of all Strange New Worlds’ principal characters, Ortegas has been getting the least attention.

“All Those Who Wander” was the exception that proved the rule. At Hemmer’s funeral, Ortegas delivered a moving eulogy and mentioned the Aenar was the best engineer with whom she’d ever served. Perhaps she’d want to honor Hemmer by following in his footsteps.

We’ve seen crew members switch specialties before. Sulu served in astrophysics and the botanical lab before settling in as helmsman on TOS. Cadet Uhura’s been rotating through departments on Strange New Worlds. We’ve even seen a regular Trek character move from the helm to the position of Enterprise chief engineer—The Next Generation’s Geordi La Forge. His move to engineering did nothing to diminish his importance or keep us from learning a lot about him. There’s no reason a similar move couldn’t work for Ortegas.

Were I to bet any quatloos, I’d bet Strange New Worlds will introduce a brand-new character to serve as the new Enterprise chief engineer. But no matter who goes on to mind the matter-antimatter flow and tend the dilithium crystals in season two and beyond, we’ll always remember Hemmer, who has set a high bar for “fixing what is broken.”

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