Let me be more specific. This post isn’t for fans who were brought in by the new movies, or fans of Star Trek: the Whatever – it’s for any of you who love the original TV show.
Maybe, like me, you grew up when it was the only science fiction on television, or – it’s possible — perhaps you’re a more recent convert.
I know a lot of original Star Trek fans who’ve dreamt from time to time that they’re watching an episode they’ve never seen before. I sure have. We wanted the stories to continue and sometimes our subconscious obliges. Here’s the amazing thing: I’ve recently watched something that plays almost like one of those dreams, albeit a coherent one.
It may be that you’ve heard about Star Trek fan productions; you may even have seen one. The sets and the costumes can look pretty amazing – talented and dedicated fans have managed to recreate sets that look identical. The uniforms and equipment are spot-on, and today’s computer effects can match cutting edge mid-60s special effects that it took a huge team of people to produce.
The fan shows can be fun to watch… but my own experience with them has been a little disappointing. Sure, you’d expect that the acting wouldn’t be quite as polished because these are enthusiastic amateurs (for the most part) rather than professional actors. It’s the writing, though, where these things usually fall down. Characters don’t speak like themselves, or the pacing is off, or concepts or ideas that feel contrary to Star Trek or the capabilities of the Enterprise are front and center. Story is so central to Trek that a weak one just ruins everything. That’s mostly why the third season of the original series is so painful – the show abandoned much of the feel from the best first and second season shows… it was as though the whole series had its brain stolen, rather than just Spock, in the third season opener.
I didn’t stick with my watching of fan-made Star Trek episodes for very long because I was left wanting, so I’m not a true expert on them. I’ve been told that one of the fan produced series actually has some very good episodes. It may be true – I gave up after the first few.
Star Trek Continues has the sets and the uniforms and the special effects, the lighting, the look of the cinematography… it even has the right music cues. And it also has a script that feels like it might have been found in a filing cabinet left in D.C. Fontana’s office. By the Great Bird of the Galaxy, Kirk is scripted like Kirk. The banter between McCoy and Spock is dead-on. The pacing, complete with the usual sub-plots and overarching themes, not to mention the running time, is straight out of 1968.
The acting ranges from adequate to good to uncanny. The standouts: James Doohan’s son Chris Doohan is cast as Scotty. It’s true that he physically resembles his father and sounds like him (when he’s faced away from the camera you’ll swear it’s James Doohan) but none of that would matter if he were wooden or awkward in his part – and he’s not. He plays the role with great ability. Lieutenant Uhura is ably brought to life by Kim Stinger, a young actress who also has the chops to sing beautifully, just as Nichelle Nichols occasionally did in the first season. Todd Haberkorn wears the hard-to-fill Spock boots with a subdued gravitas. Michele Specht brings life to the role of the lovely weekly guest star (although she has the talent to play a recurring part, and I’m wondering if that’s what the series intends). And there’s another guest star as well, a man from the original series, but I don’t want to give away too much. He’s excellent.
For me the true standout is Vic Mignogna, who also wore multiple hats behind the scenes. Keep in mind that it’s jarring to see anyone in these roles who doesn’t look like the original players. Mignogna, a famed and award-winning voice actor, has a vocal range that’s pitched higher than Shatner’s. But everything else he does is just about pitch perfect. Mignogna has the body language down – he moves like Kirk in large ways and in small, and most of the time the part feels so well realized you find yourself forgetting it’s someone else in the role. Another reviewer wrote that when Mignogna’s turned away, it can actually be startling that he’s not Shatner when he faces the camera again.
Mignogna avoids performing a caricature of William Shatner because he’s not playing Shatner, he’s playing the character Shatner played. Mignogna understands what the reboot got so wrong: Kirk’s a dedicated, driven serviceman whose ship and crew come before everything else. He rose through the ranks because of his talent, and he’s been hardened by tragedy and triumph in the face of adversity.
Most Trek fans like Kirk not because of the cheese or because in ‘60s TV he was often depicted as a skirt chaser, we like him in spite of those things and wish we saw less of them. In the best episodes, Kirk’s a professional. Mignoga is playing that Kirk. The one we saw when the scripts were at their finest. When, mid-way through the story, Kirk gives one of his patented speeches even when his life hangs in the balance, Mignogna is channeling the same character. It’s just an incredible performance.
Now for all of this praise, there’s a caveat: don’t go clicking over expecting to see another Doomsday Machine or The Trouble with Tribbles. It would hardly be fair to expect a team of people doing all of this in their spare time to have produced something to rival the series greats. But this script could easily stand up beside many an enjoyable B grade episode, like By Any Other Name, or The Return of the Archons, say. It’s impressive work, and better than a huge swathe of third season episodes. My hat is well and truly doffed to writers Steve Fratt and Jack Trevino. They get Star Trek.
Here’s my advice when you go watch. First, don’t read anything else about the episode beforehand. Sit back and pretend for a moment that a talented group of community theatre players (some stars among them) were given access to the original set and backed up by the original special effects team, orchestra, props department, and costumers, and then were handed a script that had been story edited by Gene Coon or D.C. Fontana.
A talented band both behind and in front of the camera has given all of us fellow fans wanting just one more original episode a wonderful, wonderful gift. Is it greedy of me to hope that they might make more?
Alright then — here it is! Enjoy.
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novel Plague of Shadows and its forthcoming sequel, Stalking the Beast. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.