A Casual TV Fan's Guide
Star Trek: Phase II
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 2004-current
Episodes 5 episodes, available at www.startreknewvoyages.com
Starring: James Cawley as Captain James T. Kirk, Jeffery Quinn as Cmdr. Spock, John Kelley as Dr. Leonard McCoy
By Dan Toland
14 January 2009 — I have a lot of admiration for people who make fan films. It takes a special group of people with dedication and a real love for a property to complete any project. Whether it's a group of kids reenacting Raiders of the Lost Ark in the backyard, someone hooking a car battery up to Batman's genitals or one of a thousand lightsaber battles on a forest planet, the very least you can say is that the people making a fan film have a borderline unhealthy obsession about what they're doing.
With Star Trek: Phase II (formerly New Voyages), James Cawley, however, makes these people look like slackers. Cawley, an Elvis impersonator with a lifelong love for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (and what appears to be a lot of disposable income), began purchasing props and costumes from the original Trek series, and eventually got his hands on the blueprints for the Enterprise set. Using these to build nearly flawless recreations of the original sets, he has since made some truly professional-looking productions.
One of the things that adds some sense of professionalism to the project — other than the fact that everyone appears to be on the original show, right down to the lighting — is the fact that no one is doing any impressions. Even Cawley, usually, manages to play his own Captain Kirk without resorting to a William Shatner impersonation.
So impressive are some of these films, that actors and writers from the original series have been lured onto the project, including actors Walter Koenig (Chekov) and George Takei (Sulu), and writers DC Fontana ("Journey to Babel") and David Gerrold ("The Trouble with Tribbles"). Rod Roddenberry, Gene's son, is also a consulting producer. Oh, and Phil from The Amazing Race is here! You know you're dealing with class when Phil turns up.
Finally, the episode "World Enough and Time" was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, along with episodes of Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica and two stories from Doctor Who. I'm going to repeat that, because I feel it's fairly important: a fan-made film was nominated for the Hugo. The Doctor Who episode "Blink" ultimately won, but the very fact that a fan film was in contention for one of science fiction's highest honors with professionally made television shows speaks volumes about the quality of work here.
Come What May
Writer: Jack Marshall
The Plot: The Enterprise investigates an attack on a colony, running into an entity that can create visions of a person's future.
Good Stuff: The sets have to be seen to be appreciated. They look exactly the same as the old show. This could very easily have been made in 1968.
Cawley's insistence on accuracy does not extend to the special effects. These are not going to shatter your world or anything — they're an excellent example of someone who really knows what he's doing on a PC — but they're still miles ahead of the original series.
Jeff Quinn is pretty good as Mr. Spock. This is the most thankless role in the show and Quinn carries it off.
Not So Good Stuff: The hair! Cawley is still rocking the Elvis pompadour, and "distracting" doesn't even begin to describe the effect it's having on me.
No one's comfortable here. Except for Quinn, everyone is stiff and wooden. However, everyone turns in Emmy-caliber performances compared to Andrea Ajemian as the Onabi, this week's guest alien / woman / thing. There's a distinct "community theater" vibe to her performance.
"Greetings, sentient beings!" Ugh.
Random Observations: This episode features a guest appearance by John Winston as Captain Jeffries. Winston played Lt. Kyle, the transporter chief on the original series. Also appearing is Eddie Paskey, who played Lt. Leslie, that red shirt who was in almost every episode and somehow managed not to get killed.
Overall: The training wheels are on, and this is an example of everyone learning how to make a film. The music is loud and doesn't fit, the editing is choppy and no one has the performances right. What's more, it's dull and makes no sense. Even Cawley doesn't want you to watch this one: 3 out of 10.
In Harm's Way
Story: Erik Korngold and Max Rem
Writer: Erik Korngold
The Plot: A Doomsday Machine has been sent back in time, where it begins the Doomsday Wars and changes the timeline, killing billions of people in the process. Kirk, now captain of the USS Farragut, must go back in time to prevent this and restore the future.
Good Stuff: This is an extremely ambitious alternate reality story, and very complex (in a good way).
Lots of stuff makes an appearance: Captain Pike, the Guardian of Forever and Will Decker. Trek fanboys will get their money's worth.
The battle scenes are freaking awesome, but way too brief.
John Kelley (no relation to DeForrest) has some genuinely amusing moments as Dr. McCoy.
Not So Good Stuff: The script makes the assumption that whoever's watching this is familiar with Trek minutiae. I've never, to my recollection, seen the original series episode "The Doomsday Machine," and I think I may have missed some stuff because of it.
Some of the effects have actually taken a step backward. They're kind of inconsistent.
The ending is rushed, and doesn't make as much sense as it ought to.
Overall: This article notwithstanding, I'm not actually what I'd think of as a Trekkie. However, this episode pushed whatever button was there. It's very smart, and incredibly exciting in places: 8.5 out of 10.
To Serve All My Days
Writer: DC Fontana
Guest starring: Walter Koenig as Lt. Pavel Chekov
The Plot: As the Enterprise fights off Klingon invaders, Chekov falls ill with a rapid aging disease.
Good Stuff: The Klingon battle subplot is pretty good. This series does its space combat pretty well.
Spock: "[Mr. Scott] begs to inform you he generally only performs miracles on Tuesdays and Thursdays." Pause. "Today is Monday."
Not So Good Stuff: Cawley is wearing his Shatner pants. Unlike most episodes, you can point to specific examples where he seems to be "doing" Shatner.
If The Phantom Menace taught us anything, it's that the politics of economics thrill and astound audiences. Or not.
The main plotline of Chekov aging is very dull and irritating. Pavel's extremely whiny. Seriously, he sits and drinks tea and complains about being old for an entire episode. I suppose this is a valid response to waking up 30 years older than you went to bed, but that doesn't mean I want to watch it.
Overall: A tremendously uneven episode. Any time Chekov's not on screen, it's pretty damn good. The rest of the time, he's sucking down tea and feeling sorry for himself. It's precisely as thrilling as it sounds. It's cool to see Koenig come back for this, and he's acting his heart out, but it's wasted on this: 6.5 out of 10.
World Enough and Time
Writers: Mark Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves
Guest starring: George Takei as Capt. Hikaru Sulu, Grace Lee Whitney as Cmdr. Janice Rand, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry as the voice of the computer
The Plot: When the Enterprise is caught in a Romulan weapons test and subsequently trapped in a hyper-gravitational / multi-dimensional force field, Lt. Sulu flies off to fix everything and is beamed back 30 years older. He's also dressed like Conan and has a daughter.
Good Stuff: The pre-credits sequence is pretty damn good. The use of music to heighten tension is done extremely well.
George Takei, who is not, to be fair, renowned for his acting chops, does a fine job.
The bridge of the movie-era Excelsior is recreated, and it looks as good as everything else.
Christina Moses, as Sulu's daughter, is wonderful. Her delight at seeing the Enterprise, and her incredibly unsubtle flirting with Kirk, are a lot of fun.
Not So Good Stuff: Why is Chekov sitting there? I mean, not to spoil the last episode or anything, but come on.
Charles Root's Scottish accent is pretty weak. Actually, so is most of his performance.
Sulu's space suit has to be one of the goofiest I've ever seen. It's faithful to the original series, but it's still extremely silly.
Random Observations: This was the last episode to be released under the old New Voyages title.
Overall: I don't know if this is Hugo-worthy stuff — I have to believe its novelty propelled it further than if it had been a more traditional nominee — but it's not bad at all. The guest cast is very strong (stronger than many of the regulars), the story is emotional, the opening kicks ass and Sulu gets to kick around some red shirts. Now that's a full day: 8 out of 10.
Blood and Fire, part one
Writers: David Gerrold and Carlos Pedraza
The Plot: Kirk's nephew joins the crew as the Enterprise answers a distress call from the USS Copernicus, whose crew has apparently been decimated by some strange disease.
Good Stuff: This is a first-rate script, written and directed by David Gerrold.
Ben Tolpin has replaced Jeff Quinn as Mr. Spock. I like Quinn, but Tolpin is probably a little better.
Kirk: "My nephew... on a security team!"
McCoy: "Relax, Jim. We don't put targets on the red shirts anymore."
Not So Good Stuff: I can't imagine junior officers would really get away with rolling their eyes and questioning orders the way they do here.
Random Observations: They're making the shift to the movie era, as the engineering crew have begun wearing those space suit coveralls.
Overall: It's a tight script that's well-directed, featuring an exciting cliffhanger. By this point, the production team is firing on all cylinders, and everything is falling into place: the acting is coming along, the effects look great and this is a quality production that could easily air on television with no need for anyone to know that everyone involved is an amateur: 9 out of 10.
The nature of fan productions is that things get done whenever they get done. There's no set production schedule, so the second part of "Blood and Fire" is currently planned to come out sometime in 2009. (Generally speaking, episodes have been released at the rate of roughly one a year.)
As I mentioned, I'm not a hardcore Star Trek fanboy. It was my introduction to geekdom in all its forms, however, and I do hold a special affection for the original series. And on that level, this fan series, with which James Cawley intends to fill out the original five-year mission, succeeds admirably. Its technical accomplishments are truly impressive, but it's the hearts of the people involved that pushes this into new classic territory. Every episode is available for free download, and most of them are a lot of fun. The passion of the creators is truly infectious, and I can think of a lot of professionally made television science fiction that fails to come close.