Star Trek Continues!
Well, Star Trek Into Darkness was a disaster (click here for my full review), but luckily there are still a lot of incredibly devoted, creative Star Trek fans all over the world keeping the fandom of Star Trek alive.
I have written a lot on this site about the amazing fan-produced episodes Star Trek: Phase II (formerly Star Trek: New Voyages). Over the past decade, they have been producing incredible full-length Star Trek episodes, intended to be the fourth season that never was of Star Trek the Original Series, featuring the continuing adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the crew of the Enterprise. These Phase II episodes haven’t been perfect, but boy have I been impressed with the extraordinarily high quality of their productions — with amazing special effects, costumes, sets, lighting, and props, these episodes really look and feel like professionally produced episodes of Star Trek, and each episode seems to get better and better. (Here are links to my reviews of their last two episodes: 2011’s Enemy: Starfleet! and 2012’s The Child.)
Last year, another group of Trek fans, made up of several who had been associated with Phase II, as well as several associated with another series of Trek fan-made films, Star Trek Farragut, announced their intention to produce their own new series of Star Trek episodes entitled Star Trek Continues. As with Phase II, Star Trek Continues was announced as an attempt to realize the never-made fourth season of the original Star Trek series, featuring new full-length Star Trek episodes featuring Kirk and co.
After releasing three short vignettes (of varying quality — I loved the first one that picked up seconds after the last shot of what turned out to be the final classic Trek episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” but I was not wowed by the other two), Star Trek Continues has released its first full-length episode, “Pilgrim of Eternity.” It is fantastic. (Watch it here!)
First of all, let me say that I am suitably impressed with how quickly the Star Trek Continues folks were able to produce and release this episode! I am loathe to criticize the wonderful Phase II productions, but there are episodes that they shot (and fans like me started reading about and anticipating) YEARS ago that still have not been completed and released. Yet Star Trek Continues produced and released this episode in less than a year. That’s fantastic — I really hope they are able to keep up that pace!!
“Pilgrim of Eternity” picks up the story from the original series Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” in which the Enterprise crew encountered what appeared to be the Greek god Apollo on the alien planet Pollux IV. I know that is considered to be a classic episode, but I always found it to be one of the show’s sillier notions — that the creature worshipped as a god on Earth is still alive and well on an alien planet. So I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when I read that the initial Star Trek Continues episode was going to be a sequel to that episode. But I must say, I was quite pleased by the story of “Pilgrim of Eternity” (written by Vig Mignogna, Jack Trevino, and Steve Frattarola). It is very solid. Better yet, “Pilgrim of Eternity” actually features Michael Forest, the same actor who played Apollo in “Who Mourns for Adonoais?”, reprising his role! That’s a very cool “hook” for the episode. I loved the rationale for Apollo’s appearing decades older than when Kirk and co. last saw him (obviously, about 45 years have passed in the real world, but only a year or two have passed in the continuity of Star Trek), and I thought Mr. Forest was absolutely terrific in the episode. He’s still a powerful actor, and his strong work anchors the episode.
Across the board, Star Trek Continues has assembled a terrific group of actors to portray the classic Star Trek characters. The series has boasted, in its self-promotion, that these are all professional actors. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say that all of the performers are quite at the level of professional stars of a weekly TV series, but they are all very good, very enjoyable in their roles. Series creator Vic Mignogna, who also directed this first episode, plays Captain Kirk. His voice is a little high for Kirk, but he definitely has Kirk’s mannerisms and movements down well. I’m not sure Mr. Mignogna has quite landed the gravitas Kirk exudes in command, but I am eager to see how he grows into this role. This is a good start. (I laughed that — in classic Shatner style — he was able to get his shirt off in one of his scenes!) And, if anything, the stunning production values of this episode demonstrate that Mr. Mignogna is possibly an even better director than he is an actor.
The real stand-out of the cast is Chris Doohan as Scotty. Chris is the son of Jimmy Doohan, who of course played Scotty in the original Star Trek series! Chris Doohan is a dead ringer for his father — looking and sounding EXACTLY like Scotty. Even better, he’s a terrific actor, probably the best of the ensemble. He kills it in every one of his scenes (it really helps that the episode’s script gives Scotty a meaty role). He’s absolutely phenomenal.
I was also very impressed by Kim Stinger’s work as Lt. Uhura. Ms. Stinger actually played Uhura in several episodes of Star Trek: Phase II, and I was delighted to see her back in the role, albeit in a different fan series.
The rest of the cast are all solid. It was fun to see well-known Star Trek fan and writer Larry Nemecek as Dr. McCoy. I will comment, though, that I wasn’t quite convinced by Grant Imahara’s work as Sulu. He’s not terrible, but he seems to be putting on a voice (I guess to impersonate George Takei) that is unconvincing and distracting (particularly in what should be the emotional moment of his collapse in the transporter room). Also, in an episode that does a pretty great job of spotlighting every member of the Enterprise crew, poor Wyatt Lenhart as Chekov barely had a line of dialogue. I hope to see more Chekov in the next episode!!
I was delighted to see the cameo appearance of a cast-member from Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica (I don’t know HOW they got this person — whose appearance I won’t spoil — to be in the episode, but that really delighted and surprised me!) as well as the genius choice for the voice of the Enterprise’s computer. (Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who for so many decades was the voice of various incarnations of the Enterprise’s computer, is sadly deceased. The Star Trek Continues gang somehow nabbed an actor from Star Trek: The Next Generation to voice the computer in this episode, and it’s a brilliant choice that I also will not spoil here.)
The sets, the costumes, the props — all are astounding in their absolutely note-perfect recreation of the look and feel of classic Star Trek episodes. The CGI visuals are gorgeous. The Big E looks absolutely dynamite, and I loved how they replicated, in CGI, several of the classic stock-footage shots of the Enterprise that are so familiar to fans of the Original Series. (Though I must admit I have always disliked the one shot when the Enterprise is supposed to be moving fast, and to simulate that the camera zooms up quickly on the Enterprise from underneath. What’s supposed to look like the ship moving always just looked like the zoom shot that it was, and the angle of the ship seemed to be all wrong if the Big E was indeed rushing forward. Seeing that shot in beautiful CGI didn’t make me like it any better!)
I have a few problems with the episode, but as with my reviews of Phase II’s episodes, please don’t think my small complaints are in any meant to knock the incredible hard work that so many devoted Star Trek fans have clearly put into these productions. Star Trek Continues, like Phase II, is so good that I feel like I should review these episodes the way I would any professionally-made Star Trek production. This is a compliment to their work!! So I will mention a few problems, but don’t let these issues outweigh in anyone’s mind the tremendous accomplishment of this fan production.
As with many professionally-made Star Trek episodes, and indeed, more than a few episodes of the Original Series, there are some oddities in the script that struck me. First and foremost, while I love that this episode focuses on a character study of Apollo — rather than just relying on slam-bang action — I think a weakness of the script is that, after the Enterprise’s encounter with what Apollo calls “the realm” in the episode’s teaser, there isn’t really much jeopardy to the Enterprise or her crew for the rest of the episode that seems to flow naturally from the story. It feels instead like the writers tried to invent some jeopardy to keep the episode exciting, but those moments feel out of place. For instance, I don’t really understand what the heck happened during Sulu’s EVA on the ship’s hull. While that outer-space sequence is gorgeously realized — again, bravo to all of the behind-the-scenes crafts-people who brought those scenes to life — what exactly went wrong is never really addressed, and after Kirk’s immediate reaction the incident isn’t ever referred to again as the episode progresses. Then we get some business later about pieces of the mysterious “realm” having gotten into the Enterprise’s systems, which feels like it’s going to lead to a final-act crisis — but Scotty is able to easily solve the problem, and that story-line never seems to intersect with what’s going on with Kirk and Apollo. As I wrote above, Michael Forest is terrific, reprising his role as Apollo, and his scenes are so good that I don’t really mind that he is the focus of the episode, rather than Kirk or any of his crew, but it is a weird story-telling choice. (The only Enterprise crew-member who has any real investment or involvement in Apollo’s story is the newly-created character Dr. McKennah.)
Speaking of Dr. McKennah, I am not sold on creating a new member of the regular cast when even the professionally-made Trek series always seemed to have a problem giving the supporting members of the ensemble enough to do on a regular basis. (As I wrote above, Chekov is almost entirely absent from this episode.) I’d rather see time spent with Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov than on any new characters. That being said, I do like this new character of Dr. McKennah. I think actress Michele Specht is solid (and she’s certainly very beautiful), and I was intrigued by seeing the Next Gen-era idea of a ship’s counselor brought into the Kirk era. But I think the writers made a mistake by having our first interaction with this character — a therapist who we all assume Kirk will immediately dismiss and/or mistrust — be for her to be so completely, 100% convinced that Apollo is not a threat. She does prove to be right that his intentions are good, but she comes across as naive in her immediate belief in him. Not only is it hard to believe that any therapist would be able to be so certain about a patient after talking to them for five minutes, but we the audience KNOW that Apollo is going to cause some problems, otherwise there’d be no episode! So in my mind it’s a bit of a bungled introduction to a character who we’re supposed to like and take seriously.
Speaking of characters behaving a bit foolishly, why does Uhura touch the electrified console after being specifically warned by Scotty not to do so? She comes off as ridiculously stupid, and her whole near-death experience at the end of the episode is robbed of its drama because the only reason her life was in peril was because she acted like an idiot. Surely they could have written or staged things better such that Uhura’s situation wouldn’t have been her own damn fault? (I also didn’t buy Kirk’s being the one to order McCoy to stop trying to resuscitate her in Sickbay. Um, let’s let the DOCTOR make those calls, shall we?)
And then the ending — um, Prime Directive violation, anyone? How about we bring Apollo to an established Federation world, huh??
OK, back to what’s great about the episode:
I appreciated the writers’ urge not to over-do McCoy’s objections, in the teaser, to Kirks’ potentially killing the two life-forms on the unidentified object in order to save the Enterprise. It’s in character for McCoy to be the one most concerned about alien life, and for him to remind Kirk of the importance of protecting all life, but I like that McCoy didn’t behave too badly on the bridge, and that ultimately he accepts and understands Kirk’s decision to keep the safety of the Enterprise crew as his paramount concern.
I didn’t think the scene made much sense, as I wrote above, but man that EVA scene on the Enterprise’s hull was cool.
I loved the idea that Scotty was the one who first invented the holodeck, and I loved seeing special effects wizard Doug Drexler as the holographic gunslinger.
Two Apollos in this episode! Nice!!
All in all, this was an extremely confident, polished launch to Star Trek Continues. I congratulate Vic Mignogna and everyone on his team for putting together this gorgeous continuation of the Original Series. At a time when the loud, splashy, brain-dead Star Trek Into Darkness is what passes for official new Star Trek adventures, Star Trek Continues is keeping the heart and soul of Star Trek alive. I can’t wait for their next episode!