Monday, December 19, 2005

So, we all know what a shite state Star Trek is in these days; after Nemesis, the movies are essentially dead, there are no new videogames (and in fact Activision sued Paramount for not keeping the franchise popular enough to sustain the games) and Enterprise...oy...was finally put out of its misery after five seasons (the first series since the original to go less than seven) with a finale that was essentially a big Mary Sue story.

(If you don't know what a "Mary Sue story" is, look it up. I'm gonna dig deeply into my Trek-geek adolescence here, when Star Wars was over, Babylon 5 was still ten years away, and Trek was the only ongoing SF franchise.

So there's no more movies, games, or shows, and the only books worth reading are the increasingly-infrequent "New Frontier" series by Peter David (who should really be overseeing the whole Trek shebang, but that's a different article). Is it dead, Jim? How's a frustrated Trekkie (fuck your yankee "trekker," thankyewverymuch) supposed to get his fix?

Star Trek: New Voyages is, quite simply, a continuation of the original series. Essentially, it's years four and five of the Enterprise's five-year mission, the stories that would have been told if the show hadn't been axed. This is nothing new; hell, the animated series from 1972 covered a lot of the same ground. So what sets New Voyages apart from the glut of fanfilms? Well, first, let's look at some of the crew. Executive producer: Jack Marshall. Series producer: Max Rem. Consulting producer: Eugene Roddenberry Jr.

That's right. The son of the Great Bird Of The Galaxy is on board. How's that for a ringing endorsement?

And the stakes are being raised with the third episode, "To Serve All My Days," set to be released next summer. That one is written by Dorothy Fontana, an actual writer for the actual original series, with such memorable episodes as "Journey to Babel," and a personal favorite of mine, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." She wrote "The Naked Now" for Next Generation, giving us Data's classic line, "I am fully functional...I am programmed in a variety of techniques."

So we've got Gene Roddenberry's son, a writer from the original series...what else would legitimize this? How about Chekov?

Yes, Walter Koenig will be appearing in the third episode, returning to the role of Chekov, in a way that will be sure to set online Trek fandom (a subculture I just can't get into) ablaze with controversy.

Now, I know that simply having the endorsement of Gene Roddenberry Jr. does not guarantee a quality show. The important question is: how is it? Well, it's...pretty good. Pretty awesome in places, and in a few places downright fantastic.

The producers wisely take the attitude that, rather than try to emulate the original series actors, the cast should consider their characters icons, like Hamlet or Sherlock Holmes, and reinterpret them accordingly. James Cawley, an Elvis impersonator who built a replica Enterprise bridge in his barn, has the requisite swagger for Kirk, without copying too many of Shatner's mannerisms--and he does it all with a killer pompadour.

The supporting cast seem to be having a great time reinventing their characters; I'm particularly drawn to the gorgeous Julienne Irons as Uhura, and not just because of her Starfleet miniskirt.

For me, the only sour note is Jeffery Quinn as Spock; Quinn is 22 and works in a video-game store, and clearly wants nothing more than to be Nimoy when he grows up. Still, his heart is in the right place, and one can hope that he'll make it his own as he gets older.

While the pilot, "Come What May," is enjoyable, I think the show started to hit its stride with the second episode, In Harm's Way. A strong story, lots of surprising plot twists, a good sense of Trek history, and references to about half a dozen other classic episodes, tied together in a neat package. My only complaint about the episode is with the Enterprise itself; while the original series was limited to modelwork (which they did pretty well), the CG effects in this one lead to the Enterprise flitting around like a hummingbird in space, pulling off some pretty unlikely maneuvers.

Still, until Paramount pulls their head out of their Jeffries Tube, it's currently the best way to get your Trek fix, and to remind yourself of exactly why Trek once mattered. The show is featured in the current issue of Wired, so now's a perfect time to *sigh* beam aboard, to get ready for Episode 3.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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