Captain's Blog pt. 41: The Fan-Made Productions

We are pleased to welcome to the studio today Mr. Bryant Burnette, King scholar, a Bond aficionado of double-O-distinction, potential freemason, and fellow Trek navigator. Let's give him a warm Dog Star Omnibus welcome as we delve into (some of) the world of Fan-Made Trekdom.

We begin with:


Here's the website proper for all production info, let's just jump into impressions and screencaps. (Bryant's remarks are denoted by BB; my own, by BKM.)

BB: I'd say that it's worth checking out for someone who liked Phase II.  The writing was surprisingly solid.  The performances...a mixed bag.  The guy playing Kirk (Vic Mignogna) seems badly miscast (self-miscast, of course, since the whole project is his); the guy playing Spock is decent; the guy playing McCoy is flat-out bad. So bad that it's almost like they hired an amateur! (Ahem.) On the plus side, everyone else is good, especially Chris Doohan taking on his poppa's role. 

Chris Doohan's cameo in Into Darkness
Best of all, the sets are phenomenal, and the lighting is outstanding.  I guess I should also mention the screenplay, which is really strong, at least for a fan film. But even judged against professional productions, it is a crisp, efficient, nicely-paced screenplay. The story is a sequel to "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and even co-stars the guy who originally played Apollo; he's very good, too. The episode is a mixed bag overall for me thanks to the performances of Kirk, Spock, and (especially) McCoy, but I'll definitely watch the next one whenever it happens.

BKM: I'll be tuning in, as well. I thought it might be a fan-made-bridge-too-far after spending time with Phase II, but I’m also of the opinion, hey, there’s plenty of room in this pool.  The production value of this is pretty spot-on and even dare-I-say striking. Maybe not Avatar-striking, but The Final Frontier striking? Absolutely. 

I agree on the performances. And on a meta level, so bizarre to see the Adonis-like Apollo (redundant, I know) humbled by age, like the rest of us mere mortals.

His oversensitive bipolarness made a big impression on me as a teenager. I confess to thinking Fuck Theeeee! a few times while watching "Pilgrim of Eternity."

BKM: Probably the most well-known of all the fan productions; have a look at their website for all the pertinent info. All are available for free and immediate download or to stream.

Also a nice contemporaneous touch, this in-living-color business starts every show:

BB: I had a really complicated reaction to these episodes. On the one hand, they're terrible; on the other hand, they are totally delightful, and the bottom line is that I ended up really enjoying these. What astonishes me about them is that I was able to just take them on their own terms. It took a little adjustment; a realigning of the old mental warp coils, if you will. But once I'd done that, Phase II ended up feeling like legitimate Star Trek to me, and that kinda blows my mind.

Theoretically, this is the sort of thing I ought to be hyper-critical about.  I really have no tolerance for fan-fiction whatsoever, and even sometimes when I'm reading the Trek novels from the seventies -- which, themselves, are basically just fan-fic -- I frequently find myself growing really grumpy. Why? Because it doesn't seem like real Star Trek; it feels like something written by someone who has no conception of what Star Trek actually is, apart from knowing the names of the characters. 

Not so with these Phase II episodes. They were obviously made by people who really, truly understand Star Trek. They don't quite have the talent to pull it off 100%, but they've got SOME talent, enough to pull it off - pardon the wonky math headed your way - 100% about 25% of the time, and to pull it off 50 - 75% the other 50% of the time (with maybe 25% of the time finding them pulling it off at a less-than-50% level.) That's - let me check my math here (that plus that, then carry the one and... yep...) - more win than fail, with the occasional major win thrown into the mix. Plus, their passion for the project is compelling enough that even when it fails, it fails in interesting ways.

And really, who can resist the fact that Kirk is played by an Elvis impersonator?  That's so genius you almost expect Shatner himself to have come up with it.

BKM: James Cawley is kind of a standout, isn't he? I actually quite enjoyed his Captain Kirk. All in all I'm impressed with how seriously he takes the role and how quickly I went from What is this guy doing? That's not Shatner to I may like him better than Chris Pine. (And I like Chris Pine's Kirk.)

BKM: On one hand, the amateurishness mixed with CGI (a lot of which was done for free by the Enterprise fx team, and score one for Paramount: I guess they just looked the other way and let them do it, even though they were using Paramount's facilities to do this. The fx team, not James Cawley and the gang, I mean.) and fan-fic should press my buttons. But I ended up just enjoying myself and cheering them on. Like you say, most of the enjoyment comes from the recognition of Trek-fans-like-yourself/myself behind the camera/ writing it, etc. A feeling of relief came over me as I got about halfway through "In Harms' Way," which was the first one I watched, that feeling of "Oh, these guys know and love Trek... this could be fun."

BB: What it reminds me of a bit is when you see the plays Max is putting on in Rushmore: they're terrible, but everyone is so committed to it, and clearly having so much fun, that you kinda just want to give everyone involved in it a big hug and tell 'em what a good job they've done, even if you don't entirely mean it.  Except in a way, you kinda do mean it.


BKM: The Rushmore analogy is perfect. That's it exactly.

BB: A part of me wonders if New Voyages / Phase II (NOTE: they started off calling these things New Voyages, then changed to Phase II after a few episodes) can't be considered canon, of a sort.  This is an exceptionally nerdy conversation, but hey, when in Rome. I mean, like, what makes canon canon? It can't purely be authorship, because at this point there's been way more Trek not written or produced by Roddenberry than Trek he was actively involved with. Is it purely -- in the case of Star Trek -- the legal right to produce Trek? If so, CBS has sort of granted that to the Phase II crew, simply by virtue of allowing them to continue to exist (provided they don't try to earn money from the product they are producing.) A part of me wonders if that semi-legally-sanctioned status, combined with the appearance of genuine original-series stars like Takei and Koenig, plus the involvement of writers like David Gerrold and DC Fontana, who worked on the original series alongside Roddenberry, doesn't equal canon. Or if not canon, per se, then something that is non-canon but nevertheless can be considered to be "real" Star Trek (the same way the books and comics are considered non-canon but, in their own way, official.) I think it's a really interesting case.

BKM: Canon is such a slippery slope. And always ephemeral. But I agree: this one by virtue of the folks involved really does seem like more of a Year Four than anything save DC Fontana’s IDW series. (And unlike that one – which I like very much, don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t (for the most part) do what a lot of these things do and tie too many threads together. Be it the Shatnerverse, Fontana’s Year Four, or Of Gods and Men, there’s a tendency to make every story tie into every aspect of the Trekverse, which can weigh things down. Too many flavors in the stew, or something. The pacing is sometimes erratic in Phase II, but there’s a lighter quality to it. It concerns itself more with just providing episodes that feel, sound, and look like TOS.

BKM: Let's talk the other actors. Jeffrey Quinn's Spock isn't bad. I accepted him as Spock, and I liked him better than the other guys they got. (Though I had no trouble accepting Ben Tolpin, either.)

Ben Tolpin
Jeffrey Quinn.
BB: I really like Quinn as Spock.  A few shaky moments, but otherwise, he's rather good.  Like you say, I ended up just accepting him as Spock.  Same goes for Ben Tolpin in "Blood and Fire." I was initially dismayed to see that Quinn had been replaced, but Tolpin is solid.  He sounds more like Nimoy, and -- like Cawley with Shatner -- does a good job of mimicking without turning the performance into parody.  In other words, he sorta just inhabits the role.  The guy who plays Spock in "Enemy: Starfleet!" is nowhere near as good; that's one of that episode's weak points, in my opinion.

Cawley is still producing the show, but Kirk is now played by Brian Gross. (Seen here with Carol Marcus, played by Jacy King)
BB: The dude who plays McCoy, John Kelley, is fairly awful, but he gets better as the show progresses.  And he is at least not trying to ape DeForest Kelley.  He just did his own thing, and while there isn't much to it, it's at least consistent. I thought that by and large, as far as urologists playing major roles on Star Trek goes, he acquitted himself admirably. He's actually good in "The Child" and in "Blood and Fire;" I have ended up being glad that the role has not been recast.

BKM: Scotty in particular is just kinda bad/ unbelievable in spots. They really played up his penchant for booze, as well.

He goes to sleep with the bottle, now?
BB: All of the Scotty actors are so bad that I honestly don't even know how many of them there are.  BUT...I'll say this about that: it's given me a new appreciation for James Doohan.  He gets ribbed for the quality of his Scottish accent, but seeing amateurs fail at doing it really drives home the fact of how consistent Doohan was with his.  Turns out it's NOT just something anybody can do.

BKM: Let’s cover the episodes, from worst to best:


BB: I didn't much care for "Enemy: Starfleet."  It's a decent idea, but it doesn't really work.  A lot of this comes down to the fact that the actress playing the villain (Barbara Luna) just made me feel queasy. Gross; she's just plain gross; she's a 70-year old woman playing the sort of sexpot you would typically see a 30-year-old woman playing.
"Okay, Cawley, just close your eyes and think of 'Mirror, Mirror..."
BKM: Careful! Remember, Marlena’s got one (admittedly gnarled) finger on the Tantalus Field! You’ve got to hand it to Barbara Luna to come on board for these things. Ultimately, tho, the “Septuagenarian Sexpot” thing doesn’t come across all that well. I liked aspects of this episode, but it’s the weakest of the bunch for my money.

BB:  That said... from a philosophical standpoint, there is something to be said for what's going on here. Because while the side of me that is prone to sexually objectifying women based on their attractiveness (as I perceive it) looks at her and goes "Eww...!" the side of me that thinks objectifying women in that way is skeevy and unfair and maybe even culturally detrimental...? Well, that side of me thinks it's nice to see an old lady get to play a sexpot. In a curious way, that's extremely progressive thinking, which makes it prime Star Trek material. So, to sum up: I disliked this element of the episode, but for reasons that I recognize as being fundamentally unworthy, and that recognition - while not changing my gut-level reaction - actually makes me appreciate the episode more intellectually.

I have nothing to add to Bryant's thoughtful comments, so here's more Michael Forest. Fuuck Theee!
BB: Apart from the sexy-time-with-Grandma aspect of this episode, I thought there were some decent ideas, but not enough to really make it work. The whole captured-starship-leading-to-an-enemy-fleet thing was a nice concept, but the writers didn't make much of it.


BKM: A good establish-the-series story: what it can do, what it’ll look like, gives a hint of how all subsequent continuity can be referenced meaningfully within the time frame of Phase II. But, not much happens. It’s not a particularly bad story, just not particularly exciting.

BB: Obviously, this is the roughest of the bunch. It was -- if I understand this correctly -- filmed more or less as a proof-of-concept type thing, so the team behind the series doesn't really even count it as an official episode any longer. But I think it's better than they are giving it credit for being. Onabi seems like the kind of antagonist TOS would have actually used; the actress playing her is not that great, but hey, I've seen worse. And the conversation between Kirk and Spock about "Amazing Grace" seems like something that I'd have loved to see Shatner and Nimoy play, frankly. All in all, I rather enjoyed this episode.

I also have fond memories of seeing it playing on the closed-circuit convention channel at Dragon*Con one year. I stopped and watched it for awhile with a "What the hell is this?" vibe in my brain. I thought it was crap, but impressive crap: years later, I think much the same, but with a greater emphasis on the "impressive" part of the equation.


BB: Not a bad episode.  Koenig is...well, let's be generous and say that he is an actor of limited range.  But it's cool to see him getting to play a role that has some substance to it.

BKM: I like that Mary Linda Rapelye from "The Way To Eden" came back, and it's nice DC Fontana wrote one last story like this for Koenig. But, yeah, he's not exactly Ed Norton. Not one of my favorite episodes, but it's undeniably kind of cool to see Koenig interacting with Faux-Pavel. Who's actually not too bad.


BB: I'm with you.  I like the guy playing young Chekov; he's thoroughly acceptable. He is consistent with his accent, and he brings some genuine emotion at times.

Mary Linda in "The Way to Eden."

BKM: Also, I just love that they kill Chekov off and then there he is, back at his post in the next episode. (Spoiler alert, I guess? Does it even count?)

BB: I forgot about Chekov dying but then being incongruously alive in the next episode.  I don't know what's weirder: that they did it, or that I just rolled with it 100%. It's sad that it had to come via an amateur film; but it's better than nothing, and it gives him some good moments.


BB: I liked this one a lot.  The Deltan chick doesn't seem terribly Deltan, but I've only got Persis Khambatta to compare her to, so it's probably not a fair comparison.  I liked her, though, and this particular episode makes it clear that the Deltans were a race that real potential as a species Trek could use for interesting storylines.  Maybe the franchise will return to them one of these days.

BKM: The Deltans were definitely under-used. I don't think they ever appear again, do they? Certainly not as major characters, anyway. (Though... is she wearing a wig? Aren’t Deltans completely hairless? This seems like a detail they'd not have glossed over, so I imagine I missed a line covering it. And if not, no biggie. After all, Klingons don't have ridged foreheads here, either.)


Watching this really makes me re-evaluate the TNG episode of the same name (which for those who don’t know is based on the same script originally commissioned for the 70s Phase II.) Isn't it a little odd that Troi has this profound experience and never mentions it again? Not odd for tv of the time, I guess, where characters meet long-lost brothers/ sons, they die and then it's back to normal week after week, but it really nullifies the "this is the most important thing I've ever experienced" dialogue in the damn story, doesn't it... I think I prefer this version, to be honest. At least we don't have to see Isel (Anna Schnaitter) week after week never mentioning it again.

Watch the preview here.
The guy who plays Xon reminds me so much of your comparison-to-the-plays-of-Max-Fischer remark. I love every scene he's in for that, now.

I don't mean he was bad, just that there's something so... Max Fischer about his whole performance. It endears him to me and cracks me up at the same time.

BB: I agree totally. There's something damned charming about it. Also, I have to say: I really like the idea of there being two Vulcans on the series, one of whom is a pureblood, the other of whom (obviously) is Spock. That would be a hell of a fine dynamic for the Abrams movies to pick up, to be honest.

4 and 3.

BB: I was also impressed by both parts of "Blood and Fire."  The guy playing Kirk Jr. is a bad actor, but otherwise, those episodes are pretty damn good.  And while watching them, I realized that at some point, I had entirely accepted James Cawley as Kirk.  I'd say the same for some of the other cast members, too.  I like both Uhuras, for example; they're both actually pretty good actresses.  And hot.  (What can I say?  I like attractive women; so sue me!  I don't dislike unattractive women, so I figure it balances out.  Somehow.)
BKM: This one drags a bit in spots, but it’s a solid story. (I keep getting this stuck in my head.) And the allegedly controversial depiction of a gay relationship (gasp) is handled very well. It’s kind of sad that the amateur Trek is more with the times than the professional one when it comes to sexuality. Not just with alien races (Trek-proper has provided us with a few awkward examples of different species’ sexualities – and more than a few that are the essence of “hetero-normative,” a term I can’t stand,  really, but it applies, here) but on the ship itself.

Here’s what David Gerrold (incidentally, the new Phase II showrunner) has to say:
My "Blood And Fire" script never made it into production for reasons too complex to list here, but had a lot to do with the homophobia of one or two people in a position to throw monkey wrenches into the works.

Twenty years after that script was written, James Cawley and the fantastic team of volunteers at Star Trek: Phase II produced "Blood And Fire" as a wonderful two-part episode. I co-wrote the shooting script and directed it. We had to shoot 80 pages in ten days, so some scenes were rushed, but the story was well-written, competently acted throughout, methodically edited, brilliantly mounted and produced, and ended up looking at least as good as any of the episodes of the original series. It ain't as perfect as I wanted it to be -- and I still dream of the chance to do a proper edit on it -- but I'm proud of what all of us accomplished. At least a hundred and fifty people worked their butts off to make it happen.

Throughout the entire process of production, we had some fans questioning whether or not it was right to do a gay story on Star Trek. Speaking as one who knew Gene's intentions for the series, who has some claim to understand that Star Trek is about questioning everything -- yes, it was not only right, but important, to put the gay characters in. Recognizing their relationship is important to Kirk recognizing the strength of his own relationship with his ship, his crew, Spock, and his nephew.

Yes, I'm a gay man. Yes, I wrote a gay love story. Out of some 700 filmed episodes of five different TV series, at least one story should acknowledge the existence of Star Trek's millions of LGBT fans. I post this information here not as an angry screed, but simply as an example of how hard some people will work and to what lengths they will go to make LGBT people invisible.

Sorry, closets are for clothes. Fabulous, fabulous clothes.

We're here, we're queer, and yes -- we are part of Star Trek. We are writers, actors, directors, costumers, and crewmembers both in front of the camera and behind the camera. And those who can't deal with it are the ones who have truly failed to understand the vision that Star Trek represents -- a future that works for everyone, with no one and nothing left out. And that means respect for the diversity of the human soul.”

Hear, hear.

BB: I think modern Trek has badly missed the boat on not including a gay character. If I were JJ Abrams, I would have - partially to satisfy the oversight, and partially as a wink towards George Takei - made the new version of Sulu a gay man. It'd be worth doing if only to annoy the types of people who get annoyed by that sort of thing.


BB: I thought "In Harm's Way" was sort of genius.  Sure, the old sudden-reveal-of-who-the-first-officer-is trick is stolen from "Yesteryear," but so what?  The reveal is still done quite well.  And the idea of an alternate timeline wherein the doomsday machine not being destroyed leads to a sort of apocalypse for the Federation is...well, let's put it this way: if I found out something like that was going to form the basis for the next movie, it wouldn't upset me in the least.

BKM: That is now my frontrunner for what I hope they do with NuTrek 3! Think of the lens flare opportunities.

Spock with "Gateway," i.e. the Guardian of Forever. No one tell Harlan Ellison.
I love this one, too. The guest stars are so surprising.

Barbara Luna (again) and Commodore Decker, among others.

the Klingon science officer is just a fun idea, and I get a laugh when he gets his close-up when they score a direct hit:

K'PLAGH! Played by John Carrigan. Malachi "The Menagerie" Throne plays his Dad, and the scene between them might be my favorite bit of the episode.

The sudden speedboat-esque flips and turns of the starship models, taking the Farragut through the Guardian/ Gateway, the deft handling of so many Treklore-threads, the garage door opening in suburbia to reveal the shuttle, popping the Commodore's taped last will and testament into the VCR... so many little moments packed into fifty-one minutes. Good stuff. I'm kind of amazed they pulled this one off; even the awkward moments have a quality to them that is downright surreal with The Original Series music and sound f/x accompanying them.

Boxing poster look familiar? It should.
Captain Pike's Enterprise even comes with a yelling Spock, for the purists.
I’ve read some quibbling about the space battle stuff, but for me it felt like watching friends' home videos or student films: you have to grade on a curve, i.e. extra points for “absence of suck” more than anything.


BKM: Either "World Enough and Time" or "In Harm's Way" is my favorite. The ending with Sulu's Generations daughter and the nice coda naming the child (and Takei's performance in general) are all really well done.


I was a little meh on Kirk's and Sulu's daughter having an implied romance, but then it occurred to me how perfectly in keeping it would be for TOS for that to be at least hinted at. (Takei’s reaction shot to the news is priceless.)

Actually, I think that might be a different reaction shot altogether. But hey, something to hunt for. I'm going to make the requisite crazy wrap-up statement and say I prefer this to Voyager’s “Flashback,”and maybe (maybe) even to “Relics.” Though I’m likely overreaching.

BB: Oh, I don't think you're overreaching at all. "World Enough and Time" is just flat-out good.  Period.  It's still an amateur production, of course, but with enough inspiration in it to make it easily better than a great many "real" episodes of Trek I can think of. And I think I might agree that it's better than "Flashback;" "Relics," maybe not, although it's not less good to any meaningful degree.

Part of what makes it work for me is that Takei is good. Unlike Koenig, who - let's face it - is simply not a very good actor, Takei has some genuine screen presence. Not to Shatner's level, or Nimoy's, but it's there and by virtue of it, he clearly elevates the whole production. You can practically feel everyone around him stepping up their game in response, and it's fascinating to see these amateur actors actually managing to hang with Takei. In particular, I thought the guy who played young Sulu did some strong work, especially at the end of the episode. And I really liked the actress who played Sulu's daughter.
Check out the website here.


BKM: Of Gods and Men is... interesting. It says something about Phase II that I have an easier time with it than I do with this, despite so many Trek alumni donating their time. It’s cool that James Cawley gets a bit part as Peter Kirk. I love that Cawley keeps shoehorning Peter Kirk into things! That cracks me up.

BB: Time to be honest: I hated this thing.  So much so, in fact, that I wonder if I gave it a fair shake.  I disliked it so much that I actually stopped watching after about ten minutes and just listened to the rest while farting around on the computer.  From what I could tell, it sounded like there was at least some decent acting from Nichols and Koenig and Russ and Wang, etc. -- but in service of nothing.  Bottom line for me is that this movie just didn't do anything for me at all.

Lots of familiar faces, to say the least.
The Wrath of... Charlie X?
BKM: I understand Gary Lockwood was likely unavailable (to say the least) to reprise Gary Mitchell, but it's a tonal misstep seeing the other actors (down to Charlie freaking X) reprise their roles and then have someone else; it robs the reveal of a lot of its punch. 

BB: It isn't the original actor playing Charlie. Robert Walker, Jr. played the part in "Charlie X," but here it is someone named William Wellman. Walker is still alive; I wonder if they approached him and he said "Uhh... no."
BKM: ... (pretends to rifle through notes) I, uhh... ...

BKM: I'm so happy you caught that, as good lord, Charlie's played by the son of Wild Bill Wellman, and this slipped my notice completely. If Martin Scorsese ever gets wind of this, I can forget about his ever taking my cinematic opinions seriously.

It may be Koenig’s finest performance. How odd, when you really think of it. 


I have two main problems: 1) the style of filming. Not necessarily the lack of finesse (I'm not sure if it's a lighting or color correction issue) but the quick-cuts-style of editing. It seemed like there was an awful lot of cross-cutting going on in dialogue scenes that didn't need to happen, and 2) the disorganization of the story. The Charlie stuff doesn't seem to fit. Worse, it announces itself so forcefully and then disappears for most of the second and third acts. I'm not sure there even is a second or third act. I see traces of them, but mainly it's a lot of exposition from Uhura and Chekov. (I already forget what Chekov's alternate timeline name is in this one.) 

And Uhura marries Stonn? "Amok Time" Stonn? I, uhh... what now? And could that "set" at the end look any more like a Bel Air/ Brentwood backyard and less like Vulcan? Reminds me of an episode of The A-Team where they went to the Philippines or somewhere that wasn't LA yet looked exactly like LA. I'd like to read more about the production detail… Whatever the story is, though, it doesn’t work.

I did like seeing Gary Graham and Garrett Wang  in different roles. The twist with Garrett Wang's character wasn't bad. The whole basic plot of the film with the big reveal being Mirror Gary Mitchell (more on that in a second) is the big baddie just didn't work too well. 

BB: Totally agreed about the Stonn thing.  None of the Vulcan/Uhura stuff made the slightest bit of sense to me, in fact. And I agree on the Gary Mitchell thing, too.  First of all, he'd be powerful enough by then that there'd be no need for him to fight anyone.  He'd probably just think 'em out of existence.  So using him as a villain simply doesn't work.  Secondly...well, really I've got no secondly.  It just didn't work for me at all.

BKM: I found myself incredibly distracted by Chase Masterson, as, I think, did Tum Russ as director. I don’t mean in a slobbering sense, I mean it was distracting because it seemed the camera kept finding a way to cut to her when it didn’t need to.

This is one of the less shameless screencaps, believe it or not.
BB: Hard to criticize anyone for being distracted by Chase Masterson. If you weren't, there'd be something wrong with you. I bet even gay dudes and straight women get a little distracted by her. If nothing else, though, it makes for an excellent comparison film to the Phase II stuff, and points out how incredibly important plot/concept/tone are.  Of Gods and Men is loaded with Trek professionals, whereas "In Harm's Way" is just a bunch of Elvis impersonators, urologists, and video-game store clerks doofusing around in a garage -- but one of them feels like Trek to me and one doesn't.  That wouldn't be the universal opinion, of course, but it's definitely my opinion.
Here's one of the Orion gals from ST: E "Bound," Crystal Allen. She doesn't have many lines.

BKM: They'll be doing another one of these things soon; not sure who all is returning but more details can be found at Star Trek Renegades.


And there we have it, folks! Thanks again to The Artist Formerly Known as the Honk Mahfah for co-hosting this overview with me. Any typos, etc. are my own; this blog will self-destruct in ten seconds, so please get to a safe distance. I'll leave you with some of the fun images from the end credit sequences of Phase II.


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