BitDepth 511 - February 14

Star Trek's fourth season is underway, as Kirk, McCoy and Spock journey into new adventures...
Boldly going back where none have gone before

Behind the scenes of "To serve all my days" are Walter Koenig (original Chekov) James Cawley (new Kirk) and Andy Bray (new Chekov).

You'd think that people might have had enough of Star Trek.
With ten feature films, three seasons of the original series with Kirk and Spock, seven seasons of the successful reprise helmed by Captain Jean Luc Picard, seven seasons each of Deep Space Nine and Voyager and the limping finale of Enterprise which ground to a halt after an undignified four seasons, there are hundreds of episodes full of people in tight uniforms beaming hither and yon and shooting at things.

Perhaps it's exactly because of that breadth of storytelling that fans have been moved to write countless manuscripts expanding on the mythos. With the coming of off-the-shelf 3D rendering software and affordable moviemaking and editing equipment; they can now create their own shows.
This column has reported before on New Voyages, a classy recreation of the original Star Trek series, which purports to continue the adventures of the starship NCC 1701 into the fourth season that Paramount never got a chance to produce.

If the names James Cawley, Jeffrey Quinn and John Kelley don't immediately ring a bell, then perhaps the characters they assay in the two New Voyages episodes released so far might - Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
In what might have been readily seen as Trek heresy, three unknown actors and a host of enthusiastic supporters have banded together to create what Eugene Roddenberry Jr, son of series creator Gene Roddenberry, has described as "the closest thing to the original series since the original series".
Young Roddenberry has put his work where his enthusiasm is and is now listed as an consulting producer on New Voyages, which is earning fans even among veterans of the show.

The newest episode of New Voyages, scheduled for release in mid-2006 is "To serve all my days" a bittersweet coda for that noted mangler of English, Chekov, written by original series story editor DC Fontana and starring Walter Koenig, who returns to the role as a rapidly ageing crewman of this "Kirk's" Enterprise.
Among other homesick crew members returning to the revival of the original Star Trek are vaguely familiar bit players William Windom and Eddie Paskey, Trek writers David Gerrold, Marc Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves and in the next episode to be produced, Grace Lee Whitney (the fetchingly mini-skirted Janice Rand) and George Takei (a freshly out-of-the-closet Sulu).
New Voyages isn't the only contender in the unauthorised Trek series sweepstakes nor is it the most prolific.

Hidden Frontier, with an all new crew at the helm of the USS Excelsior operating out of Deep Space 12 roam the fringes of the Briar Patch, an area of space with odd physics and battle an antagonistic species called The Grey.
Hidden Frontier is entering its seventh season, though the fan produced "seasons" on this series are between six to nine episodes long.
What's astonishing about all this is that the only way Paramount tolerates all this Trek making is if the producers abide by one overriding rule: nobody can make any money off these films. There are no DVDs, no products for sale and no salaries. In fact, most of the people appearing in these shows are subsidising the show's production with their pocketbooks as well as their presence.

This is all well and good, but what's watching amateur Trek like? New Voyages takes forever to produce its episodes, clocking just two finished works and one midway in production over the last two years, but the enthusiasm is matched by surprising finesse. None of these faux Treks sports great acting, but Cawley's bravado as a pompadoured Kirk, the excellent effects and sets and the engaging lovefest of the writing make New Voyages the runaway winner in the quality sweepstakes.

The newest episode available, "In harm's way", manages to reference three different episodes and a film; the weird energy worm of "The Doomsday Machine", the time-travel portal of "City on the edge of forever", Captain Pike of "The Menagerie" and the "slingshot effect" of "The voyage home".
Hidden Frontier's wild enthusiasm and almost exclusive use of virtual sets on green screen makes for a rolling verisimilitude, though the matte fringes can be jarring. Not to mention The Grey, who appear to be underemployed Jawas, the sand thieves of Luke Skywalker's Tattoine.

In addition, Hidden Frontier is an equal opportunity Trekverse, one in which all the portly people who never appeared in Paramount's episodes finally have their stories told.
In one intriguing bit of Trek cross-pollination, Cawley switched starships from New Voyages to guest star in Vigil, a sixth season episode of Frontier.
It's all delightfully enthusiastic weirdness and might well pass for the real thing to an undiscerning viewer, but for the rest of us Trekkers, well, it's a zoosh from the old new frontier.


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