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Star Trek Lives! Josh Reviews Enemy: Starfleet!

April 25th, 2011
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After a long, long, looooong wait, a new full-length episode of Star Trek: Phase II has been released on-line.  It’s called Enemy: Starfleet! and it is dynamite.  Watch it here! If you’re any sort of fan of Star Trek, this is well-worth your time.

I’ve written before (here and here) about the amazing fan-produced series Star Trek: Phase II (formerly Star Trek: New Voyages).  Masterminded by James Cawley, this series (created and produced top-to-bottom by people who love Star Trek, working for no money whatsoever) is an attempt to create a fourth season of the classic Star Trek series (which was famously cancelled after three seasons), continuing the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the gang.  This isn’t a reboot like J.J. Abrams’ movie, or any sort of modernization of the classic Trek concept.  No, this is a loving attempt to replicate the look and feel of the 1960’s sets, costumes, music, etc., and to create full-length episodes that look and feel and sound like they really could have been episodes from a fourth season of the original Star Trek!

In that attempt, James Cawley and his incredible group of collaborators have been astoundingly successful.  The production values of these episodes (Enemy: Starfleet! is the sixth episode created, not counting the series’ original pilot) have improved by leaps and bounds with each new installment, to the point now that they are simply jaw-droppingly amazing.  Every aspect of what one sees on-screen is flawless.  The look of the bridge.  The sound effect when someone opens their communicator or fires a phaser.  The music.  The costumes (both the Starfleet uniforms worn by the Enterprise crew as well as the attire of the guest-stars).  The attention to detail is astounding.  Take a look at Peter Kirk’s quarters, for instance, and be dazzled by the United Federation of Planets emblem on his bed-spread, or the familiar-looking bottle seen on the shelf behind his bed.

In many respects, Enemy: Starfleet! looks even BETTER than the original Trek ever did.  The visual effects, for instance, are amazing — a universe more advanced than what was possible in the 1960’s.  But what’s really neat is that, while the effects are much more elaborate and far cooler than anything seen in an original Trek episode, all of the effects still feel RIGHT.  They integrate organically with the rest of the episode.  A large reason for that is because, even if we’re now able to see things we never could before, all of the details are correct.  The Enterprise moves just the way it should (even as we’re getting to see the old girl engage in far-more spectacular outer-space combat than we’ve ever seen before).

What’s been really neat about the Phase II project is how so many people who’ve been involved with actual official Star Trek productions have gotten involved in this fan series.  Most famously, both Walter Koenig and George Takei have reprised their roles as Pavel Chekov and Hikaru Sulu, respectively, in earlier episodes.  The series’ previous two episodes, the two-part episode “Blood and Fire,” was written and directed by David Gerrold, who wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles,” one of the most famous episodes of the original series.  Enemy: Starfleet! continues this tradition.  The episode was co-written by Dave Galanter, who has written a number of Star Trek novels for Pocket Books, and the featured guest star is Barbara Luna, who played Marlena Moreau on the original series (in the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror”).

It’s great to see that the Phase II team can give us all sorts of different styles of episodes.  Coming off of “Blood and Fire” Part II, which was a little bit slow, it’s fun to watch Enemy: Starfleet!, which is a fast-paced action episode.  The episode is very well-edited.  Scenes are short and to the point, and the whole thing zips along at an engaging clip.  But Dave Galanter and Patty Wright’s excellent script still gives Captain Kirk a juicy moral dilemma to wrestle with, as well as fine character moments and development for much of the supporting cast (especially Chekov).  What Phase II gets right is that Star Trek, at it’s best, is always about something more than just shoot-em-ups.

I also enjoyed the continuity with “Blood and Fire,” as Peter Kirk struggles to deal with the devastating loss he’s suffered, and Jim Kirk struggles to figure out how to be both a captain and a father-figure to his young nephew.  I thought Peter Kirk was the weak link in “Blood and Fire,” but thankfully I found the character to be far less annoying here.  Bobby Rice is much more restrained with his performance (and although I’m loathe to criticize the great David Gerrold, I think the character was better written here, too).

The cast-member who impressed me the most was John Kelley as Dr. McCoy.  In previous episodes I’ve found him to be one of the weaker members of the cast.  In “Blood and Fire,” in particular, I thought he played McCoy as way too angry and belligerent.  But in Enemy: Starfleet! I feel Mr. Kelley has really found the character.  His McCoy is irascible and stubborn, but also playful and gentle.  He’s great in his scenes with Chekov and Peter Kirk, two young officers prone to punishing themselves for their mistakes, and also in his scenes with Captain Kirk, pushing the stubborn Kirk to reach out to Peter.  But Mr. Kelley’s best scene is late in the episode, when he objects to Spock’s dramatic plan to destroy the ability of the two warring planets to use warp-speed.  It’s a well-written speech, and Mr. Kelley really hits it out of the park, bringing quiet dignity and humanity to his dialogue.  He convinced me as a viewer, and he convinces Captain Kirk as well.

I have some quibbles with the episode, but this shouldn’t be taken in any way as a knock against the great achievement of this episode and this continuing series.  (I can be a picky Trek fan, and there are few episodes of “official” Star Trek that I didn’t have some quibbles with!!)

While it was a great coup for the series to nab Barbara Luna as a guest star, portraying the villainous Alersa, I thought her performance was pretty weak.  She’s way over the top, and I thought she came off as pretty silly all the times she was grabbing her male officers and throwing them around.  She was at her best in her scenes sitting in the captain’s chair and calmly bantering with Kirk over the view-screen.  In those scenes she was able to convey quiet menace, rather than the hysterical lunacy that she played for much of the rest of the episode.

I also am not yet quite taken with the new replacements to the Phase II Enterprise cast.  In this episode, Jonathan Zungre took on the role of Chekov, Brandon Stacy took over the role of Spock, and J.T. Tepnapa took over as Sulu.  I had an easier time accepting Mr. Stacy as Spock, perhaps because there have already been two different actors who have played the role in the earlier episodes.  (Though I must confess that Mr. Stacy’s somewhat drowsy line-readings started to bug me a bit as the episode wore on.)  I was more attached to the original actors who had played Chekov and Sulu on Phase II (Andy Bray and John Lim, respectively), mostly because both actors had been so terrific in the episodes that spotlighted them (“To Serve All My Days” and “World Enough and Time”).  Those two men had indelibly become Chekov and Sulu in my mind, so it’s hard to see other actors play them.  Mr. Tepnapa is hardly in the episode (which is a shame), so it’s hard to judge his performance.  Mr. Zungre, though, is much more in the spotlight in this episode as Chekov.  His acting is terrific but I’m not yet sold on his Chekov accent.  It just didn’t sound like Chekov to my ears.  He also looks so different from how Walter Koenig and Andy Bray looked that I was a bit thrown when I first realized, early in the episode, that he was supposed to be Chekov.  Ultimately, if the performance is strong, it doesn’t really matter how the actor looks (it doesn’t bother me one whit that James Cawley doesn’t look anything like William Shatner).  But can we at least give Mr. Zungre a hair-cut in the next episode?

(By the way, on that topic, there was quite a lot of crazy hair in this episode.  I loved the look of guest-star Paul Sieber as Kyril — it’s a great example of how just a few small things can make an actor look very alien.  But boy did Peter Kirk look ridiculous with his huge hair when we first see him on the planet’s surface at the start of the episode.)

My only other real complaint about the episode was that I thought it relied to a surprising degree on meaningless techy plot-devices.  Just what exactly did the two Kirks have to do on Alursa’s ship to trigger the warp-speed dead-zone?  I’ve watched the episode twice and I really have no idea.  Couldn’t they have used technology on the Enterprise to accomplish whatever needed doing?  I know Star Trek utilizes a lot of pseudo-science, but at least give me an idea, within the framework of established Star Trek tech, of what Jim and Peter had to do over there.  By that same note, just what the heck was that magic “stimulus overload” that the Enterprise used, mid-way through the episode, to disable Alursa’s flag-ship?  Never seen that before!  (Again, I don’t mind the writers establishing new ideas and new maneuvers, but at least give us a teensy bit of information on what exactly is going down.)

Speaking of plot-devices, did I miss something between acts 3 and 4 of the episode?  At the end of act 3, it seems like Kirk has agreed with McCoy to reject Spock’s warp-speed dead-zone plan.  Then two seconds later act 4 begins and Kyril says his government has approved the plan, and Kirk agrees to beam over to Alursa’s ship to set the plan in motion.  Huh?  It definitely feels to me like there’s a scene missing that would have explained Captain Kirk’s apparent change-of-heart.

OK, enough complaining, let’s wrap up this review with a few more great things about Enemy: Starfleet!

I though Paul Sieber was great as the guest-star Kyril.  He gets to chew some scenery, but over-all I thought he brought great personality and humanity to the performance, and I really enjoyed watching his growing bond with Kirk.

I’ve already commented about the episode’s terrific visual effects, but man did I love those shots of the tiny Peshan vessels swarming all around the Enterprise and the Eagle. (Though, wait a second, did I hear Kyril right when he said 200 Peshans manned each one of those tiny ships?  How could that possibly be??)

The outdoors setting of the opening teaser, in which the Enterprise landing party is attacked, looked absolutely gorgeous.  It was really cool to see the series move off of their sets and out on-location.  They really convincingly pulled off an alien surface that would have looks right at home in any classic Trek episode.  Speaking of the teaser, good lord was the opening shot of the Big E gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous, how cool was the new Jefferies tube set??  Awesome!

I loved the connections with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, from the wormhole effect to the change in Chekov’s status at the end of the episode.  It’s cool to see what this series is (eventually) building towards!

Well done, ladies and gentlemen of Phase II! Now, let’s not wait a year-and-a-half before releasing the next episode, OK?  Pretty please?  The anticipation is already killing me!!  (The Child looks interesting, but I CANNOT WAIT for Kitumba!!)

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