“Star Trek Continues” is, quite literally, the continuation of the prematurely cancelled original series (1966-69); and this non-profit, made-for-love-of-the-game series meticulously recreates the sets, props, lighting and even hairstyles of the original series. The episodes are even framed in the older standard aperture of 4:3; the television standard at the time of the original series’ production. The lovingly recreated sets/stylings of the show are even more amazing when you consider ST Continues is not IN ANY WAY made-for/affiliated/sanctioned by CBS/Paramount. This is a crowdsourced fan series. In fact, the term ‘fan series’ seems woefully inadequate when you see the level of care that has gone into this production.
Series’ producer/writer/star Vic Mignogna is, to this series, a walking/working combination of William Shatner and Gene Roddenberry. Having met Mignogna a few times at conventions and having attended panels of his, I can vouch for this man’s exactitude and fervent passion for the source material; both of which are woven into the fabric of each of the 11 full episodes (and 3 earlier vignettes).
There have been other Star Trek fan series before STC (“Exeter” “New Voyages/Phase II” and many others). Some of these prior series have even involved original series’ cast members and have also recreated the original sets; but to be honest, none of them have had the consistent level of quality and professional polish that STC has with each installment. STC is truly a cut above. I’m not saying this just because I love the show, as I have appreciation for all fan films (it takes courage to follow one’s passion). But STC takes fan films to a whole new level. This series looks and feels like a hidden treasure trove of pristine lost episodes that were unearthed in a vault somewhere.
Yet, surprisingly, the new stories are very relevant to modern audiences (“Lolani” in particular stands out in this regard; a thoughtful allegory of sexual abuse and human trafficking).
The series’ cast includes Mignoga as Captain James T. Kirk (a nicely modulated performance that homages Shatner yet never lapses into impersonation), Todd Haberkorn plays half-Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock, Chris Doohan uncannily recreates his late father James’ engineer Scotty, Chuck Huber is Dr. McCoy (author/Trekspert Larry Nemecek played him in the first episode of STC), Kim Stinger is Lt. Uhura, former Mythbuster Grant Imahara is Mr. Sulu, and Wyatt Lenhart is Mr. Chekov.
There are also a nice mix of all-new and previously seen peripheral characters. New characters include ship’s counselor Dr. Elise McKennah (played by Michele Specht, who is a strong, charismatic addition to the ST family of characters) and a stalwart security guard with a bionic arm named Drake (Steven Dangler).
The returning TOS characters include former yeoman (now commissioned) Lt. Barbara Smith; a role seen briefly in the original series’ second pilot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” as played by Andrea Dromm) and now played by Kipleigh Brown. Later episodes also feature the original series other ship’s doctor, Dr. M’Benga (now played by Martin Bradford); M’Benga specialized in Vulcan physiology and appeared in two episodes of the original series (“Private Little War” and “That Which Survives” where he was played by Booker Bradshaw). There are also several appearances by Lt. Uhura’s occasional relief officer, Lt. Palmer, played by real-life MD Cat Roberts (Palmer the character was previously seen in two episodes of the original series, including the classic “Doomsday Machine”; she was played by Elizabeth Rogers, who also voiced ‘the companion’ in “Metamorphosis”).
^ Oh, and for the Star Trek continuity police who might cry ‘foul’ at the starship Enterprise having a counselor aboard a full century before Next Gen’s Deanna Troi? Counselor McKennah is presented as the first in what is hoped to be a fleet-wide counselor program aboard Federation starships. So there (hehe).
And in another ‘future nod’ to Next Gen, the Enterprise is also seen with a prototype version of the later series’ holodeck; an innovation unseen in TOS, but it was showcased in the 1973 Animated Star Trek Series’ “The Practical Joker.” So once again, its use in STC doesn’t violate any previous Star Trek canon.
“These are the voyages…” :
****** SPOILERS AHEAD! SHIELDS UP!! *******
And the following are my musings on each full episode:
* Pilgrim of Eternity
This first episode is a sequel to TOS’ S2 episode, “Who Mourns For Adonais?” The original character “Apollo” returns and is, once again, played by the original actor Michael Forest. Apollo materializes aboard the Enterprise (with a dying Athena) and seeks sanctuary. Apollo appears decades older due to the draining of his life force (a clever way to work in the actor’s real-life age). Apollo’s race of ‘gods’ feed on love and adulation and find both in short supply of late. Kirk is uneasy about giving sanctuary to his former adversary, but new ship’s counselor McKennah is convinced that Apollo can change his ways. Turns out McKennah is right, as Apollo soon discovers he can also feed on positivity from acts of altruism as well. Kirk relocates his former nemesis to a nondescript inhabited planet where he plans to live out his days doing good deeds for sustenance…and in so doing, Apollo grows visibly younger.
Star Trek author/Trekspert Larry Nemecek (author of “The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion” and others) played Dr. McCoy in this outing, but was later replaced by Chuck Huber. Nemecek is also credited as an adviser on the series. “Battlestar Galactica” veteran Jamie Bamber (who also played a character named “Apollo” on that series) plays an ill-fated ‘red-shirt’ engineer who is killed during an EVA.
One of my personal favorites of this series. Guest star Fiona Vroom plays a green Orion slave girl who seeks sanctuary aboard the Enterprise. Lolani uses her natural chemical/pheromonal abilities to gain allies in the Enterprise’s crew, but more as a survival instinct than a tool of seduction. Things rapidly escalate to critical mass when her slave master (played by former “Incredible Hulk” Lou Ferrigno; once again in green makeup!) returns to claim her. Because of Orion’s nonaligned status, Lolani’s request for asylum within the Federation is denied. Kirk and crew of course, do not accept this.
The allegories of rape, abuse and human trafficking are well-drawn; and the ending of this episode is painful and haunting.
* Fairest Of Them All
A wildly entertaining sequel to TOS’ “Mirror, Mirror.” Finishes the original story close to how I’d always imagined it could in my mind’s eye, only better. The episode ends with Mirror-Spock gaining control of the I.S.S. Enterprise from Mirror-Kirk and banishing him from the ship in a shuttlecraft (which is the actual Galileo shuttlecraft prop used in TOS; filmed in a restored state from its current Houston home via green screen and clever editing). The crew clearly has a blast with this one, and that fun trickles (nee: pours) down to the audience. Love Kirk’s deliberately ‘forgetting’ poor Lt. Smith’s name yet again (“Jones…”). Perverse fun all around.
* The White Iris
Ever wonder if Kirk ever felt any lingering guilt or pain from all of those dalliances and abruptly ended relationships? This sensitive episode answers that question. Kirk’s heart is literally dying from the pain of those failed (and often tragic) relationships, spurring hallucinations of dead romantic partners and even an unborn daughter (via his marriage to ‘Miramanee’ from TOS’ “The Paradise Syndrome”). And Kirk’s possibly fatal condition couldn’t come at a worse time, as he alone holds the codes to a planetary defense mechanism during sensitive peace negotiations. McKennah suggests that Kirk work out his condition via the ship’s holodeck; allowing the captain the necessary closure to those painful emotional open wounds. “White Iris” is another sequel episode that is a refreshing mix of something borrowed and something new; a trademark of this series. Former “Doctor Who” actor Colin Baker (the 6th incarnation of the Doctor) plays a panicked planetary leader.
* Divided We Stand
Kirk and McCoy are scanned by a probe and their minds are whisked away into a recreation of the American Civil War, while their bodies remain inert aboard the ship; vulnerable to what they face in the simulation. An enjoyable segment, whose production value is greatly aided by a group of Civil War reenactors who add a large dose of authenticity to the settings. Best moments involve McCoy being forced to amputate Kirk’s leg within the simulation (causing his body’s real leg to go into necrosis) and of Kirk later seeing his idol, president Abraham Lincoln (a nice nod to TOS’ “The Savage Curtain”).
* Come Not Between the Dragons
Guest star Gigi Edgley (formerly of “Farscape”) plays Enterprise crew member Eliza Taylor, who forms a special bond with a space-based, fugitive rock creature named Usdi, that is seeking asylum from its abusive father. The father and child’s negative emotions toward each other are unwittingly mirrored by the crew via psychic projections from the creatures themselves. It turns out that Taylor is a survivor of abuse herself, and that plays a factor in her bonding with Usdi. The crew’s channeling of the negative emotions leads to some great bits of acting by the regular cast; one particular favorite of mine is a scene with Dr. McKennah, who ditches her traditional counseling techniques in favor of a strong right hook! Gigi Edgley’s Taylor is a welcome addition to the ensemble, in the best tradition of ST guest stars. The resolution is hopeful, if not firmly conclusive; as were many of ST’s best outings. Another favorite of mine.
Sidenote: I met Edgley at San Diego Comic Con 2016, and she was very sweet (with a great sense of humor). She got a kick out of my Breaking Bad ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’ cook’s costume, as well as my wife’s “Lucy” cosplay from Peanuts’ classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin” episode.
* Embracing the Winds
This one finally deals with the issue of gender inequality within the ranks of original series’ captains. TOS’ “Turnabout Intruder” seemed to imply that women couldn’t be captains for some unexplained reason (?) though we clearly saw a female exec in the TOS pilot “The Cage.” Guest star Erin Gray (a former TV crush of mine when I was a boy) returns as “Commodore Gray” (from “Lolani”) who is determining the fitness of a possible female starship captain, played by former “Buffy” guest star Clare Kramer. Turns out the lack of female captains in Kirk’s Starfleet is due to the influence of sexist Tellarites within the Federation council. An interesting, if not entirely satisfying explanation; though given the many nods to multiculturalism within our own democracy, it certainly makes sense. Nice nod to Next Generation with Kramer’s ‘Commander Garrett’; an ancestor of future Enterprise-C captain Rachel Garrett, from the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”
* Still Treads the Shadow
Once again, the authentic ‘feeling’ of an original series episode is meticulously recreated. This episode that deals with Kirk meeting an older version of himself (shades of TOS’ “The Deadly Years” and even Keir Dullea’s ‘Dave Bowman’ in “2001: A Space Odyssey”). The older, alternate Kirk poses a danger to the present-day ship and crew. Some wonderfully realized visual effects highlight this one, as well as a welcome guest starring role from another “Battlestar Galactica” veteran, Rekha Sharma; who later appeared as ‘Commander Landry’ in a few episodes of the new ST series “Discovery.” As a huge fan of 2003’s Battlestar Galactica, I’m always up for more BSG guest appearances. Kirk’s age makeup appears to be a far more sophisticated version of how he appeared in “Deadly Years.” My favorite moment of this episode is the scene between the older Kirk and McKennah, sharing a wistful moment in his quarters.
Mignogna and Specht make a lovely couple in real life as well.
* What Ships Are For
Another favorite of mine, aided by powerful guest stars John DeLancie (“Q” from Next Gen), Ann Lockhart (“Sheba” from the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica) and Elizabeth Maxwell. Isolated aliens seek help from the Enterprise to deal with their faltering sun, whose peculiar radiation affects the cones of humanoid eyes, rendering vision monochromatic. The inhabitants have endured this condition for so long that they cannot conceive of color vision. When one of the aliens beams back aboard the Enterprise, she sees color for the first time. Her different skin and hair color, which aren’t native to the planet, exposes her as a member of an enemy alien race. The episode’s beautifully realized gimmick of black & white to color would’ve been perfect for the ‘new’ age of color television during the time TOS was first produced, and is smartly used today as a metaphor for skin color-based racism targeting ‘illegal’ aliens (for the record; I believe that NO human being is ‘illegal’… ever).
The episode’s writing is credited to STC costar Kipleigh Brown, who really hits it out of the park with this smart, insightful and satisfying installment. This one most authentically feels like an episode that could’ve been done in 1968.
* To Boldy Go, Parts 1 and 2.
They saved the best for last!
The series finishes the ‘five year mission’ of the starship Enterprise in a fitting way by coming full circle and reconciling with the original series’ 2nd pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (the first with Shatner’s James T. Kirk). The great ‘galactic barrier’ which has the proven ability to mutate certain human beings into supercharged ‘ESPers’, is weaponized by a renegade group of scientists who want to advance into what they believe to be the ultimate phase of human evolution. The duplicitous Romulans also plan to use ESPer-humans as weapons, as it is discovered that the Romulan/Vulcan races are immune to the effects of the barrier and cannot be transformed; thus their need for the supercharged scientists, led by “Lana” (memorably played by former Doctor Who companion Nicola Bryant) and her Vulcan husband “Sentek” (played by “The Expanse” costar Cas Avnar). The ESPers have other plans, as they have commandeered the USS Congo, a starship of the same class as Enterprise. The Romulan commander from “The Enterprise Incident” also returns (played by Amy Rydell, the daughter of the role’s original actress Joanne Linville; the resemblance is uncanny).
In part 2, there is a confrontation between the Enterprise and Congo, during which the Enterprise has another encounter with the barrier. Smith (a character who was present during the events of “Where No Man…”) is transformed into an ESPer herself. Sentek and Lana manipulate Spock into sending McKennah as a hostage aboard the Congo. Smith, making a case for the crew to trust her despite her dangerous mutation, beams aboard the Congo and (in a scene that harkens back to Sally Kellerman’s demise in “Where No Man…”) sacrifices herself in the engine room in a desperate attempt to save her colleagues aboard the wounded Enterprise.
As the Congo faces imminent destruction with McKennah still aboard, Kirk Spock and Scotty try to beam the counselor back to the ship. And in one of the most heartbreaking deaths in ST since Spock said his goodbyes to Kirk in “The Wrath of Khan”, McKennah is suspended in mid-materialization (but conscious) and says her poignant, silent goodbyes to her beloved shipmates. So help me, this scene ripped my heart out. It’s a testament to how much affection is built up for these newer characters in a mere 11 episodes!
With the USS Congo and her crew of dangerous ESPers destroyed, the damaged Enterprise limps back to Earth and glides majestically into spacedock (in a scene echoing the opening of 1984’s “The Search For Spock”). At a meeting in Admiral Nogura’s office (yes, the same Nogura mentioned in The Motion Picture), Kirk is promoted to chief of Starfleet operations, and later addresses his gathered crew one last time. Kirk, Spock and a retiring McCoy make plans for a final dinner together as they prepare to go their separate ways. The final scene has newly promoted Kirk stepping onto the bridge of his beloved ship for the last time before her scheduled refit.
So ends the amazing 11 episode run of this superlative Star Trek series. “To Boldly Go” begins at the beginning (by revisiting the galactic barrier of the second pilot “Where No Man…”) and seamlessly segues into the era of Star Trek: The Motion Picture by its end. As a fan of the criminally underrated Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I appreciated this transitional final act of the episode. Seeing Kirk in his admiral’s uniform, stepping onto his TOS-era bridge one last time just felt so right. It also made sense that a Kirk grieving over the losses of McKennah (and so many others) would so meekly accept a desk job (an idea that previously seemed anathema to Kirk). “To Boldly Go” does what the best prequels do by enhancing previously thin character motivations/arcs and making them feel complete. In fact, when I watch TMP now, it’ll probably feel more like a sequel to “To Boldly Go.”
Unlike previous ST series, STC was made with no intention of fiscal gain or profit, and was entirely crowdsourced. In the interest of disclosure (I try to run an honest blog here; hehe) I have donated a bit to this production as well via Indigogo, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
The people involved have truly captured the soul of the original series, better than other prequels of Star Trek. Part of that integrity is due to the quality of writing and production, but it’s also because STC is unfettered by the fiscal pressure to attract a whole new, non-Star Trek audience (another advantage of crowdsourcing; STC is made by fans for fans); there is no need to make it anything other than classic Star Trek. STC doesn’t have to rewrite the book on Star Trek; it offers new chapters but in the same style.
Other productions of Star Trek have had to walk the line of keeping their look more ‘modern’ so as not to seem quaint or anachronistic. This is an ongoing issue with the ST Kelvin Timeline movies (2009-2016) and the prequel series “Enterprise” and “Discovery.” These productions have to appear both retro and modern, to attract newer viewers and satisfy older fans (something the 2009 movie did quite well, even if it angered some older fans in the process).
Freed of that compulsion to modernize, STC is allowed to be the best incarnation of the original series that it can. The sets are 100% faithful only to what was done before; there are no touch screens, holographic interactive displays or “iMac” bridge stations. There are only the clunky analog knobs, switches and dials of what was presented then. And it works. This isn’t some new, modern reimagining of Star Trek; this is a faithful continuation of the original. Like “Blade Runner 2049,” STC is a faithful presentation of a future-past. Yet within that format, STC tells stories that are still very relevant to our present day; even while using the clunkier tech and look of a 50 year old television series. Star Trek Continues couldn’t be more true to the look, feel and spirt of the original Star Trek.
If you’re a fan of the original series and have yet to see STC, then in my humble opinion, you haven’t yet seen all of the entire original series.