Star Trek: The Zombie Voyages

This probably falls into that very large category of “Things Everybody Knows Except Me” but apparently a group of dedicated fans has been producing a series of webisodes that continue the original “Five Year Mission” of the Enterprise. This entails casting a set of nonprofessional actors as Kirk, Spock, McCoy etc., which I thought would be an intractable problem… But, after watching an episode, I think maybe it’s not, after all.

Spoilers and further base Trekkery behind a cut, to spare the innocent and the easily bored.

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The episode I watched was the first they had on their roster, “In Harm’s Way.” (Apparently there was an earlier one,”Come What May,” which the project pulled from its website. (From the review of this “pilot” here it looks like we’re not missing much. One has but to convincingly speak the magic word YAGLA to forever banish my interest in a story.)

Counting the missing “pilot,” there have been three (hour-ish length) episodes released so far. The third found Walter Koenig reprising his role as Chekov (and, apparently, a plot-strand from “The Deadly Years”). A fourth episode, featuring George Takei, will be released in a week or two and a fifth, written and directed by David Gerrold, is in postproduction. (It was from David Gerrold’s blog that I learned about the project. I have no idea why or how I ended up in that corridor of cyberspace this afternoon.)

“In Harm’s Way” was not completely terrible. I thought that the actors who played Kirk and McCoy were surprisingly good, in a community theater sort of way. James Cawley somehow channels Kirk without summoning the specter of a Shatner-self-parody, and John Kelley, although he does not present as significantly older than Cawley, delivers his Bones-esque lines with a certain sardonic flair.

I had difficulty accepting the actor who played Spock in this episode. He didn’t seem to have the requisite gravitas for the role. Candidly, with his small-boned face, smooth skin and heavily made-up eyes, he looked like a teenager who’d been messing around with his mom’s cosmetics. Spock is obviously the most difficult part to cast in a project like this, partly because of the stamp Leonard Nimoy left on the role but mostly because of its inherent difficulty. Vulcans aren’t supposed to have emotion, but somehow an actor cast as one has to be expressive without being too evidently emotional. Actors with those kind of chops are rare and unlikely to be attracted to so thankless (and paycheckless) a role.

But none of the actors disgraced themselves and, among the minor characters (who were legion–there was many a fannish shoutout in the script), I thought Ron Boyd as the hotshot DeSalle was pretty good.

“Guest Stars” for this webisode included the still-luminous BarBara Luna as a suburban Captain’s lady sometime near the present who keeps a shuttlecraft in her garage (that is not some sort of bizarre euphemism, by the way), and William Windom, reprising his famous turn as Commodore Matt Decker. Both did reasonably well under the rather trying circumstances; Windom was clearly reading his lines from an off-camera script, for instance, but he read them well.

The special effects and the soundstage sets compared favorably to the original series. The space battle scenes were certainly superior to anything the 60s episodes offered.

The lighting and the video quality, though, were painfully, distractingly inept: dark, muddy, full of odd shadows.

But I think the script is what kept this webisode from being anything better than “not completely terrible.” It has an interesting premise. In the midst of a war against a fleet of Doomsday Machines, Captain Kirk, commanding the USS Farragut (sic) is summoned by Commander Spock to Gateway, the planet of the Guardian of Forever. There Kirk learns that the past has been altered and he has to go back and set things right, forestalling the Doomsday War that is ravaging the galaxy.

So far… okay, I guess, but this is pretty cannibalistic. Nor does it stop there: the webisode is awash with extraneous references to canonical episodes; it reminded me of the later Oz books in its intense determination to reintroduce us to “old friends” (whether they have any legitimate plot function or not).

Then there was a ridiculous overuse of time travel to resolve the plot. The future, you see, is a magic box out of which happy things come to save us. This, at least, is a Roddenberry-like vision, but is that a good thing? Star Trek was best when the Great Bird of the Galaxy was flapping his wings at some other project.

The patented Star Trek technobabble was smeared all over “In Harm’s Way”, as well. Whether it was time-ripples or chronitons (sic, I think) or recalibrating the deflector array to make a planetkiller-killing weapon (I wish I were kidding but I’m not), the writers squirted it into the script whenever the joints began to creak from the weight of all the arbitrary plot-choices.

More importantly, the webisode left me with a bad emotional aftertaste. The canonical episode it cannibalized most extensively, “The Doomsday Machine”, is one of my favorites: a story of loss, and obsession and desperation. This sequel shows us that nobody loses anything, ever, because the shiny happy future will save us.

I’ve probably spent too much time reviewing something which is best thought of as an extended form of cosplay. But I don’t think it’s impossible for these guys to deliver something worth watching, provided that they stop strip-mining “The Original Series” and start emulating it by being more, you know, original.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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8 Responses to Star Trek: The Zombie Voyages

  1. sboydtaylor says:

    “Not completely terrible”, eh?
    With that glowing recommendation and my innate preference of Dr. Who, I think I shall stick to reading your reviews 🙂

    • JE says:

      I’m sure you mean new Who: I haven’t seen a lot of those episodes, but I like what I’ve seen. But, in a way, “In Harm’s Way” reminded me of the old Dr. Who episodes with Tom Baker: there was that “Hey! Let’s put on a show!” exuberance. But the “New Voyages” don’t have the deft scriptwriting that went along with the Fourth Doctor’s episodes, nor actors with the charisma of Tom Baker. And no one like Leela, of course.

      So I just got lost in the Wikipedia entries for the Whoniverse, and I emerge haunted by the strange knowledge that Joanna Lumley (of The New Avengers and Absolutely Fabulous) once played Dr. Who (in a parody episode. I think I’ll have to try to find that one.

      • sboydtaylor says:

        I’d love to see that, too.

        Actually, I watch old and new Who alike. I’ve even seen The Web Planet (although I’m unlikely to watch it again). I will suffer through the bad episodes, simply from my childhood attachment to the show and its trivia. But I never was that deeply into Star Trek.

        • JE says:

          “I never was that deeply into Star Trek.”

          This has probably saved you a mort of suffering: the Dr. Who legacy seems to be in much better hands than ST.

  2. bg_editor says:

    I slogged my way through that episode last year or so. You are more charitable than I.

    Starship Exeter has that same community theatre feel, but the second (and unfortunately unfinished) episode is much better scripted than other stuff I’ve found, and the effects are pretty nifty to boot. You can find it at http://www.starshipexeter.com.

    I haven’t checked out any of the other “In Harm’s Way” episodes.

    best,
    Howard

    • JE says:

      As part of my intensive time-wasting program today I went to have a look at the “Starship Exeter” webisodes. I agree about “The Tressaurian Intersection”–it has to be the best of these fanfilms I’ve seen yet. I badly wanted to see the end, whereas with “In Harm’s Way” I just wanted to get to the end.

      • bg_editor says:

        Don’t feel too bad. I went through the same intensive time-wasting program a year or so back and came away with the same conclusions.

        Man, would it be cool to have those sets they’re filming on, or what? Didn’t they do a great job with the sets and the look of everything? How about the retro look of the shields panel, which we never saw on TOS, but would probably have looked just like that if we had… And the story itself was pretty intriguing, and very much in the mold of the orignal show.

        • JE says:

          The look was great, and I was really enjoying the story, even before the Tholians showed up, which made my millennium. I have a weak spot for stories about derelict spaceships; no idea why.

          The quality-level increased stunningly from “Savage Empire” to the unfinished “Tressaurian Intersection.” Here’s hoping some of these guys are working on a professional sf/f project.

          On the down side (because I have to be critical about something) I don’t think they got the Andorian look quite right; the antennae seemed much larger than in the canonical episodes.

          Of course, there’s a tremendous advantage to having your nonhuman character played by someone like Reggie Nalder who looked like he might not be wholly human even when he wasn’t wearing makeup.

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