I used to have a recurring dream in which I would be shopping in a video store or bookstore and discover that some “lost” episodes of original series Star Trek had been found in a vault somewhere and released on video for the first time. For someone who was heavily into Trek and who still loves the original series most of all, this was obviously a very exciting thing to dream about (yeah, even after the onset of puberty, it was still exciting). Sometimes I would even get to see a portion of one of these imaginary lost episodes, with my dream-state mind somehow manufacturing some new Trek story-lines and footage to go with them.
Alas, unlike with The Honeymooners or Bonanza or The Twilight Zone, there were no lost episodes of Star Trek. The seventy-nine episodes that we fans know so well are all that were ever made. The closest thing to seeing “new” original Star Trek happened when the video releases appeared, restoring footage that had been cut from the syndication edits of the show to make more room for commercials. So ingrained in my memory were the syndication versions from all the years of watching my own homemade taped-from-TV recordings of them, that it would really jump out at me when one of these scenes that I didn’t have indeliby committed to memory would pop up. Geeky, I know, but it was a real thrill to see at least a couple of minutes of “new” footage here and there. I can still play one of my DVDs of an episode and identify where all the restorations are.
Well, the thrill of seeing something like new original series footage is back, and the dream of seeing some lost episodes has sort of been made real in the form of the spectacular Star Trek: Phase II series, produced by some very dedicated, very skilled fans and broadcast on the web. These full-length episodes are set in the era of the original series and feature all of the original characters, played by new actors, of course. The scripts are written by some of the original show’s writers such as D.C. Fontana, and original series actors have made guest appearances on it, such as George Takei. The sets are very credible replicas of those from the old show and the soundtrack music is instantly recognizable, taking me home again. The ship exterior shots and optical effects are downright gorgeous. The new actors in the old roles take a minute to get used to, but they do a decent job of playing the classic characters without lapsing into parody.
The fourth and latest episode is something extra special: part one of “Blood and Fire,” written and directed by the great David Gerrold (writer of the teleplay “The Trouble With Tribbles” from the original series; essentially the uncredited co-creator of Star Trek: The Next Generation which incorporated a lot of concepts that he first stated in his book The World of Star Trek; and, of course, a fine novelist with many, many credits to his name including the War Against the Chtorr series). Gerrold first wrote this story for TNG. It was somewhat infamously blocked from production due to its potentially controversial AIDS allegory (with Regulan bloodworms as a surrogate for the disease) and its recognition of the existence of homosexuality in the Star Trek universe, a thing that has never been done in a satisfactory manner in the official “canon” Trek universe. Gerrold later retooled the story into stand-alone novel in one of his own universes. Eventually it was reworked again, with Carlos Pedraza, as an original series-style script for the Phase II. I am so glad it was. This episode is a knockout, a true Star Trek episode of a quality that has not been seen in the franchise in ages, probably not since the best episodes of Deep Space Nine.
I don’t want to give away the plot, but I'll mention that the show opens with a fantastic space battle. And I'll mention that finally, at long last, real human gayness is acknowledged to exist as a reasonable thing in this fictional and formerly uber-str8, universe. Imagine how my jaw was hanging open in astonishment during act one as I beheld young Peter Kirk (Bobby Rice) kiss his boyfriend (Evan Fowler as Lt. Freeman) and then discuss asking his uncle, Captain James T. Kirk, to marry them on the ship! The episode is not all about that, but it sure was nice for me to see a samesex romance on the Enterprise and see how it's accepted as a normal thing by everyone. I always knew it had to be there. Gene Roddenberry himself promised gay fans, shortly before he died, that there would start to be incidentally gay people on the Enterprise-D. But then he died and it never happened. It is said that producer Rick Berman was decidedly uninterested in letting anything like onto the show, but I don't know those details for sure.
One little quibble I have with this series is that it’s not the easiest thing on the net as far as actually getting it playing on one’s computer. The home site directs you to a number of mirror sites. This one allows streaming video from the site itself of earlier episodes but it is not updated with "Blood and Fire" yet. This one lets you stream it in the browser with Quicktime, with the teaser and each act being a separate load. There's a couple other options including one that enables you to download it to your drive in five files (teaser and four acts), which is fine but it involves hundreds of megs of files. It would be great if they could one day get a single site put together with all the episodes sitting there ready for streaming and streaming again and again so I can watch them and memorize them just like the original series.
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Sunday, May 3, 2009