Saturday 11 January 2014

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Phase II: Kitumba

I've heard good things about the Star Trek fan series Star Trek: Phase II, formerly known as New Voyages, but this is the first episode I've taken the time to watch. It pays to be a little forgiving of fan productions; they do not have access to the same amounts of time or money as official productions, and what eventually makes it to screen is a labour of love. Sometimes, it's a case of damning with faint praise; a lot of these things are “fine, you know, for a fanfilm. However, the eighth instalment of this acclaimed fan series, 'Kitumba,' is a genuinely well-made piece of television, very much in the spirit of the original Trek without slavishly adhering to it. I enjoyed it.

'Kitumba' was a proposed two-part story for the aborted follow-up series usually known as either Star Trek II or Star Trek: Phase II, the latter name being the one the fan team has now chosen. It would have seen the Enterprise visit the home system of the Klingon Empire, meeting the Klingon boy-king, the Kitumba. Had the Phase II series made it to the screens in the 1970s and the original 'Kitumba' been made, Star Trek would have developed in a different direction to that we actually saw. The fan version of 'Kitumba' isn't a simple filming of this script; for one thing, the story has been condensed into a single hour-long episode. Beyond that, James Cawley and his team have adapted this story to fit into the overall Star Trek canon. For the most part, this works well. The name Kronos for the Klingon homeworld wasn't introduced until Star Trek VI in the 1990s, but using the name here is an easy tweak and helps make it feel part of the ongoing story. On the other hand, the existence of the Kitumba, and his shogun-like Warlord, is very different to the version of Klingon politics we eventually saw in STVI and TNG. The scriptwriters, however, have made a decent attempt to tie everything together. It's perfectly easy to see this as an episode taking place between the original series and the Motion Picture.

There are some other hints at the greater universe, including a couple of references to events in the series Enterprise, and even a cheeky nod to Kirk's youth as seen in the 2009 Star Trek movie. The oddest thing, for me, was seeing a mix of old-school smooth-headed Klingons and modern 'crunchy' ones. There's a real mix of Klingon make-up here – thanks to the International Klingon Federation, something I am overjoyed to learn exists – which takes a moment to get used to, but gives the feel of a rich and diverse empire. We've seen all sorts of variants on the Klingon look over the years; why shouldn't they all turn up together on the homeworld?

Sets and effects are, without exception, excellent. While it is no doubt easier to create a space battle these days, with the sophisticated imaging programmes we have, than it was back when the original episodes were being produced, the skill involved here is clear. The starships and planets are beautiful, perfectly rendered and smoothly animated. Whatever technology you have at your disposal, this standard of material takes skill. Equally impressive are the sets and location work, sympathetically lit and generally well directed. It's a very professional production.

The acting is, inevitably, of variable quality. Some of the smaller roles are portrayed rather poorly, although there were plenty of actors who were just as bad, or worse, getting gigs back on the original Trek. The main cast is impressive, particularly Cawley as Kirk. Other fan productions have attempted to recreate the performance of William Shatner and his costars, something which is hard to do and probably not a terribly wise idea in the first place. Cawley provides his own interpretation of Kirk, different but recognisable. Sadly, this is to be his final performance as Kirk, with a new lead taking over for the next production. There is less to go on with Brandon Stacy's Spock; he gets relatively little material in this episode, so I shall reserve my judgment until I have seen more of his material. I can't say I'm enamoured with John Kelley's take on Bones; his mugging to the camera gets a little much. I absolutely adored the roaringly Russian Chekov.

Of the aliens, Kario Periera Bailey is impressive as the eponymous Kitumba, both naïve and arrogant. John Carrigan is delicious as Kargh, as I understand it a recurring villain for the series, and an uneasy ally here. He's a proper old-school Klingon. Real life couple Vic Mignogna and Michele Specht make for a bombastic and sexy pair of conspirators, the Warlord Malkthon and his aide Kali. Pony Horton plays a rather different sort of Klingon, the defector K'Sia, a noble orator on the subject of honour rather than a snarling warrior. It's a fine cross-section of Klingon characters.

I have to say, overall I am very impressed. While it isn't perfect, 'Kitumba' is better than some episodes of the original Star Trek, and I shall be watching to see how this series develops in upcoming episodes.

You can watch Kitumba here.

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