On the Web – Star Trek New Voyages
After a long wait we finally have a new episode of Star Trek: New Voyages (or is it Phase II? This episode drops that subtitle). In “Mind Sifter”, the crew of the Enterprise have to accept the fact that Captain Kirk is declared dead by Starfleet and move on with their duties with Spock as captain. There are 3 viewing options that can be found here.
Is Kirk really dead? Of course not, this is set before Generations after all. Right away I felt that the story was something of a cross between the original series episodes The Tholian Web and City on the Edge of Forever with Spock’s reluctance to take command coupled with Kirk forming a relationship with someone in the past.
Conceptually there’s nothing wrong with combining these two ideas but the execution left a lot to be desired. Due to the binary nature of the storytelling the script never really sinks its teeth into either of them. The strongest scenes were set on the Enterprise with the Spock and McCoy dynamic taking center stage. Seeing these characters argue with each other without the benefit of having Kirk as the voice of reason contextualising their points of view is usually fascinating viewing but here there’s something missing. Throughout the episode I felt that Spock was very inconsistently written with his cold reaction to Kirk’s apparent death being very out of character for Spock at a point of development after the series ended.
There’s also a confusing plot convenience involving a mental connection between Kirk and Spock brought on by frequent mind melding over a period of several years. This has never been mentioned before in Star Trek and actually goes against their boundless friendship. Imagine how different Star Trek III: The Search for Spock would have been if this psychic link had existed.
I would have expected Spock to take command and try to honour Kirk in how he ran his ship rather than the reluctance he exhibited here. It was a good choice to have him stubbornly refuse to accept his friend’s death but character wise there was nothing here that wasn’t done better in The Tholian Web. It would have been better if Spock’s doubts hadn’t been brought about by a psychic connection and underpinned a strong friendship by having him refuse to believe that his friend had died. I never really felt like I was watching Spock whenever he was featured. I know this isn’t down to Brandon Stacy as I’ve seen him play a fine Spock in prior episodes.
The other side of the story involves Kirk trapped in an asylum on Earth in the 1950s after a really brutal encounter with a Klingon Mind Sifter. The Klingons captured Kirk to probe his mind and learn the location of the planet Gateway so that they can use The Guardian of Forever to further the Klingon Empire’s cause. I couldn’t help but think that Kirk driven insane by Klingon information extraction techniques was a perfectly powerful story all on its own so I’m not sure why the time travel element was needed here. There could have been infinite reasons that the Klingons captured Kirk and decided to probe his mind. It all led to the time travel felling a bit extraneous and adding nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished by Kirk being in a Klingon prison or something like that.
I can see what the scenes in the past were going for. The episode was clearly trying to recapture the romance from City on the Edge of Forever but doesn’t ever come close. The main problem is that so much focus was on Kirk’s mental state that there was no real development to his supposed connection with Dr. Jan Hamlin. By the end of the episode I didn’t believe that she was falling for him in any way and there was a distinct lack of chemistry between Rivkah Raven Wood and Brian Goss.
Using a binary story structure completely robbed the episode of any consistent pacing. The inter-cutting between the two stories was really clumsily handled and many of the scenes dragged on past the point where they had worn out their welcome. It’s a shame because there were great moments and nicely put together scenes but they were buried beneath so much awkwardness that they never really shone.
It’s interesting that Goss’ first full length appearance as Kirk doesn’t actually have him in character for much of the episode. I think he did a fantastic job of playing Kirk teetering on the edge of sanity and doubting everything he sees around him. Being in the past does help exemplify this disorientation and there are some powerful moments of vulnerability. As for his capabilities as a Shatner era Captain Kirk it’s too early to say but at least it’s clear that he has some acting chops.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast who are very much a mixed bag. There is a new Doctor McCoy with Jeff Bond taking on the role. He is a lot better than the previous Doctor McCoy this series had but doesn’t feel quite right to me. I feel that he’s trying too hard with the Southern accent as well as his mannerisms and surly nature feeling forced. Maybe he’ll settle into the character in future appearances as there is potential here. Bond bounces off Stacy’s Spock really well so there’s definitely something there that can be worked on.
We have a new Uhura with Jasmine Pierce who doesn’t do it for me at all. Her appearances are fairly brief in this episode but she never seemed at all like Uhura to me. It might be more down to the writing than the performance as very little of her dialogue felt like it would be spoken by Uhura. Similarly weak is Charles Root’s Scotty who delivers his dialogue with a clumsy and unbelievable Scottish accent. He lacks the charisma and edge that James Doohan effortlessly brought to this character.
Shyapom Theerakulstit’s Mr. Sulu is an inspired choice. Both the dialogue written for him and the way it’s performed is spot on. He takes something of a minor role due to everything else that’s going on but what was seen of him was fantastic stuff.
I feel really bad for being so critical of this episode as this whole show is a labour of love for so many people and the very fact that it gets made is an amazing achievement. Everything is in place to make a proper Star Trek show and it is very much in the spirit of the original series. As always the sets, costumes, production design, music and lighting are all spot on and make it feel like a proper episode of Star Trek.
The visual effects are great to look at and giving the option to watch it with old school effects is a nice touch, it feels sort of like it belongs on the blu ray as unremastered and remastered. This definitely feels like a legitimate Star Trek episode and that’s great because fans are really starved for proper Star Trek at the moment but if this had existed when the show was on the air back in the 60s then it would probably come under the less memorable category. If the producers read this I really hope they don’t take offense to what I’ve said here and I’ve tried to remain as constructive as I can. I really do love what is being done here and I want to see more. There’s lots of work to be done and plenty to be improved on. To my mind, mediocre Star Trek is better than no Star Trek.
A fairly mediocre episode with lots of potential and some standout moments that never get the chance to shine.
A binary story structure leaves this episode feeling poorly paced and oddly structured. Neither story is given enough prevalence to develop properly and the time travel element was entirely unnecessary.
Many of the characters were inconsistently written with some of the performances feeling a little forced. In many cases the characters don’t feel right and their actions seem motivated by plot rather than their own characteristics.
Brian Goss’ first outing as Kirk is a memorable one despite the fact that he is playing a mentally distraught version of the character. Goss exhibits real range in his performance so it remains to be seen if this can be carried over to a James T. Kirk when he is properly in character.
There’s lots of potential here and room for improvement. I really like the production design, costumes, music and all of that other stuff that makes it feel authentically Star Trek so with better writing and performances this could become something really special.