Saturday, 5 December 2015

Star Trek Fan Series: A partial survey

[Major Update: If this post is of any interest to you, then you'll certainly also find Fan Film Factor useful. It's a much more thorough look at Star Trek fan productions, including a few I hadn't seen yet. I'll catch up eventually, just for my own entertainment, but until then, you can find a lot worthwhile on that blog, with a different perspective than mine.]

Following the bad taste I got in my mouth from the Star Trek fan movies Of Gods and Men and Renegades, plus the news of a new canon Star Trek series starting in 2017, I decided to take a serious look at as many other fan film productions as I could, because I'd seen the pilot episode of Star Trek: New Voyages sometime around a decade ago, and I didn't remember that one being anywhere near as un-Trekkie as those two Russ-directed fan movies. It's my strong hope that most Trekkies would much rather watch (and produce, when they have the ability) fan productions that actually understand and embrace the fundamental ideals that Star Trek has always stood for.

It used to be very difficult for me to download things to watch, and then I just forgot all about fan videos for years, and now I have a chance to catch up. And, fuck, there's a lot of catching up to do. I know I've left out some fan series that were harder to find or seemingly abandoned, though I will certainly update this list in future, when I've had more of a chance to catch up. Bear in mind that I've absorbed everything below in about a month, including every vignette I could. I've undoubtedly missed a lot, rushing in like that, but it's also made a few common patterns much clearer.

First, very broadly, there are the true amateur performers and the pro bono (or discount) professionals, and I suppose you could file the film & drama students in between them, as almost professionals or future professionals or serious amateurs. Naturally, the pros tend to be better at making things look better and more believable, though not always. Complicating this distinction, most fan series seem to have a mix of amateurs and pros, and sometimes the one lot can eclipse the other, for better or worse. There also seems to be a fair bit of migration of cast and crew between fan projects, sometimes as a formal crossover, but more often informally, a few people at a time, mixing up the talent pools and sharing lessons learned. So that's all quite complicated. There is some similar mixing of props, sets and equipment.

One very important pattern is that, while production quality can vary greatly from fan series to fan series, the first and last thing I ended up caring about in all of them was sound quality, including actors' oration skills. I give no shits how pretty or ugly things look if I can't hear the plot; I want stories, not screensavers. Visual quality generally improves with time, but it's weird and annoying that even some of the latest fan productions are still hard to listen to. I'm not sure if good audio technology is hard to get, or if it's a lack of skill, but it's annoying when they get it wrong. Too often, I sat through an entire episode of something, and then couldn't say what it was about, because so much crucial dialogue got mushed up beyond recognition. Better use of music might also help, though that's a bit too far out of my skill set to really comment on.

I'd also say that most stories could be made a lot clearer just by having fewer characters in them. More than a few fan series seem to either make up roles for friends, just to include them, or have perhaps felt they'd look unprofessional with a smaller cast. But trying to cram in scenes for everyone's dog and uncle messes up the clarity of things. Trim things down to just Chekov and his phaser.

The other huge pattern I've picked up is what I'm calling "white dudes in command". Commercial media has all sorts of well documented problems with gender and cultural representativeness, which Star Trek has always made some explicit effort to correct, especially in the '90s (ENT was definitely regressive, and I'm not even going to mention the Abramsverse). But Star Trek has never totally conquered its own problems with representation, and this has always been blamed on studio/network/ratings interference. If that's true, and if Star Trek fans agree with the inclusive, progressive principles that Star Trek nominally stands for, then I would have expected fan series, which are free from meddling studio executives and backwards conservative advertisers, to do a much better job of creating inclusive, representative casts and crews. And yet they generally don't! It's very frustrating. Instead of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, most seem to settle for finite diversity in one combination. Some are exceptional and better than average, but most still have a white hetero cis-male in the captain's chair, surrounded mostly by white hetero cis-male colleagues, with only a handful of (usually junior) token anomalies.

Portrayals of non-cis/heterosexual people basically don't exist at all for most of these fan series, to the point that I've only had cause to mention this in one or two cases. Non-white actors may be slightly trickier to arrange for fan productions made in some remote, provincial areas (Intrepid, for example, has the non-trivial obstacle that modern Scotland is 97,9% white), but fan productions in more cosmopolitan places don't have this excuse. And I'm reasonably sure that it's now been demonstrated that combined multi-continental fan productions are feasible, simply by sharing footage online and using a little clever writing to tie things together (Intrepid demonstrates this technique in its very first episode), so geographical distance shouldn't be such a total obstacle to racial/cultural inclusion anymore. But the absolute least excusable thing, to me, is the lack of women in these fan series. Wherever you have Trekkies, you have women Trekkies; I know this well from my years in formal Star Trek fan clubbery, and I know for certain that at least some of these fan productions are made by people in STARFLEET International, the same large and diverse organisation that I belong to. So there really is no valid excuse not to cast approx. 50% women characters, including approx. 50% in the captain's seat. It should be an incredibly simple thing to address, if you flipped a coin to decide each character's basic sex you'd probably get close enough to a realistic distribution, so how is anyone still getting this so wrong?

(For reference, in all the fan productions below, counting only the main protagonist ship or ships of each series, I count 41 male and 9 female captains, 6 captains who aren't white, and only 2 who are neither white nor male. Not a single captain is explicitly portrayed as anything other than purely heterosexual. It's easier to find a fan actor playing or parodying one specific white dude, James Kirk, than it is to find a fan actor seriously cast as a starship captain with full human diversity in mind.)

There's another side to the "white dudes in command" pattern, something more behind the scenes: Very often, whoever is cast as captain is also one of the major people behind the production, as some sort of senior writer, director and/or producer. I don't think this is too surprising for fan series, where everyone's forced to wear multiple hats, and it's not necessarily even a problem at all, but combined with the on-screen white-dudeness, it does strongly imply that it's mostly white dudes in command of production too. This is harder for me to check, but the names in the credits seem to tend to fit that pattern. So where are all the non-white dude writers and directors and producers?

The quality of writing in all of these is highly variable. Some of it is great. Some is so bland that I only know I saw it because of the missing time. But what annoys me most is the lazy resorting to random violence as a plot-mover. Not only is it often pretty un-Trekkish, but it's usually bad story-telling, disconnected from everything else. An awful lot of these fan series go so far as to invent a whole new villain species, just to have something to bash without hope of a diplomatic solution; they explicitly rule out peaceful resolutions, just so they can go pew pew! This mirrors, very unpleasantly, the way far too many people in the real world view their 'enemies', and Star Trek is supposed to be all about changing this bad habit, and reminding us that we can all change for the better and learn to get along, no matter how much of a struggle it takes. For comparison, consider that the very first appearance of the famously war-like Klingons was an episode that outright blocked Federation-Klingon violence, and I believe most of the Klingon-centered canon episodes since then were either about maintaining that peace, or working within it. If you think Klingons are cool "because they're warriors", then you might want to re-watch all of Star Trek and reconsider that.

Years during which selected series and movies are primarily set
(click to embiggen)

The graph above reveals a couple interesting but probably not crucial patterns. The most obvious is that there's a huge obsession with what happens immediately after a canon series ends, especially after TOS. This leaves huge, untapped gaps in Star Trek history that neither fans nor canon are fleshing out in any detail. The late 22nd, early 23rd and early 24th centuries are giant voids, just waiting for someone to fill them, as are the periods pre-2150 and post-2390. The ENT era, the 2150s, also remains fairly under-explored; Star Trek: Enterprise had a short run, and only covers such a deceptively long period on this graph by skipping whole years; the bulk of it was between 2151 and 2155.

A lot of the shorter fan series only have one or two episodes, so they don't have much opportunity to improve themselves. If they were normal commercially produced TV series, we'd possibly give them a whole series to prove themselves and to get over teething problems. That's normally a dozen or two dozen chances to improve, when most of these fan series are unlikely to even reach more than half a dozen episodes, and probably with much shorter episodes too. It's in the nature of a critical review that I'll pick at their flaws, but please bear in mind that relative scale difference. Just because I hated an episode or two, doesn't mean that nobody who worked on it can ever be expected to produce anything good ever. But rather, as I try to teach my students, it's vitally important that we learn to recognise our mistakes before we can know how to stop repeating them, and our strengths before we forget to keep them. I think, despite all the criticism, that I'm more optimistic over all after reviewing all these, just because it's great to see so many people out there wanting to make fan Trek and putting in the effort to try. For Trekkies, unlike Star Wars fans, there is always try.

There's a lot to cover, and to give some illusion of order, I've got the fan series divided up by the century each is primarily set in (22nd to 25th), plus a final category for fun, silly things. Beyond that, there's no real order to this, as you'll see in the summary list. It's also possible that others have already written about this in more detail than I have; for now, I've limited my reading to only what's on the often-outdated ST:Expanded Universe wiki. Links given for each series are to their official sites, where possible, though I've generally had most success just getting episodes directly on youtube or vimeo. While I've looked at all the vignettes I could find for each series, I've tried to base my reviews only on the core, full-length episodes. The vignettes are often interesting, but I have assumed they're intended as practice for the cast and crew, rather than finished products for the public. I'm sure I didn't have any use for the word 'vignette' a month ago.

Note also that the 2016 fan guidelines, apart from any other complications, have already started to disrupt the naming conventions of fan productions. Everyone releasing anything after the release of the guidelines has to take the words "Star Trek" out of their titles, and the restriction on ongoing series means that some de facto series are now instead being presented as coincidentally very similar stand-alone productions, nudge nudge, wink wink. This, I expect, will make it more of a hassle to figure out how categorise a few things on my list in future.

List of Fan Productions (in the order I've written about them)
22nd Century
  • Star Trek: The Romulan Wars
  • Star Trek: Horizon
  • Pacific 201
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: The New Generation
23rd Century
  • Prelude to Axanar and Star Trek: Axanar
  • Star Trek Continues
  • Star Trek: New Voyages / Phase II
  • Starship Exeter
  • Starship Farragut
  • Star Trek: Excalibur
  • Starship Valiant
  • Star Trek: Valiant
  • Star Trek: Eagle
  • Project: Potemkin
  • Battlecruiser Kupok
  • Starship Tristan
  • Starship Deimos 
  • Starship Endeavour
  • Starship Grissom
  • Yorktown
  • Star Trek: Secret Voyage
  • The Multiverse Crisis trilogy
  • Star Trek: Antyllus
  • Star Trek: Eye of the Tempest 
  • Star Trek: Aurora
  • Paragon's Paragon
  • Chasing the Infinite Sky
  • TOSS (web comic)
24th Century
  • Star Trek: Of Gods and Men
  • Star Trek: Renegades
  • Voyages of the USS Angeles
  • Star Trek: Hidden Frontier
  • Star Trek: Odyssey
  • Star Trek: The Helena Chronicles
  • Star Trek: Diplomatic Relations (audio)
  • Star Trek: Federation One
  • Star Trek: Henglaar, M.D. (audio)
  • Star Trek: Intrepid
  • Star Trek: Dark Armada
  • Star Trek: Guardian
  • Star Trek: Encarta
  • Star Trek: Absolution
  • Star Trek: Deception
  • Raven
  • Logs of the Jukskei
25th Century
  • Star Trek: Phoenix
  • Star Trek: Dark Horizon
Fun Stuff
  • Redshirt Blues
  • Red Shirt Diaries
  • Steam Trek: The Moving Picture
  • ASMRTrek
  • Stalled Trek

22nd Century
Era of Star Trek: Enterprise

Star Trek: The Romulan Wars
Released: 2012-2015
Set in: 2156-2157
This one is the most extreme example of an amateur production on this list. These aren't professionals slumming it in a medium-budget labour of love, and they aren't even semi-pros and top-level amateurs with a low budget. These appear to be absolute amateurs, many with apparently zero prior experience, and as close to no budget as is possible without losing the camera outright. So, brace yourself for that.

That said, I quite wanted this one to be good. I have a lot of thoughts about this (brace yourself for this too), not all directly relevant to this fan series, except to illustrate that the Earth-Romulus War ought to be an interesting part of Star Trek history to examine in detail. The ENT era is the part of the core Star Trek timeline we've seen the least of, and I don't think it's too controversial to say that ENT itself didn't go nearly far enough in showing it to us, so it's nice to get to explore the possibilities through a fan series. Plus, I'd long ago decided for myself that, in addition to general early exploration, ENT should probably have been built around the Earth-Romulus War (almost) from the start, rather than the terribly stupid Temporal Cold War, the more sensible (but crudely crammed into canon) Earth-Xindi War, or even the repeated attempts to force in various other aliens prematurely - Klingons, Borg and Ferengi, to name the most prominent examples. The Romulans were written from their very start as one of Earth's earliest unsuccessful encounters, so it makes sense for a prequel to make them the major antagonists. They make an excellent foil for Earth's much more successful contact with the Vulcans.

I'm not sure how many of you had noticed (or remembered) that the Xindi War was a metaphor for the Americans' War on Terror, ultimately with the positive Trekkie hope that cultural differences and misunderstandings can be peacefully overcome, if people will just learn to speak to each other. (Except that in real life, the big shocking attack didn't come totally out of nowhere from total and unrelated strangers, it had decades of complicated build-up, but that's a complaint about ENT for a different post). A similar analogy would be possible using the Romulan War, though we know from TOS that it wouldn't end quite so optimistically. And settling on that strange Neutral Zone cease-fire could be fascinating to explore in detail.

At the same time, we know from the timing of the war (ending in 2160) and the foundation of the United Federation of Planets (2161) that the story of the war and the story of the founding of the Federation should be interwoven, which opens doors for a lot of interesting plot angles; really positive, Trekkie ideas about creating better societies under less than ideal circumstances, through cooperation and mutual support. ENT briefly skimmed across this in a couple of season 4 episodes, but they clearly weren't prepared to dig into it properly. Had this been part of the design of the series right from the start (the way Babylon 5 was mapped out from the start), I think they could have had both a more compelling metaplot, and some more interesting long-term antagonists, not to mention fitting into the established canon more smoothly. The Romulans are generally shown to use very different kinds of technology from the Federation, even into the late 24th century, and that also allows for some interesting technical stories, maybe even the sort of hard scifi that Star Trek doesn't do as often as it could; ENT went out of its way to gloss over that.

One of the most interesting things about the Earth-Romulus War was that the Earthicans never actually got to meet any Romulans face to face. ENT addressed this by making their Romulan characters shadowy cardboard cutouts with little screen time and no real depth. ST: The Romulan Wars trumps this by giving its Romulan main characters plenty of screen time, with a good bit of personality. And Romulan culture is expanded beyond just "evil, sneaky Vulcans with birdy logos" that sadly a lot of canon Trek never bothered to go beyond. It's like having two parallel main characters, interacting at a distance without ever meeting. It's a fascinating format.

And this is the thing about The Romulan Wars: For all the poor quality of production, it's a good story, mostly well written. I really had to force myself to listen through the stilted acting and revolting audio quality in the first couple episodes, to force the story to stay at the front of my consciousness. It was an effort. But I was glad I did, because the sound quality eventually gets better (never great, but tolerable), and the story that emerges is certainly worthwhile. If you must insist on doing a Star Trek war story, then this is the way to do it: Not just pew-pew at da baddies, but actually examining motives and causes and consequences. I wouldn't say that The Romulan War is exactly what I have in mind for an alternate version of ENT, but it touches on some similar concepts to the ones I imagined, which I appreciate.

I'd also be very careful, when watching this, to be very conscious of the differences between "cheap" and "bad" and "lazy". The Yorktown bridge set, for example, is not very big or as complicated as even the original Enterprise bridge set. But they've clearly put a lot of effort into giving their set as much detail as they could manage, and it doesn't look half bad. No doubt professional production designers with a big purse could have done much better, but that's not a fair comparison. When judging this series, I think the more reasonable question to ask yourself (assuming that you are not an experienced stage/film hand, or a millionaire) is whether you could do anything much better with only the stuff in your house and maybe one visit to a hardware store. I suspect most of us would have to honestly answer no, and if you're certain your answer is yes, then the next question for you is: Then why aren't you out doing something better already?

The CGI, especially the ship exteriors, is also pretty basic, but not awful. It's still better than the ship exterior scenes in most of TOS, which I'd call my absolute minimum threshold. And the design of the Yorktown is reasonable enough, even if I have to nitpick about labelling it "USS Yorktown"; Earth Starfleet ships didn't use the USS prefix (nor NCC- registry numbers), that only came with the later Federation Starfleet. Season 2's Discovery ("USS Discovery", friggashnigga...) is perhaps an even more appropriate choice, borrowing Doug Drexler's unused NX class refit design. Other ships they use are mostly borrowed from ENT, though I spotted a couple older Starfleet Museum designs too.

Being extremely amateur, the main people on this series apparently initially roped in their kids to fill as many roles as possible, and the credits in the early episodes almost look like there are only three surnames. Later on, they must have found a lot of other volunteers. And while this show does fall into the "white dudes in command" trap mentioned above, it seems that the random luck of having more daughters than sons, if nothing else, has given them an unusually gender-balanced cast, at least in their first season. However, it's unfortunate that they're 100% white. (99.5% white, if you count the unrelated short story "The Atlas".)

I notice that the captain's ex-wife in season 1 is written as a crazy, evil custody-hogger, totally irrational and unreasonable. She's a really badly two-dimensional and unrealistic character. Looks like one of the writers has some personal issues that need to be resolved, and unfortunately it mars some otherwise good character writing.

One sentence review: Extremely rough, but basically a reasonable effort.

Star Trek: Horizon
Released: 2016
Set in: 2160
This wasn't the dumb war movie the trailers led me to believe it would be. The plot is actually fairly decent, and it kept surprising me by not being totally obvious (I had low expectations). I only wonder if its makers knew they had accidentally put the "Star Trek" label on their Stargate movie. Several story elements, while technically Trek canon, were combined in a way that felt to me very much like a middle-to-late Stargate SG-1 story, with more Stargatey sorts of characters, perhaps a side effect of the more primitive 22nd century war context. But The Romulan War and even ENT itself never seemed go that direction. The visuals are fine, once you get over the fuzzy filter they use to smudge over and hide all the bad visuals, and the audio was great. Special effects and physical production design were good too, nearly as good as any episode of ENT. Their one big weak point was mediocre acting, or rather uneven acting. The plot leans heavily on some ENT story elements that a lot of fans found distasteful, but I think they make reasonable use of these in Horizon, making the best of dodgy ingredients.

The cast is wholly white, with the default white dude in command, and I'm not sure they were as cautious as appropriate with the TOS canon rule about humans never seeing any Romulans until the 23rd century. That's a rule made to be bent to suit 22nd century narratives, but I still think it's worth preserving in general as an interesting writing challenge and historical quirk, and I don't think Horizon took that seriously enough. Putting an actual damn Romulan right on their bridge, even in disguise, was only their most blatant breaking of the faceless Romulan rule. I wouldn't say this ever outright spoils the plot, but it bugs me.

I was slightly surprised that their ship isn't called Horizon, as the title might have suggested (though there was, canonically, an early Federation vessel by that name, so they could have partially justified it), but in fact the Discovery NX-04. I didn't feel like they gave the ship much of its own personality, perhaps partly because of the fuzzy visuals, and it could just have easily been substituted with any other starship from any era (or, as suggested, one of Stargate's Daedalus class ships) without the script needing much change. Most of the setting depth came instead through the crew's dialogue, which is good, I guess? It just seemed like their Discovery was an unusually bland, flat starship. Their Enterprise cameo felt similarly bland and featureless; it could have been any NX-class ship, with any crew.

One sentence review: Pretty good scifi, which can fit into Star Trek adequately, though not much about it screams Trekkieness.

Pacific 201
Released: 2016?
Set in: 2200
Placeholder for pending production.

Star Trek: Enterprise: The New Generation
Released: 2008-2016
Set in: 2254
The German stop-motion animation ones. Exterior shots are computer animation, while interior shots are all stop-motion, using the official ENT character toys to create sort of sequel movies to ENT. It's visually very pretty, and the voice acting is good too. As with Dark Horizon, my own German is a little too rusty to fully appreciate the quality of dialogue, but I did find the audio much clearer in these movies than in Dark Horizon (and regional accents may also have made it easier for me to follow). Even so, New Generation went a step further and recorded all the dialogue again for English language versions, so that's handy.

They've done two movies, Der Zeitspiegel (Crossroads, in the English version, even though the more direct translation would have been The Time Mirror) and Der Anfang vom Ende (The Beginning of the End). The earlier one is clearly much better, if only because it's shorter and captures the feel of the real ENT better. They both have fairly ridiculous-yet-dull plots, and reminded me strongly of the way the 23rd century Exeter was made: Clearly a lot of effort went into the quality of visual production, with plot as a mere afterthought, a way to set up a bunch of pointless fight scenes. To me, it seems more like mimicry than adaptation. Neither adds anything valuable to the ENT continuity, the way New Voyages and Continues serve as serious continuations of TOS.

It goes without saying that they only have white dudes in command, even when they bring in other starships. ENT set that up, and the sexism of the toy industry is pretty well recorded too.

23rd Century
Era of Star Trek (the original series and its movies)
Star Trek: The Animated Series

Prelude to Axanar and Star Trek: Axanar
Released: 2014-2016
Set in: 2241-2245
From the ultra-low production quality of The Romulan Wars, we leap right up to the beautifully crafted Axanar. Or more accurately, Prelude to Axanar, a sort of short introductory prequel to a planned movie named Star Trek: Axanar, which is an interesting arrangement. Fans threw a huge pile of cash at this production, and that was translated into a very, very pretty thing with some excellent professional actors. I'm certainly curious to see how the main Axanar movie turns out. Set before TOS, it gives an unusual look at the period between ENT and TOS, which we mainly only know about in passing, from Kirk or Spock briefing the Enterprise crew on historical events. It's off to a good start, but I have two main concerns.

First, there'll be a change of format. Prelude to Axanar has cleverly used a mockumentary format, presented as a non-fiction video created within the Star Trek universe, teaching Federation citizens the history of a thing called the Four Years War, between the Federation and Klingons. They've borrowed the format of the Community episode "Pillows and Blankets", in order to set up the eventual telling of the story of the Battle of Axanar, a minor bit of canon Trek history from TOS that they've built their story around. The full Axanar movie will instead be more like conventional Trek, and while other fan Trek has shown this can definitely be done, the transition from Prelude's neat, contained, talking-head scenes may not be smooth. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Second, I'm really not sure this is a story that needed telling. The Federation and the Klingons had a battle? Big fuckin' who gives a shit. We've seen that a thousand times, and it's usually only a good story when it's interrupted by an actual plot - as in TOS's "Errand of Mercy", surely the prototype. The fact that this battle was mentioned but not seen in canon is not sufficient to make it a worthwhile story. The fact that Garth's tactics were required reading for Kirk at the Academy also doesn't necessarily imply a worthwhile plot. (Can you imagine all the tomes of tedious, technical required reading at Starfleet Academy? Now imagine having to turn each one into a full exciting story.) The only reason I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt right now is that the writing of Prelude was good enough that I'm willing to trust they could have something interesting in mind for Axanar. It's another wait and see, but I'm concerned that it could just be an excuse for mindless, pro-war shooty pew-pew, and not really anything very Trekkie.

Prelude certainly features a lot of mindless pew-pew visuals - done in a very pretty manner - but these are just wallpaper for the talking heads, who deal out the history lesson of how each power's policies shifted around the key military events of the Four Years War, including, very importantly, a sympathetic Klingon perspective. It's all very interesting, well written and excellently acted, but it brings to mind the complaint that John Green is always making about those who reduce the study of history to just a series of battles. Prelude tries to claim that this one event was pivotal to the history of the Federation, but the only way they could think to justify it was by threatening to have the Klingons totally wipe out the Federation. Not exactly subtle.

I was a little surprised to find that Axanar also falls directly into the "white dude in command" bucket. With all the serious acting, including similar good quality from Peters (plus his pretty close resemblance to the original Garth, Steve Ihnat), I had assumed he was also a pro like the other 5. Turns out, he's an amateur who was one of the main organisers behind Prelude to Axanar, and who will be the central character of the Axanar movie. The small cast limits the scope for diversity, but it's still noteworthy that they went with 4/6ths white dudes (5/7ths, if you count the narrator). They're all excellent, no question, but that evenness of excellence just shows that there's no good reason not to pursue greater diversity in casting. Vernon's Captain Alexander would make such an awesome character in a series of her own. I've counted Kharn among the "main" captains in my stats at the top of this post, the only "enemy" captain I felt needed to be included, which just goes to show how unusually balanced a perspective they've written. He is also one of very few non-human captains in my count, which might say something interesting about our biases too.

The ships we see are all nice enough, apparently borrowing designs from the Abramsverse, but not unreasonably ill-fitting ones (and considering all the bigger ways that Axanar breaks known canon, perhaps it really is meant to be part of the Abramsverse?). The sound effects seem more like TNG sounds than TOS sounds, which might constitute a small anachronism. I also don't understand why they insisted on explicitly saying that the Enterprise was built in orbit around Axanar, when we know for sure that it was built at Earth, at the San Francisco Fleet Yards; they could just have easily said that some other ships were under construction there, or made it a threat to something completely different. The role and opinions of the Axanar themselves have not yet been mentioned at all. The Ares design is also a fair example of a ship a step behind the Constitution class, but it bugs me that they call it the Federation's first "pure warship". First, that contradicts the canon of the Defiant class, a century later, being described in the same way. Second, pure warships are not very Starfleet (and it only just made enough sense in the case of Defiant), which makes me worry more that this could just be glorification of violence.

One sentence review: Kinda fun; full review pending full release.

Star Trek Continues
Released: 2013-2015
Set in: 2270
For some reason, I remember this one got a lot of promotion among skeptical activist circles (perhaps because of the involvement of Mythbuster Grant Imahara?) when it was first released, and a lot of that seemed to be unaware that New Voyages did it first. These two shows are different from everything else in this list, because instead of telling stories about new, different ships and crews elsewhere in the Star Trek universe, they aim to recreate the original crew of the original Enterprise, and give TOS the 4th season it never had (unless you count TAS). They have a lot more in common too, including some cast and crew.

Both Continues and New Voyages started out by leaning heavily on recycled and revisited old plots from TOS (which is also what a lot of episodes in ENT season 4 did). Continues, starting much later, got to build on lessons learned from other fan series, as well as access to better technology, and so its opening episodes immediately look a lot more mature than New Voyages did for its first couple of episodes. And I think they also did much better things with their rehashing of TOS plots. I particularly liked their interpretation of a sequel to "Mirror, Mirror". It's quite easy to do the Mirror Universe badly.

Unfortunately, the first episode they did that wasn't a rehash, their first story that was entirely their own work, was a weird pseudo-time travel, pro-military, "ain't soldiers great for killin' and dyin' so much" jingo kind of a story, and the scifi gimmick to try and justify it was especially bad. The actors all do an admirable job of playing their roles seriously and believably, but the story and the message were shit. Happily, however, the next episode, also an entirely original plot, was much more serious and interesting and intelligent.

Continues has some great actors. Mignogna as Kirk (the inevitable white dude in command) seemed more like a cheesey Kirk parody in the first episode, but did a much more accurate and realistic Shatner after that. Haberkorn's Spock likewise gets much better with time. Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan, makes an unsurprisingly excellent Scotty, and while the very close physical characteristics help, I found it was actually the accent he gets closer than anyone else. Most Scotty impersonators put on a really over the top Highland joke of a fake accent, while the Doohans do Scotty with a much more gentle sound. It reminds me more of Glaswegians like Billy Connelly or my dear old grandmother. Imahara, not known for his acting talents, does sometimes manage to capture a pretty good Takei impersonation too, though not at all consistently. The introduction of Dr McKennah as Starfleet's first ship's counsellor was a good idea (a much better idea than introducing the holodeck a century premature, for no good reason), and they make much better use of that role than was generally allowed for TNG's Troi. Their guest-casting of Lou Ferrigno was inspired.

Sets, props, uniforms, all the visuals, are excellent, as good a match as New Voyages for TOS recreation. I did notice, though, that Continues is much more conservative with its starship exterior shots.

In general, it's pretty good. Not quite up to TOS standards, I wouldn't say, and thus still second to New Voyages. But Continues is off to a very good start, and has the potential to accelerate past the older fan series relatively soon.

One sentence review: Pretty good, a workable continuation of TOS.

New Voyages / Star Trek: New Voyages / Star Trek: Phase II
Released: 2004-2014
Set in: 2270
They've struggled to settle on a name for this series; first it was just New Voyages, then Star Trek: New Voyages, then Star Trek: Phase II, and now it looks like they've gone back to Star Trek: New Voyages. I will refer to it as New Voyages only, to hopefully minimise confusion. This series started trying to fill in season 4 of TOS long before Continues came along, and I think it was probably also the first fan production I ever saw, about 10 years ago. And I believe at the time we said, "Well, it's certainly impressive how much effort they've put into recreating sets and props, and it could be something great eventually, but it just isn't yet". Because the first couple episodes really weren't that good. The second episode, "In Harm's Way", in particular, is pretty awful in many, many ways. And yet, the very next episode, "To Serve All My Days", not only featured Walter Koenig as Chekov, but was fucking well written by the actual fucking DC Fontana. And that's when New Voyages suddenly got good, suddenly became a real contender for TOS successor. The episodes after that have ranged from good to excellent, including one written by another TOS great, David Gerrold. They've also had George Takei, Barbara Luna and Denise Crosby act for them.

The quality of their visual effects has risen steadily over the years too, and the latest episodes are probably prettier than any canon series ever was. Acting is generally good, though you can't get too attached to faces; they've recast most roles at least once. Even Cawley, the best Kirk since Shatner, stepped out of his white dude in command role. It's often pointed out that Cawley has Elvis hair, which is used to fund this show, but the fact that he can pull off such an unmistakable Kirk while not even looking particularly like Kirk is very impressive to me. His replacement, Gross, only has a couple full episodes to his name so far, but he looks to me oddly more like a Chris Pine impersonator than a Kirk impersonator, which is an extra level of weird. But once you let go of the idea that certain actors are essential for certain roles, the whole show becomes a lot more enjoyable.

New Voyages gets bonus points for having openly gay Starfleet officers, and the rest of the crew's total comfort with this is well in line with Star Trek's ideals. Kirk's opinion of this is of course not the most important thing, but I still liked the mature and intelligent way they wrote (and Cawley acted) Kirk's attitude about it. Unfortunately, this show's casting variety is otherwise pretty poor, more or less continuing the way TOS did things, and this is one thing we don't want continued. Women crew don't even get pants yet. It's frustrating that they do add new characters, new Enterprise crew, all the time, and yet somehow still more often than not fail to use those opportunities to add someone other than more white dudes.

One sentence review: Becomes a really good continuation of TOS from episode 3.

Starship Exeter
Released: 2002-2014
Set in: 2268
One of the older, shorter-lived examples of fan Trek, Exeter tried very hard to emulate the look and sound of TOS, and did so very well. Where New Voyages intentionally used modern graphics, Exeter stuck as close as they could manage to exactly the way TOS would have portrayed things, including some physical starship models. I especially like their cheesey rubber monsters, and their Andorians are great too. Adding trousers to the women's uniform, but only on away missions, feels like a weird compromise to me. (Though it did at least make me start wondering when the other TOS-era series will catch up, trouserwise.)

Sadly, the retro visual component is their strong point. The acting is all reasonable, but the plots are weak, and slightly incomprehensible. Most of it just seems to be excuses to add more random combatants; it reminds me of many of the lazier sorts of dungeon crawl roleplaying games I've played. It's like they wanted to make an action flick, forgetting that there's a reason we make fun of the fight scenes in TOS. They also fall squarely into the white dude in command trap. I have no sadness that Starship Exeter didn't have a long run (the decade-delayed release of the complete episode 2 not withstanding), but it's at least significant as an early pathfinder for other fan series, showing what was possible.

One sentence review: Technically successful, but shit.

Starship Farragut
Released: 2007-2016
Set in: 2266
Starship Farragut is like a more advanced form of Starship Exeter: A TOS-style series centered on yet another Constitution class starship, but with the benefit of more modern effects. I'd say that it's generally much better written, though the acting and camera work are a little weak early on; not Starship Exeter weak, certainly not The Romulan War weak, but still noticeaby so. There are a couple interesting oddities to Farragut. One is that it's had crossovers with both New Voyages and Continues, with both Cawley and Mignogna taking a turn at giving the Farragut's crew a chance to chat directly with Kirk and the Enterprise. Another oddity is that, in addition to the main live-action series, there's also a Starship Farragut Animated Series, done in exactly the style of TAS. It's arguably better done than the main series, or at least more consistent.

Farragut also hits the "white dude in command" thing, though still manages a better general diversity among the ship's crew than most fan series before it (just not so much among the main characters). And pants for everyone! Weirdly, though, their animated series is less diverse than the live action, even though they could have painted their crew any way they liked. They needn't even have used humans; one of the big arguments for launching TAS was that they could do all sorts of non-humanoid aliens that would be too expensive and difficult in live action TOS, though TAS didn't take advantage of this very much. FarragutAS seems to attempt this even less. I'm not sure why they're so conservative around that. It's been argued that cramming in too many different kinds of aliens is a form of bad story-telling, but I think in Star Trek, right back to Spock's first appearance in "The Cage", species diversity in the Federation has always really been mainly a strong metaphor for other kinds of diversity, and the importance of making this work. I understand it's difficult for low-budget live action amateur shows to turn human actors into much else (which would explain why the simple but distinctive Trill and Vulcans seem so common in fan series), but for a more flexible animated series to stay so heavily human-centered seems to muddle the message of inclusiveness.

One sentence review: Reasonably good and enjoyable.

Star Trek: Excalibur
Released: 2015
Set in: 2269
Yet another series about a Constitution class vessel, Excalibur has only had one short episode so far, and while it's very pretty (making good use of modern CGI and physical locations, benefitting in some ways from delays caused by the loss of their original built sets), it was a little dull. Not much has actually happened yet, and the script and acting were a little stubby. But it's clearly too early to judge. One thing I will say is that the opening credits looked promising, with more female than male names, but in practice we barely see any women, and it's mostly the white dude in command chatting alone with his (Asian, so getting somewhere) admiral.

One sentence review: Has potential, but too early to tell.

Starship Valiant
Released: 2014-2015
Set in: 2270
Holy shit, a Constitution without a white dude in command! It's crazy that this should be something to get excited about. Valiant also sticks out among the 23rd century TOS-clones because of its heavy emphasis (so far) on character development. I'm intrigued by it, even though, like Excalibur, there's only one limited episode of it to go by. I'm a little concerned that the written description talks about the ship acting in more of a police role than an exploration role, so we'll have to see what they mean by that.

One sentence review: Has potential, but too early to tell.

Star Trek: Valiant
Released: 2013
Set in: 2260s
Wait, another Valiant? Is nobody coordinating a proper fan starship registry? With only one short episode, it looks like this one has folded. They probably had some of the simplest sets I've seen, clearly just a living room with the tables rearranged, and it works surprisingly well. They're also the first I've seen since Exeter to use physical starship models, which look cheesey, but not awful. They even surprised me by using a class of starship that I didn't immediately know the name of (it's a kitbash in roughly the configuration of a Kelvin type). The acting is moderately good.

They could potentially have had a decent enough ultra-low budget short. What let them down was the stinking awful script, brimming with disjointed TOS pop culture cliches, but few original ideas, and bordering close to a Marty Stu caricature of a (white dude) captain, to the point that I constantly expected it to turn into an outright parody. Speaking as someone who's just devoted weeks of free time to put together a blog post like this: It makes these guys look like real dorks.

One sentence review: Maybe grand as a learning experience for those involved, but rubbish as general entertainment.

Star Trek: Eagle
Released: 2009-2014
Set in: 2269-2270
Associated somehow with Star Trek: The Romulan Wars, Star Trek: Eagle is similarly very rough and amateurish at first, only this time it's made by literal children. You can hear the captain's voice breaking from one episode to the next. But I don't want to mock them, because like The Romulan Wars, there is an honest effort to make something serious, hidden under the cheesey acting and cheap production design. And the quality of their episodes quickly improves beyond anything The Romulan Wars ever managed, so you really shouldn't judge them by their first episode.

Unsurprisingly, they have a white dude in command of a Constitution. The second in command character, Tyler, could have relieved that, but they weirdly never seem to let her actually take command. In episode 3, she nominally commands the whole ship for the whole episode, and yet they rob her of even that, insisting on bringing in an entire additional Starfleet vessel just so she can say, "Oh, please help me, Captain Some-Other-Guy, my ship has broken down and I can't possibly order my own crew to fix it." I have no idea what they were thinking. Casting is otherwise almost all white dudes. Apart from that, the scripts are reasonable, if conservative and unimaginative. They could pass for weaker TOS episodes.

One sentence review: A rough start, but constantly improving.

Project: Potemkim
Released: 2010-2016
Set in: 2296-2299
There is a line of thought that says that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the best Trek movie. It's not the most popular idea, but it does make a lot of sense: It's the movie that focuses the most on exploring the unknown, instead of shooting as many baddies as possible. Potemkin has evidently modelled itself on TMP, and not just visually. Of everything on this list, I would definitely say that Potemkin has the best claim to being serious science fiction, with the greatest emphasis on real exploration. It's also probably the series on this list that goes furthest to write in morality, diplomacy and real hard choices. Like TMP, I think Potemkin may meet the Star Trek ideals better than most of the flashier, more charismatic productions that tend to overshadow it. It's also well put together, and while there is a white dude in command (it is another Constitution class vessel, so it's a standard design feature, apparently), he tends to take a back seat in most episodes and vignettes to a variety of intelligent, competent women officers. Except I have no idea what they were thinking with the one early vignette in which the ship's doctor (described as "direct") is just outright publicly abusive towards a patient; if they were aiming for charmingly gruff, they badly missed. Still, on gender, Potemkin is fairly advanced.

Vignettes are an unusually big deal with Potemkin. They've so far only had 3 full episodes, but 3 whole seasons of short vignettes. I'm basing most of my review on the full episodes, on the assumption that these are what they'd most like to be seen and enjoyed by the wider public, and that the vignettes are just experimental sketches. But with so many vignettes, it's hard to ignore them as much as I have with other fan series. And while some of the early vignettes are a bit clunky, the rest are really good. I'm prepared to say that Potemkin is the best written fan production, and generally with good acting too.

The '70s look is captured well (especially Grigory's hair), without sacrificing modern video quality, and the simple pseudo-TMP-style Starfleet uniforms look good. It's just a weird anachronism, with this series set over a decade after the introduction of the red uniforms of the later TOS movies, and eventually they do mix with other Starfleet officers in the red uniforms. But it still demonstrates that uniforms don't need to be ridiculously complicated to look serious and practical and, crucially, uniform. If this series has a weakness, I think it's sound. The dialogue occasionally fades out annoyingly, the slow pace of it isnt helped by the minimal soundtrack, and the sound effects they add are pretty cheesey.

I notice their style guide says they reject ENT as canon, prefering to pretend it represents an alternate history, much like the Abramsverse. I don't think that's quite necessary to maintain the coherence of TOS's 23rd century, and there were certainly good elements to some ENT episodes I'd be less eager to throw out with the baby-water, but I appreciate how they're keeping themselves to a strict vision.

These people, Potemkin Pictures, are launching a bunch of other series (in parallel) with other crews on other starships, 23rd century starships that aren't Constitutions! It's a miracle. I have split these off for their own reviews now, below. They've specified that the 4th season of Potemkin will be its last, wrapping it up by the end of the 23rd century. But the other series will all cross over into the 2300s, messing up my filing system.

One sentence review: Excellent science fiction, good Star Trek. 

Battlecruiser Kupok
Released: 2015-2016
Set in: 2298-2299
The crew of the K't'inga class Kupok had already featured as guests on Project: Potemkin, before getting a series to themselves. Many fans have gone nuts over the decades for a Klingoncentric series, though I've always been suspicious that it would just descend into pointless, badly-written action shlock. The first independent episode of this series wasn't very good, and failed to clear my suspicion. It wasn't utterly awful, just a bit lame and predictable. Not up to the standards of Potemkin, nor a good exploration of Klingon culture. Their insistence on Lursa&B'Etor style boob windows for all the female Klingon crew was just annoying; we know perfectly well that it's a stupid design for armour. Also, "white dude in command", even if non-human.

The first vignette was a little cheesey, but not lame. The writing was good, let down mainly by the mixed acting and poor audio quality.

I do at least like their intro sequence, which contrasts nicely with the TOS intro.

One sentence review: A lame start, but too early to tell. 

Starship Tristan
Released: 2015-2016
Set in: 2299
With only three vignettes, they have yet to really establish much of anything about what the series will entail. So far, the emphasis on the doctor character doesn't seem to be leading anywhere, and the acting leans towards comically bad. Quite a different tone from Potemkin. I quite like the Constellation class, though USS Tristan so far seems to exist mainly in the intro sequence only. Otherwise, this remains a placeholder until a full episode comes along. 

Starship Deimos
Released: 2016
Set in: 2299
Only two vignettes released so far, Deimos so far looks little different from Potemkin, only less engaging, and it will be interesting to see how it distinguishes itself in future episodes. Their messy mix of uniforms is slightly odd. The Phobos class design they chose for the USS Deimos is pretty obscure, but functional looking enough. Otherwise, this remains a placeholder until a full episode comes along.

Starship Endeavour
Released: 2016
Set in: 2299
Placeholder for pending Potemkin Pictures production.

Starship Grissom
Released: 2016
Set in: 2260s?
Grissom immediately earns points by using a Miranda class ship. These long-serving starships were common as flies in the canon 24th century series, so its weird that we see so few in fan productions, both in the 23rd and 24th centuries. But what's really odd about Grissom is that it's actually intended as an educational video series, teaching kids stuff. Since that's my field, I hoped it would be good, and it seems they've made a solid effort towards setting that up. It's clearly aimed at a younger age bracket than the older teenagers I normally deal with, so I'm not that certain what best practice is or whether this series meets that standard. I'd say it at least feels feasible as a teaching tool. I've looked at all the piles and piles of supplementary teaching material and short lesson videos they made to go with the first episode, and I'm impressed at how much they wrung out of it.

It's also amazingly far off from "white dude in command", with a black woman captain and a white woman first officer. If we were randomly rolling crew identities, that combination shouldn't be all that unusual, so why is this instead such a remarkable casting choice, and why did it fall on a semi-non-fiction educational video to achieve it first? Arguably, the lead character is not actually anyone in the command crew, but rather the young Cadet Strong; she's clearly the student stand-in role, if nothing else, the one the kids are supposed to identify with. Most of the rest of the cast are women too. It's a very encouraging change.

The CGI is functional, if bland, an evolution from what started out with The Romulan Wars. The sets and costumes are pretty well spot on for the era, with just a few rough spots that they could have glossed over and hidden, if they'd been more careful. The acting doesn't shine, but it's what I'd expect from an educational video. Everyone over-acts, over-emphasises statements of fact, and keeps interesting inflection to a minimum, because their main goal isn't to entertain or to convey tone and deep emotion. Their goal is to get knowledge into kids' heads, even if those kids aren't paying enough attention or don't yet have very good comprehension skills. This gets in the way of smooth plot exposition, but they still manage to get some sort of a plot wedged in there, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. For similar reasons, they sacrifice a few Trek canon elements that would have gotten in the way of the lessons being taught; to an adult trekkie, it should be quite obvious when they're doing this, and why it's necessary.

One sentence review: A clever idea, well made, but probably not ideal viewing for those who want pure entertainment.

Released: 1984-2016?
Set in: 2280s?
Another pending production placeholder, but an odder one. The original Yorktown short film, "In Temporary Command", was released in 1984 (I'm not aware of any copies of it online), and production began on its longer sequel, "A Time to Heal", in 1985. Takei was playing Sulu in it, possibly his first foray into fan Trek. And then it was never released. Now they're trying to add some new shots to the originals and hope to finally release it soon.

Star Trek: Secret Voyage
Released: 2012-2014
Set in: 2270
Action diplomacy! There's an awful lot cheesey about this one, but it's actually got surprisingly good potential underneath. The basic premise is that after Kirk's first five year mission ended, the Enterprise was loaned to this other crew for a brief, sneaky Secret Voyage. The new captain's introduction paints him as an expert at diplomacy under unusual circumstances, which is exactly what I like to hear. The first world they visit has some interestingly tricky inhabitants. The acting is poor and the scripts have some awful dialogue (it feels more like the characters reading out the writers' preliminary story-planning notes than speaking out their own natural in-character exposition), but I was hopeful that the plot would be good. And it mostly was, except I think the poorly-realised local aliens never really grew much beyond a quick initial appearance. And then the entire second episode is just one stupidly long fight scene, continued very unnecessarily from the end of episode 1. It could have been wrapped up in 5 minutes, just focusing on the bottom line and cutting out all the unnecessary shots of poor phaser effects and silly non-stunts. I'm undecided whether this was poor planning or a much more serious lack of an actual plot.

I'm not yet certain that it makes any sense for them to borrow Enterprise instead of using any other starship at all. But since they're definitely using a Constitution class, they're evidently forced into having the standard white dude in command that comes with it. The rest of the cast is moderately diverse. The visual effects are not good, but they're certainly a lot more ambitious than many other fan series, adding plenty of action to their outdoor scenes (and then dragged on too long). They had some ship interior shots, but unlike most fan series, they have so far gone out of their way to use these as little as possible; I'm not sure why. Much worse than this is the dodgy audio; not the worst I've heard, but annoying.

One sentence review: Fun, but needs a lot of polishing, especially on the scripts.

The Multiverse Crisis trilogy
Released: 1994-2012
Set in: 2268-2271
It's not a Constitution class! A trilogy of feature-length movies, produced over nearly two decades, they alternate focus between two ships, the Saladin-class USS Hannibal and the Potemkin-class USS Aristarchus.

The first movie in the series, "The Infinite Chain" is my favourite, because it's very Trekkie and looks a lot like Voyager before Voyager, both a century early in the story and released a year before VOY first aired. I don't think it's a big spoiler to say that it's about a smaller Starfleet ship suddenly lost in extremely distant and hostile space, struggling to get home while maintaining the Starfleet ideals. Also, woman captain. Captain Navarro was excellent, giving a real sense of being in command that's lacking in most other fan series' captains; a proper 23rd century Janeway. I'd love to know how much of this is pure coincidence and how much could have been borrowed, consciously or not, from early VOY pre-release information. I can also see elements that look borrowed from the original Battlestar Galactica, but it would cross the spoiler line to mention them here.

"The Infinite Chain" was made before 3D animation on home computers became widely feasible, and instead used physical models for starship exteriors. But at some point since then, they've done a Lucas and the version up on youtube now has these scenes replaced with CGI scenes, as well as adding in a bunch of music from more recent canon movie soundtracks. The original model ship footage they dumped is available as a bonus clip, and I think I prefer it. It looks pretty MST3Kish, in a charming way, while the CGI just looks boringly outdated.

The second movie, "Incident at Beta 9", is also decent enough, though I think it didn't really have enough substance to fill a whole hour. The whole trilogy has a pacing problem, which is partly due to inefficient scripting and partly due to bad editing. The second movie introduces the second starship, a freighter, with a white dude (though at least not human nor Klingon) in command. But the story mostly focuses on two random white dudes on an away mission. It was a reasonable Star Trek story, done slightly poorly.

And then the third movie, "The Final Darkness", is incoherent shit. Don't bother with it at all. This last one unfortunately set the standard for their next project, Star Trek: Antyllus.

Multiverse Crisis and Antyllus are both produced by the same people, and they share a very distinctive visual style, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's mostly not terrible. Their effects are crude, their sets are cheap. I think most of "The Infinite Chain" was constructed out of different kinds of packing material. But that's all fine. Suspenders of disbelief engaged. The only thing that really bugs me is their insistence on trying to make alien costumes out of the cheapest, nastiest halloween masks. It looks ridiculous, it doesn't work at all, and it's so unnecessary when Star Trek has always given itself the easy option of very human-looking aliens.

One sentence review: Starts strong, but declines.

Star Trek: Antyllus
Released: 2013-2015
Set in: 2270
If anything I've reviewed here is a Marty Stu, then this is, even more than Star Trek: Valiant. With the lessons learned from his earlier Multiverse Crisis, writer/director Kayaian decided to fully embrace the white dude in command role by also making himself captain in his new series, and then generally doing a worse job in many ways than had been done in the past. Sometimes it looks like a failure to learn from past lessons (such as the continued insistence on stupid halloween mask aliens), and other problems could be a result of rushing production too much. It took decades to make 4 hours 30 minutes of The Multiverse Crisis to a moderately rough standard, while Antyllus has spat out 4 hours 45 minutes in only around a tenth as much time. So things look wonky, even with the benefit of increasingly modern CGI and recording equipment.

But back to the Marty Stu thing. Captain Allen totally is. While there are a couple episodes that focus on other members of his crew, most of the show is centered on him, and I really mean centered, the camera is on him well over half the time, zoomed right in close on his face in a way that doesn't seem to be done with other characters. Other characters merely exist to feed him basic info and have his brilliant ideas bounced off them. He tells the security chief how to secure, he tells the science chief how to science, he tells the doctor how to doct. And he's always right with all of them. He's a bold fighter too, literally beating up a whole squad of alien baddies on his own; there's a full five minutes of him beating up minor mooks in episode 2, not counting the confrontation with the chief villain. And (sarcasm) he's totally not a portly, balding, middle-aged man, he just looks that way because he's a sort of alien who all look that way, and actually his bulk is immense physical strength from growing up on a high-gravity planet. It's kind of sad, I think. Being a portly, balding, middle-aged man is not something sad or shameful, even for a Starfleet captain. Clark Terrell is the first example to spring to my mind to support that. Owen Paris may be another. And of course Scotty fitted that profile by the time he was promoted to captain too. (I expect I'm about a decade away from that state myself, judging by family history.) Perhaps I'm reading too much into Kayaian's character choices, perhaps the purported alien physical characteristics of Allen have nothing to do with Kayaian's self-image, but other than that the over-the-top super-excellence of the character at all things still marks him as a clear Marty Stu. And an annoyingly badly acted one, too.

It's a pity that this one terrible character overshadows the whole series, because it's otherwise not that bad. Their sets are much improved from the days of "The Infinite Chain", though special effects seem possibly even worse now. Their choice of ship is slightly interesting: The Belknap class is a minorly altered Constitution class, and I'm not sure why the Belknap was originally devised, nor why this series chose it, when it seems to offer no clear practical nor artistic advantage over just sticking with a conventional Constitution. The basic premise of most of their stories seem like really solid science fiction concepts, hooks for stories that I can believe could have been grabbed by at least some professional Trek writers. Bad scripts tend to spoil these a little, but at least they start out with decent plots, which is definitely a cause for optimism. The scripts, though, don't give the characters much chance to develop through their exploration of these plots, not least because Allen is so over-dominant, and the dialogue is very bad. Very, very bad. I think they were aiming for grandiose Shakespearean stuff, but it's too clumsy, too unlyrical, and few of the actors can make it sound even slightly natural.

There are serious problems with pacing too, something else shared with Multiverse Crisis. Half of that problem is the bad scripts, which don't know when to shut up (again, mostly Allen's lines) and don't know how to tell a story efficiently. I got the impression this is due to writing in novel style, where there's plenty of room to be verbose, rather than a more appropriate script dialogue style. The other half of the pacing problem is poor editing, showing us an awful lot of pointlessly repeated visual cues that needed only a few seconds of subtle hinting, not minutes of making damn sure you know for certain that Allen is walking from A to B. That second problem is one I've seen in a few of the other more amateurish fan productions, but it's extra bad here. Slow tempo isn't inherently bad; I enjoy the intentionally leisurely pace of Potemkin, and I can tolerate the slightly stodgy pace of Farragut, because they've earned my trust with good scripts and good stories (often enough), and I know there will usually be something worthwhile waiting for me if I follow along with them, and it's nice to enjoy the scenery on the way there. But Antyllus is just extremely frustrating all the damn time, which I struggle to tolerate when I consider how much experience they've had to build on already.

One sentence review: If you're looking for good scifi plot hooks to adapt, you might want to skim through these, but I can't think of a good reason to sit and watch through them fully.

Star Trek: Eye of the Tempest
Placeholder for pending review.

Star Trek: Aurora
Released: 2012-2015
Set in: 2270
The small commercial crew is a common enough scifi trope, with Firefly perhaps representing it best. But it's really rare in Star Trek, which makes Aurora an interesting oddity. Done entirely with really nice CGI animation, it's about the two crew of the SS Aurora, a dinky little freighter, getting by with ad hoc cargo hauling. The scripts are well written, with interesting stories, and a good balance of serious drama and lighthearted silliness. The characters are fun and the voice acting is great. Also, it completely tramples over the "white dude in command" problem.

I love the design of their starship. It's very primitive-looking, very simple and basic and minimal, without being boring at all. It's really full of personality, I think. In general, their space exterior CGI scenes look less realistic than equivalent scenes in most recent live action series, and I assume this is intentional, to avoid having ships look more realistic than the slightly cartoony characters.

One sentence review: An entertaining look at life outside of Starfleet.

Paragon's Paragon
Released: 1975
Set in: 2260s
Very little remains of this unusually old fan movie; less than 10 minutes of silent video are available online. So it's just about impossible to comment on anything other than production values. And that is damn impressive, considering the much more limited technology they had to work with back then. They clearly put a lot of hard work into making this.

But can we also pause to point out that their communications officer, their equivalent of Uhura (named Lieutenant Shamba), was a white woman in blackface. Totally unacceptable, but completely glossed over in the director's blog, even when he's specifically talking about that character.

The content we can see in the remaining footage (plus some behind the scenes stuff) seems to show something very close to TOS. They're on a Constitution class starship, the USS Paragon, with a crew that closely mirrors the main TOS cast, dealing with Klingons and Organians. I can't comment on whether that made a good story or not, but it does very obviously borrow a lot directly from TOS.

One sentence review: An interesting historical curiousity, but unless the full movie comes back into existence, it's not too useful for entertainment purposes.

Chasing the Infinite Sky
Released: 2016
Set in: 2288
This is the first fan Trek I've seen explicitly set in the JJverse (and I may split those off from the main timeline fan productions, if more arise). There's not a hell of a lot to say about it. The plot is simultaneously thin and murky. The characters are barely present. It mostly seems to be a special effects reel, and while it is good as that, there's not really much for me to assess about it. I got the vague impression that the captain is supposed to be a hispanic dude, which counts as racial diversity in the US, right?

One sentence review: Um... I technically can't find anything bad to say about it?

Released: 2007-2014
Set in: 2264-2265
There are a few Star Trek webcomics out there, beyond the scope of this article, but I include just this one as an interesting comparison with all the 23rd century fan video series, because it shows a whole lot of things that the other fan series (and official series) have missed. Perhaps the bit I enjoy most is the idea of the 'lower decks' junior crew as central characters, with the senior bridge crew shifted to secondary roles. TNG and VOY each did one episode along these lines, and both were great; I think there's something more relatable for most of us in seeing things from the perspective of someone who doesn't make the big calls and doesn't get the glory. I wouldn't say every show should do this all the time - the central bridge focus is a good story-telling vehicle - but it's nice to get some variety. It also helps to break the "white dude in command" cycle, in a way.

And this is another thing TOSS gets right: Today, on Earth, the majority of humans do not look too much like Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway or Archer. If humanity of the twenty-nth century is supposed to be a direct reflection of modern humanity, or a simple progression of modern humanity, then it makes sense that humans in Star Trek should, more often than not, look like people from Asia. This is perhaps a vague target, given the wide variety of humans in Asia, but the point is that Star Trek has never even come close to this goal. Off the top of my head, I can only think of four main characters in all the Star Trek series (TOS to ENT, dozens of main cast in total) of obvious Asian heritage: Sulu, Bashir, Kim and Sato. We tend to focus more on the black/white ratio in Trek, and less often on Native Americans in Trek, because that's politically very sensitive and important in the modern US (and similarly also over here, in South Africa), and that's clearly something most of Star Trek still needs to improve on. But on a global scale, constant under-representation of such a massive majority seems insane too, and also worth addressing. TOSS manages a gender split of only about 30% women, though if you exclude 'guest' male characters who aren't regular crewmembers (I think the all-male 'felinoid three' from the USS Prospero creates a major outlier), it gets closer to 50/50, with a woman captain too. It also goes out of its way to include gay Starfleet crew. If I were putting together a fan series, I'd at least try my best to cast as variously as possible, especially among main characters. And if I were producing an official, canon series with a proper budget and significant casting prestige, I'd go out of my way to do so. If your cast doesn't look as varied as TOSS, you have to start thinking about where you went wrong.

I also like how TOSS has made such extensive use of its own designs for Federation starships. I like the Constitution class, but we don't have to assume it's the only ship class in the 23rd century worthy of telling stories about. The fan series intentionally focusing on the Enterprise have an excuse, but the others could just have easily have gone with an Oberth or a Miranda or one of the many Saladin class ships they all seem to like sticking in the background. Even if they didn't feel comfortable designing a new class from scratch, latching onto the Constitution by default seems badly unadventurous. The 24th century series below and 22nd century The Romulan Wars have tended to be more adventurous with ship choices, and shown that it is entirely feasible for a fan series to introduce new starship classes for their main vessel (yes, even cheap and dinky The Romulan Wars!). I'm not saying everyone has to do something new and weird every time, just that it's not always necessary to go with what's already well known and well documented. Again, variety is nice.

I think there's some overlap between the 'lower decks' idea and the push for different sorts of starships: Why always focus on big, powerful explorer-type starships? The 'lower' ships can be just as interesting, as well as opening the door to a variety of new stories. I once ran a great (well, enjoyable, at least) roleplaying campaign centered on a puny little old Oberth class science ship, vastly outclassed by everything else around it in the 24th century. It was perfect for forcing us to focus on science-centered stories and character interaction (even if I was shit at running NPCs back then). I also played in a brief campaign centered on a Klingon freighter, which was maybe not fully thought out, but very interesting in principle. I've argued in the past for a tug campaign. I gather the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series of novels made good use of unusual ships specialising in highly technical duties. May I remind you that little Serenity featured in some fantastic, exciting scifi stories without being armed at all? And if we've now agreed that it's feasible for fan series to make up their own starship classes, then why not make up one that exactly fits the role you need it to fill? As much as I disliked Renegades, I have to admit their unique small pirate ship was a good choice to fill a precise niche.

All of these are presented as general considerations for those making fan series, as well as maybe even somehow getting into the ears of those making future canon Star Trek productions.

Otherwise, I'll say that TOSS has an excellent story (even if it's unfolding painfully slowly), clearly written by someone with a truly intimate knowledge of TOS technical trivia.

24th Century
Era of Star Trek: The Next Generations (and its movies)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager

Renegade Studios stuff, including:
Star Trek: Of Gods and Men
Released: 2007-2008
Set in: 2306
Star Trek: Renegades
Released: 2015
Set in: 2388
While not strictly connected story lines, I lump those two together here partly because they're both made by the same people, and partly because I've covered them both here. Of Gods and Men is also interesting because it straddles the 23rd and 24th centuries, built around characters, ships and events mainly connected with the former century, while technically occurring in the latter.

I'm very optimistic that the Snod's writing in episode 2 will be able to save Renegades, making best use of the potential it failed to use in the pilot, but we have to wait until the end of 2016 to find out.

The whole big collection of series from Hidden Frontier Productions, including:
Voyages of the USS Angeles
Star Trek: Hidden Frontier
Star Trek: Odyssey
Star Trek: The Helena Chronicles
Star Trek: Diplomatic Relations
Star Trek: Federation One
Star Trek: Henglaar, M.D.

Released: 1999-2015
Set in: 2375-2386
Pretty damn vast, by fan standards, and highly varied as a result. The core of the whole collection is Hidden Frontier, 7 seasons long, with the others branching off of that (and HF originally branching out of the older Angeles series). They've also done a couple cross-overs with other fan series, Intrepid and Dark Armada, officially wrapping most of the 24th century fan stuff into one giant, shared continuity. This makes it tricky to review, and I'll admit I've only completely watched Hidden Frontier, and only slightly sampled the other branches. It definitely began as outright fan-insertion fantasy; the crew of the USS Angeles series were, mostly, the real-world crew of the USS Angeles fan club chapter. That's fun enough, I'm sure, and a great way to combine two different sides of enjoying being a Trekkie. The only thing that bugs me about it is the inclusion of the fucking STARFLEET Marines, who look as ridiculous on screen as you would expect. I'm glad to see they seem to be completely gone after Voyages of the USS Angeles, there's just nothing Trekkie about them. Hidden Frontier turns more to wholly fictional characters, though a couple of the fan-insertion characters persist. They also borrow all sorts of canon characters from TNG and DS9, or create connections between their own characters and canon characters, which is a clever enough way of weaving canon and non-canon together, though it feels a little forced in a lot of Hidden Frontiers season 1. For comparison, Farragut's crossovers with the Enterprise(s) were much more subtle.

Visually, this collection of series is awkward, mostly using green screens to make it look like the characters definitely are not really on various starships and stations. The real sets used by most of the 23rd century series look a lot better, but once you get used to the constant fuzziness and wonky perspectives, green screening does at least offer the interesting advantage of flexibility. They can show any set they like, in principle, and so it's much easier for them to have more than one ship. And so they do: While nearly all other Trek focuses on one crew at a time, Hidden Frontier jumps from ship to ship to station to ship, showing how various combinations of crews are doing. I like the idea of this format, but it doesn't make it any easier to keep track of who's who and what's going on.

What's going on is messy too. Hidden Frontier mostly emulates the action-adventure feel of the TNG movies, limited to who they could cram on a small green screen stage, mixed with what I think are DS9-inspired war stories, minus DS9's deep political plots underpinning the war, and a bunch of soap opera interpersonal scenes in between, which they eventually build up quite extensively. There's not much exploration and science, and virtually no diplomacy. I note that when they did venture into political stories, they slipped into what was unmistakably a very silly "9/11 truther" conspiracy theory, so I have to doubt they could have done anything much deeper and more realistic than the simple action romps they mostly wrote. I have a suspicion that a partial structural cause of this style of writing was the production dominance of their computer animation team, who clearly put a lot of effort into starship exterior CGI, and then (maybe not consciously) wrote/directed stories around showing those off. Not that other people weren't also involved, nor that the stories are necessarily bad. It's great to see such a wide variety of starships, clearly crafted with great attention to detail, I just think that there's maybe too much focus on what ships are there, instead of on why the ships are there. Similarly, their idea of exploring the Briar Patch, an unknown frontier within known Federation space, instead of zooming way off into a far more distant unknown was pretty smart, but it looks like they vastly over-extended the Patch's volume, implying that Starfleet and all other neighbouring powers had ignored, for decades, not just a couple remote and easy to ignore low-tech worlds, but whole lost civilisations of galactic importance. Their big-picture planning was poor.

Their war stories are extra bad. They make little sense, almost all diplomacy is ignored, even in the case of alien governments that the Federation already has long-established peace with (e.g. the Tholians), and not once did I hear any Starfleet captain ask anyone to discuss things at all before ordering full phasers and torpedoes. This is not how Starfleet does things. But Hidden Frontier goes out of its way to make its enemies impossible to negotiate with, ultimate scary bad guys, worthy only of death by photon torpedo. I think it's no coincidence that their chosen villain species are all faceless and inhuman looking, because it's important that the audience never feels sympathy towards the aliens mowed down in their tens of thousands over the course of the series. Deep Space Nine portrayed the horrors of war on both sides; Hidden Frontier portrays a video game. It's also transparent, and a little bit silly, that the new recurring evil villains they introduced are stolen directly from the X-Com games (and they stick pyramids on Mars, in case there was any doubt), though later seasons reduce them from that to just generic warships to shoot at, not even bothering to borrow any cultural texture for them anymore. The non-war stories are highly variable, but generally better, and the character interaction is pretty good. If they'd focused more on crew interaction, their one solid strength, they could have had a much better series.

Acting is mostly obviously amateur, but still decent enough, considering the awkward dialogue. The wide variety of characters on multiple ships saves them from total "white dude in command", though it remains inexcusably white for a series filmed in Los Angeles. But on gender and sexuality representation, they do well. I just always had an uncomfortable feeling that their version of Shelby, despite being promoted to captain of the Excelsior (and later to commodore), was constantly being undermined by male officers, both junior and senior. Maybe I just imagined it, but that, along with crew constantly hitting on Lefler despite her constant protests, tended to spoil the feeling of gender equality.

(Two unimportant technical points that bug me: Why use the ridiculous Galaxy-X, and why is DS12 so damn big? The triple-nacelled Galaxy refit was an over the top modification of the Enterprise-D for one episode, intentionally made to look really obviously like it was from the distant future, visually distinctive above all else, but it never really stood up to much technical or artistic scrutiny - Data's grey hair made more sense! And Deep Space 12 might be the single biggest Federation station I've seen, with dozens of huge docking bays surrounding an immense sealed structure which must easily have a city's worth of internal volume. Why? What do they need all that space for? This is a new frontier support facility orbiting a barely-populated low tech planet, not an established headquarters like Starbase 1. Deep Space 9 was moderately big - though mostly filled with empty space between long, thin structures - but that's because it was originally an orbital factory and warehouse, converted into a trade outpost; civilians don't seem to use DS12. So why did they build it so big?)

Most of Hidden Frontier is alright, but just a bit bland. Between the fuzzy visuals, the fuzzy audio, the unrefined scripts, and the difficulty keeping track of the many concurrent plot threads, I often zone out while watching it and couldn't really tell you if I'd loved or hated an episode. It has its great moments, but unfortunately doesn't manage to keep that up consistently.

The spin-off series look to be more of the same. I may have the strength to assess them individually one day, but it all looks like the same faces, the same credits, the same format, with incrementally improving graphics. Seven seasons of Hidden Frontier are still a big blur to me, and I'm not in a rush to mash even more of it into my brain. The only really obvious point is that Diplomatic Relations and Henglaar, M.D. are both audio series, rather than video series, and are included here for completeness. I know there are quite a few Star Trek fan audio series, but I've not delved into those, so it's hard to compare.

One sentence review: Ambitious, quite an accomplishment, and undoubtedly an inspiration to many fans, but still damn dull.

Star Trek: Intrepid
Released: 2007-2016
Set in: 2382-2384
The Scottish one. My initial feeling was that this would be the good TNG-era series, but I was disappointed. The starting premise was great: A Starfleet ship is assigned to help set up a new Federation colony on an uninhabited planet, with interpersonal conflict between the Starfleet crew and the civilians. It's closer to the original DS9 sales pitch than DS9 actually was; a frontier settlement story, to complement the frontier exploration stories of TOS and TNG. DS9 undermined this idea - for the better, I think - by replacing their barren frontier with the complicated and crowded Bajor sector, but it would still be interesting to see the original, more remote plan done well. Intrepid could have done that, but right from episode 1, they instead ignore that angle and introduce random scary alien monsters to fight against and never ever negotiate with. Pew pew pew!

The acting is good for amateurs, but spoiled by poor audio and bad scripts. It seems that Nick Cook was under the impression that interpersonal conflict makes characters interesting (which is feasible), and then mistook "interpersonal conflict" for "everyone's a constant asshole misanthrope". They cast a surprisingly good Picard impersonator, for example, and then completely wasted that talent by turning Picard into the biggest asshole they could. Apart from minor roles that don't have enough time to be assholes, the sole exception seems to be Lucie Faria-Cook's consistently lovely Caed, and given the surname, I'm suspicious of this writing choice. They also really need to get over the stupid idea that everyone should be keeping everything secret from everyone else. Starfleet does not routinely send captains off to do things without giving them even the basic background of the situation, yet Intrepid does this repeatedly. That's not drama, it's stupid. Otherwise, Intrepid falls into all the usual "white dude in command" traps; the symbolism of Hunter literally killing the woman who was captain before him to get her position, in the first moments of episode 1, is especially blunt.

Visually, it's pretty good, learning a lot from Hidden Frontier's methods, but also from its mistakes. In particular, the choice to make their stories about a new remote colony left them free to set a lot more scenes outdoors, away from the green screen. Unfortunately, it does also mean they'd eventually have to move beyond countryside surveys and actually show something of the colony being built, which is a hurdle they instead avoided crossing.

One sentence review: Some good elements, but badly written, almost like a more modern incarnation of Starship Exeter.

Star Trek: Dark Armada
Released: 2006-2014
Set in: 2382-2389
The Dutch one. It was kind of them to record everything in English, but isn't it a little weird that they gave so many of their characters English-sounding names? Apart from that, it seems unremarkable for a 24th century series, following the same general template as Hidden Frontier and Intrepid: CGI ships, people on green screens, white dude in command, vast horde of mysterious alien invaders they can't negotiate with. They also occasionally step into a real outdoors, same as Intrepid. Deja vu, with a different accent. The only interesting element, to me, is that they went with a little Nova class science ship.

I think we've now got enough lines of evidence to show that the 24th century fan series urgently need to start experimenting with new format and content ideas. It's like every single fan film-maker working in this era hasn't actually watched TNG at all, slept through any part of DS9 that wasn't a huge fleet battle, and decided that VOY's problem was that the Borg were too chatty.

One sentence review: It's like Intrepid, but without the absolutely miserable people.

Star Trek: Guardian
Released: 2016
Set in: 2382-2384
A place holder for a pending production, which seems to have branched out of Dark Armada.

Star Trek: Encarta
Released: 2000-2008
Set in: 2385
A series of four fan films, the first three seem to have been wiped from public existence, leaving only the fourth, "Dark Hope", which is pretty damn incomprehensible on its own. Somehow, something's trapped the USS Encarta (need I even mention, "white dude in command") in what I'm pretty sure is a series of plot elements stolen from several VOY episodes, then scrambled together. The production quality's not bad at all for 2008, topping Hidden Frontier in terms of sound and video quality, use of outdoor wilderness scenes, and possibly use of green screens. They also cut footage directly from canon TNG movies, which could have been an interesting way to Frankenstein in some connections with known characters, but it looked rubbish. The poor acting and bad script just make it so tedious to watch.

One sentence review: Maaaaaaybe it makes more sense if you've seen the first three films that no longer exist?

Star Trek: Absolution
Released: 2015-2016
Set in: 2374
Amateur animation is not something I was previously very familiar with. And maybe that's not quite the right term for this, but it's certainly not the smooth animation seen in modern commercial cartoons. It took me a while to settle into the visuals, which are stylistically distinctive, if nothing else. The audio also wasn't that great in episode 1, but I think it had sufficiently improved by episode 2. The wide selection of accents is a bit jarring at first too, but a nice touch once you get used to it. In short, focus on the plot, not all the trivial audio-visual distractions. Merely being animated makes it unusual enough for Trek. At the same time, the plot is initially weird too, because they've set up an alternate universe (I'm not quite clear where and how it diverges), and quite a few of the familiar canon 24th century elements have been picked at and cut out.

The plot is interesting. I'm not totally sold on it yet, with only two episodes so far, but it seems to be well written and leading somewhere that has me curious. It has a lot of elements that I've said normally bug me in other fan Trek productions (lots of ship combat, Section 31, wrecking the Federation, everything being grim and doomy), and yet they've found ways of making these things seem interesting (in part, I'd say, by relegating them to the outer edges of their plot, rather than focusing on them directly). The result is something that so far feels quite Trekkie, despite the rough starting conditions. The tone remains optimistic and moral, and the emphasis seems to be on character interaction, not pew-pew. The selection of characters is also interesting and clever, taking good advantage of the medium to include a lot of non-humans. That said, they did still end up with a white dude in command. The status of the Andorian admiral woman he reports to is currently... complicated.

They seem to have a long series planned out, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. So far, this seems like the best of the 24th century fan Treks, even though they've intentionally pushed the limits on several things. The writing bugs me in a few places, especially when they put a long, drawn out dialogue in the middle of a crisis scene, where it doesn't seem to fit. The Ferengi nudity humour/cultural analysis dialogue in episode 2, for example, was a great little scene, but made little sense right in the middle of the most dangerous point of the battle they're in.

One sentence review: Quite interesting and well written, could develop into something great.

Star Trek: Deception
Released: 2013
Set in: 2370ish?
The English one. It seems non-American fans are drawn more to the 24th century. It looks like Deception is likely to remain a once-off short, despite some previous plans for a sequel, which is a pity, as it had potential. Moderately good acting and fairly good visuals supported a pretty good (if derivative) plot. These are evidently mainly professionals, doing a fun project for the hell of it and for Kickstarter funds. I've already noted what I think about the default regression to Klingon villains, but Deception left its antagonists vague enough that we don't actually know why anyone was shooting at anyone else. So it was pretty good. Apparently some of the Deception visual people now help with Intrepid.

Sadly, it was an entirely male cast, with the usual white dude in command. I liked the idea of setting a fan production on a little runabout (like their USS Thames) long before I watched this, so I've already thought through the limitations of a small crew and small cast, and I get that cast diversity gets tricky with that limiting factor. But at least make an effort!

One sentence review: Short but fun.

Released: 2015-2016
Set in: 2372
Placeholder, pending the release of something more than incomplete vignettes. Formerly named Star Trek: Raven, before the 2016 fan film guidelines were released. They also seem to have done a major re-write and replaced a lot of their early footage. This makes it hard to comment on anything with great certainty, but if the cast list on their site is still accurate, then they seem to have a cast full of young women, but still the standard white dude in command, along with a big pile of white dude admirals in one vignette, and the standard set of white dudes in command behind the scenes too.

Released: 2016
Set in: 2383
It's me! Ever since I first posted this list, a little over half a year ago, I've been wondering what I could do with only the resources in my own home. And finally, I sat down this week to put it all together, in my own little experiment of a fan film. It's not much, but I'm satisfied that it's a start. I think the acting is poor, the script needed refining, the production design is basically a joke, and the sound quality is not what I'd like. But I'm very pleased with the format of it, and that's the main thing I was testing. I'm a fan of the first-person journal format, ever since I first read the Adrian Mole books, and later The Martian. I was later shown it could be done in video form by The Guild, and  some of the videos from ASMRTrek and the Red Shirt Diaries (both near the end of this list) reassured me that good Star Trek-style stories could be told using only one person in one place with one static camera. So, I thought I'd try telling a full story using only captain's logs.

My plot is pretty minimal; I didn't want to go too crazy on the first attempt (and it turned out, coincidentally, that even this minimal effort was only just within the new fan production guidelines' 15-minute limit anyway). For those with a chemistry background, the idea came to me while learning about optical rotation. Putting it on a little runabout proved to be useful for storytelling, adding some dramatic tension, but it was originally something I thought of as a way to keep the cast believably small (in my mind and in my planning notes, there were 3 people on this vessel, though the script only makes 2 apparent). But in hindsight, a video log recorded in a small private space (quarters, ready room, crapper) could represent anything from a massive starbase to a dinky shuttlepod equally well, if the writing and acting are good enough.

I'm filing this one under 'white dude in command', although I think the "there was literally only one person working on this" excuse might just get me off the hook, this time. If I ever do another, I will most certainly not fall back on that again. (I also find it interestingly complicated trying to decide if I was portraying a white guy; the Zain character was intended to be of Arabic descent (as am I), but I'm also half British, and in the South African context, I've always benefitted from being officially white. But that's a complicated discussion for another post.)

One sentence review: You tell me! I welcome constructive feedback.

25th Century
Era of no canon series

Star Trek: Phoenix
Released: 2010-2016
Set in: 2422
Jumping ahead in time of TNG in much the same way that TNG jumped ahead of TOS, Phoenix is naturally quite different-looking. I can't say I like their weird bike jacket uniforms, but I appreciate the replacement of centuries-old warp drive and transporter technology with wholly new equivalents; after VOY, it was inevitable. I like the idea of giving some aliens voices that don't sound human (which suggests they're speaking English with an accent, not going through the universal translator), though I'm not sure the very obvious distortion they used feels realistic enough. But these are just minor stylistic bits. Mainly what Phoenix shows us is what is likely if the Abramsverse production team were let loose on the main Trek timeline, after their clumsy popping of Romulus for the sake of the scoffworthy Nero villain from their 2009 movie. And I don't like it one bit. I wanted this to be good, because I like the idea of a 25th century show, and I only found out after watching it that it has an Abrams connection, so I wasn't biased by that before I even tried it. Everyone is grim and angry, everything is mindless action and shooty violence, nothing is real Star Trek about it. Right from the start, the (white dude in command) captain is whining about how politics and diplomats are so stupid, shitting on the peaceful political achievements of all the canon captains of the past. And then (sort of spoiler for the first episode), he rejects all suggestions that they should investigate their situation and gather some actual fucking evidence to try to understand what's going on, and instead just wants to rush straight off to Romulus and... what? Act first, don't think at all, same as any Abrams-type character.

To be fair, we've only seen the first episode so far, because their release schedule is very, very slow (episode 1 in 2010, episode 2 due in 2016), and it's possible they'll surprise me with something well-planned and intelligent later on. But so far, I'm thinking there's no way. They just haven't shown any inclination to give a shit about what Gene Roddenberry had in mind, nor what made any previous Star Trek series interesting. In fact, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was actually watching some completely unrelated action scifi show, something like one of those beige '90s military scifi series that I've never been able to keep too distinct in my mind.

I said I wouldn't focus on vignettes, but for this one, I wanted to be as fair as possible, and make sure there wasn't some crucial character background I was missing, which somehow explains episode 1. Instead, I found the character vignettes were even worse. All they show is that everyone is grim and miserable and everything is shit. Dear film historians of the distant future, please don't look back on the "dark = good, darker = gooder" fad of the early 21st century as anything clever; it sucked.

Phoenix does manage to cover moderate crew diversity to some extent, but not especially well. And I really can't stand Andrews as Avari; worst captain, possibly worst character, out of everything covered in this article. I'm very glad to see that he's not credited in episode 2. Episode 2 looks like it'll have a lot of changes, and if I'm understanding right, it'll be a purely audio production. Considering the pretty CGI was one of the few solid strengths of episode 1, I expect a bit of a disaster. The writing staff (a whole team, at least 8 people) were pretty underwhelming in episode 1. I can forgive shitty, awkward lines from a lone, inexperienced amateur (as is the case in The Romulan War), and I don't expect everyone to be able to write plots to the level of Fontana, but a whole team of apparently professional-level writers ought to be able to do more than, "life is pain, pew pew pew!". I have no idea why this was long enough to split into two parts, because there's almost no real substance to episode 1. Almost nothing really happens, despite the constant action.


If this foreshadows the official 2017 Star Trek series, then ugh.


One sentence review: Not Star Trek.

Star Trek: Dark Horizon
Released: 2015
Set in: 2407
The German live-action one. Ich lebte in der Nähe von Frankfurt am Main, als ich noch ein Kind war. Unfortunately, I've had little chance to practise my German for decades, and I'm pretty rusty, so it's a little hard to comment on the acting and the dialogue. Visually, it's fairly pretty, and they've put a lot into their physical sets and cinematography, and the audio is generally good. I found their special effects a bit variable, with some great stuff and some slightly clunky shots. Their use of various and distinct outdoor locations helps a lot.

Things look a little odd, because (like Absolution) they've opted for an alternate universe where the Federation is something funny and different. In this case, the Klingons and Cardassians are full members, the Vulcans are not, and the Starfleet uniform has been remodelled on the German Navy officer's dress uniform. This seems to be because Dark Horizon was made by another fan club (not connected with STARFLEET International, as far as I know), and fan clubs develop their own non-canon peculiarities. Fair enough.

The plot was a little meh, though. The main hook is taken directly from the VOY episode "The Omega Directive", which is interesting enough. There's untapped potential in that, things VOY never fully addressed. But an awful lot of what follows that hook is bland action movie pew-pew, with lots of shots of people with phaser rifles poncing around like they've watched too many military movies. The elements stolen directly from RoboCop already looked cheesey in the '90s, and definitely haven't aged any better since then. They clearly wanted things Dark, and it's no coincidence that this is explicitly added to the title. But it comes out sort of like Intrepid, Dark Armada or Phoenix, where all that Dark really seems to mean to them is "lots of mindless combat scenes". It's pretty dull. There was some sciencey stuff tucked away in this plot, so they get at least some Trekkie credit, but the whole thing could have been half the duration by cutting out the pointless fight scenes.

There is a white dude in command, again, and the cast in general is male-dominated.

One sentence review: Technically quite competent, but bland.

Fun Stuff
Error Error Error

Redshirt Blues
Released: 2000
Considering this is all just one, old, cheesey joke, stretched out over 9 minutes, they put a fair bit of effort into it. Good uniforms and props, reasonable visual effects for the time, and an excuse to stick all the action in the middle of nowhere, all add up to a pretty close approximation of the look of TOS, as good as many of the serious fan series manage. The acting is good too. It's a fun, cynical little thing. And like TOSS, it also illustrates the possibilities of a 'lower decks' junior crew story.

Red Shirt Diaries
Released: 2014-2015
If you've ever struggled to sit through one of the slower, weaker episodes of TOS, then this is your reward. Red Shirt Diaries is easily one of my favourite Star Trek things of any sort, a gift to serious Trekkies (which you're invited to contribute financially to). Each one is a brief retelling of one TOS episode, from the point of view of a junior crewmember recording personal logs in her quarters. It's not so much a series of bottle episodes, as a full bottle series. I imagine it would make no sense at all if you haven't watched the relevant TOS episodes, but if you have, it's hilarious. Visually, it's great, and the acting is perfect. Jefferson is the best Uhura I've ever seen; maybe not the best Nicholls impersonator, but definitely the best Uhura.

Steam Trek: The Moving Picture
Released: 1994
A cute & silly little thing, immediately self-explanatory. It definitely has little to zero repeat value, but as a once-off gimmick, it's a very fun idea.

Released: 2013-2015
This is not comedy, I've only filed it here because it's an oddity that doesn't fit neatly anywhere else in my system. I'd heard of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos as a sort of recreational use of that funny feeling, and I'm sure I've experienced it before myself in more coincidental ways (Scottish accents often trigger it in me, since I was a small child). But I've never made use of the special ASMR videos and that wasn't what I was looking for when I found this channel - I was, of course, looking for more Star Trek fan series. And ASMRTrek is interesting because she does a lot of ASMR videos in the form of one-person Star Trek roleplaying, in both the 23rd and 24th centuries. It's sort of semi-improvised storytelling, shot in a first- or second-person perspective (I can't decide which makes more sense, but it's definitely not the usual third-person perspective), conducting dialogues with the camera playing the role of the other person in the discussion. It's certainly one way to apply the principle of IDIC.

While the format is inherently limited in all sorts of ways, ASMRTrek still manages to tell much more compelling stories, and better acted too, than half the bigger, fancier fan series on this list. I thought the Dr Crusher one from October 2014 was especially interesting, both visually and dramatically. I'm not qualified to assess these for their ASMR value, but as Trek fiction, they can be very good (a few don't have much plot to them, as they're trying to do something else instead). I look forward to seeing how these progress further; I'd personally like to see them go more narrative-driven, perhaps developing specific characters more deeply and continuously, if that won't get too much in the way of the ASMR goal.

One sentence review: Odd, but fascinating and fun.

Stalled Trek
Released: 2013-2016
Arguably the best CGI handpuppet Star Trek parody I've seen. Unfortunately, the one full TOS parody episode they did ("Amutt Time", a dog-themed riff on "Amok Time") was pretty lame, with the laziest sorts of parody non-jokes (just references, really, like the repeated mentions of how TOS uniforms were velure) and '50s sexism (broads have boobies, but talk and complain a lot). I might have completely written this off as boring junk, if I hadn't discovered it through their more recent short, "Prelude to Ax'd-We-Are", satirising the legal troubles around Star Trek: Axanar. That was much funnier and much more on point. I hope their future episodes are up to this new standard they've set themselves.