Thursday, 9 January 2014

Revealing Kitumba

The first day in January was set as the premiere day for the latest of the Star Trek: Phase II stories but being the good souls that they are, we got it a little earlier on New Year's Eve.

Dutifully we dropped it around our networks as many other blogs and site did and I slotted in some time to sit down and watch this hour and a bit long episode. After all, this episode has been in Development Hell for what, four years? Jeez. That's a long time to wait for some new material but let's avoid all the background rumbles and focus on what we get to see.

As always please be aware that the following MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS so don't say we haven't warned you. See, we just have. In Bold RED text too so it's unmissable...

Oh and just for the record, this week I was talking to one of my co-contributors and here's the conversation (abridged):

Mark: So, well, I tried to watch that new episode of Phase II the other day...
Clive: Cool! What did you think? I've still got to watch it.
Mark: Erm...I kinda started watching it and then, erm, gave up after about two minutes. I was never the greatest fan of The Original Series....
Clive: Oh. Right....

As you can see I wasn't getting a good vibe. Mark only managed two minutes? Uh oh. This was not looking at all good. Nevertheless I persevered and, securing an hour to stick YouTube through the TV I knuckled down.

So Mark - you should've stuck with it and I'm going to use this post to prove just why your two minutes wasn't enough.

Kitumba is one of THE mythical Star Trek stories that never made it from the page alongside Blood and Fire. We all know it was among the first 12 scripts for Phase II back in the 1970's and would have been a two part story. In fact it would have been one of the highlights of the never-made first season. Here, most likely due to budget and time, it's trimmed back into a one hour and five minute episode and they've done it justice.

The Phase II crew really are mashing up the realms of the motion pictures and The Original Series with both "types" of Klingons along with their different dress styles. Managing to reference back to the Augment virus is a big help as the series begins to make transitions towards the feel of the six classic bigger screen outings yet retaining a wonderful feel of the 23rd Century as envisaged in the 1960's.

The Klingons themselves receive an immense amount of flesh on their backstory here. The concept of honour, the House system and the political makeup of the Empire are all addressed here and you can see how it effectively bridges the generations by taking the Enterprise to Qo'noS. At the heart of the story is a potential attempt to cause a coup which focuses on several key members of the race, the Sacred Leader, the Kitumba, his teacher K'Sia and rallying against them most dishonourably of course, General Malkthon. It's excellently paced from start to finish and I would have had trouble seeing it in it's original two part form. It works very well being slightly extended just over that hour mark.

For anyone familiar with the world of The Next Generation and The Undiscovered Country this actually answers a few questions - but not as many as you might be asking about ten minutes in around the Klingon hierarchy. Bear with it because it all gets unravelled and makes total sense by the time the strains of the closing credits theme are running through your speakers. The costumes particularly for the well-meaning Klingon defector Kali are wonderful (if a little baggy!) and you'll have this nagging feeling you've seen something like it before. Yes - you have. 

The Kitumba is a bit of a spoiled brat role which is nicely played by Kario Pereria Bailey and certainly shows a progression of growth through the story. Malkthon though is a almost a pantomime villain at times and I did expect some mustache twirling at times. However, saying that it is a wonderful role to chew out everything around him although some fans might be more familiar with actor Vic Mignogna as Captain Kirk in Star Trek Continues.

I have to commend the team working on Kitumba because the sets are simply magnificent, transcending time almost with updated computer displays dotted in among the distinctly retro-feel technology of the classic Enterprise bridge or briefing room. At times I genuinely couldn't believe I was watching a fan-made production because the set-up was so good. Yes, there's some slightly hammy accents in there (Scotty for one) but luckily that's outweighed by some great performances elsewhere. 

James Cawley, in his final appearance as Kirk, seems to have channelled just a smattering of Shatner in there for good measure but still keeps this Kirk as his own interpretation and I think makes the captain a touch stronger and more believable than before. Spock and McCoy aren't around that much if I'm honest and both actors, Brandon Stacey and John M Kelley respectively do fine jobs of the parts. Personally I think Stacey is a much better fit for Spock than Jeffrey Quinn. Nothing against Quinn but the nuances of the Vulcan seem to suit the "newer" Spock just that little more comfortably.

Jonathan Zungre as Chekov, Kim Stinger as Uhura and Bobby Quinn Rice as Peter Kirk actually share a lot more of the limelight with Kirk especially during the away mission to the Klingon homeworld as the story develops and hold the show together very well. I found their scenes very easy to watch and certainly it's a group that has developed over time and through several key personnel changes.

While we're talking of cast it's not only a pleasure to see Kirk's nephew Peter on the ship as part of security (yep a redshirt), but also the full Vulcan Xon on the bridge. While it's definitely showing the tip of continuity it's a shame we all know where this character is going to end up. Talking of cast - guest stars - wow. These guys can pull them in. In the past they're featured many legends of sci-fi and Star Trek most notably both George Takei and Walter Koenig (and that's only two). Here we get both franchise design master Andrew Probert and Buck Rogers himself Gil Gerrard early on as Starfleet admirals.. How Phase II got them I'll never kno The quality clearly speaks volumes that means these types of reverred actors want to be involved. It's a big bonus that shows the calibre of fans this show has garnered since its premiere. Take a look at their site for the full list!

The only thing that I could really quibble with is one fight scene towards the conclusion. Everything goes really well to this point; theres great dialogue, tightly directed scenes, mind-blowingly big crowd scenes (those Klingons ain't CGI my friends) and a captured essence of The Original Series of which Roddenberry would be proud. So why oh why is such an important sequence at such a late stage in Kitumba, which has been totally serious and played straight since the first second played slightly for laughs reminiscent of The Trouble with Tribbles?! Fortunately the rest of the episode kept me so glued that I'm almost happy to overlook it but for some it might tip them the other direction. Perhaps a slight misstep in an otherwise brilliant outing.

So we can nail on about great performances but there's more to Kitumba than that. At times I was reminded of Babylon 5 in the way it was filmed and the feel of the sets to some degree (it too had somewhat limited funds) but also the way in which CGI is so magnificantly utilised. I was expecting some form of sets by Bacofoil and starships by Kelloggs but this almost made me lick the TV in Enterprise Envy. The work here by Tobias Richter is staggering by any standard. No more is the Klingon fleet a series of blips on a sensor screen; they are there to be seen whether Birds-of-Prey or battle cruisers, all are immaculately rendered and just lift this production to another level. Seeing a firefight between the Klingons and the TV Enterprise cannot but make your day once you've seen it - and that's not even halfway through. There's more after that. Perhaps some of the more clever moments are the starships in the Qo'noS sky that are occasionally glimpsed or perhaps it's the recreation of a slightly-busier-than-we-remember K-7 space station as the titles roll. Whatever it is, you have to see them.

The music too adds a ton of weight to the experience. Drawing on the classic incidental score and theme there is no doubt where this series is throwing it's weight. It adds to the sense that this is fully in keeping with the feel of the 1960's show. Remember those end of act dah dah daaaaahs? Yep, they're here for you and a total pleasure it is to hear them over the fade out.

I have to say that having watched some of the earlier episodes, watching Kitumba, even for the music was such a dramatic difference. It's not as light nor is the "comedic" music from The Original Series used quite as heavily - nor do we have the occasional swing into the tones of The Next Generation as I noticed in the pilot episode recently. Indeed, Come What May is a slightly prophetic title now in hindsight as this is a show which has definitely come of age, matured and honed its brand if you will. 

The acting, effects and stories are much tighter and exceptional considering the restraints that the Phase II team must be under. It's a marvellous experience and ten years is like chalk and cheese. With the remastering that took place a few years back on The Original Series the mix of '60's style uniforms and sets doesn't seem out of place with the gorgeous CGI starships and scenes. Seemless. What's even nicer is that the stories themselves are getting better with this being a real tour de force for the Phase II production team. It has soul, adds background to the franchise and could easily fit into the canon universe - and that's probably the biggest issue. It never will be and that's a shame. We have JJ Abrams ramping up the big guns and the action heroes in the latest movies while attempts to bring back the essence of the Roddenberry vision have to skrimp and scrape a few dollars to make an hour of TV. That's not justice if you ask me.

So, Mark, if you are still reading and didn't give up after two minutes (!) I hope you'll take an hour our, plug YouTube through your tellybox and watch this story. As I've noted, it's a different ballgame to where New Voyages started and there are more than a few cringeworthy moments in those early shows but time and experience has ironed out the issues to make this a great fan-made series.

Best of all? We only have to wait for February for episode nine, The Holiest Thing, and not another near-five years and the trailer is already very tempting with the introduction of one Carol Marcus.....

You can follow the voyages by dropping by the Phase II website right now and learning more about the show. While you're there, watch an episode or eight...

All images reproduced by kind permission of Phase II

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