Thursday 19 June 2014

Marc's Second Term - These are the Voyages Season Two

We loved the first season and they just keep getting better.

But before we dive into the review just a quick note - we have an audio interview still to publish - this will be coming shortly now we have resolved some technical issues. We had hoped to release both together but this has not been possible although we tried...hence the delayed review of Season Two.

Photo by Albert L Ortega
The main concern for those looking to make a purchase here is that there won't be an expanded second edition as there was with Season One. Surely this alone will make a lot of fans breathe a great sigh of relief knowing that their hard earned cash isn't going to get split across two books when one, complete edition will more than suffice. Marc Cushman told me himself there won't be and I, for one, believe him (minor note that no doubt in about ten years a whole chunk of stuff will appear and...yep...we know where that's going...!)

But let's just hold for second because there's some great news for the author as Marc Cushman will be receiving a Special Achievement honor at the 40th Annual 2014 Saturn Awards for this comprehensive series. Robert Holguin, president of the Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Films who are hosting the awards, said that Marc's books constitutes "one of the greatest achievements in the world of literature [in] the past year. The level of research in writing these books are of the highest order."

So here we are, at book two with it now being recognised at the highest level and it's been a long wait for the sequel. My first season copy has been getting very lonely, more so since the release date of it's followup was delayed from the end of 2013 until the start of 2014 and with good reason. Admittedly dropping this review now has been a lucky hit because only this week we've seen the arrival of Star Trek Continues latest offering Fairest of Them All which acts as a sequel to the classic second season episode Mirror, Mirror. Secretly all this coincidence was planned. Promise...(!) Honest.

Compiled in their original production order, this is the essential companion to the most reverred season of The Original Series. While the first year packs in heavyweight episodes such as The City on the Edge of Forever, Arena, Space Seed and Errand of Mercy, the 1967-68 shows were a step up even though all was not well behind the scenes and don't we get to know about it here.

This could easily slip into a big nostalgia-fest and laud glory on all but Marc has never intended this to be just a simple reference guide to the episodes, their stories and a smattering of pre-production footnotes. This is every breath, heartbeat and drop of sweat that went into the production of everything between Catspaw and Assignment Earth. Each page is a slice of Star Trek history with much of it never printed or glimpsed before. Here we get to find out why Gene Coon left, how John Meredith Lucas came on board, how high emotions really were running when it was announced that the show was being cancelled, then reprieved short-term and finally just what it meant for fans, the cast, crew and the network mail-room when Star Trek was renewed for the swansong third year.

Allan Asherman and Stephen Whitfield's work which have been on my shelves for a fair few years are, among others, referenced throughout but Cushman doesn't just regurgitate their valuable literary editions but builds on it. He's carefully sourced information compiled from Roddenberry's own extensive archives, talking to cast and crew who have never (repeat, never) been interviewed about their part in the show and attempts to fill in the blanks that so many publications have left open.

It's clear from this that I'm a total fan of Marc's series, the first volume of which has come in for some factual criticism. All I can say here is that devoting a good six years of your life to something is never going to be an easy and relaxing task. Sure there might be a few typos and errors but on the whole this is a work that will stand the test of time and prove to be one of the three most valuable resources on The Original Series. The other two will be the volumes that sit on either side of the number "two".

All well and good, but what else is here? What am I getting for my cash and why would I want season two? 

Easy answer; because this reveals the dirt under the nails in our favourite stories (although I have to wait another season for The Tholian Web). I could find something new on every single page as you read through the story of each episode from inception through development, filming, post-production, viewing figures and even letters received by the studio once the shows had aired. It feels that there is no frame of film left untouched by this book - every (major) decision seems to be noted or discussed from model shots to cast entrances, story lines through to wardrobe decisions. With each episode there is always something different or a point that is being grumbled over for a quick resolution.

Take a couple of fan favourites  - The Trouble with Tribbles for instance; originally not a comedy nor Tribbles but the pages here chart an extraordinary evolution, the changes, the reasons why and how they came about. Sometimes it was more from a fluke thought than a huge idea-bashing session or a spark came from the mind of a more experienced story editor such as Gene Coon (Gerrold did a big edit that ensured he kept the main credit for the episode). How about the fact The Doomsday Machine - one of the ultimate classics of the show - came in under budget and in a record number of days for the second season? What about the hotch-potch stories that got stitched and moulded together into Patterns of Force that you might not have known about? Maybe you're just interested in finding out about the torrid events and dealings that went into the making of the aborted series pilot that was Assignment: Earth? It's all in here and there's so much more to discover as you go. Get reading. That's an order.

Every episode will at some point have you uttering the word, "Really?!" or the phrase; "I did not know that." In fact your opinions on a few episodes might just change when you read what took to get them to the screen. While you might not like what ended up on TV, the journey there was more fraught than you might care to imagine; The Omega Glory can take a bow for that. I loved the narrative that accompanies this episode - one of the three original ideas for the second pilot.

Here Marc's own voice is quite strong in support showing that there is definitely a degree of passion and support to ensure we appreciate every frame of the series and what went on. With The Omega Glory though it's slated by those who worked on it but by the end of that section you genuinely feel that it's one of Star Trek's all-time misunderstood episodes. It's a mark of the depth to which Cushman has researched that there is such a level of evidence in each chapter that you are called upon to examine every aspect of the show from the ground up not only in each chapter but after each watching of the series and then, most likely again when you head back to cross-reference in These are the Voyages.

The additional sections within the book are essential to getting your feet under the Star Trek table and knowing what influenced the show's background evolution - whether it be ever-increasing levels of infighting, the Hollywood press rumour mill or true stories of how-it-happened-on-that-day, it's all here and explains why the legendary show turned left instead of right or hired one person rather than another. Rarely do I leaf through an appendix but here the story assignment list is a must see. While we get to know how and when a story was planned and assigned, there are a number which fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons. These are covered in their own chapter but here the true extent of how many were unused, unworthy or too expensive can be easily visualised. I suspect that if we clustered all the unmade episodes from '66 to '69 there would be enough for one more (over-budget) season without another idea being submitted.

Even more inviting are the viewing figures which are more than pleasing but were no help to Gene Roddenberry as his relationship with the network went from bad to worse to downright catastrophic over the course of the year. To tell you the truth I came out of reading this book with a mixed view on the show's creator as well as a totally different perspective on Gene Coon - neither of which I expected when I started the season. Marc's style makes this ever more accessible and easy to understand. 

This isn't a book to sit down and read from cover to cover either. I found it much more beneficial to dip in and out of the chapters, reading each episode as a section rather than overloading the old grey matter with line after line after line of new and surprising information. We covered some of these points in our audio interview recently but there are loads more to discover. In fact let me expand on that.

Each evening I chose at random an episode or a section to read and this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the overall product. In some way the weaker or less well known episodes provide more layers to the overall picture and the epilogue as is provides a key link to the third year. I had expected the letter-writing campaign and subsequent resurrection of Star Trek to be featured as the opening to the final These are the Voyages but there's something that feels so right about using that event; that pivotal fan-led mission, as the final chapter here.  Actually the work Cushman does here does indeed open up the true story - the volume of letters, what actually happened, how narked the network were that they got a vast amount of "Thank You" letters once the show was picked up for the '68-'69 season.

Marc's six year research project is now two-thirds complete and, even with the criticisms that were levelled against book one this is an absolute essential for your Star Trek library. The other books which exist will always have their place - they are part of the history of the show and reflect the views of the last fifty years through the eyes of fans and those involved. Marc Cushman may well be the last person to document the stories of those who were there at the time; those people who were in front and behind the camera for those defining years in TV history and it would have been criminal if their stories had never been properly documented. Many of them have never been interviewed before in regards to their involvement with Star Trek but their observations and recollections are now secure for generations of fans now and in the future; new and existing.

Go out, get a copy and barricade yourself into a room with a DVD player, TV and this book. You won't regret a second because afterwards you'll know all that there is to know about the second season. Just make sure you resurface to purchase the third volume.

These are the Voyages is available right now from Jacobs Brown priced $29.95. You can purchase your copy by dropping over to the site HERE.

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