Saturday, 23 January 2016

Mothering Instinct: New Voyages' The Holiest Thing

After an extensive delay it seemed that New Voyages' latest offering slipped on line with almost no fanfare whatsoever.

Which is an utter disservice because The Holiest Thing is a cracking hour of original Star Trek material; in fact one of the best they've produced. Be warned if you've not watched it yet, there will be SPOILERS as we examine their ninth installment. 

With a slight revamp of the ship, we find the USS Enterprise attending Lappa III and a terraforming project led by Doctor Carol Marcus (Jacy King). An apparently freak accident vapourises the Federation ground base and leaves a large crater prompting Kirk to launch a full scale investigation.

The episode, written by Rick Chambers, is the origin story of the Kirk/Marcus relationship that formed a central part of The Wrath of Khan and will no doubt be totally overlooked for the upcoming Beyond.  It also marks the first time Brian Gross took on the role of Kirk even though we've already seen him in Mind Sifter which was released last year. That episode was a lot darker than the material Gross is presented with in The Holiest Thing and acts as a great comparison to show the range he is able to carry in the lead role. I actually preferred Brian here in a story that felt much more personal which I suspect was helped due to the fact that this is a script which focuses on a select number of the crew.

It's been a long time coming for The Holiest Thing. Originally set to be uploaded for Valentine's Day 2014 - as promo'ed at the end of Kitumba - but the choice was made to hold the release, rework it, give it an even better polish and present it to the world in a format that the production team were happy with. I can't fault the decision because it's a great episode for the most part led by a top script and some of - if not the best - lead acting in an episode of New Voyages.

As I've noted, Brian Gross is exceptional as Kirk and suits the more intimate one-on-one material and certainly exploring the captain's softer side is something that he's nailed. Perhaps the bigger surprise - and a pleasant one - is Jacy King as Carol Marcus. Whether delivering technobabble or expressing her emotions to Kirk as their relationship develops, King is totally believable and may well be the real star here. I found her performance one of the best in New Voyages and certainly their strongest guest star to date.

Also returning are Brandon Stacey as Mr Spock and John Kelley as Doctor McCoy. Both are firm stalwarts of the New Voyages episodes providing their usual, excellent portrayals of the iconic characters. Oddly though, Stacey does seem to be opening up Spock's emotional side with a hint of his human half ebbing through in more than one scene. Both Spock and McCoy play critical roles here. The science officer leads the investigation into the events that have transpired on the planet surface with Doctor Marcus and stands to the "business" aspect of Kirk. On the other side we have the Chief Medical Officer who acts to calm the captain's emotions as he falls for Carol. Kelley always seems to revel in the role and his interactions with Kirk are particularly good to watch and balance against some of the conflict/uneasiness you can sense the captain has with Spock in this story. I kind of think the Vulcan is finding his bromance threatened with that discomfort more than evident.

The choice to place Scotty, Sulu and Uhura (no Chekov this time) very much in the background does mean that their actors don't get a huge shot at the limelight here but it means the pacing is kept particularly tight and there's no baggage here. Everything just damn well works and it's a great episode from beginning to end. Chambers also drops in some key points that homage the second Star Trek feature film - terraforming, life from lifelessness, protomatter and more. The nice thing is that they actually work within the script and don't feel like the writer is just hammering them in for the sake of making fans go into continuity overload.

Graphically it's once again superb. The updated nacelles and forward torpedo tubes start to make the transition from TV to movie starship. For some this might seem a bit weird but I'd recommend watching the vignette Going Boldly which shows the upgrades taking place.  Sadly there's no CG Lieutenant Arex this time but we can hope for the future! The Ferengi ship too is very faithful to their species and the confrontation between the two vessels is stunning with the Enterprise emerging from the darkness to discover the hidden opponent. The environment of Lappa III is well realised in both the opening segment and in the away mission undertaken by Spock and Marcus. Nod for the homage to the forcefield spacesuits of The Animated Series too! 

This is all well and good for the first 43 minutes but then things take a bit of a turn. For the first section of the episode we've been wondering what has been the cause of the explosion - an accident or outside intervention? When it's revealed that there's an alien ship hiding out we have some idea that there's more to this than we initially thought but the problem I have is who these aliens are revealed to be - the Ferengi.

While their motivations are feasible and trade with the outpost (unbeknownst to Doctor Marcus) to provide them with the ability to make protomatter makes total sense, I don't see why it had to be the Ferengi. It could have been a new race, even Romulans for instance but the appearance of the galaxy's most profit-hungry merchants doesn't seem to fit. The performance of guest star Clayton Sayre as the Ferengi Commander is spot on but they aren't a race I would associate at all with The Original Series.

The other challenge this episode has is the pacing of the last ten minutes. Chambers has done a magnificent job to this point but then we seem to have a lot that he wants to cover in a very short period of time; the reason for Carol requesting that Kirk leaves her alone and "stays away" and that she's pregnant. Hang on a minute - haven't these two only been together for a matter of days?! That's good going if ever...

I appreciate that the Kirk/Marcus origins story is something never covered onscreen but to ram such big plot points into a tight epilogue does make it feel very rushed. I actually believe they could have left off both these points and kept this story as an initial meeting and the start of a relationship. Certainly the concluding revelation does line up with the concept of Marcus as the "mother" of new worlds (if only she knew...) but this could have been explored in a follow up or even just a little vignette/afterwards.

One final point has to be to recognise Carl Sheldon who appears as the older Scotty in the prologue and epilogue of The Holiest Thing. Very similar to the wraparound of Captain Sulu in World Enough and Time it shifts the series firmly to the modern day and recognising the later spinoffs while adding a new twist to the classic series. It's also one piece of the episode that was shot long after the original material was filmed thanks to Kickstarter funds raised by fans.

New Voyages has played a blinder here. A truly great character episode that has evaded the screen for too long. Gross has certainly affirmed his abilities in the role of Kirk and I simply can't wait to see what the next story, Torment of Destiny, has to offer. This is set as a sequel to the classic For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky guest starring Battlestar Galactica's Richard Hatch. Plus it seems we may eventually get to see the lost Origins story written and directed by David Gerrold. Hopefully more on that one soon.

Did you enjoy The Holiest Thing? Is it one of New Voyages' finest hours?

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