God, I love New Voyages. I mean, Phase II. I have never, ever felt disappointed after watching one of these.
My first surprise was that "Blood and Fire, Part One" has been made available for download. When their previous episode "World Enough and Time" was released, they said they were doing away with downloads in favor of streaming video to keep bootlegging down. Well, apparently they've changed their mind, because the first part of "Blood and Fire" is available for download from www.startreknewvoyages.com.
For those who may not know, "Blood and Fire" was originally written to be a first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. It was written by David Gerrold, who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles" on the original series and who was deeply involved in the development of Next Generation at the time. The episode itself was meant to be a metaphor for AIDS, and was supposed to introduce a gay officer, who was really only intended to be in that episode. For various reasons, the staff got cold feet and the story was scrapped. This was one of the reasons that Gerrold ended up leaving Next Generation. (Another reason being that he felt Rick Berman had been politically placed as Paramount's controlling agent for the show. Apparently he saw the writing on the wall way early.)
Gerrold has sold his scripts for the episode at conventions, and rewritten it as an original fiction book. James Cawley of New Voyages approached him about doing it as one of his Trek fan films. Gerrold agreed, and it's now the first episode under New Voyages new title, Star Trek:Phase II.
I've read a detailed description of the original script, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. All the same, this still held a lot of surprises. The gay character is no longer just a once-off character, but Kirk's nephew Peter, returning from the original series episode "Operation: Annhilate!" The ship that the Enterprise comes to the rescue of is a TV-era version of the Miranda class (that's the Reliant from Wrath of Khan to you non-ship-obsessed people), and man is she a beauty. Peter Kirk's room-mate is Xon-- the Vulcan that was originally planned to replace Mr. Spock when Paramount planned on bringing the original series back, and then opted to make Star Trek: The Motion Picture instead.
And James Cawley has really nailed down his William Shatner impression.
I'm not too keen on Ben Tolpin, who replaces Jeff Quinn as Mr. Spock. While Jeff Quinn always struck me as too young to be believable as Spock, Ben Tolpin comes across as too... well, nasal. I don't know how else to put it. His dialogue is totally Spock, but his delivery just feels all wrong. But I've never seen anyone else portray Spock and have it feel like Spock to me, so I'm probably just being too hard on poor Mr. Tolpin. Besides, this is a fan film. I'll be holding Zachary Quinto to a higher standard next summer.
Bobby Rice is great as Peter Kirk. His ranting scene comes off a bit flat, but everything else with him in it is great, and he and Evan Fowler (as Peter's love interest, Alex Freeman) are very believable together. (Although I do feel their big "make-out scene" was over the top-- yes, I know Jim Kirk constantly had his shirt off, and he constantly made out with the ladies, and he even made out with one or two of them with his shirt off... but I don't recall any of them kissing his nipple.)
Other things I really liked: (1) Kim Stinger as Uhura, (2) The pacing feels great... did I mention they turned it into a two-parter when they rewrote it? The new material uses a lot of character growth. The scenes between the main characters, such as Kirk and Spock discussing Peter's having a fiancee and especially the ending to the scene in the briefing room between Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov and McCoy just rang pure, classic Trek. Waitaminute, I guess that counts as (3). (4) Copernicus having its own ship insignia... man I miss that, I wish they'd never done away it in the official Trek. (5) The fact that since this is a rewrite, the only characters to be bulletproof from the cliffhanger are Spock and Rand. Waitaminute, this is the series that killed off Chekov and didn't feel the need to explain how he came back. Never mind...
My whiny fanboy nit-picks: (1) The Copernicus is NCC-1893. The Reliant was NCC-1864. Since the Copernicus is presumably newer than the Enterprise but younger than the Reliant, I would have liked it better if it was somewhere between 1701 and 1864, like 1792 or something. (2) Kirk and Scotty discuss transporter biofilters at one point, which is totally a Next Gen era only thing, but I can see how it slipped in since the script was originally written for that time period. (3) While I'm happy to see Xon brought in, I'm disappointed that it seems he bears little or no resemblance to the original plan for Xon. The idea was that since he was serving on a ship full of humans, he was looking at it as a great experiment to try to learn about and understand emotions. The concept of a Vulcan who was willing to learn to find emotions within himself sounded like a great idea to me. I realize that this is what they wound up doing with Data, but I think it would be very different here-- Data wanted to be human. Xon would stll be proud of being a Vulcan, but not afraid of learning something that his people shunned. Ah well, maybe he'll get to do more of that in a later episode.
And lastly... that I have no idea how long I'll have to wait for Part Two!!
But that's okay... New Voyages has always been worth the wait. And it still is as Phase II.