Wow. I'm in awe of Star Trek fans.
So... Star Trek. Doctor Who had a sixteen-year hiatus, but that's shorter than Star Trek's hibernation between TOS and TNG alone (1969-1987), plus another ongoing one that's been running since Enterprise (2005+). Admittedly that's handwaving a dozen movies, an animated TV series and lots of spin-offs in other media (books, comics, etc.), but that's still a recipe for fan frustration. What's more, some of those TV-starved fans have made their own new episodes. As far as I can tell, the two best-regarded fan series are both still running at the moment and they're New Voyages/Phase II (2004+) and Star Trek Continues (2013+). This is the third episode of the latter and as a not-for-profit fan film I saw for free on YouTube, it blew my mind.
If you didn't know it was a fan film, you'd probably think this was official. Production-wise, it's flawless. It looks, sounds and probably smells indistinguishable from original 1960s Trek. The sets were built exactly to the TOS soundstage drawings, which are available online. Quoting Vic Mignogna...
"Then beyond that, we made sure to choose the right colors to paint and get the right carpet, and then either buy or build the pieces necessary to re-create all of the details. Like the pieces that hang on the walls, the intercoms, the nameplates, the emitters in the ceiling of the transporter room, the holographic-looking material that covers the alcove in the corridor, etcetera. Even down to the details of Captain Kirk's quarters. We actually sculpted the little statutes on the counter out of clay."
They're also reproducing the lighting, the blocking, the acting style and the sound design. They're using the original sound effects, which are all online too. They're doing it properly and it clearly cost a fair bit. The first episode was funded via Kickstarter. I'd have still liked it had it been a few fans in a garage, but the level of commitment that went into this sends the nostalgia buzz through the roof. It's a joy to watch, just to see how wholeheartedly they've gone for it.
The nearest thing we have to a weak link is the acting and even that wildly outdid my expectations. I'll provide some numbers, on a 0-10 scale from "primary school nativity play" to "Sir Laurence Olivier". Most fan films are 1-3, while professional actors on TV are 7-10. This is about 6-8. Kirk (Vic Mignogna) is wonderful, Spock (Todd Haberkorn) is disappointing and most of the others are between "good" and "fine".
Mignogna's a professional voice actor, by the way, who won an American Anime Award for Best Actor in 2007 for Fullmetal Alchemist. Firstly, if you'll let me be shallow about this for a moment, he looks right. He's more handsome and chiselled than Shatner, with more interesting angles in his face, but there's something Shatnerish about his face and it's satisfying to see him play the role. Far more importantly, though, he's both doing a spot-on imitation of Shatner and incorporating that into a proper performance. (Neither of those should be taken for granted.) They're not just empty Shatnerisms. They live and breathe. It's wonderful. The little hesitations, the swagger... he carries the episode triumphantly, even as the baddie. (It's a Mirror Universe episode, so this is Evil Kirk. Pretty much the first thing he does is commit genocide on the Halkans.)
Haberkorn's also a professional voice actor who's done lots of anime, as it happens, but I don't think he succeeds here. Firstly, Haberkorn looks less interesting than Nimoy. He's got a blander, less expressive face, which here is struggling to get past Spock's pudding bowl haircut and the Evil Spock Beard. More fundamentally, though, I think it's deceptively hard to play Vulcans. Nimoy was so good that he made it look easy, but my limited viewing has suggested that Jolene Blalock failed in Enterprise and Haberkorn similarly fails here. The emotionless nullifies them. They just don't seem dynamic or interesting. You don't care.
That's a particular problem here, because this is a sequel to "Mirror, Mirror", with an counter-imperial revolution courtesy of mirror-Spock. Fortunately there's always the flamboyance of Mignogna to keep us entertained, but I'm afraid Haberkorn is merely at "doing his job" level. He's competent and I can understand why fan reviewers have even called him good, but they're wrong.
They've also managed to get Michael Dorn (Worf) as the voice of the mirror Enterprise's computer, although I didn't notice at the time and only discovered that when reading about the episode online afterwards.
All that's half of the picture. What about the script?
It's set in the mirror universe, so it's great. That's the proper mirror universe (i.e. with evil bastards), rather than its watered-down descendant in Deep Space Nine. The story also feels chunky and meaningful. Spock's going up against the Empire for the greater good and making a mortal enemy of Kirk, so there's plenty to get your teeth into. It's a mutiny! There's not going to be a reset button! The goodies and baddies are at each other's throats, even as Spock tries to discuss morality with his captain.
The script's also following up the original 1967 episode with admirable fidelity, down to details like the agony booth and the vapourising TV screen. My only comment script-wise is that there isn't the sense one got from "Mirror, Mirror" of absolutely everyone being a bloodthirsty, backstabbing killer in waiting. Spock's turned good and, what's more, he's going to end up recruiting most of the people he talks to. All the evil comes from Kirk and, briefly, Dr McCoy. However the good news is that Mignogna's going to town so much with Evil Kirk that that's more than enough and you're more than happy with the evil levels.
I laughed at their mirror version of the title sequence song, by the way.
There's also a sly nearly-gag with Sulu. When he's in bed with someone, is that a male or a female arm? (The answer, after a few tantalising seconds, is "female".) The alternative would have been funnier, but it would have been a cheap gag at the expense of the fictional character (who's presumably established as heterosexual with an in-story romance or two?) simply because of the actor who used to play him.
As a fan video, it's jaw-dropping. Even just as Star Trek, making no allowances, it's very good. There's a confidence that comes from having made two episodes already and knowing you're making something strong. It's a rock-solid production with an intelligent script and a cast that includes Mignogna. I was massively impressed.