Shiny Shelf

Star Trek: New Voyages: World Enough and Time

By Jim Smith on 23 December 2007

Star TrekThe fan-produced ‘Star Trek’ webisode ‘World Enough and Time’ far exceeds any expectations that could reasonably be placed upon it. Its production values are consistently of a standard equal to, or even above, contemporary science fiction television and it is at times quite strikingly well directed. It is also, for the most part, tremendously well performed and at no point do you, as an audience member, finds yourself patronising it by excusing aspects of the programme by referring to its semi-professional nature.

Beyond the nuts and bolts of this aforementioned ‘competence’ (I don’t want, by saying that, to sound like I am damning with faint praise, by the way, apologies if I do) there’s the equally important fact that the webisode really does feel like it belongs within ‘Star Trek’ the television series as conceived and produced by Gene Roddenberry. There’s an undeniable, identifiable feeling when watching this that ‘World Enough and Time’ is somehow ‘the real deal’.

Despite the framing sequence set after ‘The Undiscovered Country’, the digital widescreen photography and the often jaw-dropping CGI effects, all of which would seem anachronistic to the stated aim of “recreating The Original Series” ‘World Enough and Time’ genuinely does seem to come from some hypothetical fourth or fifth season of ‘Star Trek’ proper. What this of course demonstrates is that Senior Executive Producer James Cawley and his team have succeeded in capturing the substance of the original ‘Star Trek’ even while acknowledging that the characters have a future we have already seen, abandoning 4:3/film and allowing themselves free rein with the wonders of modern technology.

That which has allowed them to capture the essence of Roddenberry’s show is not simply the astonishingly recreated sets and a meticulous attention to costume detail but also the fact that the episode has a thoughtful, well-worked through script which succeeds in both telling a compelling story and in shedding new and interesting light on familiar characters. So many ‘fan films’ have scripts which commit the primary sins of bad fan fiction, seeming like fantasy wish fufillments or a series of ticks on lists of ‘things I wanna do’. This is in no way the case with Michael Reaves and Marc Scott Zicree’s screenplay for ‘World Enough and Time’ which makes the telling of its story and the illumination of its central characters’ personalities its only concerns.

Dealing with its characters convincingly is an aspect that the script has to work particularly hard at because these characters are, for the most part, played by actors other than those that made these parts famous. Lets face it, in an ongoing series most people will accept a badly scripted or out of character action from a regular character because the actor has the right face. ‘World Enough and Time’ has no such leeway; its script needs to be spot on and its new cast need to be deliver over and above the norm in order to be merely accepted. This is the nature of the herculean task that Reaves, Cawley, Zicree (who also directs) and co have set themselves.

Somehow, despite the scale of the challenge, between them these actors and this script manage to convince us, the audience, that we are watching Kirk and Spock and Bones and co, even though we know we’re not watching Shatner and Nimoy, etc. In fact, for me, the script’s real delight is that all of the returning characters are written with such skill, precision and obvious care. For example, Spock’s observation that it is grammatically incorrect to place a modifier before unique, an objection for which he then immediately apologises, had me punching the air in delight. It is a perfect Spock moment and it’s written and played (by one Jeff Quinn) so well that I honestly didn’t mind that it wasn’t Nimoy doing the playing. This is something I thought would never happen, to be honest. There are countless other examples of great ‘Star Trek’ character moments littered throughout the episode.

Equally, while I’ve heard him criticised elsewhere, I’ve nothing but admiration for James Cawley’s performance as Captain Kirk. I think Cawley gets it. He gets that Kirk-the-character is distinct from Kirk-the-icon and he knows that he has to play them both, sometimes in the same word, for Kirk to work onscreen. He also knows that there is a sense in which Shatner simply is Kirk, but that for someone else to be Kirk, they can’t simply slavishly imitate Shatner’s performance. That’s impersonation, not acting and Cawley knows the difference and exactly how to split it. I watch Cawley, I see Kirk, in pretty much the same way that when I watch (Shiny Shelf’s pal) Martin Landau in ‘Ed Wood’ I see Bela Lugosi not Martin. For the sake of the future of the franchise I can only hope that Chris Pine is as good as Cawley is at finding his inner Jim Kirk. I really mean that.

So, Cawley I like. Quinn, I honestly love. John Kelly, who essays the role of McCoy with an astonished yet laidback grumpiness that suggests the wonderful De Kelley without imitating him, I can at least buy as Bones. Andy Bray is a bright, engaging, believable Chekov and Julienne Irons is perfect as Uhura. She’s beautiful, poised, compassionate and warm and does a great deal with very little screen time. Which is exactly how I’d describe Nichelle Nicholls in the part, if asked. Charles Root, as Scotty, is basically doing an impersonation of Jimmy Doohan. His look and inflection are right but, unlike his castmates, he doesn’t bring seem to be bringing anything extra to the table. That said, he also isn’t doing anything particularly wrong so I have no real complaints. (By the way, for those of you with an attitude to ‘canon’ so uncompromising that you can’t accept the concept of re-cast, how about this? As the bulk of the episode consists of the older, and played by George Takei, Captain Sulu’s memories, this is how he recalls his former colleagues looking and sounding rather than what they were literally like? I don’t have an issue with the concept of re-casting myself, but it’s a straw for you to grasp should you feel you need one.)

Of course, the real star of the show, both for the audience and in the credits, is George Takei, returning to the role of Sulu after more than ten years. I have mentioned in the past, possibly in work for this site, that the conclusion of the ‘Voyager’ episode ‘Flashback’ meant that what was for a long time almost certain to be the audience’s last ever glimpse of Sulu was of his back and shoulder while he repeated dialogue we couldn’t hear while trapped in a less interesting character’s hallucination. Which is hardly going out in a blaze of glory, lets face it.

I’m never sure I buy comments from people who claim any character other than Kirk, Spock or Bones as their favourite from the original series, simply because none of the characters ever get enough to do to establish themselves as the equals of the show’s three ‘in the titles’ stars. Nevertheless, I think George Takei has oodles of charm, ability and star quality as a performer. For example he even manages to make his one line in ‘Never So Few’ interesting and funny while his ‘Indian Summer’ role in ‘Heroes’ is a delight. Sulu, though, is so infrequently given a chance to shine onscreen that there’s not enough there for me to become quite as enthused about as I can with Kirk, Spock or McCoy.

It’s a delight to report then that here, elevated to centre stage for the first time, Takei demonstrates comprehensively that both character and actor could have handled far more than the producers of ‘Star Trek’ ever chose to throw at him. Takei gives a tremendous performance here, one which includes a couple of character moments which are played with such a delicate touch they could genuinely provoke grown men to tears. Sulu’s relationship with his daughter Alana is touchingly and genuinely played and young Christina Moses (Alana) matches the veteran Takei every step of the way, making this family – and its life or death dilemma – seem entirely real. Moses seizes a character that could be slight in the hands of a lesser performer and makes her and her fate matter to the audience.

In ‘World Enough and Time’ Sulu goes through a proper character story, and is the unequivocal focus of a whole episode, for the first time in the long history of his character and Takei rises to the challenge magnificently. When I worked on the audio ‘Blake’s 7’ revival a few years ago a reviewer was kind enough to comment to me that they thought that Paul Darrow gave his best ever (out of fifty three!) performance as Avon in our show, bettering any of those from the TV series. It wasn’t for me to agree or disagree with that, but I find myself thinking something along the same lines here. I don’t think Takei has ever been better as Sulu than he is in ‘World Enough and Time’ and I would very much like to see this richer, broader, stronger Sulu again. I am now very firmly of the opinion that some kind of Takei-led Captain Sulu webisode, straight-to-DVD episode or even animation next year would be an entirely fitting companion piece to J J Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ movie, due to be released at the very end of 2008.

‘World Enough and Time’ isn’t really a fan production. If it talks like a duck and walks like a duck, the chances are that it’s a duck. By those criteria, then, ‘World Enough and Time’ is simply an episode of ‘Star Trek’ and a bloody good episode of ‘Star Trek’ at that, something that can unashamedly sit alongside, even within, ‘Star Trek’ itself. The whole piece is simply a joy from start to finish.

You remember that review where I said that ‘In A Mirror, Darkly’ was the first truly essential ‘Star Trek’ episode of the twenty first century? Well this is the second one. Straight up. So log in and go see it. You’ll thank me when you have.

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