On October 5 and five days later on October 10, CBS released the newest two 15-minute episodes of SHORT TREKS to All Access subscribers in America (sorry, rest of the world): “Q and A” and “The Trouble with Edward”…or as I like to call them: the latest two fan films from CBS.
CBS was actually rather quiet about marketing the debut of these two Short Treks, releasing the first on the same Saturday they announced it would be available (during a presentation at New York Comic Con) and the second during Thursday Night Football later that week. In fact, the rest of the Short Treks will also be premiering during Thursday Night Football (as will STAR TREK: PICARD) because that’s when the majority of All Access subscribers are watching (don’t ask me how I know that). Here’s the schedule for the remaining new Short Treks:
- “Ask Not” – Thursday, Nov. 14
- “The Girl Who Made the Stars” – Thursday, Dec. 12
- “Ephraim and Dot” – Thursday, Dec. 12
- “Children of Mars” – Thursday, Jan. 9
Because CBS is targeting the sports viewers of All Access with these “15-minute commercials” more than they are the hard core fans, many folks weren’t even aware that Short Treks had already debuted. In fact, I took an informal poll on the Fan Film Forum Facebook group and discovered that 40% of our responding members had no idea any new Short Treks were available….
But since these two episodes have, indeed, been released, how about we do a good ol’ editorial review? Or rather, let’s make it a two-parter since there were two Short Treks…
IS IT FAIR TO CALL THEM “FAN FILMS”?
As I was wondering what to title this blog (and what to focus on), I kept coming back to the concept that these Short Treks are essentially very high quality fan films produced and released by the Star Trek copyright holder, CBS Paramount (ah, the band is back together!). Of course, since CBSP does own the property, that sorta puts the kibosh on calling them “fan” films, right? And lest we forget, CBS also gets to use actual Star Trek actors and pay professional people…all the stuff we fans aren’t allowed to do because of those pesky guidelines.
But let’s put all of that aside for the moment and just look at the 15-minute runtime limit. This particular restriction has forced most fan films to fit into the same “tiny box” as these Short Treks…and it’s certainly a challenge. But it CAN be done and, in some very notable cases, done very well (I’m looking at you, HOLY CORE and LINE OF DUTY!). And of course, we fans actually get two 15-minute segments for our stories, or 30 minutes total, while CBS is constraining themselves to just that single 15-minute limit.
And in this way, the Short Treks really do provide a fascinating comparison to our Star Trek fan films. In fact, during my Facebook poll, a number of members of Fan Film Forum also mentioned that they thought of Short Treks as fan films, even though the rights-holders were producing them with the Trek actors. So my instincts weren’t wrong.
THE WAY I WATCH FAN FILMS IS THE WAY I WATCH SHORT TREKS
In one of my very first Fan Film Factor blogs, I state my Prime Directive of fan films…
- There is no such thing as a bad Star Trek fan film.
- If you see a bad Star Trek fan film, refer to Rule #1.
I’m not naive. I know that many Trek fan films fall far short of perfection and some can be downright painful to watch at times. Others are surprisingly good, and a notable few are excellent. I simply believe that even the weakest fan films took time and dedication and passion to make, and those efforts are deserving of respect and, when I have a chance, recognition.
The way I watch most fan films is to tell myself that I’m a parent watching my kid in a school play. Most times, you are not expecting an evening of Hamilton or Les Miserables on Broadway. But when your kid comes out, you cherish the moment in your own special way because you love your child. I love Star Trek, and that’s why I love Star Trek fan films…even the ones that test the limits of Rule #2 above.
But here’s the problem: I shouldn’t be watching Short Treks in the same way I watch Trek fan films, should I? I shouldn’t be smiling pleasantly, applauding, and liking it simply because it’s Star Trek and I love Star Trek.
So when it comes to Short Treks, yes, there IS such a thing as a bad episode.
“Q & A” – NEVER LET STAR TREK GET IN THE WAY OF TELLING A STORY…
The fact is that I kinda had a love/hate relationship with the two Short Treks that just debuted. (For more elaborate summaries and reviews of each, click here for “Q & A” and here for “The Trouble with Edward.”)
So what’s to love?
Well, for “Q&A,” the answer was “quite a bit, actually.” First of all, give Captain Pike and Number One their own series already! Although we don’t see Anson Mount at all, we do see Rebecca Romijn as Lt. Cmdr. Una…a.k.a. “Number One.” And as good as Mount was in bringing Captain Pike to life during Discovery season two, Romijn did more in her 15 minutes this episode to blossom her character than in all three of her frustratingly-limited appearances last season. Give these two amazing actors more to do, and they WILL deliver…and we fans will have two amazing new/old characters to fall in love with all over again.
And indeed, Romijn wasn’t doing this all herself. She was speaking lines written by award-winning novelist Michael Chabon (who is show-runner on Picard…a good sign!). Chabon wrote the only Short Trek from last season that I really liked, “Calypso,” so he’s two-for-two now. And I also have to credit Ethan Peck as Spock. It’s a tough act to follow Leonard Nimoy, but Peck is doing a decent job of bringing some interesting aspects to the character.
I also liked the little nods to TOS like including the correct serial number for Spock (from “Court Martial”) and playing with the “There’s no need to shout” (also “The Corbomite Maneuver”).
But then it all went to hell in a turbolift as that brief respect for Star Trek canon turned into a complete lack of respect for canon because the story began to take precedence. The more I think about it, this has been Discovery‘s problem almost since day one. The writers/producers have a story that they desperately want to tell, and Star Trek and 50 years of canon be damned!
I’m not talking about changing the Klingons or turning Section 31 into a publicly-known division of Starfleet with its own badge. I mean that Star Trek has certain established rules and expectations. And for the most part, up until now, all the various Star Trek TV series and movies have tried very hard to follow them. Sure, there’s the occasional glitch here and there: Kirk doesn’t send down a shuttlecraft to rescue the freezing landing party in “The Enemy Within” or Robert Fox beams down to Eminiar VII even though the Enterprise‘s shields are up. But those were early screw ups. And the 78 decks numbered backwards in Star Trek V don’t count either because, well, Star Trek V.
But for the most part, fans expect studio-produced Star Trek to hew to the “rules” set up for this reality we’ve suspended our disbelief to commit to. However, this hasn’t really happened with Discovery as magic mushroom drives are now part of history (until the writers erase that history) and Starfleet created Skynet. And everything that sticks up a middle finger to Star Trek—and even to believability in general—does so because the story drives it. The tail wags the dog. There are now “new” rules for Star Trek, and we fans are forced to accept them or else just stop watching. And some have chosen to do so. The rest of us are stuck having to “unlearn what we have learned.” Klingons now control time but don’t use the power to defeat the Federation. Got it.
But what happens when Star Trek begins violating even its own “new” rules? This happened in Discovery when Lorca is sensitive to bright light and keeps Discovery‘s illumination dim. Great story idea, and now revised canon has established that Mirror Universe folks like it dark. Okay. But what about Empress Georgiou? She’s been on some pretty bright starships. No eye problems for her! Now, maybe Section 31 did some kind of procedure on her. If so, maybe tell the viewers. It would only take a few seconds of screen time.
What does this have to do with “Q&A”? Well, once again, the writers and producers are violating their own “new” rules. For example, according to Discovery‘s opening episode of season two, the uniforms worn by Pike, Number One, and the rest of the Enterprise crew are the “newest” in Starfleet…and Discovery just hasn’t gotten the update yet. Okay, fine. But in “Q&A,” we travel back a few years to when Ensign Spock first joins the Enterprise crew. This is at least three years earlier. Shouldn’t the Enterprise crewmen (and women) in “Q&A” be wearing the dark blue uniforms with the shiny gold/silver/bronze division colors?
Of course, the real reason Spock and Number One aren’t wearing those Discovery uniforms is they cost money to make, and Short Treks = super-low budget. But personally, I think they should have splurged. It would have helped set the time period as being years earlier and strengthened their own retro-canon. Instead, we have yet another discontinuity to either deal with or reluctantly just ignore.
Another example of the story being more important than honoring Star Trek is that the basic premise involves having Spock and Number One get stuck in a turbolift and ending up baring their innermost thoughts to each other. It’s a good idea…a solid idea. But it requires one essential story point to be believed: two officers have to actually get stuck in a turbolift on the USS Enterprise. Oh, I’m sure such things happen from time to time. In fact, it might even be pretty common—so common, in fact, that it shouldn’t take hours and hours to get someone out!
What if there were a red alert and the captain was stuck in the turbolift and needed on the bridge? What if a wounded crewman was inside? Do you know what a good engineer would do in such an emergency? That’s right: use the transporter! That’s Star Trek 101. Can’t use the transporter? Then open the doors at the next deck and send down a frickin’ ladder! Oh, wait, this isn’t the USS Enterprise that makes sense. This is a version of starship where turbolifts are like the Wonkavator traveling through Willy Wonka’s factory…
Those two scenes of the turbolift “atrium” both made me cringe. In outer space, there isn’t that much inner space on a starship! Everything is crammed together, and “wide open spaces” are at a premium. And even if we believe that, yes, the insides of the turboshafts are more TARDIS than starship, engineers still have to “rappel” down like they’re climbing a mountain? Sheesh! Just turn off the ship’s gravity for two minutes, rescue the ship’s first officer, and then fix the damn turbolift later! And wait, isn’t the artificial gravity in starships due to “gravity webs” inside the floors. Why is there gravity inside the turboshafts in the first place? That makes absolutely no sense, Spock!
Look, I’m not saying that the writers have to ditch a great story idea just to “honor” Star Trek rules. Just add in a little technobabble that explains the issue…something like: “Sorry, Number One, there’s a glitch in the atmospheric containment system. Emergency forcefields snapped on in some of the turbo shafts. We can’t beam you out or get to the emergency hatches at the moment. But we’ll have the problem fixed soon. Engineering out.” Simple. Ten seconds of dialogue and you’re good to go.
Oh, and then this happened…
I’m still not sure how I feel about that scene. I mean, I get what they were trying to do. And it’s not like Mr. Spock hasn’t shown a penchant for music before. He played the Vulcan lyre for Uhura in “Charlie X” and jammed with the space hippies in “The Way to Eden.” Oh, and let’s not forget this…
And, um, this…
So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Spock can croon some lyrics from a 400-year-old earth musical. Whether Number One knows The Pirates of Penzance and would spontaneously explode into joyous song in private to “get her freak on” is irrelevant. It’s an interesting moment for her newly (re)defined character. But for Spock to burst into laughter immediately afterwards, well, I just don’t know. I realize that this is a younger Spock, the Spock who smiled when he touched the singing flowers of Talos IV…
But still, for me, the character would not burst into laughter so easily…even after being stuck in a turbolift for two hours with a brand new superior officer (especially then!). I don’t care whether she seems like a kindred spirit. Vulcans simply don’t do that unless they’re Sybok—and Spock was never Sybok’s biggest fan.
Now, did any of the above gripes ruin the episode for me? Not really. I was likewise able to enjoy most of the episodes of Discovery’s second season and a couple from the first…despite the often frustrating divergences from Star Trek canon.
But it just makes liking the stuff coming out of Toronto all the more challenging for me. Loving Star Trek shouldn’t be this much work! And I certainly never had this much trouble with the other Trek TV series…except maybe the Voyager episode where Janeway and Paris both turn into iguanas.