STRANGE NEW WORLDS’ “CHARADES” could have sucked…but it was a surprisingly STRONG episode! (editorial review)


It’s hard to believe that we’re already half-way through season two of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. However, when you have only ten episodes budgeted per season…

That said, we’ve now had five straight episodes without a clunker in the bunch (at least, in my opinion)! And to be honest, my hopes weren’t all that high for “Charades,” the fifth and latest episode. When I saw that the plot involved Spock being turned into a human at the most inopportune moment—just in time for his engagement dinner—I remembered how the last time we saw T’Pring, the two switched bodies, and hilarity ensued. And I cringed to think that, once again, a T’Pring episode (and there seem to be so many!) was going to go the way of slapstick comedy. Doesn’t anyone take Vulcans seriously anymore???

So yeah, I was totally expecting to hate this week’s episode. And I mean REALLY hate it. After talking last week about how Spock is being treated by the writers like the character of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, I was hoping that we’d get a serious Spock episode sooner or later…and this one obviously wasn’t going to be it! And as the episode started, I had my shields raised and my phasers energized to write a scathing review.

And then something funny happened, or rather, something not-so-funny happened. Oh, sure, this episode had a lot of comedic moments, including ending the teaser Spock saying “What the f—” (and I don’t think the last word was going to be “fascinating”). But it was also surprisingly serious in places, introspective, character-driven, and very, very human. In many ways, an episode like this represents some of the best qualities Star Trek has to offer viewers who watch for the characters and to feel what they feel. Normally, Spock is the exception to that rule, but not this time.

All right, let’s unpack this episode, shall we…?

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JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 2)

Yesterday in Part 1, I began talking to JOSHUA IRWIN about the latest release from TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE, an ambitious fan film titled THE TEST OF TIME.

Or rather, we almost talked about it!

Y’see, Josh burst onto the Star Trek fan film stage back in late 2018 with the first of his high quality AVALON UNIVERSE fan films, GHOST SHIP. And the reason for the professional look and feel of Avalon releases is that Josh is himself a professional in the film industry, having graduated from film school and worked on countless projects from short commercials to full-length feature films cast with major celebrities. In other words, Josh knows what he’s doing, and you can watch all nearly-dozen Avalon releases here on this YouTube playlist.

But this blog isn’t about Avalon. It’s about Tales from the Neutral Zone, which Josh is also now working on regularly. In fact, beginning with their next release, Josh will be taking over as director, after having worked as cinematographer on both this latest fan film as well as the previous one, DOOMSDAY, which he also ended up co-directing with RAY TESI, the showrunner and owner of the TOS sets down in Kingsland, GA. But it’s not just NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS that Josh is helping out. He’s begun working in various capacities on numerous other fan films and series, as well.

And that ended up becoming the focus of most of the first half of our interview, conducted via phone as Josh was driving from Arkansas to Maryland to help shoot some stuff for FARRAGUT FORWARD. We discussed the growing cooperation among various fan filmmakers in the community, sharing talents and resources. We also chatted about what exactly Josh does on all of these other non-Avalon projects and how he deals with so much driving and getting time off from work for this hobby that he loves so much.

Anyway, the moment has finally come to discuss The Test of Time. And if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a viewing first…

And now, the conclusion of my interview with Josh Irwin…

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JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 1)

A funny thing happened on the way to a discussion of THE TEST OF TIME, the latest TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE fan film release from NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA. Those are the Star Trek TOS sets that were originally used for STARSHIP FARRAGUT and STAR TREK CONTINUES. Now owned by super-fan RAY TESI (who pays thousands of dollars of his own money each month to rent the location that houses the sets), Neutral Zone Studios is available to any fan production wanting to film there. Among the fan series that shoot at the studio regularly are DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, AVALON UNIVERSE, and of course the aforementioned Tales from the Neutral Zone. And even more fan projects are slated to shoot there in the coming months.

Typically, I interview Ray Tesi about new Neutral Zone episodes, although for the previous release, the wildly popular DOOMSDAY, Ray tag-teamed with JOSHUA IRWIN on the interview , as Josh had stepped up to co-direct, along with being director of photography as well as editor. And with their latest release, Josh was once again director of photography…with VIC MIGNOGNA returning to Star Trek fan films for the first time since the end of STC to direct. With Ray’s approval, this time I reached out to Josh to field the questions, and so we began our interview.

Now, Josh is one of the busiest filmmakers in our community, serving not only as showrunner for the Avalon Universe fan series but also helping out on a whole slew of other productions in all sorts of different capacities. As such, it was probably appropriate that I ended up interviewing Josh via a recorded phone conversation while he was driving more than 1,000 miles from his home in Bentonville, Arkansas to Frederick, Maryland to help shoot some videos for FARRAGUT FORWARD!

So naturally, I began the interview asking Josh about all of these other projects he’s been working on, and…well…sometimes interviews just go in unexpected directions. So please accept my apologies that Josh and I don’t start discussing The Test of Time until PART 2 of this interview! But trust me, the stuff in PART 1 is just as fascinating, and I really do recommend that you read the whole interview. You won’t be disappointed.

And speaking of not being disappointed, take a look at The Test of Time, as it turned out REALLY well…

And now, here’s Josh Irwin…

Continue reading “JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 1)”

STRANGE NEW WORLDS’ “Among the Lotus Eaters” hit me pretty close to home… (editorial review)

I’ve seen some complaints about the fourth episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS season two, “Among the Lotus Eaters,” that have left me scratching my head. Several people are focusing on Spock becoming Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory or that the episode bent over backwards to make Ortegas be the only one able to save the day. One person even complained to me that, in order to make Ortegas (a woman) seem more heroic and strong, the only other male left in the chain of command (Spock) has to be treated like a complete idiot.

And I’m, like, what the hell are you talking about???

I thought this was actually a fairly decent episode with a very TOS flavor. It wasn’t their best of the series or even of the season, but in my personal opinion, this episode held its own pretty well. And for me, this episode WAS personal—very personal. Two weeks ago, I discussed the struggles and challenges that a transgendered friend of mine faced both before and during her transition. This week, however, the theme of episode hit much closer to home for me. You see, my 90-year-old father has Alzheimer’s.

In case anyone didn’t notice, that was the likely “metaphor” of this latest episode, named for a short passage from Homer’s The Odyssey where Odysseus and his men encounter the island of the Lotus Eaters. During their long and arduous journey home, Odysseus and his men had just barely survived a grueling battle where several soldiers were lost. After nine days in rough seas, they stop briefly on an island to rest and replenish supplies.

Odysseus sends two of his men to explore the island, and they encounter the Lotus Eaters, peaceful natives who live on the fruit of the lotus tree. As soon as the two men take a bite of the fruit, they forget everything—all of their struggles on their long journey home, the gods’ curse, even their very identities. All they want to do is stay on the island eating more lotus fruit. But Odysseus needs them, forces them back onto the boats, straps them to their oars (nice guy, huh), and makes everyone hightail it out of there.

Homer was probably comparing the Lotus Eaters to drug addicts who would forget who they were, their families, their jobs, everything, and just want to spend each day getting high. (Yes, there were drug addicts 27 centuries ago. In fact, archaeological records show drug use of psychotropic plants in ancient civilizations, dating as far back as early hominid species about 200 million years ago!)

However, the writers of this latest episode of SNW didn’t seem to be telling the story of drug addiction so much as the loss of memory and identity and what makes someone who they truly are. And that’s my it made me think of my father…

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Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 2)

In Part 1, I introduced you to DAVE ELLIS, a video game writer and director for more than two decades. A couple of visits to watch STAR TREK CONTINUES and Dave was bitten by the fan film bug. He wrote a Star Trek fan film script to shoot at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA, but before he could assemble a cast a film crew, the Covid pandemic hit, and Dave had to shelve the idea.

But then he had the idea to create a “Starfleet Zoom call” fan film (what I like to call a fandemic film) where all of the actors could be on screen one at a time, shooting their lines separately at their homes. Titled simply “359,” the story would deal with survivors from the devastating battle with the Borg from TNG‘s “The Best of Both Worlds,” each person in a separate escape pod. But in the time it took to write and finalize the script, the lockdown had begun to lift. So instead, Dave set up a green screen “studio” inside of his garage . Roles were cast, and two shooting weekends were held in September 2021 and again in May 2022, with over a hundred takes recorded for the four actors combined.

Dave Ellis (right) with actors Sarah Johnson and Doug Baldwin in Dave’s “studio”/garage

Dave has created a full “359” website with behind-the-scenes background info, blog entries, and even outtakes and and bonus features. Indeed, most of the information in both parts of this blog feature is sourced from the blogs and photos on Dave’s website, which I strongly recommend that you check out for a much fuller story. I will be covering just the highlights here. Pre-production and shooting were the subject of Part 1. Now we move onto post-production and how something that seems like it was so simple and straightforward to create was actually very, VERY challenging.

First, take a look at the completed fan film…

Now let’s find out all of the steps that went into turning that raw footage into what you just saw above. As they say on Star Trek: “And now, the conclusion…”

Continue reading “Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 2)”

Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 1)

What I like to call “fandemic” films—fan films where characters are speaking to each other via subspace communications, alternating with one person on the screen at a time—actually predate the global COVID lockdown of 2020. Years earlier, VANCE MAJOR would feature these interstellar “Zoom calls” in his MINARD and CONSTAR saga fan films. In Vance’s case, this was an easy way to have friends and fellow fans (including me!) be able to record segments in our homes and still appear in one of his fan films. It was a lot of fun and relatively easy to do.

But one newbie fan filmmaker, DAVE ELLIS, has taken the fandemic film to a whole other level with “359,” the story of four survivors of the Borg attack from TNG‘s “The Best of Both Worlds,” trapped in escape pods, trying to find other survivors and also just trying to stay alive. Two years in the making, this fan film is very impressive, surprisingly engaging for a story limited simply to “talking heads,” and includes a full website with behind-the-scenes background info, blog entries, and even outtakes and and bonus features. Indeed, most of the information in this blog feature is sourced from the blogs and photos on Dave’s website, which I strongly recommend that you check out for a much fuller story.

But before I go into the background of “359,” take a few minutes to give it a viewing. You’ll be glad you did…

Writer/director Dave Ellis spent over 20 years as a video game writer and director. And indeed, his first assignment was as a lead writer, co-writing the story and writing the script for the 1998 CD-ROM game Star Trek: The Next Generation Klingon Honor Guard from MicroProse. (An an amusing coincidence, my brother’s and my Internet marketing company at the time, 2-Lane Media, had MicroProse as a client and created the marketing website for Klingon Honor Guard—although I’ve never met Dave.

A page from the website that my company built to market Klingon Honor Guard back in 1998

Along with fellow designer ADAM COGAN, Dave actually won the very first Writer’s Guild of America award for video game writing in 2008 for their work on Dead Head Fred. Dave continued working in the video game industry until 2015, writing scripts and directing voice-over sessions. Nowadays, Dave works as a marketing writer, but he also remains a huge Star Trek fan, and therein begins the origin tale of 359

Continue reading “Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 1)”

With PRODIGY abruptly canceled, a fan rushes to release the first LIVE-ACTION Prodigy fan film: FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR! (interview with SAM COCKINGS)

Star Trek fans were shocked this past week when Paramount unexpectedly announced the immediate cancelation of the animated STAR TREK: PRODIGY series prior to the release of any episodes of season 2…and then quickly removed the show entirely from its Paramount+ streaming service.

The announcement included additional details that production of the second season of Prodigy was nearly complete, and that the property would be shopped around by CBS Studios as a 2-season package to other streaming services and networks. And so the reason for taking down the 20 completed episodes from Paramount+ was to make Prodigy a more attractive and valuable commodity for purchase.

And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon…

Anyway, Prodigy was always the “great experiment” at Paramount. One of the first and only series to simultaneously debut on a regular broadcast network (Paramount-owned Nickelodeon) as well as streaming on Paramount+, the idea behind Prodigy was to attract a new generation of young Star Trek fans, introducing them to the five-decade-old franchise a little at a time through the eyes of a crew of kids who, themselves, slowly discover what Starfleet is and the fascinating history of the United Federation of Planets.

The plan (hope?) was that these young viewers would get so curious about Star Trek that they would beg their parents to subscribe to Paramount+ so the kids could watch more of the shows. (Someone might have wanted to explain that strategy to everyone who inserted F-bombs into DISCOVERY and PICARD…just sayin’.)

Perhaps ironically, in trying to present a window into Star Trek‘s long history for new viewers, the creators of Prodigy inadvertently created a fan-favorite series that, more than any of the other CBS-produced new series, hewed much more closely to established canon. Older fans (lime me!) loved the new show.

Apparently, however, the numbers weren’t quite as strong when it came to the kids (or else the show wouldn’t have been canceled). And can you blame the younglings for not jumping on board after an airing schedule of five weekly episodes, followed by 2 months of nothing, then another five weekly episodes, then 9 months of nothing, followed by ten weekly episodes? Kids tend to have short attention spans to begin with!

Many fans were frustrated and angry—furious actually!—and moved quickly to set up #SaveStarTrekProdigy. Petitions are circulating, memes are meming, and one fan filmmaker rushed to produce the first-ever Star Trek: Prodigy live-action fan film!

SAMUEL COCKINGS, the Brit with Grit and co-host of the TREKYARDS podcast, has been passionately producing a parade of phenomenal fan films with eye-raisingly accurate CGI-generated digital backgrounds and jaw-dropping VFX animations under the banner TREK SHORTS. (You can view those fan films here on this playlist.) This past Friday, after a week of sleepless nights, Sam released FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR, a love-letter to the show and (hopefully) a salient message to the suits at Paramount that there is more support for this series then they might suspect…

Continue reading “With PRODIGY abruptly canceled, a fan rushes to release the first LIVE-ACTION Prodigy fan film: FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR! (interview with SAM COCKINGS)”

What IS it with JAMES T. KIRK and TIME TRAVEL??? (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)


“James T. Kirk: seventeen separate temporal violations…the biggest on record.” “The man was a menace.” You might remember those lines from the fifth season DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.” And just to show off my geekiness, here from memory is a list of all the times in TOS and the movies that James T. Kirk traveled in time…

Does that add up to seventeen? Nope. However, one would assume that “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” “Assignment: Earth,” and Star Trek IV each contain multiple violations by Kirk and his crew. So I’m fine with seventeen.

What does this have to do with the third episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS‘ second season, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? Well, quite a lot, actually! Y’see, there have now been a total of thirteen SNW episodes…and two of them (a whopping 15%) have involved some kind of time travel! The other was the season one finale, “A Quality of Mercy.” Indeed, within the span of the last four SNW episodes, HALF have involved time travel!!! And as fate would have it, both of those time travel episodes have included a significant presence of Captain James T. Kirk—coincidentally from alternate timelines each, uh, time.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s deal with the “yes” part, as I invoke this iconic scene from The Simpsons

Just replace “Klingons” with “time travel” and you can quickly see where my head is at.

Of course, it’s not just SNW that’s doing time travel (and will again in four more episodes when Ensigns Mariner and Boimler arrive from the U.S.S. Cerritos in the future for a crossover with LOWER DECKS). It’s also DISCOVERY and PICARD. Both had second seasons steeped in time travel elements. And indeed, Picard‘s second season spent 8 out of 10 episodes in “our time” here on earth. Just like this latest episode of SNW.

In fact, the plot of Picard season two and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” were so similar that, well, I kinda HAVE to point out the obvious parallels…

Continue reading “What IS it with JAMES T. KIRK and TIME TRAVEL??? (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)”

In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)


Star Trek has never shied away from holding a mirror up to the more controversial aspects of modern (20th and 21st century) culture through the “safe lens” of viewing a future, or an alien society, with surprisingly similar challenges. In fact, this was one of the main goals that GENE RODDENBERRY had in mind when he was first pitching his “Wagon Train to the Stars” concept to the networks.

Indeed, as most of us know, the original Star Trek series tackled some of the biggest issues of the 1960s: prejudice and discrimination (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield“), the Vietnam War (“A Private Little War“), overpopulation (“The Mark of Gideon“, women’s struggles for equality with men (“Turnabout Intruder“), and a growing paranoia that computers could replace people (“The Ultimate Computer“)…to name just a few!

In the 1980s and 1990s, Star Trek continued to advance a mostly left-leaning political message with movies and episodes spotlighting homophobia (TNG‘s “The Outcast“), environmentalism (TNG‘s “Force of Nature” and of course, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), labor rights (Voyager‘s “Workforce“), government-sponsored torture (TNG‘s “Chain of Command“), homelessness (DS9’s “Past Tense“), white supremacism (Enterprise‘s “Terra Prime“/”Demons“), and even the prophetic dangers of overreaction to a foreign terrorist attack on our own soil (DS9‘s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” which eerily predicted the September 11 attacks and subsequent curtailment of freedoms half a decade before 2001!). And again, the list could go on and on.

Star Trek has also charted its course by embracing all variety of dramatic presentation: action/adventure, mystery, romance, suspense, comedy, tragedy, etc. And one of those many genres was the legal procedural, usually with the message being delivered most effectively and dramatically within some kind of courtroom. In TOS’ “Court Martial,” the message was to beware of computers presenting false-but-believable information (a concern rearing its head right now in 2023 rather than 2267!). In TNG‘s “The Drumhead,” a trial quickly turned into a witch hunt, demonstrating how paranoia could quickly spread fear in the name of righteousness. TNG‘s “The Measure of a Man” and Voyager‘s “Author, Author” deal with rights being taken away from certain individuals for very arbitrary reasons. Lest you think this applies only to androids and holograms, consider that several states permanently remove the right to vote from any convicted felon, even after they have served their time in prison. And DS9‘s “Tribunal” showed how the government can turn a trial into political theater in order to advance state propaganda.

And so we finally come to the second episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS season 2: “Ad Astra per Aspera” (“To the Stars Through Hardship”), a courtroom drama with a definite message. And it’s that message that I plan to discuss in today’s blog. So if you have fear and hatred in your heart for transgender people, you probably want to stop reading now—although I really hope you won’t…

Continue reading “In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)”

STARSHIP CALIBORN releases their third fan film: “RECIPROCITY” (interview with BILLY SWANSON)

Certain states have become nexuses of fan film production: Arkansas, Georgia, and now Kentucky. Of course, it helps when those states contain studios with permanent sets like WARP 66 STUDIOS (Arkansas), NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS (Georgia), and POTEMKIN PICTURES (Kentucky). In the case of the latter, three different creative groups are now in active production of Star Trek fan films: STARSHIP WEBSTER, KLINGON SCOUT SHIP QAB’ELTH, and STARSHIP CALIBORN. All three rely on the talents and hard work of fans and friends mostly living in the areas in and around Lexington, KY, coordinated by the efforts of Potemkin Pictures Poobah RANDY LANDERS. (You can view all of Potemkin‘s many dozens of releases from a dozen different creative groups on their website.)

So when I saw a new release from the Caliborn folks, “RECIPROCITY,” I reached out to Randy, as I typically do, for some background on this latest effort. And that’s when Randy recommended that I speak with episode writer and lead actor BILLY SWANSON, as he is the “voice” of Caliborn.

Well, far be it from me not to speak directly with the “voice”! So I reached out to Billy for a quick interview, which appears below. But first, let’s take a look at “Reciprocity”…

And now, here’s Billy…

JONATHAN – Randy said that you are now the “voice” of Caliborn. Does that mean you are officially the showrunner?

BILLY – Yeah, I saw that!  I am indeed the showrunner for Caliborn.

JONATHAN – So what does being a showrunner entail for you specifically, Billy?

Billy Swanson as Captain Hawk

BILLY – As showrunner, I work with Randy to arrange the chapters (films) accordingly and set up the space to shoot (ha!). Being the showrunner puts me in the position to guide the tone of the overall “volume” (of chapters) that the various films fit into.

When Randy and I decide on a script, I then run it past ROBIN KUNKEL and ANDREW ORTWEIN for their ideas regarding shot composition and what other unique ways we can film.  Andrew has a great mind for storyboarding and lighting, as well as ways to accomplish more unique shots!  Robin is also a hell of a photographer and broaches the script with a different perspective I enjoy in terms of reasonably scheduling the order of the shots we need, the shots we would like, and the nice-to-have-but-not-a-priority shots, so that we can fit all of that into a reasonable day’s shoot for the actors.

The feedback from this team also helps with initial rewrites to help with narrative and vocal flow for us to present to the actor, to mitigate day-of troubleshooting.  It is a lot like Randy’s shot lists, but with more technology and fun pictures! I also facilitate the shoot crew and work with the production team to prepare for the next chapter (storyboarding, lighting, costume, and directing).

JONATHAN – Are you writing all of the scripts entirely by yourself, or is that task shared among several writers?

Continue reading “STARSHIP CALIBORN releases their third fan film: “RECIPROCITY” (interview with BILLY SWANSON)”