Star Trek: Phase II – “Mind Sifter”

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A few weeks ago the Balboa theater in San Francisco hosted a screening of New Voyages’s episode Mind Sifter. With a number of their cast and crew in attendance for both a pre-screening meet and greet and a Q&A session with director Mark Edward Lewis, SFX Supervisor Pony Horton, and actors Jeff Bond (Dr. Leonard McCoy) and Becky Wood (Dr. Hamlin). As the audience filtered into the theater in the half hour or so leading up to the screening it became evident that people weren’t just locals to the Bay Area. Many people had come in from from 100 miles and more to see the episode on a big screen.

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The episode itself was another great example of where the Star Trek independant film scene is at. It’s created by people who love the original series, and the way that they approach both the production quality as well as the writing. One of the challenges always faced whenever doing an episode with the original characters, choices have to be made if an actor is going to be doing an impersonation of the original actor in the role, or if they’re doing their own take on the character. For viewers it’s a very personal preference as to which they are more accepting and tolerant of. In the case of Mind Sifter, Brian Gross has the center chair role as Captain Kirk, and he doesn’t go the Shatner impersonation route, and rather does him in his own way and it really elevates the episode up to par of most of the rest of the ToS independant episodes. Jesamine Pierce (Lt. Uhura), and Charles Root (Lt. Scott) both go more of the impersonation route, which for many in the audience were more than happy with their performances. I continue to find it distracting when it’s an impersonation as then I have to pause my enjoyment of the narrative and have to think back and ponder “how close were they in that last mannerism”.

Clay Sayre as the Klingon Kor just rocks his role as Kirk’s captor and torturer. I very much hope that they bring him back in future Klingon-involved episodes as he bring back the feel of the era when the ToS Klingons were their own style of badasses that weren’t something to just be dismissed out of hand.

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I would be remiss in not making a shout out to Brandon Stacy; he’s currently taken the lead for me as an actor in the role of Mr. Spock. His portrayal of Spock battling with crew and himself is as well done here as anywhere else thus far in any of the independent films. This particular story and episode being heavily character driven, had any of the key actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock, or Bones not held up their weight, the whole effort would have fallen flat (or worse yet, falling into the comical). Fortunately they step up to the plate admirably individually as well as an ensemble, even cast newcomer Jeff Bond as Bones pulls his weight alongside the rest of the experienced cast in a laudable performance.

The attention to detail and honoring the original show is taken a step further by making not just one version of the episode, but two (three if you count both a stereo as well as 5.1 surround versions). One version has the ship models and effects as they would have been done during the original episodes, the other has modern effects and ship details.

Screen capture of the Enterprise hitting a Klingon D-7 with a torpedo, with ship models and effects circa the 1960s

Screen capture of the Enterprise hitting a Klingon D-7 with a torpedo, with ship models and effects circa the 1960s

Now the same scene but from the version of the episode with modern ship models and effects.

Now the same scene but from the version of the episode with modern ship models and effects.

It takes a decent amount of balls to tackle continuations of original storylines, and this is a great follow-on to City on the Edge of Forever. It was refreshing that they did it in a way that didn’t need to be bogged down by excessive extemporizing (even someone without a familiarity of the original would be able to follow along without having it explained to them).

The female lead in the episode is Dr. Hamlin, played by Becky Wood, and she does a stand up job as a counter to Kirk’s typical charms. She’s a strong, especially for a late 50’s woman. The episode revolves a good deal around her standing up for herself as a professional and highly capable woman, and while I’m sure some may say that it goes a bit far in the dialogue towards being preachy for gender parity, I think it’s both well handled and also very timely. I have to wonder what kind of cultural effect the episode might have had if this had indeed been aired back during the original series’ run. As it set groundbreaking scenes with an interracial kiss onscreen, I would love to think that this would have had a long lasting impact.

The Q&A was a great 45 minutes of conversation ranging from the SFX and the technical challenges faced, to how the actors dealt with stepping into roles that have been beloved for generations. Here’s the video in full, and it’s well worth the watch. Apologies for the darkness of the video, the theater wasn’t the most brightly lit.

Should you have the chance to catch one of their screenings, or one for any of the principal Trek productions, do yourself a favor and give it a go. It’s really an experience to get to see episodes among a gathering of like-minded fans who have travelled hundreds of miles to share in the experience of Trek.

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