Since the earliest days of Star Trek, fans have been adding their own ideas and adventures to Gene Roddenberry's positive vision of the future. Along the way, Trek fans pioneered the use of new media and outlets for their efforts, from conventions and memorabilia to usenet, the web, and forum communities.
Fan-made fiction has not only given life, color, and backstory to known characters; it has also stretched the Trek universe by inventing new crews, ships, and vistas. Star Trek: The New Adventures, the popular fan-made series of downloadable videos, emphasized the first tack, casting new actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and company as they completed the original series's five-year mission.
The creators of an ambitious new podcast series of Trek stories, Star Trek: The Continuing Mission, have gone the second route, developing a new ship and crew, the U.S.S. Montana under the command of Captain Paul Edwards, for a string of adventures beginning Dec. 25, 2007 with the premiere episode, "Ghost Ship" (trailer here). The ship is named for the site of Earth's first contact with the Vulcans, as seen in the film Star Trek: First Contact.
Continuing Mission, a nonprofit, monthly downloadable audio program set in Trek's fictional universe, is the creation of Andy Tyrer and Sebastian Prooth – friends, web professionals, and Trek enthusiasts who wanted to bring new Star Trek stories to the digital audio world of the podsphere. Both were already old hands at podcasting when they came together this summer: Tyrer had worked on "Whoniverse," and Prooth on "Global Geek." Tyrer and Prooth share production and writing duties on the show, with Tyrer also doing the editing and Prooth doing most of the directing.
Professional Actors, Old and New Effects
"In order for Star Trek to survive, it has to change," Prooth told CNN. "It has to become something else so it is relevant and people can connect with it – where they are in 2007 – rather than where they were in 1987 or 1966."
Toward this end they assembled an ensemble cast of radio and stage professionals, including longtime TV and radio host Tim Renshaw (Edwards), Stephen Perkins (Commander Darius Locke), Patrick McCray (Lt. Commander Jack McGuire, Chief Engineer), Gabriel Diani (Lt. Commander Kyle Wilson, Chief Medical Officer), Brian Bonner (Lt. Commander Thomas J. Plummer, Security Chief), Scott Martineck (Lt. Stephen Knight, Communications Officer), Etta Devine (Ensign Susan Palmer, Helmsman), and Tomoko "Cookie" Leonard (Lt. Numi Natukov, Science Officer).
For their first episode, Tyrer and Prooth scored an additional coup: original series alumnus Lawrence Montaigne (Decius in "Balance of Terror" and Stonn in "Amok Time") came on board as a guest star. Participation by stars of the original series helped propel The New Adventures to wide recognition within and outside Trek fandom; the presence of Montaigne in the origin story will likewise convince many that Continuing Mission is a serious effort.
A lot of fan fiction is closely linked to canonical casts or events, and the pilot episode of Continuing Mission, "Ghost Ship," does begin in the 23rd century around the time of the second Star Trek feature film (The Wrath of Khan). But with its new crew, Continuing Mission is free to unmoor itself from Kirk's time, positing a turn of events that propels the Montana through time into the 24th century, some years before the period of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The balance of the series takes place there, with the crew trapped in their own future. A total of ten episodes are planned for the first season of the show.
"A Labor of Love"
One of the interesting aspects of Continuing Mission is that its audio format and modern digital telephony technology make possible participation from around the world: the actors are largely scattered across the United States, interacting with Tyrer in his London editing suite by recording multiple takes of each of their scenes using high quality microphones and emailing 128-bit mp3 files to Tyrer to review, deconstruct, and reassemble in Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas and other audio applications. Then other audio elements, including sound effects and music, have to be added in. The pilot episode, the creators say, took 150 hours to create.
Though the non-actor sound elements come from the Star Trek original series and films, "we actually had to build our own sound library from scratch," Tyrer said, remastering audio effects like the sound of Kirk's phaser killing the slug in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was then used as the sound of Edwards's phaser in the pilot.
The time and effort has gone into making the finished product as realistic and polished as possible. "It really is Star Trek, and I can prove it for one reason," Prooth told Slice of Sci-Fi. "I was talking to Andy over the phone, and I heard our show over the headphones. But I didn't realize it was our show, and I go, 'What episode of Star Trek is that?' and he goes, 'Oh, that's ours.'" Prooth added laughing, "So if I may be so bold, you're in for a treat."
Franchise owner CBS/Paramount, recognizing the value of unofficial media efforts in maintaining organic enthusiasm for Trek around the world and across generations, continues to tolerate them as long as they remain nonprofit enterprises. And that's a useful reminder that shows like Continuing Mission are done by volunteers, out of enthusiasm for what Trek has given and what it still has yet to give.
"Right now it's a labor of love," Prooth told Slice of Sci-Fi. "It's incredible the amount of work that goes into this, and we aren't getting paid at this time – but we do have an interest in making a deal with CBS and making this an official show, actually selling it on iTunes or something like that." In the meantime, they're sticking to the rules, adding a free new dimension to noncanonical Trek.