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Review: The Continuing Mission

Premiere episode: "Ghost Ship"

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Poster art for the premiere episode of

Poster art for the premiere episode of "Continuing Mission," "Ghost Ship."

TCM Audio
Audio drama is amazing for a fan-made production -- and pretty darn good for an audio drama, for that matter.

Cast and Crew

  • Tim Renshaw ... Captain Paul Edwards
  • 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
  • Tomoko "Cookie" Leonard ... Lt. Numi Natukov, Science Officer
  • Lawrence Montaigne ... Vellar
  • Joe Klein ... Captain Klein

30 minutes. Co-created, co-written, and co-executive produced by Sebastian Prooth and Andy Tyrer. Directed by Prooth. Edited by Tyrer. Co-produced by Patrick McCray.

The Plot: Captain Paul Edwards, in command of the Federation starship U.S.S. Montana, has a commanding officer's usual headaches. A rash of unexplained malfunctions has been cropping up, his medical officer doesn't work and play well with others, and he's about to have to cancel shipwide shore leave and abandon his present mission to deal with a crisis at the Neutral Zone.

Reports of Klingons attacking Federation outposts there prove difficult to investigate, however; though the damage is visible, the enemy is nowhere to be seen. Edwards's sense that things aren't adding up is deepened when the Montana itself is attacked from an uncloaking warship.

Edwards has to use all of his battle-honed tactical skill to turn the situation to his advantage, but even as he gains the upper hand, a titanic core breach explosion aboard the enemy vessel violently hurls the Montana and all aboard into somewhere -- make that somewhen -- unknown.

Let's Put on a Show -- And Then Spend Weeks in the Editing Suite!

Tim Renshaw

Tim Renshaw plays Captain Paul Edwards of the U.S.S. Montana on "Continuing Mission."

Tomoko "Cookie" Leonard/TCM Audio

Star Trek: The Continuing Mission is a noncommercial, nonprofit enterprise made by fans, for fans, and the first question that strikes someone in a position to review such a work is: Do I grade it on a curve? When you're given a handmade Christmas card, it's heartless to sneer that it doesn't have the production values of a $4 glossy Hallmark missive that comes with an inch-high plushy panda; does the same apply to amateur (used here in its original, positive meaning as being the fruition of enthusiasm for the subject and the craft) entertainment?

In fact in such cases a reviewer is obliged to return to first principles: I review not to apprise the creator of his seeding in the heap of Hollywood funmakers, but employ advance knowledge and perspicacity (in whatever measure these are available to me) to let the public at large (in whatever measure they are available to me) know whether something is worth watching or not.

Fortunately the question of sporting handicaps for zero-budget, fan-made offerings is moot in the case of Continuing Mission, which is outstanding as an amateur effort and pretty darn good as a professional one. In fact the analogy here isn't the crayon-scrawled handmade card, but the batch of homemade Toll House cookies made with so much love and care that, despite the odd nut and the rare singed edge, you're more than happy not to be eating mass-produced sugar slabs from the supermarket.

Strong Sound Design

The premiere episode, "Ghost Ship," starts slowly -- allowing the listener to acclimate and register familiar Trek sounds and ideas in a new environment; the slow start is also an indication that Continuing Mission has a large story to tell that's going to be strung across several episodes. But the action picks up rapidly, and "Ghost Ship" quickly develops both on-ship suspense as apparent sabotage is uncovered and a full-blown battle sequence effectively conveyed entirely through terse dialog and deft use of sound effects -- most of them laboriously reclaimed and remastered from the original series and films (particularly Wrath of Khan, representing the era from which the Montana hails).

The attention to detail is particularly evident in the area of sound design and editing. Continuing Mission is not a dawn-of-the-21st-century, I-have-a-camcorder-and-a-bootleg-copy-of-Final-Cut, everyone-can-make-a-movie YouTube Nation kind of bathtub-made, thumbprint-mottled production that half of America's teenagers are using to flush their lives away eleven minutes at a time. Professional-quality production aesthetics have been employed though weeks of unpaid effort to create ambient environments, clearly recognizable sounds and cues, and a consistent feel that conveys and carries forward the action. The fact that this is the base standard for million-dollar productions, produced here with diligence, effort, and pluck for a ha'penny by qualified amateurs, should really prompt us to wonder where those Hollywood millions are going, anyway.

Renshaw Anchors the Performances

The pitfall for all audio drama is the voice performances: as any listener to radio plays knows, there is a dangerous undertow to audio productions that tends to drag them in the direction of staged readings, with the emphasis on "staged." So it must be said that occasionally a line reading in Continuing Mission tugs us away from the bridge of a Federation frigate, into a studio with a voice actor and a sheaf of scripts. This is less of a problem as the story goes forward, for two reasons: first, the actors clearly gain confidence as the plot deepens (this is, after all, the pilot), and second, the burden of carrying the show forward is increasingly assumed by Tim Renshaw's performance as Captain Edwards, which is rich, surefooted, and confident enough to carry home the entire production. Mention may also be made of Gabriel Diani's creepy doctor, delightfully out of step with the lantern jaws and burnished boots of the Federation stalwarts; and Star Trek alumnus Lawrence Montaigne ("Amok Time," "Balance of Terror") as the ruthless enemy commander.

Amateur fiction is worth supporting, if only so that the universes we love aren't solely in the hands of monolithic conglomerates. We've lucked out that Continuing Mission is worth listening to as well.

"Ghost Ship" is available for download from the official website starting Dec. 25 at midnight GMT.

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