To say “it’s been a long road” is something of an understatement, though perhaps the journey is not so important as the destination; another point of view would hold that “whoever said getting there was half the fun never rode in a class eight probe,” but regardless of the erratic course charted between the first principal photography and release, the Star Trek fan film Yorktown: A Time to Heal was finally released on Tuesday 5th April, First Contact Day.
Planned in the early eighties with the first days of 8mm location footage shot in 1985 between the release of The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home when the only rumoured spin-off television show was the long-abandoned Phase II and long before the possibility of an accessible platform able to stream video to an international audience, A Time to Heal was not the first fan production but it was a rarity for one to engage an actual star of the show, albeit briefly.
With George Takei appearing as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, serving as first officer of the refitted USS Yorktown, NCC-1704, The Questor Tapes’ James Shigeta appears as the legendary Admiral Heihachiro Nogura, referenced in dialogue in The Motion Picture as the man to whom Admiral James Kirk appealed to be placed back in command of the USS Enterprise but never seen.
Supporting characters including Vice Admiral Lori Ciana (Teresa E Victor), glimpsed in the transporter accident scene of that film but expanded in the novelisation credited to Gene Rodenbery to be Kirk’s most recent former lover, and Lieutenant Xon, proposed replacement to fill Spock’s absence in Phase II, the rest of the cast are non-professionals and their performances are variable, though in their defence few are given more than a few lines to work with.
Opening with the Yorktown suffering severe damage when a shuttlecraft carrying dilithium is sabotaged by the xenophobic “human first” organisation Sol Heritage Armed Resistance Korps led by Felton Finius (Wil Rodriguez), a follower of the notorious eco-terrorist Colonel Green, Lieutenant Katherine Baetz (Zlatina Pacheva) is killed in the attack, prompting her fiancé Lieutenant Jeffrey Pond (Stan Woo) to take a leave of absence from Starfleet.
With tensions between the Federation and the Klingons rising following the rise of an aggressive faction within the Empire, evidence of Starfleet’s illicit use of long-range sensor drones to monitor activity beyond the Neutral Zone could lead to a diplomatic incident, if not war, and SHARK believe the emergency log buoy from such a drone has landed on the planet to which Pond has retreated, Admiral Nogura despatching the newly refitted Yorktown to the scene under the command of Captain Bradley Frame (J J Silvia).
Commencing at stardate 6724.5, A Time to Heal is set in the gap between the end of the Enterprise’s five year mission and The Motion Picture as reflected in the ill-fitting uniforms bearing the custom insignia of the Yorktown, a modified Constitution class vessel whose refit designed by Andrew Probert is an intermediate step between that and the full redesign the Enterprise was undergoing in that period with the navigational deflector and magnatomic flux chillers on the still-round warp engines illuminated.
Additional footage of the bridge scenes having been shot in 2013 and the subsequent time having been devoted to crowd-funded special effects and post-production, care has been taken to match the film grain and lighting choices of the 1985 stock meaning there is no jarring discontinuity, though while the Klingon prosthetics are acceptable the flat blue of Andorian Lieutenant Tora (Katie McKinney) lacks definition and the astronomically inclined eyebrows of Lieutenant Xon (Jesse Tebbs) are equally alarming.
Directed by Da Han, A Time to Heal suffers from the obviously sparse coverage obtained on the original shoot which dictates the edit, and inconsistencies are present in what is available – why would a pro-human isolationist refer to Pond disparagingly as an Earther? – but it would be unfair to scoff at a fan production using what looks like a university concourse and stairwell for an interior of Starbase 7 when lecture halls and shopping malls were good enough for actual broadcast episodes of Blake’s 7.
Some of the best work in the subtle background details, graphics and interfaces which bridge the gap of “the lost era,” and simple additions such as the arc of a ring system seen from the surface of Pahl III or the crescents of its twin moons in the sky, but A Time to Heal represents something beyond that which is now almost inconceivable, a time capsule of how Star Trek was seen and understood in an era when all that existed was three seasons, three films and an animated show not even accepted by most as part of the story, when the wider universe was kept alive in the imagination of the fans who dreamed of the final frontier.