While fan fiction has spread to practically every genre of entertainment in recent years, the practice essentially began with Star Trek. The beloved science-fiction mainstay was canceled after just 79 episodes, and in the decade between the end of the series and the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, nerds across the globe were hungry for more. Thus, people began concocting their own adventures for the crew of the Starship Enterprise, which strayed from the show’s conventions enough that the term “slash fiction” was coined to describe Kirk/Spock romance stories.
But even after four spinoff series and three distinct-but-related series of films, fans’ desire to tell their own version of the story has, if anything, increased. Innumerable fan films and amateur Trek series can be found all over the internet, but few of them—save for maybe J.J. Abrams’ big-budget fan films—are quite as legitimate as Star Trek: New Voyages. After filming three short vignettes as a proof of concept, executive producer James Cawley has so far created 11 episodes, presented as a long-awaited fourth season of the original series. A recent New York Times profile describes how, with help from volunteers and donations from Trekkies around the world, he’s faithfully recreated the sets of the Enterprise’s bridge, sick bay, and transporter room in a studio he’s constructed inside a former dollar store in his hometown of Ticonderoga, NY. Cawley has hired professional actors to play Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew, and, in 2015, even an amateur production has better special effects than network television could muster in 1967.
The end result is polished enough that it caught the attention of several people connected to the original series. Episodes have been scripted by David Gerrold, who wrote fan favorite “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and D.C. Fontana, who wrote numerous episodes of the original series and was considered a pioneer in an era when few women wrote for television, especially sci-fi. But an even bigger endorsement of the show comes from George Takei and Walter Koenig, who have each reprised the roles they made famous on the original series in Cawley’s shorts. Each appear in an episode of New Voyages, playing older versions of Sulu and Chekov across from younger actors who have taken on the roles (again, just like J.J. Abrams did it).
To skirt copyright issues, episodes of the series are streamed for free on the show’s web site, with donations from fans allowing the Enterprise more continuing voyages, and Trek fans a chance to enjoy the closest thing to a fourth season of the original series they’re going to get.