Was Thomas Wolfe right when he wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again?” The crew of the U.S.S. Montana learns the answer to that question when the ship returns to Earth after being away for more than seven decades.
Written by David Raines, “Earth” is the first episode of the audio series’ second season and picks up after the events of “We Will Control All That You See and Hear,” when the starship crew foiled a plan to start a war between the Federation and the Romulans.
That adventure ended the first season of the series, in which the U.S.S. Montana was thrust by an anomaly from the Classic Trek era into the time just before The Next Generation.
“Earth” gets underway with Captain Paul Edwards (now given voice by Scott Martineck) being cleared of all charges in connection with stopping the conspiracy to ignite a cosmic war.
Federation News Reporter Kelly Natukov (Tiffany Tallent) notes that despite his exoneration, the captain seems as troubled as ever. “For a man who just saved the galaxy from a horrible and unnecessary war, he doesn’t seem very happy,” she says.
Since the Montana is in orbit around Earth, most crew members are taking much-needed shore leave on the planet. As a result, only a few people remain onboard, including Natukov and Chief Engineer Jack McGuire (Patrick McCray, who is also the executive producer of the series).
When Natukov asks McGuire if he should get some rest by going home to Ireland, the chief engineer becomes exasperated and calls his homeland “an awful place” from which he couldn’t get away fast enough.
“A lot of people do like Ireland,” he continues. “I’m just not one of them. Not everyone loves the place they’re from.”
Down on Earth, Captain Edwards is busy drowning his sorrows until a man named Murray (Stephen Perkins, who also plays First Officer Darius Locke) recognizes him and offers him a drink of “genuine rotgut rye,” which he adds is “the good stuff” for “a fancy hero” who just saved the Federation.
The captain finally explains his dour mood by noting: “I’m stuck here almost 100 years in the future.” Despite the fact that Edwards claims his hands are going numb, he asks for more of the special concoction. Murray responds that he has more at his place, and the two leave the bar in search of greater inebriation.
Back on the starship, the chief engineer tells Natukov that after he left his homeland, he did some independent work with Starfleet engineers until the construction of Deep Space Station M-2.
However, McGuire was able to focus the magnetic fields to angle the venting anti-matter away from the station while he reconstructed the shield. “Saved the station, got a Starfleet Medal of Commendation even though I was a civilian,” he states proudly.
After becoming friends with then-Lieutenant Paul Edwards, the engineer joined Starfleet and was posted to the Montana.
Meanwhile, Helmsman Susan Palmer (Etta Devine) has a serious bout of nostalgia when she discovers that the Oklahoma Aerodrome she visited often as a child still exists, even though its former director, Howard Doyle, passed away 40 years ago, but his daughter Kathy (Dani Scott) now runs the airfield, and the pair share a “special” romantic encounter.
At Murray’s home, the host tells the captain that he and his crew could always use a slingshot maneuver around the sun and go back to their own time. “If you went back and resumed your lives in your own time, our lives here would cease to exist as we know them.”
But that would violate the Temporal Prime Directive, Edwards replies.
That’s “gar-bage” and “Starfleet double-talk,” Murray says. “There’s no such thing as the timeline. You might like a particular timeline because it’s the one you happen to exist in. Doesn’t mean it’s the right one.
“Timelines and universes rise and collapse all the time. None of them are right or wrong,” he notes. “They just are.”
On the Montana, McGuire and Natukov go to the chief engineer’s quarters to sample some “fine Irish whiskey,” but the interaction soon takes a romantic turn.
Spoiler Alert: If you’d rather watch the fan film’s ending yourself, skip down to the links at the end of my review. If not, just continue reading.
As morning arrives, the crew members awaken to a series of turning points. Palmer decides that rather than flying one of the rebuilt planes, she would rather “keep the memory” of those earlier experiences instead.
The chief engineer proves to be a product of the previous century when he rejects the idea of allowing families on starships as “dangerous and foolish” and a holodeck as a waste of power that could be used for “life support, medical facilities and sickbay, replicators for food.”
Before long, the crew has re-assembled on the Montana and prepares to leave orbit. The captain has a surprise for the helmsman when he tells Palmer that her “fancy flying” during the recent crisis has earned her a promotion to lieutenant junior grade.
Edwards then tells McGuire that he’d heard “some … peculiar things” had happened while he was on the planet and asked if all the chief engineer did was work.
“You know how the old girl is, Sir,” McGuire replied. “There’s always something to fix.”
Finally, the bridge receives a communication from “someone named Murray” who’s looking for permission to beam up two cases of “genuine rotgut rye, the good stuff.” The captain approves the transfer because “that stuff may come in handy one day.”
With that, Edwards gives the order to “Engage,” and the ship and its crew warp back to the final frontier.
It’s time to “engage” my Clint Eastwood hat and get reviewing.
The Good: I’ve always thought that audio productions provide special challenges for the participants. With no visual image for fans to use in identifying characters, it falls to the “voice actors” to keep their personas distinct from the other characters.
The Continuing Mission always does a great job at that. And when scenes change, we’re always reminded in the first line or two as to which characters are now speaking. And all that is done without becoming obvious about it.
The Bad: My only complaint about “Earth” is that the vast majority of the crew on shore leave easily find romance behind every corner (except the captain, thank goodness!). I realize this is shore leave, but talk about having a person in every port!
The Ugly: The only ugly thing I can think of about “Earth” is the wait until The Continuing Mission releases its next production, entitled “Cathedral in the Void.”