What would it be like if the president was a big Star Trek fan? No, I’m not referring to Barack Obama, I’m talking about Richard Nixon!
That’s the premise of “1701 Pennsylvania Av.,” a 12-minute vignette that was written, produced and directed by Pony R. Horton and inspired by the Phase II series of independent Trek productions.
Before we start reviewing, here’s a brief history lesson. Nixon was elected president in both 1968 (when the original series was still on the air) and 1972, but he had to resign after a scandal broke about members of his staff bugging meetings in the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C., and recordings of the president’s activities lacked 18 minutes that were never recovered.
The independent production begins on July 20, 1969, with a shot of the White House that shifts to an underground facility where Agent Smith (played by Horton) is recording a “Secret Service Log” that states: “Today, Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, and my boss tried to join him.”
“You know, Smith,” Agent Jones (Kurt Carley) says, “if this ever gets out, we’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do.”
“I had to erase over 18 minutes off this last tape,” Smith notes.
The discussion comes to an abrupt halt when the agents hear mysterious sounds above them.
“What’s that?” Jones asks. “I’d better go check.”
Smith wonders if the noise was caused by “our boss screwing around with his toys … again.”
The scene shifts back several hours, when President Richard Nixon (played by Ralph Miller) watches his television jubilantly as “the Eagle has landed” on the Moon.
“Yahoo!” he shouts as he shakes his left fist defiantly. “We did it! We did it! How do you like that, Brezhnev (then the leader of the Soviet Union)?”
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong says as he becomes the first person to set foot on the Moon.
“Yes, it was good old American ingenuity, guts, and the best minds and imaginations on Earth,” the president declares. He repeats the word “imaginations” as he stares at a model of the Enterprise across the room.
Suddenly, Nixon is wearing a captain’s uniform while sitting in the center seat of the starship bridge.
The viewscreen shows a Klingon Battle Cruiser approaching, and the image is replaced by that of Kargh (John Carrigan) saying “Record this, Captain President!”
The enemy vessel then attacks the Enterprise, and Nixon orders the crew to fire phasers. The blast destroys one of the Battle Cruiser’s nacelles.
Nixon then calls down to Scotty because “I need Warp Factor 8 now!”
The chief engineer responds that “I’m giving it all she’s got, Mister President,” and then the Enterprise leaps into warp speed.
Back in the Oval Office, Nixon imagines that he’s still in his captain’s uniform as he plays with a toy of the Federation starship.
In his imagination, the Enterprise passes over the Moon until Earth appears in the viewscreen, but we can see it’s really a globe in the Oval Office. The scene jumps back to a view of the ship in orbit.
“Sensors show an approaching craft, Sir,” the communications officer (Gwendolyn Wilkins) says. “It’s Sputnik, Sir.”
“Sputnik?” the captain asks. “Lock phasers and fire!”
The blast demolishes the Russian satellite. ”Take that, Brezhnev!” Nixon declares. “That’s what you get for sending a poor dog into space!”
“We’re getting a visual from Washington, D.C.,” the comm officer states as the screen closes in on a building in the nation’s capital.
“Not Watergate!” the president says, and the view abruptly shifts to the White House.
“I’m beaming down there,” Nixon states. “You have the con,” he tells the communications officer as he heads for the turbolift.
But when the door closes behind him, he’s surprised to see a Secret Service agent with him.
“Can’t I daydream without you damn Secret Service guys being in my head?” the captain asks.
When Nixon reaches the transporter room, Scotty asks where he wants to be beamed.
“To the White House,” the president replies while showing the two-fingered peace gesture on both hands.
When he materializes in the Oval Office, the television is showing a Star Trek episode, or the next best thing as we get a sneak peek at the upcoming Phase II episode, “Kitumba.”
And on the other side of the room is a picture of President Nixon (Miller) and Elvis (James Cawley, Captain Kirk in Phase II productions and a long-time Presley impersonator).
While Nixon searches for an intruder, a hand with a phaser pops up from behind his desk and fires at the president, who knocks down a lamp while leaping behind a couch to avoid being shot. The lights of phaser fire not only fill the office, but we see them from outside the building.
As the battle continues, Agent Smith hears the commotion and enters the room.
And just like that, the president is back in his suit carrying a toy phaser.
“I got carried away with my imagination,” Nixon says. “Don’t tell anybody. Remember your loyalty to the presidency.”
Smith removes the tape from the recorder under the president’s desk.
“You must remember: I am the president,” Nixon continues. “You have to understand these toys, they’re so realistic I couldn’t help myself.”
As Smith heads for the door, he stops next to the president and extends his hand.
In response, Nixon tries to fire his phaser at him, but all he gets is a sound effect before turning the toy over to the Secret Service agent.
“The more of these tapes we have to erase, Mister President, the more suspicious it’s going to look,” Smith says before leaving the office.
Spoiler Alert: If you’d rather watch the fan film’s ending yourself, skip down to the link at the end of this article. If not, just continue reading.
Nixon walks to the center of the room before pulling a communicator out of a suit pocket.
“Enterprise,” he says. “This is your president speaking. One to beam up.”
And then the light from the transporter effect is not only visible in the room but from outside as well.
Back in the underground chamber, Agent Smith tracks down the source of the noise: a Tribble on a pipe at the ceiling of the room.
“What have I told you about staying put?” he asks the purring animal. “You’re gonna get us in trouble.”
The agent then puts the Tribble in a drawer of his desk. “Stay there, you ecological menace,” he says as he pets the alien creature.
Just then, Agent Jones enters the room, and when Smith tries to close the drawer, it catches the Tribble in it, resulting in screams from the furry creature.
“What are you hiding in that drawer there?” Jones asks.
Smith gives in and allows Jones to see what’s there for himself.
“Tribbles?” Jones asks. “Where the hell did you get Tribbles?”
“It’s only one Tribble,” Smith replies.
“Oh, yeah?” Jones asks. “You better tell that to Mom.”
When Smith looks back into the drawer, he sees that the single Tribble had reproduced … several times..
“And you thought we were in trouble over the president’s secret plan to fight inflation,” Jones states. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
“It means we have a Code Beige,” Smith states as he picks up the phone and calls Ehrlichman Plumbers (The voice on the phone for Ehrlichman, an assistant to Nixon who was convicted of conspiracy and perjury, is provided by Tim Russ).
“This is Smith,” the agent says..”Get me the Pentagon!”
Did Clint Eastwood ever play the president of the United States? If so, he’d have been one tough commander-in-chief!
The Good: “1701” is a fun romp with an unlikely star. When Nixon left office in the mid-1970s, he wasn’t winning any popularity polls. Still, Miller’s portrayal in this production is both funny and sad as the most powerful man in the world gets his kicks by playing with Trek toys.
Since we had two storylines going on at the same time (“Nixon in Spaaaaaaaaace” and what was happening in reality), it would have been easy to get them confused, but “1701” was easy to follow and a joy to watch.
The Bad: Yeah, I know us fan film reviewers are supposed to be above this stuff, but as always with Phase II, I still greatly enjoyed the special effects, especially the Enterprise duking it out with a Klingon vessel and blowing Sputnik to smithereens.
The Ugly: It took me longer than it should have, but I finally figured out where I’d seen Agent Jones before: He played Captain Christopher Pike in the early New Voyages episode “In Harm’s Way.” He did a good job in both roles, and I hope we’ll see more of him in future Phase II projects.
If you’d like to learn more about the folks who produced this vignette, turn your Web browser here.