Friday, 20 July 2018

Third Instalment: The Official Discovery Starships Collection Issue Three: USS Kerala

Eaglemoss' latest Discovery release is the Shepard Class USS Kerala NCC-1255. Liam Maccreadie is our new collection reviewer and here's his first entry! 

I don't recall seeing this ship during Discovery, so which one is it you might ask? Well, it's the ship that's become affectionately become known to me as the upside down Shenzou. If you're really keen you'll probably spot it during the Battle at the Binary Stars back in the episode of the same name!

The Kerala also reminds me of the NX class Enterprise but re-envisioned. I'm going to call it more than a passing family resemblance but don't get me wrong, this isn't just a cheap cop out by reversing the design as she has all her own perks.

Let's start with the registry which looks great in white and is the proper way around unlike the sideways saucer-running NCC-1227 on the Shenzhou.

Carrying on along the dorsal section the aztecing is really well pronounced and helps separate the detail with the grey sections of the hull. Heading on along the warp nacelle struts are some nice decals and small window details, which luckily aren't ruined by misalignment as there wisely are no indents which have ruined the final impression of many a regular collection starship.

Over to the warp nacelles and they are reminiscent of the Discovery engines although they are slightly shorter in this case. The paint application is well executed on the bussard collectors to the front complimented again with some nicely defined Starfleet pennants on the sides.

Flipping to the rear and we have bright red impulse engines however I can't help but feel they would look better with plastic inserts instead of just painted blocks. The fronts of the nacelles are nicely detailed and recessed, almost the "upsode down" versions of the ones from Discovery minus a bit of that substantial tapered lengthThe double nacelle struts are a nice touch and give the ship an impressively detailed look from the back.

Saving the best until last, the ventral section is what I consider to be her best side.

The underside is almost entirely metal and we have some really nice detailing starting at the rear and running along the middle; think Shenzhou top side but slightly more discreet. We also have aztecing, running lights, lots of tiny windows and Starfleet pennants running along several different hull levels. Indeed there's lots of great work has gone in here which culminates on the deflector housing and dish. This has been askew on a lot of models and can be easily adjusted but on mine was fine.

The magazine has a nice feature about designing the USS Kerala and shows how the design came about. Subscribers also get their hands on a free binder which has some wonderful shots of the upcoming ships. Personally, I prefer the magazine size as they store a lot better and take up less space than the regular collection issues.

The previous two ships in the collection have been great and this is no exception. I'm glad I decided to keep with the subscription and already the preview shots of issue four - the Klingon Bird of Prey and issue five's USS Europa are showing Eaglemoss is continually pushing the barrier to deliver us better ships each month and if these carry on at the £30 price tag it's a very reasonable price to pay for the quality..

What are your thoughts on the Kerala? Good execution by Eaglemoss?

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Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Good and the Bad: Star Trek Adversaries Is Mobile

Already available on PC, the Star Trek Adversaries game has now transferred onto the Apple App Store for us mobile gamers to enjoy.

Now it's been a little while since I last reviewed any form of online game. I still play Timelines regularly however Wrath of Gems and Trexels have both fallen to the wayside and will probably soon find themselves deleted from my phone.

So what makes this one any different to the handful already available?

Adversaries places you into starship combat but the spin on this which makes it different from the similar battle aspect of Timelines is that this is all turn-based card playing. You face off against an opponent either in multiplayer or versus the computer armed with a selected deck of thirty cards including an array of both ships and characters.

From your chosen flagship (there's a list and all come with different features to use) you can then dispatch up to four ships to battle your equally laden opponent. Each ship/card played can have its own advantage to play such as inflicting increased damage or rebuilding your own health and it's a straight out fight to be the first one to destroy your enemy's flagship.

Currently the Gamesparks game only supports Klingon versus Federation but there's a ton of ships available within the framework from the original USS Enterprise right through to the new Klingon Bird of Prey from Discovery. Each ship has its own attack and defence score and its down to you to work out the best way to play your cards although there is a degree of the game itself highlighting which cards you can play.

This isn't a game that you can really dip in and out of easily as I've discovered after a few days of playing. For one, the time for a turn is limited to two minutes for a versus computer and 30 mins per turn for an online match. You need to be able to dedicate the time to it otherwise it will nark off your opponents at how long it can take to have a go. Even with the computer battles you need a good 15 to 20 mins to play it through properly and, honestly, I just don't have that kind of time every day for two or three games.

The concept is great and there's the chance to add to your deck, customise each flagship with their own set of 30 cards to get the maximum effect in each confrontation. It is, therefore, incredibly customisable and no two decks will be even remotely the same. There is also the now-obligatory pay to upgrade options with bigger packs with more powerful ships and allies.

The detail on this game - which has very clear CBS backing - is phenomenal. The ships look stunning and the recreations of the characters are glorious but it can look as amazing as you want if there's nothing under the surface.

Luckily there is but, as I've noted, you're going to need to invest heavily in playing to get yourself up the rankings on multiplayer. When I say invest I mean financially and in time because what I have noticed on the single player mode is how quickly the opponent health level jumps once you're past the most basic level of the game. Once past this point yoou'll want to start purchasing more powerful flagships (example above), better cards...the list goes on. Talk about being lulled into a false sense of security from the off but I really should expect it fro every mobile game these days.

Adversaries is one of those games that I would love to love but I just can't. With Wrath of Gems and Timelines I'm able to drop in and out a few times a day - even when there's an event - and play in my own time. With real world commitments like family and work, Adversaries demands your attention for a sustained period of time and if I want to do that with ship based card-backed combat I'll turn to Attack Wing or even the galaxy expanding Ascendancy.

In fact, Adversaries does have a ton of features similar to Attack Wing without the movement element if you think about it. You have flagships, card decks for each's all there but I want to invest my time in that physically and it gets me talking to other people not locked to a mobile phone screen.

It's still early days for this latest mobile experience and just look how much the others have chopped and changed over the years to become slicker games. Adversaries has a lot of potential and it's only just scratched the surface with its use of the Federation and Klingon ships. Plus there must be an absolute ton of characters still to drop into the game. But does it all really matter? 

I'm certain that if you want to get up the rankings then the basic cards you can purchase with credits won't make you Top Dog and for sure the "Ultimate" special features will only come alive with the power of stronger cards. I actually don't think that adding factions such as the Romulans or the Borg or even offering more characters will entice the more casual Star Trek gamer because they won't make that much difference to the gameplay and this might be Adversaries' biggest downfall - there's not enough variety in the game. It's one type of combat over and over and over again and changing to play someone else won't alleviate that. It's the same actions repetitively and if your fleet's crap it's going to stay crap unless you (gonna say it again) invest.

One final good point - the selection of ship skins is insane. Have a ganders through and you can be shuttles, Runabouts, the NX-refit, a Voth city ship, armoured Voyager, the Shenzhou or the biggest draw - the refreshed Constitution Class from the season one finale of Discovery. Well worth two minutes of your time to have a scroll through and spin around of all of the craft available. Pick a ship then click on the ship icon in the bottom right corner to see what skins are hidden away...

Nevertheless, have a dip in but I for one think there are better and more involving Star Trek games out there to take your time and money if that's your thing. I may well play again in a few months to see what improvements have been made but at the moment I'll take my playing thumbs elsewhere.

Played Adversaries? What's your take on this new mobile game?

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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Trekzone's "Feeling" Good?

A couple of years back now I just couldn't move for the number of fan films that were piling onto YouTube and spent a LOT of time watching and reviewing the variety of crews, actors, effects and stories that flowed through the Star Trek universe.

That all changed in light of the Axanar incident which led to restricting fan films to limited times, a maximum number of instalments, strict alignment on uniforms and many, many more points. It made it more than a little challenging for budding movie makers to step into the Star Trek sandbox...

In the works for 12 months, Trekzone, the Australian-based Star Trek site and YouTube channel, has premiered it's fan flick, Once More with Feeling.

Coming in at a shade over 12 minutes it's well within the guidelines nailed to the wall by CBS but this is one production that actually does something very different and you won't see it coming.. 

The basic story is that student Alicia (Chloe-Jean Vincent) finds and meets with a Starfleet captain to further her course research and what follows is Captain Donovan Lindsay (Jeremy Levi) recounting an encounter between the USS Sydney and a Cardassian starship at the very end of the Dominion War.

Written and directed by Trekzone's Matt Miller, Once More with Feeling is not a straight fans-on-a-sound-stage Enterprise bridge set but subverts expectations with the live action sequences of the film seeing the crew of the Excelsior Class USS Sydney facing towards the camera (with the set depicted on a screen behind them) and giving a dramatic reading of the events rather than physically acting it out. That and the point that they're all dressed in clothes of today rather than Starfleet uniforms which is a striking feature of this work.

I'll admit I had to watch it through twice just to get this real curve-ball way of telling a Star Trek story into my head and understand what was going on. In all honesty I'm still not 100% comfortable with it because it's such a big departure from what you think is coming but I have to applaud Matt's bravery for thinking - and getting people to act - outside of that expectation box and that's precisely what Star Trek is about - unique and different is good. You can't view this decision as anything but positive since it's not treading the path that every other fan film ever has before (no cliche intended).

Once More with Feeling will not be remembered as groundbreaking when it comes to the story but I firmly believe it will be for going outside the norm and trying something different. Maybe the cast could have done without using the script papers or maybe doing away with the green screen background and going truly behind the scenes as I felt it detracted from the abilities of the actors and also from the rather excellent CG supplied by Samuel Cockings from Trekyards with the mix of visual aids at times.

Once challenge I do have with Once More with Feeling is the opening section. It radiates a sense of multiple concepts - the storyboard-style images, the green screen and actual physical situational acting which almost conflicts against the rest of the story. Maybe the arrival of Alicia (Vincent) could have been played out as narratively exercised as the main bulk of the show to keep a theme running through rather than incorporating the unseen door and movement.

Not only that but this opening piece bears a striking similarity to The Visitor.

The influence of the pre-titles sequence of that Deep Space Nine classic is all over this segment which is also scored by the great Star Trek composer Dennis McCarthy. The student searching out the older character for answers followed by a flashback story is a strong echo whether intentional or not. Jake disappeared from public life just as the Sydney's captain has been off duty for six months. Did it need the opening piece? Yes, because it's relevant and while the actors are great it does come a little close to screened material homage or not.

The ending to the latest Trekzone offering leaves everything open for a sequel (which the fan guidelines do allow) and I am interested to see where it goes although there's a little bit of the dynamism and excitement lost because this is more of a behind-the-scenes reading than the expected dramatic and more physical expectation.

As a first attempt this is a great piece of work to show what a low budget can produce when you have a script, some green screen and a talented CG producer. For the next one I'd love to see Matt Miller streamline the behind-the-scenes dramatic reading format a bit more and create a bit more lineage for the series in a set style rather than bouncing between a couple of visual formats. For example there's no real need for the crew to simulate the ship being hit if this is being portrayed as a dramatic reading - it feels inconsistent in where it wants to sit likewise with the door opening and use of the "unseen" medical instrument.

Matt and his cast and crew cannot be faulted for effort or ingenuity on this one and I wish them every success on the second feature which will learn a great deal of information from this foray to make part two even more epic and story driven. Admittedly it's not sat easily with me because it has really played with my expectations. It is a very different and clever way of working to the guidelines and 100% is unique but if you're looking for actors on a Star Trek set then this might not be quite what you're looking for. 

Seen Once More with Feeling? What are your thoughts on "Australia's Biggest Fan Film"

Screencaps with kind permission of Matt Miller and

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Monday, 9 July 2018

Picard: In His "Own" Words

Nearly three years ago I tapped out a review of David A Goodman's Autobiography of Captain James T Kirk.

Now, with the Autobiography of Spock soon to hit the shelves I've turned my attention to the second in his series which takes us to one Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Beware, there might be SPOILERS ahead.

Again an "autobiography", this second book stays firmly in the mold of the first giving us a full narrative from early years right through to - in the case of Picard - his twilight years in the ambassadorial corps.

Goodman's grasp of the lineage of the character is excellent and his knowledge of The Next Generation and Picard (of course) is exemplary. The influence of episodes such as Family and Tapestry are there from the beginning talking us through his early years at the Picard vineyard in France to his first and second attempts to join Starfleet which would eventually reveal more to his increasingly distant father than Jean-Luc initially imagined. There is indeed a great deal of detail within the events Goodman is "editing" for the former captain.

We join Picard as he steps through the tough Academy years, reliving the time he won the Academy Marathon as recounted in The Best of Both Worlds and meet up with Admiral (Captain as was) Hansen on the occasion, even take a few steps on the Enterprise-C which is odd since this was never even mentioned on screen - even in Yesterday's Enterprise when you would most have expected it.

Martha Botanides and Corey Zweller make appearances too (but their exit is far too convoluted) as do Guinan (many times!), the Crusher family and in fact many more notables from Picard's past. Even old flames - as they would be by the time of The Next Generation such as Olivia Dubois and Jenice Manheim from The Measure of a Man and  We'll Always Have Paris do a turn in the book allowing us to "see" their first encounters with the future Enterprise captain and in some respects make more sense of their later reunions with him and the reasons for their attitudes towards Jean-Luc.

There is a great deal of the book handed over to events that take place right up to the point at which Picard takes command of the Enterprise-D with meticulous attention to the years on the USS Stargazer and how he made his way through the ranks to become the ship's captain.

While a fascinating read it does have a few drawbacks which become apparent fairly quickly. The pre-Enterprise years, while interesting and deeply "researched" do feel as though they go on for a considerable amount of time in some ways forcing the appearance of future The Next Generation characters just for the sake of name dropping them in. It also means that his command years on NCC-1701-D are heavily condensed with only one event from each of the seven seasons being used and his most famous period of exploits being shoddily condensed. We get Conspiracy, We'll Always Have Paris, The Best of Both Worlds, Family, Unification and it goes without saying, The Inner Light, all receiving attention with the four motion pictures getting a shot too for good measure but certainly there's more of a leaning towards Generations and First Contact than the others indicating a certain authorial preference just as was with The Final Frontier? What about Darmok? I could pick more...

It is a crackingly entertaining read and does avoid the pitfall of making part of the main character's existence into an almost-joke as Goodman did with Star Trek V in his Kirk book. I'm not for a second suggesting that this should be taken and presented as canon because there's a bit in there that does feel a tad convoluted and I'd draw your attention to how a lot of notables from his past get killed off conveniently at Wolf 359.

Post Nemesis is where fans will certainly have a lot to say with not only Picard marrying Beverly Crusher but there's what could be seen as a highly controversial story move in regards to B4 that isn't one handled by the continuing novel series by rival publishers Simon and Schuster (this is published by Titan Books). 

It does get quite speculative in these later pages but I suppose there are always the possibilities of alternative futures and the like so anything can - and therefore will - happen. While Goodman's book is a great read I feel that the tone isn't quite Jean-Luc enough. There's a certain aloofness, perhaps a little more ego than I might have expected or anticipated to the writing which doesn't seem in keeping with the Enterprise captain and, if I'm honest, didn't feel that different to the tone of the Kirk autobiography. 

I mean you do feel for Picard when he's recounting his assimilation by the Borg and some of his early relationship issues with his brother but otherwise it feels very average on the emotional scale. That might be by design but I imagined Picard writing something with a bit more of a flourish to it than Goodman has managed. It also, as suggested betrays the author's preferences when it comes to events within the known 24th Century timeline. There are of course elements that you can't ignore but what of Dixon Hill for instance?

There is that rather ironic twist to the tale in that we've only recently had news that Patrick Stewart could be returning to his most famous TV role very soon - which means that a bug chunk of this title could be incorrect within a matter of months and along with those little inconsistencies which could be from a case of trying too hard to cram in as many cross-references as possible, this doesn't sit as well with me as Goodman's first tome on the captain of NCC-1701.

While I have my reservations here over the way in which Picard is presented from his own perspective, it is a book packed with fan-nodding references and a lot of love for the franchise. It's entertaining from the beginning and I did absolutely rip through it in a couple of days just in the same way as I did with the previous Kirk autobiography. One for fans of The Next Generation whatever their interest level I think!

Have you dipped into the Picard authobiography? What was your verdict?

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Friday, 6 July 2018

Rounding Up: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 32 - 35

Another four superb slices of graphical Trek for you to peruse now with our next roundup of Eaglemoss' Official Graphic Novel Collection.

This time we’re graced with a double helping of The Next Generation plus a trip back to The Original Series crew and finishing off with a voyage to the edge of the frontier on Deep Space Nine.

So let’s kick off this selection with Return to Raimon. Picking up from Beginnings, this volume takes us into the second and early third year of The Next Generation as seen on TV in a batch of three stories. Written by Star Trek novelist Michael Jan Friedman, the stylised Pablo Marcos pencil work is back once more giving all the male characters the perfect physique. Indeed the cover artwork for this volume is based on promo shots for season two and bears little resemblance to the content of the volume. 

Return to Raimon is predominantly a Picard story, revisiting a world he travelled to while in command of the Stargazer and tying more in with season one than any other year of the show. Following this up we have The Derelict in which Guinan makes her first appearance and the crew encounter a starship with a deadly cargo of creatures. 

So-so storytelling and again not a tale constricted by the budget of a 45 minute TV show with larger than life beasts plus Friedman's own Starfleet creation, Mr McRobb with whom he can do as he pleases without worrying about having to relate effects from or to the show.

The printed page allows for much more elaborate characters to be portrayed during this adventure and steps out into a much more bright and fantastical world than we saw in the latter five years of The Next Generation but do take note of Picard on horseback (something we did see on the show) and also Geordi experiencing further issues in building a romantic relationship and some conflict is even thrown in between him and Deanna - something of which Roddenberry would not have approved. 

The Next Generation: Perchance to Dream is grandiose in scale with visuals to die for from start to finish. It looks glossy, well designed, get the picture but the problem here is that the story is incredibly mundane. The Enterprise turns up at a planet inhabited by an androgynous race where factions have begun to develop, foil an assassination plot and Bob's your uncle. 

It's a fairly basic story to follow but because of how this one looks on the page it's wonderful just to enjoy the feast for the eyes rather than the plodding plot and rather tedious characters. Unusually this is from the pen of Keith DeCandido who has also read a number of Star Trek novels in his time and those have been much more substantial in their depth of character and plot. Perhaps this format isn't quite DeCandido's forte down to the constraints on the length of the comic but to date this is my least favourite of the collection because it felt quite superfluous.

Perchance to Dream is in a way very similar to Return to Raimon in that it pushes out beyond a TV budget but seems to lack the heart and substance that make Star Trek great. There's no deeper meaning, no subtle agenda rather strong action and, as you might expect, even stronger visuals.

The Newspaper Strips: Volume Three might not be in the glorious technicolour of Perchance to Dream but it's easily redeemed by the meticulous work of the group of creators responsible for this slice of '80's paginated Trek. Shorter, sharper, better paced and for the most part in black and white, these tales recount the "lost" (if you will) adventures of the Enterprise set in a time-frame after The Motion Picture and before The Wrath of Khan

Sadly this is the last volume of the strips which ran for "four years and a day" but the quality is there right to the end. Considering this was produced in snapshot strip form, the representations of the crew and the ship are superb and mark an upward turn in the attention to accuracy that was lacking from the UK Comic Series and from the infamous Gold Key series that rumbles on in the background of the collection (but not this volume!). Halfway, the strips do flip into the visual look of Star Trek II with the monster maroon uniforms. Setting it before the sequel movie means that they retained the use of Spock for a little while at least. 

Some of the stories are a bit hokey but there’s still the return of the Kzinti from The Animated Series to enjoy and a flourish of other stories with a somewhat imaginary flair to them including cloned code couriers leading to Scotty charged with murder (again), pesky merchant transports and Spock apparently dead - like that would happen....

Perhaps the most intriguing story here is the final one which overturns any sense of the series as "real" in its 23rd Century with the crew returned to the 20th Century where they are actors in a show called Star Trek. It's rather cutting idea and one of the few times where the fourth wall has been shattered. From memory we've seen it taken down at the end of Journey to Babel and in the recent Autobiography of James T Kirk by David A Goodman, Star Trek V was viewed as a movie on an alien world rather than part of franchise canon.

Thing is, they just look so damn good (at least up to the later pages where it goes a bit dark) that you can forgive some of the more batshit crazy concepts because of the love and care that has gone into recreating the original cast. The recreation of the uniforms, the ships and the sets is just gorgeous and the feel of the franchise is there all the way. 

Anytime there’s a Deep Space Nine title I get overexcited and Risk is just another reason for me to be over enthusiastic about an issue of the Graphic Novel Collection. Collecting four stories together in one volume, this one covers stories from the middle years of the show and it doesn't disappoint in any way at all, ever. 

Stretching the already inventive space station drama, Risk has it all commencing with the crew of the Defiant wrestling with a spacial anomaly that leads to Sisko going on trial and very nearly ending up executed. O’Brien also plays a prominent part here involved with locating a lost alien scientist somewhere through the rift.

Also in this volume is the two part Public Enemies Private Lives returning Sub-Commander Tomalok from The Next Generation to the franchise albeit a different branch. Stepping into events post-Rapture with the grey/black movie uniforms, the story focuses more on Jake and you can see learnings taken directly from the show especially Nor the Battle to the Strong from season five and also there's more than a hint of inspiration from The Next Generation’s third season The Enemy. Odd choice too to bring back the Maquis to,the Deep Space Nine arm of Star Trek however they did pop up late in the fifth season so it might be a but of intentional arcing.

Last up there's Lwaxana Troi and the Wedding of Doom/Four Funerals and a Wedding. As one who only finds Fascination watchable for Deanna’s mother, it was refreshing to read her rather than see her on the screen. Majel Barrett was a great actress in the franchise but I found Lwaxana (probably intentionally) grating and the comedy aspect - as with much of the attempted comedy in Trek - barely bearable.

This story isnt too bad to be fair although there are points where it does feel a little sexed up and almost raunchy in its nature. While out of character for a family friendly TV audience it does indicate that the graphic novels, comics or whatever you choose to call them wanted to strike out a bit more riskily than they had taken the chance to before.

Anyway, this is another well presented tale from the Bajoran sector, beautifully crafted and created for the page. Well, it certainly more than makes up for the appearance of Lwaxana and a middling size problem for the station which (spoiler?!) Mrs Troi deals with. Cudos this time for pulling in the threads of her previous visit to the station and her marriage to Odo which at least means that the writers had a fair idea of the show when they were putting the story together.

In each of the volumes, with the exception of The Newspaper Strips Volume Three, you'll also find a much shorter but twice the entertainment value copy of a Gold Key story. Now, with these three editions containing the stories Ice Journey, The Mimicking Menace and Death of a Star, I have to continue to admit that the quality is improving. The stories are still all sorts of bizarre and that never changes but you can see a more gradual awareness of what the characters should look like rather than the 1950's serial stereotypes that were evident back in the first few issues. Now the colours of the uniforms are nearer to the TV versions (bar red for some weird reason) and the crew are significantly more recognisable. Well, at least physically because Gold Key just can't seem to apply the character traits from the show into the rather robotic serialised version of the Enterprise crew. 

Of all of these four releases I'd be stuffed to pick a favourite but the all-out fun factor of the collected newspaper strips may just pip Risk for the best one. While the Deep Space Nine entry has a good heritage, provides a great visual spectacle and is excellently written, it's the what-if factor and the stronger reliance on the black and white drawings that make this a more interesting snapshot from the annals of Trekdom. 

Collecting? Selective Picking? What have been the highlights this time?

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Thursday, 28 June 2018

Picard Deserves a Return

The initial news that Alex Kurtzman had secured a deal to oversee Star Trek for the next five years - and the potential introduction of four new elements to the franchise - was met with a great deal of positivity.

But the news shortly after that was, apparently, that Patrick Stewart was close to a deal which would see him return as Jean-Luc Picard very nearly broke the internet.

I may have slightly exaggerated there but that's what it felt like. Could Picard return after 16 years? Had Patrick Stewart verbally agreed that it was going to happen?

Part of me was dead excited at the prospect while a tiny little bit wondered if it was worth retreading the boards after such a long absence from the screen. How would Picard fair after such a long gap between appearances - four years more than the gap between Turnabout Intruder and The Motion Picture if you were wondering versus Kirk's tenure in command.

Yet of all the captains of the five "older" series, Picard is the one who deserves one final last hurrah more than any other. In 1994 William Shatner bowed out as Kirk taking on Malcolm McDowell's Soran in Star Trek Generations. In 1999 Avery Brooks ascended to become one with the Prophets/Wormhole Aliens in What You Leave Behind and closed the seven year story of Deep Space Nine. Janeway not only brought the crew home in Endgame but to rub salt into the Picard-sized injury she turned up promoted to dish out Jean-Luc's orders in Nemesis. Even Archer had some sort of finality to proceedings with his background being revealed onscreen in In a Mirror, Darkly (future Federation president) and overseeing the formation of the Federation in Enterprise's substandard series finale.

But Picard never got that shot. All Good Things... had a great ending in the form of the poker game yet there was nothing conclusive because The Next Generation's cast were going from TV straight into movies with Generations which was a mere continuation to their adventures in a bigger format. 

Both in the case of Janeway and Sisko there was a finality to their respective series and their purpose was done; circle was complete etc etc... but there was never a Big Plan for Picard mainly because of the era in which The Next Generation was conceived.  Think about this as well - The Next Generation was massively popular, moreso than the three shows that followed it so why wouldn't you want to draw from that televisual well of success and see if you can reel in those fans who have not warmed to Discovery and are hankering for the olden days. Surely they will flock in their droves to the screen whatever the size to see Picard back in action once again. Not only is it great for news coverage but it won't hurt the profit margin either I would expect.

The concept of the story arc, the expansive universe building and all those other pieces which helped shape Deep Space Nine and most certainly Discovery were still some years away. The Next Generation was episodic and to give Picard some form of arc and ultimate purpose now could be an amazing thing to do. On the flip side it does kind of go against the set up of the role in its very episodic nature!

The ending for Nemesis might have see Riker moving to the Titan and the death of Data but for Picard the world spun onwards and there was no concrete conclusion to his story.

So off he wanders down one of the Enterprise-E's many curved corridors with the knowledge that Data may not be dead since B4 can sing Irving Berlin. But there's no finality, no closure to the journey for Picard even at that point in what was billed as A Generation's Final Journey Has Begun. Not only can Kurtzman provide this but he can do something that many fans have been begging for since the announcement of a new Star Trek series over two years ago - something set post-Nemesis, a show set in the far, far future.

Perhaps we are thinking on too grand a scale. Might this be a TV movie for CBS or its All Access platform? Perhaps a six part series to round off the voyages of The Next Generation and thereby destroy nearly two decades of the literary universe?! Very credible option but what if Picard is going to turn up as a cameo just to send a new crew off on their voyages or act as a mentor across several episodes, turning up sporadically or even just the once as he did for Emissary

There really is no way to be concrete certain what the plan apart from Stewart to return to the role somehow in the very near future. Then there could be that Logan style sendoff which Stewart oddly enough also appeared in as Professor X - there's lots of possibilities and I'm sure you already have your own dream of how he should come back.

Stweart's Picard is also a good choice to bring back because he represents everything that the Federation stands for; he's an old school believer in the Prime Directive who will stand for what is right and is the model diplomat. He is the statesman of the Star Trek universe and would give a stable balance between the action of Discovery and the more thoughtful overview presented in those 1980's and '90's iterations of the Roddenberry vision.

Picard is one of the most iconic Star Trek characters of all time and to bring him back into a universe that has only just discovered Discovery and that Spock had an adopted sister is a bold move indeed. You have to ask how the vision of Picard's 24th Century will be remastered just as the 23rd has been and whether or not he'll even be in the 24th Century. Might Kurtzman actually be about to whisk him back in time just because...? How much influence on the character direction (conclusion?) will Patrick Stewart - now 77 - be allowed?

The mind truly boggles but Picard - if not the Enterprise-D/E crew - deserve a stronger finale and way to round off the narrative of that generation cleanly. Is it Star Trek's biggest open dangled thread that had no way to be paid off at the time? I'd say so and I trust that the Kurtzman era will respect the character and not ruin one of the franchise's great icons. Who would have thought that when he stepped out of the shadows of the observation lounge in 1987 that we would be contemplating his continuing adventures 31 years later? Who'd have thought indeed...

What's your theory on how Picard will return to Star Trek? How would you like to see him bow out? Drop your thoughts below!!!

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Monday, 25 June 2018

That Difficult Second Season

We are done, finito, the end - of the first year of Discovery and amazingly production on season two is already well underway this month.
There was one monumental arc, lots of min-stories within it and some of the most dynamic character development the franchise has ever borne witness to in 52 years. Whether you have personally liked it or not there is no doubt that Discovery is a runaway success of galactic proportions and thoroughly deserving of the second season which is already in the process of being formulated.

Now Discovery has probably come up with the best first season of any of the Star Trek series since The Original Series if for no other reason than it knew where it was heading from the moment the cameras began to roll. It had its own identity, its own purpose and a vision to work to, not something that can be said for its predecessors in every case.

But we're past that point and into the high hopes and expectations for Year Two and the arrival of one USS Enterprise. Season one has certainly bucked the trend when it's come to those introductory episodes but what about that "difficult second season"? Those follow up years have all thrown up a lot of varied quality, even taking into account The Original Series However The Original Series second season is strong with such entries as The Doomsday Machine, The Trouble with Tribbles and Amok Time to just sprinkle in a trio of stone cold classics in there for the prosecution. Star Trek knew what it was and where it was going with a purpose. The stories were reflections on the era, the characters fully realised and packed with life from the now legendary cast. Mind, it does also include The Omega Glory...

It's really when we reach The Next Generation that you start to see a pattern with that second innings. In this case there is the additional fact that there was a writers' strike which cut the season from 26 to 22 episodes and meant there needed to be some rushed scripts and some recycling to make the show work - looking to you The Child and Shades of Gray.

But look at year two here and you can see that in comparison to where the show ended up it was a tricky time because they were still focusing on the "alien of the week" trope just as with The Original Series to some extent rather than, as Michael Piller preached from season three, to focus on the characters and make each show a story about one of the primary cast. 

The 1988/89 season of The Next Generation suffers mainly from bad timing as well as continual backstage issues that didn't allow it to really hit its potential for yet another year but paralleling it to Discovery there was no big plan from the start with only the late inclusion of the Borg and the idea to use them for the (originally planned) season finale that showed any kind of real forward planning. Season two of The Next Generation is horribly uneven, peaking with episodes such as The Measure of a Man tackling Data's rights as a sentient being and the Borg-introducing Q Who towards the back end of the year. But for every good one there's always something to counter that includes Up the Long Ladder and The Outrageous Okona.

Aside from a few snatched episodes there wasn't much in the way of character development and although there is a strong echo of The Original Series in its nature and style this is something that Discovery will, easily, avoid because of the depth of planning that has gone into its first run of stories. 

Discovery has direction and drive plus it has the benefit of all the other shows being its 700+ "pilots" if you will, meaning the mistakes of the past can be avoided - in the case of The Next Generation it didn't have the benefit of five previous series, only the original show and four movies with just the one crew to show it the way. 

Here's another thing - of all the shows that came after Kirk, The Next Generation even in its second season chose to push itself knowlingly at arm's length away from its predecessor. In the first year it nodded to the classic show with DeForest Kelley's retired admiral in Encounter at Farpoint, the return of the Psi 2000 virus in The Naked Now the Klingons in Heart of Glory and the Romulans from The Neutral Zone it stayed away from specific characters and moments. Season two went further with very little connecting it to the adventures of the NCC-1701 and you'll struggle to spot a direct link anywhere in the 22 stories told.

Discovery’s not had the easiest of evolutions what with the Fuller fiasco just after the first two episodes were completed and then this year with the sharp departure of Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg there are strong echoes back to the early years of The Next Generation. and the coming and going of producers such as Bob Justman and Maurice Hurley. Is this a portent that the third season - like so many Star Trek’s before it - will mark the show really getting into its stride - and if that’s the case just how is it going to top what has already been a mightily solid first season?
Discovery did a lot of nodding to its ancestry during that formative year - so much at one point I thought its head might fall off under the strain with references to Robert April, Chris Pike, the appearances of Sarek, Amanda and Mudd plus that jawdropping final scene of the final episode emphasised how strongly the show wanted to be accepted into the fold whether it needed to demonstrate it or not.

Over on Deep Space Nine the first two years carry on that worrying trend. There are a couple of significant changes that show there was some form of planning starting to be formulated with the Bajoran religious arc continuing from Emissary and In the Hands of the Prophets but also there were the first suggestions of the Dominion in the background. The choice to add that element of serialisation to the show in its second year is a big change to the Star Trek lore which for two series and one season had chosen to keep more aligned to a block of standalone stories that didn't rely on watching another story. Elements of this only crept into The Next Generation with The Best of Both Worlds and Family but here, fairly early on, Deep Space Nine was already prepared to make major shifts in its established format to be different and unique within the Star Trek bubble. 

For Deep Space Nine, that second season had to be different because it had come under fire due of its narrative standalone similarities to The Next Generation and at this time, the show was under pressure from another space station drama in the form of Babylon 5 (something coming up on this one later). The serialisation does feel like a bit of a knee jerk reaction to that show which had a much more established plan from conception rather than Deep Space Nine changing on the fly. It had stayed formulaic and not gone to the edge of the frontier as it boldly promised, choosing to retain the winning strategy from Picard of a story-of-the-week but it needed something different and the second season spearheaded that early on, titillating the audience almost unknowingly. 

It’s when we hit Rules of Acquisition and Sanctuary that we have the most throw away of hints that there might be something out there that’s more than we have expected or seen before - indeed, probably the most organised empire in the entire history of Star Trek; an anti-Federation if you will. In fact for Deep Space Nine that second season is a lot more inspiring and far reaching. The characters are set and more fleshed our and for year two there’s a big flag from the start that it dared to be different to The Next Generation not just in its setting but in its tone and its ideology. Kicking off with an unprecedented but soon to be beaten three part Circle arc was a huge statement of intent and at the other end of the season - which happened just around the time The Next Generation waved farewell - it closed without the ‘customary’ cliffhanger but with all the foreboding it could possibly muster to wave in a very bleak era in the franchise. They even managed a subtle hint to the end of its sister show by blowing up the Galaxy Class USS Odyssey

While Deep Space Nine’s first year brought in familiars such as Q, the Duras Sisters, Vash and Jean-Luc Picard, its second brought it closer to The Original Series in a way similar to Discovery. In the space of four episodes late in the year we met up with the three classic Klingons and then flipped over to the Mirror Universe - a place of which followers of Discovery will be more than aware.

While season one of Deep Space Nine played it safe and tagged along more with the Bajoran arcs and more local stories to the station, season two set out exploring and poking things with sticks. The Next Generation didn’t stray too far from its core as Roddenberry wanted but it’s bastard cousin raised the vees and charted a new course. Comparing to the possibilities of Discovery, the darker tones of Deep Space Nine appears more applicable but will the show choose to carry themes from year one to year two or will it contain each season as a separate story block? 

The continuity would work in it’s favour and ignoring the events of the first 15 episodes to start something new would seem to make very little sense at all. What we can see is that things will change with more regularity than any previous generation. Lorca and his security chief Landry plus Ash Tyler were all key figures but all have either been killed or chosen to wander new paths. Discovery is going to get a new captain and for several characters they have stepped up in rank as stated on screen. Now that in itself is significant because of you look back at both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine promotions happened more often than not off screen and between seasons almost unnoticed.

As for lauding back to its heritage, Deep Space Nine is perhaps the worst offender of the lot especially considering its first season steered away from The Original Series refererences. Mind, it did still grasp onto the training reins by dropping in Q, Vash, the Duras sisters and a lengthy appearance from Jean-Luc Picard in Emissary to signpost the connection. Season two played havoc with the family tree with the three original Klingons completing their Blood Oath with Dax and then Kira and Bashir crossing over to the Mirror Universe just three episodes later. Subtle and multiple connections no; glaringly obvious yes. Now fans love a good bit of crossing over but has it been the right choice? Deep Space Nine certainly avoided its furthest predecessor until safely into the latter part of year two but The Next Generation and perhaps Discovery fell into an easy trap to acknowledge the past a little too quickly.

What’s for season two though? Definitely more Enterprise-ing if you forgive the pun. That final scene is pure set up and marks a tonal decision that only Deep Space Nine really latched onto with its Mirror and Kor arcs. Perhaps we ought to nod to Trials and Tribbleations at the same time.

What all three of these Star Trek series do show though is no long term plan, no real forward thinking beyond completing the year with enough stories to fulfil the quota. Both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were rocky and uneven in their second years with the main characters still seeming to be fully formed. But both seasons do express some elements of change. The Next Generation offered some new cast, a bearded Riker, Geordi in Engineering and Troi restyled but visual changes could not hide those cracks. 

What Discovery faces instead is that its first season was incredibly confident, well planned and with a clear path from start to finish, even managing to use its first two stories as a prequel to the remainder of the year. It also has to tackle the arrival of the USS Enterprise which will throw up some interesting casting choices that will cause some major fissures in fandom when they are announced. Expect this to be the third casting of Pike after Jeffery Hunter and Bruce Green - four if you count the wheelchair bound and radiation scarred Sean Kenney from The Menagerie.

Then there’s Voyager. Both this second batch and that of Deep Space Nine show the same development opportunities taken. Season one was again, a rocky process with lots of standalone scene setting but nothing more than the ship starting its trip home. The crew was pretty sketchy with only Janeway and the Doctor really being gifted any serious time to flourish. Of all the shows, Voyager is the one where season two realised there was more cast than the captain and a holographic medical officer and ran with story arcs but shamefully forgot about character.

Season two has a couple of issues though. One) it has to shoehorn in four leftover eps from season one which immediately show their age and would have worked better in the first year (especially The 37’s which is not a season opener much more a closer) and it also realises that it has to move on in difference to all the other shows. Voyager had to be different every year and tie up loose ends swiftly and this wasn’t something season two was very comfortable with. The Maquis were neutered sharply and while the Kazon/Seska arc does complete in Basics (which was dragged over into season three as a cliffhanger even though it was made in season two) it’s not as strong a continuous story thread as Deep Space Nine broached. Why? Because the main protagonists were relatively short lived and bore no major weight on the series long term. Only the over-used Borg would provide that later but the treachery of Jonas is dispensed with off the cuff and far too quickly, ending halfway through the year. 

Voyager was trying to be both The Next Generation in terms of exploration and Deep Space Nine in terms of storytelling and forgot to find its own voice for the first couple of seasons which in itself is a tragedy that it may never have recovered from. If you think about it, only the Hirogen would offer any real long term threat to Voyager with a mini-arc in season four and in season seven’s Flesh and Blood. Memorable yes but they couldn’t be kept around and instead the series fell back on the Borg.

Talking of them curves nicely into probably the wobbliest of all second seasons with Enterprise. Now this really was unsure of its footing within the franchise the year is full of missteps once you get past the cliffhanging Shockwave and the intriguing Carbon Creek. In fact I'd probably go as far as to say this is the single most forgettable year in the history of Star Trek perhaps with the late appearing Regeneration and those annoying Borg plus The Expanse proving there was life in the prequel concept yet. It's a very difficult year where the show tried to stick with the story of the week line but then tries to weave in continuing stories - and for the most part failing. 

There's the ongoing Klingon arc surrounding Archer that kicked off back in Broken Bow and continues through Judgement and Bounty but there's no serious payoff. Precious Cargo is horrendously insulting to all involved and the viewer and the rest is pitifully mediocre. Luckily both seasons three and four would go someway towards realising the potential of the show only for it to be cancelled before hitting its zenith.

In actuality Enterprise displays something that Discovery can learn from - an overconfidence in its abilities and its heritage. Season two of the Archer-led prequel attempts to walk the walk after an impressive first year and falls flat because it thinks it deserves its place amongst the best of the franchise and then becomes lazy, misdirected and low on originality. Discovery has to be self-aware and not think that it has its heritage to fall back on. Just as each Star Trek show has had to prove itself before in its second year, so too will what now appears to be Kurtzman's first televisual step into the broad arms of the Star Trek franchise. 

Each story, each season, each series has to be strong enough to hold its own and gather its own fans through the strength of its storytelling and base in the foundations of Gene Roddenberry's ethos that comes right back from the 1960's. If nothing Discovery has a great deal to learn from to not make the mistakes of the past and strike out with its own distinct identity. I think that's already true from season one - and that's the lead it should take for year two. Be different, be Star Trek but continue to be Discovery...

What things do you think Discovery could learn from the shows of the franchise's past?

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