Thursday, 18 January 2018

Never Forget a Face: S1 Ep11 The Wolf Inside

My initial thought that Despite Yourself was going to be the pinnacle of season one were blown out of the water with The Wolf Inside.

Burnham is fully undercover as her Mirror self although she is beginning to lose herself within the facade. While this isn't a wholly evil universe she is struggling to come to terms with the casual racism, slavery and the brutality that the Terran Empire has brought to the galaxy.

Tyler is proving to be her only support since Lorca (whom we see very little of and may be compromised) is still locked away in the Agoniser booth. The challenge Burnham faces is to pass the heavily encrypted data files on the USS Defiant and its passage to the Mirror Universe back to the Discovery and has that weight added to with the Empire demanding the destruction of a suspected rebel outpost.

Burnham sees an opportunity to reach out to the rebels and save them in return for an understanding of how the alliance of Klingons, Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans was formed. When Burnham and Tyler do get down to the surface and avoid being blown apart by the rebel forces, they discover that the fabled "FireWolf" is in fact Voq, the Klingon we saw back in the first trio of stories as the Torchbearer and heir-apparent to T'Kuv'ma.

Also there, suitably goatee-adorned is one Sarek of Vulcan aka The Prophet. He confirms via mind-meld that Burnham is telling the truth about her origins however Voq's words manage to activate whatever has been laying dormant within Tyler. Of course the reimagined Andorians and Tellarites are as big a draw for fans in these scenes as that legendary Mirror Universe beard and I think that the makeup artists of 2017 have done a stunning job in adding their own twist to these classic Star Trek aliens. Heck, the Tellarites get better every time they're resurrected.

Yes, it's finally out that Tyler is Voq (picture to the right via Entertainment Weekly). The Starfleet version goes hell for leather at his rebel-leading Mirror self but the real issue chimes in when we get back to the ISS Shenzhou because the facade of Tyler slips and the Klingon comes to the surface, attempting to kill Burnham and only being stopped by slave Saru.

The fight is great as are the more graphic flashbacks to Voq's transformation into the traumatised Starfleet security chief but after all the ramblings of the internet it does feel that Discovery's worst kept secret is a bit of a let down because, well, we all worked it out back in episode four.

Sentenced to death Tyler is spaced only to be quickly "rescued" by the Discovery. Seems Burnham had slipped the disk with the Defiant data on it onto the disgraced officer...

The Mirror Universe isn't quite that straight mirror that The Original Series made it out to be because here we see the strain of maintaining that false front, to act like the "savages" we might believe them to be. Burnham is placed in a horrible situation and looks certain to circumvent genocide however the arrival of the Emperor puts paid to that. The roles of her and Lorca are totally flipped within this Mirror Universe arc with the captain and prisoner in opposite places. Sonequa Martin-Green is the driving force behind this episode, commanding a dark starship, facing the news that her lover is not what he seems and, erm, that final one which really screws with her world.

With Burnham's life being pulled down around her, the tour de force of the episode comes from Shazad Latif as Ash Tyler. My god this guy is pushed to the limit playing a range of both Tyler and Voq's aspects as well as, effectively, playing both the sides of the character on screen in the same episode. The sequence in which he finally trips into Voq is truly chilling as his Klingon beliefs and motivations come to the fore. Breathtaking.

The Mirror Universe given the life it is here is being given the chance to breathe more than ever and for us as the viewer to explore more than ever before. The inclusion of the nameless Saru here and the systems of contempt in operation drive home the darkness but at its core, is The Wolf Inside really about seeing past the layers to what's really at the heart of us all?

In a literal sense the title is shouting out the plot twist around Tyler/Voq (Wolf inside...get it? Voq's the WOLF see where I'm going...) but it also betrays what might be lying deep within Burnham too. Her action to sentence Tyler to death may have an alternate reason to it however there's not even a flicker of regret when he gets spaced. It's a far cry from her voiced concerns during the diary entry at the start of the show (and part of the longest pre-titles sequence ever?). Plus there's the fact she omits to tell Saru on the Discovery about his Mirror self while he in turn decides not to reveal that Culber is dead allowing that to be left to the vengeful Tyler/Voq. Cleverly it seems that the main characters are taking much darker turns in personality since crossing over and the reorientation back to normal life on the de-Empire'd Discovery could be a treat to behold.

While all this is going on aboard the Shenzhou, Saru is left in command of the eponymous starship and allows Tilly to attempt to save Paul Stamets. The lieutenant is at the cliff-edge after discovering that Culber has been murdered (Tyler admits this to Burnham before trying to kill her) but Tilly believes that she has the solution to bring him back. Her answer, probably one of the most technobabble filled explanations of the whole series, at first looks set to get her on the command track but ends up killing Stamets. Never fear because he's soon back to life however he's out on the mycellial network and encountering his alternative self. More on that I suspect, next week.

It is a much smaller part of the episode but the final scene of Saru and Tyler plus the speech which he gives the troubled officer/Klingon is one of the best of the series to date and reminds us just what Starfleet is about even though the ship is stranded in a morally-corrupt universe. If there was doubt about how the writers' room sees Star Trek this was the 30 seconds that proved they know precisely what they are on about.

On another note it's important that we see Saru in this command role given just how much indecision and troubles his last attempt at command was when Lorca was captured by L'Rell. He has come on a great deal although there are still a few seconds of wavering judgement in there around whether or not to provide medical aid to Stamets or allow Tilly to get her way however it's a far cry from where he was.

From the pacing and the feel of the episode I suspect we might be in the middle of a min-arc that will come to an end next week ahead of the final three episodes that will, I would think, close off the Klingon War and the Voq storyline. While The Wolf Inside is a great indulgence episode that gives a lot of nods to fans, there are some inherent issues with it which come from the two plot twist revelations however amazing they are on screen. They are, sadly, predictable because of the wonders of the internet in regards to Tyler/Voq and because, well, it just had to be that character as the Emperor didn't it? I mean, there was such a big thing made about That Person being included in the cast! As stated already though, the decision not to drag these "revelations" out any longer is a wise move and viewers will appreciate it.

I firmly believe that episode 12 will end the Mirror Universe line and return the Discovery home but not as cleanly as we might have expected. I think there will be casualties and maybe a crossover but that might be reading into things way too much. What we are promised is that the season will end but not as we might expect and for the sake of the show I really do hope that the twists and turns that come up are as unexpected as Culber's untimely demise...

How do you rate The Wolf Inside? Predictable or gloriously indulgent Star Trek?

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Monday, 15 January 2018

Unparalleled; The Official Starships Collection Issues 114 and 115

A fourth new arrival from the seminal battle of Wolf 359 has joined the series with the USS Buran.   

A twin-nacelled Challenger Class starship, the Buran is named after the Russian version of the space shuttle and, now that we know Lorca’s previous command in Discovery, is one of two ships to have borne the name. The similarities to the other Wolf 359 wrecks as well as the Galaxy and Nebula classes are striking from the very front curve of the primary hull. Namely because all the screen-fill wreckage was cobbled together from model kits and available bits. 

The Challenger Class is the smallest of the Wolf 359 ships to be featured both in the show and as a model as well as being one of the smallest Federation craft to grace the series. Oddly for me this feels less detailed than the others from the fleet probably because of that size variation and partially because there’s not a lot to this one when you compare to the three already available. The saucer carries the major panel lines spreading from,the central bridge module as well as the painted on windows which avoid the trademark Eaglemoss misalignment thank goodness. 

The phaser bank too is highlighted in a darker grey than the main hull allowing all the essential elements to be distinguished easily. Thing is that with the distinct registry and name, the lifeboat hatches don't stand out at all, they appear more as slightly raised hull plating. If you do do,take a step,back the lighter colour contrast of the square hatches is more apparent and you can see the difference just in the pictures ive taken here.

That saucer upper part is the standard metal element of the build in the Challenger Class. The underside centre section of the saucer and everything backwards is in plastic of some description. 

Step back from the saucer and we have the secondary hull moulded straight into the back of it. Here that trademark grey paint scheme continues without missing a beat. There are more distinct panelling lines and windows again painted on rather than being lined up with hull recesses. Then protruding up and down from the rear are the two warp nacelles attached via two very chunky pylons. While there are other ships with vertically paired engines this is the only starship where 1) there are just two warp engines and 2) they are unusually - and purposely - misaligned with the top one being set back slightly over its lower twin. 

The warp engines do feature translucent blue engine grilles and crimson bussard collectors to give that more realistic feel to the ship and with this affording the larger scale it is something that could not be avoided; painting them on would have looked shoddy. The one thing that is missing from the back though - and in the magazine - is the tiny registry across the very narrow rear edge. Very small space, not easy to detail. I get it and at least the phaser strips are in place.

Flip this one over and for a second you're not sure if it's the same on both sides but fear not, the belly of the ship is instantly distinguishable with the rows of escape pods littering the sides of the pill-shaped secondary hull and also across a good proportion of the saucer. You can just make out that inlaid plastic section which is boundaried by the ventral phaser bank and the ship name is omitted with only the NCC- number in place as per most (if not all) Starfleet ships.

Note too the smoothing off of what would have been the Captain's Yacht on the Enterprise-D right at the centre of the saucer. In fact if you look even more closely you can see that this is actually two upper hull sections from that ship glued together for the Buran as the elliptical frame around the yacht space is only on the top of a Galaxy Class saucer. Great reuse again!

The slim, vertical construction of the Buran makes for a unique silhouette but of the ships from Wolf 359 this does feel like the least inspired design and certainly the one with the least parts to really get your teeth into. What it does have is some nice decalling especially when it comes to some tiny finishing touches at the back end. It’s not the prettiest of ships either and you can tell more than any other that this was designed as something that would only ever be in the background. Oddly it managed this feat twice with a second appearance in Unification’s starship graveyard.

The magazine skims across some very sketchy background, tending to focus more on the events of Wolf 359 coupled with a few facts and figures around this small Federation ship.

Backing this up we have a fantastic trawl back through the Borg Timeline taking us over the key moments from the series' encounters with the cybernetic lifeforms in chronological order rather than episode order so we start off with First Contact in the 21st Century and run through to Endgame and Voyager. It's a different way to do things and helps place events in a new way especially when you drop in the events from Enterprise's Regeneration.

Continuing the season four themes that have been appearing in recent issues covering the Wolf 359 ships, this edition takes us into the makeup world and Michael Westmore recounting the creation of Noonien Soong, Gowron's unique Klingon forehead, the Cardassians and even the blue-skinned Bolians. Whether intentionally or not, the collection has given us a wonderful overview of one of Star Trek's most successful and well-written seasons.

Second out of the stable this month is the Tellarite Warship. I’ll be honest, it took me a good couple of days to get this out of the box due to all the seasonal festivities yet I knew it would be quality since it’s from the Enterprise fold. These inclusions to the collection rarely disappoint since they were CG created from day one and it seems Eaglemoss are working directly from those images to create their replicas.

After such a long run of high quality Enterprise models it was only going to be a matter of time before we got a bit of a duffer and this is it.

Offering up a rather aquatic aesthetic, the warship comes in a metallic green with only a couple of light green and red highlights giving a second colour to the model. It's also a model where the metal sections themselves are hidden "deep" within the main structure. The whole outer casing here is plastic with an inlaid section between the nose and the tail being the only metal piece present.

For an Enterprise ship this one has very distinctive panelling across the whole ship with that crescent-shaped forward section showing off a range of different levels of hull casing. It’s not got the intricate aztec scheme or small panel lines you find on the Buran but it’s a distinct look which relies on the contours of the craft rather than multiple colours to give it depth and form. 

To the front there are two groups of antennas formed in plastic and a decent thickness which means they shouldn’t suffer collision damage if the worst happens.  Unusually there’s a good bit of detail going on around the leading edge with further recessed details and also features highlighted in that lighter green colour. That colour is also present in the two crescent-edge formations giving some variety to the metallic green overcoat. Now to be fair these could have done with being translucent to give a stronger feeling of the mechanics of the ship as the cover and the plan views show there are some form of bussard collector evident inside them. Also those exhaust ports to the rear of the engine crescents just look a bit unwieldy. As we’ll see it’s almost as if they worked on this one from the back to the front and kinda got bored along the way.

If we look closely at this one, the form of the Warship is actually quite clever because from behind that raised bridge section it tapers back to the significant engine block but not before we have a section where the middle of the craft has open space within its frame. 

This has to be one of the few - if only - occasions where this has been achieved and I would think it’s a lot easier than it looks on the model. It appears therefore that the metal section which is buried in the middle of this is there more as a structural support rather than an afterthought of where the metal pieces could go. It makes total sense to drop in here as I suspect a complete plastic ship especially in this central area would be very flimsy.

Ok, let’s follow the slender top section to the rear and the vertically stacked engine block. 

There’s a hint of colour here both on top and below with a red highlight indicating (maybe) a form of bussard collector set back into the frame. It’s also here that the Warship seems to contain most of the detailed elements of the design. That vertical engine is unique but doesn’t set the whole design alight. The detail is good but a final few greebles at the back end aren’t enough to save what is a very average ship design.

The stand clip fits right around the rear of that semi-circular main hull giving a central balance to the ship and an even keel for display. Nice and steady with this one and no tipping concerns.

Into the magazine for a bit now and it’s an alright read but, because the ship isn’t one of the stellar collection attractions it doesn’t make this a must-read. 

The background of the warship suggests that some of the elements within the vessel would be later absorbed into the designs of future Federation craft. It also covers the events of the the Romulan arc from the fourth season of Enterprise in which the Tellarites played a part alongside their Andorian nemeses.

Cleverly the third section here, after some rather good plan views which (as noted) highlight a few shortcomings of the model's construction at the front end, opens up the tetchy subject of Tellarite appearances. It's a title that covers a multitude of sins for sure.

In between these two articles we actually have something relevant to the ship. The designing section covers four pages and reveals that the Tellarite ship began life in season one of Enterprise as something completely different in a quick appearance before being resurrected for more screen time three years later. The sketches and concepts for the ship are as interesting as ever with Eaves' ship being one of the rare occasions where they utilised CG to allow for the open spacing, something that hadn't really been explored in that format before.

Exploring the terrible attempt from Journey to Babel, the more suitable reworking for Whom Gods Destroy through to the fleeting appearances during the movies before reappearing fully realised if you will during the Star Trek prequel series. Not only does this discuss the makeup of the Tellerites but also how these aliens were written and how they evolved over the course of the franchise's TV history. It's a good solid read because these guys received such little airtime but there was still a great amount of development put into their background.

Ok, overall these two are a steady pair to induct into the Starships Collection. These "scene fillers" as you could call them does really push home that the series is now getting into serious completist territory with most, if not all of the series most recognisable ships ticked off the list. Of the two the Buran is easily the better product in my eyes because of its place within the Wolf 359 set although it could have done with being a shade bigger.

Next month's Curry Class from Deep Space Nine and Ferengi Cruiser from Enterprise continue this trend of kit-bashers and one-ep wonders. Hoping that prequel entry is back up to the usual standards!

Buran or Tellarite? What's your call on this time's ships?

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Friday, 12 January 2018

Be Careful: S1 E10 Despite Yourself

The destination of the USS Discovery couldn't have been any less of a surprise as the series returned for the final six hours of its first season.

Yet this managed to be one of the most surprising episodes of the series right from the start.

So we can now categorically confirm that the Discovery becomes only the second starship ever to cross over into the Mirror Universe leaving the crew in a desperate situation to return to their own universe in order to alert Starfleet with a way to crack the Klingon cloaking device.

Problem is the Spore Drive is now inoperable due to an exhausted Lieutenant Stamets who is unable to act as the conduit for the distance (and dimension) jumping engine. Fortunately it appears that 1) the ISS Discovery jumped out of its universe when the USS Discovery popped in and 2) there might be another way back if they can locate some information about a starship called Defiant that might have appeared there some time before. Still with me? Excellent because don't forget that we also have L'Rell, the Klingon battle commander/traitor apparent locked up in the brig mindf**king with Lieutenant Tyler.

Discovery's arrival in the Mirror Universe fooled absolutely no-one but it has raised questions as to whether Lorca is actually his Mirror self or not. He seems to want to return back to the other universe and integrates himself into the plan to make that a reality. From the start of this we get a really good look at the machinations of the Terran Empire since the last time we saw it in In a Mirror, Darkly; the Emperor is a faceless despot, the Empire is trying to quell a rebellion from all the other races  including the Klingons, Vulcans and Andorians who are identified in the wreckage near to the Discovery and we find out what has happened to all the main cast in this parallel time.

Burnham is of course the central piece here, drawing together the plan that will get the ship home but it seems Martin-Green takes a backseat to Isaacs' Lorca and Mary Wiseman's Tilly in this thread, The captain puts himself at great risk by playing his alternate self so Burnham can "retake" her command of the USS Shenzhou and acquire information that will help them escape. My one query is that the Mirror Lorca is stated to have escaped in a shuttle after killing Burnham and was never seen again. My brain did suggest this might mean he is the Mirror Lorca after all but there has, honestly, been no hint of this sort so far. Wiseman is also exceptional at playing Captain Killy, her parallel self, hamming it up in the captain's seat after some initial trepidation. Also of note was Lorca's lie to Burnham and Saru that Stamets was keen to explore other dimensions once the mission was over.

This interpretation of the Mirror Universe is an exciting yet grim addition to Discovery. The parallel universe always excites a large proportion of fandom but this show has gone further than ever before with this thread, making the alternative versions of the cast achieve some of their inner goals in life but through twisted and darker paths than they would have planned to walk in their own universe. It’s a far cry from the snarling alternates of Mirror Mirror or the virtual caricatures that Deep Space Nine’s Resurrection and The Emperor’s New Cloak spurred into.  

The reflection of this exposition of the Mirror Universe does feel a little tougher and more brutal thanks in no small part to the metallic uniform additions and the worn weaponry. Cleverly the delta shield is flipped vertically and slipped behind the recognisable world/sword emblem on the uniforms with each officer also carrying an array of medals on their breastplates which do indicate several different awards.

The choice to disguise the ship as it's "evil" self with a tweak of registry and some software updates is inspired and forces the crew to step a little outside their comfort zones as Starfleet personnel. But here's another thought - for a show that has added a less than positive outlook for the Prime Universe, this could be the more insightful trip through the looking glass of all time - is the Mirror Universe not quite the dark territory we have come to expect in comparison to the events of this Klingon war.

Burnham's return to the Shenzhou is a harrowing experience as she faces multiple ghosts from her past including a very-much alive Captain Connor (previously Ensign Connor played by Sam Varthemelos) and an uninjured Detmer. Indeed, the Connor/Burnham confrontation in the turbolift has a cluttered claustrophobia about it as they fight for their lives and command of the starship. 

It’s a brilliantly tense plot line with darker tones than the (later?!) Deep Space Nine arc but positively continuing the bleak and totalitarian regime we saw in Enterprise.  The new style to the Empire and it’s return is most welcome with a clever twist that it’s all linked back to The Tholian Web which might well be one of the most pivotal episodes in the history of the franchise - who would have imagined that in 1968? On that point, yes, the Defiant does look slightly different with saucer cut-outs and amendments to the engine pylons but I would expect that over the time since it’s been in the Mirror Universe it might have received more than a couple of modifications and repairs to keep it operational. 

While that story dominates the 48 minutes of Despite Yourself, there are two further threads which weave in and out of the narrative. Firstly there’s Stamets who is recovering in sickbay and is now receiving, it appears, prophetic visions of the future leading him to warn Doctor Culber that the enemy ‘is here’. Anthony Rapp might not have the most to do this week but his appearances are significant in hinting at other elements of the plot and I’m interested to see how this ‘Spore Drive Vision’ is worked as the season continues.

But, with the impending doom of encountering more than just some rebel Vulcans and boarding the Mirror Shenzhou you might well have forgotten there’s a Klingon festering in the brig. 

Mary Chieffo’s L’Rell has been one of the biggest wins of the show for me since day one and in Despite Yourself it feels that some of the promises and plans we saw hatched right at the genesis of the series are beginning to bear fruit although it seems some of it has gone a little aray.

Her relationship with Tyler is the centrepoint. There might be a whole new universe out there to try and escape but the Klingon war is still raging and L’Rell is our constant reminder. Here she is also the confirmation that Ash Tyler is not what he seems in any way, a theory backed up by Doctor Culber’s analysis that the lieutenant has received some significant surgery altering bone structure at the least. The Tyler personality is an overlay and we have to be plain dumb not to know that it’s Voq hiding underneath. I’m certain the flashbacks - which apparently will reveal more as we go - are memories of his surgical alteration and love affair with L’Rell rather than torture and rape. It all makes perfect sense and I’m glad that the writers haven’t dragged this line out for too much longer and respected the intelligence of their audience. 

Tyler’s dramatic and unforeseen disposal of Culber when he puts the pieces together left me speechless. It stamped a clear mark on the show that no-one is safe at any time and my god was it a jaw-dropping moment. It's unexpected, abrupt and perhaps for Tyler a moment out of control for his human side. 

Now we have more understanding of the darkness around Tyler and L’Rell it really has become a fascinating element of the season and both actors should be applauded for their excellent work as it’s some of the best in the show. Added cudos for the fact that L’Rell’s attempt to ‘wake up’ the sleeper agent buried inside Tyler didn’t work as planned. At least not everything we might have expected came to pass all in one go.

Despite Yourself has opened the second half of the season with a swagger and a strong sense of purpose. All the set up and suggestion from the early part of the year is coming to fruition and the show is really forging its identity. Already there seem to be grumblings about the show’s choice to dive into the Mirror Universe so early and at all but on the quality of this entry I think it was a brave move to do so and has paid off, giving this concluding batch of stories it’s own identity and differentiation from the Klingon war which dominated the first nine episodes.

What this episode has also done is restored my faith in the Mirror Universe episodes, removing the dodgy comedy elements and actually made this parallel dimension feel the same yet noticably different. It oozes danger that I haven’t seen in this type of story, honestly, since Crossover. Everything here works. Yes, it is going to be different from The Original Series vision (like 50 years ago...can we get over these "inconsistencies" please...) but the core of our understanding of the Mirror Universe and its part within Star Trek lore has been maintained and even strengthened by its inclusion and also by the inherent links to both the Kirk era and Enterprise.

For a return to our screens after a short and unwelcome(!) break, Despite Yourself has raised the bar again and could well prove to be highlight of Year One. The questions have just got harder to answer. Is Lorca the Mirror Universe version that escaped? How will Culber return? What's the score with Tyler's muddled mind and what else can be thrown at us?

What's your take on Despite Yourself

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Clear as Mudd

I'm challenging myself.

I must be because why the hell would I want to write something about one of the characters that infuriates me the most with Star Trek?

An individual that I hold with the same distain as Vedek Bareil, Lwaxana Troi and Voyager's character assassination of Q?

Because Harcourt Fenton Mudd is where it all started for me. Now I can stand a decent Star Trek comedy episode and who can't stomach The Trouble with Tribbles just once more? But there's a time and place in which Star Trek's more light-hearted moments work but in relation to Harry Mudd it couldn't be further from the truth.

Not content with him being inflicted on us the once with Mudd's Women, we were subjected to I, Mudd the following season and then again with the Animated Series' Mudd's Passion. Jesus H Christ could we not be spared from this?

I have no beef at all with the actor Roger C Carmel who took control of the character for all his live action and animated outings in the '60's and '70's but the stories were awful and are some of the most cringe-inducing works of Star Trek ever. People might complain about the Kelvin Timeline or how Discovery will kill Star Trek but they seem to forget the original take on the character and I for one still find them episodes I would willingly skip.

For some unknown reason when it comes to characters with some form of Irish connection as is hinted at with Mudd's accent, the writing staff seem to chuck all reason out of the nearest window and horribly dumb down our neighbours. I refer you to Up the Long Ladder and the even more disgraceful Fair Haven and all matters relating to them. 

So to Mudd and the idea behind him seems to be fairly sound however he comes across as a bumbling idiot that somehow has the mind of master criminal or a wheeler-dealer dependent on the scene and the situation. 

My problem with The Original Series is that aside from the magnificent The Trouble with Tribbles I find the comedy aspect of the show to be lost on me by a fair margin. It just ain’t - nor was it ever - funny. I find that in most respects Star Trek as a franchise falls flat when it comes to comedic scripting because the writers are so focused on a more serious and relevant story that stays true to their characters (I do reserve a special place for The Magnificent Ferengi).

Carmel's Mudd makes Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise look dumb. His methods are pantomime, his reasoning lax and his expectations high for such questionable actions. In Mudd's Women the use of the Venus drug (and later the placebo version) covers up a bad deal that he hoped would stay concealed until well after the deal is done. He also travels by an alias that the Enterprise computer repeatedly sees as false under questioning. It's all a bit bumbling but even then, the twist around the looks of Mudd's women is suitably dark even if the rest of the story is lighter-hearted. Hell, could it get any more obvious than beauty being only skin deep?

Now step forward to 2017 and we have a new Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Thing is, this one in no way pisses me off. In fact it's a new dawn for the character and one that makes him more realistic and believable than that of Carmel.

Appearing first in Choose Your Pain this is a younger, less Irish stereotype and seemingly more calculating Mudd. While the older Carmel Mudd involves himself in tomfoolery and frivolous activity this version, this earlier version, is more devious, more controlled in some respects although that mischievous air still exists. Watch for example his "relationship" withe the bug, Stuart or his blatant disregard for the welfare of anyone but himself when it comes to choosing his pain.

Harry in I, Mudd was equally selfish seeking to replace himself on the android planet with the crew of the Enterprise and make good his escape but his over confidence there as with later during the repeated timeloops of Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad is his downfall as the crews of the Enterprise and laterly (or earlier?!) use his own methods and tools against him to bring about his comeuppance. 

Rainn Wilson offers some of the ham that made up the bulk of Roger C Carmel's portrayal but makes his version that much more layered. While he's still not bothered about doing the right thing by anyone other than himself and his own skin, Wilson's Mudd seems to have more to lose and is striking deals anywhere to save his own skin. His older self however seems to play it a little closer to the edge with perhaps less certain results. 

Carmel was suitable for the time and just as Discovery has "grown up" for 2017 so has the character of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. I did think it was an odd choice to bring into the latest iteration of the franchise but bizarrely Kurtzman, Sullivan and co have made it work and work in the finest of ways because you can buy into the real tragedy of the character especially when you see the conclusion of his second Discovery appearance. Carmel offered a charismatic rogue but without the darkness and hint of malice that you can see in Wilson's take. The latter will give up anything for his own survival and preservation but perhaps 

In both cases from Choose Your Pain and Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad it feels that nothing can go wrong for the trader. How could he possibly come out as the loser when he has the apparent backing/ear of the Klingons either as his captors or as his potential buyer for the Discovery?

He is also a lot more driven and vengeful than in his later, The Original Series years with a desire to defeat and destroy Lorca for leaving him to rot in the Klingon jail cell. His encounters with Kirk may be less angered because of age and wisdom but it feels as though he underestimates Kirk while at the same time being portrayed as less intelligent than the revamped Discovery version who is able to deceive and take down a Crossfield Class starship by learning and re-learning more about the craft during multiple timeloops.

Wilson's Mudd is more calculating, devious and self-obsessed/dependant than his older self and unless there's some massive revelation coming in season 1.5 or 2 I can't see how these two can be reconciled as the same character.

The Wilson Mudd fits the darker tones of Discovery perfectly and I have to now admit that the ending of Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad and the reintroduction of Stella is a stroke of genius. In I, Mudd the character was verging on unbelievable even if it was an android recreation that Harry had most likely accentuated all of her character traits. Katherine Barrell is nothing like her older mechanical interpretation, besotted with the rogue trader but yet seeming to have a hold on him that frightens Harry to his very core. Is her demeanour here a show? Probably is and it also echoes a trait of Mudd's from his The Original Series in that his outward persona is about 95% bravado hiding a deeply insecure core once he is without control of a situation.

In fact, watch back on all four occasions we have encountered Mudd in live action Star Trek and once the situation is diffused he seems to lose the plot and become subservient or out of personal control. In this way it's nice that there are at least some parallels between the two interpretations of the character almost 50 years apart.

In Discovery, Mudd has become much less the one dimensional comic villain and more a fragment that contributes to the whole of the ongoing Klingon arc. His role will probably be explained more in the next half of the first season but already we have a character who does not seem to have been fully opened up. His skills in these "earlier" years are apparently much more impressive than those during his two head-to-heads with Kirk and the Enterprise and I think it suggests that Mudd is a certifiable genius who has just chosen the wrong path. After all he can communicate with bugs, has a clear photographic memory allowing him to continually absorb more information as he learns how to operate Discovery and is a clever negotiator since he managed to be freed from a Klingon prison; in no way do I think he escaped just because of the difficulty encountered by Lorca and Tyler when they made their attempt.

Will Discovery explore some of the elements listed on his file as shown (above) in Mudd's Women? Certainly that psychiatric treatment intrigues but was it before or after what we have seen in the latest series? 

Rainn Wilson is, for me, the stronger version of the Mudd character in Star Trek. It feels more developed and so it should. Back in the 1960's this was a one-off villain of the week but now in 2017/18 he's a fully fleshed out part of something bigger and those pink flannel shirts just won't cut it....

Star Trek Discovery returns in 2018 - read our full series of episode reviews right here to bring yourself up to date.

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Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Change of Pod: The Official Starships Collection Issues 112 and 113

Sense of deja vu?

Yes as this month’s ship releases from Eaglemoss contain something new - and something of a variation on a theme. 

Stepping up at issue 23 is the USS Phoenix. It was the first variant of the Nebula Class starship to recognisably appear on screen after the wreckage of the USS Melbourne in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. We had our first encounter with the Nebula Class in the form of the USS Bonchune back in issue xx and just on a cursory glance over there’s one clear difference in the form of the AWACS style sensor pod. 

However, it would be wrong to skate away a review based purely on changing one piece so let’s see if this has received any other updates since we last unpackaged a Nebula Class.

The first difference to notice is the slightly darker paintwork that's coating the Phoenix and in turn means that the brilliant aztec paint scheme really stands out on the hull. Every inch is covered, even in those hard to see niches under the saucer and around the sensor pod. Being a little darker seems to benefit the overall finished product here but the similarities between the two Nebula class vessels are very strong too, perhaps moreso than the differences.

All the windows are in the precise alignment and colours as the Bonchune and that's applicable right across the whole of the hull both primary and secondary. The detail of those windows, the phaser strips and the lifeboat hatches all contrast cleanly against this darker hull tone plus someone has taken more time to print up the ship registry. It's a more crisp decal with very defined red edging and black alpha-numerics.

The smooth hull top also includes the distinctive Galaxy Class-style bridge module and shuttlebay structure which draws your attention towards the rear. However we'll get there first because I want to make a special mention of the underside of the saucer for this one. For some inexplicable reason it's missing the ship registry.

Now the Bonchune has it and the magazine blatantly shows the Phoenix has it (even in the episode stills) but somehow it's not made it onto the finished product here.The whole of the underside is, as with the top, absolutely identical to the earlier release with some of that now cringe-worthy misalignment of windows that is expected with every metal hull.

Let's edge backwards now because the loud and screaming difference in the Phoenix is the sensor pod. While the Bonchune's wedge pod was connected to the hull with a single vertical beam, the Phoenix has two struts with one connected to each opposing edge. The wedge pod on the older model came wonky and by a tragic it-fell-off-a-shelf moment it broke and I was able to realign more precisely. Here the AWACS pod is nice and straight, equally balanced on the double struts and is wonderfully detailed. The surface has the aztec paintjob plus the Starfleet pennant as the icing on the starship cake.

The shape is a clean oval and sits atop a slot in piece which means Eaglemoss can nail out variants of the Nebula Class for years to come with whatever rear pod they want to slot on just as with the "real thing". The attachment block is, well, blocky and clearly the add-on piece here. It links down onto the secondary hull which is taken from the Galaxy Class and stuck right under the elliptical saucer section. Please note that the sensor pod also sits perfectly straight as opposed to the wedge which, before it crashed, was at a slight angle, pointing more starboard than central.

Even though it's pretty dark under there, Eaglemoss have still detailed the hull with the aztec pattern plus the windows again are identical to the layout on the Bonchune. One thing that does appear wrong are the pylons both in their shape and the finishing touches. Take a look at the photos of the original and you can see that the front should have a curve to it rather than the straight edge that is here. Again the structural error is one not corrected, it seems, from the first version. The clear answer for keeping it the same is production cost - but why if we know it's wrong and flippin' obvious on the magazine cover?!

Anyway...the nacelles are nicely finished again as previous with the translucent bussard collectors and engine grills although there's a rather wobbly feel to the whole engine assembly from the pylons down which sharply contrasts to the solid-as-hell saucer directly above. They are both well finished with the aztec paint job and the pennants but the springiness in them is troubling. Stand position still uses the nacelle grip but the stand is a better fit together and this one doesn't lean anywhere near as much as the Bonchune does. Good fit, very secure and a definite shelf-hugger.

The accompanying 16 page handbook tumbles us into The Wounded alongside some episode shots and those lovely new CG renderings which each ship in the series receives - and which show up a multitude of sins depending on which item you believe. The majority of the ship overview does relate to the incident televised plus a little background on the function of the ship, crew complement and basic armaments. A lot of this has already been used for the Bonchune but I already have to say I prefer the Phoenix as a finished model. The plan views do line up pretty well alongside the ship and even manages to keep the registry inaccuracy in place so at least the two do agree with each other this time. Production Design on Season Four deserves SO much more than a double-page spread in this magazine. 

Two sides doth zero justice and we get a few design pics that many will have seen before and nothing groundbreaking. It feels like filler and should have been treated as much more. Instead we have an overview of the fourth season which takes up six pages. Weirdly this also seems to have been tragically undercut and could we have lengthened either article out to eight pages and scrapped the other? More info on either topic would have been good but both end up very top line and skate over any real detail. You just can't cover 26 episodes that quickly nor can you explore the design of the 24th Century in a couple of paragraphs. Great topic ideas for the mag but poorly explored.

Over to issue 113 and a ship I would be hard-pushed to recognise in any of its various incarnations especially this one from Voyager; the Lokirrim Warship. As with the Bajoran Freighter/Smuggler's Ship, this one has been through the model workshop blender a few times across Deep Space Nine, Voyager and finally Enterprise in multiple altered forms. The shape we have here is from the last season of Voyager and the episode Body and Soul.

Now I’ll be straight, the ship is gorgeous which is annoying that this one-off is such a great finished product because I’d have to be guided to the episode to have a clue at recognising its rakish hull and sexy arsenal. On the positive side the detail is truly Eaglemoss at the top of their game and this is one to really experience in the flesh.

The hull is a mix of bronze, copper and grey sections with each of the colours helping to highlight a piece of the ship. At the front the bronze prongs surge forward from the main shell, bringing you back into the winglike craft. They lie either side of a central habitation/command/engineering unit marked out with cabin lights that are as always not aligned to their flippin' recesses. Get's boring to write after 113 issues but keep it coming Eaglemoss, I'm sure we can last that line out to 130 at least.

The central hull piece has a couple of raised units which appear to be photonic weapon ports with a purple toned slit-like opening as the business end. These ports also appear to the front of the wings, at the tips of the tubular (standard) weapons on the wings and also on three openings on the belly of the beast which would suggest this is very heavily armed. One thing; the shuttlebay door is painted up in a very bright white (right on the nose) which shows up precisely nowhere else in the accompanying magazine or any of the images. It could have done with being toned down a few shades as it does scream at you in comparison to the paint work on the whole of the rest of the ship.

As we head further back along the hull the copper/bronze paintwork mixes together giving an orderly but patchworked effect with venting, recessed and raised hull tech detail. If you actually look at this ship as a whole there are a lot of really neat techniques used in the building work. There are the slots within this metal upper hull at the front and to the rear, the accurate detailing of the purple photonic weapon ports we just mentioned and some stunning aztec paintwork on the underside that at first you might not spot. There's a lot of things that have been learnt, I would think, from earlier issues and attempts which might be why we are now seeing some of these more fiddly and curve-ball models coming into the collection.

Indeed, the metalwork to the rear of the Lokirrim Warship has all sorts of ups and downs and cutouts to keep your eyes entertained but I actually think the most impressive piece here are the wings.

Sweeping out majestically from either side of that central hull pod, the drooping wings carry some of that heavy arsenal both on their main surface and also on the winglets that sprout from their ends. Forged in the same single piece of metal that forms the topside of the ship, the winglets are very strong with zero movement at their tips and no movement either at the slim attachment point to the main body of the ship. In fact all of the extremities are secure on this one and they're all metal so the fragile rear-clip stand won't need to be a massive concern for shelf-fall damage.

The underneath is just as beautiful as the top. Now, remember I'm usually used to lauding praise on the "one-off's" from Enterprise that came from the minds of the CG department and you can see here that those later years on Voyager were definitely the starting point at creating such amazing digital models. 

Again there's that melding of the bronze, copper and grey elements across the surface. The bronze is the dominant space-frame colour as on top but it benefits massively from that toned aztec finish as well as a lot of callout hull elements that aren't present on the other side. There's something very insect-like about the bottom and I found that I was likening it to a wasp or a bee with some of the cross-hull markings and those two forward-thrusting prongs.

As noted there are three more of the protruding ports which look like weapon emitters equally spaced in the centre of the craft and dotted with the copper paint work. The most significant difference is the placement of the engine and its exhaust, running from just past halfway along the hull right to the back. There's no colouring at the exit point but the styling is really nice and it does feature some more tonal finishing and copper/bronze detail to bring it to life.

The only section of this one to be in plastic (aside from the stand of course) is a central arrow piece that slots into the underbelly of the Warship. The melding of the two pieces is near perfection with the plastic piece fitting exactly - and flush - into the hole. The paint job between the parts is also exact with some spot on alignment of some of the callout panel sections that are placed right across the ventral section. 

Ok, to the magazine. In the first section we are told more about the Lokirrim society and its distrust/dislike of photonic (holographic) lifeforms than we are about the ship itself. The Warship gets a few paragraphs while the people get about a page and a half(!). The CG images here make you realise that the model actually is a pretty good representation but they also point out that the ship itself is much, much more finely detailed than the finished product. Eaglemoss have done a sterling job however but there is so much that isn't quite up to where the CG images indicate it should be.

Second section in here is dedicated to the other guises by which the Lokirrim ship managed to photo-bomb its way into more episodes of the franchise at all sorts of angles and under all sorts of paintwork and appendages. Some of them you'll spot right away but there are a couple where it was hiding away in the corner. Not a ton of text here and more a chance for some sharp shots from various episodes to make you think!

Closing out is, linking to the Doctor's role in Body and Soul, an interview with the man behind that hologram, Robert Picardo. A great interview with a ton of questions I wish I'd asked when I met him for this site it's six pages of insight into the background of Voyager that's a good sit down read and thoroughly enjoyable.

A good month once again for Eaglemoss with two great models. I much prefer the Phoenix to the Bonchune and the sensor pod is extremely well finished and brilliantly more stable than the weapon wedge. Definitely love this one even though it's just an update. The Lokirrim Warship is an utter pleasure and might just pip the Phoenix as the better of the two releases. It's uncluttered and simplistic construction accompanied by the wealth of surface detail makes it a real, unexpected winner. Not one I would have recommended to get when it was announced but, surprise, surprise, I was wrong. Again.

Next month we are expecting another one from Wolf 359 with the vertically nacelled Challenger Class and one from the Enterprise data banks in the shape of the Tellarite Starship.

USS Phoenix or the Lokirrim your favourite from the month? Is it worth doing another Nebula variant?

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