Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Guest Starring: Reflections on Picard


Like so many fans, I came to Star Trek as a child in the mid-90s. Unbeknownst to me, the franchise was in the middle of a renaissance with overlapping series and movies being released at the same time. It truly was the best of times. Trek fans were spoiled, and we didn’t even know it.

At the heart of this new resurgence, of course, lay Gene Roddenberry and his philosophy. After his death in 1991, the onus fell upon Rick Berman who tried his best to create television that Gene would have approved of. It was an approach that Berman himself has, at times, been critical of. Should he have permitted more serialised storytelling on The Next Generation and Voyager? Would darker themes have yielded higher ratings and therefore greater commercial success? Time certainly has been good to Deep Space Nine – once the ugly duckling of the franchise it is now experiencing a long overdue critical re-appraisal.

So, when Star Trek returned to television after more than a decade away, it was clear that many of the tropes of contemporary storytelling would be employed to bring the ageing franchise into the 21st century. The result was 2017’s Star Trek: Discovery.

I’ll admit it – I’ve never warmed to Discovery. It's certainly not for lack of trying (having watched every episode of the two seasons presently available). Sure, I could point to the unlikeable characters or the dour wartime storyline, but the cause of my discomfort lies deeper – it doesn’t feel like Star Trek.

When it was announced that Patrick Stewart would be returning to his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard, I was elated. Not only was I excited to see one of the most beloved characters in all of science fiction return, but it symbolised a return to the 24th century (the first since 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis) and a re-engagement with established canon. As the first season of Star Trek: Picard unfolded, I began to sense a growing unease – not only in myself – but in certain segments of the fandom as well. This wasn’t the show we had hoped for, and it sure as hell didn’t feel like Star Trek

What follows is my personal laundry list of why Star Trek: Picard fell short of my expectations:

Patrick Stewart himself:


Patrick Stewart’s very name is synonymous with thespian excellence. His rich timbre and dedication to his craft have allowed him to create some unforgettable characters both on stage and screen. I’m saddened to say that I was less than impressed with his performance in Star Trek: Picard. His voice – one of his more formidable acting tools – is shot. No one is immune to the passage of time, and, without wanting to appear ageist, I believe he has simply aged out of the role.



Gore:


Episode five featured the now infamous eye gauging scene – it was the one and only time I have turned my head away from the screen during an episode of Star Trek. It wasn’t just the scene itself that I found distressing, rather the context. The audience watches as a familiar character has his eyeball forcibly extracted as he is restrained on a bloody bed, screaming in agony.


Some in the online fanbase were quick to respond: “Star Trek has always been violent; they were just hindered by network TV censorship standards”. Others cited Harry Kim’s spaghetti-like wound in Scorpion, Part I as precedent, or, better yet, Remmick’s exploding head from Conspiracy. It’s true, Picard is not beholden to the censorship standards of the 90s, but just because they can show gory content, it does not mean they should. 

At this point, I feel the need to qualify my critique by identifying myself as an ardent horror fan. I’m not “against” gore on television, but that kind of imagery is not what I want from Star Trek. 

Swearing & Contemporary dialogue:


Many reviewers have taken umbrage with some of the language used in the show (one foul mouthed Admiral in particular). I personally didn’t care for it, mainly because I feel it was it was used clumsily. Swearing for swearing’s sake. 

It reminded me of the scene between Kirk and Spock on the bus in Star Trek IV. Spock notices that contemporary speech is peppered with profanity. Kirk waves it away as a vernacular artefact of centuries past. In the Star Trek universe, this is the way humans on earth used to speak to each other. Swearing in dialogue and the use of contemporary phrases (like “dude” and “hell yeah”) shatters the illusion that we are in a future time. Which brings me to…

It breaks the reality of Star Trek:


What happened to the post scarcity utopia of the 24th century? It appears to have been supplanted by a much more cynical and nihilistic zeitgeist, almost completely embodied in the character of Raffi. Her entire motivation is driven by the trauma of her losing her “job” and her slow descent into poverty. She even compares her home to Picard’s – making reference to his “heirloom” furniture. The ugly image of a drug addicted black woman living in a trailer seems especially miscalculated given the current wave of social change that minorities around the world are attempting to initiate.

It’s depressing as hell:


Who would have thought that Seven of Nine, upon her return to the alpha quadrant, would  become a cynical, hard drinking murderer? Or that poor, gentle Icheb would be so brutally butchered that he would beg for euthanasia? The world of Star Trek: Picard is a frightening place populated by damaged characters. As the credits rolled on each episode, I was filled with a sinking feeling, disturbed by images of murder, poisonings, suicide, panic attacks, insanity and vivisections.


On social media, many of my criticisms of the show were shouted down or dismissed derisively as “you just want old Star Trek” and “OK Boomer”. Fair enough. The show is different, radically so in places. I accept that. I often try to remember what a shock it must have been like for viewers in 1987 tuning in to see Encounter at Farpoint for the first time. But this iteration of Trek doesn’t feel right.

So, what does Star Trek feel like to me?

It feels like a slice of media that challenges me with bold science fiction ideas. It feels intellectual, and at times, a little high minded. But mostly, it makes me think about the future – a time when all of the resources our planet currently devotes to war and interpersonal division will be funnelled into the exploration of space.

At least, that’s what Star Trek means to me. Here’s hoping season two can offer a less depressing vision of the 24th century.

Thanks to James Patrik for his article taking a look back at the first season of Picard.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

The Blaggers Guide to... The Original Series


You've seen the trailer, you might have even caught up with Beyond when it dropped onto Blu-ray round at a mates house on Netflix but now you're really considering watching Star Trek: Discovery and that other one - Pick a Card or summut...

Thing is, you've shockingly discovered that Star Trek isn't just a trilogy of movies from the guy who did CloverfieldMission: Impossible and a couple of Star Wars movies. That show starring that girl from The Walking Dead and Lucius Malfoy is getting some attention and has been for a couple of years - you're feeling a bit left out. Plus, horrifyingly, it seems there's a whole host of episodes and movies that came before 2009; like a lot.

In fact, it's become clear to you that Star Trek is over 50 goddamn years old. Where did this all come from? How did you miss it? Was it on at the same time as Love Island or Big Brother? What are the 1960's exactly? How are you gonna catch up on that much TV history before a new season of Discovery airs. You'll need to prep so you can hold your own with your friends the morning after a new episode airs. What is to be done? What precisely???  

Fear not because here at Some Kind of Star Trek we like to think we can help with this dilemma and get newcomers out of that difficult situation. So, in the first of a new series we are going to be giving you the essential knowledge and some curve-ball facts that will keep you in the good graces of your Star Trek badge-carrying friends and colleagues. Compacted down into a bite-size chunk, you'll know your Tribble from a Targ in minutes and be able to vomit fact after fact to keep you in the loop. Let us begin, logically, at the beginning. It's 1966...  

The Original Series or, just plain and simple Star Trek ran for three years before it fell off the wagon and was cancelled in 1969 because no-one was really fussed to watch it. The first two series are classics with the third being something of an clusterfuck at times, LSD trip at others and a mish-mash of super-cheap stories to fill a rubbish Friday night US TV time-slot.   


Basic Background


Ok, actually Star Trek first erupted from the mind of Gene Roddenberry in 1964 with the pilot episode The Cage which the network hated, like really hated but still oddly liked - apart from that pointy-earred guy. All of the characters from that episode were binned off except, ironically, the pointy-earred guy (but more on him in a bit) and Gene kept his wife on the payroll in another part because he couldn't have a woman in as senior a role as first officer - I mean, jeez, how would she cope... welcome to the 1960's mentality...!

If you have seen the JJ 2009 movie and Into Darkness then you'll know Christopher Pike who was the captain of the ship in that pilot story and he's probably the best bit about the second season of Discovery so take note and he's getting his own show called Strange New Worlds. He also turns up in a wheelchair after a tragic accident in the only two-part story of The Original Series called The Menagerie. For reference it's the first pilot sandwiched into a trial on the USS Enterprise to save a bit of cash. Always correct people when they say Jeffery Hunter played him in The Menagerie. It was Sean Kenney.

So, for 79 episodes the crew Boldly Go Where No Man ('60's sexism right there again) Has Gone Before on the USS Enterprise. This might turn up in Discovery so remember the name. The design is a classic so don't go slating it in that morning catch up and occasionally drop into conversation something about that gold thing on the front being a deflector dish to stop it getting splatted by debris and planets at warp speed.

Couple of useful nerdy facts for you here, the registry of NCC-1701 was selected because it was easy to distinguish the letters on a TV and the transporter was created because they couldn't work out how to land the ship. The bridge is that lump on the top and the shuttlecraft comes out of the hatch at the back of the middle tube. Weapons on the ship are phasers and photon torpedoes which will change location on the ship dependant on who inks in the animation that day.

Nearly cancelled after its second season, Star Trek would limp through its final year with a cut budget, trimmed scripts and as a result a drop in quality. The series went into syndication and was sold to stations across the US where it would find a new audience in the 1970's...and then guess what happened...drunk students watched it and loved it.


Characters


Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) heads up the multi-racial crew, famously bedding multiple "space babes". You can determine which season of Star Trek you are in by the increase in Kirk's waistline and hair length. Shorter equals season one and near-mullet equals late season three. Delivering lines with. Unpredictable EMPHASIS on. Words and punctuation, Kirk is designed as the lead but has to share the limelight with Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy), half-Vulcan, emotion-repressing and logical. If ever there's a dramatic moment, you can count on Spock to raise an eyebrow and find the whole thing "Fascinating". Do not refer to him at any time as Doctor Spock. Ever. It will be the last thing you ever say.

Their central trio is completed with the cranky Southern doctor in the shape of Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). His main reason to exist is to piss off Spock and compare his work as a doctor to a variety of  items including a bricklayer, an escalator and a moon shuttle conductor.


Down in the Engine Room (which wasn't there at the beginning and was altered for season two), was Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan). Defying the laws of physics he could be found pushing the engines too hard and occasionally dying (twice) but always super-faithful to the only woman in his life, the Enterprise. At the helm is Lieutenant Sulu. He only gained a first name in Star Trek VI; Hikaru and didn't feature in a chunk of season two because he was off filming The Green Berets with John Wayne. Probably worth mentioning when he was infected with the virus in The Naked Now he ran around with a fencing sword thinking he was D'Artagnan. 


Communications and responsible for "Opening hailing frequencies" was Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nicholls). Generally she'll be found either on the bridge or singing in the rec room. She's underused but is part of the first interracial kiss on TV with William Shatner. However, this is only the case because the pair messed up all the takes where you didn't see the kiss.

Last up is the mop-haired Russian ensign, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) who arrives in season two in order to attract youngsters and fans of The Monkees. Some people think he was in season one. He wasn't. Fact; get over it.


Key Episodes in Seconds


The Man Trap - first episode aired and sixth produced. Salt-sucking alien disguises itself as different people to get a square meal. Kirk surprisingly doesn't sleep with it. 

The City on the Edge of Forever - the one with Joan Collins where Kirk has to let her die to reset the universe. "Edith Keeler must die." Knock this one at your peril, it's a frikkin' classic. (pic left)

Amok Time - first episode on Vulcan and includes famous fight music used in parody in a ton of shows. Spock "kills" Kirk with the Vulcan Death Grip. Practice the following melody for dramatic moments: Dah dah dah daa daa dah da da daaaah

The Trouble with Tribbles - see also Deep Space Nine's Trials and Tribbleations. Only decent comedy attempt in The Original Series. Tribbles hate Klingons and are born pregnant (which saves some time). Refer to any real fluffy animal as looking like a Tribble to confirm your fan status.

Spock's Brain - when mentioned, roll eyes and say "Brain? What is brain?!" then laugh and move on sharply to discuss something better...like Way to Eden.

Turnabout Intruder - last one. Super sexist and wouldn't be produced today. Kirk swaps bodies with a former lover. It's not great especially in the current climate. Ingratiate yourself with everyone by commenting how women should never captain starships...or you could actually step into the modern world. 

Use also titles: Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Naked Time, The Doomsday Machine and Plato's Stepchildren


Iconic Aliens and Villains


Klingons - original, sash-wearing, silver vested and moustache-twirling at its '60's best. Appeared first in Errand of Mercy (season one). Lots of macho posturing with these guys and they will be back older and grumpier in Deep Space Nine. Key names to remember - Kor, Koloth and Kang. In fact just make some up and stick a "K" at the beginning and you should get away with it.

Romulans - not as prominent as they were in The Next Generation. Cool ship called the Bird of Prey that can cloak. Budget cuts and a lost model meant they used Klingon ships in later appearances. Gold, purple and shoulder pads essential, helmets optional for prosthetic budget reasons.

Khan - bad superman from the late 20th Century with a killer ponytail. Renowned for the chat up line "Please sit and entertain me". Later spotted on Loveboat and would have questionable memory of Enterprise crew while spouting Shakespeare.

Gorn - green, plastic and the world's slowest fighter. Kirk could have defeated by walking away quickly...or even just ambled. Guy inside the suit is called Bobby Clark. I met him once, he's cool.

There you have it, a condensed and absolutely 100%(!) accurate intro to The Original Series. With this you will be able to go forth and stun (heavy stun) all your newfound Star Trek friends with your spectacular knowledge of the show that started it all. If you want extra points, always end your conversations with the Vulcan hand salute (pictured) and the words "Live Long and Prosper", however don't attempt this at a Star Wars convention.

Next up we'll be tackling the classic movies. There's only six of those so in lesson two we'll have to fill out the article with some other tips and tricks to make you look super Star Trek literate...I'll have a check if there are any behind the TV now...

Thanks for dropping by and reading our first Blaggers Guide - do you have any top tips to get you by on The Original Series

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Thursday, 2 July 2020

Lower Decks: Ship Shot


The characters have been revealed; now we have both a launch date confirmed and our first look at the feature starship. 

Set to debut on August 6th via CBS All Access, Lower Decks will be the first animated Star Trek series since 1975 - we’re not counting the two Short Trek's in there! 

Google Images
Along with that announcement, we know there will be a total of ten episodes with one released weekly and that a second series is already well into production. Along with this, there's also the rumour that we might get to see a few regular characters drop in from time to time - but nothing so far on this has been set in stone. But that's not what’s really causing the rumblings in the forums this week because Lower Decks also gave us the first pass on the California Class USS Cerritos (pictured right on this latest teaser poster)

Used for ‘second contact’, these guys are rarely going where no-one has gone before, more often than not being the follow up team behind the Picard's of the galaxy once communications have been established.  Now what you might not know about the name is that Cerritos is a suburban city in Los Angeles County and is also known as Dairy Valley (hope I got that right). I'm getting the sense that the producers have gone for a very "average" place to reflect the more average and "normal" routine that we can expect from the latest starship to hit the small screen.

Set in 2380 just after Nemesis, the USS Cerritos definitely captures the era with that distinctive oval saucer section and the eye-shaped navigational deflector both reminiscent of the Galaxy Class and the kitbash that came from it, the Nebula Class. 

The California Class however seems to have taken that step further and added a spin on the Oberth Class with there seeming to be no logical way to move from the primary hull to the secondary hull without either a) the use of a transporter or b)a turbolift that would need to be heavily protected from the effects of travelling through a warp engine. Looks like there could be some fun times ahead for the feature group of lower deck ensigns we’re set to meet. 

Google images
Looking at the saucer though there are a few differences to the Galaxy Class - those cut-outs at the edge for one and the quartet of dips just forward of the yellow stripe. Gone too is the captain's yacht, replaced with a darker grey wedge shape that extends to the rim of the saucer. We can also see through the reflection dancing on the surface that there are rings of lifeboats so life preservation has been a consideration in its design!

At this point there's no ship name or registry emblazoned on the hull which is unusual but that number might be something they're holding back a reveal on.

The pylons are of a unique style too, resembling motorway bridge supports , attaching to the warp nacelles just behind the bussard collectors. Rather than being oblongs though, these two engine units seem to be octagonal in shape with the top four sides more elongated. Both the bussard collectors and the warp field grilles are of a totally new design with a lot more luminescence than we've experience in similar ships of the time. 

Now while we have been making a serious note of the choice to have the two hulls separated and seemingly impossible to step between, we may be overthinking this with more automation and the possibility that the secondary "hull" is really just jammed full of sensory equipment meaning the crew have no real need to ever go in there except for repairs. Again, this is just conjecture from myself and not actual scripted fact.

We haven't had a look to the back and top of the Cerritos so there's still a bit of mystery to the design. For one, where's the shuttlebay? Is the bridge the same style  as the Enterprise-D??  

It's a radical departure from the usual collection of bits we saw in The Next Generation especially with those girder-esque pylons but it's got us all talking because it is different, striking and isn't afraid to be different even though there are so many recognisable elements included. 

Whether I'll come to love it I can't say at the present time since there's only this one view to consider and it, as noted, leaves a lot unresolved. However, if the series is as unique as this, it will be an entertaining ten weeks!

In just over a month we'll be able to talk even more about the latest Star Trek series.

But what do you think to the new step in starship design? What's great? What would you want to see altered?

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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The New Line on the Block: The Star Trek Online Starships Collection Issues 1 and 2


As The Official Starships Collection bows out in a matter of weeks with its 180th issue, Eaglemoss are already setting out to new frontiers with their Star Trek Online Starships series.

The first two issues are out right now featuring the USS Gargarin and the USS Chimera

As it's the opening salvo from this new collection, let's dissect this from a box level down. First of all, the packaging has stepped up to the mark and away from the generic blue sleeves from The Official Starships Collection. Taking instead a line from the busts, the boxes are a full six sides with a windowed front. The sides are decked out with info on what's contained within and for those looking to line it all up as a "bookshelf" series, the spine side carries the issue number and ship detail.

All in all it's a big move away from the plastic bag ship and mag combination we've seen for the last seven years and instantly looks a darn sight more professional and inviting. On the back - and not therefore not taking up any unnecessary magazine space - is a preview of the upcoming issues, naming a few more than there are pictured.

This is definitely a positive shift for Eaglemoss who are also notably stamping it with their Hero Collector brand. Also a move in keeping with the Busts and Discovery collections is the downsizing of the magazines to fit into those boxes. Good move for space saving after 180 larger magazines but dead fiddly and certainly the text is harder to read. More on the mags at the end.

Ok, here’s issue one’s lowdown. The USS Gagarin is a visually upgraded version of the Shepard Class from Discovery, offering not just a 25th Century structural makeover but also a striking new paint job.

Utilising the same model sizing as The Official Starships Collection, the Gagarin has a set of crisp lines and immediately you realise that this is  as close as close as close as you could get to the craft on Online. Why? Because the CG models have always been Eaglemoss’ preferred media of choice when it’s come to creating their starships series and was most evident when you compared the Enterprise ships to any of the series that preceded it. 

That accuracy is continued here, beginning with NCC-97930. Take a look firstly at the circular primary hull with its detailed panelling - there’s a lot of it and in comparison to the TV shows, this ship doesn’t carry those ramrod straight lines emanating from the bridge module out to the edge. It’s a more curved pattern, weaving across the deck symmetrically along the dorsal centre line of the hull. The paintwork is very Online, taking the choice to head for the sharply contrasting white and black blocking. It’s simple and effectively painted on but raises your awareness of the very average decalling particularly  when it comes to the ‘slipped’ markings indicating the ends of the dorsal phaser arrays. 

The more distinctive feature than its primary hull though are the split pylons connecting the main body to the pair of warp engines. They don't run parallel to each other with the lower sweeping back while the top arm runs straight across. The pylons again continue the black/white Online colour scheme and a slight angle adjustment means that the engines sit just a fraction above the primary hull. The crossbar upper pylon is detail heavy with further contrast panelling as well as ship registry and red striping, both of which are placed perfectly. The lower pylon is perhaps a tad more interesting with a central slit cut into the metal drawing your eye to the black edging of the upper arm. It does feel that the design has some space to breathe here after the onslaught of colour and intricate decalling of the saucer.

The warp engines themselves attach at two points to the unique double pylon concept and also feature a very unusual design. Angled from front to back as though heading out to a distant vanishing point, the front section is capped with a translucent bussard collector . Now on mine, the starboard collector wasn't attached firmly and just came away from its slot so I'm not hugely thrilled it's another minor repair job.

The rest of the engines have the stripes of the Starfleet pennant top and bottom plus the full item on the sides including more ship registries. It's the back of the units where the design goes a little funky with a split/forked arrangement that includes warp field grilles along the interior edges. 

The ship design and in particular the attention to getting the pylons correct has meant in turn that the warp nacelles have remained parallel to their tips. The design and execution of the panel lining here is clean and remains in line on the two prongs of the distinct design. For me, it's the back end where this class really works visually. The saucer is just too busy, there's a lot of shape and colour while the pylons and engines seem more considered and simply painted allowing for the design to come through more effectively. 

The red decals around the lifeboat pod hatches are in contrast a lot more in sync with the hull details as are the trimmings around the outer extremes of the saucer and also around the bridge module. What does let it down is the blotchy ship name just above the ok ship registry. While the latter is in a bigger font, the name has lost a little definition in the shape of the ‘A’s and the ‘G’s that sounds ruin the effect.

The bottom of the saucer is perhaps even more cluttered than the top with the continuation of the black and white scheme but the window painting on the black sections does make it appear that the coating is flecked or damaged. Once more, the decals around the lifeboat hatches on the interior are spot on while those lining the outer edge are painted very precisely in line with the raised "blips" on the hull. 

The central strip is also just as well completed with the key feature here being the blue, recessed and almost invisible deflector dish which seems to have its own "barrel" if you will that runs down the middle of the ship. To be fair it's as filled out as the top half of the saucer so the utilisation of space on the Gagarin has been used to a premium although at times it seems there's detail for the sake of detail instead of putting in a few breaks!

As an upgraded design from Discovery's Shepard Class it's ok but not one that really strikes home the 25th Century out of the box thinking that echoes from the digital realm of Star Trek Online - but we'll see that in issue two. 

As an opener the model is well detailed, given a good, clean paintjob and is extensively detailed on every surface to recreate the starship as it is in the game. While I'm not totally familiar with the vessel, the finished product looks awesome probably due to that double pylon spin.

Issue one, a mini-mag included inside the model bx, sets the standard for future issues with a run through of the in-universe nature of the Gagarin plus it's development from the 22nd Century "classic". The pictures - a lot smaller than I'm used to with the bigger editions of the Official Starships line - are extensive with multiple angles of the ship, showing off its key elements alongside some fine plan views which are almost devoid of any callout details.

What does step this issue up however are the Design and the Yard 39 features explaining how the ship came to be in the game both from the real world slant and then from the historical background linking the ship to its "lost" past as part of an abandoned set of ships that could not be reached due to spacial phenomenon. It's just odd enough to work as a concept and shows some of the thinking behind the online game allowing players and fans access to a ton of ships from different eras of Star Trek while also remaining true to the 25th Century setting.


While the USS Gagarin exemplifies the visual changes that have made Online ships so distinctive and contrasting to their TV counterparts, the USS Chimera NCC-97400 goes back to a tried and tested formula. Commanded by one Ferengi called Nog, the quad-warp-engined starship cuts a sharp look as part of the digital fleet.

Carrying that familiar grey overcoat trimmed with black, this model looks not dissimilar to the USS Prometheus from the top. Again heavy on the deflector grid panel lines as with the Gagarin, the Chimera places itself firmly as a ship ready for battle with a tight profile, swept pylons, entombed bridge and chunky yet streamlined nacelles to finish her off. 

The detail on her is very good, relying more on the paint to mark out distinctive features including the curved edge concealing its "devastating" Phaser Lotus. This does, for someone who's not dived that deep into the Online pool, seem like a gimmick and half that's just a step beyond the USS Prometheus' Multi-Vector Assault Mode but hey, different timeline, different theories so who am I to argue against it. 

What I do like about this is the placement of the impulse engines to the back of the engine pylons and Eaglemoss have managed to paint them in pretty perfectly even though it's an incredibly thin edge to use. The warp engines themselves are surprisingly well built with two sections in each of the four modules being completed in translucent plastic - the bussard collectors to the front and the blue field grilles to the rear. There's even a sliver of blue across the centre if you look closely and these might be the best production engines on any ship since these collections began. Honestly, these are a real work of art and model construction - and they're very solid as well so top marks for effort and accuracy.

Also take note of that central hump. Not only does it demonstrate a more logical way to protect the bridge than leave it prominently out in the open but also leads back to the well-executed inclusion of the shuttlebay and landing pad. The decals here even include a microscopic ship registry - again, a fine attention to getting these screen accurate.


The decalling overall is inspiringly accurate for an Eaglemoss piece with the lifeboat hatches in alignment and the Starfleet pennants on the sides of the lower hull and warp engines also being well defined. The latter also includes another small version of the ship name and registry. 

Now the underneath of the Chimera is not what you might expect. Rather than a smooth raked back finish sliding nicely towards the rear we have a gaping maw of a deflector dish that drops sharply back into the secondary hull.  The solid single tone base paint scheme is augmented with darker grey panelling and a wide move right across the ship is to decal on the windows to the smooth surface rather than dipping the hull and having them nearly be aligned to the right spot. For the bulbous secondary hull especially, this move has worked perfectly allowing the whole of the section to be fully realised without ruining the overall effect. Minor grumble - one of the red curves marking the end of the phaser bank here does appear to be off-centre but I really had to look for it.

The oversize secondary hull does sweep back up just as abruptly as it drops but this time is broken by the white doors of the main shuttlebay which juts out in the opposite direction to the quantum slipstream lump at the front of the main deflector. While the Chimera is unusual, the design balances itself out around this bottom-heavy concept that, for all intents, still looks incredibly deadly and a natural progression down the line of quad-engined starships for the 25th Century Online.

These magazines are a real eye-opener for someone who's fairly inexperienced with the Online advances and they come at the designs from two angles - that of the real world work from the artist who brought it about and then the understanding of its features and reason to be from the in-universe Star Trek perspective. These are great reads accompanied by some very realistic plan views including the now familiar fleeting nod to parts of the ship (but actually here they make sense!). 

In issue two we get to explore the processes behind the development of this ship as a reward for lifetime players before turning to a biographical article on the career of Captain Nog following his time at Deep Space Nine. Closing out we have the in-game stats for the class as with the Gagarin

This is a much better ship with a decent magazine in the package. Stepping away from the contrast paint scheme gives it a more realistic feel than the Gagarin while the design is pure STO built for the game alone. I love the crackers, huge gaping secondary hull and the quad-pod engines - it looks the part and fits perfectly with the game's more aggressive ship battle feature.

The Online collection looks to be an exciting selection to follow and, just from a presentation perspective is a big step up from the original collection we've reviewed for 180 issues. Coming up are a variety of Starfleet ships as well as Klingon, Dominion and Romulan craft from the long-running game. 


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Thursday, 25 June 2020

Two Sides to the TNG: The Official Starships Collection Issues 176 and 177


It feels like the collection really is just counting down the weeks until issue 180 with two ships that would be utilised in other forms across the franchise's Golden Era.

Arriving in The Next Generation's first season episode, Haven, the distinctive Tarellian (Plague) Ship incited fear in civilisations across the galaxy. A visually basic design (its a rectangle with a ball), it does lack the detail and sadly therefore the interest from myself because it pales in comparison to many later starships. However, in a backwards sort of way it's a perfect example of the show finding its feet and design aesthetic.

Enough of my mumblings though and on to the starship in question. The Tarellian Ship is light on surface detail with the base light grey coat azteced and then accentuated with darker grey highlights to focus the eye onto sections of panelling laid across the hull.

It's a very simple paintjob overall with Eaglemoss ably completing the job without any errors and potentially made even easier with the note that all the darker shaded areas are raised up on the hull. The window ports along the side almost manage to line up with the surface impressions but, alas, with only a handful of issues to go it's still not in the right place although it's close. 

As with the panel detail, surface greebling is definitely toned down here with only a slim piece in front of the warp bubble and then some directly behind that feature. Definition on them is decent with the pant not overwhelming their shapes. Nor does the red paint fill in the grille lines on the panelling at the back either. 

Now I would go into massive detail about the underside of the ship but...it's exactly the same as the top. The only visual difference is the bug-pincer nose which drops away from the top giving the only real indication of orientation. The nose itself is also the split point for the hull with it attached into the metal upper piece. Aside from the join line at the front though it's a near "seamless" join all the way round. 

Now, onto the "main feature" if you will and that rollerball centrepiece of the ship. In the Star Trek universe this marks the distinctive Tarellian warp drive with the sphere representing the field when the craft is stepping up to faster than light speed. I can grasp pretty quickly in the model that this doesn't translate very well into plastic. The central negative space looks great, it's the delivery of this section which really deflates the model however. Even a blue tint to the plastic half-spheres can't get you away from the reality that it's not as glowing nor "alive" if you will as the screen starship because you simply can't deliver a special effect in a box, just the same as we felt with the organic craft of Species 8472. 

The display of this one is particularly wobbly with a rear grip that's not that robust. With a slight lean to the rear it does sit but it's less than perfect and might be a rare shelf-diver.

The magazine sprinkles in the story of the Tarellians and their notorious plague ships as well as it's standard array of features. It does dwell a little bit on the difference to Starfleet in warp tech although this only draws even more attention to the glorified hamster wheel that's attached to the boxed model.

Designing the ship furthers the line of thinking around the centre element of the craft plus the ways in which it could have been different to start with. Definitely a recommended read to see where the thought processes were heading in 1987 as The Next Generation took its first steps into the world. Closing out had to be a feature on the making of the episode in which the Tarellian ship made its only appearance, in this case; Haven. It's not the greatest story in 50 years of Star Trek but it has its reasons for being a significant 50 minutes of TV and those are explored here.

To the Sheliak Colony Ship for issue 177 and lo, we've got that sense of deja vu which is expected since this is a reworking of the classic Merchantman from The Search for Spock. As with several ships before we waited a long time for that one to arrive - and not quite so long after it to get another iteration. As I've said on several occasions, these are all well and good but we have sacrificed issues of the regular series for these where we could have had Quark's Shuttle or Lazarus' ship or... ok, well maybe not the last one but I know we're all on the same page.

Appearing in The Next Generation's The Ensigns of Command, the altered Merchantman had a serious makeover changing it's colour from the sandy red through to a more utilitarian grey. Usually there's something removed to help with the design "transition" but with the Sheliak craft it's all about the additions. 

Starting out to the front, the ship has gained two warp engine "skis" and underneath the ventral fin has been slightly altered. There are also what seem to be additional tanks strapped in on the underside. On the top there's a second bridge-like module behnd the first as well as increased amounts of piping running from said unit back to the quad impulse engines. 

Without question the original format of the ship is far more attractive and iconic within the franchise while the modifications here change the feel of it and not just the aesthetic. Eaglemoss have done a great job in adapting the design (and for note this is smaller than the earlier Merchantman) and capturing the differences made for The Next Generation.

The paintwork has a textured weathering leafing away from the front edge towards the rear engine assembly and the grey coating works exceptionally as it isn't a single flat shade. The painting from the tips of the warp engines back into the wide forward hull section is really something to behold giving depth to the hull as well as a used look to the Sheliak ship.

The wingtip extremities and the piping on the top do look flexible when you take her out of the box and while the former do have considerable flexibility in their structure, the added materials on the top of the craft are very solidly fixed in place.

The detail on the hull of this one still astounds me, even with that slight reduction in scale and its conversion has only added to the already heavy amount of hull detail evident along the lighter grey side sections and into the very intricate engines at the back. It's an intricately constructed model with a lot to take on board and even on the underside, the hull features, most significantly to the front, are still visible. All of this provides that crucial "realness" to the model, a sense of depth and heavy construction heightened by the weather-worn paint that wraps itself around the whole structure.

Onscreen the greys of the Sheliak craft do mean that a lot of the features to this one were lost in translation but now there's the chance to see just what was done to fully utilise the available resources of the Star Trek franchise where a budget was concerned. 

With this model it's not the quality of what's been produced that's the issue because for all intents and purposes, this is a really, really well presented piece that actually builds on an earlier release - but I still come back to the argument of how many slight alterations there should have been in The Official Starships Collection given there are some screamers that were missed - Borg Scout Cube, Kazon Predator Class... the list is not endless but it does have some unseen highlights.

Issue 177 doesn't have a ton to say about the Sheliak craft itself and more focuses on a retelling of the key events from The Ensigns of Command.  It's not an episode I've watched a lot (time for a skip back to it I think) but this gives an ample enough refresh on the events from the show. 

Feeling like another slight refresh is the choice to cover off the reuses of the Sheliak craft in the franchise from its time in The Search for Spock through to this inclusion and on to Deep Space Nine and beyond. Some you might remember and a couple you might not!

Then there's a great overview of the season that changed The Next Generation's fortunes and could well be responsible for Star Trek's continued TV existence to this very day with coverage of the excellent third season which included a first appearance from a classic character (Sarek), a continuing story with Sins of the Father, the return of Beverly Crusher and ended on...well, we all know how the year finished!

As a package both issues 176 and 177 deliver in ways I didn't expect. Both magazines are excellent and add to the wealth f background material a fan can never have too much of while they also reflect two very different periods in The Next Generation's history which are only separated by two years. The simplicity of the Tarellian ship, while great to see, pales in comparison to the tech overload of the modified Merchantman and betrays a much more serious and darker tone to the show which had not been seen in seasons one and two. 

Perhaps for this month it's more about the mythos and exploration of The Next Generation  than about the actual ships themselves although they do tell a great story about the evolution of the franchise.

Read all our other reviews of The Official Starships Collection from issue ONE here.

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