Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Lights, Camera, ACTION FIGURES!


Y'know what... thank god Playmates came along to drain my wallet now Eaglemoss has disappeared. I mean, what other Star Trek stuff would I have ended up buying? I dread to think.

The first wave of figures includes Saru and Burnham as seen in season one of Discovery as well as Picard, Riker and Data as seen from season three of TNG. Rounding out the eight arrivals we have a trio from The Wrath of Khan. There's Khan himself and, as we'll dive into here, Admiral Kirk and Captain Spock.

Now, while the TNG characters come in suitably retro '90's packaging, Kirk and Spock arrive in new styled boxes bearing the visage of each as well as the Star Trek Universe logo.

The boxes are nice to look at and well presented with each bearing a side tab to indicate who is in the box plus the usual blurb on the back insisting you purchase the other options available.

But these are never going to stay in the packaging in my house so don't expect this to be a hands off review in any respect. Let's take a look at Admiral James T Kirk for starters.

As with the TOS phaser, this is not going to give you Diamond Select levels of accuracy. For one the scale is significantly smaller but this in no way detracts from what is actually a decent reproduction of Kirk in his monster maroon uniform. 

Packaged up with a phaser, 23rd Century PADD and tricorder, Kirk is certainly ready for an away mission. The accessories themselves are just grey, unpainted moulded plastic although they do have a good level of detail so that is a positive.

The figure itself is really what we're here for. With 14 points of articulation there's not a lot you can't get him to pose for - that is if you can manage to keep the accessories from falling out of his hands.

The uniform is very well presented, including the rank pins on shoulder and sleeve as well as the service length pips and bars. There's the gold admiral trim along the front flap, the gold Com badge and belt buckle too for good measure. On the back we have the flap catch attached but missing the black centre of the xxxx. Again there's some minor painting issues around the black of the belt where it's been marked in over the base maroon colour. UPDATE: Thanks to the keen eyes of Marcelo Carvahlo though I am pointed towards one inconsistency - the flap should not extend around from above the delta - only from the centre line of the collar. WHOOPS Playmates!!!

Ok, some of the painting on these small details isn't exhibition level but let's just bear in mind that these are toys at their heart and are designed more of rough and tumble play than standing on display in a vacuum sealed case.

Everything is very posable - feet, hands, elbows and even the head can be moved fairly flexibly. Kirk's eyes do give me the creeps though as he's permanently giving a side stare. What I have noticed as well is that the physical features here are a lot less shiny and also much more in proportion to the bodies. One of the lasting memories I have of the original Playmates line is the oversized hands (bear with me on that one when we come to Spock) and larger than necessary heads. 

Likelihood was that they were larger to add in the needed refinements to distinguish Neelix from Chekov (extreme example) facially. Technology has certainly moved on with the figures now scaled more to their respective sizes so Picard for instance isn't as tall as Riker.

But back to Kirk before I digress once again. He also comes with a display stand which is a huge let down. The older stands had at least some detail and looked the part. This one is, in keeping with the accessories, just a moulded piece of grey plastic. However, if you're not using Kirk to battle Khan you'll want him attached to it or he'll be constantly falling over.

Then there's Spock. This is, unbelievably, the first Spock I've ever had as a figure and he infuriates me.

That's not logical I'm sure you'll be saying but for what reason did he have to be giving the Vulcan salute permanently?

Now I think this is a great reproduction and in the scale it's a marvellous recreation of Leonard Nimoy's features but that hand bugs me. The bodies (thanks again to Marcelo for pulling me up on this one) are also slightly different. Spock noticeably thinner while Kirk is more season three TOS than early season one!

Again there's some colour bleed where the base red is still visible on the rank and Starfleet emblem but I really do think they're as near as dammit when it comes to making this recognisably Spock. The eyebrows, the haircut and even the lines of the face are spot on. Thank goodness too that Playmates chose to go with a more focused gaze on the Vulcan than his superior.

Given that one hand is fixed into the Vulcan salute (which looks damn awkward when positioned), this means that only his left is available for accessory duty. With Spock there's a handheld scanning device and a clunky The Motion Picture/The Wrath of Khan tricorder but that's not the big draw.

In keeping with the theme of the figure Spock forgoes a phaser and receives the radiation suit gloves as seen towards the end of the second Star Trek movie as he valiantly tries to repair the Enterprise

Partially split towards the cuffs, the gloves do slide particularly well onto the figures hands and does, thankfully, cover that salute. One problem. However I look at it I'm thinking they're just a little too big, making Spock look like he's wearing two novelty foam hands. Worse, as one of my friends noted, he looks like he borrowed them from Sonic the Hedgehog.

It does force you to end up placing one of his hands behind his back if you're not a fan but it does also exude a certain Spock-ishness once you do. For note, the arm joints do seem to be a lot stiffer than the leg ones. When I was posing both of these the legs tended to try and head off in their own directions from hip, knee and ankle while it felt like trying to prize a Ferengi off latinum to move the elbows.

Ok, so it covers the hand and is a nice nod to the movie. It's also different because these are a lot softer plastic and  (shocker) in white with sliver highlights so they're fairly accurate to the movie. All you need now is a piece of plastic and you can recreate one of Trek's greatest scenes in miniature.

Reflecting on the more chunky 90's editions, these new Playmates figures are fair better proportioned and much more malleable than ever before. I'm not totally convinced if it's been 100% successful given the smaller heads but overall it looks to be an improvement and I'm keen to see how the line progresses. Surely the DS9 figures will be in the later uniforms? Will we get numerous Kirk variants? What about Enterprise? So many things to come as long as these first releases are a success... how could they not be? 

More Playmates reviews to come soon!

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Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Unphased with Playmates


They are now officially back with figures, starships and yes, roleplay accessories!

Playmates return to the Star Trek franchise has landed well and you never knew how much you missed them until new items dropped onto the market.

Alongside an initial eight figures and the classic TOS USS Enterprise is their Type 2 phaser also from the Kirk and Spock era.

Let’s make one thing straight. If you’re expecting Diamond Select level detail and features you will be disappointed. First and foremost this is essentially a toy. There’s no detachable Type 1 phaser on the top, the barrel doesn’t rotate for different beam intensity nor do the dials and grill on the Type 1 work. Fact: this is a robust item designed for kids, bought by adults. 

The packaging is absolutely on point and in keeping with the 90s version with the addition of the current Star Trek Universe logo. There’s a little hole to give a demo click of the trigger and the usual nice, glossy photos of the phaser too. Wisely there’s actually very little to the box with only a plastic insert tray for the product and an instructions pamphlet contained within.

Size-wise it’s near enough spot on with the classic grey/black colour combo that fans will be more than familiar with. In the show there were several different colour variants glimpsed but this remains probably the most recognisable. It’s lighter than the Diamond Select version too plus that always felt more of a display item than a useable toy if you will. That’s something Playmates have more than taken into consideration.

In terms of surface detail, each important element is physically reproduced where it should be if not functionally. Atop the clip-in Type 1 there are the setting and intensity dials as well as the silver grid. To the front of the phaser is the grey nozzle emitter which does light up dependent on the firing effect you choose. Playmates have also managed to distinguish grille features and line detail around the phaser with wonderful precision if albeit simplified for the toy market. Note for example the grilles to the rear are recessed versus the DS version’s which were raised. Again, there were several variants of the gun through the show at a time when consistency and accuracy in the franchise were not a high priority. 

Playmates have added in the gold ejection button for the Type 1 just behind the smaller unit and to the rear of the Type 2 we have the adjustable setting dial. Now this - apart from the trigger - is the only piece of functionality on the product. On the opposite side is the power switch and in this edition it offers Demo, Off and On.

Offering up three setting of Stun, Full and Overload, each is accompanied by its own light (dial and nozzle) and sound effect. Certainly my daughter got some good use out of the batteries running around stunning the cats but for fans of absolute 100% authentic detail it will be a let down.

I quite like it. The phaser is a solid item and perfect for cosplay with a cost that won’t make you sweat if it does get damaged. My only grumble is the horrible ‘other’ side that is riddled with reset screw holes and ruins the whole effect. Could these have been hidden? Probably and one would expect there to be some innovative fans out there who will cover them up to preserve full effect of the phaser. 

It's a good reproduction and although I can't compare it to the 1990's edition, I'm still pretty happy with the result given the cost. What I am now hoping is that the TNG Type 2 will not be as chunky a beast as previous and be more aligned to its TV version - but yes, I'll be getting it anyway.

More Playmates reviews on the way!


Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Lower Decks: The Badgey Directive


Eastside Games have now offered up the Lower Decks mobile game and I've been hacking away at it for a couple of weeks.

Star Trek mobile games are nothing new but in the big landscape of the franchise many have fallen by the wayside leaving just two that dominate the handheld realm; Timelines and Fleet Command

The second of those has had some serious heavyweight marketing too with the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Rainn Wilson, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes all appearing in its adverts. Both this and Timelines have run for a number of years unchallenged. While I've stepped away from mobile gaming as a whole in the last 18 months after what seemed like a religious conviction to play Timelines, I thought I might give this one a go. It couldn't hurt...!

The basic premise is that there are a series of holodeck simulations running and you just need to collect resources be it latinum,  dilithium and credits. Each of these simulations can then be upgraded, more crew can be assigned and key characters from the Lower Decks series can be used to automate the simulation. These in turn produce more items at a faster rate without you having to sit there and collect resources every 30 seconds (or longer).

Simulations in the game include the Shuttle Bay, Main Engineering, the Klingon Rite of Ascension, Kaminar, Chateau Picard and two of the environments from the Genesis Planet. Just from those there is a broad cross-section of the material used in the game and it looks great. The interface is simple with a slide up-or-down to view each of the simulation locations and clear buttons to press to collect items or upgrade. What more could you want when you've got some time to kill?

But there's also a whole ton of wrong in there too. For one thing this is one of the most repetitive Star Trek games out there. Ok, after a fair few years I finally departed from Timelines because it had just become too samey. The character options were becoming tenuous and my interest waned and died. It had the occasional facelift but there wasn't much new and no real reason to invest in the game to level up. The same is true here but after a lot shorter play time.

With Fleet Command the upgrades take an eternity but there is a lot to do and build plus there's the online aspect out battling on your ships. The Badgey Directive has absolutely none of this. Yes, you can upgrade the simulations but graphically there's not a lot that changes - a shuttle changes to a better model or the Klingons change from TNG to TOS versions - but that's it. At the core you still have to collect the resources to complete level goals and step up to the next chapter. 

And repeat.

At the moment for example I've got to a point where I'm working at getting 800 crew working at Chateau Picard. It requires a lot of funds - a vast amount of funds and an even longer amount of time to collect the required amount. I've automated everything so all I do is drop on to collect the Timed Crate reward and that's about it. If I get enough resources I might upgrade a character or simulation but that's only if and when I need to in line with the game goals.

Goals (which appear at the top of the game screen), might be to open up a new simulation, reach a certain number of crew overall or in one of the settings, it could just be to collect an amount of dilithium. In turn these provide access to chests and valuable items but also count toward the number of objectives needed to complete that specific chapter.

One of the side points to this mobile game is the regular events which tend to have some sort of Star Trek episodic theme to them but again, it's a variation on a very familiar theme. Indeed, that initial one or two simulation set up to get automated can be a right pain in the arse  as everything in the events is reset from the start. You can spend ten minutes just punching the collect button on the Shuttle Bay to be able to open up a second deck and then even longer to get characters to run them.

The frustrating thing is the time factor. There's a lot of doing nothing unless you pay for some upgrades, there's a lot of time spent watching adverts to get fund bonuses or dilithium bonuses and there's not much time actually playing the game. It seems to be one of those all or nothing play types where you have to invest a stupid amount of your life to get going and then the payoff is less than, ironically, rewarding.

The Badgey Directive looks nice and opening up the new locations on the holodecks is nifty. As I've just levelled up to Chapter 12 there's still a Risa, Q's Courtroom and Vulcan to unlock plus many of the 40 plus characters who can each help power those situations. Of the crew, there's the main four characters of Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford plus the senior staff of the USS Cerritos and various faces that have appeared through the first two seasons. Some you'll remember and others may take a while to recognise.

The game does include cut scenes with some form of story that links into the overall chapter title. Problem is that these are very quickly skippable and have absolutely zero bearing on anything that happens on the screen because each round/chapter is a rehack of the previous. Some of the levels are swapped in and out so in Chapter 12 there's no Cardassian Interrogation Room or Tropical Genesis Planet but apart from that there's no alteration to the basics of the gameplay because each simulation operates on the same principles - collect, automate, increase crew and upgrade.

The expansion opportunities too seem somewhat limited with only new environments and new characters being the big draw here. I'd struggle to suggest how else Eastside Games can stretch the concept. Already they're managed to link in Fair Haven and The Best of Both Worlds with the mini-events which has seen players collect everything from Borg Babies to Shamrocks.

Would I recommend this? Probably not unless you have a lot of time to waste and are prepared to wait a lifetime for any form of decent reward. It looks nice on the box with all of its little animations and things going on in the background but I just can't see this being a game with a great deal of shelf life on the mobile games stores - it doesn't keep your interest for long enough. 

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Monday, 10 October 2022

Picard: Third Try at the Greatest Adventure?


The third season of Picard might only be due in February but already the second trailer has the pulse racing.

Featuring, unsurprisingly, the whole of the TNG crew, the last season of Jean-Luc's story is set to be the biggest the show has produced and maybe even the biggest risk in the franchise's history.

I say that with just as much trepidation because the trailer throws all in perhaps with the exception of that kitchen sink cliche. 

TNG has been owed, some would say, a decent send off since the disappointment of Nemesis and the subsequent "final" movie that never happened. There was franchise lethargy back in the early 2000's and we wont retread those board here but this could be the closure that fans of the now 35 year old series may actually deserve.

Posing not one but three nemeses in its last run, Picard apparently has the crew reassembled to go hunting for Beverly Crusher and her ship but ending up in all sorts of trouble at the hands of incoming main baddie Vadic played by Amanda Plummer.

Perhaps more well known for her appearance in Pulp Fiction, Plummer is also linked to the franchise through her legend of a father Christopher who raised hell in 1991's The Undiscovered Country as renegade Klingon General Chang.

Alongside her there will be a return for Daniel Davis' Moriarty previously seen in Elementary, Dear Data and Ship in a Bottle. His character has seen further life in the expansive universe of the Star Trek novels but this marks his first onscreen appearance since 1993. As yet, his involvement in the season is unknown.

Many fans were also wondering how Brent Spiner would be able to return to the show and be alongside his fellow TNG crewmates for, as we have been teased, at least one scene. Featuring in both seasons as Data and also two family members of the Soong dynasty, that question has now been answered - Lore.

Looking significantly different to his last appearance in Descent, Part 2 from 1993, the new question is how did he come to be reassembled given the verbal reference in that episode and also in Picard's first season?

Alongside her father, Geordi we have a new La Forge in Starfleet with his daughter at the helm of possibly the Titan-A or... could it be the other ship we spot in the trailer?

Fans of Star Trek Online will have no doubt rejoiced at the confirmation that the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-F is an Odyssey Class with its first ever appearance in live action coming this season. STO has made a mark in the show already with the provision of ships from the game in the season two Starfleet armada including the Gagarin and Venture Classes yet this is the step that fans have been screaming for. We already had (via the Picard prequel graphic novel) known that the Odyssey Class existed with the USS Verity so it was only a matter of time.

News has it too that viewers will learn the fate of the Enterprise-E. If you think about it, that starship had a maximum life of 25 years which is pretty good for any craft with the name when you review its history!

The trailer itself looks near-cinematic with its battle sequences, enormous enemy vessels and a true feel of one last mission. Raffi and Seven are also back, being the only members of the original Picard ensemble to have made it through the previous two seasons fairly unscathed. Note that Seven finally has a Starfleet rank of commander, something that was teased heavily towards the back end of season two.

Yet even with the news, the trailer and the overall excitement for what will concretely be the final final season of Picard and the last time the TNG crew assembles, the show still has a mountain to climb.

For entertainment value it's been great and nostalgic if nothing more. Season one provided much promise with the return of Data and the closure of his narrative in a more suitable way. Indeed, that final scene with Picard was truly one of the show's greatest events. Season two likewise seemed to have gone big with the inclusion of both Guinan and Q, the latter receiving one heck of a final scene that eclipsed the Data version from the year before.

When watched on a binge viewing, the 20 episodes are a good run but there are so many timing issues, plot holes, pointless directions and a narrative in both seasons that doesn't hang together. There's either too much going on that not everyone gets to play a suitable part or there's filler that doesn't add a thing to the story. Season three has to iron these points out and provide a stable, cohesive story that will satisfy fans and ensure that this send-off is remembered for all the right reasons.

I openly admit I enjoyed both batches of Picard. Initially it was fortunate to be up against Discovery and quite easily trounced it for quality but both Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds have upped the expectation of fans in this Kurtzman era. Yes, it started well with seasons one and two of Discovery but I for one feel that the show has lost its way and the trailer for the fifth season doesn't look like it's trying anything new. Ok, season four was affected by Covid and they did what they could but the move to the 32nd Century hasn't been quite the success I would have hoped nor does it have the heart of those 90's iterations.

Picard's final journey looks to have ticked a lot of fan requirements but to do that and manage a coherent narrative will prove its worth. Can all of these elements - the TNG cast, a new villain, Lore and Moriarty (plus whatever else we don't yet know) work in a ten episode arc? Viewers won't just want to see those aforementioned boxes ticked but will want Star Trek to deliver a worthy story for one of its most beloved characters after a very uneven two series.

We can but remain hopeful and the signs do seem to point in a more positive direction yet we'll only really know how it works when the show returns on February 16th.

What are your hopes for season three? What DON'T you want to see?

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Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Expanded: The Dominion in Ascendancy


Following on from a series of faction packs and the Borg Expansion, Ascendancy has introduced the Dominion to the board at long last.

Taking the game into the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion War box provides not just another faction to the game but a whole new aspect to the Ascendancy experience.

At its core the new faction comes with the standard control panel as well as Jem'Hadar ships and fleet markers plus the usual array of tokens and space lines to ensure that there are enough to go around each and every player at the table.

But there's still more because the Dominion launches from the Gamma Quadrant on their Great Link base and can only access the Alpha Quadrant via the new Bajoran Wormhole playing piece which combines four elements into one. With this there are a series of new planets which can only be added to the game when exploring the Gamma Quadrant and cannot be utilised unless the Wormhole is in play. But even if you don't want to add in the Dominion there are rules to allow the addition of the Wormhole and the Gamma Quadrant for exploration and empirical expansion.

Also the Dominion can utilise Infiltrators. This is, personal opinion a damn cool addition. When you capture Bajor it also means you gain a Command Token for taking control of a space station as well as an established, independent civilisation. Bonus!

Allowing the Dominion to use two Command Tokens, up to five of these little annoyances can be spread out across the board. Their title also tells you al lot about their role, allowing them to provide false orders to rival factions which can in turn lead to some rather underhanded takeovers!

So if you want to use the Dominion in play, it's really as simple as that. Start them out in the Gamma Quadrant and then head off for, no pun intended, domination of the galaxy. But if you want something a little different - perhaps not as different as the Borg expansion - then delve a little deeper into the rule book.

Dividing a minimum of four players into two alliances, the game then allows both expansion and co-operation to reach that crucial Ascendancy level. Dominion players of course will start on the other side of the Wormhole and then connect to their ally from there. Notably though this also means that players start the game with their home system immediately connected to four other randomly selected planets from the Exploration deck. Homeworlds can be conquered although this in turn opens up the chance to act as a Resistance force with your own set of actions to try and destabilise your conquerors. 

Certainly a change from being ousted in the main game and then having to sit it out for hours and watch others take all your rewards.

The biggest issue for me comes in the fact that I'm going to need to have a game with at least three others to take full advantage of the Dominion War element to this pack and that incurs a game time of four hours minimum. Ascendancy is not a game to be taken lightly or as a quick win. This set absolutely cements that and it would be wise to ensure that you have the time to be able to invest in the game before considering adding this to the collection. I for one do like the additions it brings however I'm more likely to be unpacking the Borg for some solo play rather than heading into the Denoris Belt and heading for the Great Link. A shame but I have to be realistic on the limitations unless I manage to find another three willing associates who can sacrifice a Saturday or a Sunday.

The Dominion Expansion opens up the playing field to ensure that everyone can be involved for the duration of the game. I think one of the issues has been that conquered players in the past can be left doing nothing for hours and the Resistance element counters this nicely. There's not a ton of additional rules and it's a step up from the standard faction expansions that provide a homeworld and some new tokens. This feels like a full package and something that can stimulate the game in new directions. Indeed, when I heard it was coming it excited me that, unlike Attack Wing, Gale Force Nine have looked to change up elements of their base game and try to engage players in different ways. 

There are a lot of pluses to rule over the negative of needing multiple players although I can still utilise the Dominion, the Wormhole etc as part of that Borg expansion. In fact that's absolutely what I will be doing (literally dawns on me now) so all of the elements will get used to their fullest as best I can.

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Monday, 26 September 2022

The Blagger's Guide to...The Next Generation


So this Picard guy, he's done some stuff before, well, Picard yeah?

Very true, very true. In fact he was doing "it" for 15 years between 1987 and 2002 - but we're going to focus purely on the first seven in our third lesson, The Next Generation. Even more time specific, it's 35 years since the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D first took to the airwaves so what better time than this to dive into the show that hooked millions.

Lesson Two on the movies probably felt a bit tasking so I waited for a while before delivering this latest instalment in your blagging - I mean education.

This show is as much hallowed ground as the original, perhaps more so and you'll need to be Fact Loaded to start tackling it.

The Crew


Opening with Encounter at Farpoint, Jean-Luc Picard is a shouty man who doesn't like kids. Things do change for him. He quotes more Shakespeare, becomes less shouty but still can't abide kids especially the one he keeps telling to shut up. He stops the Klingon at Tactical from shooting a lot of things and you should always drop in something to do with contract negotiations and becoming a Borg to cover your tracks.
Argument starter for ten: Better than Kirk

His first officer - or Number One as he is called - is a bearded Kirk clone(!) called William T Riker. He has a subconscious obsession with obtuse angles and sitting down that make him an almost off-limits drinking game target. Too many have been hospitalised for his rakish stance at the side of Data during a red alert. He has a "thang" with the ship's counsellor, Deanna Troi but they keep it all calm in the show because it was years ago and was, actually just written for another pair of characters for a show that never got made. 
Argument starter for ten: Mention Wil Decker

While you can bemoan the choice to listen to another trombone recital from Number One, how about focusing some attention on Lieutenant Commander Data (that's day-ta not dah-tah) who is seeking to become human but frankly gets more action than anyone else. He wants to be human which leads to much merriment and also some real tear-in-the-eye moments.
Argument starter for ten: He uses contractions more often than they use the transporter

Over in Engineering (but not for the first season!!!) is Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge. Unsuccessful with the ladies for all time, Geordi might be blind but he gets to see thanks to a heavily modified headband.
Argument starter for ten: Wesley should have been Chief Engineer

In Medical there's Doctor Beverly Crusher. The older you get, the more you realise she's hotter than Troi. She's got this "thing" for Picard that goes mainly unsaid and it's worth dropping that in whenever you spot her in season three of Picard. Plus points for mentioning she choreographed the Muppets in real life. Additional cudos for bringing up her unceremonious departure and reappearance (seasons one and three).
Argument starter for ten: Sex Ghost

Taking over from the very quickly departed Lt Tasha Yar as Tactical Officer (he tries to fire the phasers but gets told not to a lot) is Klingon Worf. Remember him, he's around almost eternally it seems (see also Deep Space Nine). Talk a lot about honour, bat'leth swords, bad parenting and prune juice and you will do no wrong. 
Argument starter for ten: This guy needs his own series!

Finally there's Deanna Troi. Ship's counsellor who actually gets better as the show progresses. Sadly seems like window dressing for a good portion of the first couple of years but once they change her wardrobe up and try not to focus on pairing her with her mother for every story there's positives. She's part-Betazed (empath) so get ready for all the feels.
Argument starter for ten: Why isn't she in uniform? She's an officer right?


The Ship

OK. It's been 7 decades and a bit since the original series so to show that, the ship now has a "D" slapped on the end of the NCC-1701 numberplate. It's big and part of the suitably named Galaxy Class. In fact it's ridiculously big and it can split in two parts but only when the budget allows them to take the big model out of storage to shoot it. You'll be very familiar with the sets because they get reused in the movies, Voyager... anything that will help save some money!

Main places you'll need to be aware of aside from the bridge? There's an observation lounge for lots of talking and plot exposition, a bar called Ten Forward where Whoopi Goldberg serves drinks and gives advice (season two onwards). Of course there are the crew quarters, cargo bays that have no concept of health and safety and a standard set of exhaustive shuttles. One thing to know from the off is the wonders of the holodeck. Go anywhere, be anyone! This allows the crew the chance to effectively define the surroundings for their death given the number of malfunctions it incurs.


The Seasons

There are seven of them with (usually) 26 episodes in each with 178 episodes in total. Now I know that sounds worrying but hold on. There's no season long arcs that you need to keep track of. Yes, there are some recurring stories in there; Data and his evil twin, Worf losing honour, gaining honour and Klingon stuff, Geordi being unable to hold down a relationship for two weeks, Riker and Troi - but these are all sprinkled in. Just mention one or two occasionally to show you're aware of them and you'll be fine. There are some two-parters but that's probably the longest attention span you'll need (90 minutes - manage that?). 

Best to either decide if you hate or love the omnipotent Q who pops up a lot. His stories are a mixed bag of brilliant to meh. Oh and then there's the Borg. You might have seen them neutered in Picard' first season but here they are truly BAD ASS. Always compare them here and in the First Contact movie to the way they are poorly treated in Voyager once we reach that lesson. 

Key episodes


Encounter at Farpoint - it's the first one. Q's in it. Ship separates. The trial never ends.
 
The Measure of a Man - Data's clearly not/is a person/robot and I agree/disagree

Yesterday's Enterprise - That's the "C" and it's come forward in time. Yar's back, only Whoopi Goldberg knows the timeline's changed. Got to send it back!

The Best of Both Worlds - The Borg are back huh? And WHAT? They've made Picard a Borg? They're coming for Earth? Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!

Sins of the Father/Reunion/Redemption I & 2 - Klingon Civil War! Gowron dude! Those Duras sisters are creepy.

Unification - Spock! He's on Romulus and it's all a bit cloak and dagger but he meets Picard!

Relics - Scotty! He's on the Enterprise and he meets Picard!

All Good Things... - It's the finale. Hang on a minute - 25 years into the future? Isn't that about when Picard is set? Well that didn't go to plan did it... Trial never ended by the way!

So there you have it, Star Trek: The Next Generation in a bite-size format that will absolutely bowl your peers and soon to be Trek friends right over. Concerned that you'll have to watch more after this? Don't worry because I'm certain there'll be some snapshot follow ups to keep you up to date!

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Saturday, 24 September 2022

Down at the Disco: S4 in Review


Of all the Star Trek series, Discovery not only stands as the longest on air but also the show with the most changes during its four season run. Believe it or not, that mark is hit exactly five years ago this very day (in the US).

To put that into perspective, that's only 55 episodes in total which is equivalent to just over the first two seasons of TNG. Yet we've seen huge changes in the crew, five huge story arcs and a time jump of 1000 years.

All in a day's work for the crew of a Starfleet ship and now here we are, Coming Home and on the break to wait for the inevitable season five. Warning - possible spoilers ahead.

Season four's promo work didn't help it from the beginning. Starting out with another potential anomaly threat to the Federation it looked like a rerun of season three and suggested that the format could already be getting tired. 

It seemed to be correct with the first episode seeing Book's home planet of Kweijan destroyed by the mysterious DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly) and more prevaricating about the Federation rebuilding. If truth be told, that first half of season four was a bit of a mess. The anomaly seemed like a good idea with its ability to appear and disappear at will. Danger could indeed come from everywhere. But the problem was that everything else seemed to be more or less disposable.

For example, Adira was coming up as one of the more interesting characters on the show played by the wonderful Blu Del Barrio. The narrative around Grey's rebirth linked in well with Picard's own season end however by season end they were gone and Adira was relegated to background almost overnight. With Mary Wiseman stepping back and Tilly transferring to Starfleet Academy there seemed a natural gap in the cast but this didn't seem to be fully realised in this season. 

Even the "baddie" for the season in the shape of Shawn Doyle's Tarka wasn't a super villain or a moustache twirling nemesis as Ossyra played for the Emerald Chain. His lost scientist persona fitted more into a role fans would perhaps liken to Soran from Generations, driven by his personal need to get home rather than the bigger picture. Doyle's character didn't need to be evil to be effective in season four and after the host of enemies across the show it's one point that made a refreshing change. Tarka's relationship with Book hinged a great chunk of the season together and was a stronger thread to the overall arc right from the moment they decided to head off on their own.

But let's also remember something fairly significant about this season. It was filmed during the pandemic and just for that it deserves a ton of praise for just existing. Look more closely and you'll see that the season has actually been very cleverly crafted. It might not be everyone's cup of tea and it's unusual that there aren't more fisticuffs, explosions but for the first time, Discovery kind of went really sciencey. Most of the 13 episodes are bottle shows, confined to either standing Discovery sets, Book's ship and Federation headquarters. There's only a trade station, an ice planet, Kweijan and the deserted world of the Ten-C that are new sets. Even then you might suspect they were repurposed. Even the 10-C themselves were CG and barely seen at that.


If you have to give something to season four, it's the clever use of sets, space and storytelling given restrictions at the time to still manage to deliver a coherent arc. Perhaps the most impressive element of the season is that the conclusion didn't rely on the same hand to hand combat or battle situation that we've experienced many times before. Yes, the galaxy and more specifically Ni'Var and Earth were in danger but the answer came in the form of science rather than guns. Is this Discovery's most Star Trek solution ever? To have an alien race communicate mathematically, emotionally and chemically is inspired and truly franchise format breaking.  

The bulk of the second part of the season was dedicated to the Ten-C and the journey to locate them. For only the second time in Star Trek history has the story taken us outside of the Milky Way and into the utter unknown, even beyond the reach of the wonderful spore drive. 

But then that is what Star Trek was supposed to be about. Yes, there is the element of impending danger, the threat that Earth could well be destroyed but where season four of Discovery succeeded was in a peaceful solution that actually worked and made sense. Communication was the key and for the first time in its four season run it felt that we were boldly going. Star Trek was Star Trek and he Federation didn't need to shoot something a lot to win. 

The 32nd Century setting still feels uneasy but for a season troubled by very Earth-based challenges, this has to be seen as a success even if I wasn't blown away by the story as it seemed to be a tale already well-trodden in the franchise. Cudos also for the fact that both Detmer and Owosekun had more to do than sit at the front of the bridge for a season. While the latter was involved with the away team in season two's New Eden and Kayla Detmer has had some key piloting moments, this felt like the first time they were used to their full effect. The other bridge fillers were still around and as horribly under utilised but even this seemed to be a step forward in the audience being able to connect to not just Michael and Saru.

I'm not going to say that this has been a great year for Discovery even taking into account the mitigating circumstances. The show still appears to be finding its feet in the 32nd Century with season four becoming more of a "season two" of a soft reboot. Where Discovery worked was through tying in its classic links such as Pike and Spock. 

Season four ended very cleanly. No loose ends, nothing to resolve at the beginning of the already green-lit season five. The distant future offers the chance to reset and go their own way but we have lost a lot of the familiarity of the franchise through such a prominent time jump and hopefully season five will correct the rot. It will be without the chains of a pandemic and therefore stretch out beyond the confines of the studio walls to embrace the challenges of the 32nd Century.

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