Sunday, 13 October 2019

More Excelsior? - The Official Starships Collection Issues 158 and 159

Blurring the line between bonus and regular editions, issue 158's Excelsior concept might well be seen as a pathfinder rather than an abandoned idea.

Conceived in 1983 for the third Star Trek movie, this second Nilo Rodis-Jamero design retains a few of the hallmarks of the first version seen in issue 152 while also being different enough to warrant an edition all to itself.

Opening up with the expected saucer section, the USS Excelsior Concept II steers more in the direction of the USS Prometheus than the Enterprise with a slender secondary hull and four spiky warp nacelles to power her on. The length of this one is considerably shorter than the Concept I with the large saucer section sweeping straight into the engineering section which is a feature that would be recognised more some 12 years later with Voyager and then the Enterprise-E.

The saucer itself is well detailed with a light grey given more depth with a two darker greys used to raise hull panels against the paler base colour. It also has a more familiar pair of red decals curving around the primary hull as they would on the later, final version, broken by the black lettered and red bordered ship registry (see Assimilated Voyager you can have red letter edging...). 

The increased number of phaser banks (three up to five) for the Excelsior Class are also marked prominently in yellow as are the reaction control thrusters at the saucer rim. The metal saucer deflector grid isn't lost under the triple colour paintwork and is pretty clear all the way across. One thing that does appear a little different to the final version is the width of the central island including the bridge module. It's a lot wider with a less defined blue/grey paint scheme around the edge. 

The bridge itself appears much larger and there are a good amount of subtle hull mechanics around it and back along the spine-like centre piece equally defined by a pair of red stripes. Now while the final Excelsior and the Enterprise would have their impulse engines mounted at the back of the saucer, the Concept II has a huge oven-shaped quad-exhaust port unit dominating the rear third of the top of the ship. It's a big lump of tech and very noticeable with its fiery red slots one of the first things you seem to notice.

The detail of the metal work and painting are great with the definition of the engine section to the hull marked out with a darker grey and with the impulse engine sweeping up and out from the back of the ship. Stabbing out from the hull and more like wings than pylons, the metal gives way to four inserted plastic warp nacelles. Their blue insets for the warp grilles gives them some form of design lineage to the movie refit USS Enterprise but the form is quite different with a more rounded finish to the front and then sweeping to pointed rear points. Also take a look at the pennants on the warp engines here - a stylised and never used Starfleet design that has so far only turned up on this model. 

On the underside the most significant link to the final design is the drop away hull with the segmented blue panelling in front of the "outboard" deflector dish rather than behind it. Actually the bottom of the Concept II has a lot of the look of the underside of the final Excelsior with the dual torpedo launcher and the rear hull design swung round to face forward. 

Again its this detail which makes these rarities well worth the punt and I'm loving how the secondary hull has a familiar feel of the NX-2000 yet manages to still be incredibly unique. Eaglemoss have included docking ports and a range of windows on this droopy engineering section which is capped to the rear with the largest shuttlebay door ever. It's absolutely massive stretching the whole height of the secondary hull and bearing the serrated edges to indicate the clamshell opening akin to the Enterprise.

Both this and the underside of the saucer continue the multi-shade colour scheme from the top with the primary hull also carrying a prim and proper two-tone blue ring recessed into the bodywork. This is one more feature that made it into the onscreen Excelsior, completing the design alongside the standard striping and registry. The build quality of the ship is superb. Join lines are barely visible and there's a lot of surface detail at every point. It feels like a complete design and for your money you do get a decent sized ship that fills out the packaging. 

The mix of plastic and metal works well and even that odd little outslung deflector dish on the bottom of the secondary hull is secured well.  In the magazine you'll be strapped to find much to go on with the first few pages skipping any kind of information on the ship and dealing solely with new CG images before turning to focus on the work of Nilo Rodis-Jamero across the franchise from The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home and The Final Frontier.  It's split into two pieces - one dealing with Rodis-Jamero's background and then a second, larger article looking more closely at his work, sketches and influence on the Star Trek universe. A strangely sparce read for this one however the model is definitely the star of the edition much more than the background material. 

Next - and from one classic to another with a flashback to 1988 and the Batris freighter from The Next Generation's first proper Klingon story, Heart of Glory

The Batris doesn’t have the same flair as the Excelsior Concept II bearing a much more singular and basic design. More rectangular, the Batris is much more functional with a series of cargo pods slung underneath the main hull for easy loading and unloading. 

The most exciting part of the design might well be the pointed nose before it develops into a series of straight lines but what the Batris lacks in design inspiration it makes up for in its detail. The brown hull is tipped with a striking red stripe to the front also bearing a series of alien markings at the lower edge and then windows on the second, upper half of the marking.

The brown base coat is broken and scuffed right across the hull which provides a sense of age to the ship as well as a feeling that it’s been battered about in space hauling cargo from here to there. Even the brown coat has a second tone to it emphasising that well worn impression. On top of that we then have a series of greyed call outs across the upper hull which are themselves weathered to match the fading hull colour. 

There’s a lot going on with the hull of the Batris beyond just an impressively aged paint job. The detail in the mechanics attached to the surface are really rather good from grilles to piping to panelling, it’s all here and perfectly displayed. There’s no real definition between the cargo pods and the main hull but that paint job is such a wow you do sidestep it a bit. 

In fact that worn hull wraps right around the hull and into every crevice and there's a lot to take in even on the bottom. This is one of those models which feels complete from every angle and doesn't have a straight, uniform finish along the central axis. Even to the rear the three large engine units look like they've taken a battering over the years - ok, at least on the hull-coloured sections - the middle exhaust rods do look fairly clean!

There's some real character to the Batris and the multitude of surface depths, colouring and combination of materials works exceptionally well for such a bland design. Admittedly there is some slight misalignment of the windows and striping on the nose however it's not as glaring as we've seen on many a Federation starship over the years of the collection.

It's odd but I am quite drawn to this one and the fact that the hull is so delicately executed. The stand grip too is one of the more functional, gripping the hull at the rear of the underslung cargo pods and providing solid balance to the Batris for display.

The issue 159 magazine recounts the brief onscreen lifespan of the Talarian freighter but what does become clear even from the first few pages is how different the model looks to the CG of the magazine. 

On the page the Batris is a lot cleaner, crisper in its finish and has lost a lot of that characteristic weathering but it has picked up a lot of surface detail. It is very apparent once you line the two up that there is some definition missing from a considerable amount of the surface technology but the sheer amount of it that's crammed in probably works against making that detail well executed and distinguishable through the paint scheme. 

The nose detail especially seems lost with the panel definition washed out against the precision CG and the plan views reiterate just how much has been lost under what could be some fairly uneven paintwork...

The magazine does cover off Heart of Glory and the role in which the errant Klingons play. Turning the page actually reveals a whole section dedicated to discussing why and how these foes of Kirk and the original USS Enterprise were brought back to The Next Generation when originally there was no intention to see them again. 

An interview with the late Maurice Hurley fills the back six pages for the issue detailing his work on the first two seasons (mainly season one and the Borg) and the stresses and strains of running The Next Generation as well as writing several scripts for it during those early years.

It's a good read to understand the control that Gene Roddenberry had on the show and how things developed under Hurley and would later take massive steps under Berman, Piller and the rest.

Loving the Excelsior concepts? Want more freighters and service vehicles? Let us know below!

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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Discovery: The New Stuff

930 years.

One ship.

One totally unexplored part of the Star Trek universe...

New York Comic Con broke not only the second Picard trailer but the first tease of Discovery's third season. What are the big clues and learnings from our first look at Star Trek's biggest ever time jump into a time we've never explored?

1. Burnham

She's our door into this trailer. Burnham is alone for at least a year, seeking out Discovery and longing for a call on her communicator from the starship. Shown through a series of three time hops we see Sonequa Martin-Green's look change subtley - but what ship is she aboard and where has this craft come from?

What I do think is that Book (David Ajala) will be there near the beginning of her adventure suggested by the fact Burnham is still wearing her Starfleet uniform and has short hair. Might we be getting to see the 12 months on her own as flashbacks through the season? It appears that by the time she finds Discovery he's not in the picture and Burnham specifically notes she's been alone for a substantial period of time which would all add up.

I would surmise that during that time she and Book have encountered the remnants of the Federation and its president who reveals the flag to Burnham. His words tell us that the Federation is in a poor state but is this due to it collapsing? Worlds losing their faith in it? Did the Federation become a darker organisation and the one responsible for Craft (in Calypso) being a lone war survivor? Has the Federation been pushed back by other forces and hidden waiting for the time to reassert itself? How about whom do the six stars on the flag represent? Is it the founding races - Humans, Tellarites, Andorians, Vulcans plus Lurians and Cardassians?

Burnham could be the one to do that if the trailer is to be believed. Oh - nice one to spot too is that Michael is going to be moving into the Command stream as she can be seen wearing gold as below!

2. Aliens

I'm impressed. Not only do we have humans, the crew of Discovery but also a Lurian (Morn's race), a Cardassian and definitely some slightly different looking Andorians. Now are these at war and if so who with? What's with all the sashes?

Note that most of the firearms toted in this trailer are that odd over-hand Dyson airblade-style blaster, one of which Book himself acquires sometime. There's also a weapon that resembles the Matrix of Leadership from Transformers even down to the central blue light. 

From some of the later moments in the trailer we do see Burnham engaged in hand-to-hand combat but it's difficult to make out if this is another instance or a continuation of this alien battle. 

Perhaps even more interesting is the arrival of the red-robed Trill, easily identifiable by their spots. At one point there's even someone floating in what clearly resembles the Trill symbiont pools from their homeworld so what are they doing? Will we get to see an even older Dax? Could this be the new Dax?

3. Discovery

Looks like the Crossfield Class ship made it through intact although a few of the crew are off ship for some form of mission with Saru and Tilly both going native in their clothing. We do get to see both Stamets and Culber again plus quick shots of the bridge crew and Michelle Yeoh's Georgiou shows up in there as well but check this shot out - it looks like the ship ends up held hostage at some point by the unknown alien to the right on the image below...hmmmm what could that mean? 

At least one canister of spores has been used too as you can see in the storage unit and the two individuals on the deck besides Tilly and Stamets are not in Starfleet blues...

Next, have a look here - is this one of those interlopers at work in the Jefferies tube? What might their plans be for the ship and her crew? The uniform doesn't belay any clues and is fairly non-descript from this distance. There's an indication that this is the same person as in the Trill pool but I'm not seeing any spots at this distance so I'm not wholly convinced...

The Picard trailer in retrospect is a very different beast; going for retro, the cameo drops and lots of little flashes of action and intrigue whereas the Discovery tease footage provides a taste of the state of the galaxy. The appearance of familiar races means we're not in totally "alien" territory yet there is enough here to tell me that it's not going to be anywhere near the Milky Way of the 22nd Century they left. 

My big question is how will that year away from the ship have affected Burnham? What has the Discovery been doing in that time and will we get to see those time periods played out over the season or intertwined with "present day" footage to uncover some mysteries along the road. Discovery has provided the bigger picture to the season - Book, the time travel and the fate of the Federation but has left out the intricacies of the story while on the flip side Picard has given us all the sprinklings but so far no real bones to lay our thoughts on. Clever or what?!

What do you expect from season three of Discovery?

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Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Picard: The New Stuff

Stepping down and choosing to spend retirement at the family vineyard hasn't worked out quite the way he planned. 

Confirmed with a January 24th 2020 (Amazon Prime) launch date, New York Comic Con was the venue to see the brand new trailer for the upcoming Picard Star Trek series. 

Now reviews of trailers tend to go on shot by shot but looking at this one there’s a sprinkling of new mixed in with action shots, reaction shots and phaser shots.

"Would you like to finish it, Captain?"
"I don't know how."
"That is not true, sir."

1. Data 

Opening with vistas of the vineyard, we focus in on a figure painting - it's Data. Dressed in full The Next Generation uniform, the Soong type android is painting a faceless, hooded woman and asks the approaching Jean-Luc to finish the image. Hes also dressed in the uniform from the same era complete with captain’s pips. 

Now if memory serves, this would only have been filmed a few weeks back since we know Patrick Stewart had implicitly stated he would not be wearing a uniform in this show however it had come to a point where he realised there was no way around it. I don't think speculation is too applicable - this has to be some sort of dream sequence/suggestion that will ultimately link into the bigger picture.

It also appears that Starfleet/the Federation are developing what look like Soong type androids which would link in to what we saw in the first trailer of B-4/Lore in storage. The red suited, blank stare wearing bots definitely have a similarity to the ageless(!) Data - might their existence be a reason for Picard to get a bit upset with the admiralty?

Also here's one for you - the whimsical naming of the androids seems to have returned - the one in the pic above is F-8....F-Eight...Fate? Isn't this a huge clue as to their nature?

2. The New Crew

Again we see the arrival of Dahj (Isa Briones) at the vineyard which could prompt Picard into visiting Starfleet headquarters and having it out with one of the admiralty. Purely conjecture here since this trailer is definitely out of sequence and doesn't specify this. We also have Picard looking up Michelle Hurd's Raffi Musiker who is living in a remote location that is awfully familiar - maybe because it's Vasquez Rocks and has turned up in many a TV show over the years let alone Star Trek. Note too that Jean-Luc has taken Raffi a bottle of Chateau Picard (just next to the green plant)...

We have some new shots of the remaining crew - Doctor Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) joining the crew as well as (I think) her lab and science complex(?). Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabera) and Elnor (Evan Evagora) appear in quick flash shots. Rios is flying his ship with heads up virtual controls which is pretty nifty while the latter is seen gearing up for combat wielding some large Romulan bladed weapon. I'm shocked that more isn't being made of these new characters and they feel very sidelined in this trailer but given the appearances of other longer loved individuals I can understand where the hype would be centred.

3. Seven and Hugh

Few little clips of the Borg splattered in here. There's that broken Borg cube once again plus a blink and miss of a Borg arm piece (below). Now in the background of this first shot we can see a lab and what appears to be the remnants of an attack of some sort - could it be that these Soong androids are being combined with Borg tech? Is this the same lab because I think it is...

The biggest new arrival here though is Jonathan Del Arco's Hugh who is seen leading Picard and Dahj at one point and also glimpsed having a sneaky look around a corner. The makeup for Hugh is a lot less intrusive than we saw in The Next Generation with his implants resembling those on Seven with a few apparent open scars on his face but none of the large elements from before. 

I would guess over 20 years pieces have become useless, deactivated or irrelevant leading to removal. Seven as noted is back too. At one point toting two phaser rifles (green burst so potentially Romulan) and then seen cradling a lifeless body. The suggestion this is Chakotay is, frankly, garbage but it could be a freed Borg? Someone that Seven has been looking for perhaps? 

Ryan does appear to have quite a wide range of aspects to play as the "new" Seven and not just her more relaxed speech. We know that she will be around for several episodes and given that filming is now over I believe that more of her work from later in the series is included here.

4. The CG

New shots of San Francisco at the end of the 24th Century and also a lab/science complex plus more to mention in...

Note the solar panels on the bridge and the much less cluttered side of the bay - lot less buildings and more in line with the high-rise angles of Into Darkness perhaps?

5. Space...

The first shots of the new hero ship which may or may not be called La Sirena are here - and they're all arse end shots giving us no real sense of what this one looks like. We can tell that it's got a reddened hull and a more industrial feel than we got from the Enterprise and as a merchant vessel this is to be expected.

Maybe the bigger surprise is that we have Romulan Birds of Prey in action against the hero vessel. By this time those ships are around 200 years old(?) but what's to say they weren't in operation during The Next Generation but we never saw them on the front lines because of their age? Absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Sadly though it doesn't help identify what the third ship in the photo below is...!

The inclusion of the Romulan ships plays well against the nod to the Borg and indicates that there will be a good split of the story focusing on these two huge spacefaring powers whom have both had their fair share of society changing events.

During the opening "Data dream" sequence as I'll refer to it for now there are inter-cut shots of alien craft attacking an undetermined installation. These ships are also responsible for the attack we see right at the end of the trailer with the large satellite/craft exploding as one flies past.

"I came here to find safety...but one is never safe from the past."

6. Picard

Down the list but yes, the dog IS called Number One and wakes Jean-Luc at his home. We can all rest easy now.

His return to Starfleet Headquarters sees that junior officer having to check his name while we get a shot of a holographic recreation of the Galaxy Class USS Enterprise before Picard is reminded that he's no longer a part of the galactic organisation and is forced to depart and find his own means of completing his new adventure.

"We have an obligation to investigate."
"There is no WE, Jean-Luc."
"Admiral, I am standing up for the Federation; for what it still should represent!"
"This is no longer your house, Jean-Luc...Go home."

Conscripting his crew must be the first step to making this mission a reality. We know from the trailer he needs their abilities but why these particular people? Why Elnor? Also why isn't Harry Treadway (Narek) not featured here?

"The past is written but we are left to write the future."

We do get to see Picard practicing his fencing skills one more time - ironically the last time this was utilised as part of an episode was I, Borg back in season five which was Hugh's first appearance.

Also showing up is Picard's First Contact era combadge - now 20 years old and surpassed by the latest Starfleet technology. For me this is a spin on the Insurrection scene where Jean-Luc removes his badge and rank pips symbolising his decision to take on a personal crusade. Here it seems he is standing up for what he believes the Federation should be representing by putting it back on, possibly following a conversation with an individual whom I am as yet unable to identify...

7. The Rikers

"Come out here!"
"Stop yelling!"
"It's Jean-Luc Picard!"

OK, it's THE highlight of the trailer. The return of Will Riker and Deanna is what makes this two minutes of footage feel so complete. Appearing to live in a house very similar to the one Kirk had in the Nexus, Will has definitely retired from Starfleet. Now check the cast list out on IMDB and you'll spot "Kestra" listed who was Deanna's sister from Dark Page in The Next Generation (played by Kirsten Dunst if you recall) so logic would suggest that this is the name of Will and Deanna's daughter who we hear but don't see in the clip.

Like Picard they have retreated away from technology and space-faring to a more sedate lifestyle. Information leads me to believe that these shots must be from later in the series but how they are brought into the story has not yet been revealed. 

Marina Sirtis' time on screen is fleeting with only a welcoming hug for Jean-Luc while Will gets a little more time with his former captain. It's bits that we knew would be happening but to see them onscreen is such a lump in the throat moment. Let's hope that their inclusion isn't limited to sitting by the lake reminiscing over past missions.

"Thank you for not trying to talk me out of all this."
"Believe me I know better."

What do you think to the new Picard trailer? Does it tell you anything new? What's your take?

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Friday, 27 September 2019

Assimilated Voyager: The Official Starships Collection Bonus Edition

Lurking in the dark recesses of Eaglemoss’ bonus editions is Assimilated Voyager.

Swiftly becoming one of the most featured ships in the collection, this is the fourth variant of the lost Intrepid Class starship following on from ‘normal’ Voyager, Armoured Voyager and Warship Voyager. I think only Nebula and Miranda classes are giving it a good run otherwise!

The core of the model is the same build that we saw way back in issue six with the basic Voyager replica. The shield grid lines, the hull colour and the bulk of the Starfleet detail remains identical to that ship. That being said it means that the jarring errors have also managed to transition across to this edition; the panel lines are washed out due to the colour and it still feels slightly sloppy on execution.

The main attraction on the hull are the Borg upgrades with the sweeping sides of Voyager caked in black and green markings to represent the tech however it just looks a bit blotchy and would have definitely benefited from an XL step up to really allow the detail in the circuitry and glowing Borg equipment to be seen for its full effect.

The cover of the magazine shows all of this in abundance with the tech finely detailed and applied to the hull more than seeming to be "splodged" onto it if you'll pardon the rather untechnical description. Across the primary hull the two sides are a mirror with only slight nuances and the same goes for the Borg tech attached to the top of the warp engines.

Along the spine there is some side-to-side variation but being able to determine any components is a thankless and near impossible task.  From afar this variant looks pretty cool and offers a twist on the basic design but close up it's a much more messy affair.

For some reason even the reaction control thrusters to the rear of the primary hull have lost their rusty red colour for the black of the upgrades and perhaps the biggest faux pas is to leave the bussard collectors unpainted!

On the underside - well, apart from two black Borg tech marks near to the forward RCS thrusters on the primary hull there is absolutely no difference to the issue six edition. Cleverly the whole of the top section - the metal bit - has 90% of the upgrades attached to it while the plastic underside and engines have only a small amount.  Watch out too for the gaping side join around the pylons and shuttlebay; it's a big one and I'm a little disappointed here that it isn't as smoothly concealed as one might have hoped.

The detail of the un-Borged underside is as you would expect and have received from the original and the Warship Voyager variant  - there is zero additional detail although the panelling and two tone grey colour combo is well painted. The phaser strips stand out well against the lighter grey hull which is then finished with twin pennants on the bottoms of the warp engines, curves at the ends of all the phaser strips and a simple black ship registry at the front.

Even down to the red markings around the warp core ejection hatch you can't complain about the detail on the ventral side of Voyager, nor can you be disappointed with the spruced up, lighter blue-backed deflector dish sitting out at the front of engineering. 

From this perspective it does feel like Voyager has received a bit of a tidy up however I wouldn't be planning on displaying her upside down given that the big selling point here should be the fact it's ASSIMILATED Voyager

The stand at least continues with the adjustment from gripping the shuttle landing pad to sliding around the rear of the "spoonhead" hull and balances Voyager amidships in a much more comfortable pose than we first received it.

The bonus edition magazine is split simply into two major sections. The first deals with the events of Scorpion with a leaning more towards Part II since this is when the upgrading of Voyager's abilities were performed so that it would primarily be able to function in fluidic space. 

The images tend to highlight the detail contained within the hull augmentations completed by the Borg and seem only able to take away what little credibility the model had with each page. In fact it also suggests that some of the colour shading particularly in relation to the lifeboats is well off-palette adding to the bland finish that seems to exude from Voyager and reduces its visual effectiveness.

The second half of the magazine focuses on the creation of Species 8472 (the Undine if you're an Online player) and how the creature evolved within the computer from first design right through to being the franchise' first proper CG alien nemesis. There had been other attempts at CG creatures (Macrocosm's parasites) but this was the first attempt at going all out and realising an alien on a larger scale. It's a great read to see how the design evolved and how it was made to be so obviously not a man in a suit even for the facial closeups.

The magazine does provide a lot of background material around the introduction of Species 8472 and precisely how Voyager was upgraded by the Borg to take on this new and powerful threat from outside our universe.

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