Saturday, 9 March 2013

Audio Frontier: Star Trek: Starfinder

When I was asked by the guys behind Star Trek: Starfinder to review their pilot episode,  "The Back of Beyond" I was filled with excitement and Fear.

While this is brand new Trek in an audio format and therefore a brilliant experiment I was terrified that saying anything which didn't involve superlatives would result in me being hunted down and fed to their pet Targ in very, very small pieces. Luckily I was reassured by writer/director George Silsby that this would not be the case - so wish me luck.

Set during the early 2400s and more significantly in the time frame populated by the Starfleet of Star Trek Online,  we are privy to the first mission of a new crew aboard the Odyssey Class starship. Starfinder. Essentially that's what this first 59 minute instalment is about; an introduction to this scifi audio experience and within it we meet an incredible array of characters who will be our guides through the evolution of the series. It's difficult to know where to start in fact as there are so many. We have an synthetic AI captain with the memories of several experienced captains to make him the ideal commander,  a Romulan first officer, a Breen security chief, an Andorian Aenar who is linked to a liberated Andorian Borg (certainly a duo my interest is peeked to see more of),  MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations) and a sprinkling of 155 Jem'Hadar accompanied by their Vorta supervisor, Alura. Alongside these diverse individuals there are a plethora of Star fleet crewmembers who help flesh out events in episode one - and one of them has a link to the shadowy Section 31. Still with me?! Good.

I've been fortunate enough to have some time to sit and listen to Starfinder uninterrupted and this is possibly one of the things that the ST:S team need to consider going forward. Running to nearly an hour is a big commitment for an audio series listener.  Lopping it down to 44 mins as per a standard TV Trek episode could be the way forward as at times it did feel as though we were getting rushed from one incident to the next to fit everything in under the one hour mark.  There are a lot of characters introduced and if you are listening to it in bits it might become quite confusing. The first fifteen minutes put us into contact with the majority of the list above and more as well as several pieces of key plot and background exposition around the ship, the mission and the crew themselves. While I thoroughly enjoyed this take on Star Trek from the beginning I felt that "The Back of Beyond" could have done with double length treatment just to allow the characters room to breathe and not feel that we're having things pointed out for the sake of them being said. 

There's a lot of chopping and changing in this hour as we meet everyone and get snippets of information about their characters that will (I hope)  be explored in episodes to come. From an action point of view this is brilliant as you really don't get the chance to be bored by anything that's happening. The one time that does stand out as some great potential for the relationships on board the Starfinder is between the Breen security chief and the MACO Trill Naveera. You can feel the hatred bubbling under and let's hope this gets a fair amount of time dedicated. However, one of the strengths that I felt TNG and DS9 handled well and could be something for the writers to develop over the course is to provide longer scenes that flesh out the crew naturally. I suspect there's a good deal of talent and enjoyment among the actors here and it would be great to see them properly chew through my headphones so to speak.

Before you worry that an audio Trek series is just going to be one long talk, don't. The Starfinder series kicks off with a number of key action sequences. There's an attack on the Starfinder as they enter the unexplored Outback and later on an away mission to an M-class planet old with less than welcoming inhabitants. These are both well handled considering this is a first attempt and you can feel a lot of work has gone into the production to ensure that we can feel the tension and suspense as events unfold. We get Tholians and Klingons as part of a two-for-one battle, again introducing us to more characters as I understand the Klingons will be returning. How their relationship with the Starfinder crew will go is yet to be seen as the two ships explore the mysterious Outback and the planets and lifeforms contained within it.

In the respect of the away mission, it seems to be over in minutes and that includes other pieces that link directly to what is happening on the surface. I would have loved to see more of this mission rather than have the crew planted straight into danger. There are a lot of different elements into this sequence and here the quick changes between involved parties does work well - but I wanted more! Have to say though, the solution dreamed up from Captain ANN-D (Artificial Neural Network version D) nicely nods the hat to one of the prior generations of Trek but I'll let you find that out for yourselves. In fact that brings me nicely to my next point.

Actually, it's a niggle.  The acting is fine and there's some white noise on the mixing but that's not what I'm here to look at. Those issues will be dealt with in time as cast and background crew become more familiar with their roles,  the script and what can be done to make a smooth audio production. However, there is a mass of character intros which just seem packed into a very short time and then we have a quickly executed mission. Perhaps with an expansion into "pilot length" and a two-part split there could have been the chance for some longer introductory sequences with less "forced" explanations of character motivations and backgrounds. Ideally the arrival at the Outback could have slotted nicely into that "cliff-hang" position as we're even told its a two week trip to get there from Deep Space Nine. Script-wise it's a good job overall and will progress as the show develops and other writers are involved - potentially I'd suggest being aware of the occasional colloquialism slipping in! 

As a secondary note I was granted access to Starfinder some first two mini-sodes and a teaser for the second episode. As things go I'll warn you that the following section is specifically about these three audio files so if you don't want to know, look away now! 

Introducing agent T'Kayla and her timeship and the half-Vulcan Sadera in the first mini-sode there's some nice referencing to a certain JJ-verse. T'Kayla's mission will undoubtedly bring her into contact with the Starfinder as it dallies with the temporal anomalies of the Outback. It's hard to review two minutes where it's a dialogue between two individuals but here we do get a nice teaser which works well in that format. The second mini-sode introduces us to Lieutenant Valor who is the deputy security chief. Nicely we get to see events from the first episode from a slightly different perspective in another part of the ship. The friction between the MACOs and the Jem'Hadar is again touched upon here so there's clearly a bigger plan in action. This is a very personal log which provides some excellent exposition of this new character - and means there's another potential story thread for us to follow if the previous mini-sode is anything to go by. I'm sure we can count on her Vulcan relationships coming into conflict with those she will have with the crew of the Starfinder


The trailer for episode two gives some great hints at whats to come - more Breen, more T'Kayla, more action, more conflict and more temporal happenings. So when can we get to hear this?

I'm quite excited to see where they will end up when compared back to this initial effort and all the signs point towards this being a great success because you can feel the passion for the topic from everyone involved. There is a drive to succeed and I for one will be proud to say I was there from the start of this, I suspect, epic adventure.



Episode One of Star Trek: Starfinder; "The Back of Beyond" is available for download now.