Monday, 12 January 2015

Starfinder, Klingon, Gorn

An unexpected year's gap between episodes was a long wait for fans of audio series Starfinder but 2014 ended with a flourish as episodes two, three and four landed with a little help from some Klingon friends.

Messages from the Outback kicks off a mini-arc of episodes in this first season and ties in with The Gates of Sto'vo'kor who are a fan group now in their third season of audio adventures focusing on the crew of a the IKS Kradec, a BortaSqu' Dreadnought Cruiser from the realms of Star Trek Online While this isn't an episode of Starfinder per se it is worth a listen to broaden your library of podcasts as well as to get another thread on the activities in and around the region known as the Outback. For those of you who are fans of the show, be careful as you read on as I may be SPOILING. There's your warning, take it or leave it people.

That initial crossover episode helps to introduce the crew of the IKS Kradec and an initial conflict with the Tholians which leads them onto a trail pointing straight in the direction of the Starfinder. It was a total change of pace to listen to Messages... and then Gorn of a Different Colour as we're 100% onboard with the Klingon crew for two and a bit episodes. It's only 15 minutes into the second part of Gorn... that the crew of the Starfinder reappear.

The IKS Kradec originally appeared back in the pilot episode as the counter to the title starship and I'm not sure if a two-parter plus a crossover and another episode to come was a necessity at such an early stage of the series. We've only had two pure Starfinder episodes to this point plus a smattering of vignettes to keep our interests peaked and the we get something which takes us totally away from the focus of the series for a whole hour. Did I feel a bit cheated? Yes, I did BUT I can see what they've done here.

Why does the show have to stick to the rules and be 100% on the Starfinder every episode? What we have here is a story which adds depth to the backstory, fleshes out the ethos of the series and builds the Outback into a genuinely interesting region of space in three audio dimensions. The whole thing with modern TV drama is that they punch outside the box and certainly it might have made for some very different Star Trek moments if we'd had episodes that didn't focus purely on the crew of each headline ship or station. I might not have been a huge Voyager fan but if you look at Distant OriginsCourse: Oblivion and Living Witness they bear that very hallmark and make for three hours of fantastic telly.

In that same vain, Starfinder has made a bold move, taking us out of the safety net of the Federation starship and introducing the listener to a group of Klingons, Orions, Gorn and a Lethean. Looking at the plot, the ship encounters a world which may be home to an offshoot of the Gorn known as the Tyr'Gash with whom Commander Valkara chooses to annex as part of the Empire since they have laid claim to the Outback.

This in turn leads to conflict within the mixed crew, especially with everyone's favourite Arena guests, the Gorn, who are rather against turning violent towards their different coloured cousins - and at that point the Starfinder returns to the fold.

I did feel that the Klingon crew weren't anywhere near as warrior-like and honourable as they should have been. Everything in the Star Trek universe emphasises their proud heritage and their aggressive nature but here, in one or two particular cases I didn't feel the strength of the Empire. In fact the conflict which erupts onboard the Kradec is allowed to happen without any attempt to be quashed as the crew begin to take sides.

Michael Medeiros, a friend with Starfinder creator George Silsby for many years, is one of the brains behind the new episodes as he co-produced, wrote and directed them.

"I approached my team over at Gates of Sto’vo’kor and discussed it with them." said Michael, "We started working out the details of the story such as the crew, ship, and even the race of Gorn we would utilize. Ross Bullock developed the story idea and we took some liberties with the story that would become Gorn of A Different Color, such as making the Tyr Gash a separate species of Gorn entirely, the Kradec’s Captain is a woman, and other ideas as well. One of the aspects, we bantered about was an epic tale that would be told in three parts. 

"The first part would be a crossover with Gates of Sto’vo’kor that would establish the Klingon presence in the Outback, then the actual Starfinder episode (originally slated for six or seven on the release schedule), and another crossover that would act as an epilogue to the Klingon series, which would finish them off and keep them busy until Starfinder’s second season."

So there has been a big plan in place for the arrival of the Klingons within the folds of the Starfinder series.

Explained Michael; "With our outline in place, I approached George and we discussed our plans. We made a few adjustments, but in the end, he loved the ideas and even started discussing ideas on how to bring the Klingons back and have them hold a more important role in Starfinder in their second season. With the approval, I began writing the script that would become Gorn of A Different Colour

"I passed the script to Ross once the first draft was completed. He added a scene and made some adjustments throughout, while I started working on the scripts for the prologue and epilogue crossovers (Messages From The Outback). When Ross finished the Gorn script, I gave him the Messages... scripts and took one last look at Gorn. When all three scripts were done, I forwarded them to George for review. He loved them and believed the Gorn script to be long enough to split into a two-part episode. It already offered a good place to cut the episode at the end of third act, so few changes were required. The story was also brought up in the line up to third and fourth.

"After an exhaustive search, we found the actors to help us voice all of the roles we would need. With everything ready, production began and we spent several weeks getting the audio we required for the episodes. Ross and I directed every line of dialogue we could to ensure it met our standards for quality. The arduous act of prepping the audio for assembly began after that. Then, life and some unforeseen circumstances occurred and the project was shelved while they were dealt with. Once everything settled down, I got to work on the Gorn episodes. 

"After two months of editing, I sent the first draft of the completed episode to Ross, George, and a few others. There were a few minor tweaks, but in the end, Part I was ready for release. With Starfinder’s second episode on the verge of release, and at my urging, we agreed to sit on it until everything was ready. Two more months later, Part II was ready to go as well. While I worked on the first part, Ross took on Messages.... We waited until the prologue piece was completed before we started releasing episodes, once every two weeks, giving Ross ample time to finish the epilogue of Messages... before the end of the year."

It is, I remind you again, a very different Starfinder. Getting to know so many new characters in such a short period of time - and so many that are in a lot of ways very similar be they Gorn or Klingon - was a bit confusing and maybe scattering the Klingon events amongst the two parter might have helped, linking events more directly because I did find my mind wondering when the main cast would be turning up - and when they do it is a limited selection that we know from the first two episodes.

Ok, so how does the script weigh in? I'd say pretty average. The first two episodes had a lot more action, edge and pacing whereas here the pace is fairly steady. Having the knowledge of the two part format did mean I was expecting the cliffhanger but when it came I was hoping for something with a bit more impact. The trouble is that at this stage we don't know the main crew that well and we definitely don't recognise the Klingon crew and this meant I personally felt distant and non-committal to caring about the crew of the Kradec as the mutiny begins to take effect.

Today being a good day to die is noted a fair few times here and I was concerned that the crew were falling into a slightly stereotypical formula for Klingons. Now I know I've also said that they weren't honourable enough and that's my problem here in some respects because they fall into a place where they say the lines, project an air of being true warriors but then don't deliver the goods. Starfinder didn't need to emphasise this aspect and in some ways I hope that they find a better way to promote the enthusiastic spirit of the Klingons. 

The differing quality between the actors recorded lines is an issue here with massive variations during a single conversation and the interactions of the Klingons did feel a little odd. Not uncomfortable but almost a tad too polite. I know; odd, but there you are. Probably the reason the mutiny actually took place.

The arrival of the Starfinder crew in Part II does help to lift the adventure as they attempt to diffuse the situation, reunite the fragmented crew of the Kradec and stop a massive interstellar incident from blowing up with the Tyr'Gash. Commander Krang, the Klingon first officer does give in much too easily when Captain Ann-D offers unwanted assistance and this keeps flagging up the big issue with this larger story arc - the Klingons don't seem to work with the amount of airtime they have received at the sake of the Starfinder crew. 

They are, of course, the heroes of the piece but their arrival highlights their absence even more. Indeed, they are much better catered for in the script, likely due to the fact that they have had two episodes and the vignettes already dedicated to their journey. Only the captain, the Jem'Hadar, their Vorta overseer, Sergeant Byrnes and Penn and Zeller get airtime in this second part however it does feel as though there should have been more.

Gorn of a Different Colour is a bold, daring step by the Starfinder team but it's timing and execution are not what I've come to expect or hope from them. There are simply too many people we've not got to know in the course of the first part and the preceding Messages from the Outback courtesy of the Gates of Sto'vo'kor and the audio format does not help differentiate them easily before launching into a fully fledged two hour story. Separating Gorn from Klingon is easy but specific individuals and names are numerous and not that easy to remember. As we know it would have originally been further into the season and if that was the case it would have worked more effectively as I still don't know the main characters well enough.

Exec producer and voice of MACO Sergeant Byrnes, George Silsby was also keen to shed light on Starfinder developments; "We had one small dilemma when episode two was late being released; we had another team cranking out 4 episodes and we had a huge setback with just one.

"Those four episodes just happened to focus on the Klingons. What can you do? It was a content decision. The fans wanted content. They wanted a story to be told, sure it caused us to shift gears perhaps much sooner than we planned, but we don't feel it hurt the show, quite the opposite. 
There's no harm side stepping the focus on the Kradec for the benefit of offering another chapter in what is building up to be a shared audio universe experience, and our vision is much bolder now."

And who are we to argue you could say as the number of Starfinder followers on social media and web reach has quadrupled since the Gorn/Klingon arc started.

We still have Messages from the Outback, Part II to come which is the concluding segment more heavily produced by Gates of Sto'vo'kor. With the adventure itself rounded off and the situation cooled in the Outback at the expense of some of the Kradec's Gorn contingent I do look forward to seeing how this finale rounds out the story.

I've been a fan of the Starfinder series from the beginning and never expected every episode to be of absolute mindblowingly good quality. Every show has challenges, attempts different things and this one has been bold enough to step away from its pilot-established parameters and tackle an unexpected facet of the overall picture. I'm certain that the show will return us to the Kradec in the future and that upcoming installments will continue to push out of it's observed boundaries and provide new adventures expanding from the Star Trek Online universe.

Gorn of a Different Colour has been a clever experiment and one that has offered new tangents to explore in this first season. Let's hope that this move is one that will continue to pay off and not be a single flash in the pan.

Added George Silsby; "We have a things coming that no-one and I mean no-one has ever done before out there in the audio world.

It will be worth it in the big picture, trust me!"

Star Trek: Starfinder Gorn of a Different Colour is available now to download. On the site you'll also be able to find short stories and the vignettes from the last year. You can find out more about Gates of Sto'vo'kor by visiting their site.