Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Did We Miss Something? Going Beyond Wanting Worf

Last week filming actually began on Star Trek Beyond.

Not that you would have noticed. The first few days were particularly mute on a film that we also know virtually nothing about. Is it Klingons? Is it the five year mission? Will Idris Elba or Bryan Cranston be starring as villains?  Is it none of the above?!

Frankly we know zip about this film. Potentially because Simon Pegg is still writing the script (or was the last time we had word from him). At least we know that it'll be called Beyond and that it commenced filming in the Canadian National Park on June 25th. Again Trekcore has some great pics of the possible filming location including some shots of very Star Trek fake rocks as well as platforms and a notice declaring that filming of something is taking place.

The cast themselves aside from Spock and Uhura have apparently been spotted in the area and we have the report that both Quinto and Pine have signed on for a fourth voyage. Good news that at least the movies are continuing for a few more years. 

I'm not going into the whole conversation over speculation but Paramount have acquired the startrekbeyond.com website from the gent behind Star Trek Uncharted (formerly Beyond) who is getting the chance to pitch his series to the Powers That Be.

What we do have is a couple of Instagram shots from Zachary Quinto getting ready to drop into character and Zoe Saldana prepping in her trailer. Then yesterday director Justin Lin dropped the first official photograph via his Twitter feed (left). So does this tell us anything about the production? Well it does confirm that they're making a third movie and that looks like some form of utility suit similar to the ones Kirk and McCoy were wearing at the beginning of Into Darkness when taking a swim back to the Enterprise

One shot you might have missed was one (via Trekcore) which purported to show the Enterprise corridors being constructed in Vancouver. This is highly speculative and could even be a pic of the corridors being built for either of the previous productions. However, we can wish.

It's a very simple logo too - no central emblem denoting department but the blue might indicate Spock (as we know Quinto has started filming) science. But frankly that's about it. Heck I hoped there would be more but concrete facts on the movie are rarer than a sterilized tribble. In a way that's great since nothing's being ruined but might it suggest that the story isn't finished and they're still working out some of the "finer" details? 

I'll leave you to ponder over that one because talking of new Star Trek that Uncharted behemoth reared its head thanks to (I suspect) Michael Chang Gummelt owning a certain website name and having a very big series concept. I discussed my thoughts on a recent SFEscape Podcast and I'm not entirely comfortable with the format and the inclusion of the Stargate-like technology. I do find the exploration of a distant galaxy very intriguing and the backstory incredibly well thought out however there seem to be a lot of elements drawn from other sources and I need to be convinced more that this can still remain true to the principles of Star Trek. There is a great and varied array of characters as well as old and new races which would certainly expand and develop the franchise rather than restrain it within the 24th Century. I'd recommend casting your eyes over the site and certainly have a read of Michael's proposed pilot, Rendevous with Destiny. Which brings me neatly to another point.

One show that does seem to have that century very much at it's core is Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Worf Chronicles. Aside from being a horrendous mouthful (may well abbreviate it to TWC in future) it does have some promise as Dorn's meetings with Paramount/CBS haven't ended with a definite 'No'. Following his recent AQA on reddit, the #wewantworf movement has certainly gathered interest both for and against with a rather bizarre yet original million mini-muffin campaign on the go to push studio executives in favour of the series. Certainly it'll have a big effect on their collestrol if nothing more. 

Strangely Dorn sees this as a way to flesh out the Worf character (finally) -  but hang on, didn't he get more screen time and development than any other character EVER?! 

OK, probably a minor issue that (!) but as a nice selling point, former Star Trek scribe Ronald D Moore has penned a pilot and it seems a few other stories should it get picked up. I've said it before, I say it again - do we need to keep going back here? I feel that the more people ask him about what happened to it, the more it feeds the veteran Star Trek actor and in turn that fuels the fan frenzy. It's a vicious circle which might lead to a show but (saying it again) Worf's been done to death and his rather sporadic later career left many of us somewhat confused as to where he was supposed to be after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine. Always seemed to be conveniently near the Enterprise didn't he?

I praise Dorn for getting the fans excited once again and it's good to see the community hyped up about the Prime Universe but I'm still thinking false hope and that, in some ways, Uncharted might stand more of a chance because it's fresh, set far enough distant from Voyager and the rest of the franchise and offers a new perspective on Star Trek. Sure I'll gripe about some of it's ideas but didn't we do the same when The Next Generation came along in 1987? Yes is the answer and I believe that if Uncharted - which is far from perfect - were made, we'd be in a similar situation. Worf is familiar, liked but a well-explored character while Uncharted does have the unexplored, frontier edge advantage plus 100% new characters, advanced tech and new species all in the mixing pot. Overall it's a much more enticing package although it doesn't have the initial might of a former Star Trek actor to add weight. That said, earlier this year Uncharted was barely known until it was forced into the name change and now look where it is.

Maybe just having the increased interest in renewing a TV path means we're more likely to get a new series. I'd like to think so. Where from? Still open to bidders I expect.

Liking Uncharted? Hating The Worf Chronicles? Found a better solution? Let us know below!

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Next Wave: Attack Wing 15 is Experimental

June's Attack Wing expansions have arrived and after a week of getting to slam them through their paces, let's look at the results...

As usual there are three diverse ships to add/subtract/mix and match with your existing fleet(s) although how many of us have been gagging for the Bajoran scout ship Ratosha may well be the biggest mystery of the year.

Probably one of the first model versions of the vessel which could usually be found ferrying just about anybody from Bajor to Deep Space Nine, I can only think players will be wanting to buy a few of these to go alongside their Bajoran interceptor(s). A low squadron points starship (18), the Ratosha won't get you anywhere at pace but with your options for this faction fairly limited you're going to be stuck with very few other places to go. That low total does mean that an "average" 40 squadron points per ship is going to get you a tidy amount of upgrades which you might want to choose from the accompanying pack.

Options for captain come from the season two trilogy opener in Deep Space Nine including scheming oik minister Jaro Esso, Colonel Krim and his right-hand man Day Kannu plus the usual cannon fodder commander if you're running a little points heavy elsewhere. Jaro has the advantage of being a low points captain (1) and can flip to become your Bajoran admiral if the need takes you. His feature reflects his duplicitous nature as you discard crew upgrades for the sake of extra defence. A nice twist on the character taken into the game by WizKids. 

The more expensive Krim captain card (4) is more forgiving allowing you to add one more crew upgrade to your roster and allowing a re-roll of a defence die. Both these two offer defence options with Krim being my preference and providing a longer term strategy. Day Kannu however is better if you're prone to taking the offensive allowing you to choose the result on one of your attack dice but does mean you acquire an auxiliary power token for the honour. It's a toss up which one to use but that will depend on your leaning in the game. I would be more tempted to boost your defences since there are only three hull points and two shield points between you and oblivion.

Before you skip to the next ship though, it's definitely worth considering the additional features here. Often those smaller ships carry some abilities that larger ships only dream of - or may never need. With the Ratosha the emphasis on defence continues through the pack. Provisional Government stops you attacking an in-range ship and in turn stops them from attacking you. Potentially this could allow you to get very close to a desired target and unleash your full final attack before getting obliterated if there's anything getting in the way.

There is also the Bajoran Militia upgrade (and I thought I had a duplicate card at first) which boosts the total number of attack dice dependant on the number of these cards attached to the ship. Probably a good call to only have two at the most as you'll be wanting to use one of the other upgrades to give yourself a bit of flexibility.

More Than Meets the Eye allows you to scan even if you already have a scan token allocated to your ship thereby reducing the number of defence dice your opponent can roll by two instead of just one. This plays to your minimal offensive capabilities only having two attack dice to roll if you're going by the basics. If you're not then it's likely you've added Assault Vessel Upgrade to your scout ship which can be used as in a tech, crew or weapon slot. This will boost your stats allowing three attack dice for attack and raising the shield value to three at the cost of only four squadron points. Given the ship value it's easy to see that a lot of the included upgrades would be easy to slot in. Tragically though you'll only have a maximum of three crew upgrades to use on this vessel which might mean you deploy some of these over on an Interceptor.

Closing off the expansion is the mission piece based around The Siege from season two of Deep Space Nine. Set up as a standard two player game, it sees a minimal Federation force take on the advancing Bajorans leading to either the local militia taking control of the station or the Starfleet team capturing its opposition. Why the planet token is used as part of this I'm not certain - it may just be there as an obstacle to slow the Bajorans down but in principle this seems to be one of the easier missions for a non-Federation faction to win.

Second up there's one for the warrior in you with the Klingon Ning'Tao Bird of Prey. Firstly I can only layer praise on WizKidz for their incredible recreation of the B'rel class ship, easily trouncing the last version released as Chang's Bird-of-Prey. The colours are more vibrant, the detail much more clearly etched and just so you can tell them apart, this one has the wings dropped for attack.

As with the Ratosha she's another low value ship with moderate maneuverability but is a very "average" Klingon ship One thing that does distinguish her is the choice of five captains which come with her. Alongside Martok (who can also act as an admiral but is a lower rating than the version included with the Negh'Var), there's Worf, the usual generic Klingon should you need to save a few points and two versions of Kor. 

I don't recall another Attack Wing ship offering up this many captains nor two versions of the same character and they are significantly different given their age gap and experience. Younger Kor from The Original Series' Errand of Mercy has the higher score and allows you to re-roll attack dice determined by the amount of non-disabled crew upgrades you have however the Deep Space Nine veteran includes one of the most bizarre moves ever - a card which forces opponents to attack the specific ship he is commanding. Great to help the remainder of your fleet regroup or escape I would think but don't count on the Ning'Tao surviving. 

As with the cards we noted on the Ratosha, the game's creators have cleverly worked little character traits into the way their ability plays. Sticking with the Klingon way, Martok offers better attack at the expense of defence. I'd personally use either Kor here instead of Martok who has a more effective card with the Negh'Var. Worf acts to give a nice balance to your options with the Ning'Tao, allowing additional defence dice but meaning your ship gains a weighty auxiliary power token.

Having five options for captain with this set means there's only one crew upgrade included here and that's Darok, another veteran who allows you one chance to use a free option before he's discarded. Me thinks that you might not be using a lot of the cards from this set on a regular basis given the less than stellar line-up however the features do make it quirky and could well offer a real thorn in the side of anyone trying to take on your Klingon masses.

Photon Torpedoes comes "as standard" it seems and then there are the pack-specific elements. In this instance Inverse Gravition Burst is a pretty great addition. While it is single use it does offer the chance for you to regroup by hitting every ship within the 1-3 targetting range. Another upgrade in keeping with the Kor theme of the expansion is Long Live the Empire!. The feeling you get from this set is that using any of the cards is tantamount to gaming suicide (as I said, keeps with the Kor theme) since you can add up to three attack dice to your attack but automatically you take hull or shield damage for each additional dice you used.  The final upgrade option is Strafing Attack which allows you to attack two in-range vessels regardless of whether they are within your firing arc. 

If you like your episodic missions then this one places you into something of a Kobayashi Maru moment with the ship taking on a more powerful Dominion force. In the space of four phases you'll need to stay alive or destroy the opposition which isn't so difficult since you don't have to worry about auxiliary power tokens and get an additional two defence dice. I won;t get chance to properly work this one through as I've yet to obtain any Dominion ships. If you have played it out, let me know how it went!

The Ning'Tao is not an obviously powerful ship from her stats nor does she have the quick boost option that comes with the Ratosha but the single use upgrades that you do have to use here or with another Klingon ship do offer late chances to change the tide of the game. I'd be more tempted to place them all into one basket and use the Bird-of-Prey as it seems she was intended - to draw fire and make a mess which the remainder of your fleet can clean up if it gets destroyed. On a final note, interesting that they choose the Ning'Tao ahead of Kruge's ship from The Search for Spock....

The big draw from Wave 15 though has to be the USS Prometheus. Model collectors can stand down as it's not the best replica with a rather blocky paint job that's in the same league as the Enterprise-E but I can say that the nacelles are all in parallel alignment. Good work on the mould but a "better try next time" on the finishing.

However as I'm fond of repeating here, it's not about the model it's about the cards and my lord is this a cracking addition. Offering maneuverability equal to the Intrepid Class as well as a number of tactical upgrades and superior stats, it all comes at a cost with the Prometheus draining a hefty 30 squadron points before you even consider beefing her up. That maneuverability does have its advantages since the ship's extra action allows a bit more evasion or repositioning but only if you've used a 1 or 2 in the activation phase of the game.

Coming back to reality a little there are three captain options with USS Prometheus which line up with Message in a Bottle from Voyager's fourth season. First there's Judson Scott's Romulan hijacker, Rekar who adds an extra attack dice to a secondary weapon (which you then have to give up). I'd suspect he's going to end up in your Romulan fleet rather than sticking with the Prometheus unless you're free-playing the game and ignoring factions.

Your second command option is The Doctor. Costing one squadron point he offers the chance to increase your captain skill from two up to ten but it is a gamble which will leave you with an auxiliary power token either way. I suppose this does reflect his lack of command experience/knowledge so if you do pick The Doctor (and I wouldn't for any ship) then your future is in your hands. However he is better than the standard non-action bearing Captain Keogh who fleshes out the set. Why they've included the Odyssey comander I'm not sure.

Your crew options in this expansion are limited to Romulan Hijackers which means you'll not lose out by attaching Romulan upgrades to a non-Romulan ship. Brilliant! So you can technically end up with the Prometheus or any Federation ship (for example) crewed by the secretive race. It also gives the benefit that if you're not near a friendly ship you can disable this upgrade and add an extra attack dice. 

Unsurprisingly the EMH Mark II appears as either a crew or tech upgrade. As with The Doctor he's not an amazing addition but that keeps with the inexperienced feel of those two medical crew-members. His target lock feature does disable an opponent's crew upgrades though so it's not that poor. 

While the crew upgrades are so-so, you're more likely to be adding the Prometheus to your fleet thanks to its tech and weapon options.  There is of course the usual photon torpedo card but with the experimental twist that using it with this ship adds a further dice to the attack.  Ok so now to the big stuff. 

Regenerative Shielding allows shield repairs and can be reused while Tactical Prototype lets players perform an additional evade, scan or battle stations move which emphasises the ship's better movement options over most of its peers and competition. 

Ablative Hull Armour is one of the nifty quirks of the pack and costs a not insignificant 7 squadron points. Hang fire though because it's advantages are more than clear with that high price. Applicable only to the Prometheus Class, it allows an additional three hits to your ship and converts all critical damage to normal damage. Surely this is a stunner of an option which will increase your lifespan in the combat zone and would be ideal to couple with some snazzy maneuvering. 

Finally though there is the Big One. Multi-Vector Assault Mode not only gets its own rule card but also its own token it's simply that awesome. Fairly obviously this is only available for the Prometheus Class. While the model won't spontaneously split into three sections it does give you a 360 degree firing arc with eight attack dice at the cost of disabling the card and a target lock. Better still - it's reusable and will surely cause havoc with your opposition.

When it is activated the ship does have limited movement and also reduces your defence by a dice but as with cloaking, you can keep it active for as long as required and won't be taken off at the end phase unless you decide to do so.

There's also a fantastic mission to take her out on which initially places the experimental ship in the hands of the Romulans before having the Prometheus reclaimed by The Doctor. The idea is to defeat your opponent and of course there will be a benefit to whichever side has control of the Prometheus.

By far the Prometheus is the most impressive and fearsome ship of the trio released this month and will definitely be part of my Federation fleet going forward including some of the great features it's brought to the game. Multi-Vector Assault Mode is potentially one of the strongest add-ons available to Federation players (aside from Voyager's Transphasic Torpedoes). The chance to rebuild your shields too is an enticing addition especially when coupled with the high maneuver score of 6 which will get you out of a sticky situation very, very quickly. It's a decent trio if truth be told with some nifty little features also present on both the Ning-Tao and the Ratosha. Certainly Klingon fans will be happy with the arrival of Kor (twice!) and perhaps some more Klingon-esque moves. My dad will be happy to slide it alongside his existing fleet and attempt to give me a further kicking - but then he's not seen the Prometheus so I doubt he'll stand much of a chance against the might of Multi-Vector Assault Mode

Where the Bajoran ship is aiming I'm not sure since we only have two vessels available for this faction in the marketplace right now. The Bajoran Solar Sailor is due but as a trio it's not looking like a serious force to be reckoned with. I can only suggest that the Bajorans might be amalgamated into the Independent faction to offer some chance of a win.

A great range of ships for June with three more great options due next month with USS Dauntless (first ship where you don't have to start with a captain!), USS Pasteur and the Ferengi Marauder. Good news too that we have info on every wave up to January now.  

Now you can also have a look at the cards and ships in more detail with these short video reviews we've posted up to our YouTube page

Managed to get hold of a Wave 15 ship? How are you using them and what tips do you have?

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Friday, 26 June 2015

Eating My Words: Caretaker

For years I regarded it as the lesser Star Trek, the series too far, the show that really disappointed and a point in my full run-through that I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy.

Star Trek: Voyager is, as you might have noticed, 20 years old and recently I finally finished Deep Space Nine (massively let down with that last episode this time round) which meant lining up Caretaker

For us in the UK, today has even more significance. It's 20 years exactly since we hurried down the high street to Woolworths and purchased the pilot of the third spin-off, cracked open the plastic case and digested all the wonderful tech info and teasers contained on the sleeve. It was a wonderous experience and these were the days when the box was more than just a transportation item - it was a way into the franchise before you even stuck the tape into the player - and hoped it didn't get chewed on first viewing.

I still recall that first watching; being amazed at the Doctor, loving the hand-over at Deep Space Nine and finding it such a different take to the previous two incarnations. We were back on a starship, somewhere new; the unknown with possibilities galore.

I haven't seen Caretaker since the early 2000's - most likely around the time I watched Endgame and even then it would have been on that very same VHS; Volume 1.1 from CIC Video. 

I flashback to 1994 and remember the rumours, the cast suggestions, the arrival and speedy departure of Genevieve Bujold as Nicole Janeway which only mounted more expectation and hype onto this new child of the franchise. When it did arrive on UK shores some seven months later in July of 1995 to say excitement and anticipation were at fever pitch was very far from the truth; we were way beyond that mark by about March.

Two decades on and Caretaker is, honestly, a great pilot episode. I've derided Voyager a lot in my time for Warp 10, cheese, Neelix, making the Borg all cuddly, having an infinite number of shuttles/torpedoes/crew (delete as applicable) but in Caretaker there is a gold (maybe latinum) mine worth of potential - and the show literally threw it away by the end of the first year and chose another path.

Caretaker is action and adventure to Emissary's more cerebral, philosophical and typically Roddenberry approach to Star Trek. It opened an arc, set the pieces in place and laid out a gameboard that could be developed over subsequent seasons. It would be in one place (which was also true of The Next Generation to some degree) but with Voyager they were alone, lost and would be constantly on the move. Change would be the most constant element and that was one of its unique selling points.

However that's not what appealed to me at the start. I was sold on the conflict, the inter-crew relationships, the difficulty of two crews that disliked each other having to work together for the sole goal of getting home - with the more than occasional detour to look at the anomaly of the week or for Janeway to waste some resources playing at Victorian nanny.

Deep Space Nine had two crews united for the good of Bajor and the Federation who wanted to work together because there was a bigger vision while on Voyager the crews were only looking to be comrades for a short time (maybe) with a sole purpose in mind. But, all the conflict was ditched as soon as the credits rolled on Parallax and Torres was made Chief Engineer. There were touches during the second season's Kazon arc that culminated in Basics and then Worst Case Scenario in year three would drop like a stone to remind us of what could have been - imagine if the season one cliffhanger had been the Maquis trying to take the ship rather than Tuvok playing teacher to some dropouts? Imagine a second year with the Maquis taking priority.

The show chose to play it safe and avoided playing to whatever made it different but Caretaker remains that snapshot of what could have been. The anger and mistrust that could have developed from the Chakotay/Tuvok relationship would have been great to see evolve as would the slow, difficult integration of the two crews. It's perhaps only in season two with that Kazon/Michael Jonas story that we see that thread gather any pace. When we do have stories about the Maquis crew though it makes their swift amalgamation into the crew even more obvious and makes the landmark decisions of the pilot episode seem a distant memory.

But let's focus on Caretaker some more before discussing the rest of the show as I will in my season reviews. Harry Kim has a huge role within the pilot, being captured by the title character and being the audience's eyes and ears within the Ocampan city. His role is pivotal alongside B'Elanna to give the viewpoints of both crews which is something that no other Star Trek series had previously attempted. The #eternalensign ends up spending the rest of the season scanning nebulas and it's only the late second and early third seasons where we see him begin to shine in episodes such as The Thaw, The Chute and getting to take command in Future's End.

While Harry might spend his entire trip home on the bottom rung of the ladder, it's amazing how much of the other characters' backgrounds is laid aside. Janeway's boyfriend is only mentioned fleetingly, Tuvok's age and experience are rarely impressed upon and Paris' rebellious nature gets parked for less a less than desirable womanising aspect of his personality notably until Thirty Days which is a fair way off at this point.

The Doctor at least was given the chance to develop as was the nature of his program within the story although in Caretaker he's not actually used that much. Mind, he is one of the best bits even if he has minimal screen-time. Then there's Neelix and Kes. who certainly polarised fans nearly to Wesley/Keiko levels and while only one of them made it to the seven year distant finishing line, some would argue it was the wrong one.

Caretaker has one element that is consistent with these latter pilots - a distinct, huge alien issue. For Picard's crew it was Q, for Sisko it was the wormhole aliens/the Prophets and pushes the crew to the limit from day one. Having the female version mentioned gave us something to look forward to and a lot of fans including myself may well have believed that her appearance - or at least her final appearance - would close off the show. In reality it provided a simple get-out clause if the concept of a lost starship didn't work and from the fact they sunk Cold Fire into season two and never mentioned Suspiria again you kind of tend to believe it had worked or at the least garnered enough support not to require a quick trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. The Caretaker is unusually not the threat here, desiring to find a solution to his Ocampan issue while holding off the hippie Kazon.

Encounter at Farpoint embraced its predecessor's episodic formula and drove that forward across its seven years, not setting too much up or expecting too much up from its cast. Yes, the first year is barrel-scrapingly bad on occasion but there were signs of gradual improvement once we skip over Code of Honor and get to know the developing characters. Deep Space Nine set a couple of bits in place - the wormhole, the Cardassians, but its fixed point in the Alpha Quadrant meant that these points could never be evaded, they had to be addressed and managed over seven seasons. Voyager could on the other hand escape plot points, move from one arc to another over the course of its trip and explore those differing opinions by placing the crew(s) into a variety of situations where one side might not always be right.

On that front it failed, perhaps in that there was too much front-loaded into the pilot that could not be effectively carried into subsequent single-length episode stories. Considering how the nine characters in this, the largest ensemble in Star Trek were managed, its not a surprise that balls were dropped and might explain why so few of the cast were given any considerable amount of time as the show evolved.

For me, Caretaker represents a dream, a possibility and a vision of Star Trek that may have truly offered that diversity and conflict that we couldn't get from the tight-knit crew of Picard's Enterprise while also giving us the week on week changes that Deep Space Nine's set location could not. However, this all said there would be some truly excellent stories, appearances and ultimately I believe that Voyager is the greatest Star Trek series for concepts - Timeless, Living Witness, Blink of an Eye...the list could easily go on as it tried to push the envelope knowing that each week it could dare to do something different.

Perhaps that gaggle of characters weren't too bad after all and their idiosyncracies really made the adventures into adventures, perhaps this was the ultimate Star Trek action show that occasionally just used a little too much technobabble to dodge a sticky ending. It perhaps was never meant to be a people show, rather about the phaser fights and the big set pieces with those bits of character detail purely there to make these people a bit deeper than action heroes. I now look forward to my own journey through the show and while it isn't Emissary, Caretaker is still a damn good place to meet these guys for the first time.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

From Main Titles to the Mutara Nebula: James Horner

I may have a love of writing but I've never quite cracked the way to critique music correctly.

Not that it stops me from appreciating a decent classical tune which is something James Horner always seemed to achieve. As we all know however, the composer tragically lost his life on the 22nd June and we have been robbed of a great cinematic musical talent.  Small apology too - I wanted to get this one right so it's been changed a fair bit hence the minor delay in publication.

Not being the world's greatest music critic hasn't stopped me from loving Horner's contributions to the movie world. In fact I was amazed how many films I have in my collection which he'd scored; Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Braveheart, Aliens and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to drop a few names as well as mega-blockbusters Titanic and Avatar. I even spotted he'd worked on Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Rocketeer both of which I still vividly remember watching at the cinema.

It is a mind-blowing back catalogue which of course includes its fair share of Star Trek. Actually more than I thought besides the obvious choices of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Both of these are classics. I have them on disc and permanently on my phone although I was first introduced to some of the tracks when I bought The Astral Symphony CD back in the early 1990's which came out at the same time as the 25th anniversary VHS collection. 

I was spellbound. There were some great tracks but Battle in the Mutara Nebula immediately stuck out as one of my favourites. For me it has a resoundingly epic quality, tinged with danger and suggesting the stealthy movements of the Enterprise and Reliant as they attempt to hunt each other in the clouds of stellar dust. One thing I hated about the collection was it missed Horner's Main Title which is my favourite of the whole movie series. I'd have to wait a few more years to get hold of that on the full movie soundtrack. That whole soundtrack is frankly just one massive piece of orchestral awesome and from social media it seems a lot of fans have been delving back into it quite heavily this week.

In contrast his pieces for The Search for Spock are a lot more soulful, inward-glancing especially through pieces such as Return to Vulcan and The Katra Ritual. Yet it still delivers a thrill, that chill down the spine and all the excitment that you would want from a Star Trek movie experience, none more so than when the Bird of Prey decloaks for the first time or when Kirk and the crew steal the Enterprise. Both soundtracks play out over very different Star Trek movies and certainly showcase the expansive versatility within Horner's repertoire and all the shades in between. 

Horner's music was also a big inspiration to me to explore movie soundtracks but not necessarily the classical genre. I found myself searching for discs of Dirty Harry, Gladiator and many more not necessarily linked to Horner or a Star Trek composer but that gave me a buzz listening to the tracks away from the screen. That Astral Symphony CD was played and played and played. I never got bored of it and in some ways wish he'd gone back to The Voyage Home and seen out the trilogy.  

But did you know he'd composed works for a Star Trek MTV special in 1991 (25th anniversary) and also for the brilliant fan series New Voyages/Phase II as recently as 2012 for their Going Boldly vignette that kicked off Brian Gross' tenure as Captain Kirk? Potentially not - nor did I realise that he had worked on material for fan series Valiant which I was only discussing with the guys behind Anthology the other week. Truly this shows Horner's love of the franchise and also that he was happy to work on any project no matter the size, appeal or budget as long as it appealed to him.

The power of a James Horner soundtrack was to be reckoned with. Having his name linked to the production was a sign of class, high quality and you just knew it would blow your socks off either through that explosive action sequence or in a more sensitive and emotional scene. His addition to the movie - certainly in the two cases of Star Trek only made them better and more highly revered. His music had a massive effect on me as part of my love for the franchise and for that I must thank him. The Wrath of Khan is one of my all-time favourite films and Horner's score only enhanced the already incredible experience.

The loss of James Horner in a plane accident is a tragedy not just for those who were influenced by his music through Star Trek but across the film industry as a whole. It's sad to think that we'll no longer get to hear his adventurous musical spirit booming out from the surround sound at the cinema in the latest big screen box-office behemoth but we will be able to experience his talent through his rich back catalogue for many years to come.

Do you have a favourite James Horner score? Perhaps a favourite piece from one of the Star Trek movies? If so, which one and why?

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Straight to the Tip: Armageddon's Arrow from Dayton Ward

+Daniel Adams takes us out with the Enterprise-E as it returns to its core mission of seeking out new life and new civilisations. Catchy line that - they should use it....

I’d argue that a lot of the 24th Century novels are like the Marvel Cinematic universe. 

There are Avengers-type series like the Destiny, Typhon Pact and The Fall sagas, epic stories that have implications for the quadrant, and so our captains and other main characters have to put their heads together and work to solve the problems, in the same way that Iron Man and Thor team up. However, in the same way that each individual Marvel hero’s supporting cast is given brief, if any appearances in the Avengers, the junior officers of the various crews – most of which have never been seen on screen, are often briefly mentioned, but don’t really get involved. 

Armageddon’s Arrow is a return to the basic form of Star Trek, in the same way as say, Iron Man 3 or Thor 2 focuses on the relevant heroes instead of a mega team up. Dayton Ward’s novel is set mostly on Picard’s Enterprise-E, which has returned to Starfleet’s core mission of exploration. Therefore, by focusing on the one ship, the next generation, of er, The Next Generation all get a moment to shine. For those who don’t know, Picard is still sticking to Captain Kirk’s advice, and remains a Captain. Troi and Riker, were on the Titan, but now Riker is an Admiral, Crusher is still on the ship, as is La Forge. Worf is the first officer, and numerous posts are filled by crew that are entirely created for the novel continuity. 

While charting a previously unexplored area of space, The Enterprise stumbles across a time ship from the future, created by the Raqilan to bring an end to their decades long war with their neighbours the Golvonek. As intended, the ship, based on a familiar planet killing design, was designed to destroy the home world of the Golvonek, thus ending the war before it began. The plan was derailed when the ship was attacked before it jumped to the past. The damage to its systems meant that the ship failed to revive the crew from cryogenic stasis when it arrived at its destination. The war began, and the crew were revived by Picard decades later than planned. 

In the present day, the contemporary versions of the Golvonek and Raqilan want to get their hands on the weapon from the future. Picard finds himself balancing not only the Prime Directive, but the Temporal Prime Directive as well. In the meantime, things are further complicated when the revived crew have an agenda of their own. 

The novel starts slowly, but eventually picks up speed as we learn more about the craft’s occupants, and the two races trying to take hold of it. The two species are actually pretty well rounded, rather than being one race of ‘goodies’ and one race of ‘baddies’, instead they come across as two three dimensional species in their thinking. Indeed, there is no real ‘villain’ of the piece, just soldiers following orders. 

During their investigations, the crew discover that the ship is linked to the Planet Killer from The Original Series episode The Doomsday Machine a nice nod to the past and gives Picard another added layer of pressure has he desperately strives to stop the weapon being seized by one side or the other while working within the confines of Starfleet regulations.

The good captain continues to be a much more mellow character than the man we saw on the TV series, his dedication to duty tempered with fatherhood and marriage However, he has the same angst about sending crew on dangerous missions, even more poignant when one of those crew-members is his wife, the returning Doctor Crusher. 

The doctor, Worf and La Forge are faithful to their screen counterparts as well. Crusher still has the same passion for saving lives, whereas La Forge gets some new developments with a romantic partner, sickbay’s Dr Harstad. First Officer Worf is a particular source of delight as he shows a playful spirit through his traditional dry delivery, almost as if there is a touch of Riker in the way that our favourite Klingon performs as First Officer to the crew. 

An exciting plot development comes from the Vulcan Engineer Taurik. The character, who had a role in The Next Generation’s Lower Decks, comes across information concerning the Federation in the future ship’s database. True to Vulcan form, he refuses to divulge the precise nature of that information, seals it away so that not even Picard can access it, and we never find out what the information means. It’ll be interesting to see where this information goes.

Of particular note is T'Ryssa Chen, the reverse Spock, a half Human/half Vulcan that has chosen to reject her Vulcan heritage. Although I find the concept of the character interesting, In I have to say I didn't care for her much in her earlier appearances, but subsequent writers have succeeded in making her more and more likeable. 

If I had one problem with this book is that I though the pacing was a bit out. I thought the last few chapters were very busy and it was exciting, particularly the sequences where our heroes are fighting to escape and/or rescue other crew from captivity, but the process of getting there seemed to be quite slow. Again, perhaps this is a consequence of the reduced cast of characters. 

Overall, while the idea of time displaced castaways being woken up in the present isn't a new one, the but the concept that they are from the future instead of the past is a novel spin on the idea. The return to one ship and one crew is a welcome change in scope, as more characters get a chance to shine, and it makes for a nice rest before the next cross franchise epic.

Armageddon's Arrow is now available from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476782690.

Agree with Dan's review or did you have another opinion? Drop your thoughts below!

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Friday, 19 June 2015

From This Time Forward You Will Service Us

June 18th 1990.

Reciting any line from the episode which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week will give it away in an instant. While June 18th was the first time it was seen, the finale of The Next Generation's third season was aired in syndication which means it was shown across the US on different days and times. In the UK we would have to wait a further 12 months to see the episode (and it's conclusion) at 6pm, Wednesday night on BBC2. Big UK Star Trek fact - the week after the second part aired, the BBC went on to show The Original Series starting with the first UK showing of The Cage.

The Best of Both Worlds is arguably one episode which appears in every fan's top ten. It's definitely in mine but after 25 years is it still worthy of its near-legendary status?

Q Who was responsible for introducing the Borg but, like the Conspiracy aliens or the original conception of the Ferengi, maybe even the Swarm from Voyager,  it could well have been a one off.  Michael Piller created a landmark story character driven, heart-rending and action-packed that epitomised the very best of not just The Next Generation but Star Trek as a whole.

Filled with some of the best and most insightful dialogue ever written,  a stirring, unique choral soundtrack and genuine edge-of-the-seat sequences for The Next Generation it was the show's big coming of age moment at the same point that it's illustrious predecessor had been saying goodbye. Time and time again Star Trek has returned to this point, these events which alone speaks volumes of its importance.

Maybe no other episode will ever live up to the hype but The Best of Both Worlds gave the whole crew an opportunity to shine and brought in the character of Shelby to boot and the (for once not a madman) Admiral Hansen. These are two of The Next Generation's best supporting characters and the tragedy is that neither came back following this story.

Elizabeth Dennehy could easily have stepped into the first officer role in season four proving to be a sharp foil for Riker even in just the two episodes featuring her character but it wasn't to be since Patrick Stewart did return and remain on the Enterprise. However, while she's the ambitious upstart that Riker once was, it offers a better chance to understand Number One and his comfort zone as Picard's right-hand man. Shelby disobeys her senior officer, works like a trojan and is out to impress at every step, going behind Riker's back, convinced that she'll be the next first officer of the USS Enterprise. The poker game is edged with tension between the two clashing officers with Shelby's win unsettling Riker even more. While you do start to hate her, your opinion swiftly changes by the end of the story.

For me, the self-analysis that Riker undergoes during the first part is some of The Next Generation's best character development and is a stark contrast to the nightmare which is about to explode. I also think it's a massive piece of the overall story and notably the final time until Nemesis that Riker has the chance to command his own ship. 

Picard's capture and subsequent semi-assimilation into the Collective as mouthpiece Locutus resonates both through the franchise and for fans right to this day. First Contact in 1996 took us right back to that event, Deep Space Nine's pilot (and only the pilot) used Wolf 359 as a jump-off point for Commander Sisko and Voyager ran with the Borg more than any other show. The collective even managed to get themselves an episode of Enterprise in a rather bold and unexpected move which linked both to their single movie appearance and their first appearance in Q Who

While my thoughts on Voyager's take on the Borg are in flux at the moment,  if it wasn't for The Best of Both Worlds and it's success then Voyager may have turned out very differently. Sisko's torment at the loss of his wife and confrontation with Picard in Emissary might not have carries so much resonance. Indeed, the third season finale introduces us to the concept of assimilation. 

As Shelby notes, the previous encounter at J-25 had shown that the Borg were only interested in technology but here the agenda changes and with it the future of the show. Already they were formidable,  seemingly unstoppable but the brilliance of The Best of Both Worlds lies in the fact that the threat became personal and much more deadly. Picard's capture is certainly as horrific if not more so than Chain of Command because something like this had never been attempted before in Star Trek history. Imagine -  if there had been no assimilation then there would have been no Seven of Nine.

This potential threat that was a long way away was now on the doorstep, had kidnapped the one person who may well have been key to their defeat and every opportunity seemed to have been shut down. For once it appeared that this could well be game over and that sense of foreboding lies across the whole duration of the episode from the discovery of the crater at Jouret IV (they never do this ever again....) through to the revealing, muted conversation that Picard has with Guinan as he tours the ship shortly before his capture. 

As with the Riker/Troi conversation, this section of the episode alone propels The Best of Both Worlds to stellar levels. It is a real insightful discussion that lays Picard's fears open in the only setting he is able to voice them.  There are so many great one on one pieces here and I'd be wrong not to even mention Picard/Riker or Riker/Shelby both dealing with the first officer's reluctance to move into the centre seat. 

The Best of Both Worlds may be a quarter of a century old but it hits every mark a Star Trek episode needs to.  There is literally something for every fan in every scene and I don't tire of watching it; a moral dilemma, action, adventure, an eerie, deadly enemy. Oddly I can even just watch the first half without the conclusion because that initial hour is so perfect, even to the final face-punching dawning that Picard is lost and the biggest decision of Riker's short command career.

So is it worth it's status as one of the best of the best? The best of all episodes? Perhaps it's not the one everyone would pick as number one; The Inner Light is much more emotional; In the Pale Moonlight is potentially Star Trek's darkest hour but if it wasn't for the success of The Best of Both Worlds none of these might have ever seen the light. Michael Piller made some significant changes to The Next Generation with the stories character rather than situation-focused from season three onwards and here he gave something that will at least be high on 99% of fans' favourite installments.

My thoughts? Absolutely top three of all time and my favourite The Next Generation episode with Relics in second place. The follow-up with Hugh in I, Borg was OK but once they stepped into Descent and individuality the arch-nemesis of the Federation began to lose it's teeth somewhat. First Contact returned them to the chill-inducing automatons of the first years of The Next Generation if with a significant facelift. 

Twenty-five years on since we first discovered that resistance was futile and that the Borg were heading for sector 001, it has to easily be regarded as a classic; ultimate Star Trek to the core. 

Now; Mr Worf...fire.

What are your memories of The Best of Both Worlds? Do you think it's still worth the hype?

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