Sunday, 2 August 2015

21 Seconds of Screentime (approx.): The Official Starships Collection Issues 52 and 53

As a friend of mine noted on Instagram/Twitter (hi there Rob!), the USS Centaur must now hold the collection record of being the ship with the shortest screentime from all 53 issues produced.

The Centaur appeared in the season six premiere of Deep Space Nine chasing Sisko's comandeered Jem'Hadar fighter (looking forward to seeing some of those edits over the next few weeks) and was seen for the briefest flash of time however that doesn't mean Eaglemoss have pulled a fast one and given us a below-par starship.

Quite the opposite in fact. I'm already seeing a lot of love for this ship which also marks the first time we've seen one of the kit-bashed Star Trek ships within the series. She takes parts from both the Excelsior and Reliant to create a small, streamlined interceptor-type ship and because of that we get a lot of crystal clear detail for fans to pour over.

Of all the Starfleet vessels this is perhaps the one I've been the least fussed about yet when you get her out of the plastic and cardboard the Centaur truly is one of Eaglemoss' finest examples. Don't ever think that you're being "ripped off" since this is a combination of two ships because there's so much to like on this one even given it's modest origins.

The metal saucer is well detailed with a distinct two-tone near-Aztec paint scheme that almost gives her a weathered effect. Comparing her to the Excelsior is a must as you're going to get a much better view of the larger ship's saucer section by looking at what has been done here on the Centaur. Admittedly there have been some revisions including the four turrets sitting on top of the twin impulse engines and the inclusion of the forward-facing, golden painted shuttlebay but you can see the markings, the phaser banks and the layout of the primary hull much more clearly than on the Excelsior or the more recent Enterprise-B.

The underside of the saucer is something of a tiny disappointment as the raised features don't have precise definition and seem to slide into the paintwork of the hull. The paint-scheme and the registry are still there to complete the effect but it does appear that more work went into the upper side of the ship than the lower. However, understanding the processes behind the collection a bit more these days, you have to say that for cost and quality even having these features recognised on the Centaur is impressive.

Given the limited amount of bits here, I'd say over 50% of the ship is metal since the only parts that aren't are the nacelles, the pylons (rollbar from the Reliant) and the weapons pod. Those engines are very long in comparison to the saucer and seem to stretch out behind her forever - and they are very thin so beware of potential damage. Given their tender nature you'll spot that this is a rare Starfleet vessel without any of the translucent sections within the warp engines. Instead the vents are painted in their recognisable shade of blue, the impulse engines in red and the torpedo launchers in orange.

When you do compare this model to the one that its designer Andy Buckner still has there are a number of differences in the level of detail on the surface - for one the fins at the rear of the saucer have been removed for the one we have in the collection and the detail on the underside of the pylons is much more noticable. Fortunately the registry isn't on a piece of paper stuck to the hull so we have to be thankful!

The scale of the ship - smaller than an Excelsior Class ship - means that the USS Centaur benefits from the chance to do those little bits you might not have seen otherwise and especially with this being vessel having a fleeting few moments on the TV, Eaglemoss have certainly excelled. For sure she's become one of my favourites even though the Centaur is one of the simplest and most basic Starfleet starships we're likely to see in the whole of the collection. Mind, basic it might be but the build quality here is spot on - no obvious seams, no glaringly rushed or misaimed painting, no wonky nacelles - I had a clean checklist this month.

The issue 52 magazine will surely be seen as the "ultimate guide" to the one-off class ship with the ship profile not only covering its appearance in Time to Stand but also giving us the reasoning behind its existence and the reasons that the Centaur takes the shape it does "in universe". Since there's virtually nothing to say about the ship, it's fair to say that once that bit of background is covered the researchers can be forgiven for straying a little into information on the Dominion War within that profile and then later in this issue's special feature which covers the evolution of Deep Space Nine's antagonists first hand from executive producer Ira Steven Behr who effectively shaped the show into the brilliant work it became.

Sandwiched in between those two pieces is a nice section with exclusive images of the original Centaur model that still lives with Andy Buckner. The backstory around its creation and unlikely use within the Star Trek universe is a real treat and this is the kind of stuff I would have hope to see in virtually every edition. It makes the Centaur package one of the best all-round issues of the series, ticking every box in both the model and in the magazine. A near perfect production from start to finish and proof that some of the lesser known ships are the ones that you must get to know every nook and crevice of the franchise.

So to issue 53 and does this ever have a hard week since it's coming after such a wonderfully realised "guest star" ship.

The Klingon Augments' ship from the fourth and final season of Enterprise is technically another ship-of-the-week but it did manage to survive for a two-parter so it certainly had more screen-time than the Centaur by a country mile...and then some.

For some utterly bizarre reason I thought this was the ship that Arik Soong and his augments stole earlier in the season but opening the magazine I realised my foolhardy error. Let me off because it's been a long time since I even glanced at an Enterprise episode.

Having popped a few images on AV Forums and on Instagram there was a query as to how this ship looked without using camera flash. Well ladies and gents, I never used flash and every image of either the Centaur or the Klingon ship from this month (as always) is naturally lit. It really is that damn green.

While designed so as not to blatantly look like a Klingon ship, this small craft clearly has links to the Somraw which we saw a few issues back but is a few shades brighter and smaller "in universe" scale. I might put this one up for the award for "Most Luminescent Ship in the Fleet" as that shade is a step further than we've even seen on the Romulan Bird of Prey from Enterprise. It's got a slight sheen to it which almost traverses into pearlescent realms of green that I wouldn't expect on a Klingon ship, even a one off - but then again the audience wasn't supposed to immediately recognise the race this ship belonged to until the big reveal moment.

Aside from the engine venting at the rear of the Augment Ship it is totally green. Towards the outer edges of the wings and the guns there is a tinge of weathering grey which mixes back into the sparkling green of the main body. Ben and the Collection team have again heavily detailed the surface of the ship with the usual feathered pattern but nothing can take away from the screaming green colour here. I suspect on-screen it was severely toned down.

The warp engines are decked out with the translucent red plastic and fitted into the rear of the hull but some of the rear pod detail is missing (likely due to fiddly scaling) nor does the forward deflector seem to be the correct colour although that might just be an in-episode lighting effect. The challenge with Klingon ships though is that they always look too darn clean. There are signs of weathering and dirt in some of the grooves here but on the larger surfaces I would have expected a little more ageing to be evident. Also while the green is GREEN, the reds around the radiator baffles do seem subdued in comparison to the plan views in the magazine.

One of the nice touches here is that the whole body is metal with the impulse engines, forward cowling, wing struts and guns built onto the main frame which has allowed for much better surface detail. The underside isn't something I'm that familiar with but I would suspect Eaglemoss have replicated the model as specifically as they could given their excellent resources. Nice touch this month that both the Centaur and the Augment Ship have rear clip stands so no fiddling around to get your ship sitting correctly. For some reason though the clip to base on the Augment Ship is wobbly so it does list to one side dependent on its personal preference.

Can I get excited about this one? Erm. No. It's a good ship with no bad joins, a clean - if vibrant - colour scheme and a neat finish however it just doesn't excite me the way the Centaur has this month. Sadly this small runaround ship does get pushed to sidelines a little even though it was seen for a lot longer. The Augment vessel is very average in all honesty and almost as though they were running out of ideas what to do with Klingon ships. Not being able to clearly make this Klingon probably didn't help the equation at the time!

The magazine certainly refreshed the old memory on this ship as I can barely remember the fourth season let alone Affliction and Divergence which featured the Augment Ship. For once the plan views actually look more subdued in their colourings than the model of the ship itself but do reflect the surface detail and simplistic paint scheme pretty accurately.

The Klingons from Enterprise certainly had a sizeable fleet of ships to choose from - more so than the Federation did at that time according to the list included here and designing her seems to have been something of a challenge given the constraints of the story. John Eaves sketches and concepts are, as usual, great to pour over and wonder what could have been.  I have to agree that the final design and the distinct green paint makes it blatantly Klingon whether or not there were any markings on the hull.

Following that design section there is a brilliant section covering the matter of the Klingon forehead. I would never have thought of putting such a piece in here but it does seem like a stroke of genius and relevant to the episodes in which the featured ship appeared. Looking at every angle (briefly) from Trials and Tribble-ations throwaway Worf comment to the more "reasonable" explanation of the Augment virus, it is a fascinating read that newer fans will certainly appreciate.

The Augment Ship will be one essential for Klingon fans, completists and those with an affinity for Enterprise but other than that I can't see it being a must-have for the general fandom given its minimal appearance. I like the design and the model however it does slip into the mid-range of the collection being neither a huge disappointment nor a stand-out addition.

Next month's arrivals however are a different matter. I've been waiting for the Steamrunner Class since the very beginning and the model looks amazing. It's going to be a long, draggy month waiting for her to get here. Countdown begins!

Oh and just to finish off, Ben Robinson shared three great new previews this week via his Twitter feed so we're now a lot wiser as to what the Botany Bay, Romulan Bird-of-Prey and the USS Relativity look like. I'll just drop these pics here. The Botany Bay will come out darker but I'm pretty impressed with the first pass and the detail on the hull. The Bird-of-Prey has managed to pull that slight graining off and not look like the toy Ben said it might and the Relativity is certainly different for a Federation ship in the colour alone.  More are available if you follow the man himself!

Impressed with the Centaur, the Augment Ship or both? Let us know below!

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