Saturday, 26 September 2015

Simple Originality: The Official Starships Collection Issues 56 and 57

The question as to whether the earlier than usual delivery is an apology for last month's delay was quickly forgotten when I cut open this month's package.

Continuing the First Contact fleet releases we have the Saber Class USS Yeager. One of the smallest Starfleet vessels even seen with a crew of just 40, it's one of those ships that fans have been waiting for. Coming just a month after the Steamrunner Class release we didn't have to wait long to add another to the group.

I'm still a bigger fan of the chunky Steamrunner ahead of this month's Yeager but that doesn't mean this one is a poor result. A purposely compact design from Alex Jaeger, the light cruiser does away with struts, connecting pylons and neck sections, bringing the main components of the "expected" Starfleet design into a much smaller package that delivers a far smaller profile.

Clipping onto the stand from the rear of the primary hull, it's a solid grip and a stable stand. For once the pedestal didn't want to fall off every time I moved her around to take another photo angle, I think that may well be a first especially as both this and the following issue's model stands were solid from out-of-the-box.

Aside from the upper hull which is of a metal construction, the rest of the ship is moulded in plastic and marvellously detailed. Given that the Yeager is a small ship to begin with does mean we get a close-up on a lot of piping and hardware that's exposed on the hull as well as the usual lifeboat hatches and windows. Sore point but every single one of the painted windows was a mile off the hull "dip" it was supposed to correspond to. I'd love to understand why this happens every single time and is yet to be corrected at the factory.

Anyway, a plethora of hull-work dominates the central section from the unusually placed bridge at the front of the primary hull all the way to the stumpy rear and shows just how much effort has gone into recreating that screen model. Just ahead of that bridge is the recessed pit with the two shuttlebay doors. Sadly even with the larger scale for this small ship it seems that numbering the doors as per the magazine cover just wasn't something the factory could manage nor are they coloured differently to the rest of the hull.

The two-tone grey aztec paintwork is one of the more intricate we've seen too; less blocky, thinner and a lot more varied. The replication of the screen ship is exemplary with something at every point that is worth taking some time to examine, even if it's down to the shape of the phaser banks, the fleet pennant or the tiny "United Federation of Planets" script on the side of the ship.

The underside of the Yeager is as good. The aztec pattern fully wraps around along with the window and lifeboat hatches and we get to examine the triangular-shaped deflector dish. Now everything we see of this in the magazine has it fully "bronzed" however for some reason it's painted blue around the centre with a translucent blob at the core again in blue. This does hark back to the blue for warp, yellow for impulse of the movie Enterprise but does go against all the material we're given alongside the finished ship.

Talking of finish (OK that was a pretty rubbish segue), it's another winner for Eaglemoss with my Saber Class showing no bendy joints, hull gaps or glue splodges. Double score for the fact the nacelles line up which is something WizKids could learn from on their Attack Wing line. The engines themselves are semi-encased in that slimline primary hull but do have the benefit of the translucent blue venting, the red bussard collectors and a lot of finishing fins and panelling. I kinda get upset now if I don't see those translucent features on the models, especially the Federation ones. 

Don't go expecting the same treatment for the impulse engines which are sadly just painted on red lines at the rear of the main hull - so insignificant I actually forgot about them until I was asked the question what they looked like on Instagram. We do also get the port/starboard red/green lights but the crimson illumination to the rear of the bridge stack - and visible in the magazine - is absent.

Now we have the Akira, the Steamrunner and the Saber Classes ticked off it's just issue 61's Norway Class to complete the awesome foursome. Now according to Ben Robinson that's his least favourite but given the previous two and now the Yeager, I don't think we're going to be upset in the slightest. This mini-collection originally designed by Alex Jaeger has been a highlight of a damn good series that even now is just getting better each month. Yes, there are blips (more on that in a bit) but overall I remain very impressed - just need to get their customer service a little tighter on a few points but otherwise good work.

Of course with this model there's the customary magazine which has it's usual spread of movie screencaps and CGI creations for us all to examine and compare extensively with the model now sitting just to your right hand side. We get an overview of the ship features as well as key engagements which saw the class on the front lines against the Borg and the Dominion as well as being glimpsed in Voyager a couple of times. Oddly when you get to the onscreen section the fact that the class did appear in that later series is overlooked.

Being an Alex Jaeger design means that the central piece of the magazine is devoted to the creation of this ship with the a smattering of initial sketches. The shame is that this section is fairly short, probably given to the fact we've already had two First Contact ships which will have eaten up most of the film background material on the battle scene. Instead a third section runs over the thought process behind the assembly sequence for the Borg Queen. I wouldn't go as far as the article says that it's the most memorable shot in the history of Star Trek but it's still an impressive sequence nonetheless. 

Detailing the changes that took place to make the Queen's arrival real is a good read if something that most long-term fans will be more than familiar with from 20 years ago. Giving six pages over to this article is good use of space but as we've seen it does slip away from the ship and betray the fact there isn't a lot to talk about it.

As to those onscreen appearances, I'd have just left it at First Contact. Trouble is that with it being a background addition a lot of the shots from the film here are slightly blurred. Annoying to say the least but there is the benefit of some good CGI close-ups to counter your disappointment.

OK - now if you'll think back to last month at this halfway point in the review I basically said that it was pointless saying much about the D'Kyr Type because the Steamrunner had utterly blown my mind (or words to that effect). This month though I have to admit that the second ship is just as good if not better than the heavily detailed Saber Class USS Yeager.

From my interview with Ben a while ago we covered the point that he was concerned about the simplicity of the ships from The Original Series. Around the Romulan Bird-of-Prey there was also an issue with the paint scheme making it look too much like a kid's toy.

To some degree that may well be unavoidable because of that simplicity but let me tell you, those fears are unfounded and in comparison to the slight stumbles of the 50th issue USS Enterprise we have a beautiful model here.

Saying that whoever put mine together managed to trail two blobs of glue onto the outer hull, one on the starboard engine decal and failed to get the port side rear section to fit properly. Thanks for that, but aside from these "minor" assembly troubles, she's magnificent and looks great in the rear-mount stand which slides smoothly around the back of the hull and around the stabilising fin. For note it's not a tight fit either and won't mark the hull as we've seen on a few other models recently such as the original USS Enterprise from issue 50 and I think the Runabout from the mid-30's.

That 1960's simplicity works extremely well (I emphasise extremely). All we have in the way of modelled-in features on the light grey hull are the porthole and sensor grid markings (that's what the plan says but I think they're just more portholes) on the top and along the leading edge plus the forward-facing rectangular opening for the plasma torpedo launcher. There are some raised points where the sections clip together which are more pronounced than the screen version but given the basic nature of the ship, probably unavoidable. 

The impulse engine markings on the rear don't precisely match to their recesses but they are closer than those on the Saber Class. To the back is the ramrod straight stablising fin and that's all you have. As to decals, the upper hull rear and the supporting warp/engine struts carry a golden waved effect to give the impression of bird's wings.

The precisely parallel engines (apparently this thing didn't have warp - or did it?) do have blue translucent caps and silver exhausts as well as a bit more "bird" decalling. Question though because in the episode those caps are clear and on previous models they've been red. I've even seen green and yellow when trying to find a definitive answer. If we got from the original though they should be clear,  maybe even translucent white as per the model features in the Wah Chang article. It's a real headscratcher as to why they went blue and it's sure to be a point of much debate when it lands properly in about three weeks from writing date. 

Truly the plain design could well have come off as tacky and poorly conceived but from what I understand there is a little graining in the paint which lifts it from being a bland finish to give it something that is more screen-accurate.

OK, so to the big finish with the classic Romulan ship and we have to flip her over to see the full effect. The legendary Bird-of-Prey is truly a work of art as far as this collection goes and fills the metallic under-section (again a first to have the bottom section in metal) I think I might have commented somewhere else that it's the best bottom in the series. As with the top though there's no weathering, clever hull colouring or anything blindingly technical. The bird is in gold, orange and silver, no shades, nothing just block colours but it's ever so effective and must have been a nightmare to get right when applying since it appears to be one single continuous piece from nacelle to nacelle. 

Also worth a note on the lower side of the hull are the three circle features which indicate landing gear of some form - might be a first for the collection to have that so obviously detailed but with the basic level of surface details it's nice to have a few diversions to break up the grey (although given that there's a massive bird on the bottom they probably wouldn't have been missed too much if omitted).

To the magazine and as expected it's all about Balance of Terror since that was the only episode the model was filmed for. As you discover the subsequent appearance in The Deadly Years was just reused footage and the model was "unavailable" (potentially destroyed) by the time of season three's The Enterprise Incident. Eaglemoss have included some nice new passes of the ship as well as a shot from the remastered version of The Enteprise Incident which did include a Bird-of-Prey instead of a third Romulan-owned D-7.

The plan views provide a nice weathered impression of the ship with their standard minimalist annotations but seriously we're all going to flick past that to get to the story behind the Wah Chang model. The opening pic here of the Bird-of-Prey unpainted pre-filming is one I've never seen and is a real "wow" moment for the collection. The article does manage to cover, in four pages, Chang's brilliance and design talent from the tricorder to the Tribble, the communicator and the Gorn to name a few and such a tragedy that he was never properly recognised. The note that the Bird-of-Prey model may no longer exist is probably the biggest prop loss in the franchise history.

Closing out the issue before the customary onscreen appearances we have a section adding to the Romulan history series that has been popping up in the magazine since issue four and the Warbird from The Next Generation. This time it's a pre-Picard lesson touching on what led to the Romulan separation, the war with Earth (which we were robbed on seeing in Enterprise), their later alliance with the Klingons and finally their isolation which would end with their reappearance in The Neutral Zone at the end of The Next Generation's first season. Good piece to read and nicely broken down into easy chunk which is an excellent reminder and a perfect way for new fans to get a grip on their Romulan politics!

But why would I say that this is better than the detailed CGI example we have in the USS Yeager? Well because frankly the team have nailed a classic design absolutely perfectly and kept it basic. There's been no playing around and we have what we saw even down to that toning of the paint to make it look like the ship we saw on screen - not the CGI version from the remastered - the original Balance of Terror season one cruiser. 

The fact my hull doesn't sit right bugs me to hell BUT I still revel in the result and I'm now looking forward to seeing the Klingon D-7, the Botany Bay and hopefully a classic Tholian down the line. Admittedly we know the Antares is a remastered ship also featured in The Animated Series but I think we'll be impressed by the end result and it does give a nod to a series this collection has so far avoided.

Next month we have the first Borg ship since (gasp) issue 10 with the one-shot Borg Tactical Cube from Voyager's Unimatrix Zero. Ben dropped a recent shot of this on his Twitter page (here it is) and I'm really looking forward to it's arrival. Second up in October we'll also have the USS Relativity also from Voyager so a bumper month for fans of Janeway and co. Don't be put off though as October 15 is now slated for the release of the USS Kelvin special edition costing £20.99. We've seen a few shots before but a couple that Ben posted out on Twitter this week also highlighted that there's some really neat weathering on the hull which I hadn't spotted before. Again I'm really looking forward to this one as the detail is coming across as some of the best in the series.

So what did you think to this month's double? Is the Yeager better than the Bird-of-Prey or is it a classic winner?

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