Saturday, 24 December 2016

Transports and Flagships: The Official Starships Collection Issues 88 and 89


Rare is it for me to laud the brilliance of a Vulcan ship but this month I just have to do that.

That's because the Vulcan Vahklas, the first of this December's dynamic duo, is a great replica. With a silhouette not too distant from Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator, the transport is one of the chunkier entries into the halls of the Starships Collection but as with Enterprise craft it is well worthy of a spot.

Appearing initially in the opening season's Fusion before popping up again during the Vulcan arc of the fourth season, the ship is immediately recognisable as belonging to Spock's people due to its colouring and those sweeping rear curves if nothing else. 

Surface panelling is fairly plain with a few lifeboat hatches and raised segments breaking up the hull front to stern. It is a beautiful design with some lovely lines that are echoed in the designs of the D'kyr and the Surok classes we've already seen but I believe that this larger model has provided Eaglemoss with a much better chance to showcase the Vulcan craft even though it is (logically) basic and functional to the core.

One thing that is evident at every point and angle is the bleed that comes off the paint job must be deliberate. as it seeps into almost every orifice of the Vahklas and raises the ships lines to a subtlety noticable level and I think without that addition it wouldn't be half as effective not highlight the levels of the bodywork or the panelling. Looking back, the identical colour on the D'kyr and the Surok classes worked fine potentially because of their scaling while here it brings the Vahklas to life.

The upper hull structure is solid metal here while the curved wings, front hull tips (forward translinear sensors) and underside are all plastic. Here the lighter construction material does seem to have the stronger detail finish and carries less of the colour bleed effect. On the underside too there seems to be more depth to the finish and more definition to the hull panels at every point. Just compare the pair of hatches right at the front of the bridge curve to the two pairs dipped into the hull underneath. 

Perhaps one gripe here is that the rear impulse engines are not finished in red rather block coloured the same as the rest of the ship and do seem to have a lot of the paint bleed rolling around their edges. Does seem a little sloppy since they have managed to slip a thin strand of blue edging into the rear curves of the wings to represent the warp engines - surely the painting of the impulse slots would have been an easier task? Saying that we are missing some of the edging venting along those wing curves which has to be down to scale, fit and ability to mass reproduce effectively.

Talking of easy and difficult, you really have to squint to realise that the particle beam emitter - which is recessed into the lower half of the hull and points to the bow - is capped with a small dome of translucent plastic. Given that it's nearly almost always shadowed I'm not certain if this was a necessary move. It looks pretty cool but a dab of white paint might have sufficed and there could have been more attention paid to the accuracy of the impulse engines. White paint I might add that could have been used to blot in the two recessed lights that are evident on the magazine cover just forward of the emitter but not on the model.

To be fair on reflection the back end is a little messy in its execution which is a shame because from the front, above and below the accuracy and transfer from the original CG is mouth-watering and adds another tick to the success of Enterprise within the confines of this collection. The rear also suffers from some recessed detail that seems unfinished and is sadly off-set by fairly obvious join lines too.

Stand positioning here is a good rear grip sliding between the warp "curves" and the main hull. There's very little movement and the stance offers a good way to see the Vahklas from every angle - except that disappointing rear.

Issue 88 tracks the story of the Enterprise episode Fusion in which the Vahklas appeared and gives brief mention to its later and fleeting appearance in season four of the show. The views here just add weight to the fact that there is some detail missing from the finished model such as a few strokes of paint here and there is a rather disappointing and short section on the design of the ship; one sketch, a CG render and a screenshot - which all also make you realise how clean a finish the model has when the ship in the episode looked like it had been battered about over the years.

Rounding out six pages of the magazine we have Vulcans in the 22nd Century which might run as one of the articles I've been least interested in since the start of the collection. It's OK and there's a decent bit of information but it's very much aimed at "beginners" rather than long term fans and does feel as though the writers were pushed to find something to fill the remaining pages. Considering that the model is actually fairly good the magazine here is a bit scrappy in places.

So to the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-J and what must be one of the most anticipated issues of late. After all, it's an Enterprise so it has to be amazing, right?!

Here's the thing for me. It's another Enterprise series ship but technically it's only ever seen on screen as a LCARS display while Archer and Daniels stand in one of its corridors to watch the Battle of Procyon. It might therefore qualify as the most tedious-link entry to the main collection issues because it never really appeared on screen.

Seen in just one episode of Enterprise for a less than fleeting second (Azati Prime), the J is near to the stuff of legend and fanboy dreams. Indeed, fan demand will surely have pushed this to be included and since it does exist within the canon of the Prime Universe I guess it has (begrudgingly) earned its place so let's take a closer look.

The Enterprise-J is one of the most spindly models ever, right up there with the collector's nightmare that is the Bajoran Solar Sailor (and mine recently had to have a repair job). It's also somewhat sketchy in its final render because it's also one of the larger ships that's been scaled down to be included. While the Enterprise-D comes in at 641 metres in length, this Universe Class starship is over five times as long clocking in at 3,219 metres which goes some way to explaining the paint finish that we have on the elliptical primary hull especially in relation to the lit and unlit windows.

It is a beautiful ship to behold and a rare opportunity to get your hands on this evasive craft - in fact I think it is the first time it has ever been produced in model form. Under all those stripes of lights the hull does carry a nicely produced aztec silver paint scheme. You'll also note that the black "off" lights are the ones which are raised in detail on the hull while the white/yellow "on" lights are flush to the surface. Unfortunately the lighting effect is mirrored port to starboard rather than that uneven "lived in" feel you might have wanted. 

The other thing that bugs me is the need to "illuminate" the ship registry with a white/yellow patch right on the nose. It's an ugly mark and points out clearly that there's no "J" attached to the ship which is accurate to the model on which this was designed. The recessed deflector just in front of that is as plain as the one illustrated on the magazine with a simple swipe of orange to colour the dent that is hugged by a hammerhead section arcing out across the front of the hull and seemingly holding the saucer in place.

Rearwards now and the large metal saucer gives way to the fragile back section. There is a bit of structural support here as the underside of the primary hull extends back underneath but the top piece, nacelles and warp engines are all plastic.

The blue dome that signals the top of the warp core is clearly spotted midway along that spine piece and then splits away into the two very fine and bendy warp nacelles. To be fair they aren't that bad and curve precisely and at the same angle to each other up to the horribly delicate warp engines. While the way in which they sit around the pointy pylons looks inaccurate and a bit slapdash it seems to be right even when you compare it to the images in the magazine and online. There aren't too many which give you a good angle on the engines but the blue sections do sit below the pylon while the longer silver section sits above it. 

With such small scale to work with here the matter that Eaglemoss have managed to use translucent sections for the warp coils and the bussard collectors is nothing short of a Scotty-sized miracle. Just whatever you do don't handle her from the back under any circumstances!!!

Getting her out of the stand though is a bit tricky requiring a bend and slight tug to the front - probably a good thing since it means your ship is secure but it means that getting to examine the underside more closely is a bit fiddly. 

You can clearly see the join of the metal primary hull and neck extension to the plastic back end and that bottom continues the port/starboard mirrored lighting pattern and silver aztecing right across the surface. Also look out for the white dots which appear over the hull - they are there to represent the external ship lighting which you can align using the cover of issue 89.

It's a magazine which details all we know of the ship in just two paragraphs before filling a two page spread with un-annotated pictures of the J which do show off a more uneven lighting pattern than is painted on the model. One of the huge benefits of this craft having such little (or read "non-existent") screentime is that all the pictures of it are conceptual and rarely seen. We get a whopping eight pages of art and opinion on the 26th Century incarnation of the USS Enterprise which was created by Doug Drexler who virtually threw away the rulebook to create an iconic craft for another (possible) time period. Now I'm not a huge fan of the ship but it's an exciting take on the classic two hulls and warp nacelles combo that originated from Matt Jefferies and even if you're not over the moon with adding another Enterprise to your shelf, the background information is priceless for any fan. 

What does suffer from the exposure the J gets in its Designing section is the Doug Drexler article itself which deserves to have more than two sparce pages dedicated to the work of one of Star Trek's most influential designers. Could it mean that there will be more on the man in a future volume perhaps?

Another year is done then with the Starships Collection and we close out with two fair Enterprise starships. Good craft this time but whether the Enterprise-J is as good as it should have been is something that should be debated. It's ok but this was an opportunity to really let it shine and perhaps update and finish off the background Drexler design with a little more finesse. Maybe not as disappointing as the Issue Two refit but not a big winner either. As for the Vahklas; easily the best Vulcan craft to date but I reckon when the T'Plana'Hath makes an appearance it'll be given a run for its money.

One final note as well that we now have confirmation that the third "M" series model will be the ISS Defiant from Shattered Mirror in Deep Space Nine's fourth season. Definitely a good shout for the magazine but with these Mirror Universe ships the minor decal tweaks do mean that parting with cash can be a little frustrating. Also can we have the pennants the right way round first time...?

Is the Enterprise-J a winner or a missed chance from Eaglemoss?