Thursday, 21 February 2019

Lost Post: The Toys That Made Us

LOST ARTICLE....sometimes one just slips the net - here's a mini review of the "recent" show looking at Trek toys that I somehow missed publishing...

Already one of my favourite Netflix series, The Toys That Made Us opened up its four episode second season with a corker.    

Not particularly known for its toy lines, Star Trek has a rich history of merchandise and with the online streaming service now showing every televised minute of the franchise its fitting that Star Trek gets to sit alongside luminaries such as Transformers, GI Joe, Lego, Hello Kitty and...erm...Star Wars.   

The toy lines have an incredibly bizarre history as the show explores from the 1960's era of AMT model kits, re-stickering existing unrelated items with the words Star and Trek through to the 70's period of flashing light helmets and the important Mego figures then on into the 80's Galoob figures (and all their errors!), the phenomenal success of the Playmates range in the 1990's and cruising to the Diamond Select, Eaglemoss and MacFarlane licences of the 21st Century.

The Toys That Made Us displays a somewhat colourful picture of the past to Star Trek merchandise. It seems that the companies responsible for producing the goods couldn’t time releasing their ranges with the franchise’s highs for many years and the quality was varied especially in the early days.  Add in a flying Enterprise, tanks and even freezicles and you can see a franchise being plundered in any way possible no matter the accuracy and quality.

For an overview,  talking heads come from the former head of Mego, the Tenuto family, the Trimbles, Doug Drexler - but noticeable through absence are any faces from Eaglemoss (Ben Robinson) when the show heads into the realms of The Official Starships Collection and the future of the franchise in toy form - although I might disagree with calling that collection a toy?! In addition, there's not even a mention of the Micro Machines starships from the 90's which reflects the fact this is much more tied to the history of Star Trek action figures rather than ships and playsets which get the occasional aside.

There are more than a few memories in there for myself as a collector since the 1980's but it's what's not mentioned that really isn't explored as much as it could have been. There are not only some stupidly off the wall ideas that actually made the production grade but what of the cancelled Galoob second wave of toys or more recently the axed Diamond Select Deep Space Nine waves? Hearing about what happened to cause these "failures" would have been a great addition although I might suspect it's down to the matter of timing that the licence holders have been getting wrong for decades. There is mention of the "1701" collections that meant collectors were scrambling for a limited number of items to complete their sets and which inadvertently was a factor that made sales crumble.

It's amazing as well, considering how precise fans can be around screen accurate replicas how much has been produced "cowboy" style or with some major tweaks to make it highly cost effective with one of those being the mix-and-match creature parts pressed into service for the brown-skinned Mego Gorn figure.

This is perhaps one of the more prominent The Toys That Made Us because it focuses on a franchise that is blindingly present but yet really failed to make a significant dent on the market when it comes to kids toys. Look at the other names in the series and all of them have reached silly heights of popularity whereas Star Trek has trundled along in the background, some might say, for many years just keeping itself above water and paddling for dear life.

Each of the lines has fallen foul of some error along the way which has caused them grief but the show looks positively to the future with the continuation of the JJ reboot and the launch of Discovery providing not only a new range of potential toy lines but (and unsaid), a whole new generation of buyers too.

Interestingly this is one series of toy lines that seems to admit it's appealing to an older generation of collectors rather than children playing with them which has led to the need for superior accuracy on all levels and an adherence to canon rather than continuing to stick new labels on other toy lines. Maybe there could have, ironically, been a little more detail in each of the sections covered but there is only a 45 minute run time for each episode of the series which might prove to be the restriction.

How I managed to miss publishing this so long ago is a total mystery but hey, this is a great episode that fills in some gaps and shows that Trek's merch history is certainly eventful. 

Definitely worth checking this one out on Netflix as soon as you can!

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Wednesday, 20 February 2019

You'll Never Guess... : S02 E05 Saints of Imperfection

Tilly is gone and the Discovery is back in pursuit of Spock's shuttle.

However just when you think the chase is over, who should step out of the cornered craft but one Phillipa Georgiou.

Seems that Section 31 have also been on the hunt for the evasive Vulcan having found the shuttle adrift. Georgiou is less than forthcoming with information leading Pike to face off with her 31 collaborator and former associate of Pike, Leland. After the Section 31 ship assists Discovery to complete its work later in the episode, Ash Tyler is assigned as the liaison between the two vessels ensuring we're going to get lots of conflict for the rest of the year.

But this is a minor issue when faced with the realisation that Tilly has vanished. Not dead as it turns out but instead secreted away into the mycelial network by the beings within it who have been damaged with contact from the Discovery every time it jumps.

Stamets comes up with the creative idea of using the Crossfield Class starship to wedge open the door into the network to be able to retrieve Tilly who is seemingly on the other side with a recreation of her primary school classmate May. 

Stamets and Burnham cross the threshold and enact a rescue but it turns out that a monster that has been terrorizing the network is - and that would be telling.

Goddamn Discovery you went and did it again. I already lauded a ton of praise on episode four, An Obol to Charon with its tour de force performances from Doug Jones (taking a bit of a back seat this week bless him) and Sonequa Martin-Green yet this week's hour of TV seems to have blitzed it again.

So much more is happening this season and each episode is rammed with story, off the cuff references to the rest of the franchise, superb acting and some of the best twists and turns Star Trek has ever pulled off. Even just taking into account the conversations between Pike and his opposite number on the Section 31 ship you can pick up the undertones of distrust between them even when the talk is all about working together for a common goal in securing Lieutenant Spock.

While it's all seen from the perspective of Burnham, the real stars this week have to be Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman and - shock - Wilson Cruz.

Yes, Doctor Culber is back via one hell of a warped mycelial explanation and a whole lot of emotional turbulence. Rapp is brilliant as Stamets this week, driving forward the way to cross the boundary "safely" which leaves the Discovery acting as a doorstop and gradually being eaten away by the creatures in the network. 

Of course we knew that Culber was coming back for season two but after his brief appearance in episode one I thought we were in line for flashbacks and the like however the writers have pulled a true Kobayashi Maru with this being his full return rather than the tease. Cruz plays out a tormented Culber exceedingly well with all of his experiences under attack from the native lifeforms although they might be seeing it from a very different perspective.

It might be a way to up the tension and impress the time limit of the rescue operation but visually it's amazing when coupled with the "fizzy bubbles" effect that permeates the ship in the sections that are trapped in the network. The look of the jammed Discovery too is magnificent with it seemingly beached in the network with that in turn gradually encroaching further onto the starship. 

The reveal that Section 31 have been watching all this time is certainly unnerving and it seems that in the era of Discovery they aren't as secretive as they would become nor as they were during Enterprise since Admiral Cornwell knows all about them and they aren't exactly being very inconspicuous with that decloaking ship. Perhaps Discovery has some more defining of the organisation to work out. It seems here they are more an intelligence gathering operation rather than shadowy dealings that Starfleet doesn't need to know are happening. As for their technology, it's about a century ahead of "regular" Starfleet here with the inclusion of the badge communicator nod. All seems too flash for the Section 31 that we will "later" see in Deep Space Nine. Is there a plan here or have the writers just chosen to take a more overt look at the covert group?

It does feel that Discovery has chosen this point to resolve the Tilly/May/network story and I do feel that it's run its course this season. Potentially this spells the end for the use of the spore drive since it's endangering another race and attempts to align the series with the rest of the franchise at least in some small way. Good choice as well to have Tilly toned down this week from the manic character she was becoming due in part to the spores which had sent her mind tripping. Wiseman has her controlling the situation here in something/somewhere she is completely out of her comfort zone of the Discovery's science labs.

To be honest, I'm not that fussed if there are a few loose ends if the series is going to be producing stories of this calibre. The characterisation is a lot stronger with less reliance on Martin-Green to pull you through an episode. The whole cast is capable of carrying their own material now and season two is becoming more an ensemble piece where everyone gets to share in the meat of the stories. 

Saints of Imperfection has pushed Discovery further forward with more backdoor pilot material for the Georgiou spinoff. This may well be just an emotional sledgehammer of an episode as with Saru's near demise last week and I don't know if I could cope with the series delivering a third such instance next week as well. Discovery isn't holding back at the moment and by the end of Saints of Imperfection it feels that pieces are set in place ready for Spock's first appearance.

Great episode? Season high so far? What do you think?

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Sunday, 17 February 2019

A Ship of the Line: The Official Starships Collection USS Bonaventure Bonus Edition

Included in the 2006 Ships of the Line calendar (rummages in loft to dig out...), USS Bonaventure is one of those "What If?" missing links that make this collection so addictive.

Conceived as the halfway point between the NX-01 and the NCC-1701 Enterprises (before the creator knew about the NX-01 refit), the Bonaventure has a foot in two series with the styling of The Original Series over a design that's clearly Enterprise.

The model is an absolute blinder and while it's not one from canon, Eaglemoss have produced something a bit special here. The hull - at every point carries an asymmetrical aztec paint scheme that gives the replica real depth and quality. The top side of the saucer back to the shuttlebay and then up the warp pylons is metal with only the underside of the ship and the nacelles being made from plastic in this case.

Hull detailing is excellent with precise panel lines and four grilles on the saucer being meticulously painted in. There's even the red and green running lights top and bottom of the saucer and on the ends of the warp engines marked in correctly. 

Scale does mean that the Starfleet pennant which stretches from the deflector dish to just in front of the bridge is squashed and you need to squint to make out the gold delta but it's definitely there. Also the two recessed window ports to the left and right sides of the bridge are very narrow but Eaglemoss have still managed to show that they do dip inwards away from the curvature of the hull. 

Unusually - and something that the USS Shenzhou would later bear in Discovery - we have double registry and ship names printed on the port and starboard sides exactly parallel.

The double stripe continuation of the Starfleet pennant continues back from the dark grey bridge module. This in itself is much darker than any of the reference images show and it stands out like a sore thumb against the rest of the lighter grey finish. It also has a white dome to suggest internal illumination but for some reason the sensor dome on the underside doesn't seem to have this finishing touch - something evident in the magazine.

Perhaps having learnt from their experiences on the original USS Enterprise from issue 50 and the multiple variations of it since, the deflector dish on the Bonaventure is gold. It's a statement of fact but this is a first in that it looks right in both form and colour.

On the underneath the plastic bottom fits as an insert into the metal upper with the running lights and grilles included on that solid rim. The underside detail of the Bonaventure saucer shows up the ship registry to port and starboard again as well as two more recessed window points plus those triangular sections which are a staple of the original USS Enterprise. These are decalled on in the case of the NCC-1000 and actually line up pretty well with the areas of the hull they are supposed to. Shock horror.

To the front there's a second Starfleet pennant which crosses the metal and plastic parts of the ship. This just about lines up but even at an arms length you can see it's just not quite there. Very minor but it's still there...niggling....

Now what is cool with the Bonaventure is that you have the raised section running down the centre of the saucer which, if you lifted it out, would resemble the engineering hull of thr Enterprise (near enough). To the back of the ship and highlighted in a darker grey paint scheme is that distinct scoop up to the shuttlebay which includes a square and circle marking that is lifted straight from the underside of the Constitution Class. 

That's the beauty of the NCC-1000 in that it it has so many hallmarks in shape, size and colour to those two other distinct classes of ship from two eras that you can spot in an second. 

At the rear there's the slightly more grey shuttlebay and just on the lip we can make out the dips for the impulse engines. Real shame these aren't coloured with the accompanying magazine confirming their little red existence. 

The pylons stretching out from the hull and carrying the warp engines have a basic block of dark grey along their middles to indicate the grille effect with the distinction between each segment sadly lost in the process. If you can manage to paint grey segments onto the vents on the warp engines surely it would have been done here instead of one grey swipe.

A now familiar feature of the Eaglemoss ships, the bussard collectors on the ends of the engines are translucent and in the right light it brings a bit of life to the cigar-shaped propulsion units. They too are coated in the aztec paint scheme and finished with darker grey detail at their ends and in the grilles. The engines are really well put together with join lines barely visible and they are dead parallel on my model which always allows a sigh of relief. 

Bigger niggle ahead though because the stand fitting is dreadful and potentially model damaging. The clip is stupidly tight against the nacelles so you might want to file them out first before sliding the ship into place because it will mark the paint.

In fact, aside from the minor whinge over the impulse engines this is a cracking creation of the ship as envisaged by visual effects artist Meni for the Ships of the Line calendar series.

The intro to the magazine covers not just the creation of the generation-linking Bonaventure but also Meni's work on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine during the 1990's having the USS Voyager taking off at the end of Basics, Part I and also providing the space station model for the final pull-away shot in What You Leave Behind. This section also includes preliminary sketches for the Bonaventure as well as a guest appearance by its animated namesake.

A quick double-pager covers the Ships of the Line calendar series and how it's evolved over 20 years from shelved projects to themed editions and beyond, right up to 2019. Closing out the mag we have eight pages dedicated to the work of Doug Drexler across the franchise from makeup in The Next Generation to editing the calendar each year and to breathing life into the Enterprise-J and helping to restore the original 11 foot filming model of the USS Enterprise for the Smithsonian Institution.

So we have to admit that this isn't official but some of the best bits of this collection have come from the curveballs - the Phase II and Probert Enterprises, concept Voyager...all well worth adding to your collection. Here with the USS Bonaventure is something a little more different from a visual publication that's been part of the franchise for two decades. It's a beaut and definitely worth sticking on your shelf. 

Adding the USS Bonaventure to your fleet? Let us know below!

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Friday, 15 February 2019

Rounding Up: The Graphic Novel Collection Issues 40 - 43

It's time for another four issue catch up with the Eaglemoss Graphic Novel Collection and this time we're crossing realities, combating Cardassians and entertaining a bit of crew possession with Ian Kimmins as our guide...

The fortieth edition of the series takes place after Into Darkness and we get a few call backs to previous Trek canon such as Section 31 and Khitomer. We also get to see Sulu's younger sister who plays a big part in this story.

Section 31 and the Romulans are trying to destroy the Klingons and you can imagine Kirk doesn’t take to kindly to this and figures out a way stop them. Overall this is a solid story with a few nice nods to canon but it’s the next story in this volume that stands out and we encounter that familiar Star Trek trope The Mirror Universe-although this one is a bit different as we get to meet Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk and her gender swapped crew. It is a fun read especially meeting characters such as Jason Rand & this universes Scotty-Majorie Scott. You also what know the characters are going to do & say but it doesn’t matter as Mike Johnson has again crafted a great story that leaves us looking for more. We also have our usual off the wall Gold Key story which always manages a raise a smile!

This issue's Gold Key release is A Bomb in Time which transports Kirk to 1955 and Scotty (looking oddly like a Vulcan) to 1855 in search of a scientist's deadly weapon. A rare Gold Key time travel instalment sees Kirk tracking the doctor on a movie set with his chief engineer gunfighting even further in the past. Total entertaining hogwash!

The DC Star Trek: The Mirror Universe saga is one of the greats of all time and a tale that this collection would have been idiotic to miss.

It provides us with another alternative timeline, this time in a "What If..." The Voyage Home  hadn't been made as this story has the Mirror Universe ISS Enterprise and her crew from Mirror, Mirror leading a potential invasion of our universe.

Bringing back the whole of the crew from the Mirror Universe, we also reconnect with Captain Styles and the USS Excelsior and travel to Earth and Vulcan in an adventure of galactic proportions. 

Spread over four issues the story has just about everything as Kirk faces off against his Mirror self and the legendary goatee'd Spock. There's duplicity in abundance and everyone seems to be running to their own agendas in some of the tightest writing that Star Trek comics ever saw. Visually there are a few times the ships look a bit odd but the character resemblances are very close to their real versions.

This tale is written by Mike W. Barr who wrote extensively for DC's Star Trek line. Barr had a direct line with Harve Bennett and had a general knowledge of where the movies were heading and so could plan his stories in advance. Once Star Trek III was out of the way, DC decided to do an eight issue tale focusing on the Mirror Universe. 

Not only did we get to see the main cast in this alternate story but we also got to see characters such as Saavik with Barr’s own creations Ensign Bearclaw the Klingon Konom. As for the story it’s a classic and I won’t spoil it here but suffice to say 35 years later it’s still considered one of the best for a reason. 

Issue 38 of the Gold Key reprints is included too; Kirk is relieved of command, turns up on Mobil in disguise while the crew of the Enterprise threaten a mutiny in One of Our Captains is Missing. All in all just your usual Gold Key story which ignores pretty much anything to do with canon and there's even a new captain who rubs the crew up the wrong way for added value. Entertaining; certainly. This volume is not to be missed. It’s one of the best.

Volume 42 is The Next Generation: The Pilot. Nope, not a graphic novelization of Encounter at Farpoint but an alien takes over Data story. This issue has a story running through all the various tales -the Enterprise is turning up and wreaking havoc in various places but, shock horror it's not. It’s a fairly early attempt at a somewhat serialized story - very popular today in the likes of Discovery. Also something very similar to this thread would be utilised within the fourth season of Enterprise with the Romulan Drone Ship. While it is an interesting idea with the story set during season three it all feels very pedestrian. Even the Gold Key story isn’t all that great. All in all probably one for the completist only.

Issue 39 of the classic Gold Key line is included here in the form of Prophet of Peace. Awakening and curing a scientist who was cryo-frozen, the Enterprise makes a rare nip back to Earth with references to the Third World War plus we get to see some of the world's most well-known landmarks "updated" for the 23rd Century. Of course it's not all that simple and as always with a Gold Key story there's an ending that is exceptionally unStarTrek...

Volume 43 is Deep Space Nine’s Hearts and Minds which was originally published by Malibu Comics and written by Mark A.Altman who you may know from the 50 Year Mission books and the rather excellent Inglorious Treksperts podcast.

In this tale the Klingons and the Cardassians are out to cause problems for the station. The Klingons arrive looking for a missing ship and their prime suspects are the Cardassians. Naturally this is left up to Captain Sisko to sort out so he dispatches Dax and Bashir along with a Klingon officer to find out what they can about the missing ship. 

Meanwhile back on Deep Space Nine Quark gets an offer to sell his bar-sell up or be killed! Quark runs straight to Odo and they find out why Maura wants the bar so badly. Character-wise, Altman has these two on the dot and carrying on just as they would in an episode of the show with a situation that's slightly reminiscent of Rivals from season two.

Out on a runabout Dax and Bashir are still investigating the missing Klingon ship only to be captured by the Romulans!! It turns out they were behind it all and the Klingons are out for revenge (you'd have thought everyone would have learned what they're like after Unification). Once they’ve dealt with the Romulans we end on a nice bit of interplay between Quark and Odo with the constable keeping the contract that Quark had signed to sell the bar. Very in keeping with the nature of the show and also the two classic Deep Space Nine characters.

This issues Gold Key is Furlough to Fury which introduces McCoy's daughter Barbara. She appears in another issue of Gold Key but never again. All other references are to Joanna -The Way to Eden was originally to feature her as have any other references throughout any canon or non-canonical material. This is one of the less wacky stories from the Gold Key era and while not canon it’s nice to get a bit of a backstory for McCoy.

That's your lot for now from Ian and Clive on The Graphic Novel Collection. Next time we'll be catching up with issues 44 - 47.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Starship Garage: Spacedock - The Official Starships Collection Special Edition 15

It's potentially one of Eaglemoss' most ambitious models and one that fans have notched up on their "Must Have" list almost from day one.

Spacedock; the largest structure recreated as part of The Official Starships Collection has arrived as the fifteenth special edition.

At over 20cm tall, Spacedock is an impressive model and only the third stationary object to be included in the series after Deep Space Nine and K-7. Both of those proved to be highlights of the specials and this is no exception.

At the top, Spacedock is perhaps at its weakest with a series of aerials and towers protruding from the centre. They look a little thicker than might have been intended but at least there's some structural integrity there to ward away the occasional knock from the cat.

The overall finishing coat of light grey is then speckled with taupe panels right across the whole of the surface both looking from the top and from underneath. With this there isn't a surface you can't see since every part is just, well, big and open to analysis. There are literally hundreds of little white spots denoting windows right across the surface neatly aligned with a slight niggle that a couple of the rows do seem to have overlapped with the intermittent red decal striping that arcs around the mushroom-shaped docking area. Each of the four main access doors is numbered (apparently no sense back in 1983) 7, 15, 21 and 28. 

With these there could have done with being a little more detail given that these four entrances are simply blank panels with number decals and miss the panel detail that is present all around them even just to note where they meet in the middle. Could these perhaps have been done as four door-sized decals to avoid any challenges?

On the underside of the docking area we have a large circular translucent blue element which you will recall from the movies is brightly illuminated. While not lit up here it does stand out very well against the matt grey hull and is held in place with the only metal section of Spacedock which angles inwards towards the bulbous stem.

On this piece the speckled taupe versus light grey paint scheme continues as well as the reams of white windows but there are some small, deeper circles which appear to be airlocks to the interior sporadically placed around this element. What you don't appreciate unless you're actually in physical contact with the model is that it's not a flat surface. There are subtle panel undulations all over it which your eyes will only just pick up depending on light and angles.

Descending further, we have a series of five different shaped objects from tubes to spheres to make up the majority of Spacedock. On the third piece down - which curves outwards - there are once again the red stripe decals but you can also make out light blue rectangles near to the bottom edge of the section. As with the upper mushroom top and by cross-referencing to the magazine and its onscreen appearances these look like external viewing ports. In fact on the fourth section too there are more indications of docking ports and observation windows. 

On the underside of this section we have four ports which would appear to be small craft landing pads and while K-7 had the ability to open its shuttlebay up, these are too small a scale to offer this up as an option leaving them just to be a surface detail but there does feel to be a bit of depth to them. In fact the lack of illumination does take some of the awe away but it's not something that can be recreated on something that's scaled down from over three miles in size. In parallel to the large translucent blue ring inserted underneath the mushroom top we have a ring of blue segments which were very well illuminated onscreen and one might suspect are linked to some form of internal power system - possibly positioning thrusters of some form?

The bottom three sections are all plastic with a single seam running vertically to join the two halves together. Then to the bottom there's another array of antennas which are not the sturdiest although not as bendable as those on the top.

Due to the scale of this one there is a loss of smaller detail and depth to the openings and windows right across the surface but this doesn't mean it isn't a good result. Spacedock is mightily impressive and comes with one of the collection's most ingenious stand designs; a ring into which the station slides and then sits on over the black base.

The special mag provides a skimpy overview of the role of the station before diving into a 14 page Designing a Vintage Port which traces the origins of Spacedock back to the space station model from The Motion Picture and the choices around what led to creating something different for The Search for Spock that would be reused for the subsequent three movies and also make a guest appearance in The Next Generation as Starbase 74 in 11001001. The magazine also covers how the interior of the station was created for the classic scene in which Kirk and the crew steal the Enterprise and later how it needed to be recreated for The Voyage Home's unveiling of the Enterprise-A.

This is a fantastic model and a very unique item. Some of the more intricate elements such as the antenna are chunky and basic but scale does play against the possibilities here. It looks amazing and feels very sturdy for the main part. If you can find it, get one; you won't be disappointed. 

Enjoyed the review? Check out the others on our Collection resource or you could like and share!

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Sunday, 10 February 2019

Dangerous Contact: An Obol to Charon S02 E04

The long awaited arrival of Rebecca Romjin’s Number One might have been substantially overmilked in what was otherwise a damn fine episode of Discovery.

On the hunt for the shuttle-stealing Spock, Discovery gets cornered by a huge alien creature that plays havoc with the ship’s systems and counting down to destruction. While all this is going on, Saru is fighting off a virus which, he later reveals, is terminal. Elsewhere we have Stamets, Tilly and a returning Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) dealing with the creature from the mycelial network.

Let’s start at the beginning. Number One’s appearance is pretty cool if brief, serving as a plot mover more than anything else. We get very little character in the few moments she has with Pike and I think it will be a lost opportunity if she doesn’t turn up again to fill us in on the repair work aboard the Enterprise. Lovely little twist around the removal of the holographic comms systems that are causing havoc with Pike wanting to go back to using monitors. Nice ret-con there.

The episode has some cracking twists beginning with a malfunctioning universal translator causing all sorts of havoc as the crew try to work out what an apparently malevolent alien creature wants with the Discovery. The effects of this alien are overwhelming and what seems to be three unconnected storylines actually all intertwine. Let's take Stamets/Tilly/Reno first.

The sparks do fly quite quickly between Stamets and Reno in the engineering bay with some quality bickering that Spock and McCoy would have been proud of. Due to a change in circumstances though as the mycelial creature escapes and reattaches itself to Tilly they set aside their rather engaging differences at a frighteningly rapid pace to save the day. 

Notaro is on excellent form as the rather casual engineer contrasting brilliantly against Stamets' much more prim and proper approach to his job but their partnership could well be one of the season's best character highlights and is an amusing aside to the plot. Mary Wise gets to play an even more nervous and distracted Tilly here with one chilling point backed with a rendition of David Bowie's Space Oddity that might rank as one of Star Trek's most unsettling. Cleverly there's a double ending to this piece of the episode which means that this creature which joy-rode back from the Mirror Universe is set for another guest appearance next week. 

It is a real emotional rollercoaster with Saru providing the real kick to the episode.  Starting out with just a cold at a staff meeting (welcome back to the Saurian Linus by the way) the Kelpien's health rapidly deteriorates over the course of the story and while we as the viewer might realise that the intervention of the alien creature and Saru's ailment are linked pretty soon into the action, Doug Jones is a true tour de force here as the weakened Saru. 

It truly does seem that all is lost with Saru ultimately giving in to the belief that he will die and invokes the desire to be killed by Burnham. We learn a lot about the Kelpien here and while we were led to believe that the Short Treks were to be totally standalone, The Brightest Star  now seems deeply linked into the events of the season with Saru's homeworld and his reasons for not being able to return now featured in two episodes from the four released.

The predatory Ba'ul have worked a treat over the Kelpiens making them believe that once the illness takes hold it's game over but ultimately it turns out that the result of the Vahar'ai (had to Google it) actually means that his threat ganglia drop out and shrivel up and also relieve him of his inbred fear.

Ok, so this does effectively remove one of the key factors that made Saru right from the first episode but it opens up a whole new perspective on the Kelpiens and just what this revelation - that the Ba'ul had been lying - could mean for his future actions. Jones is mesmerising as Saru right from the start here and working in not just the facial but upper body prosthetics for such an emotional scene is mind-blowing. Both he and Sonequa Martin-Green smashed it out of the park here and for a second I didn't know which way this was going. 

Online it seems there's a lot of thought that both this and New Eden are trying to tread the "proper" Star Trek path but for me the second episode of the season still just doesn't quite work. An Obol for Charon on the other hand is superb. Full of character, packed with emotion and all with a recognisable tale around first (or is it?) contact shows that Discovery really does have a heart and has learnt from the action heavy first season. It can have its moments of being new and different to the series before but this proves that it is Star Trek at its core and slips Saru into being one of the franchise's best creations. 

Episode four opens even more doors for the season to explore and doesn't appear to have shut any at all. The chase to catch up with the errant Spock is still on and actually assisted by the alien that stopped Discovery in its tracks. Saru's life has changed forever (still not sure if this is a good move so early into the show's lifetime) and Tilly is literally in it up

This year is offering up a much wider diversity of stories and character points than season one while not really focusing on the Red Angel story so far. It appears that the show has taken a good look at its predecessors and seen what made them great - it's not all about battles and explosions and with An Obol to Charon we have what could well be one of the best episodes of Discovery that will ever be made. A new classic for a new generation if ever there was one.

How do you rate the fourth episode of Discovery's new season?

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Friday, 8 February 2019

Bit of a Pull: The Official Starships Collection Issues 140 and 141

As the collection heads towards 150 issues we were bound to start seeing some more true oddballs from the franchise and this may take the starring role...   

The Federation Tug is seen ever so briefly at the start of Deep Space Nine’s sixth season opener A Time to Stand with its tractor beams pulling along the stricken Excelsior Class USS Frederickson.

And that’s it. Five seconds. Max. Yet here we are with it as issue 141 ahead of some notably absent friends. I have to say though that Eaglemoss should be applauded for adding in these more unusual craft to give the collection an all-inclusive feel.   

As a model they've done a hugely impressive job of translating the haphazard build of the screen used prop into something more refined for the starship collector. Constructed out of various Star Trek kits and other spare parts, the tug is a compact little beast but one that actually has a ton of stuff to look at and analyse.   

Bizarrely it sits on its stand backwards with the plastic grip sliding over the front of the ship. Every surface has a story to tell here and even at the forward point you can see elements that have just been placed together to create a visual effect. The base paint coat is a light grey with sections of the hull then mottled with a darker grey overcoat. It looks like we’ve gone for a more heavily worn look than aztecing since its quite uneven.

The top plastic section has some good detail even if it is fairly makeshift both on the upper surface and also along the support beam structure running either side of that central unit. Those beams then connect into the two upturned warp pylons "borrowed" from the USS Voyager. These too have the mottled hull effect coupled with some small gold surface detail which links in with the panelling on the upper hull.

The very recognisable pylons drop into recoloured Romulan Warbird nacelles that are distinctly "Starfleet"ed with blue warp grilles and red tips to the bussard collectors. The inset grilles are fitted with translucent plastic but only to the outer side. The inner edge of the nacelles are plain and light grey and devoid of any real detail but given the source material it would probably guess that its enough to have the cleaned up outer surfaces.

The underside of the Tug right around to that rear section is one metal block. The bottom piece continues the mottled two shades of grey while the back piece contains more of the refined surface detail smoothed in translation from the rough and ready studio model. The effect is rounded out with raised gold fan detail of the holding clamp in the centre and tractor beam points to pick out the key features of this rarely seen craft.

Protruding to the rear - and in my case not quite parallel - are the two mechanical arms of the Tug. While their surfaces are just moulded with circuit and panel detail the joint points are again highlighted through the choice to add a bit of gold to the otherwise flat paint surface. Both inside and out are finished with the smaller, angled prongs at the end having more raised surface features but still remaining in just the one light grey colour.

The magazine is a little more enlightening than the model, reflecting on references to tugs throughout Star Trek history most notably in The Next Generation before we got one on screen in Deep Space Nine. There's some nice trivia around the ship we see towed in A Time to Stand plus more about the history of these craft and their uses. 

The views of the tug illuminate the heavy reworking of the screen model especially when you line the two up but only manage - as always - to highlight the main points of the craft and not necessarily any of the more interesting finer details. A double page spread covers off the construction (or what can be recalled) of the tug plus how the series was moving from physical models over to CG at that time. Two pages also get handed to discuss the building of the Ketracel-White facility. 

The model was a reworking of the prison asteroid from season five's By Inferno's Light and the piece here is fairly interesting to see how a few changes made it look completely different.

Finally and perhaps well overdue is the six page article discussing the work of Star Trek's reknowned scenic artist, Doug Drexler. A former makeup artist on the series he made a big leap into creating computer screen cutaways, console panels and adding detail to ships and scenes. It's a decent dive into Drexler's career in Star Trek and certainly one that is about 100 issues late. 

Perhaps the issue this month that will attract more attention than the tug is the Vulcan T'Pau. Featured in Unification, the T'Pau was one of three ships stolen by the Romulans as part of their plan to conquer Vulcan. Seen briefly at the end of the second part before being obliterated by a Warbird, the model would live on under a couple of other guises on Deep Space Nine.

It's a damn simple design as we've been used to with nearly all the Vulcan ships in the franchise - pen-like centre section with some kind of ring structure surrounding it. Ironically this shape would be retroactively worked into Enterprise most significantly off the back of the Apollo Class we have here.

The top and sides of that central section are made out of metal giving this a comforting weight. The sides are finished with some very slight raised detail which is also present on the nose. Now this is supposedly a loading ramp however the panelling is incredibly subtle to the point where I can barely see it at all. 

Centre top on the hull we have a dotted/grille area which shows up a lot more strongly than the features on the sides and is painted out precisely in a fetching pea green. Now take a closer look at the hull when you do examine this and you'll spot the three shades of paintwork - there's two greys plus a hint of blue in there. Contrasting to the Federation aztecing this is much more blended and haphazard with no clear pattern yet because it is lightly done it's not too in your face.

Of course and as you would expect, none of the windows on the sides line up with their respective hull impressions with the white marks sitting just below where they should be.

The underside of the hull has a much stronger panel finish with more visible lines and definition under the three-tone paint work. Now inside the warp ring it's difficult to see if there is any continuation of the paint scheme on the main hull yet Eaglemoss have managed to insert grilled pea green panels on the inner edge to add depth to the craft.

As they are visible from the front it's a good shout although if they needed to be grille-finished is anyone's guess due to their tight placement.

At the edges of the "ring" (more oblong/oval really) there are the warp grilles painted up and slightly raised for detail purposes. Quite a slender and accurate paint job to mark these in and there's no spill out into the rest of the paintwork.

To the rear and seemingly suffering from a little less detail than everything to the front of the warp drive, there are two translucent panels. The lower is the impulse engine which means the upper blue one has to be for the warp engines. They are very basic with some of the exhaust structure on the impulse drive not totally visible although both are well recessed into the hull. 

Looking at the underside of the warp ring we have a big open and curved surface to show off this more unusual paint finish with what must be a red running light sitting up at the very edge. 

Finally the T'Pau is finished off with a series of Vulcan scripts either side of the central hull and a third on the starboard sweep of the warp ring. This is screen accurate and even better since Eaglemoss have included the IDIC medal on that final decal.

It is simple in every sense of the word when it comes to design and construction and Eaglemoss have worked well to build a very stable warp ring around the hull here. Some of the join lines aren't the best we've experienced but the finished item is a streamlined visual experience that carries off the essence of the ship. The magazine does show that the central hull markings should be a lot more defined but seeing as we never really got to see this one that up close it's a difficult call.

Issue 141's new CG imagery highlights that amazing hull three-tone scheme as well as the previously mentioned increased definition on those hull elements especially at the nose. The standard brief history of the craft covers six pages which also feature shots from Unification to flesh out the backstory for this starship. Take a good look at the shot top right on page seven which features a few recognisable craft as well as some oddments!

Plan view notes are even more scarce than on the equally screen shy Federation Tug but that's what you will probably expect from something we've barely seen in motion.

The design process for the T'Pau raises its starting point back with the only other Vulcan ship we'd seen at the time which was the long range shuttle from The Motion Picture and explains the evolution from there.

Evolve it certainly did and ended up looking nothing like the original marker but would influence more Vulcan ships in the future. This section also covers a couple of other appearances the model made as Tosk's ship in Deep Space Nine's Captive Pursuit and also as a freighter in For the Cause also from the same series.

Remaining firmly with The Next Generation in this instance we are treated to Production Design from the fifth season covering how the art department created refugee villages for the Bajorans in Ensign Ro as well as suburbs for Romulus in Unification, mud baths for Cost of Living and utilised existing buildings for the 19th Century in Time's Arrow. This is a captivating read giving away a few trade secrets on how the illusion of alien worlds or time gone was executed. 

This month's two craft might only have been seen for a total of 20 seconds on the screen at maximum but Eaglemoss have really worked to make them presentable for collectors most definitely in the case of the rather rough and ready Federation Tug. Neither of these are big ticks off my list of essentials however that might be changing when the next issue finally arrives because it's the Promellian Battlecruiser from The Next Generation's Booby Trap accompanied by the Merchantman from The Search for Spock. Now those are two I can't wait to get my hands on!

Liking this month's two alien additions? Which one was the stronger executed replica?

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