Thursday, 21 March 2019

Relic of the Past: The Official Starships Collection Issues 142 and 143

Delayed due to a dispatching error, I was virtually chewing the door off to get hold of issues 142, and 143 of The Official Starships Collection.

This may well be one of the most anticipated double acts in the collection for a damn long while and I can hand on heart say that it actually delivers.

Issue 142 is a little gem of a ship in the form of the Promellian Battlecruiser from The Next Generation's third season episode Booby Trap. An episode so ingrained into my memory because I'd done something wrong and wasn't allowed the TV on that night. 

But hey, less of the anecdotal passings and let's talk about the ship.

In the episode the dimensions of the Battlecruiser aren't that apparent thanks to the way in which the camera tends to swoop around from the front to the back or that a lot of the perspective shots are taken from the rear including that final torpedo spread impact. Unusually, as the magazine explains, the ship is a reuse of a craft built for another film that one of The Next Generation's backstage crew had to hand when they needed a ship. Flipping it over it suddenly becomes something completely different and hey presto the Promellian Battlecruiser is born.

Stretching out above the oval stand, the Battlecruiser is an imposing model with a phenomenal level of detailing from bow to stern. The hull itself is two very light shades of blue/grey with every millimeter packed with greebles and panelling. The sloping sides of the hull lead down to a recessed edge which again has more of the raised surface detail although this is hidden in slight shadow by the overhanging upper panels. That slender neck leads back to a pair of wing-like structures which, as with the forward hull, slope out from the centre line and are overloaded with grilles, machine parts  and even some slightly recessed elements that add a lot of style to the look of the battlecruiser. 

Interestingly the Promellian ship is one of those rare occasions where Eaglemoss have managed to add a hint of weathering/aging to the craft. There's a dirt wash which clings to some of the elements that cover the hull most evidently towards the back end of the model. At the front there is evidence of that wash although it does seem heavier with there being less parts for it to seep around.

Annoyingly with all this brilliance and clever surface detailing on the top of the ship neither the sensor dome nor the bridge module on mine are straight. One kinks to the left and the other to the right although both retain that magnificent level of detail moreso on the sensor dome than the slimline bridge. 

On the underside of the Promellian Battlecruiser the visual overload of greebles, piping and grilles continues but on a higher level. The dirt wash as well is noticably heavier with one side seeming to be a little grittier than the other. The wash on top and bottom emphasises the brilliance of the hull detailing with it standing out strongly against the hull. All the raised and recessed elements are slightly different in colour to the base coat however the contrast of the aging is what makes this much more successful.

Cleverly the only parts in plastic are the two topside appendages plus the wingtip units and the insert to the underside which stretches from bow to stern. This piece is incredibly camouflaged into the hull due to the aging effect although again the wash seems to highlight raised sections much more strongly and clump at points when compared to how it lies on the metallic hull sections.

The stand glides nicely over the rear of the Battlecruiser between the plastic wingtips and the rearward facing ‘flicks’ just behind the bulbous sensor dome, leaving the ship to hover gloriously over the black base. Good grip here and she rests back into the plastic forks, avoiding that forward tipping. 

Opening up issue 142 gives us a history lesson of the Promellians and their "ancient" technology totting up 1000 years by the time of The Next Generation. The new CG images are a lot better than the finished model if we're honest since the scale of the Battlecruiser does cram a lot into a small space, most noticable on that long neck section that runs from the bridge backward. The magazine paints this in a lot more detail and from all angles plus covering a lot of the detail, as you would expect, from the episode Booby Trap

Building the Promellian Battlecruiser only gets two pages because, well, they didn't really build it. Filmed for Night of the Creeps, David Stipes dug up an old model when one was needed for the series, turned it over and the rest is history. The magazine shows a lot more surface detail especially to the rear that the model can't carry due to size and most likely manufacturing cost but it's a rare story where something outside of the franchise has come to the rescue.

Third in this issue we have Production Design for season three of The Next Generation covering a range of filming locations and sets that were constructed for episodes such as Booby Trap plus The Ensigns of Command, Who Watches the Watchers?, Sins of the Father and the Borg cliffhanger finale The Best of Both Worlds. It does divert into some of the concepts for a couple of the props but on the whole sticks to discussing the overall "big picture" look for the landmark third year of the series.

The Merchantman is one of those ships that shouldn't have made an impression and was designed to be almost instantly forgotten however 35 years after The Search for Spock fans had this on their list of ships that Eaglemoss needed to do. Luckily they did and even more fortunately it's one of the best replicas in terms of build quality and finish from 143 issues of the collection.

The most striking feature of the Merchantman is its metallic paint finish with the hull glistening with different colour shades from panel to panel and then again appearing different dependant on what light you are viewing the model in. 

Aside from the incredible panel shading, the Merchantman also has a mottled effect running beneath the top coat which adds an element of aging to the transport. The panel detail on the forward section really is mind-blowing and very precise with the two parallel grilled sections a striking addition with the edges of each piece distinct and abrupt. The accuracy in the look here is one of the best, more impressive given the craft’s brief onscreen lifespan even counting its subsequent TV series appearances.

The forward-sitting bridge module is coated in the mottled metallic finish with a lot of surface details molded around the central dome and raised unit. What becomes apparent as well is that the plastic and metal sections here do blur into one because the detail is so fluid over every surface. On first impression I would be hard pressed just from the look to be able to see which pieces are made from what.

The Merchantman is, you'll come to spot, non-symmetrical aside from its general shape. Panels differ left to right, even the wingtip aerial extensions don’t mirror and this all gels together to give an incredible overall effect just as that paint finish can make you think that plastic is metal. One for observation - the wingtip extensions are very flexible so just be careful when handling. 

Travelling to the centre of the Merchantman we have a much more industrial feel to the starship. The metallic grey engine section is aged with a blotched paint finish and contains a lot of raised mechanical pieces giving a more rugged and patchwork effect. Running from the midpoint of the ship out to the rear, the engine "block" contains most of the weight of the freighter and Eaglemoss have excelled at giving it a dirty, used look which suits the craft perfectly. There is another piece of the bronzed hull plating to the back which carries on the paint effect from the main hull before terminating in a five exhaust port cluster which is probably the cleanest part of the ship; ironic. 

The detail and piping that is laid out across the whole of this working section of the ship is brilliant. Because it's non-symmetrical it feels more realistic and man-made. There's even a piece of piping that extends from the bronzed cowl back which is independent of the five  exhausts and is a little touch that demonstrates the effort that has gone into completing the Merchantman for this collection. 

Flipping the ship over we have the insert to the main hull as well as everything stretching to the bronze cowling being metal. The joining of the sections on the Merchantman is just as good as the paintwork with the lines pretty much invisible. That "stingray"-style head piece is littered with tubing and greebles as well as a very impressive tarnished finish which has the "real" colour of the ship peeking out from under a substantial layer of dirt. Take some time to soak up the different levels of the hull here and how much information is packed into the underneath of the ship which you would think would be much less signficant.

The middle hull piece is fully bronzed up with hints of dirt and grime brushed over the paint before leading into the worn gunmetal of the bulbous engine. Here once again there's been an effort to buff the paintwork to emphasise the age and wear that the Merchantman has suffered over time that makes this a complete model experience rather than just another block of moulded plastic and metal.

I'd forgotten there was a whomping great fin on the bottom too and this is a plastic add-on slotted onto the main metal body as a single unit with the fifth, smaller exhaust port. It's sturdy and of a decent width which means this won't break off in a breeze. 

The Merchantman is a total work of Eaglemoss art in every way; well constructed, and beautifully realised with the cover price a bargain for something of this quality. I'm glad it wasn't rushed earlier in the series if it's taken this long to get it right because it does look fantastic and will easily sit in the top echelons of the series' releases. It looks solid, feels durable and offers up a very full experience of the onscreen item because of the unrelenting surface detail. Every look at it reveals something new or a different perspective. Eaglemoss should be very proud of this one.

I actually think the CG for the magazine here doesn't do the model any justice. The cover for one makes the Merchantman look flat and bizarrely a lot cleaner than the model in a rare it's-better-than-the-pictures moment. Flicking through this isn't a one off with the images created for this edition actually not giving an accurate feel to the ship. Very surprising as in some ways they make it look like the aging ship is straight off the production line. This even goes for the large plan views slapped in the middle of the publication.

Details on the freighter are skant given that it was intended to be forgettable with Eaglemoss having to refer to the number of crew and the fact it looked a bit cramped in the one shot we saw a fraction of the interior of the bridge.  Much more is made of its swift destruction at the hands of Kruge's Bird of Prey before turning attention to how Nils Rodis developed the "forgettable" design that wasn't.

Indeed it was kitbashed, it was a quick build because it was destroyed but yet it has endeared for over 30 years and made a couple of appearances as other craft in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine before being sold at auction in 2006. While there's no clear picture of the original, we are treated to concept sketches which show the original plan for the Merchantman.

Behind the scenes this time takes us into the Visual Effects of Star Trek III linking nicely into the recent Starbase special issue including design pics of the docking facility and the challenge that the movie created with several new ships required - Excelsior, Grissom, Merchantman and Kruge's iconic Klingon Bird of Prey.  This is a fascinating look a how the look of the film came together not just in relation to ships but even those microbes on the Genesis planet, how Kruge's pet dog was brought to life and the eye-opening explanation of how they made the Enterprise's final moments look so impressive on screen. 

Given that the writers must be struggling to find content each issue, this is a great read with some rare behind the scenes snaps that tell you a lot about how The Search for Spock achieved its look.

What a month huh? Two brilliant ships that have been long-awaited finally turn up and don't disappoint. These are a duo that Eaglemoss have pulled out all the stops for and have succeeded in creating two very memorable issues that will get all fans excited. I would recommend getting your hands on either - or both - of these editions because they represent all that is good about the collection in both the model and in the written word that accompanies them. Superb in many ways and a reminder that this series, no matter how long it's been running, can deliver on quality at a reasonable price.

Merchantman or Promellian Battlecruiser? Which was your winner? 

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