Monday, 9 December 2019

Rene Auberjonois: In Memoriam


With news earlier last week of the passing of Charlie X actor Robert Walker it was perhaps an even more shocking blow to the Star Trek community to hear of the loss of Deep Space Nine’s Rene Auberjonois.

Already an acclaimed actor with credits such as M*A*S*H and a huge catalogue of voice work, he would first be exposed to the franchise not in 1993 but in 1991 and The Undiscovered Country which celebrated 28 years since release on December 6th. 

His part, that of the conspiratorial Colonel West would be clipped from the theatrical release but be reinstated for the video release the following year. 

Over the course of seven seasons we would become better acquainted with the actor through his role as shapeshifter and station security chief Odo in a role that would be pivotal to the whole series and offer an incredible character development arc that ‘stretched’ from the first episode to the last - but we shall come to that shortly.

Nor would the role of Odo be his last role in the Star Trek universe with Auberjonois returning one more time for the Enterprise episode Oasis as well as appearing in the recent Deep Space Nine retrospective What We Left Behind.

Behind the camera Auberjonois would direct a further eight episodes of the Star Trek spin-off including Hippocratic Oath, The Quickening and Waltz.

In memory of Rene we at Some Kind of Star Trek would like to offer up some of our favourite Odo moments from the series to celebrate his work on Deep Space Nine...

1. Odo becomes a solid; 

Broken Link

While it would be season three’s finale The Adversary that saw a Changeling harm another for the first time in their history, it would take a season for the punishment to be dished out. Guilty of the crime, Odo is stripped of his ability to shape shift and Auberjonois has a whole new aspect of his character to deal with. Great work from Rene here as Odo becomes increasingly ill and realises what he must do...The resulting change in "form" lasted for the following half a season, allowing Auberjonois a chance to spread his wings under Klingon makeup as well as an occasional romance.

2. Finally kissing Kira; 

His Way

Only taken like six seasons?! Years of tension, suggestion and sideways looks all came together on the Promenade. One of the few occasions Rene got to play a softer and more intimate side to his character more openly than ever before - plus he got the girl! I'd also couple this episode with Auberjonois' more relaxed Odo from the future featured in Children of Time which saw him confess all to Kira and lead to this a season later.





3. Unable to break form; 

The Die is Cast

Broken Link may have seen Odo weakened but this was Odo at his most vulnerable, being tortured at the hands of Garak aboard the Cardassian/Romulan assault fleet. Truly a mesmerising performance between Auberjonois and Andrew Robinson that has to be beheld and is one of the pinnacles of the show overall especially when we discover that Odo wants desperately to return home - perhaps the only time we ever really see him crack...




4. "I’m...home"; 

The Search

Single biggest character development EVER just ahead of Bashir turning out to be either a)Changeling or b)genetic superman. Auberjonois wasn’t a fan initially but this gave Odo such a new lease of life and spun the character into a whole new realm that would be instrumental in the structure of Deep Space Nine up to its very conclusion.




5. Quark and Odo; 

(multiple inc) The Ascent

The relationship between these two was immense and putting the two of them together for a full episode was definitely the way to explore it even more. I could've listed a whole ton of moments here from the last conversation they have in What You Leave Behind, maybe Quark showing he does care when Odo is escorted to the Defiant in Broken Link, Odo's masked concerns in Necessary Evil...name an episode and you can see the brilliance of this partnership all the way through the show.


6. Curzon Odo; 

Facets

When is Odo not Odo? When he's taking part in a Trill ritual and gets to host Curzon Dax. Maybe not strictly an Odo moment but one that allowed Auberjonois' the chance to step outside the usual restrictions of the character and play out a little more humour and emotion. 


7. Could it be...?; 

Vortex

Auberjonois first foray into the background - or potential background - of Odo which revealed a more caring and human side than we had seen in the first half of season one. While Vortex isn't going to win any awards, it does allow Odo and Rene to shine and demonstrate that there were a lot of dimensions to the shapeshifter although we'd have to wait a little longer to find out just where he came from... (thanks to James Smith from the Stoke on Trent Star Trek Club for this suggestion).






What are your favourite Odo moments from the series? Comment below!


RIP Rene Auberjonois 
1 June 1940 - 8 December 2019

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Odd One Out: The Motion Picture at 40


For 40 years I've shared the Earth with The Motion Picture and even now I’m not 100% sure what to make of it.  

Of all the Star Treks of all the eras of all the times, The Motion Picture is an oddment, a sore thumb some might say which stands out when everything else around it has managed to blend in. I could equate it to the quiet kid in the class who gets picked on because he’s different, unique and doesn’t have to be part of the ‘in’ crowd.

I can personally vouch for that situation as my school life had moments where I felt the odd one out for one reason or another - several times because Star Trek wasn't the cool thing to be liking during the '90's Britpop era. In that sense it does speak to me. It's the only Star Trek movie that Gene Roddenberry really had any serious involvement with before The Next Generation (the theme tune's a bit of a giveaway!) and therefore may well be the closest single cinematic Trek to the creator's vision for the franchise with a plot that steers clear of phaser fights and starship battles to seek out a much deeper meaning. Whether it gets there or not is debatable.

Now, The Motion Picture wasn't the first Star Trek movie I watched, that credit went to The Wrath of Khan but after I was hooked on the spectacle of that it was only a matter of time before I got to watch the earlier entry and that would occur over a Christmas in the mid-80's on a recorded version that had the last ten minutes chopped off...I had to wait another year or so to see what the twist was!

Frankly the first two movies couldn't be more different and while the drafting of McCoy, return of Spock and promotion of Kirk are important elements of the timeline, you might be forgiven for skipping "One" and heading straight for "Two" and the Mutara Nebula. However, I would heed you to avoid such a bold step and take the time to appreciate just what The Motion Picture was trying to do and what it succeeded in doing.

Legendary Sound of Music and Run Silent Run Deep director Robert Wise's space epic is indeed unique among its 12 other feature-length relations. First, it's the only one produced in the 1970's and has the benefit/disadvantage of using the sets and even script from the aborted Phase II series which meant that it could utilise existing materials - which didn't stop a ridiculously high $35 million on a projected $15 million budget.

In my article for HeroCollector I talked about how the arrival of The Motion Picture ushered in the future of Star Trek - series, movies, merchandise and the like but if we take it at face value it is possibly Star Trek's single greatest event.

It's unique not just because of the incredibly bland uniforms or the one off appearances for Decker and Ilia (losing out on being main cast for Phase II and this being their payoff if you will) but because it's meant to be seen on that cinematic monster screen. The film is a visual spectacle which turns away from the pew-pew fighter battles of Star Wars instead attempting to build a universe in the movie theatre right from the introduction of the refit USS Enterprise, the warp speed wormhole through to Spock's spacewalk and onto the final reveal. 

The beige and grey interior of the Enterprise contrasts to the swirling and sparkling colours of the universe created here and on a smaller home TV it loses something in its majestic translation. At the time this would have been totally different, aiming more for the jaw-dropping modelwork of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a more "realistic" display of ships in space (let's just ignore the warp speed but though huh...).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn't just about the visual opulence invested in it but also the reintroduction of favourite characters. Forty years ago it had been ten years since the crew had been together in a live-action setting. Syndication as we all know had boosted the show into realms and markets otherwise untapped and unthinkable even influencing the naming of the USA's first space shuttle, unveiled in September 1976. 

These characters had become household names and their first big screen appearance needed to be impressive and have time donated to it. Spock's return from the failed Kolinar ritual is a significant event in the life of the Vulcan (not really addressed thereafter, mind), McCoy's reactivation is a clever touch and Kirk's discomfort at being a deskjockey is evident from the start.

While they are certainly more three-dimensional than Discovery's crew from the off, the dynamics of the series don't quite work most notably between Kirk, Spock and McCoy while the secondary bridge crew feel a bit relegated to the sidelines particularly in favour of the Decker/Ilia thread. In fact if you look at it even more closely this is the only Star Trek movie where one-off characters take such a massive lead unless they're the antagonist of the piece. 

Why's that? Well, for financial reasons they were already invested in the actors for Phase II but moreso it allows for Roddenberry to fully explore the human condition and the poster tag of the "Human Adventure" - these are characters that can be sacrificed for the plot in a not dissimilar way to Bowman evolving into the Starchild of Kubrick's 1969 masterpiece.

But let's keep that speculation at bay because Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a statement piece. Cleverly reusing and updating its Phase II origins for the cinema, making a decent amount of money and paving the way for a run of sequels, series and more that have kept the franchise running for a further 40 years.

You might not be over impressed with the dialogue, the unflattering onesies or the lengthy panning visuals but there's always Jerry Goldsmith's stirring soundtrack to raise goosebumps to usher in the new era. There's even Klingons for god sake and... what....they changed the Klingons?!

Yep, sounds really silly now doesn't it when you bring into consideration the revisions made for the Kelvin Timeline and more recently Discovery and that's one more thing going for The Motion Picture that we kind of take for granted now - it UPDATED the franchise. Just as we now have tweaks for Discovery, more than likely for Picard and certainly technological upgrades for the rebooted movie trilogy, The Motion Picture did exactly the same - new minds, new ideas, new visions of where it needed to go. Higher detail in just about everything to translate to the big screen including scrapping the Phase II Enterprise because it wouldn't cut it under cinematic scrutiny.

It was still Star Trek but it had taken an all important step forward, a move in the right direction to take it from wobbly TV sets  and while new Klingons and Scotty with a 'tache might have rocked fandom to its core and spurred a furious letter writing campaign, it had all settled by the time we get to The Wrath of Khan. OK, that was generally in different creative hands tillered by Harve Bennett. 

The Motion Picture quintessentially captures the exploration of the human condition so vehemently championed by Roddenberry with The Original Series and captured here in V'Ger's desire to link with and understand its creator through the interactions of the Ilia probe and finally physically linking with Decker. Even as close as The Wrath of Khan was to the first film in the production timeline it veers more to action and revenge rather than a more intimate and personal story that we find with the first Star Trek movie.

Pace-wise it's a million miles off anything that came after and even a mite slower than a few of the original episodes but that is a direct contrast again to the adventure serial style portrayed in Star Wars. It marketed itself as the more intelligent option if purely from the perception of The Original Series and Roddenberry's much publicised vision of the show. 

Later films would continue to focus their attention on the "Big Three" of Kirk, Spock, McCoy with a higher swing to action/adventure and "space opera" but here it feels more like an extension of the TV series. The Motion Picture, for all its faults, flaws and missteps feels like a spiritual sequel to the classic series. For me the challenge comes of how to reconcile it with the vastly different movies succeeding it that were virtually devoid of Roddenberry's involvement - and that certainly rings more true with the 2009 reboot and its (currently) two sequels of varied quality.

The Motion Picture wants valiantly to be about character in which the interactions of the crew and the perceptions we encounter within the confines of V'Ger lead us to seek further exploration, that there are further evolutionary possibilities and perhaps, more interestingly, that we are fallible as a species. Thing is that the trip there is so drawn out its almost a relief when Decker decides to join with V'Ger and we can sense the end credits aren't far away.  For me now, The Motion Picture represents a turn in fortune for Star Trek, a moment that was captured - nay saved - from the jaws of TV and maybe a true end for Star Trek. Instead it presents a feeler into the unknown - was there a thirst for Star Trek and was it on the cinema screen which seemed to be the way forward? Of course the franchise would return to its roots and the flickering box in the corner of the living room some eight years later but for now there was a new start, a new channel to explore...Indeed, that Human Adventure WAS Just Beginning...

What are your memories of The Motion Picture? When did you first see it and have your attitudes towards it changed?

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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

DC Fontana 1939 - 2019


One of the lights of the galaxy has faded.

News has broken today that Dorothy Catherine "DC" Fontana, one of the key members of the original Star Trek writing staff from The Original Series has passed aged 80 on December 2nd.

Meeting Gene Roddenberry while he was making The Lieutenant, Fontana would follow him across to Star Trek and act as story editor for the first two seasons and was involved with writing ten episodes in total - Charlie X, Tomorrow is Yesterday, This Side of Paradise, Friday's Child, Journey to Babel, By Any Other Name, The Ultimate Computer, The Enterprise Incident, That Which Survives and The Way to Eden. The latter two were written under her Michael Richards pseudonym as a freelancer.

But her association with Star Trek would not end there and Fontana would return not just to write the rather excellent Yesteryear for The Animated Series (acting also as associate producer and story editor) but later step onboard for The Next Generation when Roddenberry reunited some of the original team for a second stab at success. 

As associate producer Fontana oversaw story editing once again, penning the first version of Encounter at Farpoint as well as The Naked Now, Lonely Among Us, Too Short a Season and the first true Klingon story of the series, Heart of Glory before moving on due to disagreements and differences that were brewing during the early days of the show. In a sense, DC Fontana is also responsible for the very genesis of The Next Generation, taking it and scripting the pilot episode to launch the series and bring the delicious set of characters to life for the first time on paper.

Her final scripted episode of Star Trek however would be the Deep Space Nine courtroom episode, Dax from its initial season in 1993. She would also go on to write for the fan series New Voyages for their 2006 episode To Serve All My Days which would return Walter Koenig to the role of Pavel Chekov one more time. 

DC worked again in Star Trek on video games Bridge Commander, Tactical Assault and  Legacy but her work was not solely confined to the Star Trek universe seeing her writing for productions for series such as Babylon 5

Fontana's footprint on the Star Trek franchise is certainly far and wide, stretching from 1966 and the first season into computer games and fan series. She is responsible for some landmark events in the show such as the introduction of Spock's parents as well as the birth of one Leonard James Akaar (Friday's Child) who is still now used as a character in the ongoing Star Trek novel series as the head of Starfleet. Fontana also managed to create one of the more memorable (for the right reasons) episodes of Star Trek's third and final season with the return of the Romulans and the plot to steal a cloaking device. One more notable point that the Romulan commander would be another character reused later by Star Trek Continues. In that instance the actress' real life daughter would play the role. 

As for Yesteryear, it is regarded as one of the few animated episodes that strongly resonates even 40 plus years later and many regard as canon due to its insight into the early years of Spock's life on Vulcan. This episode works in much the same way that Dax does or Heart of Glory, in that Fontana has brought background and depth to important characters within the franchise and built believable and memorable facets that are turned to again and again, forming the backbone to many a performance across six decades.

Truly a sad loss to the Star Trek universe. 

Picard: Countdown - Let the Revelations Begin


Next month...Picard.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD...

For now though we get to revel in the buildup which will without question be fired up like a bonfire soaked in petrol through the release of the Countdown series for the upcoming CBS All Access show.

Written by Star Trek comic legend Mike Johnson and novelist turned Discovery scripter Kirsten Beyer, this first 32 pages opens up a few tantalising glimpses into the future beyond the climax of Nemesis and into the Earth years 2385 and 2386.

It's not too much of a giveaway to note that we find out where Geordi La Forge ended up as well as where Picard's career took him once he was off the Enterprise.  Now, the recent Picard exhibition revealed that he was placed on special assignment from the flagship and I would surmise that this is that very mission. Now an admiral, Picard has planted his flag aboard the Odyssey Class USS Verity to spearhead the evacuation of a large section of Romulan space ahead of an impending supernova that will cause mass destruction across the Empire.

Now we know the results of this to some degree from the 2009 reboot but here we get to step back a little further and see the developments to that point and one might hope some of the events that will lead to Picard's departure from Starfleet.

The evacuation of one colony is the starting point here and while I won't go into the twists and turns too much, it's very much keeping in the Star Trek mould from The Next Generation.

There are also a few hints that the Enterprise herself is still out there (but no specifics if it's the E) and we also get to see just how Raffi Musiker and Picard were acquainted before the series.

What of course this will counter is the original Countdown written to link in with the JJ Abrahms reboot if only in regards to uniforms let alone any of the plot points. That was an excellent piece and, from memory, regarded as canon by the movie production. My belief too is that this series of comics will be considered canon given the writing credentials attached to the project and there might be a bit of conflict versus that earlier work.

The choice of the Odyssey Class is an interesting one too, bringing Online into the fold more than ever before and recognising the ship designs as part of this later universe expansion. This could suggest Picard will be taking inspiration from the online game and retroactively tying multiple aspects together and even managing to add in aspects of the bridge design.

Issue one really just sets up the scene and the moral dilemma for Picard with the focus firmly on the Romulan Empire. No hints at the Borg connection so far but as this is only thr beginning I wouldn't be surprised if they, and other The Next Generation alumni, turn up in issue two. Remember too that the Narada from the 2009 movie was outfitted with Borg tech which again would nicely tie into the apparent scope of Picard. 

I've not been a big comic reader for a while (not since the Graphic Novel collection went to four issues per month and priced itself out of my wallet) but this one has to be seen as an essential read prior to January. Something tells me it will dovetail in...

Oh and one more thing - that cover...what the hell is going on with Picard's neck?!

What are you expecting from the comic series ahead of Picard?


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Monday, 2 December 2019

Jefferies Ideas: The Official Starship Collecton Bonus Editions; Galileo and Phase II


It’s 1966 and Star Trek needs something. 

While the transporters are fantastic and save having to find a way to inexpensively land the USS Enterprise, the good starship needs a shuttle.

Who better to design it therefore than Enterprise creator himself Matt Jefferies. So was the shuttlecraft born however before it did make an appearance it would go through a drastic change to look like we now know it from what it was originally conceived.

Jefferies has a much broader and more unrestricted vision for the Enterprise’s supplementary vessel and Eaglemoss have wisely chosen to highlight it as part of the bonus editions of the Official Starships Collection.

So ignore the box on legs that was the Galileo and check out the smoother, swept finish to this beauty of this model, the Al-Biruni. Wider at the front, the forward section of the ship is dominated by the triple window offering almost 180 degree visibility. Eaglemoss have definitely encapsulated the art deco feel of Jefferies concept with an admirably smooth hull finish and a shape not too dissimilar to the sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The dual hatches are a subtle indent into the metal body either side of the windows which is then succeeded by the USS Enterprise moniker and NCC-1701/5 registry. This takes up a large proportion of the shuttle's sides, covering the very light grey/white scheme 

The retro feel continues down the spine of the shuttle which seems more movie era than The Original Series with venting evident as well as a much more industrial theme than is evident on the rest of the ship. It's not overly filled with gimbles although the layered panels do look more like armour. This darker grey section extends down the rear of the shuttle and also out along the sides, recessing into the hull with a heavy grilled effect. 

One thing that is particularly striking is the way in which the warp pylons seem to sweep out from the main hull into a wonderfully unusual double arch which results in the warp engines. These warp engines are almost identical to the ones on the USS Enterprise complete with "golf ball" exhausts. These are a little larger in scale to the ones on the Enterprise and also have white bussard collectors fitted rather than the glowing red on the starships. 

The overall paintwork is immaculate for the body however around the windows, the black does seem to have chipped/not quite covered at all points and slips in a teeny bit of disappointment given how much I love this craft.

A more tragic misfire with this otherwise exemplary model is that you can't display it without the stand as you would with the other shuttle sets. The wing "feet" do sit slightly proud of the main struts as indicated in the magazine and the original designs but without the rear support strut it just falls backwards.

The nature of the strut probably makes it incredibly fiddly and expensive to add on here but I do know of at least one person that has managed to build and fit one...(thanks to @bobmat for the pic...)

If you don't manage to build yourself a third leg(!) then the underside of the Al-Biruni is somewhat plain with only the dividing line between plastic and metal around the lip of the central structure being a visible "feature" if you will. To give credit, the ventral section of the shuttle is completely smooth and blemish-free, continuing the off-white paint scheme across the full surface. Does it need any extra detail here? Absolutely not because there's a real awareness of a functional minimalism that does transfer across from the original starship of Jefferies design. 


This is one cracking design and the Jefferies Concept special issue magazine dives straight into the initial story around the necessity for a shuttle, the fact one was missing for some time and also the point that the Matt Jefferies concept while brilliant and in keeping with the look of the show was not feasible when it came to a quick construction schedule - enter AMT and Gene Witfield who came up with the Galileo that we know today.

The whole magazine covers this story and is filled with a ton and a half of design work from Matt Jefferies. Some of it is very familiar but there are even very early almost alien-esque/Jetsons craft that wouldn't have looked right on the flightdeck. Damn good read here and a lot to look over.

Skipping forward just over a decade we get to one of the most fascinating sections in Star Trek history with the never-made Phase II

Eaglemoss have already included the concept for the USS Enterprise into this series as part of this bonus line and now we have the Matt Jeffries Concept Shuttle to add in and it's just as impressive as his vision for The Original Series.

Stepping away from the conventional design of a box with nacelles, this one is actually a redesign of a ship from a never produced War of the Worlds TV series. Opting for a more tubular shape, the NCC-1701/9 shuttle takes a line from a winged rocketship or an airliner and certainly shows the influence of 70's styling. Bizarrely it does carry some parallels to the Enterprise NX-01 shuttlepods especially to the front.

The curved nose arcs out to provide the craft with an oval shape from all sides and under that nose there looks to be some form of sensor or navigational deflector sunk back and painted very precisely. This upper hull section carries a decent amount of weight - it's a very large metal piece making up two thirds of the resulting model. There is a lot of space taken over by the blacked out windows and the fuselage is marked up with The Original Series livery including the pennant and blocky registry. Eaglemoss have also included clear lines sunk into the metal to demonstrate where the entry hatches are on both sides of the shuttle.

The detailing is pretty crisp and minimal with only red stripes across the nose and around the rear of the passenger compartment, just ahead of a very inconspicuous engine painted in the same light grey as the hull. I would have thought this would have warranted something more striking to lift it from the rest of the ship.

To the back there are the swept wings which make this appear more like a plane than a shuttle, jutting sharply back and out from the hull, these are attached to the plastic "flat" bottom and are surprisingly strong. To the front they are wider due to the grilled effect, tapering to a sharper edge at the rear. The panel detail on the wings is slim at best with the upper sides probably fairing better and looking more "winglike" than the ventral surfaces.

Now from some angles the odd vertical fin arrangement doesn't look right and is a distinct move away from the shuttles of ol'Star Trek. In reality all this aerodynamic fluff would offer nothing in space but on the flip it might work more in favour of the ship once it's heading down to a planet. Quibble here has to be that the probes sticking out from the wing tips on mine are ever so slightly bent down. Very, very minor I know.

The underside provides a flat base so this one can be displayed without the standard black base and clear grip piece.  Aside from the wraparound grey, the base has a series of metallic painted ovals and circles which could be magnetic locks or some form of landing thrusters - your guess is as good as mine.

The Phase II Concept magazine offers lots of dribble-worthy CG images of the shuttle steering more towards how the design was forged and then swapped to the Star Trek show. The story of Jon Povill takes over the majority of this one though, covering his journey with Star Trek through its multiple revival attempts in the 1970's right up to Phase II itself before splitting into a second secton looking at the development of the proposed return of Star Trek that would eventually mutate into The Motion Picture. A veteran of TV, this section covers Povill's work plus his relationship with Gene Roddenberry in great detail and as a fan of this era of the franchise it's an insightful read.

Both craft are available now online from Eaglemoss.co.uk.

What's your take on the concepts? Is there one that stands out more? Are they in the Star Trek mould?


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